§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by Lord Wallace of Coslany—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
"Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ The LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, last Thursday the debate on the humble Address concentrated on economic affairs. Today home affairs are our main theme, although clearly the two subjects are not really separable. I propose to deal first with some of the problems that have caused me most concern as Lord Chancellor in the administration of justice in our country. This is a crucially important aspect of Government, for any breakdown there would threaten the social order. My noble friend Lord Harris of Greenwich dealt with one important aspect of this in the debate on Thursday; namely, the problems created by the general crime situation. It is no comfort to know that in most other countries, and particularly in the United States, as in our own, the crime rate has risen in recent years.
Between 1965 and 1975 there was a 69 per cent. increase (from 1¼ million to 2,100,000 cases) in the number of indictable offences known to the police; and the percentage increase in the number of 138 indictable cases coming before the courts has been even greater. In magistrates' courts it has been 87 per cent. and in higher courts 135 per cent. The increases in the past year alone (that is, 1975 over 1974) have been 7 per cent., 8 per cent. and 12 per cent. respectively. The only comfort to be derived from these figures is that the rate at which cases have been brought before the courts has more than kept up with the rate of increase in crime, and with no significant alteration in the conviction rates. For this the police are to be congratulated.
However, the administration of justice is not just a matter of crime statistics, judges and courts. It is best seen as part of the broader picture of our home environment. If an atmosphere of decay and hopelessness in a community persists, particularly in our inner cities, then the consequential damage that is done to disadvantaged families and their children, who have no option but to live there, is bound to have effects in terms of crime, and especially adolescent crime. This is the experience of those of us who practise or adjudicate in the courts in our least privileged cities, where family ties and the old disciplines of the family and the community are vanishing in the face of squalor and disruption. There are significant relationships between crime and social deprivation; the House may be particularly pleased, therefore, to see in the Queen's Speech that special attention is to be paid to the needs of inner city areas.
The growth of the case load on the courts that I have referred to has had serious consequences, in particular for the Crown Courts where the more serious cases are tried. There we are suffering from continuing, increasing and cumulative delays. For each of the last three years the number of cases disposed of by the Crown Courts has been fewer than the number of cases committed to them for trial. The inevitable result has been that the number of cases awaiting trial has risen from about 8,000 early in 1974 to 12,000 in September of this year.
The situation in the London Crown Courts is the most worrying. There is a backlog of nearly six months' work for them to handle. The pressure in the rest of the country is somewhat less intense, but it is still a matter for serious concern. 139 On the South-Eastern Circuit, other than London, there is a backlog of nearly four months' work; on the Northern Circuit between two and three months, and even on my old Circuit, the Wales and Chester Circuit, there is a backlog of over two months. The result is that anyone who is committed for trial in London today is likely, on current estimates, to have to wait fifteen weeks before his trial if he is in custody and 25 weeks if he is on bail.
These are average figures. It follows that there will be many cases in which the waiting time will be longer than this. To this waiting period must be added the time taken between arrest and committal for trial, often substantial. The backlog of work and the increasing delays are simply a reflection of the unremitting growth in the number of cases coming forward, which, between 1972 and 1975, amounted to nearly a third. Very recent figures offer some indication that the rate of growth may be slowing down, but it is too early to know whether these figures represent a trend.
My Lords, faced with these sombre facts, your Lordships will wish to know what has been done to grapple with the problem. Thanks to the foresight of my predecessor, my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner, and to the determination of my predecessor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, the major reconstruction and re-organisation of our court structure which was effected by the Courts Act 1971 provided us with the administrative and judicial structure which is needed. In particular, it has enabled us to deploy judge power as flexibly as possible, and to cut out a lot of waste of judicial time. We have also helped further by increasing the size of the second-tier Bench. Now there are no fewer than 280 circuit judges and 368 recorders. Meanwhile, steps have been taken to increase court accommodation which remains one of our leading constraints. In the meantime, if we are to reduce the size of the mountain of work in London, then it seems to me that we shall have to redistribute some of this business outwards to other courts which are less hard-pressed. That will cause some inconvenience but has got to be faced.
My Lords, we must also be prepared to take a fresh look at the way Crown 140 Court proceedings are conducted. That we are doing. There appears to have been avoidable wastage of time, particularly in the hearing of complicated criminal cases and cases involving a large number of defendants. I notice the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, confirms that conclusion. I have accordingly given my support to certain experiments by way of pre-trial conferences which have been directed towards identifying the real issues which are likely to require to be aired in a trial. These are like the Summons for Directions which precedes the trial of civil actions in the High Court. The first formal experiment along these lines took place at the Old Bailey in October 1974. The results of that experiment were sufficiently encouraging for a number of schemes to be introduced in an increasing number of Crown Court centres. It is a promising development which could well help to shorten the trials of long and complex cases.
My Lords, the position on the civil side of court business is, on the face of it, less worrying in that the growth of the work there is only about 1 or 2 per cent. a year. But as we have only one pool of judges, both at High Court and at Crown Court level, to deal with all civil and criminal business, and as we are already giving high priority to the despatch of criminal business, the situation becomes difficult.
I decided some months ago to set up a small Working Party of experts under Mr. Justice Cantley to cast a critical eye over the current procedure in personal injuries cases. They will be advising me as to what reforms should be made for their quicker and more economical disposal. In particular I have asked them to have regard to the desirability of simplifying procedure and giving the judges more control over the actual conduct of the proceedings.
I have already informed your Lordships on another occasion of my proposals for extending to all undefended divorce cases the special procedure which avoids the necessity of a court hearing at all in such cases. Those proposals will help save judge power.
My Lords, justice delayed is justice denied. Delay harms the parties, causing them increasing uncertainty and anxiety, and undermining their respect for our 141 judicial system. We must all be concerned about the cases, and there are too many of them, of accused persons who remain in custody for month after month, often in overcrowded prisons, only to be acquitted or dealt with without imprisonment when their trial eventually takes place. Delay also makes it difficult for the courts to do adequate justice. The memories of witnesses become clouded. Some become less certain as to the facts. Others become dangerously more certain about what initially was only an impression. This is particularly true of civil cases which come on to be tried years after the events which gave rise to the initial dispute. Mark Twain said:When I was young my memory was so good, I could even remember things that never happened".This is not confined to the young.
Quite apart from those actually involved in judicial proceedings, the public at large, and particularly the victims of crime, feel a legitimate impatience if criminals responsible for serious crime are not brought to book within a reasonable time. This must, in the long run, create a danger of resort to self-help both in taking personal vengence for criminal acts and even in the resolution of civil disputes. Happily, we have not reached or even nearly reached that stage. But I believe the vital need to retain public confidence in our legal system compels us to consider difficult and even unpopular measures.
A few minutes ago, your Lordships' House gave a First Reading to the Criminal Law Bill, the complexity of the Long Title of which I hope did not depress the House unduly. These provisions are closely related to the matters which I have been discussing. One of the leading purposes of this Bill is to give effect to the recommendations of the Interdepartmental Committee on the distribution of criminal business between the Crown Court and the magistrates' courts, a Committee chaired by the late and much lamented Lord Justice James.
Among other things, the Committee recommended, and the Government have incorporated this in the Bill, that where a person is charged with theft or a related offence and the value of the property involved does not exceed £20, the offence shall be triable only summarily and without a jury. We have also incorporated in the 142 Bill the recommendation that all offences of criminal damage, except arson, where the amount of damage done does not exceed £100, should be subject to the summary procedure.
I will not conceal from the House that these proposals have caused me some anxiety. A diminution of the right to trial by jury is not lightly to be undertaken. I am now, however, convinced that what we are proposing is right and inescapable. As the James Report says:In the last analysis, society has to choose between two conflicting aims. On the one hand is the existing right of the citizen to be tried by a judge and the jury on any charge of theft or criminal damage, however small the amount involved. On the other hand is the right, especially important to anyone defending a serious charge, to be tried as soon as possible. …At present, defendants on serious charges are suffering the injustice of long-delayed trial, while the time of the Crown Court is partly occupied with minor cases of low monetary value. We consider that a change in this balance, by the means that we have suggested, will ensure that the available resources are used so as to achieve better justice over the whole range of criminal charges and that the balance cannot possibly be redressed in favour of quicker trial of serious charges without some loss of the existing choice for defendants against lesser ones".The overall effect of what we are proposing in the Criminal Law Bill is to transfer some 8,000 cases a year from the Crown Court to the magistrates' courts. My own view is that the present delays in the dispatch of Crown Court business are rapidly becoming intolerable, and that the injustice to which they give rise is so notable as to call for these steps which we now propose.
My Lords, I should now like to turn to the Government's devolution proposals. As your Lordships know, the Scotland and Wales Bill, which establishes directly elected Assemblies for Scotland and Wales, was read a first time in another place yesterday, and was published earlier today. Obviously, therefore, your Lordships will not have had time to read, certainly not to digest, the contents of the Bill by now, even if your Lordships had the facility attributed to a former Master of the Rolls, Sir George Jessel, who, it was said, could read so fast that he could read both sides of the page at the same time. It was he also who said: "I may be wrong, but I am never in doubt". Perhaps he was never in doubt because he did try to read both sides of the page at the same time.
143 My Lords, the Government, at any rate, are in no doubt that devolution is needed and is needed now. Over the last few years there has been, I believe, a radical change in the attitude of people towards the way in which they are governed. No longer is there an attitude of, "Let them get on with it, we are not interested". People of all types, of all sections of society, now want an opportunity to take more part in the way things are run. They want government to be, and to be seen to be, more responsive to their needs. They want public bodies which are currently run by people who are not elected—in the language of the devolution proposals, "nominated bodies"—to be more readily accountable to the electorate This, I believe, is a healthy development of our democratic system.
The transfer of increased democratic responsibility for their own affairs to the people of Scotland and Wales lies at the heart of the devolution proposals. In Scotland and Wales these changes in attitude towards the organisation of government have coincided with an upsurge in national pride and awareness. There is a genuine desire for more and more Scottish and Welsh affairs to be administered by Scottish and Welsh democratic institutions. But it is also, I believe, abundantly clear that the vast majority of people, not only in England but also in Scotland and Wales, want these changes to be made within the secure framework of the continuing unity of the United Kingdom. Clause 1 of the Bill spells this out quite clearly in stating that the provisions in the Bill,do not affect the unity of the United Kingdom or the supreme authority of Parliament to make laws for the United Kingdom or any part of it".Only a minority want separation. I believe that the great majority of the Scottish and Welsh people appreciate the advantages of remaining within the United Kingdom, and feel a deep and abiding attachment to it. We have taken a great deal of trouble to find out what they really want. We set up a Royal Commission in 1969, which produced valuable advice as a result of four years work on a thorough examination of the machinery of government at all levels in the United Kingdom. In June 1974 the Government issued a discussion document on devolution, and followed it up later in the year with a 144 White Paper. This time last year we set out detailed proposals in a further White Paper, and took special measures to encourage discussion of them.
During these last two years we have carried out extensive consultations with a wide range of organisations, and we have welcomed and received many useful comments on our proposals from both Houses of Parliament and from individual citizens. I find it hard to think of any legislative scheme which has undergone such thorough public scrutiny, deliberately fostered by the Government. Moreover, we have not done this simply on the basis of acceptance or rejection of a cut-and-dried package. We have encouraged people to comment on the details of the scheme, and we have taken these comments into account as we have gradually developed our proposals; and our Supplementary Statement in August this year set out numerous ways in which we were improving the plans in the light of comment and advice. The result is that this Bill rests, I believe, on an increasingly broad base of consultation and understanding. We believe that the balance we have achieved is broadly right.
In the course of the debate, I have little doubt the question will be asked: Should we be proposing devolution at this time? Should we not wait a few years, for example, until the economic climate is more favourable? My Lords, there is never a good time for proposals which entail additional expenditure, modest though it may be in this case in the context of our total expenditure. But we have been at great pains to get these proposals right; we have taken time to do so, and we see no reason for further delay. I believe it would not be right or acceptable to tell the people of Scotland and Wales that measures worked out over a long period to improve the running of their affairs and to increase their participation in government had to be held over for some further set of reasons. The improvement of democratic institutions and the machinery of government should be a continuous process and not something to be picked up and then dropped casually when the going is hard.
My Lords, I am very conscious that the devolution legislation will take up a considerable proportion of the time available for legislation in this Session. Since these are major constitutional proposals 145 which will make important changes to our system of government, this is inevitable. I admit that the Bill is a substantial Bill. Noble Lords will, however, find that they can at least get a fair idea of the proposals as a whole from the very helpful Explanatory and Financial Memo-random and Index.
I know that many noble Lords have strong views on all or part of what is proposed, and it is important that there should be adequate opportunity for these views to be expressed. The Government for their part—and I give this assurance—will be very ready to listen carefully and to make adjustments if there are good reasons for them. We look forward to a full and constructive debate, which will, I hope, be marked by a genuine desire to improve the institutions through which we govern ourselves. We intend that the Bill should be law by the end of this Session. The majority of the people of Scotland and Wales expect this of us, and we do not intend to disappoint them.
My Lords, I have spoken of Wales, and as, apparently, the Minister for Welsh Affairs in your Lordships' House, I should like to say a little more about it. There was in a recent publication of Y Cymro—"The Welshman" for the uninformed—a reference to a report of 40 years ago when one of the Welsh Members of another place, Colonel Goronwy Owen, complained that although the gracious Speech included substantial reference to Scotland, Wales and Welsh interests did not figure at all. This is certainly not a complaint that could be made this year. The Bill to establish the Scottish and Welsh Assemblies represents a massive constitutional advance for Wales. In addition, the Bill to provide for greater equality in average charges for unmeasured water supply will lessen a grievance which has been keenly felt in Wales, as indeed in some parts of England which have experienced particularly high charges under the present system. The inequality has resulted in the conclusion, "Water is Dynamite in Wales", and we are hoping to avoid an explosive situation developing.
In each of the last two years, moreover, we have also had important items of separate Welsh legislation, in particular the Welsh Development Agency Act and the Development of Rural Wales Act, 146 which it was a satisfaction to see introduced for the first time in this House. Since the introduction of the Welsh Development Agency there has been promising advance in approaches from private industry as to how the Agency can assist them, and the pessimistic fears which were expressed on the Opposition side of the House that private industry would oppose the operations and existence of the Agency have, happily, not materialised.
Now Wales looks forward to the completion of major new sections of the M4, on which, as I saw on Saturday, work is currently in progress, and that will greatly improve communication between industrial South Wales and the main economic centres of the country. Good communications are clearly important for the growth of industry in Wales, and I believe there is a growing appreciation in this field, as elsewhere, of the fact that the strengthening of our industrial base is the first priority for every activity in our country now. For me, therefore, it was very pleasing on Friday to hear from Dr. Bevan, the Principal of University College, Cardiff, that no longer do universities and industry work too far apart. The formation of industrial liaison units in about three-quarters of British universities has led to the establishment of self-supporting centres and limited companies in which the technological expertise available in universities has been applied to the development of industrial processes and manufacture.
These units have generated a two-way flow between universities and industry, of advice and assistance, of teaching and research, consultancies, exchanges of staff and the provision of advisory services. In many cases large sums of money have been made through patents and other earnings; this money is put to work to generate further activity of this kind. I was pleased on a recent visit to the chemical laboratories at Aberystwyth University College to see that this is happening there as well—as no doubt is the case in many other universities. It is an excellent trend.
Another proposal relating to the industrial field is the Patents Bill which is mentioned in the Queen's Speech. This will provide a comprehensive reform of 147 our patent law. Information about new technology will be made available at an early date to avoid duplication by others and to act as a support in the competition for new products and processes. A new Patent Court will be established as part of the High Court to give greater certainty to judgments on important issues. The law on ownership of inventions by employees will be codified and provision will be made for rewards to employed inventors in certain circumstances. The Bill will also contain provisions enabling ratification of international treaties. This will give much advantage to British industry in terms of cost and convenience.
Ratification of the European Patent Convention will make it easier for industry to obtain patent coverage throughout most of Europe. The Community Patents Convention will provide for a single patent for the Community area. This is an important Bill which will make the patent system better suited to the needs of modern industry and will, I believe, be generally welcomed by industry, inventors and the patent profession.
My Lords, I conclude by affirming the Government's determination to set our country on the road to recovery on the lines indicated in the gracious Speech. While this is no time for complacency, still less is it a time to entomb ourselves in despair. As one of the sages expressed it:Even though the birds of sorrow fly over your head, it is not necessary to invite them to nest in your hairTo the doom-watchers both here and abroad who are prophesying our national demise, we proclaim that we do have the resilience and the reserves, human, material, moral and political, to get out of our difficulties both as a people and as a country; and that we shall do so.
§ 3.35 p.m.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for having told us about some of the measures proposed in the gracious Speech. I propose to address myself principally to the subject of devolution, following the noble and learned Lord; a subject which is due to take up a great deal of our time here and a great deal of time in another 148 place. First, I should like to touch on two other matters which arise in the gracious Speech, with which I have been concerned myself. On the first I fear I must be critical of the Government, but on the second I shall be giving them a gentle pat on the back.
The first subject, they will probably have already guessed, is the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Bill, because the Government have decided to lose in the last Session most of what they could have got in the Bill rather than drop the ship repairing companies from it. Now documents of the Commons of yesterday and today show that the clerks in the Public Bill Office there have decided that there is doubt on the question of hybridity where ship repairing companies are concerned and that the Bill should go to Examiners. I was the first to raise that matter in your Lordships' House.
Further, the Government have put down a Motion to suspend Standing Orders in another place, and I would make just two comments. The first is that the Government have only themselves to blame for this situation. If they had accepted our Amendments the rest of the Bill would have gone through and would now be enacted without the hybridity question arising, because it arises on the ship repairing firms which would have been dropped. Secondly, the effect of suspending Standing Orders, if the Government succeed in that, is to deny individuals and firms access to the procedures available to protect their interests in such circumstances, including presenting evidence to a Select Committee. The Government must be in a poor state when they are reduced to depriving citizens of the rights which Parliament has provided for such situations.
The second subject, on which I move from criticism to qualified approval, is the proposed extension to 200 miles of the British fishing limits. The Government, as the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, and other noble Lords opposite will know, are doing what I have been proposing from this Bench for more than a year. Together with other countries, I have been suggesting that we should extend our limits. The other countries, being the principal maritime countries in the world, include the United States, Canada, and Norway, who are proposing 149 to extend their limits early in 1977. I would make these comments because the matter is urgent. First, the negotiation within the EEC for an exclusive belt is a very important and urgent matter for British fishermen, and I hope that the Government are concentrating on that now. Secondly, the methods of control and policing within the United Kingdom 200-mile zone do seem inadequate. We hope we shall be discussing these matters soon when the Bill comes before us before Christmas.
Now I turn to devolution. As the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has said, the Bill was published only about four hours ago, and clearly detailed comment on it must come in due course. It will no doubt be a very long time in another place. When it reaches us it may be somewhat different from what it is now. I shall confine myself to considering why we apparently have to spend so much Parliamentary time now, as the noble and learned Lord said, when we have so many economic problems, on simply changing the machinery of Government. That in itself will not achieve anything to improve the conditions of the country or the people. Nothing will be positively achieved until any new machinery carries out some constructive action which would not have been done, or which would not have been done as well, under the present system.
I would consider this with three concepts in mind. First, decentralisation; secondly, devolution; and thirdly, independence, or separation as it is sometimes called. In most parts of Britain I have found, as I think other observers have too, that there is a desire for decentralisation. For example, in the North-East of England and Merseyside on visits which I have made I have found that there is a demand for decentralisation. That means less decision-making in London and less dependence upon central authorities. But there is little, if any, wish for a form of Assembly in those regions in England. That is my impression. Indeed, to delineate precise dividing lines between such regions would be difficult.
We understand that the Government are to produce a document next week on the possibility of regional Assemblies in England. Then there is also, so far as England is concerned, anxiety about 150 money; that is, that if Scotland and Wales are to have separate Assemblies, they may be getting much more of the United Kingdom taxpayers' money than regions of England which have just as difficult problems and appear to be just as deserving. That is a valid matter of concern and should be taken fully into account.
We come to devolution, because I have been talking about the general feeling for decentralisation, which does not necessarily mean changes in the system, and, so far as England is concerned, presumably the changes, if there are any, will not be as extensive for Scotland and Wales. Devolution applies particularly to Scotland and Wales. It is a word new to many people, but not new to me. As someone whose home is in Scotland and who is a Scot, the word "devolution" has been ringing in my ears for at least 15 years, meaning that powers and functions be delegated to Scotland from London, much of which has already been carried out administratively; for Scotland for at least 40 years and for Wales within the last 10 years.
Where Scotland is concerned, because there is a separate system of law—a separate judicial system—and a separate system for education and other matters, there have been separate Acts of Parliament, and that Scottish legislation has been passed at Westminster and not in Scotland. In our two-day debate at the end of January many Scots spoke in your Lordships' House but hardly a Welsh voice was raised. Indeed, the speakers' list read like the casualty roll after Flodden. I hope, therefore, that the House will understand if, in speaking of devolution, I address my remarks mainly to Scotland.
Then there is the third concept, independence. This is the aim of the Scottish and Welsh National Parties. This must be clearly understood and there must be no mistake about it. They are intent on the break-up of Britain. That is the antithesis of devolution, although in some people's minds they are still mixed up. Devolution means remaining a single country with the delegation of powers and functions within it. The SNP appear to support devolution, but they do not support it as a settled state; they support it simply as a stepping stone towards the complete separation which they are seeking, which is clearly in their manifestos and which is not disguised. Moreover, they 151 would not wish any system of devolution which is set up to work properly. They would be concerned to use it to agitate for more and more powers until they reach the state of Scotland being a separate independent country.
SNP spokesmen have said this. At their 1974 Party Conference it was said:I do not believe in devolution. I believe in independence.That is not devolution. They do not believe in devolution, but it would mean the demolition of Britain if it were to happen. That is why it is important in any scheme of devolution—and we shall be examining the Government's proposals carefully in the light of this—that the system be stable and designed to minimise clashes between. Westminster and Edinburgh. There is a paradox because most of the people in Scotland who have been supporting the SNP with their votes do not want to break up Britain and have an independent Scotland; they do not want Britain to be Balkanised. However, they support the existence of a Scottish pressure group which appears, by its very existence, to have had some success in waking up people in London, causing alarm in the Government and getting results by way of better and quicker action for Scotland. At least that is the impression that is given, whether or not it is correct.
The ground is more fertile in Scotland now for support for the Nationalist cause because there is no longer the Empire, Britain's economy is in a shaky situation and there is what is known as the "English disease", much quoted in Scotland. If we had an economy which was as strong and successful as Germany's, I am sure the ground would be much less fertile for the support which is going to the Nationalists in Scotland now.
I come to some publicity which was given to some results published by the Daily Record, a Scottish newspaper, yesterday. It was not a sample poll, but it said that 44 per cent. of those who wrote in would prefer independence. That goes against all the polls there have been recently, including the ORC poll in Scotland a month ago where 69 per cent. of the population wished Scotland to remain in Britain and only 23 per cent. were against that and in favour of inde- 152 pendence. The point about the Daily Record figures is that they were limited to readers of the paper and those who bothered to send in the coupon. Anybody who knows how the SNP operate will know that the word was sent out immediately to all branches to get every possible person to cut out the coupon in the newspaper and send it in saying they were in favour of independence, and getting their friends to do so as well. There could well be plural voting, too.
Thus, with respect to the Daily Record, they have not appreciated the way in which the Nationalist movement operates in Scotland; it will take any opportunity of that kind to produce distorted figures to give the impression that there is more support for breaking up Britain than there actually is. Although the sampling polls show that about 20 per cent. of those sampled in Scotland say they would be in favour of Scotland becoming a separate country, it must be made clear that at least 60 per cent. of those who are polled want some change and indicate that they want more say in Scotland on Scottish affairs.
I have mentioned that the present system involves a great deal of administrative devolution in Scotland. When, from 1970 to 1974, I was Secretary of State for Scotland, I found myself responsible for, broadly, all domestic functions except industry and finance, and there were five Departments in Edinburgh, which was a mini-Whitehall, administering, with the Ministers at the Scottish Office, the various functions. This meant that in the Scottish Press every day or when I was listening to Scottish news on the radio while shaving in the morning North of the Border, I was continually hearing in almost every other item that the Secretary of State for Scotland was doing something to or for Scotland, whether it was roads, housing, education, health, local authorites, whatever the subject was. That would not be the case South of the Border; it would be a different Minister in each case. Of course, on some of those subjects the matter had not even come before me because it had been dealt with by another Minister or Department.
That is one of the troubles. There is a great deal of administrative devolution, and the Ministers and civil servants in Edinburgh, the Executive, could be a 153 tyrannical bureaucracy if they wanted to be. In fact, they are not. However, there appears to be no visible check on what they are doing, and that is why the increase in administrative devolution has not necessarily assisted the situation. If anything, it has highlighted the absence of a visible check on that Executive by elected representatives. But there is such a system, and that is the Scottish Committee system.
The Scottish Grand Committee has existed since 1906 and consists of all the 71 Scottish Members of Parliament. However, it has become submerged in all the other Committees in another place. It is invisible. It has a public gallery, but practically nobody is ever there. The people most concerned are more than 300 miles away. Indeed, they would have the greatest difficulty in finding the Committee room, if they knew what time to come. That ingenious system, which evolved many years ago, before the aeroplane was in daily use, and enabled the same elected representatives to consider Scottish matters in the morning and Empire and United Kingdom subjects in the afternoon and evening, has now gone into what I would call disuse. Its reputation has disappeared. One never hears it mentioned on the radio programme, "Yesterday in Parliament", whereas 20 years ago one did. The Press hardly take any notice of it and it is hardly reported because it is one of many committees and it is no longer the Scottish debating Chamber that it was years ago. That is the background, I believe, to much of the present feeling that there ought to be some Parliamentary devolution to match the immense administrative devolution that there has been in Scotland.
