HL Deb 23 November 1993 vol 550 cc142-252

Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Thursday last by Viscount Montgomery of Alamein—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows: Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.

3.15 p.m.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, in opening this part of our debate, perhaps I may say how much I am looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Tugendhat. As a Member of this House, I have had the privilege of listening to the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, addressing the House as an advocate. That gives me a very good basis for looking forward with anticipation to his maiden speech as a Member of this House. I look forward also to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Westwood, and my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon.

I regret that I shall be unable to stay for the whole of the debate owing to a longstanding evening engagement to be attended by a member of the Royal Family. I hope to hear a good deal of the debate and to read the remainder.

I wish to draw attention in particular to three Bills outlined in the gracious Speech. The first is a Bill in which I, as Lord Chancellor, have a direct interest; that is, the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. We must improve the effectiveness of the police and the courts in dealing with crime. That is the purpose of the Bill. The proposals are intended to improve the structure and management of the police service and to make changes to the administrative arrangements for magistrates' courts.

The Bill will put into effect many of the proposals contained in the White Paper on police reform, published in June this year. It will implement the Government's proposals on police discipline, following a consultation paper earlier this year. It will introduce those recommendations of the Sheehy inquiry which the Government have decided to adopt and which require primary legislation. Finally, it will implement the Government's plans for improvements in the management and organisation of the magistrates' courts service which were announced at the beginning of 1992 in the White Paper A New Framework for Local Justice. The proposals contained in all these documents have been the subject of full and open debate during the year. In the forthcoming Session we shall have the opportunity to examine them again.

There have been enormous changes since the 1964 Police Act, and the police service must now be organised in a way which meets the demands of today. The police Bill will modernise the structure of policing. The police service needs both a management framework which supports it and a clear steer from the Government and the public about what we expect from it. The proposals of the police Bill will achieve that in a number of ways. There will be greater management freedom for chief constables. For the first time, independent local people who are not councillors or magistrates will be able to serve on police authorities. Police authorities will have to find out what people in the area want from their police service and reflect that in local objectives. That must accord with the overall objectives for policing which the Government will set annually. Each police authority will publish annually a costed policing plan telling local people how the resources provided by central and local government are to be used by their police force. Overall, the police reforms are designed to enable the police service to manage itself more effectively.

A similar objective underpins the proposals for magistrates' courts. The prime responsibility will stay where it fits best—in the hands of local committees of magistrates. But the framework which supports magistrates' courts will be brought up to date. The service has fundamental problems and is overdue for reform. Many of the 105 administrative areas of the service are too small to use their resources effectively. There is a need for effective co-operation between the various agencies in the criminal justice field.

The legislation will also make clear that neither local management nor central government may improperly influence the decision magistrates take, or the legal advice they receive from their clerks, in individual cases. I believe that there is impetus for reform within the magistrates' courts service already. Many of the reforms have been adopted voluntarily by different areas of the service and are working well.

Next I turn to the Criminal Justice Bill. This will address a range of matters on which the Government believe that the impact and effectiveness of our criminal justice system need further improvement. In the time available it is not possible for me to outline all the measures that will find their place in this Session's Bill. I will, however, look briefly at several matters on which we shall be moving forward.

In the Bill we intend to provide the courts with new ways of dealing with persistent young offenders. It is in no one's interests, including their own, if the small number of school-age children who commit large numbers of crimes, particularly burglary and car crime, are allowed to remain at large in the community where they are out of control, play truant from school and repeatedly commit criminal acts against the general public. That is why my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced in March this year that the Government intended at the earliest legislative opportunity to create a new type of sentence—the secure training order. Measures to enable that to happen will form part of this Session's Criminal Justice Bill.

The order will be available for those 12 to 14 year-olds who have been convicted of three imprisonable offences and who have not responded constructively to supervision in the community. It will be imposed only for an offence which the court considers so serious that only custody will do, or where the public need to be protected. Secure training centres will be set up to provide high standards of care but also discipline for persistent young offenders. Regimes will embrace education and training designed to tackle each individual's offending behaviour. The maximum length of a secure training order will be two years and up to half the length of the sentence may be spent in a secure training centre. After release, the order will ensure the youngster remains under close supervision in the community.

The secure training order will protect the public from the repeated offending of the hard core of young criminals. The regime will be constructed with the aim of altering those youngsters' behaviour so that they are no longer a threat to society. The Government have not lightly taken the step of saying that they will introduce legislation which in part will have the serious effect of depriving children of their liberty and removing them from their families. The vast majority of children who offend will not be dealt with in that way. But it is also right that courts have at their disposal a sentence specifically designed for the comparatively small group of very persistent juvenile offenders whose repeated offending makes them a menace to the community.

I now turn more briefly to a very different type of provision that will also be in the Criminal Justice Bill. I refer to the innovation proposed in relation to an accused's silence. The matter was discussed last month in the debate on the Royal Commission's report initiated by my noble friend Lord Windlesham. The measures we shall introduce in the Criminal Justice Bill will not impose any new obligation on the suspect or on a defendant to provide information. He will still be able to remain silent, but once the provisions are implemented the judge and jury in appropriate cases will be able to be told that the defendant remained silent when asked questions—and the jury will be able to draw such inferences from that silence as it may think fit.

The range of safeguards for defendants—for instance, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act—are such that to allow a suspect or defendant to remain silent but not to allow proper inferences to be drawn from that silence is unnecessary, at least in some cases, and not in the interests of justice. It is an area where we think the balance has now tipped too far towards the offender and needs to be redressed. That can be done, in our judgment, without threatening to convict the innocent.

The Government are determined to take further measures to deal with those who trespass en masse with complete disregard for law-abiding citizens. I do not need to remind your Lordships of the disgraceful events at Castlemorton Common, Malvern, in the summer of 1992 which have been repeated, albeit on a lesser scale, in other parts of the country. The disruption suffered by local communities, the fear which is caused to residents by such mass gatherings and the filth left behind by the trespassers is intolerable.

On 31st March, we announced our measures to extend the provisions of Section 39 of the Public Order Act 1986. This gives the police powers to act against trespassers where, either because of the sheer weight of numbers involved or because of the behaviour of the trespassers, it is right that the criminal law should be invoked. In the Criminal Justice Bill we will introduce measures to extend Section 39 to apply in a wider range of circumstances, principally extending it to minor highways, applying it more easily to common land and reducing from 12 to six the number of vehicles required as one of the triggers for the powers.

We shall also introduce in the Bill the additional proposals announced on 31st March to deal with illegal rave parties on land. They include pre-emptive powers to prevent a build up of large numbers of people on land where the police reasonably believe that a rave will take place with the result that a local community will suffer serious distress on account of the cacophonous racket which is made during the night. The police will also be given powers to seize amplification equipment where an illegal rave is already in progress.

In addition to the previously announced proposals, we intend to include in the Criminal Justice Bill further measures to tackle the disruption and disturbance caused by other gatherings of trespassers. As with raves, we wish to prevent a potentially disruptive assembly rather than leave the police to tackle it once it has gathered. We also intend to introduce a criminal offence of aggravated trespass to ensure that the police have the necessary powers to prevent or deal with those who seek to intimidate, obstruct or disrupt a lawful activity.

The Criminal Justice Bill which will be introduced this Session will be wide ranging and its effects will be far reaching. It has not been possible to do more today than offer a snapshot of what some of its provisions will look like. But at the heart of the Bill is the Government's commitment to take decisive action against crime and the criminal; to put the maintenance of law and order at the top of the agenda; and to make sure that our laws and the criminal justice system as a whole protect the public in as fair a fashion as is possible.

In addition to those measures, the Government plan to reform the law on Sunday trading in England and Wales. Your Lordships will be aware that that issue has not proved easy to resolve in the past. The current Sunday trading laws are contained in the Shops Act 1950. The Sunday trading provisions are widely regarded as outdated and ripe for reform. They contain anomalies which have been ridiculed ever since the laws were enacted.

The Government have decided on a unique course. It will give Parliament the choice between the three major options for reform which have been proposed. The first option is total deregulation in the sense of the removal of any laws relating solely to Sundays. That is already the position in Scotland. It will allow all shops to open if they wish to do so. Secondly, there is the option proposed by the Shopping Hours Reform Council. It will allow all small shops to open on Sunday and large shops, with a floor area over 280 square metres, to open for six hours between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Thirdly, there is a regulatory option proposed by the Keep Sunday Special Campaign and the Retailers for Shops Act Reform, which will close most shops on Sunday, with a small range of exceptions, but will allow all shops to open on the last four Sundays before Christmas.

The Bill also contains provisions on employment rights. The Government recognise that many shopworkers may have taken their jobs in the belief that they would not be asked to work on Sunday as Sunday trading was, for the most part, illegal. The Bill will give existing shopworkers the right not to be dismissed or to suffer other detrimental action for refusing to work on Sundays. The Bill gives shopworkers full rights irrespective of whether or not they have signed a contract to engage in Sunday working. It will apply to all shopworkers apart from Sunday-only workers who are employed when the Bill takes effect without a qualifying period or age restriction. The Government have also decided to extend the provisions so that future employees as well as any shopworker who, after the Bill's enactment, signs a contract agreeing to Sunday working will have the right to withdraw from their contractual obligation to work Sundays subject to three months' notice.

As between the options, there will be no government view expressed on their relative merits. Each member of the Government will act in the light of his or her own conscience and Ministers taking part in the debates will have the opportunity to state their own position. My personal view is that Sunday is a divine provision for rest and worship, well designed to fit the needs of the human spirit as well as the human body, and that it is a privilege accorded to us by divine commandment, not imposed as a burden, but intended to operate in a beneficial way so as, for example, to enable the needs of doctors and other care workers to be taken into account. Ultimately the observance of the Lord's Day is a matter of individual personal responsibility, and the employment protection provisions recognise that.

Speaking now for the Government as a whole, we hope that the Sunday Trading Bill will make good progress and that the vote on the options will be held in another place before the Christmas Recess. The Government have also indicated that your Lordships will be able to consider all three of the options for reform.

Among other measures affecting home and social affairs, I hope very much that experimental use of the new Standing Committee procedure, as recommended by the Select Committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, will enable a limited number of measures dealing with law reform to be taken to some extent off the Floor of both Houses so that they do not have to compete for parliamentary time in the usual way. It may be possible thereby to enact a variety of law reform measures emanating from the Law Commission, I hope in the course of this Session of Parliament.

The section of the gracious Speech dealing with home and social affairs is comprehensive. I have sought only to indicate some of the highlights.

3.30 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I have waited for nearly 45 years to have the opportunity to speak after the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I played Strephon in "Iolanthe" at school. The noble and learned Lord will know as well as I do that: The Law is the true embodiment Of everything that's excellent. It has no kind of fault or flaw", and he, my Lords, embodies the law. What he may not know so well is that my mother was the Queen of the Fairies, and my mother described your Lordships as "puny mortals". She made it clear that if I were in any way thwarted in my wishes in front of your Lordships' House she would take appropriate action: Every kind of bill or measure That may gratify his pleasure —that is my pleasure— Though your fury it arouses Shall be passed by both your Houses". I give that warning only in case noble Lords should think that we shall not take the Home Office aspects of the Queen's Speech seriously in the forthcoming Session.

We look forward to the four maiden speeches which are due today. I shall not presume to say anything individually about those who are about to speak, but I can understand very well how they feel. I can assure them that we all feel the same way. We hope that they will not only survive and enjoy the experience this afternoon but will benefit from it to our benefit in the future.

Perhaps I may start by dealing with the issues which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor outlined as being in the legislative programme for the coming year. Then I want to make a few general remarks about the adequacy of the Queen's Speech as a whole in dealing with home and social affairs, which is the subject of our debate this afternoon.

The noble and learned Lord referred, first, to the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. He referred to the plans, which are already well known so I do not need to repeat them, for the nationalisation of the police force, because that is what they will amount to. It is proposed that the membership of the police authorities shall be changed so that there are only eight local authority members, five members appointed by the Secretary of State and three elected from among local magistrates. Assuming that some of the eight local authority representatives will be of the party in Government, which must be true in most parts of the country, that proposal secures that the Government will have an effective majority on all police authorities, because the Government can appoint local people with business interests to the five so-called independent seats. That control will be secured by the provision that the chairman of the police authority will be paid and appointed by the Home Secretary.

That proposal in no way reflects what either the police themselves, local authorities with experience of police work, or the country as a whole expect of our police force. We do not expect to see the police force reduced to a body of men and women—and it will almost certainly be mostly men—who can be accommodated, because of the amalgamation of police forces, around a single table in the Home Office. That is what we shall get. There may be an argument for some aspects of policing to be on a national basis, but not this way; not by the back door, as is proposed.

It is fascinating that in the Government's response to the Sheehy Committee on the police service 90 per cent. of the conclusions reached by the Home Secretary in rejecting so many of Sir Patrick Sheehy's proposals were the views of the police authorities. Therefore, the Government are very happy to accept the views of the police authorities on matters arising from their knowledge of the police service. However, in relation to the composition of the police authorities they do no such thing. The Government are determined to bring the matter under the heel of central Government, as in so many matters in this country today. I remind the House that the expenditure of quangos appointed by the Government now amounts to some £42 billion a year, which is more than the total expenditure of all local authorities put together. That is the extent to which centralisation has crept, and in some cases galloped, forward over a period of 14 years.

It cannot be denied that the proposals for the new police authorities are opposed not only, as one would expect, by the Association of County Councils and the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, but also by the Association of Chief Police Officers, and the Police Federation. Adverse criticisms have also been made by the Police Superintendents' Association.

Of course some of the proposals are worthwhile. We shall look at some of the proposals—for example the proposals for self-management of police forces and removing them from the detailed control of the Home Office—with sympathy and care. However, that is not to say that the proposals which will be placed before Parliament will gain the acceptance of Her Majesty's Opposition. What is notable for its absence is any reference to partnership between the police service and its public. That is what the police and the public want. That is what the Government appear determined not to provide.

I turn to the issue of magistrates' courts briefly, not because they are not important but because I do not have time to cover all of the issues in great detail. Here it is proposed that the justices' clerks should become accountable to chief justices' clerks who will be appointed within the Lord Chancellor's Department. It is proposed that there will be a forced amalgamation of benches and of magistrates' courts committees. It is proposed that there will be compulsory term contracts for all justices' clerks and that there will be an inspectorate for the justices' clerks which will not be independent of the Lord Chancellor's Department.

The noble and learned Lord is himself a shining example of how the separation of powers is not always necessary for justice to be achieved. He represents a judicious blend of the executive and the judiciary which we all admire greatly. But to enshrine such an anomaly in legislation as is proposed here, and to have the magistrates' courts committees and their justices' clerks (and we must remember that the justices' clerks are the only source of legal advice to lay magistrates) under the control of chief justices' clerks appointed by the Lord Chancellor's Department—who will be, whatever the noble and learned Lord himself may be, purely part of the executive—is simply not acceptable.

I turn now to the issue of criminal justice. The proposals which the noble and learned Lord put before us are of great interest, perhaps more for what they omit than for what they include. I acknowledge that he has given us only a taster of what the Bill will contain, but he will forgive me if I fail to resist the temptation to ask about the matters which he did not consider. It may be that the drafting of the Bill is not complete, but there are important matters which need to be dealt with in a Bill of this kind. Frankly, the matters to which the noble and learned Lord referred are either wrong or relatively trivial.

I shall start with one matter which is wrong: the secure training orders and the new provisions for juveniles aged 12 to 14. This is trivial as well as wrong. It is proposed that there will be five secure training centres around the country, each of which will hold 40 young people. Therefore we are talking about 200 places. That is not exactly a strong and powerful response to any supposed problem of juvenile crime. But it is wrong as well as trivial because there is no new problem of juvenile crime. There is no statistical evidence that juvenile crime has been on the increase in the past 10 or 20 years. In practice there have been welcome increases in detection rates of some kinds of juvenile crime. But there is not a general problem of young people completely out of control.

It is also not the case that there is no way of dealing with 12 and 14 year-olds. That view has been expressed forcefully by members of the probation service to the lawyers themselves. Those 12 and 14 year-olds can be dealt with by a commitment to local authority institutions which can be secure. It is difficult to know why it is better to set up a range of five new institutions, nearly all of which inevitably geographically will be a long way from the homes of the young people in them, in contrast to the existing provision of secure local authority homes. Therefore, I must say to the noble and learned Lord and to the Government that that proposal will be vigorously contested by the Opposition.

The noble and learned Lord referred next to the issue of the right to silence. We went over that ground a month ago during the debate on the Runciman Royal Commission. However, he does not propose that there should be abolition of the right of silence. No one can physically force anyone to talk if they do not wish to do so. However, we are not referring to the professional, hardened criminals who use the right to silence. The Government will secure that those who are most frightened when taken into police custody will now be told, "Yes, you have the right to silence but the courts may draw an adverse conclusion from it".

I was interested to hear what the noble and learned Lord said. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate will help the House when he winds up. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that the jury may draw an inference from the exercise of the right to silence. Does that mean that the judge may not draw an inference: that the judge may only say that the accused has exercised his right to silence and not give any advice to the jury on what inference may be drawn? I was not clear on that point because it was a new way of approaching the problem.

Clearly the diminution of the right to silence, as the Lord Chief Justice and many others have made clear, is an issue which will attract substantial and weighty opposition not only from these Benches but, I venture to suggest, from Members of the Cross-Benches and many other people around the country. What is proposed is the abolition of a factor that has been part of our judicial system for many centuries. It will be under attack against the wishes of a large number of us.

The relatively trivial aspects (if I may so put it) to which the noble and learned Lord referred are the law of trespass and the proposed amendment to the Public Order Act 1986. No one says that travellers who invade private land do not cause considerable nuisance. I do not say that we shall oppose any of those specific measures. However, in comparison with the problems facing this country, such issues are relatively minor.

The noble and learned Lord then referred to rave parties, a somewhat vaguer concept of disruptive assemblies, and a new offence of aggravated trespass which I take to be a move against hunt saboteurs. I have no doubt that many of your Lordships will take a strong view on that; perhaps a stronger view than I might take.

What is missing from the noble and learned Lord's introduction of the criminal justice process is any reference to the issues of, for example, the disclosure of defence, or the need for greater corroboration of confessions. In view of the case in Leeds Crown Court yesterday when a young man was induced to confess after four days of questioning and 120 denials, I should have thought it perhaps not unreasonable for Mr. Justice Mitchell to draw attention to the nature of the questioning and to rule out the tape of the interrogation and of the confession. There is no reference to the issue of jury trial, case listing, and, above all, the proposal of the Royal Commission for a criminal cases review authority to deal with miscarriages of justice.

Only a month ago in a distinguished maiden speech, the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, referred at col. 791 of the Official Report on 26th October to the need for, an independent, pro-active, adequately resourced, well-staffed review authority". Proposals to that effect ought to be in this year's criminal justice Bill. If they are not, there are those of us who will seek to have them placed in that Bill. In any event the Government ought to deal with the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, in opening that debate that it would be possible to start with a non-statutory body before proceeding to the full statutory authority; and there are good precedents for that concept.

With regard to what the noble and learned Lord said about Sunday trading, I respect his personal views. He will understand if I disagree with them. It is interesting to note that when the Bill comes from another place it will provide all the options for your Lordships to consider. I am fascinated to know how that will be achieved. Presumably another place will have to decide between the three options and will put only one before us.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I do not believe that I expressed the position quite as the noble Lord said. I said that your Lordships would have an opportunity of voting on the three options. I anticipate that that would be done by putting amendments forward to enable your Lordships to vote on any options that have been knocked out in another place.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. As I understand it, the implication is that there will be one preferred option coming from the Commons, but that it will be open for your Lordships to put forward, through amendments, either of the two other options, or indeed any other option. That is one of the difficulties that the Government will face when the Bill comes before this House. However, as the noble and learned Lord stated, it is a matter on which there will not be a Government Whip; nor will there be a Whip in this House. We shall listen to the debate with a good deal of interest.

What is significant about all the measures proposed by the noble and learned Lord is that they hardly start to tackle the problems which really concern our people—the problems of crime. It is interesting that of the 27 reforms which the Home Secretary announced at the Conservative Party Conference, only one, a very trivial dogberry process of 20 pilot schemes of parish constables, deals with crime prevention. It is interesting that all the public utterances of Government spokesmen in recent weeks have been about attacking criminals rather than attacking the causes of crime. I remind the House that if we were to achieve even a 1 per cent. decrease in crime by increased use of imprisonment, we should increase the prison population by 25 per cent. Those criminals who go to prison are a tiny fraction of those who are convicted. Those who are punished represent only 30 per cent. of crimes which are cleared up. The numbers of crimes which are cleared up account for only 26 per cent. of crimes committed. The significant fact for the Government to remember is that the clear-up rate has decreased since 1979, when it was 42 per cent., to 26 per cent. today. Only 10 per cent. of the perpetrators of violent crime are punished. Fewer than 1 per cent. of the perpetrators of vandalism are punished. And who knows what proportion of the perpetrators of white collar crime are punished?

It is an understandable but deplorable reaction of a Government under fire over the whole range of their policies in matters of law and order to turn to retribution rather than reform. That is what the Government have done; and it does no service to the people of this country.

Since this is a debate on home and social affairs I believe that we ought to look at these matters rather more in context than we have done so far. Let us look back to the Beveridge Report and the world in which Beveridge was operating. He operated in a society in which there was general agreement about a very large number of social objectives. It was thought in those days that Keynesian management could provide a high and stable level of employment and that the benefits of the welfare state would provide temporary relief in times of high unemployment. He reported in a time of relatively stable and nuclear family life. It is very clear that that is no longer the case in large parts of our society. He reported at a time when, perhaps because of the war, there was a high degree of common national purpose about social policy in our country. None of those conditions is present today. If we look at the causes of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness in our society, many issues arise which are not simply subjects for debate today; they are subjects for the whole range of our debate on the gracious Speech; issues in relation to which the Government ought to be putting forward proposals, or at least showing the way in which progress could be made to deal with these evils.

I suggest to noble Lords that none of the proposals made today, and hardly any of the proposals made in the gracious Speech as a whole, make any real contribution to improving the quality and standard of life in our society.

3.51 p.m.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, let me first join the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in expressing our good wishes to all four of our colleagues who will make their maiden speeches this afternoon.

Let me also begin by making one point in which I very much agree with the noble and learned Lord; namely, on the Sunday trading Bill. I very much welcome the fact that we are to have a free vote in this House as well as in the House of Commons; and that we are to have a choice between the three options which are to be voted on in the House of Commons. I believe that that is right. Speaking entirely for myself (on this issue, we all do) I would be inclined to vote for whichever of the three options is carried in the House of Commons, unless it is carried by the smallest of majorities. I believe that it is time for Parliament to make a clear decision in this matter. The subject has preoccupied Parliament for many years. It is about time that we reached a decision. As I have indicated, that is entirely my own personal judgment on the matter.

I propose to divide what I have to say this afternoon into two parts: first, my comments on the Government's proposals on the criminal justice system; and secondly, some rather wider reflections on the attitude of the British public to their political leadership.

I turn first, then, to the Government's forthcoming criminal justice and police and magistrates' courts Bills. These are to be introduced at a time when the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have been telling us that the fight against crime is to be placed at the top of the political agenda. There is nothing wrong in that. One might wonder why it has taken the Government 14 years to come to that particular conclusion. But, nevertheless, I welcome the position that they have adopted, taking account of course of the fact that in their period of office crime has risen, as we all know, by well over double. But we shall judge them not on their rhetoric, nor by the violence of the language used by the Home Secretary at his party conference, but on whether the specific proposals that they bring to Parliament will have any relevance whatever to the fight against crime. So far, the auguries do not look terribly impressive. We had, for instance, Mr. Howard at Blackpool announcing: Let us be clear. Prison works". Yet his Cabinet colleague Mr. Douglas Hurd, when Home Secretary, gave us a very different message in his White Paper. He said that prison was: an expensive way of making bad people worse". All the evidence demonstrates that Mr. Hurd is right and Mr. Howard is wrong.

When Mr. Howard was challenged about his statement that prison works and asked to justify it, he replied that American experience demonstrated that prison worked. A fortnight ago I was in the United States talking to two district attorneys and the heads of two medium to large American police departments. One of them had indeed heard of the statement made by Mr. Howard. They were all incredulous. How, they asked, could such an absurd statement be made? Did Mr. Howard not know that in many parts of the United States the criminal justice system was breaking down, with thousands of cases being thrown away because of the tidal wave of offenders swamping the system and the acute pressures on the American penal system overall? Did he not know in addition, just to take one illustration, that in the country where apparently prison works, in the city of New York so far this year 37 taxi drivers have been murdered. That is in one city so far this year. And that, we are told, is in the country where prison works. I will allow the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, when he replies, to have the opportunity of explaining that quite extraordinary statement by the Home Secretary. I should be extremely grateful were he to attempt to justify it in direct terms.

Of course offenders must be sent to prison if they commit serious offences. Nobody disputes that. Of course, if they are given repeated opportunities to stay away from crime but nevertheless continue to commit offences, they must go to prison. The public has a right to be protected. But it would be the height of foolishness for us to turn our backs on the experience of the past two decades when we have developed a wide range of alternatives to imprisonment simply so that a politician can derive some temporary personal political advantage by pretending that he is prepared to be tough on crime and others are not.

Mr. Howard announced proudly at Blackpool that he would build six new prisons. He did not tell the conference that it would be many years before those prisons would be available. Nor did he tell the conference that his own Government had cancelled a substantial part of the prison building programme of the noble Lord, Lord Whitelaw. We are now experiencing, typically, the worst of all worlds. Prison numbers are once again rising remorselessly. Prison governors are warning that overcrowding has reached dangerous proportions. Soon the police cells will once again be used to house Home Office prisoners, thus taking scores of police officers off the streets so that they can act as gaolers—a procedure severely criticised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in his report on Strangeways. Prison administrators are warning of the risk of renewed disturbances—all the more so, if I may say so, as Mr. Howard apparently wants, as a deliberate act of policy, to make conditions "more austere". He made that judgment having visited precisely one prison, namely, Brixton. There, a major and successful effort is being made both by the governor and the staff to improve on the revolting conditions described by the Chief Inspector of Prisons, Judge Tumim. The House will recall that we had a debate on the Brixton report in December 1990. Judge Tumim had reported that mentally ill offenders were housed in single cells and stripped of all furniture except a mattress. Cells were dirty, and so were the foam rubber mattresses. There was a smell of urine and some cells had faecal staining. Incoming prisoners were assessed in a dirty reception area, and the clinical load on medical officers was too great for more than a cursory examination. So much for the conditions at the single prison visited by Mr. Howard before he made that statement. I do not believe that any previous holder of the office of Home Secretary since the Second World War would have made a similar statement. He would have found it distasteful to make such an appeal to ignorant prejudice.

That is the context in which the Government are introducing the new Criminal Justice Bill. It would be a great pity if their own extravagant rhetoric obliges Ministers to carry into the Bill some of their more ill-judged ideas. Naturally the public are anxious about the level of crime. We all are. But what are wanted are balanced, sensible proposals to deal with the situation, not partisan polemics. Let me take an example which was touched on in the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor: the problem which is caused by a relatively small number of juvenile offenders who commit repeated offences. It is a genuine difficulty. But what is the point of going back to what in fact is a new generation of approved schools which were scrapped years ago because they were a total failure? All the more so as the Government have allowed the number of secure places in local authority children's homes to be cut. The Government themselves bear the responsibility for that situation. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, will remember our debate on child runaways when this problem was specifically identified. Yet there are now fewer such places in children's homes than there were when the Government came into office.

Let me take as another example the case of the sick and unstable Mr. Michael Buchanan, who was released into what is described as care in the community, despite his mental condition. Last month Mr. Buchanan, a paranoid schizophrenic, was at the Central Criminal Court sentenced to four terms of life imprisonment for a series of offences, including one in which, under the influence of cocaine, he beat to death a retired Jamaican policeman. Unhappily, there have been a significant number of other such cases. Yet no adequate action has been taken to ensure that dangerously mentally unstable men and women are not released into what Ministers continue to describe as "care in the community" and which many of us know to be almost non-existent in at least some areas of this country.

Lastly—this is a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey —with regard to the Criminal Justice Bill, I must express our disappointment too that the Criminal Cases Review Authority recommended by the Royal Commission apparently will not appear as one of the provisions of the Bill. That is more than a little odd because the Royal Commission was established primarily as a result of a series of well-publicised miscarriages of justice. Why, therefore, should there be such delay? In any event, it is extremely difficult to justify the Home Office continuing to deal with cases of that sort. All the more so as the Government appear to be moving increasingly towards making the Home Office into something which approaches a continental Ministry of the Interior.

That brings me to the forthcoming Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill. Seldom, I believe, has a more objectionable Bill appeared in a Queen's Speech. The principal objective of both parts of the Bill is to give overwhelming power to Ministers and their nominees. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor is aware, his proposals for the magistrates' courts are fiercely opposed by the Magistrates' Association and the justices' clerks. As the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, knows, Mr. Howard's plans for the police are strongly opposed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Superintendents' Association, the Police Federation and the local authorities and police authorities, including many distinguished members of the noble Earl's own party.

As the House will recall, we discussed the outline of the proposals in May in a debate which these Benches initiated. On that occasion the Minister had a single supporter in the House. Everyone else who spoke opposed him. The Government, of course, have simply ignored our views, as they have those of the police.

I believe that the Government's proposals raise issues of fundamental constitutional importance. They involve a transfer of effective power over policing from local communities to a politician in Whitehall. At present two-thirds of members of police authorities are elected councillors and one-third are justices of the peace. In future the authorities will consist of eight councillors (of different political persuasions, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, reminded us), three justices of the peace and five personal representatives of the Home Secretary who might be in office at the time. Worse than that, the Home Secretary will appoint the chairman of each authority and, what is even more extraordinary, that chairman will be paid. So there will be a paid representative of a politician in London sitting in every operational police headquarters in this country.

This measure is being enacted at a time when performance related pay for senior police officers is to be introduced as well as short-term contracts. In both those areas this new breed of paid chairmen will have substantial personal power. We are being invited to agree to a series of propositions which I believe could have the most dangerous consequences for our tradition of fair and impartial policing. These proposals mark the first major step towards the creation of a national police force. If accepted, we can be quite certain that within a limited time some Minister will ask us to agree to the proposition that the majority of the members of the new authorities should be representatives of the Home Secretary. Then effectively all power will reside in the hands of a politician in London and senior police officers will know that if they want promotion they will be dependent on that one politician and his chosen band of supporters on the police authorities.

