§ Debate resumed.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, if we may now divert for a few hours to the debate on the gracious Speech, I should like, if I may, to suggest to your Lordships that this Speech was indeed a 185 unique occasion. It was unique because for the first time, so far as I know, a legislative programme has been put forward by a Party in government after full co-operation and consultation with a very much smaller Party not in government; it is perhaps worth spending just a moment or two in seeing whether this is a constitutional innovation of value and whether it has anything to offer to our way of life in the future.
The first feature of the gracious Speech is perhaps rather like the observation of Sherlock Holmes about the curious incident of the dog that did nothing in the night time. The first feature of the Speech is that there is not one single Socialist measure contained in it. There is not one single item of legislation proposed which could have aroused the slightest enthusiasm in any member of the Tribune group. I believe that this is a great step forward. We can operate our Parliamentary system only if there is a basic consensus between the political Parties as to the way of life that we envisage in this country, and I believe that many of us have been appalled at the slow drift in recent years whereby in the Labour Party the extreme Left has begun to take over more and more influence and in the Conservative Party the extreme Right has begun to take over more and more influence. I believe that there are many of us who can see no future for democracy in this country if there is to be a series of alternating Governments of extreme Left and extreme Right. That way there will be no stability, there will be no continuity and, in due course, there will be no democracy.
What one has in this gracious Speech is a series of measures which command the support of a very wide spectrum of public opinion in all the political Parties, and I believe that this is a development that we should welcome. It indicates that the centre of British politics is being recaptured, and it indicates, I hope, that there is a way forward in this country which involves whichever Party happens to win power under our electoral system proceeding not entirely on the basis of its own lunatic fringe but on the basis of co-operation and consultation with other Parties so that a general consensus can be reached. That is the first feature of this gracious Speech which we on these Benches welcome.
186 The second feature is this: There are certain major measures. There are the devolution measures about which my noble friend Lord Mackie will be making observations later, there is the European Parliament measure about which my noble friends Lord Gladwyn and Lord Banks will want to make observations tomorrow. But the second feature of the speech is that there is no appalling glut of legislation such as has cluttered up the Statute Book in recent years. During those years, under Governments of both Parties, we have had far too much legislation achieving far too little. I welcome the fact that for once we are going to have a digestible programme of legislation to get through in this Session.
The third feature of the gracious Speech is that there are measures, as I indicated, that have been brought forward and are being proposed that will command much widespread support; there is the assistance that is promised to small firms, and no doubt also to the self-employed, not, so far as I know, mentioned anywhere in the works of Marx. That is a measure we must all welcome; indeed, without wishing to sound as though I am standing on the hustings, I can remember, if it is not a confidential matter, being at a meeting of our own Party at which it was decided to suggest to the Government that Mr. Harold Lever might be the appropriate person to be put in charge of that problem, and we very much welcome the fact that his appointment followed.
There is the proposal about profit-sharing incentives through the tax system. That does not appear in the works of Engels. It is something that most people in the community will welcome. There is assistance to first time house buyers. That is something, I believe, which Lenin never contemplated. There is the promotion of competition policy in economics and in industry, which is something, I think, that never occurred to Stalin. These are all matters which will command a great deal of general support.
I would not want to suggest that a small Party such as ours—small in terms of seats if not in terms of votes—is directly responsible for all that is in the gracious Speech, but I believe that the inference is unavoidable; that is, that 187 the fact that these non-Socialist progressive measures to increase the competitiveness of our economy have been included in the Speech is an indication of the degree of co-operation and consultation that has gone on between the Government and the Liberal Party.
I had not intended to deal this afternoon with the matters which the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has raised, but I must perhaps take up one or two of the points he mentioned. He has mentioned the time it takes for cases to come for trial. That we all deplore, but we must bear in mind the fact that certainly a case of any complication takes very many weeks to prepare if the defence is to be adequately presented. Although if the trend is getting steadily longer that is obviously something to be looked at with care, it is unrealistic to expect that the time of waiting between committal and trial could ever be reduced to a matter of a few days or even sometimes to a matter of a few weeks.
Secondly, the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mentioned the proposal put out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Widgery, as to some sort of financial incentive for shortening trials. I am bound to say that I find that a somewhat odd suggestion. At present, whenever the Bar seek to shorten a trial the result is a volley of abuse from the defendant who claims that he has been blackmailed into behaving in some way that he did not intend to behave, followed by a volume of pseudo-research from Birmingham University. It is not a realistic suggestion, any more than it would be realistic to suggest to orchestral conductors that they might be paid a bonus depending on how quickly they could get through the slow movement of the Eroica Symphony.
Thirdly, the noble and learned Lord raised the question of hooliganism. I wish merely to suggest, if I may, as I am sure he will appreciate, that this is a problem of extreme complexity. I doubt very much whether it can be solved in purely sociological terms. I do not believe that if we consider a trainload of hooligans returning from a football match we shall find that so many of them come from high rise flats, so many from deprived homes and so many from schools 188 where the classes are too large, and so on. The problem is far more complex than that and requires, perhaps, a great deal more research before we can hope to deal with it.
Then, on the issues raised by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, may I venture to suggest to him that in so far as our trials have become somewhat lengthy, it is because of some of the quite unnecessary complexities in our criminal procedure. Individuals are not to be blamed; the system is to be blamed, and the system might properly be looked at to see to what extent simplification can be achieved.
As I have said, I had not intended to make observations on those matters. I had intended to make observations on only two specific items in the gracious Speech, the first being the proposal to reform Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911. It might be helpful if I remind your Lordships of the words in the Labour Party Manifesto at the last Election, because we all know the extreme importance which is to be attached to any words in a Party Manifesto. It says:… to replace the Official Secrets Acts by a measure to put the burden on public authorities to justify withholding information".That is a quite different matter from merely seeking now to repeal and replace Section 2 of the 1911 Act. Section 2 of the Act is the one that is often referred to as a "catch all" section. It is frequently said that it in fact covers every single piece of information: the giving of it, the disclosure of it by a civil servant and the receipt of it by a member of the public. It is equally true to say that to anyone who read the Sunday Telegraph case of some years ago, in which I played a small part, what emerged in that case was not only that it might be a "catch all" section but that it was also a meaningless section, and there were very real problems of construction in making any sense at all out of it as at present drafted. For that reason Section 2 has become almost dormant and has hardly ever been used in the succeeding five or six years.
Therefore, I think one ought to realise that if one talks about simply repealing Section 2 and replacing it with a limited coherent section, one will in fact finish up with something more oppressive than the 189 present situation. Therefore, one must go very much further than merely redrafting and rephrasing Section 2. I suggest that we must first of all take a limited class of information—defence information is obviously the most important, and budgetary information is also perhaps of importance and say, in relation to that class of information only, that it will be a criminal offence deliberately to divulge or to receive information of that nature. Of course, that still leaves a difficult question as to whether such information has been correctly classified, and whether that decision can properly be left to the Minister or whether there must be some impartial arbiter of the classification if it is challenged. However, that is the first class of information. There would then, I suggest, be a second class of information which again should be protected. It includes documents about law enforcement, Cabinet documents and matters of that nature. I should have thought that the wrongful disclosure of such information could properly be left to the ordinary processes of Civil Service discipline and it would be quite unnecessary for the criminal law to be involved at all.
We then reach the crucial feature: the remaining information which is not protected and as regards which there should be a general right of access by the Press and the public. I do not envisage that Mr. Tariq Ali should be allowed to rummage around the desks in Whitehall. However, I suggest that there are a large number of Government documents—reports, statistical surveys, feasibility studies, product tests and so on—which can be of material assistance to the public in helping in the formulation of policy. One of the problems at present experienced by those of us who are interested in any one particular topic is that we never get the opportunity to help to formulate policy. We only get the opportunity to comment on it after it has been formulated by the relevant Civil Service department.
Fourthly, I hope that this legislation, when it emerges, will recognise that there are certain rights of privacy in relation to any information which has been provided to the Government by individuals on a confidential basis. The effect of an Act of that sort which we on these Benches would very much welcome would be very 190 substantially to open up Government and give the Press and the public access to a great deal of information which, at present, is quite purposely kept secret.
I have mentioned the right of the Press to such information. Perhaps for the last few minutes of my speech I can revert to that subject. Although there is no reference to it in the gracious Speech, as I understand it under the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Amendment) Act 1976 it is almost inevitable that within the forthcoming Session it will be the Secretary of State's duty to present his draft Press charter to both Houses of Parliament, in the absence of agreement between all the parties—and it is now quite clear that there will not be agreement between the parties.
When the Secretary of State comes to draft that charter I hope that he will bear in mind that certainly we on these Benches will not resile from the principles that we expressed in the course of the debate on that Bill. We should expect that any such charter will make it clear that whatever arguments there may be in industrial terms for the closed shop in ordinary industry, there is no room for a closed shop in journalism, where its operation, for industrial purposes, will lead to some form of censorship. We should expect to see that journalists will have the right to join the NUJ, the IOJ or neither if they so prefer. We should expect to see that editors are given complete freedom both from proprietorial pressures and from trade union pressures. We should expect to see that outside contributors have their rights of access fully recognised. It is only if we find the Secretary of State laying a charter in those terms that we on these Benches would feel it possible to support it.
Having said something about the freedom of the Press and the right of journalists to express themselves, I hope I may be forgiven for saying, finally, that with those rights there must go a certain degree of responsibility. In view of developments in previous weeks, that is perhaps a matter about which we on these Benches feel rather strongly. May I say at once that we have no sort of objection to the Press indulging in a responsible investigation into allegations of serious criminal offences—of course not. But we have every objection to a sustained campaign of innuendo, half-truth and malicious tittle-tattle.
191 Perhaps I may give your Lordships just one example of that. A few weeks ago, on 24th October, the Evening News on its placards and on its front page had the banner headline:Mystery woman in Scott Affair".If one troubled to read the article it turned out that a man, whose name I do not think had ever been mentioned before in connection with this matter and who admitted that he had a very long criminal record, had told the Evening News that he had met a man who had told him that he had met a woman who had told him that she had been approached about some matter relating to Mr. Scott. On that basis I think I can tell your Lordships that I have met a man who has told me that he has met a man who has told him that he has met a woman who has told him that she has heard that every night the editor of the Evening News sleeps with his pet budgerigar. What a marvellous banner headline that would make for the Evening Standard!
In recent years in the Press the curious tendency has arisen of always putting a person's age in brackets after his name. Perhaps I might make the constructive suggestion that in future instead of the age there should appear in brackets the number of thousands of pounds which have been paid, either directly or indirectly, to whoever it is who has purveyed the salacious rubbish that sometimes follows. That is all I desire to say about this particular issue at the moment.
It is perhaps clear that for the first few months we in your Lordships' House shall not have a particularly busy Session, until such time as the major Bills come through from the other House. I would hope that in some of the ways that I have indicated, and in other ways that will occur to your Lordships, we might usefully use that time in extending a little but perhaps significantly some of the frontiers of freedom.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ The Earl of LIVERPOOL
My Lords, it is with great trepidation that I rise to make my maiden speech and I beg your Lordships' customary and generous indulgence. The gracious Speech contained many matters of great importance, but I hope I shall be forgiven if I take this 192 opportunity of drawing to your Lordships' attention a subject which was not included in it but which I am sure fills the minds of many parents of young children with anxiety. I refer to the question of the child vaccine programme and in particular to the whooping cough vaccine which has recently received renewed publicity following the report submitted by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration.
As is now well known, the whooping cough vaccine can cause severe nervous disorder in children which sometimes results in permanent brain damage. Admittedly the percentage is small and opinions vary between one child in every 50,000 vaccinated and one child in every 300,000. I suspect that the true figure may lie somewhere in the middle. How-ever this may be, there are now in excess of 400 children who are known to have been seriously affected by the vaccine and who will not be able to lead any kind of normal life. In addition to this, there are many thousands of incidences of convulsions which have resulted from the vaccination but which have caused no long-term damage.
It is stated that the risk of adverse reaction is minimal provided that the child is completely healthy when the vaccine is administered. But I do not believe it is quite that simple, because not only must the doctor look at the child's day-to-day health and make sure that he or she is entirely free from respiratory or chest infections, but he must also satisfy himself that there is no likelihood of any nervous disorder such as epilepsy, et cetera. Unfortunately, the illnesses which may make it ill-advised to administer the whooping cough vaccine do not always manifest themselves at three months of age, which is the time when the first inoculation is advocated. In addition, a family history of any nervous debility renders the child vulnerable to the adverse effects of this vaccine.
In my view the risk also compounds itself when it is realised that, through sheer weight of work in some areas, it is not always possible for the family doctor to administer the vaccine. Under those circumstances he may legitimately delegate the inoculation to nurses in clinics or even to child health visitors who have been approved as competent. No doubt these nurses and health visitors are 193 competent, but I feel there is an increased chance by delegating that some relevant detail concerning the child's health could be missed and thus cause tragic consequences.
I was curious to discover whether it might be possible to isolate the damaging elements of the vaccine, but on reading the Review by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which was published in May this year, I found there to be a considerable gap in our knowledge. I should like briefly to quote from this Review. Paragraph 25 states:A major difficulty at present in preparing an entirely satisfactory pertussis [or whooping cough] vaccine is the inability to identify precisely, by reliable laboratory tests, the antigen or antigens necessary for the protection of children".It goes on to say:Because of these gaps in our knowledge, pertussis vaccines are at present prepared as whole bacterial suspensions. It is, therefore, important that investigations should continue to be made on the purification of the vaccine and the identification of the protective antigens. Work along these lines, supported by the DHSS, has been conducted and is at present proceeding in a number of centres, including in particular the Microbiological Research Establishment, Porton Down".Another aspect of concern is the fact that inoculation is by no means a guarantee that the child will be protected from the illness. Indeed, I was amazed to read that in 1964 to 1969 the incidence rate of whooping cough in fully vaccinated children was almost as high as in those who had not been vaccinated. I should say in fairness, however, that following the introduction of what is called the "absorbed vaccine" in 1969 the protective efficiency improved.
I believe that The Times made a valid point in its leading article on Friday, 28th October, when it stated that one of the most serious side effects stemming from the doubts about routine whooping cough vaccination was the public apprehension which has now ensued regarding vaccination in general. It is undoubtedly important that there should be the highest possible acceptance rate of diphtheria, tetanus and polio vaccines and it is, indeed, sad that in trying to provide a cure for whooping cough we may have served only to reduce the acceptance rate of these other serums. Indeed, I should like briefly to quote from the Review by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. It states: 194The average acceptance rate before 1974"—that is to say, for vaccination acceptance—was from 70 to 80 per cent. but the present rate is nearer 50 per cent. and in some areas may be much lower".There are differing views on the advisability of continuing with the whooping cough vaccination programme. Some doctors are in favour of its withdrawal. I believe they are in a minority. I believe that some members of the Department of Health and Social Security may in fact hold the same view. Certainly there are many members of the public who would favour that course. The main reasons of those in favour of such a move are, I understand, the belief that the existing strain of whooping cough is less severe than that of 25 years ago; secondly, the vaccination does not give absolute protection from the illness, and, thirdly, that not enough is really known about how the vaccine works.
On the other hand, those in favour of retention of the vaccine say that is reduces the seriousness of the illness if contracted and that it does give a reasonable measure of protection, and that the risks of severe damage to a few children outweigh the benefits for the many. I must confess that I find it difficult to come to a conclusion, but I tend towards the view that the vaccine should be withdrawn pending the discovery of a more stable serum or vaccine, and I would ask the Minister whether he has considered this possibility, and whether he considers adequate funds are being given to the research programme at Porton Down and elsewhere.
