§ 3.11 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on 6th May last by the Baroness Carnegy of Lour—namely, That a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
§ "Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
My Lords, it is both an honour and a pleasure for me to have the opportunity of opening your Lordships' debate today on the gracious Speech, with particular reference to home and social affairs and education. I follow a number of distinguished contributions to the debate on the gracious Speech. I would like to pay my own tribute to my noble friends Lady Carnegy of Lour and Lord Renfrew, who respectively moved and seconded that a humble Address be presented to Her Majesty. My noble friend Lady Carnegy offered us a wide ranging perspective of some of the problems we currently face at home and overseas, as also did my noble friend Lord Renfrew, and we listened particularly to his views on education. I am sure I am not alone in the House in harbouring a slight tinge of regret that my noble friend Lord Renfrew did not speak to us in the uniform of an RAF flying officer. Both speakers drew specific attention to a part of our United Kingdom that is very close to my own heart; namely, Scotland. There is a challenge here for the 237 whole of the United Kingdom and one which is taken very seriously by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
I have also had the pleasure of listening to a number of maiden speeches from noble Lords and would like to assure all our "maidens", of both sexes, that your Lordships will expect no more than a continuation of the high standards they have already set. We look forward to maiden speeches today from my noble friend Lord Lucas and the noble Lord, Lord Rix.
Before I begin, I would like to apologise for the fact that I am unable to be present for the whole of the debate. I have an engagement this evening with a professional body in my area of responsibility which I accepted some months ago and which I should like to fulfil. I hope to be present for as much of the debate as I possibly can.
This Government have been returned to office on the basis of a manifesto full of ideas designed to widen choice, extend opportunities and increase a sense of personal responsibility. We live in a rapidly changing world and we must build a society in which our citizens are ready and able to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.
The Government are committed to continuing the fight against crime and the promotion of law and order. The Government recognised public anxiety at some well publicised miscarriages of justice and acted promptly to establish the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in March 1991. A very tight timetable has been set for its deliberations and we expect a report by June 1993. The Government will give very careful consideration to the commission's findings and will not hesitate to introduce any measures which are necessary to improve still further our criminal justice system.
The Government are well aware of the threat posed, especially to our young people, by the trafficking and misuse of drugs. The financial stakes in this deeply abhorrent trade are very high. We propose to bring forward a Bill to strengthen our powers to deal with financial crime, including the strengthening of confiscatory powers against drug traffickers. This Bill will also enable us to implement two important Community directives on money laundering and insider dealing and will extend the power of our courts to deal with international fraudsters.
The Government have made clear their commitment to the provisions of the Asylum Bill that fell at the end of the last Parliament. Legislation on asylum will be reintroduced at an early opportunity. Asylum applications reached 45,000 in 1991. Numbers have dropped back in recent months but remain five times higher than five years ago. Most are not genuine refugees. Additional staff and tighter new procedures have already had an impact but much remains to be done and we cannot afford to relax.
We are determined to secure an asylum system which ensures that genuine refugees are properly protected while minimising the opportunities for abuse. The legislation will play a key part in a package of measures to achieve that goal. The Government 238 have already provided substantial additional resources for determination of asylum applications. The Home Office will be spending some £40 million this year on dealing with asylum applications. The Bill will complete the process of streamlining procedures and will ensure that that money is well spent.
The central provision is a new avenue of appeal in all cases, giving additional protection to genuine refugees and allowing greater speed and finality in decision-making. Strict time limits will minimise delays and allow for the speedy rejection of clearly unfounded cases. In addition, the legislation will provide power to take the fingerprints of all applicants to ensure that they can be properly identified. Many deliberately dispose of their passports and some make several applications in false names as a basis for benefit fraud. The Bill will also limit the duties of local authorities under the homelessness legislation in relation to asylum seekers.
The Government will introduce a Bill to facilitate the work of the parliamentary boundary commissions and ensure that the next general election is fought on up-to-date boundaries. The 1992 general election was fought on constituencies whose boundaries were drawn, for England, on the basis of 1976 electorates, which means that they could be 20 years out of date by the time of the next election. That would be intolerable. Population changes since that date have caused wide disparities in constituency electorates, and in England these now range from just over 42,000 to more than 100,000.
This Bill will set a new statutory timetable for completion of the review in each part of the United Kingdom. Current legislation allows until 1998 to do that, although the commissions already aim to report earlier than that. This Bill will also shorten the interval between reviews. The cause of the present problem is that the commissioners are required to report at intervals of not less than 10 or more than 15 years since their last report. That is too long, and this Bill will shorten the interval to eight to 12 years.
A part of the Government's programme to widen choice and extend opportunities will be to introduce a Bill to establish a national lottery to raise money for good causes. The proceeds of the national lottery will be used to support projects of lasting benefit to the whole nation in the world of sport, the arts, our national heritage, charities and a new Millennium Fund. The potential benefits of a national lottery have been widely welcomed. I am also very personally aware of the fears that have also been expressed about the prospect of a government encouraging gambling and I have considered that point very carefully. Successive governments have taken the view that adults should be free to gamble if they thought it right to do so. The decision whether or not to do so is a matter of personal responsibility which cannot be escaped. The legislation will provide for the lottery to be carefully regulated to ensure that it is honestly and fairly run. Without a lottery of our own there is a risk of increasing expenditure on foreign lotteries in support of projects abroad rather then good causes here at home.
239 A White Paper has been issued setting out initial thoughts on how the lottery might operate and inviting comments on a number of key aspects. The Government will be ready to listen to a wide range of views and to consider proposals on all aspects of its operation before deciding how to take this forward. We hope for a full response during the consultation period on the White Paper.
The Government wish to further choice in the education system. The Government believe that the benefits of self-government enjoyed by grant-maintained schools should be accessible to all maintained primary and secondary schools. A Bill will be introduced in the autumn to extend choice and diversity in education. Details of the Bill will be set out in a White Paper to be published by the end of the summer. It will set out the Government's proposals for the future funding and organisation of grant-maintained schools. The Government will implement their commitment to enable small schools to apply for grant-maintained status in groups. The number of grant-maintained schools is expected to increase significantly over the next few years. The Government's plans will provide for the standards of education to be raised for all schools.
The Government will continue to build a modern National Health Service which is responsive to the needs of patients. I am glad to say that 156 trusts are now established, representing over one third of NHS hospital and community health services. No fewer than 153 hospitals and other units are keen to join next year. Patients are already seeing the benefits in shorter waiting times for appointments, improved facilities and new services. Over 3,000 GPs are now in charge of their own budgets, and many more practices have declared their interest in fund holding. Fund-holders are treating patients more efficiently and winning benefits for their patients, benefits which are spreading to all patients.
The Government will pursue their policies on community care. These aim to help all those who need health and social services in the community to lead as independent a life as possible in their own homes or in a homely setting in the community. Your Lordships will recall that my noble friend Lady Brigstocke introduced a Bill to amend the National Health Service and Community Care Act of 1990 in the last Session. That unfortunately fell in another place. The Government have already reintroduced the Bill in your Lordships' House.
The Patient's Charter has already proved a great success. The charter commitment to treating all patients who have been waiting for over two years by the end of March was all but met. The Government will continue to press forward the charter initiative with a view to reducing waiting lists still further, improving services and heightening quality.
The Government will continue to develop health strategies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Green Paper Health of the Nation published last year was widely welcomed, and over 2,100 responses have been received. A White Paper setting out targets for health gain in a number of areas will be published later this year. Such a strategy, aimed 240 at promoting overall good health rather than treating disease and injury, has been made possible by the changes that this Government have introduced.
Turning to the social security system, the gracious Speech emphasised the Government's commitment to the continued modernisation and improvement of the social security system. We are concerned to ensure that the system focuses especially on those areas where the need is greatest and wide-ranging reforms introduced in 1988 were a significant move in that direction.
The Government are committed to maintaining the success of personal pension policy. Personal pensions have brought real choice into pension provision and since 1988 over 41 million people have set up their own pensions. We aim to ensure that the vast majority of personal pension holders find it advantageous to maintain their pensions and will introduce legislation to provide a new 1 per cent. additional rebate for holders of personal pensions aged 30 and over from April 1993, when the existing incentive ends.
The variety of measures I have referred to are an ample demonstration of the Government's commitment to better the lot of their citizens and to create a framework in which aspirations may be realised and responsibilities recognised and borne, and I commend that goal to your Lordships.
§ 3.25 p.m.
§ Lord Mishcon
My Lords, if there must be a Conservative Government—if there must—one of the few consolations which my noble friends and I have is to see the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor still sitting on the Woolsack. He has graced that position for some years and we are glad to hear him in good voice and in good form. I am sure that we shall enjoy the speeches of the two maiden speakers this afternoon. Having said that, I have finished all my complimentary remarks.
Sheer humanity makes a decision proper; namely, that with 33 speakers to whom your Lordships are expected to listen, I had better concentrate on one subject only out of the three which your Lordships will be debating today. I refer to home affairs and certain legal aspects which may be relevant to those affairs. Others will be speaking about social affairs and education; in particular, my noble friend Lady Blackstone will be addressing education on which she is such an expert.
In 1992 the gracious Speech must be looked at as coming from a government who have been in power for 13 years. It is not a fresh government taking a fresh look at critical problems; it is a government who have had 13 years to look at vital social aspects of our national life, embracing many matters about which citizens are worried. When one looks at the gracious Speech from that point of view it is a little disappointing, if I may use an understatement.
With that in mind I turn to the question of crime, which the noble and learned Lord in his interesting address touched on —if I remember correctly—in but one sentence before going on to consider the aspect of miscarriages of justice. During the 13 years of which I speak, crime in this country more than doubled. In the 241 year 1990–91 it rose between 16 and 17 per cent. Interpol figures indicate that England and Wales had the highest crime rises in the EC between 1980 and 1990.
I turn for a moment to a topic on which the noble and learned Lord did not touch at all; namely, prisons. Another record has been established by the United Kingdom. It has the highest prison population relevant to overall population of any EC country. The rate of recidivism is alarming. There have been 13 years in which to plan and think. There has been the Woolf Report to help in the thinking during recent years. What does the gracious Speech say? It is easy to read it because it is so short:Action will be taken to combat crime and promote law and order".Let the trumpet sound at this world-shaking expression of policy to deal with a critical situation!
I ask the noble and learned Lord and the Government: what action is it to which they refer? Is it to be a joint operation and programme of crime prevention between national and local government and the police that we on these Benches have been urging? Are there to be more policemen on the beat? Will local authorities be financed in order to improve lighting in blocks of flats and to supply caretakers and proper security? Will the Woolf Report recommendations be implemented in the battle against recidivism? Will there be proper education and training in the prisons? At long last will the Government recognise the social conditions which play at least some part in the crime rate? Instead of using empty phrases like "the classless society" will the Government recognise the tragedy and the tragic events which flow from a large section of this nation which is "a workless society?"
What is the Government's policy for dealing with the crisis in our national life both as regards, as I have said, crime and prisons? One tragic aspect of all this is the impact of such social conditions on our youth who supply too much of a proportion of the crime statistics. Will the Government look seriously at a recommendation from NACRO made only a day or so ago? It calls on the Government to see to it that positive action is taken to ensure that more from the ethnic minorities become prison officers and probation officers and indeed join all those trying to deal with our crime and prison situation.
I turn to another matter which the noble and learned Lord dealt with at some length—that is to say, the Asylum Bill, which is to be reintroduced. If only the Government would spend as much time and money enabling local authorities to make the various parts of our land attractive to those who want to come here as they seem to be spending on preventing people coming here, we would be a happier country. Obviously, we on this side of the House recognise that there has to be a limit to immigration and that if one does not supply a sensible, reasonable, and civilised limit one walks into grave problems which I need not detail. This country has been proud over the centuries at having an open door, or a door as open as it could be, to those who ask for political asylum.
242 The Government started off by saying that carriers would have to bear very heavy fines if they carried people to this country who had not got proper papers. Everybody knows that if one is dealing with the countries from which refugees flee the last thing in the world that the refugees will get is proper papers. We had to see that Act passed. Are we also to see a Bill passed without amendment where, as on the last occasion when we saw it, there was no legal aid and appeals had to be made within 48 hours by people who did not even know our language in 99 per cent. of cases? We are told that the Government may have seen the light and that there will be amendments on those scores.
Will there also be amendments to provide in the Bill that we shall not have mandatory fingerprinting of those who seek the freedom and liberty which they have been denied and who have faced torture and persecution? Are we to do what we do to criminals; namely, take fingerprints in every case even when there is no suspicion at all? Are we also to deal with other provisions which seem to lack mercy, again a quality for which this country has been so long renowned? I hope that when the Bill comes before this House we shall again show, in the tradition of this House, a spirit of criticism and of due consideration for those, as I say, who knock at our gates and who have no other gates to turn to.
In one moment of his speech the noble and learned Lord referred to wrongful convictions and very properly talked in terms of the Royal Commission which was announced in March of last year. We are told that it will not be reporting until June 1993. We learnt yesterday of the latest in a series of Court of Appeal decisions, not yet absolutely formalised, recognising that a lady who has been in prison for 18 years and more should never have been sent there. That case is the latest in a history which does not bring credit on the system that we have.
I also have to bring before the House a figure which many Members of this Chamber may not know of. I am told that there are 700 to 800 cases concerning what may well be wrongful convictions which are now in the pipeline. They are not going to reach the Court of Appeal for possibly two years, maybe longer in many instances. I plead with the Government and certainly with the noble and learned Lord. If we have to wait until June 1993 for the report, then debate it and see what legislation we can get as a result of the recommendations of the report, that is too late. We cannot afford that time. Surely something can be done to speed up the hearings and investigations of those cases so that we do not have more injustices as headlines in our newspapers which are then copied by newspapers abroad to, if I may say so, the glory—the undeserved glory—of the IRA.
I turn lastly to the security services and to the question of terrorism. Your Lordships will be delighted to know that the nation has now been informed that MI6 does exist. That announcement has been made and, as a result of the great openness on the part of the Government, we now know who the heads of MI5 and MI6 are. They are to be given some statutory basis. But are they to be made subject to 243 parliamentary accountability? We on these Benches have pleaded for that. I hope that they will be made subject to such accountability. However, there is something more serious than that—a current topic—that your Lordships and the Government will have to consider. I refer to the announcement that MI5 is now to take over from Scotland Yard's Special Branch the headship, if I may call it that, of matters relating to the IRA. Is that a sensible thing to do? I take the liberty of quoting from the editorial in The Times on Saturday, only because the editor puts it much better than I do. The Times stated:The demotion of special branch is a mistake. The IRA is a Northern Irish gangster culture whose activities in Britain are, and should he treated as, those of common criminals. The existing directive of MI5 grants to the IRA the glamour of seeking to 'undermine or overthrow democracy'. The IRA is accorded this quasi-political status largely because ministers are fed up with the police and have decided to let MI5 off the leash. Mr. Major's decision is also a crude comment on the better 'class of mind' (or class of person) the MI5 offers to susceptible ministers".There follows a passage I want to emphasis to your Lordships because it seems to have much wisdom attached to it.If the civilian police and the judiciary are failing to contain the IRA in Britain, then they should be reformed, not supplanted by an agency used to operating on the outer fringes of legitimacy. Counter-terrorism has done much damage to Britain's reputation for sound justice and human rights, both through 'temporary' emergency powers and through wrongful convictions".I hope that your Lordships' House will have the opportunity to debate what will be a serious move unless there is the strict accountability for which we on these Benches have always asked in regard to the security services.
If I may, I shall close on a personal note. I am giving a personal view. I have often thought that the neutrality that is such an essential part of our tradition of the monarchy would be preserved and, indeed, enhanced if, at the end of the gracious Speech, Her Majesty would add the words, "My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, this that I have read is what my Government have to say. I now give you, my Lords and Members of the House of Commons, the comments of the Opposition upon what I have just read out." If that had occurred in the Speech which Her Majesty so graciously read out, upon this occasion the Speech would not only have been as gracious as it was, but it would have had a much more intelligent and useful content.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, we meet today to pick up the debate that we have conducted during the general election campaign throughout the country. As a result, we have a distinguished and lengthy group of speakers on the subjects that we are discussing. We have already heard a welcome for the return to the Woolsack of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and have heard his exposition. We have also heard the helpful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, with almost all of which I agree. We look forward in the course of this debate to hearing two maiden speeches from two very distinguished Members of your Lordships' House.
244 The area that I shall cover will be limited because the subject for today's debate is wide. My noble friend Lord Donaldson will be speaking about a number of subjects, including prisons. My noble friend Lord Holme will be speaking about secrecy and security—about both sides of that particular coin. My noble friend Lord Addington will be speaking about education, and my noble friend Lord Winstanley, will, I imagine, be speaking about everything as he replies to the debate with, I hope, particular reference to housing, which is one of the subjects that I should have liked to tackle but for which I shall not have the time.
I have taken an active part in almost every general election since 1964. Before that my experience was limited to standing on the balcony of an inn in the market square of Aylesbury while my father suggested to the electors that since they had elected him in 1935 by a majority of over 20,000, I might well be their next Conservative Member of Parliament when he finally passed on. That fate was not in store for me, but I have taken a major part in elections since 1964. I do not think that I have ever taken part in an election in which I thought that the issues were so fairly put before the people and where people really did know for what the three parties stood. With the exception of some rather scandalous Conservative advertising, much of which still remains on the billboards so that we can see it and continue to register our dislike of that kind of negative approach to politics, it was also a very fair election.
However, it was also a very middle-class election. The concerns of the 20 per cent. of the population who are poor and unemployed were hardly dealt with. As the advisers who have more and more power over politics say, "There isn't much sex appeal in poverty". I do not except my own party from that stricture. It is true of all the parties. In the past two or three days Church Action on Poverty has published a series of letters to the Prime Minister by several spokesmen of one kind or another, of all parties and of none, who are very concerned about poverty. When I reached the letter from the director of the Catholic Institute for International Relations I came across a passage dealing with constitutional safeguards. He continued:You will begin to think I am a crypto-member of the Liberal Democrats. To disabuse you, my second appeal is that you make an absolute priority of tending to the needs of the poorest 10 per cent. of our society".I was ashamed that there was sufficient truth in that remark that I could not actually refute it out of hand. The Labour Party, I am afraid, also did not live up to its reputation as a defender of the poor. We were all talking about the things which affect the middle classes. We were all talking about mortgages and such like. Very little was said about homelessness.
It is important that in this debate today we mention some of the things which hardly appear in the Queen's Speech. Now that the election is past it is time to put poverty and unemployment forcefully on the agenda. Both the parties on this side of the House have traditionally a great interest and a great tradition in dealing with this matter and standing up for the poor. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, gave prominence to the problem. The Conservative Party, 245 although this has never been one of its major interests, has nevertheless had a tradition of standing up for one nation, for trying to have a society where the rich and poor were bound together, the Disraelian tradition which stems from his novel Sybil. In the Queen's Speech, however, I can see nothing about unemployment; I can see nothing about housing; and there is only one paragraph on social security. So now is the time to start this debate again. My noble friend Lord Russell will be raising the matter in your Lordships' House on 3rd June and I hope that a number of your Lordships will take part in that debate. But it is important that we spell out at this moment some of the major problems which have been dodged.
I draw the attention of the House to the Eighth Report of the Social Security Advisory Committee which some noble Lords will have read. It comes from a distinguished group of persons who have no particular political axe to grind. The committee deals with one of the areas on which I wish to touch—the exclusion of 16 to 17 year-olds from income support. For a non-partisan body, what it has to say is extremely damning and demands a reply from the Government. I gave the Minister notice that I would be raising this matter today. The committee says that it has been told by both local offices and careers service staff in some areas that they viewed the exclusion of 16 to 17 year-olds from income support as not only harsh but unnecessary. No one is in favour of it. The report states:We would strongly recommend, yet again, that the DSS reviews the procedures for young people claiming income support and makes changes that will ensure that those who are suffering hardship may claim benefit without having to deal with complicated and, in our view, unnecessary and daunting procedures. In particular, having established hardship, the money should be available immediately and not one or two weeks hence".That is merely one of the areas which calls out for reform. It is hoped that the rather bland paragraph in the gracious Speech on social security and the hardly more specific remarks of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will be interpreted to include that point.
There is a much wider field of poverty to be tackled. There is the whole field which exists in large portions of the country where there is high unemployment, where there is considerable poverty and where there are neglected handicapped minorities—and indeed where they are hardly minorities. Turning again to the publication Dear Prime Minister, I find a contribution from Margaret Nolan. I happen to know Margaret Nolan because we serve together on the executive of Church Action on Poverty, which is one of the few bodies which has on its executive some people who suffer poverty. (It does not entirely rely on professional do-gooders.) She writes about her family. She is a decent, nice and very attractive lady who lives on the Meadow Well Estate in North Shields, an area of considerable poverty. She has five children. She outlines the situation that they all find themselves in. If I may say so without condescension, they have obviously all been extremely well brought up. They 246 have all looked for jobs. The two youngest of both sexes, in spite of having applied for numerous jobs, have been unable to find anything to do. She states:My third daughter is 20 years of age and has never had a job since she left school in 1988. She has applied for hundreds but has not been successful yet—she keeps trying".Two of her children did get jobs in a local factory. The local factory went bust and since then they have not had jobs.
The gracious Speech says nothing about what is happening and what will happen to people in areas of high unemployment. On the housing issue—my noble friend Lord Winstanley will deal with some of these points—it is time that we sent part of the money raised from the sale of council houses back into housing association building and any other form of construction which provides housing for people to rent at reasonable sums. There is an appalling lack of housing for rent. As a result of the gaps we have seen in the gracious Speech there is nothing about those who are leading a terribly deprived life in bed and breakfast hotels. Anyone who has visited such places would not wish our fellow citizens to be so condemned.
In coming to a close—I am aware of the number of very able speakers who are due to speak—I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to Hardship Britain which arrived on my breakfast table this morning from the Child Poverty Action Group. It spells out the problem in the words of the people concerned. I said that one of the problems about the election was that it was a middle-class election. One of the problems of our society is that it excludes the people who really have experience. But at least some of the experience is gathered together in reports such as these. The report quotes a Mrs. Denton as saying:You can't go to the adventure playground over there because of the drug users, you can't go over there because of the neighbours, they can't play football in the streets because of the motors, there's nothing left for them … I feel rotten that I'm having to ground them for disobeying us, because they only want to play".Is that a way to bring up children? The same family is a good example of hardship. Its members suffer from great ill health. However, that does not make them exceptional; it merely means that poverty causes ill health and that ill health in its turn causes more poverty. Two of the four children wet the bed, one has eczema and another asthma, while another has been told to follow a high-fibre diet. They say:Josie … was bedwetting and we couldn't afford to put on the immersion heater for a bath in the morning, so she was having a wash down. But she wasn't washing herself properly so they were getting a smell of urine off her".She was being tormented at school about that. The family cannot afford to change Damian's clothes every day, which has been recommended for his eczema, nor to give Josie her high-fibre diet.
That is not the kind of thing that should be happening in a society such as ours. It is not just the squalor; it is the psychological effect that it has. I think that that can largely be summed up in the chapter in the report called "Poor Relations". When we are looking for those titles which spell out two messages, I believe that that is a very good one. It is, among 247 other things, about the feeling that someone has of being a "poor relation", which was spelled out by another generation before ours.
Such people say that there is no choice: "I hate being on the social, but there is no choice". An extract from the chapter describes how a young couple with two children "felt like a change" one night and wanted to go out and have fish and chips. But,that was £6 for supper for the four of us",so they could not do it. How many of your Lordships would like to contemplate an area of life in which £1.50 per head for a meal for your family was something which could not be afforded, even rarely?
Noble Lords opposite are a bit short of legislative steam. I had a regular General Election speech in which I managed to quote almost entirely from the speeches of Bank-Bench Conservative Peers about Bills which their Government had just introduced. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, spoke on the Education Bill and there was also the scorn that was placed on some parts of the Asylum Bill. If they are running out of steam—and I believe that they are—they have the opportunity to try to knit society together so as to resume some of their old tradition. Some of them say that there is no such thing as a society, but most of them know that there is. Even if there is not, they surely can concentrate on the individuals. It is no answer to say that that should be done merely by looking after our neighbour personally, because there are whole areas like the North West and the North East where everyone is more or less in the same boat.
The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, pointed out in a recent publication that it is only declining societies that have a major gap between the rich and the poor which is widening all the time. If I understand him rightly, that was what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was saying just recently in his published remarks about some of the salaries which are paid at the top of our society. It is enormously important that we bind society together and make ourselves into a society in which we can all talk to each other and face each other without shame. That cannot be done unless the Government take this problem by the scruff of the neck and introduce legislation over the next five years—preferably over the next year—to deal with such problems.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, ever since I was admitted to your Lordships' House I have been conscious of a number of similarities between my one-time career as a humble thespian and some of the proceedings that take place in this august Chamber. Not, I hasten to acid, any of the farcical proceedings in which I used to indulge, but the marvellous drama which unfolds here; for example, the pageantry, the costumes, the settings, the customs—indeed the rehearsals which I witnessed last week—and the television lighting that illuminated a very full House which listened with standing room only to the gracious Speech. All those features dredge up, as it were, some long forgotten memories in my psyche.
248 However, as I am sure your Lordships are aware, there are distinct differences. I am told that on this singular occasion I can crave your Lordships' indulgence, which I do with all haste. Such a privilege was certainly never given to me in those far off days at the Whitehall Theatre just a few hundred yards up the road when I faced the critics on the first night. Nor can I remember ever suffering from first night nerves as acutely as I am today, although "first night nerves" is probably a misnomer; perhaps "first matinee nerves" would be more correct.
The time has now come for me to give, as it were, my first performance. I only hope that I may be able to contribute a little from time to time, especially in the fields of disability and the drama. As noble Lords are well aware, any maiden speaker is expected—nay, instructed—to be non-controversial. That, I believe, presents little difficulty in my case, for it is on mental handicap that I wish to speak today. Your Lordships have always been singularly supportive, understanding and constructive in regard to that issue.
Some noble Lords may know that at present I enjoy the privilege of being the chairman of MENCAP, following in the distinguished footsteps of my immediate predecessor, my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale, those of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, (who, in any other circumstances, would surely also be described as my noble friend) and the noble Earl, Lord Longford. The latter could well be forgiven for perhaps allowing that to slip his memory as it is now over 30 years since he held that position.
It is therefore beholden upon me, speaking for myself of course and not MENCAP, and also speaking on behalf of thousands of people with a mental handicap, their families and parents, to comment on current issues in as much as they are included or excluded in the gracious Speech. Some of your Lordships may have seen references in the past few days to a debate about terminology. We in MENCAP have thought long and hard about this and have given the phrase "learning disability" equal status with "mental handicap", at a time when we are also considering changing our logo for something more apposite. We are concerned to keep the acronym of MENCAP and the issues of mental handicap on the agenda in terms and with images which are acceptable to those concerned, but which carry weight with those very ready to ignore the issues.
Today, however, we seem to be in the era of "new-speak" when nascent language accompanies the birth of babies born with disabilities. There are those who argue that the educational term "learning difficulty" is "politically correct" and totally acceptable for adults long past their educational span and with disabilities which in no way can be described in such a euphemistic manner. I find such domineering dogma difficult to accept—particularly the phrase "politically correct".