Do we really want to travel down that road? What does it have to do with the war against crime or the operational efficiency of the police service? The answer is precisely nothing. The proposals are not based on the recommendations of a Royal Commission or a departmental committee of inquiry. They are based merely on the whims of a single man —the former Home Secretary who is now the present Chancellor, Mr. Clarke. Mr. Clarke's principal aim was to diminish democratic local accountability and vastly to increase the power of Ministers. I hope that the House will recognise the grave constitutional issues that are involved in these proposals and will insist on major amendments to the Bill.

In conclusion, I should just like to say that our debates on the gracious Speech take place at a time when the reputation of the profession of politics has fallen to a dangerously low level. A public opinion poll earlier this year showed that public satisfaction with politicians was rated at 30 per cent. whereas that for the police (to take just one example) was rated at 70 per cent. Yet the people who have 30 per cent. support now intend to reform, as they describe it, those who have the backing of 70 per cent. of the British people.

There are many explanations for public disenchantment with the political process. There has been a long period of recession; there is an all-too-clear recollection of promises made at the last general election which have been dishonoured with such remarkable speed; no doubt a few more of them are going to be dishonoured next week. There is a sense of pessimism, not least about job security. But above all I think the public believe that politicians are insulated from the anxieties which they experience in their own lives and indulge in doctrinaire political games which are largely irrelevant to the needs of this country.

Let me give just one example. In September of last year 140 staff of the Prison Service warehousing and distribution department at Branston and Leeds were made redundant. A private contractor was to take over the service and he, of course, proposed to pay the new employees a great deal less money and insist on far worse working conditions. "Wonderful" said the enthusiasts for market testing. But unhappily the Government had not told this contractor—indeed, I fear they had not told others either—about the European Community Acquired Rights Directive, which made it impossible for the contractor to behave in the way he intended to do. So when he heard about it he withdrew his bid, and then the 140 members of the Home Office staff who had just received their redundancy notices received another letter from the Home Office asking whether they would be good enough not to be made redundant. Many, not altogether surprisingly, refused and the Government—the taxpayer—had to meet a bill for over half a million pounds.

What a way to treat loyal servants of the state. What sort of men do we have in this Government who are so dismissive of men and women who have worked their lifetimes for the public service? Of course, Ministers will tell us how much they regretted that, but they will say that it can be justified. Unpalatable action has to be taken, they will say, in order to obtain value for money. But when their own interests are involved, obtaining value for money does not seem to be what I would describe as being at the top of the political agenda. For instance, there are now 90 executives agencies of government. Each has a chief executive and each has been given day-to-day operational control of activities: previously the direct responsibility of Ministers of the Crown.

Chief executives, not Ministers, reply to letters from Members of both Houses of Parliament. They, not Ministers, reply to Questions in Hansard for Written Answer. Yet not a single junior Minister has been made redundant on "value for money" grounds. In 1945 Mr. Attlee did not have a single executive agency. He was responsible for an empire and the whole wartime system of rationing and control. He needed the support of 33 junior Ministers. There are now 62—nearly twice as many. I take just one example. Mr. Bevan, as Minister of Health, running a department with greater responsibilities than the present Department of Health, had a single junior Minister. Mrs. Bottomley requires four junior Ministers.

The reason for the size of the Government is simply the need to provide agreeable employment for a significant proportion of its Back Benchers. It has nothing to do with improving the quality of Government or of providing value for money. My expectations of a different style of conduct from the Government are not particularly high. With a small majority they clearly want to maintain the size of the payroll vote. But if the Prime Minister wants to be taken seriously when he proclaims the need for a return to basic values, he might do worse than return to the standards of previous Administrations, whose reputations today stand so much higher than his own.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Wilberforce

My Lords, reverting for a moment to a slightly less adversarial style, perhaps I may venture to express the gratitude of the House to the noble and learned Lord for his exposition of the plans of the Government in the particular area that we are now discussing, and for giving us some indication of what the Government are going to say in relation to various Bills. I feel sure the House also recognises very well the extremely hard work of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in so many areas of the law, in legal administration, in finance, in the organisation of courts and legal institutions, on legal aid and on procedure, not to mention the other measures of very widely differing character on which he is able to give us his assistance.

The gracious Speech mentions in a few words "improvements in the criminal law" and no doubt the major effort by the Government in this area will be devoted to the Criminal Justice Bill. I hope I shall not be thought to underrate in any way the very great importance of that Bill, which I wholly recognise, if, knowing that others of much greater authority will be speaking on it in this debate, I direct my own remarks to a rather different area: namely, the general topic of improvements in the law, including, but not limited to, the criminal law, hoping to persuade the Government and perhaps one or two of your Lordships of the very great need in this country for reform of the law in substantive matters, as opposed to administrative and procedural matters.

I believe that it is in fact very regrettable that in this country, by comparison with major Commonwealth countries and our partners in the European Union, we find ourselves seriously out of date, leading, as I shall hope to develop in a moment, to great waste of time, great waste of money and, more seriously even, to the law in general falling into disrepute in the eyes of the public. I was very disappointed not to see in the gracious Speech any reference to implementing any report of the Law Commission. The same was true, as I have pointed out before, in gracious Speeches in 1991 and 1992. Therefore I was very glad to hear from the noble and learned Lord in somewhat general terms his willingness to introduce or to see introduced into the programme some measures of law reform, presumably under the rubric of other measures.

It is true that there has been a general official lack of recognition of the work of the Law Commission as a body established by Parliament not so long ago to reform and to codify the law. I willingly exempt the noble and learned Lord from that description, but I believe that to have been true generally in administration. This was not universally the case. Up to the end of 1984, 59 out of 71 recommendations had been implemented in whole or in part but, quoting the latest report of the Law Commission, attitudes have changed in more recent years and there has been a lack of willingness, evidently, in the departments to bring measures forward.

I venture to suggest two things: first, a specific reference in gracious Speeches to measures of the Law Commission and not just "other measures". That would give very great encouragement to the hard-working and devoted people who work in the Law Commission to produce drafts which they hope to see implemented; and, secondly, a determination—not limited to the noble and learned Lord but spread across Whitehall in the departments—to find time for specific legislation as recommended by the Law Commission.

We ought to recognise that defects in the law are not just technical matters; they have important social consequences. One only has to think of the areas of divorce, tenancies, privacy and the family home. They spread throughout society and affect the needs of society. There are numerous measures in that area which are ripe for reform. The noble and learned Lord was not specific regarding those that he was thinking of bringing forward. I hope that they will not simply be technical measures but will be important. There are many measures on which reports are ready to be implemented, in some cases with Bills annexed which can be brought before Parliament.

I want to focus on one area of law and order—something with which we are at the moment much concerned: that is, the law relating to offences against the person or, in modern language, violence. I am sure your Lordships know that the Law Commission and its predecessor, the Criminal Law Revision Committee, have been working for years on a general criminal code and, in 1989, produced a draft of such a code in an enactable form. The view was taken at that time that it was too big a morsel to ask Parliament to digest and that Parliament could only be fed small pieces at a time. It was thought better to present separate sections relating to separate topics which would later be combined and put into a total code. One of those topics relates to offences against the person. It is now the subject of a report published on 6th October of this year—Paper 218. Annexed to it is a draft Bill with full commentary and supporting arguments.

I suggest that there are two complementary reasons for taking that Bill seriously. First, the existing law is "a scandal". Those are the words of the president of the Law Commission, who speaks with the authority of a High Court judge. Even when it was passed in 1861 the law was, piecemeal legislation containing a rag-bag of offences with no, attempt to introduce consistency as to substance or as to form". Your Lordships will easily recognise in those trenchant words the characteristic style of my noble and learned friend Lord Ackner. Nobody defends the existing law. There is not a person cited in all the footnotes of the report who has a good word to say for it. Everybody wants it swept away. The report gives chapter and verse of people's views on the matter. There is therefore a large body of opposition to the law as it stands and a large body of people who want it changed.

Secondly, it is not just that the law is archaic, quaintly archaic though indeed it is. It contains sections in regard to choking, administering laudanum and denying food or clothing to an apprentice—it is the world of Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Phineas Finn. In itself there is no harm in that; we could leave those laws on the statute book to be laughed at by law students. It is not just a question of removing quaint archaisms, nor a question of legal perfectionism. The fact that I want to bring home is that the law is simply inefficient as a vehicle for controlling violence. It is obscure. It is dependent on a large number of judicial decisions which are not always clear—and I include decisions of this House as well. It is liable to cause miscarriages of justice and appeals and give a wrong message to those engaged in violence, who may think that it is only an old-fashioned incantation and not relevant to today.

We are dealing with extremely large figures and I shall give your Lordships a few examples. In 1991 there were over 16,000 cases in the Crown Courts under the three central sections of the Act, Sections 16, 20 and 47. In the magistrates' courts there were 73,000, and that makes around 90,000. One must add many thousands of cases of common assault. We are therefore dealing with a huge number of cases in which errors may occur.

The costs of error in any one case are enormous, and the Law Commission carried out an investigation into that. In one recent case of a miscarriage of justice due to an obscurity in the law, the costs wasted amounted to around £50,000 plus the cost of maintaining an innocent man in prison for a number of months. As the report says, huge sums of money spent in controlling violence are a matter of public concern. It is ridiculous that they should be inflated by avoidable disputes among lawyers. A good, clear, up-to-date law is just as important in controlling violence or crime as good procedure and good administration.

We have always been met with the argument of lack of parliamentary time. I had intended to develop that subject but was glad to hear the noble and learned Lord suggest that we may be able to have recourse to a new procedure as recommended by the Jellicoe committee, using a special Select Committee. Indeed, the case cries out for that sort of treatment. Immense consultation has taken place on all these matters. There is not a body nor an individual who may be interested who has not been consulted. It is all in the report. Ninety per cent. or more of the recommendations are totally non-controversial. Surely some means can be found to deal rapidly with the few areas in which there is no doubt room for discussion.

Let us not forget that Parliament is perfectly willing to pass into law codes or conventions annexed to treaties which we cannot discuss or amend at all. I refer not only to Maastricht, with its 200-odd sections, but also to the fact that every year there comes before Parliament a treaty which has annexed to it some codes as to contracts, or carriage by air or sea, and Parliament passes them without any discussion at all. Can we not do the same in relation to these codes which have been so carefully examined, thought upon and vetted by draftsmen of the highest calibre and presented after almost unanimous agreement? I hope that it will be possible to introduce the Bill either in the present Session or early in the next. I was glad to see that The Times reported that the Home Secretary is looking favourably upon the commission's report.

I add briefly two tailpieces to be included, if possible, under "other measures". Two measures are needed in the interests of trade. First, we should ratify and bring into law the Vienna Convention on International Sales. It is a United Nations convention and we took a part in its drawing up. It is widely accepted in Europe and the United States. Many people in the City of London and in business have said that it is desirable that we should become parties to it. The drafting of the necessary legislation should not present any great difficulty or take up a great deal of time.

The other measure for which I venture to suggest there is urgent need is a new arbitration Act; that is one on which work has already been done over a number of months but does not seem to proceed. Everybody else is modernising their laws to obtain business—Scotland, Russia, Hong Kong and Australia have all done so. My noble and learned friend Lord Mustill, who is a great authority on the subject, is clear on the need for a modern Act. However, we have been told that there is no space in 1993–94, although I must say that Her Majesty's gracious Speech up to now looks rather thin in content. We may have to accept that there is no space this year, but, if a space were reserved for 1994–95, it would put needed pressure on the draftsman to finish the job. Of course that is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry, as is the sales convention, but we must speak when we can when speaking in only one section of the debate. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will feel able to give his support to those two measures if any time is available.

In conclusion I must offer an apology. Due to a public engagement I may not be able to stay to the end of the debate. I shall certainly look forward with anticipation to hearing the four maiden speeches and shall be present in the remaining stages of the debate on the humble Address.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Tugendhat

My Lords, I should like to devote this maiden speech to an aspect of home affairs that has not so far been mentioned in the debate although it did loom large in the gracious Speech. I refer to Northern Ireland.

It is now some 23 years since I first became a Member of another place and many things have happened in different parts of the world which would have seemed quite extraordinary to those of us who listened to the gracious Speech of 1970. Communism has collapsed; Japan has become perhaps the greatest economic power in the world; Mr. Arafat and the Prime Minister of Israel have shaken hands; and Mr. de Klerk and Mr. Mandela have signed an agreement. Yet I believe that most of us who listened to that gracious Speech would have found it hard to believe that the mess in Northern Ireland would be as it is now, in the mid 1990s, not so very different from what it was in the early 1970s.

The communities are still divided, violence is still endemic; British troops are still patrolling the streets and there is no political settlement. I believe that that ought to be a cause of national shame. There are those who say that this is the fruit of history: there are those who blame it on the characteristics of the Irish people both North and South. Undoubtedly, the failure to reach a settlement is the responsibility and the result of the failures of many people in many places and of many factors.

But at the end of the day Northern Ireland is part of our United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Therefore, the failure to resolve that matter is a failure of our political process, of our Parliament and of our Government. It is something which ought to concern us very deeply. I do not believe that, with the possible exception of Italy, the Mafia and corruption, there has been a failure on a similar scale anywhere else in western Europe.

I therefore welcome the priority that the Prime Minister is attaching to Ulster in the programme which has been laid before Parliament in the gracious Speech. If he succeeds in bringing peace to that Province and instituting a process of constitutional development within a peaceful framework, he will undoubtedly have earned a place in history. I applaud, too, the fact that he is working so closely with the Government of the Irish Republic without whose commitment, co-operation and willingness to compromise, no settlement is possible.

However, I would urge him to take into account the wishes of the British people as a whole as well as those of the people of Northern Ireland. By virtue of the blood which has been shed, the financial support which has been provided and the effect of the continuing crisis on the fabric of our national life, our views—the views of the people of England, Wales and Scotland—deserve to be weighed in the balance alongside those of the people of Northern Ireland. Therefore, I do not believe that any single group, whether Unionist or Nationalist, in Northern Ireland should be allowed a veto over the peace process. The problem must be dealt with in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole and of the history of Britain and Ireland.

But on one vital point I believe that all the people of Northern Ireland have a right to an absolute assurance. It is that Her Majesty's Government will always respect the will of the majority, as expressed through the ballot box, to remain part of the United Kingdom or to join the Republic of Ireland. In my view, history and reality dictate that both those objectives should be regarded as equally valid. But although I believe that both should be regarded as equally valid, I have a clear preference. I hope very much that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland, however composed and whether Catholic or Protestant, will always wish to remain part of the United Kingdom. The Irish—both Catholics and Protestants—have played a notable role in our national life and it would be ironic and sad if, as our society becomes more multi-cultural and varied, that Irish strain in our national life should be weakened.

But that is a matter for the future. The problem now is to find a way to enable the two communities to live peacefully together on the basis of the existing frontier. Clearly, there are no easy or obvious solutions. I would, however, make three points. It seems to me that the trouble with the Stormont system was that, in effect, it excluded the Catholics from the exercise of political responsibility. I believe that the trouble with direct rule is that in effect it excludes the leaders of both communities in Northern Ireland from the exercise of political responsibility. My third point is that we should seek to avoid any system which has the effect of encouraging the political leaders of each community to appeal only to the members of their own community; that encourages Protestants to appeal only to Protestants and Catholics only to Catholics.

For some time in my life I had the pleasure of living in the kingdom of Belgium. I believe that one of the key reasons for the disintegration of the Belgian state, which I regard with regret, is that politics is divided there very much, on communal lines. The way in which politics are structured has the result that Flemish politicians appeal only to the Flemish community and Walloon politicians only to the Walloon community. It seems to me that in Northern Ireland —a society similarly divided with the additional and horrific element of violence—we should try to set up a system in which politicians must appeal across the divide. I feel that there is no more effective way of encouraging moderation and toleration than making it a precondition for winning office.

So I believe that we should bypass a province-wide system of devolution. Rather, I would urge that we should think in terms of single-tier local authorities, some of which would no doubt have Catholic majorities; others of which would no doubt have Protestant majorities., but in all of which electoral success would in large part depend on securing votes across the great divide. Of course, such an arrangement would have to be buttressed by measures to guard against discrimination and ensure equality of opportunity. Of course, as far ahead as one can see, the police and all aspects of security would have to remain under Westminster control. Certainly there should be as much cross-border co-operation as possible and machinery for continuing contact between London and Dublin on Northern Ireland matters.

But I believe that if Her Majesty's Government follow the principles and broad lines which I have suggested a system of local government could be constructed in Northern Ireland that would encourage reconciliation among its people and responsibility on the part of its political leaders. The benefits of that would be felt not only in Northern Ireland but throughout the island of Ireland and, which is our responsibility and our main concern, throughout this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland—an entity which I hope will remain in being for a very long time to come.

4.39 p.m.

Baroness Hilton of Eggardon

My Lords, it falls to me to carry out the welcome task of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, on a wise and excellent maiden speech. We are all aware of his distinguished career in the other place, in Europe and in international affairs. It is clear why that career has been so distinguished. He is able to bring that perspective to bear on the home affairs of this United Kingdom. We look forward to hearing him make many further wise and excellent speeches in future.

The text of the police Bill has not yet been published, but it has been widely foreshadowed in various ministerial pronouncements and by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. Rumour has it that that Bill will be before your Lordships before Christmas. I therefore apologise in advance as I shall probably be making a very similar speech at Second Reading in the rather nearer future than I had anticipated. I shall also today be echoing many of the remarks that have already been made in the excellent speeches made by my noble friend Lord McIntosh arid the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich.

Some of the Bill will incorporate those parts of the Sheehy report which remain after major surgery; in particular, the short-term contracts for senior officers, which I welcome in principle as a means to effective and energetic management. The danger is that, in the context of police authority chairmen appointed by the Home Secretary, the police culture, which is often over-deferential, will not increase the freedom of chief constables' actions but will in fact diminish them because, in the interests of retaining further contracts, they will be all too eager to please those Home Office-appointed chairmen. Therefore, despite the reference by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to greater freedom for chief constables, I think that the legislation will act in a perverse way and will reduce the freedom of chief constables.

I welcome particularly the reduction in the number of ranks in the police service. This has been talked about for many years, but the police service and the Home Office have been unwilling to grasp the nettle of the excessively extended hierarchy of the police service. The consequences of having a very extended hierarchy are that most rewards, status and ambitions relate to promotion and there is very little attempt to win that status within the currently occupied rank. Too short a time has been spent in each rank and too much attention has been paid by middle managers to achieving the next one. A flatter hierarchy will produce better communications internally as well as with the community outside since more information will feed up from the bottom, from constables and sergeants. It will also allow more autonomy and status for constables, sergeants and inspectors.

However, I cannot understand why the reduction of some 2,500 middle managers is not being equalled by an increase in the number of constables and sergeants with the considerable savings that will be made in salary terms. If it is not done by natural wastage, there will possibly be short-term additional costs in terms of severance pay. I think that to reduce the number of police officers in this country by 2,500 is contrary to much of what the Government are intending.

We all know where effective policing is delivered. It is delivered on the streets and neighbourhoods of our cities and, in view of the increase in rural crime, more importantly in the villages and small towns of our countryside. Effective policing is about building confidence and contacts with the community since effective policing is really only carried out by the community itself; it is not carried out by police officers whose role, in many respects, is to collate information and to act as symbolic indicators of what the law will tolerate. Sergeants and constables are the only people who are out there in the community acting to build confidence, collating information and developing relationships so that crime is prevented, information collated effectively, and criminals can be arrested.

Last week I was in Newcastle on the Scotswood estate where some serious riots occurred less than three years ago. After the riots two community constables were dedicated to working on the estate. They established links and built up local confidence. Villains were identified and arrested largely because local people felt able for the first time to come forward as witnesses to identify the youths who had been driving the cars and creating general mayhem. A benign cycle was developed in the community and the estate returned to a reasonable level of tranquillity.

However, that is an estate where there is something like 80 per cent. unemployment among adult males. There is no hope for the young people on that estate, and policing has now been reduced to a white van which circulates occasionally just to make sure that things are quiet. All those precious links and confidences and the flow of information that had been built up are now dissipated and the underlying problems remain: young people without hope, alienated from our society, to whom repressive or purely reactive policing will only lead to further alienation and further riots. A very small injection of police foot patrols in an area like that can prevent crime, reduce racial harassment, hooliganism and vandalism and thus improve the quality of life for communities in both town and country. I believe that the Home Office is missing a golden opportunity to convert that reduction in the middle ranks into constables and sergeants who could be out there on the streets being effective.

My most serious reservations about the police Bill relate to those matters which have already been referred to so tellingly by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and my noble friend Lord McIntosh. I refer to the legislative proposals for the new police authorities, with their five Government-appointed members and the Government-appointed and paid chairman. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to them as "independent local people". I do not understand the word "independent" because since they are people who will be appointed by the Government I do not understand how they can be other than political appointees. Even if the Government declare that they do not know what their political allegiance is, those people will have been chosen by central government and therefore cannot in any measure be called "independent". Independent of what? I suppose it means independent of democratically elected local authorities.

The present tripartite system of sharing power between the chief constable, the local authority and the Home Office has had its stresses and strains, but it was set up after a Royal Commission and not just at the whim of a Home Secretary. The tensions within such a system, I believe, show effective democracy at work rather than a sort of dictatorship from the centre. Those tensions between the tripartite elements have largely died down. No doubt the Home Office is irritated sometimes when chief constables and local authorities will not do what they are told, but nevertheless effective partnerships have developed between police forces and their local authorities with real co-operation and real responsiveness to the local community's wishes. Many of those partnership initiatives in several of the London boroughs and elsewhere in the country have led to real reductions in crime and drug dealing and, as I said earlier, have led to the building up of confidence and of local community links which have led to the arrest of more criminals.

My impression is that a system that has taken time to establish and is just beginning to deliver results is irresistibly attractive to this Government who are more concerned with image than reality. The criminal justice system is also exercising the same fatal attraction. Just as constructive initiatives such as community service orders have started to reduce levels of reoffending and have reduced the prison population to manageable and potentially therapeutic proportions, it is all thrown into reverse by a Home Secretary who believes that crime is reduced by increasing the prison population.

The legislative proposals for government-appointed and paid chairmen for police authorities, working to key national objections set by the Home Office, effectively centralises control of the police service. I do not understand how this, as has been claimed by the Home Secretary, increases local representation and I should be grateful if the Minister could explain how those government appointees to the 43 police forces will be more responsive to local people.

In his response to the gracious Speech last week, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that these reforms would not only bring the police closer to the community but would also empower the individual. In my opinion, the only individual who is being empowered is the Home Secretary.

A further consideration is cost. In setting up the new-style 43 police authorities, one wonders who will be paying for the chairmen, their offices, secretaries, expenses and those of the other five appointed members who will probably expect some sort of honoraria even if they are not fully paid. If they are to be overseeing police performance to some extent, presumably the chairmen will need something called a research assistant. Financial managers will probably also be needed. I should also be grateful if the Minister could indicate what estimate has been made of the cost of setting up the new-style 43 police authorities.

In conclusion, I return to my main concern, which is that the reforms are effectively a creeping nationalisation of the police service, a shift to centralised control, increasing the marginalisation of local democracy. That is undemocratic and unconstitutional since there has been no proper public debate about whether we want a national police force in this country.

Some parts of this country already feel like colonies under the arbitrary rule of a remote administration. Concentration of power in the centre in that way appears to be like a colonial administration setting out to discipline the untrustworthy and unruly natives in the towns and counties of darkest England. My final question to the Minister is whether he believes that the Government have a democratic mandate to set up a national police force in that way.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

My Lords, as someone who has most recently been introduced into the House, I am, I believe, the newest of the new Members. Being so wet behind the ears, I feel even more than usual diffidence about making my maiden speech. Before explaining what has prompted me to intervene so early, I should like to express the sense of honour and privilege which I feel at having become a Member of this great seat of parliamentary democracy. I have always admired the informed quality of your Lordships' debates, and the civilised, courteous, and concise manner in which those debates are habitually conducted—free of rancour and unnecessary conflict.

I should like also to express my gratitude to the Clerk of the Parliaments and his colleagues who, this very morning, instructed me and the other new Members, patiently and skilfully, in the ways and mysteries of your Lordships' House. I hope that I shall prove eventually to be a good pupil.

I decided to intervene in the debate on the gracious Speech to draw attention to a regrettable gap in the Government's legislative proposals, and to make a modest, practical suggestion in relation to it.

There is much in the gracious Speech about home affairs, about justice, and about law and order. But there is nothing to indicate that the Government intend to introduce legislation to strengthen the effective legal protection of the basic rights and freedoms of the citizens of this country. The reference, in the Queen's Speech, to the Citizen's Charter as being central to the Government's programme is a reference to what is in essence a charter for consumers.

"Citizen's Charter" is a misdescription. It is not a charter of constitutional rights and freedoms, but a useful means of making public services more responsive to consumer needs. The so-called Citizen's Charter does nothing to create effective remedies before our courts for breaches of fundamental human rights and freedoms by Ministers and public authorities.

The record of this House is a fine record of attempting, again and again, to give more effective legal protection to the constitutional rights and freedoms of our fellow citizens. On four occasions between 1976 and 1980, the indefatigable Lord Wade introduced Bills in this House to give the rights and freedoms of the European convention the force of law in this country and to create national remedies for their breach by the state or its agents. Lord Wade gained a Second Reading in this House four times, and a Third Reading twice. His Bill of Rights was sent twice to another place, where it was blocked by the Government.

In 1985, Lord Broxbourne took up the cause. His Human Rights and Freedoms Bill was given a Second and a Third Reading, and received robust support from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, and from the former Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. There was indeed wide support from all parts of this House. But yet again the Bill was opposed by the Government. Two years ago, my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham introduced a debate calling attention to the case for incorporation of the convention. The Government remained implacably opposed.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, observed in that debate two years ago that the whole House would have profited from the guidance of those who hold and have held high judicial office. That guidance has since been given; for several of the most senior serving members of the English judiciary, such as the noble and learned Lords, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, Lord Slynn, Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor of Gosforth, and the Master of the Rolls, Sir Thomas Bingham, have all now given clear and unequivocal public backing to the incorporation of the European convention into our legal system.

That represents a major and most welcome shift in judicial attitudes. And it is by no means all; for the Labour Party, which was traditionally hostile to the domestication of the European convention—even as recently as two years ago—happily now makes common cause with Liberal Democrats on that issue. So do the Scottish National Party and the democratic political parties from both traditions in Northern Ireland—Loyalists and Republicans. And reliable opinion polls have shown overwhelming support from the public across the country on this issue.

Why then, one may reasonably ask, do this Government continue to refuse to heed the wishes of this House and of the people on this great constitutional question? Why is the United Kingdom in such unsplendid isolation among the countries of the Council of Europe, almost all of which (apart from this country and the Republic of Ireland) have made, or are in the process of making, the convention directly enforceable in their national courts? Why is it that the United Kingdom—for want of effective domestic remedies—as the worst record of serious breaches of the convention? Why do we continue to compel our citizens to take the long and expensive road to Strasbourg, while denying them speedy and effective recourse to our own courts?

I hope that I do not sound too cynical when I answer by adapting Lord Acton's famous aphorism: it is because bureaucratic power is delightful; and absolute bureaucratic power is absolutely delightful. It is very much more convenient for Ministers and civil servants to leave complaining citizens to their international remedies than to empower them to obtain speedy and effective remedies at home. That is why the appallingly over-burdened European Court of Human Rights, which was intended to be an international court of last recourse, has become a constitutional court of first resort for so many British victims of the misuse of public powers.

Several of the measures contained in the Queen's Speech are controversial, and, if enacted in the form suggested by the Government, may well give rise to further breaches of the European convention. I refer, for example, to the threatened undermining, or weakening, of the right to silence in the proposed Criminal Justice Bill, to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred. That may well result in breaches of the presumption of innocence guaranteed by Article 6 of the convention. As another example, I refer to the proposed measure to regulate student unions, which may well result in breaches of the students' right to free expression and free association without unfair discrimination.

So I come finally to my modest proposal. There is, alas, no likelihood that the present Government will introduce a measure to give judicial protection by our courts to fundamental human rights and freedoms. But would it be possible, I wonder, for this House, using its historic powers, to increase parliamentary protection, not as a substitute for an enforceable Bill of Rights, but as a practical way of strengthening parliamentary scrutiny of proposed legislation, and so reducing the risk of Parliament's authorising yet further breaches of human rights.

A year ago this House set up the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee as an experiment, following increased pressure on the House for more detailed consideration of the powers delegated by legislation. That committee has already demonstrated the importance and value of the experiment. I suggest trying another experiment: setting up a committee of this House to which, where appropriate, Bills introduced into this House might be referred from time to time, to report whether any of their provisions appear to be inconsistent with the international obligations undertaken by the United Kingdom when ratifying the European Convention or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. No doubt it will be said by Ministers that machinery already exists in Whitehall to scrutinise proposed legislation in this way, and I am sure that that is so. I fully accept that Ministers and their advisers do not intend deliberately to introduce measures which may involve violation of the international Bills of Rights. But we would do well to remember what Archbishop William Temple once said. He explained, Whenever I travel on the underground I always intend to pay for the journey; but the fact that there is a ticket collector at the other end just clinches it". I am sure that the Government's intentions are entirely honourable, but the existence of such a parliamentary scrutiny committee on compliance with international human rights standards might just clinch it.

5.2 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, it is a great privilege and a singular pleasure to be the agent of your Lordships' House in acclaiming a most notable maiden speech. Like my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, I know that it is not the first time that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has spoken in your Lordships' House. Indeed, I count myself as fortunate that I was a member of the Appellate Committee when he first addressed a committee of your Lordships' House. Therefore I, no less than my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, was not surprised by the excellence of the speech with which your Lordships have been favoured.

The noble Lord was uncharacteristically uncontroversial today. However, your Lordships will want to hear him on future occasions when he has no such parliamentary inhibitions. The taste that your Lordships had today will make your Lordships wish that that occasion will be soon and frequently repeated.