The question of a referendum comes up whenever a devolution plan is put forward. I feel that the kind of referendum that might be held—and I understand that the Government have not closed their mind to this—is the simple inquiry into whether or not people in Scotland want to be independent. At present, I believe that 80 per cent. of the population would say, No, and that would at least be an absolutely clear indication that they did not want to be a separate country. I believe that it would be much more difficult to put a simple question about devolution. First, at least three-quarters of the men in the street in Scotland do not know 154 what the word, "devolution" means. Secondly, it would be extremely difficult to make clear in a simple question what form of devolution was being proposed. I therefore think that, though a referendum could be a useful indication of public opinion in Scotland on a precise question, it might be difficult to hold a referendum on a particular form of devolution. As anybody who has had a quick look at the Bill and all its complications will realise it will be very difficult to reduce that to a single, simple question.
Then there are other matters such as the many Scots who live not in Scotland but in the rest of Great Britain and who may feel that they are concerned in this and know more about it than many others. I believe that it would be difficult to bring them in and that the selection would probably have to be done on the electoral rolls North of the Border. Then there is the question why the English and the Welsh should not also have their say in a referendum what they think about the proposals. That is another problem. So I believe that a referendum would not be very easy to hold, though it would be possible on the simple question of independence; that is, of the break-up of the United Kingdom.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, as was said by Mr. Foot today, the Government have not closed their mind to a referendum. Would a referendum on this matter be more difficult than one on the Common Market? I do not think so and that is why I support it enthusiastically.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, as I said, I think that a simple referendum of the type that I have mentioned as to whether Scotland should be a separate, independent country, causing the break-up of the United Kingdom is the one question that could be put simply. I feel that it would be much more difficult to put variations on devolution into a referendum and for the question to be understood by 90 per cent. of those taking part.
Another matter arises. If there is to be an Assembly in Scotland or Wales, should the election be carried out by proportional representation? Where Scotland is concerned, my personal view is that it certainly should be, because otherwise there could be a situation in which 155 the majority of SNP members elected on a minority vote felt that they could take the constitutional question of the separation of Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom as a mandate, even though considerably less than half of the population had supported that. I know that there are considerable doubts about proportional representation at Westminster, though not in the Liberal Party. Proportional representation has, however, been adopted for Northern Ireland without prejudice to the situation a Westminster. I believe that this could be done for Scotland, again without prejudice to the situation at Westminster.
There is a good reason why this should be so. If proportional representation were to be adopted at some time in the future for Westminster, a whole lot of other matters would have to be considered as well and probably first. For example, what would happen about forming a Coalition Government? Are the people ready for a three-week or even, as in the case of the Dutch, a three-month pause before a Government are formed? The whole attitude towards manifestoes and pledges would have to be altered. Manifestoes could be torn up; they would have to be drafted in a quite different way. The first thing after an election would be for the leaders of the Parties to get together to throw out of the window some of the points in their manifestoes so as to reach compromises.
The British public, as well as we ourselves, must be prepared for that kind of thing to happen before we adopt proportional representation at Westminster. It might lead to a Coalition Government being formed as a result of proportional representation which represented about 85 per cent of what the people of the country wanted. That might be a good thing or not. The main points of the manifestoes would have been thrown out of window in order to obtain a compromise. That sort of situation will have to be foreseen and prepared for before one could adopt proportional representation at Westminster but, personally, I am one of those who are prepared to face up to that and work it out. However, that does not apply where the Scottish Assembly is concerned because a Government would not be being formed and because the 156 method proposed for forming an Executive would not give rise to that sort of problem.
Another comment is that an Assembly will mean too much government in Scotland. I know that some of my noble friends are concerned about this. I would say straightaway that, if an Assembly is established in Scotland, I believe that there must be accompanying changes. I believe that local government would need to be changed and, certainly, considerably reduced in Scotland. Otherwise there will be over-government in Scotland.
I would just make these comments on the Bill itself: first, I think, as I have said before, that it is a great pity that Scotland and Wales should be being dealt with in one Bill. It would have been much better to have separate Bills for Wales and Scotland because the situation in Wales is very different from that in Scotland and in any case Scotland has its own legislation. Secondly, there is still the proposal in the Bill that there should be two Executives in Scotland. These are the Secretary of State for Scotland who is to continue as an Executive and the new Executive that is to be formed after an Assembly has been elected. To have two Executives will promote a situation of friction, conflict and probably collision. I believe that that needs to receive considerable thought and working out while the Bill is going through Parliament. I believe that it raises the whole question of the division of powers and functions between the two Executives. That is a question about which people are still arguing. It will need to be examined.
A further point is how the Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster are to vote, if at all, on matters affecting England and Wales. They will not be legislating on education, health and other matters for Scotland because that will be done by the legislative Assembly in Edinburgh. My view is that they should not vote on legislation affecting England and Wales and that, in the same way as the Speaker now certifies that a Bill is a wholly Scottish Bill, it should be possible for him to certify that a Bill is wholly English or Welsh. I believe that if that were done it would certainly reassure a great many of the critics of devolution schemes.
157 I should like to return for a moment to the question of a separate, independent Scotland. Of course it is nonsense from the point of view of promoting the well-being of the people in Scotland but a further dimension—oil—has been added and the SNP have pretended that Scotland could become a sheikdom and have hoards of wealth from this newly found resource. I would point out that most of the oil that has been discovered in the North Sea is within the belt of Shetland and that the Shetland Islands have made it clear that, if Scotland became independent, they would want to stay with England or else go their own way. The Continental Shelf where most of the oil has so far been discovered would go with Shetland, so that the argument about oil is a very risky one where the Nationalists are concerned.
Then we come to passports and defence. When many people in Scotland realise that they will be deprived of their British passport—the SNP has indicated that they will have to have Scottish passports—they will find themselves deprived of privileges and rights in the world which they will not very happily relinquish. The defence proposals are ridiculous; Scotland is going to spend all its money on defence, or it is going to have no defence, or else it is going to be entirely dependent upon the good will of its neighbours.
There are also proposals for separate taxation and a Scottish pound. For 270 years there has been economic union, and the kind of proposals that the SNP put forward for erecting economic barriers at the Border would mean that firms which now have myriads of interwoven strands across the Border would have the most burdensome task of having to sort out whether their income, for income tax purposes, arose from something North of the Border or South of the Border. The amount of incredible bureaucracy which would be caused by that is unthinkable, and of course major industries which are now based on Scotland are dependent entirely on being part of Britain, having a home market of 55 million instead of 5 million. Engineering firms, the motorcar industry, manufacturers of aero engines are not possible in a country of 5 million. If one looks around the world one sees that such things do not happen in countries of under 6 million or 7 million, and at the moment much of 158 the employment in Scotland is based on these industries. It cannot be taken for granted that they would remain if Scotland were to go its separate way under the SNP.
Most people in Scotland would recoil from the edge of the precipice of independence, but they do expect some change in Parliamentary devolution to match the administrative devolution which has already taken place. I believe that the Government's devolution proposals must be judged by the criterion of whether they will work and whether they will last; otherwise we shall be tampering with the cornerstone of the edifice of Britain, and if it is not being strengthened and repaired in our work upon it the dislodgement could cause the whole building to split. That is the risk. I believe that where Scotland is concerned there is a greater danger in doing nothing, so I am one who agrees that something must be done but I recognise that it is a very delicate and difficult matter to erect something which will be stable and permanent without causing the whole edifice to shake and possibly crumble.
It is not, my Lords, a question of appeasing the SNP; some say that it is appeasing the Nationalists to put forward any proposals for devolution. The hard core and hierarchy of that Party do not want devolution. They will settle for nothing less than Scotland becoming a separate country. The majority of people in Scotland, while not supporting that objective, have an instinctive leaning towards more say in Scotland on Scottish affairs. This means a visible, representative body in Scotland which would openly debate issues and to which the Executive would have to account publicly for its stewardship. To ignore that feeling, now widespread in Scotland, would I believe be unwise. It might well push more people into the camp of the extremists who want to split Britain into separate countries. To split the United Kingdom would be a lamentable course, damaging to all parts of the country. I would wholly oppose that course with every effort I could summon and with every sinew.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, our eyes having followed the two previous speakers with immense interest, 159 it is particularly gratifying to find that the Tory Party and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, have accepted practically holus-bolus Liberal policy for the past 20 years both on the method of election, at least in Scotland, and on a Parliament in Scotland. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor must have pleased your Lordships greatly, as my noble friend Lord Simon has just pointed out, when he said—with a great difference from the last Session—that on this Bill your suggestions will be welcome instead of being continually sent back to you. So I look forward with great interest to see how many of our suggestions are really welcomed.
Before proceeding to devolution I believe, with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, that it is necessary to look at the economic situation. There is no doubt at all that the gracious Speech is particularly welcome for what has been left out of it as much as for some of the Bills proposed in it. In our present situation—and I do not think that we can really laugh off Professor Milton Friedman and what is said in other programmes in America; we appreciate as much as he does that we are in a desperate situation—it is a good thing to see that the Government at least are not being provocative. I think that this is a great step forward. I believe that the ragbag of Bills in the last Session did much damage to this country. They were the result of rather shoddy bargains, and we should have been far better without many of them. We welcome their conversion, and I hope they will go much farther.
One thing that is certain is that the people of this country want the centre and control, and nothing showed it more clearly than the Referendum on Europe, and the coalition that took place then might well bring this country out of the mess much quicker than any other single measure. I hope that the Government will continue along the way and that they will be encouraged greatly by the attitude of many Conservatives to think about a programme for national recovery—at least a programme, if not a coalition or a Government of same. I say this with all seriousness and without any thought of Party advantage to ourselves.
Without doubt Great Britain is a country of the centre. The Government 160 must realise that only the people can get us out of the economic mess we are in. It is impossible for the Government so to organise production that we immediately become as rich as some of our neighbours in Europe. The lesson should be learnt from the vast majority of nationalised production that we cannot do it in that way, and that without incentive and without the people wishing to stay and work in this country we shall not get out of our economic morass. I hope that the Finance Bills, which are not in the gracious Speech, will recognise this.
I should like to take up one point in the gracious Speech where the Government talk about the need to increase agricultural production. Certainly agriculture is the most essential of our industries, the largest single industry, and the industry which can save us most money in our imports from overseas. I should like the Government to realise that past Acts are not always applicable to the present situation. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, referred to Tom Williams—normally known in the Labour Party as "St. Tom Williams"—and the 1947 Act. But I should like to remind him that the 1947 Act kept down prices to farmers. It regulated every price that they received and kept the prices down. It is an entirely different thing in the present day. I should also like to say that the structure of farming needs looking at and the two Acts of the last Session are no help at all, giving a false security to both the tenants of agricultural cottages and the sons of tenants of farms in England. Both of these are very bad for the farming ladder. Farming is the same as any other industry; it is the people who produce the food, not the system. If you do not have a ladder, if you do not have a change, then you will get nothing but Mackie's farming and even that would be a bad thing.
I also believe that the references to agriculture in Europe need following up with much more success than the noble Lord had in the past, because a guaranteed price system is no use unless it follows the market. The noble Lord made some slighting references to Adam Smith. If many more of Adam Smith's policies were used in this country at present we might not be so poor. The noble Lord is perhaps trying to laugh it off, but guaranteed prices are no good unless they follow the market trend. What is wrong 161 with the CAP at present is that we are not reducing the price of milk in Europe in line with the over-production. Of course the noble Lord is right when he says that in this country we are more efficient producers of milk, but unless we adopt a pattern which follows the market trend guaranteed prices will not help. What they do, really, is to alleviate the worst effects of the 5 per cent. surplus drop in the price, and so on.
My Lords, we must also welcome the proposals in the gracious Speech for direct elections to the European Parliament. If it is to be effective, then it must be seen to be directly representative of the people of this country, and this is a welcome step. At the same time as we welcome our involvement in Europe, I do not think it is inconsistent to welcome the devolvement of power to Scotland. I have believed in this for a long time. The Liberal Party has supported it for many years, and we welcome the fact that the Government have at last produced a Bill. We should have liked them to produce it with a little more eagerness, with a little more basic belief in it, and perhaps with a little less looking over their shoulder at the danger of the Scottish Nationalists. Nevertheless it is here, and we welcome it. But we do not welcome the single Bill, which is really nonsense. Noble Lords may not have seen it, but, again, it is a great book containing what should be two Bills. If you are devolving power to two separate Parliaments, surely it is only logical to have two Bills. To put the two together is, I think, a grave mistake, and it is one which will to a great degree stultify discussion of the essential points when they arise.
I am very glad to hear that the Government are going to look at the question of devolution of some sort in England. I do not think that the Scottish case rests at all on devolution in England, but if we are not to have that complete over-government about which the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, talked, then we have really got to look at it. Obviously, federalism must eventually be the answer; because it is nonsense, when you have powers over a wide range of affairs in Scotland being exercised by a Scottish Parliament, then to have 71 (or however many you may have) Scottish Members of Parliament coming down here to Westminster and taking part in discussions 162 which do not affect their constituents in any single way. I think it logically leads to some form of federalism; but all the thought that goes into it should be along the lines of reducing the amount of government, and where it is handled by one tier, for goodness' sake do not let us double up with another tier!
I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, say this, because he has been a Secretary of State for Scotland and Secretaries of State for Scotland are apt to feel they are God because when they are shaving in the morning they hear of all their doings and their multiplicity of offices. I was very glad that he at least recognised the great need for the functions to be separate and not repeated in two or three tiers of government. There is nothing more unpopular at the moment than the amount of local government and the expense of local government, as well as the expense of all government in this country, and it is probably as serious an administrative problem as we face today. Of course it is up to England how they proceed, but the case for Scotland has been strongly made.
My Lords, I think the Daily Record, which is not a paper which I read much, is significant as regards proportional representation. I think it is significant, not for Scotland as a whole, or indeed for the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party, but very significant for the Labour Party, because two-thirds of the readers say they vote Labour—or did vote Labour, which is a slightly different thing—and I hope that self-interest will make the governing Party opposite consider PR. I am delighted to hear of the conversion of the Conservative Party, and I hope that one of the points and suggestions which we shall certainly make will be considered and accepted by the Government, because if it is not accepted by the Government they are going to be in grave trouble. In case they do not know, let me give them some more facts. Out of the 71 seats in Scotland, 56 were won on a minority vote; and it is quite possible, in the case of seats in the Assembly, for example, that where three Members are standing then, if the Scottish Nationalist Party get a slight edge, if you care to put it that way, they will win all three seats in six constituencies in Scotland, which will make a considerable difference to the 163 balance. It is grossly unfair and I appeal to the Government to reconsider. Nine Members of Parliament of the SNP, who are not noted for their lack of self-interest, have come out strongly in favour of PR, when I think it is probably to their short-term advantage not to do so. I would appeal to the Government to reconsider on this absolutely vital point, which is also vital in the case of the whole of the United Kingdom.
The other point which I think keen Scottish Parliament supporters must bring up is that in Scotland we must have some source of revenue other than the £2,000 million handed out by the central Government. The disposal of £2,000 million sounds like a tremendous amount of power for an Assembly to have, but anybody with any experience in Government, or knowledge of it, knows perfectly well that it is enormously difficult to shift the sheer inertia of spending, and that if you have £2,000 million which is given to you it is very difficult to move it by more than 1 or 2 per cent. within a country. I see no reason at all why a proportion of the oil revenues should not be allocated to the Assembly, to give them some room for movement within Scotland.
There are one or two other points which I regard as of great importance. The experience of Northern Ireland—and I am not talking about the religious troubles or any such thing; I am talking about their technical ability and their technical record of government and of production—shows that agriculture and the attraction of industry should be in the hands of the Assembly. I cannot understand why the Secretary of State or the central Government want to hang on to it. They were two of the most successful Departments in Northern Ireland; and again I would hope that the Government will consider the genuine experience of another devolved Parliament and will place these important matters in the hands of the Assembly. I know that some agricultural matters are in the hands of the Assembly, but the really important ones—for example, prices—are not. Certainly, in the case of industry, the example of Northern Ireland during times of peace has been an example to all of us.
My Lords, I regard these matters of PR, of separate Bills, of agriculture 164 and of industry as of great importance, and I think these points really show a certain lack of eagerness on the part of the Government for the measure. I think it looks as though they are giving a sop to the SNP. I think that the people of Scotland will cotton on to this. The Government, I think, should reconsider. The Lord Chancellor's words should be listened to and they should, in the immortal words of somebody, "lie back and enjoy it", instead of grudgingly giving way. I think that it is necessary to make a job of all this, and for all the political Parties to give proper support. I am glad that the Tory Party is supporting it and is not trying to make capital out of a certain amount of support that it is getting in Scotland just now in the hope that an anti-Assembly feeling is growing in Scotland. There is not. The feeling that we need devolution of power, that we need a centre of power and a Parliament in Scotland is very strong and will, I think, grow stronger.
My Lords, I am a Scot and I am also British and I certainly want to remain in Britain. The only way I can see of doing it is by having a really effective Parliament in Scotland, by calling Scottish Ministers by their proper names and not things like "Chief Executive" and derogatory terms like that. At the moment, as a Scot, I am best known in Europe as a football hooligan who beats up Barcelona. As a Briton, I am known as a chap who owes money and is constantly trying to borrow more. If the Government go the right way about it they might be able to put these things right in about two or three years.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Lord PONSONBY of SHULBREDE
My Lords, I understand that it is the custom of this House that those making a maiden speech should speak on a matter within their own experience and should be as uncontroversial as possible. I have been involved in local government in London for over twenty years, a period which has seen a vast change in the organisation and structure of local government in the capital. Now that proposals have been put forward by the Government to devolve additional powers to elected Assemblies in Scotland and Wales, one must ask whether similar 165 powers should also be devolved to the English regions, about which we are to hear shortly. Certainly the principle of devolution is one that must be welcomed as it would help to satisfy the articulated demands which have been made for people to have a greater control of their own affairs.
What is the case for similar powers and responsibilities to be devolved to other areas of the United Kingdom? Most important of all is the question of size. The population of Scotland, about which we have heard a great deal this afternoon, is some 5¼ million; the population of Wales is some 2¾ million; whereas the population of London is over 7 million. During my years in London government have witnessed successive Governments of both political persuasions slowly removing from the control of local representatives powers to carry out and implement certain functions on behalf of the people who elect them. The most recent examples are the control of the ambulance service and water which are both now managed by nominated bodies and not by local government. Over the years one has had a feeling that central Government feel that they know what is best for local government and know what is best when it comes to deciding whether particular plans should be implemented in the fields of education, housing or planning; and overall control, particularly in the financial field, by central Government has grown stronger and stronger.
If the devolution proposals are to be taken as an earnest desire by central Government for greater local say by elected representatives in their own affairs, then they are much to be welcomed. However, my fear is that the proposals are primarily a result of pressures which have been exerted by our Celtic neighbours and that they do not really herald any greater desire by central Government to hand over additional powers to locally-elected bodies. Indeed, I believe that in general terms they should be seen as a political sop to particularly persuasive pressure groups.
In London, I believe that the Greater London Council should at least be the regional authority for water and the health services and have supervisory functions in respect of gas, electricity and transport undertakings. It should also 166 have the general competence to act for the welfare and good government of the people of London. If the Council's powers in these fields were strengthened appropriately and sonic of the anomalies in the housing field sorted out, surely the Council, of which I have the honour to be the chairman, could act as a prototype for regional assemblies in England.
My Lords, another aspect of the devolution proposals which perturbs me very much, and again seems to me to be an aspect of the proposals which show a succumbing to the outspoken demands of Wales and Scotland, is the proposed accompanying reorganisation of the British Tourist Authority where the non-Celtic membership of the Authority is to be reduced from six to two members with an independent chairman. This will inevitably mean that the voice of England, and, therefore, of London, will be lessened to such an extent that when decisions have to be made in deciding how available resources are to be spent, a greater proportion of monies will be channelled through to the regions—particularly Scotland and Wales—with the result that the position of London, which is the primary tourist earner in the multi-million pound tourist business, will be undermined.
I know that there is a strongly held belief in Government circles that Scotland and Wales do not get a fair crack of the whip of the British Tourist Authority's present programmes. We must therefore conclude that, under the new system, Wales and Scotland will get a bigger share of the cake. If this is so, then England's share will be reduced unless the size of the cake is increased—which seems highly unlikely in present economic circumstances. The facts are that in the present financial year the English Tourist Board will have received 8.9p per head of population, the Scottish Tourist Board 28.4p per head and the Welsh Tourist Board 38.5p per head. Thus, in terms of equity, Scotland is already getting three times more than its fair share and Wales four times more. The position in London is proportionately worse.
My Lords, I fear that London is thought to be so powerful, so economically strong and so large, that there is a tendency by other areas of the country to gang up against London with the effect that London is in danger of not receiving fair 167 treatment—and, indeed, this has been our experience in a number of areas in the past, particularly in relation to industrial employment certificates. I hope that the needs of this great metropolis can be adequately catered for in the future.
My Lords, another custom of this House, I am told, is that a maiden speaker should try to stay to the end of the debate in which he makes his speech. I very much hope that I shall be able to conform to this custom, but unfortunately I have two official functions this evening which inevitably means that I shall have to be absent for some period of the debate.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ Lord VERNON
My Lords, it is my duty and great pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, on his maiden speech. What he had to tell us, based as it was on his personal knowledge of London and local government, has given us a great deal to think about and we will all hope that he will address us frequently in future. It is perhaps also worth noting in passing that it is satisfactory, from the point of view of the working of this House, that hereditary Peers do not always take their seats on this side of the Chamber.
My Lords, the gracious Speech gives great prominence to the subject of devolution, and so far that has been the major topic of this debate. I am not going to speak about devolution, but about the omission from the gracious Speech of another aspect of constitutional reform; reform of Parliament here at Westminster. Not long ago the report of the Hudson Institute argued that, among other things wrong with the United Kingdom, the House of Lords was outdated, and they recommended that it should be reformed. I remember well the hostility to this suggestion from all sides of the House when the report was debated. It was said that we should concentrate on things that really mattered and the report, so far as that recommendation was concerned, was dismissed as being irrelevant. How wrong they were! This House, as part of Parliament, is close to the top of the tree which governs us; and if the top of the tree is unhealthy, then the whole of the body politic will suffer because people believe that the system is unfair and they therefore 168 lose confidence; and confidence is at the root of so many of our troubles today.
But of course it is not just the qualification for membership of this House which is unfair; more important is the fact that representation in the House of Commons is a mockery of the wishes of the electorate. So I believe that there must be reform in both spheres, and that it is much more urgent than most people seem to think. So far as your Lordships' House is concerned, there now seems to be almost universal agreement that the present hereditary basis for its composition is indefensible. The system of Life Peerages is also open to criticism, partly because of the patronage which it confers, and partly because of the age structure which it creates. I am sure that whatever else could be said about the hereditary system, it at least produces an element of youth which is appreciated on all sides of the House.
If there is to be a second Chamber—and I believe that our type of democracy requires it—the only way in which it can command support in the country at large is that it should be elected, or at least that the major part of it should be elected. Just how it should be elected is a matter for debate; but that it should be elected I have no doubt whatever. Moreover, such an elected House should not be the impotent body desired by some Members of the Labour Party. It should have powers almost as great as and possibly greater than it has today, although its powers of delay should in my view depend on the method of election to the House of Commons. If the present first-past-the-post system of election to the other place is retained, then the powers of the reformed second Chamber should be at least equal to the powers conferred by the 1911 Act.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt? When the noble Lord says "the 1911 Act" does he mean he wants to go backwards beyond the post-War Act?
§ Lord VERNON
I mean that there should be adequate powers of delay; and the 1911 Act provided for greater powers of delay than we have at the present time. My Lords, I believe—and I think most people in the country believe—that the first-past-the-post system 169 is grossly inequitable and should be replaced by proportional representation. That is not only the view of the Liberal Party; it is also the view of a distinguished committee set up by the Hansard Society under the chairmanship of Lord Blake which reported earlier this year.
At present we have a Government with an overall majority in the House of Commons, after having won only 38 per cent. of the votes in the Election, and with the support of only 29 per cent. of the electorate who were entitled to vote. On the strength of such percentages, policies are introduced under the doctrine of the so-called mandate. How can we possibly lift up our heads and claim to be a democratic country when such a travesty of elementary justice prevails? It does not just prevail when a Labour Government is in office; it can and does happen under a Conservative Government. I have only ever heard one argument in favour of the first-past-the-post system; that it gives us strong government. I was brought up on this myth, and I swallowed it for many years; but no longer. When the two main Parties are as divided in principle and policy as the Conservative and Labour Parties are today, the system gives rise to a prolonged tug-of-war in which there is no winner and the country is the loser. It was graphically described not very long ago by my noble friend Lord Coleraine when he said that if what we have had in the past few years is strong government, then, for heaven's sake, let us have weak government.
We have heard a lot lately about the extent of the people's disillusionment with Parliament. No wonder they are disillusioned when the system is so outdated and so basically unrepresentative. Let us begin by reforming our Legislature, which should set the tone for the whole of our public life; we shall then have a much better chance of bringing about the much needed economic rejuvenation which we all desire. The Labour Party do not want reform. The present system which enables them to carry out the social, economic and perhaps, who knows, constitutional changes which do not command the support of the country at large, suits them very well, just as, for the rest of us, it opens up serious dangers to which our attention has lately been drawn by Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone. This means that only the Conservative Party 170 can initiate the reforms which are required, reforms which I believe would be supported massively by the electorate if they were consulted. It was the Conservatives who brought in the reform of the franchise in 1867. Let it be the Conservatives who initiate proportional representation in 1977. The opportunity is there: let them seize it with both hands.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ The Earl of PERTH
My Lords, I count myself fortunate in being the second speaker to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, on his maiden speech. If I may say so, it was wise and full of good things. It also—something which is not always so in your Lordships' House—had the great value of being short and to the point. I am not surprised, because at one time or another I have had occasion to work with the noble Lord on matters of planning and matters concerned with the GLC. The noble Lord will know particularly to what I am referring. I have always been struck by his common sense and his readiness to listen. I know that I speak for all your Lordships when I say that we look forward to further contributions from him.
The Queen's Speech contains these momentous words:A Bill will be introduced for the establishment of Assemblies to give the Scottish and Welsh people direct and wide-ranging responsibilities for their domestic affairs …".We have heard today that the Bill has now been published. I rejoice, because for many years I have again and again urged in your Lordships' House that we should have such an Assembly for Scotland. I am competent only to talk about Scotland, and I am sure the Welsh well understand it.
