§ 4.20 p.m.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE, HOME OFFICE (LORD STONHAM)
My Lords, I hope that it will meet your convenience if I intervene at this stage to reply to a Question, of which Private Notice was given—namely:
"To ask Her Majesty's Government if they are aware of the effect which gas and electricity cuts have now had upon industrial firms and what action is being taken to remedy the situation."
594 My Lords, a number of firms in the area of the West Midlands Gas Board were asked yesterday to stop using gas, as a necessary measure in the interests of public safety. The Board are restoring normal supplies to-day, and all industry in the West Midlands should have full supplies for the night shift. The Electricity Boards were obliged in the late afternoons of Monday and Tuesday to disconnect some consumers in certain areas for short periods. Both the electricity and gas industries are making every possible effort to bring in the additional capacity which is currently being installed or overhauled and will be better able to deal with demands arising from a severe cold spell later in the winter.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord for giving that reply to the House. I think this emphasises what was said yesterday; that it looks as if it may be a long time before we have this matter right. It is a little cold comfort, if I may say so, to be told that the Boards will be better able to deal with the demands arising from a severe cold spell later in the winter. What we want to know is: How soon are they going to be able to meet a cold spell?
May I ask a second question arising also out of the question that I put to the noble Lord yesterday? It appears that these crises, so to speak, are especially liable to occur in the late afternoon, and when that happens it appears that quite often staffs are laid off, it being not worthwhile for them to stay to see whether the supply will be restored. It seems very important, therefore, that information should be given, just before the interruption in supply takes place, as to how long it is likely to last. If we are to have the risk of interruptions or reductions of supply for some time to come, would the noble Lord concentrate on this point?
My Lords, might I follow the noble Lord in thanking the Minister, and also put to him, very crudely what the public have in mind? Both the electricity and the gas industries seem to be fifty years out of date. Crises of this sort are foreseen, and surely provision should be made so that action is not taken after the horse has left the stable.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, that explanations are very cold comfort to people who want to get warmth or light in their homes, or to people who have their jobs in industry disrupted and are sent home. I would make this point, first of all, in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Rea, said about the industries being fifty years out of date. If any Government are responsible for the cuts we are having to-day, there is no doubt whatever that it is the Party opposite because—and this is the important point—again and again (and in the recollection of noble Lords, I, myself, have put this down again and again) they have turned a deaf ear to demands that we have persistently made for increased power plant construction.
The annual increase in demand for gas is about 8½ per cent. and for electricity about 8 per cent. That is a very substantial increase. There are two factors involved in the present crisis. The first is that, for the reasons I have given, there simply is not yet enough power, particularly in the electricity industry, to meet all the demands that may be made. It takes five years from conception to fulfilment to produce a big plant. The only remedy is to produce more generating plant; and this we are doing as speedily as we can. Secondly, not all the potential existing capacity was available to meet the demand during the present cold spell. Part was being overhauled, and some had broken down. My right honourable friend is examining the situation with the industries with a view to ensuring that the period during which plant is withdrawn for overhaul can be shortened, so that all overhauled plant may be available before the onset of wintery weather.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord has sought to make Party capital out of these unfortunate circumstances. Perhaps he will be good enough to tell us for our own information just when the Government will begin to accept some degree of responsibility for what happens during their tenure of office. It would he interesting to know whether it will have to be the winter after next, or at some date in the future, before the Government will accept any responsibility. I would 596 ask the noble Lord to bear in mind that the Government take great pride in having been in office for one year. I have heard a good deal about squeezes and that sort of thing since they came into office. We will not go into the causes of those, because we are not debating that subject to-day. But I hope he will not again bring out this old myth behind which they have sought to conceal themselves for so long.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, it would be interesting to know what the noble and learned Viscount is doing but making Party capital out of this matter. But he must know that to construct major plants of this kind takes at least five years, and that what we are planning and doing now in plant construction will decide the output of power five years hence. Therefore, it was fair to bring in this point about the responsibility.
The second question the noble and learned Viscount asked was: When will the Government accept responsibility? We accept responsibility now, immediately, and there is no question of burking that issue. I have made the point about the repair of plant at this time of the year which seems somewhat extraordinary. There is the additional point that, so far as the West Midlands Area was concerned, there was, unfortunately, a breakdown (which could have occurred at any time of the year) in their largest producing plant which produced the conditions of yesterday and the day before.
§ LORD ST. HELENS
My Lords, since the Government have now accepted responsibility and, at the same time, have admitted that neither the gas nor the electricity industries are adequate to produce the power required at the moment, may I ask what steps the Government are taking to curtail the sales of gas and electrical heating equipment on the open market by the nationalised industries?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, so far as the question of responsibility is concerned, we accept that it is the Government's responsibility to ensure that future capacity is equal to demand, which, as I have said, is doubling itself at the rate of every ten or twelve years. This means an enormous increase of power plant construction. That is provided for in the National Plan and will go forward. But, as I indicated yesterday, quite 597 honestly, it may be two or three years yet, because of the increase in demand, before increasing capacity catches up with increasing demand so that we can avoid the present kind of situation. With regard to the noble Lord's question about banning the use (I imagine he meant for a considerable period) of heating appliances—
§ LORD STONHAM
Well, of course, if you cannot buy them, you cannot use them. It is when it is cold that we think of buying another heating appliance. I think that would be causing considerable and unnecessary hardship to the general public, because—I must emphasise this, and know I am "sticking my neck out" in doing so—we are confident that with all the present plant in commission, and the other plant that will be coming forward during the winter, we shall be, generally speaking, capable of meeting expected demands, except for extremely exceptional circumstances, and then only for limited periods.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, it was the noble Lord who raised this question of responsibility for this matter. What he has brought out clearly is that this is largely, and probably wholly, due to the fact that in the one case there was a breakdown (and that was unlucky) and in the other case to the fact that equipment was being repaired, equipment which could have been ready. Will the noble Lord make it clear that had that equipment been ready there would not have been these cuts, so that the overall responsibility lies with the Government, but that in any case it lies firmly on the nationalised industries concerned for having failed to have the plant that is in existence, and which they possess, ready for a period of crisis?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, certainly responsibility lies on the nationalised industries, and responsibility lies on the Government of the day as being responsible for the nationalised industries. But it must be within the recollection of noble Lords that at times over the last five years the nationalised industries were not permitted to implement their plans for increased plant construction simply because the Party 598 opposite curtailed them. This is a fact of history and one from which we are now suffering, however much we may dislike it. But the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, always put his questions in a very fair manner and I will answer them in the same way.
For example, one of the difficulties in the Midlands is because a new works at Tipton, which should have been in operation by now, and was planned to be, is not making gas because some vital parts of equipment arrived months late. There is a responsibility on the nationalised industry, and on the Government, and on the contractor who failed. But that is the kind of thing that happens. Also in that area we are seriously short of men. That, if you like, is a national disease. At this moment, some equipment which could be used to produce gas in the area has not been used because we have not the men. This is the kind of circumstance that affects the situation. We are dealing with them as quickly as we can and we are stepping up the programme of construction and maintaining it in a planned way. That is the only way we can be sure of not having a recurrence of these difficulties.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, will the noble Lord use any influence which he may possess with these bodies to induce them to refrain from sales and advertising so long as they are unable to meet the demand made on them?
§ LORD STONHAM
Well, my Lords, the nationalised industries consult in these matters about competitive sales and advertising, but the Electricity Board and the Gas Boards are in business to sell electricity and gas; and the way to do that, of course, is to encourage people to have appliances for heating and cooking. What we want is not a standstill, or a decrease in amenities, but an increase; and together with that increase, an increase in power supplies so that we do not have these interruptions. That, I repeat, is precisely what this Government are planning to do, have planned to do, and are doing. Their only regret is that the plans were not made and implemented five years ago, for if that had been done we should not have had this trouble.
§ LORD GRIMSTON OF WESTBURY
My Lords, did I understand the noble 599 Lord to say that after the present repairs have been completed, and the construction which was planned to be ready and which is late, or not ready for other reasons, has been caught up with, they expect to be able this winter to meet all demands they are called on to meet'? I thought the noble Lord said that. If that is the case, it does not seem that any part of the difficulty can be attributed to, or that Party politics can put the blame upon, the last Government which made the plans that will enable the industry to meet all demands this winter.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Grimston of Westbury, will look to-morrow at precisely what I said, he will find I said that when all the plant at present out of use because it is under repair is brought into operation, and additional plant now being commissioned comes into use, except in extremely exceptional circumstances—I used those words, and the circumstances of yesterday were extremely exceptional for November—we shall be able to meet all demands; and those demands, generally speaking, will certainly at times be not less than they were yesterday.
§ LORD MERRIVALE
My Lords, may I ask one question with regard to electricity? If I understand the problem aright, with regard to switching arrangements it is possible, when the load in one area is too great, to obtain some power from another area. I wonder whether it would be possible, when the load becomes too great in the South-East area, to obtain a greater amount of electricity from the Continent through the Channel cable.
§ LORD STONHAM
That is the kind of consideration we are going into, but one of the main troubles in the Midlands yesterday was with gas. When there are such a large number of consumers it is not possible to do with gas what can be done with electricity—that is, to cut off supplies: it would be too dangerous to the domestic consumers. That is why they asked certain major consumers to suspend their use of gas.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am bound to press the noble Lord on this matter 600 again. Is he aware that the day before yesterday, when cuts in electricity were made, the temperature in London was not below freezing point? This was at London Airport. Is the noble Lord seriously telling the House that the Boards have not foreseen circumstances in which the temperature would be at freezing point and not below? Is he seriously telling the House that they should not be ready by this time, with all the equipment they have, to meet this demand? Will he give the House an assurance that in the future they will programme their maintenance so as to be ready by this time to meet those demands?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am seriously telling the House what the C.E.G.B. and the Gas Boards have seriously told the country for several years; namely that the construction programme would not permit them to meet their extreme demands for some years to come.
§ LORD STONHAM
Yes, there was a statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Erroll of Hale, when he was Minister of Power, and that is still the situation.
With regard to the temperature the day before yesterday, my understanding of the matter is that it is a great many years since in this part of November we had such a cold day. Frankly, the position is, for the reasons I have stated, that in the areas concerned neither the Gas Boards nor the Electricity Board were ready for the demand that the temperature occasioned.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, in view of the replies the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has given, I think that we shall almost certainly want to debate this whole subject. I should like to put one question. I want to get it quite clear. I understood the noble Lord to say that the situation we have just experienced was due, according to him, to three factors. One, he says, is insufficient capacity, a matter which cannot be dealt with very rapidly; secondly, a breakdown in the Midlands with regard to gas, and thirdly, if I understood the noble Lord rightly, the failure to repair and maintain equipment already in existence before November so that it was ready for the winter pressure.
601 I would ask the noble Lord to say, quite shortly, whether that is a correct summary of what he said. If it is, I would ask him to agree that this failure to repair equipment for use in the winter before the middle of November seems to be a most astonishing state of affairs, one for which the Government, and not their predecessors, are clearly responsible. Will the noble Lord take steps to ensure that that cannot happen again and that the equipment will be repaired and maintained before winter starts?
§ LORD STONHAM
I have already given the assurance asked for by the noble and learned Viscount. I will accept his summary as a correct and fair summary if he will accept the amendment that the happenings of yesterday and the day before were not a national failure, in the sense that only some areas in the country were affected; that is to say, the West Midlands area, for gas, and parts of the South-East, for electricity. I will just finish by saying, if the noble and learned Viscount wants the facts, that the cuts by the Electricity Board were 5 per cent. on Tuesday and 3 per cent. on Monday for a period of one hour in the late afternoon. Otherwise the noble and learned Viscount gave a fair summary.
§ VISCOUNT DILHORNE
My Lords, the noble Lord has asked me if I accept certain matters. Of course, I accept his statement of fact as to the extent of the cuts. But it is also not to be ignored that these cuts—which the noble Lord dealt with in percentages—seriously affected employment and the enjoyment of life and comfort of many millions of people. I am sure that I can assume that the noble Lord does not intend to deal with this question lightly and does not wish to seek to minimise the serious effects on people that have already occurred.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, my first words were that my statement was cold comfort to the people concerned, and I accept the seriousness of the situation. The noble and learned Viscount suggested a debate. That is not a matter for me, but I would much rather deal with this in the proper manner and not simply by question and answer in this way.
§ THE MINISTER WITHOUT PORTFOLIO: (LORD CHAMPION)
My Lords, 602 we have been told by an important member of the Front Bench Opposite that we shall have to debate this matter. We still have a number of speakers on the list for to-day. I am certain that the House would wish to complete the debate on the gracious Speech, and to return to this matter as and when arrangements through the usual channels will permit us to do so. I think that that is fair.
§ LORD ILFORD
My Lords, I desire only to ask one question of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, which I am sure he will be able to answer shortly. I understand from his first statement that certain consumers are to be disconnected during the week-end. May I ask whether they will be domestic or industrial consumers?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, the 5 per cent. cut for one hour was a disconnection last Monday and yesterday, not next week.
§ ADDRESS IN REPLY TO HER
MAJESTY'S MOST GRACIOUS
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ LORD SEGAL
My Lords, I find it comforting to observe that a great degree of warmth can be generated in this House by cold spells, but if the debate may be steered into calmer waters I should like, if I may be allowed, to explain my participation in the debate at this stage as due not to an intrusion but to an omission, and I would thank the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, for so kindly giving way.
Perhaps one of the most welcome passages in the gracious Speech, and I hope one of the least controversial is the statement thatHer Majesty's Government are studying with the medical profession ways of improving the family doctor service, and will introduce the necessary legislation.The recent lengthy discussions between the general practitioner representatives and the Minister of Health have culminated in the Second Report, which was issued on October 15. This Report to my mind is an historic document, for it changes radically the whole basis on which general practice has hitherto been run and represents the greatest step 603 forward since the National Health Service was launched in July, 1948. It is a striking tribute to the energy and dedication of the present Minister of Health, and perhaps is also a commentary, if not a reflection, on the achievements of previous Ministers of Health and of previous Governments.
At present, it is only a blue-print. An enormous amount of time and energy will be required to implement its recommendations, but, given a further degree of patience and good will, the next two or three years may see a real advance in the whole concept of the National Health Service, far greater than anything previously accomplished in the last seventeen years. Nevertheless, this striking Report reveals one or two shortcomings. In pointing these out, I would emphasise that this has to be done in the interests of the sick patients and not of the general practitioners. By far the most serious shortcomings are to be found in paragraphs 8 and 10 of the Report, which refer specifically to a 5½, day week, releasing the general practitioner from his work as from 1 p.m. on a Saturday until 8 a.m. on a Monday. These hours, in my view, are woefully inadequate. Here the Minister has missed a wonderful opportunity for an imaginative approach to one of the main problems which to-day beset general practice. This opportunity has so far been lost, but not irretrievably so, and I hope that there is yet time for this omission to be remedied.
I well recall the time, now some ten years ago, when doctors in the Regional Medical Service were suddenly awarded a 5-day working week. It was as if a heavy burden had been lifted over-night. After a complete 2-day break at the week-end, doctors returned refreshed and reinvigorated, and far better able to to meet the strains of the coming week. More work was accomplished, I believe, in the week of five working days than had been accomplished previously on the 5½-day week. In all the years it has operated in the medical branch of the Civil Service, the five-day week has proved an unqualified success, and now no one would ever dream of going back to the old days.
But why should this five-day week remain the prerogative of a chosen few 604 in the Government Medical Service and be denied to the vast majority of doctors in general practice? These doctors in the Government Service are also especially fortunate in having no worries at all about the provision of a locum during their week-end of absence. Surely, if anyone in the community has fully earned his right to a five-day working week, it is the hard-pressed overburdened general practitioner.
In his case, this 1½-day release at the week-ends is little more than a snare and a delusion. Under the new plan, the general practitioner is to finish his work at 1 p.m. on a Saturday. After he has had his lunch it will be 2 p.m. and by 3.30 or 4 p.m. during some of the winter months the period of daylight is already over. Mentally he has had no release, and a whole day is virtually lost. If, instead, regardless of the present demands of the medical negotiators, the Minister had agreed to release the doctor for his week-end as from 8 a.m. on a Saturday, allowing him till 9 for his breakfast and then his complete freedom from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., for a mere four hours on a Saturday morning, a full extra day would have been gained. It is not yet too late for this concession to be granted.
Such a step, I believe, would do more to stop the drift from the National Health Service and attract an increasing number of promising, well-equipped students into the medical profession than any other reform the Minister could ever contemplate. The results, with their emphasis on freedom rather than remuneration—freedom to relax, freedom to study, freedom from the cares and complaints of their patients, which are not always the essence of good medicine—could be enormous and far-reaching. Not only would a doctor be enabled to take up his week-end golf, if he so wished—and surely doctors are entitled to a game of golf just as much as lawyers or business executives, as a means of full mental and physical relaxation, instead of having to ward off the encroachments of a gnawing ulcer—he would also be free to fulfil another highly desirable recommendation made in the Second Report, to do a week-end course of postgraduate study at a hospital or clinic.