In conclusion, my Lords, I should like to say just a few words on the question of compensation for the children who have been permanently damaged. I understand that the Government have accepted in principle that compensation should be paid to them, but are unable to do so until the Royal Commission which was set up in 1973 to examine this question submits its Report. There are no doubt many and exhausting avenues of inquiry to be made by them and I can only speculate on these, but I feel a conclusion to the question would meet with unanimous approval. I therefore hope that we may look forward to publication of the report in the not too distant future. I thank your Lordships for your kindness and must apologise for any deviation I may have incurred, and 195 hope that I have not committed an unforgivable sin by bringing this subject before your Lordships today.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege to be the first to congratulate the noble Earl on his maiden speech. I envy him his youth. I congratulate him on the enthusiasm which he has brought to bear on a topic which wild horses would not persuade me to discuss any further, not having the necessary knowledge. I regard it as a proof of unerring skill that he has lighted upon one of the great advantages belonging to your Lordships' House—the fact that it is possible to ventilate such problems as these and to see that, having ventilated them, they do not fall into complete disuse and are completely forgotten. I am sure that there are many who will take an added interest in the home affairs as associated with this particular kind of vaccine. It may be of interest to the noble Earl that I shall certainly acquaint one or two of my children who have youngsters who might, in fact, profit from learning what has been so carefully expressed. We congratulate the noble Earl and hope that he will speak many times in the future with equal command.
Earl ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I was concerned that we, as a House, seem to have lost the courtesy that we always used to extend to people making maiden speeches. We did not move into or out of the Chamber during a maiden speech. I hope that perhaps we may return to that courtesy to new speakers.
§ Lord SOPER
My Lords, from the position of innocence in this particular matter, let me now proceed if I may. I was much interested in the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. I was not quite sure whether he was commending the Labour Party for its abstinence from Marxist influences or whether he was indicating that we were in the process of coming rather nearer to them. But was 196 it not a little incautious of him to refer to Mr. Lenin? It was Mr. Lenin who in 1923 introduced in the new economic policy a consolation prize for small industries, and an attempt to make them more viable. He repented of his enthusiam for this particular programme, later on, but it is perhaps worth recording that the Labour movement is a movement and not a fixed entity.
I, for one, should like to put on record that I have no fear of the Marxists taking over. The Marxists are having a great deal of trouble themselves at this moment in finding out what they ought to believe, and they are vociferous by nature. It is one of the consolations that I find in the gracious Speech that it moves in upon areas which have previously been fertilised by Left Wing and what I would regard as Socialist principles.
I am much tempted to break a lance with the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers. I agreed with his moral philosophy in principle; I disagreed with some of the riders that he deduced from the propositions. But he will understand—and I am sure he will not regard this as impudence on my part—that I felt a sense of great astonishment when he talked of that unity. His exact words were, "a unity beyond measure". I do not believe that we live in a society where there is a unity beyond measure. I believe that many of the things that he said apply to a particular class or group. He is none the worse for that, and he will not think me impudent if I say that I do not belong to that group, but I nevertheless recognise that within the structure of that group there are certain inbuilt considerations, moral, political and economic. I think it necessary to remind myself, and perhaps your Lordships' House, that we are still not a classless society, and that a very great deal of what is natural and apposite in what he said does not apply, and would be completely inconsequential, in the minds of a great many of the people with whom I have been talking, as I habitually do on Wednesdays, on Tower Hill. It is a class society, and that is one of the issues upon which I believe the gracious Speech must be judged and must accept criticism in such a debate as this.
I would select one issue, or perhaps two. It is more evident, it would seem to me, in the realm of housing and homelessness that what I have just said about a class society 197 is still true. May I give some figures? If they are contested, I shall be only too happy to find that I am wrong. I believe that 50,000 families were accommodated last year in the insufferable conditions of bed and breakfast accommodation. That is to say, 50,000 families were completely and utterly homeless. There are 700,000 families living in dwellings that have been officially condemned as unfit for human habitation. Another 1 million families are living in premises where there is no indoor toilet and no bath. I regard this as intolerable, and I regard it as intolerable because it is an offence in a civilised society which could be remedied. There was a time when the condition of poverty and the condition of homelessness were as inevitable as they were deplorable, but we have the resources today, and, in my judgment, that adds to and compounds the evil.
The facts of what is happening in that continuing condition are equally disturbing. There has been a reduction of something like 17 per cent in housing. In the last Conservative Government's final year, they were producing one-third more habitable places than have been produced in the last year of this Government. In fact, the overall condition is that there is no increase in the number and in the total range of habitable premises. These are matters upon which generalised statistics may be faulty but they lead me, at least, to the conclusion that here is an evil which is intolerable and to which the Government, with all their other resources and indeed with many of their already existing plans, need to pay greater attention.
I welcomed with enthusiasm the transfer of the authority from the local social services to the local housing departments because it involved the obligation on the part of that housing department to ensure that people who were homeless were accommodated. That has in a large measure been done, as I say, through the extremely intensive and expensive programme of the bed-sit, but the general reduction which was hoped for has not been accomplished. Therefore I think it proper in a discussion on home affairs to consider the affairs of those who are homeless, and I ask myself what can be done and I find in the gracious Speech two suggestions which marginally or perhaps more directly affect this issue.
198 First, the encouragement of first time home buyers. This is excellent and I congratulate the Government entirely on that. However, there is even within that provision a snag which the Government should look at carefully. The actual mix of housing societies and housing authorities in respect of the kind of building society that can be used as a method of home buying has a predilection for other places than the inner cities. In the United States that mix of available resources for building societies has to be made public. In this country it does not. I have evidence which I could supply of vast delays among people who, going expectantly and encouraged so to do, have found that within the inner city they are much less likely even to be made the offer which the improved condition of a first time home buyer is provided. Perhaps the Government will look at that to see whether here is not one measure which would increase the efficacy of what is indubitably a first-rate proposal on their part.
The other element in the gracious Speech which impinges on housing is the element of the inner city and its renovation. Yesterday in another place the Secretary for the Environment spelled out in considerable detail the partnership programme and the direct grant programme available for the renovation and reclamation of the inner city. What disturbs me is this: I hope that the inner city, when it is renovated, will not be another centre of industrial growth picked out perhaps with occasional places of recreation. It is in the inner city where one of the paramount needs is for a rehousing programme to bring back life to these lifeless and gutless interior cities of which I have some knowledge because it is within the inner city that I work from time to time. There is great need to recognise that the inner city, unless it becomes more than a conurbation and in fact an environment of people, will do very little to recover from the kind of paralysis and artificiality which has strangled many an American city.
However, there are other methods which I would advertise on this matter of housing. I commend to your Lordships the housing emergency programme and, if I say little about it in detail, it is included in chapters 3 and 4 of a very interesting document called The Homeless 199 and the Empty Houses, a book produced by Ron Bailey. In substance it is the answer, or the temporary answer, to one of the most exacerbating and in many cases disturbing elements in the present housing situation.
One cannot go far from this building without finding many boards indicating empty property. That property is now quickly vandalised and when we had to vacate for just a few days one of the hostels for which I am responsible, it was vandalised, and now we are employed trying to save something by putting in security guards, who will have to remain there until we can reinstate the intention of the hostel. This is an instance of the kind of problem which is widespread. The homeless family walking desolately across a street may see many at least short-life premises, premises which have been acquired by local authorities for demolition or which are in the process of a complete renovation of the neighbourhood, but there is no prospect at the moment that many of these premises will in fact be renovated or demolished.
Homelessness is one of the immediate issues; one cannot stay hungry for long without deteriorating and one cannot stay naked for long without getting cold. Nor can one stay homeless for long without being deprived of one of the necessities, so to speak, of the ordinary means of life. Forgive me if this sounds a bit like preaching, but I am scandalised at the way in which people will get very concerned about food provided for those who are hungry and clothing for those who are naked but seem to think that the provision of some kind of housing is the poor relation of the other two. In fact it is nothing of the sort it is as imperative and it has to be in short-term consideration if it is to be effective.
The programme of the housing emergency association has been sponsored by Shelter and I declare an interest in that at the moment I have the privilege of being the chairman of Shelter. This programme has manifest effects which can be documented. It is a programme whereby short life premises are leased to a particular housing association or, for that matter, to another group, and they are renovated, sometimes by voluntary labour, and then they are leased back 200 to the local authority to provide, at least for a short time, accommodation for those who otherwise would be in bed-sits. The bed-sit accommodation costs £60 a week. Since 1975 the London and Quadrant Housing Association has been able to achieve accommodation for 915 families at a cost of £20 a week, which of course has been charged to the local authority.
In my judgment it is no good saying that we must press on with our general plans without this kind of shock treatment which is available and which has been demonstrated to be economically, politically and in every other way viable. I hope the Government will not only restore the kind of resources which have been impoverished during this time of crisis but will also look carefully at the prospect already set out in what is effective form by the London and Quadrant Housing Association and of which there is much more evidence of its viability but which I will not delay your Lordships by relating.
There is one supreme issue. A lot more money is needed if voluntary bodies are to co-operate in the provision of some kind of homeless renovation, and I make the plea that there are not a few voluntary bodies, of which I have some knowledge, which will inevitably have to go out of business unless there is an increase in the available resources. In principle, I am sure that what is required above everything else is the conviction on the part of those who are homeless that there is a prospect not only in the long-term of a better home, a better situation in home affairs, but that there are valuable and practical ways in which the situation could vastly be improved at this moment.
Wearing another hat, as the president of the League Against Cruel Sports, I looked in vain in the gracious Speech for any information about the prospect of something being done in relation to hare coursing. I sometimes wonder whether this problem of hare coursing is under some sort of diabolic influence. In 1966 there was a Live Hare Coursing (Abolition) Bill, in the 1967 another one, in 1968 another, and in 1970 yet another. In 1970 the Hare Coursing Bill was adopted by the Government at a time when they had a handsome majority, but it fell through procedural difficulty.
201 In 1971, 1972, 1973 and 1975 there were further similar Bills, yet here we are still with this abominable practice which I think has been over-emphasised in the cruelty which is attached to it in regard to the suffering of the animals, but which in my judgment is a thoroughly unpleasant exercise that human beings ought to get rid of as soon as they can. A Bill of this nature has one great merit. It would not be costly, it would not involve any trouble with the balance of payments. But I believe, that it would have one very important effect, and I hope that the Government will find time for it, even if they say that there are many other things that are more worthwhile—I wonder whether there are.
It is the usual assumption that our habits and practices, our characteristic behaviour patterns to the animal world, will improve only when we have improved our relationships with one another in the human world. I would suggest that it may be exactly the opposite; that at the moment we need a kind of enthusiasm and I sense of victory in many of the human problems which vex us. Would it not be of supreme encouragement if indeed we were able to win some battles in the field of animal welfare? I believe that they would further encourage us in more important matters in our human affairs. I hope that the Government will feel concerned about this long-continued battle, and will practise the exorcism which is necessary if this Bill is now to come into effect and to encourage us all.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord CHITNIS
My Lords, the first occasion on which one rises to address this House is inevitably a rather unnerving one, but I have already learnt in the short period during which I have been a Member that I can rely on your kindness and indulgence. We have been told in the Queen's Speech that the Government have the intention and plans to cope with the present high level of unemployment, and we debated many aspects of that problem yesterday. Naturally, the Government's plans will concentrate on particular sections of the unemployed population where the need seems to be greatest and where swift Government action will have the greatest impact in reducing the present high total of the unemployed. Certainly, no one would grudge preferential treatment or 202 priority being given for any measures which would help the unemployed school-leaver. Through no fault of his own he finds himself unable to use the education with which he has been equipped and unable to occupy himself usefully.
I realise that in such a climate it is difficult to press on the Government's attention the claims of those who find themselves in employment difficulties through nobody's fault but their own. I am talking about those in prisons and borstals who are not, in most cases, irredeemably criminal, even if they may have committed some of the offences to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred earlier; who often find themselves approaching their release without proper advice, training or retraining; and who are thus under the triple handicap of trying to find employment when unemployment is high, of hearing the stigma of their conviction and of lacking guidance about how to earn an honest living.
I do not believe that to attempt to do something about this would be just sentimental charity. At the very least, it would simply he cost effective if it enabled these people to find work which would prevent them becoming a charge on the State, either on the dole, or—if desperation through lack of employment caused them to commit another offence—a charge on the Prison Service yet again. But, just as importantly, they have skills and talents which can be of use to an employer and thus to the country as a whole.
So I should like to ask the Government, first, whether they think they are doing enough to help such prisoners, while in prison, prepare themselves for employment on their release. Of course individual prison education officers, assistant governors and probation officers do what they can in individual cases. But, in general, most prisoners are merely given work which will occupy their time during the period of their sentence, rather than as a preparation for obtaining a suitable job on their release. With the exception of six juvenile detention centres, in only two of our prison establishments is there any basic provision of careers advice.
Can the Government not take immediate steps to set up a working party, with members drawn from a cross-section 203 of management and trade unions, and from those in the voluntary sector who have experience of the employment problems of prisoners? It would have as its target the making of formal provision within the Prison Service for careers advice and guidance, so that there would be a particular person within each prison who was responsible for the future employment problems of prisoners.
When, as I know sometimes happens, enlightened and generous firms offer equipment and facilities for the retraining of prisoners, should not the authorities respond positively and quickly, rather than with suspicion, lethargy, and what, frankly, sometimes seems to be indifference. I know of one case where the offer of an expensive retraining machine which was made in May has not yet been properly responded to in, now, November. In this field, the Prison Service will need, and will surely get, the help and co-operation of both employers and trade unions. In many countries of Europe both sides of industry are co-operating to provide in-prison training. Were Government here to begin to co-ordinate a similar programme, I am sure that the response would be as good.
Secondly, when the prisoner is eventually released, the Government, as an employer, must give a lead in being prepared in all reasonable cases to be ready to consider ex-prisoners for suitable employment—not of course to give them preference over others, but to give them a equal chance of consideration. It is only too easy for private employers to refuse to countenance the employment of ex-offenders under any circumstances whatever if Government and other official bodies do the same, even though in a particular case no reasonable person would doubt that the person concerned was unlikely to offend again—indeed, particularly unlikely to offend again perhaps precisely because of the experience of imprisonment which he has been through.
I do not believe that enough has been done in this regard. It may be imprudent on occasion to put a man who once stole money in charge of the key to the safe. But large employers, as Government departments are, have thousands of jobs where opportunities for theft never occur, 204 and a blanket refusal to employ in any post whatever seems to be unjustifiable.
I am absolutely sure that none of your Lordships has ever either been imprisoned or committed an offence for which he ought to have been imprisoned. But I am reasonably sure that one or two of your Lordships, and I include myself, have once or twice made a mistake or error of judgment which we are rather glad that everybody has forgotten about, so that it does not dog us to the end of our days. That is why, amid great concerns and matters of immense national importance, I hope that a moment or two can be spared for those whose plight I have referred to today.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Lord HOUGHTON of SOWERBY
My Lords, there are some pleasures which are the greater for being unexpected, and when I came into your Lordships' House this afternoon I never thought that I would have the happiness of congratulating my noble friend Lord Chitnis on his maiden speech, but I am delighted that this opportunity has arisen. I confess that all afternoon I have been looking for him on the Liberal Benches, and I am somewhat surprised to find him sitting where he is. Nevertheless, that does not detract in the least from the warmth of my congratulations. Even though he is not among the phalanx of Liberal Lords who stand between Britain and Marxism, he is no doubt going to make his own contribution to the stability of our society.
I refer to Lord Chitnis as my noble friend because he has been my friend, a personal friend, for a very long time, and I envy him the reputation with which he comes to your Lordships' House. As director of the Rowntree Social Service Trust he has had the opportunity of encouraging many worthy and adventurous projects of great social importance, and I owe much gratitude to him for having sponsored a most notable contribution to the development of our Parliamentary institution. It was the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust that financed the political aides to Opposition spokesmen in the House of Commons, who were deplorably bereft of assistance to grapple with Ministers on the opposite side of the Chamber, who were fully briefed 205 by their civil servants. My noble friend Lord Chitnis was a procreator of those who became known as the "Chocolate Soldiers" because they came from the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust; and they had come to help Opposition Front Bench spokesmen in the House of Commons.