I have two main reasons for arguing in favour of an Assembly: first, my conviction that Scotland should run its own show as regards its home affairs. Then, if things go wrong, we know who to blame; ours is the blame. For those who are Scots, it is quite easy to go to Edinburgh and bully, if that is the right word, our chosen representatives and we can be sure they will listen to us. Whitehall is a long way away; and Whitehall has grown too powerful. Centralised Government has to be stopped and the process reversed. 171 Whitehall does not know best. If we had had a Scottish Assembly can your Lordships imagine that we should have had the latest reform of local government that was thrust upon us two years ago? They would never have accepted such an arrangement, with its monstrous—for that is really the only word I can use—Strathclyde covering over half of Scotland. I know many of your Lordships tried hard to get this changed, but to no avail.
It is my hope that the Assembly's first task will be the reform of local government. That should be the first item on its agenda. It would be a cause which is right and which would be popular. It is the kind of thing that would be good for the Assembly to cut its teeth on. I also rejoice over the Bill for devolution because I am convinced that if the Assembly had been longer delayed we should have faced real trouble in the United Kingdom. There would have been a new Irish question: the earlier one haunted our forebears and its scars still remain.
I beg those who oppose devolution—perhaps there are not many people in this House but there are some in another place—to remember and to pay heed to the lessons of history. I feel confident that the Assembly will not lead to independence if it is rightly set up but, rather, will avoid that danger. Independence is something which I am sure the great majority of the people in Scotland today do not want.
I congratulate the Government on bringing forward this Bill, despite the difficulties of the present time. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said there was no right time, and I think that this is so. But the great thing is to go forward when the chance offers. Again, I believe that the noble and learned Lord is correct when he says that the Bill is broadly right—I believe those were his words—as regards the powers and functioning of the Assembly. It is certainly a very much better proposal than that toothless debating society which was proposed at the Conservative conference in Perth last year. I hope and believe there has been progress in the Conservative Party since that time.
Having said that I broadly go along with the powers and functions, there is to my mind one fundamental change and two lesser but none the less vital ones 172 which must appear in the final Bill. The fundamental one is how the Assembly is to be elected. As almost all the speakers today have pointed out, the present Westminster model of election, which is being proposed, is wrong. We must have some form of proportional representation. I say "some form" because I do not very much care what form it takes as long as it ensures a balance of representation in Scotland of town and country. I also believe that its decisions and actions must represent the wishes of the majority of the Scottish people. If we get those two things, the exact form seems to me not to matter. I hope very much that this change will take place in another place. If not, then there is a job for your Lordships' House to do, and I am sure we shall do it. I know that certainly many Scottish Peers believe that this is a vital matter for the Assembly. I have noted recently, and your Lordships will also have seen, that a Committee has been set up to deal with this very question. It is a good thing that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has been appointed its Chairman: I am myself a humble member.
I said there should be two other changes in the Bill. The first is that the Assembly must have some revenue-raising powers. It really is an absurdity that the two local government bodies which are subservient to the Assembly have such powers, while the Assembly has none. Whatever else is done, something like this cannot last. It makes no sense. My second change, which is also important, if not fundamental, is that the Assembly must have more economic functions. It must be able to say something on economic affairs, over and above having control of the Scottish Development Agency. Some of your Lordships will remember the Toothill Report, and the new and novel point that was made there that one should encourage new growth points, and not necessarily ailing industries. That was not acceptable to the powers that be at that time, but if the Assembly wants to encourage growth points, and schemes such as Oceanspan, then it should be allowed to do so. Therefore, I hope that there will be a change which will give it these powers.
If the Assembly is rightly elected, and the two other changes which I have mentioned are made, then I feel very 173 confident that Scotland can, and will, help the United Kingdom towards its recovery. To those in Scotland who are fearful of what it portends—and I am sorry to read that the Scottish Confederation of British Industries and even some noble Lords in this House are antagonistic ("oppose" is not the right word) to the Assembly which we are proposing—I say have courage, and have confidence in the people of Scotland. Help guide them, but do not oppose what is proposed. These are momentous times. It is my hope and belief that devolution, and the setting up of the Assembly in its right form in Scotland, is an act of the Parliament at Westminster that will never be regretted.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord GORDON-WALKER
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede has gone, so I shall not be able to congratulate him on his maiden speech as I meant to do. I should like to say one word on devolution. I agree very strongly with one remark of the noble Earl, Lord Perth—though not with only one—which I want to emphasise. He said that the Assembly should have revenue-raising powers. It seems to me that one could put this more strongly and say that it should have power to raise the greater part of its revenue. It is a very great error in the present proposals that the Assembly is to be so dependent on a grant from central Government. The noble Earl said that after devolution Scotland would have only itself to blame. I am afraid that that is not true. Scotland will always be blaming central Government for not having made the grant a little bigger, and will blame them for everything it cannot do. It will say "We could build another 100,000 houses, if only they gave us more money". So I believe that that is a very great error.
I should like to talk about one or two economic matters which have not yet been raised in the debate. Before we consider the detailed ways and means of righting our economy, we must first fix the major strategic objectives which we should set ourselves. In my view, the most important of these is to encourage and secure industrial investment before economic expansion begins, not, as normally happens, after it has begun. If we leave this too late, we will draw in too many imports when expansion comes and get into balance of payments problems, as we have done so 174 often in the past. The only way to get an export-led expansion is to make room for it ahead of time, before the economic expansion is upon us. This is not easy to achieve, because it is against the nature of management. Its instinct, which is perfectly intelligible, is to invest only when it can see certain returns. But that, as I have argued, would be too late.
There seem to me to be two corollaries which follow from the points I have made. First, we have to shift manpower from non-productive to productive industry—both private and public industry—and this must be begun betimes, because we shall not have a great deal of time and it takes a long while to carry through that kind of process. The next corollary is quicker of achievement. We must allow industry—again, both private and public—to make sufficient profits. These industries must be allowed to charge realistic prices, and to keep a larger part of the proceeds of their work. It also follows, of course, that it would be right in those circumstances to take measures to secure that profits are, to a proper extent, really invested.
In this connection, I should like to say a word about taxation policy and here, if it interests anyone, I must admit that I have changed my mind. I was brought up to think that direct taxes were very much preferable to indirect taxes, because indirect taxes are flat taxes and, therefore, fall mainly upon the poorer sections of society, whereas direct taxes can be graded and adapted to the capacity to pay. This is, of course, still true. It was once a good guide to fiscal policy when relatively few people paid direct taxes. But today an enormous proportion of the public pay direct taxes, and it is clear that they dislike doing so—the workers no less than anyone else. No one likes to see deductions from his pay packet, and no one likes to write a cheque in favour of the Inland Revenue. Of the two evils, I am quite sure that the majority of our people today would prefer to have their money taken from them—because that must happen in one way or the other—in ways which they notice less; that is, by indirect taxes on cigarettes and drink, and even by VAT. So my advice to the Chancellor would be to consider increasing indirect taxes, making a corresponding decrease in direct taxes.
175 My final point concerns the present fashionable fad of monetarists' theories. Of course, as with all modish economic theories, they contain some truth, and this one does. It is that there is too much money in the economy and it needs to be reduced. But it would be very dangerous and damaging to carry this theory too far, and I hope that the IMF does not attempt to do so, or, if it does attempt, does not succeed. There are at least two main aspects of the monetarists' theory which limit its applicability to the real world. First, it rests upon very uncertain statistical bases. It is impossible to measure the money supply accurately. Assumptions must be made about the definition of M3, in particular, and these assumptions arbitrarily determine what shall be included in, or excluded from, M3; and different assumptions, all of which can equally be made, lead to very different results.
Secondly, the monetarists' theory, like all economic theories, rests upon the concept of economic man—that is why all economic theories have to be limited in their applicability—and therefore leaves out a great deal of human, psychological and social life. We must remember this when we consider the calls that are now being made, in the name of the monetarists' theory, for slashing cuts in Government expenditure. Cuts on the scale demanded could be made only if social services, welfare, et cetera, were decimated and this would undermine our best hope of mastering inflation. We can master it only if people, not Governments—I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said—fear inflation more than other economic evils, including unemployment. If they fear other things worse you get inflation; if they fear inflation worse you begin to get a cure to inflation. Indeed, that is beginning to come about through the great achievement of our voluntary incomes policy. If great cuts were made, this would create a popular reaction which would destroy the very basis of the voluntary incomes policy. Thus the aim and object of monetarist theories, which is to control and reduce inflation, would be self-defeating and contradictory.
If follows, therefore, that we must be very cautious about how we carry out, how far we carry out and on what scale we carry out these monetarist theories. 176 I suggest that we should apply only a moderate version of the theory. It seems to me that it is a golden rule, based on our past experience in these matters, that all the fashionable theories of the economists should be tempered with a very good dose of lay common sense.
§ 5.1 p.m.
The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, the House has listened with very real interest to the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker, has made, dealing as he has with the utmost realism with some of the problems which face us today. I will add only to one point that the noble Lord made regarding taxation. It is not always realised in this country that the standard of honesty, in taxation terms, is probably very much higher here than in any other country in Europe. Perhaps I say that too widely, but my personal experience of some countries is that the standard of honesty there is much lower than it is here.
I hope that the noble Lord will excuse me if I do not follow him, but there are many speakers and I shall speak shortly on one point regarding devolution. I am going to take it that the Government intend to put through this Bill with all the strength, machinery and mechanism that they can. There are two unchangeable aspects. One is the number of Parliamentary representatives from Scotland at Westminster. The other is that financial control will be in London. Apart from those two exceptions I take it that most of the Bill is probably negotiable.
I believe that it is of the utmost importance that we should make a success of the Bill. The week before last, I think it was Mr. Wolf of the Scottish Nationalist Party who said that he was going to start an army, a navy and an air force in Scotland. One does not need to have even a passing acquaintance with what happens in Service Departments to know either that those remarks were made in complete ignorance of what modern armaments are, or alternatively that this gentleman is living in a complete fairyland and is of the utmost danger to his fellow countrymen. The other point I would make—and here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, who is not here—is that we must do something about local government. Frankly, I feel that it is very unwise that we should not have 177 dealt with this problem before moving on to an Assembly for Scotland. We have to ensure that local government is a success, otherwise we shall certainly move much nearer towards asking for independence. Not having read the Bill, but having glanced at it, may I ask the noble Lord one question. Does the noble Lord wish to speak?
§ Lord KIRKHILL
My Lords, I apologise for intervening and interrupting the noble Earl. Perhaps I did not hear him aright, but could I say from this side that it is quite clear that the question of local government will stand devolved to the Assembly. However, I may have misunderstood the noble Earl.
The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, I meant to say that I believe it will be very difficult for the Assembly to alter local government, but they will have to do so. If I may ask the noble Lord one question, apparently £3 million are being put aside to build the Parliament Chamber. What shape is that Chamber going to take? Who has been consulted as to its shape? We in this country have been accustomed to our own form of Parliament, with two sides to it. Other countries prefer a circular Assembly. I do not wish to enlarge upon the relative benefits of these alternative methods, but they make a difference to the way in which Parliamentary discussion is carried on. I should like to know whether anybody has been consulted and also whether a decision regarding the shape of the Parliament Chamber has been made.
I am frightened of the Bill. This is what the Law Society of Scotland said at an earlier date about the general plan:Good will, consultation, flexibility and co-operation will be required".I think that that statement is true, but it means in fact that this suggestion is not good enough. If there are two entirely separately elected Assemblies, one cannot count purely upon co-operation to make them work; there must be something more definite and clear cut than that. Two Assemblies of a totally different nature will never wholly agree. The essence of this is responsibility, and that is where I find the Bill defective as it stands at present. Where does responsibility lie and who is going to be responsible?
There is to be a Privy Council. No doubt the Privy Council will be able to 178 define where responsibility lies, but the ordinary man wants to know who will be able to answer his questions and who will have the administrative responsibility, whether this he for housing or for any other aspect of his life. The ordinary man must know where he stands. He is not going to go to the Privy Council to find out the answer.
I must admit that I am absolutely horrified by the Bill. There are something like 50 pages in the Schedule describing, so far as I can see, what are the devolved subjects. Who on earth is going to understand that except a high grade, constitutional lawyer? Can we not get away from defining devolution by Acts of Parliament and on to subjects, and simply say, bluntly, that these are the subjects which will be the responsibility of the Assembly? If we do not do that we are in great danger of so confusing the public that, whether or not this is a good Bill, it will be thought to be too complicated for people to understand. May I ask the Government to look extremely carefully at this Bill to see whether it is necessary? If I may say so, this means no more than going round the Departments at Westminister and saying, "What do you want to hive off?" That is not the way to do it. It is the worst form of devolution and I ask the Government to think very hard about whether or not they have got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
To turn to another subject, namely, law, this is not a subject that I am very good at, but who is to be responsible for law? I have heard Earl Jowitt say, "I am concerned about the Statute Book". I believe that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has made the same point and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, has written in very much the same vein. Law is not just a collection of rules tied together with a piece of string. It is a corporate, organic organisation which must hold together, an organisation which in most cases has evolved in Scotland from practice and principles over many years. Who is going to look after law and, if I may say so, who is properly looking after it now?
So far as I know, a certain amount of law lies with the Secretary of State, while some of it lies with the Lord Advocate. 179 Other parts of it lie with the Department of Consumer Protection and yet others with the Departments of Trade and Industry. And so it goes around. It is not satisfactory now and I am bound to say that it will be wholly unsatisfactory if the laws of Scotland are to be decided by two entirely separate Assemblies. For good government and for the satisfaction of the people of Scotland it is very important indeed that at some point somebody who is well qualified should be responsible for the quality of the laws. I am not speaking about policy. Policy is a matter that Departments must take care of. However, the laws should hang together as one organic whole and I ask the Government to look again at this point.
I know that the theory is there. Commercial law will probably be for the United Kingdom, while private law will be for the Assembly. But private and commercial law run very closely together. Bankruptcy may well be a matter of commercial law but property law will probably be a matter for the Secretary of State. And when one comes to diligence or enforcement, that will be for the Lord Advocate. One has to watch very carefully that these aspects do not get so entangled with each other that the position is wholly complicated and will not be understood by the people of Scotland.
I will come to one other point on this of the more general question of responsibility which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon-Walker. If there is one lesson in constitutional evolution which is fairly consistent, it is that calling together a representative Assembly which is not responsible has always failed. This Assembly will have all its money provided for it. It will have no responsibility for finding any of the sinews of war which will enable it to do what it wants to do. Its members can build hospitals, roads and schools and then say, "Oh, those blessed people in London will not give us the money". This is the height of irresponsibility and in my view it is very dangerous indeed. To my mind responsibility is the essence of democracy and unless you get responsibility you cannot get democracy working properly.
This is even more dangerous because there are many organisations today which 180 have power without responsibility. There are too many of them: for instance, there are all the media, including the newspapers and television. They have immense power with no responsibility. Demonstrations take place from time to time, and they have power with no responsibility. To some extent, trade unions have power without always the responsibility which flows from it. I ask the Government to think hard of the dangers which arise, and of the dangers to Parliament which has responsibility but, very often, not power. Undoubtedly, to build up any organisation with power but without responsibilities constitutes a very real danger.
I have drawn attention to these matters because they go fundamentally to the way in which this Bill must be produced. I have not enlarged on them because we have not had time to consider it properly; but I hope that the Government will consider these points extremely carefully.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, I venture to try to attract the attention of your Lordships' House to another part of the governmental forest and to an entire change of scenery. I want to talk about the homeless, and about nothing else. I think it is unnecessary for me in a debate on home affairs to justify the inclusion of speculation and thought about those who have not a home and who, in my judgment, ought to have one.
Some 18 months ago as chairman of Shelter and on behalf of a number of other organisations connected with the problem of homelessness, I ventured to ask a Question in your Lordships' House as to what progress had been made in the light of a Consultative Document on homelessness which had just appeared. Also, on two particular issues and one general issue, there were the questions as to what was the programme of the Government in toto towards the homeless and what was the intention of the Government with regard to the confusion between the responsibilities in local government of the Social Services and the housing authorities. The Answer which was given to me by my noble friend Lady Birk was that the Government were seized of the importance of the issue and convinced of the necessity for legislation.
181 Some six months afterwards in another place, Mr. Crosland, who was then the Minister responsible in this area, said that the legislation was not only desirable but would be effected and that legislation would crystallise the situation as between local government, Social Security Departments and the housing authorities. As if to corroborate that a junior Minister in the same Department in February of this year—and being a Methodist I attached a great deal of credibility to what he said—announced his conviction that in the early part of a new Session such legislation would be put into effect. Therefore I think it is not an extraordinary thing that many of us have been shocked and bewildered at the total absence of any reference in the gracious Speech to the fulfilment of these promises and undertakings so frequently and assertively made.
As if to add insult to injury, provision was found in the gracious Speech for the criminal prosecution of those who squatted under such circumstances that they were liable to prosecution. This seems to me to be adding insult to injury, putting the punitive cart before the administrative horse. It rather strengthened the feeling that many of us still have; that is, that this is a situation which cannot be tolerated and about which it is necessary to make some kind of démarche, which I am trying now to do.
The problem of homelessness is not only acute but is growing. If your Lordships are not already aware of the facts, I will endeavour to acquaint you of the way in which this problem of homelessness has become more intense in the last two years. When I asked the Question the available government figure for those making applications to local authorities for somewhere to live, temporarily or permanently, was 33,000. The latest figure furnished by the Government today is 50,000, which is a 50 per cent. increase. Although we cannot measure human suffering in terms of quantity, because of course it is essentially qualitative, it is a growing menace which has been exacerbated by the process by which, admittedly in the conditions of financial stringency which exist, a number of local authorities have now been reducing their expenditure on the growing problem of homelessness rather than increasing it to meet that growing need.
182 In October of last year the Dorset County Council reduced the amount of time in which it believed it was required to provide temporary accommodation in bed and breakfast—a most squalid and in many cases a most expensive and unsatisfactory form of temporary accommodation—and further limited the availability of those requiring home funding to certain groups of people, and particularly those who had more than one child in the family. This resulted in the application by a Poole family so expelled from temporary accommodation to Shelter: Shelter advised them to seek redress in the courts and offered to support their case in the High Court. The High Court's decision was that there is no necessary requirement on local authorities to provide more than temporary accommodation and it is their right to select those who have priority rights to the benefits of such efforts. This was supported by their interpretation of the 1948 Public Assistance Act in which they said such temporary amelioration of the lot of the homeless was all that was required by that legislation. I regard that as sufficient evidence to suggest that there was a grave dereliction not only of promise but of duty on the part of the present Government to omit from their proposed legislation the kind of redress of what is now once more a growing evil.
Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to give two more up-to-date illustrations of the way in which that evil has grown. The Slough Council, in conjunction with the Berkshire County Council, came to a very sensible arrangement by which they shared the responsibility for the homeless, the county council providing the particular funds and the local council carrying out the particular work; until the local council decided that they would implement some of the provisions that were already in process in Dorset and elsewhere, limiting those amenities and thereby actually finding that the county council was in a position of being able to throw out on to the streets some of those for whom they had been caring. It is also true of the Three Rivers local council, and for all I know it may be already part of the programme—under stringency, I quite agree—of many another local authority.
I have some knowledge of these matters, as have many of your Lordships, and I 183 would not dispute that, but I would claim that this is an intolerable situation, not only a breach of what was assumed to be an undertaking but also a failure to recognise the sense of priorities in one of the most difficult and dangerous situations in which we find ourselves in our community today. He is not in the Chamber at the moment but I remember that in his speech on the humble Address my noble friend Lord Pitt of Hampstead made a most impressive reference to the way in which the Government, in matters of housing in Inner London, had repented of their sins. He indicated there was not enough joy in heaven at such repentance, but quite an amount of joy, perhaps, in this House at such repentance.
I have taken care to see what the Government have been saying since the White Paper was publicised. It seems to me that the Minister of Housing in another place has given some evidence of an approximation to the penitence form. I want to be fair to him in eliciting from a rather dusty speech what he had to say about the present situation. He said:Gone, temporarily, but not forgotten"—That was his verdict on this particular piece of legislation.In due time"—a dangerous phrase—it would no doubt come to pass. They were working on it"—not an elucidating phrase—and were doing their best.I take it from that that they have been somewhat impressed by the chorus of disapproval to which they have been subjected in their failure hitherto. This, I believe, is a matter upon which great thought has to be given, and I would presume in a moment or so to say something very near to my own convictions on the matter. He also suggested that the process would not be unduly prolonged. We do not want a process to be unduly prolonged, or a process for which no time schedule has been arrived at. We have heard all this before. The numbers increase weekly; the problem increases daily. It is a question of priority, and there is no priority more imperative than that of providing some kind of home for those who have no homes.
The Minister also said, in addition to his promise to help and advise—once again sincerely meant but hardly very 184 satisfactory as a proposition for those who have no homes to go to—that provision would be made for discrimination between various groups of people, some of whom would be more amenable or more suitable for the programme of home-finding than others. Will your Lordships allow me to say a word or two about the philosophy which lies behind that, which I detest and believe to be unacceptable. Food, clothing and shelter have been regarded as the trinity of necessaries. It is a fact that shelter is very largely the poor relation of that trinity. If I were to translate into terms of food what is the proposition of Her Majesty's Government in terms of shelter. I believe it would be seen to be totally unacceptable. We are prepared to say about homes and a place to live that this can be a matter for those who deserve it, or who can be so accommodated, temporarily or otherwise, but it is not of immediate and peremptory importance. It cannot be regarded as statutory; it cannot be regarded as something which has to be done.
Supposing we were to find someone who was without food. Would we say to them, "You have not been very long without food, and therefore we cannot provide you with the necessary food until you have proved your consistency in starvation for a sufficient length of time"? Supposing someone came to us and said, "We have not had any food for a long time", should we say to them, "When you had food, you were such bad cooks, so we don't provide you with the necessary food which you may contaminate by your inefficient cooking"? We would not say to people, "If you have behaved badly you will not be fed". But at Three Rivers and in Slough, and also in Dorset, the provision includes such measures as would exclude those who for reasons which can be regarded as pejorative or unsatisfactory, have failed to live in the accommodation provided because arrears of rent or various other delinquencies have been taken into account.
This is a civilised conviction which belongs to a society which would claim that this is civilised practice, that these three are peremptory. I would isolate in the argument food and shelter. Whatever the cost, whatever the restrictions elsewhere, whatever the size of the support grants, and whatever the claims of 185 competitive issues in local administration, if we are to claim civilisation as part of the community in which we live, we cannot afford to temporise with the problem, of which I know a good deal as I visit day by day 150 or 200 homeless young people and others, of whom the number increases and about whom Crisis for Christmas has already provided, almost providentially only yesterday, increasing evidence as to the sheer misery and the sheer terror which belong to this homelessness. That applies particularly to those 700,500, of whom one in five are girls of adolescent age.
My Lords, in his book, Barnaby Rudge, Dickens said:To be homeless is akin to nothing more than despair".There may be some of us who at this time of year will remember as poignant and relevant the Christmas story of a homeless baby. But I believe there would be none of us who could not feel that, were we to sit beside those who have no home and endeavour to comfort them, nothing would be more imperative than to recognise the over-arching and overwhelming responsibility, whatever it costs; as we feed those who are hungry, we must see, however inadequate it may be in many respects, that we clothe people who are naked, and that in fact we give to people who have no home the opportunity of a hearth fire. This is my plea. The Government may well feel that the stringency of the present economic situation is a deterrent to any practical action of a comprehensive nature.
I would append one or two very simple comments. Let the Government appeal to voluntary associations. Let them give voluntary bodies a greater opportunity of co-operating. They will find it cheap and effective. Let them make emergency measures to prevent the kind of corruption of what is assumed to be the attitude of the Government towards homelessness; and let the Government proceed as quickly as possible with the promised legislation. I believe that will be not only a feather in the Government's cap, but one of the most sure and certain ways to the reclamation of the society in which we live.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE
My Lords, I must apologise for inflicting upon you my detached remarks (I will not call it a speech) on devolution—a subject 186 about which I know a little, if your Lordships will bear with me after having heard several speeches already on this subject. I expect your Lordships will hear several more during the course of the debate. How wonderful it would be if home rule could be conferred on Scotland and Wales without endless hours of argument. Some English people fail to understand the strong feelings which exist on the periphery of the United Kingdom, areas which have sometimes been known as the Celtic fringes. This lack of understanding is particularly strong among those who feel that anything North of Oxford is Indian territory on the far side of the new frontier. But one would have thought that, with the example of Ireland in front of them, they would realise that it is a very important, and has become a very urgent, subject. If your Lordships are not interested in the example of Ireland, you might then quickly say, "Ah, but look at Ulster! That is an example which no one should follow". But in fact, this is not correct.
Stormont had some very, very useful things about it. The Ministry of Agriculture was very highly regarded by people throughout the country who know about these things. If I might give your Lordships one recent example, brucellosis among cattle was eradicated in Northern Ireland before it was eradicated anywhere else in these islands. The Ministry of Commerce succeeded in persuading that famous international firm, Duponts, to come and set up a factory in Northern Ireland. This was their first European investment. May I add that they came to Derry, where they employed 85 per cent. Catholics. That is another Ministry which had a wonderful record behind it. We had motorways in Northern Ireland before they existed in Scotland; and when the Treasury tried to stop our motorway programme I appealed to Lord Home, who was then Prime Minister—in fact I came over and saw him in the Cabinet Room—and, despite the fact that he had by then become a Scottish Member of Parliament and knew that Scotland had no motorways, he allowed us to continue with our programme. So do not be misled by what has happened in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has been ruined not by its administrative set-up but, I fear, by bigotry.
As a purely personal view—and my good friend Lord Davies of Leek may not agree with me on this—I feel, in a very 187 short reference to Wales, that they should be given the same powers as Scotland. I am sure that the Welsh Assembly will ask for these powers at an early date. Why not give them now, rather than let a grievance arise in Wales that they have not been given the same powers as Scotland.
With regard to local government reorganisation, I feel—other noble Lords have mentioned this—that it is a tragedy that this great local government reorganisation took place, especially in Scotland. I do not believe it would have happened had it been realised than an Assembly was to be set up in Edinburgh. It would have been far better, in my view, for the Assembly to reorganise local government, rather than that we should have had the reorganisation of local government first and then the Assembly. As I think the noble Earl, Lord Perth said, this is something which I am sure they will deal with very early on in their lives.
