§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Debate resumed on the Motion moved on Wednesday last by Lord Wade of Chorlton—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 Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)
My Lords, the gracious Speech contains many Bills, covering a wide range of activities and issues. In the field of home and social affairs, there are no fewer than 10. Clearly, in the time available today, I will be unable to say more than a few words about them. I would, however, make the point that the legislative programme before your Lordships today, although disparate in subject, is very much homogenous in aim. 157 The measures will touch upon, to a greater or lesser extent, many aspects of life affecting all of us—health, pensions, and the criminal justice system. They will also directly affect the lives of specific groups. In that regard I am thinking, in particular, of the disabled and the mentally ill. I think it true to say that the legislative proposals we are debating today fall into two broad groups: those concerning social welfare reform and those concerning law reform.
In the field of social welfare we will be proposing changes in a number of areas. First, legislation covering both state and non-state pensions will be introduced in this Session. The main proposals for legislation were set out in two Government White Papers—Equality in State Pension Age, which was published in December 1993, and Security, Equality, Choice: The Future for Pensions, which was published in June of this year.
The legislation will also implement all of the main recommendations of the Pension Law Review Committee by bringing the management of pension schemes up to the level of best practice, giving members more influence in the running of their schemes, introducing a minimum solvency requirement to ensure the adequacy of pension fund assets, appointing a new regulatory authority, and setting up a compensation scheme.
Having listened carefully to the many different opinions on state pension age, last November the Government announced their plans to equalise at age 65, phased in between 2010 and 2020. Sixty-five is the right choice for four main reasons: it recognises women's changed role in the work place; people are living longer, healthier lives; the international trend certainly supports this; and the importance of the interaction between state and occupational provision. The age of 65 is, we believe, the only responsible choice.
The Bill will also give effect in domestic legislation to rulings of the European Court of Justice requiring equal treatment between men and women in occupational pensions and it will simplify the arrangements for contracting-out of the state earnings-related pension scheme to make it easier for contracted-out schemes to provide equal treatment.
The Pensions Bill will balance the interests of members, employers, and existing pensioners. We will be improving the security of pension funds without unduly burdening employers and fund managers. Our reforms will, I believe, strengthen the whole system of pensions provision.
Another aspect of state provision which is to be improved during this Session is the payment of benefits related to unemployment. The Jobseeker's Allowance Bill will replace the two existing benefits—unemployment benefit and income support for unemployed people—with a new single benefit; namely, the jobseeker's allowance. It will be a modern benefit designed specifically to help meet the needs of unemployed people and get them back into jobs. In introducing the jobseeker's allowance, the Government have three main aims: to improve the operation of the labour market by helping people in their search for work while ensuring they understand and fulfil the conditions for receipt of benefit; to secure better value for money 158 for the taxpayer by streamlining administration and closer targeting on those who need financial support; and to improve the service to unemployed people themselves through a clearer, simpler benefit structure and by better service delivery. The change represents a further step towards the reform of the benefit system and continues the successful progress made in the Government's wide-ranging labour market reforms.
The gracious Speech also contains proposals for legislation to continue our programme of improvements to the management of the National Health Service and to strengthen community care for seriously mentally disordered people.
The Health Authorities Bill will sweep away the current regional health authorities. They will be replaced with a much smaller, integrated central management structure of regional offices which will be part of the National Health Service executive within the Department of Health. Regional health authorities had nearly 3,900 staff in 1993 before those changes began; the new regional offices will have a total of 1,100 staff. The Bill also provides for the merger of district health authorities and family health service authorities.
The measures represent a significant cut in bureaucracy which I know will be welcomed on all sides of the House. Central management of the National Health Service in England will be simpler, sharper and more efficient. As a result of those and other changes, management costs will be cut and substantial savings will be available to go back into patient care. That will mean still shorter waiting times and more improvements in the quality of care; and a more efficient, more responsive National Health Service which is fit for the next century.
Your Lordships will be all too well aware of those tragic cases in which mentally ill people have fallen through the net of community care and have gone on sometimes to commit terrible offences. That was most vividly documented in the report of the inquiry into the case of Christopher Clunis, chaired by Miss Jean Ritchie QC.
Those problems cannot be solved by legislation alone. The 10 point plan announced by my right honourable friend last year represents a broad approach to tackling them. But legislation is needed to strengthen the hand of the caring agencies in dealing with seriously mentally disordered people. We shall bring forward a Bill to implement a new power of supervised discharge for patients who have been detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. That will implement a key element of my right honourable friend's 10 point plan to ensure the safe and successful care of mentally ill people in the community.
The new power provided by the Bill will play a very important part in underpinning community care by ensuring effective supervision for some of the most vulnerable people, and better protection of the public.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has also announced proposals for a Bill to enable the General Medical Council to deal with the very small minority of doctors whose professional performance is found to be seriously deficient. Those powers have been sought by the GMC. They are in the interests of patients 159 and the profession and will help raise the standard of health care even further. The proposals have been widely welcomed.
The Government have made clear their intention to work towards eliminating discrimination against disabled people. We published a consultation document earlier this year covering a number of measures to tackle discrimination against disabled people. As a result, we intend to bring forward a package of legislative measures in the area. The details of the Government's proposals will be announced shortly. The Bills that I have outlined will contribute greatly to the health and social welfare of the nation. More, I know, will be said from all Benches on those issues during the debate and as the Bills are considered in this Chamber.
I turn now to law and order. I should like to begin, first, with the changes which are proposed north of the Border. I am sure that that will meet with the approval of certain noble Lords on all sides of the House. A prime example of the Government's commitment to law and order is the announcement in the gracious Speech of legislation to reform the Scottish criminal justice system. The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, introduced into the House on Thursday, makes a number of important reforms to the Scottish criminal justice system. The provisions of the Bill are designed to strengthen the police, the prosecutors and the courts in the fight against crime. The Bill will also streamline the operation of the system, and will make it more accessible and responsive to all those who come into contact with it. Its provisions will build on the improvements set out in the justice charter for Scotland, while reaffirming the Government's firm and fair approach to law and order in Scotland.
Another aspect of law reform north of the Border is the Children (Scotland) Bill. I know that many noble Lords will welcome the opportunity to debate it in due course. In the White Paper, Scotland's Children, published in August 1993, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland set out the Government's intention for the reform of child care law and policy in Scotland. Widespread support has since been expressed for the promised legislation. The Bill will be a major reform of the law relating to children in Scotland and will embrace both public and private law, the latter based on the child-related aspects of the Scottish Law Commission's report on family law.
Returning south, I know that a general welcome will be given to the Bill, which introduces the setting up of a new body to investigate possible miscarriages of justice and to refer appropriate cases to the courts. The Bill will also propose changes to ensure that the Court of Appeal has the full powers that it needs in order to remedy wrongful convictions at the earliest opportunity.
Those important changes were among the main recommendations of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice and the Government had no hesitation in accepting them. We set out our detailed proposals for implementation in a discussion paper issued in March. That exercise revealed wide support for legislation of the kind that we are now proposing, and has enabled us 160 to benefit from the observations of many experienced people, including the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice and his colleagues.
Our criminal justice system in all its operations must enjoy the full confidence of the public. It must ensure the conviction of the guilty, but only the guilty. We are confident that this Bill, which aims to strengthen appeals procedures and to create an independent body dedicated to the task of investigating cases where things may have gone wrong, will make a substantial and lasting contribution to the quality of justice.
Finally, in relation to the legislative programme, I should mention the implementation of Law Commission reports. The Government recognise the value of the Law Commission's work and, accordingly, welcomed the recommendation of the Select Committee, chaired by my noble friend Lord Jellicoe, that there should be an experiment in the use of Special Public Bill Committees for considering and enabling the passage of uncontroversial law reform measures such as those regularly produced by the commission.
The procedure was used in the last Session and it is, I think, generally agreed that it was a success. The Government intend to continue its use in the new Session for Law Commission recommendations which have been accepted, are ready for enactment and are not considered to be controversial. I should like to think that the reference of law reform Bills to Special Public Bill Committees might become a regular feature of the parliamentary landscape.
An example of the sort of measure which should be well suited to consideration in that way is a Private International Law Bill, which implements three short and technical, but useful, Law Commission reports. There are several other measures which we would also hope to introduce, given agreement as to their suitability for the new procedure. They would cover such matters as the civil remedies for domestic violence, the hearsay rule in civil proceedings and the effect of divorce on wills.
I hope that I have managed to give your Lordships at least a flavour of what the Bills outlined in the gracious Speech will achieve. Before finishing, however, I should like to say something about some of the many areas in the field of home and social affairs in which the Government are taking forward non-legislative initiatives, all intended to improve the lives of the people of this country; for example, the misuse of drugs, the tackling of which the Government see as a very high priority. Last month's Green Paper, Tackling Drugs Together, set out the most comprehensive action plan yet to tackle the drugs problem in this country.
We recognise that enforcement by itself is not enough to tackle drugs. Therefore, the strategy places a new emphasis on prevention and education to reduce the demand for drugs, especially from young people. In particular, the Government are launching an information and education campaign to give young people the knowledge and skills to resist drugs. My department will continue the funding of the Home Office drugs prevention initiative for a further period of four years. From 1st April 1995 there will be 12 teams which will 161 cover a wider area and a larger population than ever before, stimulating community resistance to drug misuse.
An area in which we are actively seeking the views of the public and interested bodies on possible action is that of identity cards. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced on 13th October the Government's intention to publish a consultation paper in spring next year on the question of a national identity card scheme. I am well aware that there is a wide range of views on identity cards. I want the Government's Green Paper to open up that debate so that more views can be heard and we can consider the way forward in the light of the views expressed in that consultation period.
Turning to a different aspect of national life, I am sure that many of your Lordships will have noticed with some relief that the gracious Speech contains no legislative proposals for education. That does not, however, mean that we have no plans in that area. Far from it. We shall continue the effective implementation of our programme of reforms, which are all directed at further improving the standards of performance of our schools and our children. The key elements of the reforms include slimming down the national curriculum in response to teachers' own concerns about overload; ensuring that parents have the information they need about the performance of their local schools and colleges, so that they can make informed choices about their children's schooling; and continuing to encourage schools to become grant maintained and to promote the advantages of the grant-maintained sector by ensuring that factual information is available to parents and governors. We shall ensure that grant-maintained schools continue to receive the funding to match their additional responsibilities.
Additionally, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set a target to provide, over time, a pre-school place for all four year-olds whose parents wish them to take it up. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education is now consulting widely with a view to drawing up detailed proposals. New places will have to be of good quality and promote diversity, parental choice and cost-effectiveness.
As my right honourable friend has already announced, in the coming months the Government intend to review the longer-term development of higher education, including its future purpose, size and shape. We shall consult fully with others on that important issue.
Your Lordships have, of course, had a full debate on Northern Ireland since the Summer Recess. I shall not, therefore, go over the ground again in full. However, it is important to look briefly at some of the recent developments. Since he entered Downing Street the Prime Minister has put Northern Ireland at the top of his agenda. He deserves our congratulations and praise for his courage, determination and vision. It is important that I also mention the courage and resolution of the Northern Ireland people, who have suffered with such stoicism the consequences of terrorism for so many years. The lives of us all have been touched by the shadow of terrorism.
162 The Government's policy in Northern Ireland is clear: we want a lasting peace—not peace at any price, but peace properly attained and supported by an agreed political settlement.
There have been no secret deals for peace and nothing has been hidden under the table. We shall continue to watch the words and deeds of Sinn Fein and will expect to see practical evidence of its commitment to the peace process.
It is appropriate that I should say something about the fears, anxieties and suspicions of both communities in Northern Ireland. Those fears are groundless. Underpinning everything we do in Northern Ireland is the cast-iron guarantee that the constitutional future of Northern Ireland will be determined by its people. The Government will continue to work to achieve a widely acceptable political accommodation through its discussions with all the main Northern Ireland parties and the Irish Government. The Prime Minister has made a commitment that the final outcome of the talks process—which will examine relationships within Northern Ireland, between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and between the two Governments—will be put to the people of Northern Ireland in a referendum. That has put it beyond doubt that the people of Northern Ireland will make their own judgment and no settlement will be imposed on them against their will.
Before I close my remarks on Northern Ireland I should like to add my praise for the unstinting work of the security forces in Northern Ireland. Few of us in the House can imagine just how difficult and dangerous their task has been. They have already reacted to the different situation they face with violence having ceased; many measures have been reduced. But they have not dropped their guard; nor will they.
There is much work ahead for the Government, but I know that we have the support of the whole House for our efforts to secure an enduring peace and a lasting political settlement in that land.
The wide range of issues which my speech today has covered, albeit only briefly, and the doubtlessly even wider range in the debate to come, are indicative of the efforts the Government are making to achieve real improvements in services.
The legislative programme which I have set out today, together with the many non-legislative initiatives which are being taken forward, is designed to help improve the quality of people's lives. And it will do so by raising standards in our public services; by providing more help for the disabled; by improving further still the National Health Service for all, and for the mentally ill in particular; by strengthening the Scottish criminal justice system; and by strengthening the appeals procedure in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, to name but a few.
This Government are determined to make a real difference to people's lives. Nowhere is that more true than on law and order. As the Police Federation has said, the measures we brought forward last year,will enhance the ability of the criminal justice system to redress crime, bring criminals to justice and significantly reduce the fear of crime, so improving the quality of life for many members of society.163 They will give the police and the courts the powers they need to catch, convict and punish the guilty. We aim to challenge the politically correct dogma, which too many people in authority have held for far too long, that criminals are not responsible for what they do, but are simply a product of society. It is fashionable to claim to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. My Lords, the main causes of crimes are those who commit them —the criminals—and we intend to be tough on criminals. No matter how difficult that may be, we shall not flinch from our task, because we are determined to provide this country with the criminal justice system it cries out for.
That, then, is a brief resume of the home and social affairs programme. My Lords, I can promise that there will be few idle moments for you in the weeks and months ahead!
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the Minister for her typically down-to-earth and practical approach to the subjects we are to debate this afternoon. I believe that I shall carry all in the House with me when I say how much we look forward to the maiden speeches this afternoon of my noble friends Lord Attenborough and Lord Dubs and the noble Lord, Lord Tope. I am sure that they will make an excellent contribution to our debates, not only today but also in the future.
I said that the Minister was down-to-earth in her approach. However, it is important that we should raise our eyes a little when we consider home and social policy. Unless we ask ourselves what social policy is for, then we are not really asking the question which is the most difficult of all to answer; namely, what is this Government for?
In the debate this afternoon we are concerned, as the Minister rightly said, with many aspects of the quality of life. The quality of life is as important for ordinary people as the quantity of life, which is to be debated on Thursday in the debate on the economy and industry.
In considering social policy, I shall not go back to Beveridge, as my noble friend Lady Hollis and I did last year, but I want to take my text from a more recent and very wise man, John Kenneth Galbraith. He published a book entitled The Culture of Contentment two years ago. He had a powerful insight into the kind of social policy which lies behind the Government's legislative programme over the past 15 years and as announced this afternoon.
Galbraith said:Individuals and communities that are favoured in their economic, social and political conditions attribute social virtue and political durability to that which they themselves enjoy".In other words, if you have something, you do not necessarily want everyone else to have it; and you want to make sure that nothing in social policy takes away from the "haves", even if that is at the expense of the "have nots". Unfortunately, intellectuals throughout history have fallen over themselves to provide justifications (whether or not consciously) for the "haves" rather than the "have-nots".
164 Without going back further than the ancien régime in France, before the French Revolution, the physiocrats—the economists of those days—found excellent justifications in theory for the predominance of a small class, without even realising that their days were numbered by overwhelming protest from the great majority of French people. Nineteenth and 20th century capitalism has had a series of intellectuals justifying its precepts: from Malthus saying that there was no way in which the poor could have their condition made better because there would therefore be more of them and they would be dragged down by that factor, through classical economics to, more recently, monetarism. With Soviet communism—a wonderful theory in many ways—the intellectuals justified the establishment of the elite in the theory of democratic centralism. That tiny elite oppressed the vast majority of other people under Soviet communism. That in the end brought about the downfall of Soviet communism.
We should be aware of the intellectual underpinning of the culture of contentment. It shows itself in the way the Government think about social policy. I wish to identify the three elements: the theory of less government, given most extreme expression to by Mr. Newt Gingrich, the next speaker of Congress in another country; the theory that wealth and indeed greed is good, as expressed by Mr. Ivan Boesky, and many Right-wing politicians in many countries of the world; and the theory that it is desirable and possible for us to have less public responsibility for the poor, as endorsed by Dr. Charles Murray most recently. The problem with those theories is that they can work in electoral terms. What capitalism has succeeded in doing is to secure that the contented are in the majority. Marx identified the oppression of the majority by the minority. We now find possible the oppression of the minority—the poor, the underclass—by the majority, and certainly the electoral majority as expressed in the American mid-term elections at which only 38 per cent. of the population voted.
I have taken that time to introduce what I wish to say about the gracious Speech because it seems to me that the Queen's Speech is very much about that intellectual underpinning of the culture of contentment. Through its social policies, such a culture risks two factors at the core of both law and order policy and policy on the welfare state. Through isolating an underclass, it risks making that class's position more hopeless and moving it further away from the contented majority in our society. It risks the increase in crime which indeed has taken place over the past 15 years under a Conservative Government. By the deliberate destruction of some of the major elements of the welfare state, such a culture further alienates that underclass.
Under the Conservative Government what has happened with regard to the welfare state, even in the past 12 months, is that we pay more in order to get less. For example, employees' national insurance contributions went up on 1st April of this year. Less will be received in respect of incapacity benefits, statutory sick pay, the jobseeker's allowance and the other programmes which the Minister has outlined. I shall wish to say more on a number of those specific aspects.
165 However, before I do so, I wish to say how much we on these Benches welcome the decision of the Government to advance the introduction of the criminal cases review authority. The Minister rightly said that the proposal will achieve support from all corners of the House. Indeed, I so stated from these Benches only a few months ago. I can reassure her that the Bill will receive enthusiastic co-operation from us. A number of issues in the discussion paper issued in April have still to be resolved. For example, who will conduct the investigations? Will it be the police or a dedicated force? With regard to membership of the authority, will it be leavened (if lawyers will forgive my saying so) by the presence of a significant number of non-lawyers? There will be issues regarding powers, for example, to summon witnesses in its procedures. Although we shall not oppose the proposal in principle, there are matters on which we may disagree. I respectfully suggest to the Leader of the House that a special standing committee might consider the Bill in the period of 28 days between the time that it is introduced and Committee stage, with the benefit of expert witnesses assisting your Lordships in their considerations. If the Bill is indeed to be introduced in this House first, I commend that procedure.
The Minister said nothing about prisons or the announcement made recently on home leave. It is interesting that previous Home Secretaries have boasted about having a reduced prison population, whereas this Home Secretary seems to consider it proper to boast about having a larger prison population. Indeed, the prison population has increased under his regime from something like 42,000 to nearly 50,000. However, I was concerned by what has been said about home leave. As noble Lords will know, the present system on home leave was introduced as a result of the inquiry by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, into the riots in Strangeways Prison. I had thought that it was generally agreed that such a pressure valve was desirable in the prison service. Yet in response to questioning from the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, it appears that there are no adequate national statistics on the extent of home leave or indeed the extent to which home leave is being abused. On what appears to be a purely arbitrary basis, the Home Secretary proposes to cut 40 per cent. of home leave. I have seen no justification put forward that such a cut is necessary. I regret in particular the proposal that there should be no home leave for education, training and work experience for those serving in Category A and B prisons.
Your Lordships have expressed their opinion on criminal injuries compensation and attempted to press that opinion but were regrettably overturned by Government. That was before we knew that the Government's proposals were illegal. If it is true that the costs of criminal injuries compensation are increasing—there is some doubt that they are increasing as fast as the Government suggest—we have to ask why. The answer can only be that crime is increasing under a Conservative Government. We have to ask about the justice of proposals put forward in that policy's stead, in particular about the abolition of compensation for loss of earnings.
166 Criminal injuries compensation is only one aspect of the vacuity of the Government's claim that they are looking after the victims of crime. The Minister stated that the Government's policy is to be tough on criminals when she opposed Tony Blair's description of being tough on crime and on the causes of crime. It remains to be seen whether a tough policy in dealing with those criminals who have been convicted is the right approach to dealing with law and order problems. What is quite certain is that the Government by their attitude to the criminal injuries compensation legislation, and in other matters, are being tough on the victims of crime.
For example, what are the Government doing to ensure that there are quick payments by criminals charged to compensate victims for the crime? What are the Government doing to ensure that there is proper control of progress payments to victims of crime? What are the Government doing to ensure that victims are consulted on charges? That is a perfectly reasonable reform which has been advocated for a number of years and never adopted. What are the Government doing to ensure that victims are given adequate information about the progress of a case and the dates on which a case comes forward? What is being done to protect victims from intimidation? That is a very topical comment in view of the commitment to prison of an elderly husband and wife who were afraid of being intimidated as potential witnesses. What are the Government doing to ensure that there is secure witness accommodation in courts? All those and many other matters do not give us any assurance that the Government's claims to be concerned with the needs of victims have any real substance.
There are matters on which we strongly agree with the Government. I particularly welcome what the Minister has just said about Law Commission reports. I remind her that there are now, I believe, 32 outstanding Law Commission reports and if we are to deal with them in a reasonable time —say, three years—we ought to be dealing with 10 or more Law Commission reports every single year. Even if—as the Minister suggests—and we support it—we refer them to Special Public Bill Committees, it is quite a programme to be introduced off the Floor of the House.
The Minister spent some time on Scotland, but I shall not follow that because my noble friend Lord Macaulay of Bragar will deal with it. However, before I leave Home Office policy, I wish to extend the argument a little further. Respect for the law and for probity in public life also affects us as Members of this House. I welcome the statement which was recently made by the Leader of the House in favour of consideration of a register of Members' interests. I am glad to know that it will be pursued. However, when we consider it we must also consider whether the declaration of interests by Members of the House is adequate and whether the phrase "direct pecuniary interest" is drawn too tightly. We must consider whether the declaration of interest is adequate in the sense that, having declared an interest, there appears to be no firm prohibition on those who have conflicting interests speaking and voting on legislation.
167 I believe that we ought to consider whether we should look to the rules which Parliament itself has imposed on local government as an example to us in the way we conduct our own affairs. There it is very clear that those who have a pecuniary interest, even of a fairly general kind, are forced not only to declare that interest in advance but are also debarred from speaking and voting. We ought to look to the principle which was established many years ago by a Select Committee on procedures in this House—in a report which was accepted by the House—that we should receive pay for nothing which arises out of our membership of the House. If we receive pay for what we are doing here as Members of the House, we are breaking the fundamental principle that we are an unpaid House. I do not believe that that is sustainable. If any Members think that membership of the House is somehow a bar to introducing stronger procedures for control of our own affairs, I suggest to them that what they are doing is arguing not against stronger principles for the way we conduct ourselves but against our existing membership. The argument will fall inevitably that way if reform is resisted.
I move through other issues of social policy as rapidly as I can because my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden will deal with most of them in her winding-up speech. I wish to say a word in particular about pensions. As the Minister made quite clear, the necessity for a reform of pensions arises from the Maxwell debacle and the Goode Report which followed. If we are to have adequate control of private sector pension schemes, we have to assert some principles about the way they are conducted. That is what the Opposition will do. We shall have to ensure that member trustees, who should really be in the majority, are an essential part of the trustee body. There should be no question of opting out. We should ensure that trustees receive independent training, not simply from the financial advisers to the pension fund.
On the whole issue of the guaranteed minimum pension which has been ensured as not less than the value of SERPS, I am worried about the proposed replacement by a requisite benefit scheme. That seems to us to be fine for the better paid and those in long-term jobs, but it does not seem to provide adequate protection for the large, and increasing, number of people who have many different jobs, some of them low paid, in the course of their working lives. I must remind the Government and the House that the need for this new control over pension schemes arises from deliberate government policy. It was the Government's policy which, with the stick of reducing the benefits from SERPS and the carrot of providing for a short-term bribe from the Department of Social Security, led us into this mess in the first place. We shall have to help them get us out of it, but it will not be an easy problem to solve.
I shall not say much about the Child Support Agency because other noble Lords are much better qualified to talk about it. Nor will I talk about the disabled because my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke will undoubtedly make as powerful a speech as he usually does on the subject. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, intends to speak somewhat in that area too.
168 I thought it was a bit of a nerve for the Minister to say that the jobseeker's allowance would provide an improvement in government policy for the unemployed. What it will do is to reduce the benefits, which have, after all, been paid for and which are not means tested, from 12 months to six months. It is based on the entirely false assumption—which goes back, I think, again to Galbraith—that what deters the unemployed from finding jobs is lack of effort to find them rather than the real problem with which the Government do not propose to deal—the poverty trap.
I shall not say much about the National Health Service, except that to abolish the regional health authorities and turn them into committees of the National Health Service Executive seems to me to be nationalisation to the nth degree. Having created regional and local quangos, we are now to replace them by branches of a central quango. Of course, we welcome any improvement that is proposed in the treatment of those with mental health problems in the community and we shall listen sympathetically to what the Government say in that respect.
I repeat the question: what is social policy for? The Government seem to think that social policy is an instrument of supply side economics, an instrument of the policy which suggests, "Well, there's very little we can do about economic policy other than fiscal and monetary adjustment. So we shall treat social policy as a sub-division of that repudiation of positive government action". We, on the other hand, see social policy and policy on law and order as the means to a civilised society. We want to see the result of government actions, not just this year, not just over the past 15 years, but in the short time which remains to this Government, as helping to create what the next government will create—a society to which we are all proud to belong.
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank
My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, in saying that I too greatly look forward to the maiden speeches which will later grace this debate. I am fortunate in having sufficient knowledge of all three new Members of the House and know the outstanding qualities that they will bring to it. I was fortunate in first meeting my noble friend Lord Tope when for a short while he was a Member of another place. He has gone on to serve with great distinction in local government. I remember also that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, brought integrity and seriousness to the work of the Commons. Since then he has devoted himself to the problems of refugees—a matter that is very appropriate to today's debate and one to which I am sure noble Lords will turn their attention on future occasions. As for the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, like millions of others I first saw him serving the nation over 50 years ago. I am also fortunate that in more recent times I have had dealings with him personally. I greatly welcome him, too, to our debate today.
Perhaps I should say to the noble Lords who are about to make maiden speeches that I expect to learn more from them than they should expect to learn from me. This is the first occasion on which I have spoken in this 169 House on home and social affairs. I hope that to that extent they will bear with me if my own speech perhaps falls short of what they, as maiden speakers, might expect.
I simply say—and in doing so I endorse a remark made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch—that a year ago I spoke in the Queen's Speech debate on another topic. On that occasion I referred to Northern Ireland, which was of course the responsibility—not, perhaps, one of the most successful responsibilities—of the Home Office until 1972. I said then that I thought—I hoped that I spoke for the whole House—that we all wished the Prime Minister well in the endeavour he had set himself. I said that he should be bold and single-minded, but that he should not expect to carry everyone with him. I pay my own unqualified tribute to the Prime Minister for his achievement. He has done rather better than I then anticipated; he has carried, if not everyone, almost everyone with him. It has been very good for Britain abroad as well as good for our nation at home. I hope that the momentum will be continued.
It is normally the case that the main contents of the Queen's Speech are determined as early as July so that the parliamentary draftsman can carry on with his work. It is very seldom that the contents are decided later than September. Indeed, I cannot recall—I would be happy to give way to any noble Lord who can recall—any previous instance of a gaping hole being blown in the Queen's Speech within a fortnight of the opening of Parliament. I make the point not in order to develop my thoughts on the subject but simply to point out that in planning this parliamentary Session, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House must have allocated, let us say, 10 or 12 days to a Bill we no longer have. Although it would be beyond the spirit of our recent discussions for that space to be filled needlessly with legislation that we do not want, there is certainly room—as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, and as the noble Baroness conceded—for important legislation which might otherwise wait in the queue.
I simply say in parenthesis that a further small but useful gap would open in the legislative programme if the Government dropped all their proposals for local government reorganisation. When this House discussed the matter some months ago, opinion was almost unanimous on all sides that there was no merit whatever in the recommendations that were then coming forward. I noticed a powerful letter from the noble Lords, Lord Carrington and Lord Gilmour, among others, in The Times last week about reorganisation in the county of Buckinghamshire. I and other noble Lords have been very concerned with the proposals for Cleveland. Now is not the time to pursue the matter. Clearly, it is a subject for tomorrow's debate when local government can mainly be dealt with.
I make the point for two reasons. The first is that there is no merit in pursuing the changes when there are more important matters to which the House could turn. That is particularly the case when, as noble Lords know, we are not to be allowed full debate on the measures but are bound to discuss only statutory instruments. Also, the proposals for reorganisation will be very 170 disruptive indeed of the important responsibilities for social and home affairs which are still carried by local authorities despite the fact that they have far less to do than they had in the past. I do not believe that reorganisation will make services better; I do not believe that they will be cheaper; and we shall not get greater value for money. The changes will certainly be bad for morale. I hope that the Government, in their own discreet way, if they prefer, will find a means of abandoning further discussion of local government reform.
In the Queen's Speech, there is something that at first looked like a manuscript amendment. Indeed, it is an amendment made when the Post Office proposals were dropped. It is a reference to "further measures of law reform". But last Wednesday, in response to representations from my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead and the noble Lord, Lord Richard, the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said that the phrase covered the introduction of a Bill to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on a criminal cases review authority. That was further made plain by the Secretary of State in another place last Friday, and was of course referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, today.
Last week the noble Viscount the Lord Privy Seal referred to "full and constructive co-operation" with the proposal that the Government would bring forward. That remark put me somewhat on the alert. I see that the Secretary of State used the same words in another place last Friday. I am wondering whether the Government have in mind proposals which they already anticipate will less than satisfy opinion in this House.
The noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, who is not with us today, recently gave a talk at Edinburgh University. His remarks are very important. Referring to after-thoughts about the Royal Commission report, the noble Viscount said:I wish we had argued more strongly the need to ensure that the new Criminal Cases Review Authority … is properly—which means abundantly—funded".He went on to refer to the budgetary and investigative resources devoted by the BBC and Granada television to programmes designed to remedy what the courts and the Home Office had got wrong. The noble Viscount made a further comment which perhaps I may read to the House:I hope and trust that when the new Review Authority is up and running that conclusion will be recognised and acted upon, and that it will not be undermined by the cases, which there will inevitably be, where detailed and costly investigation serves only to confirm the guilt of an appellant".Those two points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Runciman, are most important. I hope that the Minister, in winding up our debate today, will confirm that he sees the role of the authority very much in those terms.
However, as I say, I am somewhat worried by the terms used by Ministers so far about the authority. The Home Secretary in another place went to considerable 171 length to describe how he thought the new authority might function. He referred in particular to procedures that have been followed in the past, and said:When the investigation was originally conducted by the police, the investigation under the supervision of the new body will be carried out by the police, although not necessarily by the same force that carried out the original investigation".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 238.]He went on to refer to an original investigation carried out by customs officers.
