I beg to move,
That this House deplores the continuing erosion of personal liberty and freedom of choice.
It is almost common ground that the first duty of the Government is to protect the liberty of the citizens against external attack. That duty has been discharged despite powerful assaults made upon us during the past nine centuries and more since the arrival of the Norman invasion. Whatever doubts we may have about the present strength of our Armed Forces, all the great parties in the State are committed to the proposition that, in conjunction with our Allies, we must provide against any external threat to the liberty of the citizen.
External threats to liberty, especially for what Churchill described as "the island race", are comparatively easy to identify. It is less easy to identify a threat from within, but liberty can be destroyed from within as well as from without, often surreptitiously, first step by step and then stride by stride. Indeed, as I shall try to show, there is an accelerating erosion of personal liberty now taking place before our very eyes.
That erosion is not taking place by chance. In many ways it is the inevitable consequence of Socialism. During eight out of the past 11 years we have had a Socialist Government. In that respect—namely, the erosion of individual freedom and the aggrandisement of the State—the Government have been remarkably successful.
The supreme issue of our time is whether we are going to opt for the free society or to go for the Socialist State. The case for the free society for too long has not been made with sufficient vigour and clarity. Over the past 11 years, with a brief and, I have to admit, not very effective interlude from 1970 to 1974, we have seen the State deciding more and more what the nation shall produce and consume, how its citizens shall apply their effort, their income, their savings and their leisure, how provision shall be made for education, health and housing, and, with the ever-increasing growth of the public sector, how provision shall be made for their employment, too.
Last month's White Paper on Public Expenditure confirmed that over the past three years the ratio of public expenditure to gross domestic product had increased from 50 per cent. to 60 per cent.—or by more than 3 per cent. a year. If that trend should be continued—and there is no sign to show that it will not—in two years' time the State, which in effect means a small, tightly-knit group of politically motivated men and women in Government rather than the great mass of the people exercising their own individual choices and preferences, will be controlling two-thirds of the whole of the economic activity of the country. Then we should have travelled even further down the collectivist road.
However, powerful support for not going further down that road, or, as I would argue, for retracing our steps, was given by the Home Secretary in a notable speech two months ago. Speaking at Llangefni on 23rd January, the right hon. Gentleman referred, as I have done, to the massive increase in public expenditure, and he went on:
There is substantial room for argument as to whether sufficient real advantages have been achieved by this massive growth. Some public services have improved. The whole social security system centred around pensions has undoubtedly and rightly done so. We have certainly seen a great expansion of road building, but the social benefits here are less obvious. There are many other areas of public service where it is hard to see that there has been a clear gain. On simple value for money grounds, therefore, there is need for critical scepticism and for stringent planning for the future.
I shall come back to the Home Secretary in a moment, but I want just to examine more closely one aspect of his argument, because it is crucial to the whole philosopy of this debate.
I could understand, even if I could not share, the view that the restriction on personal liberty involved in high rates of taxation was justified if indeed it meant the granting of new freedoms, better schools, better housing and a better health service for all. But none of those objectives, as the Home Secretary himself pointed out, has in fact been achieved. The erosion of freedom and the free market in housing has meant that the slums are still with us, that the only alternative to home ownership is the new serfdom of the council house estate.
Support for this view came from an unlikely source three days ago. Mr. Frank Field, the Director of the Child Poverty Action Group, who is, so far as I know, a warm supporter of the Labour Party, published a pamphlet entitled "Do We Need Council Houses?" Mr. Field supports the sale of council houses to their tenants on these grounds:
It would extend the new dimensions of individual freedom to a large number of people; freedom from the petty rules and restrictions imposed by bureaucracy, and also freedom in the ability to move around the country.
It is not just that in health, housing and education the area of choice for the citizen is being steadily eroded. I come back to the Home Secretary. This is what he said:
There is a wider issue than that. I do not think that you can push public expenditure significantly above 60 per cent. and maintain the values of a plural society with adequate freedom of choice. We are here close to one of the frontiers of social democracy. Our short-term problems apart, there is no future in believing that we can let public expenditure as a proportion of the national income rise significantly further. If we do that, either the taxation, or the inflationary consequences, will be unacceptable. The taxation consequences are obvious: they mean either increased indirect taxation, which goes straight on the cost of living; or they mean more direct taxation—Income tax in effect, which now cuts deeper and deeper into average and even below-average earnings.