My Lords, might I appeal to distinguished Scottish and Welsh MPs to stand for their new Assemblies. It would be a wonderful thing if the Westminster tradition could be carried on in the new Assemblies, by people who, for several years, had themselves been Members of Parliament at Westminster. So I hope that Members of Parliament will not feel it beneath them in any way to stand for these new Assemblies, because it seems to me essential that people with the Westminster tradition in their blood should be prominent members of these new Assemblies. On a Party point, if I remember rightly, before 1970 Mr. Heath wisely asked Lord Home to chair a committee to inquire into some sort of devolution for Scotland. Modest proposals emerged. A start would have been made if only they had been proceeded with in 1970 or 1971.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, if the noble Lord would allow me to intervene, of course the trouble about that was that the Royal Commission on the Constitution had been set up to look into all these matters. It was impossible to start making moves until that Royal Commission reported. In fact my information was that they would probably all have resigned if any action had been taken.
§ Lord O'NEILL of the MAINE
My Lords, naturally, I fully accept that amendment to my remarks, because the noble Lord was the Secretary of State and he knows all about these matters. But I still feel it is a great pity that that committee was set up and made recommendations, and that it was impossible to carry them out. I think the Tories would have gained considerably in Scotland had they been able to carry out even those modest proposals. But—now I am coming to the real point of my remarks—it is too late now to revert to them. I feel that anything like the pre-1970 proposals would be regarded as too little and too late. Therefore, I hope that will be carefully considered; I am sure it will be, and that Scottish aspirations will be taken into account.
People have become so used to Great Britain being ruled from London that they have failed to understand that a federal system operates in Canada with 20 million people, in Australia with some 12 million people, in America, and, I suppose really a much better example, a European example, in Germany. Is it really supposed that we run our affairs far better than those great countries? I doubt whether they would agree with that. Earlier I said that Wales should be given the same powers as Scotland. But in my view Scotland should have the same powers as Northern Ireland was given in 1920, or as a Canadian Province enjoys today—for instance, Nova Scotia—but not the titles which Northern Ireland once enjoyed.
Perhaps I could digress for a moment of history and recall to your Lordships how it came about that Northern Ireland found itself with a Parliament, a Prime Minister, a Minister of Finance and all these grand sounding titles. It was at the time of all those Irish problems in 1919 and 1920 that the Irish declared, or many of them declared, that they wanted dominion status. Lloyd George said that they could not have dominion status, because if they had it it would lead to the break-up of the British Empire. But being a man of great Welsh ingenuity, he decided that if he could not confer dominion status on Ireland he would confer dominion titles on them, and so Parliaments were set up, with Prime Ministers and Members of Parliament. If you go to Canada, you will find that in 189 the Legislative Assemblies they have a Premier, not a Prime Minister, that they have a Provincial Treasurer and not a Minister of Finance, and that they have Members of the Legislative Assembly and not MPs. Therefore, it was most ironic that these dominion titles, conferred by Lloyd George on the South of Ireland—which never operated because the Government of Ireland Act never came into operation in Southern Ireland—should have been left with Northern Ireland, who had never asked for them. This is often the way of life.
So I am not suggesting for a moment that we should have a Prime Minister of Scotland, or a Parliament; but I am suggesting that Scotland should have the same powers as Northern Ireland had conferred on it in 1920, or rather, to use a modern up-to-date example, as a Canadian Province has today. Is it really to be supposed that Scotland could not be entrusted with the same powers as Nova Scotia has in Canada? I feel that this should be very seriously considered and not brushed aside, because I have no doubt whatsoever, knowing the Scottish people as I do, that they will soon demand and receive those powers.
I understand from the ticker-tape that Mr. Foot announced today that if another place decided they wanted a referendum with regard to devolution he would consider it favourably. In my personal view, if a referendum takes place it should be confined to Scotland and Wales and not to the United Kingdom as a whole. After all, it is Scotland that wants devolution, and it is for the people of the United Kingdom as a whole, I fully admit, to confer devolution on Scotland; but at the same time it seems to me at the very least rather curious that the people of Cornwall should have the right to decide whether or not Scotland should have devolution. It seems to me that if you are going to have a referendum you should find out what the people of Scotland and Wales themselves want. The result of such a referendum might be a very unpleasant shock for the Scots. Nats. and Plaid Cymru, but it seems to me that it should not take place in the whole of the United Kingdom.
Finally, a word about proportional representation. None of us really knows, despite various polls, what is the strength of the Scots. Nats. in Scotland today. 190 But one thing we know is that, in certain circumstances, on 30 per cent. of the vote the Scots. Nats. could get more seats at Westminster than any other Party in Scotland. Having got more seats than any other Party on the first past the post system under which we operate at the present moment, they could then go to Downing Street and say, "We have played our part in these affairs in a constitutional manner, and, Mr. Prime Minister, we now want independence." Whereupon the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom would quite naturally tell them they could not have it.
Once again with the Irish analogy before us, is it not likely that some small element in the Scot. Nats., having won on a constitutional basis and having, as they see it, been denied the fruits of their constitutional victory, might then take to violence? This is something that should be seriously considered. This is one of the reasons why I was so honoured to serve on Lord Blake's Committee, and this is why I am a strong supporter of proportional representation, if only to make it impossible for the Scots. Nats. to win more seats than any other Party in Scotland under the present electoral system.
I have said far too much already, my Lords. I know you probably have more speeches on devolution to come. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, put it so well on Wednesday when he said that devolution had its difficulties, had its dangers, but that it was something we had to face up to. I heartily agree with what he said, and I hope that the majority of your Lordships in this House will support at least this Bill and, if possible, a stronger one when the time comes.
§ 5.43 p.m.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, in any discussion on Northern Ireland the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, has a unique place in our esteem if only because of the sacrifice for principle he made when he was Prime Minister. He and I have had many discussions on these matters. He regards me as a congenital optimist and I regard him as possibly being on the pessimistic side. It may be thought that up until now he has had the better of that argument, but who can say? Personally I am optimistic in a new sense because of the emergence of this force of 191 the peace women, who I believe hold out new hope altogether for that afflicted Province. However, I shall not pursue that topic.
I must fail to say more than "ditto" to all that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Soper. I labour in the same field as the one to which he referred, and I should like to lend any support I possess with the utmost fervour to the strong line that he took. But it is as well for a Back Bencher to confine himself to one topic, and mine today will be one that has not been overworked in this House. I think it has been dealt with only once before, and that was by the noble Baroness, Lady White: it is the question of battered wives. I am asking the Government to act in this matter, but before we reach that point perhaps we could look at the question in some perspectives.
It may be asked, "Are more wives being battered than used to be battered"? No statistics are readily available, but I think there is little doubt that a great many more wives are now being battered. This springs, as one might expect, from the breakdown of various aspects of family life and the weakening of what is sometimes called "The extended family". In former times the extended family—the grandparents, the uncles, the aunts, and all the other relatives—provided a refuge, a kind of long-stop, and also a kind of model where such a model was lacking in the home. Nowadays this is not the case. Nowadays the children in a home where battering is going on are left with the example, and they are left to the tender mercies of just one violent man.
Of course our present society, in which our children are influenced through television, books and films, et cetera, condones violence in a way that reaches the home in an altogether new fashion. Boys who rampage on the soccer fields are affected by these influences, and very often they come from violent families. The point is that they in their turn will become violent husbands. We are today in a kind of mid-way situation. We have just got started in dealing with this problem. A few volunteer bodies are offering refuge, chiefly to the women and children involved. One of these homes has started a separate place for men, but on the whole the refuges are for women and children.
192 Society, speaking for the Government and the local authorities, gives these homes an absolute minimum of help, and apparently we do not yet accept the fact that we have an interest as well as an obligation to look after these people. The obligation should be obvious to anyone of compassion or ethical feeling, but the national interest is that the battered children become the batterers of the future. This is becoming clearer and clearer. Up until now people might think that those who have been battered in youth would be, so to speak, put off battering for life. But not at all, it does not work that way. On the whole if they have been battered when young they themselves will turn into batterers. Children brought up in violence become violent.
A percentage of women—I do not say all, by any means—who have been battered have been brought up in what is sometimes called a violent game, and somehow or other we have to bring them out of it again. Otherwise they go back, even if they break away from their violent husbands, to other violent men, producing more violent children. At present it tends to be a vicious circle. Surely the Government ought to do far more than they do to encourage the attempts that are beginning to be made to cope with this problem. The attempts are really twofold. One, to provide the battered women and their children with a place of refuge, and secondly, to build up a therapeutic community, by living in which the battered women and their children will escape from the whole violence syndrome.
At the present time, as noble Lords may be aware, the very meagre help—and it is very meagre indeed—is given in principle by local authorities. The Government are making a small grant at the present time to the National Federation of the Battered for headquarters expenses. They have been giving £2,000 a month for two years to Chiswick Women's Aid, which is run by a remarkable lady, Mrs. Erin Pizzey, who has been the pioneer of the whole movement. Now, unless the Government can be persuaded not to do so, they are stopping their aid to Mrs. Pizzey and Chiswick Women's Aid on the ground that it is no longer necessary. That seems a piece of enormous and incredible shortsightedness. One could hardly believe it if it were not actually happening.
193 The authorities claim that Chiswick Women's Aid is no longer necessary because, they say, there are sufficient refuges across the country. Of course that is totally untrue, although I am sure the Government believe what they say; we must always assume that. There are 70 refuges in this country and most of them are very small, housing only a few families each. Chiswick Women's Aid is constantly being taken to court for overcrowding, which means that they find themselves in an impossible position. On the one hand they are being starved of funds because, it is said, there is no longer a need for their services, and on the other they are being prosecuted for overcrowding. The Germans sent a senior official to study the centre at Chiswick Women's Aid and spent a week there. As a result, the Germans are to adopt a similar kind of refuge scheme. At a time when there are refuges in Australia, New Zealand, America, Canada, Holland and France modelled on the work done in this country, all started by Mrs. Pizzey, is it not a tragedy that the British Government, instead of taking the credit, as they might if they were reasonably self-interested, are trying to close down the organisation which is the worldwide prototype?
I will not today go further into the details of this matter. This is not the place to press the cause of one particular institution, even though I have a tremendous admiration for what is being done there. Although I am not directly connected with this centre, I went on one deputation and I understand that the Minister will be seeing representatives of the organisation in the near future. I can only hope that wiser counsels will prevail. I hope that the principle will be accepted that the Government should give help on a much larger scale than ever before. In other social problems the family can be dealt with within borough boundaries, but here, when dealing with this trouble of battering, in many cases women have to be moved across borough boundaries because if they stay within them they will be battered again. The only answer to this problem, therefore, is to treat it as a national one. I repeat that, because it is the gist of my remarks; that this should, for the first time, be treated as a national problem.
194 The Press and the public have more or less accepted that here is a new category of victim who needs and deserves social help. What the Press and the public and the authorities have not yet understood is that there is also growing up a great opportunity to treat the children of these families, bearing in mind that these children will otherwise themselves become violent people when they grow up and this vicious cycle will continue. The treatment is not very expensive, even in these days when we know that every penny has to be watched. It is simply a question of helping people to live in a non-violent way. In other words, the very exciting discovery is being made that people can be cured of violence. The question is really whether we, the people, and the Government in particular, are ready to back these efforts. I hope and believe that we will and that the Government will.
§ 5.55 p.m.
My Lords, it is always a great privilege and challenge to speak following the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I have only a few remarks to make and they will only incidentally touch on the question of battering and violence. However, before making those comments I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate, if one can do so in his temporary absence, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, on his excellent maiden speech. It is not conventional to criticise a maiden speaker, but perhaps I may be permitted to criticise him for one thing. Having sat next to his father on these Benches, I very much hope that as a prodigal son he will regret having left for a place where possibly there may be more room because we would value both his knowledge and enthusiasm on these Benches, two qualities to which the noble Earl, Lord Perth, referred.
I have been struck by Lord Ponsonby, but that was only by a tennis ball when I was umpiring in a children's tennis tournament, and that was not in malice but out of enthusiasm. I mention that simply to get myself on to the subject about which I wish to speak; that is, the difference of age. Noble Lords will be pleased to hear that there is only one paragraph in the gracious Speech to which I wish to refer, and to only one part of that. It is the 195 paragraph which concludes:There will be an annual increase in pensions and other social security benefits in order to protect the living standards of the most vulnerable members of the community".I have nothing to say about pensions, except that I have two interests in them. One is that I am of pensionable age and the other, which is relevant to what I intend to say, is that the first time I ventured to intervene in your Lordships' House, apart from making a maiden speech which had every fault which that of Lord Ponsonby did not have, was on the subject of pensions for people who were so old that they were legally not entitled to them.
I made the bad mistake of introducing that subject on a night after what was in those days a marathon debate on the subject of the Burmah Oil Company and war damages. The then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, made the brilliant defence of pointing out that we need not pay those damages because the letter of the law said so, and thus there was a strong case in equity for not doing to. My question was answered in rather a different way, and courteously, by a noble Lord opposite, who said that although there might be a case in equity for such people over 90 receiving pensions, there was no case for doing so according to the letter of the law and that, anyway, the matter would be discussed the next day. It was not. However, the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, who will be winding up this debate, raised the question again about two years later, when it was overruled on the same ground; that is, that one must not tamper with the letter of the law. It was four years later, very much to their credit, that the then Conservative Government brought in a measure allowing pensions to be given to those very elderly people, who in the intervening six years had greatly decreased in number.
I now come to the other extreme and suggest, as I have before—I will probably be the only person to suggest this tonight—that there is another age group which is also vulnerable in the same sense; they are not only vulnerable, as we all are, to violence and the difficulties of living, but get virtually no protection from the law, and for a rather similar reason. Just as those elderly people did not get protection because they were too old, these younger persons—I will call them persons—get 196 virtually no protection because they are too young. I do not want to go into this question in detail but I should like to take this opportunity of raising a question which I raised a number of years ago. On that occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was winding up the debate and he said, very properly, "This is not the time to discuss the status of the foetus". The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, will be absolutely justified in saying the same thing today, but I believe that the time is coming when this matter should be discussed at greater length than has been the case in any of the debates that we have had. The question is one of vulnerability. After all, the words in the gracious Speech are:… an annual increase in pensions and other social security benefits in order to protect the living standards of the most vulnerable members of the community.That raises the question of who are the most vulnerable members of the community.
Of course, we are all vulnerable in every sort of way. There was a character in one of Shakespeare's plays, a Lord by the name of Jaques. He is not to be confused with the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite who has behaved so admirably and who could not be accused of being melancholy. It was a theory of this character that all the world's a stage and that each one in his time plays many parts.
He might possibly have said, "Each Peer plays many Pearts". Shakespeare classified man's roles as seven. The one that we all remember is the last one which ends the strange eventful history of man with second childhood and mere oblivion,Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything".That might be thought to be a description of Members of your Lordships' House or even of the House itself, but I do not believe that it is because we have been told by the other place that we are to have our teeth drawn. So that puts elderly Peers into the sixth stage of man; that of the "lean and slippered pantaloon".
Going very rapidly through the other five stages, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor covered the ground in the most admirable way as regards the fifth stage: that of what Shakespeare calls the "justice"—the magistrate—and what I call the "Establishment". 197 They are much more vulnerable now than I imagine they were in Shakespeare's time. They can be abused by all sorts of people. That also applies to the fourth stage, that of the soldier or what we should call the militant, including the military police, the police in Northern Ireland, the soldier himself,Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard".That would include a number of militants to whom I have listened.
All these are vulnerable in their ways but there is some sort of law to protect them. However I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, had he been here, would have agreed with me that the third stage, which Shakespeare called that of the "lover" and which we should call that of the adolescent, is also highly vulnerable to showers of pornographic material. The same applies to the second phase of life; that of the "whining schoolboy". He is less vulnerable than he was in my day to the violence of the headmaster but he is still vulnerable in other ways. That brings me to the infant,mewling and puking in his nurse's arms",who is clearly as vulnerable as it is possible for a visible person to be. What I want to suggest is that there is an earlier stage than that in life on this earth. It is when one has not yet been "extradited"—if that is the right word—from the womb. Nobody would deny that an unborn child is highly vulnerable, but they would deny that he is a member of the community.
I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, to consider three reasons why I believe that an unborn child is a member of the community. I do not want to vie with the late Lord Jessel who said, "I may be wrong, but I have no doubt …". On this, I have no doubt. I believe that a child before he is born is a member of the community in the sense that he is a person. I am not a lawyer and I know that it is a difficult matter to decide who is a person, but I believe that a rough and ready definition is the "living body of a human being". If it were not living it could not be assaulted or killed. If it were not a body the same would be true and if the body were not that of a human being it would be outside what we are talking about.
That is one definition of a person. There is also for those who believe in 198 the Christian religion a more complicated definition which would include the three persons of the Trinity, only one of whom would come under the law. That is the second Person of the Trinity who, before being quite legally, though some would say wrongly, executed, was born and was a foetus. So I believe that another definition of the foetus would be somebody for whom Christ died. I am open to correction, but it seems to me difficult to believe that, if Christ died for the whole human race, he did not die for it at all ages including those of the lean and slippered pantaloon and the foetus. Those of your Lordships who do not accept entirely the legal definition and feel that it is getting into fairyland to talk about theological questions such as whether God was incarnate in human form would, I believe, accept something that has been mentioned very recently by a prominent member of the Cabinet. Whether or not one believes in a duty towards God, most of your Lordships believe in a duty towards one's neighbour. I should like to know what is the argument that an unborn child is not a neighbour of his mother or that she is not his, her or, in the case of twins, their neighbour. Certainly, in terms of nearness, he is.
Like the infant when it is born, the foetus is of course a hell of a nuisance. Our neighbours are a great nuisance in all walks of life—and, though a foetus cannot of course walk, it can kick rather strongly long before its legs are long enough to be felt. The fact that it cannot walk does not matter. I believe that, if the foetus had a vote—and I am not suggesting that it should have one—as to whether it should or should not be aborted under the present law, it would kick out very strongly, voting with its feet to say "no".
I shall not go into the rights and wrongs of the present Act but shall only say that I believe that this subject is becoming more and more important and that more and more people are becoming interested in it. I was delighted to see the number of people who demonstrated on the Irish peace march, but larger demonstrations than that have been held—though they have not always been so greatly publicised—by a society of which I have the great and undeserved privilege of being the chairman and a founder member. These have been going on ever since the Act. 199 If it is suggested that this is not a matter that any Government, of any colour, will not have to look at closely in the near future, then I believe that that would be a mistaken attitude. My Lords, I apologise for speaking for so long. I did not intend to speak for as long as this and I have exceeded my limit by at least one minute, and I hope you will forgive me.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, I have listened with interest to the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, who has taken us into the realms of moral philosophy and into the idea of creative evolution and religion. I do not want to get involved in that, but as a Celt who is fully aware of the mystery of existence and who is interested in research work in biochemistry, and who knows that the progress in biochemistry today is even greater than that in space research, I never scoff at the unsolved mysteries of creation. I do not want to get involved in the very difficult problem of abortion, which the noble Viscount was trying to put across to the House. All I am saying is that I wish to God that there was the neighbourliness in the world which the noble Viscount felt existed, but when I see brother shoot brother, or brother shoot pregnant woman, I sometimes wonder what has happened to the progress of man. The aggressiveness of the average materialistic motorist suggests very little good today for neighbourliness. Nevertheless, we should not give up, and I admire the work—I know of it—that the noble Viscount has done.
Before I turn to the main part of my speech, I should like to refer to the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, was good enough to let the House know that it was not through lack of attentiveness or pomposity that he had to go to carry out his particular special duties. I hope that we will have the opportunity of listening to constructive speeches such as that which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, gave the House the pleasure of listening to. I ended there with a preposition—but I hope that we shall hear similar speeches again.
200 In the short time available to me, I should like to say that we have gone through a period of fantasy, marvellous fantasy, for 2½ months. From September I have been sitting here night and day. We have had arid rows of Opposition, uttering remedies about the destiny of Britain; the machinations of the Labour Party had brought Britain to its knees. It was fantasy—actor rubbish—but they scored heavily with the Press and the mass media as a result of this bumptious rubbish. I heard a great farmer talk about us having done very little for agriculture. Had I not listened carefully, I should have ended up like some lumpen member of the proletariat—that he thinks we in the Labour Party are—thinking that the farmers of today were worse off than ever because of the Labour Government. I wonder whether the noble Lord who spoke for the farmers thought that he did pretty well out of the price of potatoes lately? I want to point out—I knew that I would get him to his feet.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, the noble Lord is never concerned about himself. I can always look after myself. The able in the community can always do this, and I am well placed to do it. What I was thinking about was the food for the people of this country and the total production. I can always look after myself, but I thank the noble Lord for his concern.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
I know that; and I have watched his nephew playing rugby at Cardiff Arms Park, when he has played wonderfully for Scotland. Nevertheless, I must not let the noble Lord get away with this fantasy about the contributions of the Labour Government to British agriculture, because from the 1870s until the beginning of World War II British agriculture was in the doldrums. Enough about that.
What I want to bring out here is that what I find disconcerting in this fantasy world are the panaceas that are supposed to solve our problems. There are, for instance, the speeches of the Liberals. I remember the elusive glamour of the Liberal Conference of 1963, when the graph of Liberal support was rising, and they were doing very well indeed. The Liberal Party, in its largest assembly to date since the days of Lloyd George, 201 had a huge banner—millions of us saw it on television—with the words, "Go Jo, go!" That was written in huge letters about six feet tall, and there was dear Jo Grimmond leading the Party. How did he go? His speech was militaristic. There was none of that demure, social everyday attitude any longer in the Liberal Party. Listen to Jo's thrilling speech, in which he was dragging his troops behind him. Here are his exact words:I intend"—but they were spoken with a beautiful Scots, plus a cultured Oxford, accent—to march my troops towards the sound of gunfire".Absolute fantasy, but the Liberal Conference rose to its clamour, clapped, and the roof and rafters "did a swirl" as a result of that. The blood of the conference was surging and they were ready to rush out into the streets stark naked to win Liberal votes. That was it.
Two years' later Jo is still leading. What does he do? On 25th September there was another conference. I watch these conferences on the television. What does he tell us? He has now reached the culinary department. He is the great gourmet. Here is his great speech:Our teeth are in the real meat, and our muscles exerted in the real power struggle of politics".My God! It must have been tough meat if his muscles were bulging with the effort of digesting it. Absolutely marvel-lous! Then he gives the great panacea at the end of the conference, with the roof and rafters again doing a swirl. What is his remedy to solve the problems? Proportional representation. Absolutely marvellous. Absolute rubbish.
What constructive suggestions have come out to answer these difficult problems? There are no answers to some of them. We know this. So what do we find—the pompous and patronising advice which we have had these past three months, while the Opposition (both sides) are out of power. It is kindly given some times. There is a little absurdity now and again. It is insubstantial; they are pillars of cloud. Any noble Lord who cares to read Sammy Brittan's book The Treasury Under the Tories, between 1951 and 1964 will see mentioned there about 13 different crises. Stop-go, go-stop, all the time. This is a feature of modern affluent society, the answers to which the advisor to the 202 Treasury admitted at Manila on 25th October this year when he was before the International Monetary Fund.
So let us get off this stupid cut and thrust about problems to which the world wish it knew the answers, but is not sure about. So I approach them with a little humility. I do not want to eat the red meat or anything else. Chapter 5 of Brittan's book shows the slow growth of our economy. Let me quote a little of it:In the 10 years from 1953 to 1963 British prices rose faster than those of every other major European country except France;"—the Tories were in power, mark you, not Labour—and our gold and foreign exchange reserves were at less than £1,000 million, hardly any higher at the end of the period than at the beginning".Then, after showing the increase in reserves of the Common Market countries, Brittan says in the book:Britain now has to maintain the Sterling Area on a reserve less than half of Germany's and a good deal smaller than that of France. Yet neither country maintains an international currency and France has a much smaller foreign trade than Britain.Britain has thus done just as badly in the `sound finance' league of conservative bankers as in the production league of modern minded economists. We have too often sacrificed rapid growth for the sake of a strong pound and as a result ended up with neither".That is the analysis on page 136 of Samuel Brittan's book, The Treasury Under the Tories.
Members on both sides of the House had the pleasure of listening to a wise speech the other day, and I quoted it in my last speech, or little talk, to your Lordships—my goodness! I have been speaking for ten minutes; I did not realise that. Sir Eric Faulkner, in a factual speech in a House of Lords Committee Room on 11th May of this year, spoke of the current position of sterling. Sterling balances, he told us, fluctuated between £400 million and £500 million in the 'thirties; and the war meant that enormous payments had to be made to the theatres of war, especially India and Egypt. Last week I heard an Opposition Member who sits below the Gangway talk about these sterling balances as though we had lost them and squandered them. They did not belong to us; they were money owed to other people, but because they had confidence they left 203 the money here. The balances rose to about £3,600 million, one-third of which belonged to the sterling area, Sir Eric pointed out, and the rest to others abroad.
By 1974 those balances were £7,500 million, and they were split like this: £5,100 million belonged to Governments, and £2,400 million to traders. Obviously, the nature of our sterling balances was changing. In the 30 years between 1945 and 1975 foreign Governments' holdings of dollars grew faster than the holdings of pounds. I cannot go into it in this little talk, but the Euro-dollar was the thing which was the bête noire of international finance. The noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, who recently made the sort of speech which one would expect from him, would know full well what I am trying to get at about the Euro-dollar situation. I will not go into expenditure on Defence, aid and the war in Korea, but these were matters which had nothing to do with Party politics; they had to do with the state of the world.
So, my Lords, I come to one little contribution (I will try to finish in 15 minutes; that is, three more from now), which is this. While I should like to extend this, I am going to touch on only one aspect of our trade, and it is one which is forgotten. I have a slight interest to declare, but I want to pay a tribute—and it was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech—to the people who are our invisible men; that is, those who are responsible for the invisible income that is earned by Britain. The report of the Committee on Invisible Exports took a year to produce under the guidance of Sir Thomas Bland, of Barclays Bank, and Mr. William Clarke, who had been financial editor of The Times. They worked for a long time—and what does that famous report show? It shows that invisible earnings helped Britain to keep its head above water during 200 years of booms and slumps, and that in only seven years out of 175 did Britain ever balance its trade. By that I mean physically balance its trade, selling goods for goods. If it had not been for the invisible men dealing in insurance and shipping—buying, on spot and futures, platinum, lead, cocoa, oil and all these things—we should have been in dire circumstances. 204 How many of those invisible men have ever had a Queen's Award for Exports?
