§ Mr. Speaker
It may be for the convenience of the House if I indicate that I have not selected the first Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe). The second Amendment standing in his name relates to the Government of Northern Ireland, and the Administration by that Government does not fall within the scope of the Motion to be moved by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). Consequently, the Amendment would be out of order.
§ 11.8 a.m.
§ Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)
I beg to move,That this House condemns the ever increasing destruction of the liberties of the subject which has taken place under the present Government and calls for the immediate reversal of this tyrannical progress.I apologise for speaking at this early hour, but we are subject to the rules of the House. Addressing the House of Commons at eleven o'clock in the morning is rather like trying to write poetry before breakfast. I will not comment on the Amendment which you have not selected, Mr. Speaker, and tabled by hon. Members of the Liberal Party, save to say that both that Amendment and the one which you have ruled out of order are really only an attempt to make a mischievous contribution to the very important matter under discussion.
The Motion has a Victorian ring in its language. That is all to the good. The 19th century was, after all, the classic period of the history of our Parliamentary Constitution. The Motion is robustly worded and is reasonably specific. A debate of this kind can easily evaporate into a series of high sounding platitudes. It is certainly a political Motion, because the liberties of the subject, as we discuss them in the House, are grounded in politics. Indeed, my view of the political system is that one of its functions is to protect the liberties of the subject and to reconcile the clashes between the liberties of one individual and another, so that the liberties of specific persons are preserved without threatening the liberties of others.
809 The Motion places a specific responsibility on the present Government for the erosion of basic liberties. I immediately concede that the process of whittling away individual liberties has been carried forward by many Governments in this country. Past Conservative Governments have not been entirely blameless in this respect. But the judgment on past Governments must be left to historians. We are concerned with the present situation and with the present Government.
It is true to say that the present Government have accelerated, in an unprecedented manner, a development which is characteristic of our century. I in no way impugn the motives of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. We are not concerned with the motives of the policies of the Government but rather with their effects, since we are not a moral but a political tribunal. One function of an Opposition is a very humble one indeed. It is simply to listen so that it can express the trends and opinions and the dissatisfactions which a Government, by its very nature, are excluded from hearing.
Today we do not have to listen very long in our constituencies to realise that there is a very deep anxiety, widespread throughout the country, among ordinary men and women, that they enjoy their liberties in name but not in fact and that the powers of the State are ever increasing. The individual faced with authority, whether central or local government authority, is fairly helpless. In the whole of his professional and personal life he is at the mercy of a Government machine.
There is no written constitution in Britain, no legal guarantee of any constitutional form of our fundamental rights. Therefore, the rights of the subject depend for their protection on more intangible things. First of all, there is the maintenance and the tradition of respect for liberty, and secondly, even more importantly, the maintenance of our institutions.
It was Disraeli who at the Crystal Palace, in that famous speech made in June, 1872, declared that:The greatness and the Empire of England are to be attributed to the ancient institutions of the land.810 We could leave out the word "Empire" now, but those words, with that modification, are as significant today as they were when uttered nearly 100 years ago. The institution to which people have looked to protect their liberties is Parliament. It is true that we also have the protection of the law and the courts, but the courts will intervene only in exceptional cases, and it falls upon Parliament daily, by its actions, example and zeal, to protect the liberties of the citizen. It is not the function of Parliament to govern, and never has been. Parliament's function is quite different. It is to see that Government is carried on within the tradition of the rule of law, and secondly, subject to effective public accountability.
Who can really say that these functions are being adequately discharged today? As Members we have our weapons. We have Question Time and the Adjournment. These are time-honoured weapons, and they are certainly useful, but the question that must arise is: are they really adequate to control a swollen Executive which is today backed by the formidable resources of an enlarged Civil Service? The increase of the Civil Service, that bureaucratic power which is in itself a threat to the liberty of the individual, is continuing at an extremely alarming rate. It seems to have got out of control and is increasing at the rate of 15,000 a year. We now have nearly 500,000 non-industrial civil servants, which is near the wartime peak, when very different considerations prevailed.
There is great dissatisfaction among the public about the way in which Parliament is discharging this rôle, and it is a major cause of the cynicism among the public today, the feeling that the House of Commons is not checking the Executive when it should be. The situation is best summed up by Professor Beloff, in an arresting phrase, when he said:Only publicity today tempers the despotism of the State.There is much truth in that. Can one be satisfied with a situation in which, if one has a grievance, one has much more chance of getting it remedied if one manages to appear on the David Frost show than if one succeeds in getting it raised in this House? It is a very dangerous situation when one has to rely 811 on a form of sentimental radicalism in order to protect our basic individual rights.
If we accept the principle of Parliamentary accountability and Parliamentary control, the practical problem really comes down to developing new institutions within our Parliamentary traditions and within Parliament itself, which will achieve these things more effectively. There are those who feel nervous and dubious about innovations of this kind. They fear for the prestige of the Chamber. In my view the only way in which to restore the prestige of Members is to give them something more important to do. It is the lack of an effective rôle for back bench Members on either side of the House which has led to a decline in the esteem or status of the individual Member.
It is inevitable in a mass democracy that one should be organised on a system of party. We cannot turn back on that. It is futile to wring one's hands about the passing of the independence of the individual Member which existed in the classic period of the Parliamentary constitution in the last century. That was dependent upon one thing, namely, a limited suffrage. Today when there is universal suffrage, party discipline is its essential corollary. A frontal assault on the party system is futile. I believe in finding new scope for Members, particularly in this sphere of the rights and liberties of the subject where they can do much to improve the situation.
My first charge against the Government is that they are merely tinkering with the problem. It is a complete waste of time to bother about such questions as wigs and gowns, Black Rod, etc., because this is to concentrate one's attention on the shadow instead of the substance, leaving the basic weaknesses unimpaired. One of the most effective ways of re-establishing the control of Parliament over the Executive would be to set up a wide range of specialist committees with power to summon Ministers and civil servants before them, dealing with a wide range, not limited—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
The function of these committees would be to discuss 812 issues, especially before policy decisions are taken. One of the great difficulties about controlling the Executive today arises from the fact that by the time decisions are taken every interest has been consulted except the interests that can be expressed by a Member of this House. By the time the House of Commons comes on the scene it is very difficult to get effective action.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)
How can the hon. Gentleman possibly reconcile his talk about the erosion of the liberty of the subject to this Government's actions? The Government are setting up these specialist committees while previous Governments did nothing of the kind.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.
Certain feeble moves have been made in the right direction, but they are totally inadequate, and I am suspicious of the present Government's will to do anything more.
Another new institution is the Parliamentary Commissioner, which, when the idea was first mooted, I certainly supported. But the office has turned out—I mean no personal reflection on Sir Edmund Compton—to be a feeble flop. The reason is that it was sabotaged in advance, first by the areas excluded from his investigations, which materially reduced his powers. Speaking from direct experience in my constituency, the majority of complaints which I receive are about the exercise of power not by central but by local government, yet this is the very area from which the competence of the Commissioner is excluded.
Second, if the Commissioner is to be effective, he must have some extra weapon which we Members of Parliament do not possess, otherwise he is just duplicating our efforts. But this also he is denied. He is not allowed access, for example, to documents if the Minister concerned 813 issues a certificate saying that the production of the documents would beprejudicial to the safety of the State or otherwise contrary to the public interest,which gives the Minister complete discretion to block any inquiries. Another irony about this institution is that it was meant to restore the rule of law and the rights of the citizens, yet the occupant was appointed quite unconstitutionally before the House had passed legislation to create his post.
I conclude that the Parliamentary Commissioner or Ambudsman is totally inadequate as an institution. If we must borrow from abroad—and we should borrow only sparingly, since political institutions reflect the national character of their country—let us at least borrow effectively and intelligently. The only solution to the present swollen powers of authority in Britain is a full system of administrative control and law, similar to the French system of Conseil d'État, which would be free to review Government decisions and insist that Government policy should accord with the rules of natural justice and be fair and honest to all.
It was because those rules were violated that public feeling against the Stansted inquiry was so strong. It was felt that there was no impartial arbitration at the end and when the inspector had found, after an inquiry, that the local objections were fully justified and that the proposals would, to use his own word, constitute a "calamity" to the locality and that they could only be justified on grounds of national necessity, there was no evidence that any impartial judgment had weighed up the rights of local people against the demands of the nation.
My second charge is that the Government have made the situation worse by treating the House with contempt. I have instanced the case of the Parliamentary Commissioner, but a much worse example which comes to my mind when I gaze at the hon. Member for Manchester, Cheetham (Mr. Harold Lever) who now adorns the Treasury Bench is that of Part IV of the Prices and Incomes Act, which introduced the compulsory element in wage bargaining and was tacked on in a Standing Committee without the House having a Second Reading debate. This is what happened on a vital matter concerning the economic 814 rights of the large majority of the population.
Certainly, this gave the hon. Member for Cheetham the chance to play a distinguished part, and he covered himself in glory—but it was not a glorious day for Parliamentary institutions when that expedient was adopted. It was pushed through the House of Lords in all its stages without their Lordships even having a copy of the Bill to debate but only a White Paper, and they had to finish it in one day.
My third example is rather more diffuse. It concerns a general threatening and bullying which one finds in many spheres of Government activities as a substitute for the operation of the rule of law—
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Well, gazing at the right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell), who I am very glad is with us, I can think of an example which concerns him. When the Government declared that they intended to introduce a system of building licences for buildings costing over £100,000, now reduced, I think, to £50,000, he told the House that he proposed to take action on that declaration, which was not law, and that anyone who acted against its terms did so, if I recall his words accurately, "at his own peril". That is a very good example of what I mean.
Apart from his cavalier attitude to this House, the Government intend to launch a fundamental attack on Parliament by virtually reducing the Upper House to complete impotence.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I think that that is the sentiment of many hon. Members opposite. By abolishing it as a political force, we would abolish an important protection of the liberties of the subject. In our political life the Lords have played, as The Times said in a recent leader, "a modest and useful rôle"—
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
On a point of order. The hon. Member is proceeding to address us about the House of Lords. I hope to catch your eye later on, Mr. Speaker. He is dealing with general approval of the other place. Successive Speakers have always told us 815 to treat the other place with respect in this Chamber. Do I take it that subsequent hon. Members will be in order if they tend to disparage that institution?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
My criticism of the Government is that they are inconsistent and less than honest. Their attack on the House of Lords is mounted on the view that it is unacceptable to have in British public life a legislative institution dependent on the hereditary principle. I do not entirely agree with that view, but it is at least a tenable one. It is a dangerous view to hold because that argument can be extended and applied elsewhere. But what is quite untenable is that at the very moment that it is proposed to get rid of the argument which says that the powers of the Lords must be limited, it is proposed to limit those powers even further.
A completely synthetic constitutional crisis has been manufactured over this issue, and I want to look beyond the proposal beyond its rôle as a distraction from our economic ills or foreign policy failures to examine the principle on which it is based. I suggest that it is based on a fundamentally false constitutional doctrine, namely that in Britain the sole source of political authority is the electoral system. That is the root objection to the Prime Minister's now notorious dog licence speech. That, too, was based on that principle.
In fact, there are important sources of political power and influence in England—other than the electoral system. There is the Crown, there is the Second Chamber, there is the law, there is the Church, and there is a whole range of professions and interests which exercise political power in their own right. The political nation cannot be and should not be reduced to the slogan, "One man, one vote".
§ Mr. Hamling
Would the hon. Member tell the House by what constitutional right unelected Members of the House of Lords should exercise political power?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That is what I am saying. I am saying that we cannot identify the constitution with universal suffrage as such. We have a constitution which goes beyond that. The House of Commons, of course, is based on universal suffrage, but there are other institutions capable of making a political contribution which are based on principles other than universal suffrage and which are legitimate in their own right. The Government should be devoting itself to the constructive reform of the House of Lords which would enable that House to become a forum of a wide number of professional and other interests, other than purely party interests.
I cannot leave the question of our institutions without a word of condemnation for the attack on perhaps the most important of our institutions—the jury and the unanimity rule—which has taken place under this Government. That is not only wrong in principle but it has grave drawbacks in practice, because the Government have destroyed not only a protection of the liberty of the subject but also an institution which made for certainty. As long as we had the unanimity rule in juries, the public were prepared to accept that verdict as final, but having had the rule of majority verdicts introduced, every verdict will be a source of continuing argument until the persons concerned have all vanished from the scene.
I want to pass from our institutions to consider briefly economic freedom. In this important area freedom is becoming increasingly restricted. The most basic economic right is to spend or save one's money as one pleases, and that is a policy against which the Government have set themselves. Quite apart from the general incidence of penal taxation, we have restrictions placed on the transfer of funds, the whole exchange control system and a system of travel allowances reduced to £50 and now devalued by 17½ per cent. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite may laugh, but that is a basic right which has almost entirely been taken away by the Government—a basic right to travel abroad. That abstract right today is more widespread than it ever has been in the past; in theory there are more people capable of going abroad, and there are more people who want to 817 go abroad, but because of the action of the Government they cannot do so.
Another sphere in which freedom of choice has been materially restricted is education where the Government are concerned with imposing a system of compulsory comprehensive education which lessens the choice in the social field. The Enfield parents had to go to the High Court four times before they could get their legal rights asserted against the Minister.
Let us consider the example of pay beds. There again the Government have set themselves against the policy of giving people a choice.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. There is a Bill for Second Reading on this issue next Thursday. The hon. Member has a wide range for his debate, but he cannot anticipate the debate on the Second Reading of a Bill.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am obliged to you for your guidance, Mr. Speaker, and I will leave that example.
I want to see whether I can discover any general principle behind this attitude on the part of the Government. The principle which I discern is this: if everyone cannot have an amenity, then nobody shall have it. That is a principle which is unacceptable at any rate on this side of the House. In an egalitarian society one cannot argue a case for inequality as such, but one can argue a case for diversity and the widest possible freedom of choice in a society which has become more and more centralised and more and more mechanised.
I want to illustrate two points where freedom of the individual has been materially restricted. The first is the breathalyser system and its associated tests. It raises in a very sharp form a basic social conflict—a conflict between the rights of society and the rights of the individual. I recognise fully that drunken driving is anti-social conduct.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
On the other hand, I recognise that individuals, too, have rights. The point could be met by modifying the system. I do not suggest that we want to get rid of it altogether. The root objection to the breathalyser 818 and blood test system is that it is not flexible but absolute and that there is no opportunity to appeal away from the decision and no opportunity to appeal from refusing to take the breathalyser test.
§ Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)
On a point of order. The hon. Member is discussing amendments to the Road Safety Act. Surely it is not in order on a Private Member's Motion to discuss changes in the law.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is in order on a Private Member's Motion to discuss legislation. But the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) may not discuss legislation which is before the House at the moment.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
It is a curious attitude on the part of a member of the Liberal Party that he should attempt to use a procedural device to prevent discussion of a topic which is causing concern throughout the country.
This point would be met by allowing people an appeal to the court to establish that although they had failed to pass the relevant test, nevertheless they were fit to be in charge of a motorcar. That would meet the objections.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Liberal Party are said to be considering changing their name and that one possibility which I have heard mooted is that they should be called the Totalitarian Party?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
My next point concerns the Land Commission. Under the Act the Minister has power to take over land which he considers suitable for public development. One of the very grave defects in the law is that there is no right to an inquiry unless one happens to be an owner-occupier. The second objection refers to valuation, and this also is extremely important. I have had a great number of complaints on this point. The complaint is that valuation is too slow and that there are no clear principles involved. We are reaching the situation in which, valuers are becoming as unpopular as publicans were in the New Testament. It is not their fault but the fault of the Government for failing to provide clear principles of guidance.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
Will my hon. Friend make an important distinction between valuation by employees of the Inland Revenue and valuation by valuers who are employees of the compulsorily acquiring authority who are under pressure not to get a fair deal for the person whose land is being acquired?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
My hon. Friend has made the point so well that I do not think it necessary for me to add anything to it.
The problems the Motion raises are perennial ones facing society. The problem of politics is to balance the claims of society against the claims of the individual. We now have a permissive society and, to their credit, the Government have done certain things and removed certain injustices, as in the Homosexual Offences Act. But these are marginal matters.
I now feel that, with a combination of homosexual law reform, abortion law reform and prospective divorce law reform, perhaps permissiveness has gone far enough and that we are in danger of destroying the moral consensus on which our society is based. That is one aspect of the issue, but there are other aspects to which this Motion directly refers, and these are the more traditional liberties—freedom to dispose of one's property as one wishes, freedom from arbitrary power on the part of the Executive.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I find that comment rather odd coming from an hon. Member, who a few moments ago attempted to curtail my freedom of speech. But I will set a better example than he did and will give way to him.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Will the hon. Gentleman deal with the freedom of road users to use the roads, whether as pedestrians or motorists, without the fear of being knocked down and killed or injured by drunken drivers?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I dealt with that point in general. I do not intend to go into it in detail. If my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) catches your eye, Mr. Speaker, he will doubtless, as an expert on the subject, answer the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—that is if the hon. Member for Orpington is still in the Chamber.
The Government are rightly concerned with administration. That is their job. Equally, the Opposition have a rôle as watchdog of the liberties of the subject and it is the duty of the Opposition to give a bark as a watchdog when they see those liberties threatened. By moving this Motion, I hope to give rise to an opportunity for a general discussion of this vital issue and I hope that the debate will be a constructive contribution to a desirable and constitutional end.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
I ask the indulgence of the House in making my first speech in the House. My predecessor was Konni Zilliacus, who addressed this House and his constituents very frequently and often at great length. His maiden speech in 1945 lasted for 41 minutes, so hon. Members will not expect me to carry on at least one tradition today.
Mr. Zilliacus spoke with particular emphasis on defence and foreign affairs and if I talk in the main about schools and streets and social serivces it is not because I disagreed with "Zilli" on the importance of foreign affairs. The establishment and maintenance of peace, with which he was so concerned, are to my mind of paramount importance and "Zilli" was right to use his knowledge and experience of European affairs and languages in expressing his opinions in this House and in the country. He was right to emphasise that our policy should be based on support for the United Nations and the strengthening of the United Nations. He was consistent in his view and his maiden speech and subsequent speeches can stand the test of time better than most.
Gorton, the constituency which he represented for the last 12 years of his Parliamentary career, has recently had a 821 great deal of publicity. Some of the publicity, through television programmes and Press reports, has been inaccurate and undeserved, and I speak of only a few of those reports. But the suggestions in them than Gorton consists of row after row of Coronation Streets was inaccurate.
Gorton has some fine housing estates and a sound sense of community. It is less cynical about politics and politicians than has been suggested most of the country is and, indeed, gave great support to both major parties and treated with disdain the opinions of opinion polls.