What disturbs me is not that that is necessarily the wrong way to proceed but that it seems that the Secretary of State is already laying down the means by which this independent authority should proceed. Prima facie, I believe that to be wrong. The authority must decide to proceed in the best possible way and Parliament, both in this House and in the other place, should give it the proper framework for so doing. Certainly, there will be full and constructive co-operation from these Benches when the Bill comes before the House, provided that it satisfies those very important criteria and is not merely a face-saving device.
There will be full and constructive co-operation from these Benches for the main recommendations of the Law Commission. My noble friend Lord Harris, on 6th June and on other occasions, has drawn attention to the importance of progress in these matters, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, in a debate on the sittings of the House three weeks ago. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, referred to the appalling backlog of unimplemented reports and said, generously, that the problem is one of parliamentary time for the necessary legislation. As the House knows, "when parliamentary time permits" is a wonderful euphemism for every government. It implies powers beyond their reach in determining the parliamentary timetable. What it really means is, "When we, the Government, take it into our heads that we want to give a Bill priority." I hope that what has been said by the Minister today will indeed result in proposals under this heading very shortly.
I believe that a majority in this House would be prepared to cede time for the repeal of some of the legislation on which we spent time last year. There was, for example, the Education Bill. I think there was a sigh of relief from some quarters when the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, indicated that we would not have such a Bill in this Session. There was also the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill and, above all, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill.
In all those cases, across all parties and none, this House found important reasons to disagree with parts of the Bills. Despite that, the Government insisted on using their diminishing majority—diminishing loyal majority—in another place to reverse decisions made here.
172 I have referred to the remarks of the Home Secretary in another place. He said the other day about the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill and the rejection of every attempt to amend it:All the efforts of the Opposition parties have miserably failed. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act is now on the statute book, entire and intact".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 242.]I want to draw attention to the reference to "all the efforts of the Opposition parties". As your Lordships know, it was opposition across the whole House that was so important. On 25th October we discussed the amendments previously proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Can. He felt, for reasons we fully understand, that he did not wish to table the amendment or push the matter to a Division. But the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, chose to do so on the Motion he put before the House. Of the 89 Members who voted for the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, 23 did not take the Whip of any of the Opposition parties. So much for the claim of the Home Secretary that his Bill had succeeded despite the efforts of all the Opposition parties. The plain fact is that if the Home Secretary had more humility he would recognise that on a number of very important issues the views of this House were those he should have fully taken account of and that he should have agreed to the amendments to the Bills which were proposed and carried here.
The office of Home Secretary is one of the great offices of state. It is also a most difficult office in which to succeed. But because of its range of responsibilities—including those for law and order—it is, in a sense, a trust. Of course, the decisions of the Home Secretary will be within the context of the Cabinet of which he is a member, and he will be a party politician; but that is quite a different matter from playing politics with his responsibilities.
Above all, the Home Secretary must take a long view; above all, he must take a considered and mature view; above all, he must take a view based on knowledge and not on prejudice, and, especially on emotive issues, he must lead opinion and seek to persuade. It gives me no pleasure at all to say that by any of those standards the present Home Secretary has singularly failed.
Among the many things which bear reading is what the Home Secretary said in another place last Friday:My task is to provide our country with the system of criminal justice for which it yearns.He also said:From the moment when I became Home Secretary, I was determined to challenge the politically correct orthodoxies that too many people in prominent positions have held for far too long".—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 239.]One of the most prominent positions—as he surely would agree—is the office of Home Secretary. And yet, over a period of 14 years, there were five Conservative Home Secretaries preceding him. If he is determined to challenge the politically correct orthodoxies that too many people in prominent positions have held for too long, he is indeed challenging the orthodoxies of his five predecessors within this period of government.
173 I do not believe that the Home Secretary has served the nation well. It is with some relief that we have no substantial measures before the House in this parliamentary Session except those with which, on the face of it, your Lordships will be able to agree.
§ 4.16 p.m.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
My Lords, may I first say how sorry I was to miss the State Opening and the gracious Speech itself because they coincided with my long-planned visit to Ireland. This is my first opportunity to say publicly to the Leader of the House how much we, the Bishops, look forward to working with him in his new role. I look forward to the maiden speeches of three distinguished men later.
The contribution I wish to make relates to the establishment of the Nolan Committee, which I warmly welcome, and its work during this Session of Parliament. I share the Prime Minister's concerns for standards in public life, expressed in his speech last week at the Lord Mayor's Banquet. I have written to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, to assure him that the Church stands ready to assist the deliberations of his committee in any way possible and that we shall be submitting evidence together with our ecumenical partners.
Your Lordships will be well aware that there is plenty of sleaze and corruption in the Bible. We recall that King David, however special his role in the Old Testament, was guilty of lying, murder, adultery and gross favouritism. King Solomon, we are told, had 700 wives and 300 concubines who, we are informed, "turned his heart from the truth". By comparison, the finest scoops of today's tabloid press are very feeble affairs. Moreover, readers of English literature from Geoffrey Chaucer to Anthony Trollope, and indeed to Susan Howatch and Joanna Trollope, will be aware of a rich tradition of sleaze within the Church. So I feel I can speak with a certain authority as well as humility.
The issue before us is quite fundamental: what kind of society do we want to build? Central to any true vision we may have for a good and prosperous country will surely be a law-abiding people who hold in common shared values of honour, justice and integrity. And in building these values, we in this country owe so much to the Judaeo-Christian tradition which has nurtured in successive generations a shared, broad understanding of what is good and honourable behaviour and what is bad. Christianity remains embedded in our society and culture more deeply than many people realise. Nevertheless, there is a real anxiety that our society and its values are becoming more fragmented. The myth is gaining ground that what is good and right is no more than a matter of subjective individual opinion. The impressive essay Values: collapse and cure, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, recently published, tackles this myth with great persuasiveness. But the erosion of shared values which inspired his essay is still in train. That seems to me the backcloth to the Nolan inquiry into standards in public life. How are we to 174 reassert most effectively firm standards of conduct which can help restore people's confidence that our public institutions are working for the common good?
The first key element I believe we should consider is humility. There is nothing wrong with politicians and other public figures such as newspaper editors setting out publicly what they believe to be good, right and true in different areas of life, including morality and ethics. Indeed, it is important that they should do so rather than hide behind the myth that these are simply matters of individual opinion or that they should be left to the Churches. Just as politics is too important to be left to politicians, so morality is too important to be left to the clergy or moralists. What matters is how it is done.
Whoever adopts a self-righteous tone in discussing moral behaviour is highly likely to fall flat on his face because it will not be too long before his own weaknesses are exposed. It is worth noting that in practically every service in the Church of England, all present, whatever their station in life, acknowledge their weaknesses and sins and pray for forgiveness. That is a wise starting point for moralists.
In contemporary culture we have tended to lose that basic insight. Let us therefore bear in mind our imperfections and our constant need for what the Bible calls grace. But it would be quite wrong to draw the conclusion that public figures should prudently regard moral and ethical standards as a no-go area for debate or comment. For example, all Members of this Chamber make implicit moral and ethical judgments each time they vote. There is no good reason to be embarrassed or reticent about that fact.
My second general observation is that indiscriminate cynicism of the kind that treats with disdain an entire class of people, such as politicians, damages our democracy. For me, the death of John Smith was a moment of truth. Right across party lines it was clear that his unshowy integrity and his commitment to serving others were the standard honoured and embraced by a large majority of people in public life. Individual lapses and failures are simply not valid grounds for withholding trust and indeed gratitude from the majority of people who seek to serve the community through politics.
However, the trust of the people in any institution surely depends on the perception that those running it are in fact seeking to serve the good of others, not just themselves, and that they are also telling the truth. That in turn depends on the observance of standards which reflect values of service and honesty. So, from where do those values come and how are they to be nurtured?
At a fundamental level, beliefs about truth and about being here to serve something bigger than ourselves derive historically from religion and, in my view, need continuing nourishment from religion. The replacement of fairly widespread sleaze in the 18th century in both Church and state by the sort of ethical standards we continue to expect today owed a great deal, I suggest, to the surge of nonconformism, the evangelical revival and the Oxford movement in the 19th century. I simply do not believe that the maintenance of those standards would ultimately survive the loss of widespread belief in a meaning and purpose of life bigger than the 175 individual's subjective opinion. That is one reason why religious leaders of all faiths warn of the long-term consequences and effects if belief and morality themselves are relativised and privatised.
But since the right motivation is not enough by itself, all of us need guidelines and codes to help us realise the good intentions in practice. Such codes are vital for institutions as well as individuals, mobilising authority and peer pressure behind ethical norms and translating general values into specific expectations. In such apparently dull documents as Guidance for Ministers, civil servants and the like are the crucial undergirding structures on which public trust can rest. It is most welcome that the Nolan Committee, among others, should consider where the structures may need extension or reinforcement.
However, there is no area of life in which the correct ethical decision can consistently be found by reading from a rule book. Time and again, different ethical considerations pull in different directions and doing the right thing involves the arduous exercise of judgment and conscience. For that reason I can understand why the Nolan Committee comprises practitioners rather than moralists. The values may not need theologians to state them but they certainly need people of experience and integrity in public life to wrestle with the dilemmas of applying them.
I believe that we should also gladly acknowledge that alert public media have an indispensable role in exposing the tendency of all power to corrupt and in investigating cases of dishonesty and self-serving in public life. Without the work of independent journalists, we should all be far more vulnerable to the abuse of power by people in authority. I know many individual journalists of the utmost honesty and scrupulousness as well as ability. But in helping to uphold values such as integrity and honour, the media must also expect to be judged by the same standards. It is a worrying sign of a society's ill health if the trust of people in the integrity and honour of much of the printed media in particular is at such an apparently low ebb. If too many people start to treat newspapers cynically as comics, and as sources of entertainment rather than of fair and reliable reporting and comment, we shall all be the poorer.
In conclusion perhaps I may offer one further reflection as we begin this Session. I think we all agree that one aspect of maintaining public trust is that, when a significant mistake is made, somebody takes clear responsibility for it. The way in which responsibility is properly taken depends on the seriousness and circumstances of each case. But if nobody takes responsibility, public trust is weakened. There is a corollary. In a moral society there must also be the possibility of fresh starts for those who take responsibility for their failures and show penitence. The aim is not to knock as many people as possible off their 176 pedestals and feel good about their downfall. The aim is to help all of us, vulnerable as we all are, to serve the common good as well as we can.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
My Lords, it is a rare privilege to follow the most reverend Primate. But it is also rather frightening because my purpose is limited and intensely practical. The purpose is to invite your Lordships on all sides of the House to consider whether the investigations under the War Crimes Act either to inculpate or exculpate should continue and whether the Government should not now intervene to end those investigations.
I have given to my noble friend the Minister due notice of my intention to raise this matter. I should be grateful if we could have her views either today or at least before 7th December when the War Crimes (Supplementary Provisions) Bill, which is concerned with the institution of proceedings, is due to have its Second Reading.
The tentacles of delay have already taken hold, for unless and until these investigations are concluded, the Crown Prosecution Service cannot decide whether or not to seek the consent of Mr. Attorney as to the institution of proceedings. Your Lordships may well ask when the Crown Prosecution Service will seek such consent; when it will be granted or withheld by Mr. Attorney, taking into account wider considerations of public policy such as those referred to by the right reverend prelate the Bishop of St. Albans in a previous debate on the matter in your Lordships' House —the backlash factor— and when those proceedings will be instituted. When, allowing time for the defence to prepare their submissions, will the inevitable applications be made to the court to quash the indictments on grounds of delay and abuse of process? When will the substantive trial start and end? When will the appellate process, which, unlike Scotland, can only operate after conviction, end? Years and years later.
Each year of delay is prejudicial to the defence and affects the prospects of a fair trial. Any scintilla of recollection not already fossilised in reconstruction will continue to suffer that sea change of erosion. There is an inherent hazard of conviction on mistaken identity, as acknowledged by the appellate court in Israel which quashed a conviction when innocence was established by chance on a document being found which was not available at the trial. If delay defeats justice, a delay of upwards of 50 years where the crucial issue is one of identity knows not the name of justice.
The investigations started in 1988 and 1989 under the Hetherington-Chalmers inquiry, which was set up as the result of a letter sent by the Wiesenthal Centre to my right honourable friend the then Prime Minister in 1986 containing a list of 17 people. When the inquiry was set up by the Home Office in 1988, 10 of those people were thought to be living in England. A Scottish Television list contained the names of 34 people, seven of whom were thought to be alive in England.
Part I of the Hetherington-Chalmers Report recommended a war crimes Bill on the evidence in Part II. But none of us ever saw that evidence. The report 177 said that the evidence contained 301 case files and other material. That evidence had to be taken for granted. It was not disclosed in either House, as your Lordships know.
In the wake of the 1991 Act the Metropolitan Police War Crimes Unit took over the investigations, which continue. On 11th October 1994 a Question was tabled to ask Her Majesty's Government when the inquiries were expected to be concluded. In a Written Answer of 25th October the Government, with all but Neronic disdain for quotidian circumstance, declined to answer the Question. They said:Inquiries are continuing into all 28 cases which are currently under investigation. Completion of the outstanding inquiries is a matter for the police service and I cannot predict when their inquiries will be finalised". —[Official Report, 25/10/94; WA col. 25.]Is it not apparent that the material upon which that Answer was given emanated from the Home Office, which is responsible for the police? It did not come from the Lord Chancellor's Department, although it was signed by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who answers for the Crown Prosecution Service in your Lordships' House. How long ought this symbiotic situation without dichotomy of responsibility that runs itself into stalemate to be countenanced in the conduct of our home affairs? Those 28 persons have been candidates for prosecution since before 27th June 1974—and we know not for how long before. They are the rump remainder of 356 suspects who were interrogated, 229 having been excluded, including all those living in Scotland, and 112 having died before that date. According to the Written Answer, in 10 cases interim reports had been submitted by the police service to the CPS and in seven there were subsequent substantive reports.
It is not understood what is an interim report and what is a substantive report if, after a substantive report, the Crown Prosecution Service sends the whole matter back to the police and says, "Continue with the investigation". That is what happened and that is what is happening today. It is not known whether any of the 28 were on the Wiesanthal list of 10, or in the 301 case files, or for how long they have been under investigation. A Question has been tabled for answer on 28th November.
Have we not crossed the hump-backed bridge where justified inquiry has become an instrument of unjustifiable oppression? How much longer should we scrape the barrel? How much longer should we rout around the stale truffles of evidence on which to seek to put these men on trial? The Official Reports of both Houses—I have been through them —confirm three things. First, the 1990 Bill was tabled on the basis that these trials, as recommended in Part I of the report, should take place on the evidence as it then stood; that is, evidence which neither House had seen. Some noble Lords may remember the speech of my noble friend Lord Waddington, who put the case to the House. Secondly, it was common ground between all Members who spoke in your Lordships' House and in another place—either for or against the Bill —that if there were to be trials they should be fair trials and a fair trial cannot take place when there have been years of delay.
178 Thirdly, no Member of either House could conceivably have envisaged that investigations would not have been concluded by today or that as yet no decision would have been taken by the Crown Prosecution Service to seek the consent of Mr. Attorney. No one could have conceived that that situation would have arisen in respect of all cases. This is the situation and my question to my noble friend the Minister is this: what on earth do the Government propose to do about it?
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Attenborough
My Lords, it would perhaps have been more appropriate had I been able to deliver these few words during the arts debate last January when my noble friend Lord Menuhin made his impressive maiden speech but, sadly, a bout of 'flu confined me to my bed. I also wish to apologise to my most kindly sponsors—friends of long standing; the noble Lords, Lord Cledwyn and Lord Walton—for the subsequent delay in making my own maiden speech; a delay occasioned by a lengthy professional commitment in the United States and a tour of South Africa on behalf of the United Nations Children's Fund.
Nevertheless, as possibly noble Lords may have surmised, my subject is the arts—the arts in their broadest sense; the arts as an essential element in what we are pleased to call our civilised society. I have it on the best of authority, from a not too distant relative, that we are related to apes, but it is, surely, not only the ability to stand on our hind legs that sets us so singularly apart from the animal kingdom. The crucial difference must lie in what we call soul and creativity. Our distant ancestors, the first true humans, started to communicate through language some 35,000 years ago and, almost contemporaneously, they began to create pictures on the walls of their caves.
Is it not remarkable that those early hunters, balanced as they were on the very cusp of survival, should need to paint the creatures which surrounded them in their daily lives: that in the bowels of the earth and on bare rock they felt impelled to recreate the colour, form and movement that they witnessed in the forest outside? A cave painting tells us, surely, far more than the simple appearance of a bison or deer. Across untold generations it speaks of the painter, too; of his uniquely personal interpretation. It grants us a window into his mind. President John F. Kennedy once said:Art establishes the basic human truths which must serve as the touchstone of our judgement".From the very earliest of times the arts have been an instinctive essential of our humanity. They are a miraculous sleight of hand which reveal the truth and a glorious passport to greater understanding between the peoples of the world. The arts not only enrich our lives but grant us the opportunity to challenge accepted practices and assumptions. They give us a means of protest against that which we believe to be unjust; a voice to condemn the brute and the bully; a brief to advocate the cause of human dignity and self-respect; a rich and varied language through which we can express our national identity.
179 Today, as a nation, we face daunting problems—problems which are obliging us to examine the very fabric of our society. And the role of the arts in healing a nation divided, a nation in which too many lack work, lack self esteem, lack belief and direction, cannot and must not be underestimated.
This is the first century of mass communication. We have now, as never before, the ability to disseminate the arts in all their forms, cheaply, quickly and qualitatively, to the widest possible audience. But art—any art form—can never rest upon its laurels. It was Winston Churchill who said:Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse".The arts in this country have a long and enviable tradition. Shepherds there are in abundance. But innovation which must, of necessity, entail the possibility of ridicule, even failure, is the life blood of continuing tradition. For the arts to continue to flourish we must underwrite both innovation and, of course, training.
We have in the United Kingdom some of the finest academies of dance and drama in the entire world. Is it not, then, a supremely tragic irony that many of our most promising students are being denied access to those institutions for lack of a mandatory grant? As a result, hundreds of dedicated and talented young people are now being lost to their chosen professions as dancers, actors and technicians, with their places taken by those who can afford to pay. The loss of their talents, furthermore, is inflicting untold damage on our internationally acclaimed theatre, television and film industries.
Film (the movies) as noble Lords may be aware, has occupied much of my life. It is now more than 50 years since I entered the industry. In that time I have seen it weather many storms and falter repeatedly from lack of concern on the part of far, far too many arts Ministers. Certainly, now that at last every aspect of our cinema industry is under the sole aegis of the Department of National Heritage, such pitiful inactivity can no longer be excused.
Sadly, however, from my own particular viewpoint, cinema was scarcely mentioned during the arts debate to which I referred earlier—a fact I register with regret since I believe the vast majority of the British people generally accept that it is the art form of this century. My belief is borne out by recent figures which indicate that United Kingdom cinema attendances for 1994 will reach 120 million; the 10th successive year of steady increase from a base of less than half that figure. In fact, three times more people go to the movies than all those who attend concerts, opera, ballet and theatre put together and we currently spend, as a nation, nearly £2 billion a year on watching feature films, either at home or in the cinema. However, the sad fact is that only some 4 per cent. of that revenue will accrue to films of British origin.
We, as indigenous film makers, are often accused of special pleading, of extending the perpetual begging bowl. That is not true. The fact is that the making of 180 feature films cannot be compared with any other manufacturing process. Every film made is a prototoype, a one-off original, that must be packaged and marketed in its own distinctive fashion —a procedure that is extremely risky and very expensive.
Since no one film can ever be guaranteed to make a profit, wise investors will spread their risk over 10 or 20 such prototypes in the knowledge that 50 per cent. will fail, 30 per cent. will break even and 20 per cent. will prove immensely profitable. If we in Britain are ever again to have a film industry worthy of the name, we have to persuade government to create conditions that will allow investors to spread their risk in that way.
Some, of course, might argue that our film industry is not worth saving, that it should be allowed to go the way of shipbuilding or the manufacture of motor cycles. But I repeat that the making of feature films cannot be compared with any other industrial process, for they represent, as no other art form, as no other business activity, a crucial definition of our cultural identity, both here at home and throughout the world. Movies are the mirror we hold up to ourselves, the reflection of our codes and practices, our goods and services, our skills and inventions, our architecture and landscapes, our comedy and tragedy, our past and present. And they have the ability to grant us, as no other medium can, a worldwide showcase, generating immense returns—both tangible and intangible, visible and invisible—in every conceivable sphere.
The novelist Julian Barnes wrote a decade ago:Do not imagine that Art is something which is designed to give gentle uplift and self-confidence. Art is not a brassière. At least, not in the English sense. But do not forget that brassière is the French for life-jacket".Today we have need of that life-jacket as never before. The arts are not a luxury. They are as crucial to our well-being, to our very existence, as eating and breathing.
A recent survey, undertaken for the National Campaign for The Arts, revealed that 79 per cent. of the population attend arts or cultural events, that the same high percentage believe that the arts help to bring people together in local communities and almost the same number are prepared to state, without equivocation, that the arts enrich their quality of life. In the face of such cogent endorsement, the role of the arts in all our lives—in health care, in social education and rehabilitation, in business, in the community—is, I profoundly believe, one that we underestimate at our peril.
Some years ago, when I had the privilege of helping to prepare a report concerning the arts and disabled people, I was reminded of Somerset Maugham, who wrote:An art is only great and significant if it is one that all may enjoy"."Exclusive" is a shameful word in the context of the arts. We have, as a nation, excluded far too many for far too long. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we have assumed that certain of our compatriots, most notably the disabled and the disadvantaged, have little to gain and little to contribute. Nothing could be further from the truth. In common, I am certain, with many 181 Members of this noble House, I am encouraged by mention in the gracious Speech of the Government's intention to introduce a new Bill to ameliorate the many inequities which confront the disabled. Mindful of the constraints placed upon those making their maiden speech, I will content myself with adding that I trust their present intention will ultimately result in a more productive and seemly outcome than that which befell the Private Member's Bill earlier this year.
The arts are not a perquisite of the privileged few; nor are they the playground of the intelligentsia. The arts are for everyone—and failure to include everyone diminishes us all.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Morton of Shuna
My Lords, it falls to an intermittent attender in your Lordships' House to have the honour of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, on his most eloquent maiden speech. It will be seen from what I have to say that I shall be making a very pedestrian speech in contrast to the noble Lord's eloquence. It is very refreshing to me that a Member of your Lordships' House is defending films, because about 50 years ago as, I suppose, an aggressive teenager, I was unwise enough to say to an eminent lady that I preferred films to theatre. About an hour later Dame Sybil Thorndike ceased trying to persuade me that I was wrong. I remain of the same view, however, and I am sure that your Lordships will hear more from the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, to persuade your Lordships that I was right.
I shall speak mainly about the provision of justice in Scotland, but before doing so I should like to welcome the Government's intention to legislate about children in Scotland. It is now more than five years since the equivalent Act for England was passed. It is unfortunate that there has been that delay of five years, although it occurred for a variety of reasons for which I do not blame the Government entirely.
The new Bill will be supported by all sides of your Lordships' House and by all sides of the Scottish community. However, many aspects of the Bill will be controversial on points of detail. Because so many voluntary and other organisations have had, and will have, helpful contributions to make in any discussion of the provisions of the Bill, it would be most helpful if the Bill were to be published in good time before any debate takes place in either House. I heard a rumour earlier today that it had been suggested that the other place would start to discuss the legislation on 5th December. I hope that that is wrong, because it would not allow sufficient time for discussion. Your Lordships will appreciate that many organisations, including Save the Children and Barnardos, require time to consider the details of such a Bill. It is unproductive if the details of such a Bill are not made available to all the voluntary and other organisations in sufficient time for them to form a view as to what they want to say about it. Many voluntary organisations have a management committee meeting only about once a month, so the Bill must be made available to them about six weeks prior to expecting any reasonable discussion to take place on it.
182 Perhaps I may suggest to the Government that their proceedings on charities in the 1992 legislative programme highlight that difficulty, because the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations has distributed to quite a number of us details of its difficulties with the present charities legislation. Those difficulties arose largely because that provision was foisted on us without sufficient prior consultation or notice.
One of the matters which will clearly require consideration in such a Bill on children is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the United Kingdom in 1991. It defines a child as being a person under 18 years of age. Our legislation on children's hearings and on criminal law works on the age of 16 as the age of transfer from childhood to adulthood. I find it astonishing that the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, which was published last week, takes not the slightest account of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I hope that the new legislation will at least acknowledge its existence, because, if I may say so, if it does not, it will not be for the want of documents advising the Scottish Office on how to proceed.
The 16 to 21 years age group is the group where it is most obvious that the criminal justice system, at any rate in Scotland and I suspect in the rest of the UK, fails to have any real effect. We are forced, as judges, to rely far too heavily on the expensive and usually counter-productive sentence of detention for young people. The convention provides an opportunity, as well as a duty, to do something about the 16 to 18-year olds; to take them out of the adult criminal system, either by extending children's hearings up to 18 years, by having some form of mixed court of panel members and judges, or by having some other system. Something is clearly required, and it is omitted from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. We must do something to take young people out of the present court system, which is clearly failing society and the young people.
It is principally about justice in Scotland, and civil justice, that I want to speak. Since the major revision of criminal procedure in the 1975 Act, we have had about one Act a year looking at criminal justice. The Bill is supposed, in the words on the radio of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, to be a Bill to "streamline" criminal procedure. The streamlining effect of the previous few dozen Bills is that each criminal trial takes about twice the time it used to do, and more and more judges and more and more courts are required to be provided while there is less and less time to get rid of any of the cases. I hope that the Government are right when they say that the Bill will streamline our procedures.
The confiscation provisions are, in principle, welcomed, but they are far from simple. They take up pages of the Bill, rather like the existing provision for the confiscation of the proceeds of drug trafficking, and the complication of that is similar, I imagine, to someone being asked to ride a horse around the Grand National course when blindfolded. It is an appalling piece of nonsense.
183 It is most unfortunate that the Government have failed to face up to the need to improve the provision of justice on the civil side. It is the state's duty to provide a system of civil justice under which people can resolve their private disputes at a reasonable cost, both in time and in money, to them and the state. Witnesses complain as much about being brought unnecessarily to civil courts as they complain about being brought unnecessarily to the criminal courts.
There has recently been a radical review of procedure in the sheriff court, including a system under which the sheriff has much more control of the way the case proceeds and the speed at which it proceeds. Unfortunately, none of that applies in the Court of Session, which is the equivalent of the High Court and the Court of Appeal in England.
I am proud to have been appointed a Senator of the College of Justice, but I regret that the court's procedures have become so clearly out of date. That is largely because of a judgment of the Lord Justice-Clerk in 1961, when he said:Judges sometimes flatter themselves by thinking that their function is the ascertainment of truth. This is so only in a very limited sense …The judge is at the mercy of contending sides whose whole object is not to discover truth but to get his judgment …Like referees at boxing contests, judges see that the rules are kept and count the points".We have unfortunately suffered under that procedure for too long.
The trouble with that approach is that the public, quite rightly, regard that as nonsense. The public consider that the judge's role is to do justice between the parties and that justice is vitally connected with ascertaining the truth. The result of following the doctrine laid down in 1961 is that the Court of Session practice is out of date, out of step with about every other jurisdiction, is too slow in deciding cases, and far too expensive for the litigant.
In 1985, Parliament gave the court power to remit any case to the sheriff court if the court thought it appropriate. In 1990, a decision of the First Division of the Court of Session decided that that did not negate the pursuer's right to choose the forum. So we have the position that a supreme court judge is asked to hear a case for three or four days when the damages are agreed at about £2,000, and the cost to the state, not to the litigant, is £1,500 a day, according to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate. The public regard that as absurd.
Our system of pleading is far too complicated and unnecessary. Thanks to an initiative of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, we now have commercial case rules that allow the speedy resolution of disputes. It is absurd that complicated commercial disputes do not require, by our rules, the complicated pleadings that we require for a road traffic accident.
It is absurd that an employer should be allowed to force the other side to prove the occurrence of an accident at work, or that the employee was injured in that accident, when the employer is the hospital, the person injured is a senior nurse and the injury was 184 treated at the hospital's accident and emergency department. That is an absurd waste of money, and also a question of the integrity of those responsible.
It is absurd to have experts brought to Edinburgh to give evidence when they do not know what other experts are going to say. It is a waste of time and money, and that alleged "justice by ambush" is not the best way of getting at the truth. Expert witnesses are usually people of high qualification and integrity. To ask them to consider a view apparently different from their own, without notice and without an opportunity to look up references, is not the best way to get the considered view of, say, a consultant neurosurgeon.
As another example of how our procedure slows up disposal, we are pleased in Scotland if we can dispose of a child abduction case in the Court of Session in six months. That happens only if the court insists again and again on forcing progress. But we have no right to be pleased about that, because Article 11 of the Hague Convention suggests that the requesting state should complain if the matter is not dealt with within six weeks.
We have an absurd procedure whereby the appeal court listens to counsel reading out solemnly for days on end, to three judges who have read the evidence, the evidence that has been heard previously. The judges can do that quicker before the case even starts. That is an absurd waste of money. We require to change our procedures so that judges have an interventionist role and do not act merely as referees. We should have a procedure that insists upon the fullest possible disclosure of the evidence supporting each side's case so that the real issue in dispute can be identified and decided.
That type of cards-on-the-table approach is, and has been for many years, the English approach. It is now the approach in the sheriff court in Scotland. As a result of the insistence of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate, it is now the approach for commercial cases in the Court of Session. We must have changes, but unfortunately the only way that I can see we can have changes is by legislation, or, at the very least, by the Lord Advocate securing the appointment of a person or committee to take a radical look at our procedure. The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has appointed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, to do a similar job for England. We have no equivalent. I urge the Government to consider at least that. It is no pleasure for me to have to suggest that on this issue England and Wales are so far ahead of Scotland. I earnestly hope that steps will be taken to ensure that the College of Justice in Scotland regains its proper standing.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, it is 22 years almost to the day since I made my maiden speech in another place. On that occasion, with more youthful enthusiasm than mature judgment, I agreed to make it on the day I took my seat. That left me with little choice of subject. The result was that I made my first and last speech on the shipbuilding industry. I had to exercise considerable ingenuity in also complying with the customary practice 185 in a maiden speech in the other place of relating my remarks to my south London suburban constituency of Sutton and Cheam.
Twenty-two years on, and even more unexpectedly, I now have an opportunity to make another maiden speech. This time I have waited a little longer before doing so and learnt rather more. I have sat in this Chamber and listened with ever growing respect to the knowledge, experience and wisdom shown during debates in your Lordships' House. It is therefore with great trepidation that I rise today to make some brief remarks. However, I hope to do so on a subject about which I have a little more knowledge, and considerably more experience, than I had on the shipbuilding industry.
For the past 20 years I have been a councillor in the London borough of Sutton and for more than eight years now have had the privilege of leading that council. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to digress for a moment to say how pleased I was that 30 per cent. of the working peers created during the Summer Recess are currently active councillors. Too many times in recent years all of us in local government, regardless of party, have had good reason to be grateful to your Lordships for your stout defence of local government and local democracy.