My Lords, what action did the Government take? These people earn through banking, insurance, shipping and tourism. Even waiters in little Welsh and Scots hotels in the hills or cottages are part of our invisible earnings in tourism. More attention should be paid to these people. More attention should be paid because one-third of our earnings overseas come through these people. I believe a Labour Government and Chancellor should encourage these people, and that legitimate allowances should be made to these merchant adventurers, rather than fringe benefits. Let us cut out the vast income tax but give legitimate allowances to these people. These are men who work with pen, paper, phone and telex—and, by the way, they are not lazy. Some are working at 6 o'clock in the morning because Stock Exchanges and such places are open earlier than ever in Hong Kong, in New York and in places like that. Yet in no Queen's Speech and in no full debate have we ever given attention in depth to the place of these invisible earnings—shipping, insurance, tourism, waiters in hotels, et cetera. That is a vast area where the know-how of the British is second to none in the world. For heaven's sake let us stop these threnodies!
My Lords, I must finish because my fifteen minutes are up. I suggest noble Lords should go to the Printed Paper Office and get the Blue Book on our income and expenditure. We hear talk about our being in the red and about Britain being crippled. If we have assets like this, what is this moaning about going to the IMF? What are our assets? From last month's Blue Book on expenditure and income we see that in 1975 Britain's gross national product—that is, the total income of all residents—was £94,000 million. But, better than that—and I quote from the Blue Book again—the estimated net capital stock of reproducible fixed assets, in which assets are valued at current replacement costs and after the deduction of capital consumption, was about—listen to this figure!—£332,100 million at the end of 1975. Any nation with those assets is not a bankrupt nation. For goodness' sake let us stop moaning about it and letting the world think we are bankrupt.
§ 6.27 p.m.
My Lords, even in a general debate I like to try to begin my speech by finking my theme to that of the noble Lord who has just sat down, but the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has really given me an impossible task. The two previous speakers followed a devious course from Chiswick to Calvary, and I really feel that that would be too difficult to follow too, so in the circumstances I think I ought to stick to the notes which I prepared earlier today.
Even though devolution has played the biggest part in our discussions this afternoon, if we take the debate as a whole it is the economic situation of the nation which has really commanded our attention most. What has pleased me is to notice how the experts are much nearer agreement than I have heard them on many occasions. But even if all the experts agreed on what was the right policy for this country, there would still he little hope of success unless the people had the will to make the policy effective, and that would mean some change from the present too-escapist attitude and the feeling that borrowing solves all our problems if done on a big enough scale and often enough. What we will need, my Lords, is more effort and more discipline, and by that I have in mind self-discipline.
I heard another noble Lord say that we are all too ready today to accept increasing violence and lawlessness. I would add that we are less ready, I am sorry to say, to offer voluntary service to the State and to our fellow men. My Lords, until not so long ago one great feature of our much-admired administration and public life was the scale of voluntary service given in this country, and in many fields amateurs and part-timers worked closely and happily with professionals and full-timers. There is less scope for that service today than there was 25 years ago, largely because of the contraction of the Territorial Army and the end of Civil Defence. But opportunities remain, and one very important field of service which we still have is the Special Constabulary; a back-up to our regular forces—not a substitute.
To many people in this country the special constabulary is an almost unknown service. Special constables have never 206 been given their due by the people in this country; nor by successive Governments— and one Government, I submit, is just as bad as another—and nor by the regular police force. I want to avoid detail this evening, but for those who are interested in the present strength of the special constabulary I can quote these figures. In 1946, at the end of the war, although well below the so-called establishment, we had 56,000; currently we have 23,000— less than half—and the need was never greater. The total numbers have dropped every year since 1951 and Governments have done little or nothing to arrest the decline.
My Lords, special constables should be of more than a little interest to this House because their terms of service are so similar. They, like us, serve for no pay. They, like us, can draw certain allowances but they rarely meet the outgoings they are intended to cover. They, like us, arc given little or no encouragement from their more professional colleagues and if some Members of the other place say that we should be abolished, the Police Federation of Scotland in 1972 seriously proposed that the special constabulary should be disbanded. If successive Ministers and St. Andrew's House have done little to help, they at least refused this. But special constables have one advantage over us. They now have hopes of an improvement in one of their allowances—a better boot allowance!
My Lords, returning to a more serious note; recently two important committees have been sitting on the future of this service, one for Scotland and one for England. To me, it appears costly in time and money duplicating this work considering that the general problems are the same for both countries in spite of certain differences in the law. The Scottish Committee have now reported. There was only one member of the special constabulary among the 17 members of the committee while there were ten regulars and no independents. The report is as much an apologia for past shortcomings as any clear recommendation for future developments. But some things came out, and I quote this. At one time there was an agreement in Scotland with the regular police that the specials should not do duty more than once a month. This was hardly the best way to use 207 volunteers or to encourage keenness. The limit has now been increased to once a week, which is as much time as most can give and approximately the same as the average in England but I still feel that that restriction should be removed.
We all await to hear the results of the English Committee, but I would suggest that there are three clear needs. Whatever the Committee recommend, the Government must state their own view on the role of special constables clearly. Secondly; then, and only then, can they lay down national minimum standards of training and devise schemes for helping those who have the interest and time to train on and to be available to take more responsibility. At present, the training is all too haphazard and differs between one force and another. I am proud to claim that my own county of Cumbria has taken this question of training more seriously than most parts of the country, including London.
As long as training remains superficial and disorganised, or unorganised, and as long as the allocation of duties to the specials remains so erratic, who can blame the regulars for saying that the specials are unreliable? Often that may be true, but not, one is happy to say, always. My third point is that the regular police must change their carping attitude and come out openly in support of their part-time, unpaid colleagues who are not rivals for status or pay but are performing a valuable service. The special constables are men and women, who help not just with less exacting police duties but can also help to improve the image of the police as a whole. Recently there have been too many lapses in the Metropolitan Police for any member to be truly happy or self-satisfied.
From an Answer to a Parliamentary Question last week, we were told that we had 2,500 members of the regular police on duty in Westminster during the oversize demonstration and procession. Many must have been pulled in from other divisions, which can only have left large areas depleted of their normal quota of policemen. Yet the same Answer informed us that no special constables had been asked to do duty in those divisions on that afternoon and evening. Even though it coincided with normal working hours, I feel sure that some would have 208 been available. Yet we hear it stated over and over again how great a pity it is that more men in uniform are not to be seen on their feet on the streets.
My Lords, my last point is this. If the Special Constabulary could be brought nearer to establishment and offered better training, there would be much less reason for the growth of security forces and private armies which are an unwelcome feature of today's life all over Western Europe. The regular police service, however large, cannot be everywhere all the time, but with a better voluntary element—not just a bigger voluntary element—much more could be done and if some of the lines that I have indicated could be followed up am sure that the whole country would gain.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord RHODES
My Lords, after listening to so many speeches on devolution I feel that it is incumbent on me to declare an interest. I am a Yorkshireman and an Englishman and, I trust, without that celebrated English disease. I follow another Englishman who was talking about the disciplines of yesteryear. I think that the Bill introduced today is indicative of the tremendous changes that have come over things; because when the Act of Union was brought in, I understand that the whole of the agreement was on two pages of foolscap and in this Bill I understand the Schedules run into reams, as the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, pointed out.
I wish to revert to a bit of business. I have been round the world this year and have been to Venezuela and have had the opportunity to see things for myself. Three things in the Queen's Speech struck me very forcefully: the falling pound, our smaller share in world trade, and the infiltration of imports into our markets making our share of our own market smaller. Since the war we have had an unprecedented boom in exports. Exports have exceeded the national product in practically every industrial country of the world. We have come to a point now which in my opinion has never been seen before. I think the phenomenon that faces the world of the industrial countries is one that will tax the resource, the dedication and sacrifice of every single person in this country, and if we fail we cannot pull through.
209 We have become so insular, so wrapped up in our own devices, all wanting to take part, it is said. But we have to be more extrovert and I am trying to show one or two reasons why in what I have to say. The devaluation of 1967 was the last time that the fixed exchange rate system applied. After that there were many adjustments resulting eventually, in 1972–73, with the floating of the pound. In five years the pound lost 45 per cent. of its value. At every devaluation the manufacturers (and I speak as one) gave our stock in the factory and in the pipeline away, and when we had to replenish at higher prices the same routine happened Again we were non-competitive. The short-lived competitive edge which these devaluations gave us were whittled away in five years. Further falls were needed. It is interesting to note that in 1975 prices increased to the extent of 25 per cent. in this country compared with 14 per cent. in the EEC and 11 per cent. in the OECD; that is including the EFTA countries.
I want the Government to take notice of this. So long as our inflation rate is higher than that of our competitors, the pound will go on falling until we have to wheel pound notes round in barrows to pay small bills. This rot must stop. Talking about devolution for 12 months will not help one iota. There has to be less public expenditure, and it is time the Government made up their mind and stopped dithering and decided what they are going to do. The country is waiting for it and it will take it. We cannot evade the issue. I want to tell the Government to get to grips with this, when they meet tomorrow and the day after. Be courageous. It will pay off. Another factor about productivity which is mentioned in the Queen's Speech is that when output is low—and this is another basic principle that you have hammered into you as a manufacturer—the funds from which investment is made are also low. When the Government pours money into industries which cannot use it effectively by a better productivity, failure is inevitable.
I now want to go on to something else I discovered in my journeys. The necessity for industry, the Government and workers on the shop floor to come to terms with the new demand from oil-rich countries for vast projects like the 400 miles of railway in Venezuela. These 210 are practical things about which I want to make some suggestions. There was a consortium for the railway, which was very sensible. It was made up of the National Enterprise Board, GKN, British Rail, John Laing, and GEC Signalling—a mature group by our standard. When we get into a country like Venezuela we are up against the vitality and expertise of the Germans, Japanese and Americans. There, our consortium was not so experienced.
On account of onerous terms our consortium withdrew. Right enough, the terms were onerous. But they came out too soon. If they had waited a month, they would have had the support of the Japanese who also found them onerous. This strengthens my view—and I put it to the Department of Trade, and I have given a notice of this question—that we should go in for international consortia for projects of this size and, in any case, our consortium should be ready to go in again if the terms are recast. I ask the Government if they will comment on that and see to it that that idea is put forward.
It needs to be clearly understood by Government and everybody else—including workers on the shop floor too—how difficult it is for a contractor in a weak currency country with a high inflation rate to make any money out of the contract rate in a hard currency country. The big difficulty when you go in for jumbo projects abroad is the labour costs in this country when you have an unpredictable inflation rate. How can anyone do their stuff and give an accurate forecast of costs when we do not know what our inflation rate is going to be in three months' time? These are facts which have to be faced. It is imperative that inflation should be conquered. It will take a lot of sacrifices to do it. Compromise with it and we shall lose. This was the reason why Davy Ashmore lost their contract for a rod mill to the Germans. In Venezuela if you want to insure against cost escalation it is so prohibitive that you finish up with no profit at all. That was the principal reason for Avrail withdrawing. Our livelihood depends on exports. Never mind about 12 months' talk on devolution. Let us talk all the time on how to make Britain strong again.
Our common complaint is that our visiting teams are too late on the scheme. Countries like Germany and Japan are 211 often in at the specification stage, hence the criticisms that our teams do not go out early enough. There is some justification for it. There ought to be a catalyst to pool all the knowledge gained from consultants and travellers about mooted new projects in foreign countries like Venezuela to get in at the specification stage. The competition for these jumbo projects should make us realise how fortunate we are with some of our loyal friends all round the world. When we hear the criticism levelled at places like Hong Kong, we ought to remember the regular orders that come through from places like Hong Kong. I can bear witness to millions of pounds worth of orders a year for electric generating firms in this country. We ought to be very thankful that they are loyal to us in the face of intense competition and persuasion from the Japanese. Every year they quote prices 30 per cent. lower than ours to get the business. One day they may get it and then we shall rue.
I do not want to make a speech about textiles, but it has to do with the third part of what I want to say. We are losing out in our own home market because of imports. I am hoping that we shall have a special debate on this subject before too long. There is one aspect of it that I must mention because this debate is so timely. A British team is at the moment engaged in preliminary discussions with our EEC partners about the renewal of the multi-fibre agreement. I urge the Government—and I really mean it—to do all they can to influence other European Governments to accept the British line. The multi-fibre agreement is a good instrument for the textile trade. We want it renewed, but it must be improved to meet up-to-date requirements and we want it for a minimum of six years. As it now stands, a bilateral agreement for more than 12 months carries with it a growth rate of 6 per cent. per annum. Think of that on an exponential basis. A 6 per cent. growth rate bears heavily on countries like ours with high import penetration—in some cases up to 60 per cent. This is insufferable because in 10 years the amount allowed is doubled. It certainly cannot be tolerated in a recession, particularly in those areas of the trade which have suffered the most distortion. So the safeguard clauses in 212 the multi-fibre agreement must be strengthened at once and their application speeded up.
Let me explain why I say that their application is too slow. The safeguard clauses became operative on 1st January 1974. It took 12 months to bring one case into operation, and most of the others were brought in during 1976; 18 months after they need have been, despite the fact that a case had been made out and agreed prior to 1st January 1974. It would have obviated a great deal of agitation for import control if we had only used intelligently the means we had at our disposal.
I also think that the next improvement we should work for is that the so-called developing countries should be made to respect the conditions of work laid down by the International Labour Office. If we do not do that, the work put in by Governments, employers and unions over the years to bring our own conditions to acceptable standards will have been wasted because we shall have no industry left. Many of the new producer countries would welcome such a move, which would make their competitors come into line, too. I would say to the Government, "Use the instruments you have on hand, and more quickly". That applies equally to the Minister and the civil servants.
Turning to my last point, dealing with home affairs, I believe it was the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who described the local government changes of 1974 in Scotland as "monstrous". I wrote down his words, Let me say that the local government changes at home were monstrous. As a Yorkshireman, I was carved out of Yorkshire and put into Greater Manchester—think about that to go to bed with! But I have been watching how it operates during the last two years and it does not. They have 12 functions on the Greater Manchester Authority and Joel Barnett can tell you a lot about that, the Minister at the Treasury. There are three important ones which could be done by joint committees of the Metropolitan boroughs. Everything else is unimportant. I could go through the list, but there is not time.
What I am pleading for is that if you want to save money without pain and without upsetting or disorganising anything, get rid of the Greater Metropolitan Manchester Council. I would back that 213 with a proposal: I will take on anybody from the Civil Service in Manchester or any councillor of Greater Manchester in debate—I am issuing that challenge now—in a great hall such as the Free Trade Hall or perhaps the Opera House. I would take the decision given by such a meeting and I hope the Government would also. It would be more economical than having a referendum, as has been suggested in other cases, and in the long run as well as in the short run we should be able to have in our area a far better-run organisation than we have at the moment.
§ Lord BOOTHBY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord one question: does he realise that what he is saying applies equally to Scotland?
§ Lord RHODES
Yes, my Lords, and that is why I admire the Scots for showing the flag and showing that they are proud of their heritage. In a world which is losing its way, we all need a hit of pride. I have said before that when I have seen on television the Welsh three-quarters tearing down that field in Cardiff, I have been proud for them. I am proud for the Scots, too. Perhaps I might mention another thing which is a saving grace today. Yorkshire makes more tartan cloth than any other part of the United Kingdom—so what is good for Scotland in devolution? It is going to keep our mills very busy and, I hope, your own, too. I have raised all these points, and I hope they will be taken notice of, especially the serious ones concerning exports and the difficulties which the textile companies are facing at the moment. As I said at the beginning, I believe it will need dedication to get us through these difficulties. It will need a Government that will make up their minds and get on with the job without dithering. If they will only challenge the country to respond, the country will do it.
§ 6.57 p.m.
The Duke of DEVONSHIRE
My Lords, the conventions of the House prevent my describing the noble Lord who has just sat down as "my friend", but he has described himself as an Englishman and a Yorkshireman. He is more than that; he is in every sense of the word, a nobleman, and no matter what the conventions of the House may be, I am 214 proud to call him my friend. I am quite certain that I speak for every Member on this side of the House when I say that we agree wholeheartedly with what he had to say about trade in this country. Whether his remarks will be so palatable to the Government Front Bench is another matter. However, as I have an academic connection with the great City of Manchester and I wish to make no enemies in the Manchester area, I shall not pursue the remarks made by the noble Lord about the Greater Manchester City Council.
After the trenchant speech made by the noble Lord, I fear that my own remarks may appear to be somewhat fatuous. I should like to touch very briefly on one of the main strands of the debate, devolution, and then to join my noble friend Lord Vernon in mentioning something which has been omitted from the Queen's Speech. Rather more than two years ago, I made an overlong speech on the subject of devolution during the debate on the humble Address. In the extremely unlikely event of anyone wishing to know what I feel about devolution, he may look up Hansard for 4th November 1974, where it may be read in full.
This evening, therefore, I shall make only two very brief points. First, as I said two years ago, surely this endless debate we are going to have about devolution for Scotland and Wales will be largely a waste of time unless a referendum is held first. Without a referendum and a clear indication of what the people of Scotland and Wales feel, no final decision on what power should be devolved and what should remain at Westminister can be reached; and the spectre of nationalism, particularly in Scotland, and to a lesser degree in Wales, will haunt the debates that are going to go on in this House and in another place hour after hour and week after week in the 12 months that lie ahead.
The great question we must ask, the answer to which we can find out by a referendum, is: do the Scots and the Welsh wish to be their own masters? Once that is settled, if the answer be, "yea", we may regret it, but it is their right. From what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy said, I was interested to note that he seemed so strongly critical of the Scottish Nationalists. I see nothing ignoble in wishing to see Scotland an 215 individual country. I visit that country all too rarely, but when I return from it I come back full of admiration for its peoples and its customs. So if it be their wish to pursue their own role in life, it is their decision and it is not for us to criticise.
I do not wish to see the break-up of the United Kingdom, but it takes three to be partners in this case, and it is better to have separatism than an alliance held together by out-of-date conventions and Parliaments. So let there be a referendum and, if the answer be "Yea, we wish to go our own way", let us with regret wish them well. But if, as seems more likely—and there are those, including the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who think that this will happen—the vote is likely to go the other way, then the great question of independence will be out of the way, and this House and another place can get down to working out the details of how more power, within the existing framework of the United Kingdom can be devolved upon those two countries. But it will be a waste of time, until we get the one vital question wound up once and for all.
My second point is: for Heaven's sake let us keep the question of devolution, or independence for Scotland and Wales, quite apart from any devolution to regions in England! I am sorry that Her Majesty's Government are to publish, so soon after the Bill published today on devolution, arrangements for decentralisation within England, because they are two totally different things. To talk about regional Assemblies for England is no more than further tinkering with local government in this country. No one can get wildly excited about whether Suffolk, or East Anglia in general, should have more rights. That is no great cause for which the banners will be unfurled. The subject of devolution for Scotland and Wales has emotive appeal, but one tier more of local government, which is all local Assemblies will be, is totally different and, what is more, plays wholly into the hands of the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists, because they can say with truth to their fellow Scots and Welsh "One day we have devolution for Scotland and Wales, and the very next week they produce a consultative paper about how they are going to devolve power to England. All they are doing is treating us as one more region of England."
216 As I have said before, the Parliament of the United Kingdom sits in London, and therefore in England. It is all too easy, for those who wish to move away from the United Kingdom, to equate it with England and with London, and with that removed much of the fire will be taken from the appeal of the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists. So I say: let us keep the issues quite separate. They are totally different things. An added tier, or a reorganisation of local government in England, is one thing, but it is totally different from the great emotive cry for a separate Wales or a separate Scotland.
I turn to my second point, which has already been touched on by at least one other speaker, and that is the question of the future of our own House, the House of Lords. In recent days and weeks, as most of us know full well, we have been very much in the public eye with all-night Sittings and so on. It has been rather enjoyable to find the House of Lords making the headlines, and many of us have had the added gratification of being asked to air our views on television and say what we think about our future. So it has all been rather good for our morale. But it has done much more than that. It has shown just how impossible for ourselves our present constitutional situation is. What are we expected to do? If we come here, as we are constitutionally entitled to do, and vote in ways which we think are in the best interests of the country, we are told that because we have been created Life Peers, or are here by what is sometimes rather curiously called "accidents of birth", we are totally undemocratic. If, on the other hand, we stay at home and do not exercise our constitutional rights, then those of us who are Hereditary Peers are called "backwoodsmen", and those very distinguished men who have been ennobled as Life Peers, because of great service to their country, are insulted by being called "placemen". So I suggest that it is time we did something about it ourselves because, to coin a phrase, I do not think we can go on meeting like this.
I must apologise for the fact—and I am, indeed, ashamed to admit it—that I am not sufficiently aware of the procedures of this House. But I should like to know whether it would be possible for a Select Committee, representing all aspects and 217 factions of this Chamber, to be formed to thresh out the matter and see whether we can among ourselves find a consensus on the future role and composition of the second Chamber. There is a very wide consensus that the hereditary principle is no longer right. Others also object to what they call patronage. So let us, if no one else will do it, get together and produce proposals for some reform of this Chamber. My noble friend Lord Gage, prior to this afternoon's debate, asked me what I was going to speak about, and I told him that I would speak about some ideas on possibly reforming the House, at which he groaned and said, "I have been a Member of this House for 52 years. People have always been talking about reforming it, but nothing has ever happened and nothing ever will". As I hope to show shortly, someone had better do something soon or we shall be in for very serious trouble.
It has been said that our relatively minor powers of delay should be used only in a grave constitutional crisis, and that on other occasions we should always fall in with the vote taken in another place. That, to my mind, is an extremely dangerous line of thought and, if nothing else, the heat engendered over the fate of the Bill on the nationalisation of the shipbuilding and aircraft industries is an indication of what might happen if we used our constitutional right and stood in the way of another place, preventing some major constitutional development in this country. Your Lordships can imagine the outcry that there would be against this House. What happened in these recent weeks is a mere token of the feeling that would have been stirred up, and the cry of "Lords versus the people" would have been raised with justification. If they have done nothing else, the events surrounding the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill have brought our role back into the limelight, so let us take the opportunity and let it not go back into limbo.
I know that in politics the temptation to let sleeping dogs lie is almost overwhelming, but it can also he fatal. The dog of Ulster lay sleeping from the 1920s to the 1960s, and we have paid in the last seven or eight years the bitter price of letting that dog lie sleeping. The dog of Rhodesia also lay sleeping from 1923 until the 'sixties, and the whole world is 218 today paying the price for letting the dog of Rhodesia lie sleeping. You can sweep the dust under the carpet for just so long, but in the end it erupts. It may be easier to say "We have devolution on our hands now. We have a grave economic crisis on our hands now. All right, to hell with the House of Lords! It has always been there and does not do much harm. Let it go on." But one day we shall have a major constitutional crisis and this House will have a vital role to play. So we must take time now, in relative calm, to sec that this House is put in order, and demand that we who sit in it are given a new constitution and new rights.
I am aware of the difficulties. Anyone can say, "Do away with the House of Lords. It is impossible." But what you put in its place, and what powers are given to it, is more difficult. We have a relative lull in the history of the House of Lords, so let us consider the problem calmly and realise that it cannot go on as it has gone on for so many years. At ten past seven on a winter's evening, this Chamber does not look much like the tip of a volcano which may one day erupt. But unless we do something, it will erupt with disastrous results not only for those of us who sit in it, but for the peace and constitution of this country. So let us be warned by what has happened and take steps to put our house in order and, if no one else will do it, take steps to demand that we be reorganised on a proper basis so that we can exercise our constitutional functions without being ashamed of ourselves.
§ 7.10 p.m.
My Lords, the noble Duke will, I know, forgive me if I do not follow him in this very wide-ranging debate on either of the two main topics about which he has spoken to us, beyond saying how very fully I agree with him on the need for a referendum in respect of devolution and as regards his proposal that we should make our own suggestions for the reform of this House. Also I fully agree with the noble Duke on his general proposition relating to the folly of letting sleeping dogs lie. On that point I shall have something to say in what little I have to say to your Lordships this evening.
Rather than follow the noble Duke, and being quite unable to emulate the 219 pungent oratory of the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, may I go back to the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he retailed to us the worrying figures about crime in this country at present, and refer specifically to one aspect of the problem which I believe merits serious attention; that is, the growing incidence of crime and delinquency among young people and the fact that crime is going down and down the age range to reach young people who are barely in their 'teens.
As your Lordships will agree, almost daily the media bring to us further news of acts of hooliganism, of violence against the person, of vandalism against property. Chief officers of police tell us that all this is on the increase. The numbers of young people who are being sent to detention centres and to borstals and upon whom care orders are being made for execution by the local authority Social Services and Probation Services are growing. All this indicates, by its sheer scale, a disturbing trend. Whether it takes the form of racialist attacks, or the mugging of individual people, or gang warfare in the streets, or fighting on the football terraces, whether the immediate cause, or, if you like, the stimulant, is the growing and worrying propensity among young people to take strong drink or to continue with drugs, or whatever the immediate explanation may be, it is symptomatic of something which is quite seriously amiss. Whether it is the entertainment that we offer on our television screens or whether it is something lacking in the upbringing of the young or our provision for them in one way or another, or whether it is our lack of expectation of them, the answer is to be found in one, or more, or all of these things.
In the debate so far—and no doubt reference will be made to it again in the speeches which are yet to come—noble Lords have referred to schooling and housing. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Soper, speak of homelessness. I am not going to refer to these matters, which are mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but this evening I should like to say a few words to your Lordships about the question of our expectations of young people. Given the conditions and circumstances in which a great many young people are growing up, living and 220 working, it is quite surprising that so many of them keep their noses clean and get into so little trouble, or into no trouble at all. Everybody will acknowledge that these kinds of delinquency and misbehaviour are still quite untypical of the great majority of our youth. I could wish that our national Press and the other media would sometimes, or more frequently, bring to us more of the good news which abounds about some of the enterprising and responsible activities in which a great many young people are engaged.