There is a housing problem in Gorton, and a serious one, and this has not been helped by recent events in the delaying of the housing programme in Manchester. But, in a way, Gorton can give hope to towns which have been under discussion this week and whose basic industries are in decline. The districts which form the constituency—Audenshaw, Denton and Gorton—had, as their industrial base, coal mining, cotton, batting and the manufacture and repair of steam locomotives. Now, all the coal mines have gone; the cotton mills have closed and been demolished; hatting is concentrating in fewer factories and the locomotive works have been demolished; the motor car industry has come and gone. But in this waste are a large number of specialist engineering firms of wide variety.
There is a great variety of other trades, in batteries and everything from shirts to stationery. In one of the hat works closed in the last 18 months, there are now eight specialist firms expanding rapidly. An interesting feature, and one which will bring hope to other towns, is that the river bank which forms the boundary on one side of the constituency is nowadays a green belt and is largely a pleasant wooded area. This was the 19th century industrial belt, where there were coal mines, cotton mills and railways. If this process can be hastened in other towns it will be of benefit.
I want to thank the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) for initiating this debate. What some of my former pupils will think when they hear that my maiden speech was on the subject of liberty I do not know, but it will be interesting. Although I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, I thank him for giving me this opportunity.
822 As I see it, liberty in modern society is a question of balance. In a democracy, there is bound to be conflict between individual liberty and social obligations. Most of the progressive measures in this country have been at the expense of somebody's liberty. Even Magna Carta interfered with one person's liberty and prevented him from doing the things he had done previously.
Most actions of national and local government to improve, for example, health or education, have been called infringements of liberty when they have been proposed, whether they have been the raising of the school-leaving age to 12 or 14 or 16, the prevention of the employment of young children, the pasteurisation of milk or the fluoridation of water. Even the establishment of the National Health Service was denounced as an interference with liberty.
At local level, anyone who has worked, as I have, as chairman of a town planning committee will know that one can enter the job with high ideals of what one can do for one's town and end by being described as a dictator.
All this does not mean that we should not be watchful of liberty. We should—and one of the most serious aspects of the infringement of liberty at the moment is in racial discrimination. In this respect the Government are to be congratulated on their legislation, both past and to come, which endeavours to do what has not been achieved voluntarily—to help to remove discrimination on grounds of race or colour.
We have to consider the right to demonstrate. We from Manchester remember Peterloo and the people who were cut down for demonstrating for their right to vote. Demonstrations in this country recently have given rise to concern about the justice which some of the demonstrators have received. There is the right of free speech and there is the right to question. The other night I listened to students of Imperial College, London, and young people of all political parties asked me to do all I could about the efforts which they were making to hear a point of view different from that of the Government. They wanted to invite members of the N.L.F.—from South Vietnam, not South Arabia, which is now respectable—to this country to hear them and question them. The students 823 had applied to the Home Office for visas for them and had been refused. This is a mistake. Our young and old people should have the opportunity to hear points of view different from ours and to have the opportunity to question them.
There is one group about whom I worry most. It is the group with less liberty than the rest of us, because it does not know its own rights. It consists of people who are confused and bewildered in our complicated society, who do not know about claiming for Income Tax allowances, who do not know that their social security benefits are available and who do not even know when their children are entitled to free dinners, because the local authorities do not tell them the facts. They are the people who need help.
We should ask ourselves whether our education system is training people, particularly the slower learning children, in their rights and duties in this complicated system of ours. The danger is not so much of a tyrannical Government as a failure to communicate where communication is difficult. Perhaps most important in this are those people whose jobs bring them into contact with the public, difficult jobs, like being a policeman or a bus guard or a counter clerk in a town hall or a Ministry Department. A great deal depends on their not only dealing with, but helping people.
I know what difficulties they have. Anyone who has seen a housing officer trying to cope with inquiries will know what difficulties he gets. It is at these points of contact that many of the difficulties crop up. An increase in the Civil Service is not necessarily bad if we employ people who treat others with humanity. It is necessary to know our own rights and to respect those of others.
I cannot support the Motion's accusation of tyranny. It is significant that the National Council for Civil Liberties in its 1967 Report refers to the more enlightened régime at the Home Office. Enlightened leadership and tyranny do not go together. I thank the House for its courteous and tolerant hearing.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
I deem it a privilege and a 824 pleasure to congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) on his excellent maiden speech. I was particularly glad to hear his tribute to his predecessor in the House. "Zilli", as I knew him, was a man of strong and sometimes unconventional views, of great talent, wide and perhaps unique knowledge and, above all, a very lovable personality. He and I were very good friends over 22 years. I hope, and indeed I am sure, that it will not be long before the hon. Gentleman discovers that in the House of Commons differences on sincere views strongly professed are no barrier to personal friendships which one comes to cherish. I hope that he will find, as I have found, and as I am sure other hon. Members have found, that that characteristic of the House is worth a great deal and compensates to a considerable extent for the ardours and rigours of long and sometimes weary hours and for the frustrations which are inevitably also part of the life of this place.
We had been led, Mr. Speaker, from what we had heard, to expect a very high quality of contribution from the hon. Gentleman, and we are certainly not disappointed. Indeed, our expectations are wholly confirmed by the quality of his speech today and I am sure that the House will look forward with keen and pleasurable anticipation to hearing from him on future occasions.
I should also like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas)—it is very agreeable to be able to start one's speech in this aroma of felicitation—on the wise use to which he has put his good fortune in the Ballot. It may seem a little strange that the House should be discussing this particular subject at a time when our attention has been necessarily riveted on economic and financial affairs, but I am not sure that it should be regarded as inappropriate.
As hon. Members know, the initial interest of the House in financial and economic matters was as a means of exercising control of the Executive in the interests of the liberty of the subject, in establishing the doctrine that redress of grievance precedes supply. It is a basic and continuing duty of the House of Commons to seek to devise methods of protecting the liberties of the subject and 825 of reconciling what the hon. Gentleman has well called the problem of the conflict between individual liberty and social obligation.
I do not want to make a party approach to this problem, because it is a problem inherent in a sophisticated society; nor do I want to over-dramatise it. The Executive is not always authoritarian and wrong, and the individual citizen is not always reasonable and right. Nor do I subscribe to the view of the inherently authoritarian tendencies of civil servants. I do not think that that is basically so. Civil servants tend to go beyond their proper constitutional function only when impelled to do so by the weakness or incompetence of Ministers. That is the general position.
We have this problem in a sophisticated society and we have this paradox, too: that the greater the beneficent activity of the State, the greater the likelihood of grievance by the citizen requiring redress. For example, if the State goes into insurance and pensions and supplies insurance benefits or pensions for the citizen, there are bound to be cases when the individual citizen is aggrieved because in the particular circumstances of his case he is told that he is not entitled to a particular pension or benefit, or at any rate not on the scale which he believes to be his due. Similar considerations apply in State education, the National Health Service and so on. These services being provided, there will always be cases in which the individual feels that he has not had precisely the services or the attention to which he is entitled, and therefore he has a grievance, which he feels should be redressed.
If there were no services there would be no entitlement. If there were no entitlement there would be no denial. If there were no denial there would be no grievance—and if there were no grievance there would need to be no remedy. But I am far from advocating that we solve this problem by doing away with all these beneficent services. That is not the appropriate approach. But it shows that in a sophisticated society it is an inherent problem and one which requires close and careful consideration by the Legislature if the right remedies are to be established.
We have to accept that the area of potential grievance and dispute has 826 increased and will increase, and that therefore the case for establishing proper procedures is very strong. We also have to accept that these are not matters which can be resolved simply by the action of individual Members of Parliament on behalf of individual constituents, however assiduous and conscientious those Members may be. I would be the last to belittle the significance and value of the Parliamentary Question and the short Adjournment debate on these matters, but all hon. Members know that the logistics of Parliament and the Parliamentary timetable deny the possibility that Parliamentary action, without appropriate outside reinforcement, can be the sole answer to the defence of the rights of citizens in these matters.
Therefore we should approach this matter in this way: first, we have to analyse the scope and nature of the problem, secondly, to consider what has been done and whether it is enough and, thirdly, if it is not enough, to consider what should now be done.
In regard to the scope and nature of the problem, the House will recall that the Franks Committee identified two main categories of action or decision on the part of the Executive or public authorities which might aggrieve the citizen. The first main category is where the decision follows or allows for a statutory procedure involving adjudication by the courts, or by tribunals, or by Ministers following inquiries by persons appointed by them.
The demarcation incidentally, into cases where the procedure involves the courts and those where it does not is not very logically drawn. If there is a closing order or demolition order under the Housing Acts in respect of an individual house, there is an entitlement to go to the courts; but if there is a clearance order, involving the demolition of a whole area of houses, it is adjudicated only by the Minister. Another obvious example of adjudication by Minister following inquiry is to be found in cases of planning permission for the development of land, and so on.
The second main category identified by the Franks Committee is where there is no formal procedure for objection or adjudication upon action or decision taken by the Executive or a public authority involving the rights of the 827 citizen. This is much the largest category. The Franks Report said:But over most of the field of public administration no formal procedure is provided for objecting or deciding on objections. For example, when foreign currency or a scarce commodity such as petrol or coal is rationed or allocated, there is no other body to which an individual applicant can appeal if the responsible administrative authority decides to allow him less than he has requested.That was written in the days before the Prices and Incomes Board, and other examples recently occur as well. This main category where there are no formal procedures for objection and adjudication was outside the terms of reference of the Franks Committee, so there is on any count a very wide area of this problem still awaiting solution.
I pass to the second question, which is to consider what has been done and how far it has been successful. The main progress in the last decade has been the Franks Report and the subsequent establishment of the Council on Tribunals and the passage of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, 1958. I am glad to think that I was a member of the Government when that Act was passed, as was my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton).
These were useful things. For example, the requirement under the Tribunals and Inquiries Act that reasons must be stated is valuable because if a Ministerial decision is then taken which is not supported by reasons the court has power to quash. Just how valuable it is we can see in the case of the Stansted inquiry, referred to by my hon. Friend, which did not come within the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, and in which, the Minister's decision led to considerable injustice.
But it is important not to exaggerate the usefulness of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act. Cases in this category are relatively few, because investigations by the courts are confined mainly to the consideration of the forms of words used and the procedure adopted. This leads to the paradoxical result that we may have an inherently faulty administrative decision, but couched in proper phraseology, and having gone through the prescribed motions, being likely to survive, whereas what may be inherently a correct administrative decision or action which, unfortunately, has been reached in the wrong 828 way procedurally, is likely to be quashed by the courts.
It is therefore quite wrong to take the complacent view that the Franks Report and the subsequent Act solved all the problems, even in the limited sphere of its own terms of reference; and the biggest category of case lay outside its terms of reference.
Since then, remedial action has been confined to the establishment of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I join my hon. Friend in saying that the establishment of the Parliamentary Commissioner is not a sufficient or even a very significant advance in this matter. I need hardly say that I mention this in no disrespect to the Parliamentary Commissioner himself. I had the privilege of knowing him when he was a senior Treasury official during the short period in which I was a Treasury Minister, and I had every reason to know his high quality and sound judgment. If anybody could make a success of the job he could. But unfortunately it is not possible because there are two basic inherent defects in the Parliamentary Commissioner set-up.
First, there is the very extensive limitation on his jurisdiction and, secondly, he has no power of action. He has power only of investigation and report, and at the end of the day there are no teeth in the system. Therefore we are forced to the conclusion that no sufficient action has yet been taken to safeguard the individual citizen in the great mass of cases where authorities can take decisions affecting him and where no formal procedure is prescribed.
I pass to the last matter: what should be done? About four years ago, Lord Reid, in the case of Ridge v. Baldwin in the House of Lords, reported in 1964 Appeal Cases, page 70, said:We do not have a developed system of administrative law perhaps because until fairly recently we did not need it.The inference is clear—that we did need it by then, and if we needed it in 1964 we need it all the more now because the Parliamentary Commissioner has not provided the answer.
Many, if not most, countries have some form of administrative court to deal with this problem. I suppose that the best-known is the Conseil d'Etat in France to which my hon. Friend the 829 Member for Chelmsford referred. There has always been some prejudice against an administrative court in this country based on a misunderstanding of its function. The purpose of an administrative court is not to enforce administrative law but to protect the citizen against the processes of administrative action.
I have been concerned with this subject for a very long time and, in particular, with two proposals which have been put forward over the years by the Society of Conservative Lawyers. The first was the one referred to in the Franks Report and which was canvassed in our Report "The Rule of Law" in 1955 which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdon and I laboured together to help to produce. We recommended the setting up of an administrative division of the High Court to act primarily as a forum of appeal against decisions which were entirely administrative in their nature and for which no procedures were provided. The Franks Report expressed some sympathy for this, but was unable to consider it further because that field was outside its precise terms of reference.
We made the other proposal much more recently in our pamphlet "Let Right be Done", which proposed the setting up of an Administrative Commission, not as part of the High Court, but, if it be constitutionally possible, grafted on to the Privy Council, thereby reviving the historic rôle of the Privy Council in supervising the Executive. If it could not be done in that way, it could be done in some other way.
The Administrative Commission would consist of two divisions—an investigating division to do work similar to that now done by the Parliamentary Commissioner but on a much wider scale and without the limitations and inhibitions imposed upon him; and a judicial division comprising members of the higher judiciary but not exclusively composed of them and including representatives from the Civil Service, the professions, industry and the trade unions.
When we made our original suggestion for an administrative division of the High Court in 1955, we did not have the advantage of having seen the Restrictive Practices Court in action which, as hon. Members will know, is another court with this type of membership presided 830 over by a High Court judge but drawing membership from these other elements of the community. An Administrative Commission such as we propose would supply what is now lacking—that is, adjudication and remedy following the investigation of complaints. It would fill the large and obvious gap which exists in that there is no proper procedure for adjudication and remedy in the wide range of decision and action which is within the sole administrative discretion of Government Departments and public authorities.
I have no obstinate adherence to the letter of the proposals in either of the proposals put forward by the Society of Conservative Lawyers, of whose executive committee I am the chairman. But they are proposals which should be considered because I am convinced that some method must be evolved. The Government's sole contribution has been to set up the Parliamentary Commissioner. That is manifestly not enough, and I do not think that there would be very wide disagreement with that proposition. If that be so, it follows that the Government, assisted by the House, should consider the suggestions put forward by others and perhaps come forward with some of their own. If they do not a-yet have any specific proposals, then they should set up a committee with terms of reference enabling it to do what the Franks Committee was unable to do.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall, North)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that this matter of administrative law is now being considered by the Law Commission which has asked for my opinion on paper and which I should have thought had asked for his? Therefore, the matter is very much in the machine.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
I am aware of all the good work being done by the Law Commission. However, I do not think that it is a substitute for the action of this House or of the Government, although clearly the views of the Law Commission will have to be most clearly and closely taken into account. The hon. and learned Gentleman will recognise that this is not a matter merely of "lawyer's law" with which the Law Commission is primarily concerned. It goes a great deal further. The liberty 831 of the subject is the historic care and concern of this House, in particular. We must not—and I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman would not wish to be understood as saying so—take the view that, having set up the Law Commission, Parliament can leave these great matters exclusively to it and shrug off its responsibility. I am sure that that is not what the hon. and learned Gentleman meant to say.
I accept the hon. and learned Gentleman's point that good work is being done, but I ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to say that the Government are seized of this problem and will take whatever steps are necessary—set up another Committee with the right terms of reference if need be—to consider what system of law and procedure would best safeguard the citizen and the rule of law in those cases in which administrative decision is now made at the absolute and unfettered discretion of public authorities.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Pannell (Leeds, West)
I will refer to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) later, but first I must congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks). Never was a by-election result looked forward to with such apprehension by Members on this side of the House. Never was a result more welcome. I should not care what the majority was: it was still a very good result indeed. The chance was narrowly missed of bringing to the House the bearer of a famous name who, in other circumstances, would have been welcome. My hon. Friend is very much more welcome in the House than a Churchill at the present time. Anyone who knows the type of campaign which it was was sure of one thing—that the Gorton Divisional Labour Party had chosen an outstanding candidate, and his speech today brings that home to us. Of course, we hope that we shall hear from him many times.
As an older Member, I pass on this advice to my hon. Friend. Peter Thorneycroft said it to me after my maiden speech. One's maiden speech is not the most difficult speech to make in 832 this place; there is so much kindness everywhere. It is the second, third, fourth and fifth speeches that cause all the bother.
I do not know that the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East addressed himself to the Motion. His was a learned discourse. There was nothing to which he could object in the Motion. The right hon. and learned Member controverted the case of his hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). The right hon. and learned Gentleman called attention to the Law Commission. Who set up the Law Commission? It was set up under the present Lord Chancellor, because we on this side are very sensitive to the question of liberty. In that way, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was in an entirely different field to the biographer of Bagehot.
I want to know—the right hon. and learned Gentleman has not told us—from what high spot of civil liberty this country has departed since 1964. What was the high spot from which one somehow measures that in the wonderful spacious days of Queen Victoria's golden reign, everything was the best of all possible worlds? Was the right hon. and learned Gentleman speaking of the Victorian days when Asiatic cholera rolled over this country once every 19 years and followed almost the cycles of unemployment and full employment, and the housing conditions of those miserable years? Was that what the right hon. and learned Gentleman was talking about? Since 1832 there has been a continual struggle to secure the widest possible liberty. I want to know from what point we have retreated. I am reminded of all the stupid lecturers who always lecture this House on a certain high spot in Parliament from which we have descended. Especially after hearing the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Gorton, I believe that we are even better than we ever were.
I would say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the abuses of Crichel Down which instigated the Franks Report occurred under the previous Administration—
§ Mr. Iremonger
Since the right hon. Gentleman asks me, I will tell him. A Conservative Minister, if that is the distinction, who was found to be nominally responsible for an outrage resigned and he was not asked by the Government to stay in his job, as Lord Robens was.
§ Mr. Pannell
We are not talking about chairmen of nationalised boards. We are speaking about Ministers. The hon. Member is a trifle muddled. The Tribunals and Enquiries Act, 1958, was a corrective applied during the time of the previous Administration to the abuses which occurred under that Administration.
Where do I start when I speak about freedom? Full employment is the greatest freedom of all for the individual—the fact that a man stands on his feet as a man and not as a suppliant on his knees. If we measure the high spots in the 19 years between the wars when the Conservatives had unparalleled powers—apart from two minority Labour Governments—there were never fewer than 1,700,000 people out of work and 6 million people on the poverty line. What freedom did they have? [An HON. MEMBER: "Foreign travel."] Was there any foreign travel then?
During that period, successive Conservative Prime Ministers—Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain—said that there was no cure for unemployment. Therefore, as one who has experienced the tyranny of long periods of unemployment, I would sooner have a bit of State regulation which put people into work.
The breathalyser has been touched upon. Something like 380,000 people are killed, maimed or injured on the roads each year. What freedom have they at the end of the day? When I worked for a living before I came to this place, I was a road transport engineer and I have been an expert witness in the courts on motoring charges. I happen to know that even one double Scotch can affect anybody. There is a degree of recklessness that moves in directly alcohol moves in. I remember the times when I have come come from dinner, when I have taken the odd change which I should not have done. That applies to everybody.