Nevertheless, I can well understand why there is such sensitivity about language. When our Downs Syndrome daughter came into this world on 3rd December 1951 she was described in an official letter from the Ministry of Health —then situated, somewhat quaintly, in Savile Row—no doubt trying, 249 as it is now, to tailor the National Health Service to the nation's needs—in the following way, in a letter which contained nought for our comfort:You telephoned me on 8th February about the services available for mentally defective children. I am assuming that the mongol child you referred to will not be capable of education within the education system and will therefore have to be dealt with under the Mental Deficiency Acts.Two courses are open to you, either to deal with the child on a private basis or to seek the aid of the National Health Service. In case you prefer the former, I enclose a list of private homes which have been approved for the reception of mental defectives. I ought perhaps to mention, however, that like all other institutions for mental defectives most of these homes are not only full but have waiting lists. If you take this course there is no power to help with the cost under the National Health Service and you alone would be responsible for it".The letter continues in the same vein and concludes:I need hardly add that if we can be of any further assistance we shall be pleased to hear from you".I often wonder whether the private secretary who drafted the letter was aware of the irony of that concluding paragraph.
The dread list attached was couched in terms even more offensive and hurtful. There were references to feeble-minded high-grade imbeciles and to helpless idiots—models of ministerial prose and syntax, no doubt, but I think your Lordships would agree that some change was necessary there. Can you wonder that the Association of Parents of Backward Children had come into force some five years previously, blossoming into the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children in 1955 and the Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults in 1981, now known more generally as MENCAP? Prompted, no doubt, by these same parents, successive governments have ensured that many Acts since the early 1950s have obliterated the use of such repugnant language and such abhorrent practices masquerading under the guise of care.
Language changes. I would hope that we are in the business of changing reality, though, rather than just changing how we describe reality. This implies changes in services—changes which are genuine, deep-rooted, permanent and yet flexible. It means that Care in the Community in 1993 would be just that. I am optimistic, but I have to record the real fear of parents that care in the community could be underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed, leading to discharge from hospital without regard, or movement out of the family home to social conditions not even as good as those which hard pressed parents—often elderly and often alone—can now offer. 1993 could begin to make a real difference to the majority of adults with a mental handicap or learning disability who have always lived in the community. There is much to hope for, but these parental hopes would be more firmly based had it been possible to implement in full the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986 and to ringfence resources which many believe to be essential. I venture to hope that anti-discrimination legislation might at least be a means of providing greater reassurance and guidelines, welcome though those are.
The gracious Speech does not contain any new 250 guarantees in this. However, it does include a very important statement about individual assessments and plans for care being introduced on time in 1993. For that relief, much thanks. We must also pin our hopes on the Citizen's Charter, which must surely include all the citizens of this United Kingdom and help to influence the way the more vulnerable among them are regarded and supported. The gracious Speech also states that the social security system will continue to improve and modernise. Since social security is at the moment the biggest single source of community care funding, I am glad to hear from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that there will be sustained emphasis on those groups with the greatest needs.
When I first went to MENCAP as secretary general in 1980 I was very fond of quoting a certain Dr. John Langdon-Down, who gave his name to Down's Syndrome and who voiced these sentiments well over a century ago:Today we have to provide the highest possible culture, the best physical, moral and intellectual training, and open out fresh realms of happiness for those who have the strongest claims on our sympathy".Maybe time and "political correctness" have overtaken the use of such Victorian language, but I am sure that your Lordships would agree that the underlying message should always be uppermost in our thoughts, governing all the relevant legislation which this and any subsequent Parliament chooses to place on the statute book, particularly that opening statement, "Today we have to provide". Such a phrase allows no room for tentative guidelines, for lack of resources, for wishful thinking.
The words "Today we have to provide" are unequivocal. We should always remember them not only today but tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. People with a mental handicap, irrespective of their current label, together with their families and friends, deserve no less.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lord Windlesham
My Lords, we have listened to a remarkable maiden speech from somebody who has achieved a national reputation not just in one field but in two. It falls to me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on behalf of the whole House. He is one of the people most responsible for the revolution that has taken place in public attitudes towards those who were once so harshly described, as he told us, as "mental defectives" but who are now recognised as mentally handicapped—children as well as adults who have learning difficulties.
The noble Lord is accustomed to a wider stage and a far larger audience than most of us in this House. However, it will be the wish of all noble Lords that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, should use his membership of the House—to which we welcome him—in the cause of spreading this message about the need for community care and understanding to an even greater audience than he has done already.
I make no apology for returning today to a subject that the House has made its own—the penalty for Murder and Life Imprisonment. May I remind your Lordships of the chronology? In 1987 and 1988 when a Criminal Justice Bill was before the House powerful 251 criticisms were expressed about the defects which had arisen from the inflexibility of the mandatory sentence for murder and the way in which sentences of life imprisonment were reviewed and release decisions taken.
I recall that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack replied to those debates. It was, I believe, the first Bill on which he spoke for the Government, having shortly before taken up the office which he has continued to hold with such distinction ever since. I remain grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, for the sympathetic way in which he received the proposal that this House should set up a Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment to look into the implications of what was clearly a highly unsatisfactory situation. That was done. The noble Lord, Lord Nathan, who is in his place today, chaired the Select Committee on Murder and Life Imprisonment. Other noble Lords who sat on that committee are in the Chamber this afternoon. An exhaustive report was published in 1989, accompanied by two volumes of the evidence which had been taken from a large number of specialised groups by whom the report was generally welcomed.
When the 1990–91 Criminal Justice Bill came before Parliament the Government did not find themselves able to accept either the recommendations on the mandatory life sentence or the procedures for reviewing life sentences. The House took a different view and last year made a number of amendments to the Bill on both those matters. As a concession to your Lordships' House, and to comply with the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Thynne, Wilson and Gunnell, the Government agreed to institute court-like procedures for the review and release of discretionary life sentence prisoners. Provisions to that effect had been added to the Bill in another place when it was returned to your Lordships' House.
The part of the Act which provides new procedures for reviewing discretionary life prisoners—that is, offenders sentenced for serious crimes other than murder—will come into effect on 1st October this year. Procedures generally following the model of the mental health review tribunals are now being worked out. The rules have not yet been published but the shape of the new arrangements is becoming apparent. There will be a panel of three members of the Parole Board, with a circuit judge, or sometimes a High Court judge or a recorder, in the chair. The panel will meet at a prison where a number of discretionary prisoners whose sentences are due for review are located.
The panel will review several cases individually over a period of about two or three days. Each prisoner will be present in person. He will be entitled to legal representation, if he wishes, and in certain instances the Home Office may also be legally represented. There will be full disclosure of reports—a key point. The prisoner will know what is said about him and will have an opportunity to challenge it. Subject to the usual public interest exceptions, such as national 252 security and the prevention of crime, the principle should be, and I believe will be, that anything the board sees the prisoner should see.
At the conclusion of the hearing if the panel, acting on behalf of the board, is satisfied that it is no longer necessary to confine the prisoner for the protection of the public it will direct his release. It will then be the statutory duty of the Secretary of State to release the prisoner on licence. If the board is not so satisfied the prisoner will remain in custody and will be entitled to a further hearing at a specified time.
So far, so good. Although the procedure is not identical in every detail with what the Select Committee recommended, it is close enough to be acceptable, and to be welcomed. It is certainly an improvement on the widely criticised present situation where decisions are reached behind closed doors in the Home Office. But it will apply to some only and not all prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment. Those who receive the mandatory penalty of life on conviction for murder—the largest category—are excluded. After October, therefore, there will be the extraordinary spectacle of two separate systems running in parallel. One will be for the so-called discretionary lifers, which will be more open, and fairer, and will have sufficient judicial characteristics to satisfy the European Convention on Human Rights, and should lead to better informed decisions. The other, for so-called mandatory lifers, will retain the objectionable features of decisions taken by the Executive, in private, in the absence of the prisoner or his legal representative, on grounds that are never disclosed. That cannot be right. Moreover, it is unlikely to endure.
Even the Government seem to be unconvinced by the merits of the arguments put forward from the Front Benches in both Houses. In your Lordships' House, on consideration of the Commons amendments and reasons on the Criminal Justice Bill on 3rd July 1991, the then Leader of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said:I am well aware of how often your Lordships have helped shape public opinion and attitudes, and I would not be surprised if at some future date policy on this matter changes as a result of a change in public opinion which this House influenced. I am simply saying that I wonder whether the time for change is now".—[Official Report, 3/7/91; col. 989.]When the Bill came back for a second time, since your Lordships insisted on some amendments, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, said:With regard to the debate on mandatory life sentences, I am sure that we have not heard the last of it, and it may be that on maturer reflection, policy will move in the direction which some of your Lordships wish to see".—[Official Report, 23/7/91; col. 652.]Since then a general election has come and gone. There is a new Home Secretary. There is no evidence that public opinion is hostile to change. On the contrary, media interest has been virtually unanimously favourable. The courts also are continuing to take a close interest in the legality of the existing procedures, which after October will still apply to mandatory life sentence prisoners. Only last week the Court of Appeal gave judgment in two separate cases of life sentence prisoners which had reached the Divisional Court by way of application for judicial 253 review. The first, entitled Doody and others, related to mandatory life sentences; and, the second, a case called Walsh, to discretionary life sentences.
The combined effect of those two cases—both judgments being given by Lord Justice Glidewell—is that a prisoner serving a mandatory life sentence should be given the opportunity to make written representations about the length of his tariff to the Secretary of State before the tariff period is set. To that end, the judicially recommended tariff should be disclosed to the prisoner before he writes his own representation. A prisoner serving a mandatory life sentence is also entitled to be told his tariff period.
The consequence is that a mandatory life prisoner is now in an improved position. He will be entitled to know the judicial view, as well as the tariff determined by the Secretary of State, and he can challenge the Secretary of State's decision by way of judicial review if there are grounds for believing that it is irrational.
I am afraid this is a complicated matter to explain, especially in a general debate of this type, but it is one of some importance. I do not expect the noble Baroness who is to reply to deal with it when she speaks later, but I am confident she will bring these comments to the attention of her right honourable friend, the Home Secretary.
The straightforward solution is to abolish the mandatory penalty of a life sentence for murder. That was what your Lordships decided when we passed amendments to that effect last year. This course would eradicate the false distinction which has grown up, largely for administrative purposes, between mandatory and discretionary imprisonment for life.
As a first step, the new procedures which have been accepted by Parliament in the Criminal Justice Act 1991 for the review of discretionary life sentences ought to be extended without further delay to those who have received the mandatory sentence.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Taylor of Gryfe
My Lords, from these Benches I wish to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on a distinguished and moving speech. I accept the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, that since the debate has a wide remit we should confine ourselves to one subject. The subject which I shall discuss, it will be no surprise to your Lordships to learn, is Scottish devolution. I hope that your Lordships will not regard it as a local matter, of little interest to the United Kingdom.
The question of devolution raises important constitutional issues affecting all regions of the United Kingdom and central government. I was delighted to note that, in the debate in the other place, while the issue was not dealt with in the gracious Speech, the Prime Minister assured the House of Commons that he was taking stock of the issue. I understand that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, (when he is not dealing with Arbroath smokies) will deal with this important subject.
Perhaps I should assure the Government that I accept that there is no easy solution to the problem. It raises important constitutional issues. The matter has 254 existed in Scottish and British politics for a long time—at least half a century. Numerous reports are available and I hope that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, will find them useful. The issue raises emotions but it will not be dealt with by slogans and demonstrations: it is a complex matter.
When I am discussing the subject with some of my English friends, they say, "Oh, it's these whingeing Scots again, complaining about their difficulties". I assure your Lordships that there are good reasons for complaint about the relationship between central government and Scottish affairs. We all recall the imposition of the poll tax on Scotland a year before it became operative in England. We recall the long and weary debates in the House when the poll tax for Scotland was discussed when noble Lords became rather impatient. However, it was only when the poll tax with all its implications was given effect in England a year later that people recognised it as an iniquitous piece of legislation.
That kind of thing, that indifference to the situation in Scotland, causes a good deal of resentment and a demand for a greater say in Scottish affairs. On the subject of rating matters, there is a gap between the business rate paid in Scotland and the rates paid in England. I notice that the uniform business rate was mentioned in the gracious Speech, but only in relation to England. According to the Scottish Council, the situation is that the assessment of the rates gap in Scotland is £401 million. The rates gap is the difference between what non-domestic ratepayers will pay in Scotland and what the same subjects would pay if they were located in England and subject to their uniform business rate. This is a disincentive to build factories in Scotland, since one would be more highly rated in an enterprise there than south of the Border.
That is one point. The other point is the lack of regional policy. We used to have great discussions in the House on regional policy and how it was applied in the same way as the Community now uses it to help disadvantaged areas to try to spread prosperity. I have not heard regional policy mentioned for a long time; it does not seem to exist.
An editorial on the last Budget in The Glasgow Herald was headed "The insatiable South-east". It pointed out that:the London Docklands Development Corporation is to receive an increase in its direct State funding greater than",the entire budget for the Scottish Development Agency. I am talking about the increase in expenditure for Canary Wharf and the Docklands area compared with the total amount given for regeneration of industry in Scotland.
These things cause people in Scotland to say, "They don't care about us south of the Border, therefore we must demand a greater say in our own affairs". There are 230,000—nearly a quarter of a million—Scots unemployed at the moment. An even more terrible statistic is that in Scotland one child in five lives in a family which receives income support. This reflects an awful state of large-scale poverty in Scotland. These statistics and facts cause people to say, "Well, they've forgotten about us down in Westminster, we are remote, we're not important".
255 As your Lordships will no doubt recall, an industry that interests me greatly is forestry, which is important to the rural economy. Five years ago we were planting 24,000 hectares per annum against a government target of 30,000 hectares. Today, we are planting between 10,000 and 12,000 hectares. The impact of that on our rural economy is great. In England it does not matter about the forests in the glens of Scotland so long as we can go there for our shooting and our holidays. However, they are important to the people of Scotland. This indifference adds to the great feeling of protest about the present situation.
The Scots sometimes ask, "What can we do about it?" One of the factors that used to influence affairs in Scotland was local government. Local authorities had certain powers. I remember years ago, when I joined the Glasgow City Council, we were responsible for education, health, housing, the environment and so on. Today, that is no longer so. Health is managed by regional health authorities, housing is handled by a national housing authority, the environment is handled by Scottish National Heritage and industrial development is handled by area enterprise boards.
The important distinction between those arrangements and the previous form of local government is that all those bodies are quangos. They are all run by people who have been appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland with no answerability except to the Minister. Power in those areas has been removed from the elected representatives of the people and handed over to quango administrations. Is it any wonder that only 32 per cent. of people voted in the recent local elections in Scotland? Many of the powers and influences which used to affect the lives of people in Scotland have now been diminished and transferred to non-elected people. That is another reason why there is a degree of frustration and serious argument about how to return power to the people.
I believe that Scotland benefits greatly from being part of the Union and that it is a good thing that more than 70 per cent. of the people of Scotland at the last election rejected the idea of independent self-government outside the Union. Nevertheless, more than 70 per cent. of the people voted for a substantial degree of devolution. I am delighted that the Government are recognising this. I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Sanderson, in his place today because he has considerable influence in these matters.
This is not an easy issue. It is tied up with the proposed Scottish parliament and its relationship with local government. It is clear that one cannot have a change in the parliamentary powers in Scotland without considering the whole of local government, and that is a tough issue. It will be necessary to have single-tier authorities, and all sorts of local interests and local loyalties are involved in such a reorganisation. The position in relation to the rights which Scottish MPs would have at Westminster if there were a devolved parliament also arises. There is also the West Lothian question and whether the new body would have powers of taxation.
As I said, these are complicated issues. I should like to assure the Government that people like myself who have some experience of Scottish affairs are desirous 256 of being helpful in solving some of those problems. They will not be solved by slogans and banner waving. It is a serious matter of reorganisation to achieve the best administration, but an administration which will have some accountability and responsibility to the Scottish people.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord Holme of Cheltenham
My Lords, I must start with an apology to the House and in particular to the noble Baroness because I shall have to leave before the end of the debate. My relative inexperience in the ways of your Lordships' House led me to underestimate the number of noble Lords who would want to speak. That is a great shame because I have listened to the debate with the greatest pleasure and profit, particularly the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I congratulate him on his maiden speech. The mentally handicapped are extremely fortunate to have a champion of his eloquence and stature in this House. Perhaps I may congratulate him personally on transferring the skills of holding an audience so effortlessly from Whitehall to Westminster.
I should like to address myself to the twin subjects of open government and accountable government. I say at the outset that we on these Benches very much welcome the promises of more open government made since the election by the Prime Minister and by his right honourable friend Mr. Waldegrave concerning MI6, the publication of the membership of Cabinet committees, and I trust of Cabinet sub-committees, and the elimination of unnecessary secrecy in government departments. Those are all steps in the right direction.
What should be the final destination of that right direction? I suggest that it should be the full recommendation and acceptance by government, both officials and legislators, that they not only govern on behalf of the citizens of this country but that government ultimately belongs to the citizens of this country. That is a simple notion. It is one which in other democracies would be taken as a constitutional cliché but it has always been one that was difficult for the British state to accept. The British state is unsure whether its legitimacy derives from the top down, from continuity, history and sovereignty, or from the bottom up, from the legitimacy of the support of the people of Britain.
I do not suppose that the Government want to get their horns caught in that particular constitutional thicket. Neither do I, at least not today. However, I ask the Minister to accept the logic of the Government's own rhetoric in relation to the Citizen's Charter. If the Citizen's Charter is to effect a radical change in the culture and attitudes of public servants, whether they be providers of services or administrators, it will be by finally putting paid to paternalism—the sense that the man or woman in Whitehall knows best and that because he or she knows best he or she will therefore act for the best. That culture must be replaced by a keen attentiveness to the real needs and aspirations of those whom the Government serve, by a philosophy of empowerment and enablement.
257 Paternalism means keeping secrets. It means literally keeping secrets from the children. Genuinely open government means no secrets from the citizen while always protecting the citizen's privacy and commercial confidentiality. I say no secrets advisedly because the exceptions made nowadays for national security should be minimal and confined in a general context of accountability. I should like to say a word more about that subject in a moment.
In the wider sphere of government, openness and accountability should go together. Yet the Government, with all the progress—and I acknowledge that it is progress—they are making on the Citizens' Charter still balk at a freedom of information Act. I fear that that is to will the ends of open citizens' government without willing the means. The Government say that we do not need a freedom of information Act. They said in the debate in another place in January that it was unnecessary because of the increasing openness of government.
Perhaps I may give just one example, supplied to me by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, to the contrary. It concerns the Department of Health, Mr. Waldegrave's former department. It is the response of one official who was asked to release comments which had been solicited from health authorities, doctors and others on the Patient's Charter. He said:Policy development takes place in such an ad hoc way that I can definitely see no way that those department files can be released. Obviously you are aware of the Official Secrets Act. This binds the Department of Health and all Government officials to keep the contents of all files secret and the Patient's Charter is politically sensitive so access to these files would be particularly sensitive".All of that, mark you, relates to a measure which was intended ostensibly to enhance patients' rights. I am very glad that Mr. Waldegrave is reported to be trawling through 150 different Acts to delete secrecy clauses, but we shall not have open government without the right of the citizen to seek free disclosure. We should also consider the question of better reporting and accountability for government itself and for other powerful public institutions to go alongside greater openness.
The Next Steps agencies seem to me a very promising development in the evolution of Whitehall. However, I believe that each of them should be required to publish annual objectives as set by their mother departments, together with progress over the past 12 months, set against the previous year's objectives, in a clear and measurable way, very much as a company would put them to its shareholders. If the Next Steps agencies are to be properly accountable, it cannot just be through random parliamentary inquisition but because the whole of their objectives and the performance of their chief executives are open to public scrutiny, review and measure.
With the death of stateism and collectivism, why should not regulators, who will play so much greater a part in our public life, and official watchdogs be given autonomy from Whitehall and have far greater 258 accountability to Parliament as the watchdogs of the public interest rather than, as seems to be the case at the moment, act as a phantom limb of officialdom?
I come to the sensitive area of national security. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, it is good to see the Prime Minister abandoning the pretence that MI6 only exists in the pages of novel writers. It is good to see in the public domain the name of its director, along with that of Stella Rimington of MI5. But the Government should not stop there. Both those services, along with GCHQ, have before them a difficult period of adjustment with the end of communist expansionism.
I am not naive enough to think that some covert intelligence is not still necessary in an uncertain world. I am sure that it is. Some of the means of gathering it will always raise respectable eyebrows. But whatever is done—and I believe its scope should be more limited in the future—can only be justified by the larger public interest. Secret services and secret intelligence and security services can never be justified by the interests of the state, the government of the day or, as has sometimes seemed to be the case, the security services themselves. They can only be justified by the interests of the citizens as a whole. That means at least a general framework of accountability, with proper executive and legislative oversight, approving budgets—by that I mean the full budgets of those services —and an ability to review performance.
There have been many solutions suggested on these Benches and, I believe, on the Labour Benches. It has been suggested that there should be a committee of Privy Counsellors. I do not seek to say what the form should be. But other democracies have shown that the requirements of openness and accountability can be combined with the maintenance of secrecy intrinsic to the work. I also believe that the new—I hope slimmed down—intelligence services will positively welcome a more legitimate basis for their continuing operations.
Until that basis of ultimate accountability exists for those services, it remains a dubious decision of the Government to make MI5 the lead agency in the fight against IRA terrorism in mainland Britain rather than the ultimately accountable Special Branch police. Even if the security services become ultimately accountable, there would still be a strong case for treating the IRA as the killer gangsters they are rather than elevating them in status to enemies of the state. That is not an argument on my part against using whatever intelligence is available from whatever source. It reflects a strong preference for the normal civic agencies of law enforcement to be in the lead.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked whether there would be a debate on the issue of the lead responsibility of MI5 over the police for mainland security. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can address that issue in her reply to the debate.
Finally, I do not believe that the Government have done themselves any favour in relation to secrecy in Northern Ireland by the extraordinary decision of the DPP to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act to try to force journalists to reveal the sources for Channel 4's programme "The Committee" in its "Dispatches" series.
259 It is the first time that the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was a matter of great agonising for all sides of this House and another place but which nevertheless was passed because we know that they are extraordinary circumstances in Northern Ireland, has been used in that way. Not only does it set what to us on these Benches seems a very undesirable precedent but, as the Government must know, it also has the effect of discouraging the media from investigating. Given the serious allegations made in that programme of collusion between the security services and terrorists to commit sectarian murders, investigation and publication must be in the public interest. I understand that the hearing has been fixed for 27th July. Can the noble Baroness assure the House that the Attorney-General and the DPP, even at the eleventh hour, will consider not proceeding with the order for contempt, which seems calculated to hide wrongdoing rather than reveal it.
In conclusion, good government—which I imagine that all Benches in this House earnestly desire—means genuinely open government, toward which the Citizen's Charter is a small step. It would be a great achievement for this administration in the four or five years that stretch ahead of it. However, it will not be secured without far greater changes both in law and practice than the Government presently seem to contemplate.
§ 4.56 p.m.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
My Lords, I follow the example of the noble Lord, Lord Holme, and apologise first to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for having missed his speech and, secondly, to the House because I must leave before the end of the debate. I should like to begin by recording a warm word of welcome from these Benches to the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, as Leader of the House and Lord Privy Seal. It will be a pleasure to work with him. I should also like to express appreciation for the courtesy and skill of his predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, and wish him well in his new appointment.
I am delighted to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on the occasion of his maiden speech. In this House we shall all benefit immensely from his tremendous experience of working with mentally handicapped people. I admire the lead which he and and Royal Mencap have given in helping our society to face up to its responsibilities in relation to those who are just as valuable as any other person in the sight of God. I am sure that we shall benefit from the noble Lord's legendary sense of humour.
I take this opportunity at the start of a new Parliament with a new government team to share some reflections about the challenges of the next few years from the perspective of the Church. The contributions from these Benches are, we trust, based on the example and teachings of Jesus Christ as we strive to apply them in all aspects of contemporary life. As many know, I am strongly committed to promoting Christian values as its bedrock. Talking about God is not something with which contemporary society is comfortable. I even find that my own 260 references to God are sometimes sensitively avoided in newspaper reports of what I have to say, although yesterday was an exception. However, I can always be assured that they will be in Hansard.
I cannot accept the view that religion is merely a practice to be undertaken by consenting adults in private. For each of us our life as a social citizen as well as a private individual must make sense in terms of what we believe to be its purpose and the values which should guide it. We are taught in the Judaeo-Christian tradition that every human being is unique, precious and equally valuable to God. Therefore a Christian society must nurture belief in the unique value of each individual.
At the same time each one of us is commanded to love our neighbour and to subordinate ourselves to the service of God and of other people. Those fundamental principles must be brought together, not quoted selectively, if a government are to have moral authority. To emphasise individual rights without also acknowledging individual and social responsibilities to others is contrary to Christian teaching. So equally is the pursuit of collective social goals in ways which fail to respect the rights and unique importance of each individual. I therefore plead that we do not have a polarised debate between those positions as though they were alternatives. As your Lordships will recognise, issues of government, even life itself, are more complicated than that. They involve making judgments, and assessing balances between different interests. In this House, at least, we do not need to fall into the trap of making things seem simpler than they really are.
I hope too that in considering the condition of our society we can avoid unhelpfully polarised discussion of the causes of goodness and evil. Of course each individual is responsible before God for his or her decisions and behaviour. The idea that Church leaders have ceased to be concerned with the fundamental battle between goodness and evil in each individual is preposterously wrong. This can readily be seen from the sermons, addresses and prayers which we offer as Christian teachers day by day but which so often go on unnoticed or unrecognised by the media.
On the other hand, it is plain that public policies too can have effects for good and ill. As a national Church, we continue to minister to every part of England. As we have chaplains in every prison in the land we know something about bad prisons as well as good ones. We have ministers in every parish in the country and know all too well the importance to the life chances of a child of choosing its parents wisely, of selecting the right neighbourhood, housing and schooling. As a substantial provider of educational and social services, the Church is itself affected by legislation. We see how the imperfections of our laws and social arrangements can conspire with the inherent weakness of individuals to obstruct God's purposes. And we see how good laws and policies can help unlock people's inherent goodness.
With the debate in America about their urban riots still ringing in our ears, I want to add that the Church does not think of itself as ministering to an "underclass". We minister to people, each of whom is 261 of equal value to God. If as a nation we cease to value all of them, not simply those who are likely to be successful, we can expect to reap a bitter harvest.
It is against that background that I should like to express two hopes for the work of this House in the new Session of Parliament. The first is that we shall be unafraid to acknowledge the complexities of what we believe are right. For instance, I gladly acknowledge that it ill behoves Church leaders in their contribution to political debate to speak as though it is easy to turn good intentions into effective policies. We in this House all know that the search for spiritual, social and material improvements in our society involves policy makers in extremely difficult trade-offs and intractable dilemmas. There are clear limits to what any government can do.
However, I have the temerity to make the same point to politicians trying their hand as theologians and teachers of morality. Fundamental moral precepts can be compellingly simple but translating them into doing the right thing in our individual lives can be desperately difficult, as we all know. However much we may long for the choices in life to be simple, I do not accept that moral purposes can be achieved by straightforward application of a received formula. We cannot escape from hard thinking, prayer and the constant searching of individual conscience, in private matters as well as in public policy making.
My second hope is that this House will continue to insist that the spiritual, religious and moral dimensions of life must be respected as part of policy making. Public morality cannot be privatised. It cannot become a mere matter of individual opinion. After all, the legislature in a democratic society has huge powers and responsibilities resting on it. We decide how children are to be taught compulsorily in our schools. In this House we have insisted on the spiritual and moral dimension of education when it seemed in danger of neglect. Let us continue to do so in the years ahead. We determine how prisoners, totally within the power of the state, are to be treated.
We help to decide how far human beings in our country should be allowed to appropriate the rest of God's creation at will, both animals and natural resources, for our own ends. We must consider how far we are prepared to share our wealth with the hungry and wretched of the earth. The crucial issues at stake in the UNCED conference at Rio must loom large in all our thoughts and prayers. We have to help regulate scientific and medical practice. Our social provision could substantially alter the life chances of many individuals and the stresses on many families; and we have heard something of that from other speakers today. We have to decide how to respond to people who throw themselves on our mercy seeking asylum.