Delinquency is nothing new. It has always been with us and will always be with us, nor is it peculiar to this country. However, at the rate at which delinquency has been growing in this country in recent years no society can afford to deny or minimise its significance; nor can there be any hope or expectation that punitive measures, such as raising the fine for fighting on the terraces to £1,000—I do not say that these measures are not necessary—are alone going to cure it. The trouble does not have its roots in inherent criminality among the young. By a paradox it has its roots in something which is intrinsically good.
To put the problem in perspective, I believe it to be true that one thing has remained constant over many years: that only about one-third of teenagers are attracted of their own accord to any organised leisure provision which is provided for them. This was first pointed out in a survey conducted by the King George Jubilee Trust in 1956 and confirmed by the Albemarle Report in the early 1960s, and it is true today. It is mainly from among the majority of those who "miss out" or who quite positively shun the opportunities that are provided for them that a minority, a hardcore of youngsters pass through an anti-social phase during which they are personally at risk to themselves and during which they constitute a danger to the other unoffending members of the community. These are facts which no initiatives by local authorities, no initiatives, many as they have been, by the voluntary youth organisations have succeeded in altering over the years.
Of one thing I am quite sure, and here I come to the point made by the noble Duke about letting sleeping dogs lie: that is, as things are going now, the 221 problem will have to be tackled in a much more comprehensive, imaginative and radical way. I realise that the Government have already made an effort to do something about school leavers, so many of whom are at present leaving school without a job. I applaud the work experience scheme which is operated by the Manpower Services Commission and I have great admiration of the scheme developed by the National Association of Youth Clubs, of which I was privileged to be President for 19 years, for young people to do community jobs, with minimum financial reward, in various parts of the country. However, a very much higher priority will simply have to be given as soon as is economically possible to youth and community services.
Over the years the youth and community services have been referred to as the Cinderalla. They have been regarded as an optional extra. Over all the years it has been the old story of too little and too late. It has been said many times—but I take the opportunity of stating the obvious again in your Lordships' House—that irresponsible behaviour, and worse, among most young people is due to boredom and sheer frustration which can be transformed into responsible behaviour by making demands on young people, by activities demanding and requiring effort and challenge. Quite simply, young people need to be kept busy and made to feel necessary in the adult world which they join outside school hours and of which they become members when they leave school.
It is very often pointed out, and it has been pointed out to me only very recently by one of the Members of your Lordships' House, that work in the community is done well only because it is done voluntarily and that it is no good expecting young people to do it without that voluntary impulse. However, it is also demonstrably true that delinquent youth who would not have dreamed of doing such work of their own accord, and who have committed offences for which they would otherwise have been sent to prison, have been transformed in their outlook by being required to serve community service orders as an alternative to going inside.
By and large community service orders are proving a great success story, but this happens after serious damage has been 222 done, either to people or to property, or to both, and I believe the time has come to give serious consideration to ways and means of inducing and encouraging far more young people to gain this revealing experience without their first having to commit a serious offence, in order to pre-empt delinquency and crime among the young. I do not believe it would be such a mammoth task as might at first sight appear to be the case. It certainly would require the wholehearted co-operation of employers. It might be made a condition of employment; it might indeed be made a condition of drawing unemployment benefit by those who at first do not manage to get a job. It would certainly require the active co-operation of the voluntary services as they give active co-operation to community service orders at present. It would be reckoned as in the case of CSOs, in terms of a minimum number of hours spread over the year following their leaving school. It would have to be a very limited commitment because of the numbers involved.
I think the appropriate agency for undertaking this job—and it would do them a power of good—would be the local authority social services, reinforced by part-time—or perhaps full-time—supervisors and liaison officers as in the case of the probation and after-care service. The needs in the community, whether it is the community at large or the local community; the personal needs of people; the needs to benefit everyone are legion, and I see this whenever I go round the country looking at the work of the probation and after-care service, and even taking into account all the excellent voluntary work that is being done at present.
This time of economic stringency may not be the time to provide the means, but what we want is the will to do this. It is certainly overdue that the possibility should be given serious thought and study, and possibly a few experimental pilot schemes should be carried out. If we really want to face up to the problem which young people are having to face up to and to present to the community—this evil phenomenon of juvenile delinquency and crime—I believe that one essential step, which is a radical step, indeed it might even be called a revolutionary step, is to involve them all, including the potentially delinquent, by every possible means 223 (short of compulsion) in the problems of their own neighbourhood and in the wider community. This is something which should be expected of them.
To conclude, service in the community on leaving school should—and I believe could—become as much of the normal order of things, as much a part of our national way of life as are the years of full-time schooling which precede leaving school. In the final passage of the gracious Speech it is stated that,In all their policies for social reform, it will remain My Government's aim to promote justice and equality for all the people …".I should like to put a question to the Government and in your Lordships' House: Should it not equally be the aim of the Government—of any Government—to promote a greater sense of responsibility among all the people, starting at grass roots with the young citizens, which would match and justify and be a condition of the rights and opportunities which the Government quite properly aim to spread more equitably?
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
My Lords, it is enormously interesting to listen to your Lordships' debate on the gracious Speech because I think we must hear more varied speeches on more different subjects than at any other time and certainly than in any other House of Parliament. We have today heard some extremely interesting speeches. I should have liked to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in what he said about young people as I think I have spent more of my life in organising youth clubs than in almost anything else, but today for my own comments I have chosen two other subjects so I will not follow the noble Lord on this occasion but will merely say that I agree with every single word he said.
The two subjects I wish to mention are agriculture and devolution. I picked out the paragraph in the gracious Speech which speaks of the encouragement and the expansion of home food production and so on—the agricultural paragraph—and I should like to stress this policy and this wish of the Government very strongly indeed. The present situation is that on the whole I think we have an exceedingly efficient agricultural industry; we have enterprising people who are prepared to 224 enlarge and to put money into and to develop agriculture in every possible way. I believe that is extremely important and I think the Government encourage it.
Of course, we always say that the Government might do more, but the fact is that they do encourage it and I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Peart, in his opening speech, when he claimed, as he had every right to do, that the Labour Party have on occasions had very remark able Ministers of Agriculture, of whom Tom Williams of course was the most remarkable. I may say that I speak with a history of agriculture behind me because I think my own husband did more to revolutionise agriculture between 1932 or 1933 and 1937 than anybody else. We are still working with the organisations that he set up, of which the Milk Marketing Board is perhaps the one which has lasted longest and is perhaps the most important.
We are all deeply engaged in studying the common agricultural policy of which we are now members in the EEC and I have spent many hours, and indeed many days, on a Committee of your Lordships' House studying the Common Agricultural Policy and its relationship to our own agriculture. On one occasion three or four Members of your Lordships' House went over to Brussels and had conversations with M. Lardinois and discussed the development particularly of the many surpluses which appear in Europe and which make life very difficult for farmers over there. I came away with the very strong impression that certainly in the dairying industry in Europe where there is a great surplus of milk, the other European countries have no idea of how to sell their products, as we have here. They have not got a Milk Marketing Board; they do not know how to sell milk; they have no method of guaranteeing (as we have) that the production will go into the right channels for consumption, and on the whole there is a muddled situation over there.
I hope very much that our representatives on the Agricultural Policy Committee working over there will try to convince the other Europeans that we have something to contribute to their agricultural views; that we are doing things which they could well copy and things which would help them quite enormously, because in many ways we 225 are way ahead of some of the methods used on the Continent today. I think we owe a debt to the European Community for the way in which they are helping us in agriculture. We get considerable grant aid from them, and I do not wish to indicate that I am opposed to the agricultural policy, because I am not, but I think we have a great contribution to make and I hope that the Government in their negotiations and discussion with the various branches of EEC policy will stress very strongly the agricultural policy of this country. In many ways it is greatly in advance of anything that is going on in the rest of Europe.
My Lords, in the gracious Speech the question of increasing production is stressed, and I would hope very much that the Government will do everything they can to see that our food production is increased, for no other reason than that it saves imports. If we want to save imports—and we all know that food is one of our biggest imports—then we should produce more and not have to import so much. So I trust that everything the Government can do in this way, they will do.
There is no mention in the gracious Speech of the new agriculture, as I call it, because it is in fact agriculture—the industry known as fish farming. We have had many debates in this House about fish farming, and a considerable number of your Lordships are quite expert in this sphere. I had hoped very much that something might have been said about fish farming in the gracious Speech. There is a paragraph about fishing—and we all know the awful complications of fishing today, with the cod war, and the difficulties which appear to threaten almost the whole industry. One of the ways in which we could help—because I do not want this country to be without fish any more than anyone else—would be to encourage the development of fish farming. I am sorry that this does not actually appear in the gracious Speech.
The other subject I should like to speak about is the question of devolution. I was extremely interested in the analysis of the situation by the noble Duke, because he has a very clear view of what is likely to happen and what we should be looking for. I suppose I know as much about Scotland and about local government in Scotland as almost anyone. I 226 would say this to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, who himself is a great local government person and knows certainly quite as much as I know, if not more, about these problems. If ever something went wrong with the reorganisation of local government, it was carrying out reorganisation before the question of devolution had been raised. The cart before the horse was never more clearly in evidence, certainly in Scotland. Who supported this I do not know. I think that we on this side of the House can take some of the blame. On their side of the House, the Government must take some of the blame, too.
Before we think of having an Assembly we should realise—and I do not know whether your Lordships do realise—that in a country which has only 5½ million people, there are already four tiers of Government, and possibly a fifth if we bring in the elections for the European Community. We have district elections for the district councils; we have regional elections for regional councils; we are proposing to have an Assembly where there will be more elections. We have 72 Members of Parliament in another place, and now we are going to have European elections. I think this is absolute lunacy. I think we should do away with at least one tier, if not two, of local government if we arc to have an Assembly. We should scrap the whole of regional government. I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, over the question of Greater Manchester, or Metropolitan Manchester, or whatever it is called.
Although some of your Lordships may not have actually been present, you will remember that when the debate took place we had a long discussion on the subject of reorganisation of local government in Scotland, more particularly on the establishment of the vast Region of Strathclyde. I was opposed always to the vast Region of Strathclyde. The noble Lord, Lord Hughes, who was leading for the Labour Party on local government in those days, shared the same view. We had a joint meeting in Glasgow to try to prevent the Government—who I am sorry to say was our Government—from taking through this enormous regional development and having one region instead of four.
If one is thinking about the reorganisation of the House of Lords, it was an 227 occasion when Members on this side of the House, who were then in the Government, and Members on the other side of the House, who were then in Opposition, joined together and voted, and carried the vote against the Government of the day. I was backing the Government of the day except on this particular subject. So when noble Lords are inclined to say that they never get Resolutions or Motions through the House from the Labour side if the Tories are so overwhelming in numbers, all I can say is that on this occasion the Tories defeated their own Government with the help of the Labour Party. I put that in as an aside, because it happens to be a demonstration of something which does not often happen, but which has happened once or twice.
My Lords, going back to the subject of devolution, before—and I say "before"; I have the Bill here, but I have not had time to read it because I collected it about only mid-day today—this comes into effect I should like to see the Government reorganising, or going back to some of the reorganisation of local government which happened before the Regions were instituted. It will be very difficult for an Assembly to do away with the regional tier of government, for the simple reason that it will be very unpopular. No Assembly will want to do something unpopular in the first few months of its existence. I should like to see the reorganisation done before we embark on the Assembly. I should like to see either the present Government, or, if we win the next Election, our Government, doing away with one of those tiers of government. I think it is a disaster. It is frightfully expensive. One has so many more local government officials than one had before.
We read in the papers every day of the vital importance of cutting down on the expenditure of local government and on civil servants, whether in local government or elsewhere. But we are creating every day more and more jobs which require to be done by civil servants, whether they are in national Government or local government. We shall not reduce expenditure until we stop doing that, until we go back to doing something much more simple, until we do away with some of these complicated pieces of organisation which, quite frankly, I do not think 228 are any more democratic than before, judging by my own experience at home, where it takes me six or seven months to get an answer from a regional council. When I was in local government, I was furious if every letter was not answered within a week, and it now takes months to get an answer at all. I do not suppose we are any worse than anywhere else; it is the same everywhere. There is no democracy, only, it seems to me, this piling tier upon tier of officials, of layers of government, all to no purpose.
My Lords, I have not read the Bill yet, but I hope very much that we will not leave it to the Assembly to do something which will be very unpopular, because many people will lose their jobs; a lot of salaries will go out, and many people will not be able to draw £10,000 or £15,000 a year for a local government position. That is not going to be at all popular if you are going to have to do it in an elected Assembly. So I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, that if they are going to continue with this proposition of an Assembly, they should begin by putting the house in order before they begin to think about another tier of government, another assembly.
I am in two minds about devolution. I agree with the noble Duke in that before we embark on something extremely complicated and difficult, there should be a referendum. There should be a test in Scotland of whether or not people really want to have an Assembly. If they do, then by all means let us see the best way to do it. But to spend all the money, to establish the Parliament House, to do all these things, and then to find that there is a very strong opposition, would really again be putting the cart before the horse. It is very hard to say how strong the Scottish Nationalist vote is. I am inclined to think that it is not as strong as it was, and not as strong as some people think it is. I may be wrong. I live in an area where it is not at all strong. I do not think it is very strong, for instance, in the great industrial area of Glasgow and Dunbartonshire and Lanarkshire. Curiously enough, I think it is strongest in the North-East and in the areas which are more or less agricultural areas. Nevertheless, I should like to see a test of opinion before we make the great decision.
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, if I may intervene, I believe I am being a bit wicked. May I remind the noble Baroness that Margo McDonald won the Gorbals.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
Yes, my Lords; I do not say that there are not strong areas of nationalism. I may be wrong; I am not saying that my opinion is any better than anybody else's; but I do not think it is growing as fast as it did in, say, the last five years. But we shall not know that unless we try to test public opinion. I personally think there is everything to be said for having a referendum.
I do not like the fact that we have Wales and Scotland in this one Bill. I think the situations are quite different. I do not know Wales anything like as well as I know Scotland, but I think it would be much better if there were two Bills and not one. I think what might suit Wales, a much smaller country with a smaller population, is different from what would suit Scotland. I therefore do not think that it is a very good idea to have one Bill for both countries.
I have not read the whole Bill yet; I really cannot express any very definite opinion until I have had the time to do so. We shall, no doubt, have tremendous discussions going on in another place, and we shall all be very interested to see what happens. I am not a great enthusiast for devolution. It may be that it is something which is inevitable and we ought to do it. I certainly think that the analogy with Northern Ireland and Ireland is one to which we should pay very great attention. So from that point of view I should be very willing to have a completely open mind about it. I am utterly opposed to breaking up the United Kingdom; I think that would be absolutely disastrous. There is nothing I should dislike more than that. I would not at any point vote for that. But if we were to reorganise, scrap one whole tier of local government, and then have an Assembly—which the Scottish Nationalists do not like, but which I would find quite satisfying—which dealt only with Scottish affairs, that would be the wisest solution. By Scottish affairs I mean everything that could be managed from Scotland; not foreign affairs or defence or any of those things which one noble Lord said Mr. Wolfe had been speaking about; all that is completely and 230 absolutely wrong. If we had an Assembly purely for domestic and internal working, I should think that that would be probably the wisest way to do it. But I would not want to do it unless I knew that that was the will of the Scottish people after a referendum.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, at this late stage in the debate I propose to limit what I say to four or five main points about the Government's proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales. I am delighted to have this opportunity of doing so today on the very day when the Government have published the Bill to set up directly elected Assemblies in Scotland and Wales. It seems to me a very long time ago since the Commission on the Constitution was set up and started its work, charting out what some people see as the slippery slope to the break-up of the United Kingdom, but what those of us on the Commission saw as a much more efficient and democratic way of handling our affairs.
Indeed, it was a long time ago. We started work in 1969, but it is very gratifying indeed that just about three years after the publication of our report, in October 1973, the Government have now brought forward their Bill, all 166 pages of it, to give effect to the main recommendations of that Commission. This is very rapid action indeed when you consider that the Bill published today involves a massive and far-reaching constitutional change. Here it is nice to note that the Government have dealt very fairly indeed with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, who was chair man of the Commission when we reported, and with myself, because the Government scheme for devolution to Scotland is in all essentials the scheme for legislative devolution which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Kilbrandon, and the majority of the Commission proposed and worked out; and the Government's scheme for executive devolution to Wales is in all essentials the scheme of executive devolution which Professor Alan Peacock and I proposed and worked out in our Minority Report.
It is not often that members of a Royal Commission see any Government taking any notice whatsoever of what they say. For a Government, therefore, 231 actually to implement both the recommendations of the majority and the minority of one Royal Commission in one Bill within three years of their reporting, must indeed be without political and constitutional precedent. If that is not quite without political and constitutional precedent, then I add to my list that for a Government to carry out the recommendations of the Majority and Minority Reports in one Bill within three years of reporting, and in a matter of such enormous constitutional importance, must surely indeed be without precedent.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to remind him that the Government carried out the recommendations of the Wheatley Committee, with disastrous results in Scotland?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
But, my Lords, I am sure the noble Lord does not believe that the present proposals are going to have disastrous results, since in this particular case I am sure and confident that the noble Lord's views on these matters are not dissimilar from those of all members of the Commission or the Constitution.
In commenting on the Government's proposals, it seems to me that we need to be clear about the case for devolution, because it is against the case for devolution that these proposals must be judged. The case for devolution, it seems to me, has nothing at all to do with the Government giving in to the Scottish Nationalists or the Welsh Nationalists. This just does not come into the argument at all. The case for devolution is quite simply, first, that the central machine of Government is now intolerably overloaded. The central decision-making processes, whether in the Executive of our United Kingdom government or in Parliament, are enormously overloaded. This makes sensible central Government decision-making on major matters of policy enormously difficult. Indeed, I suspect that one of the reasons why we have staggered from economic crisis to economic crisis since 1945 is the fact that central Government are so burdened that Ministers have never had an opportunity to stand back and look at major policy making unburdened by all the trivia they have to deal with while in office. I think the same goes for 232 Parliament. Central Government have become enormously over-burdened and overloaded.
One needs to illustrate this in only one way. In 1900 the United Kingdom central Government consisted of about 60 Ministers and 50,000 civil servants. Today central Government consists of about 120 Ministers and 750,000 civil servants: all in one way or another making decisions, nominally on behalf of Ministers, and decisions that affect our lives. So the centre has become enormously over-loaded and over-burdened, and joining the Common Market has made the situation even worse.
I am not arguing that we should not have joined the Common Market, but joining the Common Market has placed a still further burden on the central Government's decision-making processes, because so much of major policy now has to be done in a Common Market context in consultation with Brussels and in detailed consultation with other Common Market Ministries and Governments. Quite simply the burdens on central Government have enormously increased, and unless we have devolution we shall have a situation which is becoming like London traffic: the whole centre will seize up. Therefore, the case for devolution is to unload the centre in the interests of effective decision-making at the centre on major matters of policy, so that we can build the House of Commons back into the major policy making process; and without devolution we shall not be able to achieve that end.
Therefore, I greatly welcome the Government's proposals for devolution to Scot-land and Wales. They are a beginning of unloading the centre and shoving things out from the centre, and therefore making possible better central decision-making, making it possible to build Parliament back into that decision-making and formulation of major policies in a way in which it used to operate and in a way in which it operates no longer. Also in doing this we shall give greater democratic control to the people of Scotland and Wales in the running of their own affairs, because there will, as a result of directly elected Assemblies and Governments in Scotland and Wales, be much greater real participation by the people of Scotland and the people of Wales in the running of their own affairs.
233 It is against that background that we need to assess the Government's proposals for devolution. Broadly speaking, I am delighted with them because how could one be otherwise when they carry out the recommendations of the Majority and Minority Reports of the Commission on the Constitution. But they do not carry them out quite in their entirety. I should like to draw the Government's attention to what seem to me to he a number of important deficiencies. For example, one of the points on which both the majority of the Commission on the Constitution and the minority were absolutely at one and united was that elections to a Scottish Assembly and a Welsh Assembly should take place on the basis of proportional representation. We were even united in the form of proportional representation which we recommended, which was the single transferable vote system of proportional representation. I hope that the Government will give that most serious consideration. I am delighted at the welcome this idea seems to have had from Conservative and Liberal Benches, too. There is obviously a strong move there in the direction of proportional representation.
There is an additional case now for proportional representation which was not present when we produced our Majority and Minority Reports, and this is the quite simple fact which has to be faced, that without proportional representation it would be possible for the Scottish National Party in Scotland to win an absolute majority of seats in the Scottish Assembly on a minority of votes. Since the SNP do not regard the Government's proposals for devolution as a firm resting place but as a half-way house to independence, it would be the greatest of all tragedies if, in the first elections to a Scottish Assembly, the Party that is committed to go a lot further still rather than working the Government's proposals should be the Party which emerged with a majority and formed a Scottish Government. A Party with a majority on a minority vote might form a Scottish Government, and that majority might be committed to total independence rather than working the Government's constitutional proposals. So I urge the Government to think again on this particular front. The importance of proportional representation in Wales, of course, relates 234 quite simply to the fact that in the system of government proposed for Wales it is crucial that minorities should be adequately represented, and fairly represented, in the Welsh Assembly. The only way we can achieve that is by a form of proportional representation. That is my first point.
The second point I want to mention is that it is also important that there should be proper and full judicial review in the Government's proposals. It is in that context that I very much welcomed what the Government proposed in their White Paper of August. I thought that was a move very much in the right direction, as a result of which it is clear that an Act of the Scottish Assembly will be able to be challenged in the courts on grounds of ultra vires. But the one thing that still slightly disturbs me about the Government's proposals in this respect is the veto power of the Secretary of State for Scotland and the United Kingdom Government over Acts of the Scottish Assembly, because that veto power, as I read it, is to remain—and here I quote from the August White Paper:if an Assembly Bill is considered by the Government to have unacceptable repercussions on matters for which they remain responsible".In those circumstances the United Kingdom Government will have a veto power.
Since one of the things that one hopes for in this set-up is that the possibilities of friction between a Scottish Government and a United Kingdom Government should be reduced to the absolute minimum, I hope that the United Kingdom, if it thinks a Scottish Bill will have unacceptable repercussions on matters for which it remains responsible, will not seek to act as judge and jury in its own cause and that there will be some impartial, judicial way of considering whether the United Kingdom Government are right in believing that something proposed by a Scottish Government and Assembly has unacceptable repercussions on matters for which the United Kingdom Government remain responsible. Because the United Kingdom Government will have every temptation to regard anything they do not like in Scotland as having unacceptable repercussions on their policies for the United Kingdom as a whole. Therefore, I hope that we shall ensure that there will be what I call full and 235 proper judicial review in the Bill when we discuss it in detail.
The third point I want to make is the question of a Bill of Rights, at least so far as Scotland and Wales are concerned. The Government have put great emphasis, rightly in my view, on maintaining the economic and political unity of the United Kingdom. This seems to me to be crucial. But one of the hallmarks of political unity and economic unity is equality of civil rights. Equality of civil rights is one of the matters that are the very essence of political unity of a country. I hope that we shall find it possible in the end to have in the Bill at least a guarantee that the people of Scotland and Wales will enjoy the same civil rights as the people of England. If there are possibilities of restriction of civil rights in Scotland and in Wales, then this would be something we ought to seek to avoid. Therefore, we have to consider the question of Bills of Rights in this context.
The fourth point I should like to make is on the question of power to tax. I agree with the Government's proposal that the main income of the Scottish and Welsh Governments must obviously come from a block grant. But in this context I have never accepted, even when I was a member of the Government, that it is impossible to devise a means of enabling the Scottish Assembly and the Welsh Assembly to levy some sort of tax of their own. It is an extraordinary state of affairs if we are saying that a Scottish Assembly shall have no power to tax, a Welsh Assembly shall have no power to tax, but every local authority in the country has a power to tax. Here we are setting up very much more important bodies than local authorities, but denying them this right to levy some form of taxation.
The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow the Scottish Assembly the power to reduce taxes?
§ Lord CROWTHER-HUNT
My Lords, I think that that is inherent in any power to tax. It would be possible to reduce taxation within its own area provided that a Scottish Assembly and Government are prepared to have the cutback in services in Scotland that such a reduction would envisage. But I do regard this as a two-way activity. It is in this context that the point has been made that perhaps 236 some of the oil revenues might go to Scotland. It has always seemed to me that one possibility in this area is that the oil revenue should go into a special oil fund and that that fund, or part of it, should be earmarked specifically for use in those parts of the United Kingdom which are in greatest need. That would include Scotland, Wales and some of the regions of England. I hope that that suggestion will be considered by the Government.
With modifications along those lines, it seems to me that the Government's proposals for Scotland and Wales will be absolutely first class. But devolution will not have fulfilled its main purpose if it is limited to Scotland and Wales. The main purpose, as I argued earlier, is to reduce the burdens on the centre in the interests of better decision-making at the centre and in building the House of Commons and Parliament back into the shaping of major policies. But with devolution only to Scotland and Wales, that will not have reduced the burdens on the centre. The paradox is that it will have increased the burdens on the centre because the centre will, after devolution to Scotland and Wales only, be running Scotland, as it were, in one way, Wales in a different way and the rest of the country in a third different way. This will have complicated central Government rather than made it easier and therefore the initial paradox of devolution just to Scotland and Wales will increase the burdens on central Government, when the only way to reduce them is to have a form of devolution to the English regions as well.
It is in this context that I welcome the fact that the Government are to produce within the next few days a Green Paper or some form of discussion document on English regions. I hope—I would welcome reassurance on this—that that document will set out for discussion all the options on English regionalism which were recommended in the majority and minority reports. Just as the discussion document of June 1974, which was the basis of discussions in Scotland and Wales and which led to the devolution Bill which is now before us, set out all the options for Scotland and Wales that had been recommended in the majority and minority reports, I hope that England will be treated equally in this respect and that all the 237 options in those reports which were recommended for the English regions will also be set out as a basis for those discussions.
We can then set about carrying out the major reform of our very antiquated system of Government, a major reform which will involve a new role for the House of Commons, for the House of Lords and for Parliament as a whole in shaping the major policies of the United Kingdom. It will, of course, also involve this much-needed extension of democratic decision-making to the people not only of Scotland and Wales but to the people of the English regions as well.
§ 8.3 p.m.