834 The breathalyser had to come because certain juries sidestepped from their duty. Motorists would opt to go before a jury rather than a magistrate, and then the learned counsel used to say—and how often I have seen it—"There but for the grace of God, members of the jury, goes every one of you". Consequently, we had to bring something arbitrary to bear. I can only say that the limits of alcohol which are allowed in the blood are exceptionally high, far higher than in Sweden and other places. If some hundreds—or, it may be, thousands—of road accidents are abated, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will have been justified in everything she has done. The sort of occasions when the licensed victuallers from all over the country come down to this House are ridiculous and irresponsible.
Let us deal with the question of Parliament. The hon. Member for Chelmsford—and, I thought, the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East,—seemed to think that we had very few checks. Consider them. Every hon. Member knows that they are a reality. There is the letter to a Minister. There is the Parliamentary Question. One can see the Minister, and one can move the Adjournment of the House. We have the Public Accounts Committee, which stopped one of the greatest abuses of all times the Ferranti scandal. We have the Estimates Committee and its Sub-Committees, which go all over the world. We have set up the Specialist Committees, for which the hon. Member has asked.
As one who has always been interested in the affairs of this House, I can tell the hon. Member that the previous Administration during its 13 years had a bad record in the non-implementation of Select Committee recommendations. The party opposite farmed out various matters to Select Committees. There was the question of Members' salaries and the Stokes Committee's Report. The party opposite did very little about matters of that sort which affected Members. The Specialist Committees have started and are a reality. Recently, the Agriculture Committee has been to Brussels, in the teeth of the early opposition of the Foreign Office. And so we move on.
835 Checks and balances are all over the place. The hon. Member for Chelmsford, in addressing the House in the way he did, tended to play down his own qualties. He is a man of resource and he knows where to go. I ask him not to sell himself as the Member for Chelmsford more cheaply than he need do. He is a pretty effective Member when he wants to be. He knows that full well. [An. HON. MEMBER: "On the wrong issues."]
Take the Parliamentary Commissioner. I saw the papers at the time that office was set up. I was a Minister. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that as this was the start of a new innovation, the Parliamentary Commissioner has enough work to do for a start. Probably after one or two years, in the light of experience, we will widen his powers. But every Member of Parliament ought to be a Parliamentary Commissioner, and very often is. Consequently, we want to do nothing to weaken the effectiveness of individual Members of Parliament. I have no doubt that if one were to speak to Sir Edmund Compton, he would say that he has plenty enough to do. After a few months, when his reports begin to come, I am sure that they will show some outstanding cases of abuse that he has righted.
The hon. Member quoted Disraeli, something in 1857.
§ Mr. Pannell
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will tell me the exact date when Disraeli said that "Conservative Government is organised hypocrisy".
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
If I were the biographer of Disraeli instead of Bagehot, I would no doubt be able to.
§ Mr. Pannell
The hon. Gentleman is very selective in his quotations, too.
In exactly the same way he mentioned Stansted, but the Stansted business did not start with this Government. It was years before. It was investigated, and all sorts of things were considered which helped the Government to make the decision, and I have no doubt that if a Conservative Government had remained in office they would have come to exactly the same conclusion.
836 Other hon. Members want to get into the debate and I do not want to delay them or detain the House too long, but this is, naturally, a wide-ranging debate, and I would add a word about the prices and incomes policy.
I am almost by tradition a trade unionist; I shall have been one 50 years next year, and nobody has ever preached more for the rights of the workers in collective bargaining than I have, or the maintenance of full-scale employment and all those sorts of things. However, there comes a time when, quite frankly, legislation has to be brought in merely to safeguard the national interest. Those arguments which the hon. Gentleman advanced would not have been arguments he would have advanced in war time. Now, of course, we are in an economic battle, which is a battle for survival, following the heritage which was left to us by the Conservative Government. That is the position we are in at the present time.
I would suggest that we are consulting individual liberty when we try to secure the greatest good for the greatest number. The hon. Gentleman mentioned historical cases in which there was interference with the liberty of the subject, but in the national interest. Within my constituency there is Armley Gaol, where private enterprisers are steadily taken in day by day and week by week because, presumably, they are trying to interfere with somebody else's liberty. There is a price we have to pay for it.
I suggest that the case for this Motion has not been made either by the speech of the hon. Member for Chelmsford or by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East. We have seen, I think, a widening of liberty under a Labour Government: the fact that people are not left under the tyranny of a doctor's bill, the fact that we have created a foundation below which the porrest and humblest cannot fall. Of course, there will be other people whose liberties have been interfered with for the sake of others' needs, but I am afraid we shall have to proceed on the basis of the greatest good for the greatest number.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell) has asked from what high point of 837 liberty this country has fallen. Without being in the slightest controversial, I would think that if we were to ask the majority of the British public, having regard to the Prices and Incomes Act, the squeeze and freeze and the unemployment of the last year, they would say, "We have fallen from a point which was higher in 1964 than it is today."
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), first, on winning the Ballot, and secondly, on bringing forward this Motion. His winning of the Ballot is an example of what I call the inverse golden rule of the House of Commons, and that is the more one speaks the more opportunities one has to speak. He is an indefatigable speaker on all sorts of worthy subjects, and, of course, is sure to win a place in the Ballot. Some ten years ago I did a great deal of speaking and had no difficulty in getting drawn in the Ballot, but now I make only occasional contributions and I cannot get within 20 of the winning number. Anyhow, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this subject forward.
I shall confine myself to a narrow front, and that is the administration of the law on the use of the breathalyser under the Road Safety Act, 1967. The breathalyser is an infringement of liberty, but it is one which I, and I think the majority of the House, agreed to in principle because we thought it would bring about road safety, and many had come to the conclusion that some scientific measurement of impairment of a man's driving ability was necessary, having regard, as the right hon. Gentleman said, to the difficulty the police, juries and magistrates had in making up their minds whether a man was under the influence of drink or not. I thought it was necessary, and a majority of the House agreed to it, but I agreed to it with some reservations.
I feel, unlike the right hon. Gentleman, that we set the limit of 80 rather low. The average in the world is 100 milligrams per millilitre. That figure obtains in France, Belgium, Germany and U.S.A., and so we did set it more towards that of the Scandinavian countries, which are within the 50 to 80 bracket. So it is rather on the low side.
If there were abuse by the police of the breathalyser there could be a real 838 infringement of the liberties of the subject. It is really surprising how tremendous an effect and shock this law has had on the British public. My publicans tell me in my constituency in Twickenham that their trade has fallen off between 15 per cent. and 25 per cent. and even in those pubs where they do not have very much motor traffic. In the country pubs I have stopped at they tell me that trade has fallen off by 33⅓ per cent., or even more. It has meant a tremendous interruption of the social pattern of life in this country. We do not want people to stop at home drinking in secret, moping in front of the television. We do not want to interrupt social life. We want people to get about and meet their friends and so on.
How is it that this breathalyser could be at the present time being abused? Are there random tests? There is a good deal of suspicion in the country that random tests are taking place.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I shall come to that in a moment, but the Minister of Transport, when she introduced her first Bill on this subject, included random tests, and then she dropped them. That was in 1966. She reintroduced the Bill with no random tests, and when she introduced it she said in the Second Reading debate:I stress that we are not giving the police power to stop motorists solely in order to see whether they merit a breath test. There can, therefore, be no question of the police setting up traps just around the corner from a public house and waiting to pounce."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th November, 1966; Vol. 735, c. 987.]In Committee on the Bill the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department said:There is no reason to suppose that the police would go in for setting traps outside public houses. This would irritate the public and damage relations with them, and would lead in many cases to the mouth alcohol effect, with misleading results."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 29th November, 1966; c. 142.]The mouth alcohol effect means that one should not take the test for 15 to 20 minutes after the last drink of alcohol.
In my constituency my attention has been drawn to a case the other day when a man come out of his local, got into his motor car, drove across the road, and 839 was then pounced on by a policeman who came out of a hedge. The policeman stopped him and when my constituent asked why the officer replied, "Because I suspect that you have alcohol in your body." My constituent said, "Of course I have. I have just left the public house." He was tested, but the test proved negative and he drove off.
Then there is the case which has been widely reported where three motorists in succession were stopped in the Cromwell Road. One happened to be the public relations officer of a Government Department. He asked the constable, "Why are you stopping us? Have we committed a traffic offence? "The constable replied, "No, you have not, but I have the complete discretion to stop you if I wish." It is reported to me that here again the motorists were tested, but all the tests proved negative and they drove on.
The third case concerned a representative of the Rover Motor Company who was entertaining an American visitor at an hotel in Birmingham. After dinner, he came out of the hotel and went up to his car, by which a policeman was standing. He asked him, "Have I parked my car in the wrong place? Is that why you are here?" The constable replied, "No, but I am going to put the breathalyser on you." It so happened that the American was more or less teetotal and had drunk only Coca Cola. The Rover Motor Company's representative, being a good salesman, had also taken only Coca Cola. But the driver was tested and, of course, the test proved completely negative.
It is quite true that we left in the Bill the power for a constable to administer the breathalyser test to anyone whom he suspected of taking alcohol. However, in Committee it was generally agreed that the power would be used only if a constable had evidence of a man weaving about or being unsteady, or other evidence to make him think that a person had taken sufficient alcohol to impair his driving ability. Certainly it was not to be used for random testing.
I notice that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport is now present. Perhaps he will instruct 840 his hon. Friend the Financial Secretary whether or not I am correct in saying that it was generally agreed that random testing would not be carried out.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I have given three instances which have been credibly reported to me, and I am quite sure about the one which occurred in my own constituency.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. John Morris)
I am glad that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) has at last become aware of my presence on the Treasury Bench. He has taken a little time to do so. I hope that that is no indication of the hon. Gentleman's present condition.
This matter was raised yesterday with my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State to the Home Department, that being the Department primarily responsible. The position was made quite clear. There is no intention of having random tests.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am very glad to hear that. It so happens that I asked the Question which the Under-Secretary of State answered, and I admit that he said that it was not the intention to have random tests.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Because, although it may be the intention of the Government, they can only control the Metropolitan Police. They cannot control what chief constables all over England, Wales and Scotland do. It may be that the wishes of the Government have not been passed on to all chief constables, and it is time that their wishes were made more widely known.
The next question which I wish to ask is whether the breathalyser used by the police is completely safe in all circumstances. It is the German Draeger Normalair, and consists of a sealed glass phial. Before it is used each end of the tube has to be filed off in order to open it up. At one end a balloon is fixed, and a rubber tube is placed on the other end. The person to be tested is asked to blow into the tube until he 841 fills the balloon. That is all very well if he fills the balloon with one breath, but it may be that an elderly or sick person will require more than one breath to fill the balloon. I have been asked whether, after the filing off of the ends of the glass phial, there is any risk of glass particles being sucked back by anyone taking a second breath in order to fill the balloon. I understand that there are other types of breathalyser on the market where no filing off of the ends of the tube is necessary. There is the one used by the Belgian police, for example, and there is another type used by the United States police.
Another point is that the breathalyser is not accurate. It has about a 10 per cent. tolerance. It may be that there is a case for putting the little red line further up the tube so as to be sure that an offence has been committed.
Two or three weeks ago, I asked the Home Secretary how many cases there have been in the London area up to the end of October. I was told that 823 people had been tested; that of those 823 only 299 proved to be positive at the police station; and that of the 299, 210, or about 70 per cent., were being proceeded against. Out of 823 people to whom the breathalyser was applied, only a quarter are being prosecuted, which means that three-quarters of them were tested unnecessarily. In view of that, I ask whether the breathalyser is sufficiently accurate and, secondly, whether those figures are any indication of random testing.
Lastly, publicans must be encouraged to stock and sell a safe type of breathalyser. I see every reason for it. Surely a person is entitled to know how much he is able to drink. The Minister's advice to motorists saying, "Do not drink and drive", is the most fatuous advice I have heard.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Because there are 4 million motorists who go once or twice a week to a public house and, of course, they must have half a pint or a pint of beer.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
It is part of the social pattern. If the country were completely teetotal or we had a Prohibition 842 Act, they would not drink, but if they take their friends to a public house, they cannot be expected not to have a drink.
They are entitled to know how much they can drink, and publicans should be encouraged to stock and sell breathalysers, which are now in fairly free supply. A breathalyser today is just as vital as a speedometer on a motor car. It is just as important for a man to know how much he can drink as it is for him to know how fast he can go in his motor car. I cannot see any difference.
The breathalyser could become a dangerous infringement of the liberty of the subject, unless it is properly controlled and handled reasonably and with discretion. If the Government say that it will be handled reasonably and with discretion and that that instruction finds its way to police forces all over the country, I for one shall be satisfied. However, if it is abused in any way the public will have every reason for complaint against the handling of this affair by the Government.
§ 12.49 p.m.
§ Sir Dingle Foot (Ipswich)
I do not propose to comment on the remarks of the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), because it seems to me that the Motion raises far larger issues than the application of the breathalyser.
Before I come to them, however, I want to join in the congratulations which have been extended to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) on a very notable maiden speech.
Those of us who have listened to the debate so far must be struck by the contrast between the terms of the Motion and the speeches which we have heard. I will come a little later to the terms of the Motion, but, of course, it is entirely right and proper that the subject matter of this debate should be raised in the House from time to time. It is the business of all hon. Members—I would say to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), not only of Opposition hon. Members—to resist encroachments by the Executive or, indeed, by anyone else upon the rights and liberties of the subject.
If I might reminisce for a moment, I have endeavoured to raise similar matters from time to time. First, on the 27th 843 November, 1934—going back quite a long time—when I was in the place which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) now occupies, I moved an Amendment to the Address which began,But humbly regret that the policy pursued by Your Majesty's Ministers continues to encroach on the personal, political and economic liberties of the subject…—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th November 1934; Vol. 295, c. 783.]That was defeated, I may say, by 358 votes to 25.
On 27th January, 1937, imitating Mr. Dunning's famous Motion about the powers of the Crown in 1780, I movedThat, in the opinion of this House, the power of the Executive has increased, is increasing, and ought to be diminished."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January 1937; Vol. 319, c. 1026.]On that occasion I regret to say that I was counted out. But it is true, going back a little—and this is germane to the subject matter of the debate—there were in those days a great many people who were genuinely concerned about Executive and legislative encroachments on the rights of the citizen. It was that concern which led Lord Hewart, the then Lord Chief Justice, to write his book, "The New Despotism", and it was following that that a Labour Lord Chancellor, Lord Sankey, set up the Committee on Ministers' powers, which reported in 1932 and which anticipated by a good many years almost exactly the findings of the Franks Committee during the 1950s. Since then there have been a whole series of Measures designed to safeguard the rights of the individual. Nearly all those Measures, with one exception—and I will mention the exception in a moment—have been passed while we have had Labour Governments in office.
The first, and perhaps the most important of all, was the Crown Proceedings Act, which became law in 1947. That Act had been drafted in 1925. It was intended to get rid of the extraordinary anomaly in our law under which it was possible to bring an action for personal injury or other matters against a private citizen, but not against a Government Department. So that, if somebody was injured by a motor car driven by a private person, he had his redress in the courts. If the car was owned by 844 a Government Department he had no redress under the law.
There were protests year after year against the state of the law. I and other hon. Members during the 1930s constantly demanded of the Government why the Crown Proceedings Act should not be passed. We were always rebuffed, and it was not until 1947 that that Measure reached the Statute Book. I say, in all fairness, that I think it reached it at that particular moment because there was a decision in the House of Lords which spotlighted the state of the law. None the less, this was passed under a Labour Government. I do not believe that it would ever have been passed if the party opposite had been in power.
That was followed by something which I think is equally relevant. In 1949 we had the system of legal aid. Up till then, of course, our system of administration of justice had always been open to the familiar jibe that the courts are open to anyone, like the Ritz Hotel. A great many people have been able to enforce their rights not only against private citizens, but against Government Departments as well, because of that Measure which was passed in 1949. There are a great many actions which are brought now. Without going into the merits of any particular action, I think it is very often salutary that a Minister should be challenged in the courts and, where the courts think it right, that they should administer judicial correction. That is the view which I have often expressed and shall go on expressing. However, there are a great many people who could not enforce those rights if it were not for the system of legal aid.
We then had the Tribunals and Inquiries Act. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) that that was a valuable Measure. There is no conceivable reason why it should not have become law some 20 years earlier because—I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was out of the House—the recommendations of the Franks Committee really only repeated the recommendations of the Committee on Ministers' Powers in 1932. There were many of us who, year after year, asked that those recommendations should be carried out, but we asked without success.
845 Then we had the Parliamentary Commissioner.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
The Donoughmore Committee reported in 1932. There was then the National Government of those days. No action was taken at that time, if that is what the right hon. and learned Gentleman complains of. Later, he would not presumably expect action to be taken in the war years. What is his explanation, if that be the case, about why action was not taken to implement the recommendations of the Donoughmore Committee's Report during the Attlee Government of 1945 to 1951?
§ Sir D. Foot
I will deal, first, with the years 1932 to 1939. During those years there were many of us in this House who constantly pressed that the recommendations of the Donoughmore Report be carried out. We never got any satisfaction at all.
It is true that the Attlee Government did not carry through those particular recommendations, but they did make the two very extensive changes in the law to which I have just referred. They have a far better record in this respect than any previous Administration since 1914.
We then had the 1958 Act. I give credit so far as it is due, though I say that we should have had it far sooner.
We then had the Parliamentary Commissioner. Hon. Members opposite tried to play down the rôle of the Parliamentary Commissioner. I agree that his powers are restricted in some respects. I personally regret that he does not have power to inquire into the operations of statutory corporations and nationalised hoards. I hope that we shall extend his powers in due course. However, we should not underrate the importance of the Act that was passed, because this is the first time in the whole history of British administration that anyone has been able to go beyond the veil of Ministerial discretion, has been able to go into the Department, see the documents, and demand to know why a particular decision was arrived at. To anyone familiar with our Administrative set-up that is absolutely revolutionary. That again is something which would not have been achieved if the party opposite had remained in power.
Something else which has not been referred to as yet in the course of this 846 debate is that this Government, for the first time, have acceded to the right of individual petition to the Commission and to the Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. A few months ago, when I was still occupying the office of Solicitor-General, I had the interesting experience of going to Strasbourg before the Commission on Human Rights where the Government were being impleaded by two immigrants, one an Indian and one a Pakistani, who alleged that their human rights had been violated by action taken by the Government. Other countries had granted the right of individual petition, but we had not. I believe that this is a very valuable new safeguard for the rights of the subjects of this country.
When one comes to Parliamentary control, I would ask the House to consider the various reforms which are being carried through by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House: first, of the establishment of Select Committees connected with Departments and, secondly, the change which is taking place in the application of Standing Order No. 9. Both of those represent a considerable extension of the powers of this House over the Executive.