I envy him, too, the fact that he was not chairman of a committee of whose report nobody took any notice, that he had not served for three years on a Royal Commission of whose report nobody took any notice. The only committee with which he had to deal was his own, which is by far the best committee to have, and therefore action—immediate action, flexible action—all came from my noble friend. I envy him a further opportunity in his life. I spent most of my life trying to get money out of other people. He has spent most of his giving it away freely to those who have the causes for which the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust was created.
On the experience we had of political aides to Front Bench spokesmen, my noble friend Lord Glenamara proposed in another place that there should be permanent assistance given to Opposition Parties and that new feature of our Parliamentary arrangements was sponsored and encouraged in its pioneering form by my noble friend Lord Chitnis. He has addressed your Lordships' House, as we would expect, with confidence, with fluency and with a deep knowledge of social problems. The problem about which he has spoken to us this afternoon is certainly one of deep social importance to the community; and I am sure your Lordships will join with me in expressing warm congratulatoins to my noble friend Lord Chitnis.
My Lords, in view of the Statement made by my noble friend Lord Harris, I am rather tempted to open up this subject of the present unrest in the public services, but I must bear in mind what Aneurin Bevin said when he was appointed Minister of Labour. He said this: "When there is a dispute brewing up, do not say anything in case you make it worse; when the dispute is on, do not say anything in case you exacerbate feelings; and when the dispute is over, well, there is nothing to be said anyway". That is probably a pretty good guide for this present moment 206 on the fire brigades dispute, but I think I will permit myself two comments. One, my Lords, is that moderate leadership in the trades union movement is in for a rough time—a very rough time. Executive committees are not overturned by delegate conferences in the ordinary run of relationships between leadership and rank and file. And this is not the only instance; there are others now coming up. But I must not go on lest anything I say could be regarded as in some way a comment on the existing dispute, which might not be helpful. But I am very close to this, and I am very concerned. I am very concerned indeed, because things are happening which I have never seen happen before, and the situation must be worrying the Government a great deal at the present time.
Now, my Lords, I will go on with what I intended to speak about for a few moments. It is a subject which is not mentioned in the gracious Speech; it is the future of your Lordships' House. Not that I expected to find it there; but one day it may be there, and I think it is perhaps as well to be prepared for the day when it may be there, because sometimes one can be a little playful with grave possibilities and events in our constitution until the time arrives when they become really serious, and then we find that there probably has not been the amount of public debate on the issues involved to get them clarified and the minds of the public fully prepared to reach a conclusion on what may lie ahead.
I saw a quotation the other day:'You must believe in God, my child', said Jowett to Margot Asquith, 'whatever the clergymen may say'".I feel rather like that about Parliament. I feel rather like that about your Lordships' House, because I believe in a second Chamber no matter what the Labour Party Conference may say. I think it is desirable at this stage for those of us who feel strongly about the Parliamentary institution to speak up against possibly the tide of opinion which has been growing lately in one of our major political Parties—and we all congratulate my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies on her courageous stand for a difficult few moments at the Labour Party Conference the other week.
207 Another thing to take note of, my Lords, was the gusto with which this motion was passed, and the ridicule and insolence of some of the speeches that were made in support of it. That is no comfort to Members of your Lordships' House, to have one part of Parliament assembled exposed to that kind of treatment in an assembly of a political Party which was televised to the whole nation. I think it is desirable, therefore, to make a few assertions about the present position. The first that I make is that the future of the House of Lords cannot be considered apart from the future of the House of Commons. The two are inextricably bound up in our Parliament assembled—and we must not overlook the Crown, either, in this connection. The historic institution of Parliament, with the tripartite responsibility of Crown, your Lordships' House and the House of Commons, cannot be disturbed without widespread changes, dramatic changes, in the constitutional position of the elected Chamber. If the future of the House of Lords is to be considered in that context, I think we should invite Members of the House of Commons (I am not going to call them "another place"; I am going to call them "the House of Commons") to consider their own position. How representative are they? How entitled would they be, by a majority of one vote, to deprive the citizens of their liberty and bring about grave changes in the body politic on the ground that they are a democratically elected body entitled to exercise the sovereign power of Parliament?
Your Lordships' House has few powers left, but whenever we use them we are exposed to the criticism that we are defying the elected House, that we are going against the will of the electorate. I believe that your Lordships' House requires greater legitimacy to exercise the powers we have. I am not in favour of giving your Lordships' House more powers. I think that what we need is greater legitimacy and greater authority to use the powers we have. After all, they were bestowed upon us by Parliament; but we hesitate to use them because, when we do, we meet not only criticism but abuse. In those circumstances, my Lords, it seems to me that, looking for a moment at the future of the House of Lords, we have to consider in what way this greater legitimacy 208 and greater authority to exercise the powers that we have can be bestowed upon us. Various suggestions have been made. A number of my noble friends on the Labour Benches have considered what might be done bearing in mind the recommendations which were made and approved by this House in 1968 on the reform of the House of Lords.
Now I turn to Members on the opposite Benches. I do wish that the Opposition Benches would now begin to make a contribution to this debate. We do not know enough of what is in the minds of either the Conservative Party or the Liberal Party about the future of the House of Lords. The Labour Party talks of abolition. The Prime Minister, when asked before the Labour Party Conference whether there was a justification for the House of Lords, said, "There may be a case for it, but not this one". It may be that it is not impertinent to say of the House of Commons, "There may be a case for it, but not that one"; because if they are going to assume greater powers as an elected Chamber, and especially in a unicameral system of Government, they will have to consider whether they are representative or whether, because of a quirk in our electoral system, they may have the power and not the authority and yet claim the power and claim the authority. In certain circumstances in the exercise of authority by an elected Chamber in a unicameral system, if they exercised that authority on a highly contentious and bitterly controversial matter, people would take to the streets rather than accept the decision of a Parliament which they believed not to represent the general will of the people.
My Lords, it may be that our powers of delay and amendment are in some respects nominal, in other respects minimal; but the most that we can claim to do is to say, "Pause", for public debate to take place on whatever it is that is concerning Members of the Ho use of Lords in relation to the decisions of the House of Commons. That is a valuable interlude without ultimate powers if Parliament is going to use the Parliament Act to enforce legislation through. It is a valuable interlude for public debate to take place.
I wonder whether the appointment of a Select Committee to look at this problem would be a useful exercise or, alternatively, 209 whether we could take this matter seriously and decide that we will spare some time to debate it as a serious matter and see what joint contribution can be made from all sides of the House to solving this problem. I shall never vote for the abolition of the House of Lords. I should prefer to be able to vote for a reformed House of Lords with, as I have said, greater support for the powers that have already been given to it and the numerous ideas as to how that may be done. But I do not associate myself with the point of view—and I have seen it lately—that to reform the House of Lords is going to be so difficult, so contentious, so tiresome, that the only thing to do with it is to scrap it. I will never associate myself with that. You do not destroy your institutions simply because you find it tiresome and difficult to reform them. They should be able to respond to the changes in public opinion and mood.
That is about all I need to say. I could go over the ground of possibilities and difficulties, but I think this—and I shall conclude on this note. Let us be absolutely firm in this debate in saying that the future of the House of Lords is part of the future of Parliament—and that means that it is part of the future of the House of Commons—and do not let us shirk the courage to say so. Then we shall perhaps get the debate on the level at which it ought to take place and will not regard ourselves as on the defensive, as something to be disposed of, to be swept into the scrapbook of history, merely because of the audacity of some people in the House of Commons who seem to think that we have no purpose to fulfil and that the sovereign power of Parliament can be safely entrusted to a House of Commons, which has so far shown itself incapable of bringing about the kind of reforms and drastic changes necessary in its own organisation and methods of work, and in the use of its own authority, to be an acceptable single-Chamber form of Government.
What protection is to be given in those circumstances by entrenched clauses in the Constitution: a Bill of Rights, conditions under which the House of Commons could not make certain changes in the body politic, as does occur in some other Chambers of a unicameral nature? All these things have to be considered. It is far too facile for people to talk about 210 abolishing the House of Lords as if that would dispose of that; and then they could be free of what difficulties and worries they might have—which are few indeed—with your Lordships' House. There it is! That is my contribution. Can we have it out in the open? Can we have it out with courage? Can we stake our claim to continue in some reformed condition to be part of the institution of Parliament?
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Lord FERRIER
My Lords, it is my pleasure to begin by referring to the maiden speeches which we have heard this afternoon. They rank as memorable in that, for one thing, they were brief; but, whether skilled or unskilled, the speakers spoke from their hearts and from their own experience about subjects which they understood and subjects which they knew about. But, above all, in their different ways, they both portrayed that element of compassion for the not so fortunate which, I believe, is so notable a part of the proceedings of your Lordships' House. We congratulate them both and I am sure that we shall hear from them again.
It is not my intention to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, has said, although I go a very long way in agreeing with practically everything that he propounded. Particularly was I struck by his contention that one of the faults of this House has been that we have been too timid, too diffident, to use the powers that we have got. There is no question of our wanting more; we ought to use the ones we have got. In that respect, I am one who is inclined to think that perhaps the Opposition in this case have been a little too timid in the past.
My Lords, however that may be, to the gracious Speech. On the commitment to establish a directly-elected Assembly, so-called, in Scotland, a proposition which to me simply does not make sense on any count, I refer to the speech made by my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who indicated some of the complexities which beset it and us and will beset us or, let us hope, only may beset us in the future. That is all I am going to say about it. Apart from that—and we shall hear more from other speakers today, I know—there are four features of the gracious Speech which 211 I welcome and refer to in chronological order.
First, I look forward to seeing the proposals regarding the restructuring of the electricity industry. It happens that in 1948–49 I was involved in the drafting of certain features of the Indian Electricity Act and, relatively more recently, in this House views have been expressed about such matters as off peak tariffs and standing charges which will, I hope, come within the scope of such considerations when they arise during the coming Session.
Secondly, when we come to discussthe further development of transport policy",Your Lordships can be assured that the problems of by-pass roads for our busy and/or historic cities will not be neglected; and may I add that I am sure the urgent need for a southern orbital highway to my native city of Edinburgh will be raised. In general terms, and this has been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Soper, this matter of reducing traffic in city centres is closely linked with that proposal in the gracious Speech,to renew and revive the inner urban areas".The third matter to which I turn and which may be imminent, as the noble Lord the Leader of the House indicated in his speech last Thursday, is the prospect of legislation regarding the General Medical Council and its functions. This will, I hope, provide an opportunity to discuss the current work of the Cochrane Committee and to press the need for multidisciplinary efforts to reduce the incidence of and promote the cure of back pain which, as your Lordships may not know, is the subject of the Cochrane Committee's inquiries. The severe economic and domestic consequences of the huge number of cases of back pain of all sorts are only just being adequately recognised, and the figures published by the Back Pain Association, under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Wall, demand very serious attention from us all.
The fourth subject which I wish to raise stems from the reference in the gracious Speech to the developments which will arise from the Annan Report on the Future of Broadcasting. My own view is that the Annan Committee have made a mistake in playing down the 212 relationship between broadcasting and Parliament, or so I read it. I told the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that I was going to refer to the report and he told me to go ahead. I said that I was going to have a "dig" at it, and that is the "dig". We shall hear much more about that when we come to discuss the report.
I only use this reference to broadcasting, and this expression of my belief in its importance in relation to Parliament, on which to hang the question that arose on Thursday when the disgraceful action of certain members of the Broadcasting Staffs Association blacked out the televising of the ceremony of the opening of Parliament by Her Majesty the Queen. The noble Lords the Leaders of all Parties did not mince their words in their speeches on that day, and I am sure that they would have said more but it was not really the occasion for acute criticism. This, I suggest to your Lordships, we should remedy today.
The noble Lord, Lord Byers, referred to those responsible as a "mean-minded bunch", and spoke of his "sense of outrage". Yes, my Lords, outrage indeed. But quite apart from the sabotage of a very costly effort extending far beyond the involvement of the BBC, the other broadcasting authorities, the Houses of Parliament and the works that had to be dismantled after a useless period of discomfort to us all, it was more than an outrage, it was more than sabotage, it was an insult to the Sovereign, an insult to Parliament, an insult to the nation, an insult to the Diplomatic Corps and, indeed, to the Commonwealth, despite the silly disclaimers of the perpetrators. And, what about the 200 million people round the world to whom my noble friend Lord Ferrers referred in his speech? I may be wrong but in my view it was more than an outrage; it was an action which amounted to contempt of the Constitution.
I hope that this occurrence will be strenuously pursued and those responsible punished, if that is possible. I vividly remember the speech by my noble and learned friend Viscount Hailsham (as he then was) when as Leader of the House he commended the first televising of the opening ceremony in 1958. May I quote from his speech (at columns 53 and 54 of Hansard, 29th October, 1958) on that occasion: 213The whole tradition of the opening of Parliament from its earliest mediaeval times was that of a public occasion. That is the meaning of the presence of the Peeresses and the Diplomatic Corps. I am absolutely certain that if, by some miracle, the device of television had been open to the mediaeval Monarchs who initiated this ceremony, they would have used it, and that the extension of it to this ceremony is in absolute line with the historic meaning of the ceremony itself".My Lords, that is part of what he said. I would add: Why does the Monarch proceed to the Palace of Westminster in a glass coach? It is so that the people shall see her. Why are the galleries filled with a cross-section of those associated with Parliament? It is so that the people shall see the Monarch in the flesh and hear his or her voice in accord with the Government of the day. It is now nearly 20 years since the people have learned to see all this on the television screen, every few years, as Parliament succeeds Parliament. When I reminded my noble and learned friend Lord Hail-sham of what he said in 1958, he replied: "Yes indeed, and in mediaeval days anyone who pulled out the plugs would have had his head cut off!"; and we laughed. But this is no joking matter. The "box" has become part of our society. The broadcast's role has become part of our society's bastion. What happened on Thursday in my view only goes to indicate that we must beware because the vandals are at the portcullis.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ The Marquess of LINLITHGOW
My Lords, I am afraid that I have not addressed your Lordships' House for some years. I noticed rather self-consciously the remarks of my noble friend Lord Mancroft who described those Peers who made their maiden speech and disappeared from view for 30 years. I may say that I am not as bad as that, but I am all the more privileged and grateful to be allowed to make a few remarks.
I want to concentrate on something which has concerned me now for some years, which is the question of devolution and the Assembly, and I wish to refer to the paragraphs in the gracious Speech referring to these matters. May I also confine myself entirely to Scotland because I know more about that and know very little about the reaction in that great country of Wales. It may interest your Lordships that my family, the Hopes, 214 have lived in Scotland, so far as we know, since the early 15th century. When it came to the Act of Union and the debates in the then Scottish Parliament, the Hope family were very much behind the Act of Union, so much so that there was one famous speech made on one occasion during those acrimonious debates by a Member of the House, who objected to the Act of Union, who prefaced his remarks by saying: "Gentlemen, this benighted country and this unhappy Chamber are not strangers to blasted Hopes!"
With that background, I think I might say that I have a little right to say a few things to the House. I was extremely grateful—and I must say fairly surprised—to hear the remarks of my noble friend Lord Ferrers. Quite a large group of us in Scotland for some years have felt lonely simply because we have not been able to attract any attention from any leading political figures in any Party. I was therefore particularly encouraged to hear the words of my noble friend Lord Ferrers, who said things which I and others like me entirely agree with. We do not like what we think we are going to have foisted on us if we are not all very careful.
It may surprise noble Lords who suppose that there has been a growing demand in Scotland for some sort of Assembly to know that a poll was recently taken. It was organised by a society who are calling upon the Scots to pull themselves together and take a view. They call themselves the Scotland is British Society and they have very recently commanded the Fieldwork Scotland poll system. A very remarkable result has appeared—and this is only within the last week or two—in that the proportion shown by this poll of those Scots who would want an Assembly of some sort, not independence, has steadily shrunk over the last 12 months from 55 per cent. in favour to only 38 per cent. in favour.
The other interesting thing which f am sure we all ought to hear in mind—I think some of your Lordships may have seen these figures published in the papers—is on the question of which subjects concerning Scotland people thought the most important, to be discussed within the next 12 months. These are shown to be prices, jobs, law and order and housing: 215 they range from 18 to 48 per cent., jobs being the main choice. Devolution is less than 3 per cent. That means, of course, that there is a massive indifference, and I believe that one of the reasons why the polls are beginning to show a hardening against the Assembly is the increase in the number of indifferent people who have now made up their minds, having looked hard and long at what they believe is coming to them, and do not like it.