These are not simply political or practical matters. They are moral issues. The Church will strive to place its spiritual, theological and pastoral experience and insights at the disposal of this House to the best of its ability. We shall try to help the House and the country to address those questions in a manner that befits a society based on Christian principles. Indeed, it is an 262 integral part of our Christian commitment to try to ensure that the moral decisions which no government and no Parliament can avoid are pleasing to God. Hence the importance which I attach to the Bishops' presence in this House. If only we could relieve ourselves of oversimplified expectations on either side I am confident that the dialogue between politicians and Church leaders can be positive and constructive; a partnership of people with complementary experience and of no small importance in tackling the agenda of issues which now comes before this Parliament.
§ 5.8 p.m.
My Lords, I am the eighth maiden to be brought before you in three days—a heavy meal even for a large dragon. In order that I shall not unduly trouble your digestion, I have chosen a bland subject for my speech and one which, as tradition demands, is completely uncontroversial. The National Health Service unites the major parties in their admiration of it, their commitment to it and their determination to provide it with ever greater resources.
The specific aspect of the National Health Service that I wish to discuss is the need, now widely acknowledged, to involve the general public in deciding the allocation of resources. The present allocation is the child of ancient precedent, modified by government initiatives and at the margins by pressure groups and charities. There is little public discussion of it, perhaps because the subject grates so when combined with party politics. But this lack of discussion means that the allocation is not legitimised in the public mind. The public lack an understanding of it. There is no consensus round which GP fundholders and the other newly independent elements of the health service can formulate their demands for change.
However, allocation is a subject that is particularly suited to public debate, for the questions at issue concern what is right—there is often no right answer—about what we feel to be right. For example, a health authority with additional funds at its disposal may wish to choose between a fertility clinic, better screening for breast cancer, new cancer treatments and extended facilities for hip replacement.
The choices here are between great benefits for a few or lesser benefits for many; between procedures of proven clinical value and those that offer peace of mind; between a little extra life for the dying and long years of relief for those in no immediate danger of death. No cold logic can guide such choices, but ethical, emotional, personal logic. Such choices demand public decisions, but they are deeply uncomfortable to contemplate as they involve in the ultimate deciding who shall suffer and who shall be saved. It is much easier for us to leave them to the National Health Service and if our needs are not satisfied to take out our pain on doctors or the Government.
It is not only dishonest and unjust to do this; it is likely to result in wrong decisions being taken, for without a clearly expressed public view the NHS must 263 make assumptions about what the public want on the basis of the prevailing orthodoxy; and, as demonstrated by the result of the recent general election, the orthodox view of the public's desires does not always accord with reality. If the public are to play a part in the discussion of allocation they need information on which to base their discussions, mechanisms whereby they may be consulted and mechanisms whereby their opinions are taken into account.
The flow of ideas and experiments on those subjects is already well under way. Notable examples are to be found in the experiments taking place in the state of Oregon on public involvement in the allocation of Medicare funds; in the work of York University on the quantification of benefits to the quality of life offered by different medical procedures; and in the many initiatives by regional and district health authorities, among which I would particularly mention East Anglia's intruigingly titled Rubber Windmill projects. Indeed, the National Health Executive itself is active in exploring these matters, albeit cautiously.
The need for greater public participation in the allocation of resources is now accepted wisdom within the NHS, but the emotional fire fight of party politics has kept it far from the centre of public debate. Now, at the furthest possible remove from a general election, must be the best possible time to bring it to the fore. It should be discussed openly and in general debate so that the public may be made fully aware of the ways in which the National Health Service is seeking its guidance. I believe that if we can achieve this, we should find that public participation will help keep the health service in tune with the public's desires, will lighten the moral burden on the profession of the decisions which it must take and, perhaps most importantly, will strengthen a healthy understanding by the public of what the NHS is and what it can do; how it can best be used and how it can best be cared for.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Phillips
My Lords, it falls to me with great honour to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on his thought-provoking maiden speech. A great responsibility rests on his shoulders because the main criticism of this House is that it accepts hereditary Peers. If they are all like the noble Lord, there will be no problem. He has given us food for thought and has shown that he understands what he is talking about. I hope that we shall hear from him often. I am privileged to be the one to congratulate him on behalf of the whole House.
I wish too to congratulate my good friend Lord Rix on his splendid maiden speech. When I was Lord Lieutenant of Greater London I had the privilege of making him Vice Lieutenant. He has several important jobs and I hope that his contributions to them are as good as his contribution in this House.
Perhaps I dare also congratulate the most reverend Primate. As a Catholic I endorse everything that he said. I wondered whether our Bishop was spreading his money to the poor when he had a relationship with the lady who now says he fathered her child. Perhaps 264 that was his interpretation of the way to be a good Christian. I feel that we must constantly remind a Christian country of the Christian philosophy. We must never let that go by default.
Out of consideration for my colleagues I have chosen only one subject. I can stay in the Chamber only until 10 o'clock because my driver can wait no longer. We are all subject to somebody's discipline. I apologise and I hope that the debate will have finished by then. It will, provided that all noble Lords keep their speeches short. The subject that I have chosen was largely ignored by all parties during the general election; by my party, by Mr. Paddy Ashdown's party and by the Government. It is the subject of crime.
During my canvassing visits, people did not, oddly enough, ask me about Europe. They did not even ask about the National Health Service, because we are happy with what we have in Fulham. However, they asked about employment and about crime prevention. Your Lordships should make no mistake about the fact that it is a live and relevant issue in our society. The gracious Speech stated:Action will be taken to combat crime and promote law and order".That is one of those lovely statements that means precisely nothing. The first question is: is there crime? Perhaps I may quote from the Daily Express, not a notably Left-wing publication. It stated that in 1991 we had the worst crime figures—the worst—in England and Wales, at more than 5 million. Let us not hear any nonsense about petty crime because no crime is petty to the victim. We do not spend enough time talking about the victims because we are always worried about the offenders. Let us consider occasionally the effect on the poor lady aged 81 who had her handbag stolen. The figure is up by some 16 per cent. The then Home Office Minister made one of those marvellous statements by saying that the overall figure of 5.5 million showed a welcome slow down. Are we not becoming expert at making such euphemistic comments? I still believe that the best such comment was made by the chairman on an occasion when I was speaking. He said, "There has been a noticeable falling off in the lack of apathy". I am still trying to work out what he meant. What precisely is meant by a welcome slow down?
Perhaps I may give examples in my own borough. I know that I am being anecdotal and that your Lordships do not like that but I am sorry—that is how it works. During a period of three weeks cars were stolen, vandalised or both. An Indian shopkeeper who was loved by everyone was attacked, knifed and killed. The offenders took about £30 out of his till. A woman aged 81 who lived in a block of flats was tied up and robbed. The offenders took from her about £20 which she had collected that day from the Post Office. Half of the school at which my son teaches has been burnt down. Those events are happening around me. We used to read about crime in the newspapers but now our friends and relatives come in and tell us about it. Burglaries and handbag thefts persist all the time.
This year we have seen the introduction of something called joyriding. In England we are very clever in that we always find a euphemistic name so 265 that it does not sound as bad as it really is. However, it is the criminal theft of a car. A mother was interviewed the other day about her son, who had stolen 30 cars. She said, "Well, he might have killed himself". I must not offend Him too much but, I thought, perhaps that would not have been a bad idea. At no stage did that mother say that her son had committed a sin.
In 20 major centres there have been outbreaks of such crime. The reasons given for that are boredom—well, bad luck—envy and unemployment. We have listened to one or two speeches today which rather made my adrenalin flow. I grew up in the 1930s when life was hard and when there was not always unemployment pay but still you did not steal. Why was that? Well, I came from a good Catholic home where that kind of thing simply was not done. Are young people receiving the proper influence from their homes? I do not think they are. Mothers are worse than anyone. They say, did not know he was going out every night doing that". What kind of a mother is that? The people who suffer are the ones for whom I feel sorry and they are the ones we must protect.
I was delighted—and I am sure this is a dreadful thing to say—when that little town in North Wales took the matter into their own hands and drove the boy out. As I have said before, if ordinary citizens—and let us face it, 98 per cent. of the population are still good people who obey the law—begin to feel that they do not receive protection or justice, then we shall have vigilantes who take the law into their own hands. Therefore, the Government have a terrific responsibility.
How should they deal with that? So far as I can discover, in 1990 the Queen's Speech stated:My Government will vigorously pursue their policies in fighting crime". [Official Report, 7/11/90; col.3]Let us see how vigorously they have pursued them. They set up Crime Concern and they poured a lot of money into it—at least it was a lot of money by my standards, having worked for different charities. I asked how much was spent on crime prevention. The Government told me, having corrected what they first told me, as I was given the wrong figures, which got me rather worried, that Home Office expenditure on crime prevention for 1991 was £16 million. Perhaps your Lordships will think about that. We never talk in thousands now. It is always millions or billions. When you try to raise money, as I have, for really good causes, it just makes you feel furious.
That figure includes expenditure of £6 million spent on publicity. That is fine. That means that from all that money spent on the crime prevention campaign, we shall get more brochures and more surveys. People are surveying every day. I get something in the post every day asking me whether I do this or do that. At a dinner the other night I told a joke. I said, "Ladies and gentlemen, did you know that every Wednesday all women aged 41 cross their legs, make a cup of coffee and sit down and enjoy it". Most people laughed but two people came up to me and asked me the name of the survey. We have reached a nonsensical point. For example, the banks are all writing to me. I 266 say to the banks, "All I want is good service. I do not want you to spend my money on PR". That goes also for the Government. I ask them not to waste money on brochures or surveys. They should spend the money on what it is meant for; that is, crime prevention.
Also, millions of pounds go into paying for the police training college. I should have thought that that would have come out of the normal expenses of running the police force but evidently that is not so.
How much of that money really goes to the people who wish to prevent crime? If one tries to set up a crime prevention panel, one can get lots of advice and brochures and surveys but no money with which to pay to send them out. If the money is there, at least that can be used to support the people who are doing the work voluntarily—and there are lots of very good people trying to do that work.
We must never get into the bad habit, which this Government have got into, of blaming the victim. It is said, "You did not lock your car". I am amazed at the number of people who admit that. Can you imagine that a policeman comes up to you and asks, "Now, did you lock that car?" and you answer, "No, I didn't". They are obviously more honest than most of the people I came up against when I was a magistrate.
However, perhaps people want to have a window open occasionally without a burglar getting in. People wish to be able to live normal lives. The Government have a great responsibility in that respect and we shall support them. The fact that crime does not come high on the agenda worries me because it is as important as any of the other issues that we have discussed. I make a plea to the Government to place it much higher on their agenda than it is at present.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
My Lords, the noble Baroness is always a pleasure to follow but she is always difficult to follow because she raises so many matters that one wishes to discuss that what one came here to say is apt to be left out. Perhaps I may say for the information of the most reverend Archbishop, whose speech I enjoyed enormously, that every speech seems to me to have taken a high moral tone. I assure the maiden speakers that that does not always happen in this House. Certainly the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is well known for his high moral acts and for his services to those people who need them, for whom he has done a great deal of good. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, brought out the essential moral problems of whether someone of my age should be given free pills which could save somebody much younger. That is a very difficult problem.
I have one or two non-moral remarks which I wish to make so I shall not discuss those other matters, although I should like to. At this stage, I wish to make only two points. First, your Lordships may be surprised to hear that I wish to congratulate the Government and the new Secretary of State in charge of the National Heritage Ministry on accepting the plan for a national lottery whose proceeds are to go to the arts and sport. I urge the Minister to be sure that the Treasury stake is strictly limited. The arts should 267 receive a generous share. I remind him that more people in this country go to concerts, opera and the theatre than go to football matches. I respect the Minister for being willing and brave enough to ignore the rather bigoted attitude which suggests that gambling is such a real evil that it is wrong to accept money derived from it, however good the cause.
The only thing wrong with the arts in their extraordinary growth since Maynard Keynes converted CEMA—or was it ENSA?—into the Arts Council at the end of the last war was, and still is, money. Now that the Minister has accepted this painless way of raising large sums, I must beg him not to play about with the existing organisation which has made possible that extraordinary growth and whose only weakness has been too little cash support. To allow the Arts Council to disappear and to abandon the arm's length principle just when, for the first time for 50 years, there is the possibility of substantially more money would be criminal folly. I am sure that the new Secretary of State will be too wise to make such a crude mistake.
My second point is much more difficult and in a sense much less moral—at least I am sure that my predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, will think so. I wish to complain—the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made the same point—that there is no reference to the Woolf Report in the gracious Speech. That seems to me to be a grievous omission. Everyone who has looked at the facts is aware that the conditions in some of our prisons, and certainly for people on remand in police cells—who are presumed innocent until found guilty—are a disgrace to our great nation and are inexcusable.
Some noble Lords may not remember the Woolf Report. However, as a result of the riots in Strangeways Prison, Manchester, Lord Justice Woolf was commissioned to produce a report, which was published in February last year. It is a comprehensive analysis and makes 204 important recommendations. That is a landmark in the uneasy and generally ineffective rumblings of prison reform. We must insist that it becomes a turning point so that conditions which have not improved much and indeed have often deteriorated over the past 30 years, will now change radically for the better.
Last year the Government published a White Paper in response to the Woolf Report, entitled Custody, Care and Justice. That was an encouraging start, in that it accepted in principle the overwhelming majority of the Woolf proposals. However, in all too many instances the White Paper gave no timetable for implementing the recommendations which Lord Justice Woolf made. To be fair, we must acknowledge that progress in some areas has been swift. For example, on the day the Woolf Report was published the Government announced the introduction of more visits, the virtual abolition of letter censorship, a doubling of home leave opportunities for prisoners in open prisons and access to telephones for prisoners in all prisons. I hope that the noble Baroness will not object to those advances. Those reforms have already been, or are currently being, introduced. Perhaps the 268 noble Baroness who is to reply can write to me to tell me how many of our 125 prisons are still without visitors centres.
From April this year the disciplinary role of Boards of Visitors was ended. That was recommended 13 years ago by the noble Earl, Lord Jellicoe, in an inquiry report. After 13 years it is rather nice to see it being implemented. The Government have agreed to appoint an independent complaints adjudicator for prisons and intend to make an appointment in December this year. So far so good. But we must see the same sense of urgency applied to all the rest of Woolf's recommendations. That is far from being the case.
First, Lord Justice Woolf proposed the drawing up of a code of standards for the prison system with which, in time, every prison would have to comply. That is obviously difficult and cannot be done all at once. But the process of working towards completion, we are told, will not even begin until five years after the Strangeways riot; that is, 1995.
Secondly, Lord Justice Woolf argued for community prisons. We are told that that aim may take 25 years to realise. Thirdly, we come to the crucial issue of overcrowding. The Woolf Report proposed that a new prison rule should prohibit any prison from accommodating more prisoners than it was designed to hold. It said that the Home Secretary should have to lay an order before Parliament if he wished to suspend the application of that rule. The Government turned that recommendation down flat.
In a debate in this House in 1969 which I had the honour to open, I asserted that the prerequisite of any prison reform was to get rid of overcrowding. I assert that again today, 23 years later. In those days the overall overcrowding was around 7 per cent. but it was up to 30 per cent. in local prisons. Today the overall figure is down to 4.5 per cent. but for the 15,000 prisoners in local prisons it is still 30 per cent. and, in the 10 largest, ranges from 45 per cent. to 65 per cent. I do not know whether anyone in this House has recently been inside a local prison but most of them are the most awful places in the world. They are an absolute disgrace.
Overcrowding has flourished under successive governments but it is fair to say that for 13 years it has been the responsibility of the present one. We must not accept a flat refusal. No government have yet made a determined attempt to correct the evil, yet, until overcrowding is eliminated, little improvement in conditions or staff morale can be expected. Surely the Government must give full acceptance in principle, even if it needs a 10-year plan and the occasional use of executive release to achieve it.
Though the Government have been in power for 13 years they may well have another five to go. Since the publication of the report in February 1991–15 months ago—no excuse for inaction remains. It is greatly to their credit that they commissioned the Woolf Report, though it is a pity it took a major catastrophe like the Strangeways riot to get them to do so. But the universal approbation with which its devastating analysis and detailed and practical recommendations have been received cries out for 269 immediate action. We owe a great debt to Lord Justice Woolf and Judge Tumim. Now there is no excuse for anything less than a thorough overhaul of our prison shortcomings, which have been so clearly pointed out, and a phased timetable for implementing all the recommendations in the report. The Government must give us full acceptance in principle, a timed and phased programme for each of the major recommendations and a full explanation with regard to any that are rejected.
We have waited for 30 years, and the time at last has come. There is no excuse for inaction. I apologise for not making a more moral speech but it has a moral background in that, even with criminals, one wants to behave decently.
§ 5.37 p.m.
The Earl of Snowdon
My Lords, it gives me the greatest pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on his excellent and well-informed maiden speech and also to offer my warmest congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Rix—I am afraid I am not impartial—on his most eloquent and compassionate maiden speech. I hope that his performance will tomorrow receive the rave reviews that it deserves.
We are all aware of the noble Lord's dedicated work for the benefit of disabled people generally, and mentally handicapped people in particular. I am sure that your Lordships share my hope that he will come to speak frequently in this House on the subject about which he is so well informed—the many and varied problems that so often unnecessarily face the 6 million disabled people in this country alone for whom this House has shown so much involvement, concern and understanding.
I share the noble Lord's worry about so-called "new-speak" —new words that are evidently sometimes considered acceptable and at other times totally unacceptable. To emphasise the noble Lord's reference to definitions, I remember well as a child that the word "cripple" was frequently used. My grandfather, Robert Armstrong-Jones, a surgeon, was created by the Lord Chancellor of the day "Master of Lunacy" to determine the question of "sanity" and to visit "lunatics and idiots". Until very recently the Royal Putney Hospital was titled "The Hospital for Incurables". The inscription is still carved in the facade. The sooner it is obliterated the better, but ironically it is a listed building so permission will have to be obtained from English Heritage to do so. These are examples of what I call unacceptable labelling.
On the other hand, in the May issue of Disability Now a certain organisation is reported as saying that it objects to the words "mental handicap". It finds them insulting. I do not, and neither do I attach much importance to saying "hard of hearing" rather than "deaf", nor "impaired sight" rather than "blind". Surely what matters is not these transient and irrelevant definitions but understanding and involvement with people in our community, whatever disability they may have. It is the word "people" that is important. I am extremely pleased that the title in 270 another place is now the Minister for Disabled People rather than the Minister for the Disabled. After all, we are all people.
What surely we are demanding—I say demanding rather than asking for—is equal rights for all people with physical disabilities: equal rights to work; equal rights to go where they want, when they want; equal rights in education; equal rights to be integrated into our society at the earliest stage; and equal rights to be treated as first-class citizens. We are not asking for charitable sympathy, nor for well-meaning do-gooding.
Although it was not specifically mentioned in the gracious Speech, I have to say that I am now, albeit somewhat reluctantly, in favour of introducing legislation to give disabled people certain rights to employment and recognition in other vital areas. Of course, the more palatable and effortless solution is to concentrate on education and persuasion to change attitudes and the problems that are faced by many disabled people. In 1976, when I had the honour of chairing a working party on integration, I believed that that would work, but, sadly, I have now come to the conclusion that, although certain aspects have improved since then, and above all since the International Year of Disabled People in 1981, not nearly enough progress has been made for the benefit of disabled people and for giving them their due. I now believe that legislation is the only answer.
People who break the law are rightly punished if they discriminate against minorities in this country—citizens who may have a different religion or colour of skin to the majority—but as matters stand it is quite within the law for certain individuals and organisations in positions of power to castigate disabled people. Appropriate legislation now exists in America and certain other countries. Sadly, as I say, I think we need it here.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is in agreement with me over this, as is the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, who spoke so knowledgeably and strongly in favour of legislation in this House on 21st February, as indeed did many on both sides of your Lordships' House. The all-party disablement group in another place has also contributed a great deal, and party politics have never come into any discussion or debate and I hope never will.
There are so many varied and important issues to be studied regarding physical disabilities, from research and prevention to environmental obstacles; from integration at the earliest possible age in schools to equal opportunities both in further education and in employment; from the social barriers that still exist through total ignorance to the education of public attitudes; from giving proper training to architects, town planners and engineers to making the fire authorities aware of the difference between the unquestionable importance of safety versus useless, inflexible bureaucratic rules and regulations that are so often given as an excuse and for the wrong reasons.
Then of course there is the vitally important issue of access—I mean total access—to both old and new buildings. All too frequently the authorities either ignore the problem altogether or do not give it enough 271 thought. Just erecting the odd ramp and a lavatory embellished with that wheelchair symbol as a feeble, superficial gesture is not good enough. It is disgraceful that people in wheelchairs are forbidden admission to Lancaster House, for example—the main venue for government hospitality—unless they are accompanied by a "pusher" because they are apparently a so-called fire hazard in that particular edifice.
British Rail puts labels on the back of certain seats—in the old stock, that is—stating, "Please give up this seat if a disabled person needs it", but one cannot get a wheelchair through the carriage door. So still to this day human beings often have to travel in the luggage van, with neither heat nor light. I am assured, however, that by the end of the century the situation will have improved and one hopes a lot sooner now that British Rail may be partly privatised, as was mentioned in the gracious Speech.
Unfortunately, there are certain buildings where total access cannot be achieved. I know that the National Trust and English Heritage share your Lordships' concern and do as much as they can to welcome people with disabilities to their properties. Regrettably, however, we have to come to terms with the fact that there are medieval structures where it may be architecturally impossible to provide total access for disabled people. This is where we must be careful not to whinge too much. We do not want to become known as a group of whingers, neither do we want to be seen as Philistines destroying our architectural heritage.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, mentioned Care in the Community in 1993. I have certain reservations about the word "care". It worries me that of late the word "care" is being wrongly flaunted around and abused, both editorially and in the world of advertising, with a great lack of care and a constant stress that certain organisations, professions and individuals almost have a caring monopoly. Surely it should be presumed that every worthwhile member of the community cares, whatever his job, from airline pilot to nurse; from bus driver to banker; from shop assistant to restaurateur; from shop steward to industrialist.
People with a physical disability do not want to be surrounded by so-called "caring" people. They want action, and not words, to put into practice what is their right—their right to work; their right to be listened to; their right to live an integrated life in the community; their right to travel in a dignified way; their right to be accepted; their right to enjoy their lives to the full which their able-bodied counterparts may take for granted; and, above all, their right to be recognised and appraised for their abilities alone and not singled out for their disabilities.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Alexander of Weedon
My Lords, I should like to talk this afternoon on the importance of improving the machinery and procedures for securing law reform. I am very conscious that because of the many great social concerns that we have heard aired this afternoon—if I may say so, perhaps none more eloquently than in the last speech that we have heard—the topic I have chosen may seem somewhat dry and 272 esoteric. Indeed, I can envisage that, in the theatrical metaphor to which we have listened so delightfully, it may well lead to a rush to the exit doors.
However, having said that, I suspect that the matter is of vital concern to us all because the procedures to ensure that legislation can be effectively achieved are, after all, an essential conduit to creating the framework that we seek for making effective changes in the areas that may be our priority. I am conscious, too, and glad that your Lordships' House will debate this topic at somewhat greater length in a few weeks' time, but I hope that I may be permitted to say a few words today because I shall be unable to be present on that occasion.
The hurdles that exist at present against effective law reform are well known. As we would all expect in this House, they have been strikingly and vividly expressed by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham in his fascinating autobiography The Sparrow's Tale. He writes in these inimitable terms:You then have to struggle for a place in an overcrowded legislative programme. You have to overcome the resistance of the obscurantists and the forces of inertia. You have to control the enthusiasts, and finally, if you are lucky, and after immense discussion in both Houses of Parliament, you may have achieved a worthwhile change. On the way, you have to face a number of unnecessary obstacles, the division of responsibility between departments, each, like the DTI and the Home Office, sovereign in its own field and each imbued with an orthodox tradition deeply embedded in the thinking of its own departmental officials. In Parliament you have to reckon with the loquacity and insensate zeal of enthusiasts, the hostility of single-purpose pressure groups, nearly always well motivated but sometimes wholly misguided… The task of the reformer is thus strewn with pitfalls".I do not propose today to tilt at all those windmills at once. It is understandable that, where proposed legislation involves controversial policy issues, the power of persuasion may sometimes be prolonged and tortuous. I wish to concentrate only on Bills that can properly be described as those which seek technical law reform. Such Bills, despite their label as "technical", are nevertheless important. They can affect the rights and liabilities of individuals and the smooth functioning of commerce. The principle behind them is often widely and generally accepted as sensible. In the case of Law Commission Bills, they have been preceded by wide consultation and published well in advance of their introduction to Parliament. Yet because of our current procedures it is extremely difficult to carry those principles forward into legislation.
This is a concern that has been regularly voiced. In its last two annual reports the Law Commission has expressed regret that so few of its recent recommendations have found a place in the legislative programme. In each of those reports attention was drawn to a steadily worsening trend. In 1991 the report stated:At the time the Commission was established, the fear was often expressed that Parliament would not find time for law reform legislation emanating from the Commission. In 1971 our predecessors were able to say that such fear had proved ill-founded, because the managers of the Government's legislative business had been generous with time, notwithstanding the other urgent calls on it, and private members had shown themselves ready to advance the work of law reform. Unhappily, attitudes appear to have changed in more recent years".273 More recent concern has been expressed in a consultative paper published by the Legal Risk Review Committee established under the aegis of the Bank of England. This committee, which I happen to chair, was established to look at the extent to which uncertainty as to the operation of the law might be a disadvantage to the preservation and enhancement of the City of London as Europe's major international financial centre. We have received a good deal of evidence from all sectors of financial markets which expresses their reservations about the law reform processes. Widespread concern was expressed to us that these processes tend to be, as was said, unstructured, inefficient and, above all, extremely slow. We ourselves are in full agreement with the concerns expressed by the Law Commission.
In saying this, we recognise that the difficulties are practical. The demands on parliamentary time mean that priority is inevitably given to Bills which reflect the Government's programme: whether manifesto or policy commitments, or Bills that are necessary to incorporate international convention, or Bills that are thought desirable to meet an unforeseen emergency. Some of these Bills are so important that they take a good deal of the time available in any one Session. The Children Act 1989 and the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 are both recent examples which your Lordships will recollect.
These priorities are understandable, and it is difficult to see that they will or should change. That is why it is so important to seek to devise a procedure which will find additional time so that issues of technical law reform may properly be considered. I know that my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor is not without sympathy for this view. He suggested to the committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe that it would be worth exploring the possibility of using the special committee procedure in this House to facilitate the inclusion of Bills, such as those recommended by the Law Commission, which would not otherwise find a place in the legislative programme. He raised the possibility that such committees could be taken off the Floor in this House. The committee chaired by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe went on, in the light of that suggestion, to recommend in its report the experimental use of special standing committee procedures for certain technical and legal Bills. I hope that that proposal will be adopted so that its effectiveness can be tested. However, it would, as I understand it, require some form of link with the procedure in another place to ensure that a Bill which was dealt with in this way in our House could be effectively progressed in another place.
There would be, perhaps, a number of Law Commission Bills which would be suitable for this procedure. Perhaps I may take two examples. I turn first to the proposal in 1989 entitled Jurisdiction over Offences of Fraud and Dishonesty with a Foreign Element. This report was widely welcomed by those fighting international fraud. It contained a short, draft Bill which could probably have been enacted without controversy. No arguments have been advanced. It 274 was thought an eminently sensible measure. Perhaps it may fall within the ambit of the legislation to combat fraud which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor mentioned this afternoon.
