HL Deb 15 March 1994 vol 553 cc97-100

2.45 p.m.

Earl Russell asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they can name any measures which they have taken since November 1990 which contribute to the objectives of Back to Basics as set out by the Prime Minister in his interview with the Daily Express on 17th February 1994.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, the Government seek to ensure that as far as possible the objectives of Back to Basics are reflected in all the measures they take.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Lord Privy Seal for that reply. He will notice that I invited him to name a measure. May I deduce from his silence that he found difficulty in doing so? Can he tell us why, after this Government have been in power for almost one-sixth of a century, the basics should be so badly in need of repair?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the noble Earl did not listen to my extremely short Answer, which indicated that I thought that nearly all the measures we introduced showed some cognisance of Back to Basics. Perhaps that is because the noble Earl does not fully understand what Back to Basics is about. I shall do my best to give your Lordships a reasonable definition.

It is intended to ensure that government policies are firmly based on the common-sense values of the British people and in particular that they encourage individual responsibility. It is essentially important in such areas as education, law and order and in the provision of public services, but it applies across a range of other government policies as well. It is for that reason that I felt that nearly all measures reflected it.

Lord Milverton

My Lords, does my noble friend realise that many of us admire Her Majesty's Government in trying to bring about, in principle, the idea of Back to Basics? Many of us believe that we need that concept and we offer the Government all encouragement to try to work it out. So, well done!

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I hope he will not mind my saying so but Back to Basics is not seeking to return to the past, indulging in nostalgia. However, we must not turn our backs, as I believe he indicated, on the strengths of our past or deem that change is inevitable.

Lord Richard

My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House said that he gave a short Answer. Perhaps I can ask him a short question. Does he think the Back to Basics campaign has been a success? If so, he is the only person in this House who does.

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I find it extraordinary that the Leader of the Opposition thinks it necessary to ask the Leader of the House whether or not a policy based on common sense is a success. A policy based on common sense is nearly always a success and I am surprised that he should try to assert otherwise.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

My Lords, is it not time that not only this side of the House, but both sides of the House, should ask themselves what the issue is about? Should we not return to sanity and retreat from trivialisation and petty party points, and go back to good common sense, respect for privacy, individual rights and freedom under the law?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, when my noble and learned friend gave that answer I nostalgically wondered why he did not also have a bell to wave at the appropriate moment.

Lord Glenamara

My Lords, would the noble Lord really say that the appalling Education Bill which is before the House, which has been universally condemned and which takes teacher training back to the 19th century, is a case of back to basics?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the Education Bill before the House at the moment is part of a whole series of education Bills that the Government have brought forward. All are about improving the standards of education of our children, which is fundamental to Back to Basics.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, when Ministers of the Crown, with one particular exception, signed public interest immunity certificates which put the liberty of a couple of subjects at risk, did they use their common sense then or were they doing what they were told by lawyers?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I am sure your Lordships would consider that for me to answer that question is nearly as unwise as it was for the noble Lord to have asked it. The Government have set up the Scott Inquiry to look into this matter. I think it would be grossly irresponsible of me to attempt to answer that question.

Lord Barnett

My Lords, is the Leader of the House saying that the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill as originally introduced into the House was a matter of common sense and back to basics?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the objectives of the Bill that was introduced into the House were fundamentally worth while. Your Lordships had some views on whether we were seeking to achieve those very worthwhile objectives in perhaps the most felicitous way. As a result of the good sense of your Lordships, I anticipate that we might make a little further progress later.

Earl Peel

My Lords, to ensure that basics are still not further undermined, can my noble friend assure the House that the UK's voting powers will not be further undermined by discussions taking place in the EC at the moment on the introduction of four additional states?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I have every confidence that my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will achieve two objectives at the negotiations. One is to further the growing co-operation within the countries of Europe and, it is to be hoped, achieve negotiations which will enable the enlargement to take place. The second is to protect the essential interests of the British people.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, is it common sense for the noble Lord's right honourable friend the Prime Minister to announce universal nursery education just before Christmas and then to take that promise away in March?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, the noble Lord is probably not speaking with all the authority of the Prime Minister's office when he asks that question. That is not the position. The matter is under review. When the Government have reached a conclusion an announcement will be made.

Lord Richard

My Lords, can I take it from that answer that the Government's commitment to nursery education for all is now under review?

Lord Wakeham

No, my Lords. The question is one of timing, as resources allow.

The Countess of Mar

My Lords, will the noble Lord reconsider the use of the words "common sense" on the basis that sense is not very common at the moment and perhaps replace them with the phrase "good sense"?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I prefer common sense, but I am very happy for the noble Countess to refer to the policies of this Government as good sense as well.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the noble Lord has at last mentioned something concrete. He has referred to an improvement in education. Is he aware that that improvement has not been remarked by most of those who work in the business? Does he think that this inability to get it perceived by the professionals is a point against his measures or in favour of them?

Lord Wakeham

My Lords, I do not think it is either. It is a question of keeping on struggling to do the right thing. Success will come in that way. The fact that at the moment we have not necessarily—I take the noble Earl's word for it—persuaded everyone in the education field that what we are doing is right, does not make me despondent that we will not achieve that.