§ ADDRESS IN REPLY TO HER MAJESTY'S
MOST GRACIOUS SPEECH
Debate resumed on the Motion moved yesterday by the Lord Bethell—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's must dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament".
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone)
My Lords, in rising to continue this debate I should like to begin by congratulating my two noble friends, the mover and seconder of the Address, on their useful and thoughtful contributions. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, expressed some surprise that movers and seconders tended to be hereditary Peers. But the reason is not far to seek. The tradition has always been to invite comparatively junior Members of the House to perform this important task. I hope I shall not give offence by saying that we Life Peers tend to be a trifle long in the tooth. In the main we have passed our first youth. Whatever other advantages or disadvantages the hereditary element in this House may possess, it tends to supply us with a sprinkling of young men of character and intelligence whose preoccupation nowadays with the necessity to play an active part in the process of earning a living would ordinarily preclude a parliamentary career. My noble friend Lord Fairfax is one of these. My noble friend Lord Bethell is, of course, an experienced Member of the House. But his membership of the European Parliament—I hesitate to call it "another place", but perhaps we might call it "two other places"—makes us exceedingly fortunate in securing his services. I hope your Lordships will agree that my noble friend the Leader of the House is to be congratulated in getting two such distinguished Members of our body to perform this task in the third Session of this Parliament. They each made it certain that we shall wish to hear more of them in the future.
I turn now to the debate itself. The other day it fell to my lot to drive myself the whole way along the A1 to the South of Scotland. I could not help reflecting, in the context of today's debate on Home Affairs, on the contrast which my journey of last week made with the first journey I made along approximately the same route in my old Model T Ford in the summer of 1926, after the General Strike, and while the miners' strike was still on.
The first thought that came to my mind was that of the voting population of today no one under the age of somewhere between 40 and 45 has any effective memory of even the end of the last war, and no one much under the age of 50 can remember even its beginning. Far fewer indeed retain memories as old as mine, dating much before 1939. The noble Lord, Lord Byers, yesterday used the phrase that we had "reached a watershed" in our affairs. Even before I heard him use it, by a strange coincidence I had already decided, though in a different context, to use the same phrase 20 Myself—that we are more or less at a watershed in our affairs.
I regard this fact and the fact to which I have just alluded as a matter of great significance and perhaps not inconsiderable concern. If, as I believe, Governments of whatever persuasion will be compelled for some time to come to operate in a climate far more adverse than any that has been experienced by the enormous majority of our population, it is fitting that we should assess our situation afresh and see what general lessons are to be drawn. This I shall now try to do. I will wish to be as frank as possible and I shall try not to give offence either to political friend or foe. But since Parliament is a place one of whose purposes is the expression of controversial views, I trust that those who do not agree with them, and they will no doubt be many, will treat them for what they are—honest opinions spoken without malice even when they are critical of others, and put forward solely for the purpose of advancing the understanding of the political choices open to us.
Today's debate is confined to home affairs. But dominating home policy, more perhaps than at any time since 1945, are the world situation, certainly, in my view, not improving if not actually deteriorating, and the economic situation, obviously serious and setting up strains within society with which today's debate must inevitably be concerned. I shall try to avoid straying across the frontiers which separate home policy from foreign, defence and economic policies. I understand in particular that it has been agreed between the usual channels that unemployment—that dominating feature of the debates which we shall be having—should be discussed under economic policy rather than under home affairs. But it would, I think, be absolutely unrealistic to talk about home affairs without seeing them in the context in which they must constantly be considered.
There is, however, one economic point I should like to make. For more than a century the life of nations has been dominated by what I might almost be tempted to call a Marxian contradiction. Trade is international and the prosperity of nations, perhaps particularly of our own nation, is nourished by the vigour of world demand and not simply by any home market, however extensive. Nevertheless, and by contrast, the political organisation of the world ever since the Renaissance and even to a certain extent today is based upon national sovereignty which, even by the largest nations, can exercise only a limited effect on world economic conditions. Even organisations like the old League of Nations, the United Nations or the European Community, to which my noble friend Lord Bethell yesterday referred, are only palliatives of this contradiction. The great power blocs like the Western Alliance and the Warsaw Pact and the lesser power blocs like the Organisation of African Unity and the Arab League do not basically alter this fact. In a sense they only emphasise it. The great empires, which, apart from the Soviet empire, exist no more, were in a sense no more than a more or less unsuccessful attempt to overcome or contradict it.
The result has been that, for the past 150 years at least, a debate has been going on between two schools of thought, each representing one proposition of this contradiction. On one side are the advocates of the 21 market economy, based on the proposition that, national sovereignties being incomplete, trade is best allowed to develop by its own dynamisms with as little interference as possible from national sovereignties. That was, in the past, the classic Liberal thesis at a time when—if they will forgive me—the Liberal Party, then in its heyday, needed no allies from pink-centred collectivists and was not disposed to compromise with any form of collectivism. On the other side, there were the advocates of the use of national sovereignty, and therefore of unilateral political action, to try to further economic and social ends. This is, and was, the classical Socialist thesis and, of course, it has its strong partisans today; not least, I should think, among the Social Democrats.
Speaking for myself, I think I have always been conscious of this dilemma. But I have never fully accepted either point of view, nor do I believe that it is possible to state either point of view in an extreme fashion without leading oneself into manifest absurdity. It is certain that, in practice, neither point of view has wholly prevailed. So far as I personally have a guiding formula, over the years it has been publicly provided social services and privately owned industry, coupled with the maximum degree of international co-operation. I still believe that, within bounds although not of dogma, this formula may be acceptable as a rule of thumb.
But I now return to my main thesis. For the greater numbers in this country, from 1945 until 1973 or thereabouts, each year brought in absolute terms increased prosperity. Prices were rising, and that was a defect, but so were incomes and, taking one year with another, on the whole and for most people, though not all people, incomes rose faster than prices. I venture to say that this was particularly true during the years 1951 to 1964, which I think, with a misplaced gift for phrase, Sir Harold Wilson christened the 13 wasted years. It is true, of course, that during the whole period, or at any rate during the last 20 years of it, warning voices were raised including, I like to think, my own. We were not learning new technologies. Although the national product was increasing, we were not keeping our share of international trade, and since 1973 we have been losing it.
There were other clouds on the horizon. I can remember years ago, when Lord Pethick-Lawrence was speaking on economic matters from the Front Bench opposite in this House, I myself pointed to the lack of productivity which was going on, the excess of restrictive practices, particularly among trade unions, and the archaic union structure which still, I noticed the other day, means no less than 18 unions in the affairs of a single firm in the motor-car industry; and, incidentally, a motor-car industry which possesses a relative productivity of about half that of our European competitors, let alone that of Japan.
All these tendencies have now come, if I am right, to roost, largely as the result of what happened, or failed to happen, in the 'seventies, and matters crystallised, so to speak, in the recession which followed the increase in the price of oil in 1973. This is the context in which I venture to use the word "watershed". In such a context, it is no good whistling to keep one's courage up with false optimism. Still less is there much virtue in self-fulfilling prophecies of doom and 22 gloom. What is wanted is an objective realisation, by a public opinion which is not yet wholly attuned to the realities, that, unless some totally new factor appears, the climate of the 'eighties is going to be altogether less favourable than that of the 'sixties—1973 was, in this sense, a watershed—and that our domestic policies and outlook must be attuned realistically to deal with a new situation.
In the meantime, my feeling is that we must get rid of two or three illusions. In the first place, to listen to some critics of the Government one would hardly gather that this Government are not spending less. They are spending more. We have just lived through a decade when our successive Governments have more or less doubled the national debt. Last year, we added something like another £11,000 million to it and there will be still more this year. The largest, or nearly the largest, single item in current expenditure is the service of debt; that is, the payment of interest. We spend more on interest than on defence, more on interest than on education and more on interest than on health, to give three examples, and this year we have added another £1,000 million to that.
I have heard this Government called deflationary and the critics who use this term are asking for reflation. I think that they misuse language. What, in fact, we are trying to do is to reduce the rate of inflation. I have heard it said that we are cutting Government expenditure. What, in fact, we are trying to do is to contain some of the increases in Government expenditure, at a time when the growth in national product is either static or negative. I can understand—although I do not agree with them—our critics on the right, who complain that our expenditure is still inflationary. What I cannot understand are our critics on the left, who have somehow persuaded themselves that we are pursuing deflationary policies and that the remedy is a vast increase in expenditure. It seems to me that they simply have not realised the facts of the situation.
At the same time, one must surely remember that it is out of the product of industry—that is, the goods or services that people want to have at prices and on terms that people are willing to afford—that all public expenditure must come, whether it is the wage of the miner, the Lord Chancellor's salary, the National Health Service, the armed forces, investment or supplementary benefit. There is nowhere else for it to come from.
Disraeli, about whom so much is being said and written at the present time, wrote in Sybil that there were in England two nations—the rich and the poor. If he were writing today and wished to speak of two nations, he would have to speak of those who are gainfully employed in providing goods and services and those who through age, youth, infirmity or unemployment, are not. In the present economic climate in which we are working, we have to ask ourselves—each for himself and all collectively for ourselves—whether an element of self-abnegation in the cause of others is not a necessary part of every equation, personal or collective.
At Question Time the other day, I heard a question being asked about education. Quite rightly, it was said that with so much unemployment about there is an important role to be played by education and training. 23 I think we can be agreed about that. Certainly. All right. How much wage increase are you, am I, prepared to forgo to supply more education? There is a demand for hospitals. All right. How much more in the shape of restrictive practices are you, am I, prepared to abandon to see them paid for? There is a demand for more investment; not that investment is necessarily good in itself. Look at all those high-rise flats that we built in the 'sixties. Look at all the investment that we flung into steel, with the result that we only created surplus capacity.
But, by and large, I agree with the proposition. We need more investment; that is, of the right kind. We do need investment, both in technology, plant and infrastructure, and in profitable private industry as well. How much current consumption are we prepared to forgo—are you prepared, am I prepared to forgo— in order to provide that investment? If the answer in each case to these questions is "None" or "Very little", then surely we should cease from hypocrisy, we should stop shedding crocodile tears and criticising the alleged meanness of Government—and, incidentally, from now on we might have to abandon hope for our country. One could go on enumerating cases but the lesson is surely clear: good housekeeping must be an essential part of home policy, and self-denial and patriotism are not the least elements in good national housekeeping.
In an era of social stress brought on by an adverse economic climate there are other problems which are not going to go away. There is the problem of violence instanced by the outbreak of rioting and looting in our inner cities. My noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron referred to that yesterday. There is racial tension, often associated with outbreaks of violence. There is the problem of Northern Ireland—not of course the product itself of adverse economic conditions, but certainly suffering from them and certainly not improved by them.
I am not going to make a detailed speech about these things today, but there is one point which I will make which is common to them all. This is the primacy of the rule of law, emphasised by both opening speakers, the most important part of which I must say at once is the principle of absolute equality of every citizen, white or black, Protestant or Catholic, Jew or Moslem or whatever, in rights, dignity and responsibility for others. This I was happy to see was expressly emphasised in the gracious Speech. There is no excuse for racialism of any kind, black or white racialism. There is no excuse for bigotry of any kind, Protestant or Catholic bigotry.
On the other side, deprivation—whatever that may mean, and it takes many forms, and wherever it exists, and it exists in many places—is no excuse for alienation from the community, for even the deprived owe a duty to their neighbours. As Lord Carson once said, loyalty is not a matter of degree. But above all I return to the rule of law because it is my business to do so.
The absolute impartiality, integrity and freedom from political pressures of law, its administration and enforcement, are the one thing which it is in the interests of all to protect and upon the maintenance of which the entire fabric of society depends. As my 24 noble friend Lord Fairfax of Cameron reminded us, we shall very soon be reading and perhaps debating Lord Scarman's report on the Brixton riots and allied subjects. No doubt it will contain criticisms of some of the law enforcement agencies and recommendations for their improvement, but I hope that whatever we do we shall not lose our sense of collective duty in supporting the forces of law and the independence and integrity of our system of justice. That is another point made in the gracious Speech.
It is not altogether surprising that one result of the watershed of our public affairs has been that public opinion has been left in a state of near bewilderment. It could hardly be otherwise when half the population, or more, are now confronting a situation of which they have no previous experience and which they are blaming, whether justly or unjustly, on successive Governments under the two-party system. That is the sense in which I think the noble Lord, Lord Byers, was talking about a watershed in our affairs. I do not wish—and I hope he will believe me when I say I do not wish—to ridicule or otherwise to depreciate the performances of the Social Democratic and Liberal candidates in recent by-elections, parliamentary and local, and in recent opinion polls. Indeed it would be churlish not to congratulate them. I do not think it is a coincidence that they have achieved these successes without a leader, without a policy, without a party and are thus admirably placed to follow the divine injunction to be all things to all men. Their success so far seems to me to be more indicative of the sense of bewilderment in the public mind to which I have referred than to any coherent move towards a common denominator or an alternative policy.
In the meantime there are lessons, surely, for us all to learn. It seems to me that the general tone of political debate—I do not mean in this House; I mean in the country—has greatly deteriorated in the last decade. It is not to be supposed that there can be any consensus between, for instance, Mr. Benn and myself. This is not necessarily the fault of either of us. I do not believe that such a consensus is possible and, if possible, I do not believe that such a consensus would be desirable. There are times when the electors must choose between mutually exclusive alternatives and not seek a fudging of issues or a meaningless compromise between them. But we can at least not denigrate one another's motives while attacking their policies. We can at least avoid consciously misrepresenting each other's positions. We can treat each other, whether in public or in private—and I think we do in this House—with personal courtesy. We can seek, at least in this House, to support our arguments with objective evidence and reasoning and not with catch phrases or mere rhetoric.
For my part, while I am in agreement with the Social Democrats that the Labour party has taken an undesirable lurch to the left, I personally disclaim the view that the Government of which I am a member has taken a similar lurch to the right. Certainly, I have not done so. I may say that, not merely because of physical proximity, I always listen to speeches from the Liberal Benches with sympathy and often with a high measure of agreement. I also listen with respect and admiration to speeches from the noble Lord, 25 Lord Peart, and the noble and learned Lord who preceded me on the Woolsack. I know that in spite of differences—and they are both many and important—there are fundamental cultural, moral, social and political attitudes which we share, the significance of which must not be forgotten. If our points of agreement are forgotten we may not survive long enough to air our differences.
One matter on which I hope we can agree is that we must avoid, almost at all costs, being driven into the situation which preceded and perhaps contributed to the outbreak of the last war. We cannot hope to confront our new situation by any fatuous attempts at self-sufficiency. We cannot do it by exporting unemployment on to other countries, imposing import controls which are certain to affect other countries adversely, placing ring fences around either this country or even the European Economic Community.
I can assure the House of one thing: that we in the Government are not intent upon dismantling the welfare state. We have to recognise, however, that up to a point education and the health services, social security and wages are competitors for the same resources from which must come development, research, investment and even defence. But that does not mean that there cannot be progress. Surely there are many fields—mental health is one, criminal law is another, the administrtaion of justice a third, industrial relations a fourth, technical law reform a fifth and in addition the whole issue of the appalling martyrdom of our fellow countrymen in Northern Ireland—where social improvements can go forward without making too many demands on resources. We can co-operate in all these matters without surrender of principle and without loss of personal integrity. All the subjects I have mentioned will be discussed in the context of legislation during the current Session and all, or almost all, are mentioned or adumbrated in the Queen's Speech.
There are many deep differences between us. Speaking for myself, while I believe passionately in the equality of human beings before the law in point of dignity, human rights and responsibilities, I do not believe that we were all designed to fit into a common mould. My ideal is unity of spirit in diversity of character. Though we may view the object of education as bringing out the best in each of us, I cannot believe that this is best achieved by depriving the most gifted of our children of their fair chance in life. I would regard the abolition of the sixth form as a calamity. I believe that the vast agglomerations in our comprehensive schools have proved destructive of individuality. I believe in the infinite range of difference in human ability, propensity and genius. I believe that enforced equality is the denial of social justice. All this, I know, gives rise to debate, and legitimate debate, But let it be good-humoured debate, devoid of rancour, misrepresentation, and above all of personal malice.
This brings me to the last thing I want to say this afternoon. In our devotion to liberty—and I believe in this House we are all devoted to liberty—we are apt to suppose that freedom of human action and speech is all that matters. We sometimes speak as if dissension were the only end of a free society. But I believe this depends upon a misunderstanding of what freedom means, and that for two reasons. I do not believe 26 that liberty can flourish except in a framework of law. Both liberty and law, both rights and obligations, exercise reciprocal limitations, each operating upon the other and each dependent for their own essential characteristics on the recognition of objective moral values, binding on all of us as fellow human beings existing together in a single political community.
The second reason is as follows. It is this conception of nationhood which we are in danger of losing amid the anxieties and constraints of recession, of unemployment, of danger of war. We need to recapture that sense of nationhood. In its finest sense we need to recapture patriotism as a virtue. A society which recognises only differences will not long endure, or at least will not long endure in freedom. Society needs its cement as well as controversy; it needs common values as well as points of difference, and both my noble friends who began this debate paid justified tribute to the role played by the Royal Family in promoting that sense of unity of which I speak. But if we lose sight of this fact, as at times I fear the nation may be in danger of doing, we shall not be saved by any existing alliance between parties, nor shall we be saved by any one party or any class in society achieving a semi-permanent dominance over the others or regarding itself as the normal party or class of government. We are first of all citizens of the United Kingdom. We have achieved together great things in the past. We owe it to that past to face present constraints with a renewed confidence in one another. Without that mutual confidence, my Lords, we can enjoy no rational hope for the future.
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, while I wait for the congregation to depart, may I say that yesterday we had that very rare thing, a bit of good news from the Government. It was that the volume of legislation will be less this Session. However, it is certain from the gracious Speech that for what we are about to receive we shall not all be truly thankful. There was once a Scottish minister who, when he had to say grace before dinner, conditioned it to the nature of the hospitality. If it was a modest meal he began, "We thank thee, Lord, for this the least of all thy mercies". If it was a really good meal he would begin, "Oh bountiful Jehovah". My Lords, from our point of view at any rate, the gracious Speech is not an "Oh bountiful Jehovah" occasion.
At our equivalent debate on the Address last year the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, in a speech as free from malice as I hope mine was too and will be today, stressed that it was essential as far as we can see to eliminate elements of division in our society and in our world. I agreed then; I agree now, but, sadly, since then those divisions have, if anything, sharpened. There has been grave urban disorder; race relations have deteriorated; industrial relations are once more becoming tense. The confidence of the younger generation in our institutions has declined and there is disturbing evidence of alienation among them. It may not be justified but, alas! it is happening.
Last year I quoted some words of wisdom from an ancient Welsh source for political leaders, the Mabinogion, "Avo Pen bid Pont", which means "He who 27 leads must be a bridge". Alas! of late there has been too little bridge building and too much widening of gulfs in our society; too much confrontation, too little consultation. Lest I should be thought to be engaged merely in party submissions—and there is no essential harm in that—one of the strongest expressions of criticism that has been voiced about the current state of affairs was used by a former Cabinet Minister, Mr Geoffrey Rippon, who was reported in The Times of yesterday as saying this:The harsh application of textbook money theories which ignore human and social relations have relentlessly eroded our industrial base and inflicted an unacceptable level of deep-seated unemployment".In this debate last year I said:Unemployment is now well over 2 million and is expected to rise to 3 million in the course of next year".This, alas! is what has happened. According to the October figures the actual number of unemployed was 2,988,644—the highest total ever recorded in the United Kingdom, representing more than one in eight of the persons in our working population. After rising three times as fast as the EEC average during 1980, United Kingdom unemployment now is the highest in the OECD. In the first quarter of 1981 the standard unemployment rates were, for the United Kingdom 10.2 per cent., for Italy 7.6, for the United States of America 7.2, for France 7.0, for Germany 3.7, for Japan 2.1. For Austria—if I may say so, a bastion of democratic socialism—1.8 per cent. That is the international scene and therefore we cannot really take great comfort in saying "Ah well, unemployment is an international phenomenon", and leave it at that. If we are suffering the worst there must be some fault in us and, if I may say so, in our Government.
The tragedy of unemployment is that it hits the youngest hardest, and it is about that point that I hope to make some observations this afternoon. Over 270,000 school-leavers were registered unemployed in September. Youth unemployment is now close on 1.5 million. Black people have been particularly hard hit by the recession, which has exacerbated the problem of racial disadvantage. A recent study by the Runnymede Trust found that while the overall level of unemployment rose by 70 per cent, in the two years up to Februrary 1981, the increase among blacks was 103 per cent. This has been compounded, according to the Commission for Racial Equality, by a one-third increase in the rate of discrimination in white collar jobs since 1973–74.
Young blacks find it especially hard to get work. A survey on young unemployed in the inner cities recently revealed an average 30 per cent, jobless rate among blacks aged 16 to 20, with a quarter not bothering to register as unemployed. My Lords, while we all welcome greatly the statement in the Queen's Speech,My Government's policies will seek to ensure that all individuals, whatever their race, colour or creed, have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities",that statement will sound a little hollow to those in the categories that I have described.
Unemployment—and I make no apology for talking about it today; we will consider the causes and possible remedies in the economic debate—does cast the darkest shadows over our home affairs. It plays, I believe, 28 a significant part in the amount of crime in our society today. It does not excuse the crime, but at any rate it goes to some extent to explain the extent and volume of the increase, particularly in the biggest centres of our population, where, of course, also the biggest incidence of unemployment exists. Although our country is still, thankfully, the most law-abiding in the world—as I venture to think it is from my experience of attending conferences of Ministers of Justice from different parts of the world—the amount of our serious crime is, nevertheless, still high. Last year there were 2.7 million cases; and one of the largest increases was among men between 17 and 21.
This brings me to what I regard as one of the most important measures mentioned in the Queen's Speech, namely, the Criminal Justice Bill. This is, in my view, not the moment to discuss the multifaceted causes of crime or disorder in our inner cities, or the role and responsibility of the police in those matters. For my own part I prefer to reserve judgment on them until we receive the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, about which I would like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whether he can tell us when the report is likely to be published. It is something, coming from that great source, to which we are looking forward with rapt attention.
My Lords, I submit that there is already clear evidence that unemployment is a major contributory factor in crime, particularly youthful crime. This is not, of course, to excuse the crime or to diminish the need to stress the importance of maintaining the rule of law. Research carried out by Kent University, for instance, has shown that for every 1,000 more young unemployed 56 more young offenders are sent to penal establishments.