605 But what of the patients? What provision is to be made for the sick person, who rightly asks, "What will happen to me during those two days when my doctor is away attending a post-graduate course of study, or even indulging in a game of golf?" To the patient, there is the obvious reply, "No more than will already happen to you during the one and a half days when, according to the recommendations of the Second Report, your doctor may be off work." All these considerations must be provided for. No doctor should ever contemplate a week-end of release from work without having first assured himself that full medical services are provided by a competent colleague during the whole of his period of absence. This is, as I have said, only an additional matter of four working hours—four hours that will ease many years of a doctor's life, and bring untold benefits to the whole community. Once this five-day week for doctors has become firmly established in our way of life, everyone will wonder why it was overlooked in the 1948 Act, and why for all these years so many doctors have had to endure the arduous life of stress that their present work entails.
I have deliberately omitted any reference to remuneration, for this is a matter properly left to the Review Body. But another legitimate criticism might be made of paragraph 20 in the Second Report. What on earth is the point of emphasising a special payment for doctors who attend—I repeat attend—a prescribed number of sessions of approved graduate training? Every undergraduate knows the futility of merely attending lectures. Surely, if payments are to be made for study-leave, then the emphasis ought to be on study rather than on leave. And if special payments are to be made merely for attendance, then a bonus payment ought to be made for proficiency. There is nothing derogatory in members of the Diplomatic Service having to take special examinations for proficiency in a foreign language and receiving an increase in salary if they pass. So, too, it might seem logical if the final session of a postgraduate study course entailed an optional examination, with a special bonus payment, as well as a certificate of proficiency, awarded to a doctor who attains a certain required standard. Both diplomas of proficiency and bonus 606 awards of salary would constitute a stimulus and a challenge to a doctor's professional attainments, not least to the doctor who was well past middle age.
The initial and understandable reluctance of a doctor, especially of a single-handed doctor, to participate in these postgraduate tests would in many cases give way to a genuine enthusiasm, especially if his medical and social contacts were broadened by membership of the College of General Practitioners. It is, I submit, high time that some form of official recognition should be given to this college. Membership of the college for every doctor on the National Health List, while it can hardly be made compulsory, should at least be encouraged in every possible way. Special inducements might well be considered to enable a doctor to participate in its work. Membership of the College of General Practitioners not only would benefit a doctor professionally, but could be of enormous benefit to him socially. It could do more than anything else to eliminate that grim survival of a bygone age, the single-handed doctor, working as a lone wolf.
In this connection, I would commend to the Minister the excellent syllabus of the East Anglian Faculty of this College. This covers an area served by over 2,000 general practitioners, and lists over a period of barely ten months no fewer than 109 medical and social functions, an average of eleven meetings a month. It is partly the result of the energy and enthusiasm of a general practitioner living near Ely, who has enlisted the collaboration of many other practitioners over the whole area and the active support of certain pharmaceutical firms.
It is interesting in this connection to note the highly ethical advertising of some of these firms. There is a very healthy element in their active participation in these postgraduate study courses, and, within certain limits, they might well be further encouraged. Perhaps this aspect of pharmaceutical advertising might be brought to the attention of the Committee on Drugs, now deliberating under the able chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Sainsbury. Instead of sending out indiscriminately samples of drugs to doctors who have taken the minimal trouble to fill in a prepaid postcard, or taking up a busy doctor's time by sending 607 to his surgery their representatives, who, having failed to graduate in medicine, have become graduates in salesmanship, some of the more reputable drug manufacturers would be far better occupied in distributing their samples, if distribute they must, to those doctors who have taken the trouble to attend postgraduate courses. Such doctors have shown their keenness to apply advances in therapy, approved by hospital consultant staffs, to their own practices, and samples sent to them would, in all probability, be passed on to their patients, instead of lying heaped up, gathering dust, on surgery shelves. Perhaps this sacking of touts and the consequent saving of unused samples might even bring down the cost of some proprietary drugs.
That the Second Report is a document of vision and imagination has been amply proved by the overwhelming support it has received from a majority of the medical profession, a majority of nearly seven to one. The doubts and suspicions towards the Government's intentions which have existed in many medical quarters until recently may soon begin to show signs of a thaw. The Minister is now presented with a great opportunity to inject a new spirit of enthusiasm into a rising generation of dedicated general practitioners, who take their Hippocratic Oath seriously, and who are imbued only with a desire to assuage sickness and suffering and to serve their fellow men.
§ 4.58 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BRENTFORD
My Lords, if the noble Lord, Lord Segal, will forgive me for not following him in the subject which he has introduced into this debate, I should like to return to the subject which was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, the question of roads, and, in particular, safety on the roads. It may possibly not have escaped the attention of your Lordships that I have recently been indulging in a little correspondence with Her Majesty's Government upon this subject, and that at the conclusion of it the Minister of Transport accused me of dramatising the situation. My Lords, I am very happy indeed to accept that allegation. If I did succeed in dramatising the situation, I feel that I have done something quite useful: because, really, when we get to the point 608 of suffering some 8,000 deaths a year on the roads, and the number of injuries from road accidents which will this year rise to nearly 400,000—and we have not yet really touched the public conscience on the subject at all—I feel it is high time that somebody did dramatise the situation in order to bring the seriousness of it home to the people of this country.
After all, it is far worse than the casualties which are occurring in Vietnam at the present time, and yet we hear a good deal upon that subject from quite a lot of people in this country, spread over a wide circle of the population. Not only is there no real public reaction to these exceedingly significant figures, but there is no appreciable reaction from Her Majesty's Government. In fact, Her Majesty's Government state that it is because of the paramount importance of maintaining the economic objective of protecting sterling that they have recently seen fit to postpone for a period of six months starts in road improvements and new roads, in trunk roads and motorways, to a total value of £55 million. This matter was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, and I would agree substantially with all that he said.
There are three comments that I would make about Her Majesty's Government's decision. The first is that it is not a universal cut-back of capital investment in which the Government are indulging. They have made exceptions with regard to the building of houses, hospitals and schools, and with regard to capital investments in the distressed areas. Therefore it cannot be said that this cut in road development was not open to a similar exception, had they wished to make it. Certainly my comment would be that no previous Government in any credit squeeze which has yet taken place have cut back the road programme. Therefore, it seems singularly harsh that, upon this occasion, with the rising toll of road accidents which we are having, they should have seen fit to cut back the road programme at the present time.
Her Majesty's Minister of Transport stated on August 3 this year, in the course of a debate in another place, that the savings which he would make for the benefit of the national economy, if he had no more starts in that financial year in regard to road building, would 609 be infinitesimal, and not more than £2 million. That was the stopping of road building and road improvements starts between August and April. This is stopping, £55 million worth of road starts for six months. Therefore, on an approximate calculation, the total effect of this action by Her Majesty's Government for the benefit of the national economy cannot really amount to the saving of more than £1 million. For that saving, I maintain that he has adopted an action which is exceedingly reprehensible, and contrary to the public interest.
The Minister has further claimed that his figure of £55 million cut-back should be seen in relation to the total programme of road building which is anticipated as £12,000 million by the year 1970. But I submit that that is a totally erroneous comparison, and somewhat misleading, because the £55 million cut-hack is out of the programme for this year, and not out of the programme up to 1970. The programme for road improvements and new roads in regard to motorways and trunk roads for this year has been given by the Minister himself at £162 million. Therefore the cut-back, the postponement, amounts to roughly speaking one-third of that total programme.
I have been talking about a cut-back for six months, but I wonder whether that is really so, because a postponement of this sort must inevitably be exceedingly expensive. Many of your Lordships probably have experience in the civil engineering contracting business, and I would ask what is a civil engineering contractor to do who has accumulated his plant—which at the present time is very expensive and very elaborate plant for this type of road building—who has got together and built up his team of engineers, who has brought them all towards the site and is ready to start work, when suddenly he is told that he must postpone his operations for six months? He cannot just put that team into cold storage. He cannot leave all that plant lying idle and depreciating for six months. He has to try to use it to earn some money. Therefore, he has to take it away and use it in such capacities as he can find suitable for its use; and the probability that he will be able, in exactly six months' time, to reassemble that plant and team at the site where he is going to start operations is very remote indeed.
610 Therefore, I submit to your Lordships that the question of postponing starts for six months is much more likely to involve a suspension of nine months, or anything up to one year, for the Government which we have to-day, which claims to be exceedingly sympathetic towards the principles of planning, must realise that the planning of these road programmes is a long-term theme which involves a great deal of work and accuracy and a great deal of accurate timing. For them suddenly to go and throw a spanner of these dimensions into a planned operation of that sort gives the lie to any claim which they may have to be sympathetic towards the planning arrangements of the industrialists of this country.
It would be interesting to know exactly what these postponements have amounted to. I have not been able to obtain, as yet, complete figures, but I have been able to obtain particulars of thirteen of the postponements throughout the country, which amount only to about £3½ million. They include stretches of roads on which, over the last three years, accidents have occurred involving 26 fatalities, 99 serious injuries, and 301 slight injuries. They are, as your Lordships will see, all ordinary cases of bad accident spots on the road. They have been planned for improvement by double widths of roads, by heightening the roads, and generally straightening them out, and removing the bad parts of the engineering of the original roads which had led to these accidents.
Those were the accidents which occurred over a period of three years in those thirteen cases. If my mathematics are correct, the postponement of the improvement of those roads for a period of six months only will result in a continuation of that rate of accidents which will lead to 4 more fatal accidents, 16 more serious accidents, and 50 more slight accidents. If those are, as I believe they are, average, and quite a reasonable average example of the type of postponement that has taken place (and they represent, roughly speaking, one-fifteenth of the total value of the postponements which have taken place) that leads to a total number of additional fatalities which will occur on the roads simply as a result of these postponements for six months, of 60 people, an additional 240 serious injuiries, and an additional 750 slight injuries.
611 I venture to say that this decision on the part of Her Majesty's Government was an inhuman decision, because from what I have said to your Lordships it will be seen that the Government have set the sum of £1 million financial advantage to the country against that total of some 60 deaths, some 240 serious injuries and 750 slight injuries which are calculated to result from their decision in regard to these postponements.
My Lords, the Minister also stated, on the 3rd of this month, that this year's road toll would be greater than last year's terrible tell. I would agree with him, but I claim that his decision to postpone the start on these road improvements will contribute quite substantially to this increase. He says that better roads make a contribution to road safety, but so do many other things. With that I entirely agree, but it is only by progressively increasing the expenditure on roads that it has been possible so far to contain the accident figures as the number of vehicles in use on our roads has mounted. It is a remarkable thing that the increase in the number of vehicles using the roads has been more rapid than the increase in the number of accidents. That fact is due to a wide variety of reasons, and one of the most substantial of which has been the improvement made in road construction.
There are, as both the Minister and I agree, many other aspects of road safety. For instance, we hear a great deal about drink and the effect of drink on road accidents, but I would remind your Lordships that in the Road Research Laboratory's voluntary test just before last Christmas, in which they invited motorists to breathe into a breathalyser, in cooperation with the police and on the understanding that their names would not be asked for and that no particulars of identification would be taken, the outcome of the experiment was to show that upwards of 80 per cent. of the drivers of the cars stopped had no recognisable quantity of alcohol in their breath. Therefore I think it is true to say that, while there is nothing more dangerous, more reprehensible or more worthy of punishment than the action of the motorist who drives when under the influence of drink, that is not, in fact, a common cause of the accidents upon our roads.
612 Speed is another subject that is frequently referred to as a cause of accidents, but I would submit to your Lordships that speed of itself is not a cause of accidents; in fact one can see that on the motorways. Apart from the recent periods of fog, when the records of the motorways have been ruined by the lunatic fringe of drivers, the motorways themselves have been the safest roads on which to drive in this country. What is dangerous is speed at the wrong time and at the wrong place, and it is that which we ought to concentrate upon trying to stop. Inadequately serviced cars are another source of accidents, not only to the occupants of the car itself but to the occupants of following cars, when the car in front has inadequately operating trafficators or brake lights, so that the message which the driver seeks to pass to the car behind fails and the driver of the following car does not know what the other car is going to do.
Another source of accidents is inability, through lack of attention and concentration of people who drive and who walk along the roads, to do so safely. All these, and many other matters, all contribute towards road accidents. The only answer to the problem, I would submit to your Lordships, is the open, recognisable supervision by uniformed police in recognisable police cars travelling upon the roads. We are watching with the utmost interest the experiment being carried out in the West country at the present time over 558 miles of "A" roads and trunk roads.
This experiment has been going on since August of this year, in which the police, numbering 210 officers, operating 70 vehicles from ten different forces, are patrolling those roads. The evidence which we have so far received indicates that the influence which they have exercised upon the ordinary motorist has been very beneficial indeed. The presence of these officers has caused the ordinary motorist to reflect and to remember the principles of good driving. They all know about these principles, but tend to abandon them in the excitement of the moment, or in exasperation at delay, or simply in the boredom of a long journey; and the sight of the police in their patrol cars tends to bring back the attention of the motorist to a recognition of how he ought to drive.
613 In addition to that, we are already aware that the scheme has produced a considerable number of additional fringe benefits—for example, in regard to the elimination of traffic chaos, the diversion of traffic so as to avoid congestion. Even the apprehension of criminals, we understand, has been enhanced as a result of this particular activity. The principle of the whole matter seems to be that if we can have better roads and greater police supervision on the use of those roads we shall have gone a long way towards making a really substantial reduction in the number of road accidents, in deaths which result from them, in the injuries which result from them, and in the tragedy and the sadness which they cause to innumerable families up and down our country.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ LORD LLOYD OF HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, I hope the two last speakers will forgive me if I turn to a rather different topic from the two most important topics which engaged their particular attention. As one who is closely associated with an institution which owed its foundation to the inspiration of the greatest of all law reformers, Jeremy Bentham, I should like to begin by welcoming the prospect of a new look at the whole problem of law reform in this country, by means of the newly established Law Commission. Two years ago, when this notion was first put forward in the book, Law Reform—Now, edited by Mr. Gerald Gardiner, Q.C., as he then was, many members of the legal profession thought that this was no more than a gleam in the eye of an enthusiastic law reformer.
Now that it has become a reality I think it can fairly be said that the new Law Commission is receiving the overwhelming approval and support of the legal profession, and this can be sufficiently indicated by the concluding paragraph in the latest number of the Law Guardian, which says:The Law Commission will need our support. No candidate for Parliament should be elected at the next Election unless he or she has given a public pledge constantly to urge his or her political Party to implement the Commission's recommendations.A hundred years ago the poet Tennyson described our much-vaunted legal system as 614…The lawless science of our law, That codeless myriad of precedent, That wilderness of single instances".Such a description would be even more appropriate to-day, and one views with considerable Benthamite satisfaction the proposals of the Law Commission to codify the law of contract, the law of landlord and tenant, and family law.
I hope it will not be thought captious on my part, in view of the extensive and admirably balanced task that the Law Commission has set itself in its first programme, if I venture to wonder whether in one or two respects at least it has not set its sights a little too low. It refers rightly to the widespread dissatisfaction which is felt at the present time in regard to litigation for personal injuries, especially in connection with motor accident cases, which, of course, form the bulk, or at any rate a substantial part, of such litigation. It appears from its programme that, for the present, it is proposing to confine itself to considering criticisms and proposals regarding the jurisdiction and procedure of the courts in such matters and the assessment of damages. These somewhat limited terms of reference therefore preclude the Commission at this stage from investigating the much larger and more vital problem, whether the whole system of individual litigation in respect of motor accidents should not be replaced by, or at any rate coupled with, a comprehensive scheme of social insurance.
Only a few months ago the present Lord Chief Justice, in an address delivered, appropriately enough, if I may say so, to the Bentham Club at University College, referred to the sort of proposed reforms which the Law Commission is now intending to scrutinise, and stated that they really only touch the fringe of the problem. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Parker of Waddington, referred to schemes which have already been introduced in parts of the Commonwealth, such as Saskatchewan, and the serious consideration which has been given to this matter in other Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and New Zealand. "Surely", the noble Lord said, "the time has come when we should recognise that the present methods, even if capable of improvement, are no longer adequate and that some other method is called for". 615 And he posed this question, "Is compensation of victims to continue to be administered under the present outmoded methods by which recovery depends on the proof of fault, or is it to be recoverable regardless of fault under a comprehensive insurance scheme?".
In view of those remarks coming from so influential a quarter, it does seem perhaps a little disappointing that the opportunity has not been taken by the Commission to grasp this nettle, rather than confine itself to what Lord Parker of Waddington has so justifiably referred to as the "fringe of the problem". I would add also that nearer home a comprehensive scheme of this kind is at this very moment being drawn up in France by a commission appointed by and under the chairmanship of the Minister of Justice, and a similar approach is to be found operating in a number of the more progressive Continental countries, especially in Scandinavia.