The Home Secretary concluded this part of his speech with these words:
Let no one believe that there are any further substantial sums of revenue to be obtained by taxation which appears painless to the majority because it is levied on a small minority.
I dissent in only one respect from the views expressed by the Home Secretary. He believes that we are close to the frontiers of social democracy; I believe that we have crossed those frontiers. He believes that there is adequate freedom of choice today; I do not.
Before I leave this key issue of the relationship between public expenditure and individual freedom, rightly referred to by the Home Secretary in that speech, I want to look a little more deeply into the issue of taxation and how it erodes personal liberty and freedom of choice.
In paragraphs 2 and 3 of last month's White Paper on Public Expenditure the Chancellor himself referred to the growing burden of tax and warned us rightly that taxes would have to go up if the present levels of public expenditure were to be sustained. This is what he said in paragraph 2 of the White Paper:
The tax burden has also greatly increased. In 1975–76 a married man on average earnings is paying about a quarter of his earnings in income tax, compared with a tenth in 1960–61. At two-thirds average earnings, he is paying about a fifth compared with less than a twentieth.
In paragraph 3 he said,
people are being drawn into tax at income levels which are below social security benefit levels. The increase in the tax burden has fallen heavily on low wage earners. Those earning less than the average contribute over a quarter of the income tax yield.
What the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not point out was that had the current level of public expenditure been financed honestly—namely, by taxation, instead of current expenditure being financed on the "never never" through borrowing, it would have been necessary to increase the basic rate of income tax by 33p—that is, from 35p to 68p in the pound—in order to raise the sum of £12,000 million which is the estimate of the borrowing for the current year. I believe that the Government have seriously under-estimated the extent to which the public resent the erosion of personal liberty involved by excessive rates of taxation, extending as those rates now do to those on below-average earnings and even to those on social security benefits.
I believe that the Government will reap a harvest of locusts when they come to put their policies to the test at the next General Election. The central belief of the Labour Party is that the Government, provided they are a Socialist Government, know best. We make the opposite assertion—that power and decision-making, wealth and property should be diffused as widely as possible.
We say this for two reasons. First, we believe that if there is economic freedom, the infinite variety of human endeavour and risk taking will create a society richer, more diverse and more responsive to the needs and aspirations of the people than can ever be provided by Socialism, however enlightened. Second, we see dangers to freedoms other than economic freedoms if power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of the few.
We see those dangers particularly today. I do not want to rehearse again the arguments which we have had almost ad nauseam about the closed shop, but I think that it is relevant to remind the House when it is debating this issue of personal freedom that the refusal of the Secretary of State for Employment to allow conscience as a ground on which a man need not join a union is the end of his reputation as a libertarian.
The right hon. Member's capacity for self-deception on his issue is almost unlimited. On 7th January last, writing about the closed shop now operating in British Railways he wrote to me in the following terms:
I could not accept that a condition of employment relating to union membership which has the effect of making someone decide not to take a certain job is more of an infringement of individual liberties than any other condition of employment which proves unacceptable to certain individuals—such as, for instance, that the employee should be prepared to travel, or should have to contribute to a firm's pension scheme.
When a man who came top in the ballot for the leadership of the Labour Party and with it the office of Prime Minister believes that there is no distinction between a condition of employment saying that a man will have to travel and the condition that he will have to join a trade union despite strongly held views on conscience to the contrary, the prospect of the right hon. Gentleman's becoming Prime Minister must be one that sends chills down the spines of all who believe in individual freedom.
It is not only the erosion of individual freedom involved in the imposition of a closed shop which is causing wide concern in the country. Again the Government, and notably the Secretary of State for Employment, have proved entirely unresponsive to the suggestions made here and in another place about the threat to the freedom of the Press.
We see erosion of freedom in the Education Bill now being considered in Standing Committee. Perhaps the House will remind itself and the country that the Minister of State for Foreign and
Commonwealth Affairs, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), made clear the Labour Party's purpose in denying freedom of choice in education. Speaking in Cambridge on 7th September 1973, the right hon. Gentleman said:
The pursuit of equality of opportunity has to be replaced by the pursuit of equality itself.