Since my introduction to your Lordships' House I have received both a warm and friendly welcome and much good advice, for all of which I am deeply grateful. I have been advised that a first speech should not be controversial, so it is with some hesitation that I have chosen to make my few comments on education! Nevertheless, it is an area which alone consumes more than half my council's annual budget and is seldom far from the top of our considerations. It is a high priority for my council and my party. But, most importantly, it is the highest priority for the people of my borough and for the country as a whole.
I have also been advised that, speaking in this debate, I can either attack what was in the gracious Speech or regret what was not in it. In common with the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, I want to welcome what was not in the Speech! As my colleague in another place, Don Foster, said, after 18 Education Bills in 15 years, for there not to be one seems like a major breach of the constitution. As the leader of a local education authority, a parent and, indeed, the husband of a school teacher, I welcome that absence more than most.
As the Secretary of State recognised so soon after taking up her present office, what the education world needs most now is a period of calm and consolidation. I agree with that. I welcome too the conciliatory approach of the Secretary of State, which is so much in contrast to some of her predecessors. She has shown that she cares for her subject and is willing to listen, if not always to agree. That has already earned her the respect of the education world and of local government generally. I hope that we will respond in a similarly positive fashion.
I cannot promise always to be so complimentary of Government Ministers, or what they do or do not do, but I want to start by paying credit where I think it is due. There is much which the leader of a local education 186 authority could and should say on the subject of education, in particular with the publication of today's league tables, but I know that I must not take too much of your Lordships' time. Most of what I would wish to say must therefore wait until another time and I will confine myself today to just one aspect which I know commands much support in your Lordships' House.
In my first speech, I want to start at the beginning—with nursery education. I am pleased that the noble Baroness made specific reference to that in her opening speech. The future of our country depends on the good education of our children. Perhaps it is not too much of an exaggeration to say that a good education for our children depends on a good start. I believe that the best start can be made with good nursery education. And by that I do not mean just starting primary school a little earlier; I mean high quality nursery education, properly resourced and provided by teachers with expertise in early learning.
This has long been a top priority for my party and I welcome the Prime Minister's statement at the Conservative Party Conference that the expansion of nursery education is to be a top priority for the Government too. But I remember that some 22 years ago when I was in the other place the then Secretary of State for Education made the same pronouncement. What happened?—nothing. The same pronouncement has been made consistently ever since then, but no Government have yet backed their words with the real additional resources needed to make them anything but words.
In his speech, the Prime Minister said that this time he was,giving a cast iron commitment that it will happen".Not only that but that the Government,intend that this new provision will begin to come on stream during this Parliament".That is a clear and unequivocal commitment which I warmly welcome. But there is not yet any indication of how it is to be achieved. Indeed, some subsequent comments from the Government suggest that perhaps the commitment might not have been so clear and unequivocal as it sounded at the party conference.
The Prime Minister will depend largely on local government to deliver his "cast iron commitment". But local government is now dependent on central government for over 80 per cent. of its revenue resources and faces severe capping on the rest. Local authorities' capital expenditure is ever more tightly restricted by central government. For many local education authorities now, new facilities, equipment and materials can be provided only at the expense of much needed and overdue basic building maintenance.
Local authorities are often told that within the overall limits set by central government they can determine their own priorities and decide for themselves how they spend their resources. Up to a point that is true. But it is rather like telling a condemned man that he can choose the hangman or the firing squad. If there really is to be an expansion of nursery education it can only come through the provision of additional resources, not 187 through the re-allocation of existing resources which are already too meagre to meet the many pressing demands upon them.
Many of us in local government share the Prime Minister's commitment to nursery education. For us it really is a case of, "Give us the tools and we will finish the job". Next week in the Budget and in the revenue support grant settlement the Prime Minister has the chance to show local government that he will indeed "give us the tools". Indeed, if the promised expansion in nursery education is,to come on stream during this Parliament",the additional resources for that "stream" will have to start flowing during the next financial year.
Instead we have been told over and over again that next week's revenue support grant settlement will be "the toughest yet". There is no sign that controls on capital expenditure will really be eased, even to allow for the capital work that will be necessary first to provide for an expansion of nursery education in the following financial year, which will be the last of this Parliament.
We want to meet the Prime Minister's objective of accelerating the expansion of nursery education. But we need to know how we are to do so—and when. Central government cannot again raise expectations and then leave local government without adequate resources to fulfil those expectations.
The provision of good quality nursery education must be a top priority for cental and local government. Not only does it provide that all-important "good start" to the education of our children and young people but it can do much to prevent many of the problems in later life which we are discussing today.
I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord who replies to this debate will be able to give some indication that the Government's commitment to nursery education this time is more than mere words. I hope that he will be able to tell us how and when the Government will be backing those words with real additional resources. That would be a real investment for the future.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Seccombe
My Lords, on behalf of the whole House, it is my pleasure and privilege to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on his excellent speech. I am sure that we all agree that maiden speeches are very daunting affairs. It may be that the noble Lord has not enjoyed his speech as much as we have; but I hope now that he will be able to enjoy the fact that it has been completed.
As he has told us, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is no stranger to the Palace of Westminster, because he represented Sutton and Cheam for a short time. But since then he has had a distinguished career in local government. I come from the voluntary sector of my party so it was with great interest that I read that he has held high office in his party from the time when he was national president of the League of Young Liberals to his present position today as president of the London Liberal Democrats.
188 We may not always share the noble Lord's views, but I am sure that we shall always listen to him with attention. We look forward to his future contributions and hope that it will not be too long before he makes his next speech in this Chamber.
I welcome the measures outlined in Her Majesty's speech for the legislative programme for the coming year. In particular, I applaud the Government's continued commitment to law and order and the important measure to create a jobseeker's allowance. I support also the proposals to streamline the NHS and to safeguard non-state pensions while ensuring equality and choice.
In practically every survey of people's worries, law and order top the poll. Safety on our streets and in our homes is something that we all cherish and expect. Personal safety affects our whole way of life and so I welcome the Government's determination to intensify the fight against crime.
I am pleased also that there will be a Green Paper setting out the options for the introduction of a national identity card scheme. Legislation in that area would act as a deterrent and would be a valuable aid to the police. I believe also that it would be a very popular measure with the public who, I feel, would prefer an identity card which is obligatory rather than voluntary.
Over recent months it has been extremely heartwarming to witness the decrease in the number on the register of unemployed people. In particular, I welcome the measure to reform their benefits and to give them assistance through individual advice to get back into work. I like the idea of a back-to-work bonus for those willing to take part-time work as a stepping stone. That measure would not only be of benefit to the individual concerned but also to the whole family. The misery which unemployment can bring is well understood. Therefore, I very much welcome incentives of that nature.
I am delighted that the Government are to introduce a Bill to fight discrimination against disabled people. Noble Lords feel particularly strongly on that issue. Much has been done to promote the needs of disabled people and the proposed Bill will build on that. It is always important to introduce measures which are practical and acceptable to those on whom the financial burden will fall. But we all want to find ways in which to give greater independence to disabled people. I hope that the consultation that has taken place during the summer months will result in finding a way in which to give them that independence without imposing excessive burdens on business and industry.
The recent reforms in the National Health Service have concentrated on decentralising decision-making by passing the power to NHS trusts, family doctors and local health authorities. It is vitally important to minimise bureaucracy. That decentralisation has meant that now proposals are made to abolish the regional health authorities and to substitute the district and family health service authorities with all-purpose authorities. I am sure that that will be widely welcomed.
However, some functions will still need to be organised at regional level. The new proposed regional offices will result in a sizeable reduction of nearly 3,000 189 from the number employed nearly two years ago in the regions. Good administration is imperative to maintain the excellence of our National Health Service. But the main aim is always to maximise the amount spent on patient care.
It has always seemed strange to me that women have retired earlier than men as, on average, women live longer than men and because of career breaks, women usually have a shorter time in which to make contributions towards a realistic pension. Therefore, I welcome the equalisation of the state pension age, especially as its implementation in 2020 gives everyone concerned time to prepare.
Following recent problems with regard to pensions, I welcome the introduction of measures to help to increase the security of occupational pensions. It is vital that employees who, through regular payments, prepare for their retirement are safeguarded against fraud and theft. Confidence was shattered by the Maxwell saga, and through the changes proposed, the legislation will restore that necessary confidence.
As chairman of the trustees of a pension scheme, I welcome the measures giving new rights to scheme members and I welcome also the appointment of an occupational pensions' regulator.
I look forward to the Bills which will come before us. I am sure that we shall have strong and informed debate in the months ahead as the Bills progress to the statute book. I believe that the proposed measures will enhance the quality of life; they will be good for the country; and I am sure that they will be widely welcomed.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to make my first contribution to our deliberations here, the more so as there is an agreeable practice of knowing roughly when one is able to make one's contribution, in contrast to the situation in the other place.
I recall an incident which happened to me some years ago when I was in the other place, shortly after I was elected to it. It was one of those occasions when the debate was to go on all night. I believe that it was a debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill. I had been advised that I had no chance of being called to speak until about two o'clock in the morning. Therefore, I returned to the Palace of Westminster at round about midnight feeling slightly self-conscious at going in at such an awful time. The policewoman at the Members' Entrance said, "Good evening, sir". Rather naively, I felt that I had to justify my appearing there at that hour so I said, I fear rather pompously, "Good evening. I am hoping to speak tonight". "Yes, sir", she said. "Will it make any difference?" In fact I was called to speak at about four or five in the morning and I have to say that it made not the slightest difference; my local newspapers did not even publish one word of my press release. I learnt a lesson from that.
I am happy to be here and it is not just because of the more sensible hours that I understand we keep. Despite my earlier experience in the other place, I hope that occasionally, in a small way, I shall be able to make a difference to our deliberations.
190 There is a much greater difference, and here I am going to be partisan but not controversial because I think it is accepted; namely, I hope that within the next two years there will be a change in the seating arrangements here and that my Labour colleagues will be on the government Benches. Anything that I can do to help along that process is something to which I am dedicated.
I should like to thank the many people who have been helpful to me in my few weeks here. I thank the officials of the House who steered me through the rather difficult introduction ceremony. All staff of the House have gone out of their way to be helpful and supportive. I thank all my colleagues and especially those who sponsored me—my noble friends Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Ponsonby.
Of course I realise that I have to unlearn some bad habits which I acquired in the other place. I believe that that is more difficult than learning good new habits. I suppose that I am conditioned to being rather more confrontational than is appropriate in your Lordships' House. I shall do my best to adopt the appropriate style, although I hope that my very firm convictions will remain the same.
I also hope that I can contribute to our debates and that in doing so I shall be helped by the experiences that I had when representing the Battersea constituency until 1987. I have to say that it is a constituency full of wonderful people who, sadly, erred seriously on two occasions; namely, in their voting habits in the last two general elections. However, I am confident that they will see the error of their ways next time.
I am now the director of the Refugee Council. I hope that I will be able to contribute on issues dealing with asylum seekers and refugees. I hope to say a little about that in a moment. I feel that the way we as a country and western Europe generally deal with asylum seekers and refugees will be a real test of our commitment to human rights, not just in the immediate future but well into the next century.
I am pleased that legislation is planned to set up the criminal cases review committee to deal with miscarriages of justice, the more so as I happened a few years ago to serve on a Select Committee which produced a report recommending a procedure not all that different from that which I understand is now being contemplated. But at least that committee will review people who have been charged with criminal offences and then convicted, perhaps wrongly, through a judicial process in the courts.
However, I contend that there are other miscarriages of justice. I have in mind asylum seekers currently being held in detention. I believe that there are between 600 and 700 such people who have not been charged with a criminal offence but have been imprisoned through an administrative rather than a judicial process. I appreciate the fact that if I say much more I risk moving into a controversial area. Perhaps I may merely add that I welcome the Government's commitment to human rights as expressed in the gracious Speech and trust that human rights considerations apply as much within this country as abroad.
191 This is the United Nation's Year of the Family. It is, therefore, disappointing that our immigration policies continue to have the effect in all too many cases of keeping families apart. I refer particularly to asylum seekers who are awaiting a decision about their status and to those people who have been given the status of exceptional leave to remain rather than full refugee status. For those people, the prospects of being reunited with their families are sadly remote, as they may not even apply to be joined by their families for at least four years after they have been given ELR status. I do not believe that any of us can be happy about families who are kept apart in that way.
Perhaps I may now turn to Europe. Increasingly, decisions about asylum and refugee policy are being made in Brussels rather than by the nation states of the European Union. Unfortunately, those decisions are made through the Council of Ministers, with many of the discussions in secret—and sometimes the decisions are kept secret as well. I hope that our Government will feel able to practise a more open approach to those Brussels discussions. Perhaps now is the time to advocate more openness in the study group which will prepare for the 1996 intergovernmental conference.
I welcome the reference in the gracious Speech to weapons of mass destruction, although I appreciate that the subject goes somewhat beyond home affairs. I also welcome the fact that the proliferation of such weapons is to be prevented and that that is to be an important priority. I wonder whether anti-personnel land-mines would be included in weapons of mass destruction. I believe it is generally known that there are about 100 million of those weapons buried in the ground in many developing countries, such as Angola, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Mozambique and others. Every day such weapons blow off the legs of any unfortunate person who happens to step on one of them. The people who are sadly maimed by them are often refugees who want to return to their countries because conditions in other respects make it safer for them to do so. They are farmers who need to sow their corn and to collect water and firewood and whose children need to play. Every one of those activities all too often results in children or adults losing their limbs.
A few days ago I saw some photographs that had been taken a week or so before in Angola. I saw a child with its ankle in shreds because it had stepped on a land-mine and a pregnant woman who had lost a leg through a similar incident. Such weapons take their toll years after the end of the conflict during which they were planted in the ground. I very much hope that our Government will commit themselves to saying that those weapons are dreadful; that they have no part to play in a civilised world; and that they should be banned before any more people are maimed.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on his unpompous, charming and memorable maiden speech. I happen to share keenly several of the noble Lord's interests. For example, his 192 interest in free speech and broadcasting through his membership of the Broadcasting Standards Council, his deep commitment to good race relations and a fair immigration policy and his quite outstanding work as director of the Refugee Council for some six years on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees. If the noble Lord will permit me to say so, he is a champion for the underdog and the underprivileged and for the excluded and dispossessed, not only in this country but also across the world.
It is also a great personal pleasure to be able to congratulate my noble and good friend Lord Tope. We worked closely together as co-chairmen of a troublesome and difficult inquiry into the conduct by some local Liberal Democrats in Tower Hamlets during a notorious by-election in the Isle of Dogs. I learnt a great deal from my noble friend, not only about local government but also about the art of the wise diplomat. He was always good humoured and very effective. I hope that, together, we managed to accomplish a small thing in combating populism in the pursuit of political power.
The third and most memorable maiden speech was made by the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough. The noble Lord has brought more pleasure to our lives, and his speech shows how lucky we are that he will be able to entertain us for the rest of his life and, more than that, to make us think deeply and harder about art and civilisation.
Despite the eloquent speech made by the Minister, I feel bound to observe that the gracious Speech contains meagre fare for those of us who would like to strengthen the constitutional rights and freedoms of the people of this country and to create a more genuinely democratic and accountable system of government.
However, perhaps I may first mention what I regard as being the good news. I believe that it is good news that the Government propose to introduce a Bill to tackle discrimination against the disabled. It is long overdue, but it is good that the measure will now be introduced. I should like to emphasise the need for that measure to treat the disabled no less favourably than others who are protected by anti-discrimination legislation at present. I very much hope that the Bill will protect the disabled against indirect as well as direct discrimination; that its scope will be broad; and that it will form part of a comprehensive anti-discrimination code which already covers ethnic minorities, religious and political groups in Northern Ireland and women and men as regards sex discrimination across the whole country. I trust that we will not have piecemeal and more limited legislation which makes a nonsense of any coherent concept of equality.
I also welcome what I suspect was a last minute decision to include a measure to set up the criminal cases review authority, to expedite, at last, Law Commission recommendations for law reform and to equalise the state pensionable ages for women and men. I hope that when that measure is introduced we shall not find that women are worse off as a result of a proposal to equalise downwards rather than to produce a flexible scheme which ensures equality but enables women to be not worse off but, if possible, better off than at present.
193 I also welcome something which is not in the Queen's Speech. It is excellent that the Government have not introduced anti-press legislation to protect government privacy and the lives of public figures against embarrassment from the press. I very much hope that the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Wakeham, as chairman of the Press Complaints Commission—and a worthy successor to the noble Lord, Lord McGregor—will cause the Government to listen to his wise advice and that of his council and dissuade them from introducing any measures which will threaten the vital freedom of the press and of the readers of the press in a way which has been hinted at in the past.
I should like to join other noble Lords in paying tribute to the role played by the Government of this country and the Government of the Republic of Ireland in the peace process. However, it is strange that the only part of the constitution of the United Kingdom which the Government propose to reform is the part which covers Northern Ireland.
The gracious Speech refers to the principles of the Citizen's Charter. That is a useful charter for protecting the rights of consumers, but it is not a citizen's charter in the sense of a constitutional charter of the rights and freedoms of the individual. It does nothing and is not intended to replace our over-centralised and autocratic state with a more democratic and plural system of open and accountable government based on a modern concept of citizenship. As my noble friend Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank suggested, there is a large gap left by the retreat on Post Office privatisation which could be filled by measures of that kind.
In conclusion, perhaps I may suggest some of those measures which could be tackled. There is a gathering consensus across the country, which is not shared by the Government, that what we British citizens urgently need is nothing less than a new constitutional settlement within the wider context of our membership of the European Union. That means a new constitutional scheme which gives the European Convention on Human Rights the same status as European Community law in our legal system; which sets legally enforceable limits on the prerogative powers of the Crown within and outside Parliament; which shifts substantial power from our over-centralised Whitehall departments and what has been called the unelected new magistracy of quangos to a Scottish parliament, a Welsh assembly and, if the people want it, English regional assemblies where there is sufficient regional demand; and which renews our system of local government, thereby translating subsidiarity into practice.
We need measures which make Parliament more effective in controlling the Executive and which create a more democratic and more regionally representative Upper House; which create a voting system better and more fairly reflecting the wishes of the voters; which modernises the machinery of justice and improves access to justice and strengthens judicial independence; and which promotes greater openness and accountability of government at every level through the enactment of freedom of information legislation and, in the light of the Nolan Committee, to promote good standards of ethics in public office.
194 I very much regret that the Government remain unwilling to introduce a citizen's charter of that kind to renew the British constitution and to meet the real needs of our fellow citizens.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord Wilberforce
My Lords, I am always glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I am particularly happy to be able to associate myself with everything he said about the three very interesting maiden speeches we have heard.
In previous debates on the Address—last year and in 1992 —I have ventured to argue the case for greater implementation of Law Commission reports. I gave your Lordships—at great length, I fear—particulars of reports and the need for their implementation. Last year, I also suggested that there should be a specific reference in the gracious Speech to law reform in order to draw attention to the importance of the subject. I am very happy that both points have to some extent been met, with the very valuable support of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor.
Five Law Commission reports were implemented last year, and we hear from the noble Baroness that a number of other reports accepted by the Government may be implemented this Session. I was sorry not to hear among those she listed—perhaps my hearing was defective—any mention of offences against the person, on which the Law Commission produced a magnificent report last year. That is a field where reform is urgently necessary. Such reform, says the Law Commission, would save a great deal of judicial time and money. Perhaps there may be second thoughts on the matter.
I was also glad to hear that the Government accept the usefulness of the special procedure of the Public Bill Committee which enables the reports, if technical and uncontroversial, to be implemented rapidly. I was glad too to see the reference at the end of the gracious Speech, in somewhat laconic terms, to further measures on law reform.
I shall not weary the House further with elaboration on particular Law Commission matters which should be taken up. I wish merely to take up two points. The first is that law reform is not limited to Law Commission reports. In my belief, throughout the country there is great pressure from many directions for other measures of law reform going well beyond technical and non-controversial measures such as are suitable for the revised procedure.
I should like to quote two passages. The first is from the Law Commission president in his introduction to the latest report. He says:Much of our law is riddled with faults and flaws and it is often only the imagination and ingenuity of our judges which conceals with judicial sticking plaster the depth of the fault lines".I confess to having used a good deal of sticking plaster in my time.
In its last report the Law Commission says:Laws which so many people have to use, often at great personal expense, remain unsimple, unmodern, inaccessible and unreformed".Those are impressive words. They should remind us of the depth of the need.
195 Our law does indeed require constant attention in the way of active modernising to keep up with technological and social movements in such areas as embryology and information technology, changes in culture and many other areas. That was clear in the debates on the criminal justice Bill last Session. Taking advantage of the very wide terms of the Long Title, a considerable number of amendments for changes to the law having little or no relation to the objectives of the Bill, which were law and order, were nevertheless brought forward by various noble Lords and Members in another place. It was called the "Christmas tree procedure" of hanging packages on the tree but was criticised as being an abuse and for its effect of placing a burden on Ministers. However, it reflected the great pressure brought about by the genuine need for reform.
Apparently we are not to have a criminal justice Bill this Session. We are not to be given our Christmas tree. However, we still want our packages, tree or no tree. If those are brought forward, as they may well be, from whatever source, I hope very much that the Government will give them careful thought and support.
Perhaps I may mention two matters which fall outside the common area of Law Commission reports. One has been mentioned in a number of speeches. I refer to the criminal cases review committee. I swim a little against the popular tide. I am glad that it is being brought forward. I commend the Government, contrary to criticism that they have received, for taking time to produce the Bill. It is one thing to produce a general recommendation by a Royal Commission for procedure to correct miscarriages of justice. It is quite another to set up a careful and workable procedure. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. He pointed out that we have to get the personnel, procedure, chairmanship, terms of reference, and so on, right. We shall have to consider the matter carefully when it comes before the House.
I hope that the Bill justifies the high hopes put on it. However, surely more important than correction of miscarriages of justice is the avoidance of miscarriage of justice in the first place. That has to be worked on, with careful examination of police procedures, the right to silence, effective confessions, corroboration and the conduct of trials. Those factors are being worked on carefully in existing legislation and procedure. One must hope that such endeavours bear fruit in due course.
The second Bill I wish to suggest for inclusion in the legislative programme concerns arbitration. I argued for it last year and was told that there was no legislative time. The subject is a matter of great importance to trade and commerce. Arbitration procedure is an extremely valuable export industry. A Bill has been drafted and widely circulated. Consultation has taken place; it surely must be ripe for introduction. The Bill should be brought in. It would be a good candidate for filling the Post Office gap.
Secondly, I wish to refer to the form of legislation. I shall refer to only one aspect because I know that my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale will speak later and may make more effective points. Our legislation is far too long. To prove that one has only to 196 look at the shelves in the Library. It seems that our statutes and regulations have got into the wrong compartments. Statutes are now drafted as though they were regulations with all the details that one should have in regulations. Regulations are given the sanctity which should be given only to statutes. We need simple legislation and regulations that we can debate. We are not unique. The Bill which President and Mrs. Clinton drafted on health care and which was presented to Congress contained no fewer than 1,340 pages. That is about the length of Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy. We cannot live up to that, I am afraid. But we did not do too badly with the Finance Act 1994 which contained 464 pages—about the equivalent of a non-prime ministerial biography. However, 464 pages on a non-controversial Bill is a bit much.
I extend a hearty welcome to an initiative taken outside official circles by a body concerned with fiscal legislation of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, is president. That body has taken up the task of examining fiscal legislation to see whether it cannot be made shorter and more intelligible, in particular in the approaching age of self-assessment. I hope very much that if the Government have the chance they will support that initiative either morally or, if necessary, with finance. I hope that such an initiative may be extended to other areas.
With those brief comments, I am happy to support the Government's programme of legislation and to support the Motion.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, my few remarks follow rather aptly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. I wish to say a word about possible developments on the devolution of decision-making to Scotland and in particular to draw your Lordships' attention to implications that are emerging for the whole of the United Kingdom.
During the 1992 general election campaign, your Lordships will know that the major issue north of the Border was Scotland's place in the United Kingdom, whether the Union was working as well as it should, and what could or should be done. One important outcome of that vigorous debate was that of the 72 Members of Parliament elected for Scottish constituencies, 69 had fought on manifestos in support of the Union. Only three were for breaking up the Union.
During the campaign my right honourable friend the Prime Minister showed great sensitivity to the strength of feeling in Scotland. He gave an undertaking that, if re-elected, his Government would carry out a review, would take stock of how the 300 year-old Union was in fact operating and would come forward, if possible, with proposals for improvement.
Those proposals were published in March 1993, as Cm 2225, entitled Scotland in the Union, a Partnership for Good. Noble Lords who have had the opportunity to study the document will know that the Government concluded that the working of the Union indeed needs updating. The document makes a number of practical proposals varying from ideas for raising Scotland's profile in Europe, making the Scottish Office more 197 accessible, increasing and clarifying answerability of Scottish Office Ministers to the Scottish people, and improving the handling of Scottish legislation. Under that last heading, one interesting proposal arises now from the gracious Speech. Briefly, the proposal is that the Committee stage of certain Scottish Bills should be taken by a Special Scottish Standing Committee sitting in Scotland under an existing procedure. That existing procedure would allow evidence to be taken from relevant voluntary and other organisations, for example, or from Ministers. Before the Committee examines the Bill, line by line, such evidence would be taken. There is also the possibility that the Second Reading debate might be taken in Scotland by the Scottish Grand Committee which consists of all Scottish MPs, with the Bill returning to Westminster, if necessary, for the formal vote.
I understand that the Children (Scotland) Bill—the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, spoke about it—is likely to be published this week. At a conference yesterday, my noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie stated that that Bill is a candidate for the new procedure. Perhaps my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish can say whether there is agreement in another place that the new procedure will be used for the Committee stage of that Bill. And what about Second Reading? When replying perhaps he will answer the question of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, regarding time. The noble and learned Lord thought that six weeks would be required by voluntary organisations between publication of the Bill and the beginning of the Committee stage of the procedure. Will that time period be available? It would be interesting to know that.
The new procedure will need the agreement of the usual channels and all the participants, but, if it can be achieved, it would be the first Bill to be discussed in Scotland since the Scottish Parliament was adjourned in 1707. There would be enormous interest in both the procedure and the Bill.
To return to the general election, your Lordships will remember that the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats had as the centrepiece of their Scottish manifesto the setting up of a Scottish parliament. Two weeks ago Mr. Tony Blair, on his first visit to Scotland as Labour Party leader, reaffirmed his commitment to the Union and pledged that should a Labour Government come to power they would legislate in their very first year of office for a Scottish Parliament which would,have control over exclusively Scottish affairs".But Mr. Blair's plans are not confined to Scotland. He has himself given that indication, and the noble Lord, Lord Ewing of Kirkford, has made it even plainer in this House. Speaking from the Labour Front Bench during the Committee stage of the Local Government etc. (Scotland) Bill, he discussed how the Labour Party planned to overcome the so-called West Lothian question which had haunted him and his colleagues in another place during the passage of the doomed 1978 legislation. The question, your Lordships may recollect, is: why should Scottish MPs be entitled to vote at Westminster on exclusively English matters when 198 English MPs would not be entitled to vote on exclusively Scottish matters because those would be dealt with in the Scottish Parliament?
At col. 668 of Hansard for 28th June 1994, the noble Lord, Lord Ewing, said:The situation now is different. A Labour government intend to establish regional assemblies as well as a Scottish Parliament and a Parliament for Wales. So the West Lothian question will not arise. There is now an answer … which I freely admit did not exist in 1978".So there we have it. The West Lothian question is to be solved—and it has to be solved—by establishing assemblies all over Great Britain and, by implication, they would have to be assemblies with similar powers to those of the Scottish Parliament. As I asked the noble Lord, Lord Lester, do the English regions want such assemblies? What would happen to the West Lothian question until such bodies were set up? Or is the intention of the Labour Party to legislate for the whole package in a Labour Government's first year?
Likewise, there is the proposed method of funding. Mr. George Robertson, the shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, in a speech last Friday said that the current proposals are that Scotland would retain all the income tax and value added tax collected in Scotland, that there would be a grant from Westminster to make up the balance to meet the current need under the so-called Barnett formula which is used at the moment, and a Scottish parliament would be able to add three pence to or reduce by three pence the basic rate of income tax set at Westminster.
Would that be a recipe for the stability of the Union? As Scots found themselves paying three pence above or below the basic rate of income tax which everyone else was paying in the United Kingdom, that would soon be attributed, surely, north and south of the Border, not to the Scottish Parliament's decision-making but to the size of the grant decided at Westminster. Imagine the divisiveness. Or does Mr. Blair have it in mind to use the same funding system for all the assemblies all over Great Britain?
These are important questions and sooner or later they and many more will have to be answered. Opinion far beyond Scotland will have to be tested about many unavoidable implications across the United Kingdom for what is done in Scotland.
In an article in this week's Scotland on Sunday newspaper, under the headline,In this battle, don't forget the ToriesMr. Kenny Farquharson wrote:Of the systems on offer to the people of Scotland the Tories' is the one that has evolved most since the general election".To an extent, that is true. But it seems to me that the Government are not proposing or implementing any new system. They are simply asking parliamentarians of all parties or none to forgo a few of their traditional habits and procedures, and to join in updating the way we all work within the Union. It seems that happily most people are prepared to co-operate.
Whether, added to that kind of process, there will ever be great changes to structures will depend, I suggest, on the nature of the structures proposed—we still know little about those that are being proposed by the parties 199 opposite —and also how the electorate of the whole United Kingdom sees them, as well as the electorate in Scotland. There is still a long way to go.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, because she was kind enough to refer to me perhaps I may respond to the question which she directed at me. I listened carefully to what she said and agree with her that there is great need for a proper constitutional scheme and that the notion of simply giving home rule to Scotland quickly does not make sense. Indeed, I wrote as much in the Observer on Sunday, and I agree with her on it. However, equally, as someone who cares passionately about the Union, I do not believe that it will be a healthy union which says to the people of Scotland that some minor modifications to our over-centralised system will suffice. I believe that we must learn greater flexibility and produce a more coherent scheme.
§ 6.8 p.m.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, I do not recall a sitting of your Lordships' House which has been so rewarding, so deep in content and so high in quality. I have to abandon much that I was going to complain about because there are few parliamentary assemblies in the world that can produce speeches supported by eloquence, experience and wisdom to match those in your Lordships' House. Sometimes the way that people talk about the future of the House of Lords is exasperating because they are quite incapable of comprehending the unique contribution which we can make to parliamentary and public life.
We have listened to several speeches of such inspirational value to me that I feel I must comment upon them. First, I was deeply concerned with what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said about the continuing tainted problem of war crimes. I was his supporter and associate in moving to defeat the War Crimes Bill when it came from the House of Commons on two separate occasions. The trail of equivocation and undue delay, the lack of candour about the realities and the problems of the matter that we had to deal with were trying for us to listen to.
When I heard the most moving address of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, I thought: we have certainly come to something when the Archbishop of Canterbury has to come to this House and deliver a sermon on standards of conduct in public life, and show us the gravity of the situation and the extent to which public concern hopes for better things to come.