The other topic in the Law Commission's programme to which I would venture to make reference has a considerable bearing on the matters about which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, spoke so eloquently earlier in the afternoon. What is proposed is that the Commission should investigate the desirability of prohibiting or restricting clauses limiting liability for negligence. But, surely, I would submit, there is a much wider context in which this whole problem should be studied. What I have in mind is the very widespread practice in so many spheres of commercial activity of imposing what are called at the present day "standard form contracts". And it is, of course, these standard form contracts which normally contain the sort of so-called guarantee clause which was engaging the attention of the noble Baroness. Under this a consumer, theoretically, freely consents to the terms of a contractual arrangement. But effectively he has no choice whatsoever. For him it is simply "Take it or leave it". And this problem, I venture to think, has aroused a good deal of concern.
Quite recently—and I think this is a matter of considerable interest so far as the technique of dealing with the problem is concerned—a very constructive approach has been introduced by the 616 Israeli Law of Standard Contracts, 1964, which provides a very interesting procedure for investigating the restrictive terms in standard contracts. Under this Act, either the clauses in the standard contract are to be approved in advance by a special tribunal or, if they are not approved, they can subsequently be considered and adjudged void if they are held to be unreasonable. It does seem rather a pity, I venture to think, that the Commission should confine itself to the narrow platform of exemption clauses relating merely to negligence, when it has the opportunity of taking a comprehensive look at the whole problem of standard form contracts and might at the same time cover much of the sort of ground about which the noble Baroness spoke earlier on.
In the midst of this new pattern of law reform, one can only express the hope that the impetus will not be lost by the failure to provide adequate Parliamentary time to secure passage into law of recommendations which may emanate from the Commission. In this respect, I would express gratification at the reference in the gracious Speech to the fact that provision was being made in the present Session to allow Parliamentary time for such matters, which may lack some of the spectacular features of other parts of the Government programme but are none the less of immense social significance in the life of the community.
May I also express a very warm welcome to the plan for a British-style Ombudsman envisaged in the recent White Paper and now given the prospect of legislative birth by the proposal referred to in the gracious Speech? That great constitutional lawyer, Professor Dicey, in a spirit of complacency not altogether uncharacteristic, I am afraid, of English lawyers, used to congratulate himself and his fellow countrymen on the absence of "administrative law" in our legal system. We have long come to realise that if we do lack such a branch of law, this, far from being a source of pride, is a matter of considerable misfortune, since it means in effect that the citizen has no adequate means of ventilating his grievances against the Executive or the Administration. This gap in our law is now to be partially filled at any rate by the new Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration. Such an institution has 617 worked exceedingly well in the Scandinavian countries, from which it originated, and in New Zealand, to which it has recently been transplanted.
Of course, there are special problems in planting an alien growth of this kind into the context of our traditional constitutional procedures, and doubtless the institution will require considerable adaptation to fit it into these and also to adapt it to a much larger population than an Ombudsman has hitherto had to cope with elsewhere. But, given good will and appointment to the job of a person of adequate stature and character, there seems no reason why an Ombudsman should not he as successful here as elsewhere. He should afford the ordinary citizen a considerable assurance that there is someone in authority who is able and willing to give his mind to the grievances of the citizen, without the need to incur great expense or become involved in complex litigation or to become lost in a maze of bureaucratic stonewalling or evasion, which unhappily does sometimes, if infrequently, occur.
All the same, I confess to feeling some doubt about the wide exclusions referred to in paragraph 8 of the White Paper. For instance the words "powers to preserve the safety of the State", or "matters which affect relations with other countries" are capable of an extensive interpretation. Also the Commissioner is to be concerned only with "faults in administration". I am not sure what this means. For my part, I much prefer the New Zealand Commissioner's power to consider what is—and here I quote:unreasonable, unjust, oppressive or improperly discriminatoryor even plain wrong. That is how the New Zealand Act has it. These are not matters of details but matters of principle, and will need very careful consideration when the Bill comes before your Lordships' House.
Lastly, I am sure that noble Lords in every part of this House will be glad that the Government have now decided to reopen the whole problem of the procedure relating to the deportation of Commonwealth immigrants and of aliens. It is an immensely important principle, to which this country is traditionally wedded, that people's lives and liberties should not be at the mercy of mere 618 administrative decree; but that there should be appropriate public judicial proceedings to protect the individual against being arbitrarily dealt with by officialdom. It has long been a blot on our law that the alien in this country has no such protection but can be arbitrarily placed upon the next boat or plane out of the country, and despatched to a destination entirely contrary to his wishes. This lamentable defect in our law was sufficiently highlighted by the recent unfortunate case of Dr. Soblen, and it would be sad indeed to find the Executive being armed with similar, if not greater, powers to deport Commonwealth immigrants without their having any right of appeal.
On the whole, I would hope that the whole problem might be left to the ordinary courts rather than be referred to our new Ombudsman, so long as the courts are allowed to consider the merits of each case, and are not confined simply to considering any technical flaws in the deportation order.
There are still many other speakers who wish to speak in this debate to-day, and it would be most improper if I were to take up any more of your Lordships' time in dealing with these matters, all of which will have to be examined in considerable detail later on in the Session. I therefore conclude simply by expressing my warm support for a programme of social reform which, as set out in the gracious Speech, seems to be, speaking generally, both well balanced and well conceived.
§ 5.34 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF ABERDEEN AND TEMAIR
My Lords, I propose to confine my remarks and comments to one single paragraph in Her Majesty's gracious Speech—namely:Legislation will be introduced to remove statutory limitations impeding the proper use of the manufacturing resources of the nationalised industries.Yesterday, the noble Lord, Lord Champion, gave an extremely lucid explanation as to why steel was not mentioned in the gracious Speech; but he ended by saying:From where I was standing during the reading of the Speech, I watched members of Her Majesty's Opposition straining forward, listening intently for a mention of steel nationalisation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 270 (No. 5), col. 470, 16/11/65.]619 Well, I can certainly say that I was one of those leaning forward with my ears cocked. I am only sorry that the noble Lord had to stand, instead of having the comfort of sitting down as did those he described. I listened carefully to that perfect enunciation, and at last there emerged the word "nationalisation". No, it was not steel; but it was a measure (which I suppose means Bill) which was mentioned. Of course, we do not yet know what the Bill will contain. We do not know when it will be introduced; nor, if it is introduced in another place, how long it will take there; or even if it will start here. So all we can do is to consider the main principles which are raised by that statement. It has not attracted a great deal of attention in this House, but it has attracted a good deal in industry.
Yesterday there was a debate on the subject in another place, and I should like to quote what Sir Martin Redmayne said. He referred to this proposition and said:The Government cannot be surprised, therefore, if we regard these propositions with some suspicion."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 720 (No. 6), col. 957, 16/11/65.]In the Prime Minister's words in the debate on November 9 it was put like this:… the manufacturing establishments of our publicly-owned industries will be freed from the vexatious, not to say ideological, restrictions on their ability to make a full contribution to our national production drive, including exports."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 720 (No. 1), col. 37, 9/11/65.]After more than sixty years' experience of industry, I hold that the nationalised industries should stick to their own last and should not start manufacturing. The statement speaks of their manufacturing resources already in existence. In certain cases they do exist, notably in the case of the railways. In the case of coal also there are certain manufacturing resources, albeit small. I have mentioned the nationalised industries, but I also hold that that is a wrong expression. They are not industries. They are services; and those services can be carried out in a national organisation. I myself would certainly never want to change any one of them.
To-day we have spoken a good deal about electricity. I might mention, in passing, that the electricity authorities have managed to keep the Palace of West- 620 minster most comfortable. But they are much better concerned in organising the arrangement and carrying out of their technical requirements. Here again, I would say that, in spite of what has happened, I have the greatest admiration for the way that that has been done. Let us take comparison with the United States of America. There, the electricity supply industry is not nationalised. Look what happened when there was a fault! It spread so rapidly that it blacked out a great section of the whole country, including part of Canada. It is true that here the service got into great difficulties, but they were able to borrow electricity from Scotland. That saved the situation in the North, and prevented the difficulty from spreading everywhere. One must still say that one realises that to have sufficient equipment to provide for emergencies at any time of the year entails an enormous amount of unused plant during the time when there is no overloading. On the matter of railways, here again they do not manufacture anything but sell their service, as do the electricity industry, the coal industry, and so on; but do let them keep to their last.
I do not think we are half way through the list of those who wish to speak, so I will be very much briefer than I had intended to be. I have said that what we have to consider is general principles. Those are already being considered very carefully by industry. I have said how in another place yesterday this particular measure was discussed at considerable length. This afternoon the usual meeting of the Grand Council of the Confederation of British Industry takes place; they will discuss the matter this afternoon and come to further decisions as to policy. They have already been in touch with Government Departments as to any important features.
I would mention my own experience of one service and that is the coal industry, which is a supplying industry that has to transport its output. A firm of which I was chairman for many years supplied a speciality to the coal industry. We put in some new plant which was going to increase the production, with proved methods, at very high speed and lower cost; and equipment of that sort took some time to put in. By the time it was completed and ready for operation, the Coal Board had started to make that 621 same speciality itself. Therefore, we had no outlet for that special equipment at all and it had to be altered for some entirely different use. I use that as an example, and it may be that the same sort of thing has happened to others. I would also refer to the matter of supply of machinery and equipment to the electricity industry, and the fact that some of the equipment has been late in delivery. That is bound to happen, and it is possible that if one were to go into it one would find that it was necessary in order to give preference to an export order.
I will end by giving a summary of what we might do. What might be convincing would be the removal of protection from all State manufacturing, both present and proposed. What will not be convincing will be a claim that one part of the production needs protection and another part does not, and that the protected part would not subsidise the unprotected part. If a nationalised industry is to compete with private manufacturers, it should do so on a strictly commercial basis. The comparison must be a fair and accurate one, however difficult this may be to achieve. When deciding whether a nationalised industry should be allowed to manufacture for sale, the direct and indirect effects of the national capacity to export should be carefully considered. My Lords, I hope that, having cut out a good deal of what I wanted to say, I have been able to make some sort of case. In conclusion, I will just say this. When the Bill referred to reaches this House for discussion, I shall certainly hope that, with the addition to my already advanced years, I am still able to speak and to take part. And if a steel Bill ever comes here—I may be dead by then—I shall speak on that, too.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I welcome the references to Scotland in Her Majesty's gracious Speech, about which some other noble Lords will speak, and to safety on the roads. My excuse for referring to this latter again is that it is a year, almost to the day, since your Lordships debated a Motion of mine urging co-ordination of research into road accidents. You will be saved a good deal of my speech by the fact that I will not refer to matters which have already been dealt with, but I think that 622 one could safely say that we all look forward to seeing the Bill which we are promised in regard to safety on the roads. I gather from proceedings in another place that action is expected in relation to drink and driving, and also the condition of vehicles. Perhaps it will contain more, and perhaps it will be one of the Bills which will originate in this House. If it does, we shall have plenty of opportunity to debate it. I think everybody will agree that your Lordships, for many years past, have given this matter a great deal of careful thought.
Like the noble Viscount, Lord Brent-ford, I am one of those who consider that, when one bears in mind the attention paid to the matter of drink and driving, on the overall problem much more weight should be given to other and more easily prevented causes of accidents. On the question of accidents, and especially serious accidents, vehicle failure is one important factor. In saying this, I yield to no one in my distaste for drunken driving, drunken cycling, or drunken walking. However, as was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, in the debate last year, "emotion should not cloud our judgment". I believe that the incidence of serious accidents could be cut if Press and public would take more notice of other causes.
There have been much more recent serious happenings, to which the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has made reference to-day, because of fog on the motorways, and this has done something to focus attention on the relationship between road conditions and safety. Despite what Lord Brentford said, however true it may be in one sense, I wish people would stop saying that speed of itself is not a factor. In my view it is. If it is not, then why is it that there is an overall speed limit of 70 m.p.h. maximum throughout the United States? I feel that speed limits of that nature are easier to enforce than the "spot" ones, ranging from 50, 40 and 30 m.p.h., which present such problems to the police, when they do manage to catch somebody, in proving the matter in a court of law.
It is not my intention to do more than express the hope that the scientific analysis of the causes of serious accidents is now reaching a stage when more absolutely specific advice as to the chief 623 causes of major accidents can come from the Ministry. Can we not go further than drink and driving and the condition of vehicles? What about eye-tests? Surely certificates should be essential for everybody applying for a licence, and they should apply for certain fixed periods. I have a specific suggestion to make here, and that is that, as the doctors have plenty to do without worrying about that sort of thing, a certificate from a qualified optician should be adequate to cover the need.
My next point is about driving tests. One part of every driving test should be a test in the dark. One notices so markedly, as the winter approaches and days get shorter, how extremely "chancy" some of the driving can be when the lights come on in the twilight. Another point concerns safety belts. Are safety belt anchorages to be made obligatory in new cars? That is something which I believe to be overdue. Then I do not see how it is possible to include in a Bill anything about the absolute necessity, as I see it, of staggered double white lines on three-lane highways. Another point that has come to my notice is that articulated vehicles are continually a cause of accidents because of "jack-knifing", arising from the lack of a device to prevent the rear wheels from locking. Such-and-such-and-such might be included in the Bill, but a complete catalogue of that length is, I imagine, out of the question. But we shall see.
There is certainly much more to be done that cannot be done by legislation. I think that the Minister has done well to speak out about the lunatic excessive speed in poor visibility. Probably like everyone else in your Lordships' Chamber, I could tell some stories about motoring in the fog in the last few days, but I will refrain. Incidentally, I am doubtful about the use of illuminated signs on motorways. I feel that a headlight illuminating the fog in front of you is the best illuminated sign you can get, and it is little use saying at the inquest, "I am so sorry, but nobody had turned on the sign." That is what I fear with an excessive number of warnings, leading to people relying on them, like the man who drove out into a road and had a collision. When asked why he came out, he said, "There was no 'Halt' sign."
624 Talking of "jack-knifing" of articulated vehicles, are our lorry drivers maintaining their reputation for skill and courtesy, which at one time they were so much respected for? I believe that the standard is deteriorating, and that more and more of them are driving more selfishly. I think that the motorways are responsible for this. They are certainly driving too fast on ordinary roads. We have had three crashes in our village in exactly the same spot, with exactly the same cause—a "jack-knifed" articulated vehicle. Nobody was hurt, but each of those vehicles must have been doing something like 40 m.p.h. in a 30 m.p.h. area. This bears out the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, that these limits are useless unless they are enforced.
I do not go all the way in the circumstances, with those who criticise the cut in road expenditure. What I mean is that I do not imagine that, in the general squeeze, the Minister of Transport had any choice. But I do say that the financial cuts need not have been so swingeing. That is another matter, but I am confident that there would not have been the necessity for a cut of this nature, with all the results which the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, pointed out, had the last Government not been replaced. What the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, said about cutting down on schemes designed to reduce the accident factor is, to my mind, very disturbing. One would have hoped that it had been possible to cut back no scheme which was specially designed to reduce the accident factor.
The popular cry is for more and better roads. I do not know how many of your Lordships heard Mary Stocks, in her broadcast at 7.50 a.m. on Saturday, so vividly liken this to the worship of Moloch. This cry for more and better roads seems to me to be wrong. "More and better" savours to some of "greed and speed". Should we not clamour for safer and safer roads? What could be better than that?
There is so much that could be done with minimal expenditure. Take, for instance, the positioning of 30 m.p.h. limit signs outside villages. Many of these could be moved right out from the positions in which they have nestled for the last many years. But the sanction of 625 the Minister of Transport, or of the Secretary of State for Scotland, is necessary before a local authority can move a 30 m.p.h. sign, and the minimum time which that takes is four months. Only to-day I mentioned this point to somebody who said, "That is why the one in our village has taken nine months to move". I mention this matter because I have a specific suggestion to make: that some of this red tape could be cut away in order to speed up the ability of local authorities, the men on the spot, to act in carrying out their responsibilities—which they all appreciate, but in which they must be somewhat frustrated sometimes—of trying to make the roads safer, and safer for the people under their care. Indeed, would it not be possible for this question of the locating of road signs at least to be in the hands of those at county level?
I have a bee in my bonnet about my next point, and I feel that it should appear in the Bill. It is that propaganda about the danger from leaving vehicles stationary at bends and at blind spots could be stepped up. If it is not possible to enhance the penalties for this practice (and I do not see how it can be, without more arid more powers for the police), at least propaganda should be stepped up, at Ministry level, to emphasise the dangers of moving vehicles colliding with the rear of stationary vehicles. This type of accident is an absolute killer, and it is an accident which stems so much from lack of thought for others. If a person leaves a vehicle in a dangerous position—and I include in some measure those responsible for road-works signs and road-works vehicles—he is guilty of not thinking of others.