That is the language of tyranny. It is the language of Socialism, and it is the authentic voice of the Labour Party.
The Government have been waging a scarcely concealed campaign against the small man, the small business man, the self-employed and those sections of the community which have traditionally been the bastions of individual freedom. But there is one other erosion of freedom which has taken place in recent years, and that is the down-grading and the devaluation of this House.
Down the centuries it is this House which has been the guardian, the safeguard and protector of the liberties of the people. I want to refer—and it will surprise the House to hear me say this—with approval to something which the Lord President of the Council said on our debate on 2nd February on this subject. He said:
There are also doubts in the minds of many about whether Parliament is the great bulwark of individual freedom which it has so often proved to be in the past … I am sure that parliamentary processes would be easier if more matters were debated at the stage before final decisions were taken so that the views of Members could be taken into account. So often Governments consult outside organisations, local authorities and so on at this stage, but they do not consult Parliament itself."—[Official Report, 2nd February 1976; Vol. 904, c. 966–7.]
Therein lies the growing anxiety of the British people. Therein lie the seeds of the self-doubts which we have about the efficacy of this House as the guardian of the freedoms of the people. Too often the Government consult others who were not elected by the people to carry on the government of this country. Indeed, earlier this month we had it on the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself that he was going to consult in the preparation of his Budget not this House, not the elected representatives of the people specifically sent here for the purpose of deciding these matters, but the TUC, with which he was going to discuss and agree the direction of the Budget. Small wonder that the importance and the relevance of this place has changed when it is devalued in that way by the Government themselves.
Of course, another of the reasons why this House is not able to exercise that scrutiny over the arrogance of the Executive lies in the amount of legislation which we are invited to approve in this place, which is so great that the time available for Members of Parliament to perform their real task is too limited. Just over a year ago Bel Mooney wrote an article, which I commend to the Labour Party, in the New Statesman. The article concluded as follows:
Not to go barefoot, not to starve—that has been given to many. But the right also to take responsibility, to have choice—for that they are still waiting.
Responsibility has been taken from the people. Choice is being increasingly denied to the people. Only in a free society and only when my right hon. Friends form the Government will this disastrous trend be reversed.
I do not disguise the fact that I am sometimes troubled by some of the matters raised by the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) in his excellent speech, to which I pay tribute, but I wish to begin by asking what is meant by personal liberty. This morning I turned to the Oxford Dictionary, and I found some of the definitions of "liberty" as follows:
unrestrained action, conduct or expression; freedom of behaviour and speech beyond what is recognised as proper; licence".
It cannot surely be the hon. Gentleman's intention to confuse liberty with complete licence.
I imagine that we all agree that the individual ought to be allowed as much liberty as possible. I stress the words "as possible" because there must in our society be limits. For example, we all recognise the need for the liberty of the Press to report matters fairly and fully. We recognise, too, the need for liberty of speech and the right to express our views fairly and fully. But we have our laws of libel and slander to protect persons against expressions which would bring the individual into ridicule, hatred or contempt.
Next, there is the right of privacy, the right of the individual to be protected against unjust attack, and to be protected against unjust intrusion into his private affairs. Moreover, there is the right of the individual to take up employment, but that also must be subject to the rights of others. Again, the right of the individual to proper housing accommodation must be subject to the needs of the majority.
We recognise the right of the individual to be able to work in proper conditions, not being exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions, to dangerous machinery or to industrial disease, but here again we have to hold a balance. A workman may argue that he should have the right to work as he wishes, or the motorist may say that he should be allowed to drive as he wishes, but, obviously, the individual's freedom to act in those circumstances must be restricted in his own interest and, in particular, in the interest of others. Accordingly—every Government have recognised this need—we have our Factories Acts, our Health and Safety at Work Act, and even, if one cares to mention it, a law relating to the wearing of seat belts, to afford protection and restriction in the general interest.