In areas of high unemployment not only does the crime rate go up but a higher proportion of the guilty tend to be locked up, courts being more disposed to pass a non-custodial sentence on a youth in a job. This development adds to our present crisis in prisons—and crisis state we are in. In the group of offenders in the 17 to 21 age group 106,000 were sent to prison last year, the highest in the decade, about 13 per cent, up on 1969. More of them were also sent immediately to prison. In the 14 to 17 age group there were comparable increases in both the number and proportion of custodial sentences. In 1980 about 7,500 males were sent either to detention centres or to borstal training compared with about 3,000 in 1970. Pleas to the courts from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice and the Home Secretary to reduce prison numbers have apparently little effect, and the number of people punished by custody last year rose by 4,000 to 47,000.
My Lords, the new Criminal Justice Bill, if it is to be of real value, must be directed to and must achieve some partial solution to this problem. Presumably it will contain the proposals which we have read in the Government's White Paper of October of this year, Young Offenders. It may well be that provision for a scheme of supervised early release for short-term prisoners will be included in the proposals, and I should be grateful if perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will lift the veil on that. I greatly hope that the rather hostile reception the Home Secretary got in the Tory Party Conference will not deter him from some of the 29 liberal views which he has expressed in this field in the past; I hope not.
One of the significant proposals in the White Paper was that the sentences of borstal training and imprisonment for those under 21 should be combined into a single new determinate sentence called "youth custody". I personally welcome that proposal. The present distinction between establishments for young prisoners and borstal establishments is, I believe, unnecessarily rigid, particularly since at present overcrowding in one part of the custodial system cannot be relieved by using vacancies in another part.
Another significant proposal is to reduce the minimum and maximum lengths of detention centre sentences, which are currently three months and six months respectively, to three weeks and four months respectively. In one sense this is welcome, since it will allow courts to shorten sentences for some of those who currently receive the minimum three months sentence. However, as the organisation NACRO has pointed out, there is an obvious danger that courts will impose the new shorter detention centre sentence on many young offenders who would now be given a non-custodial sentence. For example, the conference of Chief Probation Officers, in its comments on the White Paper, commented that the proposal,will lead to significantly larger numbers of young offenders being sentenced to custody and at earlier stages in their criminal careers than is the case at present".Many other organisations have expressed similar fears, and in its recent very important report on Young Offenders, A Strategy for the Future the All-Party Parliamentary Penal Affairs Group concluded:While we are persuaded that the case for shorter maximum and minimum detention centre sentences is overwhelming, the implementation of the White Paper's proposals as they stand would almost certainly result in a large increase in the number of young offenders receiving custodial sentences".And the group recommended that legislation should provide that custodial sentences should be imposed on young offenders only,if the offender is a real danger to society or has shown himself unwilling or unable to respond to non-custodial penalties",and the courts should give reasons for this conclusion when they impose a custodial sentence. When the matter comes up we shall certainly be pressing this view on this side of the House.
My Lords, another change proposed in the White Paper—and it may well be we shall see it in the Bill—is that courts will be enabled to make a new residential care order for a period of up to six months on a juvenile offender who is already the subject of a care order in criminal proceedings and commits a further offence. Many of us believe that this is a retrograde step and may well result in turning the clock back by giving the courts greater powers to commit juveniles to residential establishments which, according to Home Office research studies in recent years, have reconviction rates of about 70 per cent. It would also involve the considerable expenditure of an extra £5 million a year on residential care, when again the consensus of opinion among those who work with juvenile offenders is that a shift of resources is needed away from residential care towards intermediate treatment, professional fostering in the community. I noticed that a distinguished magistrate was nodding in my direction when I said that.
30 The next proposal, and perhaps the most positive proposal in the White Paper, is the proposed new "supervised activities order", or "intermediate treatment order", which would enable courts to order a juvenile offender under supervision to undertake a programme of specified activities which has been agreed between the supervising social worker or probation officer, the court and the young offender. Even those intermediate treatment schemes which cater for the more difficult young offenders who would otherwise have gone into custody or residential care have reconviction rates of between 25 per cent, and 35 per cent., which, as your Lordships will see, are far better figures than the earlier one that I quoted and compare very favourably indeed with custodial and residential establishments. But no legislative provision for intermediate treatment can be effective unless it is supported by sufficient finance to develop a range of intermediate treatment facilities in which the courts can have confidence.
I have already referred to the proposals for early release of short-term prisoners. The Home Office's Review of Parole in England and Wales, published in May, invited comments on a proposed scheme by which prisoners serving sentences of under three years would have the middle third of the sentence suspended and the offender would be released under the supervision of a probation officer for that period, with remission of the final third of the sentence continuing to operate as now. That scheme, by reducing the effective terms of imprisonment served by a large number of short-term prisoners, could reduce the prison population by up to 7,000. We on this side of the House greatly hope that that proposal will be implemented in the forthcoming Bill.
The overwhelming weight of evidence from research, and of opinion of those working with offenders, indicates that many prison sentences could be shortened without endangering the public and that any impact which a custodial sentence may have occurs, especially with first offenders, mainly in the early stages of the sentence. The need for this proposal to be implemented as soon as possible was underlined in a speech by the Home Secretary himself on 21st September, when he pointed out that the prison population:recently exceeded 45,000, a level which the prison system simply cannot sustain. If nothing is done, we must expect to see a further rise in the population over the winter with the usual effects of seasonal fluctuation—46,000 by the spring is all too possible…. It would be hypocrisy to maintain that constructive standards of custodial treatment can be maintained under pressures of such numbers, or even maintain human decency".That is the plight of our prisons and we therefore hope greatly that the Criminal Justice Bill will, as one of its main purposes, make a serious attempt to tackle it.
I now turn to another matter of concern as regards what is being done with our young people, and that is the gross inadequacy of the provisions for those in the 16 to 19 age group who do not go on to full-time higher education. I make no apology, in spite of the strictures of the noble and learned Lord about the financial and other problems that must necessarily flow. All I say is that this has a high place in the priorities for public expenditure. I think that this may well become the most important educational issue in this country in the next decade. The sombre fact is that the proportion of school-leavers in this country 31 who receive no form of further education or training is far larger than in those countries which are our main industrial competitors. In the face of the massive youth unemployment to which I have referred, this is a deplorable neglect of some of our finest national capital—namely, the industrial potential of our youth. I am glad to note from the report of yesterday's proceedings in another place that the Prime Minister referred to this matter in her speech, and we shall wait impatiently for the details of what she described as:a comprehensive training scheme for the young unemployed". —[Official Report, Commons, 4/11/81; col. 21.]We should have had it a long time ago, even in the time of the earlier Administration, if I may say so. What I should like to know now is whether this training scheme will be on the lines of the Manpower Services Commission document, A New Training Initiative, which suggests more and better training and the need to get us nearer German and French standards and performance, which are far better and far more generous in provision and far more effective than ours.
For the intellectually most able of our young people it has been the tradition to provide a gradual transition from full-time education in school and university to full-time work. By contrast, for those judged to be less academically able, they must be in full-time attendance at school until the last day of term and the last year at school. They must do that, but one day later they are unemployed. It is a grim outlook.
As for university students, even those who have been granted places are now being turned away. The university intake is down 4,000 this year. Yet in Europe, only Greece and Ireland have a smaller proportion of 18-year olds in college than us. What a record for this good country! In our universities, polytechnics and technical colleges fewer opportunities than previously are now being provided for the age group not yet through the sixth form. What hope is there for the second-chance students and the mature students who now make up 25 per cent, of the student body? Sadly the proportion of working class students is falling. Government cuts in local authorities and imposed upon local authorities have meant that 16-year olds are being turned away from many establishments all over the country because of lack of accommodation and staff. These are matters which I am sure we shall be going into deeply as the months of the Session go on.
I see that time is passing, but I should like to end with a reference to one part of the gracious Speech which will be welcomed, I suspect, in all parts of the House—namely, that:My Government will seek to maintain close relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland".It is nearly 12 months since the Prime Minister met in Dublin the then Taoiseach, Mr. Charles Haughey. I hope that I pronounced his name properly and that I also pronounced "Taoiseach" properly; as a mere Welshman these languages do not come so easily. I understand that these discussions will be resumed tomorrow when the Prime Minister meets the new Prime Minister of the Irish Republic Dr. Garret FitzGerald. There has been a good deal of criticism—and, I think, a good deal of it deserved—in your Lordships' House that the Dublin Summit discussions, 32 as they are called, and the subsequent departmental studies have been clouded with unnecessary secrecy. In turn, that has given rise to speculation, rumour and fears that have worsened rather than helped an already complex and tense political situation.
I understand that among the matters that are to be considered at tomorrow's meeting is, first, an all-Ireland judicial arrangement, with suitable court procedures. We had a go at this some years ago and I fear that no successful conclusion was reached, but I am all for having another try. I have little doubt that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack may also feel the same, because as a means of combating terrorism, the shelter given to terrorists in one part of the territory when they are being sought in the other is quite intolerable and obviously assists the foul deeds of the terrorists.
Another proposal is for the establishment of an Anglo-Irish consultative council, comprised of parliamentarians from Westminster and from the Dail, and of Northern Ireland elected representatives. This consultative council would be assisted by a suitably appointed representative secretariat and would deal with topics such as security, citizenship, human rights, trade, energy, tourism, industrial development and employment. Although it would, I think, be wise to be reticent about any dramatic political breakthroughs emerging from the meeting, we certainly hope that some practical institutional measures might be agreed which could enable pragmatic steps to be taken towards peaceful and prosperous solutions.
From these Benches, we would strongly urge that the communiqué following the meeting should be as full and forthright a statement of the issues as possible, for we feel sure that the people of common sense and goodwill in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic will join in the hope that the talks will be constructive and successful and that fruitful political movement will take the place of violence, killing, bombs and tragedy.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Lord Wigoder
My Lords, all of your Lordships will want to join me in welcoming back from his hazardous journey to Scotland the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. He told us about his old Model T Ford motor car. May I say how pleased, if slightly surprised, we all are to rind that after all these years that car is still running so well.
Not for the first time in debating this part of the gracious Speech I had prepared some rather mundane observations upon some rather mundane measures, and then discovered that the whole atmosphere in your Lordships' House has been transformed by one of the inimitable philosophical and political disquisitions of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. In the course of those observations he mentioned Disraeli's dream of one nation. It was always a dream. There have always been tensions and anxieties in our society, and so far there has been no sign that they will be reconciled. I suppose that they have arisen partly from our deeply engrained class structure and partly from our industrial structure, which is so much the product of historical accident. No doubt to some extent it is encouraged by our educational system, and it is certainly not helped by some of the 33 more extreme inequalities of wealth that one sees as one looks around.
There have always been those stresses. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, indicated, the tragedy is that those stresses and strains have become worse over the last few years. They have become worse partly as a result of inflation, which has hit so many people so hard. One must perhaps remember that for all the Government's claims to have brought down the rate of inflation, it is still substantially higher than it was when they took office something over two years ago. There are the stresses of unemployment; there are the problems posed by trying to create a multiracial society.
All those matters have led to a situation in which, as I see it, there is a very real possibility that our society might fragment to the stage in which our democratic institutions are unlikely to survive. The great tragedy of the last few years is that that process of fragmentation is being actively encouraged by many of those in both the old parties who persist in advocating policies which can only divide our community.
In those circumstances it is hardly surprising that today the Liberal Party should have allies, and I certainly make no apology for that fact. I am delighted and proud to find that alongside us now, standing shoulder to shoulder, we have the SDP. I think that your Lordships ought to recognise—as I am sure many of your Lordships do recognise—that, in fact, it requires enormous courage for a person to dissociate himself from the political associations of a lifetime. It is, indeed, an indication of the unhappy state to which their former party has descended that so many of them are prepared to take that step. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack referred to the Liberal Party and its allies in terms that were perhaps not entirely complimentary. At least no one can accuse the Government of having allies, or indeed very many supporters.
In this situation it is perhaps a pleasure to be able to speak on this part of the gracious Speech rather than on the other days when we shall again be debating many measures that threaten further to divide our society. Today I simply wish to comment briefly on two or three of the principal aspects of the measures of home policy that are indicated in the gracious Speech, which I hope will be measures upon which a substantial amount of agreement can, in fact, be found in your Lordships' House.
I shall not follow what has been said so far about the general problems posed by the threat to the rule of law in this country, because, as has already been said, I think it would be wise to await the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, which clearly will raise some very profound and far-reaching issues. I want to comment briefly on one or two measures relating to the criminal law that are outlined in the gracious Speech; first, and particularly perhaps, those that relate to the treatment of juvenile offenders. I for my part would certainly welcome an attempt to tidy up the situation as regards the indeterminate and not very successful borstal sentences. I would certainly welcome the proposal—I hope that it will be forthcoming—that we should remove the bar upon the passing of sentences between six months, or in some cases 18 months, and three years' imprisonment 34 upon young offenders, because I do not have the slightest doubt that on many occasions in the past that has led to youngsters being sent to prison for three years when the judge has in fact thought that the appropriate sentence was perhaps 18 months or two years. I shall certainly approach with the greatest of interest and sympathy the proposals that will be made, as I understand it, in the Bill to propose new forms of treatment, or punishment, or penalty, for young offenders.
It is important that we should try to get that right. There is at the moment a vast range of possible penalty going from the absolute discharge at one end of the scale to the short, sharp shock, or indeed the substantial sentence of imprisonment at the other end. I say it is important to get that right. At the same time I hope I will not be thought too pessimistic if I suggest that we are unlikely to achieve any very substantial breakthrough simply by devising new forms of penalty. All the experience of our reconviction rates tends to show that they are really remarkably similar whatever form of punishment is inflicted upon juvenile offenders.
Of course, we must get the sentence right. But it is desirable to recognise that in itself increasing the range of sentencing is unlikely to solve many of our problems. I am not meaning to suggest by that that therefore juvenile offenders are incorrigible. Fortunately they grow up, and experience tends to show that what really leads a young offender to abandon a career of crime is not the way in which he is dealt with by the courts; it is the fact that he does grow up, and he gets married and settles down, and at least in happier times he has a job to which to go.
I referred to the fact that of course it is necessary on some occasions to send these young offenders to prison. I shall look with the greatest of care at the Bills that are proposed and brought forward in this Session to see to what extent we can in fact decrease the stress on our prisons, because the danger of the over-population of our prisons, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, referred is indeed a very serious one. I would hope that perhaps there might be a gleam of light. It may be that the Government will find it possible to increase the number of detoxification centres so that we can get some of the drunks out of prison. It may be that we can consider ways of getting the prostiutes out of prison, the vagrants, the people who are there because they defaulted on paying a fine: no less than 17,000 of them in 1979 sent to prison for failing to pay a financial penalty.
Those are ways in which we can perhaps remove some of the pressure on our prisons. There are other ways that are foreshadowed in the gracious Speech. There is the way which has been referred to by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, of adopting some of the proposals in the 1981 Home Office review of parole; of extended parole to shorter sentences. I am not quite as enthusiastic about this as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, because I see certain problems. I see problems particularly with the very short sentences where it may be difficult to make the administrative arrangements in time in fact to get a person released after he has served a third of the very short sentence.
Certainly some of the administrative proposals set out in the White Paper seemed to me to be rather unnecessarily complex. I still cannot help thinking 35 that a simpler solution would be to revert to the system of remission that we have in Northern Ireland whereby people are normally granted a remission of one-half of their sentence rather than one-third. It seems to me that that would immediately, overnight, at a stroke—to use an expression not unknown in political circles—reduce the number of people in our prisons. It is a course that could be taken with reasonable safety, and it is a course that would not lead Her Majesty's judges to lengthen sentences in order to compensate for that factor.
The only other matter about the prison population that I desire to refer to is that I understand that there is a suggestion that Section 47 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 might now be activated, and the courts given power when passing sentence to say that sentences should be partly served and partly suspended. I view that with some worry. I cannot help thinking that the likely effect of it is not going to be to cause fewer people to be sent to prison but more people to be sent to prison. I say that because it is certainly my own experience, and I am sure that of everybody else who has ever sat in a judicial capacity, that we all strain every possible nerve to be as compassionate as possible in dealing with prisoners who have to be sentenced. In the contemporary political jargon, all judges are "wets", and I have no doubt are not in the least ashamed of it.
If there can ever be a case for suspending a sentence, on 99 occasions out of 100 that sentence will be suspended. As it stands at present, that means that the whole of the sentence would have to be suspended. I am deeply worried that the effects of activating this section will be that it will present the judges with a soft option. The thought that, although they would in the ordinary way now have suspended the whole of the sentence, it might be possible on this occasion to put the man inside for three months, or six months, and then suspend the rest of the sentence. I have considerable anxieties on that score.
As to the other matters of criminal law that are proposed, I would welcome the proposal that traffic cases, at least the minor traffic cases, should be taken out of the courts and dealt with so far as possible on a fixed penalty system. I would welcome the proposal that it should not be essential that every eight days prisoners who are on remand in custody should have to be produced at court, subject to satisfactory safeguards, because I think that causes an immense waste of time and administrative resources.
I think that the safeguards would have to be, first, that the prisoner gives his consent in writing on a carefully prepared form to his not appearing on a particular occasion; secondly, that he is legally represented on such an occasion; and, thirdly, that there is a clear limit to the number of occasions upon which that procedure can be adopted in successive weeks before the prisoner in fact has to be brought up and to appear in person.
The only other matters I would mention in the field of criminal law are to ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, whether there is any possibility of any progress being made in implementing some of the more important recommendations of the Royal Commission on criminal procedure. It was an important 36 report, and it is necessary that it should not be pigeon-holed indefinitely.
The only other matter in the gracious Speech to which I would want to refer for a brief moment is the proposal that there should be legislation to deal with mental health. I assume that that is intended to refer, at least to some extent, to the judgment being delivered today by the European Court of Human Rights, which I anticipate will confirm the decision of the Commission to the effect that in order to comply with the European convention there will in future have to be a right of access to a tribunal to determine whether or not restricted mental patients can be released. I should be grateful if the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, could confirm if that is going to be the situation, and whether he has perhaps any later information than I have as to what the decision of the European Court has been. We shall want to look at that Bill and many other important elements relating to the treatment of the mentally sick with great care when that measure is placed before the House.
There are many other matters in the gracious Speech to which I could have referred, but perhaps it is better to leave my observations until such time as those Bills come before us. I look forward, and I know that we on the Liberal Benches look forward, to debating at least those measures to which I have been referring, not in a spirit of party controversy but in a spirit of seeking to do our best to reform the law to the benefit of the whole community.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ Lord Stodart of Leaston
My Lords, many fantasies have swung before my eyes in my life but never one that I, who am the simplest of simple Scottish farmers, should address your Lordships for the first time immediately after three of the most eminent advocates (if I may use a Scottish connotation) in the land. I hope it is not presumptious of me to address your Lordships on what is the very first day of what is fundamentally perhaps the most important debate in the Session, and on virtually the first day of the Session itself. However, I am by so doing enabled to cling on to a discipline which I imposed on myself many years ago, which was to say only a few words on a subject about which I happen to have some knowledge.
The origin of that goes back some 45 years to what I believe was my very first utterance in public. I was 17 years old and rather unexpectedly, having started farming six months previously, was invited to propose a vote of thanks. I got up and remember saying with supreme confidence that I could not say with what satisfaction and pleasure I had recently become a member of the oldest profession in the world. Such was that age of innocence that I had not the faintest idea what I had said which had caused my mother to blush deeply and every gentleman in the hall to blow his nose loudly. Ever since then, including my years in another place, I have maintained a determination not to speak on matters of which I know nothing.
I fear I shall touch on a subject in the gracious Speech which is perhaps mundane, although I believe that from what I shall say about it good may come. I had the privilege of chairing the Committee of 37 Inquiry into Local Government in Scotland, of which mention is made in the gracious Speech. Your Lordships may recall that there was what I think can fairly be described as a revolution in local government in Scotland as a result of the Royal Commission in 1975 presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, resulting—and I exclude the Scottish Islands—in two tiers of authority, regions and districts. Five years after that, I believe it was fairly commonly agreed that, while it was too soon for any radical change to be made or to condemn the system, if condemnation it needed, after only five years, there was room for what perhaps I can best describe as a tidying-up exercise.
I make no pronouncements on the individual findings of the committee. Nor do I know which of our recommendations will feature in the Bill. I wish to record my appreciation of all those who worked with me on the committee, including the secretariat; a group of members if not belonging to all parties, then certainly representative of many. When we started I doubt whether any of us believed that we could meet the timetable asked of us by the Secretary of State, namely, to report in 12 months. But we did, and I assure the House that there was no horse trading of any kind between those whose loyalties lay with the 53 districts and those who were representatives of the nine regions.
We made 72 recommendations, of which 68 were unanimous and only one caused the committee to split into three groups, generating a minority report and a note of dissent. All this speaks volumes for what can be agreed by people of widely differing views if goodwill prevails among them. We found a common link which served us well—a distrust of dual responsibility—and the basic result of our report is the recommendation to assign all those functions—for which, since 1975, both region and district have shared responsibility—quite firmly to one tier or other. Local government is a very sensitive plant just now, my Lords, and I conclude by saying how much I hope the spirit which animated our discussions of some of its problems in Scotland may permeate the legislation which is to be based upon them.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Lord Aylestone
My Lords, it is my great pleasure to speak following the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, who comes to us after 15 years' membership of another place, for eight of which he and I sat opposite each other, facing each other—very nice for me, perhaps not quite so nice for him—years in which we began at first to recognise and finally to realise that here was a man with a great knowledge of farming in his own country of Scotland. The noble Lord described himself as a simple Scottish farmer. May I be permitted to delete the word "simple"? His chairmanship of the inquiry into local government in Scotland, referred to in the gracious Speech, confirms what most of us have known of him over the years, namely, that he is a man of very considerable ability; he is more than a simple Scottish farmer. It has been a great pleasure to listen to his maiden speech today and I am sure that in the years to come we shall hear him on many occasions, when no doubt my former friend of my former party, the 38 noble Lord, Lord Ross of Marnock, will be replying to him in great detail.