I am sorry that there are no Bishops on the Benches, because I feel that the Churches could do more than they are now in building up a feeling of responsibility among the people in regard to this ghastly accident loss. Could they not do more both from the pulpit and, perhaps, from the palace? I love this quotation:There is nothing more infectious than bad manners, unless it be good manners.What about a conscious effort by everybody to try to leave early for an engagement? That is a simple way to good manners, because there are too many rude and dangerous things done by people in 626 a hurry—a hurry often arising from their own fault. I believe that Christians should set an example of unselfishness, gentleness and humility on the road, and I believe that the Churches could do more to further this end.
As I was saying, the prospect of legislation to promote road safety is inevitable. As His Royal Highness Prince Philip said, I think, yesterday:All road users will have to accept increasing restrictions, because of the totally inexcusable behaviour of the minority.I suppose that we must just face that, and face it bravely. But do not let us assume that, because legislation may contain certain causative factors, the individual can relax in his own personal contribution day and night.
During the debate reference has been made by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, to the police, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, to the very interesting experiment being carried out with regard to police being seen and being on the job. It is most gratifying to hear that recruiting is going up, because I am certain that the sight of more police on the roads is a very important factor in containing bad driving.
My Lords, there is one factor in regard to road safety which is worth considering, and it is concerned with road design. I refer to the need for bypass roads around cities and towns. I mention this in connection with accidents specifically, because it seems to me to be a most interesting point for research. The extent to which a bypass road can prevent road accidents within a densely-populated area cannot, I imagine, be calculated, but I believe that it could be estimated: and such a factor, in terms of the value to the community of such a saving, should he one which has a bearing upon a decision as to the viability or otherwise of a bypass road. With these few remarks I welcome the gracious Speech and support the Motion.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, on the final day of this debate on the gracious Speech, during which we have listened to many really first-class speeches from all sides of the House on such a variety of subjects, it is surprising that there is anything at all fresh to say arising from the gracious Speech, but I 627 think there are just a few points which certainly need elaborating, even if they are not entirely fresh. We have had complaints from the Benches opposite because some things have been omitted from the Speech. For instance, the noble Marquess who recently resumed his seat was complaining that steel nationalisation was not referred to in the Speech. I have had experience in another place for a number of years, and I realise that, in the eyes of the Opposition, any Government has a very difficult job in being right, no matter what is contained in the gracious Speech. But, although complaints have been made by the Opposition that steel nationalisation is not mentioned in the Speech, I can well imagine, as can many of my noble friends on this side of the House, the squeals that would have gone up from the other side had steel nationalisation been included.
In my opinion, this is one of the finest programmes of legislation presented to Parliament for many years, and I will tell your Lordships why. During the last Election campaign, one of the slogans of the Labour Party—one of which I was very proud—was:Labour believes in people.There is no need for me to catalogue them now, but many of the proposals contained in the gracious Speech will be of very great benefit to the people of this country: not, perhaps, to the mass of people, but to certain sections of the people who, very often in legislation of this sort, get overlooked.
Now I have one—I was going to say complaint, but that would be rather an exaggeration. I regret one omission from the gracious Speech, and that is that there is no reference in it to the proposals of Her Majesty's Government to clean up some of the programmes on television. For some time now many people in this country have been concerned because so much bad language is now being used in television programmes, and I am sure that last Saturday night, very shortly after that most impressive ceremony in the Albert Hall, the programme B.B.C. 3 must have sunk to an all-time low level, with a certain individual using that most offensive four-letter word; and it is not surprising that this has resulted in so many complaints. The thing that struck 628 me about it, my Lords, was that, if an individual used language of that sort in the street, he could be prosecuted for using obscene language, and the possibility is that he would be fined for it. Yet an individual on a television programme can offend millions of people in their own homes and get away with it. A lot of people have condemned this, and I hope that, in the not too distant future, this Government will take steps to see to it that television programmes are cleaned up.
My Lords, I am pleased with most of the proposals in the gracious Speech. In particular, I welcome the small reference to companies' disclosing their contributions to political funds. I fail to see why companies should be upset about this. I am a leader of a trade union. We support the Labour Party, and each year we publish the amount that we contribute to the Labour Party's funds. There is nothing wrong with this, and I do not say there is anything wrong with companies' contributing to other political Parties' funds. I really cannot see any objection to their publishing just what they do in this connection.
There are so many things that one could speak on arising from the gracious Speech, but, in particular, I welcome the proposalto provide supplementary national insurance benefits, related to earnings, in the early stages of sickness, unemployment and widowhood.In most cases, the people concerned are in a very difficult situation. A man has been working for a long time when suddenly he is stricken with sickness, or he loses his job, and goes on either sickness or unemployment benefit—about half the amount of money that he has been receiving while at work. What is more, in the case of sickness, especially, it very often costs more to live at that time, because sometimes the doctor suggests extra nourishment or, in a cold spell, more fuel to keep the patient warm, and such things. I welcome the Government's proposal to take action to give greater benefits in cases of this sort. In another way, the same applies to a widow in the very early days of widowhood. Her husband has been working for a good long time when suddenly he dies, and the pension that she gets, compared with his wages, is all too small. So I am glad that the Government are taking 629 this action to alleviate the position of these people who, after all, are mainly on the bottom rung of the incomes ladder.
The proposal to extend the supplementation of workmen's compensation is also a humane step to help another small but important section of the community; but, as acting president of the N.U.A.W., I welcome in particular in this section of the gracious Speech the proposal of the Governmentto empower agricultural wages boards to fix minimum rates of sick pay for agricultural workers".This is something for which farmworkers have pressed for years; it is something that the majority of workers in other industries have enjoyed; and I hope we shall not have long to wait for the relevant Bill. I wish it were possible for us to know to-day just when we can expect this Bill, because surely this is something quite uncontroversial, something for which the farmworkers have asked, and to which they have been entitled, for years. I only hope that when the Bill is introduced the Minister responsible will make it absolutely watertight, so that no farmer can get out of his responsibility to pay this sick benefit to his worker by sacking him if he becomes sick.
My Lords, the last speaker referred to transport and, in particular, to road safety. Both of these are very important subjects, but in particular he referred to the need for more effective coordination of inland transport and for greater road safety. I hope that my right honourable friend, the Minister of Transport, Mr. Fraser, for a time at least, will stop any more rail closures; because unless he does this it is going to be difficult to co-ordinate rail transport, since in many areas it will be almost non-existent.
In my own area recently we had an inquiry about closing the branch line which serves the King's Lynn, Swaffham and Dereham areas of Norfolk. I am glad to hear that it has been decided to have another look at this situation before a final decision is taken. We in that area are anxious to expand industrially, but we are unlikely to do so if our railways are further curtailed. I am glad that the Minister is to have another look at the position. I under- 630 stand his difficulties, because it is something he inherited, following the Beeching Report; but I hope he is going to look carefully before deciding to close any more branch lines. After all, there is something besides making a profit in transport: there is such a thing as service to the people in the locality. If, for example, the branch line to which I referred is closed, it will mean that people in many parts of rural Norfolk will have less public transport than they have ever had during the present century. If this is not a retrograde step I should like to know what is.
My Lords, the other matter that was fairly thoroughly covered by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, was road safety. I thought he was rather inclined to say that too much emphasis is placed on drunken drivers. I do not think we can place too much emphasis on the drunken drivers, who we know from the evidence are the cause of so many accidents. I hope that I misunderstood the noble Lord.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, the noble Lord did misunderstand me. It is very difficult to find words for what I meant to say that are not open to the interpretation which the noble Lord has put on them. I do not believe for one moment that too much emphasis is given to the problem of drink and driving. I would say, give it more emphasis still; but give more emphasis, also, to those factors which are, when it comes to analysis, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, pointed out, the cause of more fatal and serious accidents than drink and driving. But I am glad that the noble Lord raised the point because I certainly did not mean to suggest—and would never suggest—that too much emphasis was given to the matter of drink and driving. In fact, I recollect that last Christmas-time I was a strong supporter of the Government.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for clearing my mind on this point, because we are now getting near Christmas; we are getting to the season when we expect to see the results of the campaign against drinking and driving. I think the more publicity we can give 631 to road safety between now and Christmas, the better the results are likely to be; with a reduction in the number of accidents caused by drivers drinking too much.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
But, my Lords, in this connection there is one thing that has worried me for a long time—and I hope the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack will note what I am going to say. I have been worried at times at the results of magistrates' court hearings where the police have arrested and summoned people for being drunk in charge of a car or for drunken driving. It seems to me that too often, and particularly when they come before some local magistrates, the case is dismissed. This has worried me and I wonder, sometimes (this is a personal view) whether, with some magistrates, it is not a case of their looking at the defendant and saying: "There but for the grace of God stand I." It seems to me that in these cases it would be much better if it could be arranged that the court should be comprised of total abstainers—
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
This is my opinion, and it is a serious one. There should be a court comprised of total abstainers to try such cases. Maybe, on most benches, this might be difficult; but one could get members from adjoining benches to form such a court. I would seriously ask the noble and learned Lord to consider this matter, because it has worried me for a long time. If this were done, I think we should get many different verdicts than at present.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Lord, I think the only result of that would be that they would invariably find the defendant guilty.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, thank you.
I should just like, in conclusion, to say a brief word about the London traffic problem. We who drive in London all 632 the time know that this is becoming more and more of a problem. Watching the traffic at certain times of the day, it is quite obvious that the majority of cars coming into London from 8.30 to 10 o'clock in the morning have just one occupant. Going in the other direction, between 4.30 and 6.30 p.m., the majority of cars still have one occupant. These, in my opinion, are the main cause of the traffic problem in London; and I think some Minister of Transport will have to grapple with this problem. I hope that it will be the present one.
It is going to annoy a lot of people, but my suggestion in this connection would be that cars with just one occupant should be barred from central London between those hours. I am quite sure that this would allow people to travel freely in this great city, and I believe that if it were tried it could effect a great saving in many ways. People could pick up one or two passengers, bring them to London, and take them home again. I believe that this would about halve the amount of traffic, and would go a long way to solving the problem.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, sits down, may I comment on his last few words? This question of banning cars from central London, would I admit, on the face of things appears to be a very good thing to do. But has the noble Lord ever considered what would happen to public transport if that were done? Has he travelled by public transport, as it is at the moment, during the rush hours? I have often done so, and it is already absolutely crowded to capacity. It is not possible to run more trains on the Underground, and I doubt whether more buses could be put on the road. The buses are already full. If you are going to double the number of people at present travelling by public transport, how will you cope with them?
The other point about cars with only one person in them has been raised very often, but let us put ourselves in the position of someone who is coming into London from, say, a village fifteen miles out—
§ THE EARL OF LONGFORD
My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Somers, because he is the best listener in the House, but is he making 633 a speech or asking a question? I am not sure what state he is in, so to speak.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I am sorry. It is not a speech. It is merely a comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, was saying. I am saying that it is almost impossible to find someone who would be travelling to precisely the same spot at precisely the same time as oneself.
§ LORD HILTON OF UPTON
My Lords, may I make a brief reply? I have thought about this matter, and I have travelled by public transport, as well as in my own car. I am sure that if the number of cars on the roads were greatly reduced it would give the bus drivers far better opportunity to stick to their timetables. More buses could be used in the rush hours, and I believe that this would help to solve this problem.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, on at least two points: first, on the point he made regarding the regrettable mistake of the B.B.C. last Saturday night. The official apology from the B.B.C., if you call it an apology, was that the word was unscripted. Rather worse than the use of that word on the programme were the words which led up to it. I cannot believe that the words of the gentleman who created the situation which enabled the other person to say what he did were unscripted. Therefore, for the B.B.C. to put out as an excuse that the programme was unscripted seems to me very shallow indeed. This is the more so, as written into the Charter of the I.T.A. is a phrase to the effect that the I.T.A. must maintain conditions of decency. Those words were deliberately not written into the Charter of the B.B.C. because it never occurred to anyone that the B.B.C. would fall into the hands of people of the nature and the type who hold the B.B.C. at the present time.
The other point of agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, relates to the omissions from the gracious Speech. The omissions to which I would particularly draw the attention of your Lordships concern provisions for Scotland. There are a few lines at the end of the gracious Speech stating that:Provision for meeting the special needs of Scotland will be made in the various measures proposed by My Government.634 That is not very helpful to those of us who are interested in the development of our country.
There is so much that the Government might have included, quite briefly, as an, indication of what we might expect. There have been—perhaps they are continuing—some national surveys, and it would have been interesting to know whether any action was contemplated on them. It would be most interesting to know whether Turnhouse Airport is likely to get the second runway which is absolutely necessary. One can read the whole argument for it in the Scotsman of yesterday. The red herrings which have been drawn across the path of those who have raised in this House the question of this second runway have all been dealt with faithfully. It has, been pointed out that the future types of aircraft likely to use Turnhouse Airport will be even more upset by crosswinds than the Vanguards are at present. There are other matters to which reference might have been made, such as the provision of electricity, and the coordination of electricity supplies in Scotland.
Another subject which might have been included is one which I should have thought would interest the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, namely, industrial developments in the North East of Scotland, which, I presume, would include Dundee. There is a little question about rents, too, which could have gone fittingly into the gracious Speech. The scant attention given to the needs of Scotland indicates some indifference on the part of the Government. There are many pressing problems, but I would not, for a single moment, put the blame for this on the shoulders of the Secretary of State for Scotland. The right honourable gentleman must be commended for his doughty stand in the matter of the Christmas card which has been produced for the benefit of Members in another place. The caption on the card, indicating as it does that the King of Scotland, as such, is doing homage to King Edward, is bad history. Indeed, it would follow logically from this that in the fourteenth century Scotland made a unilateral declaration of independence. Perhaps it was because there were so many Scots in the States of North America that a unilateral declaration was made there. It might also apply to more recent cases.
635 I welcome most warmly the intimation in the gracious Speech of a Bill to facilitate the revision of the constitution of the Scottish universities. This has come just at the right time, and we must be grateful to the Government for bringing it forward so promptly. I should like, also, to commend the Government for their ingenuity in including the future reconstitution of the older universities at a date which each university may fix for itself. The proposed amendment of the constitution and the powers of the university courts is also to be warmly welcomed. I should here say that I have an interest, being a member of the Court of the University of Edinburgh. The proposal that two readers or lecturers should be added to the university court, is a good one, and in cognisance with the proper traditions of university education and life. One is glad also to see that the powers of the courts will be largely exercised by resolution instead of by ordinance in council.
Also to be welcomed are the proposals for the new University of Dundee and the consequent provisions for St. Andrews. It is worth noting that the medical school will go to the new Dundee University. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, having, in his capacity as Lord Provost of Dundee, served on the Court of the University for many years, must be particularly glad. We know that there have been difficulties in the past in the relations of St. Andrews University and the Dundee Colleges, and one would certainly wish them well for the future. With the noble Lord, Lord Hughes, keeping his eye on developments, I think that we can be assured of that.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me if I do not follow him, because I want to deal specifically with the National Plan in relation to the energy policy for the future, to manpower and redeployment, and to the structure of the new plan for the coal industry. The National Plan is a guiding light for the development of our economy up to 1970. By and large, I regard it as a first-class document. At least, it is an attempt to set before the nation a plan for the future. It is a Plan that can be adjusted to meet the changing circumstances of the future.
636 It is on the part of the Plan on fuel policy that I have my greatest misgivings. It is estimated that by 1970 the mining industry will be cut back to 170 or 180 million tons, with a consequent loss of manpower which will bring the number down to 350,000 or 400,000 men. In the next two years 150 pits are to close, and the Government, quite rightly, are proposing to bring new industries to the affected areas. The Plan indicates that in our energy policy there is to be more reliance on oil and natural gas, which will have to be imported and will be a charge upon our foreign exchange and add to our balance-of-payments difficulties. I am, I may state, a very disappointed man. I recognise that the figure is only an estimate and does not prevent the industry from producing 200 million tons, but for thirteen years we fought in Opposition—and I was No. 2 in the other place on these matters—so that the base load, in a rising future energy policy, should be 200 million tons.
In my long association with the mining industry, there has never been any shortage of coal problems. In the main, they have been of two kinds—either those which arose internally, like the problem of technical backwardness during the inter-war years, or those which arose from the impact of external forces. This is a constantly recurring problem in this industry and it is the problem we face now. The real troubles in the last forty years have arisen from the violent fluctuations in the demand for coal. These fluctuations have bedevilled the industry for as long as I can remember. At one time there is a sudden upsurge in demand, then at another there is a sudden slump. During these forty years we lurched from crisis to crisis. At one time, there is so much coal that there is a crisis of overproduction and there is a glut that cannot be sold. At another time there is not enough coal and there is a crisis of underproduction. At one time, there are too many miners, and at another time there is a shortage of them. A manpower crisis results in an intensive recruiting campaign to get the men back to the pits.
