HL Deb 08 December 1993 vol 550 cc951-1012

3.14 p.m.

Lord Elton rose to call attention to the conditions necessary for the maintenance in the citizens of this country of a proper respect for each other and for the law; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, if I start slowly, it is to enable those noble Lords who are not interested in the subject to disembarrass themselves from those who are.

A good way to discover how much people respect each other and the law is to look at the way they behave towards each other. A crude but apposite way of doing this is to see how often they commit crimes against each other and the law.

From me outbreak of the First World War to the present day the increase of recorded notifiable offences, aside from a handful of exceptional years, has been continuous in this country. What has changed is me rate of increase. The graph shows a very gradual incline until the mid-1940s. Then, after a brief dip to half a million in 1950, we proceed on an ever steeper curve, via 1.6 million in 1970, 2.5 million in 1980 to 5.4 million in 1992.

During that period, of course, the population has grown, but that does not account for the increase in recorded crime. The figures for the second half of the century make that clear. In 1950 the number of such crimes per 100 of population was only about one; it was five in the 1970s; and it is no fewer than 10.6 today. The rising curve in this graph also is almost continuous.

It is noticeable indeed that neither graph reflects either times of exceptional prosperity or times of exceptionally high unemployment. We need to look somewhere else for the causes. Two of the more obvious physical changes in our circumstances over the period may perhaps be relevant. There has been an enormous increase in our mobility. Journeys that took a few people weeks in the 1930s are now accomplished in hours by thousands. International crime has become easier, and its local effects wider, as the volume of traffic passing through our ports and our Customs posts has multiplied. That physical change may account, for instance, for some of the increase in drug related crime. There are no exact statistics for that kind of crime but there is no doubt that addiction is increasing and it does contribute to crime.

Mobility has enormously increased within the country also. To illustrate the point, I refer to an event when my father first became a Fellow of the Queen's College at Oxford. The then head porter recounted how when he first started on his career—he was a man of some seniority—his first job at the end of the summer vacation had been to weed the grass that had grown between the cobble stones in the High of Oxford during the summer vacation.

The nationwide tide of traffic which has changed all that has a corollary—enormous numbers of cars parked in almost every street in the country. Never has so much valuable private property been so frequently accessible to theft or damage, by so many, for so long.

The accessibility of cars, like me accessibility of drugs, provides the opportunity for crime and may account for up to 28 per cent, of all crime. But it is only the opportunity; it is not in itself a cause. For that we have to look for something else that is in, or absent from, our culture.

Another striking change in society is the ease and volume of communication. The telephone has virtually wiped out social correspondence and with it mature reflection before social communication, which may have an effect of its own. But much more important have been the uses to which the new technologies of communication have been put—and in particular the nature of a growing volume of material available on tape and now on disc. To many of your Lordships to whom the Metropolitan Police have on two occasions shown a small sample of the pornographic and sado-masochistic videos available illegally in this country, either on sale or by satellite from countries prepared to harbour the authors, their corrupting effect is self-evident.

There is also a large and perfectly legal trade in material that is not a great deal better. Theories claiming that this did no harm have for long seemed simply silly to many of us. Poor little Jamie Bulger's horrific death means, I believe, that that silliness is now exposed and generally agreed. But for the record I have to point out that millions, if not billions, of pounds are spent by advertising agencies annually, all of them prepared to swear that the medium does very effectively mould the behaviour, even of mature adults. If it did not they would not get their money. In any case, I simply cannot believe that, as a teacher, a medium which informs, instructs and sets norms of behaviour for children, when properly used in the classroom, does not have precisely the same effects when it is improperly used at home on the same children either on their own or, worse still, in the presence of approving adults. Those approving adults share with the producers of this vicious stuff the responsibility for its effects.

And what a responsibility it is. I gather that the latest invention is of a disc containing video games, some of which provide the player with a victim and even a sexual victim. Surely it must be more important to find the means of denying access by people, particularly young people, to this sort of resource than finding a means of denying their access, for instance, to other people's motor cars. I hope that the Minister will give the House an indication of whether the Government recognise that priority.

But as we are talking about respect, what can possibly be the way in which the creators of that sort of material think of the fellow human beings whom they seek to make their customers? I believe that they would not have been able to ply their trade on anything like the current scale were we not a tolerant society. Before I look at what tolerance is in that context, I wish to draw noble Lords' attention to two aspects of our current reaction to crime.

The first relates to people convicted of crimes serious enough to render them liable to go to prison, but who are not so dangerous that they have to be locked up. You can argue about the effectiveness of non-custodial treatment. Properly conducted with the right customers it is much more effective than any form of custody; but what you cannot argue about is its cost and its effect on the family. The average cost of custody per inmate, per month, in 1991 was £1,915. The average cost of supervision in the community at £110 is only a few per cent, of that. Custodial treatment costs over 15 times as much as non-custodial and devastates the family. I am glad, therefore, to see a fall in Crown Court custodial sentencing since the 1980s for all except sexual offences, and I hope that the new secure training order will be used only where the young offender cannot otherwise be restrained.

The second aspect relates to what happens when the prisoner is released. With a re-offending rate of 60 per cent, or more, that release does not mark the end of the problem for society. I look forward to hearing more about a new scheme for them from my noble friend later today.

Above all, however, this one thing is clear: the remorseless and generally accelerating curve of the graph of crimes per 100 head of the population shows that the whole of what we are now doing is not enough. According to the Home Office, already 25 per cent, of all our young men have committed a non-motoring offence by the age of 21, and 35 per cent, by the age of 35. By that age 6 per cent, of all males will already have been in prison or in youth custody. The extrapolations of those figures bear careful thinking about; and while noble Lords are thinking about them, it should be remembered that they deal only with recorded crime and known criminals. If we did not live in a tolerant society would it still be so? I wonder.

But we do and it is in that society that we practise a third response to crime; namely, prevention. It is better than cure. We have all met and practised it, I trust, at home, if not in our own upbringing then in the upbringing of our children. But the home is not the only forum. I also commend to your Lordships all those schemes throughout the country ranging from football teams to jazz bands in which adult volunteers get young people, who would otherwise be driven into destructive acts by the sheer frustration of their circumstances, to face challenges, learn responsibility and mutual respect.

I shall not again detain your Lordships with the Divert Trust which, with other friends, I founded last April to encourage this work except to say that the grants of over £94,000 each from the Home Office and the Department of Health are being well and effectively used. Divert young people from crime and, in the process, give them self-respect and respect for each other.

Despite all this effort the curve of offending continues to rise. Would it be so, I again ask, if we did not live in a tolerant society? What is "tolerance" in that context? As I use the word, tolerance is what I call an incremental condition. The exercise of tolerance accustoms one to what one is tolerating at the level at which one is experiencing it. When one is accustomed to it that level becomes acceptable and one goes on to tolerate another level, which is a stronger level of the same, and so on. It is a process and not a condition. Athletes recognise that as a principle in training for endurance tests. Barmen recognise it as the source of ever larger cheques from their customers as they get older. Even editors and producers recognise it in deciding what to print in their papers or to put out on the air. Piquancy, titillation and even honest outrage, get worn down by repetition of the same dose and only revived when the dose is increased. In comparing today's press and screen with the press and screen in 1950 or 1970 or even 1980, I believe that noble Lords will see what I mean: the direction of change is constantly downwards—more lascivious, more prurient, more invasive of personal privacy, and more destructive of a proper respect for almost all those whom it touches.

Children may not spend much time reading newspapers, but in 1987 it was reported that an average schoolchild, although he spent 1,200 hours per year in school, spent 1,000 hours watching television. It all affects behaviour. That is one way in which society, within which we are trying to cope with crime, is changing; and it is not changing for the better.

There are other factors which also affect the way in which we look at life itself. Let us consider consumer credit, to go to an apparently unrelated theme. The enormous recent growth in personal credit was heralded—was it not?—by the advertising slogan, "Take the Waiting out of Wanting". Thousands gladly did so. The figures, using 1989 prices as a constant, make that clear. In 1981, the year before the lifting of hire purchase controls, the total consumer credit outstanding was £21 billion. In 1989 it was £48 billion. The indebtedness of the average household in 1980 was £1,000 and in 1990, £2,250. To take the story a little further back, the increase in real terms of consumer credit outstanding between 1975 and 1990 was from £5 billion to £15 billion—surprisingly enough, roughly in a straight line through the deregulation of hire purchase.

That creates another suspected reason. The campaign, of which the invitation to "Take the waiting out of wanting" was part, included massive advertising of consumer goods and presented life—persuasively, I believe—as a quest for possessions and possession itself as the goal of life.

It was at about that time that the collectivist consensus, which had dominated British politics since the 1920s, finally came to an end. One of the central motives for reversing that trend was to secure economic efficiency. That is a necessary part of any government's programme. In order to achieve it and to explain their programme to the electorate, Ministers have laid understandable emphasis on the importance of market forces acting without distortion. That emphasis has increased over the years.

I must make it clear that I am not talking about policy—time is too short and this issue is too important to leave it. I am talking about the presentation of policy. In that context we should not only look at government, but also at a whole cohort of City and financial commentators, many of them actually hostile to the Government, whose language has percolated throughout society. The jargon of economics today suggests to the uninformed who hear it—that relates to most of our population—not that market forces are the predominant influence over the economy, as the soil and the weather are the predominant influences over farming, but that market forces are the only influence and therefore the only consideration. That message, addressed to a society already half-taught by advertisers to regard life as a mere quest for possessions, encourages a profoundly materialistic view of life; a view which is not resisted by a press which annually prints a list of over 200 or so of the wealthiest citizens this time round. How easy it is, at this stage, to misinterpret also the very proper emphasis on self-reliance as an encouragement to self-regard or straight selfishness.

That brings us to the central issue in this debate. The criminal statistics that I have quoted, or a study of any popular newspaper, shows that our citizens do not have a proper respect for each other. I believe that that is because, as a nation, we are becoming daily more cynical and more materialist. For more and more of us the hunt for possessions has become the purpose of life. We, as a nation, are in danger of believing that the real worth of a human being is not his character, not his personality and not what he has given to the world, but how much he has taken from it. Anyone who believes that of life is very unlikely to survive it.

It is time for us to recognise the great Christian truths on which our society was founded. The great faiths of the world also recognise that life is not only a material, but a spiritual, experience. We need to turn to the great Christian truths on which our society was founded but which we seem to be turning away from like sleepwalkers. I say this heartened by the presence of the most reverend Primate and the right reverend Prelate: do not blame the Churches for a lack of leadership. There is nothing wrong with their preaching. Some send me their sermons and I listen to others—and I know. Unfortunately, sound sermons do not get reported. The media are not at present our allies in this. Goodness is no longer news. "Bishop condemns sin" does not sell newspapers or attract advertisers—and if market forces rule anywhere, it is on the editor's desk and the cutting-room floor.

It therefore falls to laymen from time to time to back up the clergy. They preach that life is a spiritual journey in which we learn that respect for one another is of the essence. God who commands us to love Him commands us also to love one another. That is not offensive to the minority faiths in this land as I hope we shall hear from one of their representatives later. It is at the heart of the Gospel and we need to learn it.

The state has a role in that by making such teaching possible in its schools, and we have passed statutes for that purpose, but the real responsibility lies with us as individuals, as formers of opinion which, like it or not, we are. We need to reassert upon earth the spiritual values and standards which saw us through two world wars and which we need if we are to survive the peace.

At the heart of those values is respect for one another. If your Lordships think that I have said anything particularly strange in your Lordships' House this afternoon, I remind those of you who were in time, as I was not, for Prayers today, that we pray daily and prayed today, after the safety, honour and happiness of the Queen, for, the publick … peace and tranquillity of the realm, and the … knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same, in true Christian love and charity one towards another". If that is back to basics, back to basics let us go. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he agrees that in many respects his party is now putting too much emphasis on the market place which, at the best, is short-term and, at the worst, is wrong?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I do not think that it is customary to reply to an intervention at this stage, so I merely ask the noble Viscount to read Hansard tomorrow and to remember that I was talking about presentation, not policy, because I am anxious to avoid a political debate and to try to send out a clearer message from this House than could be sent out by a political debate.

3.33 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the way in which he has expounded the thesis that was expressed in his Motion. I suppose that knowing of his valuable and estimable work with the Divert Trust, we might have expected him, as he did, to refer to the need to turn people, and particularly young people, away from crime. I suppose that we might have expected him to concentrate in the first part of his speech, as he did, on criminal statistics. I suppose that knowing of his background and his faith, we might have expected him to turn that into an appeal for individual responsibility which, in many ways, without sharing his faith, is an appeal which all of us share.

However, speaking personally—and I have not consulted any of my colleagues on this because the Motion is couched in such vague terms that no issue of party policy is called into question—I find myself at variance with the noble Lord both in his analysis of crime and its causes, and in his analysis of society and social policy. I am interested that he claims that he is referring only to the presentation of policy rather than to the policy. I should have thought that it might be more appropriate for your Lordships to refer to policy matters rather than to the presentation of policy—and that is certainly what I propose to do.

I start with the issue of crime. If the Motion had related only to the rise in crime, in my view it would have been entirely inappropriate for Conservative time in your Lordships' House to have been taken up with such a debate because the Conservative Government over the past 14 years have very little upon which to congratulate themselves. The noble Lord protected himself by referring to the rise in crime going back to the 1940s, but perhaps I may remind him that since 1979 detected crime has risen by 124 per cent; that car crime, for example, has risen by 162 per cent; that we are now at the top of the European burglary league; that in terms of the detection of crime, a 38 per cent, clear-up rate in 1979 has declined to a 26 per cent, clear-up rate in 1992; and that as of now, only one crime in 50—2 per cent.—results in a prosecution. All those things seem to indicate that crime would not be a proper subject for the Conservatives to introduce into the political arena; nor would the claim that the Conservative Party has anything particular to offer for dealing with the crime wave even if it were true that recorded crime and prosecuted crime were an adequate measure of criminal activity in our society—and I suggest that, for the reasons which were adequately covered in the debate on the gracious Speech, that is by no means the case.

Therefore, I think that it is only timely to pass on from the question of crime statistics to the wider issues which the noble Lord raises in his Motion. However, I do not think that I can do so without commenting on his observations about consumer credit or rather, to give it its true name, debt. It was, after all, a Conservative Government who took off the hire purchase controls. It was, after all, a Conservative Government who, by financial deregulation, made it enormously easier for those who wish to lend money to the men and women of this country almost regardless of whether they could afford to sustain the payments and interest. It was a Conservative Government who were responsible for the binge in consumer spending and consumer indebtedness which was the most conspicuous feature of our economy in the 1980s. I do not think that it comes well from any noble Lord on the Government Benches to refer to debt as if it were a problem for individuals rather than for our social and economic system.

The noble Lord then extended the argument—rightly and, indeed, necessarily—to a discussion of what he called the "tolerant society". I thought that we were going to get somewhere then, but I discovered that, for the noble Lord, a "tolerant society" is a term of abuse. To him, tolerance is something deplorable. He reminds me of Barry Goldwater who said that extremism in the cause of virtue is no vice and that moderation in the face of vice is no crime. I have paraphrased and I am sure that I have not got it quite right —in fact, judging by the face of the noble Lord, Lord Aldington, I have probably got the sense wrong as well as the words, but I think that he knows what I mean. In effect, what the noble Lord is saying, is that tolerance of things of which he happens to disapprove is somehow a virtue, and that a tolerant society, in which I would hope to live, is something that is deplorable. It reminds me of Authur Hugh Clough in The Latest Decalogue, condoning sins that we are inclined to by damning those that we have no mind to. I do not find that a happy way to look at mutual respect among our fellow citizens.

Then of course the noble Lord came to the crux of his argument when he started to refer to what he called the "collectivistic consensus". He started to blame it for all the evils that he described so graphically in his speech. I am an unrepentant supporter of the collectivistic consensus; I am an unrepentant opponent of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, who said that there was no such thing as society; I am an unrepentant opponent of the present Prime Minister when he says that it is our duty to condemn more and to understand less. I believe that it is our duty to attempt to understand more and to right the social evils in our society. I believe that that is the only effective way to give our citizens a proper respect for one another and for the law. Therefore, I make no apologies for returning, as we did in the debate on home affairs on the gracious Speech, to issues of social policy and the objectives of social policy.

Perhaps I may consider what might be the objectives of social policy in our society in order to achieve the objectives that the noble Lord wishes to attain. Let me divide them into four: security, opportunity, democracy, and fairness. When we look at security, I am reminded, as I see the constant attacks on different aspects, and sometimes the whole, of the welfare state, of the way in which non-commissioned officers in the Army tend to treat the people responsible to them. It is common practice, from my limited national service experience, that those in authority in the Army do not like units to settle down and be content with their lot. They like to make them uneasy, for there to be always the possibility that any secure way of organising Army life may be disorganised and upset. That may be correct in military terms—I have no understanding of that whatever—but it is not decent in social terms. What has happened in our society for the past 15 years or so has been a deliberate and concerted attempt to upset the kind of security that our people have had in their lives as well as their relationships with one another and with the state.