The second example is the proposal in 1991 called Rights of Suit in Respect of Carriage of Goods by Sea. That proposal was introduced as a Bill in the window of time which preceded the general election. While not a Government Bill, it had support from all political parties. Unfortunately, although it passed speedily through this House it was unable to pass through the House of Commons because of the dissolution of Parliament. It contained proposals widely thought to be necessary to reform the Bills of Lading Act 1855. The present position, therefore, is that the current law has been shown to be unsatisfactory and in need of amendment. It is important that our law is brought up to date, especially if we are not to be at a disadvantage compared with other jurisdictions. One such alert jurisdiction, the Netherlands, is changing its own law to make it more attractive to those dissatisfied with English bills of lading. Another illustration of a Bill that might be suitable for the committee procedure is the arbitration Bill, which I understand to be at a fairly advanced stage of gestation.
I do not suggest that the proposal to take technical Bills off the Floor of this House is more than one modest, first step towards assisting the better progress of technical law reform. I would hope that the problems which are currently widely recognised can be constructively addressed during this Session.
Perhaps I may add a personal plea. At present there is no consultation on the drafting of government Bills. The general principles of a new statute may be set out in a consultative paper on which views are canvassed, but the text of the Bill is not disseminated prior to its introduction to Parliament. That contrasts with the Law Commission procedure. It is hard for many of us to understand why this remains so. The effect is undoubtedly that the structure and language of the Bill are crystallised without there being the opportunity for them to be significantly influenced by informed comment. As Professor Roy Goode, the very experienced Norton Rose professor of English law at Oxford, has said:Amendments to the Bill take place while it is going through Parliament, with all the time pressures of the legislative process, and it is scarcely surprising that, at the end of the day, the result is all too often an enactment of extraordinary prolixity, obscurity and convolution".I accept that your Lordships may not recognise that as being the state of any Bill which leaves your Lordships' House, but it is an outside view.
I also accept that parliamentary draftsmanship is a skilled and difficult task. But I believe that it is time to take the view that consultation on draft Bills should play a part in improving the process. I very much hope that the sympathy which my noble and learned friend has expressed for securing an improved machinery will be one of which we may see tangible signs with the help of the Government Front Bench during the course of this Session.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, speaks with high authority on the law and law reform. I hope that on some other occasion he will address us on banking. He is after all one of the half dozen most eminent bankers in the country.
Banking has changed a good deal in the past 30 years since I was chairman of one of the smaller clearing banks. I do not know whether all noble Lords will think there has been an improvement. My bank was absorbed by a magnificent institution which I would naturally wish to conciliate. The other day I telephoned it with the usual fear and trembling to ask the state of my account. The young person at the other end said, "Number? The computer needs a number". I said that I did not know the number. When eventually I discovered the number, the computer, after a moment's pause, said, "No such number." That is what comes from having been a bank chairman in the dark ages. However, the noble Lord will, I am sure, humanise banking as he has humanised the law.
I join in the tributes paid to the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The noble Lord mentioned me. I am a very small fish in that pond. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, deserves a great deal more credit. He, after all, brought the noble Lord, Lord Rix, into his position. That was an achievement in itself. If I were asked today what living Englishman has done more than anyone else to help the helpless in this country, I would answer, the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire. We all hope and pray that his health improves. However, I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is becoming a strong candidate for that position. In his autobiography the noble Lord, Lord Cheshire, tells us that he is happy with the disabled. He has, after all, founded 300 homes throughout the world. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, has the same quality of being happy with the handicapped. It is a rare quality. We all envy him and salute him for what he has done and for his speech today.
Just before I came into the House someone said to me, "I suppose you are going to speak about penal reform." To the evident relief of this person, I said no. He obviously thought it was unlikely that I had any other subject. I knew that penal reform and other such matters would be dealt with superbly, as they have been, by the noble Lords, Lord Mishcon, Lord Windlesham, Lord Donaldson, and, from a different angle perhaps, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. I knew that penal reform would be well covered so I decided to speak on a different subject. I hope that the subject will not cause any embarrassment. I want to ask a question: what does it mean if one calls oneself a socialist? When I joined the Labour Party in 1936, having had other experience, I said, "I am a socialist because I am a Christian". I would say that today but I would mean something rather different from socialist and slightly different from Christian because I have become a Roman Catholic in the meantime. However, that has not really affected the issue I am discussing this evening.
276 When in 1945 I became a Lord in Waiting I had the honour of being invited to call on King George VI. After a slight hesitation he said to me, "Why did you join them?" I had to think hard about what he was referring to. I concluded that he meant, "Why did you join the Labour Party?" What could one say to his much respected Majesty? I could have said, "Because I believe that all men are equal in the sight of God", which is what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop said earlier today. I could have gone on to say, if I were expressing my real thoughts and feelings, "We should all be treated in that way in the governance of men." That is how I could have expressed my socialism—then and now. That seemed a little impertinent as I stood there bowing away so I said, "Because I am on the side of the underdog." The King paused for a moment, as was his wont, and then said, "So am I." That ended the conversation. I have had a tremendous admiration for him ever since. He was fully entitled to say that. When he was Duke of York he ran the Duke of York's camps and had for years worked among the poorest. He was making no idle boast.
Many other people quite remote from politics are engaged in welfare work on the side of the underdog. I am sorry that the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, dislikes the word "caring." I pay the highest tribute to those who devote their lives to caring for those in need. If one calls oneself any kind of socialist one must mean that one wishes to achieve equality of human beings through public action. One must mean that. One is not referring simply to one's charitable endeavours. In that sense therefore my attitude has not changed.
In one respect, however, there has been a change; it is from the point of view of elderly socialists who joined the Labour Party in the 1930s. This may also appeal to younger ones too. In those days we pinned great hopes on nationalisation. We believed that much could be achieved through nationalisation. Nationalisation has not proved a failure but it has not proved a gigantic success. There has been a drawn battle. I am not in the least in favour of attempts to privatise existing nationalised industries. To privatise the prisons would be an obscenity. I am not moving away from what one might call orthodox policy but I certainly do not believe that we shall be able to achieve what we hope to achieve—a new kind of society—through the particular instrument of nationalisation. We have to pin our hopes on making private enterprise and various forms of collective enterprise work effectively. We have to pin our hopes on that. That means a change from the 1930s. I believe—and anyone who calls himself a socialist believes —in the equality of all human beings and in the duty of trying to realise that through public action.
It may be that being on the side of the underdog is not a winning cause. The underdog is not all that popular with the rest of the community. He is at the bottom. For example—to take but one—it is said that there are no votes in penal reform. That may be true. Whether or not there are votes in any particular aspect of the cause of the underdog, we must stick to it. We must never give up the attempt to realise the kingdom of God through serving the underdog.
277 There was a poet by the name of Crosland—not, I believe, related to the late Anthony Crosland. He put what I am trying to say extremely well. He said, "I trod the road to hell, but there were things that I might have sold and did not sell". I am sure that the Labour Party must never abandon its belief, whether it is called socialist or under whatever name it passes.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, I must first apologise to the House for the fact that I shall be unable to stay to hear the end of the debate. I apologise especially to the Minister. I am afraid that I have a previous engagement which was booked many months ago before I knew that today's debate was to take place. I should like to add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on his maiden speech. How fortunate we are in this House to have added to our number such a persuasive advocate who can speak on behalf of the handicapped. As one who has a handicapped person living in the immediate family, I should like to say how glad I am to know that he is here to speak up for such people.
As a society, it seems to me that we need not just to be more considerate towards the handicapped but to recognise that they have a particular and unique contribution to make to society. The truth always seems to me to be that we are all handicapped in one way or another; it is just that some people's handicaps are nearer the surface and more visible. In those terms, I believe that we can recognise how much other people have to contribute.
I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, on his maiden speech. By the very choice of his subject he has shown that he is sensitive to highly important issues. We look forward to hearing further contributions from him.
In the gracious Speech, reference was made to the legislation that will be brought forward,to extend choice and diversity in education".In the pause before that legislation is brought before the House, I wonder whether we could reflect further on two fundamental matters. First, how is the confidence of the teaching profession to be regained? Secondly, what are the values taught in and expressed by our educational system?
Members of the teaching profession are in large measure dazed and disheartened: they are dazed by the number of changes that they have been asked to put into effect following what they believe to have been scant consultation; and they are disheartened because they feel undervalued both by society and by the Government. I believe that, in some measure, they have not helped themselves. I am thinking, for example, of the way in which they have been, in my view, unwisely and unnecessarily cautious about appraisal. But, whatever the cause of the malaise, we shall not have an improved education service until teachers have confidence in it and in themselves. I hope that the new Secretary of State will be able to tackle that matter directly.
The second issue is the question of values taught in, and expressed by, our education system. The Secretary 278 of State recently indicated that he would like to see moral values given a firmer place and a sharper focus in schools. I personally welcome that, though without necessarily calling in aid the longer term sanctions against those who fail to adhere to the moral standards to which he referred. I also note that the chairman of the National Curriculum Council has drawn attention to the need for moral and spiritual values to feature in the curriculum. Those recent speeches echo the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which has now been incorporated, although in slightly different terms, into the recently agreed schools Act. That growing attention to values seems to me to be welcome. We now know that we cannot have value-free education: value-free education becomes valueless education. We all have values and it is time that we were much more explicit and less apologetic about them.
As well as the moral and spiritual values taught in the education system, there are values taught by the education system. For example, admissions policies display how we value individuals and how we evaluate success. If one of the things that we now value is parental choice, I hope that that will be matched by parental obligation. If there is to be emphasis on the right to education, I hope that that will be matched by the responsibilities of education.
At present we are adopting a culture which encourages us to think that we are right to select what we want for our children. Well, if we are to have that, it needs to be matched by an expectation that when we are educated we have a responsibility to society as a whole which has provided us with that education. One of the values which needs to be taught in schools is responsibility for others and responsibility to the whole of society. Education is a public service, and its products should have a sense of public service.
In the gracious Speech reference is made to "diversity in education." We have to ask: what does that mean in relation to the particular matter of grant-maintained status? As I see it, there are various options before the Government. One is that grant-maintained status shall be available to a proportion of schools in the system, thus being one strand in a varied pattern. Another is to see grant-maintained status as the desired pattern for all schools. If I heard the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor correctly, he indicated that that is the desired option of the Government. If so, I hope that it will be explicitly and clearly stated.
What would be precarious is adopting neither of those options but groping forward on a series of ad hoc decisions. The evidence appears to be that if in any one locality more than a majority of schools become grant maintained, then the remainder of the schools will wish to follow suit for fear of being disadvantaged. Moreover, if those later applications are not to be granted for no clearly stated reasons or criteria, then I believe that we are likely to have not so much a diversity but a muddle.
Another area awaiting clarification—and I look forward to reading the White Paper in this connection—is the role of local education authorities or their successors. The more grant-maintained schools there 279 are, the more urgent is the need for a coherent management structure. Otherwise we shall have not a system of education managed within a strategic plan, but competing independent businesses at the mercy of market forces. That may work well for producing washing machines; but it is not suited for a crucial public service which must provide for all children wherever they are. In my view, the advantage of local education authorities has been (whatever their failings) that they have been democratically accountable and publicly accessible. A grant-maintained funding council with satellite committees will have neither of those facilities: it will be neither democratically accountable nor publicly accessible.
Further, if local education authorities are to be retained in essentially their present form but are to have primarily the function of producers of advisory services, I wonder whether it will be possible to attract people of real calibre to serve on those bodies. If they have no realistic function to fulfil, the risk is that we shall not have highly qualified people wishing to discharge those responsibilities. Wisdom and experience surely point towards having a strategic planning responsibility remaining with democratically accountable and publicly accessible bodies. In this connection we look forward to knowing the Government's intentions.
Perhaps I may briefly add one more point. With all the changes which are still before us and which are being implemented now, I am concerned that the disadvantaged areas may become further disadvantaged. I have a particular concern in this area. I am thinking now of those emotionally disturbed children with behavioural problems. Our experience is that children with these particular special needs are at risk for a cluster of reasons—partly because of the growth of a more selective admissions policy in some schools, partly because of the increasing closure of special schools meeting the specialist needs of these children and also because of the likelihood that a number of schools will increase the number of exclusions because of their need to produce satisfactory league tables. Without these factors coming into play, there is already an indication that a number of these people are not able to find the costly facilities that they need if they are to become attractive members of society. I think of one school in particular with which I have had connections and which is having to close for these reasons.
I welcome both diversity and choice in education. However, I hope that they will not be allowed to undermine the system that we have but will enrich it. I hope too that there will remain an educational system that provides high quality education for all young people whoever and wherever they are.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
My Lords, I am very glad to be following the right reverend Prelate for two reasons. First, since he and I disagreed during the passage of the Charities Act on what should happen to church schools which had become village halls, he has, I 280 know, in an open-minded way been trying to help to solve that problem. The second reason is that I too wish to deal with the question of special education.
Before I go further, I should like to add my admiration for the two maiden speeches we have heard today. My noble friend Lord Lucas packed as much deep thought into five minutes as I have ever heard in your Lordships' House. As for my noble friend Lord Rix, there is so much that I could say, but I must acknowledge the debt that MENCAP owes to him as an administrator, a broadcaster, a fund-raiser and one who is expert at imposing himself on the gentlemen of Whitehall.
I turn now to people with special learning difficulties—if the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, will forgive the expression. I know of no other. I refer especially to those who are mentally handicapped. There is a tendency, as the right reverend Prelate said, on the part of local education authorities to minimise special education. They do so by claiming that children with learning difficulties can benefit by being taught in ordinary schools. That is called integration. Normally integration is a very fine thing to have. But it is seriously misleading in this context and can have very bad consequences.
The reality is that most children with learning difficulties are miserable in ordinary schools if their special needs cannot be met, and generally they cannot be. That is my first complaint. It follows from that that special schools should be increased, not reduced in numbers, as the right reverend Prelate so rightly pointed out. They should certainly not be closed down for outside reasons such as is happening to a special school in Huntingdon at present. "Ah but", the local education authorities say, "what are we to do? There are not enough teachers specially trained for teaching people with learning difficulties. There are not enough to enable us to run these special schools". That may well be so in many places, but it means that steps should be taken to train more of them.
About 25 years ago, on behalf of MENCAP, I was involved in helping to establish the first college for training teachers of mentally handicapped children. It was situated on the outskirts of Birmingham and Her Majesty the Queen Mother, our royal patron, travelled all the way to Birmingham especially to open it. There ought to be more such schools, and I hope that the Government will give this matter serious consideration.
I should like to mention a particular problem within that general problem and that is the shortage of speech therapists. I suggest that, independently of any teacher training college of the kind that I have mentioned, steps should now be taken somehow to increase the number of speech therapists, because that is one of the major problems.
I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Blatch is now Minister of State for Education. She was open-minded and most admirable in discharging her duties at the Department of the Environment. She has immense experience of local education as a former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. I am truly sorry that I, too, have to apologise to her and to your 281 Lordships for being unable to remain here much longer as I also have an outside engagement of long standing.
There is another quite separate matter that I wish to mention following on from the speech of my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon. I am glad that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has listened to so much of this debate. He knows my anxieties about the way we legislate, which many of your Lordships and branches of the professions also share. I much admire the achievements of Conservative Governments in the past 13 years. But I am sorry to have to say that during that time most Acts of Parliament have been longer, more detailed, more complex, more incomprehensible and more inaccessible in the sense that the legal profession has found it difficult to find when various parts of such Acts come into operation.
Indeed, last year the Bar Council—perhaps due to the initiative of my noble friend Lord Alexander when he was chairman a little earlier—appointed a working party under Mr. James Goudie, QC, to study the whole question of the inaccessibility and incomprehensibility of the law. The Lord Chancellor has had the report and I hope that something will be done about it.
We should not entirely blame the parliamentary draftsmen. I have always maintained that they are more sinned against than sinning. Ministers are constitutionally responsible for the Bills that they lay before Parliament. Also, a heavy responsibility lies on those, mostly middle-ranking civil servants, who instruct parliamentary draftsmen. They do so over-zealously. However, it is clear from the gracious Speech that we can expect rather less legislation this Session. That is a very good thing. It gives all concerned a better chance to improve its quality. I hope that at a later stage we may go more thoroughly into this matter.
On this occasion the only point I wish to stress is that we must express, get the draftsmen to express and get Ministers to agree to express the intentions of Parliament so that they do not have merely to be inferred from a complicated mass of detail.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Morris of Castle Morris
My Lords, when I read in a university annual report, in the research record of one department that "Dr. Bloggs continues to act as Examiner for this and Consultant for that", I knew what it meant. It meant that Dr. Bloggs had not published anything the previous year, did not have two ideas to rub together, and was a prime candidate for redundancy, retirement and the early bath.
Even so, when I read in the gracious Speech,My Government will continue to work to raise standards at all levels of education",I knew that there would be no legislation and nothing new in that department. New thinking in education in the gracious Speech comes in the words:A Bill will be introduced to extend choice and diversity in education".Some of us on these Benches were a little surprised that the two resounding substantives "choice" and 282 "diversity" should be the only two singled out for future development in legislation. Perhaps I may direct your Lordships' attention to them for a few moments, together with the third substantive implacably implied by the first two, the word "selection".
Was I alone in detecting a tone of mild concern in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, when he seconded the Motion for a humble Address? The noble Lord said:Sometimes one feels, with a multiplicity of quangos like the National Curriculum Council and the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council, that there are too many cooks spoiling the curriculum".—[Official Report, 6/5/92; col. 16.]There are an awful lot of cooks in this kitchen, and the broth is gravely in peril. There will need to be more cooks and more bottle washers if we are to pursue that double-headed monster of choice and diversity so assiduously, so relentlessly. I should not go so far as to say that we need more choice and diversity in education like a fish needs a bicycle, but I suggest that those two concepts are not the nation's highest priority at the present time. That pre-eminence should be given to two other concepts: standards and quality. As the proverb puts it,There's small choice among rotten apples",and if standards in education are not raised, and raised rapidly, all the choice that can be created will avail us nothing.
Let me take first the issue of diversity in education, whatever that means. One might be forgiven for thinking that, as a nation, we are not short of it. There are independent boys' schools, independent girls' schools, independent mixed schools, private schools, grammar schools, grant-maintained schools, comprehensive schools of every sort and size, city technology colleges, Anglican schools, Quaker schools, Roman Catholic schools and convents; and we are now promised specialist schools and magnet schools, whatever they may be. Are we really in desperate need of more? If there are 17 different brands of baked beans on the supermarket shelf instead of 14 is the nation incomparably the richer?
Two things are quite clear: first, not every town, district or county is going to be able to provide that cornucopia of diversity. Few schools are going to "specialise" in pure mathematics, advanced physics or systems engineering because there are not enough able teachers of those subjects to go around and they are expensive subjects to teach. So provision will be patchy, random, and no more secure than the career patterns of a small number of gifted teachers who are perpetually up for sale in what is for them a seller's market.
Secondly, is it likely that many, if any, schools will specialise in teaching children with special needs? There is not a prestigious market in special needs. There are many able, devoted and brilliantly innovative teachers of what used to be called the "remedial groups", but there are no special pay scales for teachers of the neediest children, and I know of no government incentive schemes to persuade schools to specialise in that area.
283 The impetus in specialist schools will be towards recruiting the cleverest children and giving them every possible advantage. That is no bad thing in itself, but it leaves unsolved the problem of how we educate the 50 per cent. of the school population which is, by definition, below average. Unless "diversity" can include real educational opportunity for those many children who do not display strong abilities and aptitudes it will be no more than froth and bubbles. It will offer nothing to nourish and sustain the majority of children.
The same is true of the other shibboleth in the gracious Speech, the word which the Government so revere—"choice". I find it difficult to reconcile my mind to the degree of pre-eminence which the Government have for so long afforded to that concept of choice. After (was it?) the 1987 election I remember that Mrs. Thatcher's first reaction in a television interview to the responsibilities facing her new government was not, "We must give the people a better quality of life"; it was—if I quote her correctly—"We must give them more choice". It is a nonsense to say that the present thrust of Government thinking on secondary education will give greater parental choice. In a comprehensive system parents can, at least in theory and usually in practice, choose their preferred school and appeal against rejection. Under any selective system it is not the parent who chooses, it is the school. Parental choice is irrelevant, as the parents of any child who has been rejected are all too bitterly aware. In any selective system parents are free to apply; they are not free to choose.
Of course, rich parents, highly motivated parents, and clever parents will always be able to beat the system, whatever the system may be. You can always "get on your bike" and move to where the schools are better. But, once again, the problem lies with the education of that great mass of children who lack those advantages. The hungry sheep look up and will not be fed. They ask for bread and the Government will give them a stone. Their education will not be a matter of choice, it will be a matter of chance.
Diversity and choice are debatable benefits and not pre-eminent priorities. At the very heart of our secondary education stands the issue of selection at the age of 11. Opting-out is merely the first step on the slippery slope back to some form of the discredited 11-plus examination. Secondary education is either comprehensive or it is not. One cannot be partly comprehensive just as one cannot be partly pregnant. Opting-out creates a divided system, and in a divided system admission to the most desirable schools means pupils being selected by those schools, and the only fair way to do that is by open, competitive examination. That is a return to the dismal system which obtained before 1965 in which a majority of the nation's children were branded as failures before they even reached their 'teens.
When the then Secretary of State for Education, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, was asked, in the months before the general election, whether grant-maintained schools would be able to apply for "a change of character" and transform themselves into selective grammar schools his answers were ambiguous, 284 ingenuous and sometimes ingenious. According to Mr. Clarke, the Government's policy amounted to little more than "wait and see". According to Mr. Clarke, if school governors made a convincing case for a change then the Government would graciously accede to the desires and petitions of its faithful parents; but the Government had no general view of their own as to whether it would be better to have a comprehensive or a selective system.
One can readily see why Mr. Clarke's position should be appropriate for the Conservative Party before an election, but it will not do for a government responsible for the nation's education for anything up to the next five years. As Mr. Stuart Maclure has recently written,There seems a strange reluctance to acknowledge that one person's grammar school means three other people's secondary modern schools. That, after all, is the crux of the problem".I wish to ask the Minister to state whether or not the Government support a return to selection for secondary education by competitive examination at the age of 11-plus. I am not so naive as to imagine that she will give me a one-word "yes" or "no" answer, but the forthcoming White Paper must surely clarify the Government's position on this central issue. Then we can openly debate government policy and the many other options currently being canvassed, some of them remarkably radical.
Professor Tim Brighouse of the University of Keele is reported as having advised the Labour Party to espouse total privatisation of state schooling, with a massive expansion of places at private schools paid for out of public funds. As an academic, I find that that is not a self-evidently absurd suggestion and it seems to have received the backing of the headmaster of Haileybury College, himself a past chairman of the Headmasters' Conference. Can the Minister tell the House whether Her Majesty's Government regard the total privatisation of state schooling as,a consummation devoutly to be wish'd"?If not, why not?
The issue of selection is supremely important. A recent first leader in The Times—a newspaper not famous for championing the Labour Party—sums up my concern very clearly and briefly:The reintroduction of 11-plus selection is a hugely significant policy, the direct result of the government's attempted 'nationalisation' of secondary schooling in England and Wales. Of all the options for state secondary school reform it is probably the worst, and certainly a colossal gamble. It appeared nowhere in the Tory manifesto, and should not come about by stealth or terminological confusion. Mr. Patten should say clearly whether he believes in it or not".My mind returns to the gently wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, when he pleaded the case for "a period of consolidation" to permit teachers to build on what he sees as,the real achievements which have taken place".We on these Benches maintain that, more important than diversity, more important than choice, more important than selection at 11-plus is the necessity to raise standards of provision and achievement and to provide the highest possible quality of education for all our children. We believe that this is most likely to be achieved by a comprehensive system, administered 285 by well resourced local education authorities with knowledge of their local communities and accountable to them.
It may be that we are wrong. There may be a better way. I, for one, would take a great deal of convincing that such is the case, but it is up to Her Majesty's Government now, in the White Paper, to put forward a more persuasive proposal. The Government cannot go on shrugging their shoulders, shilly-shallying, content to wait and see, abnegating their responsibility for providing a framework of clear proposals for the future of secondary education in this country. The Government must make up their mind.
We, of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, are ready to oppose, eager to engage, willing to debate. But you cannot argue with an absence; you cannot oppose a jelly.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, until the fifteenth speaker in this debate the subject on which I was going to speak had hardly been touched. Then the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford spoke about education, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, evidently read my mind as I sat here. However, I shall permit myself to go over the same ground, trying to pick out certain points which were omitted or which would not be harmed by amplification.
We have the problem that we are confronted with a school system which is about to suffer a series of changes and which very much echoes a largely discredited system: the 11-plus system. That is not because grammar schools were so disastrous; indeed, everyone assures me that they were wonderful, that everyone who came out of them was great, that the sport was better, and that exam results were better. It is because everyone seems consistently to ignore that secondary modern schools went with the grammar schools. That is the crux of the problem. We had second-rate schools because we had selection. That fact does not seem to be considered. I have never heard anyone tell me how wonderful the secondary modern system was and how it turned out so many successes. I remember being told that when someone reached university or a higher education course from a secondary modern school, it was worthy of mention in the local paper. If that is not a condemnation of the system, I do not know what is.
We are also confronted by a situation where the Government have brought in the national curriculum. It has been played around with over the past few years and has reached a workable level. Now they say that we shall have specialist schools. Why bother with the national curriculum if we are to have specialist schools? For example, there has been a great deal of criticism of the A-level examination and the fact that we specialise too early. The national curriculum means that there is a good foundation to go on to specialisation, but the A-levels look ready for reform. However, we are now saying that we will get rid of the 286 basis of general knowledge and general preparation so that specialisation is being enforced at an even earlier stage.
There is also the fact that under the successor system of the comprehensive schools, as and when introduced, children changed over at the age of 11. That meant that the change came when the child was still very young. I cannot remember the name, but I believe that the mathematician who carried out the initial testing on the 11-plus tripartite exam system faked his information or it was certainly questionable. The age of 11 is very young. The potential for children not showing their best at that age is massive. A child may not show up well in certain subjects for a variety of reasons: the easiest is perhaps that children did not like the teachers in certain subjects at their previous schools. They may not have liked the way in which a certain type of history was taught, or technology, science, English or maths. That is one area of disaster.
We have heard much about special needs in education. As your Lordships undoubtedly know by now, since I have bored the House with the subject often enough, I am dyslexic. I have done a considerable amount of work at the Dyslexia Institute. The number of undiscovered dyslexics in our schools is still high. What happens to those children when they are confronted with a test, even if it is only partly written, especially since assessments are more often becoming written tests? One can see how problems would be compounded if children take the entrance to a selective school on a series of previous assessments.
There are a great many problems here. Can the Government be more consistent? At the higher end of the spectrum we have just decided that polytechnics should have at least the same status as universities. It would make sense if the state-run schools were at least all playing on the same playing field. What is good enough for degrees should surely be good enough for GCSEs.
Effectively, we have a situation which is muddled and confused. We do not know what we are doing. I join the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, in saying that we would like to know exactly what we are dealing with. At present, we do not. I ask the Government whether they have any plans to stop the creation of secondary modern schools or some successor body? What can prevent that? If the majority of schools are allowed to opt out and become specialists there is bound to be a well for children such as those whose parents have not pushed them hard enough, those who have had a rough time at school or those with domestic problems and similar difficulties.
The children who have had problems will end up in schools where they are not expected to do well. I have never heard the Government contradict the fact that people live up to expectations. Children in such schools will learn that very quickly. We can take the example of the old secondary modern schools. I believe that older Members of your Lordships' House will confirm that the secondary moderns were originally introduced as an equal but different option. They were not. No one has pretended that that was the case.