When I heard the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, give one of the most enchanting speeches that I have ever heard on the topic that he chose, I could not help feeling personally moved to listen to the grandson of my headmaster at school 84 years ago. Certainly I could not put aside one of the thrills of my life when, as a boy of 14½, I held the hand of the noble Lord's mother of the same age while we took part together in a little French play called "Le Petit Poucet". Those are memories that last forever in a lifetime, however long it may be. The 200 noble Lord's father was a product of the school. I have a deep attachment to the Clegg and Attenborough families and to the educational life of our little town of Long Eaton in Derbyshire.
Then we had a disturbing speech from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton, about Scottish justice.
When I heard the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury talking about standards of conduct, I also recalled my time as a member of the last Royal Commission on standards in public life. For nearly two years we wrestled with the issue. The commission, under Lord Salmon, was split from top to bottom on some of the issues with which it had to deal. The first big division was on whether the commission's writ extended to the privileges of Members of Parliament. Some issues arose that were disturbing but which had to be rationalised to be overcome.
Another matter with which we had to deal and which split the Royal Commission was whether the Inland Revenue should respect the secrets of the personal circumstances of taxpayers and their conduct, when they had to make full and honest revelations of their business activities under the income tax Acts, in the belief that they had to tell the truth there but that it was not to their advantage to tell it anywhere else.
That Royal Commission ended remarkably, with Lord Salmon, the chairman, writing a minority report of his own and gathering together one or two members of the commission to join their signatures with his on that minority report. That was an extraordinary outcome. One felt that the duty of the chairman of a Royal Commission was to get an agreed report—or at least, not to be a member of the minority itself. However, we felt that that was probably something that Members of Parliament ought to regulate for themselves. Now the commitment to look at their privileges and conduct has been passed over to an independent body. That is of very great historic significance.
So many matters for the Committee of Privileges, and the privileges of Parliament—which were of course there to be protect Members of Parliament not to expose them—were getting extremely out of date. That was not a very happy experience—although I must say that I was very surprised indeed when the Minister who read the Prime Minister's Statement in the House of Commons revealed that not a single word about the last Royal Commission on standards in public life was contained in the Government's announcement. There are problems there. It is too early to say what may come out of the inquiry. I wish it well. I believe that it will work in a different atmosphere from the one in which we worked, which was mostly one of local government scandals following the Poulson revelations, the misbehaviour and bribery that were used to get local authority city centre schemes and housing schemes brought within the compass of the biggest architectural business in Britain.
Members of Parliament were not so obviously involved in those scandals as were members of local authorities. But some Members of Parliament were involved. When I questioned one member of the commission as to why he had sided with the chairman in the minority report he said, "Because I wanted to get the word 'shocking' out of his minority report in as 201 many places as possible". It is an extraordinary field of operations that we have passed over to the committee of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan.
I want to conclude on one matter of great importance in relation to the Bill that I introduced earlier this afternoon and its surrounding circumstances. It is no good having standards in public life if you cannot maintain standards in government; and the ethics of government are strongly questionable sometimes. It is too easy to go for the doctrine that was so rife in authoritarian states of the past that "the end justifies the means". The Dangerous Dogs Act does not obsess me because I am unduly considerate in respect of cruelties to dogs, although I am deeply moved by them. That Bill was immoral. It set aside one of the fundamental convictions of British jurisprudence; namely, the discretion allowed to magisterial courts in questions that were within their jurisdiction. That was taken away. We have added a third to our mandatory sentences. There are three mandatory sentences in Britain today: treason, for which people are still hanged; murder, for which life imprisonment is a mandatory sentence, and one to which this House has already objected but with which the Government are afraid to interfere; and the third one was in respect of the Child Support Act. Again, the Government were pursuing the end without full regard to the rigour and injustice of the means. Governments themselves have to find some ethical standards, collectively. Until we achieve those standards, there will not be the confidence in government that there ought to be. When a measure like the Dangerous Dogs Act is put through (in 1991) in eight hours flat in the House of Commons on the ground that there is an emergency, brooking no delay, with the holidays coming in July in the view that the Bill must be put onto the statute book to round up these dangerous things that are abroad, I fear that we are in the grip at the present time of a sensational and emotional arousal of the public by the mass communications of the present century.
Look at the other day. A cross between a Siberian husky and a Canadian timber wolf apparently attacked a child in its own home. Half the children seriously injured by dog bites are attacked by the dog in their own home. That is something very salutary in our consideration of this problem. I thought, "Now what is going to happen—14 stitches in a baby's head? It only takes two more to produce a Dangerous Dogs Act."
On the Monday—or Friday or Saturday—that we had this disclosure, the balloon began to go up. "Pet wolf has bitten a child"; "Ban the wolves", and so on and so forth. We are in danger of falling for that and other things.
What is going to be the public reaction to tomorrow's report of the House of Commons committee on the rabies problem? That will be interesting. We have an obsession about rabies in this country, but how many cases of rabies have been discovered in quarantine kennels in Britain in the last decade? I ask; I do not know. Probably none. But we will not get a discussion in a rational spirit at all, and The Times had a leading article last Saturday about the madness of people who try to tamper with the rabies protection.
202 I deplore—and this is my final word—that we have not got the institutions to absorb this sensational raid on our emotions and our political judgment. We are now too prone to be influenced by the media. A campaign is started in the tabloid press, which rages on, and before we know where we are Ministers are being driven round the bend. I deplore that we do not have a dog control and welfare council, some body of independent judgment to absorb these emotional outbursts, to examine the facts and to foresee the future.
Let us look at the problem of wolves and Siberian huskies in a detached way. Who is bringing them in? Where do they come from? How many are there? We do not know enough about dog breeding—either here or elsewhere—and I think much more information should be sought about what the dog breeders are up to. They may be—especially in conditions of artificial insemination—producing crosses which they would not get by natural means. I think that is also very important.
I have now made the longest speech of the day, and I apologise. I am grateful to your Lordships for listening to me. If you have been moved as deeply as I have by the speeches that have been made today, then you have had a very rewarding day indeed.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Baroness Robson of Kiddington
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, paid a great compliment to those who spoke before him. But I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that no one comes up to the standard of the noble Lord himself, who speaks without a note. I notice that he is the only one this afternoon who has spoken without a note, but I am afraid that I cannot rise to that challenge.
The noble Baroness the Minister began her introduction to the debate by stating that there were 10 different aspects of social policy that fell within this afternoon's discussion. She then said that she was very pleased to announce that there was no legislation on education because it had had a surfeit of legislation over the past years. I would have been very pleased if she had said that there was no legislation on the NHS either because in my view we have also had a surfeit of legislation on the NHS.
I became a regional chairman in 1974 during the first reorganisation of the NHS. The NHS managed to survive—I think fairly well—from 1948 to 1974, and I do not believe that a mass of legislation necessarily improves the service that we are all looking for. However, the gracious Speech states that legislation to make further improvements to the management of the National Health Service will be included in this Session. It talks about "further improvements"—once again "further improvements". But when one analyses what I presume will be in this legislation, I doubt whether most of what is proposed will be "improvements".
To start with, the abolition of the regional health authorities and their replacement by eight regional offices under the NHS management executive is claimed to improve the gap between policy and implementation and to offer better knowledge of what is happening on the ground. I am fully aware that we have lost an enormous amount of the local input in all our health 203 authorities, both in districts and in RHAs. But surely local input is more likely to be aware of what is happening on the ground than a group of civil servants from the Department of Health. I am also worried that it is a contradiction of the Government's own policy of decentralisation and their desire for greater devolution. In my view, eight outposts under the NHS management executive is not devolution; it is bringing back more power centrally.
The Minister also stated in her opening remarks when talking about the health service that economically the abolition of the regional health authorities would mean a reduction in the staff employed from 3,900 to 1,100. I understand that the 3,900 staff employed by regional health authorities relates to two years ago. Since then there has been the start of amalgamations with the regional health authorities. Their duties have changed. With only eight instead of 14—and with a different set of duties under the new system of management in the NHS—it would be perfectly easy to reduce the staff of the regional health authorities to 1,100, but we would retain the interest of the local people.
I am also concerned about what will happen to the medical input at the regional office level. I sincerely hope that a medical advisory committee will be retained to advise the regional office on such specific matters as regional specialty strategy and capital improvements.
But, above all, I am nervous about the impact on research and medical education. If the regional health authorities are removed, you also remove the statutory position which universities with medical schools have under the 1990 National Health Service and Community Care Act which enables them to participate in planning and decision-making at that level. I hope that somehow that will be preserved under the new system of regional offices. That is one part of the change to the NHS which is taking place and which will be legislated for in the coming Session.
Secondly, and perhaps even more worrying, are some aspects of the proposed legislation for the treatment of the mentally ill in society. All Members of this House will remember that in 1990 we had a tremendously long debate on the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. There was great dissension on the reorganisation of the governance of the NHS, but there was 100 per cent. backing for the propositions put forward in the community care Bill. They were accepted by the whole House. But they were accepted on the basis that the community care Bill should be in position and implemented before proceeding to close the psychiatric beds in the hospitals. That warning was not heeded. In fact, the NHS part of the Bill was implemented a whole year before the community care part was implemented.
So far as I remember, the community care Bill also provided that every psychiatric patient released into the community should be the responsibility of one person in the community care team. That is especially important when dealing with people who are suffering from psychiatric problems such as schizophrenia. But that has not taken place. In my view the Government's main 204 concern has been to speed up the closure of psychiatric beds, without adequate provision being made in the community.
The Government's own task force set up in 1992 to find out why progress on bed closures had been so slow—although none of us would have said that that was the case—reported in 1994 that in places hospital beds had been replaced too fast. The Audit Commission found that no district survey had an adequate range of community services. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has said that advice is urgently needed as to what psychiatric teams are supposed to do when all the beds are occupied. They are now blamed for the discharge of patients too early without adequate community care being available. It is not their fault. There is a revolving door. The patients go out into the community and come back again into hospital because there is no other place for them to go. That is not the care in the community that they should expect to receive.
We have put the cart before the horse and have almost endangered the human rights of psychiatric patients by the proposal to introduce the power to convey without being able to claim the support of a court. Because of the overhanging danger for a psychiatric patient, it will be almost impossible to devise treatment plans to which the patient is supposed to give informed consent. How will the patient give that freely if the alternative is compulsory detention?
I believe that the Government should concentrate on having greater resources placed in the hands of the community services. Until such time as they are in place, no more hospital psychiatric beds should close; we should even open more in some cases. But this particular piece of legislation in itself will not solve anything. In some cases it will be detrimental to the psychiatric patient. Nothing will solve the problem except an increase in community care funding.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, this debate covers an enormous area: the whole of home affairs and the whole of social affairs. The noble Baroness spoke mainly on the social aspects, of which she has great experience and knowledge. I hope that she will excuse me if I do not follow her on that path but deal rather with the constitutional matters that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, and my noble and learned friend Lord Wilberforce.
Before I do so, perhaps I may take up the subject of the enormous area that has to be covered today. At the end of the last Session there was a debate on the sittings of the House and vague noises were made from the Treasury Bench, holding out hopes that the sittings would end at a more reasonable hour. It was pointed out from all parts of the House that, your Lordships being an elderly and unsalaried Chamber, it is impossible to expect a reasonable House after 8 p.m. and certainly any reasonable hope of a majority vote after that hour.
How have we started this Session, in view of those hopes? On Thursday we had a debate on the foreign and defence aspects of the gracious Speech. There were 39 speakers. The debate ended just after a quarter to eleven 205 at night. Repeatedly during the debate the plea was made—reasonably and cogently made—that foreign affairs could conveniently be debated separately from defence matters. That was not done. Again, today, there are 38 speakers. It is true that it is one fewer, but in view of the complexity of the debate and the number of matters with which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will have to deal in his reply, I reckon that we shall be very lucky to get away before 11 o'clock tonight. Again, there is no reason why we should not have a whole day for home affairs and a whole day for social affairs. There is more than enough to discuss and ample knowledge and experience in your Lordships' House, as the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, pointed out, to justify such a course and for the debates to be rewarding.
Having said that, I venture to return to the constitutional issues raised by those to whom I referred earlier. I agree entirely with the identification of the issues that need to be addressed. I hesitate only because my own feeling is that we dare not enter into these inter-related matters without the most careful investigation; indeed, by a Royal Commission on the constitution. I rather think that when the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, replied to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, he was almost prepared to accept that view.
The matters that fall for discussion are devolution, reform of the House of Lords, proportional representation, and several others. I deal with only two in order to emphasise their complexity and the danger of an over-simplistic approach. I turn first to devolution. If one may render a judgment from the Cross-Benches south of the Border, I thought that the noble Baroness was correct to say that the question of the Union was clearly before the electorate and specifically before the electorate of Scotland at the last general election. But, as I understand it, that is not what is now proposed.
The Labour Party seem to be proposing that certain domestic matters of purely Scottish concern should be considered by a Scottish assembly. That comes very close to what was advocated by my noble friend Lord Perth and to which we on the Cross-Benches naturally paid great attention. But even at that stage an enormous number of matters need to be considered. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, mentioned one of the most important; namely, finance. How is finance to be distributed between the devolved functions and the remaining functions? Then there is what the noble Baroness referred to as the "West Lothian factor"; namely, whether it is right that if there is devolution on the lines that I mentioned—that is, to a Scottish assembly—why should Scottish MPs have any concern with English matters of a similar nature? I refer to health, education and so forth. It is difficult to see any answer to that and I do not believe for a moment that the answer lies in saying, "We will have English regional authorities". I see absolutely no call for regional authorities in this country.
The West Lothian factor is therefore the second big question which must be considered. Together with that is the whole question of representation at Westminster. What functions remain at Westminster and who is to 206 represent the various parts of the United Kingdom for their consideration? Even stopping there, there is an urgent call for a Royal Commission on the constitution.
I mention only one other point, and that is the House of Lords reform. As I understand it, the Labour Party will now seek simply to abolish the right of hereditary Peers to vote in your Lordships' Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will correct me if I have that wrong; I see him looking at me and I do not know whether or not it is quizzically. That leaves out entirely the question of who appoints the remaining Life Peers in your Lordships' House. If, as at present, they are to be appointed by the Prime Minister, that gives the potentiality of single-chamber government.
If the Prime Minister, despotising as the Government now do over the other place, appoints the Members of your Lordships' House, we are a big step towards the great constitutional insight of my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham; namely, an elected dictatorship. We should not forget that Hitler governed throughout by parliamentary sanction. It was an elected dictatorship. Because we have not got one and seem not to be in sight of one at the moment, we should not lightly disregard the powerful argument of my noble and learned friend.
Each of the points I raised—I noted also the referendum —are immensely complicated and call for investigation by a Royal Commission on the constitution. I gave the noble Lord notice that I intended to raise these points and begged him not to tell your Lordships that everything in the constitutional garden is lovely—it is not; we have heard sufficient today to know that—and not to tell your Lordships that two decades or more ago we had the Crowther-Hunt/Kilbrandon Commission. The terms of reference were very different from what is now required and, in any event, situations have greatly changed since that day.
I want to mention two further points, quite summarily, in view of two matters raised at the end of the last Session. The first is the relationship between the two Houses, mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank and Lord Lester. I refer to the Home Secretary brushing aside amendments passed by your Lordships' House. The most important amendment was proposed by a former Home Secretary and supported by a Conservative Home Secretary, by other former Home Secretaries, by my noble friend Lord Allen of Abbeydale, a former Permanent Secretary of the department, and by a great many junior Ministers from the Home Office who are now in your Lordships' House. Not only was the amendment brushed aside, but it had enormous merit to commend it.
The amendment would have ensured that the security scheme could be brought into force at once instead of having to wait until the first of the specialised prisons in the Bill. It was said that it was essential to get the young tearaways out of circulation, but they have been left in circulation for three unnecessary years because the Home Secretary insisted on having his way. One is bound to ask: is he an oracle that "when he opes his lips let no dog bark", least of all the watchdogs in your Lordships' House?
207 The other point is an argument which was advanced on the same occasion from the Conservative Benches although, I am glad to say, it was not by the Minister. It was to the effect that when your Lordships passed an amendment, if it were rejected by the other place then that was the end of the matter. If that were so it would mean that the Labour Party would not need any scheme such as it proposes. Just for the fun of it, it might well proceed to eliminate the hereditary Members of your Lordships' House, but it would be utterly unnecessary if the noble Lords who propounded that strange constitutional doctrine had their way. I hope that the Minister himself will repudiate such a doctrine and say that it is no part of government policy.
In that connection he might glance at an article written by the political correspondent of the Evening Standard which appeared on 6th July last. He said that senior Conservatives in the other place were urging the Prime Minister to get rid of the leadership in your Lordships' House because of the humiliating and embarrassing defeats that your Lordships had inflicted in the course of the passage of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Does the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, say that when your Lordships pass an amendment, particularly with the weight of authority which was behind the amendment on that occasion, that that really is an embarrassment to the Government? Is it really a humiliation, or do the Government recognise, as I believed was Conservative doctrine, that we are a two-chamber Parliament and that your Lordships have much to offer in that connection?
My final constitutional point is a very narrow one arising from the deregulation Bill and out of an amendment which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, supported by my noble friend Lord Northbourne. It was to the effect that even the most beneficent law or regulation which does justice generally may, in some particular case, do an injustice. Added to that, even the most beneficent general rule may be harshly, even maliciously, or spitefully applied. It was suggested that we need something equivalent to courts of equity in this country and in Scotland not to invalidate regulations generally, but to relieve against the hardship or the spite.
The Minister who was in charge of that aspect of the deregulation Bill has lately resigned. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will assure your Lordships that that matter is still under consideration and being given weight. As I see it, the main difficulty is that many of the regulations are binding on us because they ultimately come from Brussels. I do not believe that that is an objection which cannot be overcome. What I have suggested should certainly be considered in the light of the run-up to 1996.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Lord Ashley of Stoke
My Lords, I add my warm congratulations to the three maiden speakers. Led by the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, they have made today a distinctive and even a memorable parliamentary 208 occasion. We are all delighted to hear from them and we certainly look forward to hearing from them on many future occasions.
The gracious Speech is apparently a watershed for disabled people because for the first time ever the Government are making provision for anti-discrimination legislation. I welcome the Government's shift from arguing that there is no evidence of discrimination. They argued that when I brought in the first anti-discrimination Bill 12 years ago. Ministers said that there was no evidence and so there was no point in bringing forward Bills of that kind. Afterwards, they shifted their ground, claiming that education and persuasion were adequate. We all know that education and persuasion are grossly inadequate. Now they have admitted the need for legislation. I welcome the Government's agreement that there is that need.
The impression that this is a watershed is more apparent than real because the Government are offering a mirage if the Bill is on the lines of its consultative document. Disabled people, who are desperate for a comprehensive Bill of human rights, are disappointed and frustrated at the prospect of a fiddling, piddling Bill. That is what it looks like when one reads the consultative document on the Government's legislative intentions. I believe that such a Bill, far from placating understandably angry disabled people, will provoke them. That is because the Government are probably intending to give disabled people not what they want but what Ministers think they should have. That is entirely their own way of going about it.
The main reason why the Government's proposals are hedged, limited and inadequate is the belief that a comprehensive Bill would cost £17 billion. At least, that is what the Government say they believe. But somehow Ministers seem to be winking to each other when they mention £17 billion. They know, and we know, that that estimate includes double counting. It excludes the benefits of employing disabled people and excludes disabled people becoming taxpayers rather than tax users. The figure is based on an implementation timescale which was not in the original Bill proposed in another place and passed by this House.
As usual, it is the attitude to disabled people that counts. The Government's attitude to them is so penny-pinching as to be neglectful. I give one example. In the proposed provisions in the consultation document the Government suggest that a statutory duty not to discriminate should be imposed on employers. That is fine. It seems to be a new right which would afford great protection to disabled people. But the Government say that employers of fewer than 20 employees should be excluded from that duty. At a stroke 35 per cent. of the disabled workforce is excluded. Despite that, the Government create the impression that they are giving new rights to disabled people. How can they justify that exclusion?
209 I should like to tell the House not what I feel but what the Employers Forum on Disability has said about the exclusion:Given that no exemptions according to size or industry type are permitted under race and gender legislation, it is difficult to justify exclusions for small employers".That is a clear invitation to the Government to change their attitude.
The Government propose that disabled people should he able to seek damages if they are debarred unreasonably from goods and services. However, they will not provide the right to challenge those whose buildings are inaccessible. Yet it is inaccessible buildings which are responsible for daily discrimination against millions of disabled people. The rights proposed in the Government's consultative document are an advance, but they are limited, grudging and inadequate. Rights are meaningless if they cannot be enforced. Anyone can suggest or propose rights, but if those rights cannot be enforced they are utterly meaningless.
In their document, the Government have rejected the very sensible idea of establishing a disability rights commission. Instead they propose a disability council which will be mainly advisory and which will lack the powers and authority of a commission. Many bodies can give advice and guidance, but equally many organisations and authorities can ignore advice. There is no point in offering guidance and advice if there is no way of pressing what is recommended.
I hope that the Government will take on board the sensible point that what is really required is a disability rights commission with investigative powers, able to monitor and enforce, if necessary through the courts, the rights of disabled people against discrimination. There are such commissions for race and sex discrimination and if a good argument exists for them there is an equally good case for having a commission to protect disabled people. There is no justification for treating disabled people differently. Without the commission it will be very difficult for disabled people to enforce any new rights because legal aid simply is not available in any of the forums to which they could go. Yet their need for protection is just as great as that for women and ethnic minorities facing discrimination.
To be frank, the Government give the impression in their consultative document and in speeches—the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, spoke warmly about the Bill—that they are going to provide something that will be well worthwhile. However, to disabled people the Government seem to be retreating slowly, doggedly and stubbornly in the face of parliamentary and public opinion. Their spokesmen and spokeswomen try to dress up inadequate measures as radical reforms, but they seem more concerned with public relations than with ending discrimination. Ministers do themselves no favours. What they need is a sense of mission. They should be prepared to take an imaginative leap forward for human rights such as has been managed in other countries. Will the Government explain how Ministers in the United States, Australia and New Zealand can put forward strong and powerful legislative proposals, backed by commissions to enforce such proposals, yet we cannot? On an issue on which we should have led 210 the world, we are following other countries. We have become also-rans in terms of legislating against discrimination against disabled people.
We need to provide a comprehensive anti-discrimination Bill of Rights, such as that endorsed recently by this House. That Bill passed through all its stages in this House, but the Government did not even mention it in their consultative document. The Government brushed aside the decisions of this House. I suggest that they have mismanaged the need for a comprehensive Bill of Rights for disabled people. The Government should stop deluding themselves that enshrining such rights leads to bankruptcy and industrial decay.
I should like the Minister to listen to the quotation with which I am about to conclude. It is not a quotation from disabled people or from left-wing trade unionists. It comes from the Employers Forum on Disability:Anxiety regarding exorbitant costs would seem to reflect inadequate understanding and analysis of the benefits generated by bringing disabled people into society as taxpayers and consumers; a lack of understanding of the business case for such reforms; a failure to place expenditure within the appropriate long term scale; and lack of direct experience of disabled people contributing in the workplace".That is a clear and unequivocal message to the Government that their misgivings are misplaced. Such proposals would not cost the earth. It would not break industry if the Government were to introduce a comprehensive wide-ranging Bill of genuine human rights to end this discrimination once and for all. I ask the Government to consider that when they introduce their Bill.
§ 7.8 p.m.
§ Lord Northbourne
My Lords, I apologise to the House for the fact that a long-standing engagement which I cannot avoid means that I cannot be here for the end of the debate. I had put down my name to speak in the debate partly because I wanted to have an opportunity to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on her new incarnation at the Dispatch Box and to say how much I was looking forward to crossing swords with her in the forthcoming Session but, unfortunately, the gracious Speech does not seem to present many prospects or opportunities for that. I should also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the most reverend Primate on his most thoughtful and important speech.
I should like to speak briefly about a subject that is not mentioned specifically in the gracious Speech. I refer to juvenile crime. Your Lordships are well aware of the problems associated with juvenile crime and I shall give three statistics: about 45 per cent. of known offenders are under the age of 21; persistent offenders constitute 50 to 60 per cent. of court appearances; and crimes of violence are on the increase. I am one of those who agree with the Government's policy. I believe that offenders should be punished because that sends a message to them that their behaviour has been unacceptable. I also believe that offenders require to be rehabilitated so that they will not offend again, thus 211 recausing problems to society. But how much better if we could avoid those crimes taking place in the first place.
There is increasing evidence that much juvenile crime is avoidable. Recurrent offenders can be persuaded effectively to change their ways. I am involved with a befriending scheme where we have achieved a 70 per cent. success rate in dealing with young people who have been referred to us by the police as a last resort before court. They are young people known to the police who have already offended two or three times and have been cautioned. A 70 per cent. success rate at a cost of £800 for six months' intensive befriending compares favourably with the cost of a place in a young persons' institution which may be £50,000 to £100,000 a year.
My second point is that it is accepted increasingly that there are strong links between juvenile crime and the way in which a child had been brought up in the home. There is massive research on that. If any noble Lord wishes to ask, I can give many references. It is obvious: we all know that a child needs guidance, security, support, love and stimulation in its early years. It is normally parents who provide that.
During July the All Party Parliamentary Group for Parenting, in conjunction with the International Year of the Family, held four hearings in your Lordships' House. A report was produced. I have deposited it in the PPO and the Library. I encourage noble Lords to look at it. Noble Lords can take the full variety or the family economy size which is a summary and a good deal more readable. The report shows, among other things, that most parents want to be good parents. It shows also, as we probably all know if we think back to our time as children or parents, that all parents need help at some time during the course of their parenting experience. The problem is that often many of the traditional structures of our society which used to give help and support to parents, such as grandparents, the extended family and the community, no longer exist, and nothing has been put in their place.
The evidence in the report shows clearly why many parents, even parents who want to be good parents, fail to be so. It is an encouraging report because it shows that there is a great deal which can be done and a great deal which is being done—often on a small scale and often inadequately funded. There is a need to pay attention to support for parents, to the support of parental relationships so that there are fewer parental breakdowns and greater security for children, and to improving parenting skills. Perhaps I may quote Sir Christopher Ball. In his recent report he said:Parents are the most important people in their children's lives".Robert Fay has said:A parent is a terrible thing to waste".I wish to put across briefly the key message that the best way to help children is often to help their parents. I urge your Lordships to read the report which is available in the Library and the PPO.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Lord Murray of Epping Forest
My Lords, I hope that I shall be with your Lordships at the end of the 212 debate; but last trains wait for no man. Perhaps I may join all those who have welcomed the Government's decision—a timely decision, I hope—to introduce a Bill to tackle discrimination against disabled people. It is apt that in the Queen's Speech that reference should follow the undertaking to implement:policies and programmes responsive to the needs of the individual citizen".Disabled citizens are, first of all, citizens. They are very much part of society, and should be treated as such.
I welcomed too the Government's earlier decision to issue the consultative document on disability. I do not want to cover the ground so ably covered by my noble friend Lord Ashley or to dwell upon what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, described as the best known Whitehall farce of 1994. Now is the time to look forward.
I hope that the Government's decision to engage in a consultative process demonstrates that they will in future be more willing to consult and not to rush in with off-the-peg, reach-me-down and knock-down policies for everything from industrial relations to education. It is obvious that the Government are having to relearn how to consult. The consultative document on disability illustrates that. It is described as a consultation on government measures. It could have done with a bit more emphasis on consultation and a bit less on government proposals and measures. It could have been a bit heavier on open-minded deployment of the options, and a bit lighter on suggestions and implications, to many of which my noble friend Lord Ashley referred, that the Government's mind is already made up.
That may not have been the Government's intention. If so, the Minister has the opportunity tonight to demonstrate their open-mindedness and to show that the Government have become the listening Bench—listening not just to disability organisations but to the ordinary people who say that 6 million disabled people should have a fairer deal.
I want to concentrate briefly on an issue raised eloquently by my noble friend Lord Attenborough at the end of a marvellous maiden speech. He referred to access to arts venues—theatres, art centres, museums and galleries, concert halls and cinemas, and historic houses—visits to all of which are very much part of a civilised way of life. I do not pretend to be an expert on access to such venues. To be a real expert one needs to have been turned away from a cinema because, unlike one's friends, one is sitting in a wheelchair, or to have been denied the chance to enjoy a piece of sculpted granite because of a prohibition on touching it and one is blind. So I shall draw in part on the views of the disabled members of the trust with which I am involved: Access for Disabled People to Arts Premises Today. ADAPT's claim to being representative derives not from the fact that I am a trustee but from its origins in the inquiry into arts and disabled people carried out by my noble friend Lord Attenborough in 1985. It is a report which established the parameters and standards upon which the whole of the discussion needs to take place.
The inquiry was funded by the Carnegie Trust, which contributed well over half a million pounds into ADAPT's work. The trust's objective was endorsed by the then Minister for Arts, Sir Richard Luce. The 213 objective was to see that every main arts venue was made reasonably accessible to disabled people by 2000. The trust has raised and distributed over £1 million. Because each grant is a challenge grant, it has to be matched by other funding, so £3 million has been invested in improved facilities—loop systems, lifts, ramps, toilets, and so forth, which would not otherwise have been in place. Although a considerable achievement, that has not even begun to meet the demand.
I doubt whether the consultative document will go far enough or fast enough towards meeting the objective commended by Sir Richard Luce. The consultative document pays far too little attention to the problem of access to places of leisure and entertainment. As a result, the proposals set out by the Government would leave many loopholes for those who are resistant to the need for change. Indeed, the document is far too complacent in assuming that the existing building regulations meet their purpose of assisting disabled people; for example, they make quite inadequate provision for those whose vision and hearing are impaired. As was said by my noble friend Lord Ashley, many of the existing requirements suffer from inadequate monitoring to ensure that what the regulations intend to achieve is carried out, and is carried out uniformly.
Furthermore, the consultative document is unclear as regards goods and services. It is not clear whether goods and services include arts services. The comment that those providing goods and services should not be required to carry out modifications to existing premises appears to conflict with the aspirations for widening employment opportunities, as expressed elsewhere in the document.
I make those points to illustrate that the emphasis needs to be on the Government listening to people with expertise and knowledge in the field and to those who have suffered from inadequate access. Existing inadequacies can then be put right and we shall be able to move forward towards the target of reasonable access by the year 2000.
I should be delighted if the Minister would assure the House that access to arts venues will be made mandatory. The least that will do is an unequivocal assurance that the Government have an open mind on this issue and that they will consider seriously the arguments put forward by ADAPT and others—for example, by the noble Earl, Lord Snowdon —that mandatory action must be taken in this field.
Since the Minister, Sir Richard Luce, gave that pledge a new and potentially important source of funding for the arts has become available in the form of the National Lottery. It is a sad commentary that as regards our attitude to arts and charities we should make their public financing a by-effect —and a minuscule by-effect at that—of a flutter on the numbers. Leaving that matter aside, the least that we can expect is that the Government should insist that the arts councils and the other bodies which will be distributing the National Lottery profits should make grants to arts premises conditional—I repeat, conditional—on their improving access for disabled people.