I was glad to hear in the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor a reference to the new political party, the SDP, and to our alliance with a much older party, the Liberal Party. The noble and learned Lord's reference was slightly derogatory, but not unkind—he is never unkind. But he said that perhaps the electorate were bewildered. I think I agree: they are. They are considerably bewildered, and have perfectly good reason to be so. They are bewildered by the actions of the present Government and by what has happened, and what is continuing to happen, unfortunately, in my former party, where most of my old colleagues have not moved one inch from the beliefs that I used to hold. Since I have referred to the new party, it might be of interest to the House to know that the latest print-out of members of the party shows that more than half of them have never previously belonged to a political party. This is fascinating, and I hope that it is of interest, not only to me and my party, but to all political parties, because people are thinking, and are sitting up and taking notice.
I was delighted to hear in the gracious Speech and from the Lord Chancellor this afternoon that we shall be having a Criminal Justice Bill. Following two distinguished lawyers in the list of speakers, I do not intend to deal with that in detail, but I think it not unfair to remind the House and the country of some of the things that are happening to us today in the community. Unfortunately, very often we close our minds to these things, with the usual thought: "They can never happen to me. I refer to what is known by a rather new word in our vocabulary, mugging. In seconding the loyal Address yesterday the noble Lord referred to the work of the police, who are completely stretched in dealing with this problem. It is generally accepted that the problem exists, and that the problem of violence and vandalism also exists within this country, and I do not regard it as any defence to say, "Well, maybe it is worse in America or in some other country". We are concerned about those other countries, but we are very concerned about what happens here. Mugging (to use that new word) is taking place in daylight and darkness, with old people as well as young people beaten up and robbed, and very often left in great pain—for what? For the sake of stealing only a few pounds.
This is not in fact a new form of lawlessness. I suppose that the muggers of today would have been called footpads or highwaymen a couple of hundred years ago. The offence is still there. In those days it seems to have been dealt with by the action of a growing police force, seen on the roads doing their job. I hope that with a new police force in this country—and it is a new police force, at least it is a much larger one, with better terms and conditions of pay and service—the problem will be dealt with in precisely the same way. Thinking back in this historic Chamber, it occurs to me that it was not so very long ago when, on the cry of, "Who goes home?" the linkboys with their torches used to have to escort Members of Parliament across Parliament Fields for their own safety. The problem is not yet quite as bad as that, 39 but it could become that bad, and we recognise that it is there.
A few years ago we had no problem of violence and vandalism in sport, but now that, too, is growing. In the old days competing football team supporters would criticise one another and jocularly refer to one another. But today it is the bottle and the knife, and very often there are disturbances and fighting long before supporters reach the ground where the event is to take place. That trend, too, is very disturbing.
I am rather worried about what used to be called peaceful demonstrations. Demonstrations in our streets ought not to worry us. We ought to be glad that people can get together and march peacefully with their banners and slogans if they wish—but in peace. Unfortunately today we have another form of demonstration, which one might call the provocative demonstration, in which people carry flags, and often misuse the Union Jack, and are followed by a crop of boys, very often skinheads, purposely parading through the areas of the country where racial trouble is likely to be fomented. That goes on. We see it going on.
One reason why we should deal with it is that it begets problems of the same kind. It means that there are counter-demonstrations: when the two sides meet there is always trouble, and usually it is the police and the bystanders who are at the receiving end. So we must think seriously about what I call provocative demonstrations, because something may have to be done about this situation. I know that I shall be accused of interfering with the freedom of speech, but there is very little freedom resulting from the actions of some of these people.
I am not so sure that the political meeting is as immune from trouble as it used to be. At one time those of us who took part in such meetings welcomed the heckler because usually we had a good reply. We welcomed the discussion and questions at the end. But what do you get now? Not so very long ago in this country a former Cabinet Minister was pulled off the platform and almost beaten with chairs. I mention these points only because, as I said earlier, we are inclined to say, "Well, it does happen, but it will never happen to us", but I am afraid that it does.
I am not sure that the radio coverage involving what are known as the "noises off" from another place is all that helpful. Sitting in another place hearing catcalls and other noises people can perhaps to some extent understand the situation, since they are seeing what is going on and are listening to the debate, but when it comes over the radio what is happening today in the British Parliament seems disturbing. Here again, I shall probably be accused of wanting to stifle freedon of speech.
I cannot accept, as some people seem to suggest, that the majority of our problems are attributable to mass unemployment. I think that it is a contributory factor, because when people have nothing to do they feel disturbed, but I do not think that that is the cause of most of our troubles of the kind that I have described. I am old enough to remember the 'thirties, with barefooted children, the soup kitchens, with soup a half-penny a bowl, and with demonstrations and marches. But there was very little trouble and vandalism for the 40 police to deal with. So the trouble of which I speak is of our present generation. It is happening today. It might be happening in other countries, too, but that is no reason why we should condone it. I do not think that there is a simple remedy, but I welcome the criminal justice Bill, and three points that I proposed to make disappeared as I listened to the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones. So I shall not repeat them, but I shall refer to one or two aspects arising from them.
I would agree with the noble and learned Lord that perhaps the idea of removing a juvenile from home for a period of six months, so as to be placed into some form of care—which was suggested in a Government publication—is not a good one. For a kiddie of 13 or 14 years of age the best place to be is at home, where he will be under parental control, if there is any, but with strong supervision during the daytime. That can happen under the system to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has already referred, which involves what is known as intermediate treatment. I am a little worried that there might be placed in children's homes, or perhaps fostered out, juvenile delinquents, offenders—they are offenders—alongside children who are in the home simply because they are homeless, as often happens. That might be a real mistake.
I would refer to just one other point that I think we ought to bear in mind, and that is the question already mentioned by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, though perhaps I can do it in another way, being a layman. It concerns the problem of the convicted prisoner sentenced to three years, who, anyway, would normally expect to receive remission of one-third of his sentence if he behaves himself. If they are non-violent offenders, if they have been sent to prison for the sort of thing which has been described to us—non-payment of debt, and so on—there is the suggestion which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, made (it was in the Government publication) that the seeond one-third of their sentence should be spent in suspension; that is to say, that it should be a suspended sentence for the period of the second one-third of their sentence.
Perhaps I can explain it in another way. The suggestion is that if it is a three-year sentence they should serve the first year in prison—and it is the first few months in prison which are the most salutory; for the second year it should be a suspended sentence and they would be within the community, and for the third year they would have been granted remission anyway, provided they were the right sort of offender and were non-violent. That would save £7,000, which is the cost of maintaining a prisoner in jail for a year; and the cost of supervision is a fraction of that—about one-twenty-fifth of it; somewhere about £250. These are the sort of things that I think we can do and the sort of things that I hope we shall see when we have the Criminal Justice Bill before us.
My Lords, it is not my intention to go on any longer. I have many more notes but, as I have said, my points disappeared one after another. However, I would hope that these proposals—and they were in Government papers—will be seriously considered by the Government when the Criminal Justice Bill is drafted, 41 so that they can be of some help to the solution of the problems that I have enumerated. There is no short answer to any problem of lawlessness, but we have got to keep on trying. I am anxious—and I expect many other Members of the House are, too—to see what the Government propose in this field.
§ 4.53 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Worcester
My Lords, I, too, should like to join in the welcome and congratulations to Lord Stodart of Leaston on his maiden speech. We reiterate the words of the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, in all that he has said about him. Perhaps it is salutary that a bishop from the particularly English establishment should be reminded once again of the wisdom that comes from north of the Border. We are very appreciative of it. My Lords, it has been a privilege for those of us who hold episcopal office and sit on these episcopal Benches to take a regular share in the thinking and debating on the wider issues confronting our nation. I rise, sadly for myself, for the last time before I relinquish the See of Worcester in a few days' time, which will not permit me to make a contribution next week.
I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships to certain issues that arise from the gracious Speech of Her Majesty which indicate the resolution of the Government tohelp…those groups and individuals most hard-pressed by the recession".This resolve to direct help certainly is to be welcomed, but it also calls for identifying the areas in which help is needed and the communities that call for priority treatment.
As I see it, in the all-inclusive term "unemployed" we have in the life of the nation something that we have not experienced before. The social consequences of the present recession are very different from those of the 1930s. Today, we have had created for us a wide and varied community requiring special care—and this is not just a temporary issue. I refer, of course, to a rapidly increasing number of young people with little prospect of work, and consequently no objectives in life. For a time the numbers of our jobless were growing twice as fast in this country as they were in any other country of the EEC. Now, sadly, the whole of Western Europe is sharing in this tragic situation affecting the younger generation.
I cannot and would not enlarge on the demoralisation, on the despair and, recently, on the violence and lawlessness that is all too evident in our urban areas. It affects all departments of central and local government. For the health authority and for our doctors it means a greater incidence of petty sickness, of depression and of breakdown; and particularly does this apply to the middle-aged redundant. It is not possible to quantify the incidence of family tragedies that lies behind the present employment situation. It is not possible to identify or quantify the number of suicides, although statistics are available for such tragic situations.
We are grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, for the manner in which he so clearly outlined the statistical situation that now confronts the nation. It affects the whole of our home policy. For the police authority, as, indeed, for the 42 health authority, it is all too clear that the loss of respect for law and order is totally related to unemployment. For the Department of Education and Science there is a crisis now—a fresh crisis—in trying to relate school life and school curriculums to a life of useful work, to a life in industry or to a life of apparent constant leisure.
The Department of Education and Science has as substantial a part to play in all these matters, as does the Department of Employment. In this last department the sheer weight of numbers expecting help from the careers service, from the Manpower Services Commission and other agencies, inevitably leads to complaints of maladministration and much else. The weight of responsibility falling upon that department is very heavy. My Lords, it is for this reason, that a body of unemployed affects the whole home situation, that I am bold enough to talk about it today.
The programme of the Manpower Services Commission in this area is, of course, a vital one. It involves as much as 40 per cent. of the nearly 3 million unemployed because 40 per cent. of our present unemployed are under the age of 24. This is a frightening figure, and one that we never experienced 50 years ago. Some would try to tell us that the Youth Opportunities Programme, with nearly half a million participants, is sick, dying or decaying. As chairman of the board in Birmingham I see no sign of that. Each Monday more than 12,000 young people start a new daily routine, including training, work experience and further experience, replacing enforced idleness.
What is to be noted is that a programme designed for a few is now becoming essential and normal for the many. In 1978 the programme helped one in eight of school-leavers; in this last year it has helped one in two of school-leavers. Half our school-leavers are now dependent upon national assistance of one sort or another. This is a new social situation to which the Government and society need to address themselves. Administratively, it means that in 1982, which will soon be upon us, 620,000 young people are expected to seek the advice or the placement in training or work experience of some Government agency or another. Without it we should be increasingly embarrassed with a disgruntled and apathetic generation. We can welcome the new training initiative that was outlined by the Minister in another place a few weeks ago, but the question before us, as I see it, is this: Are the Government, as they look at the total situation of their home affairs, to be seen as running a programme for the unemployed as if this was a temporary problem; or are we to plan for taking them out of the labour market and to create for them a worthwhile training and experiencing situation that will engage their interest, their loyalty and their discipline?
At present there is total ferment in this area of the nation's life for those between 16 and 20. To put it politely. I use the word "ferment". There is ferment in the field of the school-leavers, of further education, of technical training and of work experience. Some would say that there is chaos in the nation at the moment. We have our technical colleges offering generally reduced courses owing to reduced grants, we have our industrial training boards presently subjected to much uncertainty, leading to ill-trained labour 43 in such areas as road transport, catering or other industries. We have training workshops, we have skill centres of the Manpower Services Commission which are particularly helpful, let us note, to the ethnic groups in our cities; and, at a time when, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, pointed out, other nations are increasing their intake into higher education, we are reducing the opportunities at home. Added to this, we now have the proposals of what is called the young workers' scheme.
My Lords, I have to regret that the tentative proposal that was made a good many months ago that would have involved work experience for young people with the armed forces, predominantly with the army, was not allowed to proceed. I have reason to think that the Service authorities would have considered fairly willingly a work experience scheme for some thousands of young unemployed. It would have given them an opportunity of learning a trade, of seeing the meaning of a disciplined community and it would have been of benefit to all concerned. Of course, I appreciate the danger of such a scheme being confused in the public mind with national service or with some compulsory programme for young people. Many young people, however, have profited greatly from a short experience in uniform. There is also the point that we would do well to encourage the armed services (as with other employers) to look more seriously at some of the less able youngsters; and it is the community of the less able that at present are most in need.
Whether future industrial training or the care of this community of young people is to be done under statutory boards or by voluntary arrangement, is it not now essential that there should be some overall statutory framework providing adequate local and central co-ordination? We have the resources for training that would enable us to take this whole age group right out of the unemployment register—as they have done successfully in Germany and other countries.
It is my hope that this House will continue to give continued deep thought to the pattern not just of ameliorating unemployment but to the pattern of employment and training that needs to be prepared and laid down; otherwise a whole generation may very easily go by the board. I hope therefore that I may be excused for having raised this matter, as have others, in the debate today. We from these Benches have a very remarkable opportunity in our dioceses of observing the whole picture, and not just the ecclesiastical one. I, for my part, feel that a very serious new situation is upon us affecting a whole generation, affecting a whole community, which will not easily be swept away. It is a whole problem, it is a problem that affects a considerable proportion of our population and it calls for fresh thought and fresh planning.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Lord Wells-Pestell
My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will allow me to say how sorry many of us, if not the entire House, will be that this is the last time we are likely to hear the right reverend Prelate. I have known him for a good many years and I think that many of your Lordships will feel as I feel: that while he has 44 been here he has served not only this House very well but the Church very well. There was a time when I complained that we heard very little from the bishops; but in recent years—and whether they have done what we on this side of the House wanted them to do does not matter—they have taken very strong action in a number of ways. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester has been one of them and we have been all the better for his contribution and experience. We are sorry to lose him and we wish him all that he wishes himself.
My Lords, it was not my intention, nor is it my intention, to deliver what might be termed a political speech. I really wanted to follow the road taken by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor; but he having gone down that road has made it abundently clear to me that it would be presumption on my part to try to accompany him or to add anything to what he has said. Many of us admire his great thought process even if we do not always agree with him. What I want to do is to talk to noble Lords opposite. When I say "noble Lords opposite" I exclude the Front Bench, because I do not think I could make the slightest impression upon them if I were to speak day and night; but I hope that behind them there will be some fertile places that I might be able to reach.
The reaction of the press to the gracious Speech, if we are honest about it, from the Government's point of view, must leave much to be desired. The noble Baroness the Leader of this House yesterday said that while she could not promise very much in the forthcoming Session, she could promise us less legislation. But if your Lordships look at the legislation that is coming, you will see that it is going to be just as controversial, and, I think, as time-consuming, as anything we had in the last Session. I do not object to that. I really want to talk about our differences because I think that the situation we are facing at the present time is one of supreme importance and one that we have got to do something about very soon.
I think that it is perfectly right and proper that we should defend our principles—principles which are held very strongly on both sides of the House. For example, the principles of privatisation, which come from the Conservative side; principles of state control in some fields and also of public utilities, which come from this side. It is right and proper, because they are deeply held principles, that we should hold them strongly, defend them and do what we can to implement them. I have no quarrel with the other side for doing that. What I do say is that there is a moral obligation on every Government, and particularly the present Government. I say "particularly the present Government" because it the past two years we have seen that they have lost a good deal of support in the country. They have lost a good deal of support among their own supporters, both inside Parliament and outside Parliament. Therefore it should be a matter of supreme importance that they examine the reason why their particular beliefs are at such a low ebb at the present moment. The reason for that is, as many of us feel, that there has been an almost complete and utter disregard for those who have fallen by the wayside.
There is much legislation which affects the standards of living of ordinary people. No government can get 45 through a term of office without having to face up to the standards of living of ordinary people, particularly the aged, the mentally and physically handicapped and the families where the breadwinner is unemployed. It may well be that the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, is right when he says that you cannot attach too much importance to the problem of unemployment when it conies to anti-social behaviour. It is not the anti-social behaviour which exercises my mind at this present moment, although it does, generally speaking. What exercises my mind is this: I believe that there has been too little thought given to the standard of living and the standard of life which so many of our people have had to endure in the past two years, and are likely to endure unless the Government really step aside and take a look at what is happening.
We talk so easily about 2 million, 3 million or 4 million unemployed; but do we realise that the problem is an individual one? One cannot lump all these together. I believe—and I want to say this as nicely as I can—that over the past two years the Government have been unbelievingly callous to the needs of so many people in the community. One has only to look, as I say, at the record of the past two years. Recently one daily newspaper went so far as to say:Had any board of directors defrauded its shareholders like this Government has cheated the voters, it would have found itself in the dock of the Old Bailey".The Government's performance illustrates the quite remarkable difference between what they do when in government and what they promise to do when in opposition.
If one looks at the local authority social services departments, which have already had to make substantial cuts in their services, they need increased resources to enable them to maintain the present reduced services. It cannot be argued, as it has been argued in the past, that everybody, including the unemployed, must share in any cut in living standards. I imagine that your Lordships will be as surprised as I was when I read some official statistics quite recently which said:What is less often recognised is that each year there are 4½ million separate registrations for unemployment".Every year 4½ million! Not 3 million, not 2,900,000. It means that the unemployment period is of short duration—thank goodness for something!
I wonder how many of your Lordships realise that a single unemployed man receives £20.65p per week. If he has a wife or an adult dependent, he receives another £12.75p unless the wife is earning more than £12.75p. These are the people that we are told would sooner be on the dole.
§ Lord Wells-Pestell
Or, my Lords, "get on your bikes". At the dinner held at No. 10 Downing Street last Tuesday those attending were asked to pay £23.50p for the meal, which was £1.50p more than last year. I mention that—and I do not object to it—as I am merely illustrating that the price of that dinner is more than a single unemployed man gets for one week to pay his rent, heating, lighting and everything that he needs. Your Lordships may think that it is a poor 46 comparison—I might even agree with you. I do not object, for if one has dinners one has to pay for them, and I do not suggest that this is going on every night. But it is more than a single unemployed man gets for a whole week. I know that was a very special occasion, but it should serve as a reminder to those attending that they were spending something considerably in excess of what is being given to one single unemployed man for one week.
The social security budget has already been cut by almost £1,500 million. Can anyone seriously say that those affected could afford a reduction in their standard of living which such cuts mean? I read yesterday that, under a new rent rebate formula imposed by the Department of the Environment, thousands of pensioners will have to pay up to £1.30p per week more in rent from 23rd November. Where in the world are they going to find the £1.30p? There is a lot of hidden reductions in the standard of living: a large number of young people who are working today in full-time employment, are, because of increased bank rate, paying as much as £5 per week—£20 a month—more in rent. This is not provided for. It means tightening the belt and cutting the expenditure. In The Times of 28th October I read this:The Government's own advisory committee on social security declared yesterday that not only does it believe there is no room for further cuts in benefits but that those affecting the unemployed should be restored as soon as possible".This is a Government committee, not a political committee—an independent Government committee recently set up.
We are facing the possibility of cuts in the next few months affecting not only social services but social security, and even possibly some of our long-term benefits. Only this year some short-term benefits were reduced, the unemployment benefit by 5 points. You may say everybody has to make a contribution. What I want to say is this: I believe that there is a moral obligation on every one of us to see that those in the community who are having a difficult time find some greater relief than they are getting from society at the moment. There is abundant evidence that in the last two years the poor have got poorer and rich have got richer. Is it beyond the wit of the experts to see that the "haves" contribute a little more than they are contributing at the moment, for the benefit of those more unfortunately placed in the community? I know this means some form of taxation, but Chancellors are very good at increasing taxation when they want to, and it is not difficult to devise a scheme of taxation where perhaps a little more can be taken from those who can afford a little more than they are giving at the moment.
I do not want to talk about all the social evils that are stemming from the kind of existence so many people in this country are being subjected to at this moment. They are legion. For the first time in our history, in recent months there has been a very, very substantial increase in baby and child battering. But what is also significant is that there are now more and more husbands who are unemployed and are doing the battering, where before it was certainly mother and child. This is because, so I am told, so many men are so, shall I say? demoralised by their continuing to be unemployed. We do not know what the suicide 47 rate is at the moment among the unemployed, but certainly it is going up.
All I would say to my noble friends—because many of them are—is this: I invite you to look really hard at what is happening. I am inviting you to make representations to your Government, to our Government, to see that far greater consideration is given to the needs of a vast army of men and women who are finding it very difficult to lead a normal life. If we look at the situation from that point of view, and if the pressure can come from those noble Lords in this House who support the Government, I think there might be even a more effective result than anything we on this side of the House can bring about.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, before I start on my few words this afternoon I should like to add my voice to those in your Lordships' House who have paid tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester. I have long admired him and I know a great deal about his work, as he represents in Worcester the see in which I was born and brought up. Therefore I know a great deal about him; and we shall miss him very much indeed and also his words of wisdom. I should like also to congratulate the noble Lord the canny Scot from over the Border who addressed us this afternoon in his maiden speech. I am sure we shall all look forward to all the wisdom he has to give us in the future.
The debate this afternoon, from my point of view anyway, is about people. I am therefore delighted to be able to follow my noble friend Lord Fairfax in the very eloquent and caring speech from one of the youngest Members in your Lordships' House. He must indeed, I feel, have given many in this Chamber a reassurance that the future is in good hands. I want to concentrate my few remarks on the present plight, as other noble Lords have done, and the future hopes of the young unemployed. I am indeed grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, for giving us the statistics—I have them all too, but I need not say them again. I am sorry I was nodding my head in agreement with the noble and learned Lord. He just caught my eye and I did not know until that moment that I could still blush.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, I was enchanted by her approval.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, through research and personal knowledge I have built up a picture of these young people, which is this. A young person leaves school with high hopes but often with the prospect of time on his or her hands instead of the routine to which they have become accustomed in school. They apply for jobs—perhaps 70, 80 or even up to one hundred jobs—and they get no reply. They get depressed and bored and think that nobody wants them. They start frequenting the pubs, the discos and street corners. A boy then finds a girl who wants him and they live together either at his home or at hers, or in a squat. Within a year a baby is born; they apply to the council for accommodation which they can rarely afford because neither is earning. He is encouraged by his common law wife—they are both 48 at this time 18 or 19 years of age—to look for work again: more applications, more disappointments, no job. Money is short and the quickest way to get it is mugging, robbery or burglary—all of which, as we know, in this age group are on the increase.