Let us look at the effect of that. It would not be appropriate for me to go over the argument about poverty that I put forward last week in the confidence debate, but surely it must be our objective in society not just to relieve poverty—that must be a second best—but to prevent poverty. What progress, I ask the noble Lord and the Government, has been made in that respect in the past 14 years? I suggest that the answer is that we have increased the differences between rich and poor; we have increased the amount of poverty; and we have increased the depth of poverty in our society. That must be damaging to our proper respect for one another.

Opportunity: I do not suggest that opportunity is about what the Government can do for people. I do not suggest that the Government play the critical role as initiator in providing opportunity; but they play a role in helping people to do things for themselves. Again, I ask the noble Lord and the Government: what is it in the policies of the past 14 years which has encouraged people to do things for themselves rather than being put into the dependency trap which has been the key to our social policy over the past few years? Is it not a fact that there are many tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of our people who would be better off if they were to take action to go into work rather than to depend upon the state?

I welcome the statement made in the Budget last week about child care. I welcome a number of individual initiatives in that respect, but; the marginal taxation rate at the lower level is enormously higher now than it is at the higher level of our society. That must be damaging to individual responsibility, and must help to create the dependency state which I hope that the noble Lord and I will agree is undesirable.

Democracy: I hope, again, that we agree that decisions made by people will be better decisions than those which have been made for people. Again, at the risk of repeating the debates which have taken place over the past two weeks, I must remind the noble Lord that the proportion of public expenditure which is now the responsibility of quangos (people appointed by government rather than elected by the people themselves) has increased, is increasing, and clearly will continue to increase, and is now higher than the expenditure of elected local authorities as a whole. It is not just that it is wrong in democratic terms to take away from people the responsibility of making their own decisions; it is inefficient; it is bad business; it does not make for good decisions.

Finally, in this litany—I apologise for it—I refer to the issue of fairness. I do not believe that there will be any great consensus on the issue of fairness, especially between the better off and those who are less well off. I do not expect there to be a consensus. Just as we all have ideas which will be different, one from another, about how much better off we need to be so as to be satisfied, so the idea of fairness of someone sleeping in a doorway in the Strand, and the idea of fairness held by—I shall avoid noble Lords—someone living in a castle will be different. We do have some concept of fairness in respect of relationships with one another. We do not expect total equality. We do expect the progressive reduction and ultimately the elimination of inequality. Equality which is brought about by accident, by parental wealth, or by other factors has no relevance to our own worth and our ability to contribute to society. In that sense, I do not feel that the noble Lord has given to the House any impression of the urgency of the need to increase fairness in our society as a way of inducing in our citizens a proper respect for one another.

Again, I have no hesitation in returning to the arguments of recent weeks and to the arguments of Keynes and Beveridge. Beveridge identified social evils 50 years ago as being want, ignorance, disease, squalor and idleness. I hope that I showed your Lordships at that time that we are not making progress in any of those respects. We are not doing so, partly for selfish reasons, in the sense, as Galbraith put it in The Culture of Contentment, that a majority of people in this country is doing perfectly well, thank you, and perfectly willing to abandon the rest of the people in this country to their fate.

My noble friend Lady Hollis of Heigham put it clearly when she quoted Beveridge on 23rd November this year. He said: Want, squalor, disease, ignorance and idleness are common enemies of us all—not enemies with which we may individually make a separate peace escaping oneself to personal prosperity, while leaving our fellows in their clutches. That is the meaning of social conscience—that one should refuse to make a separate peace with social evil". It is the denial of a separate peace with social evil which is at the heart of what I described with pride as the collectivist consensus. It is that collectivist consensus which, in the end, will produce in this country and society the proper respect of citizens for one another and for the rule of law.

3.50 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in expressing the gratitude of the House to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for his introduction to the debate and for the characteristic sensitivity and clarity with which he spoke.

The debate takes place against a background of continuing controversy about the relative importance of attacking the causes of crime over against the punishment of offenders. It takes place against the sharp memories that each one of us will have of the murder of James Bulger. Certain television and media pictures have the power to capture for us a particular moment or a particular horrific episode and to recall the emotions aroused. There were pictures of the shopping centre at Bootle; the small boy being dragged away to his death while an anxious mother hunted for him; and the later pictures of two boys, still, as we might have hoped at the age of innocence, in the dock accused of murder, of which they were convicted. Those pictures encapsulate for us a horrific moment and arouse in us a variety of emotions, compassion, anger and anxiety.

In the wake of that case we are spending much time debating the causes of such a crime. We must also acknowledge the power of evil in our world. The parallel between that act and the fictional story told by William Golding in Lord of the Flies is striking. A group of choirboys is marooned on an island. With the inhibitions imposed by adult presence removed they revert to barbaric behaviour. One of their number, the shortsighted boy called Piggy, is first teased by having his glasses smashed and then murdered. William Golding was contending that evil can take hold of any one of us. It is not that we are intrinsically evil but that our inner weaknesses allow us to be used for evil purposes. The James Bulger case must leave us reflecting upon the nature of evil.

But we cannot stop there because the Motion invites us to consider: the conditions necessary for the maintenance in the citizens of this country of a proper respect of each other and for the law". The phrase "a proper respect for each other and for the law" makes it clear that the purpose of law is to serve the needs of people. That is an Old Testament emphasis. Old Testament law is always framed to provide for the protection and the needs of people. We look forward to hearing the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits.

That emphasis is reinforced in the New Testament where the supreme commands are to love God with all our heart and mind and will and to love our neighbour as ourself. I am no lawyer but my understanding of English law is that it has that same person-oriented intention to provide the citizen with security of law within which his freedoms are respected and his obligations honoured.

The Motion deals not with love but with respect. In that regard it is worth taking note of the words used by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York in February 1993 in the "Credo" column of The Times. He described "respect" as being: a cooler virtue than love. But though it lacks the dynamism of love and love's emotional fire, it may to that extent be more serviceable and more universally applicable. Respect is rooted in the idea of the other person as other. Others are not to be taken for granted or exploited or diminished". The Motion calls attention to the conditions necessary for the maintenance of that respect. Together with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and many in the Churches, I take the view that the chief necessary condition is a climate of belief in God. One might expect a Bishop to say that, but it was borne out in a recent study of religion, morality and politics published by Nuffield College, Oxford. It was referred to in a recent article in the Guardian. The report indicates the high correlation between regular churchgoing and the acceptance of moral prescriptions and traditions. We in the Church of England have long argued that regular churchgoing, belief and behaviour belong together. One generation gives up going to church, the next generation abandons belief and the third generation loses the values by which its behaviour is governed. I do not claim for one moment that only people who go to church behave well. I am claiming that it is within a climate of belief generated by going to church that moral prescription is accepted.

Britain, together with other northern European nations, has a notably low level of religious observance. The Churches are aware of that and with the rest of society must bear some responsibility for this state of affairs. But the fact that we share this situation with, for instance, Scandinavia, Holland, Germany and other countries of northern Europe indicates that there are factors at work here which are common to that continent; that it is not simply laziness on the part of people or ineffectiveness on the part of Churches.

It is a situation, however, with which the Churches are not content. It is one which they do not intend to allow to continue. "The Decade of Evangelisation", or evangelism, is precisely about drawing people back to religious observance so that their beliefs may be strengthened and their behaviour formed and fashioned in accordance with tradition. In a recent exchange a Minister claimed that he had not observed any national crusade about right and wrong. I do not wish to dwell on that particular episode. However, it is worth pointing out that in the 1970s there was a national crusade, "The Festival of Light", and that in the 1990s there is an international initiative, "The Decade of Evangelisation", to which I have referred. Both of those initiatives have at their heart a stress on right and wrong. But they set that stress in the context of belief in God, the social as well as the individual dimension of wrongdoing and the necessity of God's grace—the power from beyond, which is also the power within—enabling us to grow towards God's intention and purpose for us.

People need not only knowledge of right and wrong but motivation to act upon that knowledge. Such motivation comes from what might be called "living models"—that is, those who embody goodness and inspire us to seek it. Fear of punishment is an ineffectual force by comparison. I believe punishment to be important but it is for the experience within one who has done wrong of the consequences of his or her wrongdoing. I believe that it is the experience of those who embody goodness which inspires us to follow them. Any society needs its saints.

For many of us, those who embody goodness in our early years are, or should be, our parents. The lack of good parenting is a severe deprivation for any child. It is right that a great deal of attention should be paid to the quality of love and commitment within families. I know that in recent weeks the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed that issue. Family life and marriage enrichment is a major area into which the Churches put resources, money and people. In my own diocese there are family centres, family workers, marriage enrichment weekends and a whole network of support which exists for those who are struggling to improve their parenting skills.

Many of us need that kind of support. It is perhaps necessary in particular for the families who in one way or another are impoverished not necessarily economically but in self-confidence and skills. The adults may lack the knowledge, skills and self-confidence that would make them effective parents. They may also be living their lives in the face of daily adversity that saps their energies and abilities to cope.

In that regard it is worth making a point about single parents, who have frequently been targeted in the recent debate. I have been a single parent, bringing up two children on my own and I know the loss that children suffer when they have only one parent. I know also the support which single parents need. But I believe that that is too easy a target. Single parents are a cross-section of people who have many different reasons for being single and we should not concentrate our attack in their direction. Whether parenting is worse now than it was in previous generations is open to debate. Some would argue that the fact that so many women work in the labour market with no compensating increase in family care from other sources creates deprivation.

My own observations lead me to conclude that many families are well able to cope with working husbands and wives. They do that by a variety of means—for example, the greater involvement of the father in parenting and the use of grandparents, friends and childcare facilities. Turning the clock back either to moral and religious authoritarianism or to the working father/stay-at-home mother model of family life would not really offer options, let alone solutions, to our present difficulties.

In so far as compliance with the law has been eroded by a lack of moral certainty, the secular remedy, as opposed to the remedy which I was offering a moment ago, must surely be the need to develop self-discipline and internal control in children, together with respect for society and for the development of a personal stake in the communities in which they share. In that regard, schools play a significant role by combating truancy and by developing a supportive and positive ethos which favours good discipline and considerate behaviour.

Religious and moral instruction, not least in Church schools, are important. The Church and the Government have worked constructively together in that area and the Government have shown great commitment which the Church welcomes. In turn, we are glad to hear the praise which government Ministers have given to the work of Church schools.

A more debatable matter, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, is the influence upon people of circumstances—poverty, inactivity and lack of direction and purpose. I do not propose to address that area except to say that it is obvious to me and, I should have thought, to anyone who has visited a modern housing estate with high unemployment that those conditions are not conducive to a proper respect for persons and the law. Countervailing pressures may be brought to bear from families and from society but hopelessness and a sense of being excluded from the life which others enjoy are tough enemies to fight against.

I quote from a recent report by NACRO, which stated: Parents struggling to raise their families in poverty and isolation on badly designed housing estates might well benefit from new ways of listening to children or exerting consistent discipline. But their interest in learning and their ability to apply new parental skills is bound to be limited if the external pressures remain unchanged". To provide genuine opportunities and a real sense of worth for every citizen in every part of our country is an integral element in meeting the aims set out in the Motion.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to video. I merely wish to echo what he said about that. I should point out that the effect on our imaginations of so much that is available to us to experience must indeed, as the noble Lord said, be very strong. That matter must be addressed.

Also, I should like to underline the comments which the noble Lord made about consumerism. There is a good deal of debate in the articles that I read which puts forward the idea that consumerism is the new religion. Therefore, perhaps it is no surprise that in another place today a debate is taking place on whether that new religion should have a place in the existing Sunday.

The citizens of this country come from a diverse mixture of traditions and cultures. The tradition of this country is one of tolerance. That is a tradition which, I daresay, has been broken in our own day, particularly by racially motivated acts of aggression and violence and by a resurgence of racism, notably against people of immigrant origin.

We share that diversity of society and that increasing intolerance with our neighbours in Europe, who face the same dangers and opportunities. We are bound together with them in a body based upon human rights and the rule of law; that is, the Council of Europe. The Vienna Declaration of October of this year, adopted unanimously by the 32 member states, including the United Kingdom, gave expression to an anxiety about the place of minorities in our societies. I quote only one phrase from that declaration, which invited member states to reinforce guarantees against all forms of discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin or on religion. I believe that that is another integral element in the conditions necessarily called for by the Motion.

It is clear that we are addressing a complex problem and that an effective prevention strategy will need to target a good many factors at the same time. Multiple problems need multiple solutions.

I conclude with another quotation from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on the theme of respect which embodies what I wish to say in this debate. He said while referring to our national life: My own growing conviction is that at the heart of it there lies this progressive breakdown in the structure of moral relationships. These once gave people confidence in what they were and how their lives took shape and meaning from a God-given order outside themselves. We now live in a new world in which many of the landmarks have been removed. To restore a sense of moral order is going to be hard though not, thank God, impossible. The strengthening of mutual respect, the bottom line in personal and social ethics, would be a good starting point". That strengthening will take place as many bodies become involved in a partnership, in working towards those aims. We in the Churches commit ourselves to continue to work for the aims of this Motion.

4.9 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I too begin by thanking my noble friend Lord Elton for introducing what is a very important and wide-ranging debate this afternoon. I enter into it with some considerable hesitation. I do not pretend for one moment to be an expert on the causes of crime or, indeed, on the causes of a lot of our troubles today. The remarks which I make are my own thoughts about the matter, and they are not intended to be taken in any political connotation.

I should just like to touch on a number of issues. Before doing so, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. I shall read extremely carefully his speech because I believe that he said some very important things this afternoon which clearly deserve much closer study.

My noble friend Lord Elton began by giving an enormous number of statistics about crime and, indeed, they were followed by statistics given by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. No one can argue with them because they are facts. They are facts which are extremely distressing because for a whole number of reasons, one has always imagined that as people became more prosperous, the need for crime would diminish. We seem to have the reverse of that. That is one of the puzzling aspects of the whole matter.

I believe that we are beginning to see a kind of breakdown in the fabric of society. Like all your Lordships, when talking to people one finds that one of their greatest anxieties is whether or not they are about to be burgled or whether or not their car will be broken into and whether, in fact, they have been burgled. There is great anxiety throughout society. For example, elderly people are terribly worried about opening the front door—certainly after dark—but even in the summertime after about 6 o'clock in the evening. That seems to, be quite contrary to one's childhood memories. I recall that we never even bothered to lock the front door, let alone do anything else, on many occasions. But that world has gone for good. It is no use trying to put the clock back.

Perhaps I may offer just a few observations. One comes to ask oneself how we arrived at the situation in which we now find ourselves. I remember very well when my first child was born in 1951. Some American friends sent me a book by Dr. Spock about the bringing up of children. I can see that that rings a bell with other noble Lords. When I read it I felt singularly depressed because, having as a child been told whenever I was wrong that it was entirely my fault, I suddenly discovered on becoming a mother that anything that went wrong with the child was my fault. It seemed to me that I had obviously been born at the wrong moment.

However, the truth is that the child-centred philosophy has had a very profound influence on our thinking. The idea that children ought not to be repressed and that parents were invariably responsible for the misdeeds of their children has, I believe, affected us all. Of course, sometimes parents are responsible; but not always. As a result, the message that it gave to children was, "I am not responsible in this particular way". It is quite a short step from there to say, "What I want. I should have", whether it is someone else's possessions, sex, drugs or whatever.

I think that the latter had an undermining effect. The first group of people that it undermined were parents. They were greatly undermined by the philosophy. That was then picked up by the theorists who could argue very cleverly that of course it was not the fault of the child and that everything should be made all right for him. That was the view of the the theorists, whether they were sociologists, teachers or psychologists. At the end of the day, poor old mother could not say anything at all because there was an expert somewhere who knew far more about it and she was likely to be shouted down.

The child-centred philosophy then went into the school. I was astonished to be told only a month ago by a primary school teacher that, "I must not say anything negative about my children". Why, I ask myself? Some kinds of behaviour are clearly better than others. As a result, I believe that it weakened education standards because everything had to be made interesting and enjoyable. However, I hasten to add that I am not at all suggesting that lessons should be dull or that that is good for anyone. But the truth of the matter is that some things do require hard work and commitment.