The noble Lord made a suggestion about the way we should deal with human rights. I remain convinced that we should incorporate the European Convention in our domestic law. But, if we are not going to do so, your Lordships may consider it worth while to turn over in your minds the constructive suggestion made by the noble Lord as to how we might proceed in the meantime. On behalf of all your Lordships, I congratulate the noble Lord most heartily on a very fine maiden speech.

There is much in the gracious Speech in the way of legislation which appeals to a former Home Office Minister of very ancient time. I do not propose to deal with those measures, partly because of the lack of time and partly because others who are due to speak today can speak far more authoritatively on those subjects. I wish to deal with a matter that was adumbrated but does not appear finally in the gracious Speech. It is the issue of one-parent families and the Child Support Act and agency. It would be idle to pretend that those issues are not in a deplorable tangle. It will be useful to see why they are in a tangle and to draw some lessons from that analysis. Moreover, your Lordships' House is essentially the kind of forum to discuss such matters in a careful, sober and well-informed way.

That brings me to the first of three reasons why it appears that the issues are so muddled. The first is that the policy was declared to a party conference. Balfour used to say that he would no more think of getting policy from a party conference than he would from his valet. Valets are now thin on the ground but party conferences are very much the same; in fact, with their fringe meetings, they are perhaps the more so. The way in which the policy relating to the matters that I have mentioned was recently discussed by Ministers was apt to obfuscate those issues. Democratic dialogue is one thing; populist demagogy is quite another. It is small wonder that the first thing that happened was an alienation of the vast mass of sole women parents who have responsibilities for children and who naturally felt that a beeline was being made for them.

The second matter which confused the issue was the leak of a Cabinet paper disagreeing with the analysis of the Home Secretary. A leak of that kind is all too frequent and it is quite deplorable. I wrote to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, when I thought that he was to reply to the debate. I drew attention to that matter and asked whether we could be told what investigation had been made of the leak. Not many people could be the possible originators of it. However, it ought to go clearly on the record that anyone who uses a leak, whether for commercial advantage—say, in selling a newspaper—or for partisan advantage in politics is on the level of a receiver of stolen goods. The sooner that is recognised, the sooner the steady leakage of partisan information will cease.

The third matter that has muddled the situation is the Child Support Act and the Child Support Agency itself. The legislation was the subject of very severe criticism in your Lordships' House but, as a result of skilful government debating techniques and the cunning of the government business managers, your Lordships made very little impact on the mischief of that Act. It was the most bureaucratic measure that has come before Parliament, certainly since the Great Revolution.

The matter which particularly affects the present issue is that the adjudication on child support was taken away from magistrates and given to government officials. Of course, magistrates have local knowledge and can take account of the infinitely various circumstances and the financial consequences of marriage breakup. However, the power was taken away from them and given to officials. Not only that, an appeal from them lay not to the courts, as was originally suggested, but to an administrative tribunal. Not only that, what the child support officers had to apply was a series of completely incomprehensible formulae, one supervening on the other. Nobody pretended that any wife or husband, or anybody requiring child support, could possibly understand them. Even my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who is a noted mathematician, did not on that occasion venture his powers to explain how those formulae would work.

The result has been an outcry from the fathers who have been chased for greater maintenance under the formulae. Some of them were already supporting their wives and children; some had made what is called a clean break as a result of a divorce whereby they handed over property, money or the matrimonial home in exchange for a fairly moderate maintenance arrangement. Such arrangements are now all liable to be upset and some have already been upset by child support officers most improperly persuading the wives to withdraw their right to maintenance and then, having no maintenance, to proceed under the Act with the application of the formulae.

That happens inevitably not only because that is a bureaucratic arrangement but because, extraordinarily, the activities of the child support agents, and particularly the head of the agency, are pay related. In other words, the more the agency could get out of the fathers, the better off the agents would be. Naturally, they went for the soft targets. Those were the fathers who were already paying some maintenance or who were excused from doing so as a result of a clean break agreement, rather than those who are the real objects of the Act; namely, those fathers who have disappeared, washing their hands altogether of any obligation to their children.

The result of that third matter is that practically all the fathers, as well as the mothers, were alienated and it is not surprising that there is now no mention of the matter in the Queen's Speech.

I believe that it is incumbent on us to see how the matter can be put right. First, we must accept that the dimensions are very great indeed. It seems to me that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Social Security were entirely right in drawing attention to the enormous cost. Indeed, in spite of the leaked Cabinet paper, the Home Secretary was entirely right to say that it is now well established that there is a link between family breakdown and delinquency. He quoted a number of recent researches, by no means from figures of the Right. In fact, the research goes back to the 1930s, when Professor Carr-Saunders demonstrated similarly that there was that link between broken homes and juvenile delinquency, the juvenile delinquency being shown to be due to the broken home rather than the poverty which so often accompanies a broken home.

What are the dimensions? What is the nature of the question? There are now well over 1 million homes with only one parent. I believe that we can dismiss the minute proportion which are headed by a widower or a widow. About 50 per cent. are the subject of a divorce. The head of the family is a divorcee. Nearly as numerous are the families headed by a woman who has had what is now called a relationship—a sexual relationship short of marriage—and has been abandoned with a child. I do not believe that one can altogether divorce that category from those who have been divorced, because the encouragement which society has given to divorce inevitably puts some slur on marriage itself and encourages those who take on what is called a relationship without thought of marriage and, indeed, without thought of the support which will be needed for any child who is engendered.

Therefore, half of the problem relates to divorcees. However, I believe that it would be very difficult now to go back entirely on the 1969 Act, which was the source of that alarming increase in the number of divorces. And indeed, as I have said, that cannot be entirely divorced from the number who are now living together outside marriage.

Three things can be done. First, surely it is entirely wrong that a woman who stands by her marriage is worse off financially and proprietarily than one who divorces. That is putting a premium on the breakup of marriage and the consequent number of one-parent families and the increase in delinquency. That is the first point. The law of matrimonial property needs revision so that a woman who stands by her marriage is at least no worse off than a woman who divorces her husband.

In fact, there is a Law Commission Bill which deals with that problem. The Law Commission put forward a paper called Matrimonial Property: A new Approach which had three Bills attached. One of them your Lordships allowed me to carry through into law. It dealt with the occupation of the matrimonial home. However, the two more important ones dealing with ownership of the matrimonial home, co-ownership of the matrimonial home and co-ownership of the matrimonial chattels still remain for implementation. I pray in aid what was said by my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce earlier today.

The other two measures that might be put in place to halt the increase in divorce is, first, to take seriously the cry, "children come first" and to say that there shall be no divorce while the children are under the age of 16. One would of course have to allow judicial separation, but I venture to think that the number of divorces that one would have then would be reduced to a trickle, to the immense benefit of the children concerned.

The other proposal that has been made is to allow couples preparing for marriage to engage not to divorce. In other words, there would still be the remedy of judicial separation available in the case of very grave matrimonial misconduct. But why should not people be able to contract on that basis in what is, after all, the most solemn contract that exists?

5.22 p.m.

Lord Windlesham

My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, on their maiden speeches. Both were of the highest calibre, for reasons which have already been given by successive speakers. We look forward to hearing frequently from both noble Lords.

In the debate on the Address in another place last week the Prime Minister gave a high place to the concern of the Government and of himself at the level of crime and the widespread fear of crime that exists. Hence the proposals for a Criminal Justice Bill which have already been the subject of a number of today's speeches. I am sure we all agree that it is an entirely proper and timely subject, deserving a high place in the legislative programme.

If we stand back to survey the scene, we see that in many countries of the developing world the perception of a steady, and apparently remorseless, increase in the incidence and severity of criminal offending, sometimes by very young people still in their teens, has become a dominant issue. Public concern hardens over time into public anger and demands a political response. I refer to a perception, and I do so advisedly.

No one knows the full extent of criminal offending. However, what we do know is that the bulk of crime goes unreported to the police and is not recorded in the crime statistics. Not all of the sources point in an upward direction for all categories of crime; for example, the 1992 British Crime Survey (which was published recently by the Home Office) states that, contrary to public belief, vandalism of private property has shown no significant change in the survey since 1981, and that it has actually declined since 1987. Nevertheless, although it is certainly true that the published statistics which sometimes show very dramatic rises in the number of crimes reported do call for careful interpretation, we must accept that for the most part they validate the general perception.

If that is so, what is to be done? No government can afford simply to stand aside wringing their hands, blaming social and behavioural changes which are beyond the reach of politicians to do anything about. Ministers can do two things: they can speak and, with the consent of Parliament, they can legislate. Over recent months no one has been able to claim that the Home Secretary or other Ministers have shown any reluctance to speak out in public. On the contrary, the rhetoric has been resonant and continuous. Ministerial speeches have reflected and, to an extent, have shaped the public mood. Commitments have been given; expectations have been raised. Politically, the stakes are high.

Now comes the difficult part: how to translate the rhetoric into action. This calls for special skills, essentially a test in statesmanship, in reconciling political objectives with the day-to-day operation of a sprawling, but nevertheless interdependent system of criminal justice. Often, and the present time is no exception, the clamour for action coincides with acute pressure to restrain public expenditure, whereas most of the proposals require additional financial resources before they can be implemented. Typically, there is little, if any, new money available without making cutbacks elsewhere.

What is meant when we refer to the phrase, "the system of criminal justice"? Let me offer a word or two by way of clarification. Once a crime has been committed and detected —and we must remember that it is only a minority that are detected—the sequence goes like this. First, police investigations, then the institution of criminal proceedings; pre-trial procedures (including decisions on the mode of trial); the trial itself; the verdict; the sentence, if the accused is found guilty; custodial or community sentence; and finally, the right of appeal. At each stage the process can be terminated if there is lack of evidence of guilt beyond reasonable doubt to sustain the charge or to convict the defendant, or if there is procedural impropriety.

At each stage the working of one part has an effect on what happens in other parts. Consequently, changes which are aimed at producing intended effects at one stage may lead to unwelcome consequences elsewhere. For example, there are already indications of the impact of recent ministerial statements on sentencing in the courts. The result has been a perceptible increase in the use of custodial sentences and in their length, both contained within the statutory framework laid down in the Criminal Justice Act 1991. That has led to higher totals of prisoners than some of the prisons are designed to contain. Six new prisons have been announced, all to be designed, built, financed and managed by the private sector, but it will be several years before they are ready to receive any prisoners.

In the meantime, the existing prisons will become more and more overcrowded. Tension will mount with, regrettably but foreseeably, enhanced prospects of disorder. Prisons are also very expensive to build and to run, and inevitably they will he a significant drain on resources.

Whatever practical justifications there may be for the more punitive approach now being adopted, crime reduction does not rank high among them. We need look no further than the United States to see the spectacular failure of imprisonment as an instrument of crime control. That point was developed by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, in his opening speech from the Benches opposite.

The reason crime cannot be imprisoned away needs to be more widely understood. The explanation can be found in the disturbingly small proportion of criminal offences which result in detection and punishment. According to Home Office figures for the year 1991 the national clear-up rate for crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales stood at 29 per cent. If crimes cleared up are expressed as a percentage not of recorded crimes but of all criminal offences as estimated in the British Crime Survey then the figure falls to well under 10 per cent. The proportion of crimes resulting in conviction is lower still, at 3 per cent.

If only 3 per cent. of all crimes result in a conviction, and since some of those convicted will be fined or receive a non-custodial sentence, the very small part that imprisonment can play in reducing crime is evident. The British Crime Survey—which, I remind your Lordships, is a Government publication—concludes: these figures underline the limitations of the formal criminal justice system as a mechanism for controlling crime, and emphasise the need to look beyond it to other approaches". Therefore, reliance on the greater use of imprisonment and crime reduction are not identical policies. Indeed, in some instances they may conflict. If, for example, due to the inability of the prisons to take additional numbers of sentenced prisoners or increasingly of those remanded in custody while awaiting trial, police cells are brought back into use (as seems highly probable) then substantial numbers of police officers will be diverted from their main purpose of preventing and investigating crime.

I conclude with this thought. As I stated at the start of my speech, I accept fully the gravity of the challenge posed to a civilised society by the present scale of criminal offending. The plight of victims of crime has received greater recognition over the past decade than ever before, although much remains to be done. I agree on the urgent need for the Government to take action and to show resolution and leadership on an issue which affects the everyday lives of so many people.

Yet I doubt whether I am alone in the House this afternoon in feeling uneasy about where current policies may take us. It is still too early to reach any final judgments, and it is still too soon to see whether the punitive tone adopted by Ministers will be reflected in the legislation which we shall be considering. But today I have tried to sketch a background against which the detailed measures can be assessed when they reach us in a Criminal Justice Bill later this Session.

5.36 p.m.

Lord Murray of Epping Forest

My Lords, I too want to address my remarks in particular to the reference in the gracious Speech to allowing the courts to deal more effectively with young offenders. I share the unease of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, at the way in which the discussion of the subject has developed. The measured remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on this aspect were, both in temper and vocabulary, in welcome contrast to the strident and dogmatic utterances of the Home Secretary. As has been said, there is a real danger of making scapegoats of young people as distinct from identifying and dealing with the real problem of criminal activities among one group of young people.

The spate of comments from penologists, both professional and amateur, and politicians in recent weeks is in danger of drowning out the voices and the views of young people themselves. I very much welcome a recent report issued by the National Children's Home, which put questions to and listened to the answers of young people. That report was called The Lost Generation, and I shall refer to it later. I must declare my interest as vice-chairman of the NCH and acknowledge my great debt to our president, the noble Viscount, Lord Tonypandy.

Of course, some young people and children are capable of the most wicked and even vicious behaviour for which, of course, they should be punished and even locked up to protect society, at least for the time that they are behind bars. Of course, usually it is at most for the time that they are behind bars. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and my noble friend Lady Hilton of Eggardon both referred to the relative ineffectiveness of imprisonment. We cannot remind ourselves too often of the fact that 80 per cent. of 15 and 16 year-olds who go into custody are reconvicted within two years of being released. That figure is well above the figures for alternative methods of dealing with this problem, which have already been referred to in the debate this afternoon.

The report to which I referred is concerned not only with specific proposals but also with the attempt to make scapegoats of young people, which we are now seeing. Young people in young offenders' institutions are a diverse group but they have some characteristics in common, the most obvious of which is a background of sustained unemployment. For our purpose today, I wish to emphasise another common factor: having been in care they have had inadequate preparation for independent living when coming out of care. In fact, 40 per cent. of prisoners under 21 have been in care compared with 3 per cent. of the population in that age group.

That factor suggests some ways in which we might help to create circumstances which will make it less likely—it is not certain by any means—that young people will offend. We are told, rightly, that families have an important part to play in preparing youngsters to lead decent lives. However, 40 per cent. of youngsters in custody cannot take for granted a family background, with the discipline, restraint and guidance that we associate with being part of a family. That is why during the summer the NCH set out to examine the lifestyle and attitude of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, many of whom, I emphasise, end up offending and going into custody. That body concentrated on 120 people, 90 per cent. of whom were 16 to 20 year-olds in rural areas, towns, inner city areas, drop-in centres, youth centres and leaving-care schemes. It was a diverse group, but two thirds of them had been in care. Those youngsters are typical of thousands of young people roaming around in the community. They have the same aspirations as other people of their age. Those aspirations are simple enough: the hope of a job, a secure home, and enough money to enjoy life with family and friends. For those young people, those aspirations are largely pipe dreams; few have any realistic possibilities of obtaining any of them. One-tenth of those young people live at home with families; one-tenth is in regular paid employment; one-tenth is working casually; and two-thirds are unemployed and dependent on benefits, with an average income of £34 a week. I do not believe that one can live on £34 a week. Frankly, I do not believe that figure. I believe that many of those young people supplement their income by shoplifting and casual or regular thieving.

The Family Budget Unit estimates that the true cost of caring for a child is £57 a week. Half of those young people say that they would consider shoplifting or other forms of theft. What is the reason? It is that two-thirds of them are in debt to loan sharks. Four-fifths of them take casual work while they claim benefits. Those youngsters, rightly or wrongly—of course they are wrong to steal and to claim benefits while they are taking casual work—are being driven into petty crime from which they can graduate to more serious crime by the circumstances in which they live. I do not seek to exculpate them. However, none of them is capable of living on the income that he receives. None is being given the life that we ourselves would insist upon for our own children or grandchildren. No doubt some of those youngsters would benefit from a boot up the backside. But before we run too regularly to that excuse for our own inactions, I wish that someone would advise me on how to tell the difference between the sheep and the goats—between the deserving and the undeserving among that group, and indeed among groups of inadequate people generally.

The question left firmly with us is this. How can we help such young people to help themselves out of poverty? The top priority is perfectly obvious, if simple—it is jobs. If proper work were available, we should be able to sort out the people who refuse to accept work on unreasonable terms. The Lost Generation—it is the title of the NCH report—are the casualties of a society in which 3 million unemployed people are regarded as tolerable. We just say how sad we are and pass by on the other side. The gracious Speech contains no proposals for tackling that cancer in our society. That is the first aspect to which we should address our minds. No one knows how many 16 and 17 year-olds are unemployed. Ministers find it highly convenient that no statistics are available for such people. However, we know that in the first nine months of 1992, 77,000 youngsters aged 16 and 17 years, were claiming severe hardship benefit at a maximum of £34 a week. Those claims are extraordinarily difficult to establish. It is incredibly difficult to jump the hurdles even to obtain that £34 a week. I am afraid that too many youngsters find it easier to break into a car and to develop those skills which come from the environment in which they live as opposed to the skills which they ought to be acquiring and which previous generations were acquiring in full-time pay and employment.

The youth training guarantee is a bad joke. The other side of the bargain—the deprivation of 16 and 17 year-olds from receiving income support—remains. Income support is a rotten substitute for a job. However, as the NCH points out, it is essential to restore income support to young people who seek employment and training and to raise the level of income support to the full adult rate. If we made unemployment more expensive, we might concentrate the minds of the Government Front Bench on tackling unemployment and on how to get people back to work.

A further recommendation in the report is the need to establish a common statutory minimum for leaving-care grants for young people coming out of care. The amounts vary from one local authority to another, ranging from £67 to a lump sum of about £2,000. We must give youngsters a chance as they start out in life.

Equally as important as a regular income and a lump sum of money to start living independently, is the need for Government and local authorities to put more investment into cost effective projects run by agencies such as NCH which successfully support vulnerable young people in the community. Such schemes save taxpayers money by reducing the need for expensive statutory crisis services. The young people covered by the NCH study were at least in touch with helping agencies. Many others are on their own out there, isolated, depressed and at risk, with no families to turn to. I know that such investment will cost money. I know, too, that it will be cheaper than letting young people drift into crime and then locking them up. I hope that in developing their strategy, the Government will not merely think up new and ingenious means of custody but will also find ways in which they can help young people not to drift into situations where they qualify for incarceration.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Westwood

My Lords, I ask for your Lordships' indulgence as I stand before you this afternoon. I suddenly realise what my father meant some 40 years ago when he told me how he felt when addressing your Lordships' House for the very first time. My mind suddenly goes back to the early 1960s when it seemed that the country was swamped with a new music or dance craze on an almost weekly basis. I feel like one of those dancers. Everything seems to be moving except my feet.

As already mentioned by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and other noble Lords, the gracious Speech states that Her Majesty's Government will introduce a Bill to improve the organisation and management of the police so that they will be better able to combat crime. Without wishing to be in any way controversial, I would have thought that your Lordships in particular, and the whole country in general, save perhaps for the criminally intent, will be highly pleased to learn that it is the intention of the Government to step up the fight against the rising crime figures. However, we must all wait and trust that the proposed alterations and amendments to police organisation and management bring about the desired improvement to the current statistical data in relation to crime detection and crime prevention.

For 20 years, I earned my living working in the food retailing sector of our business community. Although I am no longer involved in that business, I was absolutely delighted to learn that it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to bring forward a Bill to reform the law on Sunday trading in England and Wales.

Standardisation of the existing law would have been widely welcomed by consumers and traders alike, but reform of the law will be warmly embraced. I hope fervently that the reform legislation will give the nation a complete and unambiguous set of rules on Sunday trading. For far too long the ambiguities, and to a certain extent uncertainties, about trading on a Sunday have perplexed and confused many traders and consumers and local government, leaving them in a virtual state of limbo. It is to be hoped that noble Lords and Members of another place will be able to establish the ground rule principles that will, without any doubt, satisfy all quarters of our country's communities. It seems illogical to me that, for example, one can go out on a Sunday and purchase Italian, Indian and Greek food and yet one is not permitted to purchase that great British dish, fish and chips, from a traditional fish and chip shop. I am sure that anomalies such as that will be removed with the forthcoming legislation.

However, it is on neither of those subjects that I wish to dwell today. Rather, I would draw your Lordships' attention to that aspect of the gracious Speech which deals with the fact that legislation will be introduced to allow the courts to deal more effectively with young offenders and to make improvements in the criminal law.

The Criminal Justice Bill will allow much tougher action to deal with persistent juvenile offenders as well as righting the balance between victim and defendant. Measures will include alterations to the right of silence; new powers for the taking of DNA samples; clamping down on those who abuse bail; providing new powers to stop or prevent raves and mass trespass offences; and protecting witnesses from intimidation. In addressing those matters the Bill will seek to incorporate some of the recommendations of the Runciman Report arising from the Royal Commission on criminal justice. Obviously, exact details will not be known until publication.

As the Bill passes through Parliament it is to be hoped that an attempt will be made to achieve reform of the criminal justice system's treatment of child witnesses. I should declare a personal interest in the well being and protection of children. My wife serves on the national executive committee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Consequent upon her commitment to the cause of the NSPCC over many years, I too have become more aware of the ever increasing needs of the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. I therefore make no excuse for voicing my concern that children should be explicitly considered in the forthcoming legislation.

As we were advised by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, the Bill will give courts new powers, allowing them to send persistent juvenile offenders aged 12 to 14 to secure training centres for a period of up to two years. They would receive education and training to help them to break their cycle of offending behaviour. The Bill will also double, from one year to two years, the maximum sentence available to the courts for 15 to 17 year-olds sentenced to detention in a young offenders institution.

The Bill, I am led to believe, will improve the enforcement of existing controls on obscene material and trade in child pornography—a practice which, I feel certain, all noble Lords must abhor. It is an horrendous affront to the society in which we live and, far more importantly, a violation of the rights of our children. The Bill will increase the maximum penalty for possessing indecent pictures or photographs of children. It will give the police the power to arrest, without a warrant, those believed to be involved in the trafficking of child pornography or other obscene material. It will provide the police with increased powers of search and seizure and give trading standards officers greater powers to enforce the Video Recordings Act of 1984.

The new measures are indeed to be welcomed. However, with specific reference to future cases involving children, there are many other issues which should be considered and taken into account. I referred to the need to protect witnesses from intimidation. A courtroom can be, and indeed is, a very daunting place, even for mature adults. It surely follows that for a young child, a courtroom must seem somewhat akin to a torture chamber. I am fully aware of suggestions that judges should perhaps remove their wigs in cases where young children are involved. However, judges are not the only people who wear wigs in court. Counsel wear wigs. It has to be recognised that the entire courtroom scenario is shrouded in austere formality.

One of the primary functions of our courts is to hear evidence. It must make sense for the court to hear all the relevant evidence. That could be better achieved in cases where children are witnesses if some of our traditional formalities were perhaps less evident. After all, in many cases children are being asked to give evidence about events in which they themselves were the victims of abuse.

Delays within our judicial system in hearing cases of alleged child abuse do little to assist the satisfactory outcome of many cases. Children's memories are put to the severest of tests when it may well take six or even eight months for a case to be heard. We all have access to our own memories, but the passage of time distorts our ability to make accurate instant recall. To exemplify that I would ask all noble Lords individually to cast their minds back to 1988 and recall where they took their main holiday that year. Some noble Lords may not be able to recall that information immediately. Imagine, therefore, how difficult it must be for a young child to plumb the depths of his or her mind in a courtroom when asked by counsel about an event which happened a long time beforehand. Children concerned in cases of the nature I have described often suffer from trauma and self-recrimination in spite of the fact that they may well have been the innocent, molested and abused victim. Delays in our judicial system can exacerbate that regrettable situation.

I feel passionately too that if at all possible we should seek to increase the awareness of the judiciary in matters concerning child abuse. Surely, it cannot be correct to refer to an eight year-old girl, as happened relatively recently, as someone who was "no angel". I am unable to concur with those who considered that that young girl was sexually experienced. The child, after all, was only eight years old. I am not naive enough to imagine that children pass through their early and formative years without feeling the need to experiment with their own bodies. For generations children have indulged in exploratory games such as "doctors and nurses". However, to refer to a girl of only eight tender years as someone who was sexually experienced was surely an incorrect assessment and evaluation of the circumstances. The danger of lesser sentences being passed on those found guilty of child abuse because a child—and a young child at that—is considered to be someone who is sexually experienced, must raise questions in the minds of all caring adults. The matter should be rightly addressed within the proposed reforms and the suggested awareness training.

I hope that the forthcoming reforms will permit much wider use of what I believe is referred to as video linking. At present, video evidence from children is limited in acceptance and use. To increase the use of that medium may well assist in diminishing the anguish of child witnesses and in some way help to heal the wounds and scars which abuse cases undoubtedly inflict upon our children. Perhaps the interests of our children would also be better served by better communication between the Crown Prosecution Service and social workers in cases involving alleged child abuse prior to those cases coming before the courts.

My Lords and fellow citizens of the Union, I thank you for your indulgence.

6 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, it is my privilege on behalf of your Lordships' House to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Westwood, on his maiden speech. He spoke at the beginning about being a dancer, and he showed himself very deft on his feet. He spoke from the heart with real passion about his concern for children. I hope that your Lordships' House will hear again from him. We can never hear too many voices which try to tell us about life from the point of view of children and their needs. I congratulate the noble Lord very warmly.

I want to pick up two subjects from the gracious Speech: Sunday trading and secure training centres. There is a major campaign for deregulation backed by the large financial interests of the big battalions of the supermarkets, complete with handouts on varicoloured papers and inks for writing letters to MPs. I welcome very much the firm support of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for keeping Sunday a different day as part of the pattern and framework of our society. I speak as chairman of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility. Behind me there is a unanimous vote this year from the General Synod in support of maintaining that framework and measures which keep regulations in place.

I firmly believe that those of us who want to keep the character of Sunday as a different day should support the joint option of Retailers for Shops Act Reform (often better known as the Marks and Spencer proposal) to keep Sunday special. It is conceded that large stores may open for the four Sundays before Christmas. That concession having been made, I regret very much that people should be saying that it means a moving away from any principle. Those who take that attitude would prefer not to have the concession. But we have tried to seek a middle way which will find precisely the acceptance from all sides that the law needs.

There is much anxiety about the future of the family. Sunday, as it is at present, is statistically the day when parents see their children more than on any other day. Statistically, it is the day when more visits are paid to elderly relatives. To give shopworkers another day off in the week will add to the number of homes in which there is no day when the whole family can come together.

Very late in the day the Government have conceded employment protection for those who do not wish to work on Sundays. The Churches, which have joined with others in pressing for that protection, welcome the agreement, although one must question how effective such safeguards will be. Today's Independent carries leaked information from a major company alerting managers to the fact that if they want to be promoted, their willingness to work on Sundays will be taken into account. That does not promise much for the effectiveness of employee protection.

But employment protection does not touch the major issue of the character of Sunday. The option proposed by some of the large stores—the Shopping Hours Reform Council—is total deregulation by another name. It removes any safeguards to the character of Sunday. I wonder why the Government have persisted in putting forward total deregulation as another option. I do not think that they believe that it will be any more successful than it was a few years ago. I believe that it is a stalking horse to try to show what is not true; namely, that the Shopping Hours Reform Council's proposals are a middle way. In fact they are total deregulation by another name. That would knock another nail in the coffin of small shops, which provide a vital service to those who do not own a car. Many elderly people, lone parents and those on low income are dependent on local shops. In order to survive, many corner shops need the trade from shoppers who top up their main shopping. Only small shops have been open on Sundays. During the past 30 years the number of independent grocery outlets has fallen from 116,000 to 32,800. Any further fall would be bad news for the poor.

I believe that a touch on the rudder in favour of small shops would strengthen the health of our society. Opening the high street every day of the week would add to the process of secularisation. My friend and colleague the most reverend Archbishop Derek Worlock (who is now very much better, I am glad to say) preached on Sunday in the metropolitan cathedral in Liverpool. He asked whether this measure was being pursued for the sake of freedom in a pluralist society or whether the options presented were anything more than the application of the profit motive to Sunday trading at the expense of freedom to worship, the strengthening of family life and the day of rest and physical recreation. "Look", he said, "what happened to Good Friday".

I have no doubt that in our debates the experience in Scotland will be quoted. The Convenor of the Church of Scotland Church and Nation Committee, Andrew McLellan, writing to me on behalf of that committee says that any suggestion that the system in Scotland is successful and is good practice is misleading and a contradiction of the facts.

We believe that the rhythm of a different day on Sunday helps to offer help and wholeness to families and the community as a whole. In our common life we need symbols which point beyond market forces, symbols which remind us that we are citizens who belong to one another and are not simply consumers.

Secondly, I want to mention the plan to provide five secure training centres for 12 to 14 year-olds. Like other noble Lords, I understand the very real concerns and fears that exist on many great housing estates about some young people. One of our clergy with long experience of urban priority areas has talked to me about the hard faces of some young people whom he now sees, faces which he did not see a few years ago. I hope that the Government will take very seriously the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Windlesham, and Lord Harris of Greenwich. We are concerned about acting effectively. The claim that prison works has been challenged very sharply in your Lordships' House today.

We have to ask what is most likely to bring about change in such young people, not simply what will enable us to feel that we are taking decisive action. There are young people who are highly dangerous. Secure custodial provision is needed for them. Section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act. 1933 provides for the use of custody for juveniles when very serious offences against the person have been committed. I personally know of some very good facilities which are not being used because local authorities say that they cannot afford to place young persons there. Setting up a parallel development of five secure training centres—five for the whole country—could invite a policy of dumping by local authorities which need to save money. Five centres will inevitably mean a high proportion of offenders being in custody a long way from the home network of family, probation services and other agencies which in the end will be needed to support any real change of heart.