By this time there are two children and the common law wife is getting frustrated at having him under her feet all day. He frequents the pub much too regularly, the football matches occasionally, and otherwise loafs around unwanted and with nothing to do. The Government are doing a very great deal and I certainly do not want this afternoon to underestimate their endeavours, but, according to the figures, even after some training jobs are still very scarce. I should like to see the training of the more enterprising of the young people extended to a year. I say "enterprising" because I want them to be encouraged to go abroad to help in third world countries and try to follow on the ideals of the Brandt Report. I am well aware of the Community Service Volunteers and of all the good they do, but I should like this country to pay people to go abroad. We all know that the needs of some of the African countries are very great, but we also know that they are very poor. I should like to see young people, who have some skills, invited to go out on the unemployment pay supplied by us to transmit those skills to the emerging nations.
But, surely, we must now face the fact—although I submit it is late—that the age of technology means that never again in these almost over-populated islands will there be full employment. We read that from Japan they can export a full, roboted factory for £9 million. We know that cars are made without being touched by human hand. We look at the countryside to see machines cutting our hedges, to see machines digging our ditches, to see machines gathering fruit crops. How many thousands of people have therefore become unnecessary in the countryside? We are, of course, getting used to the computer, but that means that there will be fewer and fewer office workers.
Of course, trained people will be needed to make the machines that we are now using, but I submit that if the population of these islands remains as high as it is, there will not be enough occupation for them all. This is why, following my noble friend's remarks yesterday, I urge the Government to legislate for leisure, to use the usually empty soccer fields that we see every day, to encourage the building of more games complexes, to try to restore interest in crafts of all kinds—those that have been lost to us for a very long time. But we also need to legislate for people's lives, because the idea of many of our citizens being condemned to live their lives in boredom, depression and despair, with no incentive to use the talents which I believe we all have, is a tragic waste.
I was delighted this afternoon to hear the noble Baroness the Leader of this House give us the outlines of a Select Committee,appointed to consider and make recommendations on long-term remedies for unemployment",because, for the present, I sometimes wonder whether the system is the servant of the people or their master. For the future, I feel that an urgent priority is that we should adapt our thinking to the well-being of the citizens of this technological age.
§ 5.34 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, it seemed to a committee of your Lordships' House of which I have the privilege to be a member, that sometimes repeated eulogies to a maiden speaker bred a feeling of some insincerity by the time the eighth or ninth eulogy had been expressed. Nevertheless, I should like from these Benches to say how much we enjoyed the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston. I especially enjoyed it, because he referred, as one knew he would, to local government, on which I want to say a word or two in my speech.
That self-same committee also said—and said it from time to time—that the speeches in some of your Lordships' debates could well be curtailed. Bearing in mind that there are some 25 speakers who are casting their eloquence into your Lordships' tolerant ears, I feel that I ought to set an example as a member of the committee by making four concise, short points on matters referred to in the gracious Speech relating specifically to home affairs. The first point which I should like to make is on the reference in the gracious Speech to measures which will be brought forwardto amend the law relating to the assumption of civil jurisdiction by courts in the United Kingdom and for the reciprocal enforcement of judgements in civil and commercial matters".I do not have the slightest doubt that that is entirely meritorious and will, no doubt, have the unanimous approval of your Lordships' House when such legislation is brought forward. But if we are dealing with matters relating to civil law, may I put in a plea that the now fairly ancient Pearson Report, which was presented to Parliament some four and a half years ago and which, as your Lordships will well remember, was the report of a Royal Commission on Civil Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury, is, at long last, dealt with?
It was only within the last month that the Court of Appeal referred to the most unsatisfactory state of the law relating to damages in civil injury cases. If I may paraphrase what two of the learned Lord Justices said, including, indeed, the Master of the Rolls, the law is confused and confusing; it is unjust and it is unbalanced. The learned judges appealed to Parliament to put the matter right by appropriate legislation. The Pearson Report was debated at length in your Lordships' House some time ago and I put in a plea for something to be done by way of a measure to deal with this very important matter which, at the present moment, is not dealt with satisfactorily in our law.
My second point is in regard to a matter which has been dealt with so eloquently and adequately. It is the part of the gracious Speech which says:Legislation will be introduced to improve the criminal justice system in England and Wales".The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, referred to a report—which, happily, is rather more recent then the Pearson Report—by the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure, which was presented to Parliament in January 1981. One of the grave difficulties in regard to our criminal procedures at the moment, which certainly reflects no credit upon it, is the great time and expense taken and incurred in our criminal trials. It is a matter which I know is of great concern to the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, as indeed it was a matter of the gravest concern to my noble and 50 learned friend Lord Elwyn-Jones when he was Lord Chancellor.
The Phillips Report dealt with reforms that could be made to the pre-trial procedure and, in rather touching terms, the report ends at page 196 of its first volume by sayingIf the fundamental balance in pre-trial procedure is to be held firmly and steadily within the limits of public understanding and tolerance, and if the best use is to be made of scarce resources, a critical responsibility falls on Parliament. Our proposal for regulating in a comprehensive statutory framework arrangements for the investigation of offences and the prosecution of offenders affirms that Parliament has the duty of striking the fundamental balance and of keeping it under regular review".I hope that in the legislation that we are to see this Session something will be done to deal with the recommendations of that Royal Commission.
The third point which I want to mention is that part of the gracious Speech which refers to local government, an area in which I was privileged to serve for over 20 years. My love for local government is undoubted even if my great service to local government is a matter of doubt. There is a brief reference in the gracious Speech to a matter which has had a lot of publicity and which has been debated already not only in local government associations, which are dominated in regard to membership by the party to which I am proud to belong, but also in the county councils association where the party of the Government has the predominant membership. There are grave fears that yet again this Government will be dealing a mortal blow to one of the most valuable parts of the body politic. I am referring to the area of local government.
All that we have in the gracious Speech is the last sentence, other than the vague one which is usually there that:Other measures will be laid before you",which reads:Legislation will be introduced to improve the accountability of local authorities for the level of their rates".It would be highly injudicious of me to anticipate what may be in the legislation which will be promoted by a Secretary of State who is known for his moderation and for his respect for local government but whose actions somewhat belie the reputation which I have just given him. All I am going to say is that the hint which has so far been dropped and which has found its way into certain papers is that there will have to be a referendum if a local authority exceeds in its supplementary rate demand a percentage or an amount which does not meet with the approval of central Government.
As I have said, we must wait for more details of the proposed legislation, but quite apart from any question of the blow—and this is a serious matter—to the whole status of local government and quite apart from the way in which central government is most foolishly making itself the enemy of local government I just wonder where we are getting to constitutionally by the suggestion of a referendum. The question arises: who is allowed to word the referendum and the question in the referendum? Who is going to pay for the documents which support an answer "Yes" to the referendum? And who is going to pay for those who 51 wish to procure an answer, "No" to the referendum? Is there to be yet a further burden upon the emasculated funds of local authorities which are meant to be spent on social purposes? Is the referendum fairly going to say: "If you object to a surcharge on your rates, a supplementary rate demand, do you also object to the high rate of central Government taxation, and if you do object to the supplementary rate demand do you also object to a VAT level of 15 per cent.?" If the answers to both of those questions happens to be "yes", will central Government pay the same courteous attention to those answers as they will to the answer, "yes", to the first question? If not, where are we getting with our democracy and our constitution? And where are we getting with this mess-up of a relationship between central and local government which up to the past few years has been a pretty good one?
I refer lastly and very shortly to that part of the gracious Speech which deals with a matter which I believe has the universal approval—I shall be very surprised otherwise—of your Lordships' House and, indeed, of all civilised citizens throughout our land.My Government's policies"—says the gracious Speech—will seek to ensure that all individuals, whatever their race, colour or creed, have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities".Nobody would ever object to the pronouncement of a principle of that nature but what is asked for is something other than a pious expression of a principle.
I must remind this House—it was a matter which was referred to in the correspondence columns of today's Times, in a letter signed by 13 Members of another place—of the racialist attacks which are made, so the Joint Committee against Racialism told the Home Secretary last February, between 3,000 and 8,000 times each year in this country, of which the Asian community suffers the main brunt. In other ethnic minority groups the attacks have led to death. There is abundant evidence that there are some organisations—I cannot call them political parties because the name "political party" to me has got some dignity and decency attached to the very description—which are planning these attacks and which are seeking that individuals, who are absolute brutes, carry them out upon innocent members of the minority ethnic groups in our country. I wish that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Salmon, could have been present in his place, because some of us remember those wonderful words of his judgment in the Notting Hill case some years ago about the rights of every one of us in this land, whatever be his colour, whatever be his race, whatever be his creed, to carry out his lawful purposes peacefully and to walk through our streets without being molested.
There are ways—maybe, specialist ways. It may be that the police, as was suggested in this letter, should have a special branch in order to deal with these matters and go into them in depth. I do hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, replies to this debate he will tell us of some measures which he has in mind and which the Government have in mind in order to implement the principle which, as I have said, nobody in the world would quarrel with and which every one of us would support.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, as the first to address your Lordships from these Benches, I would beg to be allowed to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the noble Lord on his maiden speech. The gracious Speech adumbrates a number of important measures and raises some momentous issues and they have been gravely and cogently debated by your Lordships, but having heard the speeches with which your Lordships have been favoured it would be idle to pretend that they do not raise acutely matters of party political controversy.
As I still give some small judicial service in your Lordships' House, it would be inappropriate for me to attempt to enter into them. Originally I intended to raise a matter indeed of controversy but not of party political controversy; namely, the great dissatisfaction that I find and sense with the way that the new divorce law has been working out. That is not my theme this evening, but in passing from it I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, if he would be good enough to tell us what has been happening to the Bill on matrimonial homes and co-ownership. Your Lordships gave that Bill an enthusiastic Second Reading. I withdrew it at the request of my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack so that it might be reconsidered by the Law Commission in the light of a then recent judgment of your Lordships' House judicially. But that was well over a year ago and perhaps the noble Lord will be good enough to tell your Lordships what has happened to that Bill and when we can expect to receive the Law Commission's views on it. I very much hope that it is among the "other measures" that are referred to as usual in the last paragraph of the gracious Speech. I know that your Lordships will be awaiting it with eagerness and that the women of this country will be awaiting it even more eagerly.
What I wanted to address your Lordships on this evening is a matter remote from any that has been raised yet this evening; namely, the threat to the amenity of one of the architectural glories of this country; namely, Beverley Minster. That was recently debated in your Lordships' House on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Kennet. I could not attend that debate, but I read the speeches from all parts of your Lordships' House with admiration. They were unanimous in condemnation of what is contemplated and the word that was most frequently on the lips of your Lordships who addressed the House was the word "outrage".
I venture to return to that matter because there has been some recent development and the sands are now running out and a decision is urgently required. I think it is only the Secretary of State who can now save the threatened amenities and the matter raises not only questions of amenity but questions of considerable constitutional moment in the way of control of local administration.
The facts were fully canvassed in the debate on 14th October so I can state the outline very shortly. As your Lordships know, Beverley Minster is one of the greatest glories of European architecture. It dates from the 13th century. There are very few buildings to rival it and none, I think, to surpass it. Its unique 53 glory, however, is the fact that it is situated on the edge of the beautiful and historic town of Beverley, with open country to the south, giving unsurpassed, unrivalled views of the minster from the distance. It is that open land which is now threatened with development—and threatened with development in particularly outrageous circumstances.
The land was bought by the local authority from a charity for £4,000 for the purpose of dedication as a public open space, and it was so shown on the development plan. The very low price reflected the restricted use that was contemplated. A few years later the Secretary of State rejected an appeal against the refusal of planning permission to develop the land for housing, but it is now proposed to sell it for precisely that development; land that was bought for £4,000 not to be developed to sell now for £32,500 for development.
The cruel thing is, as I understand it and as was stated without contradiction on 14th October, that there is no lack of alternative land for building. As your Lrodships can imagine there have been strong protests form amenity groups, from the Fine Arts Commission, from the Church at all levels, from Members of Parliament, from Members of your Lordships' House and from many others. Some of the local objectors appealed to the Commissioner for Local Administration, popularly known as the "local ombudsman", and it is this that raises the constitutional issues which I venture to mention to your Lordships. The finding of the local ombudsman was that there had beenMaladministration…which had caused injustice to the citizens of Beverley who had complained to me.That is surely a terrible finding to be adjudged against any local body.
However, although that was the finding, the report itself was a balanced and conciliatory one. It recommended compromise and accommodation, which the ombudsman obviously envisaged as being well within the bounds of possibility; and the speeches in your Lordships' House on 14th October reflected that theme. They urged compromise, urged accommodation, were notably restrained. However, they had no effect whatever on the local authority, as I understand it.
The scheme of control of local government by the ombudsman I think is this: he makes a first report; that gives an opportunity for comment by the local authority; and he then issues a second report. However, in this case, without, I understand—and perhaps the noble Lord will check this—waiting for the second report the development committee on the 7th October insisted that the development should go forward. And since your Lordships debated the matter, as I read in the press—and perhaps the noble Lord will again check this—the town council has endorsed the view of the development committee. In other words, there has been obstinate adherence to a decision which it has been found was based on maladministration, a decision which has caused widespread outrage and threatens to impair part of the glory of one of our most glorious works of architecture. What is worse, the disregard of the views of the commissioner has been accompanied by expressions of contempt for the commissioner's findings. They were quoted in the debate in your Lordships' House, and I shall not repeat them.
I know that the Secretary of State is reluctant to interfere with a local planning decision, and I have 54 every sympathy myself, as I imagine your Lordships generally have, with that approach. But it has been done. The Labour Government was contemplating precisely such an overriding of a planning decision in relation to the Lyceum area in Liverpool, and their successors, the Conservative Government, in fact carried out that same policy, refusing planning consent. So it can be done; it has recently been done. And this is, of course, a far stronger case.
It is not merely a matter of an arrogant and obstinate bumbledon. If it were only that it would be serious enough but would not justify the action of the Secretary of State. But what is in issue beyond that are two further matters. The first is the whole scheme of the Commissioner for Local Administration. It is notorious that our system of law lacks any proper system of administrative law. Together with some colleagues a number of years ago I suggested that there should be an administrative division of the High Court operating somewhat on the lines of the Conseil d'Etat in France. Needless to say, that aroused intense bureaucratic objection. But public opinion gradually became so aroused that the system of parliamentary and local commissioners, the ombudsmen, was established in its place. Many of us had doubts at the time whether that was a sufficient measure. This is the test. If this commissioner's findings are to be flouted, if the commissioner's judgment is to be dismissed in contemptuous terms, there will be no doubt that the system of parliamentary and local commissioners is quite inadequate to secure justice to outraged citizens and to prevent bureaucratic abuse.
The last matter is, of course, the one transcending all, and that is the impairment of a piece of glorious national heritage. Even if the local representatives are in due course dismissed by the infuriated electorate, that will do no good. The damage will have been done. Nothing can then put back the view of Beverley Minister from the south. I think that, now, only the Secretary of State is any safeguard to proper administration and the preservation of our national heritage. He can, and, my Lords, he must, act.
§ 6.7 p.m.
Lord de Clifford
My Lords, I have now had the honour of attending your Lordships' House off and on for some 53 years, but I think this is the first occasion on which I have been delighted to welcome a speech, the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stodart, and regret a speech, that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, who is departing. I hope we shall hear much more from Lord Stodart; I much regret that we shall not hear much more from the right reverend Prelate.
I rise to address your Lordships on something on which I probably tend to become rather pressing. That is the subject of what the Government are going to do as it affects the rural areas of this country. There are two paragraphs that frighten me in Her Majesty's gracious Speech. One is the last one.Other measures will be laid before you",because that is the one which always takes us on to having at least two or three weeks extra at the end of any Session. The other one is:Legislation will be introduced to improve the accountability of local authorities for the level of their rates".55 This is one of those things which when applied to a very big authority might well be accepted, but when you come down to your rural areas, where you have a very scattered population, the level of rates and the expenditure affects people who are so very dependent on services which the authority provides. Unless you are there it is very difficult to understand how a cut in rates feels. For years the policy of various Governments has led to the depopulation of rural areas. Year after year schools have been closed down, services reduced and, on top of that, there has been the imposition of higher petrol prices and higher telephone charges. Practically everything which happens affects the people who live in the widely scattered areas far more than it does the people who live in concentrated urban areas.
I would ask the Government when taking control of rates or any other council expenditures to look with the greatest care at the situation of rural areas. In the rural areas people have the impression that the only thing which is in the minds of the Government and their advisers is the intensely populated areas where all the terrible troubles occur, where all the difficulties happen and where there is racial trouble and so on. However, there are other areas where people—actual people—live and exist.
I would ask your Lordships to consider one very small matter. There has suddenly been a rise in telephone charges. The rental has risen and so has the charge for calls. How can people who are on pensions in the ageing population in rural areas—and it is an ageing population, whether one likes to accept it or not—afford to keep these services? An elderly couple may live a mile and a half from a public telephone and they are asked to pay something, I believe, in the range of £18 a quarter just to maintain a telephone through which they can keep contact with the outside world. I ask your Lordships to imagine some probably quite happy pensioner living a mile and a half away from the telephone. Suddenly there is a fire in the house, but there is no telephone. How can he or she summon help? It quite frightens me to think of that situation because I know of a number of people who are without a telephone.
Let us consider a rise in petrol prices. That may not affect so badly people who live in urban areas, but in rural areas it affects people very considerably. Someone may have a travelling shop but the instant there is a rise in petrol prices so all the prices of the goods go up. There may be a number of people who have smallholdings and other places who have to collect the feed for their animals themselves. Goodness knows! the price of animal food is high enough as it is, but when you have to add on a load of ever increasing price rises how do people keep small-holdings going?
I urge the Government as regards whichever way they do it, or whatever they do—the basic principles of which I entirely agree with—please to consider the areas of population which are not intensive and to consider that there are people living in those areas, actual people, who suffer from these things. I wish the Government well in what they do, but please do not go on adding to the burdens of the rural populations and depopulate those areas even further.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, with other noble Lords I wish the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester well. I would say to him that those of us who retire from a job within three months find ourselves busier than ever. I am sure that it will be the same with him. To the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, I would say that many of us are looking north of the Border to the juvenile court procedure which is being carried out there and wondering whether perhaps we should not follow in the wake of our Scottish friends in dealing with juveniles.
I wish to speak on that part of Her Majesty's most gracious Speech which deals with legislation which will be introduced to improve the criminal justice system in England and Wales, and also to take note of an earlier paragraph which said:My Government's policies will seek to ensure that all individuals, whatever their race, colour or creed, have equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities".I should like to underline the word "responsibilities". The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said as regards young offenders that we were all, on all sides of the House, concerned and that it is not in any way a political issue. I would suggest that we have perhaps all gone along the wrong path.
Since 1975 the figures have changed alarmingly. However, before drawing your Lordships' attention to the figures, I would point out to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, that of young people, children and young persons—that is children up to 15 and young persons from 15 to 17—only 3 per cent. of those under 14 and 7 per cent. of 14-to 17-year olds were, in 1978, found guilty of serious crimes: robbery, violence against the person and sexual offences. I feel that it is necessary to put this in context because there is so much publicity over one terrible crime, when, in fact, overall the figures are not high. Since the passing of the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 our figures have changed in the most extraordinary way. One would think that it is because the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 was not a good Act. I would submit that it was a very good Act which we have badly administered and badly carried out. Indeed, a German criminologist said to me a little while ago, "I am going to go back to Germany to carry out this good Act of Parliament which you in your country have so mismanaged".
Between 1969 and 1978 the borstal figures have risen. In 1969 they were 818; they are now 2,117. Of those boys and girls who go to borstal, 85 per cent. are reconvicted within two years. As regards detention centres, in 1969 there were 2,228 boys and girls in detention centres and in 1978—the latest figures that we have—there were 6,303, and of those 75 per cent. Re-offended within two years. It costs £104 per week to keep a boy or girl at a detention centre; in borstal it costs more. Community schools for education, which are what used to be approved schools, cost infinitely more. Yet from 1969 to 1978 there were 4,000 fewer supervision orders. Therefore, the conclusion we draw is that more of our young people are in custodial care. In fact, we have the highest number of young people in custodial care within the EEC countries. Yet it is not being effective.
57 The White Paper is in some ways advanced. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, has outlined a number of proposals in the White Paper, with most of which I agree but with some of which I do not agree. We recommend the emphasis that the White Paper puts on non-custodial strategies, if I can put it that way; and when I say "we" I am referring to myself as the chairman of, and the members of, a committee called New Approaches to Juvenile Crime, which consists of eight organisations of all the professions dealing with young offenders, social services, probation and youth workers. I am also privileged to he a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Penal Affairs. By and large these two groups agree.
I absolutely agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, that the residential care order—which is recommended in the White Paper—will not work. Indeed, if it stands under the new law that is to come into force, I think that we shall be in trouble. When I was a director of social services and when the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 was passed, under no circumstances at any time did any of my staff leave a child at home on whom a care order was made. It was quite simple. If the magistrates wished a child to stay at home and if the local authority wished a child to stay at home, there was a recommendation that a super-vision order should be made. If the local authority social workers or the probation officers recommended that a child should he removed from home, a care order was made and that child was removed from home. It was quite simple.
Unfortunately, up and down the country—perhaps rightly, but I think wrongly—a number of both magistrates and social workers have made and accepted a care order, but have placed the child at home, saying to the parents and the child that if the order does not work, they will quietly remove the child. A short while ago I spoke to a parent who said, "My child is under a care order but he is kept at home. If he stays out late at night, whose responsibility is it—mine or the local authority's?" I said, "If I were you, I should ring up the local authority at 10 o'clock at night because the care order puts them in loco parentis".
I simply mention that to point out that the magistrates and the Association of Directors of Social Services have agreed that when a care order is made the child should be removed, from home and placed into custodial care. Under this new Bill if the magistrates are to make a residential care order for children who are already in care, there will be a great deal of difficulty over the residential establishments. At the moment local authorities are having to cut their expenditure. If they cut their expenditure and the magistrates then make a residential care order, when they might otherwise have made something else, what will the local authority do? Until we know what is in this Bill, they must keep open their residential establishments at the expense perhaps of more productive work. Therefore, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and I agree on this point.