287 If we leave a number of comprehensives to sweep up those who are left over if such a highly selective, complicated and finicky system is allowed to develop, we shall create schools which may well be worse than those we got rid of a few years ago.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Lord Diamond
My Lords, it is not my intention to pursue that aspect of our debate but to return to social matters. First, I want to say that there are several aspects of a society which one would want to look at in order to assess its level of civilisation. For example, do its members enjoy freedom under the law? Are its arts flourishing? Does the society provide adequately for those in need? No doubt there would be many other aspects. Two which would interest me greatly are the degree of lawlessness and the gap between the haves and the have-nots. I should need to know the developing trend in each of those areas and whether there was any evidence that the two were connected.
I need spend no time on the first in view of what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has already said with such authority and such damning statistics. As to the second—the income gap —it is of course productive of some satisfaction to note that not only has the standard of living of everyone been increasing but also the spread of incomes both between the extremes of riches and unbearable poverty and over society as a whole has been improving, admittedly too slowly but nevertheless consistently over the years since the beginning of the century.
However, over the last decade that trend first faltered and was then reversed. Nobody is proposing absolute equality of incomes. That is neither desirable nor achievable in a free society. However, while there is still such a long way to go that reversal of the trend is both unacceptable and dangerous. It is unacceptable to have hundreds of our citizens sleeping rough on the streets. It is unacceptable to have thousands homeless. It is unacceptable to have millions unemployed. Moreover, all those spell danger for the stability of our society, for the have-nots see themselves not only as denied a fair share of the general improvement in living standards hut, where they suffer homelessness and long-term unemployment, they naturally feel rejected by society and they say, "If society does not care for me, why should I care for society?"
The Prime Minister has spoken in very sincere terms of his desire to see improvement. I am sure that the present Government will wish to restore the previous trend towards a fairer and more stable society. It is in that connection that I want to refer to two matters which became very clear to me during the six years that I spent as the full-time chairman of the relevant Royal Commission.
The first is that, if one does nothing, the situation gets worse. One has to do quite a lot to maintain the status quo and a great deal more to improve on it. As one's common sense would lead one to expect, in a moving situation it is natural that those who are able to improve their financial position, whether through education, connections, the ownership of capital or for any other reason, will quickly outstrip those who are not similarly endowed.
288 If this were an economic debate I should at this point have much to say about methods of taxation and the choice of priorities in public expenditure. All that must be left for another day. However, I should perhaps underline now that the issue is not which methods should be adopted to increase national income for, as I have indicated, if no special steps are taken to affect the play of the free market, those at the top will secure a share of that increase which is wholly disproportionate to the share gained by those much lower down. As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury reminded us over the weekend, the rise in the average pay of the British executive over the past decade was between 11 and 24 times the rise in that of a skilled manual worker. I add only that an employed skilled manual worker is himself fortunate by comparison with those well below him on the income scale.
The second matter is the principle of equality of opportunity, upon which the Government appear to be basing their philosophy. That is a fine and necessary principle, but it is quite insufficient for present purposes. It is indeed only meaningful to the extent that all those to whom the opportunity is presented are capable of making use of it. To provide equality of opportunity as between the strong and the weak, as between the well educated and the under-educated, as between the able and the disabled, as between the well connected and the unconnected, as between the hale and the halt, is self-evidently inadequate. To be fair to the Government, they do not believe it to be sufficient either, for a safety net is provided through which no one is expected to fall. However, the reversal of that hundred year-old trend to which I have referred means that the safety net will prove ever more inadequate. It is already developing holes through which many are falling.
The gracious Speech refers to the Government's decision to improve the social security system with sustained emphasis on those groups with the greatest need. I have made clear two particular matters which need to be addressed in implementing that decision. I am also sure that we are all on common ground in wishing to strengthen the stability of our society, remembering in particular that poverty and the feeling of rejection were shown to be major elements contributing to the riots in Liverpool and Brixton. It is in the light of those events, and in the blazing light of Los Angeles, that I ask the Government to give urgent consideration to the necessary improvement.
§ 6.58 p.m.
Lord MeColl of Dulwich
My Lords, I too should like to add my congratulations to the two brilliant maiden speakers on their splendid speeches, which I enjoyed very much.
One of the features of the parliamentary world which puzzles me is the way some politicians will make statements about the National Health Service which are not based on facts and truth. They justify that by describing it as acceptable political knockabout. If one political party accuses another of pursuing policies which result in a fourfold increase in the death rate of pheasants, one can regard that as good knockabout 289 political behaviour. But when false statements are repeatedly made which denigrate the National Health Service, quite naturally it upsets patients and demoralises staff. I should like to examine the subject not from the point of view of whether it does any harm to the Government but whether it is right for politicians to engage in systematic propaganda which quite unnecessarily frightens vulnerable and defenceless patients, who are often frail and elderly.
For instance, some politicians accuse the Government of being responsible for the closure of 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. of hospital beds in the past 13 years. But what any fair minded person would immediately want to know when confronted with that accusation is whether that was an isolated event over the past 13 years or whether it was part of a trend over a much longer period. The answer is that it is part of a trend over a much longer period.
To be precise, over the past 27 years there has been a steady reduction in the number of available hospital beds, irrespective of which government have been in power. There are many reasons for that. For instance, it is now recognised that half of general surgical operations can be done on a day case basis. That is now strongly advocated by the Royal College of Surgeons, because it is the best way to treat those patients. Only 30 years ago patients who had had a heart attack were put on complete bed rest in hospital for six weeks. We now know that that practice is dangerous. Prolonged bed rest results in all kinds of problems, such as thrombosis in the veins of the leg or pneumonia. Nowadays people who have had a heart attack are in hospital for only a few days.
Beds can be dangerous places. Therefore old people are quite reluctant to go into hospital. One lady of 93 who consulted me refused to go into hospital for a major operation. At her request we agreed to do the operation at her home under local anaesthetic on a Saturday morning. The only problem we had was that the bed was so low that I had to kneel to do the operation, which, on reflection, I thought was probably the right attitude to adopt. Another difficulty was that, as she lived on her own, she had to have her young daughter of 74 come and spend the night with her. Many more hospital beds in fact could reasonably be closed now, according to a recent Audit Commission report. So the accusation made against the Government about beds is simply not founded on facts, figures or truth.
Moving along the spectrum of scare stories, one comes inevitably to Jennifer's ear. The Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition was seen in a party political broadcast on television with a young actress who had acute pain in her ear. The broadcast pretended that the real Jennifer had been kept waiting for nine or 10 months for an operation for the insertion of grommets to relieve the pain in her ear. That was a false story. Children with acute pain in their ear have infection in the middle ear and today require antibiotics. That is what they get. Children on waiting lists waiting for grommets are having difficulty hearing. Anyway there is certainly no need for them to wait for that length of time. Should politicians misuse Jennifer's ear in 290 television propaganda? It was a very unhappy and harmful experience for the whole of that unfortunate family.
Over the past few years there have been many statements—I regret to say some of them have been made in your Lordships' House—that the NHS is about to collapse. In particular, it was specifically forecast to collapse on 1st April 1991 when, it was said, the NHS would be plunged into chaos as a result of the reforms. That simply was not true. Politicians still try to justify that kind of behaviour, however, though many apprehensive patients and their relatives are frightened quite unnecessarily by such false predictions. Other statements were made elsewhere to the effect that patients on waiting lists were dying. When those stories were investigated, it was found that they were not true. As the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, said, "A lie is half way round the world before you can do anything to correct it."
I come to the far end of the spectrum of shroud waving. A full page advertisement about the NHS was published in national newspapers before the election. It referred to the death of a child several months earlier and stated:Georgina Norris died because the NHS is short of money. Meanwhile the Tories are cutting taxes to keep their election hopes alive".The child did not die through lack of money. The story simply was not true.
I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that that kind of callous exploitation of parents grieving for their dead child has no place in a civilised country. Is it not time to stop that kind of bullying of vulnerable, frightened people? Is it not about time that we said that the NHS, with all its faults, provides an extremely good service, especially for the acutely ill? Of course mistakes are made and unfortunate things happen but do we not have an obligation to try to put things into perspective?
Last year 7.5 million patients were treated, 6.3 million as in-patients and 1.2 million day cases. When one considers it, what goes wrong is a very small percentage of the whole. There is never room for complacency in the National Health Service, but I suggest that we should not tolerate the exploitation of the sick with sick propaganda. Surely it is time to stop treating the NHS as the plaything of the politicians. Can we not return to the 1960s and 1970s, when there was a consensus on the difficult policies which are inevitable in running a body as large as the national health service?
In 1970, when the Labour Government introduced cash limits into the hospital service and the concept of moving NHS resources out of London, both measures were unpopular; but both measures were supported by the Conservative Opposition. Today, London faces a difficult future as hard decisions will have to be made about the excess of hospitals and beds. As noble Lords are aware, the population of inner London over the past 50 years has fallen from 5 million to about half that figure. But London still has 70 per cent. more beds than the average for England. Will the Labour Opposition resume the support which it gave to that 291 movement when Labour was in government? Will it support the present Administration in the hard decisions which will have to be made?
Sir Bernard Tomlinson is currently making a study of the problems of London's hospitals. He is a distinguished professor of medicine who proved an excellent chairman of the Northern Health Region. He has no axe to grind. We hope that the Labour Party will listen sympathetically to what he has to say.
The reforms of the National Health Service are here to stay, and according to the patients, are in fact making a big difference to them. They find the hospitals cleaner and more friendly, with the delays in out-patient clinics very significantly reduced. Would it not be reasonable to suggest that all politicians could make a significant contribution to the health service by making sure that the reforms continue to improve the service?
In conclusion, perhaps I may make a special plea that we drop the political knockabout in the National Health Service and focus our efforts on securing for all NHS patients the best possible service.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, as the evening progresses it becomes more difficult to apologise for the fact that one cannot be here at the close of the debate. However, I am afraid that I have to do so. I have a long-standing commitment that I cannot escape. I apologise to the noble Baroness and to the House.
I wish to spend a few moments talking about social problems that I consider relevant to the Government's ambition to lead us toward a classless society. Perhaps I may read an extract from the report of your Lordships' Select Committee on European Communities. In the 14th Report on Young People in the European Communities, it states:The Committee concludes that there exists in many Member States a small but significant group of especially disadvantaged young people who form an isolated `marginalised' clement of society living in very deprived conditions; some have become anti-social or criminal".One cannot have a classless society with such an underclass. Please believe me, my Lords; such an underclass exists in our society. If any of you do not believe that, I can prove it.
I do not need to remind your Lordships of recent events in Los Angeles which give a chilling warning of what can happen if one allows a substantial group of young people to grow up alienated and with a feeling of being excluded from the good things enjoyed by the remainder of their fellow countrymen. I believe—and I should like to persuade your Lordships—that any action that we can take to reduce the number of such alienated and disillusioned young people in this country will save the taxpayer a great deal of money in the long run, not only the enormous costs of dealing with riots but also the cost of police and probation and custodial services throughout the lives of those young people. The noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, spoke eloquently about building more prisons. I would rather reduce the prison population; and I believe that that is what we can do.
292 What can be done? What is the true nature of this problem? One refers to poverty, yes—but poverty is only a symptom. The underlying disease is one of alienation, a feeling of exclusion from society, of not being able or allowed to belong. They are like people standing outside a door excluded from the heat and warmth within. Every now and then we open the door and give them a handout but we do not let them in. Such handouts do not solve the problem.
Why do those people find it difficult to win their own way back into society? It is mainly because they are under-educated, under-trained and undermotivated—under-motivated because they do not believe that they can achieve. It all starts with education, but long before school. A child who does not have love and security in the first five years of his life is likely to underperform at school. That serves to reinforce his own low opinion of himself, and that leads to disruptive behaviour and truanting. The child is under-educated when he reaches primary school and eventually when aged 16.
Parents can do more harm to a child than anyone else because they are the people whom a child instinctively admires and loves most. However, it would be wrong to blame the parents, because the parents are themselves in most cases the products of just such families. We are left with what I can only call a cycle of inadequate parenting. I do not say that in a spirit of criticism. It is a cycle that we have to try in some way to break. How can young people who have had no experience of a happy, secure family life themselves establish a secure and happy home? How can a young person who has had no satisfactory role model of a father or mother in his or her life become a satisfactory father or mother? We have to break that cycle. It is a task we must undertake. It is not easy. I simply mention one or two factors. There are many more.
First, I wish to refer to the under-fives. Experts tell me, and have convinced me, that it is essential that we have a nationwide provision for the under-fives available to all, including those who cannot pay. The availability of crèches and playschools not only gives respite to hard pressed and inexperienced mothers; it can do much more. Early diagnoses of children's problems can make for earlier and easier cures. Provision for under-fives can pick up the children who are being inadequately parented and give them some measure of love and security. It can teach them that it is possible to have a loving and trusting relationship with caring adults. It can also provide counselling and help to mothers and fathers when they are willing to accept it and help them to learn the skills of parenting.
In many of our primary schools the teachers are overburdened with the problems of the pupils and their parents. It is a job for which they are not trained and which interferes with their work as teachers. There is a need for real support, for schools outreach—a counselling service to support parents and children.
At secondary school level it is really too late. By then we are talking about remedial work. By 11 years children who have not had love and security at home will already be entrenched in a low self image and will 293 often be at odds with authority and adult society as a whole. Support, counselling and outreach can also help. The voluntary sector, to which I shall refer, has an important part to play.
The transition from school (or truancy) to work or training is a crucial time in the life of a young person. Those whose education has been interrupted by truanting need special help. Young people who do not have confidence in themselves need to be persuaded that they have a role in society, that they can succeed in training. When they go into training and slip and fall they need someone to motivate them to pick themselves up and try again.
I hope that the Government will stop their programme of cutting back on training funds, especially for young people with disabilities. Is it not strange that our society expects the taxpayer to contribute significant sums to provide hostel accommodation and tutorial support and counselling to 18 year-old university students yet provides no help to a 16 year-old who has been thrown out of his home in an inner city.
I believe that the voluntary sector has a big role to play. Young people do not see the voluntary sector as part of the system. They see volunteers as giving their time freely and therefore being less tainted. Alienated young people find it easier to discover that there can be adults in the world who care about them without wishing to exploit them. But it is unreasonable to expect charitable contributions to pick up the full cost of a national problem. Pound for pound funding by government would be money saved in the long run.
The most reverend Primate referred to the importance of a child choosing the right parents. Is it too much to hope to see a change in the attitude of our society to the procreation of children? I am not talking about sexual morality; with the advent of reliable contraception that is a separate issue. But should it not be an accepted tenet of our society that no man or woman should consciously or carelessly participate in the conception of a child unless they have at least made a genuine commitment to love and support that child for the next 18 years? Is it crying for the moon to suggest that we might work to change public attitudes? After all, stranger changes have taken place. I can remember the time when green was merely a colour. The Government have persuaded the public to accept the good sense of wearing seat belts. They have even reduced the smoking of cigarettes. Could the Government be persuaded to promote the concept that a child is for love and that a child is for life?
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Faithfull
My Lords, I join noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Rix, on his maiden speech. Speaking as a director of social services and a social worker I recognise how much I and my staff owe MENCAP for the work which it did and the help that it gave to us. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Lucas. He has caught the spirit of many people. During the general election many people said to me, "I wish I knew the facts about the National 294 Health Service. I wish I knew exactly how the money is spent." My noble friend has caught the spirit of many people in this country.
I seek information about services for children and young persons in regard to the measures contained in the gracious Speech. It states:My Government will give priority to improving public services through the Citizen's Charter".It further states:My Government will continue to work to raise standards at all levels of education, to promote vocational training for young people".The Government passed a most outstanding Act; the Children Act 1989, which was implemented in October 1990. Much good practice is flowing from that Act. I and my colleagues are glad that Her Majesty's Government have appointed an extra Minister in the Department of Health to oversee reform. We understand that my honourable friend Dr. Brian Mawhinney is to be the Health Minister and that Mr. Yeo, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary, is to take charge of personal social services on a day-to-day basis. That will be interesting! We are grateful that my noble friend Lady Cumberlege is at the department thus forming a strong team. We are grateful in particular to have my noble friend Lady Blatch summing up the debate because a number of my questions relate not only to health and social security but to education.
With diffidence but with conviction perhaps I may submit an agenda to Her Majesty's Government. It relates to the gaps and overlaps in legislation and administration. How are they to be met and dealt with? What machinery will be available? My question relates to all departments. Where the legislation and policies of one department of state conflict with another, what machinery exists for resolving the difficulties? What machinery exists for co-ordinating policies? I know that the answer usually given is that civil servants and Ministers talk to each other and have interdepartmental meetings. Those meetings appear to me to be cosy affairs out of which nothing is forthcoming.
Perhaps I may give several examples. The Children Act 1989 lays down that the welfare of the child is paramount and that parents have responsibility for their children. Part III of the Act lays a duty on local authority social services departments to meet the needs of children up to eight years in their areas. That conflicts with the non-implementation by local authorities of the Education Act 1981; the Department of Education appears to have taken no action for nine years. That Education Act deals with the education of children who have disabilities and who are in need of special education.
In addition school non-attendance rates have risen along with the number of children excluded from school as a result of that behaviour. In many areas the non-school attenders are registered as attending school although they have been excluded. They are marked in the register as having attended after receiving perhaps one hour's teaching per week, possibly in a church hall. A psychiatrist has written to tell me that she sees children for one hour per week. Such children otherwise roam the streets. How under 295 such circumstances can Part III of the Children Act be implemented by local services? How can it be said that the welfare of the child is paramount? Research has shown that non-school attendance is cause for great anxiety.
Another example, cited by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and other noble Lords is that of young people who have been in care in a children's home or a foster home. They are deprived of income support unless they are attending school or a training course or are employed. The training systems in this country are inadequate for such children. I have spoken to many employers who say that while they wish to help children on those courses the situation is impossible. That point was also made by the right reverend Prelate. Those children then become the responsibility of the social services. However, had they been properly looked after that would not be the case. If they are older children they may sleep rough and be subjected to approaches by prostitutes and men with drugs. Ultimately, they become the responsibility of the Home Office, which is a most expensive affair.
There is also confusion in the departments about the education and care of children under five years of age, as was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. The Department of Education has an increasing responsibility for the education of such children. Under Part III of the Act the Department of Health has responsibility for children with special needs, in particular those under the age of five. Believe it or not, the Home Office has responsibility for children under five because it has the responsibility of the Equal Opportunities Commission. With three departments responsible for children under the age of five I wonder how the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, believes that there can be one policy for all children in this country. I was grateful that the noble Lord spoke as he did about children under the age of five. It is not as though no research has been carried out. Good research has been carried out by the National Children's Bureau, the Institute of Education and the Coram Foundation. However, there is no coordinated policy for the young children of this country.
There are gaps as regards health. The child guidance service is closing down throughout the country. The service consists of a psychologist employed by the Department of Education, a psychiatrist who comes under the Department of Health and a social worker who comes under the social services department. Therefore, when the child guidance service closes down, nobody takes over that responsibility. That is proving to be a very disturbing factor.
An extremely worrying report has been published on young people entering residential psychiatric care. It was commissioned by the Children's Society. I shall not go into detail but the report shows that a number of children, given proper preventive help, would not have needed psychiatric care. It is an extremely worrying report.
Is the health of children being improved by the fact that children are no longer provided with school meals? A report has just been published which shows 296 that the health of children is impaired because a policy was adopted that children should no longer have school meals.
I make a plea to the Ministers responsible for sport and education to co-operate with the other ministries to provide the wherewithal for games for children at school and for adolescents—and that is very important—after they have left school.
I draw your Lordships' attention to the points made by my noble friend Lord Renton on residential care for children. We await the Howe Report on residential staff in children's homes. There is great confusion as to how to deal with children with special needs of an emotional nature. First, the Department of Education deals with what it calls maladjusted children who are not learning properly. Those children go to schools for maladjusted children. Such schools are closing. I have a report which shows the number that are closing. What is happening to the children who were at those schools?
There are therapeutic centres which deal with deeply disturbed children, children who have been sexually abused and children who have committed really horrendous crimes. The Department of Education is responsible for those children. The right reverend Prelate mentioned such a school in Dorset which has closed. That school was dealing with deeply disturbed adolescents. There is no co-ordinated policy involving the Department of Education, the Department of Health and the Home Office. That is sorely needed.
I turn to the question of the public inquiries which have taken place. The Pindown inquiry, the Butler-Sloss report on Cleveland and various other reports have been extremely expensive. The Butler-Sloss report involved a cost of around £1 million and the other reports incurred similar costs. Perhaps Her Majesty's Government will adopt the recommendations of a report to be published in, I believe, September, which recommends that there should be a social work council such as that which exists in the case of doctors and those involved in the legal profession and education. Social workers, like other professionals, should be responsible for their own work. I sincerely hope that the Government will consider seriously that matter so that we need not have those extremely expensive inquiries. They were excellent, but I believe that to be the wrong approach.
Other people have mentioned to me the problem of lack of co-ordination as regards families and children. I have received a letter from the South Bedfordshire Community Health Care Trust which says:It is good to know that you are on the alert, at parliamentary level, to discrepancies and to dissonances between the various legislations concerning children".Strangely enough, I received another letter yesterday from the British Medical Association concerning community care which stated:One of the problems is that there are three government Departments involved in implementing the proposals … We believe the Prime Minister should appoint one of the existing Secretaries of State to take immediate responsibility, within the Cabinet, for co-ordinating and implementing the Government's proposals".I support the British Medical Association in that call.
297 Finally, I return to a plea which I have made before in your Lordships' House. It is addressed to the Treasury. We all agree that the rate of inflation must be reduced, that interest rates must be brought down and that expenditure must be curtailed. However, the Treasury looks at the expenditure of each individual department and does not look at the waste of money which takes place because the expenditure of one department is cut which means that another department must increase its expenditure. For example, the training of social workers has been cut by the Treasury despite the fact that everybody says that that should not be so. We have the worst record in Europe as regards the training of social workers. We provide a two-year course for our social workers whereas other countries in Europe provide a three-year course.
Unless we look after our children and unless we give them a service, they will be an expense to the country later. I beg the Treasury to take an overall view of expenditure instead of looking only at individual departments.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, anyone with a sense of history cherishes the right to speak in your Lordships' House. Of course, anyone with a sense of time is often put off by being on a list of 33 speakers who are subject to no limit on their time or energy. Nevertheless, it is a privilege to have been a part of this debate and to have acknowledged with almost every speaker a depth of knowledge, experience and commitment which is inspiring. It has been a privilege to hear the two maiden speeches. Even though it is late in the day, I join in the general admiration of what they said and the manner in which they said it.
I wish to emphasise two points which have already been stated in the debate. A good starting point is to take the year 1945 when my noble friend Lord Longford was kissing his Sovereign's hand at the beginning of his quite extraordinary period of great service to the people of Great Britain. I was then emerging from a two year training college course at Trinity College, Carmarthen, among that band of classroom teachers who were prepared by the old system—the system of training colleges—which prepared teachers at least for entry to the profession. However, it was not too long before all of us who entered into the profession at that time with that sort of preparation—and we were young because there was a war on and national service lay ahead—realised that the degree of preparation which we had was quite unsuitable for the challenges of the education system from 1945 onwards.
There are so many young people now entering this House. I am delighted about that and I congratulate the new young Front Benchers on both sides of the House. I hope that their contributions will be as happy and successful as those of some of the older ones who have spoken in this debate.
In 1944 we had a great deal of diversity and choice in British education; in fact it ranged from the utterly abysmal to the challenging and good. Those were the 298 days when teachers coming out of training colleges and universities were not paid on their qualifications but by what the local authority decided they would give them. In those days some people who were highly qualified were paid as unqualified teachers—and there were teachers in the classes who were then unqualified.
The year 1945 was a benchmark in the provision of what is marked out in the forthcoming Bill as extended choice and diversity in British education. There are times when those of us on both sides of the House who have served in the classes and staff rooms of Great Britain feel that we should be echoing the slogan, "Let us move back to 1945"; to that national conviction that education of the child is worth paying for; to that national commitment to the establishing of local taxes which we called rates and the idea that national taxes should be extended to the range of teaching and opportunity for all children according to age, aptitude and ability, and not according to some system that gives one type of education to one and one to another.
For 32 years I taught at practically every level of British education from primary school infant intake through to the teaching of teachers. I also took part in what I thought was the most challenging development in British education—the re-education of the teaching stock. From about 1960 onwards we created teachers' centres of excellence where the best of teaching experience could be passed on to the teachers without their having to go through the trauma of leaving home. It is not easy for someone who has begun a career, started a family and taken on a mortgage to step out of that system and take a new bite at the education cherry. That was not easy to do in Britain in those days. I did so in 1962. I only relate my experience because I believe it to be relevant. I took that decision when my daughter was six years of age not because I believed that I was not sufficiently well qualified, despite my then growing experience, but because I felt threatened that my qualifications were not up to those of the young people coming in behind me. Those were the two reasons.
It is always possible for well-intentioned people to begin with a good concept and accidentally to ruin it. I shall pick up one or two themes from the debate this evening. For example, the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, introduced—or at least picked up—the matter of integration of the mentally, physically and socially deprived young people in the education stream. I want to say now, and underscore what I say three times, that I am totally in favour of the idea. To integrate people into the mainstream of education is a perfect social concept. But one must first look at the existing educational pattern into which one wishes to integrate them. One must look into the provisions that they will inherit if they are integrated. One must look at the special schools, at the special provisions under which they may have been educated at this time under the best motivated and best provided authorities.
My daughter is a member of the staff of a school on a campus of mentally, physically and socially deprived people ranging in age from school entry to school leaving and adult. On that campus she has an enriched provision, and she knows it. It is enriched in provision 299 because the education authority so decided. But it has attracted to it an even richer provision because of the work of societies such as that mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rix; because of the good will and commitment of social and religious organisations in the community, and in this specific case because of the proximity of a large military base with American and British personnel. The school has been enriched and the whole campus has been enriched by the community commitment to it.
The secondary schools adjacent to the campus are good schools. I taught in one and saw its development through secondary modern to comprehensive and saw the establishment within it of a teacher training centre. Today that school, perhaps for historical reasons although it would be easy to say political ones, is not as well provided for as it was in 1950, 1960 and 1970. As the years go by the provisions cease to come as much as they once did from central and local government, although in general they do. They come much more from boot sales, from raffles and jumble sales held in order to supplement the money needed to provide a similar concept of education for those people today that was provided in the 1950s and early 1960s. As the circumstances of the community change it becomes more and not less essential that those special provisions are maintained. In that regard I underline what has already been said in the debate.
Let me take noble Lords briefly to the matter of provision of courses for teachers already in the system. I believe that if one has committed and dedicated teachers who believe that they lack certain training for the work that they do then we should grasp their careers, strengthen them, and give those teachers all the necessary opportunities. I must say that my own daughter is at this moment on day release from her centre at university, re-equipping herself and adding to her knowledge of the work that she has been doing for some 15 years.
With the best will in the world, sitting on the Bench opposite a Minister can come to a conclusion that it would be in the best interests of everybody if people were integrated into the general school system without making the caveat that I have attempted to make in this debate. I do not question the caring of the Minister opposite. I have spoken of this before and the noble Baroness is aware of my concern in this regard. I say that there must be an assessment of the provision of the local area before one begins to shunt people who need special education into schools that are not equipped to take them.
At best the local authorities have motivated the development of a national pattern of education. Of course, there have been points at which clashes of opinion have occurred in regard to this or that expenditure. But generally speaking education in the hands of the local authority is a credible thing in the history of education in this country. The teachers who have been involved in it for the most part have been dedicated people serving the interests of the children to whom they committed their career. I should hate to see us move into a system where the buzz words become more important than the investigation that ought to precede their implementation.
300 I ask the Minister to assure me that she is as concerned as we are to see that any handicapped child who is to be integrated is integrated into a school that will at least give the same benefits that the child enjoyed in the school from which he or she was moved. If the Minister is not so convinced, I ask her not to close down those specific schools until an alternative exists that measures up to those exacting demands.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Holderness
My Lords, before any other words, my humble addition to the congratulations to my noble friend Lord Lucas and also to the noble Lord, my fellow Yorkshireman, Lord Rix, who has, to my great delight, taken in his title not only an important town a few yards from my home but also an area which I believe is known in London as Whitehall. We are delighted to hear their speeches. I look forward to hearing from both noble Lords very often again.