Another very significant thing I should like to put before your Lordships is the fact that in the last two years at least, and possibly more, there has been an almost unanimous vote or expression of opinion among the leading industrialists and financiers in Scotland. I should like to quote to your Lordships a very few words—and I have been given permission to quote them—from a rather long speech which was made to a business organisation not long ago by one of Scotland's leading and most respected industrialists. He is talking about the uncertainty caused by the present situation and about the full effect he believes might come about when an Assembly is granted in circumstances which are too hurried, so that independence is then a much more likely outcome than it would be without the Assembly. What he says is this:An Assembly, then, will not bring to Scotland the stability she so badly needs. Not even its best friends believe it will in any way solve the great economic problems facing her today. For some of the Assembly's supporters, it is simply a means to a very different goal.For Scotland it might well prove a disaster. Those are very strong words. Indeed, he also says this:Already business confidence in Scotland, especially in the West, is dismally low. This is the time we ought to be discussing what can be done to get Scottish investment and industry on the move again. All I know is that the finest means available to us at this minute of improving dramatically the climate in which that regeneration might take place would be to kill this Bill as quickly and decisively as possible.These are not just unusual and rare examples. There is a grass root feeling in Scotland that they want no part of this Assembly. You will not hear that from the Scottish Nationalists. You may well not hear it from people of all Parties who feel that their seats are in danger from the Scottish Nationalists in the constituences in which they are standing and in which 216 at the next Election they may have to face opposition. But you will find it throughout the length and breadth of Scotland if you go around, as I do, and ask people who are not concerned over whether they will lose their seat in Parliament, for the good reason that they have no seats to lose as they are not Members of Parliament.
I should like to mention also another matter which is to me highly significant. That is, that where the opposition not only to independence but to the Assembly is properly and continually put across, people begin to believe it and they will undoubtedly start talking about it among themselves and they will very likely be against it. A very clear example is my own constituency of West Lothian, where the sitting Member of Parliament—and many of your Lordships will know him—has quite consistently, year after year and Election after Election, had the courage to get up and say that he will have none of this; and he has never looked like being beaten by one of the most influential of the Scottish Nationalists, their Secretary and now their Chairman. He has proved that this can be put across and he has proved to me quite convincingly that in that area alone—
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to put a question to him: has his majority gone up during this period?
§ The Marquess of LINLITHGOW
My Lords, I said he has got in quite easily The Scottish National Party have in fact increased their vote by a small amount. Undoubtedly, they have won votes but nothing like enough to upset his seat. I am not saying—how can one say?—that the Scottish National Party is not going to take votes away: of course it will. But on these figures, as I understand them and believe them to be, I think, if I may say so without offence, that at West-minister people are getting too worked up and too frightened. This is where the heat is. If you go round Scotland you will find very little of it, and basically the Scots do not want this. I am sure of it. They have very good reasons for not wanting it, because they are a hard-headed, independent lot of fellows and they can think straight. They do not like the idea that their future is being decided possibly 217 by a group of people who are more concerned with their own immediate political advantage at Westminster than they are with the future of Scotland. That, they feel strongly about.
Secondly, those who have thought the matter through—there are a great number of them and I entirely agree with them—are absolutely certain that, with the organisation as far as we can see it at the moment and the arrangements for an Assembly in this particular shape, it will be an inevitable step in the creation of the very tensions which it should be our wish to avoid. Inevitably, I believe it will lead essentially towards a growing demand for independence in the years ahead. I believe this is a stick of dynamite and that to light a match near it now, as is suggested in the gracious Speech, is an act of the sheerest folly. What is more, I think it is an abrogation of responsibility.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ The Earl of PERTH
My Lords, I shall follow the noble Marquess and talk only about Scotland. I am afraid that I totally disagree with him, but I shall not use the expression "those blasted Hopes". For my part, I welcome the determination of the Government to see through a Bill to set up a Scottish Assembly. I welcome the fact that it is to be a separate Bill, and I think that it is a considerable improvement on the one we saw earlier, in that it succeeds in simplifying and defining the respective powers and, perhaps most importantly, if there is a dispute it shall be the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords which is to adjudicate. I hope—and here I do not go along with either the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, or the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow—that we shall have a chance to debate this Bill in this House. I ask noble Lords on both sides of the House whether it might be useful, even now, for us to have one more debate before the Bill comes in front of us.
I think all of your Lordships know my view that a Scottish Assembly is a "must". I believe—and I shall go into the point made by the noble Marquess in more detail—that the majority of the Scots people want this, so that we can run our show under the umbrella of the Westminster Parliament. As we all know, some want to go further and have inde- 218 pendence. The polls show that something like 30 per cent. are still supporting the Scottish National Party. Given that figure, I am puzzled at the poll to which the noble Marquess referred, as he seemed to say that the figure for those who want an Assembly is now 38 per cent. I cannot believe that only 8 per cent. of the country, apart from the Scottish Nationalists, want some form of Assembly. Your Lordships know what polls are, and they so often depend on the way in which the question is put and how well people understand it.
But we have certainly heard today that there are those who oppose any change. We have heard that there are Scottish businessmen, Scottish financial people, who are nervous and who, I believe, oppose it for the wrong reason; that is, they do not know what the future holds. They do not have trust in the Scottish people, in their hard-headedness—which is the term used by the noble Marquess—and in their ability to see straight. They are afraid that this may be a steppingstone towards independence. There is always that risk, but I am quite clear that if we do nothing we shall be in trouble.
I was appalled when the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, said, if I understood him aright, that he hoped that this devolution Bill would fail. I was appalled, because I fear that when we come to the next Election we shall see a wave of indignation which will bring to the Westminster Parliament as many as 30 members, if not a majority, of the Scottish National Party.
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl, because I know that he would not wish to misquote me? In fact, I did not say that.
§ The Earl of PERTH
My Lords, I am so glad to hear that, because there was a specific question asked of him, which he did not answer, as to whether or not he was in favour. I want to check the record, but my impression was that he hoped the present devolution Bill would fail. I am glad he did not say that. One of his arguments was the problem of bureaucracy, and the fact that this Bill would increase bureaucracy. I would ask him why in Scotland we have so much bureaucracy—regional, district and so 219 forth—at the present moment. The answer is that a Conservative Government gave it to us, against the wishes of the Scottish people. It was the English Parliament and the English who felt that they knew best for us.
I was asked whether I believed that an Assembly would lead to lesser bureaucracy. My answer to that is, Yes, I do. I believe that one of the first tasks of the Assembly should be to look at local government in Scotland and ensure its proper reform. That would be very popular. It would keep us out of mischief on other things, and the sequel to that would be a lesser bureaucracy and a better government of the country than we have today. I cannot develop this argument in detail today; there is not time, and I do not have the honeyed tongue to do so. But I would ask noble Lords who are nervous about this issue to read again the speech of the former Prime Minister, Mr. Edward Heath, on the Second Reading of the first devolution Bill last year. He understood the reasons that are making the people of Scotland want an Assembly to run their own show. May I leave it at that?
There is one other question on which I want to touch, and that is the problem of the money-raising powers of the Assembly. I think it was the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor who said that the Government are unable to identify revenue raising-powers for the Assembly. They are very ready, if we can put forward concrete suggestions, but they cannot identify them. With all respect, they do not want to do so. I believe that they are nervous of something which would give more power to the Assembly. But let me recall that those under the Assembly—that is, regional or local government—already have power, and it is an absurd situation to set up an Assembly with no revenue-raising powers, when the regional bodies under it have them. I am not in a position to make specific recommendations, but I touch on the issue in a different way.
I believe that we in Scotland are entitled—and I use the word "entitled" advisedly—to some special share of the oil revenues of the North Sea. Why do I say that? I say it, because our economy in Scotland has been disrupted by the discovery to an extent which has not 220 happened in the other economies of the United Kingdom. North Sea oil has resulted in considerable development in the North-Eastern part of Scotland, to the detriment of other areas. People say, "Oh, but it has created a lot of jobs." In a sense that is true, but it has also succeeded in taking our eye off the general economic problems of Scotland, and today unemployment is over 10 per cent. in the Clydeside area. Therefore, I feel that we have a case for special treatment in regard to the oil revenues. It may be said, "We do not want to give them to the Assembly, because it will fritter them away or misuse them." My answer to that would be, "Very well. Why not hand them to the Scottish Development Agency?" The Scottish Development Agency are specially charged with the job of helping in the industrial development of Scotland. If they had considerable funds to distribute, they could do so only for that purpose and I believe that they would do a very good job. If, therefore, you do not want to give revenue to the Assembly, it should be given to the Scottish Development Agency so that they can get on with the job.
I have already mentioned oil, which brings me to a point which is not entirely related to Scotland. The Director General of the National Economic Development Corporation, Sir Ronald Mackintosh, said a day or two ago how deplorable it was that at present there is a complete lack of plans for spending the oil revenues which are already coming to this country. He understood that the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Energy were shortly going to publish a discussion paper. That is very good news and, I might say, it is high time it was published. Furthermore, I suspect that the paper will contain a degree of political bias. Again that is very good news. It is only by considering views that you arrive at a valuable consensus.
I am wondering, however, whether we should try to solve the problem of hew best to use this windfall by ourselves. When we have been in economic trouble outside aid has been given to us. We have put forward a plan which the International Monetary Fund has had to approve. May I suggest that we should seek outside ideas about how best to use our oil revenues when things are going well for us instead of seeking outside help and advice 221 only when things are going badly. I have specifically in mind that we might ask the World Bank or our friends in the European Economic Community whether they have any ideas about how best we could use the oil revenues. The fact that they were asked this question would not mean that we should have to follow their advice. However, it would mean that an outsider, who is often very much better at judging a position than we are when we are too close to the problems, would have thought about how best to use something which is unique in our history and which will not last for ever. If I were asked what the terms of reference should be, I would say that they might consider and advise on the paper which I understand the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Energy are to submit very shortly for debate. I hope that the Government will think this over and perhaps consider that it is worth while seeking outside help.
My Lords, these are momentous times. I believe that we must have an Assembly in Scotland. I believe, further, that the way it is chosen is of paramount importance. I have tried to discover from the Bill what is the system of election. I do not think it is entirely clear, although I am rather glad about that. My hope is that we shall have some form of proportional representation on an area basis so that the country areas as well as the towns have value and proper representation. I believe this to be crucial to the success of the Assembly. My reason for saying this is that, very roughly, Scotland has three Parties, each attracting the support of about 30 per cent. of the populace. In addition, there is the Liberal Party which is strong in one or two areas.
If you followed the Westminster pattern, it is perfectly possible that you would find that a Party with very little more than 30 per cent. of the votes would have an absolute majority in the Assembly. That would not be good; it would destroy what I believe to be what we want in Scotland, which is a responsible Assembly that represents a consensus of opinion and which is not dependent upon the whims of such a small majority as little more than 30 per cent. Therefore, I hope the fact that the pattern has not been laid down, although Parliamentary constituencies have been spoken about, gives us some hope.
222 As I have said, these are momentous times. I hope that Parliament will treat the Assembly seriously and generously in terms of both its powers and its revenues. Then I believe that the fear or the risk of independence will be very much less. If, on the other hand, we see reluctant giving and the niggardly handing out of powers, then I fear that in years to come we shall tread the path of Ireland. And nobody wants that.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ Lord RAGLAN
My Lords, I was going to present to your Lordships four main reasons why I, in contrast to the noble Earl, will oppose the passage of these two Bills into law. The noble Earl has suggested to me another reason why I am opposed to the idea embodied in these Bills. He mentioned the reorganisation of local government in Scotland, which apparently he does not like, and he blamed it on to the English Parliament. In fact, it was an entirely Scottish reorganisation which was dutifully passed through the Westminster Parliament. It is just this kind of antagonism, antipathy and laying blame on Westminster which will help to engender even more friction than exists at the moment.
There has been very little discussion if any, about how local and central Government interact. No notice has been taken of the likelihood, as I see it, that the effects on local government of having these Assemblies would, in practice, be counter-devolutionary. A significant feature so far of the debate on devolution, such as it has been, is that accusations from Scotland and Wales that central Government is remote have found little echo in England. In my experience that is because local authorities prefer central Government to keep a proper distance, as that allows them independence of thought and action. That is surely what devolution should mean; they do not want a regional government on their backs.
If set up, these Assemblies would inevitably take power from the regions and districts of Scotland and from the counties and districts of Wales. I believe that the proponents of these Assemblies know that it would mean less independence for local government. Therefore, they are not thinking of 223 devolution in any true sense. What they really want are national Parliaments, and calling that devolution is just a way of trying to sell the idea.
Thirdly, there is the problem of the part-time Scottish and Welsh Members of Parliament, wondering what to do around Westminster when they are not voting on English business. An arrangement that worked after a fashion for a dozen under-representative Northern Irish Members of Parliament I cannot see working for an additional 100 Members of Parliament from Scotland and Wales. It would cause severe and unbearable tensions at Westminster. Fourthly, I must not be too critical of the Liberals, I suppose, but if we were to follow them and certain commentators in their view that the demand for national Parliaments was reasoned and the motivations benign, we should welcome these Assemblies as a step towards some cosy confederation such as is found in Germany or the United States.
However, I do not listen to the Liberals; I listen to the Nationalists, from whom one learns about the true faith. Take Mr. Gwynfor Evans, the Leader of Plaid Cymru who, because he is a nice man, sometimes finds difficulty in articulating his unworthy prejudices. He says that he likes the English but he does not like Britain; in fact I think the word he used was "hate"—"I hate Britain". One would not find a Californian saying, "I like Texans but I hate Americans". One would not find a Westphalian saying, "I like Bavarians but I do not like Germany". A federation would not "stick" any longer than these proposed Assemblies because Scottish and Welsh nationalism is as aggressive, as arrogant, as xenophobic and as predatory as any nationalism anywhere. Not for them, as the noble Earl, Lord Perth, has indicated, a sharing of resources such as is essential in a federation, any more than they would (if they could help it) recognise the right of self-determination of any group of people living in a territory over which they claim sovereignty.
The last reason I shall give today why I oppose the Government's proposals is that one of the strongest inferences—if not the strongest—in the pressures which have caused the Bills to be brought forward is 224 racialism: it is racialism of a kind in which the alleged characteristics go not with the colour of the skin but according to which side of a geographical line somebody happens to live. This racialism is partly a product of the days when it was thought that people North of the Scottish Border and West of the Welsh Border were Celtic and the others were Saxons. This theory is still widely believed, although it is untrue.
This racialism is an inevitable concomitant of nationalism. It comes about as a rationalisation or attempted justification for the belief that people who live in Scotland or in Wales should be governed separately and in a different way from those living anywhere else. The Welsh and the Scottish borders are not, and never were, demarcations between races; they were drawn in times long past for reasons which no longer pertain and they bear no relevance to the realities or the needs of modern life at all. Although one would not think so from the talk one hears, they are man-made inventions and could be done away with tomorrow without any ordinary person noticing the slightest difference. That is how closely we have become knit together.
Yet although we have seen during the recent reorganisation of local government that one can change or abolish any boundary, however old, apparently we cannot do the same with the so-called national boundaries. I ask, why not? Like the noble Earl, Lord Perth, I am for change but the change I want is a change in the direction in which we should go. We should be trying to do away with these boundaries. Instead of that, along come these two Bills, presenting us in Parliamentary language with ghosts from our warlike past. If they were to become law they would have the effect of emphasising these boundaries, of exacerbating the differences which need not exist, of institutionalising antipathies between groups of people who are thus arbitrarily and unjustifiably separated.
The noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, mentioned the Union between Scotland and England, but it happened so long ago that really we should have little need to talk about it except out of historical interest. However, in its time I believe it was indeed a great advance, not only politically in allowing and encouraging 225 mutual help and support, but also in reducing antagonism and tension among the people in these islands. If we accepted the theories and concepts which are the true motivation behind the bringing forward of these two Bills we should be rejecting our hard-won experience gained over the years in the progressive improvement in human relationships. I have, my Lords—how can I put it?—a deep conscientious objection to the ideas which the Bills attempt to placate. The beliefs which have motivated the demand for these measures are morally repugnant to me, and I trust that the provisions in the Bills which in my opinion would have such an unhappy and destructive effect will in event not pass into law.
§ 6.6 p.m.
My Lords, having had a Welsh grandmother perhaps I ought to be tempted to follow the noble Lord into the problems of Wales, but I am going to resist that temptation because it is the theme of my short speech that certain responsibilities of the police and the greater involvement of all of us in the prevention of crime would not mix easily. I ventured to intervene in the home affairs day of this debate last year, when I spoke of the need for more self-discipline in the country. But law and order was not in fashion last year, and although I mentioned the police it was with great diffidence. This year I am not so shy because law and order is admitted to be under strain and there is mention of police problems every day in the Press and on television. For example, the shortage of men coming forward to make good wastage, the increase in violent crimes and, not least, hijacking and terrorism which demand the very highest standard of training. Then we have the Federation's persistent and strident claims about pay and the right to strike, which I venture to think have done the police image more harm than good.
But whatever the public may read in their newspapers, and however many policemen they may see on their television screens, they see ever fewer police patrolling the areas in which they live. I shall call this "police presence". I think it is important and it should be improved if public confidence is not to suffer further. It is not enough to know 226 that the police are "somewhere around"; they must be seen, even if only sometimes. I am not a lone voice in saying this. I am echoing what the Commissioner recently put out in a statement to the Press when he said that he wanted to stem the flow of crime in London and he envisaged doing it by getting more police on to the streets. Unfortunately he stopped there, and he did not say how he intended to achieve his purpose. I am going to be rash, if not brave, and try to indicate one way—the only way I can see—how it can be done.
There is no dispute today that with a population on wheels such as ours much policing must be done on wheels, but if putting nearly all available police in cars is an efficient way of using manpower it is also an effective way of losing touch with the people served. At this time it is hard to believe but the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police are proposing to close a number of the smaller police stations in London, which is likely to mean that there will be still fewer men walking. I hope the Minister will have noticed petitions in the windows of half the shops in the Pimlico area saying "Save Gerald Row Police Station". That shows the strength of local feeling, and I hope the Minister will note it and will heed it.
With all this in mind a year ago I decided to try to find out more about the police and particularly what we expect of a PC today; what they think about the public—that is us—as well as what they think about themselves. Here I should like to thank Lord Harris of Greenwich, who helped me with contacts in London.
The police world is very close to us, but most of us know very little about it. If the police feel misunderstood it is largely their own fault, because they are so very inward-looking and too easily become suspicious of those who show interest. But if over the last year I have met a very few who were not so co-operative, the great majority of all ranks could not have been more welcoming and more helpful, and I am grateful indeed. I have spent many interesting nights as well as days, not only in London but also with several forces in the country, and abroad, because I wanted to try and get a general picture.
If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, I am yet sure of two things. The 227 first is that the loyalty within the police force is something quite extraordinary; is is something which other sections of the population of this country might well try to match, and it is very refreshing to come into contact with it. Secondly, I would say that the police deserve great credit for their success with the initial training of their recruits. They give them great self-confidence as well as the basic knowledge in a very short time, and one must admit that not all their recruits are such very promising material.
My Lords, it is clear that I could say a lot, but I want to be brief, and I do not want to say anything which could be said to be a breach of confidence, nor anything which might bring aid or joy to any villain. But I am going to say something which every villain knows, even if not every London ratepayer, and that is that nearly every police relief at the moment is shorthanded, the Houses of Parliament being, I would think, the one exception. I am not going to give any more details of what I may have seen or what I may have heard.
More recently, with this debate in view, in fact about 10 days ago, I arranged to spend a night south of the river and to be sure to spend part of that time walking with a PC, because I wanted to check my feelings about the "police presence", and what is possible and what is impossible. Over that evening I came up against nothing which made me change my views. Wherever one walks with a PC, whether in the High Street areas or in the more residential areas in the dark where there are fewer people about, you get the feeling that you are being noticed, and not just on account of his blue uniform; you feel that you are both being noticed, and you very soon lose count of the sneers and half audible rude remarks which his blue uniform attracts and which are made the whole time by many of the young.
One experience that evening I shall never forget. We were walking, or should I say proceeding solemnly, along a dark street in a residential area when an elderly couple came round the corner, and on seeing my companion's uniform their faces lit up with pleasure and surprise. As we passed one said, "How nice to sec a policeman around here", with just the same sort of thrill as a naturalist would feel if he came across a species of animal 228 which he believed to be extinct. Then they looked at me and they were a little puzzled. Was I an elderly member of the CID, and, with grey hair, in plain clothes, or was I the young man's prisoner on the way back to the police station? I got a special smile, and I shall remember that smile. It was a most moving incident.
My Lords, how can we make the walking man less rare? To shift back as many men as can be from vehicles to their feet might help public confidence in the short term and it might strengthen crime prevention in the High Streets, but it would reduce the chance of detecting major crimes where police mobility is so important. But having said that, I would like to think, and I am sure every policeman will echo this, that it is possible to have more home beat men. Some would say that it is all a question of numbers and if you put up the pay you will have more men, but I am sure it is not so easy as that. There are other factors which are holding back recruiting today. Shift work year after year, often very repetitive, and upsetting of family life is not an attractive prospect for a young married man or for his wife. There is another factor which it is no good disguising, and that is poor leadership. Good young men are not attracted to serve under uninspiring leaders, and it must be said that the police, like all other professions, have their share and more of uninspiring leaders.
Some people think that there are great hidden reserves of trained PCs sitting in police stations pushing pens, and that all you need do is to recruit more civilians to be able to release a great reserve of skilled police constables. But that is a myth; they are not there. But there are a number of ways in which auxiliaries could relieve highly trained men of many simple tedious duties so leaving them free to do what I would call their proper job; that is the more active job for which they have been trained. In this field middle aged men and women with a little training could help a lot, particularly with their experience of life and experience of dealing with people. Often they could do some of the jobs, which I will explain, better than a very young PC, whatever his advantage in muscle power, because in these circumstances muscle power is irrelevant. I will try to explain. We all know that 229 at the mention of auxiliaries many normal professional policemen become irrational, but they must learn to get over this. Much good police work needs long experience and training and the problems are becoming even more exacting. For those capable of benefiting there should be opportunities of the highest possible training and appropriate pay, a lot more than the average today. If this could happen I am sure it would give the police enhanced status.
But at the other end there is much useful police work done well by the less ambitious and the very young who often have no "O" levels to their name, little experience of the world, little training, but their heart is in the right place; they have got a pocket radio, they have got the bluff of the blue uniform and pride in the police service. We see examples of them every day and it is astonishing what they achieve, and we should pay tribute. But these should accept the fact that they have to work much more closely with auxiliaries in certain fields, for instance in clearing up what every force calls inquiries, the mass of detailed work often coming from other forces and which the Metropolitan Police has already tackled by setting up special sections largely staffed by civilians. I will not elaborate on that.
I will say that I wish that the Government would pay really close attention to what we call the thin blue line which is both regular and special constabulary. We know that after the Working Party report there was a question of thinning out the older men; in fact the noble Lord has achieved, I believe, an actual increase in numbers over the last 12 months for the first time since 1951. But I do know of one force where a third of the strength, admittedly over-age, were just dismissed by means of a letter through the post—a quite nicely worded letter, but just dismissal without any consultation of any kind. If a redundancy in industry was handled in that way there would be a strike. That is not the sort of leadership to attract the best sort of recruits.
My Lords, some of us will have seen in The Times very recently a report of the chief constable of Bedfordshire talking about "self-policing in villages by the residents," but he did not fully explain what he meant. I assume that the groups 230 would be under police control, at least I hope so, because if not under police control every encouragement would be given to vigilante types of grouping, which is the last thing we want to see. I mention this because it shows that the chief constable's thinking is on the same lines as my own. Vigilantes will certainly appear in this country unless there is greater police co-operation with the auxiliaries.
However, better than the article by the chief constable of Bedfordshire, I came yesterday upon an article written in a paper 18 months ago by the chief constable of Devon and Cornwall, which exactly reflects my thinking and conclusions. He was writing about what he called "the good neighbourhood plan". He said:The will to protect one's own community or neighbourhood carried into effect through police leadership of a selected and trained voluntary or special constabulary is the superior answer. Under a professional police team leader, ideally the neighbourhood constable, active men and women who are prepared to give a little time to the limited function of preventive patrol in uniform with professional resources on call, would go a long way towards reducing the incidence of street crime. Such patrols would need close supervision as well as being strictly limited in function. People should be encouraged to regard this service as a civic responsibility which traditionally it is. To regard the arrangement as a substitute for adequate police establishments should be resisted".I do not suppose that there is anyone who would disagree with that. I should like to press the Government to carry out an experiment on these lines. Nothing will happen without an experiment. It is no good thinking that something like that will happen throughout the country all at once. Why not carry out an experiment? Why not call for volunteers from this House? They could be given a little intensive training and we could then see what can be achieved by older men and women with experience of the world and of people—men and women who could devote time by day as well as late in the evening. If the noble Lord will volunteer, so shall I.
What has been suggested by a chief constable—and not just by me—could well lead quickly to better police presence in many areas and make it possible for the thousands of good people, like the elderly couple that I met 10 days ago in one of the London boroughs on the other side of the river, without fear to walk the streets near where they live.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, will be glad to know that on this occasion I shall largely follow what he has said. I should be happy to patrol the streets of London with him any night!
With a busy Session ahead, I had originally thought of saying that a speech at this time can be no more than a shot across the bows of the Government. However, I thought that that was a little harsh so I have modified it and now say that it is an indication of intent—an indication of matters that I intend to raise and of the problems that I hope to see resolved. I welcome, as do many other noble Lords, the reference to a White Paper on the future of broadcasting. I trust that there will be every intention not only to retain but, indeed, to extend local broadcasting. The regional character of these stations, very close to where people live and to the people they serve, is always an inspiration to those who are invited to participate in programmes. The Government of the day would do very well to note that this is the most obvious and easy means of communication available to them.
As a city dweller it is good to see that the inner urban areas will receive attention. One can only pray that the damage done by the bulldozers and the vandals can be repaired. We meet in a very curious period of frightening unrest. It is becoming virtually impossible to move about one's daily business without interruption. On a visit to another city recently, certain newspapers were not available to read, lifts were not working, the possibility of a five hour wait at the airport necessitated a slightly more complicated journey on British Rail and even a brief broadcast on radio was subject to some discussion as to whether it would be transmitted. Happily, the engineer seemed to like the look of me and I was allowed the only seven minutes of the day.
Those who call for the abolition of a second Chamber because of its lack of democracy would do well to cast their eyes a little nearer home, to those centres of power that, by the misuse of their power, manage to cause discomfort and in some cases even cold and fear to ordinary people who have no appeal or redress. What of those who will not strike, go slow or work to rule? The police are an excellent 232 example of public servants who are almost always criticised. If ever it is a question of "the customer is right", that is so as regards the police. I believe that the Home Secretary put up a brave fight against his strangely short-sighted colleagues in the Government. I hope that I can back up his case by a few words of support.
Last year an indictable crime was committed in this country every minute of every day and night throughout the year. I looked up in the dictionary the definition of "crime", and it said:Violation of public rights".That concerns us all. It also said:A breach of duty imposed by law for the benefit of the community at large".One could speculate at great length on the causes of the increase in crime. One psychologist, in language which only psychologists can use, said that the barrier of contentment at subsistence level had decreased or changed; in other words, the more you have, the more you want. One could speculate that an education system which teaches that Christianity is a history subject rather than a philosophy might also have an effect. However, whatever the cause, the effect on the ordinary citizen is terrifying. Side by side with that is the police force which is not only lacking in new recruits, but is actually losing trained personnel daily. The Police Service in England and Wales now has a thousand fewer policemen than it did at the start of the year, and it is a service which was already losing and not gaining recruits. My Lords, the Minister nods his head. I shall be happy if he can disagree with that statement, but it was obtained from some police facts. Moreover, that has happened in a period of unemployment. Surely the Government must see that and act.
Ironically enough, I spoke to a Minister last week on the question of police pay. He replied that if we acceded to that request then the firemen will act. However, now we see that the policy of, "Don't look now; it will go away", has not worked and the firemen are rightly demanding attention to their problems.
It is always wrong to disregard the reasonable demands of those who work in the service of the community, merely 233 because they carry on doing their job and do not hold innocent people to ransom. Society gets the kind of law and order it deserves. We must stop knocking authority and give it full support. We, in the position of power that we have here, must see that we utilise it wisely.
§ 6.28 p.m.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, there must be many of us in the House who feel, and feel strongly, that the topics to which the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has alluded are of far more significance to the ordinary person and are far more important to the well-being of the country, than the subjects upon which, unhappily, one gathers from the gracious Speech, Parliament will be spending most of its time. It is perfectly clear that a large part of Parliament's time will be hypothecated to the two devolution Bills and, for that matter, to the European Elections Bill. All that has a rather tatty feeling of déjà vu about it. After all, they were all in the previous Queen's Speech, and, for all I know, they may be in the next one. Whatever view one may take of them, they are matters of very great doubt.
I am bound to say that I was greatly impressed by the doubts expressed by the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow. I could not help reflecting that, if one sets up Assemblies in any part of the world—this has been the experience in the British Commonwealth for the past 100 years—those Assemblies are never content with the catholic, calculated powers that Parliament confers upon them. They always demand more. They always agitate for more and they always proceed, if they do not get what they want by agitation, to worse and perhaps more violent steps to get it. I must confess to great unhappiness at the idea of deliberately creating in these small islands, with their excellent systems of communication, two separate Assemblies which will perhaps be fairly innocuous in the immediate future but which can be growth centres or foci for very unhappy separatist developments as the years pass.
I know that this is a subject on which views differ very widely in this House. I believe that we can all agree that, whether these proposals be right or wrong, they 234 have absolutely no relevance to the only problem that really matters in this country at the moment—namely, how we are to earn our daily bread. The most enthusiastic views—the views of the noble Earl, Lord Perth—will not solve any of our problems. Indeed, in some degree, they will plainly make them worse. All experience shows that one sets up—I hope the phrase is not offensive—"talking shops" of this kind, which have to be supported by an ever-growing bureaucracy which, again, has to be supported out of taxation. All experience shows that they use their growing powers to demand public expenditure which is not based on a sensible overall analysis of the needs of the national economy, but is designed to meet their separate and local demands, even perhaps their local and separate self-esteem.
Therefore, they will add directly and indirectly to that burden of taxation which is one of the major factors in holding back the growth and expansion of our economy. I think that one understates the matter when one says that these proposals will make no contribution to the solution of what everyone in this country really wants; that is, to conquer inflation and unemployment and to achieve a rising standard of life. In some degree—and it is very much a matter of opinion how great that degree is—they will actually make that situation worse. Indeed, we had a hint of it in the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Perth, when he entered a pre emptive bid for Scotland for part of the oil revenues of the North Sea to be spent, according to him, not in accordance with an overall view of where that expenditure is most needed, but in Scotland, whether or not it is most needed there. That cannot make economic good sense.
I have a disappointment for the noble Earl and I am sorry that he is not here. The greater part of that oil is to be found in the vicinity of Orkney and Shetland. My duties in the Civil Aviation Authority, which I have fairly recently left, took me there fairly frequently. I had ample opportunity to talk on this subject to the inhabitants of those islands. I can sum up the views expressed by responsible people there, which are broadly to the effect that they did not care very much for being run from London but they would see, if the House will pardon the words, everybody a hell of a way before they 235 would be governed from Edinburgh. The noble Earl may well think that devolution will bring the oil revenues to Scotland but, once started, devolution can be a continuing process and we may simply be creating an Abu Dhabi in the Northern Isles.