We are asked in the Motion to condemn… the ever increasing destruction of the liberties of the subject …and we are then asked to call… for the immediate reversal of this tyrannical progress.When hon. Gentlemen opposite table Motions containing words of that kind they must not complain if their own record is examined. The party opposite was in power for 13 years and there were many occasions during that time when fundamental issues affecting human freedom were raised. They largely arose in colonial debates and I will remind the House of three examples.
On 2nd July, 1954, Mr. Fenner Brockway, as he then was, when an hon. Member of this House, sought to bring in a Bill to provide that no British subject or protected person shall be deported from, or rusticated in, any British colonies, protectorates or trusteeship territories without a preceding trial. He was attacking the arbitrary power of deportation and rustication which existed at that time in a great many colonial and dependent territories.
847 There was a clear issue, as clear as one could possibly have. The Bill was introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule and all that the House had to consider was not the details of the Measure, but the principle involved. It was voted down. Labour and Liberal hon. Members voted together in its favour while all the Tory hon. Members voted against it. That was something far more fundamental than the breathalyser. It was something which went to the very roots of individual freedom. Their vote was typical of the attitude of the party opposite during those years.
I was out of the House for a number of years and, in 1954, I went to Kenya. I had the opportunity of going round the detention camps in Kenya and, at that time, the country was still under the state of emergency which had been declared in the autumn of 1952. In those camps were many thousands of men and women—there were 60,000 in one camp alone—who had been in prison for two-and-a-half years or more without trial or any judicial process.
When I returned to this country I had the curiosity to read through the columns of HANSARD to see what were the reactions of the British political parties to the state of affairs. It was extremely interesting to discover the result. I found that during the two and a half years in question, one Question had been tabled by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) on behalf of the Liberal Party. I found that there were two occasions when hon. Gentlemen opposite had asked something of the Colonial Secretary about the detainees, but without any note of protest. I also found that during the whole of those years, literally not a month, and scarcely a week, had passed without a speech, a Question or some kind of protest from the Labour benches. I do not believe that one could have a more striking example of the difference of outlook between the Tory Party and the other parties when it comes to the question of personal liberty.
§ Mr. Hamling
Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that the same could be said in the case of Rhodesia? Is he aware that not one protest has even been made from the benches opposite about the police state there?
§ Sir D. Foot
My hon. Friend anticipated what I was about to say. We have had a large number of debates on Rhodesia in the last three years. In Rhodesia, every form of civil liberty is not merely eroded but destroyed. Every democratic process has been abandoned. African leaders have been locked up for four years without trial. There is ridiculous censorship and increasing measures of apartheid, themselves a denial of fundamental civil liberties. With one or two honourable exceptions, when we debate Rhodesia never do we hear a word of protest or condemnation from hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Consider another example. One of the chief liberties of the subject is, of course, the right to publish or produce any production on the stage or elsewhere without prior censorship. We in this country have a form of censorship which is unique because it is not found necessary in any other country in the world. I refer to the censorship of stage plays. It was imposed by Sir Robert Walpole, for political reasons, in the eighteenth century and it has remained ever since, despite the protests of generations of actors and dramatists.
In the Parliament before 1964 I ventured to raise this matter. On 5th December, 1962, I sought to introduce a Bill to abolish the compulsory jurisdiction of the Lord Chamberlain over stage plays. That, again, was introduced under the Ten Minutes Rule and only the principle was involved. When the vote was taken, the ayes in favour of the Bill totalled 77, while the noes numbered 134. Of the party opposite, only two hon. Gentlemen came into the Lobby in support of my Bill.
Since then, we have had the inquiry by the Select Committee, presided over by my right hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss), and he is introducing a Bill to carry out the recommendations of the Committee. We may reasonably hope that, after this lapse of 200 years, we shall get rid of this indefensible form of censorship. We would not have got rid of it, or even have had the Select Committee, if the party opposite had still been in office.
It has always seemed to me that perhaps one of the most extreme cases of the exercise of executive authority over 849 the individual is the treatment of the immigrant and the alien. I refer to the immigrant, whether or not he be a Commonwealth immigrant, or an alien, coming to these shores and who is turned back at the sole discretion of an immigrant officer or the alien who has been in this country for perhaps many years and is suddenly told that he must leave.
Those are extreme invasions of the liberty of the subject and they have been matters of protest in this House for many years. Time and again they have been raised in debates on, for example, the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. When we debated the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill many of us protested particularly against the absence of any form of appeal for the man who was refused admission at our ports. It is, after all, something very tragic indeed when somebody who has come halfway across the world, perhaps using his life's savings for the purpose, is told that he must go back and that he has no redress or appeal.
Now we are dealing with the matter and we have had the Report of the Wilson Committee. As I would have expected, it is an excellent Report. It is proposed, for the first time, that there should be a right of appeal for the commonwealth immigrant or alien who is refused admission. It is proposed that the alien who is told to leave this country should have recourse to an independent tribunal. I have no doubt that the Government will give effect to those recommendations. Again, this is something of immense importance to the liberty of the subject and something which would not have been done—which would not even have been attempted—if the party opposite had remained in power.
If one takes the whole record of the Government, in relation to the Ombudsman, the Commission on Human Rights, our alterations in Parliamentary procedure, what has been done about stage censorship and what is being done about immigrants and aliens, then I say that this is a magnificent record. A few months before the General Election, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister came to the Temple to address a meeting of the Society of Labour Lawyers. He discussed a number of topics that I have been discussing today and he said that we must make sure that the indi- 850 vidual was never made to feel helpless before the great juggernaut of the modern State.
No Government have ever done more, no Government have ever done so much, to protect the individual against the great juggernaut of the modern State. It is interesting that such a Motion should come from the party opposite. There is a precedent. Hon. Members can find that precedent in the nineteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The House may recall that when the Apostle Paul arrived at Ephesus, he preached certain strange, novel, doctrines with disastrous results upon the profits of the silversmiths.
The silversmiths were summoned together by Demetrius—who was really the spiritual predecessor of the hon. Member for Chelmsford—and they considered this appalling situation. Action had to be taken, but they did not go out and say, "Our profits are being threatened." No, they all got together and cried, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians". In the same spirit and for much the same reasons, hon. Members come here today and cry, "Great is the liberty of the subject."
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
It is a very great pleasure to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) who, at the outset of his speech, showed us that there was an occasion when he was an extremely good Liberal and sat in much the same position in this House as I do now. I have been accused, by reason of the Amendments to this Motion appearing in my name and those of my hon. Friends, of making mischief. I do not think that this is a fair accusation.
As for the first Amendment, which has not been called, I wonder whether it has not had some effect on the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) because, as has been pointed out, his speech bore very little relation to the terms of his Motion. It would have been very much better if, in his Motion, instead of saying "… the present Government" he had said "… under all Governments". We know that this is true and whatever our political persuasion we realise that it has been so under all Governments.
§ Mr. Pardoe
When I read the Motion I had great expectations because I profoundly respect the hon. Member for Chelmsford. He is a highly civilised Member of this House and he has that strange quality which one might call "style". It sometimes sounds a little laboured in supplementary questions and sometimes smacks a little too much of the midnight oil. He seems sometimes, too, to have stepped out of the pages of Ronald Firbank and might perhaps be called the Cardinal Pirelli of British politics. If anyone embodies liberalism in the modern Tory Party, then he does.
I expected great things of him and I was profoundly disappointed. The terms of the Motion show that it is a sterile piece of party politics and that is why I put my Amendments on the Order Paper. If anyone forced this debate onto party political lines, it is the hon. Member, by putting down his Motion in these terms. I do not want to make a speech about Northern Ireland, but there are some aspects of the Northern Ireland régime—
§ Mr. Hamling
Would the hon. Member not agree that this is a very good opportunity—on a Friday—to do this because for the first time in years we have 50 per cent. of the Tories opposite from Northern Ireland?
§ Mr. Pardoe
I had hoped that the hon. Member for Chelmsford might have thought of touching on what is undoubtedly the most flagrant example of the erosion of the liberties of the subject—the régime in Northern Ireland. I gave him every opportunity to do so, but unfortunately he refused.
§ Captain Orr
I do not want to deny anyone any liberty of speech, I merely want to safeguard my own liberty of speech. The hon. Member has made a flat assertion, which is extravagant and mischief-making. Will I be permitted within the terms of this Motion, to show why it is so?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
I am afraid not. I was about to rule the hon. Gentleman out of order 852 anyway. He is out of order and will not be allowed to proceed on those lines.
§ Mr. Hamling
Further to that point of order. Have not previous Speakers ruled that, even though an Amendment is ruled out of order, and cannot be spoken on, it can be referred to if it is on the Order Paper?
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
It is not within the province of this House to deal with the conduct of the Government in Northern Ireland on any matter.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Further to that point of order. Will you please inform the House whether you will permit discussion on any matters in Northern Ireland that are the responsibility of the United Kingdom Parliament? I have always understood that, although we could not criticise the Northern Ireland Government, in so far as any matter occurred in the province which was within the responsibility of this House, then it would be proper to discuss that subject.
§ Mr. Pardoe
That was a point that I wished to seek your guidance upon. I understand, from the Representation of the People Act, that the Home Secretary has the power in many cases to appoint a returning officer and—as it was gerrymandering and certain electoral devices which I wished to raise—I would hope that they would be in order.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is correct that the appointments are within the province of the Home Secretary, but the conduct after the appointment is made is not within the province and keeping of the Home Secretary.
§ Mr. Pardoe
In that case, I take it, upon that Ruling, that I would not be in order to refer to anything to do with the returning officers? Is that the case?
§ Mr. Pardoe
I must accept your Ruling and I will not attempt to make further remarks about the Government of Northern Ireland except, perhaps, to draw attention to the strange anomaly, whereby they are entitled to send Members here 853 to discuss our affairs, but we are totally silenced on this disgraceful tyranny which we see before us.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I must insist that the hon. Gentleman leaves the question of the conduct of the Northern Ireland Government entirely out of this debate.
§ Mr. Lubbock
Further to that point of order and in relation to the conduct of the returning officers. These returning officers for Parliamentary elections in Northern Ireland are approved by the Secretary of State under Section 17(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1949. Surely the Home Secretary, who has power to remove the returning officers for these constituencies in Northern Ireland, must be responsible for their conduct and, therefore, anything which they do in derogation of the duties placed on them by the Secretary of State, must be a proper matter for this House to comment upon?
§ Mr. Hamling
Further to that point of order. The Motion before the House, which is in order and has been accepted, refers to the continued erosion of the liberties of the subject. I submit that this refusal, and inability, of Members to discuss Northern Ireland is one of the liberties of the subject which is being restricted and, by the definition of the Motion before us, something which we ought to be able to discuss.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I must adhere to the Ruling which has been given on many occasions in this House, that those matters which are within the province of the Northern Ireland Government are not for discussion in this House.
§ Mr. Pardoe
In order that I should be able to proceed with my speech, I will accept your guidance, and avoid any further reference, in the comfortable knowledge that what is ruled out of order in this House is not necessarily rendered untrue.
§ Mr. R. Chichester-Clark (Londonderry)
Since reference has been made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) to the 854 presence of Northern Ireland Members, may I say that it has been an absolute privilege to be here in order to hear the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and in particular to hear his most realistic appraisal of the irresponsible behaviour of the leaderless, tattered pack, which is the Liberal Party.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. It would help the Chair and the House if further references to Northern Ireland in this context were not made.
§ Mr. Pardoe
It is difficult for me to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark), except to point out that his mathematics are somewhat strange. About one-sixth of the Parliamentary Liberal Party is present and rather less than one twenty-fifth of the Conservative Opposition. I have confidence in the fact that my party would rather that I was one-twelfth of it than would the hon. Member's party that he was one-twenty-fifth of his.
What this debate should be about, if not about Northern Ireland, is the way in which the modern State has taken to itself a vast range of powers, the development of the modem State, and what we can do to change society to ensure that the liberty of the individual is in future secured.
I take my stand on the view that for too long the frontiers of individual freedom have been pushed back, the area of individual responsibility diminished and the range of individual choice foreshortened. This has happened under both Conservative and Labour Governments for in this, as in many other things, they are as alike as two peas. Indeed, if this was America, they could well run on the same ticket. It is a one-way ticket to the omnipresent, all-embracing, overpowering, bureaucratic, corporate State. That is what this debate should be about and that is what liberty is about.
As a Liberal, I start first and foremost with the individual and not the State. I am aware that there may be others, perhaps Socialists, who would say that if we alter society, we alter the people. I regard that as a dangerous notion, because for a Liberal the basic political unit is 855 the individual. Man's highest achievement is the development of the individual to his fullest potential, and a Liberal society is one which provides the best possible conditions for the development of individual character.
That is not to say that I do not wish to change society or that I deny a governmental responsibility for social conditions. We are responsible as Parliamentarians and politicians for the kind of society in which the individual develops, for the housing in which he is born and lives, for the school in which he is educated and, the job in which he spends the greater part of his life. Therefore, the doctrine of individual development is not one of laissez faire.
Positive liberalism, by which I stand, accepts State intervention. This was well put as long ago as 1892 by Green, when he said:I am one of those who believe that the collective action of the community may and ought to be used positively as well as negatively: to raise as well as to level; to equalise opportunities no less than to curtail privilege; to make the freedom of the individual a reality and not a pretence.Therefore, positive liberalism starts with the individual and his rôle in society, but we do not fall into the position of some Conservative philosophers of being anti-State.
We are all interventionists now. One often hears the expression "interventionist" thrown by Conservative spokesmen across the Floor of the House as though it were a derogatory term, and yet, although Conservatives may cry in that way, when their privileges are threatened, we know how they cry when the Government wish to close down one of their railway lines. Then, indeed, it is a scream for intervention of the first order.
How do we ensure, however, that interventionism does not become its own raison d'être, that it does not grow by what it feeds on, and that we do not then have intervention for intervention's sake? The rôle of the State, has vastly increased. Government responsibility is much greater than it was 50 or 100 years ago. If Governments are to accept this wide responsibility they must, presumably, be given the powers with which to carry out that responsibility.
856 If the Government are held responsible for road deaths, they must, presumably, have the power to subject us to the breath test. If they are held responsible for the rising cost of living, they must have the power to control incomes and prices. If they are responsible for the balance of payments, they must be able to control Bank Rate, hire-purchase conditions and even the collection of gold coins. The trouble is that each one of those powers seems eminently reasonable in itself, but together they make for the erosion of liberty. Gradually, the State has moved in and is exercising bureaucratic and absolutist authority over the whole range of human endeavour.
The task before us, therefore, is to redefine the scope and functions of society. It is no good indulging in party war cries. We are all in this together. We are all doing it, and we are doing it to ourselves. For instance, hire-purchase restrictions have been used by Governments of both political persuasions. If I wish to lend money to a man who wants to buy a motor car, why is my liberty eroded by being told that I must have a deposit of one-third in advance and that I cannot allow him to make payments over a greater period than 27 months? This seems to be an erosion of liberty, but it may nevertheless be necessary. It is no more an erosion of liberty than refusal to grant an industrial development certificate or, for instance, to allow a development company to put up an office block in central London. These are the things which we have accepted and which are done by all sides.
I doubt whether the present structure of our society can cope with the magnitude of the problem. Neither capitalism nor Communism seems to me to have the answer. It is not only in the economy that capitalism tends towards monopoly. It is in the exercise of governmental power as well. There are vast centralising forces at work in every modern State.
The new rôle of Government must be constantly to stir outwards the monopolistically inclined and centralist forces in our society and our economy. If the rôle of the State enlarges in some spheres, it must contract in others. In some ways this is already taking place. We have had changes in the law on suicide, which is no longer illegal, and changes in the law on homosexuality and abortion and we 857 are, possibly, to discuss changes in divorce. Not all hon. Members would agree that those are an extension of liberty.
I will quote from the November issue of New Horizon, a journal of an obscure part of the Conservative Party which goes under the name of the National Liberal Organisation. In this month's issue, we have this extraordinary outburst.Over the last few years great inroads have been made into personal liberty while immorality and perversion have been legalised … The vast majority of the British people do not want to see homosexuality afforded legal protection, they do not desire a wider permission of abortion … So it is that M.P.s can sit at Westminster to demolish individual liberty and legalise licence.I wonder whether the hon. Member for Chelmsford, who moved the Motion so eloquently, agrees with every word of that. I imagine that he would agree with it in the context of abortion, but I know full well that he does not do so in the context of some of the other issues raised.
Where should the Government start to surrender some of their powers? I start with the Welfare State. The Government have burdened themselves with problems which they have no business trying to solve; problems for individual decision around the kitchen table and in the living room armchair, not for bureaucratic determination by Departmental committees. Many of these are problems which are better resolved by millions of family treasurers and not by one Chancellor of the Exchequer. Such problems are how much we should spend on our family's health and education provision, where we want our new roads to be built, and what provision we wish to make for pension in old age. The individual must decide these problems, since the Government will inevitably make the wrong decision. The State, of course, should set minimum standards and in most fields will have to make direct provision, but over the whole range of social services, an orderly retreat could now begin, leaving the field clear for private occupational schemes and the exercise of individual choice.
Nowhere has the liberty of the individual been more severely curtailed or harshly felt than in town and country 858 planning. We are hampered by petty and footling restrictions. We would have a much better result aesthetically if, instead of worrying about where thou shalt not build, we worried about what thou shalt not build. In Cornwall, if we stopped telling people where not to build, but said they could build wherever they liked but in Cornish stone, we should preserve Cornwall's character and life, with far greater liberty.
All that we have done by town and country planning is admit the dubious proposition that man cannot improve on nature. When one sees what we have achieved by means of this erosion of liberty in some of our great public buildings, one must think of Dickens' Telson's Bank:Fired by the express conviction that if it were less objectionable it would be less respectable.Our democratic institutions must not be allowed to stagnate. Democracy is not static. If it is to express individual liberty, which is what it is all about, it must continue to grow and develop or it will wither away. There has been an uprise in nationalism. I do not deprecate this, since I am here in two hats, one as a member of Mebyon Kernow and one as a Liberal, but at the back of this movement is the people's demand for power to be brought to back them. I want an overhaul of the Government system to ensure a participating democracy. If we are to enter what I hope will be the United States of Europe, it becomes even more important to ensure that if some decisions are to be taken even further away, perhaps to Brussels, then other decisions must be brought back nearer to the people they affect.
Democracy and liberty should be extended on the shop floor. I want employees to be able to elect the board, and to have the feeling that they employ the management. A start should be made now with the nationalised industries.
One other field of erosion of liberty has not been touched on today. I refer of course, to the freedom of one's environment. This is more seriously threatened than any other of our liberties. Freedom from noise and fumes is an essential liberty and we have hardly begun to deal with this the newest and most insidious erosion of liberty.
859 Last, I turn to the liberty from want, from being "unfortunate", which seemed far from the thoughts of the hon. Member for Chelmsford, but which is essential to the development of individual character. No man can be free if he is tied to the dictatorship of the weekly wage. He must have something to fall back on, something in reserve, some elbow room. "Property is an instrument of personality," wrote Hobhouse, and for a Liberal, property brings liberty.