Detention centres are an extraordinary phenomenon. There are two types: those that have been running for a long time and those—and there are many—that offer educational and therapeutic treatment. I speak with feeling because I live near and am interested in Campsfield Detention Centre. I visited it the other 58 day, when two boys said to me, "We get teaching here by ourselves. We were not able to read and write until we came here". That was a detention centre with educational and therapeutic treatment. The detention centre at Send and the one at Glenochil in Scotland—and more may be set up—are certainly the "short, sharp, shock treatment", where you get up in the morning and you do not stop all day. A little while ago I said to a boy, "John, how did you enjoy the detention centre?" He said, "Well, Miss, the food was good, I slept well, the exercise was good and I am fitter for other jobs when I come out". He had not learned anything other than to be fitter, better and stronger. I do not say that that will happen with all children; of course it will not. But I would say that as yet we have no evidence that the detention centres work. In fact, the evidence is against the fact that detention centres work. As it is so expensive an experiment, are we really right to spend so much money on an experiment that we do not know will work when we could spend it on other things? If it works, fine. But I much regret to say that to date the figures do not show that it works.
As the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, has said, although we really do not approve of youth custody, youth custody orders would certainly be an improvement on the present borstal situation. I would make a plea to the Government—indeed, I am not sure that I need to make a plea because I think that the Government are totally convinced about this—for what is known as "intermediate treatment", which is treatment with the child at home but giving a programme of activities, a programme of consultation and a programme of therapeutic treatment within the community.
That brings me to the responsibility of parents. The question of fines has been mentioned. It sounds very good to fine parents for the misdemeanours of their children, but many of the children who come before the courts come from backgrounds, not necessarily of poverty, but of difficulty and disruption in the family and unhappiness. I feel that this will cause even greater unhappiness and disruption within a family.
What I would ask the Government is to consider the responsibility of parents. In the gracious Speech the word "responsibility" is mentioned. Many a time I have taken a child to court and only mother has turned up and never father. I feel that until responsibility for a child is experienced by both father and mother we shall not get very far. I hope that perhaps the Government will see a clear way to advise magistrates that they might invite father to be present at court hearings, and not always mother, and only mother.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, would the noble Baroness give way for a second? I have been chairman of a very large juvenile court in a difficult area for many years. Unless the father was at work and could not get time off, I never heard a case—and I was chairman—without both parents being present if they were living together. If they were separated then, as the noble Baroness knows, sometimes problems arose.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. I should say that that does not happen up and down the country in every court. Certainly now that the fathers are perhaps more available, maybe it might be possible. What of the future? I would say that this Bill is a somewhat cosmetic measure. I wonder whether this Bill could be a forerunner to more creative, effective, far-reaching measures which are preventive, and which will help the young offender in the context of his family, of his school, and of his community.
In conclusion, may I say that those of us who deal with the young offenders believe profoundly in the primacy of the rule of law, as was stated by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. But we also believe that they should not be alienated from their community. We believe that children and young persons should be treated with compassion, care and understanding, but coupled with structure and with discipline. Finally, we would like to see children and young persons, for whom many of us have been and are responsible, living in the community, receiving services in the community, in partnership with the parents, rather than being moved into custodial care.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, it is exactly one year ago today that we concluded our deliberations on the Local Government Planning and Land Bill. I argued then that that was a Bill which fundamentally restructured the relationship between central Government and local government, and that it gave too much power over local government to the Secretary of State, to any Secretary of State. I argued further that it had gone a long way towards destroying the mutual trust and confidence that existed between local authorities and central Government, trust and confidence that had taken many decades to build up.
Once again at this very moment the local authority associations are united against the proposed legislation based on the technical memorandum on the proposals for the new rating procedures, because they believe that if this measure is enacted it will strike right at the heart of local democracy. I want to concentrate my remarks today on that part of the gracious Speech concerning local government. In the last two and a half years we have seen a steady erosion of the powers of local government. This has caused bitter resentment and it runs quite contrary to the Government's own avowed intention of giving more freedom to local authorities. The proposed legislation in the memoranda is not only ill-conceived but is a threat to the very existence of local government today.
I believe that most local authorities will accept in principle that the Government have a right to control public expenditure, but if the proposals of the technical memorandum are accepted then it will effectively bring to an end local democracy throughout the country. The main proposal is that the Government should set a maximum rate levy for each class of authority, or even for each individual authority. There is no suggestion in the memoranda that a Secretary of State could be prevented from setting an unrealistically low ceiling, which would result in drastic cuts in public services and massive redundancies, or to prevent the 60 present, or any future, Secretary of State from declaring that an authority is spending too little and therefore must expand and improve its services.
The local electors and their councillors are the ones who should have the right to determine the level of expenditure and the service required in their own locality, and by basing the poundage on the grant related expenditure assessment local authorities are going to be encouraged to provide only a typical standard of service, and in practice the decisions are going to be taken by non-elected and non-accountable civil servants working through the Secretary of State. That, my Lords, is not local government as I have understood it over 30 years.
The proposals for the supplementary rates are unnecessarily punitive to the domestic ratepayers, and they seem to have been devised also to be particularly cumbersome for the administrators. The proposal is that the first supplementary rate cannot be levied until after 1st July, and that is quite unrealistic. An authority will know its budget in February or March, and it could include such a rate on its initial demand note rather than incur any additional cost by sending out a second demand. If it is necessary, then attention could be drawn to the supplementary rate, and the extra amount could be specified on the original rate demand. But if local government is to be successful then it must be responsible, and it must have very clearly defined and established powers and duties for which it can be held accountable.
Responsible local government derives from the nature of the services which it provides. Those services are largely personal and must be responsive to the needs of the individuals within the area. The people also need a convenient access to the point where the actual decisions are being made. Which services are required must depend on local desires and on local conditions, and they will not be the same in every area or with every type of authority. But these services cannot be determined by civil servants or by a Secretary of State in Whitehall. Only the locally-elected representatives in the town hall really know what is needed for their authority, what their electorate want and need, and how much they are willing to pay to have those services.
We are about to face the eighth assault on public expenditure in two and a half years. Yet while programmes for education, for housing, for roads, for social services and for welfare have been cut back time and time again, the overall level of state spending has actually increased. The more the monetary policies have been pursued, the more they have sent spending shooting up in other areas, often as a direct result of those policies.
Recently the court ruled that the Secretary of State for the Enviroment had acted illegally when he decided to impose financial restrictions on the six London boroughs. The ruling was that the Secretary of State had the power to withhold the grants from the so-called offending authorities, but since those powers had only just received parliamentary approval he should have listened once more to those who tried to persuade him not to exercise them.
Relations between the Secretary of State and local authorities have never been worse than they are today. What the Government seem to overlook, or perhaps 61 conveniently forget, is that central Government are spending nearly 8 per cent. more than they did in 1975–76, while the local authorities are spending about 20 per cent. less, and even in 1980–81 local government in general met its expenditure targets. Is it proposed to hold referenda on items of Government spending too? Should we not have a debate in both Houses as to whether it is good a thing to institute referenda into our proceedings and constitution? Should we not have clear decisions as to who will decide on what issue other referenda might be determined and, even more important, who will meet the cost?
The strengthening of local government depends on the strengthening of local government finance, and in the last two and a half years it has become very clear that the destruction of the local authorities' financial base is leading to the destruction of local responsibility. The tax base of the local authorities has been eroded over the years by successive Governments because they refuse to have the periodic revaluation of properties, and this Government have abolished altogether any obligation to mount regular revaluations.
The Government promised to abolish the local rates system. I do not believe that this or any other Government will willingly give up an annual tax on property, which is what rates really are and which will yield some £7,700 million in England and Wales in this year alone. I believe the real question is: Who will collect that tax, the local authorities or central Government? In my view, a healthy democracy requires that rates, if we are to have them, have to remain a local government tax, and, if not, that there should be a local income tax collected by PAYE and returned to the local authorities. Other sources of local finance have to be found, and it is these other sources which have been the subject of conjecture in recent years, and we look forward to learning the Government's view on this question of extra resources.
I make no apologies for getting right down to the grass roots of local government, the parish councils. I admit there are problems between district and parish councils on the financing of concurrent powers, but the noble Lord, Lord Bellwin, agreed to look at a suggestion I made in July last, to see whether he could define the calculation of a penny rate attracted by parish expenditure. I should like to know whether there is likely to be any progress in this Session on this issue because the noble Lord then accepted that the equity of the parish case was unanswerable.
It is essential that all tiers of local government, from the parish council to the county council or the metropolitan authorities, can work together in harmony. Local government today is in a state of turmoil. If the proposals are approved by Parliament, it will mean that for the first time ever, central Government will control not only what money they put into local government but also what money local government can raise for itself. The proposals would mean that the rate-making process would become a continuous one and, by the time any referendum could take place, it would be necessary to start work on the following year's estimates. The situation would be so confused that it would be impossible for councils to make any sensible decisions; and that would be damaging not 62 only to the discretion of local authorities but to the orderly planning of local services and expenditure.
The grant-related expenditure assessment was intended to be only a crude method for grant distribution and not to take account of authorities' needs or services. It was supposed to be only a guide for grant distribution, with such topping up by the local authorities as they thought fit. It works most unfairly in the case of the new town areas because there is no factor in the formula which makes any allowance for the fact that an expanding new town area has to provide facilities which, in a normal growth situation, would evolve only slowly over generations as the town or city grew.
It is all very well for a city with a declining population, but it is very unfair to a city expanding as rapidly as my home town of Peterborough. For 1981–82, my city council is likely to spend £8.8 million, compared with a grant-related expenditure assessment of £5.9 million; or, in effect, they are 49 per cent. over the grant-related expenditure assessment. For 1982–83, the indications are that the gap may be even wider because the assessment may not fully take account of inflation and because the council may be deemed to be capable of making a surplus on its housing revenue account. In effect, the council would have to halve its expenditure, and since debt charges of £2.2 million cannot be avoided, it will be left to try to find £3 million out of about £6.6 million which it needs.
There is no doubt that the assessment calculation does not reflect my council's need to spend as a fast-expanding new town partnership authority with the Government. The assessment not only underestimates our population but the number of houses, the planned workload and other factors, and it totally disregards any requirement to spend money on renewal in the older city areas. The Association of District Councils has done a profile of district councils which shows that if the assessment is taken as the base this year, Peterborough will be 49 per cent. above it, and next year it will be 84 per cent. above it. Where will the Secretary of State set the figure for next year, and what percentage will he add? And even more important how soon will the local authorities know where they stand?
In these circumstances, a large excess over the grant-related expenditure assessment must be expected in 1982–83, with the prospect that in my city we shall have to have both first and second supplementary rates, including a referendum; that will be required of us. The levying of the first and, if approved, the second supplementary rate will be not only confusing and annoying to the ratepayer but will involve the city council in considerable extra expense. It will mean that up to three demand notes will have to be sent to 35,000 ratepayers; all the tenants of the council and development corporation houses will have to be notified of additional rate requirements; instalments and rebates will all require recalculation; and the requirment for differential rates for non-domestic ratepayers will also add another element of complexity. All those factors will require a great deal of explanation to the ratepayers and will lead to additional complications in the collection process.
The extra cost in terms of staff overtime, printing, computer time and so on is likely to be in the region of 63 £50,000 for the two supplementary rates. Taking the cost of operating the referendum as being broadly comparable with that of a full council election, it would cost £16,000 with a further estimated £10,000 for the extra cost of preparing, producing and distributing the statements for and against levying the rate. The income from the supplementary rates would be considerably delayed and additional borrowing would therefore be needed; and if some £2 million is required from the supplementary rates, then the additional interest charges would be another £20,000. If the second supplementary rate is rejected at a referendum, requiring borrowing against the next year's rate income, then the additional interest charges could well be as much as £50,000. All that means that if my council is made to go through the full supplementary rate procedure, the total amount of unproductive expenditure involved could amount to £116,000 if the second rate is approved, and up to £200,000 if it is rejected.
My county council in Cambridgeshire has described the proposals as a direct threat to democracy, with wide constitutional implications. It believes that decisions taken by locally elected representatives, in touch with local needs, are a vital constitutional safeguard against excessive centralism. The freedom of local authorities to take their own taxation decisions is, and has been, a fundamental issue of local government. The duty of central Government is to limit their own contribution to local authority spending in the form of grant, and the cash limited block grant system already ensures that. My county council goes on to say that the proposals breach the long respected financial safeguard whereby local authorities decide how to raise the whole of their income on the same day that their spending is fixed.
The ADC has described the proposals as a major step towards centralisation of the spending decisions of each individual local authority and as inherently constitutional in nature, and it affirms thatlocal government, as we know it, is at risk".The Local Government Chronicle has said that if this assault does not unite all the local authorities and their associations in total, implacable and uncompromising opposition, then nothing will, because local government is under Beige and all who believe in it should stand up and be counted. A recent Times leader said that the proposals were,bureaucratic centralism decked out in democracy's borrowed plumesand that councils were being reduced to,querulous agents of departments of state".Central Government, in order to manage their economy, do not need control of local government expenditure. They need two controls only. Central Government should determine the amount of grant that they give to local authorities, and how much they are able to borrow. Within those two constraints local government expenditure can, and should, be left to local authorities to determine, so long as that expenditure is financed by local authorities' own taxes, for which they will be accountable to their own electorate.
Even at this late stage I appeal to the Government to think again before they produce an administrative juggernaut of the type suggested in the technical memoranda. It can result only in managerial chaos and 64 confusion and can only be misunderstood by the public. The Government should not change the rules of the game mid-term. If they want local government to be the absolute pawn of central Government, they should get a mandate for it by submitting themselves to a referendum in the form of a general election. Recent local by-elections have acted as safety valves for a dissatisfied and disillusioned electorate, but if central Government take over from local government, then there will be no safety valve for local electors. There will be no point of appeal to which they can go, and the Secretary of State and his civil servants will be the only arbiter. I make this final plea to the Government to play the game and to keep local government locally responsible and locally accountable.
§ 6.54 p.m.
§ Lord Underhill
My Lords, I wish to deal with three proposals in the gracious Speech, and first I should like to follow the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Mishcon in dealing with the proposals regarding local government. I am certain that noble Lords will have been deeply impressed by the excellent contributions of the noble Baroness and my noble friend on this issue, based as they were in each case on very long periods of service in local government. The gracious Speech referred to legislationto improve the accountability of local authorities for the level of their rates".I realise that often in a gracious Speech the actual details are unclear, but I think that on this particular point we have fairly good information as to what is in the Secretary of State's mind, because he has set out his intentions.
However, I have been under the impression that local councils are already accountable to their ratepayers and to the electors who elected them. But perhaps I am still thinking of real local government and the independence of local councils, whereas the present Government seem to be going farther along the path of central direction of local agencies. As the noble Baroness has said, throughout the passage of the Local Government and Planning Bill time and time again Government spokesmen stressed that the Government's purpose was to set councils free to give them the right to decide on what to spend their money. Fears were expressed that the Bill would place considerable powers in the hands of the Secretary of State in consequence of the arrangements for block grant and capital expenditure controls. But now the Government are to go even farther. I was going to say, the wizard of Whitehall, but presumably I must change it to the master of Marsham Street, is to lay down what he considers a council needs to spend. If a council wishes to spend more than he is prepared eventually to approve, there must be a referendum in the area.
No one likes paying rates, any more than anyone likes paying income tax. People complain about rates and with their next breath they complain about the lack, or inadequacy, of services and facilities provided by the local council. My noble friend Lord Mishcon has outlined some of the problems that would have to be faced in drawing up the correct question if there is to be a referendum. But I would say that the use of referenda will undermine our constitutional 65 provisions for local elections to determine the accountability of locally elected councillors. I hope that this matter will be looked at not from the narrow, financial aspect, but from the effect of further centralism on local government. That I believe is the key issue.
I am certain that all noble Lords will agree that a vigorous and independent local government is absolutely essential to our democratic system. So many noble Lords in this House have served, and are still serving, in local government and they know that that is correct. But local government has to be enhanced and not weakened, as would happen through the Government's proposals set out in the gracious Speech. Should any noble Lord consider that that is an exaggeration, I hope that he will keep in mind what has already been stressed, and which I want to reiterate. It is significant that all three main local authority national associations have expressed their bitter opposition to the proposed legislation.
The second point with which I wish to deal might impinge on debates to be held on other days. In the gracious Speech there is the vague statement thatA Bill will be introduced on employment and labour relations".We do not know what are the Government's actual intentions in this respect. We have only press comments to go on, and there are even suggestions that the Government have not yet made up their minds on what will be the final proposals. I had hoped that after the last few days at British Leyland the Government would reconsider whatever they might have in mind on labour relations legislation. British Leyland has been saved by the commonsense of workers, who had already shown their desire to see the firm prosper by the way in which they have co-operated during the past 12 or 18 months in improved productivity arrangements. It has also been saved by the courageous leadership shown by trade union officers.
There is surely a clear lesson here that employees cannot be threatened and intimidated. Those days are well past. One good thing that may have come from this very near tragedy is that there is apparently agreement to establish improved labour relations at BL, and the development of more employee participation. It is shameful that the Government stood aside. They may be applauding themselves that they left this issue to the management and the workers' representatives to settle. But say the vote on Tuesday had gone wrong. I lived in Birmingham for 13 years, and I know the devastation that would have taken place in the whole West Midlands if the vote had gone wrong on Tuesday and the Government were still washing their hands of any intervention.
The kind of situation which faced this vast undertaking is one that can no longer be left with a chairman and his board, no matter how brilliant they may be. BL is a national responsibility. There is £1,000 million of public money involved, and the Government are the sole shareholder. The Government are acting on behalf of all of us, who really have a share in what would have been the development of BL. On 21st October—that is, only some 14 days ago—we debated in this House the proposed EEC directive on the supply of information to, and consultation with, trade unions by the multinationals and other complex undertakings. In that debate most noble Lords stressed 66 that these are the important issues which we ourselves ought to be considering when we arc talking of improved labour relations.
Yesterday, the New Standard headline was,Maggie takes aim at the unions"—and this at a time when, we understand, the CBI is seeking joint action with the TUC to put forward proposals to deal with the vicious problem of unemployment. Further legislation on the unions will not be helpful at this time. It will not help industrial relations, and could be divisive. It will not help the national effort, to which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred in his speech to us. Concentration should be on better industrial relations and more participation by the employees.
I hope that reports that the Government are not to proceed with the original intention to deal with the political affiliation of unions and union members is correct. I shall be pleased if that is the position, although it may disappoint those nine MPs and one former MP who are now Social Democrats, who were willing recipients of union and co-operative financial sponsorship until apparently their recent sudden conversions to criticism of the present law in these respects.
The last point I wish to deal with is on transport. In general, I welcome the fact that proposals will he put forward for new fixed penalties for some traffic offences, but naturally we shall need to see the precise details and to study them carefully. Then, in the gracious Speech there is the vague statement:State involvement in transport will be further reduced.…What is proposed? I have seen no statement of any kind as to what is proposed by those words. I hope the Government are not proposing to introduce the threat of legislation for the transfer to the private sector of the testing of heavy goods vehicles and public service vehicles.
There is one interesting statement:The present test system has done a very good job over the years. The industry respects the system and quite rightly values the quality of the service, its impartiality and its contribution to road safety".I, too, believe that to be true, but this statement was made by Mr. Kenneth Clarke, the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, as recently as 8th October. But, despite that praise for the present service Mr. Clarke added that the Government propose to dismantle that system and pass it to the private sector.
I must stress that all organisations involved in road passenger transport and in road haulage are opposed to any Government transfer of the present testing system to the private sector. Whether they be publicly-owned undertakings or whether they be privately-owned undertakings, they all support the present system and oppose any suggestion of change. I should like to know: Is the reference in the gracious Speech to mean that the Government are determined to go ahead with this proposal despite the praise given to it by the Under-Secretary of State and despite the opposition from all the interests involved? If so, I can only say that this can he solely for political doctrinaire reasons, and for no other reason whatever.
There are two other questions I should like to ask the Minister on the matter of transport. There is no 67 reference in the gracious Speech to the Armitage Report, to deal with heavy lorries and the environment. Is it the intention of the Government to proceed with this during the coming Session? I had hoped—I have a Motion down for debate—that in the course of the last few months we might have had a debate on this. So far we have not had it; but I think noble Lords would like to know what are the Government's intentions.
There is also growing concern at the decreasing ferry links with Northern Ireland. The Government seem once again to be washing their hands of the matter. If the private operators cannot cope because of the losses being sustained, then this, again, is a matter which may have to be considered and should be dealt with by public ownership.
The references to reducing state involvement in transport, to selling off some of the interests in BNOC and British Gas, seem to be indicative of the Government's doctrinaire attitude. Naturally, I am not going into the details of British Gas or BNOC in this debate, but I believe that in readiness for the debates on economic affairs the Government ought to tell us quite clearly where they stand on the mixed economy. Time and time again I have said to Ministers that we on these Benches accept a mixed economy. I am rapidly getting the feeling that the Government use words about the mixed economy but will do their damnedest to criticise and interfere with public ownership and public service wherever they can possibly do so. We ought to know: where do the Government really stand on the mixed economy? Where do they hold the line for public industries?
I see in today's Daily Telegraph a report, which I hope is untrue, that the Secretary of State for Energy is to put—and I quote—"rebellious gas chief on the carpet". I hope that is not true. If it is true, I hope it will not take place. I am certain there would be strong resentment if any company chairman was to be rapped over the knuckles for making comments on proposed legislation. Surely it is the duty of someone who has pride in his industry to put forward his particular point of view. I hope this report will be denied, but if it is true I hope it will not take place.
May I, in conclusion, be permitted to make one plea—nothing to do with home affairs? There is no specific reference in the gracious Speech to the Disarmament Commission now sitting in Geneva, nor to the United Nations Second Special Assembly on Disarmament, which will be meeting next year, in the course of this parliamentary Session. My appeal is that I hope that during the debate on Tuesday on foreign affairs and defence noble Lords will deal with this important question of what lead the Government will give with a view to ensuring that constructive proposals are brought forward to the United Nations special session next year.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, a controversial Session of legislation is now before your Lordships' House, but while there is much that will inevitably be politically controversial—and since I entered this House in 1958 I do not know of a gracious Speech which has not been 68 politically controversial to a greater or lesser degree—yet there are other aspects of the gracious Speech which will command considerable unity between the parties. I wish to concentrate on one aspect of the gracious Speech which I think has not yet been touched on. I quote:A Bill will be brought forward to improve the safeguards for detained patients and to make other reforms in the law on mental health in England and Wales".For 18 years I served on the house committee of the major mental hospital in Epsom, near where I live in Surrey. It was only with the reorganisation of the National Health Service that I and many others were, if one may put it that way, "deposed" from our posts; but I continue to take a considerable interest in mental health generally. I believe that this Bill will be one of major importance and I understand that it is to commence in your Lordships' House—which will ensure that it receives careful, practical and sensitive discussion.