§ Lord AUCKLAND
My Lords, inevitably in the gracious Speech—and I, like many other noble Lords, have sat through gracious Speeches ranging over some years—a large number of topics are discussed, and it is not surprising that devolution should have topped the list today. I would say, as something of an exiled Scot, having lived in Perthshire for much of my life but now living in the South, that Parliament faces a formidable task with the devolution Bill, which has 136 clauses and 16 Schedules.
One of the main problems the Government will face over devolution, particularly for Scotland, is that of distance. If the Assembly is set up in Edinburgh, as I imagine it will be, the fact has to be faced that in terms of transportation it takes about as long to get from Edinburgh to Wick as it does from London to Edinburgh, and the same is not far off in terms of distance. And as a great deal of development has been taking place in recent years North of Inverness, it is questionable whether those who live in that region of Scotland will be entirely happy about an Assembly in Edinburgh. This point has been put to me by several friends and acquaintances who are by no means wedded to the Scottish Nationalist cause but who have these and other concerns about this legislation. Apart from agreeing wholeheartedly with those who have criticised the fact that Scotland and Wales are being dealt with in the same Bill, I question the Title of the Bill, which seems to be woefully ambiguous. However, when the measure eventually reaches this House these questions can be discussed.
238 The main part of my speech tonight concerns the section of the gracious Speech which reads:It will remain My Government's aim to promote good working relationships within the National Health Service and to make the best use of the resources available to the Service for the benefit of patients and with due concern to the aspirations of those who work in it".Those are fine words, words with which there can be little disagreement, and I do not wish to rekindle the ashes of the last Session when we spent long hours on the pay-beds Bill or indeed on the reorganisation of the Health Service carried out when noble Lords on these Benches were in office. However, I am bound to say that I and many of those who are concerned directly and indirectly with the NHS have little enthusiasm for either of those measures, and I am bound further to say that we have even less enthusiasm for the reorganisation of the Health Service.
I mention this because there have been some disturbing reports about what will happen to some of our leading teaching hospitals. These reports have appeared in the Press and elsewhere, though of course one must regard with some degree of scepticism what is said chapter and verse through the media. However, there is bound to be a great deal of concern on this score and although we will have an opportunity, I hope soon, to discuss this in detail—in fact, I am contemplating putting down a no-day-named Motion on the Health Service—there must in evitably be a number of anxieties. It may be the aim of the Government to move more hospitals and hospital staffs into areas where the population exists, particularly as new towns and new units of accommodation are being built up. But there is still a need for a fairly substantial number of hospitals in London and particularly for hospitals for specialised requirements. One of the reports suggests that at St. Bartholomew's Hospital the leukaemia and cancer unit may well be closed during the weekend. That, for children and others suffering from those dread diseases who receive splendid treatment at this hospital, could well have dire effects if they have to be sent home where they may pick up infections.
Some of your Lordships may have seen on Panorama last night a most disturbing report that a number of young British doctors and nurses are leaving this country 239 to work in the EEC countries, notably Holland and Germany. It has of course been quite an acceptable fact that there is an interchange of doctors, students and others between various countries. Such interchange is healthy because it enables people to get ideas from other countries and to observe the workings of their health services and so on, but the fact is that the reason why these doctors and nurses are leaving this country is that they feel that the remuneration they receive and the conditions under which they work are frustrating. This was made particularly clear by two senior doctors from, I believe, the Newcastle Royal Infirmary. I do not make this point in any Party political spirit. I have taken part in a number of debates in this House on the National Health Service and have always, as one who has served on hospital committees, tried to keep Party politics out of the discussion. However, even on an occasion such as the gracious Speech when one tends to generalise on certain topics, I feel that this is something which is so new —it has, at any rate, only just been brought to public notice—that I hope that the Government will make some fairly searching inquiries into what is going on. I am bound to say in what is perhaps a rather partisan spirit, though with no offence to any noble Lord on the Government Front Bench, that some of the legislation that was passed during the last Session of Parliament and one Bill that was not passed will cost as much money as it would have cost to obtain better equipment and better remuneration for the hospitals which face a reduction of their staff and, in some cases, possible closure.
Baroness WARD of NORTH TYNE-SIDE
My Lords, as regards my noble friend's reference to Panorama, it was made very clear on the programme, that though remuneration in Europe was a factor, the greatest criticism was of the lack of modern, up-to-date equipment. Would not my noble friend agree with that?
§ Lord AUCKLAND
My Lords, I would certainly agree with my noble friend whose knowledge of her own part of the country is unrivalled. That is one point that must be stressed, but I shall leave it at that at this stage because I hope that there will be opportunities to 240 discuss the matter further at various times during the coming Session. It is, however, a very important matter because we train some of the finest doctors in the world and it will be an excruciating shame if we lose them for the reasons that I have mentioned and upon which my noble friend has elaborated.
There is one other matter that has not yet been touched upon. That is the question of the construction industry. I have an interest to declare here as a non-executive director of a very small construction company. There will clearly be a great deal of discussion on the proposals to extend the direct labour scheme. I do not want to go into this in depth but for very obvious reasons I am bound to say that, reading the speech of the right honourable gentleman the Minister for the Environment last week, I found it complacent in the extreme. It may well he that at the present time direct labour accounts for only 2 per cent. of house building and something like 5 per cent. of industrial construction work, but there is considerable fear in the building industry about a proposal by an authority which uses direct labour to be permitted to use it nor merely, say, within the Greater London Council but outside that area. Clearly, having raised this matter without notice, I do not expect to he given a detailed reply this evening, hut, when the Bill reaches this House, it will certainly he gone into in considerable depth.
Time is getting on, my Lords. I am bound to say that the measures foreshadowed in the gracious Speech will do very little to stimulate what is at the present time a stagnant economy. It is perhaps one encouragement that the insurance industry, with which I have been concerned since 1948, contributed to the total of our invisible exports in 1975 the sum of £452 million, of which £294 million came from Lloyds' of London. T hope that the right honourable gentleman the Member for Huyton and his colleagues will, when they come to examine the City of London, bear in mind not merely the shortcomings of the City but also achievements of this kind which arc all too frequently overlooked.
§ Lord BROWN
My Lords, can the noble Lord say whether the figure for Lloyds' insurance earnings that he quoted was gross or net?
§ Lord AUCKLAND
My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord without notice, but I think that the figure was net.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Lord BROWN
My Lords, the gracious Speech from the Throne refers to:Legislative proposals for the extension of industrial democracy …".What I have to say this evening really concerns that section of the gracious Speech, although the connection with industrial democracy will not be obvious until I am some way through what I have to say. It hardly needs saying that Britain's economic salvation largely depends on the existence of a growing manufacturing industry employing a higher proportion of labour, of skill and brains, and producing sophisticated products in a competitive manner. I am sure that nobody would question that, and I think that we would all be agreed that we have in this country many excellent companies which can be included in that category. Unfortunately, we also have many which do not meet such critieria, and it is my opinion, admittedly on an intuitive basis, that about a third of all British chief executives are of too low a calibre to hold their jobs.
I base that view on having, over the last 10 years, met and discussed industrial affairs with more than a thousand chief executives and visited hundreds of companies. I have heard management consultants, auditors, senior civil servants, merchant bankers, and many senior managers express similar opinions. I was in the board-room of one of our major merchant banks two weeks ago having lunch and I expressed the view about a third of British executives being of low calibre, and the response was, "That is a gross understatement." So I am certainly not alone in these opinions, and I think that a general airing of this problem, which has a severe effect on our economy, is overdue.
The response from some quarters to my comment will be that I am joining that band of irresponsible commentators who continually make unfair attacks on British management. Let me try to dispose of that criticism before I go further. I believe that about a third of our companies are extremely competently managed. They would stand comparison with the best in any other country. Another third get by. 242 But the rest drag down our economy and their performance gives the whole of our industry a false and damaging image overseas. If noble Lords want confirmation of that, opinion should be asked of our better industrial export marketing men or of commercial counsellors in our Embassies overseas. They all tell you how much damage bad companies do to our whole image. So I am criticising the tail of industrial management—and can anybody deny that that tail is too long and includes too many companies of potential importance? I am not aiming at small companies now. I am aiming at a spectrum from small to large, which have inadequate chief executives.
It is difficult to speak publicly about this very serious ingredient of economic failure without being categorised as one who seeks to make management the scapegoat for all our troubles. I am not one of those. Some may assume that the inadequacy of a chief executive can be compensated for by higher calibre subordinates. Well, perish the thought! Companies which have inadequate chief executives employ inadequate subordinates and companies with inadequate chief executives who have adequate chief subordinates find that they lose them to other companies.
I seriously doubt that I have said anything very controversial so far: I hope not, anyhow. I am simply trying to make the problem which faces us explicit, so that we can take steps to deal with it. Section 107 of Table A of the First Schedule of the 1948 Companies Act places authority for the appointment of the managing director on the board of directors. If the managing director is not sufficiently competent, then the board is failing in what I regard as its prime responsibility to conduct a continuous assessment of the performance of that managing director. Section 101 of the same Part of the Act says that the board must elect its chairman. But the wording of the section clearly implies a non-executive part-time chairman. I quote from it:… if at any meeting the chairman is not present within five minutes after the time appointed for holding the same, the directors present may choose one of their number to be chairman of the meeting".That does not sound like a full-time executive. But it now seems to have become the ambition of most managing 243 directors also to be chairman. When this happens there is no person with the responsibility of leading the other directors in the task of assessing the performance of the managing director. Think how difficult and embarrassing it can be for a director who is not chairman to pick up this role, and rally his other directors, and say, "Look here, old Bob is not good enough". Your Lordships know what they would say:" We can't deal with that. He has been 20 years with the company. It is all too embarrassing. It is the chairman's job". So my first specific proposal for dealing with the problem of inadequate chief executives is to alter the 1948 Act in such a way as to ensure that these two roles are always occupied by different directors, and to ensure that the role of chairman is a non-executive one. It may occur to some noble Lords that executive directors are often in a better position to know how the managing director is performing than are other directors. But in their work roles they are subordinates of the managing director. It is quite impossible to ask them to take part in an assessment of their own boss, and so they cannot be counted upon.
How are directors appointed? Many of them, even in our best companies, appear on board after board. It is not uncommon to find people with 20 or 30 directorships. Many clearly have no real industrial management experience at all. I am not suggesting that competent accountants, lawyers, financial experts, and so on should be excluded from boards. But the election of retired soldiers, civil servants, bankers, university professors, Peers, politicians, or even retired trade union officials, and the like, simply on the assumed grounds that they would add lustre to a company, dilutes the overall competence of the board to perform its proper function; and this is going on on a very wide scale indeed.
The whole procedure for manning the boards of many of our major companies has for years been based on far too narrow a circle of candidates. Would it not be an excellent idea if we obtained more cross-fertilisation of ideas between companies by getting large companies to agree that it would be wonderful training for some of their experienced and rising managers to serve as directors of other companies? 244 Half a day a month would suffice. It would benefit the company on which they sat, it would exchange ideas across non-competitive companies, and it would, I believe, do a great deal of good. From time to time pressure from various sources has been put upon banks, merchant banks, pension funds and insurance companies, to use their voting or financial power to correct this situation of the composition of boards, but virtually nothing at all happens and the indications are that nothing will happen in the future, either.
Something really must be done about this, because our problem largely is the performance of industry, and if a high proportion are led by people who are not capable of doing the job properly there is one of the foci of our real trouble today. I have made specific proposals in the past when I was at the Board of Trade, with which I will not bore your Lordships now because events are about to overtake us. The Bullock Report is upon us. I do not expect legislation in this Session; I am quite sure that it is not coming. There is too much debate about this for that to happen. So we have a year to discuss what might happen later. I am not in favour of two-tier boards, but if we do nothing more than resist the ideas that the Bullock Committee is probably to put in front of us, we shall, I think soon have them anyhow.
To those who might rise in angry denunciation of the Bill which might produce two-tier boards—and I think it probably will in due course—I would be prepared to say:" If the obvious problems of board composition and managing directors had in the past received proper attention from investors, then they might well have escaped this particular fate". If, then, we are to have two-tier boards, or, more hopefully, reformed single-tier boards, let us attempt the best possible shaping of such a probable reform.
The stated objective of board restructuring, according to the terms of reference given to the Bullock Committee, is to achieve a greater degree of industrial democracy. In my opinion it will not do so unless at the same time works councils are established on every geographical site of every large company. These must include the chief manager on the site and representatives elected by every rank of employee. That is the main negotiating 245 institution through which real employee participation can take place. I have views on works councils, my Lords. I do not mean any old works council; I mean works councils of a very specific kind, but I am not going to go into that matter this evening because I want to deal with boards of directors. I am merely saying that to restructure boards and not to create internal institutions inside companies will not do. Unless those are created, we shall not get the participation which is the main object, apparently, of restructuring boards.
My Lords, if employees are elected to boards they will find that they cannot both represent those who elected them and also perform effectively as directors. The two roles are quite incompatible, and I fear that the policies which employees will support as directors will be parochial, short-term and against risk-taking. Employee representatives will have no experience of other companies, or of management, on the basis of which they can make comparative judgments of the performance of the company which employs them, or of the actions required to meet the future of that company. I therefore propose single-tier boards composed as follows: one-third elected by the share holders; one-third of trade union officials appointed by relevant unions, with their nominations being acceptable to employee representatives; and one-third of executive directors appointed by the other two-thirds of directors. Some union officials are currently very hostile indeed to management. Some shareholder directors are currently very hostile to trade union officials. The coming together on reconstructed boards might commence a long-overdue learning process on the part of both groups. Such boards might well begin to bridge the gap in thinking which has separated capital and labour for far too long, and is one of the causes of our poor economic performance today. When previously-hostile bodies sit regularly together to solve common problems, attitudes always change.
Trade unions are now so powerful, and are indirectly playing so large a part in the shaping of industry and of every individual company, that it is essential that they gain a much better appreciation of the real problems with which managements have to cope. There is a great deal of unrealism around in trade unions 246 still. Trade union official directors would be able to feed back into their respective unions this knowledge, and shared knowledge is the basis of responsible action. But, of equal importance, if each union director sat on a number of boards, then each would have a comparative frame of reference within which he could take part, with other directors, in the board's prime task of assessing the performance of the chief executive. I bet the trade union officials would not be quite so tentative in discussing really incompetent chief executives as some of our boards are today, because we have all seen examples of dreadful leadership and the boards have for years done nothing about it. I would go further in proposing a committee of each board in major companies, composed of the chairman, one share holder director and one union director, with special responsibility for assessing performance and reporting to the board. I am sure that union directors would be less diffident in criticising than boards are at the moment.
My Lords, every rational citizen wants to see our country emerge from economic tribulation, but radical changes rather than petty alterations are required. I have attempted an analysis of one area which requires such change—namely, means of making it more likely that incompetent chief executives would not remain in post—but the real trouble is that most people wish the ends without being able to agree the means. We have a year to think about shaping a reform of the boardroom which, I think, is inevitable in some form or other. I hope that that thinking, which might perhaps be a little stimulated by what I have said, will be able to shape this inevitable reform so that it becomes much more useful than it might otherwise be.
§ Lord KINGS NORTON
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down would he say whether, in his reconstructed board, the one-third membership by trade unions would include any from the company in question?
§ Lord BROWN
No, my Lords, because I have put the emphasis on trade union officials. Admittedly, initially I think they would be very ignorant of company affairs, and they might have feelings which are hostile, but if they got involved in regular board meetings I think that would change very rapidly indeed.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Lord GRANVILLE of EYE
My Lords, at this late hour I will not follow the noble Lord in his arguments with regard to industrial democracy, but, like him, I should like to refer to that part of the Queen's Speech which places emphasis on the necessity for increased productivity and export-led growth and sacrifice. I think one of our problems is going to be that we have to catch up the three lost years, and that is not going to be easy. Some of us pleaded for this three years ago; but I think that the 1974 and 1975 Budgets, which were referred to, I believe, as "producing howls of anguish" or as "making the pips squeak", had the effect of discouraging middle management. Many of them, I believe, and certainly new recruits, were so discouraged that they looked to the safer public sector. Mr. Joel Barnett, in a weekend speech in the country, said that we now have to reverse the process from the public sector to the private sector, and it is not going to be easy.
My Lords, if as a result of the announcement of the Government measures, whenever it comes this week, there are to be extensive cuts, I fear that an extension of unemployment is inevitable. We have to ask ourselves, in carrying out this new policy: Can the private sector of industry absorb those who would be put out of employment if the cuts were effected on an extensive scale? Many of the factories today are in fact overmanned for various reasons, and with the advent of re-equipment, fresh investment and better machines the tendency is to employ fewer men. So how are we to take them on? How are we to fill the gap in a background when the national overheads of this country are recognised by almost every economist to be far too big for industry to carry and when we are in serious danger (and have been for three years in this respect) of taking in each other's washing. I believe that it is stated that we are in fact producing less in industry than during the three-day week. Our adverse balance sheet in the Common Market is a shocking statement.
Now we have to begin a new policy and it is three years too late. Exports, with all the advantages of devaluation to which my noble friend Lord Rhodes referred (provided they are not lost in cost-inflation in this country) should be a piece of cake for exporters; but that is not what it 248 proves to be. We must ask ourselves why this is so. Is it that taxation and cost inflation have become far too high and we have lost incentive? With reference to what my noble friend said, are we giving senior executives enough incentives compared with what they can get in the Common Market? Or is it that with a Government supported by only 28 per cent. of the electorate did we make the biggest mistake of all time in pushing through the Manifesto programme in a climate of economic crisis?
With the Civil Service already over burdened, some of them saying," For goodness sake do not give us any more to do," and, at the same time, a programme which was divisive and could not appeal to widespread national support, I think that whatever we are going to embark on as a result of this new policy the Labour Government must ask themselves how they can govern. We have always had what is called a Left since the days of Jimmy Maxton and the Clydeside Group; but the tail cannot wag the dog. They cannot remain in office as a minority Government. I think this is what the Government must realise.
This is an international trading country. Whatever else we depend on, we depend on confidence—this vital word—in our currency, on confidence at home and abroad. We import our food and raw materials and there is no other way. Confidence is a very strange animal; it has to be seen and felt here and abroad. I think that confidence in the House of Commons is important and it certainly does not help when one can read that the Lord President is referred to as the "Leader of the Scruffies" and as pandering to mob rule and is referred to in the same Press as" fifty years out of date". They have sold the pound and the Government is on the rack again.
I think there should be a referendum on the reform of the House of Commons. I think there should be a referendum to consider whether wider powers should be given to the House of Lords in a somewhat changed Assembly. There certainly should be, as many noble Lords have suggested today, a referendum on devolution and, as has been suggested, one on electoral reform. I think that "first past the post" in the new English Parliament after devolution will be completely outmoded in what Mr. Foot has called a genuine democracy.
249 I think that if we have a referendum or an Election, the women are going to have a big say on domestic policies, perhaps as never before. I think they will object to the" Scruffies" trying to do away with a bit of colour and spectacle in a drab world. They are not going to vote for the drabness of the Iron Curtain and those who advocate it will be in my view consigned to the lost limbo.
There have been criticisms in the media of the House of Lords. I think that this House would be unwise to be rattled by a bit of" media mongering" and institution bashing. Some who try to blame the House of Lords as an alibi for wrong decisions or failures of any kind have another ambition; destroy the Lords and you destroy the Monarchy. These things run in cycles. Maybe there are other causes on the horizon or on the way; for example, that collectivism has reached its high water mark in various parts of the world, that individual freedom and a simple idea of patriotism is reviving—which in these days of the "Scruffies" and "Rent-a-mob" would be a relief. We have a hard road ahead but it is time we made a real start now.
§ 8.46 p.m.
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
My Lords, even the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, in his most skilful debating vein is going to have some difficulty in making a felicitous comment on all the topics that have been raised in this debate, ranging as they do from inefficient boards of directors to abortions, from battered wives to special constables—and I imply no connection between any of those things.
My big disappointment, truthfully, has been the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I had little doubt that we would hear at last the true voice of Wales speaking up on devolution. We heard no voice from Wales at all upon that subject. This is the second occasion running when Wales has been singularly coy in saying what it thinks about the proposals for devolution. Of course, we enjoyed what the noble Lord did say; but perhaps another time he would give us the advantage of his enormous experience on this subject, so that we may know the true value of what is being put forward. Perhaps noble Lords do not expect the noble Lord, Lord to answer him since I am sad to see that many have gone home although 250 there are honourable exceptions. I say that only because one of the honourable exceptions is the noble Lord, Lord Soper, who told me that he thought he had a temperature and I had no doubt that your Lordships would forgive him if he were not in his place at the end of the debate.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, that, thank Heavens! this time the Queen's Speech has been one which dwells to a large extent upon the principles that the Government propose to govern upon, such as justice and equality for the British people. I hope that we interpret it in the same way on this side as noble Lords in other parts of the House. We are not promised another flood of legislation and in the admirable speech with which he moved the Address that we are now debating the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, commented on this. I should like to join in congratulating him and the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, on the admirable way in which they fulfilled the task set them last week.
I am particularly glad to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Brown, that he does not think that we are going to have industrial democracy in this Session. Indeed, so little do I think that we are going to have it that one must pay another congratulation to the authors of Her Majesty's gracious Speech in being able to fill up enough time for Her Majesty to come and make a suitably lengthy speech from the Throne at all.
This is not an occasion, I must confess, when I wish to suggest anything should be put in that has been omitted. I would rather wait, even for the most pressing measures, for another occasion when perhaps it will be a different Administration that will be handling them. I am glad that the Government have been modest in the tasks they have set for Parliament this time. I should like to comment on one or two things and I am glad to find that there is a precedent in the debate for all of them.
First of all, the Criminal Law Reform Bill that was introduced this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I recognise even in the Long Title, and certainly from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor's speech, a good deal of the Law Commission's Report No. 76. The topic of conspiracy has been the subject of a good deal of concern in this House—I remember 251 particularly the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner. It is not entirely co-incidental that that part of the Law Commission's Report on conspiracy to corrupt public morals, which has been one of the most controversial areas, together with obscenity, is, I would judge, not going to be found in the Bill. It may be that the Government have thought that this was not the occasion to deal with this matter since there are, after all, a large number of other topics which will be included in the Bill.
However, I think it is important that Parliament should now take on the problem of the law of conspiracy. Where people act in a way that is criminal, and particularly if they do so from political motives—because it is here that the "crunch" has recently come—it does nothing but harm if their political supporters are able to attack the very law under which they have been convicted. This diminishes the rule of law itself and brings undeserved notoriety and even sympathy for people who certainly do not deserve it. The Law Commission carefully studied this whole area to see what actions which are now potentially or actually criminal should not any longer be so, and they have also studied the scene to see what gaps there may be in the law, such as, for instance, what is to be done about bomb hoaxes, which are inadequately covered at the moment. They have also tackled—and I am delighted to see that the Government are proposing to do so—the formidable problem of squatters. Whereas there has long been a civil law right to deal with this, the trouble is that it takes a good deal of time. That is very little comfort to somebody whose home has been taken from him unlawfully and who has nowhere to go. Nor, of course, can the police assist, at least in very few cases.
The squatters themselves use the forcible entry Acts which are of incomparable antiquity on the Statute Book. They use them to protect themselves against the rightful owner who wishes to re-obtain his own property. I have seen the notice on the front window of a house occupied by squatters where the law is most learnedly set out and all those ancient Acts quoted. It seems to me that it is high time that this problem was tackled, and I congratulate the Government for doing so.
252 I hope that they are also going to deal with the case that this House, in a judicial capacity, in the case of Kamara, has attempted to clarify, but that is another area of the law of conspiracy where a statutory restatement is overdue and would be most welcome. That case dealt with the occupation of foreign embassies and has a bearing upon the whole of the law of squatters. I join with the Law Commission in this area in preferring the clear-cut, criminal offence to the tortuous force of the use of the civil law as the final sanction, not least because if you have to involve the law of contempt of court, having gone through all the civil procedures to deal with squatters and eventually to evict them, you are using a penalty which has no time-scale and no maximum which can be imposed. There fore, they face unlimited imprisonment. I do not think that is satisfactory either; nor has their case usually been heard before any court at all.
I rapidly looked up the James Committee Report when the noble and learned Lord explained that that too was comprehended in the measure that he is proposing. It seems as though the recommendations of that Committee are being faithfully adhered to. The matter which may interest some of your Lordships—because I remember it from a few years ago—is the rather more complicated situation relating to motoring offences. I wonder whether the Government have grasped the nettle of that, as I believe they might find that the most controversial part of the whole subject.
When we come to other law reform it comforts me greatly that from these Benches when we are dealing with patent law there is a possibility that my noble friend Lord Cawley may be here. Of course the noble and learned Lord will be able to expound every detail of this complicated subject to the perfect comprehension of the House; I fear if it is left to me I shall be struggling in very deep waters. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Auckland mentioned the problem of direct labour because of all the matters in the gracious Speech (which I thought was singularly uncontroversial) this is the one which appears to us to be the most provocative. I fear that the Government may not find the passage of their legislation particularly easy in this House, as indeed has been threatened in another place.
253 My lack of comprehension of this situation derives from this fact: there is currently an inter-Departmental Working Party looking into the whole of this subject, and we have been told by Ministers in another place that it will take some time to complete its task. We are also told that the Government are not going to await the completion of their task before they choose to legislate. This is a strange matter. We have been given, furthermore, a public assurance that the tendering practices of direct labour organisations will be brought more closely into line with the private practice; and then the Government go on to say that the Minister concerned has already asked the Working Party to consider arrangements for charging, accounting and tendering, which are the crucial matters, in the light of the principles that it is proposed to introduce in the legislation.
Why not let the Working Party look at it first and then introduce legislation afterwards? It is not altogether surprising that some of these matters require to be looked at because, as I understand it, within the past year the district auditors have reported on no less than 13 cases where improvements, to say the least, have been needed in procedures. Perhaps the most notable one I heard was the case in the Sedgefield District Council which was referred to the other day in another place. It is a story of inefficiency there and I suspect that it is the same elsewhere.