Many youngsters now leave school almost unemployable after 11 years of compulsory education. I shall return later to that point. They do not in fact come up against what might be described as reality until they get a job and then, of course, they discover that it is not the individual that counts: the business that they are in must be put first. They suffer consequently from what is called "stress", because they have found themselves in a very different world. Moreover, they go on to blame other people. Whenever one opens a newspaper or turns on the television, I find it astonishing that one nearly always sees someone getting the blame. If you are lucky you will get a lot of money because you can pin the blame on someone else—that is, anyone but yourself.

The latter has had a very profound effect on our thinking, not only in family life, where it is most important, but also in education and in society as a whole. I am not suggesting that one should turn the clock hack and say that children are always wrong, but surely there is a middle, common-sense path which supports parents and deals with children.

Much has been said about being an affluent society. I should have thought that we would all agree that it is desirable to be an affluent society. Indeed, I do not think that anyone particularly wants a poor society or one like the third world. The problem that confronts us is that: we are an affluent society, frequently without a moral structure to underpin it Once you have great affluence—and the importance of that affluence is really, at the end of the day, what you do with it—but no moral structure, you run into difficulties. Again, it is the taking away of individual responsibility.

Having made just two points—of course, there are many others that could be made, but this is not the subject of a long lecture—I ask: what should be done? First, we need to look for the support of marriage and of families. I believe that the terrible statistics on divorce, on single-parent families and on the numbers of live births outside marriage (which I believe is now something like 30 per cent.) are really very alarming. They are undermining the whole fabric of society. Therefore, in so far as I have had the time to study them, I think that the proposals of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor that there should be conciliation and reconciliation before the breakdown of marriages must be a very positive step in the right direction. It is not for me to say whether all the details are right, but it seems to me that we ought to do everything to try to encourage couples to stay together so that they have the right opportunities to bring up their children.

Whereas many one-parent families do extremely well against the most terrible odds, the truth is that anyone who has brought up children knows how difficult a task it can be. Indeed, it is difficult when you have a happy marriage, enough money and a home—it is seven days a week, 365 days a year and hard work. But it is very hard work for the single parent on his or her own, as the case may be.

The second aspect at which we should look carefully is the education system. We have had many debates in the House on education. I certainly do not want to rehearse any of the arguments. However, I believe that the Ofsted report published only yesterday shows that a proportion of schools are not actually teaching the requisite number of hours and that there is a very high percentage of truanting in some schools. It also shows that the standards are too low. That means that a number of children will end up unemployable. It is particularly serious for boys and young men who seem to be the prime offenders rather than girls and women.

If one looks at the unemployment statistics, one sees that unemployment is lower among women than among men. As a result, it seems to me that boys and young men are going through the education system frequently truanting, ending up unemployable, and are likely to lead a completely feckless and irresponsible life; and, ultimately, they are turning to crime, though not necessarily in that sequence. However, there is a measure of truth in what I say. We must take the matter seriously—stretching all children as far as possible so that they get the best results from their compulsory education.

Every speaker who has spoken so far has touched on the subject of violence and pornography on television. realise that it is extremely difficult to talk about the subject. I say that because either it suggests that you spend your life looking at it so that you know what it is about: or, alternatively, that you have never looked at it at all and do not know anything. I do not pretend for one moment that I spend my life glued to the television. I have far too many other things to do. However, nowadays I find myself frequently switching it off. I simply cannot look at some of the scenes broadcast on television. I believe that the steady dose of violence which appears before children is very serious. I am not talking about video nasties; indeed, I am thankful to say that I have never seen one. But I sometimes watch Saturday morning television with my grandchildren. Of course, it is a make-believe world, but it is a violent one. There are constant scenes of violence. I share with my noble friend Lord Elton the view that the idea that this has no effect on children is a complete illusion. What on earth is teaching all about if it is not concerned with putting in front of children good and desirable things from which one hopes they will learn? If one gives them the opposite of that, they must be learning from that too. This is a serious aspect of life.

I hope that when my noble friend replies to the debate she will say something about the Government's attitude to the import of these unpleasant video nasties. I hope she will also refer to the Government's attitude to violence and pornography on television. It is all very well to say that violence on television is only broadcast after nine o'clock at night but we all know perfectly well that many children stay up far later than nine o'clock.

I have said that I think that an affluent society without a moral underpinning is a dangerous place. I believe that we are witnessing in our country today a first generation of school children who are growing up without a moral framework. In many cases they grow up without any religion at all. I am frequently asked to address school children. It is no use my making any kind of biblical allusion because no one has the remotest idea what I am talking about. That is a sad fact. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon said, Christian belief is important. I am lucky to worship at an evangelical church which is full to bursting every single Sunday. It has a vast youth group and vast numbers of children attend the Sunday school. That is a good thing and I wish more churches were as full as that one. It is a tragic fact that churchgoing is declining when we need that commitment so much.

In the past one reason why there was less crime was that adult society stood together. Parents had a fairly clear idea what they believed in even if they did not know it exactly. They had a clear idea about the difference between right and wrong. Whatever was said in the home was reinforced when the child attended school. There was a clear set of precepts about right and wrong. Those precepts were certainly reinforced if the worst came to the worst and a child appeared before a court. There was a clear pattern for everyone. Now I believe there is a great deal of moral confusion. People are not sure what to say to children and they are not clear in themselves what they think about these things. This muddle is conveyed to a whole generation who do not know the difference between right and wrong. One can detect that when one hears young people being interviewed. They may worry about being caught, but the whole moral concept of life is quite alien to them. We need to return to a moral concept.

I am not here to apportion blame to anyone as regards how we have reached this state. I believe it is much more important to consider how we might move forward to help in the fight against crime, in supporting family life and in supporting all those parts of society which serve to stabilise it. If this debate advances that at all, it will have been well worth while.

4.24 p.m.

Lord Jakobovits

My Lords, I join in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for having introduced what I regard as possibly the key challenge of our age. I found it rewarding to listen to all the subsequent contributions. Speakers have presented their extremely valuable thoughts on a subject that I believe transcends partisanship—I speak from the Cross—Benches on this issue—and religious differences. This is a problem that should exercise every single one of us as members of humanity. We cannot escape responsibility in this matter.

As already intimated in the wonderful speech which I heard with particular interest from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, if legislation were the answer, the solution would be simple. Just enact the law originally ordained in the Third Book of Moses over 3,000 years ago—"Love your neighbour as yourself". Let us pass such a law in both Houses of Parliament and we have the answer. If people really loved others and cared for others as for themselves, there would be no crime, no divorce and no disrespect. The trouble is of course not only how such an enactment will be enforced, but—this is an even bigger problem—will such a law, even if proposed, be passed in today's climate of public opinion? I have my doubts.

Quite recently, when I publicly advocated some biblical laws on morality, a demonstration was organised against me in the name of freedom of sexual preference. Presumably such freedom to choose alternative lifestyles now means that adultery or incest between consenting parties should also no longer be denounced as morally wrong. Today it is a sin to speak about moral wrongs. By noisy protests, a tiny minority seeks to impose its views on the morally sensitive majority under pain of intimidation and defamation. So the law itself cannot always help us, at least not much.

Let us turn to education. I am sure that I speak for many in applauding the Education Secretary for removing sex education in schools from morally neutral science and insisting on relating it to moral responsibilities and family values. I recall when the AIDS campaign was first launched under the slogan, "Don't Die of Ignorance", I told the then Education Secretary that this was misleading. Ignorance is not a fatal disease; no one dies of it. People die as a consequence of undisciplined behaviour. Indeed, more important than clean needles are clean conduct and clean thoughts. Protection during moral lapses is only the second best. The first choice should be self-control, and that first choice is hardly ever mentioned.

It is to be hoped that state education will now be increasingly geared to cultivating some moral virtues, not least to have respect for others and for the law in the words of the subject of this debate. But this, too, does not suit our libertarians. To inculcate moral values, they insist, is the job of parents. Quite so, but what if the parents are neither able nor willing to undertake the job? Shall their children be left without guidance on what is right and wrong, aimlessly floundering in a sea of indifference and amid squalls of turpitude?

Then there are, of course, the crusaders against indoctrination, always pleading: let the children grow up to decide for themselves and to discover these truths on their own. Imagine we were to adopt the same attitude towards the sciences and the arts. Imagine that we did not teach our children the discoveries of Pythagoras, Archimedes, or Newton and left them to find those insights for themselves. Imagine not introducing them to the artistic creations, the literature or history of past masters, leaving our children to explore those human attainments and discover them on their own.

Do we really expect our young people to have the genius of an Abraham or a Moses in discovering monotheism and social justice or the originality of our greatest thinkers and scholars? Do we expect that our youth will arrive unaided and unguided at conclusions which it took mankind's finest brains and most inspired minds to reach in thousands of years of accumulated wisdom? What a strange and pernicious doctrine that in matters of faith and morals we may not communicate the intellectual and spiritual heritage of earlier giants lest our children be subjected to indoctrination.

Neither legislation nor education can by themselves provide the answers. However, they can help in combination with other efforts. Perhaps I may give your Lordships a few illustrations.

We now have league tables of scholastic achievements in schools. We ought to have similar league tables for moral excellence. National attention ought to be drawn to schools which are free from drug problems, which have no teenage pregnancies and which excel in social service schemes through which pupils help the aged or the disabled. All that should be designed to create a greater awareness of the need for caring and self-discipline in the fabric of our society. Only the state can generate popular enthusiasm for social virtues and moral eminence.

Secondly, as we have heard, the most potent influence in shaping public opinion, for good or for evil, is of course the media. The media's assumed right to exploit, and often to magnify, the misery or disgrace of individuals in order to boost their circulation is indefensible. Such mischief-mongering in the private affairs of others may eventually cost the nation its most treasured asset, by replacing reverence with scorn and breeding contempt where there should be affection, inherited from one generation to another.

Finallly, I have a suggestion bearing on the root of decadence and unhappiness in our society, to which passing reference has just been made. We now have a divorce rate of more than one in three marriages. The resultant toll of human misery is incalculable, causing millions of children to be deprived of their birthright of a loving home and to be raised instead in a wasteland breeding crime, bitterness and resentment.

Marriage is now a disaster area, breaking the morale of millions of citizens and destroying their capacity to contribute to society. We do not allow people to drive a car unless they have had some training in the use of what might otherwise prove to be a lethal instrument. Failed marriages are even more dangerous and cause far more casualties among the parties and future generations. We need not idly tolerate the disintegration of our society through lack of respect and caring. We can insist, by legislation, on not giving to any parties a licence to be married unless they have been trained at courses preparing them for the responsibilities as well as for the joys of marriage and of parenting. We are irresponsible in allowing young people to go on the supreme adventure of married life without insisting on any form of training and preparation.

We can begin to reverse the current trend, helping to raise citizens who will respect each other, living by ideals which can never age or fade.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I am sure that all of your Lordships will share my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Elton for choosing this subject for debate and for the very fine speech which he delivered, particularly the excellent latter part with its highly spiritual emphasis.

I cannot help feeling that this House is the right place to discuss these matters. I find it a little difficult to envisage a debate on this subject in another place. Somehow it would not fit. Here we have the advantage of spiritual leaders such as the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, to whom we have just listened with enormous interest and respect, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. Perhaps I may add a personal view. I always listen to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon with particular interest, not only because he speaks extremely well but also because the title of Bishop of Ripon was for many years borne by my grandfather, whom I still remember as one of the right reverend Prelate's predecessors in that splendid diocese. It always gives me a. thrill to hear a Bishop of Ripon address your Lordships' House. That thrill was accentuated by the admirable address by the right reverend Prelate.

The other advantage of this debate is that, with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, it has been entirely free of party issues. We have not attempted to score party points. I hope and believe that we shall continue the debate in that spirit. We have plenty of other opportunities to raise party points.

There are two aspects to the Motion. The first is to encourage respect for each other. That is an important aspect of the matter. How are we to educate our people to have respect for each other? How are we to eliminate jealousies, ill feeling and prejudices? It is a very serious aspect.

In that regard I want to make one further point which has not so far been made in the debate; namely, the difficulty which now arises in connection with the bringing up of children. A great many wives now work full time. If they have young children real difficulties arise in looking after them. It is extremely difficult for a woman to do a good job for her employer and at the same time to supervise her children's upbringing, particularly if she has several children.

I believe that a good many of the recent cases which, sadly, we have seen of children who have misbehaved in one way or another, sometimes violently, are often cases where not only the father but also the mother are in employment and there is a lack, therefore, of continued supervision, training and support for the children. That seems to me to be a weakness in the way our society has gone.

I understand the point that if both husband and wife are working the family income is more or less doubled, and that is a great attraction; but it does not get away from the real, practical difficulties involved in the upbringing of the children. The only suggestion I can make is that the Minister will consider that allowances should be stepped up as soon as is financially and economically possible so that, if the wife decides to stay at home to look after the children, the family will not be financially excessively penalised. I think that that is an important but fairly modern aspect of our society. In my young days, few married women had a job; now the great majority do and they do extremely well. But that does not detract from the fact that if they have children it must be enormously difficult for them to supervise their upbringing. Therefore, the only practical way of dealing with the problem seems to me to attempt to restore the financial balance; undoubtedly either mainly by way of tax concessions or allowances for married couples in order to discourage the wife from feeling any necessity to go out to work and earn money.

The Motion also refers to obtaining greater respect for the law. Sadly, it is true that the law is very widely disregarded. One curious aspect of that is that in former times, when there was a good deal of lawlessness, the expedient of all governments was to step up the penalties, to make punishment more severe, to secure that breaches of the law were more and more heavily punished. We, on the other hand, have in recent years gone the other way. I feel rather tempted to point out that the abolition of capital punishment—and I have always been opposed to its abolition—has had repercussions right through our criminal legal system.

Having decided to eliminate capital punishment and substitute life sentences, we find that the whole pattern of legal penalties has been pushed in the gentler direction. In fact, a life sentence is extremely difficult to operate. It undoubtedly causes great difficulty to prison staff because a person who is genuinely in for life has every incentive to misbehave and make trouble. Therefore, prison staff have a natural liking for arrangements to be made for his release. It is a fact that a life sentence now, certainly for a younger person, is hardly ever served.

Here we have the law being put in a slightly absurd position. We have the judge saying, with due solemnity: "You will go to prison for the term of your natural life". But if the prisoner is at all sophisticated he knows perfectly well that that is not so. He knows that he will be released sooner or later; first on leave and, secondly, on suspension of the sentence. The whole deterrent effect which a life sentence should have is very much undermined. That is the direct consequence of the abolition of capital punishment, therefore shunting the penalty from death to the so-called life sentence.

Not only does that undermine the deterrent, it also increases the opportunity for crime. We have recently seen three cases in the past year in which a prisoner, convicted of murder, was sent to prison technically for life but has been released and committed a second murder. It is therefore an indication that we seek to deal with a crime wave by the opposite method from the one which would normally be used in those cases—that is, of making penalties more severe. On the contrary, we are making penalties more gentle.

Equally, with the prisons being very full, there is naturally an incentive to my noble friend the Home Secretary, and those who serve him in the Home Office, sometimes to release on what is oddly called "home leave" or sometimes to end the sentence. I am afraid that that undermines the deterrent effect of the law.

Perhaps I may support that with a personal reminiscence going back to the days of capital punishment. At the Old Bailey I was defending a young member of a gang of robbers who used violence. I very soon learnt that the prosecution proposed to introduce into the case the suggestion that the people taking part in it were armed. I therefore went to see my young client in his cell at the Old Bailey and said: "I must know whether or not that is so. The way in which I conduct your defence will obviously be affected by that aspect of the matter. Were you armed?" He looked at me with horror and said: "No. If I had a gun and shot and killed somebody, I'd swing for it, wouldn't I?" I was able to tell him that in the then state of the law his assessment of the legal position was wholly accurate.

The significance of that example is that a young man who was quite prepared to indulge in violent crime, robbery with violence, drew the line at murder. Now that line has been very much blurred; now the penalties are becoming similar. Therefore, one of the matters which we must look at is the whole of our penal system. The threat of the courts does not deter in the way that it used to. Undoubtedly, that has a great deal to do with the vast increase in crime, apart from the fact that in more and more cases the offenders are never found out. The number of cases where no conclusion is reached is considerable.

Thus, there are two aspects to the matters raised on the Motion. One is the highly mundane one, to which I have referred: whether the penalties of our law are sufficient. I suggest that they are not. I believe, for example, that if we held a public referendum on capital punishment there would be a strong affirmative vote in favour of it and that would restore the whole balance in dealing with the more serious offences.

The other side has been discussed at some length: what I called earlier the "spiritual" side. It is necessary that a lead should be given and I pay tribute to the way in which the Churches seek to do that. A lead should be given to persuade people of all kinds and at all levels of society of the basic principles of the Christian faith, the basic respect that each individual should have for every other individual and that, therefore, the whole idea of using violence, fraud or any other expedient in order to damage other people should be dismissed. That is the thought that has emerged from this debate. If that thought is given more prominence in our society, the country as a whole will owe a great deal to my noble friend Lord Elton.