My mind goes back to when I worked in Canning Town in East London. I visited a boy from our youth clubs who was in a Borstal in Nottinghamshire. He started at once to make great promises about how different he intended to be. I said, "Don't make me any promises: come and see me the day you get home and let us talk about it." Well, he never came. The day he returned home he was back in the scrapyard where his father and his mates were. That was the environment where he had got into trouble, and the very good work that was done in Borstal was lost.

I am terribly afraid that we are simply taking one more turn around an old circle. Borstal was a great and honest dream of one of the greatest prison reformers of this nation, Alec Paterson. There was nothing wrong about the dream, but it did not work. The young man I saw was typical of so many. All the evidence is that you are more likely to bring about lasting change in someone if he or she has to face himself or herself, together with some good support, in the same context in which they are going to have to work out their future life.

I have questions for the Minister. Will the large costs involved—the estimate I have read is £452 a week to hold one young person in a secure training centre—be taken from the existing budgets in the criminal justice sector, and, if so, from where? On the same day as the announcement, I led a delegation of ecumenical Church leaders to Michael Howard when, in a previous manifestation, he was Secretary of State for the Environment. We were protesting about the cuts in the urban programme. That programme has supported a great number of projects, many explicitly about the prevention of crime. We were seeing those cut away at the very moment when huge new expenditure was being talked about for something which many of us feared would not be effective in preventing crime.

Does the Minister worry that five secure training centres will label their charges as "pardoned offenders" and that it will be a sort of graduation into what has been called a criminal élite? Reduction in the use of custody over the years and the increased use of cautioning were both achieved without a general increase in recorded offending rates. If we are more concerned with bringing about lasting change than in satisfying our feelings that we have done something about it, we shall continue to keep custody as a last resort.

6.13 p.m.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, it has been my life-long ambition to speak in this building, but I must confess that even in my wildest dreams I did not imagine that it would be in this Chamber rather than in the other place, whose name I have been advised I must never utter. I am, however, relieved to learn that your Lordships show a special tolerance to newcomers, and at this very nervous moment, especially as I am the fourth maiden speaker this afternoon, I am particularly grateful.

One of the major planks of this Session will be the Criminal Justice Bill. This is a subject on which I believe I have three special areas of experience. The first is as a magistrate, the second is as a victim and the third is as someone who has spent 20 years speaking to members of the public. I have been a magistrate for 22 years in both adult and juvenile courts. There are very few crimes that I have not seen and hardly any excuses or explanations that I have not heard. We pride ourselves on the independence of our judiciary, and there must be no interference with that independence either from well-meaning pressure groups or from the suggestion of fixed penalties that have more to do with financial policies than with the administration of justice. In return for this independence we ask our judges to recall that their judicial oath, to do right by all manner of people", includes the victims as well as the perpetrators.

My second qualification is as a victim. I suspect that hardly any of your Lordships have been held up with a double-barrelled shotgun at your head for half an hour, which seemed like a lifetime. It happened early one morning when I went to the hairdresser. Unfortunately, an armed gang were waiting to ambush a bullion van that was making a delivery to the bank next door. I assure your Lordships that it was not funny, even if you are the stuff that heroes are made of—and I am most definitely not. But what was funny was when I later telephoned my husband to come and collect me because I had been held up at the hairdresser's, he did not come right away because he thought that when I said that I had been held up at the hairdresser's, I meant that I had been held up at the hairdresser's and not "held up" at the hairdresser's, if you follow me.

I have a cousin who was a captain in the New York Police Force and is now retired. He used to tell me that his definition of a liberal—with a small "l" and not referring to noble Lords opposite—was someone who had not yet been mugged. I have to tell your Lordships that my cousin was right. After that experience, I viewed crimes committed with weapons in an entirely different light.

My third qualification is that I have for the last 20 years, on behalf of my Party, travelled up and down the country speaking to people at the grass-roots. At the sharp end, there is very little difference between the concerns of people, whatever their party politics. They are worried about street crime, burglaries, all kinds of violence and drugs. They are appalled at the inability of bringing persistent young offenders to book. But above all they protest, as I do, that it seems as though protecting the public is not the foremost priority of our penal system. And it is just that little thing that I would like to talk about today.

There are four theoretical reasons for sending people to prison. The first one is to reform them. Reforming prisoners is just like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. Children and youngsters have to be taught right from wrong in their homes and in the schools before they become criminals. Experience shows that it is all too rarely that anyone sees the light through the bars of a cell.

The second reason is to deter potential criminals. No one commits a crime expecting to be arrested for it. I respectfully agree with the Lord Chief Justice that the real deterrent would be the knowledge that if you commit a crime there is a very high probability that you will be caught. But I do not think that goes far enough, because part of the deterrent has to be that if you are caught you will be prosecuted and, if you are prosecuted and you have done it, it is to be hoped that you will be convicted and, if convicted, you will be punished and the punishment should be an appropriate one. "Appropriate punishment" means that maximum sentences should be long enough and, in suitable cases, that the courts should be willing to impose them. Some offences demand that the penalty should almost invariably be imprisonment, with minimum sentences. I would put rape and other violent crimes right at the top of that list.

The third reason of course is that of punishment. We can all go where we like. We can do what we like with our time —the Whips permitting of course—and we can eat what we like for dinner. Losing our liberty is the punishment. I do not believe that we should add to that punishment by making prisoners live in squalid and degrading conditions that are an absolute disgrace for a civilised first world country. I do not believe that it is pampering a man to allow him to perform his bodily functions in private and in a toilet rather than for him to be locked up for hours with a chamber pot. I do not believe that it is pampering a man to allow him to have clean clothes, or to bath or shower every day.

Let me add that although I am not of the "lock-them-up-and-throw-away-the-key" persuasion, on the matter of punishment I hope that our judges will limit the use of concurrent sentences. When someone is convicted of killing two people by reckless driving, there should be two consecutive sentences. When there are three convictions for burglary, there should be three sentences. Our courts ought not to be a kind of discount store—commit two crimes and get one free.

Above all, and lastly, imprisonment is intended to protect society and prevent crime. The simple fact is that when someone is locked up they cannot mug other people in the streets or burgle or break into their homes. The recent experiment of not taking previous offences into account failed, as it was clearly doomed to do. I do not advocate the return of preventive detention when someone could receive three years for stealing a bottle of milk. But it is obvious that if someone commits a crime, having previously been punished for it, then that in itself makes it a much more serious crime. An ever increasing series of penalties will prevent such people from reoffending for an ever increasing period of time.

Protecting the public at home and in the streets is as much a part of our national defence as protecting them from foreign invaders. The risk of being mugged in the street or having one's home broken into is more of a reality than being invaded by the Russians or the Iraqis. It is true that longer sentences will cost more and we shall need more prison warders. But we must be prepared to pay for that. The cost of keeping criminals in prison should not be the criterion. The punishment must fit the crime and the criminal.

6.22 p.m.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, it is my pleasant privilege to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, on a serious but entertaining speech. I, too, come from the London Borough of Barnet and I can tell her and your Lordships' House that the noble Baroness is well respected. She is chairman of the Barnet Family Health Service Authority and over the years has made a notable contribution to the promotion of women in politics. She is a good example of that and it is time that she came to this House. I understand that she is chairman of the Three Hundred Group, which encourages women to stand for office. It is good that we have another example of an intelligent woman joining your Lordships' House. The noble Baroness happened to be the fourth of four distinguished maiden speakers and the debate has been much informed by their speeches. Two of the speakers I have known and worked with for many years—the noble Lords, Lord Lester and Lord Tugendhat. I congratulate them all on what they have given to us today.

We are debating a Queen's Speech of a government which I believe have been in power for too long. I believe it shows how much out of touch they are not only with the people whom they represent but also with those who are experts in the field in which they have chosen to legislate. I admired the speeches of my noble friend Lady Hilton arid others who looked critically and with concern at what may happen in the proposed Criminal Justice Bill and in the reformation and reorganisation of the police forces. I want to touch on a different issue which illustrates how many matters the Government propose to introduce which are intended to correct other matters that they introduced earlier during their period in office.

I refer first to deregulation. Most of the regulations that the Government seek to remove are ones for which they have been responsible. I have no doubt that some of the regulations are damaging and the cause of unnecessary bureaucracy, and of course there must be changes. But some are essential, such as health and safety. I refer, for example, to the regulations which restrict the use of flammable fillings in furniture; those requiring low flammability in children's nightwear and those demanding the insulation of new houses. All those are examples of essential regulations and we must therefore be careful when the Bill comes before your Lordships' House.

Another example is the maintaining of high standards of social services. As one who is involved in the provision of nursing homes for the increasing proportion of people who are elderly, frail and needing nursing home help, I was appalled to see the letter sent out by the Department of Health on 6th August. It said that the Government intended to deregulate within the private sector of nursing home provision. That may be dangerous. It was interesting that among those who criticised the proposal were those in the private sector who are seeking to provide high standards and who do not want the sharks to get away with exploiting the elderly and needy. We must therefore ensure that if there is to be deregulation, we watch it extremely carefully.

That leads me to comment on another disturbing increase, as my noble friend on the Front Bench said, in the number of quangos in our society. I well remember when the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, became Prime Minister, the assurances she gave that she would wage war against quangos. In 1980 she said that there will always be pressure for new bodies but we must be robust in resisting them. But the figures have increased and we have more quangos and more people appointed by the Government to work with them than ever before.

The danger of quangos is that in almost every case the powers are being taken away from people elected to represent the needs of local people and given to those appointed by the Secretary of State. If this Queen's Speech programme is carried through, the powers of the Secretary of State will be enormously enhanced. That will be extremely dangerous for our society. We should be moving towards more accountability as regards local people who understand local needs and less towards people appointed by the Secretary of State.

It is interesting that the advisory panel which made the recommendations in terms of deregulation, consisted only of businessmen. Nobody on the panel represented the consumer or the employee even though its recommendations affect both groups enormously. It was interesting also to note that the chairman of the DTI deregulation advisory panel is the chairman of a company which gave the Conservative Party £44,000 last year, and the vice-chairman of that same body last year gave £25,000.

If we look around at what is happening in our society we see that more people are being appointed for party political reasons. That is extremely unhealthy. One can understand it, and the proposals for the reorganisation of local government will provide the same kind of dilemma. If one is not popular at a local level, then one may try to take more power to oneself. I think that is very dangerous and retrograde.

We have seen that in the health service and the creation of NHS trusts, the reform of district health authorities, the shake-up of schools and colleges and plans to reorganise police authorities. All those measures hinge on the transfer of power away from local government to the growing class of quangocrats. My noble friend Lord McIntosh on the Front Bench gave a figure. I believe he said that they would spend about £46 million, and others have said that the figure is well over that.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, the figure is in billions.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, I am grateful. A survey was carried out by the Guardian which showed that £54 billion of taxpayers' money was involved.

I want next to touch very briefly on the points which may flow from phrases in the gracious Speech such as to reduce the share of national income taken by the public sector and, develop their policies on social security so that help is concentrated on those most in need and expenditure is kept within affordable limits". Those are terms which are shorthand for the destruction and undermining of the welfare state. The Prime Minister has very often used the phrase "getting back to basics". Because of my experience in government over the years, to me the basics that we should get back to are the provisions made over the years by successive governments to create and develop our welfare state; to create and develop our health service, to provide freedom from want, from poverty and ignorance. I believe those are the great objectives which were established in the years which followed the war. I believe that the decisions taken then stand as symbols of very effective government.

This Government is the most leak-prone government that there has ever been in our country. I suppose the situation is that if they do not release documents then other people will get them into the public domain. It is an argument for open government. The Observer revealed that there have been seven teams of top civil servants drawing up plans to demolish key parts of the welfare state. All those parts affect the most needy in our society. Many of the proposals which have been made under instruction—the civil servants have a mandate as to what they are to report on—challenge many of the promises which the Conservative Party made in their 1992 manifesto.

I believe that we shall have a very hard period during the next 12 months. If the Government are insistent on pressing forward with legislation which they have in a sense threatened in the gracious Speech, there will be great controversy in this House. There needs to be such controversy because I believe that there will be fundamental challenges to the basics of our society.

6.33 p.m.

Lord Knights

My Lords, perhaps I may first offer my congratulations to our four maiden speakers this afternoon. They have all brought great wisdom to our proceedings for which we should be grateful. Secondly, may I seek your Lordships' indulgence. I am obliged to return to Birmingham later tonight and should that require me to leave the Chamber before the debate is adjourned—the list of speakers still to come seems to indicate that that might well be possible —then I crave your Lordships' indulgence and I offer my apologies.

It seems to me that one of the features of the past 25 years or so has been the extent to which law and order has become a topic for political debate. I can still recall the surprise which I felt on an extended visit to the United States in 1968. There I first experienced the heated public debate on that particular issue which was then being fought out by the two contenders for the presidential nomination, President Johnson and Richard Nixon. They both were claiming to be the one best able to create safe streets in American cities. We know from what the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, said this afternoon how successful they were.

It seems to me that we are in much the same position today. Whatever the reasons for this development may have been—and some may think the influence which the topic can have on election results is clearly one of them—the debate is obviously going to continue at a very high level during the present Session.

At the same time I sometimes think that this highly charged and often emotional debate, with its often polarised views, can have some unfortunate effects. The results of careful, disciplined research, including that conducted by the Home Office itself, can be jettisoned at a moment's notice in the face of perceived public opinion, at least as it is expressed by the media. It can result in what should be long-term policies being abandoned for short-term advantage with knock-on effects on the morale of those who face the problems on the ground.

I believe that the new measures referred to in the gracious Speech for dealing with young offenders may well fall into that category. No one denies—noble Lords have said the same thing this afternoon—that those who persistently offend (about 200 to 300 are involved) should be deprived of their liberty for a period not only in order to protect the public on whom they are preying, but also to deny them the opportunities to influence other young people towards criminal activities like theirs. As noble Lords will know, peer pressure is considerable at this age. During this period when their liberty has been taken away, they should undergo education and training. On their release they should be supervised and supported, as may be necessary, in the community. Whether the new secure training centres, with these two processes largely divorced, are going to be the answer, is another matter. It may well be argued that what is wanted is more secure places available to local authorities rather than more powers for the courts.

Another feature of this period has been the way in which responsibility for maintaining law and order—which was regarded originally to a very large extent as a local responsibility—has been transferred to central government. In my time I have seen locally provided and organised Courts of Assize and Quarter Sessions, administered by the county or borough, transferred to the Lord Chancellor's Department and renamed Crown Courts. The costs of trying indictable offences, which were a charge on the community, again through the county or borough council, have passed to the Exchequer. The decision to prosecute and the subsequent prosecution process have been passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions answerable to the Attorney General. The forthcoming Bill promised in the gracious Speech is apparently going to do the same with the administration of the magistrates' courts.

Taken together with the creation of the new quango to run our police forces, it seems to me that local authorities will be left with no statutory responsibility whatever for the maintenance of law and public order other than the regulatory fields such as parking and consumer protection. This is at a time when the whole thrust of the Government's crime prevention and reduction policies, we are told, is to involve the local community. The way will be open to local authorities, if they are minded to take it, to withdraw entirely from this area and to say to the Government "What are you doing about our problems? It is your responsibility".

I have expressed on an earlier occasion in your Lordships' House my belief that there should be a statutory provision requiring local authorities to develop strategic policies in a real partnership with all other relevant bodies to deal with the identified crime problems in their areas. I believe that such a measure will be even more necessary in the future if we are to go down the road to which the gracious Speech is pointing us. I am bound to say that I am doubtful about whether the reforms that were outlined in the White Paper Police Reform, on which the Bill will be based, will make the police better able to combat crime as is the intention.

I turn now to the role of any additional personnel made available by the abolition of the ranks of chief superintendent and chief inspector. I believe that my reading of this is contrary to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon—I am sorry that she is not in her place. My reading is that some 3,000 police officers are to be made available as a result of those savings. Even if extra officers are available, we must balance against that gain the additional demands which will he made on the police as a result of the new provisions which have been promised in respect of squatters, new age travellers, the obstruction of country sports, and on improving liaison with the victims of crime. There will probably also be the task of looking after prisoners because the prisons are full.

In combating crime, the task which the Bill is intended to assist, the police are dependent to a very large extent on information from the public which enables them to identify active criminals and then to target them. That principle was underlined by the Audit Commission in its recent report, Helping with Enquiries: Tackling Crime Efficiently. The new 3,000 police officers will no doubt be able to help with that, but we must bear in mind that it will work out at one extra police officer to some 17,000 or 18,000 members of the community. That information will flow much more easily if the police are clearly recognised as part of the local government machine rather than the central one. if the police are seen as "our police" as opposed to "the police" that task can be made much easier.

But it is the effect that the reforms could have on the constitutional position of the police which I find most worrying. Here I share the views that were expressed so well by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. One of the foundations of policing in this country is the impartiality of police officers. That is implicit in their oath of office as constables. As a former Metropolitan commissioner, Sir Robert Mark, once put it when addressing recruits passing out at Hendon: The police serve no party or faction. They are free to stand between minorities and those who would oppress or bully them. They must be free to invoke the law fearlessly against those who govern as well as those they govern". It is difficult now to follow that argument when the prosecution process has been taken out of police hands. That was the first little nail in the coffin. That impartial position of the police and the independent judgment of chief constables will, I believe, be influenced markedly if these new provisions become law. Will a chief constable continue to be able to say "No" to a Home Secretary when the Government set his key objectives and when the extent to which he achieves those is judged by a police authority, the paid chairman of which is appointed by the Secretary of State who also has the authority to determine his fixed-term appointment? I believe that those are fundamental questions, and they will not be answered quickly or easily.

6.44 p.m.

Lord Alexander of Weedon

My Lords, perhaps I may first apologise for the fact that a long-standing speaking engagement later this evening will make it not possible for me to stay until the end of the debate.

It is tempting to talk about the issues affecting criminal justice which will loom large in debate this Session, but we have recently had an opportunity to talk about the report of the Royal Commission and there will clearly be many later occasions for discussion. So I should like to talk this evening about the civil law because I think that the civil law is of importance and raises issues for anxiety of which we should not lose sight in the wider debate on law and order.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, has spoken about the substantive law, so I shall be brief. I, too, welcome the proposal to take non-controversial law reform measures off the Floor of the House. It has been unfortunate that in recent years so little of the work of the Law Commission has been implemented. The Law Commission is highly competent, does detailed work, is a national resource paid for out of the public purse and we do not serve ourselves well or use that resource well if we do not find an opportunity to implement its work through legislation.

I should like to talk this evening particularly about procedures and to touch on the concerns which I believe are widely held about the difficulty which so many people have in gaining access to civil justice. These have once again been highlighted in a pamphlet published only yesterday by the Society of Conservative Lawyers which is called Paying for Justice. The essential problem is a very simple one. Too many people simply cannot afford the price of going to law.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly caused by the reduction in eligibility for civil legal aid. Some 70 per cent. of the population used to be eligible for legal aid. Now it is estimated that the proportion has dropped to some 48 per cent. The contributions sought from those on very low incomes are such as often effectively preclude them from taking up the grant of legal aid. So there is an immense difficulty in the way of people of limited means who seek to assert or defend their rights.

I do not believe that we can seek to meet this problem by demanding greater public expenditure on legal aid. The bill has, as we know, grown rapidly in recent years. We have to recognise the pressures on my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, as on other government Ministers, to rein back public expenditure, but this should, I believe, give urgency to seeking other ways of helping people to have their disputes resolved.

I know that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is sympathetic to this approach. At Justice, the all-party law reform group, one of whose principal current concerns is the diminishing access to justice, we have welcomed his recent proposal for conditional fees in personal injury, human rights and insolvency cases. We support the impetus that he has given to having disputes resolved informally, both through the small claims courts and, wherever possible, through conciliation or alternative dispute resolution. I believe that there is much more that we can do as a society to seek out alternatives to costly, adversarial litigation in the courts.

I also believe that it is important that we should encourage those agencies which are able to give legal advice and assistance at low cost. In this respect, as we all know, citizens advice bureaux play an absolutely crucial role. They are an invaluable, low-cost resource. In 1992–93, they handled some 7.75 million inquiries at an average cost of just over £6.00 per inquiry. The law centres, for their part, are able to provide low-cost help in litigation. I would hope very much that in the not too distant future we can draw both the citizens advice bureaux and the law centres into the mainstream of legal aid funding.

But the one particular proposal I would like to highlight today has been advanced by Justice for almost 30 years. It is the proposal for a contingency legal aid scheme. That may in a sense sound prosaic beside some of the great issues that have been debated today, but it is designed to help people to enforce their rights and, since rights without remedies are illusory, I invite your Lordships to consider just what such a scheme means. It has been strongly endorsed by the recent pamphlet from the Society of Conservative Lawyers.

What is involved in a contingency legal aid scheme? Its essence is simple. It enables litigation to be financed on the basis that part of the sum recovered in a successful action goes to the scheme to provide its funding. So it would involve the creation of an independent, non-profit-making organisation. A claimant who wished to make use of the service would first consult a solicitor in the usual way. The solicitor, if satisfied that the case was one which deserved support, would apply to the fund in the same way as an application is now made for conventional legal aid, but there would be an important difference. There would be no inquiry as to the means of the applicant. The applicant would give authority to the solicitor to pay to the contingency legal aid fund a contribution which represented a specific percentage, say 15 per cent., of any sum recovered in the action. The contingency legal aid office would grant legal aid only if it believed that there was a reasonable chance of success, because, after all, it would have a clear stake in that success. Once legal aid was granted, the case would proceed in the usual way. If lost, the litigant would recover from the fund of the contingency legal aid office his own costs and the costs payable to the defendant. If successful, the legal aid fund would receive the agreed proportion of the award. The fund would be built up by contributions from the amounts recovered by successful applicants. The aim would be that, after a short period, the fund should become self-financing.

Justice has consistently supported such a scheme. The Royal Commission on Legal Services was not persuaded in 1978 that the scheme was viable. But the idea did not lie down. It was revived by the Law Society in 1987 in a consultation paper Improving Access to Civil Justice.

What are the arguments against the scheme? They have traditionally been that it would not work in practice. We would, so it is suggested, find that the costs outweighed the amount coming from successful claims. It was feared that the fund's support would be sought only in unpromising cases. That seemed to be no more than an instinctive concern, and many of us thought that it was too gloomy a prediction.

But we now have experience of schemes in action in other jurisdictions. In particular, there is one encouraging experience in Hong Kong. A contingency legal aid scheme was established in 1984. By 1987, income was exceeding expenditure. By April 1993, damages had been obtained in 212 out of 224 concluded cases. So the scheme was being used to back potential winners. We should not draw the conclusion that that is due merely to the entrepreneurial skills of Hong Kong society.

Experience in Australia is shorter, but it points in the same direction. Western Australia established a scheme called the Litigation Assistance Fund in 1991. In June 1993, the manager of the fund expressed the opinion that, although it was early days, the evidence as to the fund's viability was encouraging. South Australia is following suit and similarly establishing a scheme.

So there is now evidence that the contingency legal aid fund, once established with the help of temporary and ultimately repayable finance, can be operated in a way which is self supporting. The Society of Conservative Lawyers concluded: We believe this proposal is viable and has an important role to play in the future funding of legal services". That gives welcome support to the long-standing view of Justice.

This is an area in which we have to be imaginative. In our society there is increasingly a gulf between rights that we provide, presumably because we believe that it is right that they should exist in a civilised society, and the ability of people to enforce those rights. That is a gulf which we must seek to bridge. We must respond positively and imaginatively. One part of that response—it may be right to concentrate upon one idea only this evening—would be to introduce a contingency legal aid system and seek to make it work. I urge my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to look again at this idea, and to give it his sympathetic backing.

6.55 p.m.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships' House because for a few minutes I wish to take the discussion away from what has been the main theme of the debate—law and order. I am sorry that I am unable to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Weedon, in his characteristically constructive speech. I have a certain family interest in the all-party organisation, Justice, and I am aware of how much good service he gives to it as its chairman. I hope that the ideas he has put forward this evening will be followed up by the Government in due course.

I want to raise, as a matter of some urgency, what is likely to be the imminent announcement by the Government of changes in the rules of ownership for ITV contractors. I make this speech in this debate only because it had been thought that there might have been a Statement earlier today. According to press reports, the Government are giving way to the impatience of the big battalions in the ITV system. The press reports indicate, with some precision, that the Government are inclined to change the law to allow one big company to take over another. Until now, as a result of the Broadcasting Act, there was the so-called nine/six rule under which the big nine companies were not permitted to engage in takeovers among themselves.

The Government's handling of this matter has been, in some ways, extraordinary. It has raised a flurry of rumours and speculation, and what used to be a commercial broadcasting system with a proud public service record has been turned in recent days into a kind of gambling casino in ITV shares—a kind of great game of monopoly. When the dust settles, the result is likely to be a system dominated by two or three television conglomerates in place of the present regional diversity of independent companies. Yet those arrangements have been in place for less than a year. The companies that have been lobbying the Government for change so vigorously, and apparently so successfully, gladly accepted the conditions of the new contracts only a short time ago.

I am bound to say that I find the arguments that they bring to bear for wanting change to be weak. They argue that from January, the general moratorium on takeover bids within the ITV system, which we gained from the Government rather grudgingly during the proceedings on the Broadcasting Bill, will come to an end, and that at that point the bigger ITV companies may be legitimate targets for European predators. I find the term "European predator" somewhat pejorative, because we ourselves are Europeans. In my days of responsibility for the commercial side of the broadcasting system, I deplored the lack of British enterprise in aspects of that system. We relied to a large extent upon Canadians, Americans and Australians to provide enterprise in aspects of commercial radio in this country.

It is, in any case, a bogus argument to believe that because one is bigger, one is a more difficult target. In some ways, one might be a more attractive target. Equally, some spurious arguments have been produced about savings in overheads if there are fewer, bigger ITV companies. If the Government go ahead with this—I urge them even at this late hour to have second thoughts about it—they will fly directly in the face of the advice of the ITC. It recognises, as I do, that the stresses and strains that exist within the ITV system are very real. Nevertheless, it urges, as we have done from these Benches on a number of occasions during the past year, that the wise course for the Government to take would be to allow the new arrangements to settle down a little; to see how they work; to see the kind of people who emerge to run it; and then to take advantage of the fact that the Government will need to take major broadcasting decisions in 1996 with the renewal of the BBC Charter, to look at the situation as a whole.

However, if as appears to be the case, the Government are determined to go ahead with the proposal, I hope that at least they will safeguard the national regions of Scotland, Wales and Ulster. The Secretary of State for Scotland is known to have made vigorous representations for Scotland and no doubt the same has been done for Wales and Ulster. I hope that they will be protected from the kind of takeover bids which may well emerge.

If that protection is to be allowed by the Government—and rumour has it that that is the way in which the Government's mind is working—I have some sympathy for the English regions. They too have their rights as do Scotland, Wales and Ulster. It is important for your Lordships to understand that the argument about the change of ownership —that it will be all right because the Independent Television Commission will be able to insist that the original licence conditions for local programming will continue to have to be observed—is only half the story. What is important about broadcasting in this country is that it should not become a wholly London-dominated affair. It is the contribution that the regional companies of the ITV system make to network programming as distinct from local programming that is important for the health of the whole system and the interests of the viewers. If these takeovers are allowed, there will be a great sucking of creative talent into London, to the great disadvantage of the system as a whole.

If the Government go ahead with that mistaken course, I hope that they will bear in mind that 1996, when they must take decisions about the future of the BBC, will remain an important year in terms of the future of British broadcasting. I suspect that by that time the revenues of the three main elements now in broadcasting—the licence revenue of the BBC, the advertising revenue of the commercial television companies and the new sources of subscription revenue for the satellite and cable companies —will become increasingly equal.

I hope that by 1996 the Government will be able to summon up their courage to deal with the situation created by Mr. Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB on the British broadcasting scene. Now that BSkyB is increasing its number of channels and expressing itself as being confident of its future, is it not time for the Government to begin to tackle the issues of cross-media ownership and bring them within the rules imposed on the terrestrial competitors? BSkyB remains able to enjoy a large degree of relief from the European Community regulations regarding programme origin. It is allowed more advertising minutage than its competitors in independent television. In addition, within the satellite field the main encryption system, Videocrypt—that is the gateway to access to satellite broadcasting—is owned by News International and provides a means of setting the conditions of entry for BSkyB's potential satellite competitors. Of course, News International owns 37 per cent. of this country's national press.

Developments in television will happen; there are technological developments which will take place. Multi-channel satellite and cable broadcasting are here to stay and I do not argue differently. Indeed, at best they can genuinely add to the range of choice by providing specialist so-called "thematic" channels showing extended coverage of great national events. But by 1996 there must be a serious attempt to provide fair deals across the whole face of British broadcasting. I hope, therefore, that when the Government come to deal with the future of the BBC, they will do so within the framework of a new broadcasting Bill. I hope that it will be a comprehensive and careful Bill and not a dogmatic and doctrinaire Bill, as was the previous Broadcasting Bill. I hope that it will tackle the whole future face of British broadcasting—not only the pattern of ownership of ITV and the future of the BBC, but also the provision of proper and fair treatment in competitive terms for the new satellite and cable broadcasters.

7.5 p.m.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

My Lords, I wish that I could follow the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, but I cannot because I know absolutely nothing about broadcasting. I propose to make only a short speech and to concentrate almost entirely on the proposals for secure training orders for juvenile offenders.

I was pleased to hear the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor comment on his success in obtaining what I presume is all-party agreement for special procedures in both Houses of Parliament for certain Law Commission Bills. It is a very important procedural, innovative parliamentary matter. Anyone who has had anything to do with those who run the business of both Houses must know how difficult it is to effect any change, even of a minute nature, into the procedures of Parliament. It is a notable victory and bodes well for Law Commission Bills, which deserve the attention that they will receive as a result of the initiative.

I was also pleased to note that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has made money available for the programme of training the judiciary in racial awareness. That was the advice of the Ethnic Minorities Advisory Committee chaired by Lord Justice Brooke in advising the Judicial Training Board. It seems that all aspects of the criminal justice procedure will have benefited from training in racial awareness and that must be a clear gain. I congratulate the noble and learned Lord in making that money available when clearly he is so pressed by the Treasury to do exactly the opposite.