The coal industry has suffered these violent fluctuations more than any other industry in this country. By its nature and structure, the coal industry is fitted less than any other to stand the shocks, strains and stresses of these sudden 637 changes in demands. A pit is not a factory. It is not operated on the same lines as a factory is. The supply of coal cannot be turned off and on like a tap can. These violent fluctuations have caused immense difficulties to the industry.
A few years ago there was a shortage of coal. There was a clamour for production and still more production. And we had to get it, irrespective of price, quality and cost. The industry was strained to meet what appeared to be an inexhaustible demand for coal. The Coal Board had to work uneconomic pits, neglect development, concentrate on immediate production, and had to cut its exports, to meet the demands of the home market. There was an acute shortage of miners, a desperate shortage of men. I took part in the Board's campaign in the early 'fifties to try to get men back to the industry. The great inducement we offered to the men then was that the industry promised prospects of security of employment. And the prospects seemed very bright. The Conservative Party told us that the future prosperity and expansion was so great that the industry had to be geared to produce 240 million tons in 1965. Throughout the industry, there was an atmosphere of optimism, buoyancy and confidence.
Then the situation changed rapidly. Once more we faced a slump in demand. Once more there were too many miners and there was too much coal. It was a difficult situation for the Coal Board, when we had geared the industry to meet a rise in demand, and drastic measures had to be taken. Collieries were closed. But at least I will say that the Board applied their measures in a more rational way than the old coalowners, and did all they could to offset the social consequencies. However, all that had happened left a deep scar on the consciousness of the mining community, and the suggested cutting back of the industry in the National Plan has further deepened it. There is no doubt that the miners' faith in the future of the industry has been shaken. This situation has revived all the old doubts, suspicions, fears and apprehensions that have been with us for forty years. Collieries are closed down, and villages become deprived of the only industry they have, which is a serious matter for them. Despite every- 638 thing that can be done by the Miners' Union, the Government and the Coal Board to get employment for the men displaced, it means that the men are uprooted and sometimes have to go 100 miles away to get work, with the loss of a lifetime's association they had in the colliery village in which they have lived.
To-day the migration of young men from the pits is really appalling. Mining in the main is a hereditary occupation; the father takes his son to the pit as a matter of course. But that tradition is slowly, but surely, being broken. And, in my opinion, it will have big consequences for the future of the coalfields. The exodus from this industry is on a scale which has no precedent or parallel in any other industry. The migration that is going on is bound to have a disastrous effect on the morale of the men who are left. It is contagious; it will run through the industry like a disease. Even to-day there are 15,000 vacancies in our pits, and we cannot get men to fill them.
I am all for mechanisation, because machinery can do a lot. It can replace men; but it cannot replace morale. Machinery can raise output, but it cannot raise morale. I would urge the Government, even at this late hour, not to underestimate the importance of this on the future of this indusry. Men are going out of this industry to-day more rapidly than they can be replaced by machines, and they are leaving for all sorts of reasons, but I believe the main reason is that they have no confidence in the industry, seeing that so many men have to go, with a cut-back of over 25 million tons in actual production in the next five years. The only way to give them confidence is to give the industry some degree of stability and some prospect for the future. To cut the industry back, to give way to oil in place of coal, cannot create the confidence that is necessary to keep our men there. Unless we are careful, the contraction that is going on, and will go on, will not only become a decline, but most likely will become a disaster, even in the pits in Durham, where on television every night they are urging the young men to come into the pits, even in the circumstances I have tried to describe.
I regard this cutting back of our industry as a matter of great importance. Our greatest difficulty to-day is on our 639 balance of payments, and in increasing our exports to meet the cost of our imports. Under this Plan, we shall have to find a huge amount of foreign exchange to meet the added importation of fuel, when this industry is cut back to 170 or 180 million tons. It is estimated that it will add £18 million a year to the import bill. To-day our imports are something like £500 million a year, but as we cut the use of coal we increase the country's balance-of-payments difficulties. This is most certainly not in the national interests. As I see it, the present trends in production, consumption and manpower, if not arrested, will even destroy the stated aim of the National Plan for coal.
I have not been alone over the last four years in possessing a strong suspicion that the coal industry was being allowed to drift until such time as we should not have the men or the capacity to fulfil even the new target embodied in the National Plan. We have always known that there were powerful forces pressing for a drastic cut-back in coal production. I believe—and I say this quite sincerely to my own Government, for whom I have fought for nearly fifty years—that the economists who advised the Government on this matter were wrong, as they often are. This needs to be said, because the longer the present drift is allowed to continue, the more difficult it will be to arrest.
In 1964 10,000 more men left than in 1963. This year it is running at a rate of 1,000 men per week, or 52,000 a year. In the main, these are men who are under 50 years of age, and this must affect the quality of the labour force remaining in our mines. There is a serious imbalance of manpower at many mines, and productivity increases are seriously impeded in the most efficient pits in the coalfield. It has made others uneconomic, and increased the losses on those already in difficulties. The stark truth is that there is a lack of confidence in the future of the mines, and recruitment is almost confined to communities with a tradition of mining employment. Three hundred thousand men, excluding this year's figure, have gone from this industry since 1958.
It is the cumulative effect of all this that has shaken the confidence in job 640 security in the industry. Nothing has been done to restore this, and this cutback made in the National Plan will most certainly aggravate it. What has been happening is that in recent times judgment of the viability of this industry has been based on the short-term market considerations which prevail, completely ignoring the long-term needs against available resources. The repeated advocacy of a large section of the community, that coalmining is a dying industry, and that it must, give way to other forms of energy, is responsible in a large measure for the existing manpower problem that we are facing, and the continuance of this attitude is responsible for impeding the advance of productivity and holding back the viability of the industry.
I do not want to urge men to work in the bowels of the earth to get coal for a moment longer than is really socially necessary. I had 32 years down the pit, and I am not one to advocate that anyone should spend his life as I did. But, having said that, I say that we must have stability, and a sizeable industry at that, because the smaller the industry gets, the more dependent the nation becomes on imported fuels, with all the costs which I illustrated to your Lordships. The smaller it is, the less viable and competitive it becomes, because of the fixed charges; and the present situation is compelling a smaller industry by the anarchic market forces which we cannot control.
According to the N.E.D.C. Report, based on a 4 per cent. increase each year in the national output, in the next fifteen years no less than 165 million tons of coal, or its equivalent, more than we are using now will be needed. Even if this National Plan had given us 200 million tons, the consumption of other fuels will have to double in the next fifteen years. This Plan means that, with an increased energy market in the years ahead, not only is coal to get none of it, but it is to be cut back 25 million tons, which makes me really despondent. As I say, these other fuels will have to be imported and the nation will have to bear the cost. I know it is argued that the industrialists must go for the cheapest fuel that can be obtained at any given moment. Conversion to oil, which is cheaper in a company's own accounts, may not be cheaper in the terms of the nation's book-keeping. I am certain that in the national interest 641 a healthy British coal industry is the best protection our industrialists and other fuel users can have against rises in world energy prices, which are sure to occur while oil and other fuels have a real grip on the internal British market.
In the interests of the nation, and because of the progress that has been made in productivity in our British mines, I would say to the Government that time ought to be allowed for the growth of energy to catch up with the present surplus of fuels; that time ought to be given to the Coal Board to get on with its policy of concentrating on efficient mines, and time to push on with its mechanisation and its new technical developments. To give it that time it needs the help that I am pleased to say the Government have given in the new Bill, called the Coal Industry Bill, that has been presented to-day.
Before I deal with that I should like to say this. Even with the 200 million ton target, I recognise that there would have to be closures. When the coal has gone the pit must close. But there is a terrible fear of this happening in the pits in the efficient areas in this country like the Midlands. A man who is in an economic pit is always afraid, because the economic pit of to-day can be the uneconomic pit of next week. Even if he is in employment, he is always afraid of what will happen to him, not to-day but next week in circumstances of that character. Therefore, I hope that the Government will bring industries to the area before the pits are closed. There will be large problems of retraining the partially disabled men who have been injured, and we also have to think of the men over 55 years of age whom it is not possible to retrain in new skills.
I want to congratulate the Government and say that I am gratified with the White Paper on the finances of the coal industry. We fought for this in Opposition for over thirteen years. The burden of capital expenditure to meet the Conservative Government's target of 240 million tons in 1965 has resulted in this industry carrying huge debts which ought never to have been carried. Another burden was that successive Governments—and I can include our own—refused to allow inland prices to rise because of the political expediencies of the time. This 642 can clearly be seen in the Select Committee's Report on the Coal Industry. It will show your Lordships exactly what happened. During this time the Board incurred losses instead of making surpluses and building up their reserves. I am pleased that our Government are now to relieve the industry of much of the burden which the industry should not have carried from past under-pricing. Also, they should not have carried the burden of the import of coal at £2 10s. a ton loss because we had to sell at inland prices. Therefore, the Bill makes provision for this, and £415 million of the Board's debt will be cancelled. The Minister proposes to write off any deficit up to the maximum of £25 million in 1965–66, because again there is delay in making price increases.
I know some people will say that the industry is being helped at the expense of the taxpayer. But they should remember that in the years that are gone they got their coal more cheaply because the Government of the day refused to allow price increases which were commercially needed at the time. They also ought to remember that many industrialists got imported coal which was subsidised by the Coal Board to the extent of £2 10s. per ton. I want to remind your Lordships that we are not the only industry which has had help in this respect. There are many other indigenous industries in this country who have been assisted generously by the Conservative Government. These facts ought to be stated. Of the £1,200 million spent on capital development by the Coal Board, £650 million came from the Coal Board's own resources, and between January, 1947, and March, 1964, £460 million was paid to the Treasury in interest payments. The Board has spent £50 million on house building, which I regard as a state responsibility.
Since 1947, agriculture has received nearly £3,500 million in the form of non-returnable grants, subsidies, and guarantees. British Overseas Airways Corporation had £80 million deficit written off, with the provision of a reserve, amounting to a total write off of £110 million. British Railways had £475 million deficit written off, and a further £705 million put into suspense, and I do not think it is ever likely to be redeemed. Atomic Energy had £90 million wiped off for 643 development and research and cotton £25 million to modernise and reorganise its industry. Under this Bill the coal industry are following the trend of the Conservative Party in the last five years before we came to power. Therefore, in the light of these facts, I think our Government are justified in recognising that this industry must be relieved of some of the financial obligations which it ought never to have carried. While I disagree with the contraction of the coal industry to 170 million tons, I am delighted that this financial burden is to be eased, and that funds are to be set up for the redeployment of men, if they are prepared to go, in the circumstances I have tried to outline.
The economists who advise the Government have written down the coal industry, and my regret is that the Government have accepted that basis. We spend each year over £2,000 million for the defence of this realm. We do it because in this uncertain world we must have a defence to protect our island in case of war. The weapons we have are regarded as an insurance against an aggressor, and I think it is right that this argument should be carried into the economic field. We should ensure that within the economy our own indigenous fuel is used to the extent of 200 million tons a year, so that we are not too dependent on imported fuels. Because in the event of trouble arising in the world—something which nobody wants, but it could come in the future—the hazards of bringing imported fuel by ship could bring catastrophe to the economy. When the pits have been closed and capacity has gone, it cannot be regained in a night, because once a pit is closed it takes a long time to reopen it; and sometimes it is impossible.
From a strategic point of view, and in the national interest, I think that the Government have made a mistake in accepting a cut-back of coal. If they had approached the problem on the basis of 200 million tons produced; if they had regarded that as a target and said that they would see that that amount was used, it would have saved on the balance of payments and would have lifted up the morale of our people in the industry. Lord Robens has said that he will continue to base his future on an industry of 200 million tons. I wish him the best 644 of luck, but his task will be hard because he will have to fight against this plan. However, whatever the target of the plan is, I believe that two main factors will determine the size of the coal industry: first, the rate at which the energy appetite of the British economy increases (and that is a point which is outside the control of the Coal Board), and, secondly, the coal industry's own ability, in an expanding energy market, to compete in terms of price, convenience and service.
My Lords, of this I am confident: that in the not-too-distant future, regardless of what the economists say, we shall again see exhortations and efforts being made to get men to the pits. The morale of the men in the pits to-day is the same as it was in the 1930s, when it was the ambition of every miner to keep his son out of the pits. The contemplated closures over the next two or three years, what has gone on in the last few years in closures, and the cutting back of the industry have again created the ideology that mining has no future. I close by asking the Government to look at this matter again, before it is too late, because I fundamentally believe that the economists who recommended the programme proposed are wrong.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I wonder whether, out of the wealth of his knowledge, he could help us on one question. I have listened to his speech with very great interest, and I feel sure that all noble Lords feel that it was both impressive and moving. As the noble Lord realises, my home is not far from his, and I take a great interest in these matters. He said that 300,000 men had left the industry since 1958. I wonder whether he has any figures which would indicate what has happened to these men. I ask this because of its relevance to the future, and not merely to the past. I believe that a good many have left of their own volition; others have left in the process of natural retirement, and I wonder what numbers make up the balance, and how many of these have found fresh employment.
§ LORD BLYTON
My Lords, there is a wastage each year, due to retirement, to disease and to injuries; and that wastage is constant. That was what was happening prior to 1950, and more particularly from 1950 onwards. But during these 645 last four years the men earning big wages, working at the coal face, are leaving to go into the motor car factories in the Midlands, and they are leaving the coal industry simply because they regard it as not having any future.
§ 7.6 p.m.
My Lords, I am going to make only a few of what I am afraid will be trivial comments on matters which have already been raised, but the points themselves have not been raised. I do not intend to speak for more than a few minutes.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, raised the question of the six months postponement of the road programme. I should like to mention two things which he did not include in his remarks, bearing in mind what happened last summer, when, for some reason or other, there was not a bag of cement to be obtained in Scotland. Most modern roads and the big road programmes require a great deal of cement and steel. If we cut back suddenly for six months, and then throw that requirement for cement and steel on to already fully stretched housing and other programmes, which require the same commodities, the situation must be carefully watched, or there will be chaos which will build up all the way along. I mention that as another hazard, in addition to those mentioned by the noble Viscount.
I would also add my plea to those of the many noble Lords, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who have spoken about accidents on the roads. The railways have overcome some of their difficulties of running in fog by having very powerful electric signals. I see no reason why we should not have a very powerful red electric light on the back of a car—not an ordinary tail light but a special fog light, which at least would give the chap following a chance to see something, because there would be a glow visible for a long distance. I think that that suggestion might be worth pursuing.
We have had a fairly long discussion on power cuts, and so on. There are instances where industries use large quantities of processed steam. The paper makers and the sugar beet pulp processors are two that I know about. They use back-pressure turbines and integrate 646 their surplus supply at time of maximum demand with the grid, and buy from the grid at other times. I know of one case in which that has been done with success—in fact, I think there are two cases. There are many paper makers and beet sugar factories which are having to renew their plant, and I think that that possibility should be inquired into, as being cheaper than installing a standby plant. If we could get industry, through its own efforts, to adopt a system of that kind, it would ease the general burden.
I found the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, most interesting, and I entirely agree with him about political contributions. The fact that firms will now have to publish their political contributions will enable us to shame them into giving us a great deal more, and at least the thing will be on the table, which it always should be, and we shall be able to go around and stir them up. I think it will have the reverse effect to what noble Lords opposite think, and I welcome it very much.
I want to say a word to the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, about sick pay. It has been a practice in Scotland for a very long time now, when agricultural farm servants (as we call them) are sick, to pay them their full wages in the normal way, and they hand over their sick benefit to their employer. As a result of this practice, the farmer or the laird, or whoever it happens to be, is considerably the loser. But it is very rarely indeed that a good man is stood off because he is sick. It may happen in England, but it very seldom happens in Scotland. I was going to ask the noble Lord how our practice fits in with what he knows about sick pay. However, he is not here at the moment, so perhaps he will write to me.
I must say, with regard to the suggestion that was made about lifts, that I cannot see that that would make the situation worse. If the public service is overcrowded, and if a motorists pulls up at a bus queue and lifts two or three, he is doing nothing but good. At least he is using his car to full capacity, and I do not think it would have any deleterious effects. There are difficulties about insurance, and the legal position which will have to be watched—the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack knows all about that.
647 I want to mention the Bill for the Constitution of the Scottish Universities. Lord Balerno knew all about that and spoke about it. I have a proprietary interest, because we had at one time two universities in Aberdeen; there was King's College and Marischal College, which was founded and endowed by my forbear. I think it was in 1593. I wonder whether to-day that endowment would pay the janitor's wages—I doubt it. However, I want to give that proposal a blessing, coming from that part of the world.