I should like to ask the Minister of State a question about one aspect of these devolution proposals. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor told us earlier today that the referenda which are to follow the proposals will be advisory to Parliament. As I understand the position, the referenda will not be held until the Bills have passed all stages in both Houses—if they do—and are ready for presentation to Her Majesty for the Royal Assent. How, then, will the result of the referenda be advisory to Parliament if Parliament has parted with control over the legislation? Is any machinery envisaged for bringing Bills which have gone through both Houses back here once again before presentation for the Royal Assent in order that the advice of the referenda can be taken into account by Parliament? I hope that I make the point clear. That advice can of course be taken into account by the Government in deciding whether to present the Bills for the Royal Assent, but what about Parliament? I stress the fact that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—who, as befits his Office, speaks with legal precision—said "advisory to Parliament".
I should like to register a protest about the referenda. The Minister of State will correct me if I am wrong, but it is my understanding that the only people entitled to vote in the referenda will be present voters in Scotland and Wales. That is wholly wrong. The question of division or fission in the United Kingdom is of interest to every citizen of the United Kingdom. If there is to be a referendum—and I am inclined to think that these constitutional proposals are a good subject for a referendum—why should the great majority of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom (those who live in England and, for that matter, Northern Ireland) be denied any say?
Let us look at the anomalies that will be created. Scotsmen working in London will presumably be disfranchised, although 236 Englishmen working in Edinburgh will have a vote. Troubles arise in law; there is no definition of a Scotsman. I imagine that the right to vote will have to be based simply on the current electoral registers in Scotland. What an absurd situation. The number of Scotsmen in London was illustrated the other day by a Scotsman who visited London for the first time and was asked by his fellow countrymen when he returned what the English were like. He said, "Actually I did not meet any. You see, my appointments were only with chairmen and managing directors." What is the position, especially for those who have Scottish blood? I have enough Scottish blood at least to give me the great honour of serving in a Scottish regiment. Many people in this House and outside not only have a deep interest in Scotland but a common concern about the future of the whole United Kingdom, which is bound up in this.
I make a plea to the Government that if they wish to take the voice of the people, they should take the voice of the whole people. The slogan, "One man, one vote", means that every man has a vote, not merely relative minorities, however important, who may think that, rightly or wrongly, they are affected more than others but who, I am sure, would not dispute that those of us in England who have been in a common kingdom with them for centuries have an equally strong feeling.
The only other topic on which I desire to say a few words is the question of the future of this House, which was so eloquently raised by the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, in a courageous and highly amusing speech with every other word of which I think I agreed. However, he did not make the crucially important point about the need for a second Chamber as a protection against tyranny which arises from the necessity to have some entrenchment of any measure to repeal or amend the Quinquennial Act. As noble Lords will recall, successive Parliament Acts have excluded their own operation on any measure to extend the life of Parliament in order that there can be no question of a House of Commons, with perhaps a narrow extremist majority, extending its life indefinitely without the consent of this House. That is one of the reserve 237 powers of this House which, for the avoidance of tyranny, it is crucial to retain, because, if the efforts of the vote millionaires at the Brighton Conference are really taken seriously, there remains only the Crown, which, faced with such a measure, would be placed in a position of the greatest difficulty and embarrassment in deciding whether or not to grant its assent.
Quite apart from the volume of business and the fact that these very devolution measures to which I have referred will be guillotined in the lower House with large parts of them not discussed and quite apart from the practical need for this House to do work on them and much other legislation, this House is in a very special position in respect of the Quinquennial Act in preserving our country and our democracy against tyranny. So the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, says, as I do, that we must have a second Chamber.
Where I part company from him is in his idea that it is easy, or even sensible, in order to preserve a second Chamber to create a new one. I had some modest share, together, I am happy to recall, with the present Lord President of the Council, in defeating in another place the Parliament Bill No. 2 which I thought contained a great many ill-thought out and ill-digested proposals for altering the composition of this House. That experience brought me up against the fact that, whereas most of us a priori think that a House constituted as we are, partly hereditary and partly nominated, is probably not the best second Chamber, when you get down to brass tacks and look at alternatives they all seem to be very much worse.
The 1968 solution, where each of the political Parties would have had its private army of nominated Peers who alone would have the right to vote, and neatly balanced in proportion to the numbers in the political Parties in another place, would have taken all the independence, and much of the expertise, out of this House. It is true that those of us who would not have been thought sufficiently reliable lobby fodder to be nominated by our Parties as voting Peers would still have been allowed to attend, but not to vote. Very few men of spirit have so little confidence in their arguments that they are prepared to deliver those arguments without being able 238 to back them with a vote. I suggest, with all respect to some of those who were connected with that proposal that it was a great mistake. I believe that if he were here the Lord Privy Seal, who was rather left out on a limb in the House of Commons at that time, would agree with me about that.
Would these various emasculated senates, elected with the Liberal specific of proportional representation in regions, really command the kind of standing and confidence which as a relatively new Member of this House perhaps I am allowed to say, this House does in fact command outside? They certainly would not command, any more than the 1968 version would have done, that quota of fairly young Peers who do so much of the work of the Front Benches—and one of whom at least has made a most impressive maiden speech today. Any of these senates, or reformed Lords, would be an elderly body. We should not have the spread of age groups which is necessary to our working.
Therefore, with great diffidence, because I am a relatively new Member of this House, I would say to your Lordships do not let us be too timid about our composition. I say this with regret, as one who was in the House of Commons for 27 years, that as unhappily estimation of the House of Commons has diminished, that of your Lordships has risen. It is recognised that, for better or worse, we include among our numbers Members with some knowledge on almost any subject that comes under discussion. If my own speech tonight be not taken as a contradiction of this proposition, on the whole we speak only on subjects we know something about.
I believe that we can perform a useful role because reformers are up against this dilemma; I do not believe that any House of Commons, whatever its political composition, would agree to an elected House of Lords because it would fear that an elected House of Lords would assert excessive powers against the Lower House. I believe that the present House of Commons, led in fact by a man who had some experience of the 1968 fiasco, will be prepared to accept the functioning of this House with something like its present membership. There are all sorts of ideas for minor improvements which I 239 would not wish to exclude—inclusion, in addition to the right reverend Prelates, of the heads of other faiths, and so on. But, broadly speaking, a second Chamber is essential. It is one of the guardians of liberty. When you have looked around and, if the House wishes, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, suggested, you have had an investigation, I am willing, if it is not improper and un-parliamentary to do so, to lay a quite enormous bet with him that you will come round in a circle and find that this House, more or less as it is, serves a useful purpose, and that it will do so for many centuries in the future as it has done in the past.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord WILSON of LANGSIDE
My Lords, it is only about devolution in Scotland that I wish to speak. I find myself in such complete agreement with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, has said on the subject that it occurs to me that this presents an opportunity to win your Lordships' undying gratitude by saying that I am content simply to adopt, and hold as repeated, everything that he and much that other of the opponents of the Government's proposals have said: brevitatis causa. Although the opportunity of winning your Lordships' eternal gratitude may never again be repeated, I propose to sacrifice it this evening, and there are two general points I wish to make on this subject.
The first is that the tide of public opinion in Scotland, where I have my home, is turning slowly, but quite surely, against the Government's proposals. The second point I would make is that the judgment of the people in this regard is sound, and the Government's proposals are unsound. This fundamentally, of course, is because the people are anxious to find a solution to the various problems which present themselves in this context. A rational attempt is what they want to solve the problems involved. The Government, on the other hand, have been obsessed throughout with electoral considerations. They have never really wholly subdued the panic which was created some 12 years or so ago when the Labour Party lost the Hamilton by-election to the Scottish Nationalists. 240 As I view the matter from Scotland, and as do many other people too, it is that panic which appears to have blinded them to the damage which these proposals of theirs will do in Britain.
Of course, few, if any, in Scotland quarrel with the idea of devolution. But there is this growing awareness there that there is little wisdom in the Government's proposals. People in increasing numbers are beginning to appreciate, as many of us have done all along, that this measure will not improve, but will rather reduce, the effectiveness and efficiency of government in Scotland—and indeed I would imagine, although I am not qualified to speak about this country, in England as well. It is ever more widely acknowledged that the proposals, if implemented, would not, as the Prime Minister suggested in the Second Reading debate on the old Bill, provide a useful channel for the legitimate national aspirations of the Scots without going to the extreme of separation advocated by the Nationalists. A more sensible political judgment surely is that, on the contrary, they will provide, as the Nationalists clearly believe and indeed hope, a convenient stepping stone to the break-up of the United Kingdom. That is what the Scottish Nationalists are in business to achieve. I do not, for my part, think that we should help them.
As the tide of public opinion is going, if I am right in my assessment of it, I like to think that when the whole business has been thoroughly ventilated and debated and explored, the only supporters left for these unfortunate proposals will be the Scottish Nationalists and the Scotsman newspaper. The former I can understand and, up to a point, even respect; the reasoning of the latter I find more difficult to fathom. Noble Lords who read the paper may have noticed that its leader writer tends to dub all criticism of the devolution proposals as "hysterical". Looking at the history of the whole matter, I find that diverting and quite mystifying.
Incidentally, it is notorious that there is no great enthusiasm for this measure among Scottish Labour Members of the other place; if there were a free vote, a significant enough number of them would vote against it and what happend last time on Second Reading suggests only that they lack the courage of their convictions. In due course, the whole matter will be fully 241 debated here and in another place and I leave my first point there, expressing only the hope that Parliament will endorse the views that I and other opponents of this measure have expressed in today's debate.
In support of my second general point—that the Government's judgment has been defective—I wish to touch on only two things which I suggest the Government ought to have done in approaching this issue and which all the evidence suggests they neglected to do. First, because this was no mere trifling matter, no run-of-the-mill piece of parliamentary dissidence, they should have reflected—and I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, will forgive me if I say this—more seriously and to more purpose on the political history of the relations between the two countries over the last seven centuries. If, as Lord Raglan would say, at least four of them are probably better left alone and forgotten, I readily concede that, in their neglected historical reflections, the Government should have placed most emphasis on the history of the last 60 years, since about 1918. That approach, whether one takes the seven centuries or the 60 years, would have been more likely to inspire sound judgment than the short-term, misconceived, exclusively electoral considerations by which the Government have been consistently motivated, as for a time was also the Conservative Party.
What, in broad, does history show at the root of the tension between the two nations?—because tension between the Scots and the English is what it is all about. Of course it shows many things and, not surprisingly, it shows different things at different times. Thus, most of us Scots—and again I must apologise to Lord Raglan—regard it as having started at the end of the 13th century with, to quote a distinguished modern Scottish historian, "the sharp practice, arrogance and brutality" of English Edward whicharoused in Scotland a native patriotism and a hatred of England which made the idea of union intolerable to Scottish hearts".There followed 300 years of bloody warfare and mutual distrust. I could illustrate in a hundred and one ways from every-day life in modern Scotland how the spirit of William Wallace lives on today. That does not please me, and, like Lord Raglan, I wish they would forget about it, but the spirit lives on and the Westminster Government should never forget it.
242 Over the centuries, the tensions have lessened, as we moved through the union of the Crowns or the union of Parliaments, into modern times. But, though they lessened, they never completely disappeared and what is left seems to lurk not very far below the surface, for every now and then, as in this last decade, they become more acute. I shall not at this late hour try to analyse in detail the reasons for this. Some are obvious, others less so, and certainly I do not think that it can be attributed to the "sharp practice, brutality and arrogance" of the Westminster Government as it at one time was. But what is clear is that the upsurge of these tensions in Scotland invariably occurs when Westminster Governments are at their more incompetent and insensitive, as they periodically are.
The point I wish to make here is that the Government's handling of this whole matter has too many of the hallmarks of Westminster Government if not at its worst then certainly at far from its best. This is Westminster Government handling a political problem that they do not truly understand, a problem with which they have not sufficiently come to terms. So we have a kind of circle; incompetence in Government gives birth to the problem and that incompetence is matched or compounded by incompetence in the search for a solution. It is the inevitable consequence of giving misconceived electoral considerations precedence over principle and considerations of practical sagacity.
Secondly, there is something the Government ought to have done but have neglected to do. They should have had in the forefront of their appreciation the fact that this is the kind of problem in relation to which it is much more important to get the answer right than to get the answer quickly. This view derives support from the admirable memorandum of dissent to the Report of the Royal Commission by Lord Crowther-Hunt and Professor Peacock. I have for some years suspected that nobody in the Government has ever read it. I am sure I am quite wrong about that but, if they have read it, I find it difficult to believe that they have reflected seriously on their set-up. That, in my submission, is what should have been given the maximum emphasis. We need time to consider this matter.
243 Of course the Nationalists would have bleated about delay, but the Nationalists in Scotland will bleat whatever the British Government do. Properly put, this would have been accepted by the hardheaded, sensible Scottish people. If we get the wrong answer, as many in Scotland seriously believe the Government have done, there will be no turning back and no second chance. If the expectations for improved government are disappointed, as they inevitably will be, the pressure for the ending of the Union will build up and could become irresistible. That is the real danger and that is surely a consequence which Parliament would not wish to bring about.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, I rise happily at seven o'clock, much earlier than I thought I would, to talk again on this most excellent Queen's Speech and the subjects therein. What I am going to say now I have been saying consistently for many years. Here I refer, of course, to devolution. But before coming on to that subject, which is the main matter I want to talk about, I want to say first that I cannot understand certain of the attitudes of the Conservative Party. This is a most excellent Queen's Speech. It is free from vice. It tackles a great many problems. It could have been a Conservative Queen's Speech, in some of their saner moments, and they should cheer, instead of trying to find an excuse. I have never heard so much praise of the IMF. My goodness! every Conservative one hears says that the Liberals have not done it, the Government have not shown any sense; it is all because of the IMF. I suggest that it would be marvellous for the Conservatives to go to the IMF and ask them to write their next programme for the General Election. No doubt, it would be a very good one.
Having said that, I should like to mention one or two points in the gracious Speech which have not, so far, been mentioned. One concerns agriculture. I can find no reference in yesterday's Hansard to the section of the Speech which dealt with agriculture. I want to say to the Government that their intentions of raising production from the land in this country to save considerable imports and to see that we have food are excellent, 244 but in fact these intentions are not being carried out. At present, production is falling and our expenses are rising. There are a few sections of the industry which are in good shape but, sooner or later, the Government must do something about this matter. Of course, I am well aware of the effect on wage negotiations in relation to the price of food, but the rise in the cost of living may be much larger if production continues to fall. Sooner or later the Government must grasp this nettle, and I dare say that the farmers would be perfectly content to settle within the guidelines of 10 per cent. But something must be done, because confidence is falling.
I turn once again to devolution, or a Parliament, a focus, for the people of Scotland and Wales. I have long been in politics, in and out of both places, and I have travelled the length and breadth of Scotland and, indeed, of England, for many years. I have advocated for many years, as has the Liberal Party, a Parliament in Scotland which would deal with Scottish affairs within a framework of Great Britain.
I think that the Conservative Party has changed considerably since the last debate, when the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, took a very different attitude. He said: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."—[Official Report, 30/11/76; col. 158.]That advice should not now he ignored. The Conservative Party in Scotland now appear to be listening to the voice of suburban Glasgow, rather than to the voice of better people, perhaps, in their traditional rural areas. They are not regarding the advice of senior and respected politicians in this House and elsewhere, and I believe that they are making a grave mistake. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, was very gloomy in his speech, and I got the impression that he was wholly against the devolution Bill, and that he was going to act in accordance with that belief.
But I believe it would be extremely unwise of the Conservative Party to act 245 in that way. The polls set up by various people may be showing a slowing down in support for the National Party. Of course, we shall have an ebb and flow of opinion, but this time the problem will not go away. There is far too great a demand for some focus in Scotland, for it to go away. There is far too great a success achieved in Parliament for people to turn away and say that everything is fine and that they will go back happily to the old system. I believe that the Bill as it now is, and is to come before this House some time in the spring, is a great improvement on the last one. Many features could be further improved. Nevertheless, I believe that it provides a basis which would satisfy the people of Scotland. They would want to improve it, but I think that within the framework proposed the United Kingdom is safe, and Scotland would play a very large and a very happy part in an arrangement of this kind. A considerable improvement lies in the fact that we now have two separate Bills for Scotland and Wales. This is entirely necessary, and I think that the Government were most sensible in agreeing to have two separate Bills. There has been a considerable change of attitude on the part of the Government.