I turn to the secure training orders. The gracious Speech uses the phrase: to allow the courts to deal more effectively with young offenders". I hope to show that the probability is that the new court powers will be very costly and counter-productive. Incidentally, the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, greatly regrets that she cannot be present. She has asked me to say that she would have been here to speak against the new court powers but has a long-standing engagement chairing and speaking to a conference in northern England. As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for children and as a chairman of a new organisation known as New Approaches to Juvenile Crime, the noble Baroness would have put the case against the proposals far better than I. Those who have referred to the proposals have spoken against them. I submit that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, adds a voice from the Conservative Benches to those from the Opposition and Cross-Benches.

The current powers of courts to detain young offenders from under 14 to 17 years old are adequate in ensuring that juveniles can be detained where necessary. That point was forcefully put by the noble Lord, Lord Knights. The gap in provision occurs in relation to facilities and not in relation to powers; that is, facilities for those who have to deal with people who have been sentenced.

There is no need to increase the powers of the judiciary. What is needed is not more power to detain juveniles but a small number of additional secure places in some areas of the country. Again, that is something which my noble friend Lord Knights mentioned and has been a recurrent theme in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich.

The supply of those secure places available to local authorities would be infinitely cheaper than the implementation of the Government's proposals. I am told that the cost of providing those new powers would be some £250,000 for each place and that it would cost between £1,000 and £2,000 per week for each inmate. That amounts to a considerable sum of money.

In addition, a reduction in the use of secure units for those who should not be there—it is well known that there are certain young boys in secure units who are less delinquent than merits the secure placing and also there are non-delinquent children who find themselves locked up—would release some of the secure units available to local authorities for the more serious young offenders.

I feel strongly that we should learn from previous experience that all forms of institutional care in custody for young offenders have very high re-conviction rates. About 75 per cent. are re-convicted within two years of the date of release. The evidence is provided by official statistics as well as by academic studies. I ask the Government whether they have any official statistics or basis which supports their apparent confidence that secure training orders will be any more successful than previous provision of that kind. If so, I should very much like to know what is the evidence. All the evidence that I have seen indicates that the proposed secure training orders will increase the number of young offenders in custody and thus increase the number of those who re-offend within two years from their date of release. Surely that is the reverse of what we all want.

I must emphasise the damaging effect that the institution of secure training orders will certainly have in reversing the policy hitherto observed by Conservative Administrations of punishment within the community because young people will be held a long way from their home areas. The Association of Chief Police Officers gave evidence on that subject to the Home Affairs Select Committee of another place earlier this year. It said: In areas of the country where secure places are not available, the young offenders are taken long distances which often reduce the opportunities for family contacts to be maintained, thus actually increasing the difficulties of the offender and weakening family support when it should be encouraged". There speaks the Association of Chief Police Officers which gave evidence on the Government proposals. It believes that they will compound and aggravate that sense of separation from communities and will have deleterious effects on existing policies supported by the Government, because they are designed to fall in the opposite direction. Which way do the Government wish to go?

The new detainees in expensive accommodation far from home will be subject to all the attendant bullying and induction into new criminal methods of behaviour which characterise, I regret to say, young offender institutions. Instead of the proposed new elaborate statutory scheme, all that is needed, as I said at the outset, is a small number of additional secure places in some areas of the country where there is a deficiency to accommodate the very small numbers of persistent young offenders who have committed serious offences. The potential of the existing provisions has not yet been used fully as it should be.

7.15 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, the hour is late and, like all your Lordships, I am tired. Therefore, I shall be briefer than I was intending to be. I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady Miller on her excellent maiden speech. We have served, though not together, in the north of London as magistrates for many years. I served for just over 25 years. In that time we have known and grown to know a good deal about the people of our country. Therefore, I wish to congratulate my noble friend on her excellent maiden speech.

I congratulate also my noble friend Lord Lucas on the way in which he contributed to last Thursday's Opening of Parliament. He made an exceptionally good speech and I congratulate him on it.

I wanted to speak on several different topics which are brought before us in the Queen's Speech but I have decided to speak briefly on only three of them. I went to my dictionary of quotations and I discovered that in the 16th century Shakespeare covered most of what I wanted to say in his reference to the seven ages of man which starts: the infant Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms". My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has spoken recently of the importance of the family. I am deeply worried, as everybody else must be who has reached a certain age and who knows something about our society, about the way in which the family is disintegrating. I believe that the Prime Minister has brought us back to looking at the problems of the family and where it and we are going.

As we understand it, every infant is conceived by a man and a woman. Every infant has a right to expect to be brought up by both parents: otherwise, why conceive? Do fathers realise how very important they are? Do mothers understand what a tremendous contribution fathers are able to make to the character of their child? Guidelines as regards adoption are now being discussed. My noble friend Lady Miller and I have had many difficult problems to solve in the granting of adoptions in the course of our time with the magistracy. Fortunate indeed are the parents and children who have a satisfactory relationship after adoption. When discussing the needs of children in this House, we always stress that they are paramount in our thinking.

The second quotation is: And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school". It seems that there was truancy in the 16th century. But in these days, truancy is often caused by boredom and boredom often leads to crime. The young criminal is responsible for far too high a percentage of crime. What should we do?

People say to me, "In the 14 years of your Government, juvenile crime has increased enormously. Why is that and what are you doing about it?" I say that, in my 14 years' experience, we have hoped that the do-gooders would prove to be right. Unfortunately, their policy has failed. I welcome the stronger line that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is taking. I shall read with great interest what he says in the future on that policy. I also hope that stronger deterrents will stem what is proving to be a socially unacceptable level of criminal action and activity. As we know, some of it comes from thoughtlessness and some of it is well planned: but the punishment must fit the crime.

In this fast-changing world, it is difficult for parents and teachers to satisfy the need for excitement and adventure that is part of most children's growing up. I read to my horror that 80 per cent. of children watch television regularly. But what programmes have they got to watch? I think it is ridiculous that all the channels put out practically nothing to educate or help children in any way —except, perhaps, football.

We are abrogating our responsibilities if we do not cater far more for children's leisure time. Children like to have a structured environment. I know that much is done to organise sport after school hours. But so much more should be done. There are hundreds of men and women all over the country who will give their time and expertise to encouraging the young. The local authorities and schools should put their sports centres at the disposal of voluntary organisations. As a result of encouraging more young people to take part in all sports—perhaps I am thinking of football at present—who knows, we might even win an international match?

I should like to make one more plea on education. I regard the matter most seriously. I hope that the department will encourage more male teachers in the junior schools. If a child is brought up by a lone mother, he hardly ever hears a male voice—something which usually carries much more authority than a woman's and is, therefore, very frequently to be commended.

My third point relates to the judiciary. I quote again from Shakespeare: And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances". I cannot see through the back of my head, so I have no idea whether there are any members of the judiciary sitting behind me. But, in my view, some of our learned judges have been pilloried in the press to a quite unreasonable extent. I have a feeling that the court reports are written by people who have not been in court and who have not read the transcripts. The gracious Speech tells us of a change at the magistracy level of justice. Those of us in this House who have many years of experience in the field are likely to give some passages in the proposed Bill a very bumpy ride.

I agreed with every word of the excellent speech made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. He talked about the Child Support Agency and the problems that it is creating in past and present family relationships. The matter is becoming most serious; indeed, I received three more letters this morning from people who have been held up by the agency. I hope that the Government too will take the matter most seriously. I hope they will recognise the fact that that group of people is creating havoc—and that is a temperate word—in some of the families in this country. I am most grateful to the noble and learned Lord for bringing the matter forward.

There are many areas of the gracious Speech which are of great interest to most of us. I wish the Government well in all that they are doing. Like the Prime Minister, let us get back to the basics of loyalty, family unity, enterprise and much higher standards in all our walks of life.

7.20 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, as always, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod. If I did not misunderstand her, I believe that she supports the general line taken by the present Home Secretary, Mr. Howard. Well, like myself, I am sure that the noble Baroness takes the side of the underdog. I have attended various functions recently where I have met every kind of person who gives his or her life to penal matters—for example, judges, governors, prison officers, social workers and so on—but I have not heard a good word said on behalf of that gentleman. However, I think that it is right in this House that such a thoroughly unpopular man should be defended; indeed, I think that it is very healthy. I hope that the day will never come when we all pander to what is popular. I thank the noble Baroness for that service to free discussion.

Perhaps I should begin by saying how much I sympathise with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, as regards his "accident". I hope that he will soon be restored to health. We know him here as as skilled a parliamentarian as we possess and as popular a personality. I must say that I am a little embarrassed by his absence because I was going to reply to him quite sharply. On the last occasion he said that I was "talking rubbish". However, in his absence I think that I had better say, "Let bygones be bygones". I am bound to say that that reply was considerably toned down in Hansard but, at any rate, I wish him well. I know that he will defend himself with his usual acumen as soon as he is able to rejoin us.

My general line will be similar to that of the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Windlesham. My speech will not be as vigorous as that of the noble Lord, Lord Harris—indeed, I am not capable of that amount of vigour—and not as gentle or as subtle as that of the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham as, similarly, I am not capable of such gentleness or subtlety. However, generally speaking, I am on the same wavelength as both of them. Of course, my leader dealt with a number of other points.

On 21st October, I asked the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, in a Starred Question whether the Government still accepted the "principles" of the Woolf-Tumim Report. The House will remember that the documents attached to it said that the 1991 Act was giving effect to the principle of the Woolf-Tumim Report. After various exchanges, and one or two personal comments which I think it is best to pass over in view of the absence of the noble Earl, the latter finished his reply by saying that, there is no change in the policy. It is only a strengthening of policy".—[Official Report, 21/10/93; col. 639.] In other words, the policy of Mr. Howard is a strengthening of the policy of the other half dozen Home Secretaries; for example, Mr. Hurd, and others. That is what the noble Earl said as reported by Hansard, although I did not actually hear it at the time. At any rate, that is how it reads in Hansard.

I return now to today. I wonder whether there is anyone here who agrees with the new policy. I am not sure about the noble Baroness. I do not know whether she agrees that the new policy is a strengthening of the one that was pursued by the previous half dozen Home Secretaries, some in the post-Thatcherite period. However, I should like to draw the House's attention to a certain matter. I hope that no one mentioned it while I was out of the Chamber earlier. If so, I shall rather be wasting your Lordships' time.

On 11 th November there was an article in the Guardian by Mr. David Faulkner. Some noble Lords will know of Mr. Faulkner while others will not know much about him. He was a very high man indeed: he was Deputy Secretary in charge of criminal justice policy at the Home Office until 1992, when he left in what I am sure were honourable circumstances. He was in charge of the policy which has been defended by Ministers and others for many years. This is what he had to say about the new policy, which up until now in the debate has been defended only by the noble Baroness, although I suppose that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor must have implied some defence of it: the Government's change of direction in its policies on crime and criminal justice is probably the most sudden and the most radical which has ever taken place in this area of public policy". Who is right, ministerial spokesmen or Mr. Faulkner who was the civil servant who drew up the policies? He said that it was a complete change. Change is not always bad. Occasionally, but not on this occasion, change is welcome. That change means that previous Ministers are totally discredited. I would not like to think that, because they are highly regarded here. However, I am afraid that Mr. Faulkner took that line, and he said much more to the same effect.

What has happened in the past year to bring about this extraordinary change? I hope that noble Lords, and even the most obdurate Minister, will realise that that is a question which has to be answered. Ministers may tell us that it is a change for the better.

Just over a year ago I attended the Conservative Party conference. It was the first time that I had ever done so. When I was a young fellow, a young Conservative, I could not afford to go to the conference. I went to the conference last year and heard Mr. Clarke, who was Home Secretary at the time, make a speech. I wrote in something that I published later that, apart from a few rather feeble jokes, it seemed to me to be a speech which could have been made to the Howard League. It was a perfectly respectable speech. Now, a year later, a completely different tone was struck by Mr. Howard, who I gather won hysterical applause at the Conservative Party conference. What has occurred in the meantime?

We shall no doubt be told that there is mounting public concern. Various other speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, touched on that. However, according to the official figures—although one could argue about them—there has been an increase of 4 per cent. in crime in the past year, which is much less than in the previous year when the increase was 11 per cent. It is considerably less than the average over the past two decades. Yet in the past year the whole attitude of Mr. Clarke has been repudiated and the new attitude of Mr. Howard installed in its place.

What are Mr. Howard's credentials, apart from his high office and great legal talents? If I were ever in trouble should be happy to employ him, except that I could not afford his fees. Otherwise I would be happy to go to that very astute gentleman.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out the change in policy. One is bound to ask what occurred. There have been some horrifying cases, which have been widely publicised. I do not blame the tabloids for making our flesh creep, but in the course of the past year we have been given the idea that there has been a new crime wave. That is all bunkum. Nevertheless, it has been decided by the present Government that a complete change is necessary on the strength of the feelings of Mr. Howard.

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that Mr. Howard had once been to Brixton. I have heard it argued that he has never been to a prison, but I am ready to accept the more charitable view that he once went to Brixton. Suddenly he comes along and repudiates the views of six Home Secretaries, Mr. Faulkner and all the officials with this new policy. He had a gut feeling that it was about time, with the Conservative Party Conference coming up, to state a new policy. I gather that he has had his reward for the time being. I ask the House to consider whether all the accumulated wisdom of the previous Home Secretaries, officials, governors, social workers and prison officers should be set aside on the strength of the feelings of a gentleman whose only qualification, on a charitable view, is that he once visited a prison.

What I have said is perhaps too easy. What we do about law and order is a difficult question. My own party, the Labour Party, stands for law and order. Let us all agree that we should all stand for law and order. However, it is difficult to find a policy which promotes law and order, helps to prevent crime and at the same time carries on the traditions of penal reform which my own party likes to think that it stands for and which on the whole Conservative Ministers of past years have also stood for in one way or another. Is it possible? It will be very difficult, but it would be a betrayal of past policies, not only of my own party but also of those who have been in power, if we suddenly adopted the infamous policies associated with Mr. Howard who, I am afraid, is now referred to in the circles in which I often find myself—among people concerned with these matters—as the Prince of Darkness.

Obviously that question will not be settled tonight. There will be no vote in the House of Lords. If there were, it would not be likely to be favourable to what I have said. However, I must put that on record, as someone who first visited a prison 50 years ago and who now visits a prison once a week.

Perhaps I should say something about young offenders because I wrote down something about that subject. What was it? I wrote a book on young offenders which came out in August. Noble Lords may not have heard of it. I shall quote what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, wrote to me about it. He said: I think that it should be prescribed reading for all our judges, perhaps most of all for the magistrates". Perhaps the House will forgive me for that little bit of personal publicity.

I have to say to my noble friends that the matter is not as easy as some of them seem to imply, and I am not in favour of secure units run by the Home Office. The problem of finding units for a few hundred people near their homes is a difficult one. I leave the matter there for the moment.

I am shocked by the Government's deplorable relationship with the Prison Officers' Association. No one must suppose that I am a hero among the prison officers when I visit prisons. I do not receive that kind of glorious welcome. However, I have a great regard for those people. They dedicate their lives to jobs which none of us would undertake even if we were paid huge sums of money. They deserve better than they are getting from the Government.

I do not want to end on too polemical a note. Everyone must be somewhat favourable towards the Prime Minister's initiative in favour of traditional moral values. He seems to want us to go back 40 years. Other noble Lords may hardly remember what was going on 40 years ago. I was in my prime at about that time. If we are to go backwards before we go forwards, I would rather go back 2,000 years to the teachings of Jesus Christ. That is a matter of choice, of course. I welcome one aspect; I do not know whether I am in line with my party on the matter. I welcome the Government's initiative in taking new steps to restrict pornography. I am glad about that. It is a matter on which we can congratulate them.

I hope and believe that the Prime Minister and his colleagues will read the autobiography of Mary Whitehouse which will come out on Thursday. If the Government want Christian inspiration—Christianity was not noticeably present in that speech at the conference—they might do worse than read Mary Whitehouse's book.

I seek to find what is best in the Government's approach to morals. I recommend to them two passages in the Gospels. With regard to the woman taken in adultery, those who favoured traditional views (the Pharisees) wanted to stone her. That was rejected as a Christian policy. I venture to believe that a Christian policy involves more than an out-and-out condemnation of sin. We have spoken tonight of prisoners. I turn yet again to the passage in St. Matthew's Gospel, at Chapter 25. I refer to the story of the sheep and the goats. Jesus Christ said, "I was in prison and you came to me". The righteous asked him, "When were you in prison and we came to you?" Jesus Christ replied, "Inasmuch as you did it to one of my least brethren you did it to me". I venture to submit that message to the Government and I do not yet despair of their listening to the immortal words.

7.42 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, I fear that I shall strike a discordant note. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said, the debate has centred much on law and order. I wish to touch on public services other than law and order. To some extent that will lead me into the role and size of the state. Part of what I have to say may seem to belong properly to economics, but I shall also address ethical and social questions and, as one cannot speak twice, I hope that I shall be forgiven for making my intervention today.

It is profoundly alarming that public expenditure currently consumes about 45 per cent. of GDP. The scale of government borrowing is now similar to the mid-1970s. Real growth in public spending has been 4.3 per cent. since Mr. Major came to power as opposed to 1.1 per cent. under Mrs. Thatcher, as she then was. Even on the slightly downward trend projected by the Government, the additional borrowing over the period 1990–91 to 1997–98, compared with earlier forecasts, will amount to some £250 billion. That will more than double the stock of public debt which is rising at a rate unprecedented in peacetime. I am indebted for those figures to a report by the fiscal expert Dr. Bill Robinson, recently published by the Social Market Foundation.

I am no ultra-libertarian wishing to go back to state expenditure of 10 per cent. as in the time of Sir Robert Walpole. I do not even aspire to 25 per cent. which is the share recently argued for by a Conservative political philosopher. Although the vision of a slimline state has great attractions, I do not believe that that degree of slimming is attainable. Therefore I would quite happily settle for a 60:40 economy—60 per cent. private and 40 per cent. public—but I see no early prospect of hitting even that modest target. Despite the reference in the gracious Speech to reducing the share of national income taken by the public sector, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, referred, the Government do not expect to reach that balance before the end of the century and may well be blown off course. Therefore everything that the Government do, and how and through whom they do it, requires constant scrutiny.

How can the 45 per cent. state be reduced? The major privatisations of state industries and utilities are behind us. We have entered a hazier zone in which public services are being subjected to the disciplines of quasi-markets, market testing and contracting out. Those developments, aimed at greater efficiency, are fiercely attacked—witness to the Civil Service unions' strike on 5th November—by those who invoke the "public interest" and the "public sector ethos" while sneering at "commercialisation" and "the profit motive".

The important debate on this issue is not well served if conducted only in slogans and catchphrases. Even those of us who advocate market solutions where possible should not mouth the words "market" or "marketplace" like a mantra. Such simplistic dialogue merely obscures the real issues.

What appears to be so deeply repellent to high priests of the "public interest" is what they see as "creeping privatisation" undermining the "public sector ethos". However, one has to beware that ethos too. Far too often it translates into the urge to employ as many people as possible in the delivery of public services, sometimes in the misguided belief that it is the answer to unemployment. It is true that it can be the answer to unemployment, but only in totalitarian societies which sooner or later collapse.

In turning to criticisms of privatisation and the profit motive, there are two errors, one economic and the other ethical. Profit rewards a private supplier with, say, 10 per cent. return on capital. Public services delivered direct by the Government are paid for out of taxes topped up by borrowing. If government borrowing rises, the cost of that borrowing may also be 10 per cent. In that instance, there is no essential difference in economic terms between the reward to profit and the interest on borrowing except that government borrowing adds to the PSBR and the private supplier's profit does not.

The ethical point is that those paid directly by the state for delivering services are evidently rent seekers from the state and resistant to changes in their numbers or working practices. That puts them in no stronger moral position, I suggest, than the entrepreneur in search of ever-evanescent profits. Anyone who has read that great Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter, will recall his almost poetic evocation of profit as always a transition stage between one equilibrium and another, slipping always from the grasp of his doomed hero, the entrepreneur, as soon as the entrepreneurial function is performed. Profit is a bird of passage always on the wing as opposed to interest, which is permanent, inexorable and heartless. Spare a tear for profit, my Lords!

"Ah", cries the protagonist of the public interest, "but the private contractor will cut costs only by cutting corners". That is what the striking unions claimed the other day. But were those corners really necessary? If a contract is not properly fulfilled, it will not be renewed and the provider will go out of business. It could even be claimed that the accountability of the private provider is more stringent than that of the public provider who, by definition, cannot go out of business.

Finally, in the area of the delivery of public services by private contractors or independent trusts, there remains the important point that those are not "privatisations" in the true sense of the word and it is dishonest of critics to pretend that they are. The simple reason is that the Government remain a monopsony or near-monopsony buyer. The consumer of the service makes no direct payment for it. As general purchaser, the Government or their sub-agents, as local purchasers, are still using public funds. I shall consider the virtues and vices of that system in a moment. But it is certainly not true to say at present that such major services as health and education have been privatised while the purchaser remains the Government, purchasing out of general taxation and borrowing.

I apologise that I seem to have strayed from social concerns, but I believe that the background was necessary. In the light of those thoughts, I turn to actual government programmes of reform. There are several things afoot. The Citizen's Charter is mentioned in the gracious Speech, along with a general commitment to a programme for improving public services. That presumably includes such initiatives as Next Steps in the Civil Service, the private finance initiative and the health and education reforms. Over and above those looms the huge balloon of the welfare state, to which I would add pensions reform, whose omission from the gracious Speech I regret. Perhaps I may ask whether the Government will provide some of their own time to debate Professor Goode's report in this House. The topic received only the most cursory discussion in another place. The promise by Mr. Lilley of a number of discussion papers hardly conveys much sense of urgency. I hope that we shall have a chance to get our teeth into that subject some time in this Session.

I turn briefly to each of the areas to which I referred. I believe that the Citizen's Charter has already yielded an improvement in central government services. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill—I congratulate him on a splendid maiden speech—about the European Convention on Human Rights. However, I see no reason to allow the best to be the enemy of the good. So far as it goes, the Citizen's Charter is a step in the right direction.

On Next Steps in the Civil Service, Sir Peter Kemp, in another recent paper for of the Social Market Foundation, alleges that these are faltering owing to the resistance of the mandarinate. Therefore, the Prime Minister's welcome of the Cabinet Office report published yesterday is encouraging. It is obviously important that those who occupy the top places in the Civil Service should be in sympathy with the reforms. But it is equally important that the frontline delivery should be as efficient and effective as possible.

My understanding is that some 70 per cent. of the Civil Service is now either on, or a candidate for, agency status. Sir Robin Ibbs, in his report, thought that this could be applied to 95 per cent. of delivery mechanisms. Is that the Government's aim and, if so, when do they expect to achieve it? I sent the Minister a note on this point. Can he say what savings have been made to date? I believe Mr. Waldegrave mentioned £100 million, which is a start, but one has constantly to bear in mind that the Civil Service costs £20 billion a year; that is, about two-thirds of the cost of the National Health Service.

The private finance initiative is next on my shopping list. The object is to introduce private finance into public sector projects, not only for roads, bridges and tunnels, but to get hospitals and schools built or improved more quickly than if they had to wait their turn in the public capital expenditure queue. Despite a very upbeat, glossy PR publication by the Treasury on the 15th of this month, with a confidence-building portrait of Mr. Clarke, I understand that progress has been disappointing. There has been much exhortation by Ministers and plenty of guidance, conferences and seminars. But so far, according to the CBI director-general, Howard Davies, there are few holes in the ground. How do the Government propose to reactivate that?

Climbing up the expenditure ladder to education and health, we come to two cherished public services in which the Government remain largely a monopsony buyer. But in reforms there have to be horses for courses, and I do not believe that the same model of reform applies to each.

In education, the criticism remains that for all the recent education legislation (and more to come), too little scope is given to new providers or diversification. It is a disgrace that the application for the "Islamia" secondary school was turned down on account of some arcane rule when there was a clear demand for it. The Tory flagship, Wandsworth, is locked into three large secondaries of 1,800 pupils each, when parents, and indeed the director of education, would much prefer 600, 700 or 800. They cannot get out of the gridlock. The private finance initiative, technically available to education, seems to have made little impact here. The way to achieve more diversification and more genuine pluralism may be via vouchers. Or, as the political philosopher, John Gray, suggests, following Ivan Illich in Deschooling Society, by education credits not tied to any specific courses or institutions. Either vouchers or credits are in effect a tax remission, so the logical final step may be towards lower taxes and full privatisation, turning the parent into the real purchaser, in which case the Government's sole role would be to regulate the standards of licensed establishments. I do not expect to see any of that in my lifetime, but I hope that the continuing government stranglehold on education will at least be weakened before I die.

Health is different. It stretches right across life, with expenditure peaks in childhood and old age and no knowing when illness or accident may strike. So a voucher or credit system would not work. I have mentioned monopsony more than once. Here, it seems to have worked in keeping health expenditure down to around 6 or 7 per cent. of GDP, including the private sector, as opposed to 14 per cent. in the United States, where nearly 40 million people are without cover—at least until the Clinton plan is realised, if it ever is. I find it hard to envisage any government surrendering that advantage, however much they may devolve purchasing and providing to an internal market system.

The health reforms are unpopular, not because they are not sensible but because they shed light on the hitherto shrouded fact of rationing that inevitably exists in a free but cash-limited system. Yet that is vastly preferable to what currently pertains in the United States. If our system is to be retained and improved, efficiency will have to be at a premium here as elsewhere.

The Minister will be aware of criticisms of the increase in administrators at the expense of doctors and clinical expenditure, most recently voiced by Mr. John Redwood from his satrapy in Wales. Some of that may be an inevitable result of installing new management systems or of the reclassification of existing personnel. But it causes disquiet and tends to discredit necessary reforms, which incidentally I do not believe a Labour government would overturn. In a letter to The Times of 20th November, the director of the Institute of Health Services Management defended the new bureaucracy, saying that it was here to stay and claiming that the whole NHS administration still accounted for only 2 per cent. of costs. Do the Government support that view, and can the Minister say what savings are estimated to arise from the recent announcement of the impending abolition of regional health authorities?

I come finally to the looming question of welfare reform, of which pensions are much the most important component. I have two observations to make. First, it seems to me a misjudgment to suggest, as does a recent report by the London School of Economics for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, that not only is the present share of welfare in national income perfectly sustainable but that the additional 5 per cent. of GDP that will be required to meet demographic pressures at present benefit levels will be sustainable also. Five per cent. of GDP means another £31 billion at current prices, equivalent to an income tax rate of 45 per cent. or VAT at 30 per cent.—and more than the whole cost of the National Health Service.

The second point is perhaps the most important one. I am indebted for it to Mr. Anatole Kaletsky, who wrote, in a penetrating article in The Times on the 11th of this month, that the single most striking fact about public pensions, health and education provision in Britain today is that all are grossly inadequate. To argue, he goes on, that the welfare state can continue on its present basis on the grounds that the nation can afford to finance it with a modest tax increase of £30 billion or so is, in his words, a red herring. I would say that we shall simply be running and failing to catch up, the only result being that we shall have public expenditure, not at 45 per cent., but at 50 per cent. (higher than when the IMF had to be called in in 1976) with more and more people living in near penury. As Kaletsky concludes, Some clearer and braver thinking about the future financing of health, education and pensions from true friends of the Welfare State will be required". I do not know whether Mr. Portillo will provide it, or the Labour Party, or the Liberal Democrats. But somebody has to provide it.

There has to be new thinking. The post-war settlement's shelf life cannot extend into the next century with exactly the same ingredients on the label. It is no good relying on growth to pull our chestnuts out of the fire. Paradoxically, it was the Thatcher Government that made the mistake of thinking that they could increase the volume of public expenditure while cloaking it under the mantle of a decreasing share of GDP in a boom period. When recession follows, public expenditure has already been ratcheted up and the additional recession costs lead to a crisis in public finance, which is what we now have. Nobody has mentioned that point today. Even a return to growth will not solve the problem. The British long-term growth path is not a high one, and in prevailing conditions it is likely to remain modest. Growth is not the answer to the crisis in state finance.

I do not, however, want to conclude on a negative note. If new thinking is required, it is fair to say that the United Kingdom and the United States of America, the Anglo-Saxon bloc as it were, is at the forefront of it, particularly in the area of new means of delivery of state-funded services. I know that buzz words and phrases should be treated with circumspection. "Re-inventing government" and "The new paradigm" are two that are currently in the air. The Social Market Foundation and The Times are jointly organising an Anglo-American conference on the latter theme on 1st December. Conferences and seminars can degenerate into parlour games for think tanks. I do not believe that this one will. The stakes are too high. Something important is stirring on both sides of the Atlantic. If those who go to conferences, and those who do not, can keep in mind the vision of a slimmer state and greater well being for the people, we shall be getting somewhere. "Ethos" lives in various shapes and forms and is not exclusive to free-spending paternalistic statists or high-minded platonic guardians.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Cochrane of Cults

My Lords, I find it very interesting to speak after a Scots lawyer of such great distinction as my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, and also to know that my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate has the good fortune to take his title from the village very close to us, a very beautiful one on the shores of the Forth. That encourages me that the points that are to be made will be well heard.

First, I should like to touch very briefly on Sunday trading. It is a curious fact that Sunday trading in Scotland, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, is unregulated. That is due purely to an inadvertence in legislation many years ago when it was considered that such a dreadful thing could not happen in Scotland. However, times have moved on. Much of the present Shops Act dates from the 1930s. Over the past 30 or 40 years, to my certain knowledge, living there, Sunday shopping has gradually grown in Scotland without regulation and as far as I can see without detriment.

I therefore suggest that the wisest course to be taken when the Sunday trading Bill comes before your Lordships is to vote for total deregulation. As has been shown by the experience in Scotland over many years, there is no point in having any restrictions on either the size of the shop or the nature of the transactions which may be undertaken legally. We should bring the whole of the United Kingdom into line with successful practice in Scotland.

I should like to deal very briefly with field sports. In his introduction to the debate my noble and learned friend spoke of trespass en masse, raves and such. There is no doubt that the hunt saboteurs are part of a large number of interlinked groups whose object is to impose their will, by force if necessary, on those with whom they disagree. That is not something we should tolerate. Some of us may agree or disagree to varying degrees about which sport should be allowed and which should not; but we must not allow unruly mobs to travel about the country disrupting legal pastimes. It is to be very much hoped that the new law which the noble and learned Lord foreshadowed will bring such action to an end. Whether or not the sports are desirable is a quite different point. It is discreditable to the country when such "revolutionary" groups attempt to impose their rule.