My Lords, one of my first speeches in this House was on the Second Reading of the Mental Health Act 1959. This Act made considerable reforms over the whole spectrum of mental health. It abolished the stigma of the asylum and brought into being far more voluntary patients. I would hope that this forthcoming Bill will expand on this already favourable situation. The Bill will obviously have a number of problems facing it. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Belstead, at the end of this debate or by letter, can comment on a matter of which I have not given notice. It is that while it is important that patients should receive these considerations, I would hope that the staffs of these hospitals will also receive similar considerations.
Those of your Lordships who are concerned with mental health, with committees of these hospitals, will know full well the intolerable conditions which nurses and other staff often face in these hospitals, particularly in what one might call the grey areas where staff are difficult to obtain. I should like to pay a tribute—and I have done so before in your Lordships' House—to those nurses from this country, from the Commonwealth and from elsewhere who give devoted care to these unfortunate people. The 1972 report on the nursing profession by the then Professor Asa Briggs commented (in paragraph 267) on the shortage of nurses not only in general hospitals but in mental hospitals, and on the requirement that there should be at least one qualified nurse on hand round the clock.
I think it fair to say that there have been all too many instances, particularly in the long-stay hospitals, where this has not been the case. This has resulted in unfortunate accidents, sometimes fatal, to the patients; and at times the media have given a very slanted view on this because it has been suggested that it is the nursing staff who are at fault. In any profession, and in nursing perhaps most of all, those who do fall by the wayside should be subject to the normal format of discipline; but, my Lords, let the matter be fairly reported. This has not always been the case.
My Lords, the 1982–83 expenditure survey envisages, I think, something in the region of £7,500 million being spent on the National Health Service. It is quite apparent that, a considerable amount of this expenditure will have to be devoted to mental health because this forthcoming worthwhile Bill is going to place enormous responsibilities on the nursing staffs, and, 69 particularly, on the doctors who will have to decide when a patient is fit to be allowed out to the outside world. Of course, it is the wish of everyone that mental illness patients should be released as soon as this is considered by expert opinion to be medically possible. But we all know that there have been some tragic errors of judgment on this. Since to err is human, I do not think that we should be too hard in every case on those who have made these decisions; because, undoubtedly, they have been made in good faith.
The House will obviously be interested and anxious to know what the safeguards are. Those who are compulsorily detained under the present 1959 Act undoubtedly need safeguards and I take it that this will place an enormous responsibility on the Ombudsman. I wonder whether my noble friend at this stage can comment on the part which the Ombudsman is likely to play. Of course, the Bill has not yet been published, but I imagine that Her Majesty's Government have some views on this matter. This is a Bill of great importance; it will need very careful thought and study, and I would hope that when it comes to your Lordships' House it will be examined very thoroughly.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
My Lords, I am glad that attention has been drawn to a vital part of the health service in a manner which was worth while and in a manner which we seem to be neglecting. It is sad to find that one of the finest health services in the world is being neglected. It was good to see last week that a famous American surgeon who had spent £78,000 on operations in America to try to get himself into good health had the same operation here as a private patient at a cost of £6,000 and was cured. He has decided to settle down in Britain. There is a lot to be said all over the world for the National Health Service, and if a private one is run side by side then that is up to other people. But let us keep the National Health Service for those under-privileged, and even privileged, people who are prepared to use it. I am grateful to the noble Lord who has spoken on these matters.
I am going to cut my speech because we have had a brilliant analysis of the local government situation from the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman. To do otherwise would be usurping the time of this Chamber when we have had such an excellent analysis. In passing, I want to refer to local authority spending. At the moment it is about £17 billion per year and takes about a quarter of all public expenditure in Britain in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately, I believe it to be the prime target of the Conservative Government today. Its new austerity programme is something which is now going deeper. There is every indication that the Thatcher Government—and I am quoting from a document—are using the fight over local authority spending as a golden opportunity to discipline local government, or they think they are disciplining local government, to increase the powers of central Government over the regions and wherever possible to weaken or overturn, I regret to say, labour controlled authorities, by forcing them into bankruptcy or on to the money market. This is because of the intense feeling that we must move vast areas of public enterprise into the hands of private enterprise.
So what happens today? I wish that there was a 70 real social accountancy of the roads of Britain. The roads of Britain today are tumbling to pieces. We have nothing in the gracious Speech about the weights of lorries and their axle weights. Local authorities in the great transport areas are worried about the vast potential expenditures, which will be realities in the next year or two, on sewers and sewer systems. Despite all the statistics about moving goods from the ports for use quickly by road transport. I believe that if one weighs up the social accountancy of road transport, including some 7,000 deaths on the road and a third of a million accidents on the roads over the years on the average, the social accountancy of road transport cannot stand up to railway transport. The nation, irrespective of politics, should take a new look at transport, and in the age of the train develop better railway systems and rebuild some of the systems which they broke up. It is a sad fact that the mighty railways of Britain, built by the old navvies of the past with muscle, blood, sweat and wheelbarrows, were a greater piece of building than the efforts on the pyramids.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
"And more useful, too". Exactly. Actually, the railways under "Beechingisation" were destroyed at a moment when they were needed. They were needed strategically. And if we are worried about all this talk about moving people if we have nuclear bombing—and the Americans seem to be going "crackers" about this, if your Lordships will excuse my colloquialism—do we think that on the roads of Britain we can move 10 million people out of London and it suburbs? What are we talking about? We are talking about an age which is completely different from any previous occasion, and transport should be part of our strategic and logistic analysis of defence.
Time is on the wing and your Lordships are tired. The matter I want to deal with now is the pathetic insecurity of the educational system. I have devoted my life to all aspects of it, not quite in the nursery school, but right up to adult lecturing. We look at it today and we are the ugly ducklings of Europe. Our educational system is a disgrace to the British nation. We are neglecting our treasures. I used the phrase last week in a supplementary question asking a noble Lord whether he knew Ruskin's famous axiom: "There is no wealth but life". Children are our greatest source of building the future and the greatest source of our economic activity. They are neglected. Local authorities can no longer maintain a decent local education service. The outgoing president of the Assistant Masters' and Mistresses' Association said at their meeting in Sheffield last week:The particular responsibility of this association locally and nationally will be to persuade the community at large that the consequences of an undermanned, under-financed and impossibly over-stretched school system will be far more calamitous in the short and long term than the undeniable problems that will be involved in making the investment necessary to develop it".The same president called the Youth Opportunities Programme a "cruel charade". It does not lead to genuine employment. I do not know whether I would go so far as to say that it is useless, because I 71 know of some who are glad of the opportunity and feel that for six months they have some kind of security.
I have an old pamphlet in my hand from 1931 and I am threatening your Lordships with quoting from it. The then Prime Minister, Mr. Stanley Baldwin, admitted long after the 1931 crisis that the Labour Government had kept alive democracy with their small, 30-odd Members in the House keeping alive question, answer and debate. Today there is an attitude among the party opposite that seems to think that there are no alternatives to their policy. Sir Keith Joseph—bless his heart!—gets himself in trouble like the American generals. This week Sir Keith admitted that nursery education is not high in his priority. But he suggested that parents could afford to pay £5 a week. Britain has more working mothers than any other country in Europe. That is a fact that is not well known—there are more working mothers in Britain than in any other country in Europe. Working mothers are important; they are an important adjunct to Britain's economic prospects. In the potteries industry, in textiles, in pharmaceuticals and light industries we could not do without them.
In 1931 one woman in 10 was working in industry. In 1978 it was five out of 10. Now it is more like six or seven out of 10. An essential is that these women—and 42 per cent. of women are at work—should have nursery schools available. It is not wasting money to have nursery education. It is an essential stabilisation especially in the days of 3 million unemployed.
If you want to know where trade unionism was most dynamic and most militant, it is easy to answer—in Scotland, in Wales and in the Durham area, where there was no alternative work for the women. In South Wales in my day there were the pits and pretty well nothing but domestic service for our women. Nottingham had the lace industry. Stoke-on-Trent had the pottery industry. Consequently, if there was trouble in the mines you had a less militant workforce because the woman could bring in some income, and there were often double incomes where you had the most peaceful trade union movement. In other words—it is a lesson not yet learnt on the other side of the House—if you want peace in industry, the labourer is worthy of his hire and should get some sort of wage commensurate with that.
One essential aim of education is to remove drudgery and produce skill. Noble Lords opposite have had the privilege of public school education and I do not deny them the joy of it. Those of us who roughed our way through red bricks and tough elementary old-fashioned schools to university, we did not have the lovely comfort and succour of the public school—
§ Lord Davies of Leek
Look at them—born to rule. Eton produces potential Cabinet Ministers; ours have to fight their way to the top without any swimming apparatus in rough seas. It is time that side of the House realised that one of our greatest economic assets is to provide first-class education. What do we find? They mourn with the local authorities and the nation that because of the declining population 72 we are closing more schools in the country districts than ever in history—shutting them up, sacking 18,000 teachers and putting them on the dole, and we do not even think of reducing classes to the size of public school classes. What a wonderful opportunity, if you could have the 15 or the 20 in classes that could have the personal attention of the teacher; and in the end the nation would regain something worth while.
In this age, from childhood more and more we are becoming familiar now with the gadgetry of progress in micro-electronics, as I mentioned the other day—the new mathematics, the calculators and computers. Yet what do we do? The Tory election manifesto said—and their people thought it would happen—that each child should be given the chance to progress as far as his or her abilites would allow. We have sacked 18,000 teachers and closed more schools than ever. The Tory Government's first Budget in 1979 cut Government spending by £55 million on education and 3 per cent. on the authorities, and £300 million cuts from 1979 to 1980 on the rate support grant.
The November 1979 White Paper on public spending announced £280 million cuts in real terms and the loss of 18,000 teachers. Despite this, and universal protest by local government authorities of all political opinions, they went on with it—and the frightened Cabinet around the dear lady who is the Prime Minister are there like mesmerised rabbits. They do not seem to have any policy that this calamitous, obstinate Government can change. There was a day—and let me say I have seen signs of this even in the Labour Party—when Ministers of fibre, whatever party they belonged to, thought of their duty to the public and their electorate, and resigned. Nobody resigns today. They are either called "wets" if they have a different point of view, or on our side they may be called "militants". But that was something the old Conservative and Labour Parties were proud of—that there were men who had the courage to take sometimes a different point of view and be prepared to pass by the fruits of office.
You will be glad to know I have been speaking for five minutes and I ought to finish.
§ Lord Davies of Leek
Oh, you can read the time—I thought you would fall for that. Having said that, I will finish with this. Looking at this gracious Speech, it is one of the most arid speeches that I have seen in my 38 years knocking around these buildings. There is no reference in it to the realities of the world in which we live, but a decided effort to increase the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of losses in every possible enterprise this Cabinet can put its hands on. This is folly. This is leading this great nation in the wrong direction. Somebody said there have been a lot of philosophical speeches. Mine may not have been philosophical, but in the speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, whose philosophical speeches and logic I have enjoyed for many years—he may not agree with a word I have said—was a warning of the direction in which we are going. As old Tom Paine said:Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the nation".
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Baroness Platt of Writtle
My Lords, I wish to address my remarks also the last item referred to in Her Majesty's gracious Speech:Legislation will be introduced to improve the accountability of local authorities for the level of their rates".I attach great importance to accountability and in long years of experience of both rural district and county local government I have welcomed it wholeheartedly, whether it be in the village shop, the village fete or, as it was yesterday evening, in a village meeting. On one occasion I was asked about a "demountable" classroom at a wedding reception. People are quick to tell you when you are doing things wrong, and just occasionally they might be grateful. That is the virtue of local government—closeness to projects and the people you serve. Also, the ballot box is a very good constraint on local councillors when they are thinking of their actions for the future.
The proposed legislation is related to local government expenditure. There has been a long tradition of voluntary co-operation between local and central Government, whichever Government are in power, to achieve nationally-set economic targets. This summer my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment in pursuance of this tradition and faced with an overspend by local government as a whole, requested local authorities to look again at their budgets and find further economies. The majority of local authorities set to in this most difficult task and did their best to meet his request and saved £196 million. A small number actually increased expenditure, and as a result the final possible overspend was greater than at the start of the Secretary of State's exercise.
This was particularly galling to many of us in local government who had made extremely difficult efforts once again to make economies, and we found that due to the actions of a few local authorities our efforts were put at nought. I still hope that, in the interests of local government as a whole, those authorities will voluntarily control their expenditure within the limits of the national economic targets.
The gracious Speech also spoke offurther improving the efficiency of the economy and … strengthening industry, so as to restore competitiveness abroad and prosperity at home".Yesterday, some doubt was expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Byers, as to whether Life Peers might support the Prime Minister. As a very new Life Peer, I am sure that I would be in good company with many others in supporting our Prime Minister in her most courageous fight against inflation, which is the enemy of us all. I hope very much that she will achieve victory, and will see this country back on a path of economic prosperity, in pursuing this part of the gracious Speech.
We in local government are very much aware that our finance comes from rates and taxes. The domestic ratepayer pays from his wages, and the commercial and industrial ratepayers from money that might otherwise be used to further their business interests. If our expenditure is too high, jobs are lost. Speaking of accountability, industry and commerce have no vote. This year there has been the added problem of supplementary rates levied by some councils and 74 that is expenditure for which neither domestic nor commercial ratepayers had planned. I believe that supplementary rates should be used only in an emergency. At their budget meetings in March, councils should plan their expenditure for the year and state clearly how it is to be financed, so that people will then know how to plan their own expenditure.
There is the long-standing problem of local government finance, which was highlighted some years ago by the Layfield Commission. I understand that this autumn there is to be a Green Paper on the subject, leading to changes in the future. It is of the utmost importance to local government to have a stable base for its finances, so that it can plan accordingly. The block grant system is certainly a great deal better than the old progressional analysis system. The local authority with which I am involved lost over £130 million in rate support grant, due to that. It always looked at past spending and rewarded people who had been spending highly, whereas we are now talking in terms of needs and one hopes that this will be an incentive to economy. The sooner the results of the 1981 census can be included in the block grant, the more up to date it will be and that will be of benefit to the system.
New legislation is planned to improve the accountability of local authorities. I hope that careful notice will be taken of the strong feelings expressed in this debate today of all the local authority associations, and that the legislation will be carefully drafted to preserve the freedom of local authorities to continue to attract members and officers of judgment and responsibility, who will exercise sensible initiatives and solve their problems locally, based on the sure foundation of local knowledge. Local government is a valuable and long-standing bulwark of British democracy which we must do all we can to maintain.
§ 7.44 p.m.
§ Lord Molloy
My Lords, I shall not follow the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, in everything she said, except on one aspect of accountability, which most of her speech was about. I want to touch on the accountability of the Conservative Party for what they told this nation during the general election they would do, and on how they basely, and in an almost corrupt manner, did not carry out one single promise that they made to the nation. I would say to the noble Baroness, when she starts talking about accountability, that she should have a look at the manifesto of the Conservative Party and ask those who are now in power: Why are you disgracing us, when we try to hold you accountable for the things you said you would do and which you have failed miserably to do?
I want to concentrate for a few minutes on the National Health Service. I listened with great care and admiration to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Auckland. I am involved with the National Health Service and have been involved with the Confederation of Health Service Employees and the Trades Union Congress on this aspect. I am sure noble Lords will agree that there is nothing so poignant as mental health. The absolute agony is that if this Government remain in power much longer, we shall have to build more mental health institutions for worried and distressed people.
75 I thought that the tone of the debate was set at a very high level by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. I listened carefully when he said that he had made a trip in 1926 and repeated it a few weeks ago. I have an immense admiration for the noble and learned Lord's logic and courage. I do not agree with everything he says, and he does not agree with everything I say, but I hope that we have some mutual regard. He struck the right note when he mentioned the national strike of 1926 and went on to say that the coalminers were still out on strike and asked what that was costing this nation. There is a similar smell of decay and anger abroad in our nation today, although the reasons might be different.
When the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor made his trip in his old motor car in 1926, I was just seven years of age and I can remember the discussions. I can remember that the talk was still about the war and—I say this to the noble Baroness, Lady Platt—the people were trying to make accountable the politicians who, during the 1914–18 war, promised those men that they would come home to a land fit for heroes to live in, and then betrayed them. The men in the pits of this country tried to defend their standards of life. I know that there are those who are eager to smile and laugh and to criticise the coalminers, but people who do that have faced the possible danger only of being impaled on their fountain pens. So they should have just a little respect, because those men were bitter as the noble and learned Lord said. Those men in South Wales, Derbyshire, Yorkshire and Scotland had made the steel to build the battleships, and had produced the anthracite coal to power those battleships, which made a massive contribution to the winning of the First World War.
In 1915, Winston Churchill had to introduce a Rent Act, because of a possible revolution in the trenches. This is accountability. Tens of thousands of men were getting letters from their wives, saying that the increase in their rents meant that they could not possibly raise their families and would be thrown out on the streets. So in 1915 we had the first Rent Act ever, and the originators of that loathsome violation were supporters of the Liberal and Conservative Parties. In Yorkshire, Scotland, Derbyshire, Kent and South Wales they are still held accountable for their traitorous action, and I hope that their behaviour will be condemned by every noble Lord and Baroness in this House. That is accountability.
We in this House should understand that organisations such as the Trades Union Congress, the British Medical Association and the CBI also recognise that one of the great things that happened to us at the end of the last war, which was so different from what the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor mentioned in his poignant and fascinating speech, was that we started to launch a society based on understanding and compassion and recognition of real patriotism—not the patriotism that makes you a multi-millionaire while your countrymen are dying, but the patriotism of going to fight for your nation and win for your nation and achieve a victory for freedom and democracy.
When the troops came home we immediately embarked upon the construction of national insurance, 76 upon the construction of a housing programme and, perhaps above all, upon the construction of the finest piece of legislation that has ever been put on the statute book of this country or any other country in the world, including Russia and America; namely, our National Health Service. There are people in the Trades Union Congress who do not get much publicity for it. The General Secretary and the national officers of the Confederation of Health Service Employees, affectionately known as the nurses' union, are deeply concerned that there has been a deliberate attempt to sow a cancerous decay into our National Health Service.
As they see it and as I see it, the Government have a strategy. The first part of that strategy is to encourage private medicine—to make money out of sickness, to make money out of pain, to make money out of worry and anguish. This is really designed, in my judgment, as the first heathen move to sabotage Great Britain's National Health Service—this in a society where already the wealthy enjoy tax reductions which are greater than the entire salaries which people in British Leyland and the coal miners are earning. They know this. The research officers of their trade unions are making this clear. They have to; they do not wish to cheat their members. It is a difficult role to play but it has to be done.
Time will not permit me to make a full exposition of everything that is involved, but I believe I have enough facts to show that our National Health Service is to be sacrificed on the altar of avarice and greed, and that Government action over the past two years has done enough to make it ready for the massive sacrifice that is going to be made. Consequently, we have seen a decline in quality in all our health services. The Government are not maintaining the level of spending planned by their Labour predecessors.
I feel very deeply about the National Health Service. I come from a part of the country where people cheated doctors. If a child was taken ill the doctor came and sometimes helped with the payment of the prescription. Then, with malnutrition ravaging South Wales from 1926 up to the 1930s, about which the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke, another child was taken ill; so they looked for another doctor to call in because they were ashamed that they had not paid the first one—this at a time when there were some 30 doctors throughout the valleys of South Wales and 70 in the Royal Borough of Kensington. This is accountability. It makes the argument about local government, serious though it is, fade into an insignificant little fable when one tries to compare it with the New Testament. The Lord Chancellor warned us. He was quite right.
It may be for different reasons that I make my submission in support of his. In the ultimate, I believe that what we are both concerned about is that the massive freedom that was born in this country and defended by this country is in danger. It could be in danger because of some of the things we are doing. Therefore, it behoves us all to see that we contribute, somehow or other, towards preventing that happening. The Conservative manifesto proclaimed:It is not our intention to reduce spending on the health services".77 The Prime Minister herself reiterated this point during the election campaign when she said:We shall not reduce the resources devoted to the health service".In fact, the Government wasted little time in cutting back on the health services as well as all other public services. In July 1979 the Government acknowledged that a refusal to increase cash limits in the National Health Service would in real terms reduce National Health Service expenditure. And because of the increase in VAT and the failure to increase cash limits, no less than £1,000 million was lobbed off the budget of our National Health Service. In the November White Paper, the expenditure plans for 1980–81 detailed cuts of £3.5 million in various areas. A great deal of this was to fall on the National Health Service.
It is generally accepted that an annual increase of about 2 per cent. on National Health Service expenditure is needed merely to maintain existing services and to meet demographic change. In January the Prime Minister said that further cuts of about £2 million were needed to restore economic growth. This is being implemented and has meant a National Health Service reduction of £500 million, compared with the Labour Party's plans for the same period. Therefore, one has to check this accountability. The Government said that they do not intend to damage the National Health Service. When one checks on the accountability of that statement one discovers that the National Health Service has been slashed by £500 million per annum. This is the sort of thing which makes ordinary people very angry.
In the White Paper of 1980–81, leading forward to the future in 1983 and 1984 (this prognostication was published at the same time) cash limits were set at 14 per cent. while inflation was running at about 19 per cent. If cash limits had been set at 14 per cent. when the Conservative Party took office we should have been in clover because inflation then was only just over 8 per cent. Within a year it was soaring into the twenties. The Prime Minister deliberately created all that gave birth to inflation, but says that she is the champion by bringing down the hideous inflation which she created. This point is not lost on working people. Indeed, it is not lost on the CBI or on the TUC, and those are the sort of people who are important. It is those sort of people who can help the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and I in trying to bring some sense back so that people will understand that they are not going to be cheated any longer.
There is another aspect which I must mention. The noble Lord, Lord Auckland, mentioned the problems—and they are many—which afflict nurses in mental hospitals. I have tried on other occasions in your Lordships' House to outline some of them. It has to be realised that nurses employed in the National Health Service are now fewer by a total of 14,095 than two years ago. This was when we were probably all involved in the clash and the clang of the hustings. Since those days and up to this evening 14,000 British nurses have been put on the dole. This I find is both a very sad and a very sorry thing. It would make both Florence Nightingale and Aneurin Bevan shed tears in heaven.