4.50 p.m.

Viscount Tonypandy

My Lords, we have been privileged to listen to speeches of a very high standard, which have tried to deal—all that we can do is try—with the problem which has people bewildered and frightened from John o'Groat's to Land's End, in the council estates as much as in the comfortable homes of this country.

I join with noble Lords in paying sincere tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, not only for raising the subject, but for the way in which he graciously opened the door before us all by providing the fundamental statistics with which we have to deal.

Many years ago the government of the day used to publish the statistics of people killed and injured on our roads during holiday periods. I always felt sorry when I heard the figures announced. Then one year my eldest sister was killed in a road accident. I remember, when the statistics were announced at the end of the year, I turned to my mother and said: "Our Ada is one of those, Mum". The tragic statistics which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, gave us represent real people, whose lives are being spoiled, and who in the 1990s cannot find an anchor for responsible social conduct.

I have been very moved by the positive attitude that has been taken throughout the debate. We live in a period when the old guide-posts on which we relied have been pushed aside. When the sign-posts which showed us what was right and what was wrong seem to have been pulled up and thrown away, it is natural that it is not easy for us to find the cure. We can see the results. I listened with anxious care to the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, as I did to the learned former Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, who also spoke before me. Change we cannot avoid.

I have been privileged, as have many other Members of this House, to live to a great age. My mother was a Victorian. She had Victorian values—and they were not bad values. I came from a single parent family. My mother was left with five children at a time when there were no social services. It was a very different world from the one in which we live today. I never heard her complain. She was the breadwinner for us and I was in my teens before I had a stepfather, who then had a great influence on my life and whom I respected and loved very dearly. As I look at the problem today, I am reminded that I was nurtured in a home where I was taught to look at people in terms of their possibilities. I was trained as a schoolmaster, and I spent thirteen and a half years in the classroom. Whenever I looked at my children I knew that they had unequal gifts. I knew that they came from very different sorts of backgrounds and homes. But I also knew that not one of them was without gifts. Each had potential.

I believe that somehow we have to rely still on the three structures upon which we have always relied for order and discipline in our lives, and for courtesy and respect. The first is the Church. It is so easy to criticise the Church, especially for those who never go to church. They criticise it; I love it. I listened with deep respect and attention to the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Ripon. I believe that the church, the school and the home are far more concerned with the well-being of society than even are the police. I do not deny that the police are very important. We have to have people who will ensure that those who do not obey the law are at least punished so that others see the example.

One of our weaknesses today is that we are almost afraid to teach the young self-discipline. A teacher who corrects them has to be so careful. We have copied America until it is almost impossible. If you scold in a loud voice, you can be in trouble and be told that you are intimidating or bullying. The adolescent who grows without self-discipline is a menace to society. The adolescent who grows having been encouraged to develop self-discipline at home and in school is a blessing for the community.

Every Member of this House has links with charities. We are aware of the army of young people in this country today who step forward for sponsored exercises and are willing to work for people whom they will never see—people in the third world or who may be sleeping in the streets of London—who are in dire need.

The danger, of which I am very conscious, is that on a subject like this it is easy for any of us to let our prejudices get out of control. I realise that. But I am also aware that we are failing. I believe that we are failing partly in the training colleges. Much greater emphasis ought to be given when we train our teachers to the responsibilities they have for the moral, as well as the academic, development of the youngsters who are in their care. Teaching is a high calling. In my eyes it is as high as the priesthood. It is there to help others to discover themselves. The responsibility of the state is to enable the teacher, with a proper sized class and with proper conditions, to fulfil that responsibility for us.

I am reminded by the very fact that I am sitting next to the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, that 4,000 years ago the Commandments were brought down to us. How they have stood the test of time! Every civilised country has based its rules upon them: "Thou shalt not kill … Thou shalt not steal … Thou shalt not tell lies … Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbours … Thou shalt not be jealous"; and the positive rule of worship at the centre.

Towards the end of the Old Testament, in the Book of Haggai —I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, will not mind a Methodist inter-pretation—the Jewish people had returned from exile in Babylon and were busy making money, minding their own business and getting on very well. But there was one thing that they had forgotten. They had forgotten to build a temple. Haggai reminded them that any community without worship at the centre was in danger; because when people worship they have moral codes and standards. In my belief, a civilised society is impossible without a moral code.

I move to my conclusion. Parliament does not often turn its attention to great moral issues such as the one that we are discussing tonight. I disagree on this matter with my friend (as I hope I may call him) the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. In fact the other place could have a very good debate on this subject—and it would do them good, too.

I know that the country wants leadership. In every home, every mother who nurses a baby must hope that her little one will grow to fulfil his or her full potential and play an honourable part in society. That does not depend on income. Income is important, as everybody knows. I have had a taste of poverty, and I know that money is important. But it is not everything. You can be rich and go to pieces if you do not have the right beliefs. Wealth does not protect anyone against becoming a criminal. We see that when we look at the City today. I hear cheers from some noble Lords.

Let me conclude. My Lords, I believe that today we are better occupied than another place, which is wondering how to tamper with Sunday. We are occupied with the question of how we can apply the bandages and cure the ills of this generation. As surely as I stand here, we shall need a moral basis.

5.3 p.m.

Viscount Caldecote

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. But it is also a disadvantage because any speech after his is bound to be an anticlimax. I should also like to join in thanking and congratulating my noble friend Lord Elton who has raised a most important and difficult issue. It is important because it affects not only this generation; it will affect future generations for a long time to come. It is difficult because it involves changing people's attitudes, which is always a very long process. That is all the more reason for starting to tackle the issue seriously today.

The Prime Minister and Mr. Patten have made a good start. But the real problem lies in the hearts and minds of people. Action by government alone cannot solve the problem, but it can make an important contribution.

Let me deal first with attitudes to crime. As my noble friend said, there has been a dramatic increase in crime over the past 40 years. There are now few areas where doors can be left unlocked or parks where children can play alone. In earlier days burglars concentrated on the rich people and, as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, said, they were very seldom armed. Now not even pensioners are safe from assault and theft. The police are in danger too. Those are just a few examples. But rather than concentrate on punishment we need to tackle the problem at source. As other noble Lords have said, crime prevention is much better than detection and punishment.

I believe that there are three basic causes for the lack of respect for each other and for the law to which my noble friend referred: home influence, teaching at school and poverty or deprivation. That comment is supported by substantial research carried out by Cambridge University, which looked into the subsequent careers of 400 eight year-old boys from the East End. There is no doubt that the tendency to crime is developed very early in the child's upbringing. If any two of those basic factors (home, school and poverty) are absent, great damage will result. I say that because the argument is often used that poverty and unemployment are not relevant factors in the problem of preventing crime. It is argued that past experience shows that to be true because in the early 1930s there was vast unemployment and much greater poverty than today but there was not nearly so much crime.

But then, for most young people, however poor, parental, family and school influences were benign. Discipline was strong and parents were backed up by teachers. So despite poverty, there was relatively little crime.

Over the past 40 years all that has changed. The so-called liberal principles have restricted the influence of good teachers—and there are many good teachers. Too often they are not backed up by parents. There are also many good parents, but too many of them do not help the teachers very much. Too many teachers are not respected as they used to be. I am sure that the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, was always respected when he was teaching. There is a crying need for much greater discipline and that will only be achieved by the mutual support of parents and teachers. So I welcome very much the emphasis on improving teachers' training in the Education Bill that is going through this House.

Parent-teacher associations also have a valuable part to play in improving the mutual help and co-operation between parents and teachers. Charities too—I have made the point before—also have a big part to play. I have mentioned Schools Outreach, which sends well trained counsellors into schools at the invitation of the teachers to help in pastoral care. That is one good example. Another example is the organisation Exploring Parenthood, which provides an outside counselling service. I believe that such organisations can make a big contribution to solving the problems that have been mentioned today. But they are all short of money. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some assurance that that problem will be examined, not only because it is a very good investment, but also because the charities are able to adopt a very much more flexible attitude in dealing with the many difficult cases that come in front of them.

Overall a real difficulty is the need to deal with present crime and the factors—some of which I mentioned—which will reduce future crime. There is no more important issue than that and we must be prepared to make adequate financial investment now in the future standards and happiness of society. If we do not, we shall he concentrating on present punishment rather than future prevention.

In that respect Churches have a big role to play. In the past it seemed to me that there had been some evidence that our Churches had been too ready to trim their sails to the prevailing wind of opinion instead of seeking to lead, emphasising the eternal Christian truths of right and wrong, of sin and forgiveness. But I am sure that the attitudes of the Church and its leaders have changed and are now moving in a much more robust direction. But the Churches can only work to full effect in a receptive climate. The responsibility is with us all to create that climate.

Another important factor is the concept of service; of doing a job well for its own sake and its value to the community as well as seeking a fair reward. The enterprise culture and the culture of market forces of the 1980s did a great service in improving the strength of the economy and the creation of wealth. But with that came the idea that the only incentive is financial reward. Everyone needs adequate incentives, but I suggest that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of, "I'm all right Jack". I should like to see it come back to a more central position with service to the community regaining a better balance with materialistic reward. It can be done and the law has a part to play in that. But it will need also the example and speeches of politicians, industrialists and the teaching fraternity.

As said earlier, this is a vast subject and the solutions are long-term. Because of that I hope that we can develop inter-party agreement on the way forward so that we can move as fast as possible. I was sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, introduce so many party points into the debate. We heard many valuable contributions today and there will be many more. They will help us along the path of preventing crime rather than concentrating on the need to punish it when it occurs. I repeat therefore how much we are indebted to my noble friend Lord Elton for bringing forward this extremely important problem.

5.13 p.m.

Lord Charteris of Amisfield

My Lords, I should like to begin by adding my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for instituting this most interesting debate. I listened with great respect and admiration to the speeches which noble Lords made covering the whole gamut and arc of our system and our problems. I hope that I shall not let the side down by descending to more specific issues; I should like to go back to the words of the Motion, which say that we must find ways, for the maintenance in the citizens of this country of a proper respect for each other and for the law". In other words, people should have better manners. That is one way of describing it. But it is really talking about human nature. That seems to me to be the problem. The problem with human nature is that we cannot change it—but we can learn to live with it. Therefore, if we are really trying to find a way to achieve the objective of the Motion, we should look at our education system.

I am not sure that the Bill that we discussed on Second Reading yesterday will help us a great deal. If we are to make the education system do its job towards creating the kind of society we want, we should introduce statutory nursery schools throughout the country. I cannot imagine anything more likely to prove effective. Whether they are provided as play groups or classes in schools does not matter, they could pay heavy dividends.

I know that there are many good reasons why that cannot be done. One of the reasons, according to the report by the National Commission on Education—which, incidentally, makes a solid recommendation that we should introduce statutory nursery schools—is that it will cost £860 million. That is a lot of money. But I dare to suggest that we would soon get the money back by fewer people being sent to prison. Therefore I hope that when the Minister replies she will assure us that the Government will at least consider the recommendations from the report of my noble friend Lord Walton, and do so seriously and genuinely.

Nursery schools must be good for children. do not believe that there is any point in arguing or gassing about that. But one aspect that is not often mentioned is that not only are they good for the children, but also they are extremely good for the parents, particularly when the parent is a young mother and possibly single.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, spoke of the hard work involved in bringing up children. It is grilling hard work. If nursery education existed then the mothers would at least get a break—four days a week or whatever it is—from the treadmill of bringing up children. I cannot imagine anything better for them.

There is another point. When the children go to nursery school the mother will probably meet other mothers and those who are running the schools who will be able to give them good advice on how to bring up children. When one considers what it must be like to bring up children, possibly without a husband and at the top of a tower block, it mist be seen that we need nursery schools. That is all that I wish to say and I hope that the Government will give the matter serious consideration.

5.18 p.m.

Viscount Brentford

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Elton for the debate and for introducing it so clearly and interestingly. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Charteris, in regard to the importance of human nature. I am not sure, however, that I go all the way with him in saying that we cannot do anything about it. I shall come back to that matter.

Many points were made about the problem that the conditions do not exist in this country at the moment which are conducive to implementing the respect called for in the Motion. When a young burglar grinds his feet into the face of an 84 year-old lady, those conditions do not exist. When 10 year-olds are committing murder, when a 12 year-old commits rape and when families—as discussed already in the debate—are being undermined, those conditions do not exist.

What, therefore, are we to do about it? Let me continue with a quotation from a letter to The Times from Professor Sims and Professor Gray a few days ago and touch on the problem of the media, which has been much mentioned. The letter states that, much modem violent material portrayed on video, film and television propels the viewer into identifying with the perpetrator and not with the victim. The viewer is encouraged to see the story and the acts of violence through the eyes of the person who inflicts harm, to despise the victim as weak and inferior, and to banish any feelings of guilt or remorse". A very serious change is coming upon us today if we are looking heroically through the eyes of the perpetrator of violence and not just watching the violence dispassionately. The general public have no doubt that media violence provokes violence in reality. Nor have television advertisers any doubt that the media mould behaviour.

The occasional large fraud in the City must also be noted. Whether the sentence of Mr. Levitt to 180 hours' community service is correct is not for me to judge but a great deal of doubt has been expressed about it. There is a problem in that many people are now saying, "If you are big enough, you get away with crime". Perhaps I may quote from Mr. Graham Searjeant, writing in The Times on Monday. In his article he touched on a subject being debated in another place today. He stated that, corporate bully boys who have flouted the law [on Sunday trading] used financial muscle to dissuade local authorities from enforcing it. Dismayingly, at least eight of Britain's top hundred quoted companies have chosen to flout, challenge or at best ignore the law: a majority of those involved in retailing … What does this tell us about the attitude of big business to other inconvenient, controversial or anomalous laws and regulations: tax laws, accounting standards, environmental and health rules? These facts are not conducive to respect for the law or respect for each other. That is very serious. If you are big enough, you get away with it.

If my noble friend's statistics of criminality are considered to be too much on a level, one way of increasing the level would be to adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, and make it illegal not to love your neighbour. I wonder whether any other noble Lord would be joining me in prison because I know I would fail that rule. If it became the law I know that I would have to go to prison. I suspect that some other noble Lords might be joining me. We could perhaps continue the debate there.

I turn to a more positive line and quote from another source: The old values: neighbourliness, decency, courtesy. They are still alive. They are still the best of Britain. It is time to return to those old core values; time to get back to basics, to self discipline and respect for the law, to consideration for others, to accepting responsibility for yourself and your family". Self-discipline, respect for the law, consideration for others—that is what we are debating today. The quotation is from the speech of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to the Conservative Party conference. That is what the Government are talking about, so let us consider how government policy is being implemented today.

I believe that what we need to continue and what my right honourable friend has initiated in a debate on the state of the nation throughout the nation. What are the core values that the nation needs to consider if we are to have respect for each other and respect for the law? I should like to make a few points on that, and I hope that all noble Lords will continue the debate both in this House and outside it. What we all want to see is an upsurge of social and personal morality. They go together. First, I should like to pinpoint my view—I hope that my noble friend the Minister will comment on it—that the vulnerable, poor and needy in this nation are still suffering. It is Conservative policy to encourage enterprise and initiative. That is right. It is also Conservative policy to have a safety net for those who are not coping with life in this nation. I believe that too many people are falling through that safety net. Whether the Budget in another place last week was sufficient to mend that, I have my doubts. We need to continue the debate, in this Chamber and elsewhere, on ways of repairing the holes in the safety net. People were sleeping in the Strand in the bitterly cold weather we had recently and are still sleeping in the Strand in the current wet weather. I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that, although I do not live in a castle, I believe that some castles in which people live are probably even draughtier than doorways in the Strand.

Secondly, I wish to touch once again on the very real problems of the City. Fraud is just as unpleasant as burglary. It seems to me that it is not being punished in the same way. I should like to see people who work in the City being bitterly ashamed and repentant of crime that is committed in the City. I am a solicitor. I am bitterly ashamed when I see any other solicitor maltreating his clients, being guilty of fraud or purloining clients' money. That is very serious; I hate it every time it happens. We all need to be repentant of our own professions when they fail in moral ways. If I take a client's money and use it for myself, as all too often is happening in the solicitor's profession today, I am guilty, I feel very ashamed. I am not showing respect for my neighbour.

Thirdly, I wish to touch on the question of families. By "families" I include both single parent families and extended families. I was very glad to hear last week from the director of housing of Westminster City Council that the council likes to encourage on its estates three generations of a family. That means there is real support for families under attack. I would support anything that can be done to encourage extended families to live within easy reach of each other.