214 I welcome the statement made recently by the Minister responsible that:it is particularly important that the people who are often disadvantaged within our society, and I have in mind particularly those with physical or other disabilities, should be able to benefit from lottery funds in the same way as others in the community".There is a sharp distinction between that statement and what the Government have done. There is a sharp distinction between, on the one hand, the policy directions issued to the distributary bodies relating to matters which they must take into account and, on the other hand, the mere guidance on disability issues. I accept that even guidance on matters such as access, awareness and the involvement of disabled people in decision-making, represents an advance in government thinking. If it is right to set out in the form of directions presumptions for capital spending, it is surely right that the bodies distributing National Lottery funds should be directed to make grants to arts venues conditional on their improving access for disabled people.
Perhaps I may add a brief postscript. Your Lordships' House can hardly be described as an arts venue, although it is an historic building and, on occasion, takes on some of the characteristics of a theatre. People come here hoping for information and stimulation, perhaps even for entertainment. They come to listen and they come to see. But if they come in wheelchairs they cannot see our proceedings. I am not alone in having made practical proposals for improving access to our Chamber for members of the public who use wheelchairs. It is time that we brought our facilities up to the standard of any third-rate football club and created a space in which citizens who come in wheelchairs have the same facilities as others to see what goes on here.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, I rise to deal with one subject only in the gracious Speech. It is the brief sentence which states that the Government,will introduce a Bill to tackle discrimination against disabled people".Disabled people have a great deal of support in this House.
Many disabled people and organisations for the disabled believe that, far from helping people to live with dignity and independence, all we shall have is a watered-down version of earlier Bills and that it will be presented to salve Ministers' consciences about the way they connived to defeat the Bill last Session.
In 1982 a report was published by the Committee on Restrictions against Disabled People. It showed that discrimination was practised in many forms against the disabled. The credit for that wide-ranging report must go to Sir Peter Large, who is well known to many Members of your Lordships' House. That report was the foundation of the 13 Private Members' Bills which have been introduced year after year during the 20 years since it was published. None of those Bills reached the statute book. I console myself with the thought that Parliament has seen this kind of history before—when Wilberforce sought to outlaw the slave trade. After many years of 215 persistence, and because the cause was right, there came a moment for success. I hope that it is about to come again in respect of a disabled persons Bill.
The Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill was brought into this House last Session by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. It passed all its stages in this House but in another place, after at each stage it had been shown to command wide support, its progress was halted only at the Report stage, using a procedural point to do so. No Member of the Government can be proud of what happened.
But against this history of negative government attitudes it would be churlish not to welcome the measure to tackle discrimination against disabled people. I shall try not to cover the points so ably covered by the noble Lords, Lord Ashley and Lord Murray. However, I am sure that the terms of the Bill will be eagerly awaited in this House and, as on the previous occasion, there will be the same concern to use the opportunity of government legislation to secure all practicable benefits to people with disabilities and to society generally, because it is the whole of society that will be enriched by the release of so much energy and talent. But the Government must understand that there is considerable apprehension in case the measures referred to in the gracious Speech could be inviting the House to deal with only half measures.
The Government's consultation paper, which was issued in July, is welcome in so far as it recognises that legislation is needed. But in that consultative document, as a main ground for substituting their own Bill for legislation on the lines of last Session's Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, the Government have again invoked their calculation that the cost of phasing in such a Bill will be £17 billion, plus the continuing cost of £1 billion per year thereafter. These figures attract the jargon term "cost compliance assessment".
This is not the occasion for debating the arithmetic but it is an occasion to point out, as did several of your Lordships last Session, that deducing an aggregate cost provides no ground for deciding whether to spend unless there is an understanding of what would result from incurring that cost. We need to measure the cost compliance benefits against what would result from the outlay. If the Government's attitude is still to be that they consider the outlay but ignore the return, that tells us nothing either way about the merits of the investment.
The result of not incurring the compliance costs is to leave people with disabilities frustrated at the edge of opportunities for education, training and employment. They become discouraged by the slanted financial services. They lack the public transport which they can use only with great difficulty or not at all. They are denied access to many buildings in which the social, cultural and economic life of the community is carried on.
The price is at present partly paid by forgoing the product of people with disabilities—and they are counted in millions—and partly by calling on the resources of other people doing for them what they would so much rather have been enabled to do for themselves.
216 The economic question for judgment is not whether to quail before an apparently large aggregate of gross cost but whether to prefer conditions as they are or in some altered form, with their respective consequences for costs and returns or other benefits resulting from incurring those costs. If compliance cost assessment means anything, it is the measure of the cost currently being borne by the disabled persons and those who try to help them. Even when it is computed with the utmost care, it is no substitute for the methodology addressed to the right question. We have to face the fact that return or benefit may arise on a different account from that under which cost is incurred.
If that is the right way to focus attention—and I believe it is—then the consultation paper provides an example of a government looking the other way. For example, the paper leaves alone the subject of transport, with only a brief reference to the degree to which buses now incorporate the features recommended by DIPTAC. It does not mention that that same ministerial advisory committee advocated buses with low, step-free floors which would enable any passenger, able-bodied or disabled, to board or alight quickly—the nimble, those with a trolley, buggy or pram, those with heavy shopping, the elderly infirm and those in wheelchairs, who would otherwise have no access to a bus unless it had a lift. That would have consequences. There would be less need to depend upon the car in towns; and less time would be spent at bus stops, thus reducing congestion and pollution. Journeys would be faster and, as experience elsewhere in Europe has shown, fewer buses may well be needed for covering the same routes.
Perhaps I may be excused for pointing out what may be the consequences of incurring those costs. I believe that I can more readily do so because I used to have to speak in this House for the then government on both transport and the environment. At the same time, I could not but concern myself with the conditions of life for disabled people. I am glad to see the Government doing that, at least in their reference to them in the gracious Speech.
I must also declare an interest as the vice-president of PHAB, which is the nationwide organisation that encourages the physically handicapped and able bodied to work, live and play together. I am also a director of Tripscope. That is a charity which helps many handicapped persons to sort their way through transport problems so that they are able to make exciting journeys to far away places.
If the legislation of this Parliament can be the instrument by which such general advantage can be secured, then I want to see the Government introducing it. But to be effective it must be specific. An example already before us is the change of regulations which means that the whole fleet of London taxis is now being converted to a design which enables people in wheelchairs to use those taxis as easily as the rest of us can. If we must rely on Brussels for some of that legislation now, I wish to see the Government using all their influence to secure it there in specific form, to take effect with all realistic speed.
217 We await the Bill with interest, but from the many comments made today by noble Lords, the Government will be aware that there are many of us in your Lordships' House who will argue and fight when the Bill comes before us to ensure that there is no watering down of the proposals. Half measures will not do. Disabled and handicapped people must be enabled to enjoy all the rights which they so much deserve and for which they have waited far too long.
§ 7.35 p.m.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, almost áll of those who have spoken in this debate have congratulated our three maiden speakers. I should also like to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, and my noble friend Lord Dubs knew that they would be congratulated because in this Palace of varieties that is what we do to artists who are making their first appearance. But we do not always ask them back in the way in which all three of our maiden speakers have been asked back today. They will understand, from the genuine pleasure and approval that has been generated by their speeches, that we very much hope that we shall see them again. We know that they are all very busy. We know that the main job of the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, is to save the British film industry, and we quite understand if he has to go away now and again in order to do that.
I wish to explore the assumptions behind the policies in the gracious Speech for dealing with the continued rise in crime figures. I do not blame the Government for those figures; but I blame them for the fact that they have not been able to do anything about them. They have been rising at roughly the same rate since the early 1970s through different kinds of governments. I ask how far this Government accept the link which my noble friend Lord McIntosh sought to argue between particular sorts of crime figures and the social and economic environment.
Nobody can say that this Government have not pursued the crime figures. Since this Government came into office, there have been more than 10 Bills dealing with the criminal law, and there are more proposals in the pipeline, some of which were mentioned in the gracious Speech. This Government do things about the framework of criminal law almost as frequently as they do things about trade union law, social security benefits and privatisation. The difference is that it is not so easy to see what is the link between the Government's overall ideology and obsession with the market and what they do in the field of crime prevention. That is the question that I wish to explore this evening.
If one leaves aside the funny people who have funny theories about crime—the Freudians, the Calvinists, the Moonies—there are three broad theories about crime statistics and why they go up and down. As far as I can see, the Government's argument seems to be the first of these: the inadequate punishment theory. They believe that if they could lock the criminals up for long enough, they would become discouraged and there would not be any crime, or at least, the crime figures would start to decline and go the other way.
218 The second argument relates to declining moral standards, and I shall say a few words about that later. (That is rather a Right-wing theory). The Left-wing theory relates to relative deprivation, perceived injustice, unemployment, poverty and that sort of thing. It is easy to see that it is difficult for this Government to embrace the third of the theories.
The present Home Secretary—unlike the last Home Secretary but four, who was, I think, Mr. Hurd—focuses very much on inadequacy of punishment. The present Home Secretary said that "prison works". He told us during the debate on the gracious Speech on 18th November that there is to be a working paper based on the:resounding affirmation … that proper punishment should follow crime as surely as night follows day"—[Official Report, Commons, 18/11/94; col. 242.]The present Home Secretary wants more cautions, more prosecutions, longer sentences and more austere conditions. He wants fewer privileges, less leave, no automatic release and a form of hard labour for community sentences.
However, I should like to know whether the Government have undertaken a costing exercise on the matter. As we were told earlier in the debate this afternoon by my noble friend Lord McIntosh, there has been a small increase in the prison population and that has been ferociously expensive—
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I trust that my noble friend will permit me to intervene. I do not believe that an increase from 42,000 to 52,000 can be called very small.
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, it is small when one considers that the crime rate is rising by 7 per cent., 8 per cent. or 9 per cent. per year. It is small in comparison to the task to be undertaken if we wanted to bang everyone up. I am saying that would go very much against the general policy of the Government regarding public expenditure. In fact, I suggest that the Government do not really believe it is possible. The problem is that they cannot bring themselves to say anything else.
I turn now to the other arguments. The second argument is that the problem with the crime figures is that they are affected by declining moral standards. If one looks around the Chamber this evening, it will be understood why I have to be careful how I argue this case. Indeed, I am not sure that I want to put it forward. There are many changes that we could say we want to see if we wanted to improve moral standards; and, indeed, if we could agree on what an improvement in moral standards would look like. For example, we could talk about what we might do about the divorce laws and about all kinds of incentives to preserve the sanctity of marriage. Alternatively, the Government might want to do something about single mothers. I do not know.
However, if one thinks about it, it becomes quite clear that the last thing this Government are actually going to advocate—they are not quite that foolish—is legislation to improve the British electorate's moral standards. Some time ago they used to say that perhaps an example should be set. In fact, Back to Basics involved them in 219 setting an example but they have rather gone off that policy recently for obvious reasons. However, if one does not believe—and I do not—that everyone can be banged up or that one can legislate to improve declining moral standards, one returns to the third general argument; namely, relative deprivation and perceived injustice.
I do not want to say that all crime figures can be related to that general cause. Indeed, I believe it is arguable that there is much crime which has very little to do with poverty or unemployment. It is arguable that the fastest growing area of crime depends on employment. For example, in embezzlement, fraud, robbery, tax evasion, bribery and sleaze, one has to be employed. Moreover, for the most part, one has to be in very good employment; in other words, in a position of relative power. Moreover if we dealt with crime of the other kind—what is sometimes called working-class crime—and if we raised the standards of everyone's life, it could be argued that, if we did not get a rise in moral standards at the same time, we would get even more embezzlement, fraud, bribery, tax evasion and sleaze.
I am saying something much more limited than that; I am saying that there are areas in which there is a considerable body of evidence to show that there is a direct link between certain types of crime and certain types of deprivation. The clearest, hardest and most direct set of evidence deals with property crime and long-term unemployment among young males. There is a considerable number of macro studies—for example, the Cambridge studies and many others—which show, for example, that the rate of crime among young males and among males generally decreases and increases within the economic cycle. That is especially so as regards the late 1980s and 1990s.
There is other evidence—for example, macro studies in 41 or 42 police districts in England and Wales—which associates high crime figures with high unemployment and particularly high rates of crime among young workers suffering from long-term unemployment. If one lists the areas of high deprivation, such as Merseyside, Northumbria, South Yorkshire and South Wales, it will be seen that they are also the areas which have high rates of young male property crime.
There is also evidence of a disproportionate amount of property crime involving young male unemployed workers. However, because such studies are empirical, they tend to give different answers. One study indicates that 40 per cent. of offenders regarding property crime are the young unemployed, while another study suggested that a sample of 70 per cent. of offenders were young and long-term unemployed. We also know that there are 250,000 young male workers under the age of 24 who have been out of work for over six months. We know that there are 140,000 male young workers under the age of 24 who have been out of work for over a year. We also know that by the age of 31, one-third of young males has one or more convictions and that 5 per cent. of those in one sample, most of whom were unemployed, had two-thirds of the total convictions. In the light of evidence of this kind, I suggest that the link between young male workers and 220 property crime is too general, too plausible, too logical and too much in conformity with common sense for anyone seriously to doubt it.
Let us suppose that we were able to persuade the Government that there is something in that argument. What kind of policies would they adopt? I should make it clear that I am not suggesting what policies the Labour Party might adopt. I want to be realistic; I am talking about the present Government. I am not asking for anything that this Government could not conceivably do. However, if they were persuaded, what could they do? First, they could come to one, if you like, negative conclusion. They could appreciate the fact that if their recovery arrives, grows and blossoms so that they achieve 3 per cent. or 4 per cent. growth over three or four years, it would do nothing whatever for this problem. The increase in employment that the Government will see through general economic growth will I am afraid—and when I say "I am afraid", I do not mean that I am sorry: it is a fact—be for the most part enjoyed in reform of increased employment opportunities by part-time working women. It will do very little for men.
One of the least known facts about the British unemployment situation is that for all practical purposes, in terms of its hard core, it is a male problem. We have 9 per cent. unemployment and 12.5 per cent. unemployment among males, with an even higher rate than that among young males. Long-term immovable unemployment is very largely a male problem. Moreover, a marginal increase in growth will not solve the problem. What we need to do is positively to expand jobs. We must create jobs in a positively discriminatory way, directed at young males.
The Government would have to look at community action and make it much much bigger than the miserable 50,000 places applying after 12 months. They would have to start a general scheme for training for work, not the endless pilot penny-ha'penny scheme that they are currently running. They would have to direct some of their capital spending towards the employment of young males. Where do young males get employed? They are employed in the construction industry. The Government would have to engineer deliberately and specifically an increase in capital projects in the construction industry, in the belief and hope that that would do something about male unemployment. If possible, it should be done in areas of high unemployment.
However, one thing that they could not do is continue with the reduction in the size of the public sector labour force, especially the unskilled or semi-skilled labour force in the public service sector. This is scheduled to take another 500,000 people off to the employment exchange, three-quarters of whom may well be men. They could positively address themselves to the true problem of unemployment and the link between crime and unemployment among young males.
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, it is my belief that in the past few years our country has been gripped by a malaise. The outward signs—the sleaze, the greed, the envy, the resentment and the discontent—represent 221 merely the tip of the iceberg. Underneath are other disturbing indications of this sickness. Speaking from these currently somewhat lonely Benches, it is not my intention to engage in party political warfare, and I shall leave it to others to seek the reasons therein. However, I am certain of one thing: as my noble friend Lord Tonypandy remarked in a splendid speech earlier this year, standards nearly everywhere have declined in our life today.
There was no reference in the gracious Speech to the issues which are of particular concern to me, nor indeed did I expect that there would be. However, I have at least gained some encouragement from one or two recent ministerial utterances.
A few months ago the Prime Minister referred to what he called the "yob culture"—the crime, the decline in civility and manners and in fundamental decency and kindness which George Orwell believed was part of our national character. But as Mary Kenny, that perceptive columnist in the Sunday Telegraph, wrote, behind the yob culture it is the rise of the trash culture which confronts us everywhere. Like her, I long for the sublime and beautiful but feel more and more surrounded by the culture of trash: trashy values, trashy commodities, aspirations to trashy standards, people whose heads are filled with trashy books, trashy music and trashy art.
The culture of trash is illuminated today by the kind of celebrities we are expected to admire. Recent examples are a night club owner, an anorexic girl who married an ageing rock star, an American woman who has written a smutty book and, perhaps above all, the pop vocalist Madonna.
What dismays me today is the manner in which trashy culture has percolated upwards to infect everything. It is reflected in much of the media. In an outstanding address delivered in Boston, Massachusetts, last June—surely a most suitable venue to have chosen since the United States is the leading exponent of trashy values in the world—a much respected headmaster said:Particularly worrying is the anti-educational effect of television. It is arguable that the most insidious influence on the young is not violence, drugs, tobacco, drink or sexual perversion, but our pursuit of the trivial and our tolerance of the third-rate. It is here that television has had its most devastating influence".He went on to say that:Schools are not entirely powerless to do anything about it, but given the money at the disposal of the purveyors of junk culture, they are certainly fighting against severe odds".Broadcasting has also gone down-market, both Radio 3 and Radio 4 being pale shadows of what they once were. According to some of the newer BBC mandarins, the corporation is too posh and ought to be trying to reach a younger, less middle class audience and to be more "accessible". However, as everyone knows, any attempt to attract a wider audience results in lower quality and eventual absorption into the international mass rubbish culture of our time.
If the BBC decides to go down-market then surely it becomes hard to justify its existence. The whole point of public service broadcasting is that it should not need 222 to hunt all the time for mass audiences. That can be left in the hands of commercial broadcasters, who will certainly do it better.
Likewise, the press has followed suit. A year ago readers of The Times may have been somewhat surprised to have seen a leading article in that prestigious newspaper beginning with the words:On Saturday The Times will announce the top 25 in its selection of the 100 best rock albums of all time. Readers who forecast the top 10 correctly will have a chance to win all 100 albums on the list".Is this, and the "Pop on Friday"—often occupying three pages—what one really expects of that paper?
To be fair, The Times is not alone in lowering its sights: other so-called "quality" or "serious" newspapers now seem increasingly to fill their pages with trivia about sex, showbiz and the media. In passing, I remind your Lordships that there are sinister signs of how one newspaper group appears to be bent on destroying not only the high culture of our nation but also the fabric of its constitution.
All in all, I suggest that the function of far too much of the media today maybe summarised as the constant hype of trivia and tripe.
A moment or two ago I drew attention to the current obsession of some BBC executives with everything being made more accessible. I consider that the reason so many programmes, requiring merely a modicum of intelligence to be understood, are thought to be inaccessible is principally the shortcomings of our educational system. People are not taught to think today, merely to seek instant gratification.
I have not been involved directly in the UK educational world, but I have witnessed at first hand some of its results and how few people in everyday life seem to be able to do the simplest mathematical calculations. Everywhere the calculator rules, not the head. In business I have observed how few people can write properly. Both secretaries and executives are often unable to spell correctly or punctuate and possess only a rudimentary knowledge of grammar. As an indictment of our recent educational policies, it has been estimated that the poor standards of literacy and communication skills cost British industry and business £5 billion a year. Unfortunately, I have more than a suspicion that too many of our unemployed are unemployable. I submit that a large part of the blame for this unsatisfactory state of affairs must be laid at the door of those so-called educational experts.
I turn now to what I believe to be another major cause of the debasement of standards in the areas I have been discussing. The original idea of political correctness may have been a reasonable one in that one should not consider persons of other races to be inferior. Unfortunately, that has been hijacked by fanatics, with the result that it has spread like an insidious poison into much of our existence today.
I was interested to read some recent words, on the subject spoken by my noble friend Lady James of Holland Park, who unfortunately is not here today. She has stated:I think political correctness is linguistic fascism, and for those of us who went to war against fascism it is horrifying".223 How I agree with my noble friend! I suspect that many present supporters of this ghastly creed are individuals who were reluctant to raise a glass or dance in the streets at the news of the collapse of communism and remain likely apologists for or sympathisers with that most evil of political systems. Thwarted on that occasion, they now see another means of destroying the great western cultural heritage which they deride as simply a tool of repression wielded against racial minorities and a ruse designed to enforce racial oppression, class privilege and so forth. These people believe that there is no such thing as an objective intellectual standard, that nothing is better than anything else. They sneer at the peaks of western culture as being the work of what they term "dead white European males"—a description which, according to the jargon of political correctness, manages to be racist, ageist and sexist all at the same time.
Underlying the doctrine of the politically correct lies an obsession with multiculturalism. To say, as they do, that in Great Britain we live in a multicultural society is simply to tell a white lie. The ethnic population of this country is about 4.7 per cent. At what point do we say that we live in a multicultural society? Surely not when more than 95 per cent. of the population is non-ethnic. To suit the needs of that 4.7 per cent. the politically correct propose to jettison all previous 20th century literature, as deemed unworthy of study or to be examined solely for the purpose of condemnation. In its place so-called "cultural studies" have emerged, a mishmash of "isms"—structuralism, post-structuralism, modernism, post-modernism, Marxism, Freudianism, semiotics—all overlaid with political correctness which is anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-bourgeois, anti-authoritarian and, above all, anti-patriotic. As a consequence, it is now possible for undergraduates reading English to obtain their degrees without having been required to read a line of Chaucer, Shakespeare or Milton.
Look at the teaching of history. I read that Winston Churchill once sent a minute to Rab Butler, then at the former Board of Education, saying:Can you make children more patriotic? Let them know that Wolfe won Quebec".Nowadays, in the minds of our educational specialists that would count as unacceptable government indoctrination. They would be far more likely to empathise with the Canadian Indian under the yoke of British imperialism than to refer to 1759 as the "Year of Victories". Our past history must be passed over with embarrassment, if not with shame, and the younger generation taught about the evils of colonialism.
In that connection I should like to repeat some words which President Mandela spoke during a recent visit to this country. He said:I was brought up in a British school, and at the time Britain was the home of everything that was best in the world. I have not discarded the influence which Britain and British history and culture exercised on us".How appalled that great man would be if he were to be apprised of the prevailing situation.
224 I do not treat political correctness lightly but consider it to be a major cause of the lowering of educational and cultural standards. Already in America it reaches far beyond the campus and the classroom. It is effectively reshaping the ethos of American life, causing social divisions that amount almost to a spiritual civil war. There is no area of American cultural life that has not been made to feel the impact of that radical political juggernaut —and what happens on the other side of the Atlantic very often occurs here. We have been warned.
There used to be a time when education and culture in Britain were underlined by the Christian faith. However, despite, if I may say so, the most human and moving speech of the most reverend Primate, I do not always feel that that is the case today. A few weeks ago it was reported that the amount of time devoted to the teaching of Christianity in our schools had been drastically reduced, if not abandoned altogether. I may be wrong—and if I am I stand corrected —but I do not recollect much of an outcry from our Church leaders, who are often quick to pronounce on secular matters. Why on earth should my eight year-old granddaughter be obliged to study Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and so on? I have no objection to children learning about other religions, but only when they know something about their own first. I suppose that that represents another concession to the myth of multiculturalism.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I hope that it will not depress the noble Lord and that he will be pleased to know that in this House the word Christianity was introduced for the first time into the last big Education Bill as a result of the initiative of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.
§ Lord Balfour of Inchrye
My Lords, I am grateful for that intervention. Perhaps I may say that my granddaughter has the luck to be brought up in Scotland.
I realise that in many respects I have described a depressing scene to your Lordships today. As it is St. Cecilia's day, I shall use a musical analogy and say that my speech has been written in A flat minor. At the same time, I do not wish to assert that all is wrong with the younger generation—far from it. I quote again from the aforementioned headmaster's address in Boston:They are concerned—sometimes misguidedly and sentimentally, but their hearts are in the right place—for the environment, for wildlife and for the sort of world they would like to hand on to future generations. They are strikingly less prejudiced than their parents and grandparents … They are blind to colour and creed as other generations have never been".I believe that the younger generation deserves better of us, the older generation, than the standards currently set before them. Therefore I welcome a recent remark of the Prime Minister: that good schools can be a lifeline out of poverty, the ladder to a whole new life. I welcome, too, some remarks made by the Education Secretary in her crusade to stop the disintegration of the English language by dubbing it her "war on communication by grunt".
At the same time I must point out that if the Government wish to rid us of the yob culture, the maintenance of the belief in "market forces" or the "laws of the market" in certain directions inevitably 225 leads to the supremacy of the lowest common denominator; namely, a low-minded mass democratic audience. I have been pleased to read that the leader of the Labour Party attaches the utmost importance to education. I am also pleased to note that he and I share a great admiration for the works of Walter Scott. However, I must remind the right honourable gentleman that many of the disastrous educational policies so assiduously carried out in the past quarter of a century were first mooted when his party held office in the late 1960s. I fervently believe that we must change direction in both cultural and educational fields. How late it is to do so, but not, I hope, too late.
§ 8.4 p.m.
§ Baroness Gould of Potternewton
My Lords, I am tempted to respond to some of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, but I shall refrain from so doing. I shall pick up the theme of poverty to which my noble friend Lord McIntosh referred.
Earlier this year, we had a debate in your Lordships' House on the report produced by the European Select Committee on the European poverty programmes. The then Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, stated, at col. 1422 of the Official Report of 9th June, that,The Government do not accept that poverty is increasing in the UK".That statement was in direct contradiction to the Government's own statistics, not those of the EC as implied at the time. The document of the Department of Social Security, Households Below Average Income (DSS 1993), indicated that the number of individuals in UK private households with income below half the national average rose between 1979 and 1991 from 4.4 million to 11.6 million before housing costs, and from 5 million to 13.5 million after housing costs.
The DSS report demonstrates that the Government's assertion that substantial increases to the rich would trickle down to the benefit of the poor was a fallacy. In reality, the poorest tenth of the population saw a drop of 17 per cent. in their real income while the top 10 per cent. saw a rise of 62 per cent. The number of children living in families with incomes below the poverty line trebled from 1.4 million to 4.1 million. It might be assumed that those figures relate to the growth of one-parent families. However, that group makes up only about 20 per cent. of the figure. The remaining 80 per cent. are two-parent households. The position for lone parents has nevertheless deteriorated. In 1979, 19 per cent. were living in poverty, compared with the current 59 per cent.
The largest most impoverished group is low paid workers. The gap between those who earn most and those who earn least is now wider than at any time since 1886 when figures were first collected. The Government are always ready to blame a worldwide recession for their economic dilemmas. But the widening of the pay gap—the main cause of inequality—is not a global phenomenon. Only in Britain and the USA—the two countries which have pursued deregulation most vigorously—have pay inequalities increased so sharply.
226 Last year's abolition of the wages councils had a significant effect on wage levels and there is no doubt that pay will continue to deteriorate in those low paying sectors. According to a report published today from the Council of Europe, based on its own criteria, we now have one third of full time workers being paid what amounts to poverty wages. Britain is now the only country in Europe without some form of legal pay protection for the lowest paid. Employment rights, maternity provision and pensions are among the worst in Europe. What we have seen in Britain is social devaluation—an attempt to gain a competitive advantage by reducing earnings, rights and living standards.
It is not possible to look at the reasons for the growth in poverty without at least taking note of the inequalities in our taxation system. Again, it is the low income groups and the poor who are hit disproportionately. Only those earning £64,000 a year pay less tax now than in 1979. The substantial tax cuts for the rich were almost wholly financed by reductions in the value of pensions and benefits, the least well off again subsidising the rich. And there are seven new taxes still to come—a further betrayal of election promises—which will cost the average family £360 a year or £7 a week in extra tax. That might not seem over much for those who can afford it, but for some it will be another drastic cut to their already meagre budget.
Financial deprivation is graphically illustrated in research by the Food Commission which indicates that the income for the 1.5 million families living on basic social security benefit does not include enough to pay for the diet of a child in a Victorian workhouse. Tom White, the chief executive of the National Children's Home charity, for whom the research was carried out, said:It is appalling, as we approach the year 2000, that even an 1876 workhouse diet is too expensive for the families of one in four of our children".A further study on the effects of poverty published in the British Medical Journal earlier this year indicated that poverty rather than personal behaviour is the greatest risk to health. The study showed that mortality rates in the most deprived areas in the north are now as bad for some age groups as in the 1940s. The evidence prompted the BMJ editorial to say that the widening of income differences and the growth of poverty during the 1980s were unprecedented.
A comparison of health and social inequality in Europe by Chris Power of the Institute of Child Health identified that cutting the gap between the rich and the poor could bring about substantial improvements. But it is for the Government to make those improvements. Only they can determine the priorities; only they can give hope to the unemployed, the low paid, the poor and the deprived. Only the Government can decide whether to put welfare to work rather than cut benefits and create poverty. The Secretary of State for Social Security last Friday gave an inkling that there could be a change in the Government's approach. It now appears that he accepts that there is a correlation between an inflexible benefit system, the widening of wage differentials and 227 poverty, and that the poverty trap into which many single parents and unemployed fall is created by the benefit system.
We need legislation and government action that will improve the real quality of lives referred to by the Minister in her opening speech. However, that is not evident from the gracious Speech. In particular, the jobseeker's allowance will cut in half the amount of time for which unemployed people will get contributory benefit. Eligibility for the new allowance will be more restrictive than at present and the rate paid to young people under 25 will be cut. The Government themselves estimate that in the first year 90,000 claimants will lose their entitlement to benefit completely and that a further 150,000 will have to switch to means-tested benefits, often at a reduced rate. I am sure that the response will be that it is in order to create jobs and to give people jobs. But they will be low paid and part-time jobs. What we want, and what should happen for the unemployed, are proper and real job opportunities.
The poor will not only be penalised by the increase in gas prices. They will also be blatantly discriminated against by the proposal to introduce a 5 per cent. discount for those who pay by direct debit—presumably to ensure that bills are paid on time. But there is no discount for those who pay in advance—the people with little money who have to pay by using coin or token meters. They could pay as much as £26 a year more than those paying by direct debit. That is another example of the ideology of increased competition being paid for by the less well off. We need perhaps to contrast that with the report yesterday of the pay rises being awarded to the directors of British Gas.
Finally, I wish briefly to refer to the Government's plan to cap housing benefit, leaving tenants to find the difference out of other benefits, be evicted, or move to cheaper and poorer quality housing. The freeing of the housing market has provided choice and opportunity for some, but that choice is an elusive dream for those without bargaining power—the low paid, the unemployed and a growing number of the young and the aged. This at a time when homelessness is on the increase, particularly among 16 to 17 year-olds.
Every aspect of unequal Britain is mutually reinforcing. Unequal pay is linked to unequal taxation, unequal social provision, unequal gender treatment and unequal modes of governance. It is the Government's responsibility to understand the interaction of all those factors on people's lives and to act to correct the imbalances of the free market.
It would be welcome to hear from the Minister that the Government appreciate the reality of the levels of poverty and that they will bring forward legislation to improve or at least alleviate that poverty and deprivation. Poverty, social deprivation and disadvantage stifle opportunity, thwart initiative and destroy hope. Urgent and radical action is required to 228 restore that hope so that this generation and future generations no longer face the prospect of living in an unequal and unjust society.
§ 8.14 p.m.
§ Baroness Macleod of Borve
My Lords, I feel that I have spent the whole day with my pads on waiting finally to get to the wicket. However, I shall perhaps only make one run because the hour is late and I do not wish to take up any more of your Lordships' time. I wish to touch on one part of the gracious Speech which states:My Government will play an active part in tackling drug misuse, drug trafficking and organised crime at home and abroad".I am deeply grateful to my noble friend Lady Blatch for what she said on the subject on behalf of the Government. She certainly gave great heart to all of us who were worried about young people and drugs as to what the Government intend to do in the future. Before hearing her speak, I had intended to say a little about drugs and I am afraid I shall still do so, without taking up too much time.