We ought to have as much free competition as possible, but who can doubt the necessity to restrain monopolies and to restrain unfair competition where it exists? Attacks are made by the Opposition on nationalisation as restricting the freedom of the individual, but who can doubt what would be the result if the mines or the railways were left to free competition? No Tory Government would dare to interfere in the nationalisation of such industries because, obviously, if they did, free competition in the affairs of that kind would result in hardship and would be fatal to the welfare of the needs of the general community.
There must, therefore, be limits to the freedom of the individual. When the hon. Gentleman and others talk of the erosion of personal liberty and freedom of choice, they forget the limits which must be imposed because of the factors which I have mentioned. The truth is that when Government measures are attacked as creating such erosion, the critics lose sight of those very factors.
The hon. Gentleman gave special attention to public expendture. We all agree that public expenditure should be cut as much as possible. Again, I stress the words "as much as possible". Let me take one item within public expenditure. Every hon. Member opposite wants greater expenditure on defence. Where do we stand, then, in regard to that matter? Moreover, there is considerable agreement in regard to many of the matters to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred. We recognise that there must be greater public expenditure in certain directions, for example, on health and on education.
The hon. Gentleman argues that the weight of public expenditure erodes the liberty and welfare of the individual. We all agree that it affects the welfare of the individual, but, we have to think of the majority of the nation, of the community as a whole, recognising that the freedom of the individual in certain matters must necessarily be contained in order to safeguard the welfare and meet the needs of the majority.
My argument was that, despite all the immense outpouring of public money on housing, for example, we still have slums and we still have appallingly long housing waiting lists. My point is that to assert in respect of housing and health, for example, that the answers lie only in public provision is to deceive and dupe the people, because we have not given them the benefits which we promised. The truth is that only through the market, if it is allowed to operate, shall we be able to get rid of the evils which both the hon. and learned Gentleman and I want to see removed.
I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but his motion deplores the erosion of liberty, and in support of it he introduced the matter of public expenditure. He may criticise certain realms of public expenditure—he may say that they affect people's freedom in certain ways—but, even allowing for criticism in those directions, I argue that in matters of public expenditure any Government have to consider what is best for the needs of the majority and act on their opinion even though it affects the individual.
I am saying that the Government have to consider the general needs of the whole community, and they must make the needs of the individual subservient to that. That is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's argument.
I come now to the question of council housing. The hon. Member for Eastbourne appears to argue that the way in which public expenditure has been directed to housing has affected the liberty of the individual in some way. On the contrary, the truth is the opposite. We have a dreadful housing problem. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman should come to my constituency and see the huge housing list. Let him understand how heartbreaking it is when people who want a house have to wait a long time for even the faint possibility of having a home.
What do the Government do—even Tory Government subscribe to some extent to this—in regard to council housing? We try to meet the needs of the majority of people and although the hon. Member for Eastbourne may not agree, council housing is one of the effective ways of dealing with freedom. The sale of council houses limits the resources of a council to deal with the needs of the people in the area.
I recommend the hon. Gentleman to read a book whcih has just been published, "A Place for All" by Noel Middleton. It is a history of education from the last century to the present day. It is one of the finest pieces of propaganda I have read for the Labour Government's programme. I recommend the hon. Gentleman to read that book critically. He will find that the Labour Party bases its education programme on the principle of equality of opportunity. Whatever criticism he may make, he will find that it is the Labour Government who have pursued a policy giving people that equality of opportunity.
How is personal liberty eroded in the National Health Service? The hon. Member for Eastbourne suggested that the Health Service should be cut. Of course, individual liberty may be affected in that way. I know the argument about private beds and the right to go to a private practitioner, but any Government have to deal with the needs of the majority. The Government's health services programme is one which caters as effectively as possible for that.
The motion is entirely unjustified. The hon. Gentleman was wrong in his criticism of the closed shop situation. The lawful closed shop is not a means of collective oppression of the individual. It is not compulsory, but it is founded on an agreement reflecting the wishes of the majority of employees and employers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment hopes and expects that employers and unions will make good use of the new and flexible provisions of recent legislation. It is more realistic, honest and, above all, a more effective approach to the safeguarding of personal liberties in situations where one man's meat is another man's poison.