The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, referred to the lack of training for marriage. Training for marriage is an important part of our encouragement of families. The right reverend Prelate talked about marriage enrichment courses. I was made by my children the other day to see a film called "Lethal Weapon". I believe that there are three such films around. At the end of the film I asked what was the lethal weapon. They said, "It was the hero", a man called Mel Gibson, if I remember aright, who was doing a lot of extremely violent things. I feel that people who go into marriage without any training can often be a lethal weapon and cause a lot of harm to the other spouse, to their children and to third parties as well.

Fourthly, I shall touch on the question of education. Again, there is a great need for moral teaching in education. Perhaps I may quote from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education who said: Young people should be given a moral framework. Moral values lie at the heart of education. No school should be a value-free zone". If we teach in schools no moral values we are teaching that there are no moral values. I warmly welcome what my right honourable friend is saying about the matter. This is an extremely encouraging turn in education and greatly needed.

Fifthly, I shall touch briefly on films and television. President Clinton is reported to have said that he wants to seek to curb excessive violence in films and television because of its detrimental effect on young people struggling at the edges of society. As I believe my noble friend Lord Elton said, we should see legislation to classify the new computer and video games that are shortly coming to this nation. Some of them are awful in their pornography and violence. That will need to be curbed, just as 10 years ago your Lordships introduced legislation that brought in the classification of videos.

Finally, I wish to touch on the role of the Church. I hope that ministers, both clergy in the Church of England and in other Churches, will be more ready to help in religious education in schools than before and that headmasters and headmistresses will also use the help of ministers in teaching religious education. All too often it is not up to scratch.

There have been many attacks on both the Church of England and other Churches following the Jamie Bulger murder trial. I was glad to see the support from my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security who said: The Archbishop of Canterbury has given very good sermons and lectures on family values. I have read and seen them, but they are never reported". I would like to challenge the media to produce some of the extremely positive statements about moral issues given in today's debate. I shall be glad to see whether any of the media report what has been said today because it is largely good and encouraging for the nation.

The whole Church, Anglican or otherwise, needs today to be a mission Church, teaching right and wrong and teaching the core values of mutual respect and respect for the law. I do not know if the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon is planning to make his diocese a mission diocese as some right reverend Prelates have been doing. But the need of the nation today is for the Church of England and the other Churches to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to teach the law of the Bible and the standards which it inculcates into people. That good news which I hope to see the Churches teaching more and more includes what is right and wrong. It includes the teaching of good and evil as well as the need for repentance from wrong and the forgiveness which is available to those who fail to measure up to this Motion today by showing respect for each other and for the law.

5.34 p.m.

Viscount Oxfuird

My Lords, I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton. He has initiated a very important debate and has elevated it, as so many other speakers have, above politics. It has attracted a veritable plethora of points from all sides of the House.

I grew up in New Zealand at a time when respect for the law and for one's fellow citizens, was taken for granted. I am sure that that must have been the case here in the United Kingdom from which of course New Zealand has taken so many of her traditions and particularly those of fair play and civilised behaviour. When I was at school, cricket was defined as the game you play between the two rugby seasons. We played hard—and perhaps that is manifest in the recent performance of the All Blacks in this country—but not necessarily with perfection. One or two mistakes have been made.

We read in the press and we have heard from some noble Lords this afternoon some horrific stories. We must acknowledge that things are not as they were and that there are some serious issues to be addressed. Kipling wrote a piece of poetry called, The Gods of the Copy Book Heading. The right reverend Prelate referred to the difference between what was happening in another place and what is happening here this afternoon. Perhaps the debate in the other place is about the gods of the market place. I hope that the debate here this afternoon is about the Gods of the Copy Book Heading.

Having said that, I am not of the view that all is doom and gloom. Through my own children and their friends, I come into contact with a fairly good cross-section of the up and coming generation. In general they seem to me to be a pretty well-disciplined and polite group, given the chance. Their grooming does leave something to be desired but, according to my youngest son, I am quite old.

Perhaps the fact that they are children of a time when belief in the work ethic was being re-established in this country might have something to do with it. It provides us with a clue to the solution to part of the difficult conundrum that my noble friend has set this afternoon.

It is tempting of course to look back with rose-coloured spectacles to the seemingly golden era of the 18th and 19th centuries when Britannia ruled the waves, politeness and courteous behaviour were the norm and all seemed well with the world. What can we learn from that era? Perhaps we can learn something from that era when a belief in God, a belief in Queen and Country, self-reliance, an acceptance of one's civic responsibilities and a pride in one's workmanship held sway.

The issues that we are addressing this afternoon are extremely complex. We are seeking to establish those factors that create attitudes within us either to respect the law and one's fellow citizens or to hold them both in contempt. Our attitudes are moulded by so many things, by literature, music, the wireless, television, the videotape and its product, the video nasty.

But the roots of the attitude problem that we are facing go back to well before the Second World War.

Writing Conquest of Happiness as long ago as 1930, the late noble and distinguished philosopher and mathematician, Lord Russell, said: One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as it is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways". Frankly, I do not agree with his late Lordship but then why should I, for Voltaire said: One owes respect to the living; but to the dead one owes nothing but the truth". The hedonistic philosophy that became fashionable in some circles between the wars has, in my view, planted seeds which have done a great deal of harm.

Many noble Lords have made reference this afternoon to the changes in our education system that have taken place since the Second World War and that is certainly a major factor. I had intended to take up some of these education issues myself this afternoon, but after the debate last night, I have a distinct feeling that your Lordships have dined well on that subject. Instead, I have reached back—again to Kipling and to his poem A song of the English which was written in 1898. Its sentiments are particularly relevant to the Motion that we are debating today: Keep ye the law—be swift in all obedience— Clear the land of evil, drive the road and bridge the ford. Make ye sure to each his own That ye reap where ye hath sown; By the peace among our people let men know we serve the Lord! Wise words that are still very relevant today.

The major matter that I would like to highlight this afternoon is a belief in national and civic service. I come from a generation when a spell of national service in one of our Armed Forces was taken for granted. I believe that it did a great deal of good and gave us a legacy of young people who had acquired a proper respect for authority, a degree of self-reliance and a belief in themselves which put them a significant step closer towards showing a proper respect for each other.

I do not advocate a return to national service since circumstances today are so totally different, but I do think that there is a case for examining the opportunity to pass legislation to introduce a spell of perhaps one year of community service for all young people. That is not my idea. I am deeply indebted to a friend, General Sir John Wilsey, who, as many of your Lordships probably know, was General Officer Commanding, Northern Ireland and is now GOC, Land Forces, United Kingdom. He is a man who has led. He has led men throughout the whole of his career and is, in my view, a man of absolute authority in this matter.

The transition from youth to adulthood is not an easy one. The energies, ideals and enthusiasms of the young need to be fostered and harnessed to the benefit of the individual and society as a whole—and never more than in this materialistic age. The United Kingdom is, in fact, still in a minority of nations in the world in not involving its youth in some form of compulsory service for the Armed Forces or for the community.

For maximum impact, this scheme would require all young people to leave their homes and live together in their own structured communities perhaps under the supervision of retired service officers. This new resource of young talent and enthusiasm would enrich the lives of our senior citizens and the disadvantaged, but would also help to generate an attitude of respect, and of caring, and of compassion in our younger citizens. A spell in a structured environment would also help to teach a greater respect for authority and generate a greater sense of self-reliance. If correctly structured all participants in this enterprise and indeed society itself would be beneficiaries. I put forward this idea as just one small step towards creating a healthier, more respectful and more enlightened environment within our community. I wait for the cry, "Where do we get the money?" We are spending it already. Surely it is only a matter of redirection.

I would say finally, as I have said already, that my noble friend Lord Elton has set us a most difficult problem this afternoon. There is no single solution to the complex issues that we are facing, but I am certainly more optimistic than some noble Lords that some of the measures that have already been put in hand will provide a contribution towards the solution. Abraham Lincoln said: Service is the rent we pay for our place on earth".

5.46 p.m.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, I apologise for the fact that I had understood that this was to be a five-hour debate and I have committed myself to be elsewhere at 8.30 p.m., so I may have to leave before the end of the summing-up by the noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege.

I have one small and positive suggestion to make, although I shall come at it obliquely. The basic needs of man are food, shelter, clothing and the sense that there is some meaning and purpose to his life. Over the past 2000 years Western man has built around his life an enormous superstructure—a plethora of material needs and expectations. But for many there is no longer a belief that there is a higher purpose to their lives. That means that people have to fall back for their sense of self worth on their role in society or on material success. When those fail, there is nothing to underpin them in a sense of self worth.

So many of the ills of our society stem from the problems of people who do not respect themselves and who feel themselves to be alienated from society and unwanted by society. A person who feels that he or she has no worth and no place in society and who feels denied an opportunity to participate in society will tend either to fall into depression, which may lead to drug or alcohol abuse, or will confront society on his or her own terms. That tends to be what we mean by "crime". It is interesting to note that there are far more men criminals than women. Is that because there are more men who feel worthless? The question is worth asking.

Perhaps the most important cause of a sense of worthlessness in our society is unemployment. I am not getting at the Government. I am a pessimist and I believe that the problems of unemployment in this country and the problems of unemployment in the future are structural and are much greater than we yet understand.

we have seen only the tip of the iceberg. I was talking to an Austrian banker over the weekend. He told me that Austrian businesses are moving quietly over the border into Czechoslovakia where he assured me that labour costs are one-twentieth of those in Austria. Many of your Lordships' will be familiar with south-east Asia and conscious of the competition that it will offer to Europe over the coming decades. Finally, there is the technological revolution. I see around me, again and again, in the businesses with which I am associated the need to make capital investment and to mechanise, at the cost of employing people.

We have a situation where the prospects of full employment, even for the well educated, may not be too encouraging, but the prospects for those who have slipped through the educational net, who are untrained and unmotivated, are bleak indeed. They face the prospect of low paid irregular employment or unemployment most of the time. It is therefore essential for the stability of our society, as well as for the sake of the individuals concerned, that we should do whatever we can to prevent young people slipping through the educational net. There is something we can do, and which is being done, but not in a co-ordinated or effective way at present; that is, to help to ensure that by the time all children go into school they have the emotional readiness for school which enables them to participate in the work of the school, to become involved in it, and not to become drop-outs and rejects.

I should like to read to your Lordships a short extract from an article by Ernest Boyer who is president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. He says: In the last two decades, our understanding of child development has grown at a dramatic pace. Above all, we now know that later learning depends heavily on what happens to a child in the first few years of life. We realize that infants whose development has been compromised during pregnancy are less likely to succeed in school. We understand, too, that even healthy children who are neglected, abused, or subjected to significant instability in their early years can be educationally impaired". With the permission of your Lordships, perhaps I may read one more extract from a presentation produced by an American foundation called Heart Start, which states: The fact is that success in school depends on characteristics largely formed by the age of three. And those characteristics are not a fund of factual knowledge, nor the ability to read or recite the alphabet, nor familiarity with numbers or colors. They are the characteristics of children, of whatever background, who come to school curious, confident, conscious of what behaviour is expected of them, comfortable in seeking assistance, and able to get along with others—qualities largely developed, or not developed, in the first three years of life". The acceptance of moral values which have been spoken of extensively this afternoon is dependant largely upon the acceptance by the young child of the fact that there are boundaries to acceptable behaviour, whatever those boundaries may be. It is because of that essential role of the parents in determining the whole future of the young child's life that I am launching a campaign to draw attention to the importance of the parenting of young children and to increase the education and support available to parents and prospective parents. The object of the campaign is to help the children. The method is to help the parents. In doing so, I hope that we shall help society as a whole.

The first step has already been taken with the help of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, and her all-party parliamentary group for children. We formed last week an all-party parliamentary group for parenting which it is intended will work closely with the children's group. The next step will be to raise £50,000 over three years, and I should be grateful for any of your Lordships' help in that matter so that we can extend the all-party commitment to as many as possible and, it is hoped, to all local authorities.

Many other things need to be done. I hope that all noble Lords who accept the importance of the influence of parents on the life of the young child will join the all-party parliamentary group. There is a great deal that can be done and a great deal which must be done. We must see that it is done in the interest of the children concerned and of our society.

5.55 p.m.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Elton on introducing such a timely debate. It is of course timely because the behavioural problems of a minority are causing increasing trouble, pain, suffering and burdens to the majority. Sadly, that minority is increasing. At the moment one in every thousand of the adult population of this country is in prison, and on the whole people are not sent to prison unless they are pretty bad. That is a large and frightening minority.

I hoped that we would hear some radical thoughts from the Opposition about what should be done about the problem. After all, the Labour Party has had 14 years to think about such matters, and so I listened with care to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I am prepared to admit that the statement that there is no such thing as society was perhaps one of the more provocative statements made by my noble friend Lady Thatcher, but I should prefer to debate that statement than the slogan which the noble Lord repeated four times, that what he wanted was a "collectivist consensus". I tried hard to work out what he meant by that. My only conclusion is that if I were Mr. John Smith I would not go into the next election holding up a banner saying, "Vote for the collectivist consensus".

The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, gave an important message about how society has changed. Despite statistical inequalities in income, which of course exist, society is much more equal than it was. Part of that is due to prosperity and part to technology. I am not talking about just the basic things such as warm housing, healthy food, a reasonable education and health standards; I am talking about the extra good things of life. Television has been referred to a great deal. All of us in this House, and throughout society, watch the same television programmes. In many ways, that is a great equaliser. We buy the same consumer goods. Most people have most of the main consumer durables. Most people now have a telephone. Many people have bank accounts. One of the effects of the past 14 years is that we are now much more a middle class society—by that I mean a much more individual society—than we were. That is a big change.

I wish to make three specific suggestions which have already been referred to obliquely. First, I believe that there is a need for more and better education in citizenship; secondly, unlike my noble friend Lord Oxfuird, I believe that we should reintroduce national service, but with non-military options as well as a military option; thirdly, I believe that much more imaginative use should be made of community service as a means of dealing with offenders.

Perhaps I may say a brief word on each of those topics. I deal first with citizenship as regards which I agreed with what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne said. The lessons of good and bad citizenship, which should be learnt by everyone, should be taught by the parents in the home. It would be nice if that were the case, and if something comes of the noble Lord's proposals it would be tremendous.

In the meantime we must seriously consider introducing a course in citizenship as part of the curriculum. The course would not be part of the school curriculum and it would not be long. It would be a course that people would take as soon as they left school at the age of 16, 17 or 18. We could debate how long it would be—perhaps one month—and the syllabus. I believe that it is necessary for people to be taught the difference between good and bad citizenship rather than learning it at the hard anvil of experience often at the expense of other citizens.

My second suggestion relates to national service. It existed in this country for about 20 years from before the war until 1960. It ended a generation ago. This is the only country in the European Union which does not have national service. Belgium is abandoning it at the end of this year, but I am afraid that Belgium is in a poor state. In some countries, including France, Denmark and the Netherlands, there are alternatives. Of course, we could debate the length of the service and the alternatives that could be available. There may be opportunities perhaps in the fire service, lifeboats, the ambulance service and so forth. I would like everyone to undertake a period of national service, which would be compulsory and mandatory. Military service would be one of the options. I do not have great sympathy with those in the military who sometimes say that it is wasteful to train national service people to be soldiers, sailors and airmen. I can think of no more valuable a role than the provision of such training. I believe that we should debate this again as a practical proposition.

A long time ago I served as a special adviser in Whitehall under Mr. Heath's government. I wrote a paper on the re-introduction of multi-option national service. Mr. Heath's private secretary minuted, "The Prime Minister does not wish Mr. Schreiber's paper to be circulated any further or discussed by anyone". I think that we now have a slightly more radical government and I hope that they will at least consider the proposal.

My final point relates to community service which, as a means of dealing with offenders, has been in existence for 20 years. Some 5 million hours per year are worked by way of community service. The current prison population is about 48,500. Let us assume that in prison there is an eight hour working day, which few prisoners do in fact have, and a 48 working week year. There are, therefore, in prison about 3.6 million hours of work available per day, 18 million per week and 880 million per year.

The trouble is that the alternative of non-custodial community service represents less than 1 per cent. of those prison hours. Therefore, it is not greatly used. Perhaps I may refer to the relative costs. All the administration costs of community service amounts to about £100 per month per person. If we assume that the average number of hours spent per week is five—that is 20 hours per month—the cost is about £5 per hour. It costs £2,000 per month to keep someone in prison; that is £24,000 per year. Even if one divides that by the totally unrealistic figure which I gave for the working week the administrative cost per hour is £30. That is six times the cost of community service.