But the present situation is gloomy. One per cent. of people in the country now earn 35 per cent. of the national wealth and 10 per cent. own 76 per cent. of our national wealth. We cannot allow this to continue. The wider distribution of wealth is essential to the full and positive liberty which is the hallmark of the Liberal society.
One cannot possibly deal with liberty in one speech. It would take a book or, better still, an epic poem, preferably written before breakfast. I hope, however, that I have said enough to show the hon. Member for Chelmsford that liberty to a Liberal is not to be measured in terms of mere party advantage nor is she to be brought in harness to be the hack of party propagandists.
§ 1.35 p.m.
§ Mr. William Wells (Walsall, North)
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) has traversed a wide field and I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow him. His anxieties for freedom from want, which are well justified, did not prevent him from making some dangerous suggestions about the future of the social services. He should remember that setting definite standards in which there is no option is a means of protecting the most defenceless section of the population.
The debate has been completely destroyed by the way in which the Motion was moved by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and by the manner in which his argument was demolished in the masterly speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot). It would, therefore, be superfluous for me to 860 follow my right hon. and learned Friend or to say much more about the hon. Member for Chelmsford's argument.
He has tried in his Motion to make party capital out of a trend common to all Governments, all parties and nearly all countries with a sophisticated way of life, with the necessary conflict between social progress and order on the one hand and individual liberty on the other. His effort has deservedly failed. One or two of his points had some basic substance, but he blew them up out of proportion.
I would take two examples in which I am concerned. The first is the abolition of the unanimity rule for juries. This step has some dangers and I voted for it with some reluctance, but it was necessitated by a very delicate process of adjustment between the needs of ensuring that, on the one hand, the verdicts of juries are not perverse or corrupt and, on the other, that they have authority. To represent the decision of the House on that matter earlier this year as an infringement of human liberty is a distortion. It may prove sound or unsound, but its motivation was nothing of this kind and, from my own experience, I do not believe that it will have this consequence.
Then there have been the observations about the breathalysers. I view this innovation, although again I voted for it, with some fear and some regret. I think the arguments for it have been exaggerated, but I also think that to represent the issue as an attack on individual liberty is not well founded. It could only have been well founded if we had had, which we do not have, the random test. It would be ill founded under the present system if administered in a certain way, and I do not believe that the great majority of police authorities have any intention of excercising it in an oppressive way because they are too much concerned to maintain good relations between their forces and the public.
There will, of course, be mistakes. No doubt there have been. But as time goes on a system will no doubt be developed which will be sound in relation to the tests now imposed. I do not know whether it is a sound analysis of the circumstances which brought the breathalyser into being that the effect of drink 861 on a man is to make him drive dangerously, but I have spent a lot of time trying people who drove after taking an excess of drink, and almost invariably the effect of drink on them has been to make them drive much more safely than they would probably have otherwise done, because they tended to drive very slowly and the slowness of their driving, combined with a certain lack of control over the wheel, has drawn the attention of the police to their condition.
However, that is not the subject of the debate. The subject it whether it is an infringement of liberty, and I do not believe it is. I believe, with my right hon. and learned Friend, that the Government and the Labour Party have made a tremendous progress in adjusting the needs of a free society to the needs of an ordered society. But, although this record is extremely good, it can, and I hope will, be improved. I will only touch very shortly on four points which I consider require attention, and I hope to be not much more than four minutes in doing so.
First, I agree with what some hon. Members have said about the undue restrictions on the terms of reference of the Parliamentary Commissioner. It is desirable to extend them to cover the nationalised industries. I am inclined to think that they should also embrace local government. But what I particularly regret, from my own fairly long experience as a constituency member, is the exclusion of hospitals within the National Health Service.
In my experience, the most difficult and most necessary cases—happily rare—which require examination by an impartial authority are those which do occur, unhappily, in the ill treatment of mental patients in mental hospitals. The allegations may be unfounded, but there is no means of checking whether they are not.
I believe, too, that the time has come when we have to consider seriously the introduction of an ordered system of administrative law and administrative tribunals on the same kind of basis as that which exists on the Continent, the classic example being France.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Julian Snow)
My hon. and learned Friend has spoken about cases which have caused him concern—allegations of cruelty to mental patients. I hope that he will do justice to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in accepting that he acted with the utmost alacrity when, in a recent book, allegations were made about cruelty to old people. Nothing whatever in my right hon. Friend's behaviour on that occasion could lend a view to any suggestion that he had not been extremely sensitive and anxious to get at the truth.
§ Mr. Wells
I entirely agree. Indeed, in justice, I, too, would say that I could make no criticism, when I have raised any inquiry of this kind, of the behaviour of the Ministry of Health under this or under any other Government. But the basic difficulty is of having a centralised inquiry into a localised incident without an adequate system of investigation. I have made my point about administrative law.
Thirdly, I hope that the Government will modify the attitude adopted both by them and all previous Governments towards the Ministerial privilege of withholding documents from scrutiny. Of course, there must always be some documents of a security character which it would be wrong for the purposes of individual litigation to expose to outside gaze, but I think that this principle should be much more narrowly restricted than it is and that the modern practice of all Governments in this matter is a serious and unnecessary inroad into individual liberty.
Finally, there is a question of the future. I am not an expert, but I foresee, as do experts who earn their living in this field the possible dangers to the liberty of the subject in a centralised computer system by which the records of all Government Departments became handled in a centralised system so that the Inland Revenue, for example, would have access to documents which only related to social security payments and the Home Office and authorities concerned with the detection of crime equally might have access to other confidential papers.
I said that I hoped that I would only take four minutes. I regret that I have taken five. I conclude by saying that I 863 hope that the House rejects this Motion, which has been presented on the wrong footing and has been argued from the other side of the House in a thoroughly tendentious manner.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Bernard Weatherill (Croydon, North-East)
I am not surprised that the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells) should take the line that the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) were irrelevant, because the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, like most other speeches today, has nothing to do with the Motion, which condemns the ever-increasing destruction of the liberties of the subject which has taken place under the present Government and which calls for the immediate reversal of this tyrannical process.
I shall direct my remarks to the Motion, but I should like first to join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) on using this occasion for his maiden speech. As the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) said, it is right that we should discuss a subject such as this, the liberties of the subject, from time to time and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford on raising it again and for having done so in such an able manner.
I want to refer to a single matter, the subject of paper. We are in danger of becoming a form-filling society. I have no doubt that some forms are necessary; others are just a nuisance and time wasting and still others are positively pernicious. This whole process appears to start at birth. I was intrigued to discover the other day how much paperwork was involved in giving birth to a child.
§ Mr. Weatherill
One first has to send a certificate of expected confinement to a doctor and then to dispatch an appropriate form to obtain welfare milk tokens. Then one has to register the birth of the baby with the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths and send one's marriage certificate with another form 864 to get maternity grant. Another form is required to register the child with a doctor and yet another to get welfare milk and still another for family allowances. And, of course, all these returns require a whole army of civil servants to service them.
§ Mr. Weatherill
I have not developed my argument yet; let me get on with it a bit.
If a businessman were to look at the crisis of the past few days, he would have no difficulty in putting his finger squarely on the cause. In pure business terms, the country's overheads are too high in relation to our national turnover and our national profits. The reason for this is very largely that the administrative costs of running the country are too high and we have too many people in administration and not enough in the production departments.
About ten days ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) put a very interesting Question when he asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer what was the total establishment of senior and other grades of civil servants and what vacancies existed in 1964, 1965, 1966 and the first six months of 1967. The answer was that from 1st October, 1964, when the total number of non-industrial civil servants was 415,000, the annual increases have been 8,000, 17,000 and 19,000, the last figure being for the nine months which ended on 1st July, 1967. The Chancellor said that the number of vacancies varied from area to area and by class, but the overall shortage over the past two years had been about 3 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) pointed out in a supplementary question, that means that everyone in this country works one day a month to keep this non-productive body in work. Yet it appears that even this army of professional scrutineers is insufficient for the weight of paper which modern Governments seem to demand.
I do not know how true it is, but I was told recently that the Inland Revenue is said to be about five weeks behind in opening letters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is all very well for hon. Members to cheer, but it is certainly true that 865 the officers who administer the clotted complexities of our taxation system demanded and got an additional bonus for understanding the intricacies of the Capital Gains Tax in 1965, and perhaps rightly. But if it is impossible for trained experts to understand a tax in the normal course of their duty, what is the wretched taxpayer to do? Should he cower or should he challenge?
§ Mr. Weatherill
The hon. Gentleman says that he should pay, but if he pays he may well suffer grave injustice, and if he challenges he has to employ a fully trained accountant, at his own expense and even then that man may have to consult a further expert. We are reaching a pretty pass when we need to have experts to advise the experts. The whole blame for this state of affairs must rest squarely on the Government which introduces this kind of system. Their agents are overworked. I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) that the civil servants are entirely innocent, they are overworked. Their job is to try to interpret the laws passed by the House, and the language of some of them is a mystery to many of us here. When I was in the Army there was a phrase, "If you cannot tell them, confuse them", and under the present Government that principle has received fresh impetus.
I give one further example which is the Industrial Training Act with which I have had something to do.
§ Mr. Weatherill
I agree. It was drafted by us, but passed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It is a good Act and I entirely agree with it but I wonder whether we realised when it was going through the House what it would involve in terms of paper?
One training board requires answers in about 20 pages to no fewer than 400 very complicated questions. This is the Engineering Industry's Training Board and I have with me a simplified form which is issued to small firms. It is not surprising that the Training Boards should have to issue a further booklet consisting of some 50 pages to explain how to fill up the form.
866 I was looking through it this morning trying to understand what these questions meant and I felt very sorely for the people who have to try to understand it. Page 33 is headed "Extract from Skills Analysis". The first column is headed:Job: Manufacture Plate for Support Bracketand the next column is headed:Element: Drill three ½ in. diameter holes in plateIt tells one what to do with one's left hand. It says that one should hold the vice with one's left hand and then release the vice and reach to the R.H. drill handle. Then with one's vision one drills the point, and under "Other Senses" it says "kinaesthetic for position of handle". What the devil does that mean? How can they expect the average engineer to understand what it means?
Perhaps large companies can afford people who can complete these questionnaires as their special job, but in small companies it is usually the managing directors who have to fill in these forms. It is not only that such demands add to the burden of unproductive work; there is also grave doubt about what is to be done with all the information when it has been obtained; indeed, whether some could not be used for purposes contrary to a firm's commercial interests. This is certainly the case with the Companies Act. To disclose export figures and intimate details of the average number of employees and what they are paid is a very dangerous exercise, and its effect is simply to arm one's competitors not only at home but overseas.
Furthermore, the hours spent on form filling reduce productivity and add to overhead costs. They render less likely that export-led recovery which the Prime Minister has called upon our businessmen and industrialists to lead. It is the Government's duty to give a lead. It is the Government who pass the law and the Government who are responsible for the proliferation of boards and committees and panels which we have around us today and which are not only in many cases time-wasting and a nuisance, but are dangerous because they give the impression of action whilst often making the problems of industry more difficult.
I want to touch on one point made by the right hon. Member for Leeds, West 867 (Mr. C. Pannell). He applauded the Government for having set up specialist committees. I agree that this is a sound idea, but perhaps the Minister will tell us what will happen to the reports of these committees. Are we to have an opportunity of debating them? If not, the whole operation will have been a waste of time and effort.
§ Mr. Weatherill
The hon. Member says that we are. Does he realise all the difficulties that have been put in the way of the members of these specialist committees? My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) was telling me the other day that when he wished to go to America to carry out an investigation as a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology he was told that he would receive one dollar a day as expenses. That was a ridiculous situation. Only with difficulty did my hon. Friend manage to get the sum increased to £5—and that was not enough.
We have heard a great deal about devaluation being a great opportunity for our traders. I have no doubt that it is, but it is the Government's duty to help and not to hinder the process, and the greatest contribution that they could make would be to review the need for this mass of information which they now demand, and so relieve industry of a major burden—the unproductive work involved in filling up forms. In other words, they should give industry freedom to get on with the job. This would result in a lowering of overhead costs for the Government which, in turn, would lead to a reduction in taxation, which itself is at the heart of the Motion.
I do not wish to detain the House any longer, but I urge the Government to realise that one sure way to solve our difficulties is to make it worth while for people to work hard. Not only are we grossly over-governed; we are grossly overtaxed. By every penny that the State takes from a citizen he is made less free. Why do we gamble? It is not only for fun; it is to get money. If we can get money, we are free to go off. The surest way to destroy liberty is to take away from the individual his accumulation of wealth.
868 I know that the Socialists dislike private wealth. They dislike it because it gives freedom—
§ Mr. Weatherill
—Freedom to object and to be independent. I hope that when my party comes to power it will encourage and fortify private wealth for exactly the same reason.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. John Fraser (Norwood)
I want to follow up one point raised by the hon. Member for Croydon, North-East (Mr. Weatherill). It is part of the mythology of this country that form filling makes us less efficient, but if anyone has compared the ease of dealing with an application from someone who has filled in a form with the difficulty of dealing with someone whose application is contained in a letter, he knows how much more efficient it is to deal with the form. Let us consider the cost of selling houses. It is very much easier when it is done with a form-filling technique than by means of drafting conveyances in language which is not understood by lawyers, let alone laymen.
I disagree utterly with the ideas contained in the Motion, although I do not deny the right of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) to raise this subject. He is evidently inspired by the words of Goethe:He and he alone merits liberty who conquers it afresh from day to day.The hon. Member thinks it necessary to conquer something which may not be there. He said that it was difficult to write poetry before breakfast. His speech after breakfast was much more lyrical than factual, although I agree with him on some things.
He raised the question of Select Committees. I agree with him in that respect. I have always felt it to be an intrusion on the liberty of the subject that his representative Member of Parliament is not able to examine many spheres of Government spending and policy except in a debate on the Floor of the House, when he is not able to go into matters in detail. A particularly glaring example arises in the case of the Defence Estimates, where we have to vote sums of £2,000 million or more without ever having an opportunity to put forward our 869 own views or the views of our constituents on the various elements inside such Estimates.
There is a case for having more Select Committees on such matters as foreign policy and defence, and for extending the rights and the power to exercise vigilance by Members of Parliament on behalf of the ordinary citizen. I also agree with the hon. Member that the Member of Parliament, on behalf of his constituents, should have a much greater share in promoting legislation. A case in point will be the Town and Country Planning Bill, which we will be debating later this Session When it arrives on the Floor of the House we know that to all intents and purposes it will be cut and dried. Before the Bill is published Members will write to Ministers and Ministers will reply that the whole thing has been considered by the professional bodies, and that the thoughts of Government Departments have been collected. Only Members of Parliament will not have been consulted before the Bill comes to the House.
It would be better if these matters were dealt with by Committees upstairs, where hon. Members could examine legislation before it came to the House. The Town and Country Planning Act concerns the liberty of the subject, and such a Committee could make suggestions about compensation, planning applications and so on. It would be able to contribute in forming legislation before it came to the Floor of the House.
I have not been a Member for very long, but I am not convinced that the Treasury Bench or Ministers are always easy about having their Bills amended by Members of Parliament on the Floor of the House or upstairs in Committee. I sat through the Companies Bill and I cannot remember, over four months, any substantial Amendment being accepted by the President of the Board of Trade. There may be good reasons for this, but Members of Parliament and their constituents feel cheated if they are not able to do something that they have been elected to do because they cannot play a sufficiently large part in the initiating and drafting of legislation before it gets to the House.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford concentrated on theoretical conceptions of liberty, but I do not think that he posed properly the dilemma of anybody 870 operating a free society in balancing the liberty of one person against the liberty of another. There are two kinds of liberty—liberty in the idealistic sense, and the liberty which the girl talks about on the way home from a dance when she says "Don't take a liberty with me". In a sophisticated society, we cope with the basic liberties—the right to trial, democracy, the vote, and so on—and then we come to the more difficult matters in which giving somebody a right involves taking property or a right or privilege away from someone else.
I believe that the Government, more than any other which I can remember, have pursued a policy of deliberately encouraging the liberties of the subject. Take, for instance, the Ombudsman. This Motion is about the erosion of liberties. There has been criticism of the Parliamentary Commissioner. But one cannot deny that the institution of the Parliamentary Commissioner represents further progress in the direction of enforcing individual liberties. One may not be entirely content with the way in which the system works and may treat it partly as an experiment, but surely one cannot deny that it is a step further along the road of liberty.
The Criminal Justice Act is a deliberate move to encourage individual liberties. I give an example of the way in which it works. It has been criticised by the Press because of the prohibition on the reporting of committal proceedings. I had a case fairly recently of a professional man, a doctor, who was accused of indecent assault on a young patient in his surgery. At the committal proceedings, nothing was said on his behalf. The case for the prosecution was put and his name was blazoned right over the back page of a newspaper. When the case came to trial at the Inner London Sessions, it had not been proceeding for many minutes before it was thrown out by the jury. The dismissal of the case in its very early stages merited only a very small paragraph in the same newspaper.
Therefore, I regard the prohibition on the reporting of committal proceedings as something which enhances the liberty of people and which will preserve their name and reputation by ensuring that the facts of a criminal case are reported fairly and widely only at the trial.
871 The Race Relations Act and the proposed Race Relations Bill are deliberate moves in the direction of liberty. It is one of the apparent features of this Government that there has not been an accidental advancement of liberty and freedom, but deliberate steps have been taken.
One could talk for some time about basic liberties. They are better preserved and founded now than at any time previously. The problem arises when one gets to the more difficult human freedoms—the sort set out in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, such as the right of everyone to a standard of living adequate for the health and the well-being of himself and his family, and everybody has the right to medical aid and housing. This sort of right and liberty is not something which one can talk about in theoretical terms. It can be implemented only by having the right economic climate and the necessary material resources to provide good education, good housing and good health.
If we are to have good housing in a place like London, it involves providing land and legislating about the way in which multiple occupation houses are run. To provide housing we must have compulsory purchase orders and closing orders and health and housing legislation which restrict the rights of landowners and of people who up to now have exploited property.
Before I was elected, I saw about seven families evicted from one house in my constituency in one day. They were evicted perfectly lawfully at the end of a month's notice. I saw them in the garden. As a result, one of the children died and a manslaughter case followed. Their right to live in a house had been abrogated by the preceding Government. I remember vividly another case in which someone was properly evicted at the end of four weeks' notice. I remember groping round the garden looking for an artificial limb for a girl. It had been thrown out of the window by the evicting landlord.
In passing the Rent Act, 1965, the right of the person to enjoy housing and security has been considerably enhanced. Yet again it is an example of the deli- 872 berate advancement of freedom and liberty by the Government.