I saw in the evening paper yesterday—I suppose the report is reasonably true—that a whole gang of such people assailed the headquarters of a society which is in favour of a legal sport. They broke up the place, barricaded themselves inside and eventually the police came and carted them off. That is not a sign of a country at ease with itself. We should perhaps wonder about that.

Finally, there is the problem of New Age travellers, who also claim rather similar rights. But that is by the way. In Scotland people are protected up to a point by the 1865 Trespass (Scotland) Act. Interestingly, perhaps, I may just briefly say that that measure was never debated. Not a word was said in debate when the Bill passed through both Houses. It went straight through on the nod. If the regime for New Age travellers becomes more restrictive in England, as was foreshadowed by my noble and learned friend's remarks at the beginning of this debate, it is absolutely inevitable that they will seek greener pastures, even if those pastures are further north, colder, wetter and windier. They will head north to where they believe that they can get away with whatever they wish.

Therefore I hope that my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate can assure the House that adequate parity of treatment or regime will exist in Scotland with that which is proposed for England, so that we may be spared an invasion of people who are both unwelcome and often extremely tiresome.

8.4 p.m.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cochrane, will forgive me if I do not follow him into the interesting points that he raised. This is not that sort of debate. It is a debate in which we all ride our hobbyhorses off into the sunset, an event which took place, I see, several hours ago. Therefore I make no apology for returning to the question of the right of silence, not in order to repeat anything that was said when we debated the matter on October 26th, but because I feel that there are certain matters which need to be clarified and the parameters may to some extent be changing.

It was mentioned then that there are four separate periods in the investigation and prosecution of a crime and each required different treatment. There is the occasion, not in every crime, when somebody is arrested or taken into custody at the scene of the crime. There is the period at the police station when the suspect is being interrogated before a solicitor arrives. There is the period at the police station when he is being interrogated after a solicitor arrives and almost invariably gives advice that no further questions should be answered. Finally, there is the period at the trial when the defendant himself does not give evidence.

It may be that I misunderstand the situation but it seems to me that the third and fourth periods have largely been removed from our consideration by what has been said since our debate a month ago. The position when a suspect is being interrogated in the police station after his solicitor has advised him not to answer questions was dealt with totally fairly by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate when he wound up the debate on October 26th. He said: it may be very difficult to draw an inference of guilt if somebody says, 'I did not speak because I was told not to do so by my solicitor'".—[Official Report, 26/10/93; col. 840.] I entirely agree with the noble and learned Lord. I cannot imagine any trial judge exercising his discretion by making any kind of adverse comment on the failure of a defendant to answer questions when he has been given legal advice not to do so. So, for practical purposes, that part will disappear from our consideration.

As to silence at the trial, I endeavoured to write down—correctly, I hope—the precise words which were very carefully used by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in opening this debate. He said that the Government's proposal was that in future—I hope I quote him correctly— the jury … will be able to be told that the defendant remained silent when asked questions". If those were the words of the noble and learned Lord, it seems to me that they are not apt to cover in any way the defendant's remaining silent at the trial. They are only apt to cover the period when he is at the police station being interrogated before his solicitor arrives and gives him legal advice.

In those circumstances there are two considerations that we now have to bear in mind. First, the position in the unusual case where a suspect is caught, as it were, red handed at the scene of the crime and is asked questions there but says nothing. I think that is highly unusual. From my recollection, the defendant almost invariably says, "It's a fair cop, guy." It would be most rare for a man who had been caught at the scene of the offence—running away from a broken shop window or whatever—to exercise his right of silence and say, "No, I have nothing to say" when a police officer asks him what he is doing there. That is therefore an area of very little consequence.

The only area that is of real consequence is when, where there is an interrogation taking place at the police station before a solicitor arrives, the suspect declines to answer questions. In those circumstances it appears that the judge is now to be given discretion to make a comment upon that situation to the jury.

Two issues arise from that point. First, what is it that the judge is supposed to say? I am second to no one in my admiration for Her Majesty's judges. They absolutely reek of discretion. Nevertheless, before they can exercise it, they have to know the accepted parameters of their direction. Are they to say that the jury can infer guilt from the mere fact that the defendant is silent? We went through this matter the last time round. I was encouraged when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate said: there is no proposal that it should be possible for somebody's guilt to be inferred simply on the basis of his failure to explain".—(Official Report, 26/10/93; col. 840.) I must confess that I was depressed when, a few paragraphs later he said: it may be very difficult to draw an inference of guilt if somebody says, 'I did not speak because I was told not to do so by my solicitor'". That appears to envisage the possibility of an inference of guilt being drawn from the fact of silence.

Is the judge to be allowed to tell the jury in his discretion that they can treat a failure to answer questions as corroboration of other evidence, or that the jury are entitled to take into account the defendant's silence when they are assessing the truth of any subsequent explanation? That is perhaps a much more reasonable position. The one thing that a judge surely cannot be encouraged to tell a jury, is what I believe is now being suggested namely, that the jury must attach such weight to the silence "as seems appropriate". That is a recipe for miscarriages of justice by the bucketful. That is the first aspect of judicial discretion: what is the judge to say and what are his choices?

The second aspect I want to raise is this. On what material is the judge to base his discretion? There is one area of course where it is quite apparent that the judge can exercise his discretion: where the defendant appears to him to be a weak, retarded or disadvantaged individual. Then of course a judge would not seek to exercise his discretion and indicate to the jury that silence could in any way be held against the defendant. But what of the many cases in which the judge simply does not know the facts of the case, where he does not know why the defendant has remained silent? The judge may think that he does but in fact he does not, and he cannot be told.

There are many cases of this sort and, if I may, I should like to give perhaps three or four simple instances. There is the defendant who has an alibi and is innocent, but his alibi happens to be that he was sleeping with his best friend's wife at the time the crime occurred. It is not an unknown situation and there are many defendants in that situation who would say, "I will not give evidence; I will not answer questions and I would sooner take the risk of being wrongly convicted." How is the judge to know that that is the situation? How is he to avoid the temptation to indicate to the jury that they can regard the defendant's failure to answer questions as in some way sinister?

Let me take a second case. I remember many years ago a defendant who was a young man of perfectly good character and the offence was not a serious one. I was appearing for him, and he was able to prove without difficulty that the offence was in fact committed by his brother, who was a young man with a long criminal record. He instructed me in no uncertain terms that he was not going to put forward that defence. I was not going to be allowed to put forward that defence and he himself remained silent throughout the interrogation and silent in court. How can a trial judge exercise his discretion when he has no idea of why the defendant remains silent?

There is a third case which will no doubt be familiar to the noble and learned Lord. It is a case which occurs sufficiently often for the Royal Commission to have made a comment on it in passing in a rather different context. This is the case of a couple who have a child who is ill-treated and it is perfectly clear that one or other of the couple caused the injuries but not necessarily both of them acting together. Both of them remain silent on interrogation and both of them remain silent in court, with the perhaps undesirable result that the jury have to acquit them both because there is not sufficient evidence against either of them, considered separately. How can a judge exercise his discretion fairly in that situation? He may be fair to the one who is guilty but how can he be fair to the one who is innocent?

On a slightly more lighthearted note, perhaps I may refer to a case in which I remember being concerned, where a defendant had an alibi and arranged with his witness that when the witness came into court to give evidence he was to watch the dock and he, the defendant, would then give various hand signals that would indicate to the witness whether the answer to various questions was "yes", "no", "don't know" or "can't remember". The defendant was on remand in prison and was unwise enough to put this arrangement in a letter which he sent out of prison to his witness. The letter was intercepted by the authorities and it came to the attention of prosecuting counsel. Prosecuting counsel, with a degree of generosity, showed the letter to defence counsel and said, "If you call the defendant and his witness you will see what line the cross-examination will take". As a result, the defendant remained silent in court and the witness was not called. I am not suggesting that in that case the defendant was necessarily an innocent person, but nevertheless I suggest that if the judge had made a comment about the defendant's silence it would have been one based on a complete misconception as to what the real position was, and therefore in fact it would have been an inappropriate comment.

Those are only four cases that I can recall, and I must have come across many other cases of the same sort over the years. There were hundreds of barristers practising in the criminal court as frequently as I did, so there must be a very substantial number of cases each year in which the Judge is not going to know the position and cannot be told the position. He may well be tempted to make an adverse comment about the defendant which is thoroughly and completely unfair and which the judge would never dream of making if only he knew the truth.

I do ask the Government, even at this late stage, to think again about their proposals in this area. It is conceivable, if the proposal goes ahead, that one or two prisoners may find that they are no longer being wrongly acquitted: that is possible. But I believe that it is a great deal more likely that a substantial number of people may find themselves being wrongly convicted.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he would be kind enough, since I have a copy of Hansard which contains the debate on the Royal Commission, to identify for me the passages which he relied on to tell your Lordships what I said.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I was relying on col. 840 of Hansard for 26th October.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I did not speak in that column, col. 840. I wonder if the noble Lord would be kind enough to look again. I started at col. 822 and ended at col. 824.

Lord Wigoder

My Lords, I am so sorry: I said "the Lord Advocate" and not "Lord Ackner". I was referring to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, whose speech occurred at col. 840. If I did inadvertently wrongly name the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, I can only apologise to both noble and learned Lords.

8.18 p.m.

Lord Ackner

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. I would like at the outset to express my gratitude to the Home Secretary, who was kind enough personally to send me a list of the 27 new proposals which he contemplated, together with a brief description of each. Among those I noticed the right of silence, and therefore devoted to it my observations in the debate to which reference has just been made.

I sought to deal with three errors. One of them was that since time immemorial there has been deeply ingrained in the common law this so-called but wrongly described "right of silence". I endeavoured to indicate that it all arose out of the caution in the Judges' Rules which was laid down in 1906, but obviously I did not make my point clear, because the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that it was part of our judicial system many centuries ago. It was not even one century ago and I wish to make that point.

The other point I wish to make is this. There is a constant reference to the fact that the current Royal Commission, by a majority, was in favour of retaining the status quo. It is quoted that it was following, or agreeing with, what the previous Royal Commission had said some 10 years ago.

Ten years ago there was not in existence what is now the Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1988. That order has been in existence for five years and it abolishes the so-called "right of silence". That has been operated in Ireland in jury and non-jury trials. I hope to learn at some time why the current Law Commission did not hear evidence from Northern Ireland as to how the provision is working on the ground. I say I want to hear that at some time because the informal soundings that I made of the judiciary in Ireland, who have had five years experience, indicated that it is working perfectly satisfactorily, particularly in the case where the judge rules that there is a prima facie case to answer at the end of the prosecution case. He then invites the accused to give evidence and warns him that if he does not, then adverse comment may be made on his silence.

I do not wish to return to that subject. I want to make one or two observations in regard to the omissions which, as far as one knows, are not to be found in the Criminal Justice Bill, which we have yet to see. All the points I raise should be non-controversial and my first concerns suspended sentences. I choose that first because I believe that, at least indirectly, has the support of the Home Secretary. According to a report in The Times newspaper on 6th of this month, when addressing Conservatives at Boothferry, he said: I believe punishment deters crime. Fear of punishment will always be an important weapon in the fight against crime". In the past suspended sentences, particularly when combined with significant fines, proved a very effective threat hanging over the defendant's head for the year or two years that it operated. But Section 5(2) (b) of the ill-fated Criminal Justice Act 1991 seriously fetters the judge's current discretion. It can only be exercised where the circumstances are, in the words of the Act, "exceptional".

As the law now stands at present exceptional circumstances cannot cover good character, youth, early pleas of guilty, provocation, existence of dependent relatives, the fact that the offence caused the loss of a career, the loss of a home, the loss of pension, or even severe depression, giving rise to suicidal attempts. I submit that that subsection is but the residue of the misguided philosophy that judges can do justice if they do it sitting in blinkers. In the same way as significant amendments were made in the Criminal Justice Act 1993 to the Criminal Justice Act 1991, I hope that this subsection will be repealed.

The next point—again it should be non-controversial—is that where a person kills as a result of using excessive self-defence, it should not be murder, as it is now, but should be manslaughter. By way of support I have the Criminal Law Revision Committee recommendation that a new defence reducing murder to manslaughter should be created: Where a person kills in a situation in which it is reasonable for some force to be used in self-defence or in the prevention of crime but the defendant used excessive force…if, at the time of the act, he honestly believed that the force he used was reasonable in the circumstances". I have the support also of your Lordships' Select Committee on murder and life imprisonment, whose members were unanimously of the view that, if murder was to be reserved for those homicides which are most deserving of stigma, this situation does not seem to be one of them". It pointed out in paragraph 88 that, The Lord Chief Justice told the committee that he had always thought it wrong that a person who goes too far in self-defence should be convicted of murder". My third suggestion for inclusion in the Bill is to remedy a lacuna which exists in these circumstances. Your Lordships will know that it is only in rare circumstances that an accused's record—his previous convictions—can be put to him if he gives evidence. The exceptions to the general law are to be found in the Criminal Justice Act 1898, Section 1. One of those exceptions is where the character of the prosecution or its witnesses is attacked by the accused. In those circumstances, if he gives evidence, his character can be put in evidence.

The lacuna is simply this. If a person is charged with an offence—murder, manslaughter or grievous bodily harm—which results in a fatality, he may attack the character of the victim who ex hypothesi is deceased. He may bring out in evidence that, for instance, the deceased was a homosexual and he was resisting indignantly a homosexual attack. It cannot be put to him that he has a record as long as your arm for violent offences. The result is that a false picture is created for a jury—on the one hand, the damaged character of the deceased and, on the other, by reason of silence in relation to the character of the accused, an apparent blameless person.

The next matter to which I should like to refer relates to moderate suggestions in the criminal law for the protection of privacy. They are not in any way suggestions that fetter freedom of speech. They arise out of the report of the Privacy Committee in paragraph 6.3, as modified by Sir David Calcutt in his review. It is suggested that the following should be criminal offences in England and Wales:

  1. "(a) entering or remaining on private property, without the consent of the lawful occupant, with intent to obtain personal information with a view to its publication; or
  2. (b)
    1. (i) placing a surveillance device on private property without the consent of the lawful occupant with intent to obtain personal information with a view to its publication; or
    2. (ii) using a surveillance device (whether on private property or elsewhere) in relation to an individual who is on private property, without the consent of the individual to such use with intent to obtain personal information about that individual with a view to its publication or
  3. (c) taking a photograph, or recording the voice, of an individual who is on private property without his consent to the taping or recording, with a view to its publication and with intent that the individual shall be identifiable".
A week or so ago, the Minister, Mr. Brooke, is reported in The Times as saying: People are getting past the stage where a bit of tinkering and promises to do better really carry conviction". It is my respectful submission that the Minister is out of date: the people are not "getting"—they have got past the stage where they feel that these protestations carry conviction. I believe that the public perception is that the Government should have the guts to stand up to the press and that to date they have shown a pusillanimous approach to this problem. It will no doubt be said that all this will be considered in a major consideration of the whole subject.

It is quite unnecessary to duck the situation in that way. These criminal offences can be put on the statute book without any anxiety that this is an unnecessary incursion into freedom of speech. I believe that there are similar such offences on the statute book in France and probably elsewhere on the Continent.

My last and fifth proposal is that the Bill should contain the abolition of that most devalued of all sentences, the mandatory life sentence on conviction of murder. This should be the least contentious of all my proposals, but it will turn out to be the most. It should be the least for the simple reason that as far back as 1965 when this House was debating the abolition of the death penalty, the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Parker, with the support of 10 Law Lords, past or present, carried an amendment to the Bill making the life sentence discretionary, but it was subsequently defeated. Your Lordships' Select Committee recommended it. In the Criminal Justice Bill 1991, two former Lord Chancellors, the then Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and five Law Lords, supported the amendment which was carried in this House by a majority of nearly 100 Members. Of course, it got nowhere in the Commons. As recently as February of this year the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, introduced a Bill. The only person who spoke against it was the Minister and that provoked in the most polite of all parliamentarians this comment from the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, in his reply: I have never seen a Minister so humiliated on any issue". If we are to be faced with the parrot cry that murder is a uniquely heinous offence—an observation which is so fallacious that it would make a first-year law student blush —then it is an indication which I would be very sad to witness, of a Government which lacks confidence. The Select Committee was very conscious that if a Government appear to go soft on crime then they are in a situation of some vulnerability. It was for that reason that in paragraph 178 of the Select Committee's Report we said: After the introduction of a discretionary sentence for murder, the Committee anticipate that the average length of time served under a life sentence would be considerably longer than it is now". That is, of course, because it would be reserved for the really very serious offences. The Committee expect that their proposals will lead to very lengthy penal sanctions being set in the most grave cases. In some cases, this may result in imprisonment for the rest of the prisoner's life". There is, therefore, no warrant at all in the suggestion that this is going soft on crime: it is doing precisely the opposite. It is putting an end to the devaluation of the sentence which is the result of it being imposed from the mercy killer up to the terrorist. Those are my respectful suggestions.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I was particularly pleased to hear in the gracious Speech that the Government will continue to give priority to law and order. I believe that the Government are right in thinking that law and order is the area which greatly concerns a large proportion of the community, some of whom fear to go out at night; some of whom fear to travel on the Underground after 10 p.m. and some of whom feel that it is neither safe nor wise to go to a football match.

I want to look back for a moment to the Welsh revival at the beginning of this century. In the last three months of 1904, 80,000 souls were converted to Christianity: it was reckoned 6,000 to 9,000 every week. There were astonishing results in terms of society. Drunkenness was almost non-existent, crime largely ceased, debts were paid back, houses were blessed, children were clothed and fed, bitterness at work turned into praise, football matches turned into prayer meetings—can noble Lords imagine that? —and the police force in one town, having no work to do because there was no crime anywhere to be found, gathered themselves together into a famous male-voice choir and went wherever they were invited to go.

I want to speak for a moment about the importance and centrality of the family within society. The family was ordained and established by God from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named and a godly image is a visual image of the spiritual relationship of Christ to his Church. It is a place to belong to, to grow, to find love and acceptance; to feel secure, to make mistakes and to be forgiven. It is a place to learn about relationships and right choices. When God's order is established in the home, His word honoured and obeyed, the family is strong. When the family is strong, the nation is strong. When the family life of a nation is under attack, that nation is weakened. Today in Britain the family has become a prime target for attack. It is visibly crumbling.

No strong voice of protest was raised in 1979 when the Gay Liberation Front issued its manifesto saying that its aim was to destroy the family. Again, there was little reaction in 1980 when the British Humanist Association, with its view of family life as an outdated institution, boasted: We helped erode the religious foundations of beliefs, attitudes and morality". Today we are experiencing the effects of that destruction and erosion as laws previously based on Biblical absolutes and intended for the protection of the family, have been cast aside. Old values, restraints and taboos have been swept away, and new, humanistic laws voted in. Today, the Department of Health gives the Terrence Higgins Trust (a sophisticated, highly articulate homosexual organisation) substantial funding and it has gained a marked influence on government thinking. New permissive legislation has weakened the traditional family structure and children in particular have become vulnerable. God established marriage to reflect his own care and love towards mankind, and what is happening to marriage in Britain today reflects what is happening in the nation's relationship to God—it is breaking down, and the concept of the stable, two-parent family as the basic unit in society, is fast disappearing.

The new legislation began with the withdrawal of the prohibition on witchcraft (1951). Then it condoned the exhibition and publication of obscene literary material (1959); abolished the death penalty for murder, opening the way to infanticide and euthanasia (1965); removed the protection of the law from the unborn child and decriminalised homosexuality (1967); abolished the censorship of scripts so that blasphemy, brutality, sodomy and other sexual perversions may now be offered for audience amusement (1968); paved the way towards easier divorce (1969); granted protection to cinemas and television from the obscenity laws (1977), and in 1990 gave permission for the artificial insemination of single women by donor, a procedure referred to as "virgin births"; authorised the destruction of handicapped infants right up to and even during birth, and licensed destructive experimentation on live human embryos. Thousands of human embryos are now being kept alive in laboratories waiting for experimentation and destruction.

As the new permissive legislation was introduced, no strong voice of protest was heard from the Church. Today there is more protection under law for ancient buildings and ancient footpaths than there is for unborn babies, and a strident public often appears. more concerned about the rights of animals than of its own kind. One might wonder how much further it is possible to go from what God ordained the family should be.

It is sometimes said that religion must precede morality if morality itself is to survive. Godliness is essential to ethics. Nothing but a belief in God and a desire to glorify Him, based upon our realisation of our utter dependence upon Him and our acceptance of His way of life and salvation in Jesus Christ His son, can ever lead to a good society. This is not merely a dogmatic statement. It can be proved and demonstrated repeatedly in the history of mankind. It is essentially the story of mankind. Observe it in the story of the children of Israel in the Old Testament. See it again in the history of Greece and Rome. They had exalted moral ideas, fine ethical systems and conceptions of law and justice, but the ultimate downfall of both is to be traced finally to moral degeneracy. Then, consider it in the history of this country. Religion and spiritual revival have always lead to moral and intellectual awakening and a desire to produce a better society and, conversely, ungodliness has always led to unrighteousness.

Humanity without religion has never been a historical force capable of resistance. Even today, severance from the Christian faith (whenever it has been of some duration) works out in the dehumanisation of all human conditions: "The wine of life has been poured out", the dregs alone remain.

In April of this year a small parliamentary group—

Viscount Long

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene for a moment. It appears that my noble friend is reading his speech. Perhaps he could come to what he is really trying to say.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, I must apologise to the House if that is what my noble friend thinks. I am certainly referring to my notes and I agree that there is an element of reading, but I do not think that it is any more than an element. However, I shall try to do better.

In April of this year a small parliamentary group paid a visit to an annual church conference when a word of warning was sounded to both Church and nation from Chapter 6, verse 19 of the Book of Jeremiah, which states: I am bringing disaster on this people, the fruit of their schemes, because they have not listened to my words and have rejected my law". That is as relevant today as it was then. The prophet Jeremiah communicates God's denunciation of the Church's apathy and complacency and the nation's idolatry and apostasy. Prophets and priests are saying, "Peace, peace" whereas they ought to be warning the people of impending judgment and the need for repentance because they have neglected and rejected God's law.

The simple fact is that if there is no soundness in the nation's moral state, there will be no peace in the nation's political state. God's warnings of impending judgment have been mocked and ridiculed throughout history. The people mocked Noah, but the flood came. They mocked Lot, but Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. The crowds mocked Jesus, but Jerusalem was annihilated in AD 70.

The challenge that we face in Britain today is absolutely enormous. No longer can we be classed as a Christian nation. Here are some facts about a typical day in Britain. These figures are taken from the 1992 Social Trends from the Central Statistical Office. At least 470 babies are murdered by abortion today. At least 170 babies will be born to teenage mothers. At least 27 schoolgirls—

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, if my noble friend will give way for one moment, I should be very grateful to him. It is perhaps normal (and sometimes useful) in your Lordships' House when a mild suggestion comes from the Front Bench, particularly from a noble friend of the same party, to observe that suggestion. I am sorry to have to say this to my noble friend, but I do think that we are perhaps going rather beyond the bounds of the normal custom in your Lordships' House.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I think that it is incredible that any noble Lord should rise now to accuse another noble Lord of reading. As I do not read my speeches, I suppose that I am in a position to say this, but a large proportion of noble Lords do read their speeches—whether visibly or not. It is absolutely monstrous that any noble Lord should attack my noble friend on the opposite Bench for reading his speech, if that is what he is doing.

Lord Ashbourne

My Lords, perhaps I may continue. I have to refer to my notes when I am giving figures, but I note what the noble Viscount has said. I shall do my best to help the House.

Every day in Britain at least one in three under-14s admit to regular sexual intercourse; at least 20 women are raped —the noble Lord may laugh but these are actual figures produced by the Central Statistical Office. I take great trouble to get accurate facts for your Lordships because I think that it is foolish and a waste of time to give inaccurate facts. These are meaningful figures. The noble Lord may laugh if he wishes, but the time may come when he is laughing on the other side of his face.

Every day in Britain 65 per cent. of videos for sale or hire deal with the occult, sex or violence; 480 couples are divorced; 2.8 million cigarettes will be smoked by secondary schoolchildren; at least 75 children will be added to child protection registers in England alone; at least 90 children will be taken into local authority care; at least 280 children will run away from home or care and at least £55 million will be spent today on alcoholic drink. I could continue, but I shall not weary your Lordships further as I feel sure that many of your Lordships will have taken the point that I am trying to make. We live in a sick society.

There are two other events which I should like to mention in case anyone still thinks that we do not live in a sick society. The first is the murder of little James Bulger. Anyone who has read of this young lad and of how he was terrorised and abused before being murdered can be in little doubt that the upbringing of Boy A or Boy B (or more probably both) was seriously flawed.

Secondly, I draw your Lordships' attention to the murder of Suzanne Capper, which received much less publicity than the James Bulger case, but was perhaps even more horrifying. She was terrorised, grossly abused and tortured. Perhaps I may quote from The Times of 17th November which, under the headings: Victim's teeth 'pulled out with pliers'", and, Six are accused of burning girl alive to disguise torture", states: Peter Openshaw QC told Manchester Crown Court that the six decided to murder the girl to stop her revealing who had tortured her. He said that after leaving her for dead, they went home and celebrated, singing 'Burn Baby Burn'. Somehow, the girl had managed to struggle about a quarter of a mile to a road where she was found, naked and dreadfully burnt, by three men travelling to work in the early morning. Four days later, 'in spite of the most skilled intensive care', she had died from her terrible injuries". The article continues: Before pouring petrol over her bleeding body, they removed the coat with which they had covered her for the journey. Then they set fire to her and went home where 'the atmosphere was one of exultation'. When one hears stories like those, can anyone doubt that there is something crucially wrong with society in this country? Unless the British people, under the leadership of Her Majesty's Government, can learn to respect and adopt Christian values, the law and order situation will continue to deteriorate and there is little hope for the people of this country.

But constructive initiatives are taking place, one of which I commend to the House. It is a small charity called Schools Outreach which puts trained workers into schools, if requested to do so by the headmaster. Such a worker will get alongside and befriend the troublesome and frequently underprivileged boy or girl in the school. Results have been encouraging in that truancy rates have improved dramatically and disorder has turned into order. Indeed, one can say with complete confidence that our prisons are less full today than they would be if Schools Outreach did not exist. Despite that, requests for assistance for funding have been rejected consistently, apart from limited support in Berkshire from the Department for Education, which is of course very much appreciated. The reluctance to provide financial help is difficult to understand when it is clear to all, especially to headmasters with Schools Outreach workers in their schools, how effective the system has proved to be.

Secondly, throughout the debate there has been disagreement: the Government favour prisons and police, whereas the Opposition appear to favour reform and rehabilitation. I have sought to demonstrate that it is neither. The only effective answer to law and order is revival. How is that brought about? If my noble and learned friend the Minister could spare me a moment after the debate, I could give him details of at least one initiative. The most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have initiated a project called Springboard. It is intended to stimulate the revival of Christian belief in this country. My noble and learned friend's encouragement would be most valuable. Will he see me afterwards, or perhaps arrange for a Home Office Minister to see me in the near future?

8.52 p.m.

Lord Blease

My Lords, I wish to speak on two matters which are relevant to the gracious Speech. My first topic follows the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashbourne, but takes a different line. I wish to express disappointment and disquiet that there was no mention in the Queen's Speech of the 1994 International Year of the Family. It is an important worldwide event led by the United Nations General Assembly. The 1994 IYF was first announced in Vienna in 1991. In 1992, a United Kingdom non-profitmaking organisation was established to promote the aims of the year, which were: to increase awareness of the issues confronting families and to stimulate local, national and international action that will make a helpful difference to families in the future". The document continues: Make 1994 a family friendly year". The United Kingdom IYF association will promote events and liaise with the 1994 IYF organisations for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. On 23rd March 1993, Mrs. Joanna Foster, who was head of the Equal Opportunities Commission, was appointed chairman of the United Kingdom Campaign of 1994 IYF. In the Daily Telegraph of that date she is quoted as saying: This new campaign couldn't be more timely, as Britain's families have never been more diverse, more under scrutiny and more in need … We ought to support family life as one of the foundation stones of a good society and, in consequence, fight determinedly against the unemployment, poverty and lack of opportunity by which it is so often menaced. While divorce and disintegration of the traditional two-parent unit have been blamed for the rising tide of youthful violence, the family hasn't disintegrated, but it has been changing—and we need to find out more about those changes". She went on to say: I do not believe that problems come from the increasing numbers of working mothers. I hope that at the end of the International Year of the Family we will be closer to a genuine answer". During the year many concerns have been expressed about family life at party political conferences. There has also been a welter of special media coverage, with disparate views asserted by politicians, clerics, law officers, social workers and other representative professionals.

There is much public concern about changing social attitudes and the legislative measures which bear heavily on the changing traditions in family life at all levels in our society. It seems to me, and to many others in childcare and family help organisations, that the stark significance and vital importance of the 1994 IYF campaign in the United Kingdom merited some mention in the Government's parliamentary programme for 1994.

I am pleased to say that in Northern Ireland an excellent start has been made in making 1994 a family friendly year. A study paper has been issued by the Northern Ireland executive of the 1994 IYF. I understand that the United Kingdom Department of Health has contributed £30,000 to the UK association of the IYF, but it has not yet been decided which government department should be responsible for policy, liaison and general support arrangements. Nor has any policy document yet been issued.

The central theme of many of the speeches today has been the well-being of people in our community, especially those in family groups, of whatever description. I should appreciate a reply from the Minister when he winds up the debate. I did not notify him that I was going to raise this matter.

I turn now to the words in the gracious Speech indicating the United Kingdom Government's policiies and measures relating to Northern Ireland: to defeat terrorism … to uphold the democratic wishes of its people and seek political progress by broadly based agreement, to strengthen economic progress and to create equality of opportunity for all sections of the community. They will maintain positive relations with the Republic of Ireland". I wish to record my warm welcome and earnest support for the principles and the constructive proposals contained in that 62-word paragraph of the Queen's Speech. I welcome also the tone and substance of the subsequent statement by the Prime Minister, the right honourable John Major, on 18th November when in another place he addressed those Northern Ireland matters.