Why is community service not used more? I suggest that part of the reason is that in some areas it is felt that there is not sufficient work to be done. I was horrified to be told recently by a magistrate friend that some years ago a senior probation officer in Camberwell said that it would be better not to pass so many community service orders because there was insufficient work to be done. My magistrate friend asked, "What about picking up litter?". The answer was, "That would not be in accordance with the dignity of our clients". I know what I prefer. As it happens, I enjoy picking up litter; it is a satisfying occupation.

About 70 per cent. of community service orders are completed satisfactorily. For one reason or another it does not work for the remaining 30 per cent. of people, some of whom have to be sent to prison. Community service which involves making play equipment for schools, refurbishing village halls and helping in the gardens of the elderly is tremendous but it is a relatively "soft" form. If people do not accept that form, then we should have a much tougher alternative form. There could be gangs of people who have to keep so many miles of motorway spotlessly clean. The sentence would not be so pleasant and it would not be imposed in the first instance, but it would be a back-up.

The objective of my three suggestions—the education in citizenship, the return of national service and a more imaginative form of community service—is to keep people out of prison; to make it less necessary for so many people to go to prison. The people of this country are becoming increasingly outraged by what they see and by the apparent impotence of society—and in this sense society exists—to deal with the problems of law and lack of mutual respect. I believe that in many cases radical solutions would be accepted by the community. I hope that the Government will indicate that they have some radical thoughts in mind.

6.7 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Elton has secured today's debate and raised the crucial issue of our respect for each other and for the law. I congratulate him on the careful wording of his Motion. Clearly it came about as a result of the tragic murder of little James Bulger, which so touched the heart of the nation; of the Prime Minister's avowed intention to return to basics; and of the wide realisation in this country that there is something fundamentally wrong with our society if little James Bulger can be murdered by boy A and boy B who are 11 years old. Noble Lords will judge the matter for themselves but I believe that to be the case.

In recent weeks there has been an unseemly disagreement between the Church and the Government in speaking out on moral issues. A Home Office Minister said that the Church had been "strangely silent on moral issues". His comments seem to have ruffled feathers within the Church of England hierarchy. But does the Church of England meet the needs of real people in this country? If one wants to know the answer all one has to do is to visit an Anglican church at a typical 10.30 a.m. Sunday service. Will one see crowds of people fighting to get in the door and a queue trailing down the High Street? Regrettably, one is unlikely to do so. There are some notable exceptions and I rejoice for them. But in broad terms one will see a desultory three or four, or five or six people going to church. Only 10 per cent. of the people of this country go to church. That is a clear indication that the Church is failing to meet real needs in the modern world today. I can say that with complete certainty. Your Lordships will know that the human being is a very perceptive creature and, if he perceives that a certain course of action will be to his advantage, he will quickly adopt that course of action for himself for his advantage. He has clearly seen that the Church is not doing that at present. Therefore, something needs to be done.

I take the view that we all share a responsibility for promoting respect for each other and for law and order. We all share a responsibility to speak out on moral issues. Of course the Church could do better at that task and I for one should welcome more preaching of the gospel week by week and more exposition of scripture. In turn, that would lead to more conversions to Christianity and people's real needs would be met.

The Government too cannot shirk their responsibility, especially when their own actions sometimes seem to undermine respect for law and order. For example, I am thinking of the way in which the large supermarkets have blatantly broken the Sunday trading laws over the past few years. The Government have stood idly by and delayed introducing proposals for reform. As your Lordships will be well aware, they are being discussed in another place today. It seems to me that the Government allowed respect for the law to be undermined in that case.

Again, the Government's preferred option with regard to Sunday trading is, as is well known, total deregulation. Let us suppose that that option were accepted in another place and in your Lordships' House. Would that not be yet another example of unrighteous laws being passed? Over the past 50 years a great raft of unrighteous laws has been passed by Parliament, starting in 1951 with the abolition of the law prohibiting witchcraft. Total deregulation would be yet another example, because it would be a direct and absolute contradiction of the fourth Commandment, which states: Six days you shall labour and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath for the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work; neither you, nor your son nor your daughter nor your manservant or maidservant; nor your animals; nor the alien within your gates". That is fairly clear. There is nothing ambiguous about it. It saddens me that the Government should even contemplate the possibility of passing another unrighteous law.

One such law is the abolition of the death penalty for murder, which took place in 1965 and about which my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter spoke so effectively earlier in the debate.

I ask my noble friend who is to wind up whether the Government have carried out an in-depth analysis as to the fundamental cause of the rise in crime in this country. I gave her notice of that question, which I hope she received, and I apologise to her for not giving her longer notice. It seems to me that the answer to that question is crucial. If my noble friend could tell the House in the clearest possible terms what, in the opinion of Her Majesty's Government, is the fundamental underlying cause of the rise in crime in this country, that would be extremely helpful.

When one has a problem, one either puts a fence at the top of the cliff or an ambulance at the bottom. Obviously, a fence at the top is far more effective than an ambulance at the bottom, but, to put the fence at the top, one must analyse very carefully exactly what is the cause of the problem. Otherwise, how does one know exactly where to put the fence? If one does not put the fence in the right place, people will continue to topple over. As a result of that and the difficulty of it, the Government's answer usually is to put an ambulance at the bottom. In this particular case, that means more policemen on the beat. I am not against more policemen on the beat but it is not the fundamental answer to the problem. If I heard correctly on the radio this morning, the Home Office is saying that they are running out of money and might not even have money to pay for the ambulance at the bottom, which is a sad state of affairs.

Whatever the Government and the Church say, it is hard for them to go against the grain of what our children are learning from their parents and in school. The family and education have unique roles in promoting respect for each other. I shall not develop that theme further now because I recently spoke at some length on that subject in your Lordships' House in the debate on the gracious Speech. I merely say that, in order to rediscover proper citizenship and responsibility, the Government need to pay very close attention to how their policies impact on helping families to stay together; for example, we shall all have to study the Green Paper on divorce published by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor with that question in mind, looking to the future.

Finally, I urge the Government to recognise that respect for law will be encouraged as families, schools, the Church and Government all play their part in that task. No one group can achieve that on its own but one might expect the Church to lead in that regard. Proverbs 29:18 states: Where there is no vision the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law". Noble Lords will judge for themselves, but I believe that that sums up the position in this country today.

In broad terms, I support the Government and agree with what they are doing, otherwise I should not be sitting on these Benches. But it seems to me that the Government lack vision and as a result of that, the people are unrestrained, out of control or doing their own thing. "But happy is he who keeps the law". Regrettably, even the Government cannot be put in that category, as I seek to show with regard to Sunday trading, where they blatantly allowed disregard for the law to continue for a number of years, which makes me extremely sad.

Only the spirit of God can save our nation and the Church is His instrument for so doing. I hope to see the state and the Church going forward in tandem and in harmony. If they show enough determination and imagination, there is hope for this country yet.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Dean of Harptree

My Lords, I too am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Elton for introducing such an interesting and thought-provoking debate. It is an obvious remark to say that respect for each other and the law begins in the home and that where it is lacking children begin life at a great disadvantage. My noble friend Lord Joseph used to describe that as the cycle of deprivation, which can go from one generation to another, getting worse and worse.

On the other hand, there are many children brought up in homes where they learn right and wrong in a disciplined atmosphere from loving and caring parents. Those children do not make the headlines but there are millions of them throughout the country. They visit old and lonely people on a regular basis to keep them in touch with what is going on and to do their shopping and gardening for them. Those children are growing into good citizens. Therefore, when we look at the background of the home I agree that there is concern but there is also hope.

Another powerful influence is the Church. That was mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, by the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and others. It is unfortunate that the Church no longer holds the centre of the stage in our national life as it used to. Nevertheless, I believe that the Churches remain more rooted in the hearts and minds of people than attendance at church would sometimes suggest.

I come from a country parish in Somerset. Our congregations there are growing and the church is once more the centre of life in that community. I cannot believe that that parish is an isolated example. But we live in a secular age and it is absolutely right that Church leaders should speak out not only on spiritual matters, even though some of their remarks may cause embarrassment to governments and politicians. One cannot separate the body and the soul this side of the grave. The Church is concerned with both of them. Above all, the Church teaches us that good can overcome evil. Good Friday was followed by the glorious triumph of Easter.

Another potent force which has been mentioned in today's debate is education. There is cause for concern here. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools has just reported that some education is unsatisfactory or downright poor. We all know examples of lack of discipline, of low achievement and of truancy. They are real problems. When I sat in another place I regularly received letters from students in higher education who could not construct a letter or even spell. On the other hand, the chief inspector has also said that much of our education is satisfactory or of a high quality.

We now have the national curriculum. It is having teething troubles, but the emphasis on core subjects and assessment of individuals and schools is widely supported and should raise standards. Physical fitness is one of the important aspects of education. It used to be fashionable at one time to decry team games. Fortunately, that time is now passed and it is recognised that such games can help to build character. In a team game, one has to ensure that one gives of one's best so as not to let the side down. In my book, the greatest of team games is cricket. There are just glimmers of hope reappearing for English cricket. So far as concerns Rugby, after Twickenham the other day we can begin once more to look the All Blacks in the face.

Law and order has been frequently, and understandably, mentioned during the debate. Crime is clearly a serious blot on our national life. "Respect for each other and for the law" seems to be at a low ebb. Despite enormous increases in government expenditure, tougher penalties and an emphasis on law and order in the gracious Speech, we seem to be fighting a losing battle. Of course, the problems go back to the home and the school and will not be resolved overnight. But, even there, I suggest that it is not all gloom.

I attended a police seminar last Friday. I was struck by the strong emphasis that came out in the speeches and the comments that were made on the need for partnership between the police and all of us. We have the special constables who for many years have done a great job of work. We now have an increasing number of business companies that recognise the need to employ security firms to assist in tightening up their arrangements. Moreover, more recently the neighbourhood watch schemes have rapidly developed throughout the country. They are good examples of the public getting organised to assist the police. They should soon begin to produce useful results.

The influence of the media, especially of television, has also been mentioned this evening. There is too much sex, violence and sheer rubbish on our television screens. That is bound to have a bad influence, particularly on the young and the impressionable. However, I must not weary your Lordships by developing that theme on this occasion.

I hope that I have not sounded complacent. Of course, we have deep-rooted and serious problems concerning behaviour. But too much introspection and gloom can paralyse the will and our determination to act constructively to right the wrongs. Where there is life, there is hope.

6.25 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, we have had a very general, wide-ranging and philosophical debate. I thank my noble friend Lord Elton for initiating it. I do not intend to detain your Lordships for too long with philosophy this evening, except to remark that it has always seemed strange to me that killing seems to be a good thing for children. For example, we allow children to watch the bloody mayhem of the "A-Team" any time; but kissing is confined to adult hours. When it comes to children's television, it seem to me to be a case of: make war not love.

However, on the practical side, what can we do to improve the situation? There are plenty of areas to cover. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, mentioned a particularly important one; namely, reducing the high rates of taxation which exist in our social security system and its morality-sapping effect. There are many things that we can do. We can support the many good initiatives which exist in our society. I shall not attempt to cover many of them; I shall concentrate on just three in the field of education.

Education is fundamental to the question of behaviour and morality in our society. My experience of inner cities is based on the time when I ran a small business in south-east London. The children that the young people who I employed there saw as customers were under-qualified, bored and with no great hopes for the future. However, they were bright enough. It did not matter 'what kind of car you had locked your keys into, they could open it in seconds. They had all the native intelligence that it takes to do well at school, but the schools had failed them.

The aspects of inner-city education at which I should like to look are the contributions made by sixth-form colleges, by nursery education and by the process of raising our expectations. First, there are many good sixth-form colleges in the country and many of them are in inner cities. I shall single out the one in Birkenhead that I visited just the other day. Sixth-form colleges serve a defined community and are part of that community, but their atmosphere is something that they generate themselves; in other words, it does not seem to be affected by the deprivation and despair around them. They are places that are full of courtesy, respect and self-discipline. They would come very high on the league tables of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. The children in them want to work. They enjoy working there. They feel that they are succeeding and going on to further success. They act as a beacon to the children of that community. They can look at those who are managing to achieve what they are capable of achieving.

The colleges work with that situation. They reach out to the primary schools and the community. They send their pupils out to them to provide the youngest children with role models so that they will lift up their ambitions and see what they can become, rather than being influenced by the chaos around them. They work with the secondary schools by sending their teachers out to build on those ambitions and to focus them. A sixth-form college like the one in Birkenhead pulls up the children of the community towards it. It lifts their aspirations in a way that other institutions do not.

The 1992 Act has offered sixth-form colleges many new opportunities and much freedom. The best of them are making good use of that. However, the Act also contains its dangers. It is very difficult now to see how it is possible to start a new sixth-form college in an area which needs one. Indeed, the emphasis seems to be the other way round in allowing schools in areas served by sixth-form colleges to develop their own sixth forms, which is greatly to the benefit of those schools but to the detriment of the children and of the communities.

Secondly, there is nursery education. If sixth-form colleges pull children up towards them, nursery education gives them the push at the beginning. There is a great deal of evidence—not only from the recent reports of Ofsted and the National Commission on Education—that nursery education in areas of deprivation makes all the difference. I hope that the Government will act on that evidence, but I hope they act judiciously. I say judiciously because I do not see much point in giving extra money to institutions which are already failing to provide good education. If we are to make an effort with nursery education, we need to make sure that it is in institutions having high expectations and out to achieve something definite. I also say judiciously because the research that has been done on nursery education has all been carried out in areas of high deprivation and does not have any direct relevance to most of the rest of the country.

The critical study, the big study in America that everyone knows about—the High Scope study—was clone in an area of extreme deprivation arid involved spending what would now be the equivalent of £10,000 per annum on each student. It seems to me reasonable that a child of a prosperous family might be better off left in that family, or better off if the money were spent instead on the child's primary education and not on the early years. We just do not know. The evidence does not show that. However, when it comes to deprived areas, nursery education is a must and I hope the Government make some early progress on it.

And so, thirdly, from the ends of education to the middle—that great area where Ofsted's recent report Access and Achievement in Urban Education shows the damage done by low expectations and by the idea that the children of the poor and of the working class of immigrants are in some way not capable of doing well at school. Ofsted shows how damaging that belief is when it is held by teachers. Its recent report—or rather the reactions to its report—on Crooke primary school show how widely those low expectations can be held by the LEA, by governors, by teachers and even by some of the parents—to the extent that they regard a failing school as being a good one. Indeed, those expectations are widely held.

An article in the Spectator not so long ago argued, on the basis of identical twin experiments, that intelligence was entirely inherited and that therefore the working class were not worth educating. One sees that also in the parties opposite. There was an amendment put down to the last Education Bill requiring that school performance information should also show pupils' backgrounds, including, socio-economic factors, ethnic origin and gender". That is to say, if the school is doing badly and you can look at the tables and see that there are poor people there, or working class people, or Asian or Afro-Caribbean people, then you are inviting people to say, "What do you expect with those sort of children." What I expect—what I am sure all of us expect—is that we should educate children to the best of their own individual abilities.

I do not believe that the parties opposite really believe that background makes a difference to education and to one's ability in education. I do not think that anyone really believes that the children of the middle class, indeed perhaps of the aristocracy, are in some way better than the children of the working class. The truth, surely, is that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are disadvantaged at school too. Our objective should be to restore equality of opportunity to them. If we are to measure how well we are doing at that, and if we are to try to produce some figure which shows whether equality of opportunity is something which we are offering children or not, and if, as I believe, you accept that intellectual potential is not dependent on wealth or class but is something which is fairly broadly the same throughout our community, then you need an absolute measure—the sort of measure that this Government have chosen in their performance tables.

Then, if a school is doing badly and showing low results in GCSEs, you conclude that those children are not enjoying equality of opportunity and you devote intellectual and financial resources to try to bring about improvements, either at the school, if that is what is failing, or in the community, if that is what needs support, through nursery education or the sort of initiative talked about by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. But if you use a measure which is corrected for background—a measure which might, for instance, equate an inner city school where 20 per cent. of pupils get five GCSE A to C grades with a county school where 55 per cent. of pupils achieve those grades—then the natural reaction is to say, "That is OK then. They are the same". Then you leave the inner city, and the children in the inner city, to under-achievement, deprivation and despair. That is what has been happening.

We have accepted that inner city children should not do as well as the rest of us, and that is why the school performance tables, as they are now, despite all their idiosyncrasies, are a key to improving urban education. They lead us to have high expectations of a school whatever the background of its children. Any other performance measurement lets the Government off the hook of improving education in the inner cities.