The same is true in education. If we want to implement the Article in the Declaration of Human Rights that everyone has a right to free education and that every parent has the right to choose the education for his or her child, it can be done only by providing a system of education in which there is the availability of choice. In London, 80 per cent. of the parents cannot choose to have their children go to a grammar school because only 20 per cent. of children go there, and on a selective basis. By having a comprehensive system of schooling, the choice of the parents to have their child educated to the utmost of its ability and to have access to a grammar school education or some form of academic education is enhanced. Again, I see in this the advancement of the freedom of the individual.
There are other things which the Government should do. First, they should consider the nationalised industries and try to demonstrate that they are not part of the tyranny of the State but, in fact, an advancement of the liberty of the individual. The National Coal Board, the electricity boards and other nationalised institutions are not some central controlling feature of a totalitarian state. They are a feature of a State which gives the individual greater control over his own amenities. I do not understand that I.C.I. or Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds have consumer consultative committees to which people have access. I do not know that a Member of Parliament can raise the question of an abuse by private industry. The control which can be exercised by the House over the nationalised industries and the right of the consumer to protest about and to consult those industries is an extension of human freedom and liberty and not an abrogation of them. The trouble is that they are closely associated with the State system. When one examines the matter in detail, one realises that they are independent bodies outside the State system and over which the individual has much greater control.
I want the Government to extend individual liberty and the right of a person to determine his own affairs by, for instance, allowing employees to elect a 873 proportion of the boards of directors and to extend to private industry the democratic processes both for the worker and for the consumer which are available in the nationalised industries and which are apparent in co-ownership schemes and worker control schemes.
I am not afraid that the extension of the number of civil servants involves an infringement of human liberty. Before I was elected, I discovered that 5,000 old-age pensioners living in the vicinity of my constituency were in receipt of National Assistance. I am glad to say that a larger number of old-age pensioners and people in need are now receiving social security benefits than was the case before the passing of our Act. In order to give them the right to live properly and to preserve their family rights, it is necessary to have more civil servants and more devoted public civil servants to ensure that they get their rights and the money which they properly deserve. I see an increase in the number of civil servants as something which extends the liberty of the individual, especially of the deprived, the sick and the aged, and not something which detracts from it.
I am satisfied with the progress which the Government are making in human rights and human liberty, but I hope that in the forthcoming year—Human Rights Year—they will heighten the awareness of human rights and liberties in this country and, by example, heighten the appreciation of them in the rest of the world by adopting the three conventions which we have not so far adopted and which we need have no difficulty in adopting. I refer to the United Nations declaration on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination, which we could properly adopt and, in doing so, set an example to the rest of the world; the convention on equal rights in employment between men and women, which we could quite properly adopt and, in the following years, by consultation with employers and trade unions, work towards equal pay for equal work; and the convention against discrimination in all forms of employment, which is a combination of the convention on racial discrimination and the convention on equal rights between men and women. In that way we would set an example not only to this country but to the rest of 874 the world in the upholding of human rights and liberties.
§ 2.21 p.m.
§ Dame Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devonport)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) on his arrival in this House. I would like him to know that I originally became a Member of Parliament by only 100 votes. I got in, in fact, by only 99 votes, because I exercised my individual right of freedom to vote for myself and, therefore, got my extra vote. I now represent my constituency by 319 votes. The hon. Member will recognise, therefore, that it can sometimes be a struggle to keep one's seat.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) on being the first speaker to mention a matter to which I want to make particular reference, and that is the rights and freedoms of women. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) is no longer present, because he gave a long list of people who, he said, had been ill-treated or abused by the Conservative Government. I could quote plenty of examples to the right hon. and learned Member, but I remind him simply of the case of Seretse Khama, because neither side of the House has a good record in dealing with cases such as those he mentioned.
It is 50 years since women obtained the vote, but sex is still a barrier to individual freedom. There are many women's organisations, and the Status of Women Commission has been set up by the United Nations. The hon. Member for Norwood, who referred to Human Rights Year and he knows as well as I do that a special effort is being made to draw attention to discrimination against women for equal opportunities for men and women in employment and to ensure equal pay for equal work. The right to vote, regrettably, has not given women real freedom.
On 27th March next year, the Status of Women Commission is organising a big meeting, in connection with the fiftieth anniversary of women obtaining the vote—at which, I am glad to say, the Prime Minister and the leaders of the other two political parties are to speak—this will draw attention to the need for further freedom for women.
875 The Maintenance Orders Bill is an example of what can happen even in the House of Commons. When I was fortunate enough to win a place in the Ballot, that was the Bill which I chose to introduce, but on that occasion six hon. Members, from the two main political parties, remained in the Corridor for the purpose of preventing me from getting a quorum to deal with the Bill, which therefore dropped out of the Committee stage I hope that that kind of thing will never again happen in the House of Commons.
Bertrand Russell stated:The ends of democracy are not achieved by State Socialism.The late Sir Winston Churchill once said:There is to be one State to which all our are obedient in every act of their lives. This State is to be the arch-employer, the arch planner, the arch-administrator and ruler and the arch-caucus boss.That is one of the reasons why my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) put down his Motion today, because many of us are beginning to feel that what both Bertrand Russell and Sir Winston Churchill wrote might be coming true.
When recalling the various measures that we have had since 1964, and the fact that we have had many disagreements in the House concerning freedom of speech. One remembers that when we were discussing decimal currency there were hon. Members, on both sides, who had differences of opinion about the unit which should be used. We were not allowed to have proper discussion of the matter. We were told, in fact, that it was for the Government supporters to support the Government, the choice having been made, this despite the fact that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition offered to provide a day for debate.
We have recently been told that there are to be further defence cuts. Many hon. Members must be rather worried about whether the liberty of our people can be protected or whether, if an emergency arises, we will be in the same position as in 1914 and 1939. I hope that consideration may be given to having a Select Commitee to deal with defence, because we in the House of Commons have to vote blind on this important matter and we have little idea whether 876 we are doing the right or the wrong thing for lack of detailed knowledge. To anyone who represents a constituency like mine, great anxiety is caused, especially after the debate last Monday.
I have sympathy with the trade unions because of the interference with their legitimate job, of collective bargaining on behalf of their members. The trade unions probably realise what happened in Germany when Hitler took away the power of the unions. It is, therefore, natural that there is unrest among the unions, because that is one of the only ways in which they can make themselves felt, so I do not blame many of their leaders for being suspicious of the present Government.
Many contracts have been dishonoured. The Grigg Report, for example, led members of the Armed Forces to believe that they would get regular increases in pay. As the result of a recent Question, however, I now understand this matter, it concerned the medical officers, has now been referred to the Prices and Incomes Board. In other words, instead of the Grigg Report we are now to have a Jones Report. This means that the Government are going back on one of the promises which have been made. I hope that when the Financial Secretary to the Treasury replies to the debate he will explain the position for the future and whether the Grigg Report will be entirely ignored.
We have been told in a document entitled "Labour's Aims" aboutAn expansion of common ownership substantial enough to give the community power over the commanding heights of the economy …I hope that as a result of what has happened recently that aim will be dropped, because I cannot see that even any of the normal commitments have been fulfilled.
I wish to raise three specific points, two of them concerning the police. The first is the question of police identification. I understand that the Home Office has not yet approved on a national basis the scheme which I am about to mention, and I hope that it does not do so. I gather that the Chief Constable of Hertfordshire announced in September that for the past year an experiment has been carried out in which a small number of police officers in his county have 877 been allowed to carry out their duties without wearing numerals on their uniform. He stated that during that time no complaint of any kind had been received and that the experiment was being gradually extended. I hope that the experiment will not be extended, because it will make it almost impossible for the individual citizen to take up matters if policemen cannot be identified by their numbers.
The National Council for Civil Liberties, of which I happen to be a member, stated that recent experience at Grosvenor Square showed that most of the complaints received by the Council cited their members. Also senior officers in uniform without numbers and plain clothes officers are reluctant to show their warrant or give their names. I hope, therefore, that this is one of the freedoms which will not be eroded, an individual has the right to know who is accusing him.
I come next to the question of drugs. There was, regrettably, a late Amendment to the 1967 Act which gives police power to stop and search without warrant any person who is suspected of being in unlawful possession of drugs. I suggest that this is really a new threat to civil liberties. It has received very little attention in Parliament, or, I am surprised to find, in the Press. Its dangers are, in my opinion, immense, and it will not help relations between the police and the public. Young people, especially, are being subjected to indiscriminate searches. We have read about some of these in the papers. This very wide power which the police now have for dealing with drugs, I fear may be used for other purposes, and so I think it very regrettable that that Amendment was made to the Bill and is now in the Act, and I hope that the Government will watch its effect strictly.
Personally, too, I am not at all happy about the majority voting by juries, and I regret very much that this is the new law. I should like to quote Lord Devlin who has had wide experience of criminal judgment, and who wrote in his book:Unanimity is now so ingrained in our procedure that its eradication would seem to take from the verdict a virtue that in the criminal law it needs. The criminal verdict is based on the absence of reasonable doubt. If there were a dissenting minority of a third or a quarter, that in itself would sug- 878 gest to the popular mind the existence of a reasonable doubt and might impair public confidence in the criminal verdict.I regret that we have the majority verdict, and hope this will be subject to review. It was strange that this was agreed to because there was a report from the Labour Party's own very influential study group on crime, chaired by Lord Longford, and this contained no hint, when it was published shortly before the 1964 election, that the Labour Party was considering this as a possibility.
I would also remind the House that Professor Glanville Williams of Cambridge, in his book, "Proof of Guilt", which he printed in 1958, also rejected the idea, and suggested that it might be possible that retrials might be avoided if in cases of disagreement the majority had the right to acquit and not convict.
Finally, I come to the question of the Street Offences Act, because this is something in which I have long taken an interest. Here I would say, is not a sin of commission but a sin of omission on the part of the Government. The present Minister of Housing—
§ Dame Joan Vickers
Please let me finish. It was a Tory Bill, but I fought it all the way through and I voted against it on Third Reading.
We were told by the present Minister of Housing and Local Government when he spoke at the Abolitionist Congress in Cambridge in September, 1960, that,This Bill discredits the Government. It should be regarded not as the beginning of reform but as a reactionary law to be repealed.At that time I was attacking my own Government on this Bill, and I thought that action would be taken by the party opposite, because Lord Stonham, now Minister of State at the Home Department, said in the other place that an undertaking was given in the House of Lords to have a review after five years. Still we have not had that review, despite the fact that I- have put down Questions, and I hope that the review which was promised will be considered by the Government.
Therefore, in saying these few words in support of my hon. Friend's Motion, I hope I have shown some of the fears on this side, and some of the erosions which 879 are taking place in our liberties, and the need, too, whichever party is in power, for the Government to improve the status of women.
§ 2.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter M. Jackson (The High Peak)
I should like to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) on his most able maiden speech and thank him for the very generous references he made to his distinguished predecessor.
Now I turn to the terms of the Motion, which complains about erosions of liberties. I found some of the matters which the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) was following in pursuit of extending liberties somewhat selective. One matter where our liberties are most certainly being eroded is that of censorship, in particular censorship imposed by publicly-owned bodies.
I would draw the attention of the House to a Question which I tabled to the Minister of Transport on 15th November, asking her to direct the London Transport Board to accept any advertisement which conformed to the British Code of Advertising Practice. In reply to that Question I was told that the matter was one for management. I tabled the Question because very recently it had been brought to my attention that the Board had decided to cancel a contract which the Belmont Laboratories had placed.
The laboratory undertakes pregnancy testing. The testing is undertaken by the immunological method of testing reactions to urine samples, with 99 per cent. accuracy. It is not a quack body in any way but is a perfectly respectable organisation and using techniques which are used in our hospitals. The advertisements are perfectly innocuous and conform to the British Code of Advertising Practice.
This London Transport accepted. I would like to draw the attention of the Minister to the acknowledgement of this fact in a letter from the London Transport Board written in reply to a correspondent by the Chief Public Relations Officer on 5th September this year. It said:Before accepting for display the advertisements of the pregnancy testing service to which you refer, we sought the advice of the 880 Code of Advertising Practices Committee, and they told us that in their view the service offered in this particular case was one which they had no reason to suppose could not properly be advertised on the Underground; the advertisement was accepted accordingly.The Board, as I said, signed a year's contract with Belmont Laboratories and received in fees the sum of £2,000. During the summer, ten months after the advertisement was first placed, the Commercial Advertising Manager, Mr. J. L. Perrin, decided that the advertisement was giving offence, and in another letter to the same correspondent he gave his reasons as to why the Board felt it would be improper to continue the contract. This is what he said:We go to great pains to ensure that those advertisements which are accepted are not offensive to the public—and we get remarkably few complaints—but there are bound to be occasions when, on a matter of taste, someone"—I would underline that word "someone"—will be found to take a different view. When this happens we, of course, carefully consider what they have to say and do what we think right in the circumstances—indeed if we failed to do this then we might well be held to be irresponsible. In the matter of the pregnancy testing advertisement we decided, having reviewed the various"—again, I would underline the word "various"—complaints and other factors, not to accept further advertisements on this subject and not to renew the current one at the end of its present run.The Chief Public Relations Officer stated that the advertisement was causing offence. I find on London Transport many advertisements which cause me offence. I find cigarette advertisements displayed in the Tube, and they give me great offence, for I regard it as madness that in this day and age we should encourage people to commit what I regard as suicide. So, to me, this causes very great offence, and I am sure it does to many other people. I think that it is noteworthy that the British Transport Commission has not banned such advertisements. I would have sympathy with it if it did. Then again, I regard gambling as offensive, yet there are many advertisements on the Underground which advise me to stop losing and to start winning money by subscribing to a particular racing paper. Then there are advertisements displayed all over the Underground indicating the most intimate ills and how 881 they can be remedied. I am sure that many people find that these give great offence, and there are matters that even one's best friends will not tell one but which London Transport will. There are many advertisements displayed by London Transport to which people could take exception. It is significant that they remain.
This prompts me to inquire who it is who makes these complaints. Who is this anonymous person? I suspect that the complainants are co-religionists of the hon. Member for Chelmsford, the modern Mrs. Grundys of this world. I suspect that they are the same people as those who so vociferously and vigorously opposed the excellent Measure introduced by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel).
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I believe the hon. Gentleman will find that Mrs. Grundy's religion, if she had one, was Nonconformist.
§ Mr. Jackson
The reason why exception is taken to this advertisement and the services which are provided is that there is no discrimination between married and unmarried women. The service provided by Belmont Laboratories and similar organisations is very quick. A reply is given within 24 hours. From the proliferation of such organisations, it is obvious that these laboratories meet a demand. The alternative service is provided through hospitals and general practitioners, but I am told that, when a woman goes to her doctor, the result of a test is not available until at least five days later, and sometimes can take as long as two weeks. It is obvious that a woman who thinks that she may be pregnant wants it confirmed or denied quickly, and, if she finds an organisation which gives her a reply within 24 hours, clearly she will opt for it.
I suggest that the London Transport Board's conduct is thoroughly regrettable and, while it would be quite legitimate for a privately-owned enterprise to act in this way, it is outrageous for a publicly-owned body, supposedly accountable, to 882 do so. With all respect to the Minister of State, it is outrageous that he should decline to act. He claims that it is a matter for management, but I suggest that it is not, because public policy is involved. If a form of censorship is to be imposed by the London Transport Board, the Board is duty bound to make known the nature of complaints and the grounds upon which it refuses to accept advertisements.
It is significant that, when a spokesman for the Board was questioned by a journalist from The Times, he refused to give any information about the number of letters received. The public relations officer has indicated that he has received representations from no organisations, but he refuses to say how many letters he has received and the nature of the complaints. However, he goes on to say:The number does not influence their decision. It is their nature.In other words, if half a dozen people wrote a convincing letter complaining about cigarette advertising, a powerful case against it could be made. If the Board accepts the logic in one case, it should accept it in the other.
§ Mr. Burden
The hon. Gentleman has referred to cigarette advertising and his objection to smoking. However, he has not mentioned drink. Does he take a drink? If he does, does he not consider that people who like cigarettes should be equally entitled to commit suicide if they wish to?
§ Mr. Jackson
I am not teetotal but, to be consistent, I would go the whole hog and have an embargo upon liquor advertising, too.
I want to draw the Minister's attention to the squalid record of the London Transport Board in respect of censorship. Not so long ago, the Board refused to accept advertisements from the Family Planning Association, incredible though it may seem. Some hundreds of advertisements were placed with the Board, but, within a few months, it had second thoughts. The advertisements gave offence to the religious susceptibilities of certain passengers, and they were withdrawn.
This again raises the question of consistency. At the time that the F.P.A. were running its advertising campaign, Sir Oswald Mosley's Union Movement 883 was holding meetings up and down London and advertising them. I should have thought that those activities would give a great deal of offence to many members of the public, but it is significant that the Board did not withdraw those advertisements. That is not to say that it was not the right decision. I should have criticised the Board had it withdrawn them. However, I am critical of its selectively. The Board cannot consistently argue that there is any question of giving offence. Many things give offence. I am sure that many people wrote to the Board when they saw Sir Oswald Mosley's advertisements on the Underground, but, in this instance, obviously, no action was taken.
Another factor which is of significance is that, whereas the London Transport Board has applied this embargo British Rail has not. One can travel about the country on British Railways and find advertisements for the services offered by the Belmont Laboratories. I am informed that, currently, there are 330 posters displayed on railway stations. There are as many as ten in Liverpool, and I have seen a good dozen in Manchester.
It is significant that when the spokesman for British Transport Advertising was questioned, he replied:We have had no complaints about this advertisement, and it does not conflict with our code of acceptance.I suggest to the Minister that there should at least be some consistency between one public body and another.
§ The Minister of State, Ministry of Transport (Mr. Stephen Swingler)
Naturally, I have been extremely interested in what my hon. Friend has said, and I will take steps to draw the attention of London Transport to the criticisms which he has made. However, these are matters of judgment and, in some cases, of taste. We think that the judgment should be made by those who are offering the advertising space—in this case, the managers of London Transport or, in the other case, the managers of British Railways. They should exercise to the best of their ability the judgment which has to be made. That is why we resist giving 884 any direction in the matter. But we will naturally draw to the attention of those concerned the points which my hon Friend has made so strongly.
§ Mr. Jackson
I very much appreciate my hon. Friend's reply.
Obviously we must allow the Boards a degree of commercial discretion. I would not object to that. However, I object strongly to the fact that they are able to impose a censorship and not act in a way which I regard as accountable. They refuse to give any information about the number of complaints which they receive and the nature of them. If they did that, I, for one would have more sympathy. It is the secrecy and anonymity with which it is done to which I object to much.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
I am sure that it is due to a defect in me rather than in the hon. Member for High Peak (Mr. Peter M. Jackson), but, in the light of the issues raised by the Motion and with great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I thought that what he said was trivial, confused, arbitrary and authoritarian. I do not see why we or anyone should be compelled to advertise abortion and be forbidden to advertise cigarettes, although no doubt there is a marked preference on the part of some people for one as opposed to the other. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman was displaying all the faults to which Socialism naturally leads, especially when it is confronted with issues which have any point of principle involved in them.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) on his choice of subject and the quality of mind that he has brought to bear upon it, as he always does. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) on his maiden speech and, if I may say so without impertinence, for having paid the House the courtesy of having attended throughout the debate. I am sure that he will please the House in both respects in future—and if he does so in the latter he will be almost unique. It certainly does greatly improve debate when hon. Members are here.