At this point in the debate my heart begins bleeding for my noble friend Lady Blatch because I know of the task that she faces quite soon in trying to answer a whole range of subjects raised by noble Lords. I hope she will be grateful because I would like to concentrate on one theme alone and one which can fortunately be applied to every subject that we have been discussing this afternoon. It relates to the attention owed, and I hope paid, by the Government to matters which deeply concern every single person who lives in this country.
In last week's gracious Speech I noticed several very encouraging signs that Her Majesty's Government are preparing a very significant move forward in their responsiveness to public anxieties—not, please, involving any more polls of public opinion. The Government should make increasing use of all the means already available to them to form a view of the public need appropriate for the wise construction of their policies and, even more important, for the carrying out of their administrative decisions. I am encouraged that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister seems the very last person likely to listen to anxieties during an election campaign and then to be utterly unresponsive to them in the following five years.
As evidence of this the gracious Speech refers to an extension of choice in education, to the responsiveness of the National Health Service and community care to patients' needs and to the aim to improve public services through the Citizen's Charter. The prominent responsibility given to my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy, with his known ability and human sympathy, is another source of great encouragement. I hope that my right honourable friend will be able to give as wide attention to the whole range of public anxieties as he will to the administration and development of the protective charters. While he, and no doubt all my right honourable friends, will agree that a government's prime duty is to lead, it is equally important in a democracy, well established as ours is and sustained by a responsible electorate, that the Government should listen as well as lead.
301 My main example, which is still thankfully within the ambit of today's discussion on home affairs, is the relationship between Scotland, Wales and England. The possibility of a divorce from England of either Scotland or Wales haunted me during the election campaign. I cast my mind back to the 1950s and 1960s when a range of duties took me often to both those countries and kindled an abiding love for the highlands and the valleys and a great affection for those who dwelt in them. In those days too I was convinced that successive Tory governments cared deeply and did much for the development of both Scotland and Wales. Later, although I know well that this concern did in fact continue, we have undoubtedly given the impression that somehow we were less ready to listen.
I believe that an urgent task for the Government today is to remove that false impression. That is not easy, as the Government must, in my view, continue to resist the subtraction of Scotland or Wales from the United Kingdom. To me such a subtraction would compare (though it would be far more painful) with the loss of a favourite tooth; and such an extraction as would horrify any reputable dentist—namely, the removal of a tooth in perfectly good health and good repair. But although I am convinced that the Government must preserve the unity of the United Kingdom, I beg that they will listen even more carefully to anxieties expressed beyond the borders of England and use all their powers to convince, as we have not recently convinced, that we really care.
This combination of leadership and listening is essential over the whole field of government and especially through those parts of our national life which we are discussing today. During my years in another place I was frequently worried in my constituency about the apparent powerlessness of parents, often unable effectively to discuss the problems of their children with those in charge of their education. The assistance of some, but not nearly enough, teachers of real sympathy and understanding was a massive reassurance to parents and also to myself.
Finally, as regards the National Health Service and in relation to the continuing help to men and women disabled by disease and injury, which is one of my present concerns, I have great faith in my right honourable friend and her colleagues in the Department of Health.
In a recent reply to the Royal College of Nursing my right honourable friend encouraged critics to criticise and emphasised her willingness to listen. I certainly hope—I feel confidence in doing so—that she will vigorously oppose the destruction of the National Health Service reforms which to my mind offer real hope for the future. But I am convinced that those very reforms, like many other government measures, have a far greater chance of willing acceptance if they can be freely criticised; if that criticism is listened to and sympathetically considered; and, in the light of that criticism, the objectives of the Government can be robustly presented.
302 I hope that the Government will also give attention to the very small things which are not apparently very important but which are of enormous significance to those who are anxious, ill, frightened or very lonely. Over the past years I have been lucky enough to see many examples in hospitals and elsewhere of what is neatly and sympathetically described as tender loving care, or TLC for short. But between bewildered patients and very busy doctors, nurses and others I suspect that there is always room for more.
Therefore I beg the Government, through both their departments and agencies, to consider no matter too small for that kind of attention and action. "Leadeners" is a word not yet in the Oxford Dictionary. I hope that one day it will get there because it is the best description I can think of for the leading and listening government that I would like to see.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holderness. We are neighbours, as neighbourhoods go in Yorkshire, where the crow rarely seems to fly. We have been colleagues for many decades now in Parliament. I should also like to follow him in congratulations to the maiden speakers. I did not know that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, was a Yorkshireman. It gives me particular pleasure to be associated in the congratulations to him, as I must be the last surviving member of the Percy Royal Commission on mental health and mental deficiency.
In the first debate on the Queen's Speech in a new Parliament, the Front Benches—especially the Front Benches on the secular side of the House—seemed to be skirmishing in disengagement from the party electoral fray, while those others of us, the parliamentary P131, went in to urge our particular interest in the appropriate debate.
I want to deal particularly today with the constitutional issues that were raised in the election and which I am sure are still of moment. The very nature of your Lordships' debate has some relevance to the constitutional issues because the rich and varied nature of the discussion that is woven in your Lordships' House is of importance when one considers the contribution that your Lordships' House has to make to the constitution.
I mentioned the issues that were raised in the election campaign. I am quite sure that the Government believe and hope that if they close their eyes fast enough all those issues will disappear. I am equally certain that they will not do so and that they will be of real moment during this Parliament. My plea is that as early as possible the whole lot of them should be referred to a Royal Commission on the constitution. I know that we had one a decade and a half ago. I say so to avoid the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, reminding me of that. However, it was of very limited cognisance and events have changed considerably since then. Such issues are by no means suitable for resolution in what used to be called "a smoke-filled 303 room" or by bargaining between the party leaders. On the contrary, they should be examined calmly, after evidence has been taken and with sober excogitation.
I know that this Government and their predecessors are not enamoured of Royal Commissions. They have been chary of appointing them and, when they did appoint the two Royal Commissions on legal services, not only did they promptly disregard the recommendations that the Royal Commissions had made after taking considerable evidence, but they brought in measures extruded from departmental entrails which were totally in conflict with what the Royal Commissions on both sides of the Border had recommended. Nevertheless, it seems to me to be the right course to take for the matters that I propose to discuss.
Before I come to the individual issues, I should like to refer to two preliminary matters which point in different directions but which have some bearing on the constitutional question. First, it seems to me that the electoral result reflects a very mature and sophisticated political judgment on the part of the electorate. I do not expect noble Lords on the lay side of the House to agree with that, but that is the position as it appears to me. It has happened before. In 1945, when Winston Churchill was incontrovertibly the most popular public man in the country, the electorate nevertheless rejected his party. That could only occur in a very mature democracy. So, too, this time. When one considers that an alternative Budget was offered that promised us—we were assured—that seven-eighths of the population would benefit from it; when one considers further that the election took place at the depth of a depression and before there were any clear signs of emergence; and when one considers what happened under similar circumstances in France, where there was a socialist government, and in Germany, where there was a right-centre government, one can only regard it as extraordinary that the Government here were returned—albeit with a reduced majority. One can add to that the dramatic fall in the popularity of President Bush from its height at the end of the Gulf war to the present when he is held responsible for the depression.
That is the first thing. It may suggest that all is well with our constitution and that the Government can safely close their eyes to problems so that we continue to muddle along with our present system. However, we have also had the warning about the dangers of an "elective dictatorship" that was given by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham. In our debate on the constitution shortly before the election, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, purported not to understand what was meant by that expression. I was surprised because he, like others among your Lordships, had lived through the enabling Act that was passed by the Reichstag—perhaps I may add, by a Reichstag elected by proportional representation—giving Hitler the power to legislate by decree.
Moreover, we have had recent examples of the erosion of legislative, democratic and parliamentary powers. I do not suppose for a moment that an elective 304 dictatorship in this country would come about as a result of anything like the Enabling Act, but there are more ways to kill a cat than by drowning it in a well.
Liberties can be eroded. One need only think about or read the so-called Child Support Act of the last Session. I venture to recommend that your Lordships re-read the speeches made on that measure by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. It was little more than a skeleton Act. It gave over 100 regulation-making powers, of which only about 15 were subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Powers were taken away from courts of law and vouchsafed to officials. Appeals from them no longer went to courts of law, but to administrative tribunals.
However, that was by no means the end. Ancient privacies were invaded. Officials were enabled to enter private places of employment and, under penalty, to interrogate fellow employees and employers. The age-long privilege of secrecy of the Inland Revenue was swept away in the interests of officials. What one saw there was an enormous bureaucratic aggrandisement. But that was not the only measure. Your Lordships have seen Henry VIII clauses, the downgrading of parliamentary control over delegated legislation, and the abrogation of your Lordships' procedures over the hybrid instrument in the interests of private interests and private rights. The noble Baroness will know what I am getting at because I am sorry to say that she was responsible for one of those measures.
The great problem countervailing everything that the election might have pointed to is that we have a creeping aggrandisement of bureaucracy. The question is: are we safe, then, to continue without a written constitution? My own view is that we are not so safe, but in any case that is essentially the kind of matter that a Royal Commission should investigate. Closely allied with that is the question of a written Bill of Rights, an issue on which four of my noble and learned friends differed in opinion. On the one side there were Lord Diplock and Lord Elwyn-Jones; on the other, my noble and learned friends Lord Hailsham and Lord Scarman. I had never any doubt that the latter two were right and that it makes sense only to repatriate at least the European Convention on Human Rights. If necessary it can be redrawn here.
Of all the particular issues I give only one example because it was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Holderness. I refer to the question of devolution. If I may respectfully say so, I am sure he was right that the election resolved any question of the break-up of the Union. It showed that, even north of the Border, there is only very small minority support for independence. But there is, I think, a very substantial demand for a greater measure of control over their domestic affairs. That was the policy of the Labour Party; it was the second preference of the Scottish National Party, and it is supported by such influential Cross-Bench opinion as that of my noble friend Lord Perth. But, again, that demands further investigation, because there is the question of taxation. What rights are to be given by way of raising revenue? What effect will that have on England? Are English affairs not equally entitled to be considered by an English Parliament?
305 How is the United Kingdom Parliament to be constituted and what are to be its powers and its revenues? All these matters call for decision before one can even enter on the question of devolution; and so it is with all the other constitutional questions—proportional representation, referenda and so on.
I end as I began with a plea that the Government should seriously consider a Royal Commission on the constitution before we all get into a mess with bargaining between party leaders with a view to patching up a coalition.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Lord Colwyn
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I am always an admirer of the way that he and other noble Lords can speak for up to 15 or 16 minutes without reference to a single note.
I should very much like to welcome the most gracious Speech and in particular the paragraph that reaffirmed the Government's intention to,continue to improve the quality of the National Health Service and community care and their responsiveness to patients' needs".My noble friend Lord Holderness made a dental analogy and I should like to take up his theme. Patients' needs have been made quite clear in relation to dentistry and, while declaring an interest as a practising dental surgeon, I should like to say that, in view of the precarious state of dentistry today and the low morale of the profession, how disappointed I was not to see specific reference to dental treatment in either the Government's manifesto or in Her Majesty's gracious Speech.
The Health of the Nation proposed that,by 2003, 12 year-olds should have, on average, nationally no more than 1–5 decayed, missing or filled permanent teeth".This objective has already been achieved in some regions. The next logical step should be to identify the additional oral health objectives, both in the short and long term, so that further strategies can be implemented.
The caries target for 12 year-olds by the year 2003 is commendable because it is recognised that, while the prevalence of caries has fallen dramatically in the past decade, in some parts of the country there remain areas where caries experience is unacceptably high, particularly in children and young adults. Without doubt, water fluoridation is the most effective method available at present for the prevention of dental caries, particularly with the great advantage of providing benefit to the lower socio-economic groups who demonstrate the highest prevalence of the disease and at the same time appear not to avail themselves of the many benefits of modern dental treatment. There is no doubt that the Government would be acting in their own and the public interest to ensure the continuing beneficial effects of fluoridation by considering the conversion of the enabling legislation which is in place to legislation making fluoridation compulsory.
The next months will be the most significant for the dental profession since 1948. It was reported that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister himself intervened to suspend the 13.8 per cent. fees cut for 306 NHS dentists which the Department of Health sought to impose unilaterally, ignoring the normal processes by which dental remuneration is decided. A statement from the Department of Health on 20th February announced that the cut, which had been put in place only 10 days earlier, would no longer be implemented on 1st April. It was announced that a joint inquiry by the department and the General Dental Services Committee would look into the reasons why dental payments in 1991–92 had exceeded by so much the level anticipated by the Dental Rates Study Group. Completion of this inquiry by May would enable the DRSG to take its findings into account in determining a new fee scale effective from 1st July this year. At the same time it was promised there would be a review of the entire dental remuneration mechanism to try to prevent a repetition of the current problem.
The earlier review body award of 8.5 per cent. which actually ended up as a proposed fee cut of 13.8 per cent. has left many dentists utterly despondent. The Government may have postponed the battle rather than face up to a mass withdrawal of dentists in the run-up to the election. But I have to say that it is widely believed that the cut will be reintroduced in the near future, with the resultant withdrawal from the National Health Service of many more dentists. On 25th March The Times reported that nationally one in four dentists is turning away NHS patients. There is conflicting evidence about that and I am aware that a survey conducted last September by FHSAs showed that nationally 76 per cent. of dentists are accepting all patients for NHS treatment and 85 per cent. are accepting children in all areas.
However, some dentists dislike having to provide National Health Service care. Although the process of seeking prior approval before undertaking more expensive treatments has been relaxed, the likelihood that NHS fees are threatened with reduction will make many practitioners think twice before registering patients and taking on the commitment of the 24-hour responsibility for them. Adult patients now pay 75 per cent. of the cost of their treatment, up to a maximum of £225—raising a total of £400 million towards the cost of the service—and it may seem easier for the dentist to persuade the patient to pay in full and steer clear of the complicated paperwork and commitments associated with the NHS.
The basic problem is that registration—and here I am in some difficulty with the exact figures as they seem to vary depending on the source that I use—has amounted to something between 27 million and 30 million people of all ages and is running at a higher rate than was predicted—between 20.3 million and 22.2 million adults against an estimate of 17.7 million and between 7.25 million and 6.6 million children against the forecast of 6.4 million. Those estimates were made on the basis of actual experience before the contract and the general idea that only about half of the dentate population regularly visited the dentist.
Among the 25 to 54 age group about 60 per cent. of the population are now registered and that figure is climbing at about half a million a month. Three-quarters of all children between the ages of 10 and 17 are registered. That is a fantastic success story.
307 It is achieving exactly the results that were hoped for with the new contract. Dentists are converting irregular attenders into regular ones. With the rise in adult registrations, new patients have come into practices and they have needed more work—probably because they were previously irregular attenders. As your Lordships can see, the contract has been a success for the patients, but under the present system the increase in treatment means that the funding available for dentistry within the NHS (which has a predetermined ceiling) has to be shared out among more treatments, thus cutting the fees.
Although a fundamental review is about to take place, it will be too late for this year. Dentists have done the work and achieved the policy objectives of the Government. They have not allowed waiting lists to accumulate in the general dental services. At the same time they see resources being put into other policy objectives such as the reduction in hospital waiting lists and they hear talk of "performance related pay". The dentists have performed and as a result they are likely to have their remuneration reduced.
The gracious Speech might have been an ideal opportunity to pledge continuing support for the dental services. I urge the Government to admit that the present system cannot continue and to take steps to implement the fundamental review that was promised in February. If the situation is to be remedied in 1993–94, the department must take up the matter as of great importance. The profession must know as soon as possible what constraints of either policy or funding are likely for the future. Members of the dental profession want the NHS dental service to work. They want to use NHS resources as effectively as possible and they want to provide the care that their patients need. I urge the Government to make a similar commitment to the profession and to the future of dentistry within the National Health Service.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I listened with special interest to the noble Lord, Lord Colwyn, because I am a member of an FHSA. I shall take a copy of his speech to my fellow members and encourage them to read it.
There are several aspects of Her Majesty's most gracious Speech with which I am involved. Therefore, I should like to bring a few points to the notice of your Lordships. Page 2 of the gracious Speech states:They will energetically pursue policies to combat the trafficking and misuse of drugs".On page 3 it announces:Action will be taken to combat crime and promote law and order".I welcome those two statements and I suggest that they should be closely linked. Drug arrests are increasing each year. Is not the increase in drug use a major factor in rising crime rates? There are increasing numbers of break-ins to houses and stealing to finance the drug habit. Recent research in West Yorkshire among children and young people shows worrying trends of experimentation with drugs. I refer to the 308 "Drug in Yorkshire Initiative". There have been two major seizures of cocaine in recent weeks, double what was seized in 1990.
On a recent visit to police cells in London where prisoners are held when they are locked out of prison, I learned that about half were involved in drug-related crime. Something ought to be done about some of the conditions that these prisoners are held in, whatever their crime. Most of those people are on remand. In a so-called civilised country like ours, is it right to confine people in a cell six feet by six feet meant for two with—it seems—not even enough room for a chamberpot? Some of the cells are below ground level with no fresh air or daylight. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, was one of the party who accompanied me on that visit. The prisoners we talked to said that they craved some fresh air after being held for three weeks in those cramped conditions. Is that not a serious health hazard?
The police we met that night were doing as good a job as possible, given the conditions. But there was concern that the sergeants and constables who looked after those prisoners were working overtime, which meant working long periods at a stretch. When they went on to the beat on their normal duty they were tired and the senior officers to whom we spoke were worried that they might not be as alert and responsive as they should be when carrying out their normal duties. The conditions that I have described were at Camberwell, but there are many prisoners across the country being held in such circumstances.
At the reception centre where the prisoners were brought in, we spoke to the doctor on duty who processed them. Most of the prisoners were on remand. One man who came out of the treatment room was obviously a serious alcoholic. I asked the doctor what would happen to him. He said, "If I could have one thing it would be a detox centre to send them to. These serious alcoholics are the most at-risk people in police cells". The very next week I noted that one of them had died. Would it not be much more humane and sensible to have secure detoxification centres where there might be some hope for such unfortunate individuals, who deteriorate even more in prison, which contains but does not treat?
While I am on the subject of prisons, I should like to add another concern as I am involved with young offenders and have been for many years. At a recent visit to Moorlands, a new young offenders prison near Doncaster, it was disturbing to see so many young people causing destruction to the furniture. Everything except the lavatory in some cases goes out of the window. For young people with energy, being shut up in cells for long hours must be soul destroying and promotes vandalism. Would it not be much better to make them do a productive day's work? But this would take more staff. I believe that they would be better people when they came out and there would not be so much depression, bitterness and destruction. What is most important is to reduce the escalating violence in society, to protect the public and to support the victims of crime.
At the young offenders institution where I am on the board of visitors we do not have so many 309 problems. But it is smaller and less institutional, even though it is a closed institution with a high fence. But there is still a worrying amount of bullying at times and many of us on the board of visitors are concerned that young people are locked into their rooms at 5 p.m. when they are receptions and many are first offenders. Some young immature people have great difficulty handling their own company. There are many aspects which need looking into. Suicide is now a common word.
Rehabilitation, counselling, group work and teaching useful occupations would be an investment for the future. But that would require more resources. Also I feel that more effort should be put into keeping first offenders separate from the experienced offenders who have been through the courts and the whole system many times.
The gracious Speech states:My Government will continue to improve the quality of the National Health Service and community care and their responsiveness to patients' needs".I should like to pay tribute to the Westminster Hospital which has been the hospital closely linked with the Palace of Westminster. This hospital, with its good access for many who flock to the centre of London, will be shutting its doors next year. There seem to be more homeless people in the centre of Westminster than anywhere else in London. The homeless ill people need looking after. They develop serious illnesses, including tuberculosis. Now in America there is a rapid rise in the number of cases of drug-resistant strains of the TB bacterium. Our numbers seem to be increasing too. I ask the Minister whether the Government will keep a close eye on the health problems of the homeless in London and elsewhere.
With the closure of Westminster Hospital, the casualty consultant who has taken a special interest in the homeless ill in Westminster will be moving to the new hospital in the Fulham Road which will not be in such an accessible central point and will leave a vacuum here in the heart of London.
Care in the community will be difficult to accomplish unless there is good co-operation and harmony in work among health services, social services and the voluntary agencies. In some places statutory bodies still seem loath to use some of the excellent and user-friendly voluntary organisations.
I am a patron of the Crossroads care attendant scheme. This organisation has many schemes—about 200—in many parts of the country bringing help to severely ill and disabled people in their own homes to relieve the carers and to give them a short respite. The new patron of Crossroads is the Prime Minister's wife, Mrs. John Major. It is so good to have a person who has a genuine wish to help and care. I hope that with her delightful smile she will inspire many more people to give help when they have time to the many millions of severely disabled people who can remain in their own homes only if they have help when needed.
I should like to thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, for her help over several cases with which she helped me in the last Government. Access for disabled people is so vital. There are many 310 places which could be made more accessible with a lift. It is a pity that so much energy and effort have to go into getting easy access which helps so many. With an increasing elderly population this is more important than ever. It was disappointing that there was nothing mentioned in the gracious Speech to give hope of better access for disabled people.
At the entrance to your Lordships' House there has always been an accessible telephone. I have been a member of your Lordships' House since 1970. Last week I found two new telephones had been installed, both out of reach by anyone using a wheelchair. There are nine of your Lordships who use wheelchairs and numerous others who have to sit down when making a call. If Parliament does not remember these things, who will? Do we not need better legislation to remind the planners, developers and providers that there are millions of disabled people trying to live normal lives in the community at large?
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ Viscount Weir
My Lords, although the gracious Speech did not specifically mention constitutional affairs in Scotland, we shall doubtless continue to hear a great deal about the subject during this Parliament. I hope therefore that it is appropriate to venture a few observations on it.
As a Scot who lives and works in Scotland what has greatly perturbed me in the past year has been the confused perception in many quarters in England of the realities of the political scene in the north. The first false impression down here is that there is some truly deep and powerful enthusiasm in Scotland for devolution as an overriding and popular cause. Your Lordships may therefore be surprised to know that in an opinion poll published on the eve of the election, among the Scots interviewed the Constitution ranked as only eighth out of nine issues in determining how they voted. That does not seem compatible with the assertion that 75 per cent. of Scots voted for constitutional change. However, if one had asked the media, the professional politicians or the political commentators what they thought the real election issues were in Scotland, there is not the slightest doubt that they would have answered that these were devolution or independence.
The issue of independence is one thing, and I shall return to it later. But what in any case does devolution mean? If ever a word was misused by lack of definition it seems to be "devolution" these days. At one extreme of the spectrum we most certainly have devolution already in Scotland through the very extensive powers devolved to the Secretary of State. At the other extreme is the definition of devolution which the so-called constitutional convention put forward and which two of the political parties offered to the Scottish electorate.
I am sorry that many noble Lords are probably unfamiliar with the policies which the convention proposed but I sympathise even more with those who have trudged through its offerings. A flavour of its conclusions may be gained for those happily unfamiliar with them by saying that, among other things. it advocated a draconian direction of industry, 311 including, for example, the right to tell the whisky industry how it should operate. At the same time, it proposed the most excellent and expensive working conditions for the members of the assembly, with research assistants, creches for assembly mothers—if that is the politically correct phrase—and all the rest. No wonder local Scottish politicians like it. It beats being a councillor in Kilmarnock any day.
What really is the impetus behind devolution? It is a combination of two things: first, enthusiasm for devolution has been largely media led. It is a good story and, in appearance, one that can be worked up into something much more exciting than the solid virtues of preserving the unity of the United Kingdom. The fact that the proposals for devolution presented to the Scottish electorate were flawed on any objective analysis of the economic, fiscal and political problems they threw up has become immaterial to most of the media. Awkward facts have been countered by an appeal to sentiment—thankfully still one of our best Scottish virtues—or, less admirably, by merely attacking any opponent on whatever spurious grounds were nearest at hand.
We have old-established, serious newspapers in Scotland. One or two of them, to their discredit, have started with the assumption that devolution is desperately wanted and beneficial, and then tried to back-fit arguments to their initial conclusion. They have used their own enthusiasm for the result they want as a substitute for reasoned or well-argued support for it. They have sorely abused their editorial freedom and their wider responsibilities to objectivity.
The second factor behind the impetus for devolution is one which might cause some distress on the other side of your Lordships' House when I spell it out. It is simply that the foremost issue for the Labour Party in Scotland is not the principle of devolution—at least in the sense of devolution as an arguable, political concept—but instead the more mundane and realistic desire for political power. It is a desire which is understandably and passionately inflamed, I imagine, if one has a majority of seats in Scotland but cannot get one's hand on the steering wheel and so cannot drive the vehicle of state north of Carlisle.
Whether the world would have heard so much about the injustice of all that if a Labour administration had happened to have had a numerical mandate to govern the whole of the United Kingdom, merely by virtue of having a majority of seats north of the Border, as was not so very far from being the case, is another matter. But being of a kind and generous disposition, I shall not press that point.
Nonetheless, I am of the firm belief that much of what has been heard in England has given a thoroughly false impression. There is not some fiery and impassioned Scots' desire for devolution. Much of the populous are bored by the word. But, sadly, the impression that people down here may have mistakenly formed derives mainly from the self-sustaining interaction of the media and the Scottish chattering classes, on the one hand, and, on the other, their adoption by much, but to their individual credit not all, of the Labour Party in Scotland of devolution 312 as a surrogate and a front for a frustrated wish to rule Scotland. That wish may be understandable in human terms, but it hardly stands comparison to the massive and enduring edifice of the Union.
Perhaps I may return, as I earlier threatened I would, to the alternative to devolution put forward to the electorate —that of independence. What the Scottish Nationalist leadership has done is past forgiving. It has deliberately confused the noble concept of patriotism with the corrosive, narrow and destructive tenets of nationalism. It tried to misdirect the national and justified pride in their country which Scots have, and in the achievements of Scots in every field at home and abroad and, above all, in their contribution to the United Kingdom, and to turn all that into anti-English sentiment. Worst of all, it dishonestly misleads and seduces good, decent, patriotic Scots into believing that it has every answer to economic, industrial and social difficulties when, in truth, the most superficial analysis shows that it has no solutions. Scots deserve better than that.
I hope that your Lordships will excuse me if what I have said may have seemed a little intemperate at times, but we Scots mind so very much about those issues, and it is sometimes a little difficult to explain to so many of you who are English, and do not have such a problem, that, although being a Scot is one of the great privileges of the world, the Union is the way through which, sometimes, we have best been able to repay that privilege.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Lord Monson
My Lords, we have been allocated four days to discuss the numerous and varied features of the gracious Speech: four days which are barely sufficient, judging by the large number of speakers today, including two brilliant maiden speakers, and the wide but by still no means comprehensive range of subjects covered.
It is worth asking ourselves what the position would be if M. Jacques Delors had his way—to be fair, not just M. Delors but others in positions of power and influence, although with a lower public profile, whose centralising ambitions are even greater than his and who pay lip service to the concept of subsidiarity but who, in practice, work unremittingly to extend the competence of the European Community's lawmaking institutions into every nook and cranny of our daily lives. We should need scarcely two days to cover the gracious Speech, so limited would be the power of individual action left to your Lordships' House or, more importantly, to the other place.
No longer would the British people be masters in their own house; no longer would they be masters of their fate. Happily that day has not yet come, but we must be eternally vigilant to ensure that it never does.