We are all aware of the grave damage that drugs can do to our young people, in particular the 15 to 16 age group. One always hopes that they will not become addicted and a senior doctor at the Maudsley Hospital said that many young people will experiment with drugs but the majority will stop before drug use becomes a problem. He said that the earlier a child starts taking drugs the more likely it is that the drug taking will become serious. That is why I hope to persuade the Home Office and the Department for Education to allow outsiders to go into all schools for the over 12s and warn pupils of the damage and consequences of drug taking. The outsiders must, of course, take samples of the drugs with them to show the pupils, otherwise it will have no effect. I realise that this is done already in a large number of schools but I am anxious that no child should grow up without being warned. If young adults become addicted there are many organisations and groups to whom they can turn. Although he is not in his place, I wish to pay a tribute to my noble friend Lord Mancroft for all the work that he is doing in this sphere.
In this context, the most important people to the children are not the teachers but the parents. The parents are the people who see their children on a daily basis and can look out for the tell-tale signs of different behaviour and the various other ways in which anyone who has contact with young people can tell whether or not they are on drugs. I say "parents" in the plural because I firmly believe that every child has the right to the guidance and love that both parents can provide. There again, I say "guidance".
If children are in trouble they must be able to go to their parents who, in turn, must take an interest and show a caring concern. I understand that many children start drug taking when they are truanting from school and have nothing to do. To give some idea of the amount of drugs involved, I have been in touch with the Customs and Excise which has given me the approximate figures for drugs seized in 1993. They are: LSD, 150,000 doses. I could not quite make out why it was "doses" and not "kilos", but that is what it is. They 229 seized: cocaine, 680 kilos; heroin, 540 kilos; herbal cannabis, 12 tonnes; cannabis resin, 39 tonnes; amphetamines, half a tonne. That is only what the Customs and Excise have been able to seize as the drugs were on their way either through the country or when they were landed at the ports of entry. It gives some idea of the enormous amount of drugs that are already in the country and are available to children or adults.
I want to express my worry—pointed out to me many times —about a new level of pseudo-official people who are known in this country now as counsellors. They have sprung up like mushrooms. It seems that the public can and do receive counselling about everything from car crashes and losing money to mourning the loss of a kitten. I should like to know who employs them; how much they are paid; what qualifications they must possess; and why, quite suddenly, it is assumed that people are in need of completely strange shoulders to cry on. I am sure that my noble friend the Minister will not need counselling after my few remarks, but I should be grateful if she could write to me as I have had a great number of representations on this subject.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I am always happy to follow the noble Baroness, if only because of her long and devoted service as a juvenile magistrate. She will forgive me if I do not follow her this evening on the subject of drugs, although I absolutely agree that it is one of the most acute issues of the day.
My first duty is to say how pleased I am to think that we shall now struggle with the eloquence and dialectics of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, who has assumed the grave responsibilities of Minister of State at the Home Office. Anything that is good news for her is good news for me. I have saluted her before as a fine Christian woman in education. She will, of course, have her work cut out in the Home Office. I am afraid that I have called her chief, as she knows, the Prince of Darkness. It is a little difficult to describe her role in a way that is not embarrassing to one of them. I see her as an angel of light; and let us hope that she will somehow or other be inspired to lighten his darkness. I am afraid that the omens are not as good as I could wish, because since she has arrived on the scene he has been involved in one or two appalling episodes. I mention, to start with, the fact that he is now cutting home visits by 40 per cent. That has been rightly denounced by my noble leader for today, my noble friend Lord McIntosh, in his powerful speech. Really, it is a sort of test case as to whether or not the present Home Secretary is on the side of penal reform. Or is he—as I am bound to think—the enemy of penal reform? I would not like to call the noble Baroness the enemy of penal reform. But, as the angel of light, will she throw her beam over this scene?
The penal reform organisations have with one accord denounced the proposal as a terribly retrograde step. One of the consortia includes the prison governors, always thought of as penal reformers. Mr. Howard may draw consolation from other quarters. The Sun newspaper of course says, "Lock 'em up". But then, the noble Baroness may say that Mr. Howard never reads 230 the Sun. He may possibly disregard it. But what does the Daily Mail, which, we assume, is the staple diet of most Conservative politicians, say about the matter? I have the words here if noble Lords want me to quote them. I shall paraphrase. It says, thank heaven that the penal reformers are being told where to get off; they are the cause of all the trouble.
You cannot be on the side of the Home Secretary and on the side of penal reform. He is the declared enemy of penal reform. I do not know whether the Minister, whom we welcome to these discussions, will take the side of penal reform or of Mr. Howard. You really cannot be on both sides—unless the Daily Mail has completely misunderstood Mr. Howard's purposes.
Mr. Howard may be in trouble on his own account now. We are told by the courts that he is guilty of gross illegality. I suppose he may find himself in custody. I do not see why not. And what will happen then? He will be denied home visits to his much-admired family and he may have to fall back on do-gooders like myself. Whether he will welcome our visits, only time will tell. However, that is not the main subject of my speech today. I had intended to talk about life prisoners. The most important issue here —I shall not deal with it tonight save in a few sentences —is whether in the near future Mr. Howard will say to a number of life prisoners that life will mean life. That is a big issue. If he does say that, the penal reformers are bound to come out very strongly against him. It would be an unprecedented step. Possibly the Daily Mail and the Sun will back him. But if he takes that step an honourable man will cover himself with dishonour for ever. The matter will arise in the next few weeks.
I cannot speak strongly enough about the matter. Mr. David Mellor has, of course, championed the idea that some sins cannot be forgiven. No doubt he is an expert on the subject. As he has decried me as a notorious do-gooder, I feel that I may be biased in my comments, so I leave that former Home Office Minister for other speakers to cope with and turn to the topic on which I planned to speak, though briefly of course. I was going to say how much I admired the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould, but there is not much point when she is not in her place. She must take that as understood.
In the debates on the criminal justice Bill I put forward three amendments. The first one I shall not deal with, save merely to mention it. It proposed that murder should no longer produce a mandatory life sentence—an idea that has been repeatedly affirmed in this House. Yet curiously enough, when I supported it and introduced an amendment to that effect, it received very little support. Noble Lords cannot blame me entirely as I was ready to let the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chief Justice speak to it instead of me but for some reason that was thought injudicious. I am quite happy about the long-term future. I am sure that the matter will be put right eventually. I am sure that when the Labour Party comes to power and is committed to it it will be rectified. I shall not therefore detain the House on the subject tonight.
The next matter is one that the House has probably never studied. In saying that, I do not insult Members of this House, because, after 50 years of being interested 231 in penal reform, I had never studied it until quite recently. It is the question of the recall of prisoners. I am thinking particularly of the mandatory life sentence. I gather that there are 3,000 life prisoners but that 80 per cent. of those sentences are mandatory—and it is the mandatory life sentences to which I refer at the moment. I take the case—it is one I raised in the summer, and I have given the noble Baroness plenty of notice—of a prisoner I know who was arrested (re-arrested one might say) because it was alleged that after being freed from prison he had after a number of years harassed a woman. Her story was accepted; he was never allowed to put his side of the matter. He has been in prison since March; it is now November. That is shocking. He has never been allowed to state his case or be represented before any tribunal. I shall not deal with the matter at length because I have asked the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, whether she will see me and allow me to discuss not only that personal issue, but the general issue of the recall of mandatory life prisoners. I understood from her rather cryptic letter that she would be ready to see me, so I hope to discuss the subject with her in the near future.
I shall deal with only one other subject tonight; namely, judicial review after a number of years. At present, a prisoner can be imprisoned for many, many years and never have a chance to state his or her case or be represented before any kind of independent tribunal. I shall take the case of Myra Hindley, but I should also like to mention two other cases.
With someone like Myra Hindley, we are told "Oh well, Myra Hindley, you cannot imagine the Home Secretary letting her out, can you?" That is what people say to me. Incidentally, when I spoke to someone the other day, his secretary replied, "Oh, I know you, you are the Myra Hindley chappie, aren't you?" I said, "Well, I have done a few other things." She said, "Well, I haven't heard about them." So I do realise that one has a certain reputation there. But I will not deal only with that case.
Myra Hindley has been in prison for 29 years. Her release depends on the goodwill and the political antennae of the Home Secretary of the day. I regard that as iniquitous—quite iniquitous. But it is not only her. If you go to Maidstone prison in the near future—and I go to many prisons—you will find a couple of prisoners there, one of whom has done 29 years and the other, Reggie Kray, who is rather well known to the public, who has done 25 or 26 years. His brother, Ronnie Kray, is in Broadmoor. They have never been allowed to appear before any tribunal.
I say that we fallible human beings are performing something unworthy of human beings if we keep people in prison for 25 or 30 years, or whatever it may be—still more, of course, for life—because the Home Secretary of the day does not feel that it would be politic to let them out. After a number of years—I say 15, 232 although there is nothing magical about it—they should come out; otherwise it will continue to be a disgrace to a civilised country.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Lord Rix
My Lords, apart from being the "Myra Hindley chappie", I wonder whether your Lordships are aware that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, was once the chairman of MENCAP. I always feel rather in the presence of a benevolent headmaster whenever he speaks. I was his chairman of fund-raising way back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, so he does do other work as well, apart from being the "Myra Hindley chappie".
After a somewhat long stage wait—20 speeches to be precise—I trust your Lordships will forgive me if I refer back to the excellent and thought-provoking maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough. I should like to thank him for his persuasive arguments on the need for the arts, the need for active support of the arts, the need for the arts to be broadly-based and non-exclusive, and the need for the arts to be available—both as participants and as members of the audience—for all people with disabilities, including those whom I try to represent, the people with a learning disability.
Incidentally, on a personal level, I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, for pointing me in the direction that my own career should take when I was demobbed one year after him in 1947. All the good juvenile roles had already gone to him, and so I had to become self-employed as an actor-manager, which led me to a career of 30 years of making my living by dropping my trousers—of a strictly comical nature, I hasten to add, but a job unique in your Lordships' House, I am sure.
The noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, also gave me a splendid cue when he made reference to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which, in theatrical parlance, flopped last summer—in spite of massive audience support—because the Government rang down the curtain prematurely during Act I of the performance. The Government have now rushed to mount a production of their own, although I gather not a revival as such. I want to welcome—as did the noble Lords, Lord Ashley of Stoke, Lord Murray of. Epping Forest and the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman—the inclusion in the Government's own agenda of a Bill to tackle discrimination against disabled people. In so doing, I hope I do not seem to be indulging in the second house of the powerful speeches made by those noble Lords and the noble Baroness.
Since so many have campaigned so hard, including many noble Lords present today although not here in the Chamber at the moment, I shall claim for MENCAP only a little of the credit for moving hearts and minds. We asked for the promise of legislation in the gracious Speech, and we have that promise. It is surely proper that the basic citizenship rights of disabled people should be addressed in Government proposals for legislation rather than in a Private Member's Bill. I hope that the history of attempts to block substantive legislation is now merely history.
233 There were times during the last Session when I was more saddened than amused to see Westminster farce challenge Whitehall farce—although I think the word "challenge" is misapplied. At least our original version down the road excited laughter and some degree of happiness. The proceedings in the other place last summer were absurdly futile and excited only sadness and frustration. I hope and believe that the Government have now got their shoulders to the wheel instead of their feet under it—a much more dignified, creative and comfortable posture.
The Minister has been listening to disabled people and to those who speak for disabled people. He has been to America to look at how the Americans with Disabilities Act is working. I am not one of those who believes that American pilgrimages necessarily resolve British problems, but I am sure that we can learn from those who have ventured before us, and who have secured much good without breaking the bank.
Nearer home, I chaired last month—as a politically neutral person—a meeting of the Conservative Disability Group at its annual conference, at which there was the same support for change that the hundreds of responses to the Government's consultative document have reflected. So we are moving forward, although there is still much to do. I welcome the principle of the Bill. As to its scope, we can only speculate at present.
Alice Etherington of MENCAP and People First—a powerful advocate for herself and for others with a learning disability—pointed out at our hugely successful three-day Gateway/MENCAP conference earlier this month, that legislation needs to cover education, transport and financial services, as well as employment and shopping, if it is to support people's rights across the whole range of their daily experiences of denial of those rights.
Those who, unlike your Lordships, can properly debate matters of taxation will have noted the suggestion from others that disabled people working for small employers might more readily be protected were there tax concessions in relation to facilities provided for them by their employers.
A narrowly drawn Bill will not be any use to disabled people or bring any credit to the Government. I am reminded that in the recent Sadler's Wells production of "Cinderella", which finished on Saturday, the wicked step-mother cuts off her daughter's toes to get her feet down to the required size. The result is that the wretched girl loses both the prince and her ability to walk. Some of us are suspicious of the Treasury as a potential wicked step-mother to this Bill.
Those of us who enjoy our citizenship rights—and, as Members of your Lordships' House, even a measure of privilege—talk about anti-discrimination with passion, but inevitably with some detachment. We are talking in the main about the rights of other people.
I have already quoted one self-advocate at MENCAP's Blackpool conference. During a conference break a young married woman with learning disability, very close to tears, told how she and her husband had been driven from their flat. They had suffered verbal abuse; excrement had been pushed through the letterbox; they had been physically assaulted, all 234 because they had a learning disability. Others at that conference had similar stories to tell. Most of them less dramatic, though equally painful.
Violence and intimidation are not legal, but all the while discrimination is legal some of our fellow citizens will suffer from those around them. As Robert Peel said in another place—and certainly at another time—of the sufferings in the Ireland of his day:Just how much suffering on the part of other people do we tolerate before we do something about it?
§ 8.38 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, this debate has been one in which we have drawn much attention to the exact subject that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has been talking about. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, and many other noble Lords have spoken with considerable authority about the proposed legislation on disabilities. This is something which I propose primarily to speak to, but I shall limit my comments to a very short space of time.
Primarily, what was initially proposed in the Bill was something which gave people rights—rights to be treated as other people, with some degree of assistance, in achieving their potential as full members of society, as full human beings. That right has been granted to virtually every other section of society. A decision that you shall not do something because of something which is quite arbitrary and over which you have no control has been removed.
If it can be done for people on the grounds of race, colour of skin or gender, it should be done for those who have a disability, for the simple reason that a disability is not something over which a person has control. Indeed, drawing on that analogy, the proposals which are put in front of us —that we shall have assistance for certain things that cannot be done by people in certain types of activity—seem a little like confronting a very hungry person with a wonderful nouvelle cuisine meal which looks very nice but does not satisfy the appetite.
We talk about employment and about access to certain goods and services. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said, employment rights are of absolutely no use unless there is a guarantee of the right to get to where that employment takes place. One cannot subdivide the human experience into different pieces like that. It just does not work.
I and many other Members of this House have tried to convince the noble Baroness—with, I may say, a considerable degree of success—that certain types of advice are necessary on education Bills. We can very gladly say that we do not have to go through that process again, at least this time. We have always said that information is needed because of the types and range of disabilities and the subdivisions within the bands of disability. One cannot draw an arbitrary line about something called disability. Unless we tackle the whole of the problem, the goal will be missed. Disability is not something that can be divided into certain types of activity.
235 Finally, the type of legislation that we have in front of us must be greatly enhanced—or perhaps it is merely the first step along a road. Personally, I should rather have all the legislation done at once; but even if it is done in a series of tranches, it will be all right, so long as we get to where we are going and address the rights of disabled people in all the activities of society. If we do not do so, we shall fail to reach even the modest goals that the Government's proposals suggest.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lord Howell
My Lords, in my judgment, this debate has been of a very high standard, which I must try to maintain. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Attenborough on a brilliant maiden speech in philosophy and concept. Of the other two maiden speakers, my noble friend Lord Dubs made a speech which was extremely pertinent to the subject of this debate. I was not present to hear the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, but I have been told that it was excellent. I have thus been able to congratulate my three colleagues.
In my judgment, the gracious Speech should be more than a catalogue of forthcoming attractions. It should also express concern for what I should like to call the ethos of our society—the spirit and indeed the soul of life as we live it today. I composed those words before I knew that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury was to speak in the debate. He spoke wonderfully well on a whole range of subjects of concern to our society. I should like to express my appreciation of the service that he has done us today.
Such thoughts occurred to me as I contemplated the launch of the national lottery, about which I intend to speak. It proved to be a total marketing operation, devoid of any sense of ideals or fairness toward competing competitions such as the pools or premium bonds. Most importantly, it trampled underfoot all the consideration that we should have for the charities. Charities are important. There are 200,000 charities in this country and 500,000 voluntary bodies. They are the lifeblood of our community.
I have always supported the national lottery. I was a member of the National Lottery Promotion Company which championed it. I supported it in Parliament by speech and vote and I bought tickets last week. So my concerns do not arise from hostility to its concept. I am concerned that the operation should be promoted fairly and should respect the interests of everyone else in the field. The public good should receive equal consideration to the marketing promotion of the lottery.
As I see the matter, Ministers have laid no responsibility upon the director general of the lottery (who awarded the lottery to Camelot) to ensure that the public good was a factor in determining who should operate the new bonanza. The football pools, which I also support, have made a magnificent contribution to the Football Trust, which I myself instituted. Now, every football ground in the country has been transformed in matters of comfort and improved in safety. Also, the pools-funded Foundation for Sport and the Arts has accepted responsibility to aid the whole 236 field of sport and art. The football pools have every right to feel aggrieved by the treatment that they receive in comparison with the lottery. They and the betting industry are now subject to direct competition from the lottery. But, unlike the lottery, they are excluded from access to television. They cannot even buy time to advertise their wares—nor, incidentally, can the premium bonds do so.
Yet the extent to which the BBC promoted the lottery—several minutes at a time of free advertising—was a blatant abuse of its charter. The advertising went far beyond anything which could be said to be advertising the programme when the draw took place. The advertising of the BBC amounted to no less than a promotion of the lottery itself. As I said, that is an abuse of its charter. It is a matter of considerable importance and is directly the responsibility of the Home Office. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether he and his colleagues will investigate this matter and report back to Parliament on it.
The pools have other sources of complaint. A roll-over prize, which the lottery can operate, cannot be undertaken by the pools until it has been first operated by the national lottery. That seems an extraordinary state of affairs. Unlike the national lottery, the pools cannot show the checking of pools coupons, nor can they take part in handing out any of the prizes won on the pools in the newsagent shops where the tickets were bought. Incidentally —this is a figure which I came across only today and will probably astound your Lordships, as it did me—if one adds up the tax that the pools pay and the donations that they now make to good causes through the Football Trust and the foundation, it seems that the pools now pay out 47 per cent. of their income in that way. The lottery pays out 40 per cent. of its income in that way. That is an astonishing comparison. I feel that the Chancellor should examine the discrepancy in his forthcoming Budget. Again, the national lottery can pay out small prize money at the shops. That, as I said, is unlawful for the pools to do.
Finally, I should like to turn to the matter of charities. I ask the House to consider the treatment suffered by charities. When the Lottery Bill first appeared, there was no provision for charities. That was added later in response to widespread criticism from all parts of the House regarding the likely effect of the lottery upon charities. The charities receive 6p in the pound for every ticket sold in the national lottery. It is already clear that charity income will suffer as a result of the over-the-top promotion of the national lottery. The amount for the lottery launch alone is said to he £45 million—an astronomical sum and grotesquely over the top in my judgment. If that sort of advertising is maintained it will be certain to damage every other lottery in the land.
It may be recalled that Part II of the Charities Act 1993 stipulated that in the case of joint ventures—private companies operating with charities—the tickets must clearly state how much of the stake money goes to the charity. I think most of us would support that. Why does that principle not affect the national lottery? As I say, the contribution is 6p, yet most of the propaganda for the national lottery sought to suggest that the way to support charities was to buy national lottery tickets. That 237 is quite ludicrous. If we want to support a charity, we must give £1 to the charity and not give £1 to the lottery, which will then give the charity 6p. I remind the House again that the 6p is not a donation to the charity. It is 6p to compensate the charities for the income which it is assessed that they will lose as a result of the operation.
The charities say that they are already experiencing considerable problems in promoting their causes because of the saturation coverage of the national lottery. Tenovous —a group of 10 charities which gave themselves that name —has been operating at 150 sale points in Tesco stores. That has now been reduced to 50 because of competition from the national lottery. There is therefore a direct reduction of its income as a result of the national lottery. Littlewoods Pools tell me that it has been asked to lend its professional expertise to promote charity lotteries, which it is pleased to do. But it is experiencing the greatest possible difficulty, acting on behalf of charities, in obtaining outlets in shops and supermarkets because the lottery seems to win every time.
Some may say that it is too early to judge the effect of lotteries upon charity giving. I do not think so. For example, in Ireland, where there has been a lottery for some time, they have now been able to measure the reduction of income to charities and they put it at 4 per cent. Here it has been estimated that the drop will be around 7 per cent. or £200 million a year—an exceedingly large figure.
The Institute of Charity Fund Raising Managers is so concerned about the way in which the national lottery is being launched that it wanted to complain to the Advertising Standards Authority against Camelot. It said that in its view,the advertisement for the lottery could lead the public to believe they are giving for charity when they are not".As I said before, they are compensating charities for loss of revenue. That is a universal view in the charity world. Michael Taylor, the director of Christian Aid, put it very starkly when he said,We positively hate the ads".We must take account of those views.
The institute estimates that at least £100 million per annum will be lost to charities. I see that on the tape today it was stated that £2.5 million of this week's lottery will go to help the charities. If there are 52 charities, that amounts to £125 million, which is well short of the £200 million which the charities already estimate they will be losing. The £45 million spent on the launch of the lottery and its massive advertising campaign is distorting the concept of charity giving and therefore it should be a matter of great concern to us all. It is damaging the ethos and community spirit of our society. It must be reined in.
In this country charities are a great national asset. They save the country billions of pounds. Even more important, they provide thousands of hours of dedicated voluntary service—service which money cannot buy. I submit that it is the duty of Parliament, and especially of government, above all to protect the position of the charities. I hope that the Government can assure us tonight that they will accept that responsibility and pay 238 close attention to the operation of the national lottery which quite properly causes many of its supporters the greatest possible anxiety.
§ 8.55 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, although not mentioned in Her Majesty's speech, the news that a children Bill for Scotland was going to form part of the "other measures" to be laid before us, was welcome indeed. This evening I am wearing my hat as the Lords' Convenor of the Scottish All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which I believe I took over from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, who spoke earlier. I should like to endorse every word he said, particularly in regard to the timescale between the publication of the Bill and any Second Reading or further debate on it.
The Children Act 1989 affected mainly England and Wales. The last major piece of legislation affecting children in Scotland was the 1968 Social Work (Scotland) Act, so it is now 26 years since the law regarding children in Scotland was revised. The Child Care Law Review was set up in 1988 and published its report in 1990. The Scottish Law Commission made its recommendations on family law in 1992. The consultation period for adoption law ended on 31st August 1993. We have had Lord Clyde's report on the Orkney child abuse inquiry and a number of others which have shown, as did the Cleveland inquiry in England, that all is not well with the law as it stands or with related matters which will, I hope, be included in the Bill. Will the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, be able to tell us in his winding-up speech when the Government expect the Bill to be published? Will he also be able to answer a few more questions?
A checklist of items which the Scottish All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children would like to see included in the Bill was sent last summer to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie. Can the Minister say whether all the items included in that checklist have been incorporated in the Bill? Can he tell us also what the Government's intentions are regarding resources?
We understand that the Bill will be dealt with in another place by the Scottish Grand Committee sitting in Scotland—at least for Second Reading and Committee stages of the Bill. I heard, as did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, that it would debate it on Monday, 5th December. Can that be so when that is less than a fortnight hence and the Bill is not yet available? How will its procedures work? Is the report true which appeared in the Herald, I think, last Thursday 17th November, that it would be able to call witnesses? If that is so, how will that work? Will children's organisations in Scotland which would like to give evidence or produce witnesses, be able to request a hearing, or will the committee alone decide whether or not it wishes to call any witnesses; and, if so, what witnesses they wish to call?
Finally, how will the Committee stage work in this House? Is it true, as the Herald suggests, that the legislation will be taken off the Floor of the House? If so, who will be able to table amendments and who will 239 be able to speak to them and vote on them? I know that I am asking the noble Lord a great many questions at this very early stage, but we should very much like to know where we stand.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I too should like to join in welcoming and congratulating my two noble friends Lord Attenborough and Lord Dubs and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on making their maiden speeches today.
It was about one year ago this week when I made my maiden speech. It seems only like five minutes ago; but it was a year ago. I can recall very clearly the ability of this House to make each individual Member making a maiden speech quite nervous. Even the most accomplished speakers, among whom I do not count myself, can be made nervous before they speak. Like most things in life, one remembers the good points and forgets the pain very quickly. I remember the friendliness with which my speech was received. I remember too, and continue to value, the friendship and friendliness of Members across all the divides in this House. I believe that the varied breadth of experience and working life which the three new noble Lords will bring to this House will add to what I very quickly learnt was the wonderful voice of experience and knowledge about life as it is. I hope that the noble Lords will join in and enjoy the debates, some of which are more enjoyable than others.
This evening we have had a very wide-ranging debate and it is right that we do. I sat here thinking about the topic I wish to talk about, which is unemployment. I came to the view that so many of the issues which have been discussed feed back to that key issue for each one of us; namely, employment and unemployment. It touches all of us: it is the meal ticket for so many in society. When we meet someone new, we still ask the question: "What do you do?". There is still a stigma in society about being unemployed.
So it was with great disappointment, in listening to the gracious Speech, that I found absolutely nothing in it which would give the unemployed hope or any kind of vision of their value in society and of what measures the Government would be taking in the next Session to attack this problem at the core of our society. As I see it, the only measure in the gracious Speech—and it was mentioned from the Dispatch Box today by the Minister—is the job seeker's allowance. That is not a measure to help the unemployed; it is not a measure to reduce unemployment; and it is not a measure which will contribute in any constructive way to helping unemployed people find employment.
I say that because I believe it is a breach of contract, not in the legal sense, but on the basis of integrity and fairness. When people have been in work they have paid through their national insurance contributions for this benefit. The Government have broken their contract with them by cutting the benefit in half as the job seeker's allowance will do. It is not as though there are not already in place regulations which will deal with the 240 so-called work shy or people who do not want work. I say "so-called", and I shall return to that issue in a moment.
There are three compulsory measures which the Government have introduced for the unemployed. They are the restart interviews, job plan workshops and restart courses. There are seven non-compulsory measures that the unemployed have to be tested against, too. They are non-compulsory; but they can be punitive because the refusal of an unemployed person to take part in one of the seven voluntary measures can result in a decision that they are not actively seeking work and therefore their benefit can be withheld and they are disqualified from receiving unemployment benefit.
I say that I am disappointed by the content of the gracious Speech. When one looks at the British social attitudes survey which was recently published, it shows that the British people are actually more in touch with the reality of what is going on than the Government. The people who were polled in that survey said that they did not believe that the unemployed were not looking for work or were unemployed voluntarily. Among all the issues that have rightly been debated this evening, the issue of unemployment, according to a Gallup poll which I looked at today, is the single most important issue. People believe that it is the key issue even above crime and law and order.
I know that Ministers on the Benches opposite will probably say that I am completely out of touch and will question whether I have looked at the figures because unemployment is coming down. The numbers registered for unemployment may be coming down but I suggest that the number of people employed are also falling at a faster rate. The figures which are available from the Department of Employment appear to contradict each other and I am not too sure whether that department is absolutely positive about their base.
It is pretty clear that the number of people in work in Britain is declining. It is estimated that something like 100,000 fewer people are in work today than a year ago. Even the Treasury itself, in its summer forecast, conceded that employment has contributed relatively little to the fall in employment. The jobs which we have seen grow are part-time jobs, casual jobs and very low paid jobs. The American term "the working poor" is here today with us in Britain and is a reality. Indeed, since the abolition of the wages councils, 37 per cent. of those who were formerly covered by them have seen a drop in their wages. That is what has happened since that underpinning has been removed.
So there is no evidence that there is a pool of workshy people who need measure after measure to try to persuade them to work. The simple question is: where are the jobs? What are the Government doing about creating work? I agree with what my noble friend Lord McCarthy said on that. Why, for instance, cannot we see a release of the £6 billion that is held by local authorities following the sale of council houses? That money could help to start the economy by providing work for people.
Why do not the Government show more concern about the reduction in investment? Investment in the previous two quarters was among the lowest that this 241 country has seen. We have seen a gradual deterioration in the level of investment at a time when the work that is created is in the high-tech and added value area.
Britain has a bad reputation for training. Out of the 22 countries in the OECD, we come 21st for the low skills of our workforce. Between 1979 and 1991, 5 per cent. of the companies of our partners in the European Union reported skills shortages. In Britain the figure was 14 per cent. What we need right now is training for our people that will give them the opportunity to be able to offer the skills, helped by Government policies, which would open up the gates and make work available.
Against that background, I was therefore disturbed to read that the Government appear to be letting go of something like £525 million which the European Union is trying to give us for training employees in frontline companies which are going through a restructuring process. I am sure that all noble Lords could list at least three industries, and many companies, which are having to go through restructuring. So why are we not claiming those training funds from the European Union? I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that we are going to claim that money and that those newspaper reports are incorrect. However, I have to say that the newspaper concerned was the Financial Times.
I should now like to raise an issue which has been discussed in the media although not in the gracious Speech. I ask the Minister whether we shall be seeing measures to abolish industrial injury benefits, again transferring more costs on to employers and making workers even more vulnerable.
We are to have a Bill on disabilities. People with disabilities will certainly take great heart from the many speeches that have been made today in support of proper measures to provide equal dignity for people with disabilities. I support all the statements that have been made in that regard.
I should like to conclude by referring to pensions, which we shall be debating in depth when that Bill is introduced. When looked at in a cursory way, it does not seem possible to argue against equalising pensions at 65 because it appears to be only a question of equality. However, I ask the House to bear in mind the fact that the majority of women in Britain in the age group to which we are referring are not covered by occupational pensions, so we would be saying to them, "If you do not have work, you will be means-tested", and we would be putting that vulnerable group at the bottom of the economic ladder.
When the gracious Speech was given, the newspapers said that it was empty. They said that it did not contain anything and they asked what we were going to do this Session. I do not agree with that view. I believe that when we come to discuss the issues that were touched on in the gracious Speech, we shall realise that we are dealing with some pretty nasty provisions which do nothing to look after, to help, to support, to give dignity 242 or to create the "feel good" factor which is so elusive in Britain today. The gracious Speech does nothing to help the vulnerable.
§ 9.12 p.m.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, I too should like to join in the congratulations that have been paid to the three maiden speakers. I congratulate particularly my noble friend Lord Dubs. I was amused by his story that in another place he once made a speech of which nobody took any notice. If he has a similar success in this place and makes only one speech of which nobody takes any notice he will have made an exceptional contribution.