He was right in suggesting that the issue of liberty in its political context required a rather delicate balance between 885 liberty and what he called social obligations. I would slightly differ and say that it is the balance between liberty and order, because order is the precondition of liberty. However, let us not quibble about that. I thought he was right in recognising the dilemma that is inherent in any consideration of the problem of liberty in its political context.
I think that the House should realise that the cause of liberty is not popular. People like to be thought to be in favour of liberty, but in fact very few of the decisions that one has to make, when it comes to the crunch politically, in favour of liberty, are welcome at all.
One has only to think, for example, how the human mind works in the matter of wage restraint. It is the same with liberty. Liberty is something which everyone thinks applies differently as between himself and anybody else, just like wage restraint. Wage restraint is a good national policy—to be applied to everybody else. But when it comes to oneself, it is not so desirable. In the same way, liberty is fine for oneself, but anyone else's liberty is likely to become somewhat objectionable.
It would be well for the House to recognise that there is a difference between two kinds of human being: the human being who is fundamentally paternalistic and authoritarian and the human being who is fundamentally libertarian. The latter, although much more noisy, are much in the minority. I think that the great majority of people prefer being told what to do and what not to do, and especially seeing other people being told what not to do.
Frankly, I do not think that the division between the authoritarians and the libertarians runs clearly down the middle of this Floor. My side of the House prides itself on being libertarian in the present context—[Interruption.]—I think so, anyway, and we would say so. Yet I know many supporters of mine who have been saying, "Bully for Wilson. At least he has got these trade unionists into order and stopped a lot of this nonsense about strikes". What they want is strikes banned and the strikers—metaphorically—shot. Yet they are the upholders of the party of liberty.
Likewise, on the other side of the political fence, a great many of these 886 protesters who go protesting in the name of liberty to the Greek Embassy are in fact conniving at, and giving tacit support to, the most authoritarian régime in the world. I personally think that they are giving vent to perfectly natural and probably benign aggressions and that principles and liberty do not come into it at all.
I point out those rather contradictory elements in our political life to enforce my suggestion that this is not easy, that the principle does not properly divide the two sides of the House, and that there are many authoritarians on this side and I believe many libertarians on the side opposite, and it is well to get that clear straightaway.
As Matthew Arnold would say, we are,Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,Where ignorant armies clash by night.However, I will state one simple political and philosophical proposition which I think really does, while relating to liberty, divide the two sides of this House. The proposition is simply that a prime precondition of liberty is the institution of private property. Some people loathe private property and particularly the manifestations of those who compete for it and of those who acquire it and conserve it. I find, somewhat to my embarrassment, that I have a profound sympathy with those who feel like that. I am not sure that my own feelings are not engaged in the same way.
Unfortunately, though, we have to make a choice of evils. I have come to the settled conclusion that the evils that flow from freedom and liberty—tempered, in so far as freedom and liberty have to be, to maintain order—are less odious and the good things that flow are more noble than the alternatives offered by the authoritarian, paternalistic, totalitarian society. I think, therefore, that there is here a clear basic decision that politicians have to take. It is a decision regarding a matter which is in political dispute in this country today: namely, the desirability of, and the right to be conferred upon, private property as opposed to State ownership.
I am afraid that, much as I dislike the aggressive and acquisitive instincts of mankind, I am convinced that without them mankind would never have climbed out of the primaeval slime and that 887 without cherishing them it would very quickly return to it. In making this choice I go much against my own instincts. I have little relish for many of the manifestations of the side that I am on. I believe, for example, that the only possible justification for the hideous business of science is that it should provide the raw material for poetry—whether before breakfast or otherwise.
But I did not dedicate my life to poetry because I thought that would be a somewhat wet thing to do. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) will understand that I am speaking in naval terms. Therefore, I take my stand on the side of liberty and consequently on the side of private property, and I mount my attack upon the present Government primarily on the ground that they are ideologically and politically—and proud of it—inspired and motivated by a profound and enduring hostility, which in my worst instincts to some extent I share, against private property as an institution. I believe that, odious as it may be, we on this side should and must stand for private property. From that flow all the fundamental Conservative principles of policy concerning choice, competition and the rest.
I readily appreciate and recognise the counter-argument, as well as the strength of it; what is liberty to him who is poor, sick, in need, unemployed, without housing and so on? But I believe that the limitations on the principle of liberty necessary to temper the wind to the shorn lamb are perfectly possible to be imposed on a libertarian society. I do not believe that it is equally easy to whittle away from an authoritarian society the minimum that is necessary for human dignity, which requires liberty to flourish.
I want to concentrate in the very few minutes at my disposal on the subject of education and, more precisely, on the matter of public schools, so-called—the private schools for secondary education. I believe that the present Government are committed to the destruction of the English public school. If they are not, I am sure that a large majority of their best supporters would wish to be so committed.
I want to point out, in the context of the Motion, exactly why I regard this aspect of Government policy as sinister 888 and objectionable. The liberty of a man to provide for his own from the fruits of his own labour or inherited wealth—we cannot really have the one without the other—is fundamental, and nothing is more dear to the independent parent than his right to preserve this liberty.
I choose this topic because I am in an ambivalent position and, therefore, do not suffer from the emotional inhibitions of arguing in favour of something that I greatly like. I admit frankly that I do not particularly like the English public schools. I believe that they are a manifestation of one of the least splendid of our national characteristics; namely, an inability to get on with our children. [HON. MEMBERS: "Class distinction."] I would be glad to debate that involved issue with hon. Gentlemen opposite on another occasion. I think that people are a litttle paranoid about class in this country, at the moment. I part company from hon. Gentlemen opposite on that issue, but I will not be led astray into pursuing it.
I am anti-public school and I believe that the public schools are culturally—in the widest anthropological sense—as well as socially and sexually, deleterious to the best development of young men and women. All the same, I have met quite a large number of people who have emerged from these schools and, on the whole, they appear to have got by as reasonably decent human beings. I am not counting myself in that. These schools do not do all that amount of harm. Indeed, I would be ready to accept that they should go if it could be shown that they were deeply damaging to society. Most people doing what they want to do is more or less damaging to somebody else. One must decide how damaging it is and where the line should be drawn.
Although I am not proud that we, almost uniquely among nations, should be unable to educate our young in the way that parents of this type consider their children should be educated—when they send them to public schools—this is the way in which generations of Englishmen have chosen to do things. This is a dear right to them and they want to be allowed to go on doing it. It is all bound up with what they regard as their liberties and I do not think that political action of any kind should deny them the 889 right to send their children to the schools of their choice. I especially choose this topic because I am defending something which I do not think is frightfully good in itself, but none the less the principle involved in allowing people this liberty is absolutely fundamental.
One other major topic—which is all I have time to mention—on which the two sides of the House are genuinely divided and which invokes the principle of liberty is the question of profits and high incomes, something which is now specifically discouraged and, to their shame, has been discouraged by previous Governments in Britain through Surtax and the whole progressive taxation principle.
I do not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite would dispute that we differ on this. I realise that, if one is being charitable to hon. Gentlemen opposite, one can say that the principles of the Sermon on the Mount are very much on their side. If one is being uncharitable, one might say that their objection to wealth is based mainly on envy and malice, on the feeling that if it is not possible for everyone to have something, then none shall have it. But hon. Gentlemen opposite should accept this fundamental argument in favour of the free enterprise, high income, private enterprise system, the capitalist system. In the operation of that system, the real swine are kept out of politics, because they do not consider that politics are worth the effort on their part. Therefore, in our sort of society we are not faced with the psychopathetic pest who can make a fortune out of politics. That type of swine, here or in America or elsewhere, goes where, by working his way up, he can get on in a very big way. This being so, hon. Gentlemen opposite should back liberty and settle for the little swine, getting on in business and leaving the government to the politicians, who have the merit at least of being elected by the people and who can be chucked out by them.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Sir David Renton (Huntingdonshire)
I am sure that the House will forgive me if I do not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) in his last comments. I would like first of all to congratulate my hon. 890 Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) on his choice of this very important subject, and the skilful way in which he deployed his case. He ranged very widely, but he had to do so because under this Government the invasions of the people's liberties have taken place on such a wide front.
I would also like to congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) on his maiden speech, which was modest and convincing. In a debate like this he managed to make it agreeably non-controversial and he tried to set the tone for the debate by saying that liberty was a question of finding the right balance, but that is often a very difficult matter indeed. Perhaps I might take the example of cigarette smoking which has been mentioned. It is almost a trivial example but a good one. There are those who want the freedom to smoke wherever and whenever they wish, and there are those who want freedom from inhaling noxious fumes of other people who want to smoke whenever and wherever they wish. The question is where to find the right balance. It is not always so easy but the hon. Member made a most helpful contribution.
I was hoping that we might have the new Home Secretary here today so that we could congratulate him on his first speech in his great office. The Home Office, more than any other Department of State, has been responsible to Parliament over the centuries for safeguarding the liberties of the people as well as being responsible for the people's safety and for public order. We have had no Home Office Minister here the whole time and it is regrettable.
However, we have got the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and that is probably understandable because he is responsible for the many civil servants we now have—45,000 more than there were three years ago. It is is always a great pleasure to hear the Financial Secretary make a speech, because there is always a sporting chance that he will say something which delights us and shocks his own party.
May I ask whether he can tell us if it is the Government's policy that there should be fewer bureaucrats from now on, or more? It is essential for an understanding of the Government's attitude towards this important debate.
891 We all know that traditional liberties in this country, of which we are very proud, are derived primarily from Magna Carta and have been established, sometimes after fierce battles, by Parliament and the courts over the centuries. There is the freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, and habeas corpus is the instrument of the courts in asserting that freedom; freedom of speech and of the Press; religious freedom; freedom of association and contract, and so on. We take these basic liberties for granted and we like to think that they will be with us for evermore. We must be very careful however because even a simple, unobtrusive change in the law, done with a seemingly good social purpose, may erode one of those basic freedoms.
Besides those well-known, established, basic freedoms there are in our complex and over-burdened society many other human rights to be safeguarded. They are more elusive rights. As the debate has shown they are innumerable and very important. My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford and others have mentioned many of them, and it is with these that we are just as much concerned and that is what the debate has mainly been about.
The debate has also shown that freedom means different things to different people. To some it is freedom from form filling, to others freedom from noxious fumes. The only Member of the Liberal Party who has spoken overlooked, I think, the achievement of the Conservative Government in passing the Clean Air Act. We wanted clean air, but it was only by creating new offences and interfering with freedom that we could have it. I and most others thought that it was right to have it, but the details were rightly challenged because there was, to a minor extent, a threat to freedom, indeed, a minor threat to what people did in their own homes.
The right hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. C. Pannell)—I am sorry that he is no longer present—made it clear that, to him, freedom from unemployment was such an over-riding purpose that he was prepared to sacrific other freedoms for it. I wonder whether he really contemplated that, under a Labour Government, a Prices and Incomes Act could be used to prevent employers from 892 paying wage increases which were already negotiated or which they were willing to pay in future. I wonder whether he also appreciated, in his zeal, which we all share, for full employment, that that Act would fail to prevent unemployment from increasing.
Every time we create a new offence, there is a potential erosion of freedom, and I have already confessed to taking part in one process in which new offences were created. My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dame Joan Vickers) mentioned another example, the Street Offences Act. We created new offences but achieved what seemed to be good and genuine social purposes. In mitigation of my offence of creating new offences, I would say that, throughout those 13 golden years of Conservative Government, we abolished more offences than we created.
We must face the fact that Socialist Governments, here and elsewhere, have tended to create more new offences. We ought to be candid with each other about the invasions of liberty by changes in the law. Generally, all Governments have made some incursions on freedom. Sometimes, one freedom is invaded to preserve another, but there is in this matter a vital difference between Conservative and Socialist Governments.
This goes to the heart of this debate. I say that because, as no hon. Gentleman opposite will dispute, Socialists believe in increasing the power of the State and we do not believe in doing so if it can be avoided. They believe in nationalisation and State control and we do not. Therefore, in this matter of freedom, there is a deep cleavage between the attitudes of the two main parties towards the rights of individual men and women when the State has the power to impinge upon them.
Where the Liberal Party stands in all this is a little difficult to tell, because they have set themselves up as rivals to the Socialist Party and we read that they are even contemplating abandoning the famous name of Liberal, and with good reason, since we do not know where they stand—
§ Mr. Pardoe
I would have thought that, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had listened to my speech, he would have got a fair indication of what Liberalism 893 is all a bout. If it is not satisfactory to him, perhaps he will consult his own Liberal Party.
§ Sir D. Renton
I got an idea of what the hon. Gentleman was saying. Some of his suggestions would undoubtedly have involved further incursions on freedom. When he reads and analyses his speech, he will realise that that is so.
Having pointed out the difference in our own attitudes towards the State I say, however, that there should be a measure of agreement between us about the improvement of the safeguards, of the watchdog facilities, and of the opportunities given to Parliament and to the courts and whatever institutions we may establish in order to prevent the powers given to public authorities of various kinds from trampling on the human rights of the people.
Before, they came to power, the Government fairly acknowledged that there would be an increase in the power of the State, and they said that they would do something about it. What have we got? We have the Parliamentary Commissioner, with his power of inquiry into maladministration only and limited to some of the functions of Government, but with many other important functions expressly excluded. We have had his first report. We must not attach too much importance to it because it covers only the period from April to October of this year.
The Parliamentary Commissioner tells us that 379 Members made 816 complaints, of which 125 have been inquired into. In only 10 cases was maladministration proved. Two of them related to misapplication of rules and two were cases of unjustifiable delay. In two cases the papers got lost and in four cases only does he describe it as "inadequate correspondence and wrong advice". He goes on to say:In none of these cases have I any criticism of the action that the Department has taken to remedy any injustice so caused".It may be that the very large number of outstanding cases will produce a bigger harvest of redress of grievance. I hope so. I find it difficult to understand how 125 cases put to the Parliamentary Commissioner by hon. Members, not without reason ever, should have had such very slender results. Perhaps it is too soon to judge whether our Ombudsman will 894 be a useful guardian of individual rights and liberties, or whether he is so fettered in his power and overwhelmed by the mass of complaints which we send him that his appointment was just a smoke-screen. We shall await his report for 1967 with interest and anxiety, but let us hope that within the limits imposed on him—we all have an immense respect for him—he will do some good.
Maladministration, bad as it can be, is not the only cause of individual suffering. The Ombudsman can do nothing about inadequate or bad laws, or about wrong decisions by Ministers, which can do the greatest harm of all. It would be wrong for the Government to claim that the Parliamentary Commissioner is the citizen's great protection against injustice—the softener of the blows of Socialism or the guarantor of freedom in our complex democracy. In this as in other things prevention may be better than cure. Let there be less restrictive legislation and fewer arbitrary decisions. Then the liberty of the subject will not be so greatly threatened.
We heard much about planning procedures in a most interesting speech by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith). He and my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford also referred to the Land Commission Act. This is a vast and intricate subject, but surely the fact that it is so should make us all the more careful to ensure that individual men and women are not trampled under the feet of bureacracy.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith), having taken part in planning procedures, will, I am sure, agree that the Ministry inspectors generally conduct them with care and patience and creditably. Most trouble starts when the inspector has reported to the Department and the Department gets let loose on the case. That is when the injustices sometimes begin to arise. Of course, injustices may arise much sooner. There may have been an arbitrary decision by a local planning committee. That is why we have the appeal procedure. But, unsatisfactory though these appeals are sometimes pointed out to be, there has been great improvement since the Tribunals and Inquiries Act, 1958, which we introduced. But, as my right hon. 895 and learned Friend said, the time has surely come to give to objectors, or people who would, if only they were told about a planning application, become objectors, the opportunity of exercising a right of appeal.
Both my right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford suggested that the time has come to make a great new departure in constitutional safeguards—namely, by giving the courts an important new function within a system of administrative law. I believe—and in this I speak for myself, since I do not know the views of all my right hon. Friends—that this is a matter which deserves the early consideration of Parliament and I was glad to hear in an intervention that the Law Commission is preparing something. Perhaps the Financial Secretary can tell us how far these studies have got and when there may be an opportunity for Parliament to consider the subject, even in outline.
If I may say so—and I hope that the noble Lord, the Lord Chancellor may take the hint—it is sometimes better for Parliament to have an opportunity of considering the broad outline of proposals before the Law Commission is asked to get down to a huge mass of detail.
A matter which has not been mentioned in the debate but which should engage our attention is the report in the Press that the Leader of the House has told the Labour Party that it is contemplated that there should be a select committee to prepare legislation on the privacy of the individual in the modern world. I am a great lover of privacy. It is one of the best things about the English. It is sometimes said by those who are not English—and I refer even to Scotsmen, Irishmen and Welshmen here—that English men invented privacy. That is one of the best things they have ever done—and I say this as the son of a Scotsman. We say that the Englishman's home is his castle and this principle is perhaps one of the things that England can give to the world.
We have today discussed the people's rights and the way they are threatened. But, as my hon. Friend pointed out, there is another side to the coin. We live in a so-called permissive society. The people have duties as well, and some- 896 times those duties are overlooked, perhaps too often. We might debate this one day.
Meanwhile, I have always thought that this whole subject of people's duties and rights and the function of Government is rather touchingly summed up in the Anglican Communion service when we pray that, under Elizabeth our Queen, we may be godly and quietly governed. Most of the people are good; some are not; but all of us have a right to be "quietly governed".
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Harold Lever)
It is a relief that the right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), though demanding quiet government from my colleagues, has not imposed upon us the duty of creating godliness in the citizenry, which is not altogether within our power.
The whole House is indebted to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) for raising this subject today. I must say that the hyperbole of his Motion was in strange contradiction to the moderation of his argument. I toyed with the idea of rewriting the Motion, but I will not discourage the hon. Member from being his usual moderate well-informed self by giving it to the House. What purported to be a damaging and excessive criticism of the Government turned out to be a kindly if critical appraisal of the many good things preferred in the direction of liberty by the Government. The hon. Member came to curse and stayed to pray.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Perhaps the hyperbole played some part in attracting hon. Members to the debate.
§ Mr. Lever
I never underestimate the Parliamentary skill of the hon. Gentleman and, in seeking to arouse the irate on both sides of the House, perhaps he has been satisfactorily successful. Certainly the speech which he made opened up very thoughtfully many of the problems facing the Government.