Perhaps I may turn now to more mundane matters: first, the Government's housing policy. I am aware that I am not alone in feeling somewhat uneasy at what appears to be a renewed drive to extend still further the proportion of owner occupiers among the population. It is noteworthy that many of the more prosperous countries in Europe, notably Switzerland and West Germany before unification, had a high 313 proportion of privately rented accommodation and a significantly lower proportion of owner-occupied houses, while, conversely, many of the poorer countries in Europe have a surprisingly high proportion of owner-occupied houses and flats. That, naturally, is not in itself an argument against owner-occupation; nevertheless, further to run down the private rented sector must make for undesirable inflexibility in the housing market.
It is surely a mistake to plan to abolish the Business Expansion Scheme which, whatever its other merits or demerits, has undoubtedly produced a worthwhile number of houses and flats to let at relatively moderate rents.
Again, the Government's plans effectively to end long leaseholds on flats must be a mixed blessing. Certainly, there have been grave abuses but most are associated with absentee landlords. Many of them come from overseas and operate through shady companies set up in Liechtenstein or some other offshore location. Such landlords disgracefully evade their repair obligations and in other respects make life difficult for the lessees. But surely such abuses could have been stamped out without throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
As Lord Brooke of Cumnor, speaking from the Conservative Front Bench, said to your Lordships almost exactly 25 years ago, in return for the purchase of a slowly wasting asset for which an appropriately reduced capital sum was obviously paid, his family and tens of thousands of other families in this country were enabled to live in a much better house in a much better location than would have been the case had only freehold property been available for purchase.
The de facto abolition of leasehold, which is bound to follow from the Government's measures, will abolish that option, thereby reducing freedom of choice. Once again, it tends to build a degree, or more than a degree, of inflexibility into the system.
Proposals for further privatisation are to be welcomed, not for doctrinal reasons but for practical ones. Of course, there will be exceptions, but on balance the public are likely to get a better and cheaper service. The lateness of the hour inhibits me from enlarging on privatisation as I should like to have done, except to say this. Something must be done about the Post Office, or more specifically, postal deliveries. Paradoxically, long distance letters often arrive with reasonable punctuality; not so the short distance ones. Correctly typed, first class letters with correct postcodes often take two or even three days to travel from central London to destinations a mere 20 to 40 miles away. In 1992 that is not good enough. It will not do to say that in other countries—Italy, for example—the postal service is worse. Indeed it is, but that is no excuse. We normally pride ourselves on doing this kind of thing better.
Something must be done about cheque thefts. We are told now that it is too dangerous to pay our enormous tax bills by post. The Government are being rather coy about this. In the absence of a great train robbery—and so far as I recollect, there has not been one for over 30 years—it is obvious that the criminals 314 in question must either be Post Office employees or employees of the Inland Revenue. Have the Government any idea in which group the culprits are to be found? Can they say whether anyone has been charged with offences in respect of this serious crime?
That leads us to the various charters: the Patient's Charter, the Citizen's Charter and so on. Other commentators have pointed out that the concept of the citizen is unknown in English law and custom: I do not believe that it is excessively pedantic to repeat it again. Leaving that aside, of course it is right and proper that people should receive value for the taxes that they pay and should be treated with consideration. However, that cuts both ways. The citizen or subject—whichever one prefers —has duties as well as rights and must be vigorously reminded of that. Minimal waiting times in hospitals, doctors' surgeries and social security offices and so on, must be matched with punctuality on the part of the patient or applicant. Politeness must be responded to with equal politeness; and the public must do their bit. For example, they must cure themselves of the vice of litter dropping: when all is said and done, that is one of the easiest vices in the world of which to cure oneself. It requires practically no effort at all. I was delighted with the excellent maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Bradford, on that topic yesterday.
Of course, wider powers of arrest could be given and maximum fines increased, but prevention is better than punishment. The citizen or subject must be reminded that the Citizen's Charter is a two-way contract.
Finally, I turn with reluctance, I have to say, to a topic not in the gracious Speech but which will certainly come before this Parliament, probably sooner rather than later. I refer to hunting. I have never hunted foxes, nor do any of my family, so I have no personal axe to grind whatever on the matter. But I have to say to the Government that the Prime Minister's statement made before the election, to the effect that it was simply a matter for Members of Parliament to decide according to their own private inclinations, is not good enough. We are told that a large majority of the population find hunting distasteful. However, I remind your Lordships that less than 40 years ago an equally large, if not larger, majority found private male homosexual behaviour between consenting adults equally distasteful—the proportion in Scotland was about 89 per cent.—and that majority opposed any decriminalisation of the law. I hope that nowadays we have reached the point where we do not send people to prison merely for indulging in practices which large numbers of people may happen to find distasteful.
The Conservatives, as well as large numbers of people from other parties and from none, claim to uphold the rights of the individual to engage in any pursuit, be it a majority or minority pursuit, so long as it is not harmful to others or evil or wicked beyond any reasonable doubt. In addition, the Conservatives specifically purport to be the party of tradition, the party which stands for continuity and the maintenance of longstanding institutions, unless an 315 overwhelming and thoroughly researched case against a given institution can be made. It has not been so made in this case.
Hunting or the chase, if one prefers it, is one of man's inborn instincts, as well as being among the inborn instincts of large parts of the animal kingdom. In somewhat ritualised form, which combines necessity with pleasure, it forms part of the culture of every great civilisation in history—the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Chinese, the Arabs and of course our own western civilisation. It has been the source of much great literature, art and poetry.
The idea that all this tradition—so important to country people in particular—could be swept aside overnight in response to the transient prejudices of Essex Man or Birmingham Woman, as expressed by their Members of Parliament, is frankly monstrous. It is especially so when those transient prejudices have been artificially stirred up by the expensively financed, hysterical and dishonest press advertising campaign which manages to convince gullible people—many of whom doubtless imagine that meat grows on trees—that in the absence of hunting all animals in this country would die peacefully tucked up in their beds.
The ultimate aim of these pressure groups is a ban on shooting, fishing and falconry as well since, as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, with his enormous zoological expertise, would confirm, were he here tonight, the degree of suffering is virtually identical, whichever field sport one happens to choose.
The totalitarian Nazis abolished hunting—Hitler was a fanatical vegetarian—and significantly the National Front in this country also want abolition. Both drew, or draw, their support from the less educated sections of the urban community whose attitudes to rural matters are sentimental rather than knowledgeable.
When the North Vietnamese communists marched into Saigon, one of the first things they did was to make bridge a criminal offence, as they deemed it to be a reactionary, bourgeois capitalist game. Anyone caught playing bridge was sent to prison or to a so-called re-education camp for six months.
A democratic government should never even think of following the Nazis or communists down the road of criminalising traditional sports or hobbies dear to the hearts of so many people, even if the participants happen to be in a minority. I trust that this Government will firmly set their face against ever allowing that to happen.
§ 8.59 p.m.
§ Lord Harmsworth
My Lords, perhaps I may join those who have congratulated both today's maiden speakers. It is good to know that in my noble friend Lord Lucas we have a kindred spirit on health matters on these Benches. And there can be none who will not look forward to hearing again the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The only mistake that each made was to choose to make their maiden speech on a day when our deliberations were likely to last well into the evening. It was with some misgiving that I first saw that my own name was the last before the gap; hence my brevity.
316 In the past 13 years a number of notable milestones have been established in the National Health Service, not least the new GP contract, the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act, the Patient's Charter and the 1990 Health Act. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor today enunciated some of the advantages.
For me, one of the most important principles which runs through the whole gamut of measures introduced by the Government since 1979 is the devolution of power to those in the field. Now, hospital management and professionals, nurses, midwives and health visitors, general practitioners and many others can, in defined circumstances, make decisions and control their destinies uncluttered by many of the earlier constraints. I am very much in favour of that acknowledgement of the talent and ability to be found in the National Health Service. No nanny is required to ensure that the patient's interest is properly catered for by doctors, nurses and others. Their ability to deliver the service is well known, not only at home but internationally. My hope is that the extension of devolved powers to further hospitals and GP practices will be soundly based and that the beneficiary will continue to be him or her for whom the trend was first set in motion, the patient.
However, in all this the word "national" must not be removed from the description "National Health Service". Partly because of the way the National Health Service was funded in the past, the referral of patients outside their locality may not always have been as easy, in their best interests, as it might have been. The new health Act now provides a remedy. Money can follow the patient. That means that the National Health Service can now operate at maximum efficiency.
However, while wholly approving the principle of decentralising responsibility as much as is possible, there are some areas in which a top-down approach is well worth preserving. It is imperative that, in a move towards local autonomy, sight should not be lost of the value of handling certain activities centrally: on a supra-service basis. For instance, where equipment is unusually expensive, would it not be best to pool resources? Where skills are in short supply, would it not be best to send patients to specialist units for treatment? Where information technology is concerned, would it not be best to ensure uniformity as much as possible? Where management techniques are concerned, would not "action learning" be of common value'? In laboratory and other work, would not duplication of effort be avoided? In procurement, would not bulk purchases reap cost savings?
Over the next four or five years the health service will settle into its new, devolved and streamlined structure. My view is that the quality of service to the patient, and importantly at levels relating to administration, will improve noticeably. The wide-spread use and detailed power of new applications software, at GP level and upwards, should guarantee that.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to assure the House that the Government will hold on tenaciously to the advantages for the NHS of 317 top-down administration and liaison on a whole-service basis whenever there is a clear case for inter-regional co-operation. The trend towards devolved decision making is much to be welcomed. Let us not lose sight of the advantages of also being sensibly able to combine on a national basis, and in defined circumstances, to achieve certain ends through co-operation.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I apologise for rising, but my name, through inadvertence, was left off the list of speakers. I hasten to say that not for one moment do I believe that the Government Chief Whip wished to silence me!
I am by nature a reformer, and my more candid friends tell me that I am all too apt to welcome any reform, good or bad, simply because it is a reform. I certainly do not mind which party brings in reforms. Though in the last Parliament I had my differences with the Government on some details, I believe that the lines on which they are trying to reform education are not only right but necessary. I hope that their next reform will take in teacher training.
I go along with those who have spoken of the need for consolidation as regards schools. I am at one with the words which Sydney Smith addressed to the great grandfather of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, when he said:I like, my dear Lord, the road you are travelling, but I don't like the pace you are driving: too similar to that of the son of Nimshi. I always feel myself inclined to cry out, gently John, gently down hill. Put on the drag".Could the schools be left to digest the reforms of the past five years and not have further, seemingly endless, changes added to their burden? The Government have ordered the new GCSE to be introduced this September, but how can it be when the schools have not yet received the syllabus or the text books? No sooner have tests been introduced than they are immediately altered, as is the national curriculum. Indeed, who is running the national curriculum? Is it the National Curriculum Council or the Schools Examinations and Assessment Council? The SEAC is very busy redesigning tests that are certain to change the national curriculum. Why not amalgamate those two bodies?
There is the vexed question of course work. Now that there are to be tests and regular inspections, need the Government be quite so ideologically opposed to course work? English and English literature are 100 per cent. course work in good schools. I realise that the Government may think that that is too much and fear that parents working late into the night will do the course work instead of the child. But children's progress is monitored by controlled tests organised by schools, and teachers dread going back to the days when examination technique instead of English was being taught. I am sure that the noble Baroness remembers her Dickens and Hard Times and what happened to poor Sissy Jupe when Mr. Gradgrind asked her to define a horse. I shall not quote the passage.
318 The teachers and LEAs may feel that the Government do not trust them, but that is nothing to the resentment felt by the universities. I do not think that they have felt so alienated since the Whigs, led by Lord John Russell, determined to reform Oxford and Cambridge. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, were he in his place in the Chamber tonight—I am sorry that he is not—would agree that those reforms which his great-grandfather instituted were necessary and wise. I hope that the noble Earl will see that the sum of the present Government's reforms are also necessary and wise.
Again, I readily admit that the alienation of the universities is in part the fault of the Government. The Government did not get across to the universities the reason why they were being squeezed and told to lower their unit costs. I do not share the contempt of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for Mr. Robert Jackson. I believe that Mr. Robert Jackson told the universities some home truths. But I am bound to say that when Mr. Jackson visited universities and made pronouncements, he reminded me of Rehoboam telling the children of Israel that if their father had chastised them with whips, he would chastise them with scorpions. The Government have still not put across to the universities the fact that, if we are to educate our workforce and middle management as well as our top managers, administrators and professional men, the costs of university education have to be cut.
However, if the Government have not been frank enough, many of those who work in universities have been singularly unimaginative. The vice-chancellors are not to blame. They have moved with the times. But their task is not made easier by some of their colleagues. I sometimes feel that institutions are too apt to think that any change is an outrage. I remember in 1967–18 months after I became a Member of your Lordships' House—Mr. Crosland, then Secretary of State, wanted to find some money to improve "sink" schools in the inner cities. His Treasury colleagues told him that he must find the money out of his own Vote. So he introduced a small differential between overseas students' fees and home students' fees. There was an uproar. In the debate in this Chamber Lord Robbins denounced the proposal as divisive of the student body. I believe that I was the only Member of the House to speak in defence of the Government on that occasion. I was certainly the only member of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors who did so and I was much criticised by my institution for so doing.
It is only 10 to 15 years ago since the great changes began to take place. In those days, any university which took more students than its student target would be rebuked by the UGC because to do so was, in the words of the UGC, to "lower the unit of resource". Clearly, if one could take more students than one was paid to do, one could do with less money. That was what the UGC said and it was very worried that universities would do that.
Among the vice-chancellors there were some blacklegs, such as the late Lord Bowden at UMIST, who used to say that the artificial restriction on numbers was madness, especially as so many places at UMIST and the polytechnics were being filled by 319 overseas students. The Robbins goal of expanding numbers in higher education had vanished from sight. What took precedence was the Robbins principle of persuading universities that the happy life that they had led in the 1950s would remain unchanged if student numbers increased.
That was only one way in which the Treasury used to control costs in higher education. The binary line was another way in which they controlled costs. Today, the Government's way is to divide higher education finance into finance for teaching and finance for research—or so I take it to be. I think that the Government are right. If we are to retain our eminence in scientific research, there is no other way than to create a research league among universities. To give all universities and all polytechnics undifferentiated funding spells disaster for academic excellence and for good teaching.
The universities complain that they are being asked to take more students and are not being given more staff to teach them. The more one expands higher education, the more one drains good teachers away from the schools. Why should a graduate in maths and science teach in a school when he can get a better paid job in a college or a poly, let alone in industry? At any given time there is a limited number of young people who have a real vocation to teach. If one keeps creating more teaching posts in higher education, one will find that one has none of high calibre in the schools. When the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and Mr. Nigel Forman visit universities and are attacked for making universities teach more students with the same number of academic staff, could they remind the dons that that is one reason why the Government take that line?
Of course the noble Baroness knows that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the dons repeatedly tell us that the success of British universities is due to the favourable staff-student ratio and tutorial and small group teaching. That is true. It is also true that we produce more graduates than other European countries because the drop-out rate in this country is so low.
Perhaps I may again quote the noble Earl, Lord Russell. He often tells us in this House that there are signs that standards are declining and the Government must not dismiss such warnings as yet another academic moan. He may be right. But I wish that he and the vice-chancellors would tell the Government what new methods they have devised for teaching larger numbers while yet preserving small group classes. Why not ask all arts lecturers in the summer to put their lectures on video-tape so that they do not have to spend those hours giving formal lectures? Lecturers who saw themselves giving a lecture might give better ones in the future; and let no one believe the criticism that the video-tapes would have to be wiped every year because the lecture would be out of date, as I was once told by an indignant professor. Every book in a university library, apart from the books bought in the past 10 years, is out of date. Part of tutorials should of course be devoted to questioning received wisdom, whether on video-tapes or in books.
320 However, by far the most important point that I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will make when she visits universities is this. The most important sector in higher education is not the universities, nor even the polytechnics; it is the colleges of further education and the various industrial training schemes for post-16 year-olds. The Opposition have been right to condemn those courses as having too little money put into them, with government expecting industry to do the job. Whatever additional resources can be made available should go to them. That is why the universities should not hope in this decade for much improvement. Will the noble Baroness assure us that such courses are the Government's top priority?
Will the noble Baroness also assure us that the Government will invent financial inducements for any institution in higher education, and any sixth form, that introduces B-Tech courses? Will she go further and provide inducements or moral suasion to persuade universities to introduce such courses?
I suppose that that last request resembles a pipe dream. However, Exeter and Ulster Universities have introduced B-Tech courses into their curriculum. At Durham the emphasis on continuing education has had, so I understand, exactly the same result. But when shall we see proud Oxbridge introduce a vocational module into their first degree courses? Of course there is the so-called enriched engineering course at Cambridge. It takes five years. Every engineering first degree course ought to have at least one module in it on how to cost a product.
If we are to do more than to pay lip service to continuing education and to improving education, what will our top and middle management be in the future? The first degrees in polytechnics and universities will have to change. We shall have to follow the United States in making our first degree course a series of modules. Instead of saying that no one can get a degree in history unless he knows all about the 14th century, we shall have to ask: has he taken a module in accountancy, or the use of English, to obtain that degree? Every student should take at least one module which is directed to vocational or practical knowledge. I hope that that will be the pattern of higher education in the next century.
I have observed that politicians in power have to spend much of their time and energy in telling their supporters that, in power though they may be, they cannot do what their supporters want—usually because the money is not there. However, Ministers have another role. It is to tell those whose affairs are in their hands why their unpopular decisions must be made. I hope that the Secretary of State, the noble Baroness and the junior Ministers will tell those in schools and universities that at present our top priority is to train the workforce and middle management and that is why there will be less than any of us likes for those at the top in higher education.
§ 9.20 p.m.
My Lords, I rise as the first speaker below the line signalling the fact that we are approaching the end of our debate. I am sure that noble Lords will be truly grateful. The debate has been 321 not only interesting but fascinating. Perhaps it has been more interesting than the gracious Speech to which it has been addressed. About five hours ago the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said that he had not found the gracious Speech exciting, and I agree with him. I should be a little more enthusiastic about the presentation of a humble Address to Her Majesty had it related to the speech which she addressed to the European Parliament this morning rather than that which she addressed to the two Houses of Parliament last week.
The debate has been wide-ranging and was opened with a wide-ranging speech from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor. The noble and learned Lord had to cover so much ground that he could not give us any detail. However, he paused to give us information about the timing of possible steps to deal with the serious and worrying issue of wrongful convictions. While he was clearly worried about wrongful convictions he was accepting the fact that it may be two to three years before he can take any steps. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, commented that surely something can be done. Something can be done and will be done by juries. During the coming weeks we shall find that juries will be increasingly reluctant to accept the evidence given by policemen. That is not necessarily wholly to our advantage but it is one of the possible consequences of the delay in dealing with the pressing issue of wrongful convictions.
Your Lordships heard two truly excellent maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, knows perfectly well that this House has a fine record in defending the rights of the mentally handicapped and in acting on their behalf. He also knows that he will be warmly welcomed by those noble Lords who work indefatigably on behalf of the mentally handicapped. They will be grateful to have such an able hand to join them. I enjoyed his speech immensely, although it was not quite as funny as a previous speech I heard him make at the Whitehall Theatre!
Your Lordships also heard a splendid and interesting maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. His speech was so well-informed that when I later saw him outside the Chamber I accused him of being a doctor. He made a splendid short speech about the National Health Service. How right he was to underline the need for us to face the question of choices as regard the allocation of resources in the National Health Service. We must tackle that matter head on before long if the NHS is to be steered through the stormy weather which lies ahead. Choices will have to be made and, as the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, some of them will not be easy.
I was also impressed by the speech made by my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge. He congratulated the Government on enabling us to receive the Woolf Report. However, he regretted the fact that it was necessary to have a disaster in a prison before commissioning the report. After discussions that I had last week with a senior prison officer at Strangeways Prison it seems not unlikely that there will be another disaster there before long. In that case 322 we might need to have a second Woolf Report before we have acted on the recommendations of the first. I enjoyed my noble friend's speech which was most important.
Some four hours ago my noble friend Lord Beaumont told your Lordships that I would talk about housing. I must make his words come true. Although I had intended to talk mainly about the National Health Service perhaps I may say a few words about housing. In this country we are facing a housing crisis brought about by the present Government's obsession with owner-occupancy rather than anything else. All their policies have been directed at increasing the percentage of owner-occupiers and they have been very successful. Over 60 per cent. of the British people are owner-occupiers. That sounds fine but it is not fine for those who are later evicted because they have fallen short in their mortgages, having been persuaded to take on burdens which they cannot fulfil.
Homelessness has been referred to in this debate by several noble Lords and it is referred to in the gracious Speech. Another document which has been referred to is the Patient's Charter. That states:Every citizen has the following established National Health Service rights … to be registered with a GP".Tell that to the homeless and the people living in bed and breakfast accommodation. We have a very serious situation in which those people—and many of them are children—find it impossible to get on the list of a general practitioner. As a result, many of those children have not had the immunisation courses which they should have had. They have not been immunised against polio or diphtheria, and in certain areas there is a danger of an epidemic.
Certain general practitioners have gone out of their way to make special arrangements for the homeless and for those living in bed and breakfast accommodation. However, the family health service authorities will have to take special steps if homeless people—and it is a scandal that there are so many of them—are to get on a list of a general practitioner.
It is appalling that there should be homeless people sleeping rough in the way they are now. In this debate there has been reference to community care. That is an extremely good concept, I believe, but it is not yet a reality. For many people discharged from institutions, some of them mentally ill, community care means a Salvation Army hostel, a prison or occasionally a cardboard box in a doorway. Much must be done if we are to have community care in reality, and the gracious Speech makes reference to it. The noble Baroness knows that many steps must be taken if it is to work. For many patients it is a better option, but it is not a cheap option and the money will have to be found.
At this point I must say that it was something of an embarrassment to me to find that I agreed very much with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord McColl. I do not always agree with him but the arguments about the National Health Service during the general election campaign were extremely damaging to the service. They have done much to undermine and damage morale among National Health Service 323 workers, doctors, nurses, and so on. I believe also that some of those arguments did much to undermine public confidence in the service; quite wrongly, for it is a splendid service.
Certain parts of the argument, in particular relating to one party political broadcast, suggested that people may be wise to seek treatment privately rather than through the National Health Service. My advice is the reverse. I do not wish to criticise those who provide private treatment but look what has happened to them. When bodies like BUPA first came into existence they only looked after a handful of rich and healthy people. That was money for old rope because they did not have to do anything. However, once they took on all the employees of a certain firm or all the members of a certain trade union, BUPA and the rest of them were in exactly the same position as the National Health Service; that is, they had an unlimited liability to provide everything necessary for everybody, but they cannot do that. That is why, if you subscribe to one of those insurance schemes, you will find that the brochures are full of small print telling you what treatments are, or are not, provided. I am certain that I am covered for a hysterectomy or a radical mastectomy, but there will be many other complaints for which I shall not be covered. To give people the impression that private medicine really is a rival to the National Health Service is an absurdity.
The election is over. The Conservative Party has won the election and we know from the gracious Speech that the National Health Service reforms are to continue. We must accept that. If we wish the National Health Service to work, we must make it work. All those who believe in the National Health Service and believe in its continuation on the basis on which it was originally established—that is, free for all at the time of need—must work together to protect it and accept some of the changes.
I know that there has been much anxiety about independent trust status. I am bound to say that I favour any steps that devolve management of an organisation much lower down the organisation and bring it closer to those who actually do the work. Therefore, perhaps in opposition to some of my colleagues, I am inclined to favour the idea of independent trusts.
We must remember that there are certain advantages to independent trust status. A necessity of having a system of contracts between hospitals and health authorities is that we need to know the cost. The National Health Service has never been properly funded. I have worked for the health service ever since it started and there has never been a time when the opposition party of the day, be it Labour or Conservative, could not, with perfect justification, accuse the government of the day of destroying the National Health Service. They have all been destroying it all the time because it has never been adequately funded. Why? Because nobody knew how much it cost. With the new arrangements and the trusts, for the first time steps have had to be taken to realistically cost routine procedures in the health service. That was not done before. It should have been 324 done 40 years ago. At long last it is being done and is one of the benefits which will flow from the system of trusts. I hope that that will be accepted.
In his maiden speech one noble Lord referred to choices. As I said, the health service has never been adequately funded and never will receive all the funds it can spend. Sooner or later decisions must be taken about the best way in which to use the resources of the health service. We can only do that if we know the cost of everything, and that is not easy.
Many years ago a close friend of mine, Sir John Charnley, began inserting hip joints in Wrightington Hospital, in the North. I asked what on earth he was up to. He had waiting lists as long as one's arm for people with bad backs and sore feet and yet he was messing around with hips. I wondered how much it would cost. Initially it probably cost a great deal. The important point is that as time has passed the operation has become routine and is now relatively cheap. Therefore, if one initially costs procedures one should continue to do so. Many things which originally we may have said we could not afford to do, we now can afford. But we cannot make the kinds of choice referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, unless we know the costs of procedures in the National Health Service. That is why I believe great benefits may flow from what has recently taken place. I hope that the work will continue and be brought to a successful conclusion.
I am bound to say to the noble Baroness that the trusts have not had a fair start. The goalposts were constantly shifted after they were established. For example, once the trusts were established they were suddenly told that they must pay VAT on their energy supplies. That may be a relatively small item in some cases but for Manchester United's hospitals—a lovely name though not as nice as Old Trafford—it amounts to £500,000 a year which they were not expecting to have to pay. The goalposts were changed.
In addition, there was a clear indication that the money would follow the patient. The money did not follow the patient. In the first year the money remained with the health authorities and was never paid out. That is why trust after trust was in desperate difficulties. They were owed massive amounts of money for services that they had provided under contract for health authorities. I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to say that now the trusts are in their second year those bodies will pay up at the proper time. I know that the Government have taken steps in industry to try to avoid the delay in settling accounts, particularly in the interests of small businesses, but perhaps the noble Baroness can say that in the second year the trusts will be paid and the money will genuinely follow the patient rather than remaining where it was—in the pockets of the health authorities. Perhaps the noble Baroness will also say something about why the Government suddenly found it necessary to place the additional impediment of VAT on energy supplies, which was not in the original arrangement.
§ 9.35 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, we have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. I particularly welcome the excellent speeches of the two maiden speakers, the noble Lords, Lord Rix and Lord Lucas. We look forward to hearing them again on frequent occasions in your Lordships' House.
As my noble friend Lord Mishcon said earlier, I shall focus rather more on education than on other matters. Regrettably I shall not have time to cover higher education so I shall be unable to take up some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, a number of which I disagree with rather profoundly. I disagree particularly with his suggestion that the pool of people who go into university teaching is the same as the pool of people who go into teaching in primary and secondary schools. There is absolutely no evidence of that; it is simply not true.
I wish to comment on two or three other aspects of today's debate as well as education. Perhaps I may take up again the Government's very vague commitment to take action to combat crime. I have no idea what is intended. As my noble friend Lord Mishcon said, there was little in the opening speech of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to indicate what the Government's intentions are. Again, as my noble friends have said—and I make no apology for repeating it—we face a worrying increase in crime. Most crime, as your Lordships know, is committed by youths and young men between the ages of 16 and 25 years. High levels of unemployment in that age group clearly reinforce the trend of worsening crime statistics. Yet, as the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Kinnock, rightly pointed out in another place and as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, mentioned today, it is an extraordinary omission that there is no mention anywhere in the gracious Speech of unemployment or of any steps that the Government may be taking to reduce it or at least mitigate its effects. Perhaps the Minister would care to comment. She will surely agree that high levels of unemployment are likely to lead to higher levels of crime however unacceptable as a response to joblessness breaking the law may be.
According to reports in the press—I do not know whether they are true and perhaps the Minister will tell us—the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is telling the Home Secretary that he will not get any more resources to deal with the problems of law and order. While of course we are all in favour of value for money and efficiency in the police and while many of us want to see more cost effective penal policies, the Chief Secretary's remarks will send shudders down the spines of those who are the victims of crime especially in our inner cities where much of it takes place.