Several noble Lords have spoken about the audible sigh of relief that was heard throughout the country when it became clear that there would be no further legislation on education. That is indeed to be welcomed. Since this administration was elected in 1979 there have been only two years without any education legislation. This year will be the third. However, the Government should not be under the impression that that sense of relief in any way indicates acceptance of the successive education Acts. No, it indicates a desire for stability, continuity and for allowing members of the teaching profession to be free to act as the professionals that we pay them to be.
It is worth reflecting on some of the reforms that we have seen in recent years. What of grant-maintained schools? Of the 23,000 schools in England and Wales only some 1,000 have grant-maintained status and only four new grant-maintained schools were created in October this year. That policy is now in collapse. In an interview published in the Independent newspaper on 19th October this year, the Secretary of State said that she had no special powers to speed up the rate of schools opting out. However, she said that the local government review would propel more schools into grant-maintained status as they feel uncertain about their future. Is that not a dishonest and wrong way to use the local government review? It was not part of the Local Government Commission's brief and it flies in the face of a true choice being offered to governing bodies as they consider their school status each year.
What of the other reforms? What of the national curriculum? Sir Ron Dearing is to be congratulated on producing the new national curriculum, but what a price we have had to pay to reach that point. Against a background of Government indecision we have seen teachers' workload, resignations and early retirements rising. That is to say nothing of the hundreds of millions of pounds that have been spent and the some seven years it has taken us to reach this point. If Sir Ron Dearing is to be congratulated, then the traumas and costs of the national curriculum should be laid firmly at the Government's door.
A further plank of the reforms we have seen in recent years is the introduction of league tables. Today, of course, we have seen this year's much-vaunted, much-publicised results. I must confess that I have always found the whole debate about league tables somewhat sterile. As far as I can judge, all the political parties agree that the added value —to use the jargon— 243 which a school gives a child properly reflects the quality of the school rather than do crude examination results. The difficulty, of course, is that added value is difficult to measure whereas examination results are simple to measure and thus simple to tabulate.
The political debate has been whether the examination results alone are so crude that when they are put in the national league tables they can actively mislead parents. As I said, I find this a sterile debate as it is not tables, in whatever form they come, or tests, however consistent they be, which will raise standards. It is good teachers who raise standards; it is proper resources that raise standards. I shall be much happier when the political spotlight turns to the quality of teachers in our schools and the resources we choose to make available to them rather than to testing and tables.
Earlier this year we saw the publication of the Parent's Charter. I shall say nothing about the lack of consultation or the great expense incurred in posting it to every household. The two watchwords in the charter were "standards" and "choice". I should be more impressed by the Government's concern for standards had they accepted that there is a link between resources and standards. Parents who send their children to private schools know that that link exists. Indeed, all parents know that that link exists. Why do not the Government produce league tables showing the money spent on a child's education versus the examination results achieved?
As to choice, that is surely the most abused word in the education lexicon. Never mind that parents are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the choice made available to them, judging from the number of appeals. Choice for an 11 year-old in my borough, which is the Conservative-controlled borough of Wandsworth, means a choice between specialisations. I do not want my daughter to be given a choice between specialisations when she is 11 years old. Like all parents, I believe, I want her to have a broadly based and thorough education so that she is better able to exercise her own choice later in life. I know of no evidence that parents are seeking greater specialisation for their children at that young age.
The Government were right to allow for a period of calm in the education world. It would be churlish of me not to acknowledge their successes with the national curriculum and the local management of schools. However, I hope that they will not continue to pursue policies which are unpopular and proving to be unworkable, and which divert attention from the true education debate that we should all be having. That debate should be about the resources we make available, and the quality of teachers in our schools. Those, not tests and tables, are what matter.
§ 9.20 p.m.
§ Lord Tanlaw
My Lords, I am sorry that I did not hear the maiden speeches due to a long-standing engagement that I had outside the Palace of Westminster. My regret is made even deeper as a result of the great compliments that I have heard about them.
244 I wonder how long, and what more must it take, before the issue of harmonisation with Central European Time can be included in a Queen's Speech. How many layers of incomprehension and indecision have to be penetrated before common sense can prevail in the Home Office summer time department? Does the Minister agree that it took at least 15 previous Queen's Speeches, and I believe more than 15 Conservative Ministers of Transport, before there was an acknowledgement of the need for a high-speed rail link to connect our capital city with the rest of Europe? If this is, indeed, an indicator of the speed of a government department's recognition of the blindingly obvious, how long will it take the Home Office to acknowledge the need for this country to harmonise with Central European Time?
The Home Office has apparently been "considering Summer Time" for more than five years. During this period, we have not been allowed to have a proper debate on the matter in your Lordships' House. Nor is there any mention in the Queen's Speech of a government Bill being put before us, and I do not count the lottery of Private Members' Bills which is to take place this Thursday as either a positive or a serious effort by the Government to bring this country any closer to harmonisation of its timescale with Europe. However, if the Private Member's Bill to harmonise our timescale with Europe is fortunate enough to be selected for debate in the other place, will the Minister say whether the Government will bring it to the statute book or whether it is their intention further to delay making a decision on the matter in order to allow the Home Office yet more time for consideration of the evidence put before it since the consultative document of June 1989?
If nothing happens on Thursday, what will the Government's position on time harmonisation be? Will we in your Lordships' House be allowed time to debate the consultation document, even though it is now five years out of date? Will Her Majesty's Official Opposition, which so far as I am aware has revealed nothing of its intentions on the subject of Central European Time, make its position clear? Will the Liberal Democrats, who are also known Europhiles, make their position somewhat clearer?
Many organisations—for instance, British Rail, British Airways, the CBI, the tourist boards, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents and the Police Federation—have put before the Government strong and convincing evidence for extended daylight in the afternoons. As yet there has been a nil response from the Government, so what are the advantages of retaining the status quo? Who are the politicians, and what interests do they represent, who are putting forward arguments to retain the status quo? On what hard evidence are those arguments based?
The only evidence that we have on which to base these facts is the consultative document and recent submissions from interests such as those that I have mentioned. The majority of those organisations or companies supported and continue to support the concept of single/double summer time—that is, 245 harmonisation with Central European Time—which will allow for extra daylight in the afternoons as opposed to the mornings.
Will the Minister in reply agree that the Government have managed to give an impression that Scottish farming interests north of the Tweed are somehow against changing over to harmonisation with the European timescale? What farming operations can the Minister name that will be affected by such a change? What crops are grown between the months of November and the following spring? Is the Minister aware that the habits of domestic animals and their wildlife counterparts are light-related not time-related? At these latitudes, farmers throughout Europe are inclined to farm indoors. Therefore these are controlled conditions which the farmer can operate at his own convenience and will not be related to Central European Time. Farmers from northern Norway to southern Spain are not objecting to CET, so why should Scottish farmers be any different?
If the farmers are not affected, what about commercial organisations such as those covered by the somewhat random list appearing in the back of the consultative document? British Petroleum, which I think is the most northern oil rig operator, was excluded, whereas the Zip Fastener Corporation was included for some reason. Perhaps civil servants from the Home Office may not be fully aware that best dressed Scots residing north of the Tweed have little use of the products of that worthy company.
I suppose that it is not fair to blame the Home Office for lack of experience in matters which go on north of Hadrian's Wall or, indeed, on business matters because they are not part of its brief. Therefore, will the Secretary of State for the Home Office consider relinquishing his responsibilities for summer time to the President of the Board of Trade? At least he may be able to appreciate the seriousness of the present uncertain situation as set out in the Confederation of British Industry's plea to the Government, which I believe was submitted last month.
Is the noble Lord aware that only four hours of every working day in the United Kingdom are in harmony with those in Europe? Will the Minister set out what advantages flow from that either to the City or any other organisation which is trying to do business in the £300 million market of Europe?
The Queen's Speech was meant to be geared and focused on Europe. In fact, it was focused to the extent that a vote of confidence may even have to be taken on the Government's stand. I have no confidence in any government who fail to recognise the timescale as it relates to Europe. The measure to which I refer is popular. Everyone to whom I have spoken, including organisations, wish it to be adopted and yet it has been excluded. I should have thought that the Government would be in need of such a popular measure these days. Will they please consider bringing it forward?
There is another point on which I can speak as an individual from these Benches. People and ordinary voters outside ask, "What about a change of government? Will it make any difference?" If the opposition parties are to take the place of government 246 in a very short time if there is a vote of confidence, they must make clear what is their position with regard to Central European Time. The position has not been made clear. An all-party committee has been fiddling about with the matter for a long time.
I believe that our debates on the Queen's Speech allow one a sentence or two of philosophy. Is it not the case that many people outside the Palace of Westminster believe that politicians are out of touch and are playing a game which is not related to reality? I have tried to put forward one proposal; namely, in relation to Central European Time. Tens of thousands of passengers are using the new train service. The inconvenience, the tiresomeness; the lack of competition which that minor irritation causes seem to be of no concern whatever to the Government.
Why is that so? Why is nothing said about it in the Houses of Parliament? A great deal is said about it outside. In the taxi coming here, the taxi driver was complaining to me about the dark evenings and I said that I was going to try to put that right tonight. But it is not my business to do that. I merely seek to draw to the attention of Her Majesty's Government that many people are irritated and confused by their lack of action. If it takes as much time to get through to the civil servants and to the Minister concerned as it took in relation to the necessity of a high speed rail link to link our capital with the rail system of Europe, then there will be another 10 years of consideration by the summer time department of the Home Office.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, I rise to make a personal contribution from the Back Benches at this stage because when we consider two aspects of Scottish legislation—namely, the criminal justice Bill and the children Bill for Scotland—I hope to be sitting on the Front Bench, unless something disastrous happens between now and then.
It is something of a landmark to be standing here praising the gracious Speech and, indeed, praising the present Administration because, lo and behold, we do not have only one Bill for Scotland this year. We have two. That represents a 100 per cent. increase in productivity on the part of the Scottish Office in bringing matters which concern people in Scotland before your Lordships' House.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, mentioned the number of Bills we have had since 1979 relating to criminal justice in Scotland. I have a list of them. In 1980 there was the Bail etc. (Scotland) Act, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act, and the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act; in 1982 the Criminal Justice Act and some mental health Acts; and in 1985 the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act. In 1987 we had the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act and in 1988 the Road Traffic Offenders Act. In 1990 there was the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act. In 1991 we had the War Crimes Act and in 1993 a variety of criminal legislation, if one can call it that. Then there was 1994. There has been a whole plethora of legislation.
247 Having made that observation, I am pleased to know that the Government have in mind the bringing into force of a consolidating measure to bring all that legislation together because, from a practitioner's point of view, it is an absolute nightmare. It may be very good for academics who write books and supplements to them, but for a legal practitioner it is quite a horrendous way to practise the law.
Criticism has been levelled at the Government about the lack of consultation leading to the introduction of the criminal justice Bill. I believe that there is a great deal to be said for that. But I hope that it will be remedied in your Lordships' House during the Committee and Report stages when, no doubt, we shall be snowed under with amendments from various people who are interested in the criminal justice system in Scotland.
I noted that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, said that there was all-party support for the Bill, thus giving the impression to the public that it would go through on the nod, so to speak. I should point out that we shall nod it back to the Government from this side of the House. It will not have an easy passage through this Chamber because it is one of the last chances that we shall have to get a Bill of some kind sorted out before the present Administration go out of office. We shall treat the Bill with respect. We shall treat it in the way that Bills are treated in your Lordships' House; namely, with a view to amending conservatively, if I may put that in the legal sense. However, we shall not let silly proposals go through without fighting them.
Perhaps I may give your Lordships just one example, so as to give notice to Her Majesty's Government. Intrusions into the right of silence of the accused in Scotland will not—I say "Not" with a capital n—be tolerated north of the Border. We will not have Her Majesty's Government for Scotland aping what has happened in England. We do not want that. We have separate legal systems. For example, what is happening in Clause 26 of the Bill? I give that as a trailer, so to speak, to the debates we may have. It provides that the prosecutor can comment on the failure of the accused to give evidence.
We live in a country—England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—where the right to silence is one of the great features of our legal system. Are we to allow prosecutors, some of whom, if I may so express it, are not too clever and who do not have a level of competence, to be let loose on juries and to comment on the failure of an accused to give evidence, bearing in mind the right to silence? If, for example, an over-the-top prosecutor says, and I take my own name by way of example, "By the way, members of the jury, you will have noticed that, despite all the evidence, Mr. Macaulay—ho, ho!—didn't go into the witness box to give evidence", the judge will then instruct the jury that they may draw such inferences as they may see fit from my failure to give evidence. What sort of legal system is that?
248 Further, what if the prosecutor goes right over the top? I am only giving your Lordships a minimal example because I am sure that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has heard more prosecutors in action than I have. We have both been prosecutors in our own time. However, when irresponsible prosecutors are given such leeway to attack the failure of the accused to give evidence, we have real trouble. What does the judge do about it? At present, judges in Scotland are allowed to comment on the failure of the accused to give evidence. However, they have been told that they must exercise a great deal of restraint when making any comment. How does the judge control the wild prosecutor? The more the judge says to the jury, "You will ignore what Mr. X, the prosecutor, said to you", the more he draws attention to the fact that the accused has not given evidence. So we have a complete mixter-maxter of evidential rubbish. So long as the presumption of innocence prevails in this country—and that is a very important presumption—we must not make unnecessary inroads into it.
Some of your Lordships last Friday may have seen a television programme called "The Trial". There are to be four more programmes. The case shown was a classic example of where failure to give evidence may very well have been the deciding factor in convicting the defendant. I do not know anything about the facts of the case, but having watched the programme it seems to me that it may very well have been that the failure of the accused to give evidence to challenge the case against him sent a message to the jury that they should find him guilty.
We are in danger of making the failure to give evidence amount to corroboration of guilt in the mind of the jury. It is all very well for people to say that that is not how the law works. We are not dealing with the law; we are dealing with juries. If silent messages are sent to the jury—although not deliberately—by prosecutors and judges, then the whole administration of justice is turned on its head.
When it comes to the Committee and Report stages of the Bill, the profession in Scotland will not take this change lying down. The profession will protect the interests of the accused so long as it can until the Government override it. Therefore, the Government should be very careful when exercising any intrusion into our system.
The Government should be very careful because they are already being criticised north of the Border for introducing mirror image legislation. We all know what happened in your Lordships' House during the passage of the English Bill. Your Lordships do not indulge in riots, but there was as near a riot as I have seen in your Lordships' House on occasion. We cannot accept mirror image legislation for Scotland. We must have legislation which deals with the position in Scotland.
If there is to be the effective abolition of the right to silence, there is one matter we must consider. Do we examine the whole court system? Do we abolish completely the adversarial system of justice? There would only be protection for the accused if we had an investigative form of justice such as exists in France. At present we are in severe danger of falling into a halfway 249 house. We must consider the matter seriously and ensure that no injustice is done. If a jury are told that they can draw such inferences as they think fit, that is incapable of correction in an appeal court. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, who sits in the appeal court, may or may not confirm what I say. We are entering very dangerous territory in the criminal justice Bill.
There are two other matters I wish to deal with. The first concerns sentencing guidelines. If I have read my newspapers correctly, in England in the past year there have been several cases in which judges at the local level have said publicly that they wish they could sentence someone to five years imprisonment, or whatever it might be, but because of sentencing guidelines they can give only two years. The judge, who is sitting at the centre of the community, has heard the evidence, seen the accused and seen the victim. And what happens? He sentences the defendant to five years' imprisonment instead of the two years set out in the guidelines; the case goes to the appeal court, which is handed a file of papers. A pile of papers cannot compare with individuals. The appeal court does not see individuals; it does not see the agony and distress of the victim. The appeal court says that the appropriate sentence is two years and that the judge acted clearly outside the guidelines. I, for one, am not prepared to accept that.
I accept that inferior courts, as they are called in the Bill, should pay heed to what the appeal court may have said in appropriate cases. Any restriction on the freedom of a judge in the local community to impose what he considers an appropriate sentence has to be considered carefully.
As regards fiscal fines, we enter into desperately dangerous territory. Fiscal fines are now being considered for possession of cannabis. We have our own views as to whether it is right or wrong to smoke cannabis, or whatever one does with cannabis, just as people have views on whether or not it is right to drink. But what is happening in this regard has another dangerous aspect. We are going into a halfway house. If a youngster is found in possession of 0.25 milligrammes, or whatever it may be, of cannabis, obviously identifiable as being for personal use, the fiscal says, "All right, the fine is £15," and away the youngster goes. If he is again found in possession does he receive another fiscal fine? The fiscal fine—I speak personally—may encourage people to take cannabis because they will not go to prison. Suppliers will be encouraged to say to users, "Just take it. It's all right. If you're caught, you will just get a fiscal fine". Therefore we have to be careful to ensure that we are not too lax in the administration of justice in that respect.
As with road traffic offences, fiscal fines are an administrative convenience. It can be said, "We shall not bother the police or the courts. Just pay a £20 fine". We must be careful that we do not create a system of hidden justice. No one would know who had been found in possession of cannabis. The main point is that fiscal fines do not get to the root of the problem—the suppliers. You can fine kids until the cows come home. You can take 100 children in Campbeltown, Glasgow 250 or Edinburgh, fine them £20 each, and say, "You shouldn't have cannabis". But the basic question is, "Where did you get it from?" and you are no further ahead. Fiscal fines do not meet the problem of fighting drugs on the streets. However, we shall return to the issue later.
The noble Baroness, Lady Saltoun, has already dealt with the children Bill for Scotland. Perhaps I may pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser. He has kept in touch with those of us in the parliamentary group on children with regard to a children Bill. We understand that a Bill will be printed in the not too distant future. I believe it only fair to say that as with the criminal justice Bill there are many good things in it and many bad. We pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser, for the interest he has shown and the communication he has had with those of us who have sought to have such a Bill introduced.
As I understand it, the children Bill quite properly concentrates on the reports of child abuse cases in the Orkneys, and so on. Another area of child abuse relates to parents who abuse their children publicly for their own interests. I refer to children who are caught up in a so-called tug of love. A family not too far from your Lordships' House is involved in that. Such children are exposed to publicity. They have to go to school the next day in a blaze of newspaper publicity. Nothing is done to protect them. No one represents those children. No one represents the two children down the road to whom I refer. No one says, "I don't care what you and you do with him and her but I don't want any publicity about it". There is no effective protection from publicity for children in this country.
We are all on the one side in this respect. I wish to see protection for children against exploitation by the newspapers once the Bill has gone through Parliament. I am sure that the Government will support this side of the House if that view were to be taken.
Another dangerous aspect relates to the exclusion of abusers. There is a proposal in the Bill that if a father or a mother is suspected of abusing a child, he or she will be excluded from the house. Going back to the presumption of innocence, that is a matter which must be dealt with extremely carefully. If a father is excluded from the house and people in the locality know and ask, "Why is Jimmy not at home tonight?", they may be told that the court has put him out. They ask why and are told, "Because he has been abusing the children". One can think of the local consequences: the fellow may well be found not guilty, but his reputation and standing in the community are wrecked and he may be subjected to physical abuse, as we know has happened.
There are many areas to be covered in the two important Scottish Bills. I have taken up some of your Lordships' time, but the rest of the time has been spent on England and Wales and I make no apology.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Lord Thurlow
My Lords, I should like to enter the dangerous ground of disputing fiscal fines but it occurs to me that perhaps I should have had the forethought to arrange for my twin brother to be here in my place. He is a lawyer and he might have been able to make a 251 contribution. However, not only would that have been dangerous legal ground but I might have been in the worrying situation of a possible charge of contempt and I do not know what might have happened to me.
I sense a sigh of relief in the House that we have come to the last speaker before the gap. I respectfully congratulate your Lordships on the speed with which we have got through business in the last hour. I shall conclude the speeches before the gap by drawing your Lordships' attention to what I believe to be the single most serious source of suffering in the community. That is, the continuing problem of care in the community for the mentally ill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Robson, has already covered some of the ground and I have no desire to go over it again. However, I remind your Lordships that it covers an immense number of people. I believe that at any given time in the country there are 250,000 cases of schizophrenia. Of those, a high proportion—something like one in 10—eventually commit suicide. Although there is no cure, some 20 per cent. return to health by natural means, but the remaining 80 per cent. are subject to what the noble Baroness rightly referred to as the "revolving door" syndrome. The puzzle that confronts all those of us who have an interest in this large part of the community is how, in the new context of care in the community, we deal with that revolving door syndrome. It is said to be clinically necessary for those who suffer seriously from schizophrenia to return for hospital treatment from time to time, to all the facilities of a residential hospital.
There is an area of statistical confusion. A notable and respected authority, Professor Wing, has worked out that we require 52,000 beds in hospitals for mentally ill patients. We are told from the government Benches that there are in fact 80,000 beds available in hospitals and in residential homes in one place or another. But nowhere is it stated that in all the places where those beds are alleged to be the necessary facilities are also available for dealing with the revolving door syndrome. I ask Her Majesty's Government to clarify this issue.
There is a certain semantic problem. We are quite used to talking about long-stay patients and about acute and urgent cases. But now we are told that there is also the very large requirement—a larger requirement than for acute and urgent cases—for medium-stay beds in hospitals. I have yet to learn how that kind of requirement will be met. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will clarify that matter. From these Benches, we do not raise the issue in a political way. We are all on the same side.
We are fortunate in having in this House the Minister responsible at the Department of Health. She has an enormous understanding and commitment. We know that she is working the whole time to improve matters, and that matters are improving. Great progress has been made in the past few years and we hope that it will continue. There is a problem of resources, as the noble Baroness said, and that perhaps overshadows everything else. Whichever complexion of government we have, 252 there will still be a problem of resources. There can never be enough resources to provide all the facilities that this terribly difficult social problem needs.
I ask that when in the course of this Session we deal with the Bill that is to be put before us, and which we welcome, there will be greater supervision of violent cases discharged from hospital; but that that should not mask what is in scale the far greater and continuing problem of how to provide the treatment, care, and care in the community conditions that we require.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, for the second year in a row I rise to wind up in the debate on the humble Address immediately on the heels of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, who has spoken on the disaster of care in the community. For the second year in a row I have to say that I agree with everything that the noble Lord has said. I have to ask therefore why nothing has happened.
I am reminded of an incident in 1628. The Hampshire militia were unpaid. The deputy lieutenants reported that there was the danger of a mutiny. They wrote to the Lord Lieutenant. The Lord Lieutenant, who happened also to be the Secretary of State, wrote back saying that there was no danger of a mutiny for the troops were too naked to be seen marching in public. I think that that is some part of the explanation as to why no action has been taken. But it is a misguided self-interest. I hope not to have to repeat this performance and achieve a hat trick in the debate on the humble Address next year.
We have had a real treat today. We have heard three maiden speeches of rare quality, of intellectual distinction, delivered with clarity and wit, based on real experience, and giving promise of many excellent speeches to come in future. I am delighted to have been able to listen to all of them. I look forward to the next speech from all three noble Lords.
We have also been privileged to listen to a most important speech from the most reverend Primate. I agree with a great deal more of it than the most reverend Primate might perhaps imagine. The difficulties created by what I think he called "the erosion of shared values" are deep and serious ones. We need to find ways of dealing with them, which we have not yet done.
The problem actually is an old one. It was first pin-pointed, so far as I know, by Henry Ireton in 1648. Henry Ireton had been weened on the doctrine of liberty of conscience. He was then faced with a man who claimed, on the grounds of liberty of conscience, freedom to commit murder and bigamy. Henry Ireton said:A man may make conscience to do some things which are contrary to common morality".But the problem is, I think, that we really cannot go back; whether it is desirable or not, the way is not open. The difference of values around society is getting wider, and will continue to do so. So what we really need to think about is ways of accommodating the difference. John Stuart Mill tried to find one. Whether there is now sufficient agreement about what constitutes harm to others is a problem, but it is a problem that I would like to think we will be thinking about in future.
253 I hope the Minister when he replies will answer the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, about why it is that the unemployment and employment figures are both falling at the same time. I would also like to know the answer to that question, and if the Minister can answer it I shall listen with very great interest.
I would like to share the general welcome in the House for the inclusion in the gracious Speech of Bills based on the reports of the Law Commission. I remember the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, last year; it was a very compelling speech. I hope that this is a precedent which will be followed by governments of all political complexions.
I am particularly pleased by the inclusion of the Law Commission Bill on domestic violence, and I hope the Minister will convey to the noble and learned Lord his namesake my thanks for the time that he has given to us in a meeting on that subject. It appears to have been fruitful, and I would like to thank him. But, to quote the pill inside the sugar, if there should be in this Session further measures taken against legal aid, that will deprive the concession of a very great deal of its value.
Equality before the law is a vital ideal, even if it has never quite been realised. If people do not go to law in civil cases, the alternatives are often worse. In some areas we are getting reports of people pouring petrol through each other's letter-boxes and setting them alight rather than going to law. One may wonder in that context whether legal aid is cheap at the price.
If the noble and learned Lord should consider placing regional cash limits on legal aid—which is an idea that I have heard discussed—I hope that before doing so his department will study the Social Policy Research Unit report from the University of York on the operation of the Social Fund. It has used that cash-limiting principle, and I think that before the noble and learned Lord's department considers using such a method it should consider the well-known difficulties it has run into in the only serious government attempt to operate it.
I would also like to welcome in principle the Bill to implement the Barber judgment on pension ages. It is an international obligation, and in one form or another that Bill must be passed. When it gets to the Committee stage, we shall be concerned with two points. One is the possibility of introducing some degree of flexibility into the retiring ages; the other is about strengthening the safeguards proposed in the Goode Report. Our view is that those safeguards, particularly where they concern the employee and pensioner trustees and the possibility of removing them, are not quite strong enough. We should like to see them strengthened.
Of course, there are matters that I should like to have seen in the gracious Speech which I did not see. I should like to have seen something on the peculiar difficulties which the young are now facing. I have drawn the Minister's attention to the report Teenagers at Risk, published by the Royal Philanthropic Society and the Trust for the Study of Adolescence. That is one report among a very considerable body of work. It found that young people are simply not managing to get through the transition from dependence to full independence. That is the sum of a whole series of related problems.
254 For people between the ages of 16 and 18 there is a real problem in the application of the law of majority. It is one that might be suitable for a future reference to the Law Commission. At this time of night I shall spare the Minister the problems of 16 and 17 year-olds and the benefits system. He knows my views on that matter and he will hear more of them. Part of the problem is training, about which we have heard much tonight. The youth training scheme is providing neither suitable training nor a means of subsistence. I shall look with care at the forthcoming Budget to see whether anything is done to increase youth training allowances or to increase the ridiculous £15 bridging allowance that people receive at the end of their youth training. That has not been up-rated since 1988. The sum of £15 is not a living wage.
At the heart of this subject is that the Government must take on board that young people who leave home very often do so because their parents have left them no choice. Let me give the example found by Crisis in its report on beggars in London. The young person wanted to cease to be a Jehovah's Witness. In a free country that was his right. He was thrown out of his home for it and he received no benefit. Five years later he was still begging on the London streets. I am not proud of living in a country where that happens.
I also regret very deeply that there is nothing in the gracious Speech about the Child Support Act. I appreciate that the Government need time to respond to the Select Committee. I do not believe that they were altogether surprised by what the Select Committee said. I hope that tonight the Minister will be able to give us some indication of what his response may be. I must say that if the Government go no further than the Select Committee, it will not be enough to procure the continuance of the Act. We on these Benches believe that the basic ideas behind the Act were sound but that almost everything in the drafting of the Act went wrong.
There are two items in the Select Committee report which may be of real value. One is the proposal to make allowance for capital settlements. Just a couple of hours ago I was listening on the telephone to yet another person who for years had been paying everything that the court ordered him to pay, and rather more as well. All that is simply to be wiped out and ignored. He could not see the justice in that, and neither can I.
The other valuable concession concerns travel to work. In that regard the Select Committee has taken away with one hand what it has given with the other. It says that it will not allow the cost of a car if any proportion of it is for private use. Many people cannot go to work without a car; it simply is not physically possible. But if those people once use the car to do the weekly shopping, they will not be allowed the car any more; then they will not be able to work and they will be forced onto benefit. I do not see the sense in that.
We also need changes which benefit both sexes. For too long the matter has been discussed as a war between the sexes. We have enough of that already; we do not need any more. We need allowance for expenses which people are legally compelled to pay, like debts and council tax. If a formula does not allow for those 255 expenses, the only option open to the man will be to go bankrupt. The maintenance will then not be paid and the children will be no better off.
We need second families to be treated on an equal footing with first families. People who have those families in good faith owe support to them under the same principles which apply to the first. The formula for housing costs in particular does not adequately allow for that. Above all, we need recognition of the fact that no formula can possibly foresee all cases. There must be an element of discretion for cases that the formula does not foresee. Without that I do not think that the Act can survive. And when the Minister considers the Act he should look at the remarks made earlier today by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, regarding the drafting of statutes. All those remarks apply with especial force to the drafting of that Act.
In relation to the jobseeker's allowance, I accept the principle stated by Mr. Frank Field that it is an implied contract that the state owes support to the unemployed and in return the unemployed owe the state an attempt to look for work. I do not believe that that is in issue between any parts of the House. But there are matters that worry me quite deeply in that Bill. If I understood the White Paper correctly—I shall be delighted to be told that I have not —it is envisaging a total disentitlement from benefit to people who are found not to be seeking work.
First, I have doubts about the use of starvation as an instrument of policy. Secondly, I have some concern about what people who are totally disentitled to benefit will do instead and about whether what they do instead will actually be cheaper to the Treasury than what they were doing before. Thirdly, I have a concern regarding the number of people on benefit who are suffering from undiagnosed mental illness and who cannot always be held fully responsible for behaving in a way which other people may not think rational.
In that context I see an uncomfortable conjunction arising between the jobseeker's allowance benefit and a new test for incapacity benefit. I shall not weary the Minister with arguments on that with which I know he is already familiar. But for me that test is not a test of incapacity to work; it is a functional test of physical disability. If I find that somebody has passed that test I will not therefore believe that he or she is fit for work. If in two years' time coming out of the tube station I see large numbers of people holding placards saying, "Denied benefit and unfit for work", then, subject to an expert medical opinion, I will have a predisposition to believe them. I am sorry to say that; but that is the position.
Fourthly, as usual the Government have found sticks; but though they were considering them during the summer, they do not seem to have found many carrots. There is a really unfortunate poverty trap in the interlocking between income support and family credit. I shall mention only income support disregards, passported benefits and the cost of travelling to work and ask the Minister to look at the citizens advice bureaux report published yesterday, In Work, Out of Pocket. We shall be hearing more about that report this 256 Session. I ask him also to look at the report of the Social Security Advisory Committee on the role of incentives in the benefits system. If the department were able to move towards the letter and the spirit of that report, it would do a great deal to shorten the Committee stage of the Bill.
We have here a large collection of people found fit for work aged 16 and 17. There are the victims of care in the community; people in part-time work denied employment protection who are being, in effect, deprived of the protection of society and of the law. As soon as society deprives people of its protection, it always finds that it is spending money protecting itself against them. That is not only Tacitus' principle that it is proper to the human race to hate those whom we have hurt. People who have been on benefit and denied it do not simply cease to exist; they do something else. They may get ill. The cost of homelessness to the health service is formidable and I believe that there should be communication on that between the Department of Social Security and the Department of Health. After all, they do not have very far to go to make it. If such people do not fall ill, they may commit crime. I am not saying that that morally excuses them. I am not attempting to deny individual responsibility. But very few people in fact starve for choice.