I can honestly say that nothing I heard from either side of the House failed to contribute to our discussion of this very important subject. I fear that once again I shall have to disappoint what I know to be the feeling of many hon. Members opposite and voiced by the 897 right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Huntingdonshire—that at some point there will be a sporting chance of my saying something so disrespectful of my office and my colleagues in the Government that it will provide at least temporary amusement for hon. Members opposite if it will curtail my occupancy of this office. I can only ask hon. Members to consider the simultaneity of both those possibilities, and I hope that they will not regret it too much if I try never to do either, although I hope that I will never mislead the House as to my opinions and that I shall always treat the House with as much candour from this Box as when I was serving the House from the back benches in years past.
One of the great advantages of the debate was that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) was able to make his maiden speech. Maiden speeches have usually been made on all sorts of narrow and technical subjects, but my hon. Friend plunged in on a major Parliamentary theme, the freedom of the individual, and was, of course, warmly and rightly applauded by all hon Members. He is a political neighbour of mine in Manchester, where we are steeped in the history of Peterloo, as he mentioned, when in those days men fought for the right to vote. Alas, we now have the heritage of trying to make people who have the vote turn out to exercise it, but I am very glad that my hon. Friend did so so successfully, and we look forward to the many contributions which he will make to our debates in future.
The problems have been raised very broadly. I shall not try to single out every hon. Member by name; I hope that I shall not be thought discourteous, because many hon. Members contributed to the same theme. The first problem is the growing power of the State. The right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said that this was the vital distinction between the two parties. There was the Labour Party, admiring and cheering every increase in the power of the State, and there was the Tory Party, not stopping it but regretting it. It seems that, if we are candid, we recog- 898 nise the inevitability of the increased power of the State in order to fulfil social ambitions and social objectives which have become common to both parties.
The problem is not how we can prevent the increase in the power of the State but how we can reconcile it with the-maximum perpetuation of a general freedom. The right hon. and learned Member for Huntingdonshire was caught in this contradiction even in his own argument. On the one hand, he welcomes the Clean Air Bill and in the next sentence asks whether I shall have any more officials appointed. Do I understand that he thinks that the Clean Air Bill will supervise itself, with all its enforcements, and order its own operation, so godly and quietly governed are the citizens? Hon. Members of the House share with the outside public all the human frailties. It is not possible for these ameliorative steps to be taken without the appropriate bureaucratic enforcement. The word "bureaucrat" traditionally causes a chill to travel down any freedom-loving Englishman's spine.
Speaking as the Minister most responsible for our Civil Service, I have concerned myself a great deal with the standards and attitude of the Civil Service, and I do not find there this growing maniac body lusting for power, seeking to wreak vengeance on the helpless citizenry. On the contrary, I find an obstinate defence—which I value very much in other areas of society—of principles of justice, fair play and equal treatment for all citizens. If I have difficulty when my hon. and right hon. Friends or hon. and right hon. Members opposite write to me on troublesome matters asking me to intervene, my difficulty is that what is most resented by civil servants is whimsical intervention on behalf of individual cases, so great is their passion for the equality of all citizens before the law. This is the principle of fundamental freedom that we have put our trust in, however tempting it is to stray into exciting individual and generous extensions.
It is suggested that we should think about a Council of State. There is something there to be thought about, and the Law Commission is thinking about it. I cannot inform the right hon. and learned 899 Gentleman, however, when it will produce something that might usefully be brought to Parliament. I take note of what I think is the helpful suggestion that we do not wait until the egg has been sat on for a great length of time and is about to produce a bird. We may take it earlier and have a look at it ourselves and see what kind of ideas the House has on the subject.
I can only say that everything that has been said today will be drawn to the attention of Government Departments and the Law Commission. My own contribution is that we did not need any sort of administrative law before because we did not have the extended administrative apparatus of modern times. In our zeal and passion for the old concepts and the old rule of law, we tended to think of administrative law—as the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East put it—as some protection of the bureaucrat. Not at all; it is a necessary protection of the people when administrative power is widely extended. If we are not careful we may end up getting the worst of two worlds. We have the administrative law steadily encroaching upon us, without the checks which other countries which have adopted administrative law have long ago obtained, perhaps in some cases unnecessarily early. It seems to me that we should be alert to this problem. That is the sentiment on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford pointed out that one of the fundamental requirements is to maintain the status and power of Parliament, and he rightly conceded that some extension of our Select Committee system is required. He equally generously and candidly acknowledged that whereas the previous Administration made little progress in this matter, at last things are beginning to move in that respect. The power of Parliament is being restored. The old concept of a Government keeping hon. Members out of mischief by giving them something to do is a contemptible concept with which we have no truck whatever. Our concept is to see that hon. Members have things to do not merely useful in themselves but useful in the sense of for the first time, by means of knowledge and detailed support, giving 900 them the means of controlling the administration appropriate to modern times.
It has been complained that the Ombudsman was unconstitutionally appointed—that we were in such a hurry to appoint him and to get him into operation that we anticipated some of the finer points of constitutional practice. It is scarcely the mark of a tyrant that we were in such haste to establish this protection for the citizenry that we overlooked some of the necessary formalities. I am grateful to the hon. Member and I adopt his criticism as a compliment to the Government that in their zeal to protect the citizen they hastened to appoint the Ombudsman.
It is also said that the Ombudsman will have no teeth—and I do not mean that personally. It is said that his office will lack teeth because it has power only to make a report. If this House is anything like the House of Commons as I have known it to be for some time, I shall be surpised if a Report from the Ombudsman is not observed by any Government, whatever its complexion. All the teeth needed in our kind of society is the ability to bring to public notice and to public light in an authoritative way, after proper investigation, a complaint or grievance of this kind, and the necessary action will inevitably follow. It is also said that the Ombudsman is not on a sufficiently wide base. I would answer that by suggesting that his office will develop intelligently and gradually, under the supervision and encouragement of the House, the wider range of work.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford complimented the Government, although he made a complaint about it, in saying that we consult every interest affected before we consult Parliament. Surely that is the inevitable order of events. Consulting Parliament is often the last stage after we have investigated the state of public opinion and after we have seen the complex interests involved in the proposed legislation and attempted to meet their needs.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Before he leaves the point about the Parliamentary Commissioner, will the hon. Member deal with the point which I raised about restriction on his powers of investigation. If a Minister issues a certificate saying 901 that it is against the public interest that a document should be published, he cannot investigate that document.
§ Mr. Lever
The hon. Member knows that at present the House of Lords is considering the whole question of Crown privilege in relation to documents of this kind. This would be a good moment for me to utter a comment which I think would be welcome to hon. Members opposite, but as there is not only a Government but a legal risk involved, I think it wiser and more proper that I should make no comment on the point. I lean in the direction of freedom, provided that it preserves for the Government the right to govern. I do not think that anybody is entitled to pry into documents which Ministers certify to be absolutely confidential and which they certify that it would be prejudicial to the State to reveal. Subject to that, I suggest that if the House watches and waits a little to see how the Ombudsman works, they will see what further powers they think he needs, and it will then be up to the House to see that he gets them.
As I said, it has been suggested that the Government consult interested bodies before consulting Parliament. Every Government does that. I am glad that my Government does it—although not always enough to please me or other people. I should like to see it extended further. I am sure that the Government are showing great advance on any previous Government in the extent of their consultation with the interests affected before they bring legislation to Parliament. A typical example is the Green Paper on the regional employment premium. We invented it, and I am glad that we did. This is the first time that we have had a bonus payment considered by the persons concerned before Parliament has had a chance to look at it. In this way Parliament and the Government can be informed by the reaction of people outside as to its likely effect.
The hon. Member also offered praise to the Government—with some blame, which is not surprising having regard to his position in the House and to the terms of his Motion. The hon. Member said that the Government showed contempt to the House on the Prices and Incomes Bill. I suggest that the hon. Member is on a false point, because the 902 Government were acting in a period in relation to Parliament where they had the choice of either keeping Parliament sitting through the August recess or attempting to introduce in Committee a new Part to the Bill which was already going through the Committee. I was Chairman of that Committee and it was my duty to decide whether that was proper. I decided that it was proper, and I did so quite independently and without pressure from anybody, on either side. I know with what generosity right hon. and hon. Members opposite accepted that. There was, however, the Third Reading debate in the House afterwards.
The effect upon me as Chairman of the Committee, I can now reveal, was that I came to the conclusion that if one wants a subject to be really scrutinised and the Government to be challenged in detail on a Bill, one is better off in a smaller Committee upstairs than in long sessions through the night on the Floor of the House. For that reason. I have supported the Motion that the Finance Bill should go upstairs to Committee because the Government will get a more gruelling scrutiny of its Finance Bills in that way. Over recent years Finance Bills, of both Governments could have been improved only by gruelling scrutiny from the House, which is unlikely to happen if the debate is in this Chamber at all hours of the night.
It was an ironic fate which thereafter made me Financial Secretary to suffer the gruelling which I had urged upon the Government. I give it as my firm opinion however, that if the House wants the Bills of a technical character to be scrutinised, if it wants the Government to be pinned down in detail and forced to answer, the place to do it is not in this Chamber, but in Committee upstairs, where every member of the Committee forms a specialist group which gets to know what it is all about and presses home the points to a real conclusion. For that reason, I do not regard the proceedings on the Prices and Incomes Bill as showing contempt of the House.
The hon. Member's questions ranged widely. He suggested that we were reducing the House of Lords to complete impotence. Some might have thought that time and providence had already anticipated us. Unless the hon. Member is attempting to retain—this might 903 account for the wording of his Motion—what he calls the quaint Victorian flavour, he cannot pretend that the present House of Lords is the great bastion of our liberties. It is an amusing figment but hardly to be reconciled with reality in modern times.
The question of the travel allowance was raised as being a circumscription of our lives. I shall not go into the philosophy. There is too much fine writing on the philosophy of liberty. I was glad that most hon. Members condescended to particulars rather than attempt to go too deeply into the general philosophy of liberty. There is so much competition over the centuries in English prose on the subject that few of us would shine by contrast. I shall not go into that.
The Government have, however, certain rights on the travel allowance. It is a matter of good sense and judgment, having regard to all the circumstances, which of these restrictions can be justified as being consistent with our freedom and liberty. I assure the House that there is no hon. Member, on either side, who dislikes travel restrictions in any shape or form more than I do. If the form happens to be monetary, it is equally unattractive to me. Although I concede that the Government are entitled to impose this at a time of difficulty, I equally concede that it is an area in which the vigilance of the House—I am sure, both sides—will be exercised to see that this restriction is removed just as soon as the Government can afford to let it go.
I do not complain that this subject is constantly raised. It is right that it should be. It is a matter of fundamental liberty that people should have the right to move. The right to move does not mean the right to go penniless and suppliant around the countries of Europe. It means the right to move with a reasonable amount of money in one's pocket around the countries of Europe. That is not at all to criticise the Government in having decided—before I came into office, I might mention—to restrict the travel allowance. Nevertheless, I share with hon. Members a keen interest that these restrictions should be raised as soon as it is possible for us to lift them.
I was glad to see that modern times have made an impact upon thought on 904 the other side of the House, too. People talk about money and private property giving freedom. I entirely agree with that. I have often said so. But, of course, if it gives freedom to a few of our fellow citizens it is not surprising that other people who are interested in and admire freedom want a little bit more of this valuable freedom, and this includes freedom to own property; and the general slant of this thinking is more popular on this side of the House, I would say, than on the other side of the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I do not want to vie with hon. Members, because I am very anxious that private ownership of property should be spread ever more widely, and I am glad that in that the Government can have support and encouragement from the other side of the House. Certainly, one of the central objects of the Labour Government ought to be and I think is to enlarge property ownership, spread it to more and more people over a period of time, and surely that is our object.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
The hon. Gentleman has given, as usual, an interesting insight into his own personal position on this, but would he be good enough to inform the House where, in the constitution of the Labour Party, one finds the extension of private ownership of private property comes as one of its objects? We know all about clause 4. Which clause, if any, enshrines this other point?
§ Mr. Weatherill
Can the hon. Gentleman then say why his party objects so strongly to the sale of council houses, since that would enable people to own property?
§ Mr. Lever
In the few minutes left I am sure the hon. Gentleman would not want me to go into that in detail, but there is the question of management, the question of good, central management and organisation of houses in a situation of housing shortage. There is no absolute principle in this. We might just as well say, "Why do not the Government 905 sell off Big Ben to a demolition contractor—or a souvenir collector?"[HON MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It may be so; it may be a good idea or it may be a had idea, but the point is that it is hardly an argument against the Government's spreading private property more widely that we should refuse to begin by selling off Big Ben, though we might sell off certain other public buildings with more relish.
It has been suggested in this general problem, which rightly exercises the minds of hon. Members, that it is a sign of the Government's distaste for liberty. It is not. It is said that it is disturbing many people in this country, but it is certainly not the case that the Government are indifferent to personal liberty.
The debate has ranged very widely, from pregnancy testing to breathalysers, and that poster on British Railways mentioned by my hon. Friend.
Personally, I thought that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) was going a little far in painting that ghastly picture of drivers, instead of moving happily and cheerfully around, as they did in the pre-breathalyser days, a menace to themselves and a menace to other helpless people on the roads, having henceforth to sit in a melancholy manner before their television sets. If these are the alternatives I would, grim as it may seem to the hon. Member, prefer the latter to the former, the freedom to move around at the risk of being maimed or bereaved, rather than use the breathalyser. There is a correct balance in these matters, to be judged by common sense and fair-mindedness, by the people as a whole, and I think the balance will be looked at, and will be changed, if it needs to be changed, and we will see what results we have. The general public have accepted this recently placed curb as a curb on the amount of drunken driving or tipsy driving which used to go on, and I am thankful to my right hon. Friend for it.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford said his Motion had a Victorian ring of constitutional principle. This is the dividing point between the two sides of the House. I am not suggesting that hon. Members opposite are not as cencerned as my right hon. and hon. Friends in fundamental matters of liberty. I am not 906 suggesting that they have not caught on to some of the modern implications of this, but the fundamental difference is that, to hon. Gentlemen opposite, Victorian days were the peak of constitutional liberty, whereas most of my right hon. and hon. Friends would contrast them unhappily with the concept of a modern society which gives greater liberties to greater numbers of people than were ever experienced in the days of Victoria.
Liberty is not to be measured in fine words or noble prose but by the amount of human fulfilment and free expression of personality which exists. That is the measure of human freedom in a society. It is not a matter of freedom for a few choice spirits, a few talented people or for a few rich and powerful people. It is freedom for as many people as society can organise. The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) said that freedom was not popular. In Victorian days, it was at best a mere empty shell, a declaration of liberty without the reality of freedom for personal development and personal happiness which is more copiously available today than anything that was to be found in Victorian times.
Without wishing to break my own rule of not tediously competing with what has been written on the subject by so many, I see order not as the antithesis of freedom but as the protection of other people's freedoms within which a man may exercise his own and which in turn is the guarantee of the free exercise of his own.
On the question of freedom in its deeper sense, some wrong paths have been taken in modern times. There have been those, of whom I have never been one, who, when they have seen the emptiness of a freedom only exercised by a few people, with the rest of the people oppressed or downtrodden in other ways, have begun to despise the constitutional freedoms. That is a fatal reaction. The right reaction is to develop and enlarge the constitutional freedoms so that they reach more and more people. That is the objective of my party. Our objective is not that of increasing despotism or the whimsical exercise of egotistical power.
In the last resort, freedom does not depend on a written constitution or an unwritten one. Freedom depends on the number of sturdy, independent-minded, spiky individuals who are prepared to 907 stand up and fight for it, argue for it, go to some pains and trouble for it, and suffer inconvenience and loss on its behalf. I believe that we have a large number of those in our society. Fortunately for us, they exist in both parties—
§ Mr. Lever
They exist in all three parties. I left out the third party because one of the sad inevitabilities of politics is that the other side will always get in sooner or later, and it is no use imagining that other people are villains and that one's own party is the sole repository of social conscience. If that were true, the loss of an election would mean the end of everything.
In the end, that is the guarantee of our freedom. From these sturdy, independent citizens, one has the tendency to have liberty-loving Ministers and, in the last resort, our freedom depends on a free speaking and independent-minded House of Commons. Whatever the Constitution, a nation of toadies and bootlickers will never have freedom. It is the independent-spirited folk who are prepared to fight who get freedom. A time-serving Parliament will not get freedom. It will get insolent Ministers and arrogances practised upon it. So long as we have a free and independent Parliament representing a free and independent people, our liberty is guaranteed, and I am proud of the record of the present Government in that respect.
I claim that, for the reasons I have given, freedom has not suffered by reason of this Government, but, by enlarging the concept of freedom, we have brought new millions to value freedom. That is why it was not popular before. We have added to the army ready to spring to the defence of freedom because they value it, and we will seek to go on protecting the freedom that we have.
§ 3.55 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich. West)
I have sat here waiting for an opportunity to draw attention to one aspect of freedom which is not covered by the Motion of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas): that is, the freedom to communicate.
There was one irony in this debate that I am sure would have pleased and 908 delighted Voltaire had he been alive—the spectacle of the product of Catholic intellectualism as the defender of freedom. That would have given Voltaire tremendous amusement.
In the time that remains I want to draw attention to one aspect of freedom which is very much under fire at the present time—the freedom to write serious books and the freedom to publish serious pictures. This is a freedom which is very much limited at the present time. This is nothing to do with this Government. This is to do with the inability of the people of this country to realise that writing books and publishing pictures is a matter of individual taste which cannot be governed by any legalistic formula. This is one of the things which came out of the recent trial "Last Exit to Brooklyn". This is a serious book which has been treated in a scandalous way by an English court. In the West End of London and in many other parts of the country many works and pictures are published which are trash, rubbish, infantile. These books and pictures are freely published, and I have examples here. However, when we get serious works and pictures, these are the things which are—it is no good the hon. Member for Chelmsford nodding his head. If people like him were in power in this country, they would never be published. I would rather do without his agreement on this sort of thing.
Photographers like Jean Straker have been prosecuted and fined for publishing photographs which are in the Library of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Yet publishers of trash can get away with it. Why is it that serious artists and writers are prosecuted and the publishers of trash get away with it? It is because serious artists are prepared to stand up for their freedom. It is intolerable that people who stand up for their freedom in this country are the ones who are penalised. Publishers of trash and writers of rubbish get away with it and can make fortunes. In passing, I will mention one book—"The Adventurers" by Harold Robbins. This is a book which is a compound of sex and sadism. Thousands of copies of this book have been sold. It is written to a formula rather like "The Carpetbaggers"—another load of rubbish which has made a fortune. Yet Calder and Boyars 909 are taken to court. This is the sort of freedom that this House ought to be questioning and considering; not some of the farrago of rubbish which we have had today.
Liberty, according to some hon. Gentlemen opposite, is the right of a drunk to kill someone before he is stopped by a policeman. That is what this Motion amounts to.
This House should be considering the right of serious writers and artists to express themselves freely, without people introducing private prosecutions and circulating lists of so-called dirty books. But we are in this position, to judge by one police list, headed "Unknown", of books in four categories, including "Lolita" by Nabakov—
§ It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.