I wonder whether the Government are hastening to legislate on this in order to forestall their possible demise and the inability to get anything on the Statute Book at all. I would warn them of this: there is among ratepayers in this country at the moment an upsurge of feeling that they are not prepared to go on without any further ado taking increases in rates. They are beginning to use some of their legal rights to look at the accountability of the local authorities under whom they have to suffer. They are beginning to take part in the district audits, and they are beginning to use their rights to inspect documents which the local authority have to produce to them. The trouble about inefficiency in direct labour organisations is that they do not come out until ages afterwards. They may never come out at all if for one reason or another the public are not allowed access to the documents.
It is a great mistake for the Government 254 to legislate on this matter at this moment in advance of at the very least a complete scrutiny of the whole of the financial controls for these departments. I strongly suspect that they should not legislate at all. They surely do not wish to put on the Statute Book another case where one can say that inefficiency and waste are the clear and obvious hallmarks of Socialist legislation. This they can forestall.
I now turn to devolution. It is a strange thing that, although I have not had a word with him about the details, my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and I seem to be thinking on very much the same lines. I am not averse to tile idea that there should be a Scottish Assembly; indeed, I welcome it. I expect I welcome the idea of a Welsh Assembly, but nobody will tell me anything about it. One of the things that has certainly gone wrong—and this is at the most basic level —is that Scottish legislation is not upon the Statute Book simply for lack of Parliamentary time. The needs have been there and the pattern South of the Border has been there; yet it takes ages to find time for the Bill in the Parliamentary timetable.
A very good example is the Town and Country Planning Bill which has just been introduced in another place and contains a number of things which have been law in England and Wales since 1968. That is the sort of thing that happens and it is something which needs to be dealt with. It was here that the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, came to the fore with his speech seconding the humble Address. A number of noble Lords have spoken on this and I should think that they have said things which the Government would find useful to them.
Upon one thing we in this House (since the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, who is the only Scottish National Party member among us, is not here) are all absolutely at one: the requirement that we should have a stable system and avoid what the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, again referred to as the "slippery slopes". I am sure that when these Assemblies come into being, in whatever form they finally arrive, they must live up to the expectations of the peoples of those two countries. That was the point made by my noble friend Lord Selkirk.
The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, looked at it from the other way: that we 255 also need to clear the decks at the Westminster end in order more properly to consider the things that fall upon us. I do not think, with respect to him, that that is the way it will be seen in Edinburgh and Cardiff. I believe the heady wine will be in their hands and they will not think very much about how helpful they are being to the overworked legislators down in London. But they have got expectations and demands for participation, as the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said, and we shall be in trouble if our proposals do not satisfy them.
There are a number of ways in which these proposals may not satisfy them, it seems to me. Perhaps we shall have judged wrong as to the sufficiency of the powers given to them; and then they will ask for more. Here in particular I consider most important the point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and others, concerning the powers to raise money. I have looked at the Bill as nearly as possible from end to end and it seems to me the Government have gone back on their proposals in the August White Paper. I can find no powers in Scotland for extra revenue to be raised, let alone reduced, by any means at all. I think they will be wholly dependent upon the Treasury in London to provide a block grant. That may be very dangerous because, first of all, for unpopular cuts or for an inability to carry out popular schemes, it will never be the Assembly which is to blame: it will always be the Treasury in London, And they will never have to face the odium of actually raising taxation in order to satisfy the demands of their voters and electors.
That may be a fundamental flaw in the whole of the organisation and, indeed, in the very foundations of this Assembly. I wonder very much why the Government have reneged upon the paragraph in the August White Paper. Perhaps they will complain because of the arrangements we have for veto. This was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and I think he ought to look at Clauses 45 and 107 of the Bill. He will not find there any of those grandiose words in Clause 45. For instance, something can be vetoed because it is thought "not to be in the public interest". That can mean anything: it is a phrase as long as a piece of 256 string and it applies, I may say, to all political complexions of the Government in London. That could be a very formidable ground for complaint.
Perhaps there will be complaints because the majority in Edinburgh—and, of course, to a lesser extent in Cardiff—is of a different complexion from the majority in London. There may not necessarily be vetoes but, for all I know, there may well be economic sanctions. After all, London will have complete control of the block grant. Perhaps the Parties in power in the Assemblies will follow too closely the political persuasions of the Parties in London and the people in Scotland and Wales will find they have too little differentiation and too little self-identity. They may be disappointed in that way, and it could lead to another type of conflict. Last of all—and this has been touched on by many of your Lordships—we could have a situation where the Party in power, at least in Scotland, will simply be aimed at wrecking the whole thing. We must be very careful to ensure that this does not happen, otherwise the exercise will be completely in vain.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL for SCOTLAND (Lord McCluskey)
My Lords, if the noble Viscount is about to leave the matter of devolution, may I just—
§ Lord McCLUSKEY
Then before he leaves the matter of taxation, may I ask him this. If he is prepared to criticise the Government for not including in the Bill revenue-raising powers, is he prepared to be constructive and inform us what revenue-raising powers he would like to see in the Bill?
Viscount COLVILLE of CULROSS
My Lords, I think that is perhaps a little hard on me. I consider it fairly clever of me to have discovered that there are not any revenue-raising powers. In paragraph 16 of the August White Paper we were told that there were going to be such powers and we were told what form they would take. In other words, they were going to be based on rates, because nobody at that stage could think of a satisfactory alternative. Given a little time, I will see what I can do to help the noble Lord, Lord McCluskey, but I should have 257 thought the Government had probably gone through that exercise before they abandoned it. Perhaps therefore I may be forgiven for not having any very original ideas this evening.
I take the point made by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. There are, after all, difficulties at the moment for anybody who is governed from Westminster. It may not be everybody's cup of tea, for example, that when the Government wish to cut expenditure they pass it on to the town hall or county hall so that that authority can decide whether to cut standards, sack their local government officials or raise the rates and get the Government out of a mess in that way. At least, I gather that is at least partly the method Mr. Healey is adopting. At the moment other things are going wrong for those who are dependent for their livelihood and for their economic existence upon Whitehall, and I very much hope that those who consider the setting up of Assemblies will not take too much account of that sort of thing.
One day, we hope, things will be very much better and we do not wish to set up a system now which reflects the discontent afar off in Scotland or in Wales, which will not adequately allow those parts of the country to share in the prosperity that we very much hope will return to us before too long. It would, I think, be a tragedy if they were to judge the system upon what they wished to avoid by way of central Government today. Indeed, I believe that any of those points intended to be an emollient to those voters—I suppose, those voters who are very nearly going to vote Scottish Nationalist or Welsh Nationalist —may, unless we are very careful, turn out to be an irritant not only for Scotland and Wales, but also for England as well, because I come lastly to the situation in England.
We have the proposition put forward by the extremists that, for instance, they would like to have the oil in Scottish waters, subject, as my noble friend said, to what Shetland has to say about that. They do not think at this stage of the time when the oil runs out, because it is, after all, a fact that of the enormous reserves of coal in this country, which will last for decades if not centuries after the oil and the gas have all gone, the great proportion is in England, with perhaps some in Wales. England and Wales are an inherent part of 258 this, as much for ourselves and for the United Kingdom, as for Scotland and Wales, and let us just think for a moment about the English side of this.
We have been told about the possibility of referenda, and my noble friend Lord O'Neill of the Maine suggested that the English should not take part. I do not agree with him. I believe that the English are inherently bound up in the whole of this process, and certainly we should be very careful before we exclude them from the process of decision. I am not particularly impressed, to be honest, with the prospect for England as it arises inferentially under this Bill. It is really the same point as that made by my noble friend Lord Campbell, but perhaps I may give some examples.
Let us take what we now find to be a devolved power of legislation for Scotland—education. Let us suppose that the Scottish Assembly decided to deal with secondary education, with which we have just been dealing, in a way quite different from what has so far been introduced for the United Kingdom. They would be able to do that, and Westminster would in no way he able to interfere with them, but that does not apply to England. Suppose that the Parliament legislating only for England, the United Kingdom Parliament, was to put forward proposals which, for the sake of argument at the moment, were not congenial to the Labour Party. With the English and the Scottish MPs, they could impose their will upon England, but those English and Scottish MPs would already have been able, either directly or indirectly, to deal with affairs in Scotland, and perhaps to some extent in Wales, in a different way. Why should England be bound?
The same thing happens, if we are taking Party political issues—and I appreciate that it would work equally well in reverse—about the Community Land Act. It is a devolved executive power for both Assemblies. For instance, it will be perfectly legitimate for the executive in England, and in Wales in this case, to bring all factory development into the machinery which requires that it goes through local government bureaucracy before a brick appears on the ground. A Statutory Instrument would be required for that to happen in England. We cannot interfere in the English Parliament in what that 259 process requires in Scotland or Wales, but all the MPs from those two countries can come and force it through for England and there is nothing that we can do. I do not think that this has ever previously been brought out in the consultation and I think it should be considered.
But I do not believe necessarily that the answer is regional government for England. There are some particular difficulties about that, if I may finally deal with it, and it is a matter upon which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, made his most helpful maiden speech. I am only sorry that he should have to read my congratulations to him in the Official Report, whenever he sees it. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed his speech. I would ask, when we come to the next stage of the debate about English regional government, for people to consider some of these points: the artificiality of the boundaries; the fissile nature of policies which allow regions, perhaps, to carry out entirely divergent political, executive activities; the movement of population and industries seeking more attractive forms of government, or executive decisions which suit them best; and, I suppose, a matter dear to my heart, the overwhelming legal chaos that would result from trying to advise anybody about the law in any part of the British Isles.
I have looked with interest at these provisions in the Bill, so far as I have been able to take them in while listening to the debate. I am sure that they are a start but equally I am sure that they are by no means the finish of the argument. When we have done with that we must still think, and perhaps we must think in the process, of the effect of it upon those of us, expatriates from Scotland and Wales or not, who live South of the Border. Certainly I envisage on this, and on a number of other topics on home affairs and devolution which have been raised in Her Majesty's gracious Speech, a fascinating Session of this Parliament
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, SCOTTISH OFFICE (Lord Kirkhill)
My Lords, as we reach the conclusion of the second day of debate on the Address, which has concentrated on the topic of economic and home affairs, I hope that noble Lords will agree with me when I say that the 260 customary standard of high excellence in debate has been maintained in your Lordships' House and that it certainly behoves those of us on this side—indeed, all of us—to study carefully all that has been said.
Economic and home affairs is a wide-ranging title and your Lordships' contributions to our deliberations have quite properly covered many issues of a varied nature and character. Today, however, and very naturally on the day of publication of the Bill, devolution, and some of its implications, has occupied the attention of many noble Lords. May I speak about devolution for some minutes before I make reference to other points which have been raised in the debate by noble Lords who felt that they might mention matters not pertaining to devolution.
This afternoon my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor referred to the Government's proposals for Scotland and Wales and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, has just made a number of pertinent comments which will be read carefully by me tomorrow. During the debate many other noble Lords have made considerable reference to devolution. In view of the place which the Scotland and Wales Bill will occupy this Session in your Lordships' deliberations, it seems appropriate for me to devote that period of time to the subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, and the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, argued strongly that there should be separate Bills for Scotland and Wales. The Government acknowledge that the devolution schemes for Scotland and Wales differ considerably in detail. That reflects differences in local circumstances and history, but the Government are equally pledged to both countries to introduce devolution. In the Government's view, there is a very significant framework of common principles underlying both schemes. There is great merit in Parliament considering together the schemes for the two areas where a clear demand for devolution now exists, and putting both schemes into one Bill will certainly be far more economical in the use of Parliamentary time. The Government considered very carefully after the debates in January of this year whether there was a case for two Bills. The Government are clear that the balance of advantage lies in having one Bill.
261 My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor referred your Lordships to the first 50 clauses or so as containing the main structure of the devolution schemes. No doubt your Lordships will also want to study carefully Clauses 58 to 76, as these arc the financial clauses. In more general terms, it may help your Lordships if I confirm that the Bill reflects faithfully the proposals in the two White Papers of November 1975 and August 1976 respectively.
If I may take up one point which the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, made on the question of the 1976 White Paper and the Government's position anent their tax proposals, could I direct him to page 3, paragraph 16 of the White Paper. We said there that further reexamination of the rates levy, et cetera, had confirmed that no better method of devolving some revenue-raising power is available within the current framework of national and local taxation but that in the light of the comments received the Government had decided not to pursue the proposal. Therefore we think that we are consistent on that point.
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, asked me who is responsible for the law and suggested that somebody who is well qualified should be responsible for the quality of the law. At least, the noble Earl used words to that effect. As I am sure the noble Earl will understand, a substantial part of our debate could be taken up on this very subject. Indeed, that may well be the case when the Bill is considered. In the time available I can only reassure the noble Earl by saying that responsibility for the law, especially the interconnection of private and commercial law which he mentioned, was given the most exhaustive consideration by the Government. As to arrangements for husbanding the quality of the law after devolution, devolved law will be the responsibility of the Scottish Administration. The noble Earl may be interested in Clause 21(4) of the Bill which provides that a member of the Scottish Executive responsible for functions equivalent to those of a Law Officer need not be an elected member of the Assembly, for reserve law responsibility will continue as at present.
The noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, further posed this question to me: who has been consulted about the shape of the devolved 262 Assembly chamber? It is difficult to consult effectively when those with title to be be consulted do not yet exist as a body, but in July last provisional plans were widely published in the Press in Scotland and were displayed to Scottish Members of Parliament, who had been shown round the building. There have been no representations since to suggest that the plans were on the wrong lines, although of course the noble Earl gave every indication that he thought they were.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, posed this question to me. She said that local government in Scotland should be reorganised before devolution, and I am sure that from her own vast experience of the local government scene she will recognise that local government reorganisation is far from simple and that we cannot simply go back to an old form of organisation. To organise local government first would delay devolution very seriously; it would create another upheaval in local government, which as we all know has just been reformed in Scotland, and certainly could not improve it in the short-term; and having got so far with devolution it would seem strange to pre-empt at this stage a possible major decision of the new Scottish Administration.
My noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, in his most eloquent maiden speech, both suggested that all options for England set out in the Kilbrandon Report must be in the English Consultative Paper. That Paper will aim to deal comprehensively with the possibilities of change in England. My noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt posed questions about taxation powers, about the equality of civil rights as between different parts of Great Britain, about the desirability of having a judicial review of reserve powers and policy, but I consider that these are matters of considerable detail which will certainly be discussed at considerable length as your Lordships debate the Bill on a future occasion. There have been statements or implications—at least outside this House—that the Bill should and could have been deferred so that the energies could be concentrated on the economic situation and on other matters considered vital.
I am glad to note the measure of agreement, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has said that there is a 263 greater danger in doing nothing. We can therefore concentrate on what to do rather than whether or not to do anything. It is a major argument of those who oppose devolution that it will lead to over-government of Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, mentioned this danger and seemed to have some fear of it. I will not follow him on the point of local government reform which, as I mentioned earlier, after devolution will be a matter for the Scottish Assembly. We are not adding to government; we are re-distributing it. The Government's proposals are not directed to matters being considered in two places where they are now considered in only one. We are seeking to improve the quality of government both by relieving Parliament of responsibilities which can be borne elsewhere, and by creating circumstances in which the discharge of these responsibilities can get more care and attention than Parliament is at present in a position to give it. The need for relief is not only in Parliament; it applies at least equally to Ministers, and certainly to this Minister.
The noble Lords, Lord Mackie of Benshie and Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to the manifold functions of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and of course the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, has a personal knowledge of those difficulties. I can assure the House that both the present holder of the office of Secretary of State for Scotland and his predecessor are satisfied that administrative decentralisation in Scotland has been carried as far as it usefully can, if not further. I must say to the noble Lord, therefore, that any devolution scheme must take account of this fact.
In this connection, I cannot help but feel that there is a contradiction in the arguments of those who are opposed to devolution and who also say that we should be concentrating on the economic situation, or whatever. How will it help the Government and Parliament to deal more effectively with the economic situation if they are obliged to spend much of their time dealing with matters of significance to one part of the Kingdom only, and which could perfectly well be decided in that part of the Kingdom? In any case, I am a little sceptical about scare stories of prospective over-government. It is true that from time to time some people complain in very general terms of over- 264 government, but the overwhelming number of complaints about government received by Ministers are about the failure of Government to do something, or about the quality of what they have done. Devolution is directed towards these complaints.
Possibly the most fashionable argument against devolution is the now almost legendary slippery slope to which passing reference was made by my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt and by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. The contention that once we have granted devolution independence is bound to come, apparently regardless of whether or not the Scots want it, is one that has helped to justify the total refusal of devolution in any form or, at the most, some sort of Scottish talking shop without any powers. The Government wholly share the conviction, widely expressed in this House, that independence for Scotland would be bad for both Scotland and Britain, and that the majority of Scots do not want it. Given the evidence that we have of the demand for transfer of real political responsibility to Scotland, I think the dangers of a slide towards independence are greater if we take no action, or inadequate action, than if we do what we propose.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, spent some time on the question of referenda as, indeed, did the noble Duke, the Duke of Devonshire, and the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Granville of Eye. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, spent some time pointing out the difficulties of constructing satisfactory questions to ask, and of deciding of whom to ask them. I can only say that the Government have no proposals for referenda. They do not think such proposals necessary. They are satisfied that the need and wish for devolution are already sufficiently demonstrated to justify Parliament doing its normal duty and taking its normal responsibilities. But the Government will listen to and carefully consider any proposals made during consideration of the Bill in another place and in your Lordships' House.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, to the accompaniment of great enthusiasm from the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and understandable enthusiasm from my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt, suggested 265 that proportional representation would be highly suitable for the Scottish Assembly. Without the accompanient of quite so much enthusiasm from the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, thought proportional representation much less suitable for the British Parliament. It seemed to me that he was rather undesirably concerned on the effect of proportional representation on the fortunes of a political Party.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhill, for giving way. I am sorry to interrupt him, but I would not wish there to be any misunderstanding. I was pointing out—and we had a debate on this about a year ago so I will not go over it all again—that those who oppose proportional representation at Westminster have to consider a whole lot of other things; that is to say, it is likely to produce coalition government and compromises of Manifestos; and until all that is sorted out, it is difficult to consider that for Westminster. So I was not doing what the noble Lord said I was doing, but I was pointing out a different situation. I was pointing out that those difficulties would not arise, as they did not in Northern Ireland, if proportional representation were to be adopted for a Scottish Assembly.
§ Lord KIRKHILL
My Lords, I followed the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy. At this stage I was attempting to put in a minor, although snide, political boot, but really the only one I have so far attempted to use. I can only say that the Government consider that the present electoral system is simple to operate, easily understood and provides for clear and direct accountability of the Member to his constituents. Any change would have to be looked at hard, and the implications not only for the Assemblies but also for Parliament and local government elections would need to be fully assessed. The circumstances of Northern Ireland, particularly the presence two separate communities, are entirely different from those elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves that point, perhaps he would explain why we have three Members for one constituency. 266 Surely this raises the same sort of difficulty which he reckons to avoid?
§ Lord KIRKHILL
My Lords, that is a very fair point to put to me. I think the frank reply to that is that for the first election this would seem to be the quickest and most effective way to proceed. These are early days and the Bill has only just been published. If the noble Lord will consider the matter in some depth, I think he will see that this may not necessarily be the case as we proceed. It seems to the Government to he an important way of dealing quickly and effectively with elections very soon after the Bill has passed through these Houses of Parliament.
Finally, my Lords, I should acknowledge the position of those who accept that significant change is desirable, agree that action should be taken now to that end, but consider that the action should take quite a different form; namely, that of creating a federal constitution, a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie. I would remind those who take this view that the Majority Report of the Kilbrandon Commission, after a careful study of federalism, ended with a firm recommendation against it as a solution to British requirements. I would also remind your Lordships that an essential object of devolution is to respect the different attitudes and aspirations of different parts of the United Kingdom. Those favouring federalism have increasingly sought to argue that it is capable of more flexible application than has yet been demonstrated in any existing federal State.
Even so, it is not easy to see how satisfactory arrangements could be made whereby Parliament had complete sovereignty over parts of the United Kingdom but only partial sovereignty over the remainder. Alternatively, it is not easy to see how a British federal State could operate if one of its provinces, England, accounted for 85 per cent. of its population and for a very significant percentage of its overall wealth. This might be corrected by breaking up England into a number of regions, but there is as yet no evidence of a wish in England either for a federal State or for that type of sub-division. Federalism elsewhere has been either a natural process of growth from the bottom upwards or has had historical factors working in its 267 favour. In the Government's view, neither of these influences applies in Britain.
The Government will, of course, as I repeat, be ready to listen with the greatest care to all the arguments put forward on the provisions of the Scotland and Wales Bill. I do strongly commend to your Lordships the Government's initiative in bringing the Bill forward, and I strongly suggest that the only constructive approach is that of considering the Bill within the broad principles of devolution as laid down by the Government and not of seeking some totally different solution. In the meantime, the Government will take note of the contributions made in your Lordships' House today, aware that there will be future occasions for debate in greater depth.
I now wish to make observations on a number of disparate points made by other noble Lords. I would, of course, thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for his kind words on the Government's proposal to extend fishery limits to 200 miles next year. This is a first and essential step in safeguarding our fisheries interest. The next vital stages are those for settlement in negotiation with our EEC partners. It is our intention that this Chamber should have the opportunity of debating the fishery limits Bill before the Christmas Recess.
My noble friend Lord Soper—who, unfortunately, has had to leave because he has been feeling somewhat unwell these last few hours—properly directed your Lordships' attention to the plight of the homeless, pointing to the urgent need for legislation. I can say, as my right honourable friend said last week in another place that the Government remain committed to introducing the promised legislation on homelessness and will bring it forward at the earliest opportunity. The statistics for 1975 which are now available show how much authorities are doing, but the Government fully accept the point made by the noble Lord that a clear statutory framework is needed. The Government have made it clear that they intend to deal with this and the Government will introduce a Bill as soon as this proves to be practicable.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, has expressed a proper concern for the plight of battered women. However, I can tell your Lordships' House that, in 268 welcoming the Select Committee's Report on Violence in Marriage, the Government undertook to report back to Parliament. The Government's observations on all 28 recommendations contained in the report will be presented to Parliament before Christmas. I give the noble Earl that undertaking. I confirm to the noble Viscount, Lord Barrington, that tonight is not the time to discuss the status of the foetus, but I can say that the first Report of last Session's Select Committee on Abortion makes a number of recommendations to the House of Commons, many of which would require legislation to implement, and recommends that the Government should introduce such legislation. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has said that the House of Commons as a whole would wish to consider carefully the report and its recommendations. It has not yet done so. The other place would require initially at least to consider the individual recommendations.
I am disappointed to learn that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, considers the average run of St. Andrew's House Ministers to be somewhat supine, but I can confirm to the noble Lord that the Working Party set up by the Police Advisory Board for Scotland reported in June 1975, a point I have made before, as a result of which chief constables and police authorities have been encouraged to improve their special constabulary both in quantity and in quality. In England and Wales a similar Working Party will report in the near future to the Police Advisory Board.
The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, have expressed scepticism about the Government's proposed plans for direct labour organisations. If I could be helpful yet partisan, the Government's proposals, on which the industry has been consulted, are broadly that direct labour organisations will be enabled to do new construction work within the county for another local authority in the county, for new town development corporations, and for registered housing associations. A district direct labour organisation will be able to do new construction work for a contiguous district of an adjoining county, and direct labour organisations will be able to do improvement and maintenance work for owners of private houses in housing action areas and general 269 improvement areas within the county. Proper charging—and the noble Viscount mentioned this—accounting and tendering arrangements will be introduced. A financial objective will be established, and all proper costs, including overheads, will have to be taken into account. Separate accounts in relation to direct labour organisation activities will be required to be kept. The main principles will be included in the legislation, and the detailed arrangements will be set out in regulations. The proposals on these aspects are, in essence, in line with the recommendations in the Report on Direct Works Undertakings Accounting published last year by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.
The noble Lord, Lord Rhodes, asked me a specific question. He asked about the nature of the Government's policy towards MFA renegotiation. The Government are aware of the shortcomings of the present MFA, which expires at the end of next year, and we have been in close touch with industry in recent months over possible improvements.
I have made observations on a number of specific points raised by noble Lords today. However, as I indicated at the outset of my remarks, the debate in these two days has ranged widely over the economy and home affairs, a point emphasised by my noble friend Lord Gordon-Walker. In the circumstances, I consider it would be appropriate if I were to conclude by making a general comment on the Government's view of the economy. The aim of the Government's strategy is sustainable full employment in an economy that can provide rising standards of private consumption and public provision, although where the link lies between these two thoughts and ray noble friend Lord Davies of Leek's invisible man with his invisible earnings I confess I have not yet quite considered; but I undertake further to think and reflect on what my noble friend said.
Since the autumn of last year, the main stimulus to our growth has been exports. Our target of full employment means that we must ensure that this growth is sustained, and this necessitates a continuing shift of output into investment and into the balance of payments. The necessary conditions for a sustained movement towards our overall objectives are, first, a rate of inflation at least no worse than 270 that of our main competitors overseas; secondly, sustained growth in exports so that we may pay our way in world trade; thirdly, improvement in the efficiency of our industry through higher investment and better use of both labour and capital; and, fourthly, an expansion of our manufacturing sector. If we are to achieve our objectives and have a tolerable future, we must fulfil these conditions.
The main instruments for uniting the nation behind these purposes are the Social Contract and the industrial strategy. It is part of our strategy to increase the nation's industrial capability and particularly to provide for an expansion of the manufacturing sector. This strategy requires a very careful balance between the need for resources, physical and financial, of the public and private sectors. While the aim must be for an increase in the resources available for manufacturing industry, it takes time before an increase in available finance can be used to bid for more resources and more time to allow an increased flow of resources to begin to correct the imbalance with which we are faced. The lag between introducing an economic policy and seeing its beneficial results is certainly frustrating. The Government's view is that it is not the overall strategy that worries the electors but the time it takes to make progress, and this is very natural.
The policy of this Government is one of co-operation, confrontation. The Social Contract encompassing the pay agreement has been and continues to be the most important plank of the counter-inflation policy. It is important that all concerned realize that the whole British public, including the trades union movement, has accepted that there must be some fall in living standards for all, except the least well-off, if we are to restore our economic self-respect. It is that goal of economic self-respect that Government policy must be directed.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, I beg to move that this debate be adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved, That the debate be adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at seventeen minutes before ten o'clock.