The Northern Ireland people (Protestant and Catholic, Nationalist and Unionist, Republican and Loyalist, Dissenter and other) are without doubt now living in the most critically dangerous political climate, and in the most highly volatile community situation since, 73 years ago, the Province was constituted an entity of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The news of the Hume/Adams dialogue, and the pronouncement of a peace initiative which followed soon after the political vacuum caused by the breakdown of the inter-party talks, gave rise to much political speculation and rumour. Widespread shock and dismay was caused by the awful Shankill and Greysteel bloody murders so callously committed by terrorists and paramilitaries from different sides of the feuding factions. The huge Province-wide pained sigh of community despair, disbelief and confusion was heard and helpfully channelled by the trade union movement.

This community anguish was moved in concert with the employers' organisations, community groups, the Churches and other constructive expressions of the people power demanding an end to all politically motivated and all other forms of terrorist-promoted violence. After years and years of widespread community suffering, wanton destruction and the cruel deaths of men, women and children, there surfaced a new mood of hope and optimism. Some would claim that the public demonstrations for peace have transformed the environment in which politicians operate in Northern Ireland. At the same time we must not overlook the difficult political dimensions involved in the desired peace process and in moving realistically towards a democratic, just and lasting settlement.

The "Rubik cube" type of political alignments in Northern Ireland and in the Republic does not help peacemaking to follow a set-piece process of fixed moves. Despite the obvious and overwhelming desire in both Britain and Ireland for peace and for the prospect of people in Northern Ireland leading normal lives, there appears to be an evaporation of the hope which followed upon the Shankill and Greysteel massacres. However, some Members of this House have during the past 25 years borne the rigours and responsibilities of ministerial office in Northern Ireland. I am sure that they and the House will agree with me that the right honourable Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Secretary of State, and his good wife have worked unceasingly with courteous patience and frankness and at all levels and sections of our Northern Ireland community. Political opportunists on both sides of the Irish Sea have attempted to hijack the peace agenda for Northern Ireland to a major degree that has caused a dangerous level of community instability to surface across the Province.

Against a background of leaks, criticism, side-tracking and attempts to stop all discussions, Sir Patrick Mayhew has made every attempt to promote reasoned understanding and active commitment to obtain an agreed, just and democratic settlement. I must add that together with many other Northern Ireland citizens I support and agree with Sir Patrick's statement yesterday. He said: The people of Northern Ireland deserve peace—but not peace at any price". Much as I applaud the efforts of the Prime Minister, John Major, and the Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, to work together for a just and lasting peace in Northern Ireland, I believe that responsibility for a breakthrough rests primarily with the leaders of the five main political parties in the Province. They must individually and collectively call for an end to all violence from whatever quarter. These leaders must fully realise in all honesty that they cannot themselves undertake the task of creating a realistic political process; a process to lead to political accommodation and democratic structures to afford the people of the Province to get on together with the tasks of building a better future—yes, a better life for all in Northern Ireland.

The price of peace is high in political, financial and human terms. History is full of examples of men being drawn into killing each other over words and a line on a map. If they had only put their thoughts, energies and fervour into understanding one another they would have embraced with the highest sense of human dignity and creative power. Those sentiments call not only for constitutional change, the examination of social and economic progress and for measures to promote understanding but also for relying on the changing of the hearts and minds of people in Northern and Southern Ireland.

There are a number of legitimate and reasoned questions to be answered; for example, what are the principal elements of the peace initiative and what are the cogent factors comprising the Northern Ireland political agenda? Those are but two of the questions which illustrate an elementary part required for maintaining public trust and confidence. I suggest that the agenda will require factors to be realistically considered and much wider than on a constitutional basis. Matters that cannot be avoided are law and order, fiscal arrangements, international agreements and the European implications, economic and social developments in both parts of Ireland and the North-South cultural divide.

The Northern Ireland aspect of the gracious Speech is likely to continue for many months at the forefront of the parliamentary programme. From these Benches as a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party I speak in a personal capacity on this occasion. I firmly believe that the Prime Minister, the right honourable John Major, will firmly uphold the principles that he enunciated in the debate in another place relevant to the points in the gracious Speech. I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting the Prime Minister and the Government in their declared aim to seek for a permanent end to violence and a political settlement in Northern Ireland.

9.8 p.m.

Lord Thurlow

My Lords, it is natural that with the emphasis in the gracious Speech on criminal justice and law and order most of the emphasis in your Lordships' debate has been on connected issues.

The two previous speakers referred to family affairs. I should like to ask your Lordships to follow me briefly into another vital area of social difficulty; that is, the problems of mental illness which confront hundreds of thousands of families in this country.

It has been the duty of a number of us who have been closely associated with individual cases of mental illness over the past 10 years to press the Government to get on with the vast range of forms of action necessary to mitigate the difficulties. I am glad to be able to begin by congratulating the Government on the progress they have made over the past couple of years, and in particular in the past year, in very important new steps to improve matters.

A task force has been set up to support health authorities. There is a new action programme in London. In this House we applaud in particular the improved code of practice for the guidance of all concerned in clinical treatment because the House has done much to help bring that forward.

Better training is to be given to key workers. A review of standards of care is taking place. Those are important steps forward. And the Secretary of State, in response to public outrage at some terrible cases of violence by discharged patients, publicised this summer, has come up with an imaginative 10-point plan which puts the main emphasis on legislation to bring in new powers for the supervision of mentally ill patients discharged from hospital. Those are extremely important proposals. They were not referred to in the gracious Speech. I hope—and I am sure that your Lordships endorse my hope—that they will be covered under other matters. Therefore, I am glad to be able to start with congratulations.

However, that does not remove the need for further active and far-reaching steps to cope with the continuing problems which derive mainly from the shortage of beds in hospitals for acute cases and dealing with those who have been discharged and who have returned for treatment which cannot be obtained elsewhere. Since 1955 the number of beds in hospitals has been reduced by 100,000. I hope that I have my figures right. It may be 70,000; I am not quite sure. However, it is a very large number. Over the past 10 years, the rate of the reduction of beds has increased and is still increasing. Last year there was a reduction of 5,000 beds in hospitals capable of dealing with difficult cases. That is about 1,000 more than the average of the previous few years. The momentum continues. Therefore, the community is confronted with a growing problem of not enough beds to accommodate those who cannot be treated adequately elsewhere.

The Minister in the other place has given assurances, both there and in recent public speeches, that no further hospital closures will take place without matching facilities being provided in the community in residential homes, hostels and so on. We welcome that assurance. But that deals with only part of the problem. Closing a hospital is one thing; reducing beds in hospitals is another. You can make—indeed, it is going on the whole time—a drastic reduction in beds before the hospital itself is shut. That is what is happening.

We all endorse the goal of shutting down old Victorian hospitals. But when that practice was followed in the United States those responsible got themselves into a terrible mess through not having the facilities to deal with people still needing beds in hospitals. In New York State alone, it is estimated that there are something like 80,000 mentally-ill people on the streets. Our rate of closure has not been as disastrous as that in the United States, but the replacement facilities are not there, especially if you take into account the arrears, the deficit, in hospital beds resulting from the 70,000 reduction in beds over the past 10 years or so. We are facing a very critical social problem of how to care in the community for such people. Whatever we may think of the big institutions, they did provide a home and very good treatment for those who could not obtain it elsewhere.

I have one other point to make. Care in the community requires a great deal of expert nursing staff. We have been told—and we are glad to hear it—that the number of community psychiatric nurses has multiplied threefold during the past few years. That is good. However, what does that kind of fraction mean if you do not know the base from which the multiplication started? The answer is that the number of psychiatric nurses, until very recently when the Griffiths programme began to be implemented, was extremely small. Therefore, multiplying the figure by three still only produces a very small number in relation to the enormous army of nurses required for adequate treatment in the community.

I started by congratulating the Government on what they have done and on what they are doing very actively. There remains, however, a challenging vista of unsolved problems. They reduce themselves largely to the matter of resources. Some of us have been hammering away for years on the key question of resources. We are told that £2 billion is at present devoted to dealing with the mentally ill. That is a large sum. However, it is estimated by those who understand the problem much better than I do that at least another £500 million is required if care in the community for the mentally ill is to have substance.

We know that budgetary strains make that kind of money out of the question at present. However, I hope that all concerned acknowledge the fact that the problems remain and that when the resources can he made available they must be made available. There continues to be a whole range of problems that need to be confronted on many different fronts.

9.18 p.m.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I should like first to apologise for joining the number of noble Lords who have spoken on law and order in today's debate. There is not much that I can do about it. Although I promise not to read, I have in fact lots of notes with me. It is a little difficult to start changing one's notes at such short notice. However, perhaps I may refer to the shops Bill, which I must say I rather regret. I do so not because of the principles involved, but because I suspect that the Bill has been born out of the apparent attitude of the many stores and shop owners who flagrantly flout the law. Therefore we are having to introduce a law in order to meet that flouting of the law. If we carried that principle to infinity we would end up removing all speed limits, for example, simply because everybody ignores them. I simply throw out that idea for starters.

I welcome the measures relating to law and order which have been described as tough. I was encouraged by the excellent maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon. In this House we are fortunate in having so many noble Lords from such different walks of life who have wide experience of the matters about which they speak. It is clear that my noble friend is blessed with such experience at, as she rightly said, both ends of the spectrum.

It gives me a certain degree of pleasure to refer to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He may remember that a few years ago I quoted a couple of lines from Gray's Elegy and that he bowled the next two lines back at me, which rather stumped me. The noble Lord referred to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor as the person in whom the law is embodied, quoting from Gilbert's "Iolanthe". The theme of my speech this evening comes from "The Mikado"—the punishment should fit the crime. For instance: The idiot who in Railway Carriages Scribbles on window panes Is only made to suffer To ride on a buffer Of Parliamentary Trains". I am not sure that we have any parliamentary trains left, but I am sure that noble Lords understand what I am getting at.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I hope that the noble Viscount will forgive me. I think that the parliamentary trains' successor is what is called the public service obligation of British Rail.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord. As those lines were written a very long time before I was even born I have always been puzzled as to what they meant. I am very grateful to the noble Lord. One learns something new every day.

My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor referred to the words in the gracious Speech relating to tough measures for young offenders. I am very glad to hear that, but why do the proposals relate specifically to the young? What about the old offenders? Have they been forgotten?

I agree with my noble friend Lady Miller, who referred to maintaining certain standards of decency for those who are put into prison, particularly for any length of time. I support that view entirely. We must have certain standards for people who are in prison. I hope that that is a matter which will be looked at very seriously and that conditions will be improved.

However, there is a difference between standards of decency and leading a cushy life. Some noble Lords might be surprised if I said that I have never been to a gaol. So am I, but I have not been to gaol either as a visitor or as an inmate. I therefore have to admit that I do not have first-hand experience. I am given to understand that prison is not a terribly pleasant experience. Nor indeed is it designed to be. However, I believe that at times efforts to make life "decent" go too far. For example, rather like the picket officer in the regiment going round the men at lunch asking, "Have you any complaints or suggestions?", bless me, only the other day I read of that very thing happening in a prison. I find it rather extraordinary. By all means have acceptable food, but that can be achieved from the kitchens, but I should have thought that to go round asking prisoners whether everything was all right and saying, "I'm sorry that it wasn't smoked salmon today", was unnecessary.

I believe that billiard rooms are available to some prisoners. I recently read of a complaint by a prisoner that he could not get to his gymnasium to exercise himself sufficiently because of a lack of staff. I do not believe that such a complaint is good enough.

About a fortnight ago a prisoner was being moved from one level of security prison to a lower level security prison. He was solemnly given a rail pass or some money to buy a rail ticket and was expected to travel from one prison to another. It will come as no surprise to your Lordships that he did not reach the second prison. He decided to turn left and landed up at Middlesbrough, where he committed another offence. That behaviour seems to me extremely lax, and should be prohibited.

The Prime Minister has referred to a return to basic values. I am pleased to hear it because, in the field of law, and in particular order, the sooner we do this the better. I recognise that some of my deeply held convictions to which I have referred previously in your Lordships' House will differ greatly from those held by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who we all know is a great philanthropist. I respect his views enormously. They are born out of a deep conviction.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I have no money; I do not know what I would do with it. I am not a philanthropist.

Viscount Mountgarret

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for that intervention. I shall have to brush up on my English dictionary. However, the noble Earl knows what I mean.

I do not believe that prison is necessarily the right answer for some offenders. There is the expression, "Do unto others as you would be done by". Those who act deliberately and derive actual enjoyment from thuggery, from beating up young, middle-aged or elderly people, can expect to receive such treatment themselves. If you hurt someone, you deserve to know what it feels like. If the school bully was beaten up a bit, he stopped bullying. Moreover, such action deterred others who might have been of the same mind.

We all wish to deter. Prevention is better than cure and imprisonment is supposed to cure. I should like to prevent people going to prison, then, if the offender does not respond to that treatment, clearly it has not worked and he will probably have to be sent to prison. However, five Criminal Justice Bills in the space of eight years do not reflect a great deal of credit on the party to which I have the honour to belong. The Government may have to offer some explanation as to how matters have changed so dramatically between yesterday and today. The only factor that has changed is the dramatic increase in crime. It has been proved that the measures that the courts are allowed to take are not having the desired effect on the criminals and would-be criminals. However distasteful it may seem, I believe that a touch of the birch is necessary for those wanton persons who have no respect for people walking on the streets, the common or wherever. I hope very much that the Government will bear that in mind.

We heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that there may be those who would suggest that this was a possible infringement of human rights, and that the European Court of Human Rights would wag its finger. He said, and I support him entirely, that we should not be influenced by the Court of Human Rights to the extent that it dictates and governs what we want to do in this country. I have nothing against the European Court, but I do not see why we should slavishly follow its doctrine. We have our laws. They should be respected, and we should be allowed to run and manage our own affairs.

We are—or at least we think we are—a civilised society. It will be understandably said that corporal punishment—let us call it that; let us call a spade a spade—is uncivilised. I remind noble Lords that when, some 10 years ago, birching was stopped in the Isle of Man, the crime rate increased in six months by something like 150 per cent. Need one say more? Is it the act of a civilised society to accept the endless muggings of the elderly and gang thumpings of pensioners who nearly gave their lives for this country in war? They have ended up with their faces kicked in, with black eyes, broken noses and what have you. It certainly makes my stomach turn. It is not the act of a civilised society to permit that.

My next point is definitely controversial, and I accept that. The fact remains that serious consideration should be given yet again to the restoration of the death penalty. I am not, and I do not wish to be labelled as, what some commonly call a hanger and a flogger. I am not. I am a realist, and I hope that I am practical. One may laugh, but it will come. It will have to come. If it does not come, there will one day, though I do not know when, be a breakdown of law and order. I say that most sincerely. Would anybody like to say what is the difference between Guy Fawkes, who, in 1605, attempted to blow up His Majesty's Government, the Opposition and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, and the man who attempted to blow up Her Majesty's Government and Ministers in Brighton? Guy Fawkes was hanged, drawn and quartered and had his head cut off. I would not for one moment dream of suggesting such a barbaric and dreadful way of treating anyone. But I would like to know what is the difference between Guy Fawkes, who did not succeed, and the person—whose name escapes me—who set off the Brighton bomb. There is no difference. Both acts were acts of treason, acts of terrorism. I see justification for consideration being given to similar treatment for the one and the other.

Having made that point, if it is not possible and is unacceptable—although I have to say that many people outside the precincts of the Palace of Westminster take a rather different view—then the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, is an absolute must. A murderer, a killer of a policeman, must have a mandatory life sentence which means life, with no hope of coming out of prison.

That brings me back to the question: is that the act of a civilised society? I know which option I should prefer. If that were the choice, I should prefer to end my days rather than spend the rest of my life in gaol.

9.35 p.m.

Lord Rix

My Lords, the debate has now lasted for six-and-a-half hours and I am the 29th speaker on the list. With your Lordships' permission I shall indulge in what used to be known in my theatrical days as a "train version". That means that we would cut all corners so that we could catch a train on Saturday night to get home for a truncated weekend.

I too have no desire to speak further on law and order. I should like to follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, in talking about care in the community and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, who quoted from the gracious Speech as follows: My Government will continue to develop their policies on social security so that help is concentrated on those most in need". I say amen to that.

So far as concerns those with a mental handicap—or the preferred term "learning disabled"—one can perhaps now see why "learning disabled" or "learning disability" is preferred. It differentiates between the mental illness referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and the mental handicap of learning disability which is the area that I represent. As I said, I should like very much to see help concentrated on those most in need, but for people with learning disability I see little help in the offing.

During schooldays there is a statutory right for all young people to receive education to the age of 19. After the age of 19 there is no statutory obligation for an adult alternative to school. What is available—which for most people with a learning disability is an adult training centre or day centre—is becoming increasingly unavailable, while increasingly charges are being levied if a place can be found. Central government argue that local government has discretion regarding charges, but it has little discretion when central government funding assumes that charges are in fact being levied.

I understand the economic argument for charging. If people pay for their own services, the public purse does not have to pay for them. I understand another economic argument even better: parents of adults with a severe learning disability are already out of pocket because they look after people who otherwise would be wholly a charge on public funds. But I must stress that they have no legal liability to pay for day service charges on behalf of their son or daughter, any more than they do to subsidise their other costs. But the son or daughter only has benefit income and those benefits take no account of the introduction of day service charges. Parents may therefore be faced with the prospect of paying charges on top of existing transport, meals and materials costs plus the cost of maintaining an adult son or daughter in the parental home. Whatever the hardships for our national economy in maintaining existing public services, I cannot believe that they exceed the hardships of families who are struggling with that unnatural and unreasonable burden. Surely, following the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Blease, that burden could be lifted to help celebrate the International Year of the Family in 1994.

However, there is indeed a simple solution and one which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has already acknowledged in relation to legal aid; namely, to disregard the attendance allowance (or whatever it is called these days) in assessing a person's income in the same manner as the mobility allowance (or whatever it is called) is disregarded because that is already exempt from charges. Assuming that no charge is made on income support, because that is there merely to keep body and soul together, this would ensure that people with a learning disability would be safe from day service charges. That simple and logical solution would lift one burden from their shoulders and those of their families. It would save unnecessary administration and have only a marginal effect on local authority finances. Exempting the attendance allowance would indeed be seen as the Government going back to basics, because I am sure that I do not need to remind your Lordships that the attendance allowance is awarded to those who are the most severely disabled.

I have just returned from chairing a two-and-a-half-day Mencap conference in Blackpool—our first delegate conference ever—with over 500 parents, carers and people with a learning disability attending. It was a heart-warming and encouraging occasion, even though there was a considerable argument as to exact terminology, but, thank goodness, that did not intrude upon the debating time. It was abundantly clear that the challenges and opportunities provided by community care were uppermost in the minds of all those present. They will indeed be met or seized upon, according to need.

The current challenge is of course charging for day services, and there was total unanimity against this practice expressed by all those parents present. I must stress that any day service charges that are levied against disability are effectively a tax on disability and are a further threat to the fundamental principles of care in the community. That means indeed the seven ages of man, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, in her reference to the Bard of Avon.

With their opposition to anti-discrimination legislation still fresh in people's minds, as well as their failure to implement certain sections of the 1986 disabled persons' Act, I cannot think that the Government would wish to see their own policy for community care—the promised land—consigned to the dustbin of broken promises and faded dreams.

9.41 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, I must endeavour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rix, in attempting a "train version". The hour is late and this debate has been distinguished by four outstanding maiden speeches. The subject of deregulation has come up several times in the course of the debate and I would like to speak very shortly on the subject of nurses and care workers. I have to declare an interest here, in that I am a director of a public company which has as its subsidiary an employment agency covering both those sectors, and so I hope that what I have to say will be regarded as even-handed.

Your Lordships will be aware that the recruitment and replacement of agency nurses is governed under the Nurses Agencies Act by the Department of Health, while the activities of care workers, who play an absolutely essential role in the care of the elderly and the incapacitated, covering many of the cases referred to so eloquently by the noble Lords, Lord Thurlow and Lord Rix, are covered under the Employment Agencies Act by the Department of Employment.

I am given to understand that it is this latter Act which is being considered for abolition. In other words, the regulations covering care workers are likely to be deregulated. The Department of Health, for its part, has indicated that it is unwilling to introduce new regulations which might constrict the development of domiciliary care. It prefers the approach of self-regulation. I have to tell your Lordships that this path has in the past provoked fragmented, inconsistent and, in several cases, politically motivated moves.

This is potentially a very dangerous situation. Care workers are, by their very nature, dealing with the most vulnerable and dependent members of the community and I venture to suggest to my noble friends the Minister for Health and the Minister for Employment, that it is essential that the activities of care workers are properly regulated, in particular in the matter of initial assessment of the mental and physical condition of the individual and the individual's needs, and also in the selection of the appropriate care workers. I suggest that this would be most simply done by extending the Nurses Agencies Act to include not only nurses but domiciliary care workers as well.

It would ensure that those critical evaluations are carried out by suitably qualified professionals. The inspection regime, which could be expected to come into effect with an updated code of conduct which already forms part of the Nurses Agencies Act, would place the responsibility on each local authority. But most importantly, it would be based on a national standard rather than on local whims.

The reference to deregulation in the gracious Speech at that time was taken up by my noble friends Lord Montgomery of Alamein and Lord Lucas in their admirable speeches as regards the humble Address. Deregulation, by the removal of existing employment agency legislation covering care workers, could have potentially disastrous consequences affecting in particular old and handicapped people. It is absolutely essential that the activities of domiciliary care workers are regulated without inhibiting the invaluable tasks that they perform by bringing them within the scope of the Nurses Agencies Act. That problem has the frustrating and all too familiar complication of involving two departments. I hope that my noble friends—the Minister for Health and the Minister for Employment—will together ensure that this subject does not fall between the two stools of their respective departments and is effectively co-ordinated to produce a satisfactory resolution to the problem.

9.46 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, it is my pleasure to congratulate four outstanding maiden speakers today and to hope that we hear them on many future occasions. I listened also, not for the first time, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, wishing that there were time in the legislative programme to implement the reports of the Law Commission. It may be that that would be easier if we were not facing yet another Education Bill. Like Criminal Justice Bills, they are brought in so frequently that one begins to think that the Government are suffering from a legislative stammer.

The new Education Bill is being introduced 33 sitting days after the Third Reading of the last Education Bill, and 23 calendar days after the end of the consultation period. Many of us in all quarters of this House were extremely grateful when the consultation period on student unions was extended from 1st October to 1st November. I should be sorry to think that that concession had been illusory.

The Bill is attempting two things. One is the reform of initial teacher training. The objective appears to be to exclude nutters from participation in teacher training. It may be misguided. We may find, under another government, that Professor Timothy Brighouse is in charge of it.

The student union proposal rests on a highly complex and difficult distinction between core and non-core. As those of us who have eaten apples know, that is not always a distinction which can be made with great precision. I hope that when the Bill comes before the House there will be a sufficient proportion of it in primary legislation to allow this House to discharge its responsibilities as a revising Chamber.

The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, would perhaps misinterpret me were I to say that I listened to him with pleasure. But I am glad that he said what he did. The objective of care in the community is one that we on these Benches have consistently supported. What he said regarding resources my noble friend Lady Seear and many others have said over and over again. It bears repeating. However, it also remains true that there is an irreducible minimum of people who, either for their safety or for ours, or for both, need hospital beds and those beds must continue to be available.

In the field of criminal justice, which has taken most of the time today, I am particularly anxious in regard to the Government's proposals on magistrates courts. It is the objective of those proposals to introduce performance indicators to encourage them to complete cases faster. Noble Lords will know that it is my consistent view that performance indicators are the enemy of performance. Were we to have performance indicators for Ministers and were we —begging the pardon of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for even contemplating such a thing—to measure their performance by the number of pages they put on the statute book, counting what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, would perhaps like to describe as the "Dangerous Ministers Bill" as equal to any other, we might find that the best Minister of the Thatcher years was Mr. Kenneth Baker.

When we apply that to the task of doing justice there is an inherent conflict between hearing cases fast and getting them right. If, for example, all the prosecution witnesses collapse, that may materially affect the result of the case and it may add to its duration. Were this proposal to be brought in by any authority of less unquestionable legality than an Act of Parliament, some unkind people might be tempted to describe it as a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

But most of what I have to say is concerned with my own subject of social security. The gracious Speech is rather less forthcoming on social security than some Ministers have been recently. It contains the usual phrase which always whets my appetite, that, Other measures will be laid before you". I ask whether "other measures" is likely to include anything on invalidity benefit. If so, I hope that the Government understand that an objective medical test is incompatible with a savings target and, indeed, if clinical judgment is genuinely independent it could even lead to an increase in spending.

I also ask whether the Government are contemplating any measure on statutory sick pay. If so, I hope that Ministers will refresh their memory by reading the debates in this House on the last statutory sick pay Bill when it was said that the Minister stood at the burning Dispatch Box whence all but he had fled. I would not wish that fate on the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, in his first Session in a new brief.

I also ask whether, as we have been led to expect, we are to have a Bill on statutory maternity pay in this Session. If so, I say in passing that the Equal Opportunities Commission is talking a great cleat of sense on that subject. In particular, before considering any measure to transfer part of the cost of statutory maternity pay from government to business, I hope that Ministers will read some of their own rhetoric during the debates on the Social Chapter about the need to keep down business costs. If they attempt to increase business costs by imposing what would in effect be a tax on the employment of women, they might create a lively debate in this House.

I hope that on another occasion this House will be able to debate the Child Support Act at length. I listened with pleasure to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, had to say on that subject. The question is not whether the Act is viable in its present form; it is rapidly proving to be unenforceable. I hope that it will be amended substantially and soon enough to make it possible to continue a measure which was not unsound in principle.

On the subject of single parents, I will confine myself to one remark. I agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that probably few single parents became pregnant after consulting their welfare rights officer. If hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is speaking for the Government. The gracious Speech also says that help will be, concentrated on those most in need". That surprises me a little. I thought that we were doing that already and if not, I would like to know why not.

Like the Government, I am concerned by the cost of social security and although I am not now quite as concerned as they are, during the long weekend between the Conservative recessions I recall telling them that I was a great deal more worried about it than they were. It is certainly true that social security spending, as a proportion of government spending, has been rising and that that puts other government spending under pressure. What we are not so often told is that the number of people forced to depend on that spending is rising equally fast. At present, 5.35 million people or 12.6 per cent. of the population over 18 are dependent on income support. In the past year that figure has risen by 860,000 or by 2 per cent. of the population over 18. It is the case that 24.2 per cent. of the children in England and Wales depend on income support, or 3.2 per cent. more than a year ago. In Scotland the figure is 25.6 per cent., or 2.6 per cent. more than a year ago. The figures have increased, are increasing and ought to be diminished. It is in those figures—not just in unemployment benefit—that we see the cost of unemployment to the social security budget.

When we put the level of spending in context with those numbers, it is not so very much per person. It is hard to see how we can much reduce the social security budget without reducing the numbers of people who depend on it. There is no scope, I believe, for reducing the cost by reducing the level of benefit. Ministers are familiar with the evidence provided last year by the National Children's Home and the National Consumer Council. Even if they do not accept that evidence, they must realise that others do and would react accordingly.

Ministers might realise rather better than they do that benefit levels are under pressure if they collected evidence of the level of debt among those on benefit. At present they do not do so and that is a mistake. It is not only welfare groups, but utility companies also, which are well aware that this is a serious problem. It is hard to see what useful purpose will be served by worsening it. Nor is there any significant scope for reductions in social security by denying people entitlement to benefit. Ministers cannot simply follow the example of Goldfinger and say, "She left my employment". People whose benefit is reduced or taken away will not normally quietly die. They will do something else - and that something else will usually create costs which fall on other departments.

The Department of Social Security cannot solve its own budgetary problems only by worsening those of other departments. We need something more than the traditional Whitehall policy of "Beggar my neighbour". After all, the public sector borrowing requirement is a deficit of the whole Government, not just of one department.

People denied adequate benefit may typically do one of two things. They may fall ill, or they may take to crime. That is illustrated in the new National Children's Home report, The Lost Generation. I was glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Epping Forest, said about that report. It deals with young people who either receive the lower rate of income support because they are young or who receive nothing because they are 16 or 17. One in three of those covered in the survey had had one meal or none during the past 24 hours. It is not surprising that that showed up in an above-average rate of visits to the doctor and, more worryingly, in a bad record of mental health. The noble Baroness, Lady Cumberlege, who tried so hard on 31st March last to convince me that there was enough money for care in the community, will, I think, understand the public expenditure implications.

Among those surveyed in The Lost Generation one in two said that they were hard up enough to consider shoplifting and other forms of theft. As one of them said, "If they put the money up, even £10 a week would do me, and I would not think about doing crime." Ministers who are tempted to think that such people are naturally lawless might reflect upon the young man on the under-25 rate of income support who was found stealing in order to pay his poll tax. Ministers are right that crime is in the end a matter of individual responsibility, but that is no excuse for leading us into temptation. I should not want to make too much of the precedent but their argument is the one first used by Satan in the opening chapters of the Book of Job.

It is sometimes said that we can reduce expenditure by attacking universal benefits, but the only benefits of substance which could be called universal are child benefit and the state pension. Child benefit is universal, but it is not a universal benefit. I listened with pleasure to what the Secretary of State had to say on child benefit at King's College at lunchtime today. Child benefit is in lieu of a tax allowance for those with children. Only those who can explain how a tax allowance is targeted on those in need, or those who think that it distorts the market if the state in any way recognises the cost of bringing up children, can attack child benefit as a universal benefit. I should enjoy listening to either of those groups explain itself to the electorate.

Only those who think that private pensions are always reliable can defend ending the universal state pension. It is sometimes suggested that we could solve the problem by privatising it. I should like to know, whose problem? I have not yet been convinced that the private sector can produce a cheaper service except by providing a worse one. It is sometimes known as a more efficient service. If we are going to pay just the same amount, who will gain? Is the Treasury solving its problem at our expense? If so, is that really in the national interest?

The Chief Secretary recently said that those under 40 should not expect a state pension. I do not like spreading scare stories, but I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate whether he can say that that is not government thinking. If he cannot say that, am I spreading a scare story if I say that it is?