Have the Government run out of ideas on crime prevention? Are more elderly people going to be frightened of going out after dark? Are more women going to feel unable to go home by themselves late at night? Are more people in vulnerable areas who have been repeatedly burgled going to find that they cannot get insurance cover? The Chief Secretary to the 326 Treasury should consider such concerns more sympathetically before he slams the door on any increased spending in that area.
One approach which he might find attractive and which would certainly have the support of these Benches would be to secure savings by reducing the number of custodial sentences for property offences. There are still far too many young men going to prison for offences which do not justify a prison sentence. I strongly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, said about overcrowding. The Government recognise that the costs of imprisonment are astronomical and far higher than the various forms of non-custodial sentence. They are also well aware of the unsuitability of prison for many young property offenders who, in regimes which provide little educational training, which enforce idleness and which thus provide more opportunities, learn how to survive via more serious crime rather than learn about how to survive via a steady job.
A not unrelated question concerns the social security provisions for 16 and 17 year-olds. On these Benches we share the growing concern in the country about the scandalous underprovision of social security benefits for certain 16 and 17 year-olds. The Social Security Act 1988, which removed income support entitlement for most 16 and 17 year-olds, needs amending if the Government are serious about emphasising those groups with greatest needs.
In the words of the Government's own advisers, the Social Security Advisory Committee:The youth training guarantee is not being delivered in full, and without such a guarantee, the absence of a right to continuing entitlement to income support can leave very vulnerable youngsters with no visible legal means of support. We see no sign that the situation is improving—indeed there seems in some areas to be a sharp decline in the availability of places".That is the third report in which the advisory committee has indicated that it does not believe that the system is working properly as a result of the 1988 changes. As the advisory committee says, there are young people who cannot live at home and who now run the risk of destitution. They include those who have left home because they have been physically or sexually abused; those with parents who cannot support them because of chronic illness or because they may be in prison; orphans; and those who have recently left local authority care. Such young people have in most cases already suffered a great deal. Must they go on suffering to the extent that they are destitute and living on our streets? The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has already asked for an answer from the Minister and I should like to repeat his request. If nothing is done, more young people could be driven into crime as a direct result of the Government's own policies.
I hope that the Minister will not tell us that special hardship payments are the solution: they are not. The system for obtaining them is impossibly complex, especially for such a vulnerable group, as the Government's own advisers have said on more than one occasion. There is a simple remedy: remove the exclusion of 16 and 17 year-olds from income support and use the actively-seeking-work rules to exclude 327 from benefits those who just do not want to work. At the same time as making that change, the Government might reconsider their harsh attitude towards the level of benefits for young people up to the age of 25 which are lower than for adults. Again, the advisory committee has advocated a change in three successive reports, stating:continuing a situation in which young people do not have sufficient even for bare subsistence may lead vulnerable youngsters into crime or prostitution. We strongly urge that, at least for those living away from home, the full rate is restored".Why will the Government not listen to their own advisers?
There is also a glaring omission in the gracious Speech in relation to pensions. The Government were utterly negligent for nearly two years after the Social Security Act 1990 was passed in bringing forward regulations that would have prevented the Maxwell robbery occurring. All that was needed was, first, a 5 per cent. ceiling on self-investment and, secondly, in the event of a winding up, making the pension fund a debt to the employer. In the light of that negligence, will the Government compensate those pensioners who have lost out as a result of the Maxwell scandal? Will they reform trustee law regarding pension funds so that such a scandal cannot happen again?
I do not wish to go into detail about the Government's proposal in the Queen's Speech to introduce further bribes to encourage people to take out personal pensions. Some £6 billion has already been spent on this and another £ 1 billion will have to be spent on the latest proposal. However, I should like to ask why the private sector apparently needs another subsidy to stop people opting back into the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme. That suggests either that private pensions are just not competitive enough or that there is not adequate consumer protection and guaranteed standards to make them attractive.
Much more worrying is the Government's vague commitment to target spending on those with greatest need. It is, of course, important to help the very poor, but there are many people who are not well off who need support at vulnerable periods in their lives—for example, when they lose their jobs, when they are old or when they are bringing up children. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury referred to the importance of social measures to provide that kind of support.
I assume that the Government intend to reintroduce means tests for certain benefits. However, before they rush down this road, I hope that they will take into account the fact that child benefit, which is universal, has a take-up of almost 100 per cent. and that family credit, which is means tested, still reaches only 50 per cent. of those eligible. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, targeting in terms of the Tory tax and benefit changes since 1979 has given an average of £87 extra a week to the richest 10 per cent. while the poorest 10 per cent. have lost on average £1 a week. What a rotten record.
I welcome the proposal to improve community care, but there must be adequate funding. If there is not, this will affect yet more very vulnerable groups, as 328 the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, has just said. Demography is not on the Government's side. Nor can they relax about the likely cost of community care. It is not a cheap option. There is now less than a year before implementation of the new plans. I wonder whether the Minister can say whether the Government have any system for monitoring how these plans are progressing. Can she say what machinery the Government will be using for monitoring the quality of community care once the new plans are implemented after April of next year? Can she also say how the divided responsibilities at central government level will be resolved? Three departments are involved. Which Secretary of State, if any, will have responsibility for co-ordinating this work?
On the more general question of the operation of the NHS, many people are worried that the Government's reforms will not maintain the principle of free access according to need. The Government have not made explicit how they intend to improve the quality of the NHS. There are inconsistencies in insisting on the split between purchaser and provider at the same time as defending GP fund-holding because in effect the fund-holder is both. I must make clear to the noble Lord, Lord McColl, that on these Benches we shall be watching carefully how these reforms develop. We cannot simply accept them without doing so. We are particularly concerned that a two-tier health service could develop so that those who can afford to pay get higher priority and better treatment.
The Government say that they will continue to raise standards at all levels of education. The use of the word "continue" is a little cheeky. Many parents will certainly question that claim. They believe that standards have been falling. As consumers of what is on offer, they are in a pretty good position to judge it, though of course their judgments will sometimes be subjective. But there is plenty of more objective evidence to back them up. I am sure the Minister is aware of an NFER report on reading standards. The report showed a decline in reading standards of three to five months in the reading age of seven and eight year-olds between 1987 and 1991. She must also have seen the report on primary education by Professor Alexander. This inquiry found some evidence of downward trends in important aspects of literacy and numeracy. Independent findings such as these can hardly be a basis for claiming that the Government's work in raising standards has been successful.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Guildford rightly said how important it is that teachers should believe in the system in which they are employed. Teachers working in inner-city schools with many pupils from families struggling with poverty will be demoralised by the Government's proposals for league tables. If this is all the Citizen's Charter will deliver on education, it does not add up to a row of beans. We argued at length in this House during debates on the Bill that tables showing the value a school adds to pupil performance should be published as well as those based on raw data. At the time the Government rejected these arguments. I still hope that they will think again. It would be quite easy to 329 undertake some pilot studies and I urge the Government to do that. Identifying those schools as successful which are favoured by their intakes is no substitute for working to improve the standards of all schools so that pupils as a whole can benefit.
The extension of choice and diversity in education may appear to be perfectly legitimate goals. However, when people see the Bill that we are promised, which is to bring that about, I fear that they may not look quite such attractive objectives. What has this so-called extension of choice and diversity meant so far? It has meant the invention of CTCs and of grant-maintained schools. Neither invention has been a roaring success, as industry will not cough up money for the former and parents and governors have, for the most part, refrained from grabbing the carrots dangled in front of them on the latter. So in most areas—and I am sure that the Minister will accept this—parents have continued to choose between local authority or voluntary-aided comprehensive schools. In noting that, we should remember that comprehensive schools are not all carbon copies of each other; indeed, there are differences of style and emphasis between them.
Where grant-maintained schools have been established, the main difference between them and the LEA schools is in their funding. Grant-maintained schools, and for that matter CTCs, have been much more generously treated with respect to capital allocations. Does the Minister think that that is fair to the many thousands of pupils in LEA schools? Perhaps she can tell us. I should also like to know whether those bribes are likely to continue when the number of such schools greatly increases. If that continues, it will not be surprising if parents tried to get their children into them in preference to other schools. Those schools will then be over-subscribed and parents will be turned down. They will be told that they will have more choice, only to find that they have less choice. The schools will start choosing the parents rather than the parents the schools.
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor said that we are to have a White Paper prior to legislation. No doubt the Minister will say in reply that we will have to wait for that before she can answer questions on what greater diversity and choice means. I see that the noble Baroness is nodding her head in agreement. I assume that the Department of Education has realised that the nightmare scenario of having to run thousands of schools is something that it wants to take urgent steps to avoid.
Your Lordships may not be aware of the fact that there are already over 50 civil servants in the grant-maintained schools unit, costing the country nearly £750,000 just to deal with 200 schools. Moreover, Ministers are finding themselves drawn into unseemly disputes between heads and governors which would be resolved by LEAs in county schools. Perhaps the Minister can say something about the Department of Education's thinking so far. Are we to have funding councils for secondary schools? If so, how will they be accountable? Alternatively, are we to have local school boards? Further, what will all this 330 bureaucracy mean for LEAs? Frankly, the whole thing seems to me a sad diversion from the real issue; namely, raising the quality of education in all our schools. That is what parents really want and what the nation needs.
Finally, perhaps I may ask the Minister a straight question which my noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris has already put. Do the Government intend to reintroduce selection at 11 or not? That is an issue of principle. We do not have to wait for a White Paper for the answer. Will the Government follow the example of one of their favourite authorities—namely, Wandsworth—and start dividing children into sheep and goats at the early age of 11? Are we going to designate children as failures before even giving them the chance of starting secondary school on an even playing field? As the noble Lord, Lord Addington, reminded the House, the 11-plus examination was a deeply unpopular device. The Government may try to disguise the reintroduction of selection by various means. But if bringing back selection is what they intend, I am sure that parents will soon be aware that they are facing the 11-plus in another guise. Teachers and parents will be demoralised by what they will rightly see as turning back the clock to a discredited system. That will not raise standards for the great majority of pupils, and it is incompatible with parental choice.
I cannot disguise my disappointment that we are faced with yet another Conservative programme. I am also disappointed that so little that is new and exciting was introduced in those sections of the gracious Speech concerned with home and social affairs and education. But what I fear most of all is that the inequalities that have grown over the past 13 years will go on growing, and that the Prime Minister's so-called "classless society" will be even further from attainment than it is at present.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege for me to participate in a response to the gracious Speech and indeed to follow my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. Let me say at the outset that, while it has been an honour and a privilege, I also find it a frustration because so many subjects have been touched upon and each one could certainly justify a debate in itself. There is no way in the time available to me that I can do justice to the debate. Therefore if I miss out points that have been raised during the course of the debate I shall either pass them to the relevant colleagues on the Front Bench or I shall write to noble Lords.
There have been two splendid, interesting and mightily confident speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and my noble friend Lord Lucas. My noble friend put an interesting slant on the health reforms. He talked about the importance of a dialogue between the health service and local people in determining some difficult decisions that are left very often to the health service itself. I welcome the promotion of that work. One could couple what he said with what my noble friend Lord Harmsworth said when he was 331 talking about the need for top-down strategic oversight, especially in the purchasing of equipment when there are savings to hospitals, but also the importance of bottom-up day-to-day management and operational autonomy. They complemented each other, and I again congratulate my noble friend on his speech.
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is of course relentless. His work is unstinting. He will bring that wonderful established sense of humour and great competence to the work of this House. We look forward to hearing very much more from him as we sit through the hours in this great place.
This has been a wide-ranging debate, as I said, with so many outstanding contributions from all sides of the House. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, the programme which this Government will bring forward this Session and in the next five years of this Parliament is a reforming one.
The programme in the Queen's Speech seeks to strengthen opportunity and choice and to continue the crusade against unnecessary regulation and restrictions on individual freedoms. To those ends we shall continue the task of giving back to people greater control over how they live their lives, creating greater choice, giving people more opportunity, cutting back the power of government, central or local, over people's lives.
We shall encourage and build up the private sector. We want to stimulate enterprise and encourage people to stretch out and challenge themselves to rise as far and as fast as they possibly can. At the same time, and on the basis of a strong and enterprise-based economy, we shall work for a society which cares for the disadvantaged but through means which enhance rather than undermine those citizens' capacity for independence.
We shall strive to improve the quality, the efficiency and the value for money of public services nationally and at local level. We want to empower people. We shall do that by making all public services much more responsive to their customers. We shall endeavour to strengthen the underpinnings of a civilised, law-abiding society and continue to take action against crime, particularly among young people. We shall open up better opportunities for our children by raising education standards from nursery classes right through to universities.
I turn now to the detail of the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, made an excellent speech and touched upon so many points. I shall try to deal with one or two of them. First, I think he suggested that transferring the lead responsibility to the security services was akin to giving the IRA political status. That was also mentioned by other noble Lords. That is not true. Terrorism is a crime and terrorists are criminals. The prevention of terrorism is primarily a police responsibility, but intelligence work is only one small part of the overall counter-terrorist effort.
With regard to finger-printing, there has been unquestionable abuse, with individuals lodging up to 50 or more asylum applications in false identities as a basis for benefit fraud. Comprehensive finger-printing 332 is the only sure way to stamp this out, given that so many asylum-seekers present themselves with no identity documents.
We would all say "Amen" to the point the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, raised about speeding up consideration of possible miscarriages of justice. Nevertheless, we need to allow the Royal Commission time to report. We shall consider what steps to take in the light of what it says. However, we should be wary of quick-fix solutions. It would not necessarily be in the interests of justice.
Crime prevention was another point raised. The Government are committed to a programme of crime prevention in which government, local authorities, the police and the public have a role to play. Neighbourhood Watch is a good example. Over 100,000 schemes in England and Wales, covering 1 million households, are already working effectively in the field of crime prevention.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked whether there would be enough police. In addition to the increases in police manpower that have already taken place, we have a manifesto commitment to supply 1,000 additional officers, and they will he produced. Ethnic minorities and the NACRO report are something that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State at the Home Office will be considering.
The noble Lords, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge and Lord Mishcon, referred to the Woolf Report. Progress has been made in a White Paper on each of the main elements which provide a response to the Woolf Report. Much has already been done. Proposals relating to the appointment of an independent complaints adjudicator are under consideration. Radical changes in adjudication arrangements were introduced, on schedule, on 1st April 1992.
On custody and control, a new prison mutiny offence and increased penalties for assisting escape came into force this month. Other positive programmes include an increase in prisoners' average earnings from 6th April 1992: new pay rates to give greater incentives to work are to come into effect in December, extensions of sentence planning are under way, and wider supervision after release, introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1991, is to be implemented in October. They go with better educational opportunities and the many other programmes that are in train.
The White Paper offers an exceptionally ambitious, complex and challenging programme. No government have committed themselves to a systematic and long-term programme of reform on such a scale. There can be no doubt that change is needed. Prisoners must be held securely. They must be prevented from flouting the law through riot and disturbance, and they must be required to make purposeful use of their time in prison. The proposals in the White Paper will meet those needs.
Measures have already been taken to improve security and control of prisoners, to develop purposeful programmes which will prepare them more effectively for release, and to achieve better relations 333 between staff and prisoners so that trouble can be averted and a more constructive atmosphere in prisons created. That will provide the best basis for enabling prisoners to face up to their responsibilities in custody and after release.
The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, made many references to poverty. There is a fundamental philosophical difference between those of us on these Benches and noble Lords on the Benches opposite. We believe that it takes a prosperous, wealthy society to provide for the needy in the community. It is only by those means—all the Government are doing is to see that the country is prosperous—that the Government can do many of the things which were on the list of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. He was joined by many other noble Lords in referring to the plight of 16 and 17 year-olds. All 16 and 17 year-olds are covered by the Government guarantee of an offer of a place in youth training.
Careers officers refer young people having difficulty in obtaining a youth training place to guarantee liaison officers, who help them to find one. Certain groups of vulnerable young people are, nonetheless, automatically eligible for income support—for example, lone parents and some young people with disabilities. Young persons seeking a YT place may be eligible for income support if they would otherwise suffer severe hardship. No young person need be without financial support.
Community care issues were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. The Government's commitment to community care is evident from their record. Local authority personal social services expenditure is up by 59 per cent. in real terms since 1979. Guidance is being produced to help authorities implement community care. Practice material has been produced for, among other things, assessment and care management procedures. I know that those points also interest my noble friend Lady Faithfull. We intend to promote the development of domiciliary day and respite services to enable people to live in their own homes, wherever that is feasible and sensible. We also intend to ensure that service providers make practical support for carers a high priority and to make proper assessment of need and good care management the cornerstone of high quality care.
Changing topic to that raised by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe—
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, will the noble Baroness give way? Can she answer my question about how the Government intend to monitor these new schemes? I entirely accept that they are desirable, but will they happen? Will the resources be there and will the schemes be introduced throughout the country? It would be helpful to know what machinery the Government have in mind for evaluating the implementation of the schemes.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I can give the noble Baroness the assurance that they will be monitored, but I have to say that 35 people spoke in the debate 334 and the noble Baroness will have to be patient and wait for me to come to the points which she raised in her speech during the debate.
I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, who raised the issue of Scotland as well as constitutional points. Perhaps I may say at the outset that I believe that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was courageous in stating unequivocally our support for the Union against what was perceived in the middle of the campaign to be a positive clamour of popular support for devolution. The Union has coped with organic changes since 1707. Scotland already benefits from a number of special arrangements at Westminster and I recognise that the Union has evolved over time and will continue to do so. The House must recognise that the Government have not seen any recent fundamental proposals for change which would be an improvement on the status quo.
The Government are always receptive to well founded proposals for change and are willing to consider and discuss ways of making government more responsive to the needs of Scotland, provided that they do not damage the union or the interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK. We are prepared to consider ways of improving the mechanisms of government for Scotland's benefit. These points were also raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Weir.
The noble Lords, Lord Windlesham, and Lord Holme, are not in their places so I shall communicate with them after the debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips is also not here but I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for referring to her in her absence. She is, I was about to say, the master but it should be the mistress of plain English in this House and she touched a chord with many of us on these Benches. We take issue strongly with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—and I link this with the point I made about the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. We do not make excuses for committing crimes. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, was absolutely right that there have been times in the history of this country when people were poor but that was no excuse for committing crime.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I believe that the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon, is not in his seat. He made so many points in a particularly moving speech that I should like to communicate with him on all of them. However, time again constrains me and prevents me addressing people who are not present.
My noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon made a number of points, particularly about insider dealing and money laundering, and I cannot address them all. However, I can say to him that we plan to bring forward a Bill to strengthen our powers to deal with financial crime.
The fraud provisions in part derive from a 1989 Law Commission report and are directed at giving our courts jurisdiction to try cases of fraud and similar 335 offences where much of the criminal activity—for example, a deception—may have taken place in this country, but the final act—normally the obtaining of the proceeds—occurred overseas. Many of the points that my noble friend made will be passed on to my relevant colleagues.
My noble friend Lady Faithfull made many points in a touching speech. The Education Act 1981 has brought many benefits to children who have special educational needs. Nevertheless, she knows that I am aware of some of the shortcomings in the implementation of the procedures both within local authorities and in appeals to the Secretary of State. I share some of the concerns expressed by my noble friends. I wish to see improvements in those areas. The Government are prepared to consider whether legislation would be helpful. To that end I am already having discussions, not only within the department but with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who I am sure will speak on behalf of many noble Lords in this House. Again, I shall have to correspond with my noble friend Lord Renton outside the debate.
A number of noble Lords raised the question of selection. The Government do not intend to impose a selective pattern of schools across the country. That is not the case. We have consistently made it clear that we do not intend to lay down any particular organisational pattern for schools. We are committed to a diversity of schools and to maximising parental choice. The law places the initiative first with the local education authorities and governors of voluntary or grant-maintained schools to establish the most appropriate pattern for schools in their areas. Clearly, they should do so in the light of local needs and the wishes of the community.
Where proposals to introduce selection in the admission arrangements of a school are before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for decision he will take into account very carefully the views of all those who have expressed an opinion on those proposals. He will also consider the educational merits of the proposals, the existing pattern of schools in the surrounding area and the ability of the school to respond to the challenges of its proposed new status. Equally, he will look very carefully at any proposals to close existing grammar schools and in particular at proposals which would end selection entirely in an area, taking account of the views of the local community in each case.
Our overriding concern is to raise standards across the board, in particular through the national curriculum, by maximum delegation of responsibility to individual schools through local management of schools and, increasingly, by the acquisition of grant-maintained status.
Much has been said on the Benches opposite against choice and diversity. The other option is stultifying uniformity. We positively disagree with that. I am interested in what Mr. Tim Brighouse had to say as a guru of the Labour Party. I would not pose the question to myself but put it back to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I should be interested in his response to Mr. Brighouse's comments this week.
336 The right reverend Prelate is not in his seat so I shall move on to the remarks of my noble friend Lord McColl. As always, my noble friend Lord McColl brings to this House great experience and first-hand knowledge of the National Health Service. He confirmed what we on this side of the House know, namely that this Government are committed to a high quality National Health Service which is free at the point of delivery to patients.
I can tell my noble friend that over one third of National Health Service hospital and community health service capacity will now be managed by National Health Service trusts. The third wave expressions of interest represent nearly 20 per cent. of National Health Service expenditure. The trusts will be better able to respond to patients' needs through greater freedom and flexibility and greater local involvement. Quality and improved benefits to patients are high on the agenda of all trusts, and district health authorities will designate essential local services which must be maintained in NHS trusts.
I welcome what the noble Lord, Lord Winstanley, said in welcoming some of the reforms. I also note his concerns, which will be shared by everybody; namely, to ensure that the reforms work. If our energies are directed to that end that will be a good thing.
In relation to 16 and 17 year-olds, we must encourage young people to make the most of their opportunities. Moving straight from school to dependency on benefits should not be an option. The majority of 16 and 17 year-olds are at school or at work. For most of the rest income support has been replaced by the Government's guarantee of the offer of a suitable place on youth training. As I said, income support is still available for the most vulnerable groups.
My noble friend Lady Faithfull raised a number of questions, but in particular she mentioned parity of esteem for academic and vocational qualifications. How much I agree with that. It is important to ensure equal esteem for academic and vocational qualifications - a point which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Annan.
Good vocational qualifications provide a good general education, preparing people for jobs. They should have good currency with employers and should be an alternative ladder to higher education. It is the level of the qualification that matters, not whether it is academic or vocational. More young people should study for vocational qualifications. It is that flexibility that we have built into the system post-14.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is not in his place, so I pass on. I say to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, that he unnerves me somewhat. He always pre-empts precisely what the Government's response to his points will be. He will not be surprised to hear me mention the previous Royal Commission on the Constitution of 1969 to 1973 under the chairmanship of Lord Crowther and later Lord Kilbrandon. The report of that Royal Commission remains a useful source of background information on the historical perspective of our constitutional arrangements. Those who have followed the debate on constitutional issues from that 337 period to the present day will appreciate that the report did not provide a comprehensive blueprint for constitutional restructuring. Many of the main issues discussed in it were prominent in the other place prior to the election.
The Government are taking stock of the constitutional position in Scotland. I touched on that issue in response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe.
The matter of nursery education was raised. If one takes into account nursery schools, nursery classes, young children who are accepted into school at the age of four plus, pre-school playgroups, toddler groups (in which I was involved for many years) and parents who prefer their children to be at home, a very large proportion of young children under five are in some form of educational provision.
My noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale mentioned the need for constitutional reform and a written constitution. No country can claim to have in place a set of faultless constitutional arrangements. But what is missing from much of the current discussion is the recognition of the very considerable strength of our own system and institutions. We see no merit in substituting a written constitution or a Bill of Rights for the present delicate system of checks and balances which has been developed over centuries and which provides the safeguard of our democratic system. Such constitutional arrangements cannot easily be emended. People may find themselves bound by an earlier view of rights and freedoms which restricts rather than enhances their liberties. The Royal Commission was discussed in the useful, wide-ranging debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, in the last Parliament. A number of interesting points have been made, all of which will be noted by my colleagues in the relevant departments.
My noble friend Lord Colwyn, who is in his place, brought up the issue of dentists. His speech was extremely interesting and I shall pass on his words verbatim to my honourable friend in another place, Dr. Brian Mawhinney. There is a review taking place at this moment. Indeed, my honourable friend in another place today put out a press release and I shall make sure that my noble friend receives a copy.
My noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton was concerned about remand prisoners. About a quarter of those in prison are remand prisoners. They are held either in local prisons, which are mostly overcrowded, as she said, or, if they cannot be held in prison, they are detained in police cells. The Government do not consider that holding such people in police cells is appropriate either for the prisoners or the police. We take the point that she made, but much is being done. We have the most robust prison programme that has ever been undertaken by any government and we shall continue to make changes.
I can reassure my noble friend on the issue of Westminster Hospital that the high quality care, including paediatrics and accident and emergency services, currently provided by Westminster Hospital 338 and Westminster Children's Hospital will be continued and improved on by the new Westminster and Chelsea Hospital.
There are still so many points to answer that I find it difficult to do other than promise that I shall write to my noble friends.
§ Lord Parry
My Lords, will the noble Baroness kindly notice that not only am I standing in my place now but I have been in my place for the best part of eight hours? I asked two or three questions about which I know she shares my concern. Why does she not refer to me? I feel upset.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, I promise to deal with his points specifically by letter. There are other people in the Chamber to whom I have not referred; there are others who are not present. I am already over-running my time.
I have described government policies across a wide range of our national life. They will all contribute to a Britain of opportunity and choice, a Britain of enterprise and self-respect, a Britain where the state enables and facilitates but does not seek to dominate the life of its citizens.
Our policies for education are absolutely fundamental to the whole design. There is general agreement on the need to raise standards for all our children at all levels of ability. Through the Education Reform Act we have put in place the national curriculum under which all our children will study core and other foundation subjects from the age of five years through to 16. Regular assessment and testing will provide the information for teachers and parents to build on strengths and address weaknesses in a child's learning. The ever greater devolution of responsibility to schools is also helping to improve standards. Our White Paper later this year will set the path towards more and more of our schools choosing the advantages of autonomy and self-government. To that greater responsibility for schools we have now attached greater accountability through our Parent's Charter legislation.
Systematic and regular inspection at each school, together with the requirement to publish examination results, truancy rates and other key data will be a spur to high standards. For good schools inspection will confirm and underpin their work; for less good schools the inspection will provide the diagnostic evidence to form a programme of action for improvement. Nor should we overlook the moral and spiritual dimension of education—a point emphasised by a number of noble Lords.
The House agreed to an amendment to the Education (Schools) Act as it went through: the requirement that registered inspectors should include in their reports a commentary on the spiritual, moral, cultural and social aspects of life in a school which adds up to a school's ethos. Educational standards are not merely important for their own sake. They are important for the sake of the individual pupil. They are important because they bear on the whole life of our nation.
339 Our future as an enterprise-based economy, and as an orderly and civilised society, depends upon educated, well motivated and well behaved young people. A school with good standards and a robust community spirit can make the critical difference to many of our young people. As an inner cities Minister, I have seen some schools doing splendid work in the most unpromising circumstances. Our educational reforms provide the framework for improvement across the whole schools system. We look to the education system to deliver high standards of teaching and learning and to instil values of good citizenship. Our reforms are geared to those ends.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has a personal commitment, and has pledged his Government, to the creation of a strong economy, a prosperous and strongly defended Britain, coupled 340 with a commitment to address the needs of people with disabilities and others who are disadvantaged. Those are not incompatible objectives because it is only a prosperous country that can provide for good, public services. That lies at the very heart of our programme. I commend those objectives to your Lordships today.
Viscount St. Davids
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Denton of Wakefield, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Viscount St. Davids.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at twenty four minutes past ten o'clock.