The last thing I want to say is prompted by the most interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blyton, who has had a lifelong interest in the coal mines. I sympathise with him very strongly. The point he did not mention is that the cutback in the coal industry will have a considerable effect on employment in the forestry industry, from the point of view of manufacturing of pit wood. It is very often assumed that a pulp mill can be established in Scotland and everything is lovely. But many of us are nowhere near a pulp mill, and in the past the forestry thinnings and such-like have gone to the pits. This cut-back in the coal industry will affect employment in the country, as well as in the mines, and it is regrettable that it has to be. The noble Lord gave some interesting figures of the various grants that everybody received—I wondered why one bothered to earn anything. But, of course, all that money is just a little of the total taken out of the taxpayers' pockets. It does not come from the beneficent Government; it comes from the taxpayers. Various Governments deploy this cash for those purposes. I wish to associate myself with what has been said about traffic and so on, and to wish the programme in the gracious Speech all success.
§ 7.16 p.m.
VISCOUNT ST. DAVIDS
My Lords, the last Transport Act was passed in 1962, and under that Act a number of temporary provisions were made, including, for waterways, what amounted to a subsidy for five years. Since it takes some time to produce a new policy, and since 1962 is now some way away, it is in this Session that we shall have to decide what new policy we are going to carry out to keep our waterways viable. 648 When the 1962 Act was going through this House I approved of it on Second Reading because I thought it would do a lot of good, but I fought bitterly against a number of its clauses.
So far as the general principle goes, I discover that I was right, but I must say that so far as the clauses go, I find that to some extent I was wrong. In case anybody thinks I am being converted to what the then Government proposed I will say this: that the reason those clauses did less harm than was expected was a reason which will very much interest the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. The fact of the matter is that those clauses were not securely based on strong foundations, but were simply placed upon the top of the morass of waterways legislation which already existed, and they have simply sunk into that morass and become part of it. So far as that goes, therefore, we should be rather glad that the situation was as bad as it was. We must consider, however, that the effect might not have been so good if the clauses had been good ones.
On the general question, however, of what the Transport Act did to the waterways, the effect is wholly good. The abolition of the Transport Commission set the waterways adrift as masters in their own house for the first time, and it allowed them to do a great deal of work in improving the waterways which I am sure would not have been done had the Transport Commission continued. And I am sure that even more good would have been done and will be done as soon as there is a policy for the future of the waterways. That is what is holding them back at the moment, and the most useful thing that could be done for them at the present time is simply to state a fixed policy for their future.
The other good thing that the 1962 Act did for the waterways was to allow them for the first time to come to a proper financial assessment of where the different waterways stood. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that the waterways have fallen into exactly the same position as Dr. Beeching found the railways had fallen into. The cargo carried on the waterways is now restricted to a comparatively small mileage. Of the 2,000 miles of nationalised waterways, some 1,600 miles of which are navigable, 649 only about 400 miles are carrying any considerable weight of cargo. The fact is that over 97 per cent. of the cargo is being carried on 20 per cent. of the mileage, and the other 80 per cent. of the mileage is carrying the small balance.
The waterways are falling into a position where there is a natural break. The heavy cargo waterways are the waterways where big locks can be built because they are on big flowing rivers or major water supplies. The other waterways, frankly, cannot be enlarged at all, and although they can carry a limited amount of cargo their future purpose is clearly, first of all, water supply and, secondly, the various forms of pleasure and amenity. Waterways in fact divide into cargo waterways and amenity waterways. There is considerable reason why we should recognise that split now, and remove the amenity waterways from the organisation which runs the cargo waterways. To begin with, the two forms of organisation are now completely different. The cargo waterways need strong commercial organisation. They should be run as a commercial organisation, as their finances show that if they were operated apart from the amenity waterways they would be financially viable now—in fact, making a small profit—and they would be free from the enormous administrative burden of the four-fifths of their mileage which is not, and in my opinion for many years certainly cannot be, commercially viable at all.
If these were the railways, of course, it would mean that the remaining four-fifths would have to be closed down, because you really can do nothing but run trains on a railway. But these amenity waterways have their own great values. I am not going into the whole business at this late hour, but every Government pronouncement on park lands and every form of amenity and sport in this country, shows that these waterways have an enormous value, and if they were paid for any part of the amenity that they in fact create they would be perfectly financially viable on their own. But they stand on the same kind of basis as a national park, and not on the same kind of basis as a nationalised industry. For that reason, the two should be taken apart, and it would be greatly to the benefit both of 650 the cargo waterways and of the non-cargo, amenity, waterways.
There are enormous volunteer resources, and manpower resources of all kinds, available for the amenity waterways, which cannot properly be used by a nationalised industry. The Parliamentary Inland Waterways Group, the National Trust and the Inland Waterways Association, acting together, have put a proposal before the Minister of Transport. I do not ask that any pronouncement should be made on this to-day. I know in fact that there are reasons why a pronouncement must yet wait possibly some months. That is the position of our existing waterways. It has little to do with transport. Even our present cargo waterways, if they carried all the cargo that they could, would make little difference to the overall transport position in this country. What we here really should be doing is to follow Europe, Russia or the United States in building waterways of a modern size. That does not mean to enlarge our existing waterways. To call it enlarging our existing waterways is rather like talking about enlarging an "O" gauge model railway into a full scale railway. It is not an enlargement; it is a completely new build. We need a system of major waterways capable of carrying the Continental standard 1,300 tonner to all our main industrial centres. This is being done all over Europe. They are producing a system which, in a few years, is going to be able to load a boat anywhere in Europe and, if necessary, take it as far east as Asiatic Russia.
I am not going into all the arguments for that to-night, but there is one point that I should like to put into your Lordships' minds. We know the state of affairs in Northern Ireland. We know that Northern Ireland industry is permanently handicapped by the fact that everything that is imported there has to be shipped and transhipped, and transhipment, in particular, needs manpower. Of course, men are the most expensive things in the world, and, in my opinion, always should be. Because everything that goes into Northern Ireland has to be shipped and transhipped, as does everything that goes out of Northern Ireland, there is a permanent brake upon the viability of their 651 industry and its capacity to face the industry of the rest of Europe.
Some day this country is going into Europe. That is almost a certainty, given the time and the conditions. What is going to happen to us when we do? We are going to be the Northern Ireland of Europe, for the simple reason that all our raw materials coming into this country can proceed by water from the great factories of Europe, down their canals, down their rivers, across the North Sea itself, which for a 1,300 tonner is simply another inland waterway. But when they reach our ports they have to be transhipped as they come in; and the finished goods on their way out have to be transhipped at our ports on their way to Europe and the rest of the world. That is a permanent disadvantage twice over for every single thing which we have got to handle.
It has been estimated that a proper system of waterways which could be constructed in this country would cost about as much as would the same mileage of major motorway. A proper system has been estimated to cost something in the nature of £700 million. That is a vast sum. But would we not pay £700 million to get rid of that double tax upon our industry on everything coming in and everything going out? Would we not pay that sum for what amounts to a permanent clearance of the log-jam which so badly affects our ports? After all, what is a major inland waterway but an elongated port?
That is the point which I wish to put to your Lordships for the future. It is a long way off in the future, but it is time we started to consider it, if we are to take our proper place with the other European countries. The system must be brought in some day, unless we can think of some method of transhipment which involves no men. Although I must say that, like many noble Lords who spoke a few days ago in this House, I, too, am a reader of science fiction, I have not yet seen any idea of any such method. It costs more to tranship a ton of goods than to send it a thousand miles. Until we can by some method get rid of that transhipment, we are at a permanent disadvantage. We are an island; we are surrounded by sea. Everything that comes to this island or goes from it with 652 a very few exceptions, must do so by water. If one is to avoid transhipment, the only thing to do is to put it on water and keep it on water. I leave your Lordships with that simple thought.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, who is such a great expert on waterways. A great deal of what he has said merits very serious consideration. I myself should like to speak for a short time on productivity, for, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, it is the most important subject of all. I have some practical knowledge of productivity in relation to light industry and agriculture. I welcome the Government's remarks in the gracious Speech that they intend to encourage greater competitive efficiency by the reorganisation of British industry and the better use of manpower. I presume that that attitude will apply also to the nationalised industries. However, I should have thought that that would be difficult to implement in the nationalised industries, because each of the nationalised industries must be a monopoly in the sphere in which it operates, if it is not to be heavily subsidised. But I am sure that there could be great improvements in the better use of manpower.
On the subject of the nationalised industries, I support everything which was said by my noble friend Lord Aberdeen and Temair, commenting on the passage in the gracious Speech thatLegislation will be introduced to remove statutory limitations impeding the proper use of manufacturing resources of the nationalised industries.Does that mean that the nationalised industries are going to compete with private industry by using taxpayers' money to under-cut? I sincerely hope not. It is obvious that a nationalised industry could under-cut private industry since it could be heavily subsidised to any amount. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be able to give us some encouragement that nationalised industries will not compete unfairly with private industry.
To revert to the subject of productivity, we all realise that it is a matter that is closely bound up with restrictive practices on both sides of industry. I do not 653 want to talk about this matter now, because I have talked about the unions on many occasions in this House. We now have a Royal Commission sitting on the matter, and for the moment I am prepared on this subject to let sleeping dogs lie. I should like to point out—I am sure that the Royal Commission has taken due note of the fact—that 95 per cent. of the strikes to-day are unofficial, which is a quite shocking state of affairs. We have in this House some very charming union members and former union leaders. Really the unions ought to be able to put their own shop in order. If not, I am sure that eventually the unions will have to become a department of the State, and if that happens, as is the case in Russia, the rank and file will lose all their liberty, their individual bargaining power. I sincerely hope, therefore, that their leaders will be able to put their affairs in order without the Government's having to take over the unions.
Basically, we all know that if the United Kingdom is ever to improve its economic position, we shall have to do more productive work for less pay. But the matter is not as simple as that. We also know that in the manufacturing industries it takes three Britons to produce the same amount of goods as one American. In the matter of steel, the Germans, the Swedes, even the Italians, are ahead of this country. In fact, quite a few nations are ahead of us. One bright spot is agriculture, where we practically lead the world in productivity. We are about parallel with Denmark and just about, although not quite, equal to the United States in productivity.
One is always hearing that what is needed is more efficient machinery, better technology, better management. All these things can help, but on the whole British industry is quite well tooled up and its machinery is efficient. These matters can make some difference, but they cannot bridge the main part of the gap. Speaking for myself, and from my experience in my small factory, certainly the credit squeeze has not helped us. It is all very well to say that we should buy ever-newer machines, but one must have the capital to do it. If one has to buy on overdraft, that is a great burden to bear. I suppose it might be impracticable, but I have often thought that it would be a great help if the banks could 654 have a lower rate of overdraft interest for firms wanting to buy machinery in order to complete export orders.
We all know that there is great underemployment in this country; that is to say, there are too many people engaged on unproductive work and too many people doing the same job. We hear much about the great scarcity of labour in this country, but in actual fact there is not a scarcity: it is just that the labour is not properly employed. Management is to a certain extent to blame, as, of course—though I do not want to harp on it—are my old whipping horse, the unions.
There is one important point I want to make about the unions. The unions are for ever campaigning for shorter hours. One can sympathise with that, because the ultimate aim of industry ought to be that the employee should have ever shorter hours so that, whether he be a manual or a clerical worker, he may have a much fuller life. I do not think that anybody would argue with that. But the point I argue with is that when the unions campaign for shorter hours they are not really campaigning for shorter hours; what they are, in fact, campaigning for is to get more overtime; and, of course, that is not really very honest.
The great drawback to productivity in industry is that we have what I can only call this curse of overtime, because by campaigning for shorter hours when they really do not want shorter hours but only to have overtime, the unions are, of course, extracting more out of industry at a higher rate of pay, and by so doing they are destroying the productivity of industry. If that happens, we may have our goods priced out of export markets and the purchasing power of the shopper's pound will go down. The cost of goods in the shops will be higher and we shall then get on to the old merry-go-round of inflation.
I personally—and this is probably a very heretical thing to say—should like to see all overtime abolished, and if shorter hours are negotiated then shorter hours should be worked. I am sure that it would be possible to give a great impetus to productivity. Of course, I am talking of the hourly paid worker and not of salaried people, which is quite a different matter. It is obviously in the 655 interests of the country that we have efficient plant, and it is in the interests of the country to have those machines working every hour of every day. The object of industry is to produce wealth, a fact which they know in America but we do not know here, because the object of our industry is rather to produce jobs. But if you produce wealth, the jobs will follow by themselves.
The average hourly-paid worker is certainly prepared to work 45 hours a week, and he is probably prepared to work three to four hours on a Saturday. Some workers are quite prepared to work 56 hours a week, with overtime. I should like to see the abolition of overtime. The average worker is obviously only interested in the amount of net cash that he takes home. He does not want to pay any tax. I suppose that the tax collectors like the present position, but I should like to see all hourly-paid workers earning less than, say, £1,500 a year have their tax rate calculated on a decreasing scale. I should like to see all hours worked in excess of, say, 48 or 49 bearing no tax at all.
From my own experience, I believe that it is the tax which really stops people working. They do not want to work if they pay a lot in tax. Of course, if they have overtime they will work, but that is at a far higher rate, and it therefore spoils their productivity. If we could only arrange that they do not pay tax if they are earning up to a certain amount, then I am certain that the productivity in industry would have quite an upward surge. Presumably the Inland Revenue would not like this, but, after all, the Inland Revenue is a completely internal part of our economy, and our great aim is to increase our productivity in order to sell more exports. So I put that forward as a suggestion for increasing productivity.
I may be out of order, but I received a letter from the Chief Whip saying that we were going to discuss education today. However, all the time that I have been in the Chamber I have not heard anyone discussing education, so perhaps I am wrong. But if I am in order, I should just like to say something about what is said at the end of the gracious Speech: 656A Public Schools Commission will be set up to advise on the best way of integrating the public schools with the State system.We have this old subject coming up again, but is it really wise? What is the real object of destroying the public school system? It certainly has not failed the country, so why destroy it? I am afraid we have always been a very snobby country, but is this proposal due to inverted snobbery? People say that the system is very class-bound, but I really cannot agree with that, as anyone can go to a public school. I quite agree that, apart from those with scholarships, the parents have to pay; but is it a good thing for the country that everything which parents should provide is to be provided free? I personally would say that it is very bad for the national character.
The other important point is that parents ought to have freedom of choice for their children. If they are prepared to save the State from paying for their children, then I should have thought the State ought to be grateful. The extraordinary part is that so many Socialists send their boys to public schools. Why is this, if they do not agree with public schools? Some people think there is some extraordinary mystique about public schools; that you can turn a sow's ear into a silk purse if you send a boy to a public school. But that cannot happen. All that will happen is that you will make him into a more adept sow's ear.
I think the point about public schools is rather overplayed. But, my Lords, we do not want to destroy them. They help to form people's characters. It is all right to integrate them into the comprehensive schools system if they can keep their character. The point is: can they? Of course, if public schools are abolished all that will happen is that public schools will spring up in Ireland and in the Channel Islands—anywhere out of the country—and parents will send their boys to public schools in these other places. So you will never prevent British people from giving their children an independent education.
Before I sit down, which I am going to do in five seconds, I would say that the other thing I am frightened of (but of course other countries have it) is this: if the whole country is under State education, are you not in danger of losing 657 freedom of independent thought? It could happen that if ever we were to have a certain political Party in power in this country—it might be Fascist or Communist—and if they had complete control of education through the State, it could be very dangerous. Therefore I hope that the suggested integration of public schools into the comprehensive schools system will be played very mildly.
I see that the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, is not here, but, on the question of sick pay for farmworkers, my noble friend Lord Stonehaven said that in Scotland every employer, if his farm-worker is sick, pays him his wages and takes the sick benefit. My experience in England has been the same. Among my friends, I have never heard of anyone who, if one of his farmworkers is ill—and he may be ill for months—does not pay him his full wages. It may be that there are people, although I have never come across them, who do not do this. But I felt that I should just make that point.
§ 7.53 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF KINNOULL
My Lords, coming at the end of this very long and interesting debate, which has included the subject of public schools, I should like to raise the hearts of all those of your Lordships who remain here by saying that I shall in fact be very brief. I wish to confine my few remarks this evening to the problems of transport, and, in particular, of rail transport. I noted with interest that in yesterday's debate in another place the right honourable Gentleman the Minister of Transport laid great emphasis on the present record investment that his Ministry have embarked on in their road programme. I only wish he could claim the same record and vigour in regard to rail transport; for is it not true that, with increasing road congestion, the railways are one of the last few friends of the private motorist? Fight for them and the motorist will remain comparatively free from restrictions; allow them to disappear and the motorist will suffer the consequences.
I should like to turn first to the comparative costs as between rail and road transport. I believe I am right in saying that at the present time there are no 658 true comparative costs available from the Ministry of Transport as between road and rail. Rail costs, of course, have been examined with great thoroughness by the two Beeching Reports, but a different formula is at present used, I believe, for measuring road costs, based on what is known as "benefit-cost ratio". I recently read a report of an American road test in which it was claimed that the damage to the surface of a road caused by one 30-ton lorry was equal to that of some 40,000 private cars. Fantastic as this may seem, it does prove the immense wear on roads that heavy freight lorries cause.