The hon. Gentleman talked about interfering with liberty. What about his Government's Industrial Relations Act, which was such a failure and which endeavoured, by bringing the law into a sphere which it could not be effective, to interfere with the rights of working people in making agreements with their employers?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would comment on the case of an employee of British Railways who at the end of last year was required to join one of the railway unions or be dismissed. He did not wish to join, not on religious grounds, which would have been acceptable, but on grounds of conscience. That person had a conscientious ground for refusing to join a union and he had the choice of losing his job or joining a union. Because his livelihood was involved, but with great reluctance, that man was compelled to join the union.
Of course the hon. Member for Eastbourne can quote examples, and so can I. I am putting forward the generally declared view of what is the need of the majority.
The motion is unjustified. The hon. Gentleman criticises those matters which he deems to be erosion of liberty but which are necessary measures which must be taken in the interests of the general public. As a Socialist, I fully recognise the need for as much liberty and freedom of choice as possible.
The flaw in the argument of those who support the motion is that it does not recognise the necessity for those limits that must be imposed upon freedom to meet the paramount needs of the majority. One may regret that that necessity exists. It may be criticised in certain directions or perhaps said that the individual is not as free as he would like, but in the world of today it cannot be otherwise.
I must at least congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) on joining the ranks of those who have been liberated from the pain and inhibitions of a design failure of the human system. He stands on his two legs before us thanks to the same operation as I had a little time before him. But unlike myself, he had that operation on a private basis or was in the hands of a private practitioner, I would be surprised if he did not obtain a full and frank expression of opinion from the medical and nursing professions on the erosion of freedom in the National Health Service.
And so I was surprised by some of the things the hon. and learned Gentleman said. Because of his own experiences, I thought he would have a considerable insight into the contrary point of view from that which he expressed.
I would add that a reference to dictionary definitions at the beginning of a speech usually means that the speaker has a certain lack of confidence in his arguments. Although I was interested in what the hon. and learned Gentleman said, I was neither convinced nor persuaded by him. For all hon. Members must know that a great many people are deeply worried about many aspects of the loss of personal freedom. Those worries are sometimes expressed in ways which are not wholly consistent with logical lines of thought. For instance, much of the unease about the legislation on crash helmets and seat belts stems from the interference of bureaucracy, in all its forms, in all kinds of individual actions rather than from the merits or demerits of the proposals themselves. Recent experience has established that the more bureaucracy we have, the worse it is. That is true at any level and in any type of bureaucracy.
Value added tax has come under considerable attack as an officiously bureaucatic system. I had an example of that only this week from a constituent of mine, an actor whose affairs are handled by an agent. He was peremptorily told by a clerk in the local VAT office that the way in which he handled his affairs would not do and that he had better take his books down to the office himself, and pretty smartly at that. I look forward to taking this case up with the responsible Minister and to hearing his explanation for this example of officious behaviour.
Elsewhere we find bureaucratic inefficiency which is in many ways even more unfortunate than officiousness. I have a case involving myself. Last November I renewed my television licence——
—when I was reminded that it was due. I am glad to have the support of the hon. Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding), who takes such a close interest in Post Office affairs. Three weeks ago I received a reminder from the television licensing office in Bristol asking me why I had not taken out a new licence. I sent the office a photograph of the licence I had taken out, and asked why the office had thought fit to bother me about it. Only this morning I was told by the office that I would be glad to know that its records now show that I have a licence, and the office apologised for bothering me.
Why is the licensing office so damned inefficient that it has to bother people in this way? I shall take up the matter, and hope that in doing so I shall have the support and encouragement of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who is so interested in the efficiency of the Post Office.
It is self-evident to us all, from our own experience, that bureaucracy, with its ramifications, is in danger of becoming self-perpetuating. We have almost reached the classic condition which was once said to prevail in France. A senior French civil servant was asked what he did all day. He said "From 9 to 12 I work. For the rest of the day I defend my position."
One of the aspects of freedom that we in this country have been accustomed to value most highly has been the freedom of any family to enjoy free use of its own home. This concept is usually expressed in the phrase that an Englishman's home is his castle. Thanks to the Socialists, that is no longer as true at is once was.