Another aspect that has been affected has been 78 research and preventive medicine. I am one of those who believe that preventable pain is a blot on any society and if we deliberately set about not preventing pain we are deliberately creating a blot which is a disgrace for any society. All forms of charges within the NHS, or the creation of a private sector, simply mean delayed action. Hence there is a possibility of sickness and some form of illness creating a permanent disability because of the failure to take early action. When a minor operation might well cost £500 or £600, trade unionists will say, "The private sector have now taken over the health service so we are going to put in claims for our wages which will allow us to meet those bills". That is what I beg noble Lords opposite to try to bear in mind for the future of our country—not merely for the health service.
I have said time and time again in your Lordships' House that we hear a great deal about strikes; we hear a great deal about industrial unrest—but when shall we recognise that industrial disease costs our nation, in time lost at the workshop or at the pit or at the steelworks, twice or three times as much as the most terrible period of strikes in our history? When shall we acknowledge that fact, for the sake of our nation? The incidence of industrial unrest and industrial disease was reduced by the creation of the National Health Service, and in that aspect alone it pays for itself. I believe that if we ignore these things it will be both economically dangerous and, perhaps what is more, from the ethical point of view it is both callous and bereft of any form of compassion. A hospital waiting list increases the duration of pain and anxiety and so does the failure to exploit medical technology. All Governments—Labour Governments and Conservative Governments—have failed to exploit the brilliance of our technologists in the field of medical technology. We have to debate whether or not we should have more kidney machines or spend £20,000 per patient for a heart transplant. There is no need for that horrible equation to be put. Everyone who has someone who needs to be put on a kidney machine cannot see the justice of someone else getting a heart transplant which costs £20,000. There is no need for that sort of equation.
Some of the newspapers have even hinted and adumbrated that some Ministers are involved in private schemes—that is a very serious thing for me to say and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has noted it and will make some declaration about it. It is a very serious thing and I could hardly believe it. If it is not true, it should denied. If it is true, it is sad. The private schemes have for their aim the consumption of the apparatus of the National Health Service, but leave the creation and maintenance of that apparatus without any plan or without any central direction. I want all my fellow Britons to have at the back of their consciences that not only themselves but all their fellow citizens should have access when ill to the best that medical skill can provide.
The free and comprehensive National Health Service in the form in which it was introduced by Aneurin Bevan—I beg your Lordships to listen to this—was recently examined by a Royal Commission of totally independent people who were expert in their various fields. They made a unanimous recommendation which urged a complete return to the original 79 concept upon which our National Health Service was based when it was introduced to this nation by the late Aneurin Bevan and the first Labour Government after the war. In conclusion, I want to say that our National Health Service is no part of any political dogma but rather, I believe, the implementation of the parable of the Good Samaritan, and I do not believe there is anything wrong in that. So even now I say to this Government, at this late hour, it is not too late not to pass by on the other side.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ Lord Wilson of Langside
My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, has said in addressing your Lordships, but he will no doubt forgive me if I do not follow him in what he said. I doubt whether I should be qualified to expatiate upon the afterlife of either Florence Nightingale or Aneurin Bevan. May I start, as a simple Scots lawyer, by echoing the many congratulations which have been extended to the self-styled "simple Scots farmer", the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston. He will understand that at this late hour I leave my eulogy there.
In politics, as I imagine in love and much else besides, perhaps the worst fate that can befall one is to be ignored, and it was accordingly a great encouragement to those of us on this Bench—and it may shortly be these Benches and even nearer the front, who knows?—that we were not ignored by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack when he opened this debate. We all enjoyed his good humoured digs at us in the tradition of party political fun and games—leaderless, without policy and indeed without a party; a mere alliance with the old Liberal Party. These were fair remarks, but I hope he will not think me too sullen if I say with respect that of course they missed the point completely.
What gave birth to the Social Democratic Party? It was not just the performance of the Conservative Party and the Labour Party and their Governments, distressing and disturbing though that was, and it was not just a kind of twinkle in the eye of Mr. Roy Jenkins. It was a profound feeling among the ordinary people of Britain that the time was ripe for a secular change in British politics. That is what gave rise to the birth of the Social Democratic Party—a sense felt widely by many people who have never previously taken part in politics in this country, that our political life had reached a new low. Certainly it has never been very high in my lifetime but there was this feeling that it had reached a new low. However, this debate is not about the Social Democratic Party but about the gracious Speech.
I would not dare to talk about English criminal justice. That is not for a Scots lawyer to do, but I would say that I agreed with much of what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, said about the proposals. Certainly I did not disagree with much and I agreed with almost everything—and this augurs well for the alliance—that the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said. I agreed with everything in his speech and I venture only to say that I hope the proposals which this Government present for English criminal justice are a bit better and more impressive than those which 80 they presented for Scottish criminal justice. I am sorry that I was not able to take part at that particular time in the debates on that Bill.
Beyond that I want to speak only upon the Scottish question. I hope that does not sound too insular or inward-looking. But I want to talk about the Scottish question because the only reference to that country in the gracious Speech suggests that either the Government are unaware of what is involved in that question today or they suffer from the illusion that if it is ignored it will go away; and if the latter is the explanation, the very opposite is the case.
Are the Government aware of, are they alert to, the various circumstances which put the integrity of the Union of that country with England under strain, somewhat at risk? Of course it has been under strain before. Indeed, one could make a good historical case for the view that it has been under strain ever since 1707. But it is the combination of circumstances presented in the political and economic climate of today which, if ignored, could lead to the disintegration of that Union. Of course, an unknown, but I think a not insignificant, number of Scots would welcome that. Less acknowledged publicly, quite a number of English would not regard it as a tragedy either. After all, they did not welcome us much in 1603, and they thwarted Jimmy the First's and Sixth's anxiety to achieve a union of the Parliaments then, and I doubt if they would have accepted us in 1707 if they had not been a bit worried about the implications for their northern flank of the old alliance with France.
But, my Lords, while that is all true—and I am not too serious about the last point—there is no doubt that most Scots and English alike would agree that in the world in which we live today political disintegration would be damaging to the peoples of both countries and contrary to their interests. What, then, are the circumstances which in combination, I suggest, are a danger to which the British Government should be alert? First, there is the force of Scottish nationalism, the Scottish National Party with its strident xenophobic fringe. The party and its fringe gain adherents with every failure of British Government, and these are not notably thin on the ground at present. Secondly, there is the acute unpopularity of the present Government in Scotland and the fact that they have the support of only a minority of Scottish Members.
Thirdly—and I say this not in any spirit at all of offence—there is the inadequate appreciation and understanding among the English ruling classes, be they members of the Conservative Party, of the Labour Party or any other party, of Scottish history and aspirations, and this contributes to the Scottish view of them as arrogant, overbearing and patronising. Do not let any one think that I am saying that the English are arrogant, overbearing and patronising. It would never occur to me to say this. But this is a widely held Scottish view. And it is not just the view of the football supporter on his way to Wembley, it is not just the view of the Scotsman of Dr. Johnson's writings; it is the view even of responsible and respected Scottish historians like Professor John Mackie. Just in case anyone finds this observation offensive, let me confess that I am perfectly well aware of the English view of the idiosyncracies of my own countrymen, and I can enjoy talking about them as well.
81 The fourth circumstance—and this is the last one I propose to mention—which I suggest gives rise to this strain on the Union is the great illusion of the Scots that a legislative assembly in Edinburgh per se and today—and I emphasise per se and today—would contribute significantly to the alleviation of Scotland's present discontents. Some in Scotland even think it might restore Edinburgh once again to be the Athens of the North, as in the course of the century immediately following the Union she in fact was. Of course, there was a time when Scotsmen of vision within and without the political parties rallied under the banner of home rule. There were those in 1707 who wanted federation, and it may be that had we heeded them and taken a different path in the years before 1914 we would be better governed today and a healthier society socially and politically.
The short point that I seek to make is that, having moved into one of these recurring periods of political instability, after 300 years of integration political and other, if the experience of the last 16 years is anything to go by, any plan for a legislative assembly in Edinburgh, spatchcocked together by any of the political parties we have to catch the votes of the Scots, is more likely than not to carry within it the seed of political disintegration. And yet this illusion that any old assembly in Edinburgh would he better than none persists. It will not die. It has been encouraged by none more than the professional politicians whose shortcomings in those assemblies we already have to go some way to explain the trouble that we are in. I hope I am wrong in seeing some signs that the new party of which I am a member may act to encourage this same illusion. I think I am wrong; I hope I am wrong. The point in the context of this debate is that, while I am glad there is no glib promise of an assembly for the Scots in Edinburgh, there is nothing in the gracious Speech to suggest—and this I think ties up with some remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, made—that the nature and urgency of the Scottish question is appreciated by Her Majesty's Government.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, following the affairs of Scotland, I should like to say a few words about Northern Ireland, to which I think my noble friend Lord Belstead is no stranger. I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Ulster earlier this autumn, and I should like to mention one or two things that I found of really great encouragement. I had the chance of meeting several ex-members of parliamentary organisations, men who had renounced violence and terrorism, and I am glad to say that those I met came from both main communities. I was able to visit Lagan College in Belfast which has been mentioned in your Lordships' House earlier this year. This may not be the first Protestant and Catholic school in Northern Ireland, but it is probably the first to be established by the deliberate wish and intention of the parents concerned. Religious education in Lagan College will not be some compromise syllabus; it will, I understand, offer both traditional and ecumenical teaching, as requested by the parents. The children studying there will, I hope, be the first of many growing up in a Christian atmosphere as members of one undivided 82 community, where each may cherish his own religious tradition.
On another occasion I was able to attend the Saturday evening service of a local Christian fellowship in County Down. It has some 500 members and the membership covers the whole spectrum from Catholic to Evangelical Protestant. The members seemed to me to be mostly in the age group from 18 to 30. I would emphasise that it is not a new sect; it is an example of ecumenical renewal which will in time, with God's help, convert both the leadership and the rank and file of existing denominations.
On several previous occasions—to be precise, on 12th December 1979, 14th February, 11th July and rather more briefly on 25th November of last year—I spoke in your Lordships' House of the politics of forgiveness in relation to Britain, Ireland as a whole and the Irish question. I believe that concept to be a valid one, but I begin now to feel that I was perhaps premature in putting it forward when I did. I think that I should have spoken first of the politics of repentance.
Repentance can be explained in theological terms, but today I would much prefer to refer to it in human terms or, one might even say, in humanist terms. I see repentance as a turning away from an unsatisfying past and present in a deliberate attempt to create a better future. It involves not only the abandoning of entrenched positions, but willingness to compromise and, in addition, qualities of vision, of imagination and of necessarily risky creativity.
Some people may object that repentance is too diffuse or too personal a thing to be translated into politics. I would, therefore, like to point to some examples of the process actually happening in different parts of the world. Since 1945, as we know, the relations between France and Germany and between Germany and Poland have been totally transformed. It might be argued that the process in those countries simply represents a peace of exhaustion after war. If so, I should like to produce some other examples. In 1972 the Addis Ababa Conference brought an end to 17 years of civil war and religious persecution in the South Sudan. In 1979 the Lancaster House Conference here in London gave peace to Zimbabwe after 14 years of illegality and war. Those are instances of countries turning away from self-destruction and coming back, one might say, from the jaws of disaster with—and this is important—the help of some sympathetic outsiders, among whom I would include my noble friend Lord Carrington.
Repentance and reconstruction have many implications for Britain and Ireland and I shall touch on only a few. I hope we in Britain will recognise that our involvement with Ireland over the centuries has caused great injustices and major suffering. I trust that we shall renounce all attitudes of superiority. Some of these still exist, as witness the contemporary Irish jokes that portray Irish people as brainless peasants. We need to accept the Irish as fully human and as being every bit as civilised as ourselves.
In Northern Ireland it would be good to see both sides of debate abandoning harsh moral judgments. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said earlier, there is no excuse for bigotry. One hopes that all parties will accept that there is no immediate agreement on power-sharing or devolved government, 83 and yet at the same time how much one hopes that they will set themselves to work with determination towards agreed solutions within, at the most, 10 to 15 years. An article by Professor Desmond Bowen in the October issue of the Northern Ireland periodical Fortnight stressed repentance and forgiveness. Professor Bowen, I know, is not the only person in that area to emphasise these things.
Again, from the Republic of Ireland there are signs that the politics of repentance are well understood. The Constitution of 1937 is beginning to be seen as part of the overall problem. The laws on divorce and other sensitive matters have been identified as deeply disturbing and, indeed, unacceptable to many northerners. I am sure that our Prime Minister will respond with generosity to the courage and vision of Dr. FitzGerald, when they meet here in London. Both he and his immediate predecessor have advanced considerably the cause of peace.
I come now to the Churches throughout Ireland. With the help of their colleagues in Britain I suggest that they have much to contribute to the whole area of repentance. They will come to see that their past behaviour has exacerbated economic, political and constitutional difficulties. I shall give only two instances: first, the rigid Roman Catholic attitudes over mixed marriages; and secondly, the politico-religious stance of the Orange Order in Northern Ireland. Repentance for the Churches, I believe, means the giving up of attitudes and behaviour which generate fear among other denominations.
I have touched on some of the long-term issues. I shall conclude by putting more immediate points to Her Majesty's Government. I think we have to accept that direct rule will continue for some time. It is up to us to improve its workings. I should like to ask whether the Government would make it possible for Northern Ireland Members of Parliament and perhaps, indeed, some Members of your Lordships' House, to sit and meet for perhaps two weeks a year in Belfast, and maybe even Londonderry. That, I think, could achieve a better scrutiny of local issues and help with the redress of grievances, for direct rule of its nature is bound to appear to many to be both remote and unaccountable.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, mentioned earlier today the proposal for a joint north south court to try fugitive offenders and trans-border offences. I very much hope that this morning's edition of The Times was wrong in what it forecast about such a new court. I beg the Government not to reject out of hand the idea of a joint or mixed court. It is a most serious issue and one that deserves very careful consideration indeed. The Irish question may seem to be a perennial one. I have suggested that there are major signs of hope, and I think that it is up to us to address oursevles, not only to short-term but also to the longer-term approaches to the peace that we all so much desire.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Stewart of Alvechurch
My Lords, I take part in this debate as a governor of an evening institute which, like many other such institutes in this country, undertakes work of great educational and social 84 importance with very little publicity and without the financial support required to meet all the needs of the students. It is my hope that the Government may be able to make larger contributions towards the financial costs of these institutes than has recently been possible.
In the institute of which I am a governor about 9,000 students attend classes in the course of a year; about 11 per cent. of those students are under 20; about 20 per cent. are over 60; the rest represent the ages of all in London. A very wide range of classes is offered, including university extra mural studies, art and pottery, music, cookery and many others, including—and perhaps this is the most important of all—language classes, which meet the needs of many of the students who come from other countries, particularly those who have to learn our language. These classes for illiterates are very much appreciated.
Classes have also been held in local hospitals for long-stay patients. On one occasion I visited a local hospital with a distinguished artist and he spoke to patients. One patient, who was officially bedridden and who had not been up, certainly for months and I think possibly for years, insisted on getting up so that she could paint a picture. That is what she did, and she was up for many weeks, although until that time she had been unable to move about at all. I hope that today, as a result of the painting, she is pretty fit.
My Lords, I am sorry but I seem unable to read what I have written down, which makes life rather complicated. However, one or the great assets of the evening institute is that the students are treated as equals by members of the staff. The works programme, as far as funds will allow, is based on what the students themselves have expressed a wish to join. I am sorry, my Lords, but I am afraid that I cannot continue.
§ 8.35 p.m.
My Lords, at this hour I think that it is too late to make a speech with closely reasoned argument, but I should like to make two brief points on the subject of law enforcement, about which there has been reference in very general terms, during this debate, apparently taking law enforcement for granted as against all the figures and details on the other subjects like the prison population, child delinquents and so on, into which we have gone in some depth. I hope that when we come to debate the Scarman Report we shall get well below the surface, because in my view this House, more so than the other place, ought to be able to help the police service in its present difficulties.
Too many police officers are over-suspicious and they think that no one can usefully judge the police service, its duties and responsibilities unless he has worn blue uniform for half his life. Of course it is an advantage to have had close contact, but police officers, who are not very good at communicating with politicians, encourage the misunderstanding among politicians of themselves and of their problems. Against that background I make my two points.
Frequently we hear about the numbers of the police service in this country; we do not hear very much about training. I think that we ought to take the two together. Young police constables today frequently run into increasing criticism, but they, rather than their seniors, are in contact with the people whom they 85 police and it is they who uphold the high reputation of the British service, not just within this country but overseas as well, and need support.
It must be admitted that the present initial training system has produced miracles in the past, but I am less happy that it is the right beginning for a young man or woman starting a police career, today, not least as the time spent in training, which is approximately three months, is the shortest in Western Europe. I am sure that this should be looked at again. I suggest that we should double this three months to six months and perhaps delay the swearing in process until half way through, when the recruits can have shown not only that they are, in fact, sufficiently interested, but that they are endowed with the qualities that we want young police constables to have. At present, in theory—the public do not realise this, but it is so—a young man or woman has the full powers of a constable the moment he or she has been sworn in, and that is before a single half hour's training. Naturally, forces look after their new recruits and do not let them loose on the public, but it does not seem to me to be quite right that that should he the order of priorities.
I come to my second point, which is at the other end of the spectrum. In making it I may lose the few friends that I have left in ACPO, but I cannot help that; in this place we ought to say what we think. I consider that the present retiring age of 65 for chief constables is too old; it is out of step with the retiring age for other servants of the Crown, and I believe that the Home Office will agree with me on this. The retiring age for major generals is 55 and for ambassadors and senior civil servants it is 60. Yet chief constables, who hold an operational appointment and who are leading, if you do not like the word "commanding", young men are, in fact, appointed until they reach the age of 65, unless they retire on other grounds or unless something happens. Why should new appointments not be made subject to a retiring age of 60? That would not disturb men who are serving now, but it would mean that new appointments are made subject to this earlier and more appropriate retiring rule.
To conclude, I do not believe that either of these measures would need legislation. Both problems have been with us for a long time, long before the Brixton troubles stimulated the appointment of Lord Scarman's and other committees. So I beg the Government to consider both these two points made in haste at the end of this long and interesting debate, and I submit to the Minister that they could be very valuable.
§ 8.39 p.m.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, touched on retirement and it reminded me that I retired in 1974.
Lord Wallace of Coslany
I have found a new lease of life and am working harder than I ever did, even when I was in the Commons. However, that is beside the point. We must get on with the debate because time is short. The first pleasant duty that I have is to compliment and extend my sincere congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Stodart of Leaston, on his maiden speech. Certainly I look forward to further contributions 86 from the noble Lord, especially as he is an old colleague from another place. More particularly, I. cannot wait for the time when he and my noble friend Lord Ross of Marnock are engaged in verbal conflict. It will be worth attending this House just for that particular occasion.
We have had a number of varied speeches, but the main forceful speeches have been on the position of local government. Like many others who have spoken, I have served my term in local government, and still hold the view that anybody aspiring to election to another place should at least serve a term, if only of apprenticeship, in local government, because local government is the grass roots of our system of democracy. Here it is first-hand administration by elected councillors who know their area and its needs. They are close to the feelings and needs of their electorate and, what is more, the pressure of public opinion.
During the period of the Conservative Government of 1970–74 two measures of reorganisation were introduced; that of the National Health Service and that of local government. Both measures provided greater bureaucracy and remoteness of control. Inevitably greater public expenditure arose as a result. Happily, in the past Session the Government repented so far as the health service was concerned and considerable de-centralisation will take place, with, we hope, financial advantage to the service.
Local government, however, remains obstructed and hampered by intimate local issues like social services and education being administered in the main by over-large and remote authorities. Worse still, local authorities are still faced with and are facing increasing Whitehall control and domination. The "local" in local government is being rapidly eroded. In the gracious Speech we are promised further local government legislation which is calculated to extend Whitehall control over rate fixing, and to blackmail local authorities facing severe problems. As a result, it will force reduction in vital services such as welfare, education, housing, and many other vital services.
The proposal for compulsory referenda on supplementary rate increases is an unwarranted attack on the freedom of democratically elected local authorities. I would ask the Government who is going to pay for the cost of this operation? The Government proposals put local democracy in the melting pot, and recast the constitutional relationship between central and local government. I accept that the rating system is overdue for review and change, but direct interference and dictatorship from Whitehall is a retrograde step and will be strongly resisted. Whenever economies are forced upon local authorities the education service appears to be target number one. Today the situation is already critical. Many teachers who leave are not being replaced. Nursery classes are closed down. Many schools are short of basic textbooks. Maintenance is reduced to a minimum, even to the point of absurdity. I speak from some degree of experience because my daughter is a dedicated teacher and she is always bringing home complaints and expressing anxieties about the future. Even paper for children to work on has in many cases become a scarce commodity, as have pencils and pens.
Maintenance neglect is a false economy. One school I know has not had its external paintwork renewed 87 for 13 years. In Bradford two schools will have to be demolished and new ones built because repairs and maintenance have become victims of spending cuts forced by Government policy. What is more serious is that as a result of not replacing teachers who leave, the pupil/teacher ratio is worsening, and in some cases redundancies of teachers are now arising. Since 1979 more than 600 teaching posts have been lost in Kent, and the present outlook is likely to go possibly to another 600 redundancies.
Generally in the country there is already a shortage of teachers in modern languages, maths, science subjects, crafts, and yet when some of these teachers leave they are not even being replaced. This is a very serious situation. The fact is that we face increasing cuts in education forced upon education authorities as a result of the Government's economic policies. Can we afford to be in this position? We are spending less on education than European countries except Ireland and Portugal. Can we afford to be in this position? The answer lies in the fact that, unless we stop this devastation of the prospects of present and future generations of children, the skills needed in an advanced industrial economy will be mainly lost. We must not fail to equip them with the skills so necessary for work and life in the newly dawning techno-electronic age. We have to face up to that fact. I hold the view that a child's education starts at that most important stage, the primary stage, and it is in the primary stage that some of the worst are being made.
There is also, so far as education is concerned, not only the question of the healthy and able-bodied; handicapped children need specialised training after the age of 16. They are among the casualties of spending cuts, and are in urgent need of special provision. This need is underlined by the Manpower Services Commission annual report which showed that the number of disabled unemployed people placed by the Manpower Services Commission fell from 60,000 in 1979–80 to 39,000 in 1980–81. This underlines the need for special provision to be made for the education and training of young handicapped, because young handicapped can perform a vital and useful service. During my holiday I met a young lady who is a spastic. She is a most charming girl, terribly affected by her disability, but doing a first-class job in the Post Office service on checking the errors that computers make, which I felt was a new occupation. There is scope for these people to be useful members of society, but I think as a whole we are all falling down on this particular problem.