There is no doubt at all that both major Parties began to consider devolution, or a focus in Scotland, simply because of pressure from the Scottish Nationalists. I believe that many politicians in the Conservative Party are now looking at the matter on its own merits, and the Labour Party has come round to looking at it much more as a form of Government in which it has some belief and which it believes can do some good for the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom. There is no longer in the Bill the pettiness of trying to call the man who will, in effect, be Prime Minister, a chief executive. He is not to be called Prime Minister, but "Secretary" is now a reasonable compromise and a respectable title to give to an important chief Minister in Scotland. That simple change means a great deal in attitude.
The proposal to allocate the money which the Assembly will spend—though it cannot raise money at the moment—by means of a formula over a period of years is a distinct advance, because it will mean that the Assembly will get experience in allocating its own money and in shifting its resources around the 246 various areas. In that way it will gain considerable experience. At some stage the Assembly will have to be given money-raising powers, and in this connection the Government have agreed to look at any sensible scheme which is brought forward. There is little doubt that this will come, and that it must come.
We must look again at our attitude in this House and in another place to the general concept, because we are now in Europe, we are now into bigger and bigger units, and the more that we are in a larger unit in Europe, the more we need an identity in the smaller and more outlying parts of this country. This Parliament will provide that identity in Scotland. The Scottish Assembly will, I believe, need representation of some kind in Brussels, because obviously the Assembly, and the Assembly alone, will know best the needs of Scotland, and its representatives can put their case in Brussels, or in Europe, in a far better way than can come from the Westminster Government. I think that a whole lot of experience will be gained, and I think that further powers may well be sought.
I further think that if the Scottish people want more powers and they seek them in a reasonable manner, then they must get them. I am astonished by the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, that a referendum is no good unless it embraces the whole of Great Britain. It may be logical in one way, but, really, if you are going to go by the feeling for self-determination in a country, you have to take the feeling, singly, of that country.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? Following his argument, if you have an existing country and you are splitting it up, are not all the parts of that country concerned and interested, and ought not all of them to be consulted?
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, you can carry an argument to absurdity, but you must not forget that until 1717 Scotland had its own Parliament, and until 1603 it was a country on its own. You have constituent parts of this country which historically feel an identity as a country, and this is what you cannot ignore. If you were going 247 to give independence to an African country, you would not take a referendum in this country as to whether it should have independence. All right, it may not be a logical argument, but neither was the noble Lord's.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
My Lords, I really do not want to embark upon a Second Reading speech, but I do think that what we have to do is to pass this Bill and get it on to the Statute Book as soon as possible. The feeling in Scotland is still strong.
§ Lord MACKIE of BENSHIE
The noble Marquess says "No". He may disagree, but the polls still show strong support and the figures of the Parties still indicate strong support. I think that if we do not do something in this Parliament then at the next Election we are really going to get a very strong feeling in the other countries that England does not care. I am sure that this House does not want to give that feeling, and I hope your Lordships will speed the Bill through Parliament.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ The EARL of MANSFIELD
My Lords, this debate has followed several paths, as is customary in your Lordships' House when discussing the gracious Speech. Before I get into my argument I should like, of course, to congratulate both the mover and the seconder of the humble Address, and also the two noble Lords who have, as it were, spoken for the first time and ended their period of maidenhood in your Lordships' House. I hope that each of them, in their different ways, will realise how much they have contributed to our discussions this afternoon. I hope that each of them, having now broken his silence, will contribute to our debates on many occasions in the future. We enjoyed their contributions and, if I may put it like this, we should like some more.
The debate has really fallen into two main parts. Early on there was the 248 general debate in which a lot was said, I think, about law and order, the state of the police and matters like that. Then, after that, we have had a considerable period spent on the subject of devolution, where it has been a question, really, of those two noble bedfellows, Lords Perth and Mackie, against the rest. I acquit the noble and learned Lord of participation because of his measured, judicial tone. It was he, of course, who introduced the debate, and he introduced it immediately in a way which, if I may say so, showed some signs of self-congratulation so far as the Government are concerned when he said, in effect, that we as a nation have not done badly in terms of the recession. If I am not misquoting him or unfairly quoting him, he said, in effect, that as a nation we stand on the threshold of advance so far as material gains are concerned. I certainly do not mind the Government taking what comfort they can from the present state of euphoria. Whether indeed it is a vision of the promised land which the noble and learned Lord sees, I beg to doubt; I think it may well be a mirage. Certainly so far as financial circles are concerned there is still very deep gloom about the present state of world reflation—or, rather, the lack of it—and the fact that so many of the countries which are superior to us in terms of economic recovery so far are making such a very slow progression towards prosperity.
The point of saying this, which might be thought an economic argument, in a debate on home affairs is that the stresses and strains which this period of recession has put on our society definitely has, I think, had an effect, both on the question of law and order and, indeed, on the question of devolution. It is a fact that large and totally (I was going to say "irresponsible", but I will not) intolerable quantities of unemployment not only diminish the self-respect of the unfortunates who are but unemployment statistics but also diminish the whole self-respect of our nation, and certainly change public attitudes for the worse. I am not going to follow my noble friend Lord Ferrers in what I thought, if I may say so, was a very penetrating analysis, but there is no doubt that over the years we have become an acquisitive society. I am not going to point a finger at one Party or another. I think it was probably just as 249 unfortunate to say to people, in effect, "You've never had it so good—and we encourage you to buy consumer durables on hire-purchase and generally to improve, or apparently improve, your standard of living" as it is to say, perhaps as this Government have tended to say, "We are going to strike the rich from their pinnacles and we encourage you people to be envious of them". I think both are unfortunate points of view, perhaps, and I think both have had their effect on our society.
The fact of the matter is that people are no longer content to, as it were, argue matters out in traditional ways; to take industrial action in what I might call traditional ways; to be content with the results of inquiries which are made in traditional ways: and to abide by the decisions of Parliament, which are still made in traditional ways. The events at Grunwick and the events which have surrounded certain other strikes—and I point no fingers as to blame, or anything else—show that, by and large, our population are not content to let matters rest and have their grievances looked at, gone into, discussed and eventually settled in ways which were considered perfectly proper and satisfactory but a few years before.
How are we affected by this gracious Speech? The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, was self-congratulatory in a certain degree, too. "There is no socialism in the Speech", he said, which he was pleased about; and he said, in effect, that this was all due to the Liberal presence in the other place and the advice which they had been able to foist upon a reluctant Government. What he does not bear, and which he should bear along with his colleagues, is the mantle of guilt for maintaining this ghastly Government in power in the first place. If they had not done what they did in the other place, we would not now, I suggest, be standing here discussing unwise measures such as this further attempt to foist devolution upon what I suggest is an unwilling country. We should not be pausing, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, did, to congratulate the Government upon measures which would help small businesses and the self-employed, when it is this Government who have brought them almost to their knees so far as cash flow and solvency are concerned.
250 However, the noble Lord is not here and we will leave him in peace—I see now that the noble Lord is here. I congratulate him.
§ Lord WIGODER
My Lords, perhaps the noble Earl will be good enough to indicate whether he or his Party has any alternative to offer at the moment.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, I have an alternative. It is, the first time there is a vote of confidence in another place, to march firmly into the Lobbies with my colleagues there. That would be an alternative which would be both patriotic and effective in terms of our future prosperity.
My Lords, as far as the gracious Speech is concerned, of course, many of the reforms which the noble and learned Lord touched on, where they deal with legal matters, will be non-Party and I know there will be a considerable measure of agreement. Noble Lords on these Benches, and, I dare say, on the Liberal Benches as well, will play their part in helping them through the House. If they are anything like the Criminal Law Act, as it is now, in the last Session, perhaps even the Law Lords will debate with their customary gusto.
I was very interested in what the noble and learned Lord said about the level of crime and the waiting time in London and the Provinces so far as the unfortunates are concerned who eventually will have to take their place in the dock in the Crown Court. If one stops to think about it, it is intolerable that somebody should have to wait six months for their case, and, possibly, their future liberty, to be discussed in court. I do not know how witnesses can be expected to remember for a period as long as that details of conversations and small matters of identification which can be so important. I know that all noble Lords and anybody in either House of Parliament would help the Government so far as it was within their power to do anything to shorten such waiting time.
My Lords, I was slightly perturbed at the manner in which the noble and learned Lord dealt with the question of the duration of trials. I think that the words "verbosity of counsel" were employed by the noble and learned Lord. I hope 251 that I am sufficiently far removed in time from my erstwhile practice not to have to declare an interest which I now do not have, but in my time I certainly saw no sign of dishonest members of the Bar, rather like dishonest taxidrivers, taking the long route hoping that the meter will click up for another refresher. I do not think that that goes on. I was a little perturbed to understand that the two greatest legal figures in the land could seriously pretend that it does.
What I think has happened in the last few years is a combination of two things. First, because of the spread of legal aid I think that people are now preparing their cases along with their instructing solicitors with far greater care and in far greater detail than ever before. This, of course, means that the defence is far more extensive and the prosecution's case is tested far more thoroughly than it ever used to be. Secondly—and one has to acknowledge this—criminals are far better educated, prepared and advised, in the non-legal sense, than they ever were before. The worst villain that I ever defended—he was an armed robber and not a fraudulent creature; a good armed robber—had been to a grammar school and his father was a self-employed contractor. When we came to prepare his defence I had to spend no less than an hour and a half with him in his cell at the Old Bailey before the day's work was done and another hour or so afterwards. Every cross-examination had to be prepared with him in the minutest detail so that it could be put forward in the way he considered that it should. This is an example of the modern criminal. I do not want to say any more about this; but if counsel are to be fined for doing their work as they consider thoroughly, it will be a poor day for British justice.
My Lords, while I am talking about law reform, may I congratulate the Government if, as I think they are, they intend to reform the criminal justice system in Scotland and also to improve criminal justice procedure. It was something which I might have hoped that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, would comment on. Having seen both legal systems so far as criminal justice is concerned, I am bound to say that I am perturbed at the procedures in Scotland and, more especially, at the 252 distinct lack of avenues which a judge can go down in dealing with convicted persons. I hope that the Government will try to follow the road of the last two Criminal Justice Acts and produce in Scotland some of the humane and throughly improving sentences which can now be passed by English judges and which, indeed, are taken as a matter of course. I do not know whether this might be a good Bill to be ventilated in your Lordships' House for the first time; I commend such a thought to the Government.
We then had, so far as this debate is concerned, a number of delightful subjects which in fact were not mentioned in the gracious Speech; subjects such as hare coursing, the future of this House and the vaccination of children. I think I have covered them. The noble Lord, Lord Soper, if I may say so in passing, told us of the many Bills designed to bring coursing to an end. The fact is that none of them succeeded. I might point out that this is perhaps an indication that there are some people who disagree with his point of view, who do not regard this as, in his words, "an abominable practice", and who will fight for the right to do what they consider is legal, proper and perfectly within the ordinary standards of the countryside. They may not be acceptable to a townie. I do not know where the noble Lord, Lord Soper, lives; but they are acceptable in the countryside—and I have never coursed.
My Lords, I want to come now to the matter of devolution. I sometimes wonder whether, looking to my left, I live in the same country as my noble friend Lord Perth, and, looking to my right, to the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie; in fact, on the map no more than 20 miles divides any of us. I have no doubt that there are a number of people in Scotland who perfectly genuinely feel that they are subjected to a far-off bureaucratic Government and that if only they could have a democratically-elected Assembly functioning in Edinburgh there would be, as far as they are concerned, an improved and enriched life. It is not something that I have ever felt. One cannot move a yard in Scotland without somebody poking their face over the hedge, as it were. Only last week in my own "patch"—and I call it so advisedly— 253 we had people from the European Parliament to see whether we are spending FEOGA money properly, people from the community council to look at a right of way and people from the district council who wanted to put up a public lavatory on the banks of the River Tay. I did not quite know why; but they were adamant that it was necessary. We had people from the region to look at a road which badly needed doing up and for which they said there was no money, although they were content that the district should put up a public lavatory on the bank of the river. I never get the impression that I am very far off from government of one kind or another.
What I do think—and I come back to this streak of acquisitiveness which now runs through us—is that the Scottish public have for a long time been fed with a number of purely selfish and unworthy thoughts. They have been fed by the Press, television and a number of politicians seeking power: "If we can gather in the oil which happens to lie off Scotland's shores and not let the English get hold of it, we shall be that much richer. If we can stop other people from fishing in the sea round Scotland's shores, and we have the herring ourselves, we shall be that much richer. Thinking of what happened yesterday, if we can stop foreigners buying up our land and confiscate it from those who have it already, give it all round so that everybody has a little bit, we shall be that much richer". That is the philosophy behind so much of Scottish nationalism. It is a policy of selfishness which, speaking personally, I deplore. The best thing that could happen so far as Scottish nationalism is concerned is for an enormous oil field to be discovered in the Western Approaches. Then we would have very much less nonsense talked than we have had for a long time.
Most of the points that I have made have been more than adequately covered by other noble Lords, particularly by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. The noble Lord, Lord Peart, asked what the Conservatives thought. What we think both of this Bill and the last one has been made perfectly plain. Do not let it be said, my Lords, that we think there is no room for a measure of devolution in the right manner and at the right 254 time, but not passed in an over-hasty way, hoping that at the next General Election a number of seats which are traditionally held by certain Members of Parliament of a particular persuasion will continue to be so held. That, I suggest, is the wrong way of making constitutional legislation. It is a short-sighted way, and it is a way which eventually will be brought to book.
The gracious Speech, if the Government give us the work, will agreeably occupy our time for the next few months. I say that because once the Bills start coming from the Commons—if they do—I imagine our time will be most disagreeably spent. Many of the Bills will owe their origins in one form or another to the Home Office. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, who is looking remarkably cheerful, will have a long, hot Session. My Lords, with that remark, I have had my say. The gracious Speech contains some things which are good, such as what we have heard about agriculture. It contains a number of matters which are obscure, such as profit-sharing and Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act; and it contains one or two proposals which are downright bad.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I want to talk tonight primarily about the issue of law and order. Before doing so, I should like to touch on a number of the issues which have been raised. As in the debate which we had a year ago on the same day, it has ranged over a remarkably wide area of territory, from topics such as the future of this House, which was raised by my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby and others, to the problems of first-time home buyers and the role of housing societies, which was raised by my noble friend, Lord Soper; and from devolution, which was raised by a substantial number of Members in this House, to the question of the Official Secrets Act, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder. That being so, I hope that those who have spoken will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not reply in detail to all the points that have been made.
On devolution, it is obvious that we are going to spend a fairly formidable amount of time on this question. Clearly, 255 a number of Members of your Lordships' House look forward to this coming discussion with some degree of enthusiasm. It is right to say that this is a most important element of the Government's proposals in this Session, and one of the great values of the discussion that we have had today is the fact that it led to some slightly clearer indication of the position of the Opposition in this matter. When I heard the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, I thought he was saying he was not keen to have this Bill go through. That seemed to me the central purpose of his speech; but when the noble Earl, Lord Perth, asked whether that was the position, the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, replied that it was not.
We have also had the speech of the noble Earl, who has just resumed his seat. He did not take us a great deal further: the Opposition did not want us to act with any haste. I do not think that anybody can say that we have acted with an enormous degree of haste in this matter. He said that there might conceivably be some unworthy electoral motives so far as the Government are concerned. We all know that motives of that sort never affect the Opposition. The noble Earl was good enough to say that it was patriotic of the Liberal Party to go into the Lobby with the Conservative Party in the House of Commons. If the noble Earl will forgive my saying so, that, from a person for whose views I have a great deal of respect, was a remarkable statement. Nevertheless, we are clearly going to spend a substantial amount of time on this question.