But where the comparative costs between these two forms of transport must surely show in favour of railways is in the planning and expansion of cities. For an example, in Liverpool, with the surrounding development of Merseyside, the planning authorities are, I believe, taking the view that to cater for future commuter traffic by road is quite impracticable, and that the only alternative is to provide frequent and efficient city rail services. I should like to ask the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack whether, in view of this policy, the Government will allow the present 75 per cent. grant available to local councils for road improvements to extend to improvements of their city rail services.
To turn to the question of freight transport, in fairness to the Government I believe that they should be congratulated on the recent agreement with the N.U.R. and on the beginning of the liner trains. I am sure that everyone welcomes this step; and it is encouraging to see that the N.U.R. are giving what might be colloquially termed "the green light" to this service. But there are two points that I should like to draw to your Lordships' attention on rail freight, the first of which is the role of the freight trains for export orders. It is amazing, although I believe true, that at the present time only 10 per cent. of the export orders going through the London docks are handled by rail. Surely the balance as between rail and road transport should, in this vital area, be adjusted. If that is not done, one boggles to think what would happen if the Channel Tunnel were to come about, with all the lorries that would be involved.
659 The second point I should like to draw attention to really stems from the first. If the Government recognise the importance of the future role of rail freight, surely it is time to amend the 1962 Transport Act and to prevent any further freight services from being withdrawn without the Minister's consent. I do not wish to weary your Lordships with this argument, save only to remind the House that when members of the Government were in opposition this point was continually being raised by them.
Turning to passenger services, I regret to say that the Government's record has, I suggest, sunk to an all-time low. I think it would be appropriate to remind the House that at the Election the Government gave the following undertaking:A Labour Government will draw up a national plan for transport covering the national network of road, rail and canal communications, properly co-ordinated with air, coastal shipping and port services. The new regional authorities will he asked to draw up transport plans for their own areas. While these are being prepared, major rail closures will be halted".It is an interesting fact that in just one year of office over 105 passenger services have been closed, 70 of which have been with the direct consent of the present Minister; and still no national plan for transport has yet been published. I may add that in the thirteen years of the previous Government's office there were only 149 closures.
When I offered to introduce a Private Member's Bill in the last Session to enable the Government to carry out their Election undertaking, they refused to accept the offer, on the ground that retaining the tracks was sufficient for the time being. But it was not disclosed at that time that the Railways Board may have the power to reopen lines without consulting the Minister. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, when he comes to reply, will tell us whether this is the case, and, if it is the case, why it was not made plain during the various stages of that Bill.
I should like to finish by saying that the supporters of railways are often described as "cranks", preservationists or sentimentalists, but I am sure that in five years' time the tide will have turned and the present vast road programme will have been overtaken by the increasing 660 traffic; and when this time comes I am sure that traffic will revert to the railways.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
My Lords, we are now coming to the end of the debate on the gracious Speech. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has been sitting in his place almost motionless for five and a half hours and I do not wish to keep him or the House for very long. Indeed, my great fear is that when he tries to rise he will not be able to do so; he will have been rooted to the spot. However, we have had an interesting debate; many noble Lords have spoken on the subjects on which they are particularly well-informed and particularly interested. To my way of thinking, it was the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, who touched on what should be the mainspring of Government action and of the gracious Speech. He said that we must pay our way and that to pay our way by our own efforts was paramount.
In my view, the programme for the year has to be judged in the context of the national objectives: to pay our way in the world, and to be competitive at home and overseas at a time when we are faced with an adverse balance of payments and a shortage of man-power which will, of course, need redeployment. I am bound to say that while the gracious Speech makes reference to this matter and saysMy Government will…encourage British industry to achieve greater competitive efficiency by reorganisation, the more general use of advanced technology, and better use of manpower",and while I have no doubt that the Government will attempt to do so, it does not seem to me that the rest of the gracious Speech gives sufficient support to that intention.
For one thing, competition surely means choice and it means diversity. I believe that a nation will only pay its way if the individuals who compose it pay their way and if individuals who can stand on their own feet do so. Competition implies that every encouragement should be given to people to do better than the average, both for themselves and for their children. The State has to see that all get a fair deal but, of course, in the nature of things it cannot be the same deal. Ensuring fair play between one section of the community and another and 661 between one individual and another should be a constant aim; both because it is right in itself and because, unless an individual or a section of the community feel that they are getting a fair deal, they will not give of their best.
If as a nation we are to be competitive, costs must be kept down and investment must be encouraged. (We shall be debating the National Plan next week, and I do not propose to say much more on that score at the moment; I hope to be able to speak on that subject then.) Not only must investment be encouraged but the fruits of success should be reinforced to produce more success. I would say that penal taxation on savings is not the best way to make Britain competitive. We must watch the tendency to burden industry with more and more costs. This can be a serious handicap in competition.
The next sentence after the one I quoted from the gracious Speech says:Steps will he taken to improve the arrangements for providing incentives for industrial investment…".I find that sentence a little obscure. It is "the arrangements" for providing the incentives, apparently, that are to be improved. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will deal with this point, because even a casual reading of Part II of the National Plan shows that all industry is awaiting with great anxiety the announcement on the incentives for industrial investment. I hope that the noble and learned Lord will be able to tell us that an announcement on this subject is going to be made in the very near future. I hope also that he will be able to tell us that this sentence means that the Government are now ready to repair the damage done by the last Budget and to restore the allowances to their value before the last Budget. Perhaps, also, he will tell us whether the incentives are to be differential by industries or only by regions.
Another point that I should like to make is that to increase bureaucracy is not going to make people more competitive. Here in this one programme we are dealing with a Land Commission, issuing of building permits, and wage and price increases foreshadowed in the early warning system. This will mean a considerable addition to staffs, and all this is going to lead to more and more con- 662 trol of the nation's life. Then we shall need more bureaucrats to control the bureaucrats.
The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, spoke about the proposal for a Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, and she expressed the hope that it would not be controversial. The proposal might, in theory, help to get fair play for individuals or organisations when they have been denied it by the Government. The tendency for the Party opposite to seek inspiration from Scandinavia in place of Eastern Europe is a welcome change, but the proposed status of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration is at least as far removed from that of the Swedish, or even the Danish, Ombudsman as our Constitution is from theirs. It seems from the White Paper as if either his functions or their effects on the ordinary means of recourse to Parliament and the courts have not been fully thought out. I am left wondering, I must confess, whether the object is not, at least, as much to ease the burden on Ministers and to lighten the Parliamentary load in another place as to help the individual. But I do not wish to pre-judge the consideration of this matter; and when it comes along we will look at it without any pre-judgment on either side. I am bound to say that at first sight this rather looks like a case of big fleas having "little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em."
My Lords, there is one subject of great importance which I do not think has been referred to at all except by the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, in his very penetrating speech. The measure to introduce supplementary National Insurance benefits related to earnings for unemployment, for sickness and for widow hood are very welcome in principle, although, of course, we shall have to look at them carefully in detail. As is generally known, my Party had been preparing such a measure, and we, too, included it in our Election Manifesto. It will be interesting to compare the proposed measure with what we had in mind.
But I must point out how very different this measure is from the sweeping promises in the Labour Party Manifesto. A new wage-related scheme was promised not only for the sick and unemployed but also to cover retirement. Now we are told 663 that instead a review is being carried out of all aspects of social benefits. This is exactly what we undertook to do in our Election Manifesto. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Byers—I am sorry not to see him in his place—about Conservatives stealing the clothes of others, but here the Labour Party has discarded its own clothes and stolen ours. Naturally, we welcome this tardy recognition of our superior wisdom in this matter and the impracticability of the promises made from the other side of the House.
Another promise was to introduce an incomes guarantee scheme. When, in the last Session, my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross brought in a Bill the broad effect of which was to pay half-pensions to all over 80 who were not receiving the National Insurance pension, it was defeated on an Amendment which gave, as one of the reasons for its rejection, that the Government would be introducing a better scheme in the form of an incomes guarantee. Since the Government are not going to do so in this Session, what are they proposing to do for these old folk who have been left out of our national security arrangements? Perhaps I may remind the Party opposite of what they promised:Those whose incomes fall below the new minimum will receive, as of right and without recourse to National Assistance, an income supplement.I think we are entitled to ask the Party opposite whether these old people over 80 are to receive an incomes supplement.
I turn to the proposals to strengthen the law on misleading trade descriptions, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, spoke so well. We all know the great interest which she has taken in this matter over a long period of years. I have particular reason to know of it. It was an admirable speech, if I may say so, which we heard from the noble Lady. She referred to this question and asked the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor two questions: first, whether he would comment on the proposals to deal with oral misdescriptions, and, secondly, to say whether guarantees should not be registered. I look forward very much to the reply of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I doubt whether registration would be practicable over the whole 664 field, but perhaps registration of guarantees which purport to exclude the Common Law safeguard could be registered. In my view we should deal with refusals to sell unless the manufacturer's guarantee is signed by the buyer where such guarantee does exclude the Common Law right or statutory safeguards. We should have introduced a Bill along very much the same lines, and I have no doubt that we shall give the matter sympathetic consideration.
The gracious Speech says that it is for the protection of consumers, and we very much welcome such protection. But surely it is not only for that, but for the protection and encouragement it will give to honest traders. I hope the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, will agree that the Merchandise Marks Act was enacted for the protection and encouragement of honest trading and honest traders as well as for the protection of consumers. This, too, my Lords, can help to make Britain more competitive.
My noble friend Lord Hastings had a word to say about the intention of the Government to lessen—the word is "lessen"—the injustices of the rating system. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, said that she was about to become unpleasant—I think that was the word she used. I have never known the noble Baroness to be unpleasant in this House, and she certainly did not succeed in being unpleasant to-night, but I am afraid that some may regard what I am about to say now as being a little unpleasant.
The intention of the Government, we are told, is to lessen the injustices of the rating system. If the proposals of the Government really have that effect, they will be welcomed. But I ask the Government to remember that part of the injustice stems from the fact that some local authority tenants who could well afford to do without it receive a subsidy from other householders who may be less well off. Where two men are working side by side and earning the same amount of pay, and one subsidises the rent of the other by the rates that he pays, there is bound to be a strong sense of injustice.
This situation affects Scotland more than the rest of the Kingdom. In some Scottish burghs local authority rents are still indefensibly low and the consequent 665 burden on the rates is unfairly high. To me it seems wrong that a local authority should lavishly subsidise the rents of all its tenants simply because some may need assistance. It seems to me a foolish policy and one that runs counter to what the Government are seeking to do—that is, to encourage mobility of labour and bring industry to certain areas. I do not believe that injustice of this kind pays. I fully recognise the difficulty for established majorities about increasing rents, and I wonder whether the Secretary of State might take upon himself the rather invidious duty of seeing that these rents are increased. In many cases someone a little removed from a problem can see the justice and injustice involved more clearly than those immediately concerned with it. I believe that this is a nettle which must be grasped, and I hope that it will be grasped.
My noble friend Lord Ferrier welcomed the references in the gracious Speech to Scotland, but I am bound to say that if they had been included in a gracious Speech from this side of the House, we should have heard a good deal about it from the present Secretary of State for Scotland. Someone put it to me in this way, rather colloquially, "Ditto ditto for Scotland, with knobs on".
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
Yes, we hope that we get the "knobs".
I should have liked to speak on other matters, but, as I have said, the hour is late and I do not wish to detain the House. The whole question of encouraging competitiveness involves the business of ensuring the best possible education for all our citizens and I note what is said in the gracious Speech:My Ministers will continue to develop higher education.Here again, one is bound to point out that what the Government say does not accord completely with their actions, as they have postponed the starts of constructions in this sphere.
I end, my Lords, as I began, by saying that the whole of our efforts must primarily be directed to ensuring that we become much more competitive. A great deal may have to be sacrificed, 666 both by individuals and by communities, to achieve that object. We may have to postpone benefits we should like to receive. What we have to do is to get the priorities right. What we want is a Government that will take a line, tell the people what h is clearly, and work steadfastly towards it, undistracted by Left-wings or odd assortments of temporary allies. We are not likely to get such leadership from the present Government.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD GARDINER)
My Lords, we have had on the gracious Speech from the Throne a series of interesting afternoons, first on finance, industry and economics, then on foreign affairs, and yesterday on land and matters for which the Home Office are responsible. May I say how grateful I am to all noble Lords who were good enough to let me know the subjects on which they were to speak and the questions to which they required answers. If all noble Lords other than my noble friend Lord Champion and a noble Lord on the Opposition Bench would like to go, I hope that the others will realise that three is a quorum and that I shall not take it as in any way discourteous. I have to cover a good deal of ground in a short space of time. Normally I have considerable difficulty in reading my own handwriting and, after all that has been said to-day, still more so now.
The subject which has been discussed to-day more than any other is transport, so I shall start with that. I entirely agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, said, but first of all he said something with which I cannot agree. He said that our business was to pay our way in the world and that roads would help, and that we had acted wrongly in postponing the roads programme. The reason I respectfully differ from that is that first we had to save the pound and then to pay our way in the world. In the summer the Opposition rightly said that Government expenditure ought to be reduced in relation to the condition of the pound. We took the same view, and some road programmes were suspended for six months. The noble Lord must remember that at the same time the Opposition were voting against any increase in taxation. We 667 realise that everybody interested in some particular thing naturally did not want that cut. But the measures which were taken were essential. Some day I suppose the story of the pound and how it was saved can be told.
The noble Lord must bear in mind—and I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, will too—that those proposals did not apply to development areas, and at that time the road building industry was overheated. There was about £300 million worth in the pipeline, and there is still. I do not know of any cases in which, having taken on more contracts than they could carry out, anybody was unemployed as a result. The fact is that this Government's programme, which involves spending £1,200 million on roads by 1970, is the biggest road programme that this country has ever had.
When it comes to safety on the roads, I agree with a great deal of what the noble Lord said. He said that there are not enough police, which is true. He said that we have laws which we cannot enforce, which is right. He said that magistrates are not imposing as severe punishments as they ought to impose, and one might add, as the noble Lord, Lord Hilton of Upton, did, juries do not convict. What are we going to do? To have total abstainers is one idea, but I think there are rather better ideas than that. My noble friend Lord Stonham has told us that recruiting for the police is going better.
So far as drunken driving and safety generally is concerned, what we are going to do is to stop, by a Bill which will be introduced, the many wholly unsafe commercial vehicles now on the road. This means a proper inspection system, which is the only way to do it. Secondly, we are going to make it a criminal offence to have more than a certain quantity of alcohol in the blood. This is the only way to stop drunken driving. It does not matter much who are the magistrates or juries, because either there is that amount in the blood or there is not. This is the only way to induce a real change of driving habits. I believe it will be supported by almost everyone in the country and by most men, including drivers.
668 I thought the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, was a little hard on the Governent in relation to the deferment of road work for six months. I joined the Automobile Association when I was 18. I have not found it a very democratic body. It is not always easy to get its accounts in detail. But I understand the natural concern of a motorists' organisation to blame somebody for road casualties other than the motorist and to conduct a campaign on the footing that it is not the motorist's fault but the Government's and there ought to be better roads.
I do not believe for one moment that the number of accidents to which the noble Viscount referred are due simply to roads. I do not dispute that better roads can make a contribution to road safety, but in the end it depends on the driver. I have taken part in hundreds of road accident cases where the judge has to find out what was the cause. While I know there have been cases in which one might find that a better road would have made an accident less likely, the invariable cause of an accident is the driver, sometimes not because he intends to drive dangerously, but because he is careless. The trouble is that, as drivers, we do not take the degree of care which the modern motor car requires.
I know of more than one case where an ordinarily careful driver goes across a main road, looks to right and left, thinks there is nothing coming at all and proceeds quite slowly across. There is an accident and his case is that this lunatic of a motor cyclist came along like a rocket, not paying any attention to where he was going: he must have been going at 60 m.p.h., and was not in sight when the motorist started to cross. Then it becomes clear from the evidence that the motor cyclist was coming all the time. The real answer is that people, instead of looking to the right, only glance to the right. I am convinced that this is the main cause of accidents: that none of us take that degree of care which we ought to do.
The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, asked three questions which I hope I can answer. He wanted to know whether it was right that the Railways Board have power to reopen railway lines without reference to the Minister or to 669 Parliament. I think he really knows the answer, because he has already written to my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport asking the question, and my noble friend Lord Lindgren replied saying that there is nothing to stop the Railways Board from reopening a line that has been closed, and they do not require the permission of the Minister to do so.
The noble Earl asked how soon the Government would publish their national plan for transport. A great deal of research work is being done in this field, and it depends when the results come through. But I can say that my right honourable friend will be making a full statement before the end of the year. The noble Earl then asked me whether the Government were prepared to extend the 75 per cent. grant available to local authorities for road improvements to city rail services—and I think he had Liverpool, in particular, in mind. The Government recognise that the development of a properly balanced transport system may require investment in rail or other transport facilities which from a commercial point of view would be unprofitable. However, the first thing is to establish what facilities are needed, both road and rail, in particular areas. That is what the transportation studies under way in the conurbations are designed to do. It is a good thing that local authority transport operators should explore all the ways in which public transport might be developed, so as to serve the growing needs of urban areas. But we must have the facts before we can decide on the proper balance of investment as between road and rail.