So far as housing is concerned it is the view of many of us on this side of the House that housing provisions is an essential social service, with rents geared to need and ability to pay. I put it no higher than that. The fact is that progress in local authority housing development is to all intents and purposes at a standstill. Due to the obsession of the Government with the selling of council houses and their heavy-handed, domineering attitude to local authorities, there is a continued reduction of housing stocks, with the result that the situation is now critical, and is small comfort to the homeless and the overcrowded.
A classic case of domination is close to my heart because it is that of the City of Norwich as reported in 88 the Guardian of 3rd November. It would appear that the Secretary of State for the Environment has warned the city council that his agents, probably local solicitors, will intervene within the next few days to take over the sale of its council houses unless the council gives rapid and firm assurances to do the job itself. I hear a noble Lord say, "Hear, hear!" Well, I dare him to go to Norwich and utter that phrase in the city, because they are a proud and independent people. The city council, I would assure the House, has already engaged extra staff to cope with 800 applications to purchase. But I would remind the House that, although it owns over half the houses in the city, it still has 5,000 people on the waiting-list for accommodation.
Is there to be no end to the bullying and dictatorship from Whitehall of such progressive and well-administered councils as the City of Norwich? I say it is well administered because it is the view of many people involved in local authority affairs that it is a council which has been well run, organised and administered for years.
The proposals in the gracious Speech to shift responsibility for housing benefits from the Department of Health and Social Security to local authorities must constitute an added burden on local authorities and their administrations. It would appear that some 2,000 to 3,000 jobs will be saved by the DHSS; but what effect will that have on the local authorities? The saving by a central Government department will just be put on the backs of local authorities, who are already under severe pressure to make large cuts in expenditure. What is more, the saving of some 3,000 jobs means in human terms an addition to the mounting total of unemployed, with all the anxiety, hardship and misery for the human statistic and his family.
I welcome the proposals in the gracious Speech to bring in legislation to amend the mental health Acts. We on this side must of course give a somewhat guarded welcome because, naturally, we are unaware of the details of the proposed legislation. The House can be assured, however, of a close and constructive examination of the legislation when it comes before us. Meanwhile, I would ask one question: Where will the money come from for this project? Will the extra cash be achieved by reducing allocations to other sections of the National Health Service? Insufficient cash resources continue to restrict services in many health authority areas and the time has arrived for the Government to review cash allocations by regional health authorities, which certainly operate against the needs of London and Greater London.
We are to have yet another social security Bill. With memories of last Session in mind, I had great difficulty in restraining a groan of despair when Her Majesty mentioned that item in Her gracious Speech. Last Session, in the saga of social security legislation, the main theme was the clawback. Will the shortfall be made up? No promises have been made, so none can be kept; we must trust the Government, if trust them we can. Another point affecting social security benefits is that inflation is still far higher than the Government's estimate and looks likely to continue at a high level. What is the Government's 89 estimate now, and what effect on benefits will it have in the future?
The main theme of legislation last Session on social security was that in time of economic strain savings must be made and allsections of the community must make sacrifices. No doubt this Session it will be a case of tell me the old, old story. Of course the Government are facing considerable increases in spending on social security benefits, as they are bound to do with 3 million unemployed and the social consequences of that sad situation. But the spending of many millions of pounds more does not mean social justice in the levels of benefits, or that sacrifices by the poorest sections of the community are just and equitable.
On that theme, we cannot forget that one of the first acts of this Government when taking office was to give over-generous handouts to the better-off. In times of economic stress, such as today, it is the vulnerable sections of the community who suffer most from economy measures, however small on paper and in the statistics they appear to be. In times of unemployment, sickness, disability or low pay, a reduction of income, however small, can only but increase misery and hardship. In such cases there can be no equality of sacrifice. For people in those categories it is impossible to speak in such terms.
The Government's proposal to transfer to employers' the responsibility for the payment of workers' sick pay for the first eight weeks of illness is, of course, an economy measure for the DHSS and the Government, but will it be for the employer? It might well be that the Government will provide for employers to recoup the money paid out from their national insurance contributions. That might be so; but employers with a sizeable workforce will have to engage further staff, and will they be able to recover those costs? And what about small businesses? Will they be able to cope, remembering that they are the people more likely to be hit? There will of course be staff reduction in the DHSS, more recruits to the ranks of the unemployed. Apart from that, the proposal contains a possible threat to industrial relations, for there could, and does, arise a question of dispute between workers and management on issues concerning sick pay. Thus, we shall have to examine the proposals with the greatest possible care.
When people refer to social security, it is in the sense of benefits available, and that is generally accepted to be the case. What is so often overlooked however is the vital part the personal social services, operated by local authorities, play as a back-up in the social security field and the National Health Service. Adequate local social services and housing prevent health problems and reduce demand on the NHS and social security. They are in fact an investment, yet those services are now being drastically cut. Local authorities are at their wits end in trying to maintain a reasonable standard of personal social services. Already, severe cuts have been forced on local authorities. Some have resisted severe cuts and are now facing penal measures for overspending. Further pressure by central Government on local authorities could lead to the widespread closure of old people's homes, children's homes, day centres, fewer home helps and reductions, some of which have already taken place, in services for the sick, disabled and the mentally handicapped.
90 This is not alarmist talk. In a debate last Session on the social services I gave factual figures of reductions already forced on Kent County Council, which included reduced provision for the elderly and terminally ill and the abolition of aid for holidays for the physically handicapped, along with many other items, amounting to a cut of £1.4 million for 1981–82 to meet Government-imposed cash limits.
I could say much more but time does not permit. By nature I am an optimist and, to a great extent, somewhat of an idealist. I really wish I could share in the optimism of the Prime Minister in the speech she made yesterday, but I cannot. The fabric of our society has been shattered and we are a divided nation in a troubled world. The mounting total of unemployed, especially among the young, is breeding resentment and bitterness. The Government cannot escape from the fact that their policies have played, and are playing, a large part in this situation. Monetary policy may in theory be right, but in practice it brings despair and lack of human understanding. There is, there must be, a better way and I earnestly pray that we might find it. Find it we must, but in the present Government I can find no trust.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, this has been a wide-ranging debate and we welcome to it my noble friend Lord Stodart, who spoke for the first time in your Lordships' House. My noble friend has had a distinguished career in another place, as both a Scottish Minister and an agricultural Minister, and he spoke today of the forthcoming Bill to implement the conclusions of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Local Government in Scotland. It is a rare opportunity for a noble Lord to be enabled to make a maiden speech in this House on the report of a committee of which he has been chairman. It was a pleasure to listen to my noble friend, and I am sure we all hope that he will return soon to speak again, not perhaps confining himself to the interesting subject of local government in Scotland, but possibly branching out into rather wider areas.
The gracious Speech makes reference to the importance of the fight against inflation. In the interests of this country, for the protection of the savings of every family, we must never lose sight of this objective, even though it places constraints upon us all. I found very interesting the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, and although he has had a long experience of local government, he seems to have a fine disregard for the need to harbour any resources in any area of public expenditure whatsover. As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said, the truth of the matter is that it is the product of industry from which all public expenditure must come, and despite the constraints on public expenditure which are therefore inevitable at the present time, there are areas in the field covered by today's debate which are attracting substantial Government support.
Three weeks ago my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that the Secretary of State for the Environment will continue for a further 12 months his especial interest in the problems of Merseyside. The Secretary of State will be assisted by a task force from the Environment, Industry and Trans 91 port Departments and from the Manpower Services Commission. At the same time a group of managers seconded from two dozen leading financial institutions will also be looking at ways of improving co-operation with the private sector in Merseyside, and the Government will consider how the work of these two groups can be adapted and extended to other inner city areas.
The gracious Speech also makes it clear that the Government's policies will seek equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for all the people of this country. Another example of Government support which is at present going on is the urban programme, which continues to be of considerable benefit to ethnic minority groups. More than 350 projects specifically for the ethnic minorities are being funded at the present time, and the Government are considering how best the urban programme may be used to combat racial disadvantage, especially in the light of the report of the Home Affairs Sub-Committee of another place on Race Relations and Immigration.
Several of your Lordships spoke of the effects of unemployment at the present time. I have in mind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, my noble friend Lady Macleod of Borve, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Worcester, who, in addition to his episcopal experience, also speaks from his experience as a Manpower Services Commission chairman in the West Midlands, an experience that we shall he very sorry to lose from your Lordships' House. For the present and the future the education and training of young people is of vital importance. I know that those were the thoughts that were very much behind the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch. The Youth Opportunities Programme has therefore been expanded to 550,000 places in the current year, and only yesterday in another place my right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced that the number of trainees in the Youth Opportunities Programme rose by 55,000 last month. Within the next two or three months, I understand, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Employment expects to be able to announce a more comprehensive training scheme for unemployed young people, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, welcomed.
But surely the way to overcome the unemployment that is hitting all developed countries of the Western world is through a combination of special employment measures, the creation of genuine jobs at home, and export-led growth abroad. There are encouraging signs at the present time that productivity is increasing and that unit costs have been kept down. This is the policy which we believe is right for the future, and it is one that we shall continue to follow.
In speaking of young people, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, also spoke specifically about education, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Stewart of Alvechurch. Here again, the Government are providing for an additional £60 million for next year for full-time education for 16 to 19-year-olds, with further expenditure to be devoted in the two years thereafter. I think it right that these facts should be placed on the record, to show that this is what we are endeavouring to do.
92 In addition, the gracious Speech also records the importance which the Government attach to the requirements of law and order. Since May 1979 the police service in England and Wales has increased in strength by 7,000; that is, 7,000 more policemen and policewomen throughout England and Wales. Nearly all forces are now up to strength, and the numbers in the Metropolitan Police stand at the highest point in the history of the force.
I do not in any way dissent from the view expressed by my noble friend Lord Inglewood about the importance of training, but I believe that the increase in the numbers of police over the past two and a half to three years has been of crucial importance in terms of the serious disturbances in public order which we experienced during the summer. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has previously set in hand important studies in the fields of public order legislation and racial attacks, as well as the inquiry of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scarman, into the disorders in Brixton last April. I think that all of that is important in the area to which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred when he expressed disquiet about the uncertainty and indeed the fear which certain minorities can feel at present. Speaking of those various studies, I know that your Lordships will wish to take serious account of each of those reports as they are completed during this Session. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, asked me specifically about progress with the Scarman Report, which has indeed been presented to the Home Secretary. My right honourable friend hopes to make it available as quickly as possible.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, that answer is a little discouraging. We know that, in Parliament, "as quickly as possible", covers almost eternity.
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to assure the noble and learned Lord that in this case my words mean exactly what they say. At the same time, there has been a steady increase in the strength of the probation service. Your Lordships might be interested to know that there was a 3 per cent. increase in the number of probation officers recorded between 1979 and 1980 and a 7 per cent. increase in the number of ancillaries. At the same time, the number of offenders put on probation rose by 22 per cent., but that, of course, for the first time, reversed several years of decline in the number of probation orders made.
In that same period, the numbers dealt with by community service orders went up by 44 per cent. So I am not in any way saying to the House that there is not a huge amount of work for the probation service to do, but I am saying to your Lordships that at a time when it has been extremely difficult to do other than look very critically at the posts in the public service and in local authority services, the number in the probation service has been going up steadily, although not sharply, and we are continuing to make provision for an increase in numbers.
During this time the Government have always encouraged alternatives to custody. Over the last two years, for instance, the number of attendance centres for young people, for girls as well as boys, has been increased by more than 30, so that today there 93 are some 112 of these centres in different parts of the country.
We have also taken, I think, two practical steps to combat the misuse of alcohol, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, referred—a continual and increasing problem which has faced successive Governments over the years. Some time ago, with money specifically set aside by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, a shelter was opened in Birmingham to which drunken offenders can be taken as an alternative to arrest and prosecution, and we have plans for the opening of a second such shelter. But, also, during last Session Parliament passed the Licensing (Alcohol, Education and Research) Act which established the Alcohol, Education and Research Fund, which is to be under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Windlesham. This is a fund which is going to have an initial capital of £2 million, which will be released through the offices of the Brewers' Society but which becomes available because of the legislation to which I have referred. I understand that the fund can expect to receive additional funds over the time from the drinks industry, and I very much hope that it is a fund which is going to provide a practical eontribution to the alleviation of alcohol misuse at a time when it is not easy, as it has not been easy in previous years, to lay our hands on money for these purposes.
In this Session legislation will be introduced to improve the criminal justice system—a matter to which most of your Lordships have referred it will, we intend, be a Bill which will give effect, among other things, to the proposals published in the White Paper on Young Offenders last autumn. The Bill will give the courts more flexible powers in sentencing young offenders when there is no alternative to a custodial sentence.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, said that he would welcome a tidying up of the indeterminate sentence of borstal training. Section 3 of the Criminal Justice Act 1961 will be repealed, and the present measures of borstal and imprisonment as separate disposals will be replaced by the single determinate sentence of youth custody. We believe that this will have the advantage of giving the courts the responsibility for reflecting the seriousness of the offence in the length of the sentence; and we shall not, of course, lose the benefits of borstal régimes in the training aspects of youth custody—a sentence which I understood from your Lordships' speeches was pretty generally welcome this afternoon.
But this does not mean that the Government are trying to make a move towards longer or more frequent periods of custody for young offenders. The detention centre order will be retained, but with a minimum, now, of three weeks' detention. On this particular point, to which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, referred, I think it is fair for me to say that there is a growing awareness of the need for shorter sentences, and that, of course, is the purpose of reducing the threshold of the detention centre sentence.
The residential care order, and what we have called a strengthened supervision order, which I bracket together only because they will both depend upon the necessary resources being available, will both, I belive, in their different ways, give the courts more confidence that they can deal with young offenders in such a way as to prevent their going too far down the 94 road of crime. May I just say to the noble Lord, Lord Aylestone, that again the Government in no way dissent from the expression of view of the noble Lord that the place for a child is at home; but the residential care order as it was envisaged in the White Paper, of course, would have been for children who are already in care for offenders and who then commit an imprisonable offence, and it is very difficult in some cases, at any rate to know what should then be done with them. We propose for this legislation also the extension of community service orders for 16-year-olds and the introduction of stronger and clearer powers to require parents to shoulder their responsibilities by paying fines imposed on their children in appropriate cases or entering into recognizances to ensure their children's good behaviour.
My noble friend Lady Faithfull referred to the need for courts in their discretion to require fathers as well as mothers to attend—a good practice which my noble friend Lady Macleod said that she always endeavoured to see occurred before the bench on which she was for many years chairman. I accept the soundness of the advice of my noble friend Lady Macleod, but may I say that the financial proposals for penalties for parents which my noble friend was not so keen on would be also at the court's decision and the court's decision should be brought into effect only in appropriate cases. The need to reduce pressure on the prison system is one of our foremost priorities. I should like to say that to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, to whom I am grateful, as are the Government, for the way in which he spoke about this ever-present problem. The House might he interested to hear that at a time of the year, namely, the autumn, when I understand that habitually the prison population is very high, it has shown some reduction and now stands at under 44,000. But that is far too high none the less for the available accommodation. A series of reports, including the report of the Home Affairs Committee of another place and the Parliamentary All-Party Penal Affairs Group, has shown unanimously that the demands upon the prison service must be brought more into line with the resources available. We now have a programme for new prison building. Starting this year, we are starting six new prisons within the next three years but each of these new establishments has to be built, and meanwhile the pressures are great.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, is the noble Lord able to say anything about the early release of short-term prisoners to which the Home Secretary attached such great importance?
§ Lord Belstead
My Lords, it was in this context that the Home Office report on the parole system canvassed a proposal for a scheme of supervised release for short-term prisoners only, to which I was just coming and about which I see that I have a note saying, "The noble and learned Lord Lord Elwyn-Jones, asked specifically…" If I may say a word about this, this is a proposal which the noble and learned Lord spoke about and which has attracted support from the House of Commons Select Committee, but, at the same time, it is a fact that those responsible for sentencing, the Magistrates' Association and members 95 of the Judiciary have expressed concern about the gap that could be created automatically between the nominal and the real effect of custodial sentences and that the introduction of such a scheme could lead to an increase in the length of sentences.
If that were the case, such a move would run counter to the trend towards shorter sentences which the courts are undoubtedly giving in appropriate cases. It is in this context therefore that the Government are considering also what legislation to introduce in this area. In particular we are re-examining the case for implementing Section 47 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 which provides for the partial suspension of sentences. I realise that there have been fears in the past and which were voiced in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, that this is a provision which could be used as an alternative to wholly suspended sentences; but in the present climate of judicial opinion which has shown clearly a determination to reduce the length of sentences in appropriate cases, there are grounds for believing that Section 47 could be a valuable additional power for the courts.
If I may leave that area of the gracious Speech and go to another, your Lordships have had plenty of experience of a heavy weight of legislation towards the end of a parliamentary Session. I hope your Lordships will welcome a major Bill to be introduced, I understand next week, into this House on the subject of mental health which will be designed to amend the Mental Health Act 1959—a piece of legislation referred to by my noble friend Lord Auckland as being a Bill of major importance. Its objectives will be to clarify the legal position of staff (a matter about which my noble friend asked specifically) and will provide stronger safeguards against detaining people who need not be detained in hospital or who are sufficiently recovered to return to ordinary society.
It is a Bill which will take into account some of the conclusions and recommendations of the Butler Report and will also reflect an extensive process of consultation on mental health matters generally which has taken place over the past few years. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, asked where the money was to come from. If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, perhaps he will wait and look at the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. I think that is the only answer that I can give tonight.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, asked me about the case which has been before the European Court of Human Rights. I understand that judgment was delivered today. I am not aware that we in the Government departments in London know what the effect of the judgment was, but I should like to say to the noble Lord that the Government will wish to give urgent consideration to the terms of this judgment before deciding what legislative changes may be necessary to comply with its terms.
If I may end by trying to reply to some of the points which your Lordships have put, there was a particular point which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, asked about regarding the product of a penny rate for parish councils. She referred to a view which was expressed by my noble friend Lord Bellwin. The best thing for me to do is to draw my noble friend's attention to the point made by the noble Baroness and to ask him 96 whether he would contact the noble Baroness on that matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Wigoder, and the noble Lord Lord Mishcon, drew attention to the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedure—the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, talking particularly about pre-trial procedures. Without going into any detail, this was a report published in January. The Home Office sent out a consultative memorandum on 9th August inviting comments from a wide range of interested organisations by 9th October this year. We recognise that the deadline for comments was a demanding one. I am pleased to say that, notwithstanding that, a considerable number of organisations and individuals have submitted comments. We are very grateful for those efforts and must now consider as quickly as possible what has been said.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, raised the question of the Law Commission's proposals for the ownership of the matrimonial home. As the noble and learned Lord reminded us, the Matrimonial Homes Co-ownership Bill, which was designed to implement the Law Commission's recommendations in book 1 of their third report on family property, was introduced by the noble and learned Lord and received a Second Reading in February 1980. It was subsequently withdrawn so as to enable the Law Commission to consider the implications which a decision by an Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House, in a case called Williams & Glyn's Bank v. Boland, had for their recommendations relating to protecting the rights of co-owners and their work on land registration. The Government will consider this matter once the Law Commission have submitted their advice on the Boland problem. I cannot hold out any prospect for a Government Bill on this matter, not least because there can be no question this Session of providing time for it.
Several of your Lordships—and finally the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—spoke about the position so far as the gracious Speech is concerned with local government. I take the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that controlling the level of rates by central Government is a matter which is sensitive and difficult. But I find it hard to agree that very high increases in spending by a few local authorities is something to which in some way the Government are supposed to be indifferent.
I should like to assure my noble friend Lady Platt that the Government are well aware that the majority of local authorities have played their part conscientiously in contributing to the reductions in public expenditure which are essential for economic recovery. The Government welcome and appreciate their efforts. Yet those efforts—considerable in many cases—are threatened by the irresponsible minority of authorities which persist in planning for increases in expenditure despite the economic realities which we face.
I am a resident in Central London and I understand that the London boroughs are about to receive a substantial supplementary rate demand. For some people this is going to mean real hardship—and also for industry. What an encouragement! I know that the noble Baroness speaks with very deep and long experience of local government. But that is not exactly synonymous with the trust and confidence 97 which the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, spoke about in connection with local government and not to my mind, as a resident in Central London, exactly playing the game.
The measures announced by the Secretary of State for the Environment at the end of September are intended as a more selective and equitable response to the over-spending authorities rather than across-the-board pressure on all authorities, regardless of whether or not they are at fault, which has been the system in previous years. My right honourable friend's plans envisage that in the highest spending local authorities accountability to the electorate should be increased and there should be a degree of protection for non-domestic ratepayers in such authorities. My noble friend Lady Platt asked that the views of the local authority associations should be taken into account. The local authorities were consulted about the details of the scheme in October. Their comments are now being evaluated and will be taken into account in the formulation of any legislative proposals.
May I finally come to two questions which were asked of me about Northern Ireland. My noble friend Lord Hylton put forward an idea for a joint committee of both Houses, sitting on Northern Ireland matters in Belfast. I must say that is certainly a novel idea and I think we would like to consider it; but I have to say that the main priority in seeking political development in Northern Ireland at the present time must surely be to give responsibility for the Province's pressing social and economic affairs back to locally-elected representatives.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked me specifically about the closure of the P and 0 ferry service between Liverpool and Belfast. The decision to end that service was taken by the company for commercial reasons. I know the noble Lord's view about this, but the Government, although much regretting the decision, must respect it and they feel they cannot subsidise merchant shipping interests. However, a number of alternative operators have expressed a positive interest in reopening the service, and the Government are hopeful that a new Liverpool-Belfast ferry service can be provided on a sound commercial basis.
Today's debate has covered a very wide field and I am probably guilty of not having answered even more questions. However, I believe there is a single theme to all the different legislative proposals in the gracious Speech. They are designed to bring improvements which are desirable and practicable and for which we can find the resources without returning to the old ways of stoking up inflation. That, my Lords, is the way to proceed.
§ Lord Denham
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Carrington, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned until Tuesday next.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until Tuesday next.—(Lord Denham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.