If the Minister looks at the report from the Nottingham Young People's Benefit Campaign, Beg, Borrow or Steal, he will find there large numbers of people, mostly aged 16 or 17, stealing, as they put it, "to get money to live on". It found one person in Nottingham who was stealing in order to pay his poll tax. If that person had not been naturally law-abiding he would not have become a criminal. That is not where we ought to end up.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Turner of Camden
My Lords, it seems to me that the gracious Speech is a bit of a non-event. The vacuum created by the disappearance of the privatisation of the Post Office, which I am glad about, has not been filled even though there are enough problems requiring attention. Nevertheless, we have had an excellent debate this evening. In particular, as all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate have said, we have had three magnificent maiden speeches from noble Lords who have joined us after careers of immense distinction in their own chosen fields. As others have said, I hope that we hear a great deal more from them. We have had a couple of sparkling contributions from two seasoned performers in the shape of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford.
I cannot altogether follow the most reverend Primate about standards in public life, although I agree with him to some extent. I believe that he would agree that we have all lived through a very violent and brutal century and that has had, I fear, a coarsening effect. What the answers to that are I do not know. I agree with the most reverend Primate that standards in public life are immensely important.
257 Nevertheless, as far as the gracious Speech is concerned, the Government have indicated that they will continue with their present fiscal policies designed, they say, to bring about rising employment and other matters. Of course, we all welcome the recent drop in the figures for the unemployed although, with other noble Lords, I have some doubt about the manner in which the statistics are arrived at. As we know, they are simply based on those claiming and actually getting unemployment benefit. But hardly a day goes by without a report that some large institution somewhere is going to cut large numbers of staff. Moreover, as my noble friend Lady Dean said, many of the new jobs created appear to be part-time.
For many years after the last war, governments (both Conservative and Labour) acted on the assumption that the maintenance of high levels of employment was a priority for government. For most members of my generation, unemployment was not a problem. If you lost one job, another was likely to be fairly readily available. However, as everyone knows, that is no longer the case and is the root cause of many of the problems, social and financial, that we all face.
The lack of security that is implicit in job flexibility, which the Government have done their best to encourage, has social effects upon the economy generally and upon the way in which people organise their lives. If the only employment available is on a short-term contract, or part-time or temporary, the people so affected are naturally unwilling to enter into long-term commitments, so the housing market continues to be relatively stagnant. Retailers in the high street report that customers are hanging on to the money in their pockets because they are worried lest they do not have it at all next year. Individual car sales are lower than expected for a very similar reason. There are also problems about insurance and pensions provision since they depend to some extent on long-term security.
The result is that people in white collar employment in the finance sector, the public sector and the Civil Service who at one time would have confidently looked forward to a career and to a job for life—and what is wrong with that? —are frequently facing unemployment at a time when they would once have anticipated being at their earning peak. Incidentally, many of those people were Conservative voters and it is that general lack of security and concern for the future that is turning them away from the party of government and, I hope personally, to other parties and solutions.
I for one do not worry about that over much, but I am concerned about the damage that I believe Conservative policies have done, and continue to do, to the social fabric of our country. One of the Government's responses, along with deregulation, is to try to cut public expenditure. Hence we have the jobseeker's allowance which appears to be based on the assumption that if only the unemployed were to seek non-existent jobs more strenuously, all would be well. It is claimed that the jobseeker's allowance would be a better benefit for unemployed people. That is what it says in the document that the Government have produced. However, it is difficult to see how that claim can be sustained. While 258 unemployment benefit lasts for a year, contributory JSA will last for only six months. Thereafter, as a number of noble Lords have said, it will be a means-tested benefit.
In effect, employees who have just faced an increase in the amount of national insurance contributions that they have to pay will have a cut in the benefits for which they have paid. It must be emphasised that unemployment benefit is not some form of charity. It is part of the social insurance scheme for which people pay when in employment. It is an insurance policy. What would be said of a private insurance company that defaulted upon a commitment in such a way? After six months, when the JSA is means-tested, that change may very well hit people with family responsibilities.
The JSA, like income support, will discriminate against young people. Those under 25 who are unemployed will receive a lower rate of benefit. Incidentally, perhaps I may say how much I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who regretted that the Government have not taken the opportunity to introduce a proper policy for youth.
There is also some concern about the disabled. As we know, we are to have a Bill on rights for the disabled. One can only wish that the Government had taken the opportunity, when they had it, to pass the Bill which they failed to support last year when it was passed in your Lordships' House. A number of noble Lords have spoken about the proposed Bill for the disabled—notably, my noble friends Lord Ashley of Stoke and Lord Rix. Like many other noble Lords who have spoken on that matter, they have a great deal of experience and expertise in the area. Clearly, we shall need to look carefully at the Bill when it comes before us to make sure that the disabled are not going to be short-changed.
As we know, incapacity benefit is to replace invalidity benefit. We discussed that earlier in this House when we pointed out that that could mean many disabled people facing cuts in their income. It now seems that that is so. Thousands of people who would have qualified for invalidity benefit will not qualify for incapacity benefit. Many disabled people are worried that they will fall between the tighter incapacity test which denies them incapacity benefit and an inability to meet the terms of the new test in the JSA.
The Government's policies appear to be predicated on the assumption that benefits for the unemployed are too generous, and that generosity means that people involved no longer bother to look for work. However, the Government themselves tightened up the rules relating to entitlement some time ago when those were changed from availability for work, which had been the test for many years, to actively seeking work. People now have to demonstrate that they are actively seeking work to qualify for benefit. No doubt the Government will say, as they have said already, that the situation is improving and that the JSA is intended to help people back into work. As I said, and as my noble friend Lady Dean emphasised, much of the work that is available is part-time, temporary and low paid. We thus have a problem of the working poor as well as the unemployed, and the taxpayer is subsidising low paying employers through the benefit system.
259 The problems are serious, but the Government show no sign of tackling them except for the application of "the same as before". Yet there are alternative policies which should at least be considered. The TUC and the CBI have moved closer together in recent months in an endeavour to present a programme which would result in employment-creating initiatives. The TUC's document Budget for Jobs towards Full Employment has been drafted carefully. It does not pretend that there are easy solutions to the problems of low income, whether they arise from low pay or high unemployment. Nevertheless, it proposes a three-year public investment programme which it says would create over 300,000 jobs by investing in transport and urban renewal. That would, of course, cost money, but eventually there would be savings resulting from lower unemployment and social benefits. In any event, such initiatives should be considered, and we should endeavour to persuade our partners in Europe to look also at programmes. We must embark seriously on job creation if we are to have any chance of reducing the burden of social benefits.
I turn now to the issue of pensions. We are promised a Bill. It is reported that the Government intend to equalise state pension ages for men and women at 65. It is, of course, accepted that that cannot be done immediately since many women now in employment would have been expecting to be able to retire at 60. I regret that the Government did not find it possible to accept the recommendation of the Committee of your Lordships' House, which sat under the distinguished chairmanship of Lord Allen of Abbeydale, that there should be a decade of retirement between the ages of 60 and 70, with people having a genuine choice as to when they might retire between those ages. A cut-off point which is the same for all persons and in all industries and employments has always struck me as too arbitrary.
As it is, there is likely to be opposition from women's organisations and, I believe, from the Equal Opportunities Commission, which regard this proposition as a worsening of conditions for many women. What do the Government intend to do with the money that they will save? Do they intend, as they should, to raise the basic retirement pension which is clearly now too low? The position is likely to worsen relative to wages as time goes on.
As to occupational pensions, I note that the intention is to improve security, equality and choice in non-state pensions. If by that it is meant—I understand that this is so from what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch said—that the Government intend to legislate to give effect to the Goode Report, many of us will welcome such advances. Even so, many of us felt that the Goode Report, while recommending improvements, did not go far enough in protecting members' rights. In particular, we should want to see that there is provision for employee trustees since those, if properly trained—they should be—are the main safeguard against the loss of members' rights in occupational schemes.
I am pleased to learn that minimum solvency standards will be required to protect the security of members' rights, and that there will be a regulator. I hope that the regulator will have many more powers 260 than did the Occupational Pensions Board. I was for many years a member of the OPB and people thought that it had many more powers than it actually had. It was not an overall pensions regulator with the powers of a regulator. I am glad that the intention is to ensure that there is such a regulator. We shall look closely at the Bill to ensure that there is protection as we understand it.
However, the previous occasion on which the Government made much of choice in pension provision was when their obsession with individualism led to the sale of private personal pensions to people who are better placed either in their firm's occupational scheme or in SERPS. The Government must bear a large share of the blame for what has happened, which has had the effect of damaging the pension prospects of many people. Employees were actively encouraged by government propaganda to liberate themselves—that was the way in which it was put—from their employers' schemes. And, of course, the Government were anxious to run down SERPS, which they never liked anyway.
The self-regulatory mechanisms of the industry must work extremely hard to try to clear up the resultant mess. I speak as chair of the PIA Ombudsman's Council which is expecting a heavy workload next year once the claims start coming in. While clearly much of the industry has been gravely at fault, it cannot be overlooked that the major fault rested with the Government. It was made clear at the time that the Government's preference was for everyone to have individual personal pensions. The national insurance rebates were a "bribe" to get people to take out personal pensions. They involved a very substantial loss of revenue to the Exchequer while encouraging people into private pensions when they would have been better off to have remained where they were.
Perhaps I may emphasise what was said by my noble friend Lady Dean. No specific reference was made in the gracious Speech to the industrial injury scheme. Therefore, I hope that it has been agreed to leave the scheme alone. It is the only system of no-fault compensation that we have and it is very necessary because many working environments are inherently hazardous, no matter what is done by way of health and safety to try to protect the employers who work in them. I would welcome some kind of Government assurances as to the future of the industrial injury scheme.
Our debate today has touched on a number of issues in the sphere of home and social affairs. Enough has been said to indicate the anxieties which we have on this side of the House. When the Bills are before us we shall do our best to amend and improve upon them on the lines that have been indicated today. But, really, this is not much of a gracious Speech and there seems to be a fairly general view to that effect.
§ 10.27 p.m.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, described the gracious Speech as a non-event. For a non-event, it has certainly drawn an impressive list of speakers and has kept us here well into the evening. We have been treated to three excellent maiden speeches. The noble Lord, Lord 261 Tope, has a long involvement in local government and education. Perhaps I may tell him that the Secretary of State is setting up a taskforce to implement the Prime Minister's commitment on nursery education. Part of the role of that taskforce will be to determine the amount of funding that will be needed.
A number of other noble Lords mentioned nursery education. It would be wrong to assume that we are starting from zero because nine out of ten three and four year-olds already have some form of pre-school education. Just over half attend nursery school or nursery and reception classes in primary schools. Forty-one per cent. are represented in play groups. Therefore, we have a good base on which we can build and fulfil the commitment given by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. As the noble Lord mentioned in his speech, for a short spell he was a Member in another place representing Sutton and Cheam. The only thing I could think up about Sutton and Cheam was that Cheam has been made famous by Tony Hancock; but that probably shows my age more than anything else.
We then had the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Attenborough, who has been a distinguished actor, producer and director for over half a century. I am not sure that I did not catch a passing glimpse of him yesterday evening on television in a clip from something in which he was telling a little boy that he was actually Santa Claus. But perhaps I did not see it properly.
The noble Lord is a winner of a fair number of Oscars and BAFTA.s. I have to tell him that no rewards or awards are given for speeches in your Lordships' House; but if we did do that, we might have given him an award this afternoon. He has been involved with a wide range of artistic and charitable interests, as he mentioned in his speech; and I could not help but notice in Who's Who that yet another member of the Garrick Club is joining your Lordships' House.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and myself have quite a lot in common. Many years ago we were both councillors and we both fought—again, as I read in Who's Who—seven election campaigns with the same not very good record of failure and success. We served together in another place from 1979 to 1987, when we were both obliged to take what might be called in rugby parlance, "an early bath". It is comforting to have here another refugee from the vagaries of the electoral system, and I am sure that the noble Lord will find, as I have found, in your Lordships' House a different, more civilised and more knowledgeable atmosphere where quiet reason and logic carry the day.
Having listened to the noble Lord in the other place, I know that he has a deep interest in human rights. As a nation, we have a difficult balancing act to carry out—as do other nations—between helping out those who are in genuine danger in their home nations and those who are economic refugees.
A number of your Lordships got onto fairly philosophical planes. I am not sure that I shall follow those speeches for too long. To a limited extent it started with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, who was trying to identify all the political and economic theories which had gone the way of all flesh. He did not 262 mention socialism or Clause 4, and such matters; but I should not have expected him to. That is perhaps rather close to home.
However, at the beginning of his speech, in trying to identify the basis for social policy, he described it as the means to a civilised society. I do not think that too many of us would dissent from that. But it reminded me of another definition; namely, the permissive society as the civilised society. I hope that the most reverend Primate does not mind a Presbyterian saying to an Anglican that I thought that the most reverend Primate reminded us most forcefully that there is a myth that what is good and right is a subjective opinion—a sort of "do your own thing", although the most reverend Primate did not use those words. However, those words were certainly extremely prevalent as the philosophical basis of many people's lives and I believe that to be a most dangerous philosophy which is very much at variance with our Judaeo-Christian traditions. That has presented us with many problems, both as a community and even inside the Department of Social Security, where it has created problems in relation to our budget.
I really do not share the pessimistic view of some noble Lords with regard to young people. Too many generalisations are made about young people. I thought that today's school league tables showed quite clearly that there are great improvements in the performance of young people in school. I understand from what Mr. Blunkett said on the radio this morning that school league tables are now no longer the thoroughly bad things that they have been over the past two or three years. Many young people are heavily involved with the Scouts, Guides, Boys Brigades and various youth organisations. I am sure that anyone who watched the youngsters on "Songs of Praise" last Sunday would see a great many reasons for rejecting that pessimistic view.
A fair part of the debate was taken up with what I might describe generally as Home Office issues. Perhaps I may try to run through a few of the points raised and obviously, in view of the length of the debate, I shall be able to deal with only a few of the points raised.
I was asked about the criminal cases review body. That will investigate possible miscarriages of justice. It will commission inquiries from the police and others. As my noble friend Lady Blatch has already indicated, the new review body will be properly resourced and funded. Details will be made available in the usual way when the Bill is introduced.
I know that both north and south of the Border, those who are particularly interested in those matters are concerned about the implementation of Law Commission reports. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, both mentioned that. I should point out that, of the 30 unimplemented reports listed in the 1994 annual report of the Law Commission, five were implemented during the last Session and a further 10 have been accepted but have not, as yet, secured a parliamentary place. The reports in question are all law reform reports, many of which concern policy issues on which there are strongly held and widely differing views. Some of them are 263 particularly suited to being taken up as Private Peers' Bills or Private Members' Bills. The Government will continue to encourage that practice.
We had discussions from time to time on the difficult problem of crime, which is such a worry to many of our citizens. I see that the noble Lord wishes to intervene. I give way.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, I am much obliged. Before the Minister leaves the subject of Law Commission reports, do I understand correctly from what he said that the Government are not proposing government time for any of those outstanding reports; but that they are proposing to leave them to be dealt with by Private Members' Bills?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am saying that we would be interested in encouraging Private Members' Bills. However, there is always that last phrase in the Queen's Speech which I believe states:Other measures will be laid before you".The noble Lord never knows what may happen. I do not want to try to forecast anything that might happen in that respect.
I return to the question of crime. I listened with some interest to the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. I believe that much of what the noble Lord said, though not all—as he will not be surprised to hear—would find fairly common ground. However, I thought that he might have pointed out that in the past year we have seen a modest fall of 5.5 per cent. compared with the previous year in the rate of crime in England. Although it is modest, it is still the largest fall over 12 months that we have seen for 40 years—
§ Lord McCarthy
My Lords, that is beside the point. There has been a slight improvement because there has been a slight recovery. The crime rate is linked to recoveries, booms and slumps.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am not sure about that. However, if one considers the long timespan which the noble Lord mentioned over which crime figures have moved, I suspect that there has been, as he pointed out, a fairly inexorable increase over many years almost regardless of which government were in power. I do not believe that one can entirely relate or correlate it to rises and falls in unemployment or economic activity over the period.
My noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway asked me about the question of war crimes investigations. I believe that he knows all the figures. In Scotland, the Lord Advocate has decided that there is insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution against anyone living there. There are 24 cases still being investigated in England, seven of which have been the subject of substantive reports to the Crown Prosecution Service. I know that my noble friend has tabled a Private Member's Bill which is due for its Second Reading on the 7th of next month. I have little doubt that we shall have a more detailed debate on the subject at that stage.
264 I suppose that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, is not very pleased to see me at the Dispatch Box this evening because we have barked at each other on the subject of dogs once or twice over the past 12 months. The noble Lord has not changed his view and neither have I. As I told him on a previous occasion, I am more interested in children that I am in dogs.
The noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, went off on quite a different tack on the question of Greenwich Mean Time. I feel that I must at least make a few remarks on the subject. I believe that the noble Lord pretty well presented a one-sided case on the matter. When, just by chance, at quarter-past eight on Monday morning in Glasgow, I said to my taxi-driver something like, "Gosh, if we were on European time as some people want it would be dark at this time", he expressed his horror of dark mornings. Of course, you cannot actually save daylight. The good Lord ensured the length of the day and we cannot do much about it. But one can have extended daylight in the afternoon at the price of reduced daylight in the morning.
If businessmen in the United States are able to work over time zones in that country and if businessmen from Japan seem to be able to work quite successfully in different time zones all around the world, I find it hard to believe that, somehow, businessmen in Europe are incapable of operating over more than one time zone.
I must say to my fellow clansman that if he tried to put his argument in Scotland he might find a little more resistance than he seems to find in the south of England. I do not mean only among farmers. If he goes north to Mackay country in the north of Scotland I think that he will meet even more objection to the suggestion that we move from what is our astronomical time zone of Greenwich Mean Time—and we must be close to the Greenwich meridian at this moment.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, who is always a pleasure to listen to although I do not often agree with him, made several points about the mandatory life sentence for murder. We have debated the subject on a fair number of occasions. The noble Earl is concerned about the length of time some life sentence prisoners are detained, and pursues the subject with commendable vigour. Our position remains that we do not believe his concerns are well founded. There are some life sentence prisoners for whom life will mean life. That has always been the case; it is not a new policy. Nor are life sentence prisoners being kept in the dark about their tariff or denied the opportunity to make representations.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I cannot make sense of what he says. What he says is not true. He says that there are some prisoners for whom a life sentence has always meant life. That is untrue. I hope that the Minister will withdraw that statement.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I do not believe that I can withdraw it. It is the case. I believe that the public would expect that to be the situation. Anyone now receiving a mandatory life sentence is told the judicial recommendation as to the period which should be served for retribution and deterrence and given the opportunity to make representations before the 265 Secretary of State sets the tariff. The prisoner is informed of the Secretary of State's decision and given the reasons for any departure from the judicial recommendations.
I do not want to comment here on the recall of the prisoner the noble Earl mentioned in particular, but I can assure him that my noble friend will be happy to meet him and discuss the questions he raised.
I realise that there is some controversy over the subject of criminal injuries compensation, which a number of your Lordships raised. However, it has to be emphasised that one of the reasons the projection has been growing so vigorously is that over the past 10 years the average award has increased by some 5 per cent. more than inflation in every year. If one projects that forward it results in very large figures. I should say to your Lordships that in this country we provide the most generous scheme of any country in the world. I have figures before me covering a number of countries. Not only are we ahead of them, we are in a different league. Awards totalled £165.1 million in 1993–94. The next country in the list is Canada, with £29.5 million. Of all the schemes around the world, the scheme in this country provides 36 per cent. of all the resources put into criminal injuries schemes.
A number of points were made by noble Lords concerning the health Bills which are before us. I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow—and I gather that the issue was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, but I am sorry that I missed her speech because I was out of the Chamber for a few minutes at that point—that the mental health Bill is a very important piece of legislation. It will improve the treatment of mentally ill people. It will introduce a clear legal framework for care in the community for certain patients. Like the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, I have had experience as a Member of Parliament in another place 10 years ago of people with schizophrenia. It is the most appallingly debilitating disease for the families and for the young men involved. It is very important that when they go out into the community—and we want them to do that—we must not lose sight of the fact that they can easily relapse if they are not properly treated and taking their drugs.
I am sorry that I missed the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Gould of Potternewton. I shall read her speech with interest. However, I received a report of what she said, and I would say to her that almost everyone living in the UK today is better off than their parents and grandparents were. I gather that she seemed to doubt that proposition. That is not my quotation. It is taken from the first page of the first chapter of the report of the Commission on Social Justice.
The noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, who has had to catch a train because he has court business in Edinburgh tomorrow, and the noble Lord, Lord Macaulay, asked me about matters pertaining to Scottish legislation. I know that all three noble Lords have taken a great interest in the Children (Scotland) Bill. My noble and learned friend Lord Fraser of Carmyllie proposes to publish the Bill shortly. Noble Lords will not expect me to go into any detail about its contents, but it will be a 266 major step in reforming legislation for Scotland's children. I believe that I am one of the select band who read Lord Clyde's report on the Orkney affair. I was very convinced by that that we needed some legislation. I am delighted that it is coming forward.
The procedure will be as follows. The Bill will be dealt with in another place for its Second Reading by the Scottish Grand Committee. A Special Standing Committee will be appointed to take evidence from interested parties. That will be done in Scotland. It will be for the committee itself to decide exactly how it is done. Shortly thereafter the Bill will be referred to the Scottish Standing Committee in another place. For the Committee stage in your Lordships' House, if your Lordships agree it would be possible for the Bill to be considered by a Committee off the Floor of the House.
§ Lord Macaulay of Bragar
My Lords, will a time limit be placed on the evidence taken during the Standing Committee stage; or will there be an evidential free-for-all with everyone coming back from the Orkney inquiry and all the other places. How will the procedure work?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I am not sure of the time limit. My memory tells me that there is a limit on the time that the committee takes evidence. That committee will decide who will give evidence. While I suspect that it will wish to hear some factors about the Orkney affair, I hope that it will also wish to take evidence on a rather broader base.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, gave us a fairly detailed account of what he considered the shortcomings in the procedures in civil justice in Scotland. His views are well known and respected. We are gratified that he welcomes the new commercial procedures. No doubt my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate will wish to consider his proposal for an inquiry into the civil procedures very carefully indeed. As he suggested, a re-examination of some of our pleading rules may well be appropriate.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, spoke on more constitutional matters. I do not wish to continue for too long, but this is perhaps an appropriate place to refer to it. The noble and learned Lord referred to two or three subjects of constitutional interest—devolution, proportional representation and reform of the House of Lords. As the Government have no intention of bringing in legislation about any of those issues, there seems no point in the Government setting up a Royal Commission to advise them what to do.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. My plea was for a Royal Commission, not for legislation to be brought in immediately.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, the last time we had a Royal Commission on devolution it came to conclusions which ultimately the people of Scotland rejected in a referendum. If we do not wish to go down the road of devolution, proportional representation or reform of your Lordships' House, I do not see why we need the advice of a Royal Commission. The parties opposite may need that advice to get an answer to the 267 question posed by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. She referred to the difficult West Lothian issue: what would Scottish Members of Parliament do if voting on English legislation for which they had no responsibility in their constituencies? That includes the law. It is an interesting picture. According to the Labour Party, England will be divided into five or six different assemblies with five or six different legislatures. I am not sure whether after many hundreds of years of history as one country, the people of England will wish to see their country broken up, having joined with the rest of us 300 years ago in one United Kingdom.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, will the Minister use some phrase other than "broken up"? Historically that is an inaccurate way of dealing with the regional distribution of power which has been normal for most centuries in European history.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I do not wish to enter into a great argument about it. Many of us firmly believe that devolution, independence or whatever one calls it—one is a short step to the other —will lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom. Many of us quite firmly believe that. I do not wish to take up too much time, but I am happy to give way to the noble Lord.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I am sorry to press the Minister on the point, but in his earlier remarks he talked about the Scottish legislation concerning the children Bill being considered by the Scottish Grand Committee in another place and taking evidence in Scotland. The anxiety I have is that that is rather different from the remarks which the Minister is now making about treating the United Kingdom as a whole.
I remind the Minister that in this House we do not have any convention of treating Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish business separately other than with all Members of your Lordships' House dealing with it. How does the Minister envisage the House dealing with the Scottish children's Bill?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I answered that by saying that, if your Lordships wished it, there is the possibility that the new committee procedures off the Floor of the House may be used for the Scottish children's Bill. All noble Lords, of whatever place they are Peers, will be free to attend and debate it. The children's Bill in the other place will be discussed by Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, one unitary Parliament.
A number of noble Lords spoke on the question of the disability Bill. I say to them all that I believe that the Government have an excellent record on work for the disabled. For example, in the year 1993–94 the Employment Service placed 53,300 disabled people in jobs. The access-to-work scheme will provide an even wider range of help to more people through a budget of £14.6 million in this financial year. The total spending on benefits to help the long-term sick and disabled people and their carers has trebled in real terms since 268 1978–79 to £17 billion last year. That is an increase of 237 per cent. Access to buildings has improved, although there is some way to go on that.
Over the summer we have been consulting on a range of new initiatives to tackle the continuing problems of discrimination against disabled people. My honourable friend the Minister for disabled people has been working with my right honourable friends at the Departments of Employment, Health, Transport and Education to produce a range of measures, including legislation in this Session, which will go further than ever before in advancing the position of disabled people. He will make announcements with the details in the near future.
I was asked about the Child Support Act. At the moment we are considering the Select Committee's report, but we are still quite firmly of the view that the absent parent of the first family—however we wish to call it—has considerable responsibilities, social, moral and financial, to the children which he fathered—and largely in this case I can call him "he".
I turn now to the pensions Bill, which will be very important. I have no doubt that we shall spend some time on it and I do not wish to spend too much time this evening. I had not intended speaking for quite so long and I apologise to your Lordships. The non-state pension part of the pension Bill will attempt to improve the security of pension funds in order to ensure that no other group of pensioners or prospective pensioners has to go through the trauma that the pensioners whose pension funds were pillaged by Mr. Robert Maxwell have had to endure.
On the state pension side, the noble Baroness, Lady Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, suggested she did not quite approve of the age of 65. The noble Baroness, Lady Turner, indicated the same. I need not remind them that the Commission for Social Justice seems to have come down more on our side of the argument than on theirs. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, that it is not a matter of saving money that we are spending now. It is actually making sure that we do not impose on the working people in 2020, 2030 and thereafter a level of expenditure that they will not be able to afford. So it is not a matter of saving money. It is a matter of ensuring that, come 2020 and 2030, the state pension will be affordable by those people in work. I believe it would be absolutely irresponsible for us not to take action on the problem and to leave a time bomb ticking away for those people who will retire in the next century.
The jobseeker's allowance is a very important new idea, changing the rather negative aspect of unemployment benefit and unemployment centres into a more positive idea of job seeking. After all, that is what the great majority of people who become unemployed are doing. Two-thirds of unemployed people get back to work within six months. Of course we recognise the difficulties, especially for the other third who go beyond the six months. But we believe that the agreement that we shall have with the job seeker, which will set out what we will do to help and what the job seeker himself or herself will do, will help with this difficult problem. Ideas such as the new back-to-work bonus will, we believe, be very helpful in encouraging people who are 269 unemployed to take part-time work, and then in encouraging them to take the next step into full-time work.
The noble Earl asked me a number of questions, and one in particular about "in work, out of work", the role of incentives in the benefits system by the SSAC. The committee's paper certainly presents a number of valuable ideas. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Peter Lilley, has already thanked the chairman. We will certainly be considering some of those ideas further; although I have to say—and no doubt the noble Lord is aware—that some of the proposals, such as increasing the earnings disregard, have not been accepted. We believe that the back-to-work bonus, as I said, illustrates an effective way of encouraging people to enter part-time work and act as a stepping-stone into full-time work. We shall be considering the ideas in this report and in a number of other reports which deal with the same problem of how we help people—especially long-term unemployed people—back into work.
Today we have ranged over a wide number of issues, touching on the lives of all our fellow citizens: crime, and its evil impact on far too many decent, law-abiding citizens, and the need for the law to be firm and fair; the health service, with its vital role of looking after all of us when we are ill; in Scotland, where we shall address the needs of some very vulnerable children; and in my own department, helping the disabled, ensuring the security of occupational pensions and the capability of future generations to pay for the state pension and helping the unemployed to seek and find work.
The Opposition have accused us of running out of steam. Touching as it does on many vital aspects of all our fellow citizens' lives, I believe that the Queen's Speech has more than enough steam in it to run a whole class of Flying Scotsmen.
§ Lord McIntosh of Haringey
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—I realise that I risk bringing the wrath of the House down upon me at this hour of night—from what he said earlier about law reform and Law Commission reports, I fear that he may be going back on undertakings or indications that have already been given. Is it not the case that the noble Viscount the Leader of the House said on 2nd November (at col. 898 of Hansard) in response to my noble and learned friend Lord Archer and to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman:I am sure that the noble and learned Lords will appreciate that I am unable to be more specific at present. However, I hope that I can give them some encouragement. I have also noted that the use of special procedures may help us to speed the transition from recommendation to legislation of these most valuable reports".That is, Law Commission reports. The Queen's Speech then went on to mention "further measures of law reform" and my noble friend the Chief Whip has been invited to take part in discussions on enacting Law Commission reports off the Floor of the House. Is it really the case now that the Government only propose 270 to support Private Members' Bills, or is it the Government's proposal to give government time to these important Bills?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, as I have been indicating from a sedentary position for about three-quarters of the noble Lord's intervention, yes, indeed we do mean to bring forward some of them. I am sure that the noble Lord understands that within a wide subject such as this, with so much material to cover, one occasionally gets things slightly out of order. I was wrong in what I actually said. Although we would not be against Private Member Peers or Private Members in the other place taking forward the legislation, we do indeed, as my noble friend has already said, intend to take some of these Bills forward ourselves.
§ Lord Houghton of Sowerby
My Lords, while the noble Lord is still on his feet, perhaps I may ask whether or not the Government are going to do anything about the Dangerous Dogs Act.
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
My Lords, I suggested to the noble Lord, I thought as gently as I could, that as he had me at the Dispatch Box that should not give him any encouragement that we are going to move in any way on the subject of the Dangerous Dogs Act. We believe the dogs to which the Bill refers are indeed dangerous, and we put the lives and the health of small children before dogs.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down for the third time, can he please tell the House whether or not it is true that the Scottish Grand Committee will start proceedings on the Children (Scotland) Bill on Monday, 5th December?
§ Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish
I am sorry, my Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lady that. I think she will have to wait and see when the Bill is printed and when the business managers in another place find time for a Second Reading, which I think I said will be in the Scottish Grand Committee.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Ullswater, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.
Moved, That the debate be now adjourned until tomorrow.—(Lord Lucas.)
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
My Lords, I do not oppose the Motion, but in view of the assurances we had when we debated the hours of sitting of the House at the end of last Session, I venture to point out that last Thursday's debate was adjourned at past a quarter-to 11 and I see that it is now 11 o'clock tonight.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.
§ House adjourned at one minute past eleven o'clock.