I shall pass to my noble friend the Leader of the House the suggestion that was made by a number of speakers that there should be a debate on this matter before the Bill arrives. I shall also draw his attention to the suggestion of my noble friend Lord Houghton that there might be some merit in a debate on the future of this House.
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I do not want him to misconstrue what I said. When I interrupted the noble Earl, Lord Perth, it was simply on a matter of detail because I thought that he was quoting what I had said. I merely said that I did not say that. It was a point of detail on which I corrected him, not a point of substance.
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I take note of what the noble Earl has said. On the question of the Official Secrets Act, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, it remains the position of the Government that Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 should be repealed and replaced by far more up-to-date provisions. As has been made clear, we intend to publish our proposals in the form of a White Paper.
We have carried out a considerable amount of work in recent months on various aspects of the proposals of the Franks Committee and a White Paper—perhaps inevitably with a few Green edges—will allow all those with an interest in what is undoubtedly an issue of great importance to discuss this matter on the basis of the work which has been done by the Government. I recognise that this may mean that legislation is unlikely this Session; but a considerable amount of discussion is necessary on this important matter so that, on this occasion, we get it right, as we certainly did not in 1911.
The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, referred to proposals for broadcasting. We hope to put forward our proposals within the relatively near future. I agree with her that local radio is a matter of great importance. I am well aware that many communities that do not have local radios at the moment want it. It has a most important part to play in the development of life in local communities. That being so, it will undoubtedly form an important element of the proposals when we put them forward to Parliament.
The noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, asked me a direct question on devolution arising from something that was said by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. That was on the question of the timetable so far as the referenda on the Scotland and Wales Bills were concerned. It is proposed that the referenda should be held in Scotland and in Wales after the two Bills have received the Royal Assent but before they are brought into effect. The relevant section of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum of the Scottish Bill makes this plain and I will quote it, if I may, because it puts the situation fairly clearly: 257The first order bringing the Bill into operation is to be approved by both Houses of Parliament and the Bill provides that this order cannot be made until a referendum has been held in Scotland on the question whether the provisions of the Act should be brought into effect …".There is a similar provision concerning the Wales Bill.
§ Lord BOYD-CARPENTER
My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to ask whether that means that the order will be subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
Exactly, my Lords. I should now like, as did the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, to refer to the two outstanding speeches we have had the benefit of hearing this afternoon: first, the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, and, secondly, that of the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis. They both spoke with great force and conviction on matters of great importance and I certainly echo the view of the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield, that we very much hope to hear them again. I will deal later, if I may, with some of the detailed points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis.
The noble Earl raised an important question covering whooping cough vaccines. He indicated that the matter has troubled him greatly and I know it has received a substantial amount of attention outside this House in the recent past. The situation here is that the expert committee which has been set up by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is keeping this matter under constant review. The House will probably remember that, in June, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State announced that the Government had decided to accept in principle that there should be a scheme of payment for the benefit of those seriously damaged as a result of vaccination. Inevitably, the detailed provisions will have to await the Government's consideration of the report of the Royal Commission on Civil Liability. We expect to receive the report of the Royal Commission towards the end of this year. The Government stand by the commitment and we shall take steps to introduce any necessary legislation as soon as practicable after consideration has been given to the report.
258 A number of those who have spoken today, and not least the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, have to some extent thought that we have got our priorities wrong in this House; sometimes we do not spend enough time discussing matters which are judged of great concern to the outside public, and we spend a great deal of time on matters which do not concern them to the same degree. Without forming a judgment on the reason for that particular analysis, I certainly think that, in some respects, we do spend too little time discussing certain matters—for example, in the area of law and order. Every year we have a debate in this House on the subject of prisons. For the three and a half years since I have been a Member, I cannot recall anyone putting down, or, perhaps, succeeding in, a Motion on the problems of the police force. That is a remarkable situation, given the very high degree of public concern about crime in our country.
Tonight I want to talk about this issue, about the dimensions of the problem and about the methods we are using to deal with the threat that crime and disorder present to our society. Let me deal first with the size of the problem. The noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, raised this in his speech, and I intervened. Although I agree with him that the situation is undoubtedly serious, I am bound to say that I do not feel that it justifies the kind of language he used. The fact is that the debate we are having today on this issue could be reproduced in the Parliaments in Rome, in Bonn, in Paris, in Washington and in any country in the Western industrialised world. It is not a uniquely British problem and it is crucially important to get that right. Having said that, it does not mean that this is not a matter of grave importance. Of course it is; and it is certainly our judgment that it is one of the most important issues which face this Government, as it will be for any succeeding Administration.
The reason is that, as in other countries, the amount of crime known to the police is rising steadily. The figures for the first half of 1977 show an increase of 11 per cent. over the corresponding period in 1976. The most disturbing element of this is that the number of offences of violence against the person and of robbery show a particular tendency to increase. 259 That justifies a great deal of the public concern that has been expressed. To give an illustration, in 1976, while offences known to the police rose by only 1 per cent.—and 1976, in terms of crime, was a remarkable year, in that crime did not rise as sharply as it has in other years—the number of robberies rose by 3 per cent. and the number of cases involving offences of violence against the person rose by 10 per cent. This year, the numbers have continued to rise but not to such a disproportionate degree. Of course, as I have said already, this is indeed a serious matter; but, in addition to the problem I have just mentioned, the police also have to devote substantial resources to the threat which is posed by terrorism, particularly in this country to that created by the IRA, and also to the threats facing us from other organisations.
Let me deal first with the IRA. So far as Great Britain is concerned, we have mercifully had a relatively peaceful year. Since the spate of incendiary bomb attacks in London and Liverpool in January, there have been no terrorist attacks on the mainland. One of the reasons for this has been the significant contribution made by preventive police action, and particularly by the controls at our sea and airports.
But there are not the slightest grounds for complacency because we could face a renewal of these attacks at any time. Indeed, I suspect that relatively few in this House, and perhaps even fewer outside it, are aware of the significance of an event in Dublin on 27th August of this year—an event which was reported in the Press at that time, though relatively briefly. On that day a large consignment of explosives, weapons and other materials was discovered in a container destined for Britain. A Dublin firm had been asked to deliver what was described as an empty container to a destination in Great Britain. When the container arrived at the docks in Dublin it was discovered that, because it was three inches too deep, it could not be loaded on to the ship. The transport firm, assuming that it was indeed an empty container, substituted another container of the right size to load on to that ship. That container was indeed empty and it was transported to this country. Not altogether surprisingly, the people who were here to receive 260 it were not too pleased when they discovered that they had indeed got an empty container on their hands. As a result of their reaction, the person concerned became suspicious and the Irish police were informed. Inside the original container were discovered 96 ready-made incendiary devices and also sufficient explosives and detonators for over 50 bombs of four to five pounds each.
Let me remind the House that a bomb of half that size, at the Ideal Home exhibition in London last year, killed one person and injured over 80. The House will therefore realise without any difficulty the potential devastation which that consignment could have created, and the reason why it did not get here was three inches on the size of that container. The lesson in that situation is clear. We cannot possibly afford complacency in dealing with this situation. We cannot afford to relax our vigilance in any way whatever.
I think that the same clearly applies to the problem of international terrorist violence. This is a threat which is now experienced by pretty well the whole world community, and we see it in its sharpest focus in the industrialised democratic West. It ranges from the hijacking of an aircraft to the kidnapping of a private citizen for personal gain, to precisely the same action taken for avowedly political motives. It is, of course, this second problem, the one where political motives are involved, that confronts us all with the most severe challenge. Sometimes the kidnappers are men of considerable political sophistication and intelligence. They believe that if a democratic society can be subjected to a sufficiently high degree of violence, it will crumble. It is our task to ensure that these violent men and women do not succeed.
I am glad to say that this analysis is widely shared among our colleagues in the European Community. It was, indeed, because of this that the European Council agreed at its meeting in Paris in December 1975 to a proposal from the British Government that the Ministers of the Interior of the Member States should meet together to consider this problem, and a number of other important issues. The first of these meetings took place in Luxembourg in June last year, and the second in London in May this year when it was presided over 261 by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. As a result of these meetings, arrangements have been made for improving the exchange of information about terrorist acts, and the techniques for dealing with them. A number of working groups have been established in the technical field. And arrangements have been put in hand for the exchange of police personnel.
There will also be—and I think that this is a matter of great importance—far closer collaboration in the area of police training. Only a week ago, I had an opportunity to welcome at the police college at Bramshill the directors of the police academies of all the countries within the European Community. I believe that increased co-operation of this character within Europe is an essential element in our strategy to defeat the menace of international terrorism, and I am glad to say that we are beginning to achieve this collaboration. I know how heartened we all were by the remarkable success of the German Government over the affair of the hijacked Lufthansa jet. As an operation, it was superbly conceived and admirably executed, and I think that the whole House will want to congratulate Chancellor Schmidt on the outcome. I am glad to say that we were very pleased to be able to make some contribution.
I believe that co-operation of this character is of high importance, not only in limiting the terrorist threat but also in giving new significance to our commitment to the European Community. I think it is right to pay tribute today to all those who have played a part in securing what I believe has been a notable advance in collaboration between Member States of the Community—collaboration which has not received the degree of attention that some differences of opinion have sometimes secured, but which, nevertheless, is of crucial importance in maintaining the stability of democratic societies in Western Europe.
As I have already indicated, substantial police resources have had to be devoted to dealing with this problem of terrorist violence, and this at a time when their resources have been severely stretched because of the increased level of crime. So it is, I think, right to say a few words at this stage about police manpower and pay. Both of these issues have been 262 raised in the course of the debate and, if I may, I shall deal with police manpower first. This is a point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who has always shown great interest in this matter and whose enthusiasm I very much welcome.
So far as manpower is concerned, the situation is this. At the end of September, the strength of the police in England and Wales was 108,704. The rate of recruitment is still well above the level in 1974 and, indeed, a new campaign is now beginning. But, certainly—and I accept this at once—there is a severe problem of wastage, and this is serious because we are losing men many of whom are highly experienced officers. Nevertheless, it is only right to point out that since the end of March 1974, when the present Government came to office, we have added about 8,000 to the strength of the police in England and Wales, and there has been a net gain of 1,500 officers so far as the Metropolitan Police are concerned.
The additional resources for the police, which were announced in the recent Statement in another place by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, will have two effects. First, they will enable the recruitment of additional civilians to assist the police in their work, and I hope that this will lead to the freeing of some policemen who are now doing jobs within police stations and get them on the beat. Secondly, there will be an increase of over 1,000 in the number of police cadets. I think that this is an important development, and I know that is it warmly welcomed within the Police Service.
I now come to the question of pay. I think that there has been significant progress on this. The House will be aware that on 27th October the Government offered the representatives of the Police Federation an immediate pay increase of 10 per cent., together with an inquiry covering pay and other matters. We were certainly very pleased that the police were able to accept this offer. As a result of it, a review body, under the chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, will be going into this matter. It is already studying the police pay negotiating machinery, and the noble and learned Lord has very kindly now agreed to 263 undertake this wider review. It will also consider the longer-term issue of the existing constitution, rights and duties of the Police Federation, in the light of developments in the field of industrial relations on which an inquiry was promised earlier in the year. We had some difficulties over this, which were well publicised. Nevertheless, at a time like this, I think we should all be very gratified that this matter was disposed of as it was, and I would certainly want to pay tribute to the reaction of the leadership of the Police Federation at a time of great difficulty.
I now turn to some of our other problems, particularly the problems of the prisons, which were dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis. Certainly, so far as prisons are concerned, this has again been a difficult year. We continue to be faced with the dilemma posed by the two central problems of too many prisoners and not enough resources, and we must accept that we shall be constrained by these problems for a substantial period of time to come. But certainly there have been some welcome signs over the year. An all-time peak, so far as the prison population is concerned, was reached in October last year, when there were 42,419 people in prison. This year, the average prison population has been just over 41,600, which figure is about 200 higher than for the same period last year. Nevertheless, the overall figure tended to stay below 42,000. Certainly the prison capital building programme, like many other building programmes of central Government, is now very modest indeed.
Even here there is something encouraging to report. Despite all the difficulties, about 1,200 new places were completed last year, including a new prison at Featherstone, near Wolverhampton, and last July I opened a new prison at High-point in Suffolk. Here some interesting and, I think, important innovative work is going on, as it is at Deerbolt Borstal in County Durham and at Channings Wood Prison in Devon. This deals to some extent with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, in his speech. Here people are being trained to do useful work, in that they are building the new prisons. They are being trained on site as building workers, and hopefully when they leave prison they will be in a far better 264 position to be able to get a job. That is indeed the precise point which the noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, raised in his speech.
I believe that it is a programme of great hope and importance. As I have indicated, first it gives the inmates useful work to do. Second, it teaches many of them new skills and improves their opportunity to get a job when they leave prison. Lastly, it saves the taxpayer a significant sum of money. As a result of all these current developments, we shall have another 2,000 places in the prison system by the middle of 1979.
The noble Lord, Lord Chitnis, asked me a number of fairly detailed questions on career guidance. I was proposing to deal now with those questions, but if the noble Lord will forgive me for not doing so now I will write to him. I do not know whether the noble Lord agrees?
§ Lord HARRIS of GREENWICH
My Lords, I am obliged. Only a relatively short time ago, at the end of June, when we had a debate in this House which was initiated by my noble friend Lord Longford, I discussed one particular problem which we face which is as serious now as it was then—that is, the presence in prison of several hundreds of offenders who are suffering from mental disorder: people who, in the opinion of prison medical officers, are in need of care and treatment in psychiatric hospitals. These people stretch our already inadequate resources to the limit and they place an unenviable burden on all those who are responsible for their welfare.
This very difficult situation is part of a wider set of problems in the sphere of mental health which was examined by the Committee on Mentally Abnormal Offenders headed by the noble Lord, Lord Butler. The Committee made many recommendations intended to ensure that the provision of psychiatric treatment for those offenders in most need of it was dealt with more satisfactorily. The recommendations made by Lord Butler and his colleagues are now receiving close consideration by the Government. The Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office are working together to try to give the fullest possible effect to what the Committee described as the 265 guiding principle in this area: that mentally disordered offenders should be sent wherever they can best be given the treatment that they need.
Our central policy objective remains, as I indicated on that occasion, to divert people from the prisons, where this can be done with safety to the public. I believe that we are achieving this objective in a number of ways. Dealing first with community service, the increasing availability of arrangements for community service orders which now exist in full in 33 probation areas, and in parts of 21 others, and the growth of the confidence of the courts in them, demonstrate that community service is becoming a disposal of great significance. The number of people who have had these orders made against them has risen significantly. In 1975 there were 2,900; last year there were 8,700; and the indications are that the numbers for this year will be even higher.
We have now decided to make available next year additional resources, to enable the Probation Service to extend and to strengthen community service schemes. As a result, the whole of England and Wales should be covered by community service by the end of the next financial year. Secondly, I believe that prisons will get additional relief as a result of some of the provisions of this year's Criminal Law Act. May I take only two examples which were discussed in this House during the passage of the Bill: the abolition of imprisonment for the offence of being drunk and disorderly, and the considerable reductions in periods of imprisonment for which those in default of payment of fines will in future be liable. We are also pressing on with the provision of more bail hostels. Here people can remain while awaiting trial as an alternative to being remanded in custody. There are now seven of these hostels which is, I accept, a very modest number. Nevertheless, another 15 are in various stages of preparation. In addition, as a result of discussions which we have had, the majority of probation hostels now admit men and women on bail.
Let me say this in conclusion. As I have indicated, I believe that increasing crime is a problem of mounting concern to our people, in just the same way as it is throughout the rest of Europe and in the United States. Unless it is checked, it 266 can do grievous damage to our society. We have to face the fact that there are in this situation no easy solutions, no simple short cuts away from our present difficulties. What is required is the recognition that the battle against crime must be regarded as one of our highest national priorities. In this situation, the police deserve and require the firm and resolute backing of both Parliament and people.
§ Lord STRABOLGI
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Strabolgi.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.