6.37 p.m.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has provoked a fascinating debate. It has really come down in the end to what influences create our sense of values in our modern society. He couched his Motion carefully in drawing attention to, the conditions necessary for the maintenance in the citizens of this country of a proper respect for each other and for the law". As he pointed out in his introduction, we live in an age of swift communications and this has had a profound effect on our society. I would immediately distinguish when we talk about crime—I shall come to the statistics in a moment—the difference between what is so often reported in our papers with regard to the internationally organised drug crimes, racketeering crimes and terrorist crimes which are backed by millions of pounds of capital and other crimes. In the former the criminals employ swift communications and adopt a businesslike approach to their manoeuvring. That kind of crime is international and needs to be dealt with on an international, and certainly a national, basis.

However the vast majority of crime that most people are concerned with in this country consists of often unpremeditated acts of violence, burglary, theft from cars, vandalism and other such acts. That crime is of a totally different nature and it needs a totally different approach. In an affluent society, people's expectations are raised and in many circumstances they are raised to such an extent that certain people themselves realise that their ambitions cannot ever be fulfilled legally. Therefore the temptations are great.

I listened with great interest to the two formal religious contributions from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. I also listened most attentively to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, who is a lay preacher. It occurred to me that, if we happened to have a religious community in Britain and if everybody basically accepted Christian or other precepts and our society was composed of church-attending people, whether of the Christian, Jewish or Mohammedan religion or any other, the crime rate would be low. I have no doubt whatsoever about that.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, knows, I live in one of the areas of the country where there is probably the least law breaking. I can go to bed at night and not worry whether I have locked the door. I rarely take the key out of my car. I do not know how long that will last. It is a leftover from an earlier age. No doubt the situation is changing and is influenced every day by television and so on.

I am amazed that none of the formal contributions mentioned the question of regard for the weaker brethren raised by St. Paul. In considering the influence of television, videos and so on, we are not concerned with the effect of those on right-thinking members of society or those people who have a proper sense of values and judgment; we are concerned with their effect on the "weaker brethren". In an affluent society which is subjected to many influences, we would be fools indeed not to realise that the television set and the video in the corner are an important part of the environment. They probably also serve to increase the proportion of citizens who may now be described as weaker brethren.

It is useless to think that society can go back. We hark back to the 19th century as a golden age. Have people not read Dickens? Have they not read of some of the terrible crimes of the 19th century? We know perfectly well that, even in a well run society, as the society of those days is sometimes thought to have been, serious and horrible crimes were committed.

In opening the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to many statistics. He probably obtained much of his information from Digest 2 Information on the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales. I see him brandishing his copy. Perhaps I may refer to that document for some international comparisons which we ought to bear in mind. Under the heading: Percentage of the population who were victims of one or more crimes in 1989/1991 In those three years the highest rates of over 25 per cent. of the population being victims of crime occurred in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland and the United States of America, where, incidentally, church attendance is very much higher than in our country. Rates of between 18 per cent. and 25 per cent. occurred in Belgium, Czechoslovakia, England and Wales, Finland, France, West Germany, Italy, Scotland, Spain and Sweden. Low victim rates of less than 18 per cent. occurred in Japan, Northern Ireland, Norway and Switzerland.

I was particularly intrigued by the last four names. Although the Republic of Ireland did not return statistics for that purpose. I know that the rate in the Republic of Ireland is also low. In Northern Ireland, despite all the terrorist offences which occur there, the influence of the Churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, probably accounts for the relatively low crime rate. Norway and Switzerland are small countries where everything is organised on a small scale and is very much decentralised and controlled. Japan is a mystery to me but it is a much more structured society than this country.

In order to put everything into perspective it is interesting to note that just over one half the offences of theft and one-quarter of all recorded crimes in this country are made up of thefts of and from cars. That is a huge proportion. Although we have talked about the increase in violence, only 5 per cent. of recorded crimes are violent or sexual offences and two-thirds of those are minor woundings. If my memory serves me aright, in 1992 there were some 690 cases of homicide in our country, and 95 per cent. of those were solved by the police. The police investigate serious crimes very well indeed. While 600 homicides is an unacceptable level, perhaps I may again put the figure in perspective by pointing out that it is lower than in the city of New York. That figure covers the whole of our country, England and Wales.

The rise in crimes reflected in the statistics is also in part a result of a great increase in the past few years in the reporting of offences, particularly burglary, due to the requirements of insurance policies. The statistics show that people who are most likely to be burgled are those living in council houses and flats in deprived areas. Those most likely to be the victims of crimes of violence are not old ladies or young girls but young males between the ages of 18 and 30.

That catalogue is not reassuring but it puts the statistics in context. There is no doubt that there is a general feeling that respect for each other and for the law is decreasing in this country. The question is, what can we do about it? Villains have been suggested from Dr. Spock and his child-oriented philosophy to the absence of a death penalty to the affluent society, and. so on. In this debate the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, accused the other side of failing to fulfil a community responsibility, and on the Benches opposite the blame was laid on the lack of emphasis on individual responsibility on this side of the House. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

Despite all the temptations to go into debt, it is useless to pretend that an individual does not realise that he or she is getting into debt and into trouble. Yet it is equally right for people to point out that society too owes a duty to individuals to safeguard them from too great temptation in such matters.

One of the first things that we could do would be to curb our total reliance on market forces. Far too much emphasis has been placed on market forces. I am a great believer in free enterprise, but it does not cure everything. We have underestimated markedly the value of public service, wherever it arises and whether it is undertaken by individual citizens, teachers, civil servants, people serving in the Armed Force; or anyone else. It is very important. People can fulfil their lives by giving service to their community as opposed to making a quick buck as fast as they can.

Secondly, we should become more responsive to the heart-rending cries concerning the effect of certain videos and a diet of continual violence and pornography. Most people are not influenced by it, and we all recognise in this debate that, thank God, the vast majority of young people in this country are, growing up to be law-abiding citizens with a proper sense of values. However, we recognise that the influences upon their children are likely to be different from the influences on them. We must prepare to meet that situation.

Education is clearly important. If people come from a poor home, whether it is a single parent home—and there are excellent single parent homes—or from a broken home or one where the parents give no guidance (and we all know that there are such homes) education generally becomes supremely important. It would be a great investment if in this country we had nursery education for all. We have heard that a great many women go out to work. We shall not reverse that trend but we should provide nursery education for their children. If the individual cannot pay for it, then the state must help. A noble Lord pointed out that if a single mother who is under great stress is able to have a break; if she can send her child to a nursery school for some hours in the day then that must be a great benefit.

There is also a case for much greater equality in the country. The bosses of industry have helped themselves obscenely during the past decade, as they have in the United States. I do not think that that accords with most people's sense of values and sense of judgment. There is too great a gap between the rewards of the poor and the rich and it is too obvious a gap. I myself am engaged in industry and we all know that there is too great a gap between the top earners and the others. We know well that most industrial institutions could switch from a highly paid chief executive to a much more modestly paid chief executive of equal ability with no difficulty at all. We have stood by and watched those inequalities develop.

Lastly, although this is not a debate on capital punishment, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, introduced the subject and I wish to deal with it before I sit down. I take a diametrically opposite approach from his, as I did in the other place years ago. I was against the death penalty as a result of my experiences at the Bar. In the first murder case in which I was involved, everyone wanted the man reprieved—the prison governor, the police officer in charge, everyone. Even the judge tried hard to get a recommendation for mercy. It all failed and he was executed. He had committed a crime passionnel on the spur of the moment and that was it.

With the next case in which I was involved, the man walked free. If I had been sitting on the jury, he would not have. Shortly thereafter, there occurred the case of Timothy Evans, who was executed for the alleged murder of a small child. The chief witness for the prosecution was a man who, subsequently we knew, had committed four murders before that happened. Evans was executed. He was almost certainly innocent.

If the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, is right, the people convicted at Birmingham and at Guildford would have been executed. I know nothing of the facts but the Court of Appeal has told us that those were wrong convictions. It seems to me that, if one's contribution to this debate is to say that one of the things that is wrong with the country is that there is no death penalty, we need to look much more deeply into the subject. I cannot agree with that contention, as I did not agree with the noble Lord many years ago.

Altogether, this has been a valuable debate and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, is to be congratulated on bringing the matter before the House.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, before launching into my speech, perhaps I could offer the apologies of my noble friend Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He was unable to stay for the rest of the debate because he has gone to see his father who is seriously ill in hospital. I am sure that after all that has been said in the debate about parental duties and relationships, we fully understand the duty that he felt he had to fulfil.

I wish to join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for initiating the debate. I had the privilege of making my maiden speech in this House in a debate that he initiated last year. In that debate, I said that my background before coming here was that of an academic philosopher and I did not think that I would be much use to my party because it was not clear that the Labour Party needed a spokesman on Plato and Aristotle. However, it turns out that there are occasional debates when philosophical expertise turns out, I hope, to be useful. It occurred to me this afternoon that, many moons ago, when we were both at the University of Manchester, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and I used to go to philosophy and religion seminars together.

I shall take to heart the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, about not making a political speech. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, made most of the more acerbic points that I would otherwise have been tempted to make. However, I wish to make two points that are reasonably gentle but nevertheless a little telling.

We have heard much about the importance of parents taking responsibility for their actions. We have also heard, quite rightly, from the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, about people who do wrong things in taking responsibility and—in his words—repenting of them. I should like to see the Government taking a lead and Ministers resigning more frequently when they make fundamental mistakes. After all, it was a very honourable member of the party opposite who set a wonderful example in that respect over the Crichel Down affair in the 1950s. I think that if politicians of all parties are going to pontificate about the duties and responsibilities of parents, they ought also to take seriously their own responsibilities in the discharge of their public duties. I should like to see Ministers resigning much more often.

I think that we are in some danger of defining the political aspect rather narrowly. For example, when the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, was arguing, as I understood him, in favour of a confessional state, based upon religious principles and the Church and state in some kind of tandem, whatever might be said in favour of that view it is hardly non-political. Thus, there is a danger in merely labelling as political outlooks with which one does not happen to agree.

I have also noticed that the weather seems to have been keeping up a reasonably apocalyptic background to the views of some noble Lords about the prospects for British society.

I wish to start the substance of what I have to say with some remarks on the nature of respect which is part of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Elton. We are heirs to two traditions about the nature of respect. The first is, if I may call it that, the Liberal or Social Democratic tradition which sees respect in public policy as a recognition of a status, of the moral equality of all individuals. The second is a more communitarian view which can be found on both the Left and the Right that respect is not a status, it is something which has to be earned. Respect is a recognition of an achievement of some kind.

The first view, which has been associated with the idea of liberalism and social democracy, is that in the public sphere respect for persons is embodied in the rights and entitlements which a person enjoys in an unconditional way as a citizen. Those rights would include civil and political rights and also social and economic rights. The view is that those rights are practical ways in which the underlying, unconditional right to respect is embodied and protected.

The second view has attained a good deal of currency recently through the work of many people on the radical Right in the United States, particularly those working in the area of social policy, such as Workfare and so on. On that view, respect has to be earned and social policy should be geared to inducing people to achieve those forms of behaviour in which respect will be earned and achieved. So, for example, welfare benefits will become dependent on living what is seen as a virtuous life. That is to say, working for a living, staying married and so on.

The achievement view of respect certainly has, in my view, an important place in private life. We obviously discriminate among our friends and acquaintances in terms of their achievement and we favour some and not others. But it may be either dangerous or unattainable in public policy because it requires, first, that we hold a publicly acceptable and accepted concept of virtue in terms of which we recognise respect and the way in which it has been achieved and earned. I do not know that we have that. Secondly, there is the view that we know what kinds of institutional mechanisms are likely both to encourage and to reward the virtue that we are trying to inculcate into people which will earn our respect. Again, that is a dubious view, in my estimation. It is rather paradoxical, coming from the radical Right in the United States, because part of their other range of political commitments is to do with the failures of government, limited government and the fact that government cannot do much and what it does do it normally does badly.

It is rather strange for government to be taking on a moral agenda, as it were, linking social policy to the achievement of virtue, as is happening to some extent in the United States, when that is also coupled with a critique of the role and competence of government and the state. So in order to place respect as an achievement at the heart of public policy we would need a very strong sense of public morality and virtue and a strong view about the competence and scope of government. I do not believe that we have either of those.

One reason why I do not believe that we have the kind of public morality, a public view of virtue, that would enable government to treat respect in the achievement, as opposed to the status, sense, is due to the historical effect of the growth of the free market economy. I do not want to be taken as a severe critic of the market. In fact I spent the last 15 years writing books and articles trying to persuade my own party to take the role of the market more seriously and give it a central place in its policy making processes. I am not trying to make a partisan point However, I believe, along with the North American philosopher, David Gaultier, that the market is what he calls a morally free zone. I believe that it is a morally free zone for the following reasons.

First, central to the defence of the free market in the writings of thinkers such as Hayek, Friedman, and others, is that the role of the state is to ensure the conditions of free exchange. If each individual act of exchange is free, then the outcome is legitimate whatever the degree of inequality it might yield. The effect of that is to neutralise the claim that market outcomes can be criticised in terms of moral principles such as social justice. In that sense it is a morally free zone.

Secondly, the market is seen by many of its major supporters and intellectual defenders as the embodiment of moral subjectivism. It is central to Austrian economics from which most contemporary economic liberalism comes. It is the realm of choice. Value is a consequence of choice, and the worth of a person in economic terms is how other individuals freely choose to value what that individual is able to provide. In that sense it is a morally neutral zone. It is the institutional embodiment of ethical subjectivism.

Thirdly, it leads to the growth of instrumental rationality, in the sense that individuals value things for the benefits and for the economic advantages that they can get from things. That is fair enough. That is central to the market and there is no harm in it. But again, the idea of what constitutes reasons for action is uncontaminated by moral principles.

Finally, the predominant model of human relationships in markets is that of contract. The market produces many, many benefits—I do not want to be taken to be undermining that—but if it does not embody in itself any substantial morality other than a framework for the exercise of free choice, and if its dominant moral relationship is that of contract, then it seems to me that we should have concerns about the relentless advance of the market. It may well drive out other kinds of moral ideals and turn all relationships and all moral conceptions into an image of itself. That is to say, we need to have clear boundaries to markets.

If I had to make a party point at this moment (and I will not resist the temptation just to do so) it seems to me that the Government could be much clearer about where they think the limits to markets actually lie. We keep thinking that we have reached the limit of privatisation and contracting, and then we take yet a further step. It would be nice to know whether the Government have any view about whether there is a clear moral boundary, as it were, beyond which markets should not go. The market is in some danger of remaking the whole of society in its own image. We need only to think of the way in which marriage is now seen in terms of contract, which I believe is a wholly inappropriate and far too instrumental way of trying to think about the relationship between two people who presumably marry because they are in love with one another. The idea that that relationship can be conceived in terms of contract seems to me to be a fundamental error. Yet without those boundaries the market keeps remaking our relationships in its own image. So we do need some kind of limit, some kind of idea of where the boundary is.

Most of us have intuitive ideas. Richard Titmuss once said about the blood donor system that, if blood can be bought and sold, then anything can be bought and sold. I was reminded of that earlier this week in a report in the paper—I do not remember the details now—where a chaplain in a hospital had been asked to cost the price of his ministering to dying patients because it had to be costed as part of the accounting procedures within the hospital. I believe that everyone in this House would realise that at that point some kind of moral boundary had been violated. We need to keep the market in its appropriate moral place.

Lord Marlesford

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Would he not recognise that over many generations Conservative philosophy has aimed to limit exploitation within the market, whether it be the exploitation of employees, consumers or, as more recently, the environment?

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, I would accept that, and certainly the Conservative Party in the 19th century and since had a very honourable record in that respect. I am trying not to make this a partisan point. All parties in power, in whichever country in the West, are presently having problems in trying to define the appropriate relationships between market, state and community. I wish that parties would be prepared—my own party as well—to say a little more precisely what in their view should fall within which kind of boundary; namely, whether this is part of the state, that is part of the market, that is part of the voluntary sector and that is part of the community. That is the point I am trying to make. I am not trying to criticise the Conservative Party alone for failing to do that. I believe that that is one of the central questions of modern politics.

The result of all this is that because markets embody moral subjectivism, and because they are spilling over into more and more areas of our life, we are finding that morality is in a sense becoming privatised. It is becoming attenuated. It is seen in terms of our family life and our immediate circle, in terms of how to behave in relation to family, friends and acquaintances. It is not seen in terms of public morality because some notion of public morality is being driven out by the emphasis on individual choice, which has its most obvious roots in the market sector.