I should like to illustrate this with another example which has come to me in a constituency context, involving a serving non-commissioned officer in a unit in my constituency. He let his house in 1973 because he had to serve elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Later he received notice of posting, which meant that he would need his house again for his family, as he was going to Northern Ireland. He accordingly asked for his agent's help, and the tenants were given three months' notice. This was in December 1974. The tenants wrote back saying that they refused to move. They used stalling tactics of a general kind.
In March 1975 the landlord went to see the agent, and subsequently saw a solicitor, having in the interval been to look at his house and noticed that it was very untidy, with his furniture stored in the garage and being ruined by neglect. His solicitor's first reaction was to tell him that he had been very foolish to rent the house at all. Court proceedings were instituted. By this time we are getting into April. The action was eventually heard in June, by which time the tenants were four months behind with the rent. The court found in the landlord's favour and gave the tenants three weeks to get out of the premises.
The Service man then had to set about finding some temporary accommodation for his family, because there was to be a fortnight in which he had no accomodation at all. He sent one of his children to live with his grandparents, another to live with the in-laws, his wife went to stay with a friend and his personal effects were stored at another friend's house. The tenants were due out of the property on 26th June. His wife went to see whether they had gone. By law she was not allowed to enter the house, so she had to spend three days waiting outside the house in a car. On 29th June the tenants did a moonlight flit.
When the landlord got his house back it was in a disgusting condition. From the first moment that he applied to repossess the house, the tenants had started to let it rot. Eventually the landlord's wife was able to move in, only to face shortly afterwards the crowning indignity. On 7th July the bailiff arrived, because the arrangements for them to regain possession had not been cancelled. The bailiffs were only persuaded not to evict the landlord's wife when she was able to produce her passport and marriage certificate. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme laughs, but let him put himself in this position.
I shall not give way. I have heard enough of the hon. Gentleman. This experience has cost this Service man and his wife a great deal of personal anxiety and suffering. He is about £1,000 out of pocket as a result of the experience. He says that he will never let his house again unless the law is changed.
The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington referred to homelessness. Does he not know that there are hundreds and hundreds of cases up and down the country, similar to the one I have described, involving Service men and civilians who have resolved that they will never let their houses, however much people may need them, because of the situation in which this iniquitous piece of tyranny has placed them? Yet the hon. and learned Gentleman dares to stand there and say that his Government support the cause for freedom, and his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme laughs.
I do not find this awfully funny as a general situation, and I do not find myself greatly amused by the many threats which we know exist to another basic freedom—the freedom to work. We know the insidious pressures which are being continually brought to bear in this area, and with which—as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) said—the temporary leader in what I suppose we may call the Grand National stakes has been so closely associated.
I hope that on this occasion at least we can pause for a moment and distinguish between the concept of freedom to work and the notion of a right to work, and to comment in particular that those who espouse the latter cause would be very well advised to reflect on the damage they do to their cause when we have incidents such as that which occurred in London last weekend. No doubt the matter is still sub judice, but I hope that we are free in this House to express our own personal abhorrence of an incident involving injury to 40 policemen, and which is reported to have taken up the time of 1,000 policemen, at a time when London is under threat from a much more serious danger—that of the indiscriminate IRA bomber. Anybody who believes that his cause is so overwhelmingly important that he must put this strain on the taxed resources of the police must have a very curious and inverted scale of values.
I suppose that anyone who argues the case for personal freedom is always liable to come up against one powerful argument, which no doubt we shall hear expressed later in the debate. We shall probably be asked why we are making such a fuss when we compare our situation with that existing in certain other countries, such as Russia. We know how little freedom the Russians have. We have been reminded of it recently in fairly powerful terms.
Last autumn I had the first-hand experience of being flown in a helicopter along part of the border between East and West Germany and seeing the effort being made by the East German Government to strengthen the extraordinary cage within which they feel obliged to restrict their unhappy citizens. They are spending £1 million a mile. They are renewing the wire, they are removing the old mines, and no doubt they are replacing them with new ones. We saw an unhappy squad—I suppose of political prisoners—engaged on this dangerous task under armed guard. The East Germans are putting a new fence along the whole of this boundary. At intervals along it there is an automatic shotgun which is triggered off by anyone who touches the wire and which will blast him and leave him bleeding on the wire.