Most welfare cannot be privatised because it is not profitable, or at least not legitimately profitable. If the Secretary of State for Social Security wants, as he must, to reduce his spending, he should begin by pressing to be included in the main economic committee of the Cabinet. That is where his costs are determined. We must reduce the social security budget by making it an object of macro-economic policy and micro-economic policy to increase levels of employment. No other policy even addresses the problem. But that does not mean that social security, as a department, has nothing to contribute. There are plenty of policies in social security which constitute rigidities in the labour market and make it harder for people to get off benefit and take on jobs as they are created.

Like the Secretary of State, I have a little list but it is much too long for me to complete at this time of night. Some cases are plain poverty traps. The paradigm case there is child care. As Elaine Asquith put it when writing in the Daily Telegraph on 12th November: If you need someone to look after your children while you work it becomes a joke: you pay to work". The second category is where social security fails to meet the Prime Minister's criterion stated in his Carlton Club speech—a hand up, not a handout—where it does not meet the start-up costs which help someone to get into work for the first time. We are told in the advanced publicity to the deregulation Bill that it will put a charge on employees to pay for hard hats and other protective clothing. That contradicts what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale on 22nd June, 1989, when speaking for the Department of Social Security, that it should be a charge on the employer. That will worry those in the Department of Social Security because it will mean that many people will not be able to afford to take jobs. That is not in the public interest. Furthermore, I am gaining the impression from my postbag that there is a rapidly increasing problem of a poverty trap in relation to the cost of travel to work —but that is another subject.

There is also the category of those for whom work is impossible. There are people who lose help with their mortgages if they work more than 16 hours per week and move off income support and on to family credit. People are giving up work because they cannot afford the costs, and that is not in the public interest. The fourth category is people such as 16 and 17 year-olds who fall through the social security safety net. It is more than ever looking like the Irish definition of a net; a series of holes tied together with bits of string. They get so broken by the fall that they cannot recover and they cannot work again. I am raising that subject for the fifth consecutive Session. I do not want to beat my great grandfather's record of doing so 12 Sessions in a row, but if I have to I shall.

10.7 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, the debate has largely and inevitably focused on the two law and order Bills outlined in the gracious Speech. With contributions from practising judges, QCs and former professional police officers, including my noble friend Lady Hilton, the House has rejoiced in remarkable expertise. Perhaps it is worth emphasising that with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, not a single voice has been heard today during seven hours of debate in favour of the new police authorities, the new training centres for juveniles, the new austerity regime for prisons or the loss of the right of silence.

We have also had distinguished contributions on Sunday trading from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool; on ITV franchises from the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth; moving speeches on mental illness and mental handicap—and the noble Lord, Lord Rix, was entirely right in every point that he made; as well as some well-directed and I hope well-taken swipes at quangos.

The debate was greatly enhanced by four striking maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, gave us a wise and wide-ranging analysis of the situation in Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Lester, made a fluent and persuasive call to embody the European convention into British law. The noble Lord, Lord Westwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Hendon, made humane and compassionate speeches on behalf of children and victims respectively. Those noble Lords have greatly enriched our debate.

Like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, I wish to speak to the rest of the back-to-basics agenda; that is, social policy. "Back to basics" depends on who you are and where you come from, but it signals deep dissatisfaction with society around us. Your Lordships can look around and see the rough sleepers, the street kids, the families in bed and breakfast who were virtually unknown in 1979; the truanting and offending youngsters and worsening clean-up rates in crime, as has been emphasised; and the growth in homelessness with families unable to rent and unable to buy.

Hospital waiting lists are the highest ever. Unemployment is nearly three times what it was in 1979. The number of those defined officially as poor has more than doubled so that one family in four defined as poor by the EC, within the EC, is living in Britain. The poorest 10 per cent.—actually 14 per cent.—are worse off in real terms than they were in 1979, while the rich are better off still. In the light of that, I can see why we should all like to return to basics, to the years before 1979.

I have no patience with those political commentators in The Times and elsewhere who regard it as sanctimonious nonsense and believe that it is a cynical attempt by Government to re-invent themselves as the opposition by holding everyone but themselves responsible for the events of the past 15 years. After all, does anyone believe that the employment situation is now better than it was in 19'79 or that housing, law and order, health and dental care, local government and community services have improved since 1979? Of course they do not. That is why in common humanity, Ministers wish to return to basics; quite so.

Indeed, basics might even take us back to Beveridge and the slaying of those five dragons mentioned by my noble friend Lord McIntosh: the dragons of want, disease, squalor, idleness and ignorance. In the all-party consensus of those years, there was Butler's great Education Act to tackle ignorance. All parties were committed to eradicating unemployment. Strong local government would confront the squalor of post-war dereliction, homelessness and the need for town and country planning. As regards disease, Bevan's NHS would be available at the point of use and at the point of need. As for want, there was a new social security system based on entitlement through contribution and insurance.

Mr. Lilley, in his Mais lecture of 23rd June this year, insisted that Pacific Rim countries such as Taiwan are prosperous precisely because they do not have a welfare state. Mr. Portillo told the Tory Party conference that whatever is done by the state is done at the expense of individuals and their efforts and that true morality means moving beyond the language of entitlement and back to the ring-fenced palisades of private provision with the occasional saunter out into the byways of charity—and he said that. If ask them, as I ask your Lordships this evening, in looking at the moral and social landscape around us, to remember that basic moral truth of Beveridge: 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". No one denies that rights must be brigaded with responsibilities; of course not. No one denies that Beveridge's basic principles need reworking against the demographic map, family structure and women's working lives. That is why Labour set up the independent social justice commission. But the core of Beveridge—that the meaning of social conscience is no separate peace, no private opting-out deal with social evil—is surely shared by your Lordships this evening.

All of Beveridge's concerns as regards education, local government and employment are topics for later this week. Today we have been talking about law and order, social policy, health and social security. On health, there are no specific legislative proposals in the gracious Speech, although we might have expected Bills on mental health, adoption or a complaints procedure for patients following the findings of the Wilson Committee, or on public and environmental health, given both the Health of the Nation and the re-emergence of diseases such as TB, scurvy and rickets, which are diseases of poverty. Instead, we see a grim determination to press on with the so-called health reforms which ensure, first, that the health service remains undeniably underfunded. We are fourth from the bottom of 21 OECD nations in our spending on health. France and Germany each spend one-third more than we do.

Such underfunding has been aggravated as the reforms have switched money out of nursing and into management. I understand that each new trust cost £500,000 to set up and £250,000 a year to run. That is all extracted from patient care. That is why, since 1989, the NHS has acquired 40,000 more managers and administrators and lost 20,000 nurses and midwives, as a surprised John Redwood blurted out, inadvertently, in Wales. It is also why in 1987 the NHS spent £25 million on managers' salaries and, five years later, £251 million.

But, above all, the NHS has, I believe, been deformed by the purchaser-provider split, the working of the internal market and competition in which hospitals, GP fund-holders and ambulances have been required to re-establish themselves as small businesses. Yet whereas a business cheers if it has extra customers or increases productivity, those businesses are closed down as soon as they fulfil their contracts until the following spring, just as though they were making crackers for Christmas or chocolate eggs for Easter. Competition, as we see in London, undermines planning and overrides care.

Plymouth hospital put 62 beds onto a five-day week to correct, I quote, "over-activity". Hospitals are destroying themselves by their efficiency. Half of all NHS hospitals are running out of money for all but emergencies unless, of course, a patient with a fund-holding GP brings with him a dowry, thus ensuring that patients are treated not according to medical need but according to whether they come with cash in hand. The money does not follow the patient; the patient has to follow the contract.

But surely waiting lists have improved. That was what it was all about. After all, back in November 1981, John Major said: It is necessary within the NHS to reduce the waiting list of over half a million which was inherited after the 1979 general election". The figure was half a million then, but now it is over one million—the highest ever. Indeed, it has risen 23 per cent. over the past three years. Significantly, we in Britain now enjoy the longest wait in Europe to see a consultant. So we have patients waiting to be treated; patients waiting to join the waiting list to be treated; and doctors and nurses waiting to treat patients.

If you have chest pains, it probably does not mean that you need a bypass operation; but it may do. Only a consultant could tell, but you will wait months to see him. If you suffer severe indigestion, it probably does not indicate cancer; but it may do. Only a consultant could tell, and you will not see him for months. If you are suffering from severe depression, I hope that you will not be a suicide risk. Only a consultant might help you, but you probably will not see him at all.

In case noble Lords think that what I am saying is speculative, perhaps I may quote from one very eminent consultant thoracic surgeon in East Anglia who wrote to me three days ago. On 19th October he was told that his unit had virtually completed its contract with the Kings Lynn area and that he was immediately to restrict all admissions, including urgent cases. He was to accept only emergencies and those waiting for more than 12 months. In his letter he wrote: I was no longer to admit urgent patients … with potential or proven malignant disease from north-west Anglia or the Kings Lynn area which I visit as the consultant thoracic surgeon. I attempted to clarify the definition of 'emergency' with managers, but have not received a suitable definition". If that consultant treats non-emergency but urgent cases, he will plunge his unit into the red. In Kings Lynn, if you have proven cancer of the lungs—that is, cancer that is confirmed, spreading and urgent—you have no financial right to be treated until next April. Cancer is a killer. That is the case unless in Beveridge's phrase, you make a private and separate pact with social evil and you are wealthy enough to opt out of the NHS. As the surgeon's letter finished: This state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue". He is right. But as health authorities are quangos—just as future police authorities will be quangos—they are unaccountable, so who will set the matter right?

Finally, I should like to turn to the onslaught on the welfare state which has dominated political debate this summer and autumn. As Sir Edward Heath wrote in the Guardian on 18th November, with cold sarcasm: for those claiming social service benefits today, 'back to basics' means cuts to cope with a situation which we are told may arise in the year 2050". We are told that social security expenditure is rising and out of control, due partly to growing numbers of the deserving poor—the elderly whose pensions the country cannot afford—and more especially because of the growth in the undeserving poor—the not-so-sick who claim invalidity benefit when they should not, the young women who lay back and think of a council house and become pregnant, the families on income support who unreasonably think it reasonable to claim housing benefit. All the while Ministers were orchestrating moral panic they had on their desks the departmental research, some of it now leaked, which shows that what they said was not true and that they should have known that it was not true.

By the year 2041 three-quarters of our population will still be under the age of 65. If there is employment for them we shall have the best support ratio of workers to dependants in Europe. The additional cost of ageing will add less over the next 50 years to public finances than the cost of the rise in unemployment alone over the past three.

There is no demographic burden, although there is an unemployment burden. However, that does not seem to stop Ministers talking about means-testing old age pensions, even though they are a contributory benefit, raising the old age pension age even though already half of all men between 59 and 64 are out of work, or even, in the past few days, calling on the elderly to sell their homes and live off their capital instead.

Ministers are equally less than scrupulous when it comes to the invalidity benefit. They suggest, first, that many of those on invalidity benefit are not really sick but layabouts; secondly, that that is because GPs are too lax in their medical assessment; and, thirdly, that it is because benefits are too generous. Yet the department's own research contradicts every one of those assertions, and Ministers know it.

First, those on invalidity benefit are not layabouts. They have mostly come from jobs which they held for at least 10 years with their previous employer. They are desperate to get back to work, but it was usually their previous employer who failed to keep them in work by altering their work conditions. Whether they can go back to work depends on whether he will take them back. Because of their poor health record, growing age and broken employment no one else will employ them.

Nor is it the case that GPs are too lax. Are your Lordships aware—I was not—that half of those on invalidity benefit under the age of 50 are already re-examined by the benefits medical service, which double checks their GP's assessment? It is upheld in six cases out of seven. The seventh case is very often a mental health case and notoriously difficult to determine. Even when invalidity benefit is refused, on appeal the claimant has it restored in over half the cases. Is it too lax, when the GP's medical assessment is almost invariably confirmed? In those very few cases in which the benefits medical agency overruled the GP and said that the claimant could and should return to work, only one-in-eight could find it. The rest were simply displaced on to other benefits, such as unemployment benefit, income support or pensions.

Is it the case that invalidity benefit is too generous? It is a contributory benefit paid for when in work. It represents less than half the earnings of more than half of those on benefit. Only 7 per cent. of men receive invalidity benefit worth even 80 per cent. of what they earned when last in work. They are generally those with very low pay and large families who are desperate to return to the labour market. In other words, to make the medical assessment even tougher will not help one extra man find a job. All it will do is displace invalidity claimants on to other benefits—income support and unemployment benefit—until, of course, on the roundabout which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned, they are pushed back on to invalidity benefit by employment officers in their turn trying to massage unemployment figures. That is the reality.

As for taxing the benefit, claimants are already very poor. More than half of them have savings of less than £1,000. The cost of disability in terms of heating and food is very high. Therefore, to tax the benefit merely adds deeper poverty to ill health. Why should those people pay because the Government have so mismanaged the economy?

The second group fingered for soaring social security expenditure, along with the collapse of moral fibre, is supposed to be lone parents, portrayed as feckless teenagers who become pregnant to obtain benefits and a council house. I refer to Mr. Lilley's notorious little list. It is quite false, as Mr. Lilley knows, and knew. Only 5 per cent. of lone parents are teenagers. Most lone parents have come from marriages or partnerships and have sadly taken a considered decision to leave a man who may be unemployed, underfoot and violent. John Redwood asked at a Cardiff housing estate, "Where are the fathers?". The police quietly told him that there were 250 exclusion orders on that estate because of abuse to families. Nor did those lone parents become pregnant to obtain benefits and a flat. Eighty-eight per cent. of them became pregnant through ignorance and having ensured in the recent education Bill that sex education shall be optional and not compulsory, we can take some credit in this House for continuing that state of affairs.

Over 90 per cent. of teenage lone parents live with their parents. After surveying 40 sample local authorities the Institute of Housing said that it was rare for teenage mothers to present themselves for rehousing and that not one local authority prioritised a lone parent over a traditional family. Sir George Young knew this but led conference to believe the opposite.

Even if Sir George requires local authorities to alter their housing policies as a sop to moral panic, it will make little or no difference because the Children Act 1989 places a statutory duty on local authorities to accommodate those parents. He merely transfers responsibility from housing to social services departments which will promptly transfer it back again, adding to cost, stress and complexity but not adding a single house or preventing a single pregnancy.

The real problem of single parents is not that they are single but that they are poor, as the DSS's own research confirms. Statutory maintenance from fathers may help, but only—I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon —if the Child Support Agency procedures are modified and if mothers retain a portion of the maintenance payment. It certainly will not help if mothers remarry because a stepfather means that children are twice as likely to leave home early, the boys twice as likely to truant and the girls more likely to become pregnant when young. Better a lone parent than a step parent, my Lords.

The right way to help lone parents is to do what they themselves want: to help them off benefits and back into work. Why are lone parents poor? It is partly because we have one of the lowest proportions in Europe of lone parents working and the figure is falling. Forty per cent. work in the UK, mostly part time. In Europe the figure is 54 per cent.; in the United States it is 68 per cent. The issue is all about child care which is almost impossible to afford in this country and is widely available in those countries. If a lone parent on £70 a week benefits has to earn £170 per week to be better off, she cannot do so and therefore will not do so. When in 1988 the Government removed the disregards for child care, they trapped lone parents in dependency and then blamed lone parents for the dependency that government had created.

The third area apparently targeted for legislation and cuts is housing benefit. Why has it risen? It is because the Government required the rents of housing associations to rise by 5 per cent. in real terms over and beyond inflation while clawing back subsidies from local authorities. As rents rose but incomes did not, so two-thirds of all council tenants and over three-quarters of all housing association tenants claimed housing benefit, financed by government to pay for the rent rises required by government. Already half a million poor people face marginal tax rates higher than the wealthiest taxpayer. Make housing benefit more stringent, my Lords, and you will lock them even more firmly into the benefit trap.

All those attacks on invalidity benefit, lone parents and housing benefits presume a crisis of social security expenditure. Is that true? No, my Lords. Social security takes 12.3 per cent. of GDP and could rise by 1 per cent. of GDP if unemployment and economic growth remain as they are. But if one reduces unemployment to 2.25 million and raises economic growth from 2 per cent. to 2.5 per cent. the figure is stable. If unemployment falls further, or growth is somewhat higher, then the percentage of GDP taken by social security expenditure will fall. It all depends on employment and the economy.

The welfare state basically works; it is the economy that does not. Reduce unemployment, and one simultaneously reduces unemployment benefit, income support, invalidity benefit, lone parent benefits, housing benefit and council tax benefits, to name but a few. At the same time one would have people in work paying national insurance contributions which would float them off poverty in old age.

Social security expenditure is driven not by the feeble on invalidity benefit, the feckless lone parent, or the incompetent on housing benefit, but by feeble, feckless and incompetent management of our economy—a mismanagement by the very sanctimonious who are now fingering the victims of their own incompetence.

The Government assume, when it suits them, that people want benefits, that they like benefits, that they prefer benefits and that they would rather not work if possible. On the contrary—as they know, because their research shows them —the sick want to work when they are still frail; lone parents want to work when they still have children under five; older men in their early sixties still haunt the job shops; young blacks still make 50 applications and do not get a single interview. They want to take responsibility for their lives. Would that government allowed them to do so by getting the economy right.

Finally, what links today's debate? The link is the financial, moral and social poverty that follows in a country whose ethical and physical infrastructure has been laid waste by unemployment. Youth crime, ill health, rising social security and homelessness all flow from the poverty of unemployment. If "back to basics" means anything, it must mean slaying what Beveridge insisted was the most fierce of all his dragons: unemployment. And that means no opting out into private pacts with social evil. It means a society that is inclusive, not exclusive; one that does not create outsiders, or let its outsiders become outlaws. That, as Beveridge said, is the meaning of social conscience.

10.32 p.m.

The Lord Advocate (Lord Rodger of Earlsferry)

My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the four noble Lords who have made such distinguished maiden speeches in the course of the debate. I am sure that we all look forward to their contributions to future debates.

In the course of this long debate many points have been raised. I hope that noble Lords will understand that, if in the time available I do not find it possible to cover all the detail of all the matters which have been raised, some of the points will be matters which either I or my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor or other Ministers may take up and reply to in writing.

Since Sunday is the first day of the week, it seems perhaps appropriate to start with a brief mention of the Sunday trading matter. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor explained, Parliament will have the opportunity under the Bill to vote freely on the three options. As a Government, we have no view on which option should be adopted, although of course individual Ministers, as individuals, may have their own personal views. However, I can assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool that the total deregulation option is not there for any sinister reason, but simply so that all the views which Members of this House or of the other place may have may be tested so that the true view of Parliament can be obtained.

Turning to the matter of the police, in the course of the debate noble Lords have expressed a wide range of new views, and I have listened with great interest to what has been said. I acknowledge, of course, that there are concerns in this House about the details of the proposals on police reform. They were put very forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. Nonetheless, having listened to what has been said, there are clearly matters which are common to all who are involved.

I am sure we all agree that policing is a matter that has to be carried out with the involvement and consent of the local community. After all, it is to the needs of the local community that the policing has to be responsive. It also requires—and we are very fortunate in this country that it has had—the services of dedicated policemen and policewomen, not least those who serve by walking the beat.

Likewise, it is recognised that police authorities will always need to have close links with the local community. What is proposed does not in any way undermine that aspect. As noble Lords know, there will be strong representation from the local authority. In addition, there will be people who are chosen from the local community who will have particular areas of expertise which they will be able to bring to the management of the local police. It does not seem to me that it in any way undermines the concept of local policing if we introduce people—not necessarily councillors but people who have an interest in these matters —into these local police authorities. That does not in any way diminish the local character of the police authority.

It seems to have been suggested—I think it was the fundamental objection—that somehow or other we would land up with more centralised control of the police, perhaps in the hands of the Secretary of State at the Home Office—the Prince of Darkness, as he was referred to at one point. On the contrary, the whole thrust of the reform is in many ways to pass down to the local authority a greater degree of control. The local police authority will have the power to set the budget, decide the local policing objectives and determine the local policy plan. It will be open to the chief constables to determine in which way they will manage their resources in order to meet the local needs which will have been laid down. In particular, I should observe that it will be possible for the local chief constable to decide what he will do in the way of using the new freedom to employ more people on the beat instead of having them employed in middle management jobs.

What the Home Secretary will do in all this is to set national objectives, leaving the police and the new police authorities to fulfil them in the way most suitable for local conditions. In particular there will be no power of direction by the Secretary of State to give directions to chief constables. So, contrary to what has been said, I do not see this as a matter where greater control is going into the hands of the Secretary of State.

Nor do I see the proposals in connection with the appointment of the chairman of the police authority as having the sinister impact suggested. It seemed to be suggested that inevitably somehow or other the person who was chosen would be one of the persons appointed to the police authority rather than, for example, one of the other local councillors or one of the magistrates. It may very well be that he will come from among those people who have been local representatives. He would be selected by the Home Secretary as the person who was most suitable and seemed best fitted to carry out the job of leading the authority.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble and learned Lord. Why should the Home Secretary make the decision as to who the chairman should be rather than the police authority itself?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, these authorities, as I have said, will have very important functions—functions which will make them responsible for seeing that local objectives are set and that the local police carry out the national objectives. It is therefore important that they should not only be people who will be acceptable to the local community but also people in whom the Secretary of State has confidence as well.

Several noble Lords


Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, in that way it is important that they should be acceptable to both the local authority and to the Secretary of State. In that way we think that we will have a combination of local responsibility, with national objectives being achieved.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, before the Minister leaves this point, he is making a distinction between the confidence of the local police authority and the confidence of the Secretary of State. Supposing that the Secretary of State's appointed chairman does not have the confidence of the local police authority, as recently happened when the distinguished chairman of the Cornwall Health Authority was replaced by the local Conservative Party chairman who then had to resign. Which choice will the Secretary of State make?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, I have no doubt that the Secretary of State, in making his choice, will consider all the local circumstances. I would not expect that kind of situation mentioned by the noble Lord to arise in practice, and there is no point in tilting at hypothetical situations before the scheme is even off the ground.

If I may turn now to matters relating to the Royal Commission, I should like simply to reiterate what I said on a previous occasion: there is no hesitation on the part of the Government in connection with the criminal cases review body. It is of course correct that it will not be in the legislation this Session. That is not because of any lack of desire to bring this forward but because, as was said on the previous occasion, this will be a very new body; a body whose relationship with the Court of Appeal is one of great sensitivity. These are not matters which were explored in detail by the Royal Commission. It is important, as the Lord Chief Justice said during the previous debate, that we get these matters absolutely right and that we put in place something that will work.

In the course of the debate on the last occasion, the right of silence was covered at some length. The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, came back to that subject tonight. I can only touch on it briefly, but I would simply say, as I said on the previous occasion, that the jury will be directed in any appropriate case that they can draw whatever inference common sense suggests in the circumstances is the appropriate inference to draw. There may be circumstances where the evidence before the jury is such that the inference which common sense suggests is that the person was silent because the person had no answer to the facts with which he was confronted. That is an inference which it is open to the jury to draw in an appropriate case. I have stressed, and I stress again, that this only arises in circumstances where there is already a case to answer, because it is in effect the failure to answer that case which the jury is being asked to consider. We will doubtless go into this in greater detail on future occasions, and perhaps on those occasions we shall have further opportunities to discuss the kinds of examples which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, put before your Lordships tonight.

Turning to the matter of imprisonment, which was mentioned in a great many speeches, the first point that I should make clear is that the Government remain committed to what was said in the White Paper on the Woolf Report. They are therefore committed to improving prison standards and nothing said by the Secretary of State in any way detracts from that. What he said in the speech to which allusion has so often been made was designed to stress that imprisonment does indeed play an important role in our system of criminal justice.

The case for imprisonment was put eloquently by my noble friend Lady Miller of Hendon in her notable maiden speech. I do not intend to go over the various points which she made. They were all legitimate arguments for the use of imprisonment in appropriate cases. After all, they are arguments which will occur to and go through the mind of the judge who will have to consider in any given case whether or not to impose a sentence of imprisonment. At the end of the day the Government are simply making available facilities. The question of whether or not a sentence of imprisonment is to be imposed is a matter at all times for members of the independent judiciary and nobody else. That must be borne in mind.

At no stage has it been suggested, and certainly not by the Secretary of State, that imprisonment is the uniquely appropriate sentence or that it will of itself solve problems of crime. The remarks of my noble friend Lord Windlesham were well to the point. He referred to many matters which must be kept in mind when we are debating these various issues. In that connection, and replying to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I may perhaps mention the reference made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to the position in America. It was a reference to the point that the United States is a country where, during the past decade, the prison population has increased while recorded crime has remained fairly constant and crime as measured by victim surveys appears to have declined substantially. That may not be what one would immediately see as the position in America, but it is important to remember, as my noble friend said, that the matter of crime surveys is important in considering the true picture, whether in Britain or America.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My Lords, is the noble and learned Lord saying that the Home Secretary was referring not to the criminal statistics in the United States, but to certain victim surveys?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, there were two points. He referred to recorded crime figures remaining fairly constant and to crime as measured by the victim survey appearing to have declined substantially.

Of course we recognise that prevention is to be preferred. That is why over the past few years the Government have encouraged neighbourhood watch schemes, the provision of closed circuit television in banks and so forth. Ours is a balanced approach and is designed to tackle the problems at several different levels. It is an approach which I believe should be warmly welcomed by the House.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord leaves the subject of prisons, is he seriously saying that Mr. Howard does not represent a new development in policy? How does he explain the statement made by Mr. Faulkner—who was in charge on the official side for all those years—that it is a revolutionary change? Does he just laugh that off?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, I do not laugh off what Mr. Faulkner said, but I do not intend to get into a debate with a former official of the Home Office.

On the matter of the secure training order and children, the introduction of secure training orders is not something which has been gone into lightly or with any sense of pleasure by the Government. It is introduced to deal with one small group of offenders and people who constantly offend having caused, in various communities, havoc and misery. We remember the particular circumstances of joyriders and so on. These are not matters which can easily be laughed off but which cause great misery and for which some remedy has to be found. The remedy which is being suggested here is to be used only in limited circumstances. It is to deal with these unfortunate young offenders. It is not simply a matter of locking them up. In this remedy there is both a system of education and, when people leave, a system of supervision.

Perhaps I may now turn to the other matters which have been raised and, in particular, to the various issues in relation to social security and so forth. I cannot anticipate in any way the announcements which will be made about the reform of our social security system. These will be made at the appropriate time and when the various stages of the review have been completed. In that situation I cannot tell the noble Earl, Lord Russell, what particular items of social security legislation will be brought forward during this Session. All I can say is that when policy announcements are made any legislation which is appropriate to that announcement will be brought forward. What I can say is that the Government are conducting a long-term and fundamental review of each part of the social security programme. It is one which is designed to ensure that that programme is suitable for the objectives of the 1990s. Nonetheless, I stress that we shall honour the election pledges which were made to uprate the basic retirement pension and child benefit in line with prices.

It seemed to be suggested, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, that somehow or other the Government were not committed to the social security system, that we were determined to undermine it and that we were not supporting it. If we went back to this golden age, which was referred to, of the Beveridge Report and the Labour Government we would in fact be spending about one-third of the proportion of gross domestic product, which we are spending at the moment on social security. If we were to take out of the calculation the increases in social security spending the figures for unemployment, there is still an annual increase of 3 per cent. per annum of expenditure on social security. In that situation one has an increasing figure—

Earl Russell

My Lords, I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon, but I shall be grateful for some clarification of what measure he is using for the cost of unemployment in that regard.

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords, if one were to remove from the figure the cost of unemployment on the social security system, then there would be an annual underlying increase of three per cent. per annum. In effect, we are paying an increasing amount. It is something which we cannot ignore. In common with all other nations in the European Community we are having to tackle this problem. It is not a sign of irresponsibility, but of responsibility. We are seeking to make sure that the burden which we all have to bear, and which we willingly bear, is one which employed persons, employers and industry can bear. At the end of the day, if our industry cannot bear the costs of that, it will not be profitable and if it is not profitable, it will not be producing the income which is required to produce the level of social expenditure which we all think is desirable.

I should like to cover many other points, but time is short. On the matter of child support, I would simply say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that we deplore the leaks, of course, and that the matter is being investigated. However, on the more general point, the Child Support Act is an Act which I am sure that noble Lords on all sides of the House will think right in principle. It is something which, for many people who have never received support for their children, will produce a measure of support and assurance about their way of life.

However, I have to say that in its initial months the agency has attracted a degree of criticism—and Ministers have acknowledged that and have indicated that they are monitoring how it is working and that they will take steps, if necessary, to ensure that it works more satisfactorily in the future. I should make it clear, however, that contrary to what seems to be suggested, even during these first few months of its operation, 75 per cent. of the work carried out by that agency has been in respect of parents who, until now, have been receiving no maintenance whatever. It is the parents and the children who have not been receiving maintenance on whom we must focus and whom we must bear in mind.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way, but is he suggesting to the House that, as a result, families are receiving maintenance and are therefore better off?

Lord Rodger of Earlsferry

My Lords. it is important that parents—that fathers—should pay maintenance to their children and it is surely unacceptable if they have not been paying maintenance in the past. Cases involving children who have not been getting maintenance are now being tackled. Those children will now get maintenance if the thing succeeds. Such cases represent 75 per cent. of the agency's cases.

We have tackled many other topics today. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, referred to the importance of law reform. Those are matters which we are bearing in mind and for that reason the Jellicoe Committee's reforms have been brought forward. We hope that that will prove to be the way in which law reform can be taken forward.

I noted all the points that were made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. We shall no doubt hear more of them.

In conclusion, overall this debate has focused largely on matters of crime and punishment and, to some extent, on matters of social security. In his speech my noble friend Lord Tugendhat laid the basis of a wider issue, Northern Ireland. The noble Lord, Lord Blease, also referred to that wider context. In considering these various narrower issues, we should also bear in mind the darker wider issues of Northern Ireland. As we go forward in this Session, we shall bear those wider issues in mind when we are considering the very important and interesting matters of home affairs which have occupied your Lordships today.

The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne

My Lords, on behalf of my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.

Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.[...]—(The Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.)

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

House adjourned at one minute before eleven o'clock.