Does that matter? I believe it does. In many cases public institutions which we can hardly do without—punishment is the one that comes most obviously to mind—require ultimately some kind of moral justification. Frankly, we are floundering about in relationship to punishment at the moment because we do not have any clear sense of what the moral basis of punishment is. We can all exchange preferences about what regime we would like, but we do not seem to have any very clear public view about what is the moral basis of punishment. I teach students every day of the week who take the view, "Well, it's all subjective, isn't it?". Because people take the view that everything is a matter of choice and it is all subjective, and there is no content to a public morality, we get into difficulties in trying to think about what is the moral basis of indispensable public institutions, such as punishment, which cannot be taken to the market. At least, I hope that the Government do not have it in mind to take punishment any further down the market road than they have already done.

Given, as I believe, that we need some kind of public morality to underpin public institutions, then the question arises—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson—as to what kind of moral resources we could draw upon to do that. While I have the greatest respect, speaking as a Christian, for all those who have spoken from a Christian perspective, it seems to me frankly incredible that one could believe that the morality underpinning the public institutions of our society could be refounded upon a kind of general commitment to and conversion to Christianity. If that is so, we have to recognise the fact, like it or not, of moral pluralism: that there are people with different views of the good, different views of the purposes of human life and so forth. We have to legislate and find some kind of legitimacy for legislation in that kind of context. That leaves us broadly with two alternatives. One is, perhaps, the 1960s alternative; namely, that the state so far as possible should be neutral between conceptions of the good and in a sense it should only limit liberty for the sake of liberty; that is to say, it should provide that framework of law within which individuals should be as free as possible to do as much as possible of whatever they choose to do, so long as in doing so they do not infringe the liberties of other people. That is one alternative. I used to believe that. I do not think it works now because I do not feel that it has sufficient social glue about it, if I may put it that way.

The second alternative is to adopt what the American philosopher John Rawls calls legislating on the basis of the idea of an overlapping consensus; that we have to recognise the moral pluralism of society and try to see what, as it were, we can agree about from our differing points of view, whether that view is Christian, Islamic or secular.

We must use that common agenda as a basis for public policy and public authority and treat everything else as a matter of private life. A liberal society is one that requires Christian or other religious beliefs to be treated as private beliefs unless they can form part of an overlapping consensus that can provide the basis for legislation in the public sphere. I believe that that is the way forward. Without it, we shall start to have a range of laws which will seem to be wholly illegitimate to substantial minorities in our society. They will not accept that kind of moral standard if we try to underpin the law by a very specific and substantial set of moral principles. I say that with some regret, because, like the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, I am a Christian. But I do not think that Christian morality is a basis in a pluralistic society for public legislation.

7.12 p.m.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the few Members of your Lordships' House who, like me, are Johnnies-come-lately and have not grown up within its ambience, must be struck by the breadth, depth and intellectual insight which characterises debates in your Lordships' House. Noble Lords will agree that this afternoon has been no exception. This has been one of the most profound discussions that I have heard. It is certainly for me the most challenging to sum up, especially as I neither play rugby nor watch cricket and have no immediate intention of resigning.

In thanking my noble friend Lord Elton for initiating this debate, I would like to pay a tribute to him for his choice of title, for his penetrating analysis, his lucid arguments, and for giving your Lordships an opportunity to examine so many issues which lie at the heart of our society today.

Over the last centuries we have grown accustomed to three pillars of society: Parliament, the Church and the law under the monarchy. All of them are interdependent. When one pillar is removed, the structure becomes unstable. The Church's role has been to teach moral values and to minister to spiritual needs. I agree with my noble friends Lord Elton and Lord Ashbourne and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon in his profound speech, that in an age when many people choose not to listen, it is difficult for the Church to fulfil its responsibility.

The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, in a moving personal testimony expressed his love of the Church. Many of your Lordships share that love. But if people reject the Church, they must accept some of the responsibility for establishing their own moral values. That was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, who is such a distinguished spiritual leader, that neither the Government nor the law can have all the answers.

Although the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, sought to place the lion's share of responsibility on the Government, the state is only a part of the influences which affect the behaviour of people in this country. So, as society searches for new values, it is our task to ensure that the Government's policies are based on sound principles that people understand and share: common sense, concern for the citizen and respect for the law.

Getting back to basics does not mean turning back the clock. The challenge is to move forward in touch with the instincts and aspirations of the people. We must make sure that our public services are relevant to their needs. Our aim must be to build a nation in which respect for the law and concern for others are common ideals, not exceptions to the rule; and in doing so we should look to our strengths.

I share some of the optimism expressed by my noble friend Lord Oxfuird in his wide-ranging speech that not all is doom and gloom. Although I do not endorse the philosophical arguments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, concerning respect (I shall have to study Hansard to follow all his arguments), I believe that there are many people in this country who do earn our respect.

This country has a proud record of voluntary work. We have over 29,000 lay magistrates. We have a voluntary lifeboat service, which is the biggest and oldest in the world. We have over 6 million carers. We have 23 million people working in voluntary organisations. There are 300,000 school governors. These are people who are respected, who show respect for others and who participate in the running of our country. They are good, righteous people. They provide the sure foundations for a decent society upon which we should build.

Many of your Lordships referred to the role of the media. The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, as well as my noble friends Lord Elton, Lord Brentford, Lord Marlesford, Lord Dean of Harptree and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon expressed their concern at the influence that the press has in our society.

The noble Lord, Lord Charteris, mentioned manners. I agree with him that manners are about showing respect for each other. They are the sign of a society confident and at ease with itself. But what is so distasteful about some of the press is that they appear to have so few manners. Some make a virtue of not showing respect: they intrude, and in doing so can destroy people's lives. But a free press is essential for the maintenance of democracy and it is a long-standing principle that the Government do not intervene in editorial policy, I believe it was Alan Ayckbourn who said: "We all believe in the freedom of the press; it's just the newspapers we don't like"—that is the rub.

The Government welcome the Press Complaints Commission's efforts to strengthen the existing system and look to it to vindicate its claim that self-regulation can be made to work. In particular we are encouraged by those newspapers which are including the code of practice in some journalists' contracts as recommended by the commission.

My noble friend Lord Brentford quoted from a letter to The Times from two professors at the University of Leeds on their view on media violence. There have been over 1,000 studies into the possible effects of the media in the past 30 years. The conflicting views of the various researchers cannot easily be summarised but from all the studies we cannot draw conclusive evidence of a causal link between the media and violent crime. Nevertheless, the Government believe that common sense must tell us that what is shown must have some effect on at least part of the audience. We believe that broadcasters must therefore assume that there is a link and should exercise due caution.

The Government therefore welcome the moves by the BBC and the Independent Television Commission in issuing new guidelines for programme producers and purchasers on the portrayal of violence. The study of the two professors from Leeds University whose work was described in the letter to The Times will be a valuable addition to the body of evidence in this matter.

In terms of the exposition on video nasties by my noble friend Lady Young, I have to claim to be an inexperienced watcher. The Government share her concern and that of my noble friends Lord Elton and Lord Brentford, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, that video nasties have an impact on people's lives, especially, as it was expressed, on the weaker brethren. That is why all video recordings, with a few minor exceptions, have to be classified in advance by the British Board of Film Classification. It is a criminal offence to supply any video that has not been classified or to supply to anybody who is not of the age to which the classification refers.

That is the most vigorous control over videos, certainly in Europe and probably in the world. It was further strengthened in the Video Recording Act of 1993 introduced into your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and the Government will be taking steps to strengthen it even further in the coming Criminal Justice Bill to be introduced in another place next week.

My noble friend Lord Caldecote, in his succinct and powerful speech, distinguished homes, school and poverty as three major influences in our society. I should like to turn to the second of those. The noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy, lucidly expressed the responsibility of teachers. Although they take their share of criticism, like my noble friend Lord Lucas I believe that the great majority are committed and caring. The same goes for most parents, who give their children the attention and encouragement they need. More and more people understand that a good education is the passport to wider opportunities and a good job. Sadly, there is still a minority of parents who fail their children through a sad lack of commitment. I agree with my noble friend Lady Young that a few teachers show contempt for excellence. So we must never give up the fight to put higher standards and real learning at the centre of our education policy. That includes moral values and perhaps in the future, as my noble friend Lord Marlesford suggested, citizenship. It is a constructive suggestion and one that I should like to take up with my honourable friend the Minister for Education.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned self-worth. That is a factor. But self-worth is instilled in early life and requires, among other things, good education and teachers and parents ensuring that children leave school with a level of basic skills in spelling, grammar, simple arithmetic, historical facts and geography. But that requires hard work and discipline—back to basics.

I endorse the view of many noble Lords that there is no substitute for discipline and hard work and that young people's energies must be harnessed—a phrase used by my noble friend Lord Oxfuird in his interesting contribution. In trying to reflect those attitudes the Government have promoted the right of communities to take over the management of their own schools so that they can reflect the attitudes that the community strives to portray. That gives people responsibility and pride. Like a "best kept village" competition or a neighbourhood watch, people want to join in improving their schools.

The Government share the concerns of my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lady Young on the question of truancy. We agree that truancy can be the start of a life of crime. Recent events have borne that out all too tragically. The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, suggested that the Government should have moral league tables—a novel idea. We are not suggesting that. But the Government have new tables on truancy which show that some schools need to do more to keep children in school and off the streets and the "truancy watch" schemes recently endorsed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education are to be encouraged.

The noble Lord, Lord Charteris, and my noble friend Lord Lucas wished to see greater provision of nursery education. As one who started and ran a pre-school playgroup I take pride in saying that the Government recognise that pre-school education has an important part to play. The Government's policy is to encourage diversity of pre-school provision. More than nine out of 10 three to four year-olds are in some form of pre-school education, group daycare or pre-reception classes. However, I hear the stronger calls that are being made to expand that still further.

I turn to the question of the law. The law only works where there is consensus. The police have always relied on the public for information; so, where people have lost respect not just for the police but for the law, the consequences for communities can be dire.

I share the view of my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter that in some respects the law may need strengthening. But so do the enforcers of the law. This Government are anxious to ensure that we have enough bobbies on the beat, so we are freeing police officers from the burdens of bureaucracy. We want to see them working with the community against crime as recognised and respected individuals; not filling forms behind a desk. The Home Secretary is cutting the paperwork and stripping out tiers of middle management. The potential prize—up to 5,300 extra officers on the front line—is a rich one indeed.

My noble friend Lord Elton started his arresting speech by examining the crime rates, as did other noble Lords, and espoused some of the reasons for them. He is correct in drawing our attention to the increase in the temptation on our streets and in our more prosperous homes. But most crime is committed by young people. Yet those of 14 and under have largely been beyond the reach of the law no matter how many crimes they committed. The proposed secure training orders—custodial sentences for 12 to 14 year-olds—will give the public the protection they need. Of course, such tough measures are a last resort, to be reserved for the hard core of persistent young criminals. For the vast majority of young offenders cautions and community based measures are enough to steer them away from a life of crime. I agree with my noble friend bard Elton that prevention is always better than cure.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, will welcome the other ways in which we can ensure that our system of criminal justice is respected. Some were outlined in the Home Secretary's 27 points for action: ensuring that cautions are used for first-time and minor offenders; tightening up on the abuse of bail, and abolishing the so-called right of silence.

My noble friend Lord Brentford was anxious that we should be concerned for victims. We recognise that they need our support. My noble friend may take comfort from the fact that we are raising our funding for Victim Support to £10 million next year—a real-terms increase of 25 per cent. in just three years. We will give victims a better deal, seeking their views when decisions are made on bail and other vital matters.

My noble friends Lord Boyd-Carpenter and Lord Brentford expressed their anxieties about soft sentencing. I should perhaps first stress that the Government's role is to ensure that courts have the powers they need to deal with the offenders who appear before them. Tough penalties are available for the most serious offences. Imprisonment is now mandatory for murder and the maximum for other grave crimes such as manslaughter, rape, wounding with intent and robbery. Courts are now treating violent and sexual offences more seriously. Average sentences for rape increased by over 70 per cent. between 1984 and 1989, while average sentences for assault increased by almost one-fifth over the past decade.

My noble friend Lord Ashbourne asked whether the Government have analysed the causes of rising crime. The Home Office research and planning unit carried out a number of research studies which dealt with the predictors of offending. They show that the reasons why people become offenders are complex and wide ranging. Though basic character plays its part, people are influenced throughout their lives by a variety of factors which may encourage them towards or away from criminal acts. It is through experiences in the family, school, the community, the workplace and through leisure that the benefits of obeying the law and the costs of not doing so are learnt.

It has been apparent for many years that demographic changes and other factors would make the rapidly growing cost of the welfare state more difficult to sustain in the future. To allow the welfare state to become unsustainable would be the greatest betrayal of those in need. All parties agree that some changes are necessary. I agree with my noble friend Lord Brentford that we all have a responsibility as taxpayers to help those who cannot provide for themselves. The Government have a duty to ensure that resources are focused on those who need them most, that we are even handed and that people who are able are encouraged to make their own provision for themselves and their families.

I now turn to the family. My noble friend Lord Dean of Harptree started his thoughtful speech by mentioning the role of the family. On the day when we are launching the International Year of the Family, I should like to support him, my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Boyd-Carpenter and the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, in recognising that a loving family provides the best start in life. It provides a stable framework within which children can learn the limits of acceptable behaviour, right from wrong and the benefits of respect for others. My noble friends Lady Young and Lord Boyd-Carpenter expressed the view that marriages need support. I agree with that. The family is a fragile structure. It needs help from neighbours, friends and the community. Very few marriages can exist in isolation. Interestingly, there is no correlation between wealth or poverty and divorce rates, though there is some evidence that the children of lone parents may be less likely to stay in permanent relationships themselves.

In reply to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, this Government recognise the courage which many lone parents exhibit and the skills they exercise in bringing up their children successfully. We have a prime example in the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy. But that does not mean that we are not concerned by those parents who undertake a second marriage with little regard for their past responsibilities. The results of divorce or desertion has left this country with an alarming number of lone parents. Our aim must be to have a fair and objective system for child support but to recognise that no mother or father should be able to buy off his or her responsibilities with a lump sum or a settlement that may prove inadequate or unjust. Circumstances of both the mother and the father may change and there is no justification for the state to pick up the bill for maintaining children unless the natural parents are unable to do so.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, welcomed my right honourable friend's Budget provision for paying a child care allowance to help mothers to work. We know that that is particularly welcomed by single mothers. The noble Lord also asked for some evidence that this Government are concerned with those who are less well off and unable to fend for themselves. I have a battery of statistics here, but as time is getting on and the noble Lord is not able to be with us I shall move on.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon asked what effect bad modern housing estates have on families. I was interested in the comments of the right reverend Prelate on the isolation of some families on modern estates. He will be pleased that the resources we devote to those worst estates were maintained in the Budget. The measures involved will physically improve the security of those estates—concierge schemes, entry-phones, providing individual tenants with defensible space. But the right reverend Prelate was quite right to comment that multiple problems need multiple solutions. That is why we have established the single regeneration budget which will include those resources for the worst estates. It is also why we are giving increasing emphasis to community involvement in regeneration—City Challenge, Estate Action, and now a statutory right to manage.

As one would expect, we, have had a very succinct and original contribution from my noble friend Lord Marlesford concerning community service and national service; and from the noble Lord, Lord Plant of Highfield, on market forces—a very closely argued case which was skilfully replied to, in part anyhow, by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, for which I am very grateful. As I have said, I shall study Hansard to follow those arguments closely.

In conclusion, I believe that the people of this country are faced with a paradox. On the one hand they expect the Government to be a cure-all, but they never quite live up to their expectations; on the other, their greatest source of satisfaction is their own achievements. This Government's policy is to give back to the people their schools, their health care, their houses, their opportunities and their responsibilities. We know that when people seize the initiative to manage their own lives, they gain self-respect, pride in their achievements, and, in managing their own communities, respect for each other.

7.34 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that full and detailed reply—a richer harvest than we often gain at the end of these exchanges—and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed so much and so diversely to the debate. Convention does not allow me to reply to the debate; indeed, it only gives me a couple of minutes on my feet. I shall simply say that it appears that under all the nostrums and anxieties that we have displayed —right from the nursery school where a child must learn its right from its wrong almost before it learns its right from its left, through to the teacher training college where teachers must absorb the morality which they have to pass on to the children, and all that we have heard about the public service and national non-military and military service—and beneath the judicial, the administrative and economic conundrums that we are faced with, lies a deep moral and spiritual malaise. Your Lordships have accepted that. I hope that we shall indeed return to the roots of our spiritual heritage not to build foundations anew but to water the roots from which we grow.

Opening a debate like this is always rather like rubbing an Aladdin's lamp. I have no wish for the excellent genie that has sprung from it to be put back in the bottle. Like my noble friend Lord Brentford, I hope that this debate will continue outside this Chamber for many months to come. I am tempted not to withdraw the Motion because I long to see what Papers I would get, but I nevertheless beg leave to withdraw it.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before eight o'clock.