The noble Viscount, Lord St. Davids, spoke to us again about waterways. He is always so interesting on this subject, and has so interested me, that I should be very glad if, when a legal Government again exists in Rhodesia, he would be kind enough to come and talk to me about it. I know that my right honourable friend the Minister of Transport is interested in this subject; and it is his business, not mine. I am not at all educated in the subject of the inland waterways; the noble Viscount obviously is. It seems to me a most interesting subject, and if, at some time when it is convenient to him, the noble Viscount would agree to come and educate me further, I should be grateful.
670 The noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, also dealt with transport. I personally agree with him that accidents are due to a mixture of causes, including speed. His suggestion that there should be some tests taken in the dark seems to me a good one, and I will see that it is conveyed to my right honourable friend. The Road Research Laboratory has grown considerably, and there is a great deal of research work now going on. I cannot answer off-hand the noble Lord's question as to whether manufacturers are to be made to fit eye-bolts for safety belts, but I will find out and let him know. I agree with the noble Lord that, to some extent—though I do not think the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, would agree with this—it is a good thing to have a motorway; but it does tend to result, I am afraid, in some drivers going at 70 m.p.h. whereas otherwise they would not.
As to the police being seen, this matter is, I think, under study at the moment. I believe that some chief constables take the view that if there are police cars about, and they are seen to be about, this is a good thing. Others take the view that if we let the county people know that there are police about in plain clothes, this may have an even better effect, because whereas people can see the police car coming up behind them, if plain clothes police are used they never know whether the car behind them is a police car or not.
My noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton asked me when agricultural sickness benefits will be left to agricultural trade boards—I am not sure whether that is the correct expression.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Wages hoards. I am afraid that I cannot tell him, but my guess is that it would probably not be this year. Of course, we are in the middle of November now. There are some Bills which must be got through by the end of the year—the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and so on. But it will be as soon as possible.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, had done, so my noble friend referred to London traffic. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has gone. It used to be the case that at this 671 time of year Mr. Marples would explain what his plan was for Christmas traffic in London. But whereas yesterday morning we were here until 2 o'clock, your Lordships will remember a previous occasion when many of your Lordships were kept up most of the night because of the London Government Bill, which, your Lordships will remember, broke up the whole of the specialised and admirable children's service, of which, under the London County Council, London had had the benefit until then. One of the things that Bill did was to remove London traffic from the Minister and give it to the Greater London Council. If anybody is going to make a plan for Christmas traffic in London, it is the Greater London Council. As it was the noble Lords opposite who put the Act through, it is no good now blaming the Government—although, of course, they retain an interest in it—in relation to what is happening in London.
My noble friend Lord Hilton of Upton also asked about railway closures in Norfolk, I think on the King's Lynn-Dereham line. The answer there is that my right honourable friend is at the moment awaiting a report about that from the transport users' consultative committee.
As to Scotland, I think the noble Marquess, Lord Aberdeen and Temair, was dealing, among other things, with nationalised industries; and so did the noble Viscount, Lord Masserene and Ferrard. This is a very old political dispute, on which I am sure your Lordships will not want me to embark at this hour of the night. The Government certainly believe it is right that if a railway workshop has room for an outside order, maybe for export, and if they can do it more efficiently and cheaply than private enterprise, there is no reason why they should not do it.
I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, who talked about the taxpayers' money. But, of course, bodies like the electricity and gas undertakings are paying their way and making profits: it is their own money, and not the taxpayers' money. We appreciate that, on the other hand, the view is taken in other quarters that it is wrong to allow the State to make a profit if it is a case in which some private industrialist might 672 make a profit. We do not take that view, because we do not think it is wrong for the people to make a profit, instead of private industry, if they can do it more efficiently.
The noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, discussed Scotland. I was surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, thought that Scotland had not done well last Session. I thought that, what with Highlands and Islands and so forth, Scotland had done extremely well. I remember that when I looked at the Acts that were passed (I think this is right), I noticed that out of the first 40 Acts last Session nine were to do with Scotland. My impression was that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland had got away with a lot more to the disadvantage of England, in so far as time was not left.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, I am afraid that the noble and learned Lord has misunderstood me. I made no reference to the enactments passed last Session: I was referring entirely to what is in the present gracious Speech.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Unfortunately, as the noble Lord knows, I was elsewhere at the time, and I had a note which did not convey quite the right expression. So far as this Session is concerned, I was told to-night by my noble friend Lord Hughes to say that "If you wait you will be surprised." Indeed, I should have thought that noble Lords from Scotland should bear in mind that they have in their Secretary of State one who is very capable, if I may say so, of standing up for all the interests of Scotland.
§ LORD BALERNO
I made particular praise of the work of the Secretary of State for Scotland on one particular point.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
At this hour of the night I do not want to start anything, but the complaint that might be made is that the gracious Speech contains no reference to Wales.
One or two noble Lords spoke about law reform. My noble friend Lord Silkin said yesterday, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, did this evening, that he hoped we should have more Bills starting in this House. I think that those of us who have any say in these matters would 673 support that suggestion. It is, of course, natural that a Government should want to get Bills through in a place where it knows it has support to start with. Then if some other body wants to alter it, that is different. There is no reason that I can see why a Conservative Government should not start anything they like in the Lords. But the distinguishing feature of this House is not that a large proportion of the Members are hereditary but that no matter what Government the people elect, one political Party always has an enormous built-in majority. I am bound to say, frankly, that so long as that is so, I think it is no good complaining too much that the people having elected another Party, that Government should prefer to start most of their legislation and get it in the form in which they want it before it comes to your Lordships' House.
§ LORD FERRIER
My Lords, I suggested that perhaps the Traffic Bill might be originated in this House. I feel strongly that this is a matter which is not political, and one that would be approached in the most pragmatic manner in your Lordships' House.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord gets up, I should like to add that I am afraid the Government seem to have a very poor opinion of the intelligence, generally speaking, of your Lordships' House. Certainly non-controversial Bills could be brought into this Chamber, and we are par excellence an excellent Revising Chamber, as the House of Commons has every reason to know. I hope that this ultra-political view, which is largely unjustified, will not prevail. The majority here is no longer by any means so enormous, although I dare say that we could always produce a majority, if it was absolutely essential. In most cases we wish to see that the Government get their legislation through, but in an improved form. I do not think we have done anything to justify the opinion which the noble and learned Lord has expressed, apparently on behalf of his colleagues in another place.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
If it is a non-controversial Bill, as some are, there is no reason why it should not be started here. But it is natural, it seems to me, that the Government, instead of 674 having the Bill knocked about here, and then having to start all over again in another place, should want to get it into the right form in another place and then bring it here. As to the size of the majority in this House, I suppose that it is something like 800, or getting on that way. But although your Lordships' House now has over 1,000 Members, it is one of the curious features that less than half could get in if they wanted to come and vote. However, this is not a discussion to-night on your Lordships' House, and I must press on.
I will leave the question of consolidation and codification which was raised by my noble friend Lord Silkin, because I can discuss that with him. I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Lloyd of Hampstead has said about the Law Commission. He suggested that actions for damages for personal injuries should be replaced by a comprehensive scheme of social insurance. There is, of course, a good deal of discussion about this at the present time. He said that he was disappointed that this was not included in the Law Commission's first programme, but as he may remember, and as the Prorogation speech showed, the Government are conducting a full-scale review of the whole of their National Insurance system. It would be impossible, I suggest, to arrange that all plaintiffs should be, so to say, insured in running-down cases for road accidents, and then to treat factory accidents differently. The whole matter will have to be considered, in the first place, in the context of the general review of our National Insurance system.
Then the noble Lord referred to standard forms of contract. I should have thought that there was no reason why the Departmental Committee which is being set up to consider exclusion clauses, and so forth, should not also look both at that and at the question of guarantees which was also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. The noble Lord also referred to Parliamentary time. All I can say on this is that, as has already been explained in another place, we are going to have a Second Reading Committee, to which Bills like Law Reform Bills can go, and which, like the Scottish Grand Committee, will save a Second Reading in another place, that being the place where the time element arises, rather than here. One 675 can only hope for the best, so far as Parliamentary time is concerned.
Like the noble Lord, I welcome the idea of a Committee to hear immigration appeals. It is something which a number of us have been concerned about for a considerable time. Then I come to the Ombudsman, and the points raised, mainly by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry. As to the name, I must say that "Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration" sounds pretty awful to me. I would not mind the title the "Ombudsman". But others say, "No, we must talk English, and we cannot start using foreign expressions". I say that "Ombudsman" is now an international word. What I think will probably happen is that, as in New Zealand, where the official title is the Parliamentary Commissioner, everybody will call him the Ombudsman. I should think it would probably work out like that here.
Then the noble Baroness regretted that the scope of the scheme does not extend to local authorities, and my noble friend Lord Lloyd of Hampstead regretted that it does not extend to something else—though I am sorry to say I have forgotten what. The reason is that it will be scheduled by the Government Departments. He will be able to look at the schedule, and this will enable anything to be added to the schedule or removed from it. The reason why nationalised industries and local authorities are not included is that the idea of an Ombudsman has never been tried in a country with such a large population as ours. After all, Sweden, Denmark and New Zealand are comparatively small countries.
A good deal depends on the Ombudsman himself. Therefore, there is, I think, a substantial danger of starting the scheme in too big a way. If we start on a restricted front, and confine it to complaints through Members of Parliament, it is always possible, if we want to alter that later—if we want to add local authorities, or the police—to do so. I am not sure off-hand, but I think it was the Danish scheme which started in this way, and then, after about three years, included the local authorities. It was either the Danish or the New Zealand one. It may be that we shall act in that 676 way. I agree that it is very important who the Ombudsman is.
Your Lordships' House may be a little interested if you find, as I think you will, that complaints are limited to complaints coming through Members of another place. This, I dare say, is one of the provisions which we shall discuss here. Her Majesty's Government look upon the Ombudsman as being in effect an extension of the powers of Members of Parliament to sift the complaints of their constituents who elected them; not in any way as interfering with the powers of Members of Parliament but rather supplementing them. So much for the Ombudsman.
So far as merchandise marks are concerned, there would, I think, be some difficulty in all guarantees being supervised by the Board of Trade because they would have to look at each, and possibly examine the goods scientifically to see whether or not what was being guaranteed was right; although I can see no reason why the Departmental Committee to be set up by the Law Commission should not look at this question.
So far as misdescriptions are concerned, we are going to include oral misdescriptions. The whole of the Bill will create considerable change in this country. I am not an expert in the law of Germany, but as I understand it, one could not advertise "Guinness is good for you" in Germany because one is not allowed to advertise anything that one cannot prove to be true, but the idea that advertisers should have to tell the truth is something absolutely unknown in this country. If we are going to have that, why, merely because a description is oral, on television, should you be allowed to tell any number of lies so long as you do not put them into print?
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, would the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor allow me to ask him a question? I quite take his point regarding television, which I had not thought about, but what I am concerned with is what happens over a counter, after which a customer says the saleswoman has said something and the saleswoman swears she has not. Does the noble and learned Lord expect to be able to cover that?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not see why not. This is happening all the time in oral contract cases. The judge, or the jury if there is one, hears both sides, and it is decided who is telling the truth. Naturally, we shall very much welcome the views and assistance of the noble Baroness when the Bill dealing with this matter comes before your Lordships' House.
Then, if I may press on, I know of the feeling which my noble friend Lord Blyton has about the coal industry. The National Coal Board was very much let down by being urged by previous Administrations to mine more and more coal and to spend more and more money on capital developments which, as it turned out, were not required. Therefore, I agree it is only fair that the State should write off those capital assets; and it is even more right, now that uneconomic pits have to be closed, that we should see to it that the miners who are displaced are either employed in other, economic pits or assisted to find other work and, if it means moving, find a new home.
Then the noble Viscount, Lord Massereene and Ferrard, gave us the advantage of his views about greater competitiveness and productivity. I agree, and I think most of your Lordships will, with most of what he said. It is quite true that most people who work longer hours and want overtime will want to reduce the standard hours because then more of their work is done in overtime periods and so they get more money for doing it. I do not know whether there would be any real objection to abolishing overtime, providing, of course, that they take the same amount home for working less hours. If we take the steel industry, we find that the German worker works shorter hours and has higher pay, but it has not priced German goods out of the market because employers do not employ more men than they need. One of the great difficulties in British industry is the amount of surplus labour which inefficient employers not only tolerate but seem to encourage.
I had better not start on the subject of public schools tonight, but the noble 678 Viscount said that anyone could go to a public school. Well, you do need a bit of money. He said Socialists send their sons there. Well, yes, I know some who do; they have given up smoking and holidays to send the boys to a public school. When I ask them why, they say, "It is not really that the education is any better than it would be at a good grammar school, but it will give them two enormous advantages throughout life: one is to go to a school where they speak right, and the other is to be at a school where there will be a large section of those who will be the employer class in their generation." I say, "Oh, you mean snob value" and they say, "That's right, that's exactly what we mean; because if only we can afford it, it will be worth it for them throughout life." We are still the most class-ridden country in Western Europe, run by a special class, the vast majority of whom have been at these special schools. But, as I say, I had better not start on that tonight.
The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, raised a question yesterday as to whether it was right that juvenile court magistrates should really come from the whole of the Bench or whether they should not be selected. I have great sympathy with what she said. I have power now to amalgamate petty sessional divisions, and we are doing it at a reasonable rate. I should like very much to consider what she said. There would have to be some process of selection, and whether that should be done by the chairman or an advisory committee I do not know. The noble Baroness said, and it is right, that in country districts in particular there are few courts and they get relatively few children before them, and if any justice who is under 65 years of age can sit I can quite see that that may not be the best possible arrangement. I have just received a report from my Advisory Committee on the Training of Justices and I hope soon to make a public statement. Of course, if there is compulsory training of justices, then probably the older ones would be those inclined to attend at juvenile courts.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, also dealt with the suggestion that more Bills should be started in the Lords, and he 679 invited me to give your Lordships at the end of the debate a progress report on housing.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I understood it to be the whole of housing. I am afraid I cannot do that at this hour. It is, I think, a point which was not covered, perhaps, by the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Brighton, yesterday. I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, was here, but we had a magnificent speech (if that is not an improper thing for me to say) by the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Brighton, which I thought fully covered the whole subject. But on that particular point I will, if I may, make enquiries and then write to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord leaves the subject of housing, in order to save time may I also mention the question about local authorities being organised into consortia? I did ask a question on that.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
The noble Lord did, and I shall be very happy to look into that.
Then the noble Lord, Lord Segal, asked me two questions. The first was with regard to doctors having two days off instead of one and a half. The answer is that the proposed new contract which has recently been approved for reference to the Review Body by an overwhelming majority of family doctors is based on an acceptance of collective responsibility of the profession as a whole for the general medical care of the population as a whole. But within this framework it will remain open to family doctors, as it is at present, to take two whole days off at the week-end provided that there is another doctor willing to provide any necessary care for their patients while they are not available. Most doctors do in fact hold at least one surgery on Saturday.
The noble Lord also asked about granting doctors a bonus payment for proficiency in post-graduate study courses in 680 addition to payment for attendances. It is not easy to see how proficiency in the type of course normally arranged would be measured, and probably of more importance is the recognition of special experience and service to general practice, and the noble Lord will see that provision for this is made in the contract. In case there is any other point I have not covered, I will certaintly re-read what your Lordships have said and write to any noble Lords with reference to any point I have not covered.
The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn spoke on investment incentives. It is not my intention to-night to trespass on the Budget which my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be producing in due course and of which I think investment allowances may well form part.
As to the Ombudsman, the noble Lord said that he was not like the Swedish or Danish one. The Swedish one is entirely different from the Danish one. The Danish one is like the New Zealand one, and I think our Ombudsman will be very much like the New Zealand one. Then he spoke about wage-related unemployment and sickness benefit and asked why this did not apply to retirement, and something else he wanted to know about which had been in the Election programme. A point I am sure he will bear in mind is that the programme was a five-year programme. I know surprise has often been expressed that the whole of that five-year programme was not carried out in the first year, economic difficulties and all. But it was a five-year programme, and if noble Lords will look again at the Election programme they will see that if in this Session the Government carry through Parliament all the measures which are foreshadowed in the gracious Speech from the Throne, practically the whole of the five-year programme will have been carried out in two years. There will be comparatively little left which has not been carried out either last Session or this Session.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this very interesting discussion, and of course many of the matters which we have discussed we shall be dealing with in much more detail when the Bills referred to in the 681 gracious Speech come to us, either first or subsequently from another place.
§ House adjourned at three minutes past nine o'clock.