By those standards I suppose we may count ourselves fairly fortunate that we do not have to live in a prison such as that. I suppose that some people, when they hear what Mr. Solzhenitsyn says about our society, tend to apply that kind of thinking to the situation. But I believe that they are fundamentally wrong in so doing, for what should impress us most is the way in which Mr. Solzhenitsyn has been appalled by the low value we seem to place on things which he has learned to prize so highly.
Most of us would feel a sense of shock and outrage if we saw an old and beautiful building being used as a strip club, or an archaeological site turned into a rubbish tip. That is the sensation that is felt by Mr. Solzhenitsyn when he comes to the West and sees the things that he has learned to prize above all others being so lightly regarded. Our own justified reaction to the destruction of the material treasures of the past can and should be matched on an ideological plain by equal resentment and disgust whenever freedoms won by our ancestors are downgraded by today's permissiveness.
As the debate continues it will no doubt become clear that there are deep political divergences across the Floor of the House. Perhaps this has already been made clear by the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. His hon. Friends may subsequently make it even clearer.
Only the other day the Labour Party in my constituency got around to adopting a prospective parliamentary candidate. That is something that I always welcome because past experience has taught me that this means there will be a General Election within a year. The newly adopted candidate has expressed himself on the subject of freedom in these terms:
While I believe that freedom of choice is absolutely basic, if some people's range of freedom has to be somewhat constrained so that more people can have that freedom, that is what must be.
He declares himself as believing in freedom of choice for all sections of the community. He said:
Freedom applies to everybody. But the poor and underprivileged do not have the freedom of choice to dine at the Ritz.
I do not know who dines at the Ritz nowadays, but that does not seem to be the best argument for denying anyone freedom.
We should not be distracted by that sort of idiotic argument. We should be engaging in a real argument which I shall attempt to express. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne commented on the effect of taxation on personal liberty. If we create a situation in which people are more or less told that all the money they have left after they have paid their taxes is theirs to use as pocket money, we shall be treating them, and expecting them to behave, like the usual recipients of pocket money—namely, children. The speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington was riddled with the thought that everyone is free to do as the Government say. That is the paternalistic side of Socialism which is so objectionable to those who care about individual dignity and responsibility—and I believe that we are the majority.
I am not saying that Parliament and politicians should be the only defenders of individual rights or the only setters of standards. I do not believe that legal means moral, but I argue that the true purpose of Parliament is to protect the people. That is why we have a parliament. It came into being to protect people against the Government. It is needed for that purpose more today than at most times in the past. Yet the admitted objective of the Leader of the House is to make government easier. There are Labour Back Benchers whose aspiration it is to turn themselves into 9-to-5 revolutionaries. They wish to go home to the bosom of their families rather than stay here to protect the rights and freedoms of the people against Government. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Radice) is not in the Chamber. Perhaps he is at home in the bosom of his family.
I am not impressed by the argument which he and some of his hon. Friends advance—namely, that this is a run-of-the-mill job in which we just clock in and clock out and do not worry when we go home. I believe that the fight for freedom——
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman. I believe that the fight for freedom starts here. I have in mind not just the classic four freedoms to which Franklin Roosevelt once referred, but some others which should be added to the list of freedoms which we seek to provide for the British people. There is the freedom of choice, the freedom to work, freedom from bureaucracy and freedom from injustice, all of which might be summed up as freedom from Socialism.
Personal liberty is something which we all take for granted. This is still a country in which personal liberty has a far wider dimension than in many other places in the world. Perhaps the threat to personal liberty in Britain is more remote than elsewhere, but the threat is ever present.
I was reminded of that threat only last night in my constituency, when along with other Members who represent West London I was invited by the West London Joint Trades Council Action Committee to a public meeting on unemployment at Acton Town Hall. Three Members appeared at the town hall, two Labour Members and myself. The two Labour Members were listened to without much enthusiasm but in silence. When I was asked to speak, a gentleman intervened from the audience on a point of order to move that I be not heard. He turned out to be a member of the International Marxist Group which is based in Islington. Clearly its policy is to silence all those with whom it disagrees. Some of his colleagues were present at the meeting to support him but fortunately I was armed with a microphone.
It is a lesson to us all that when we are invited to address public meetings in our constituencies a group of people may be prepared to threaten the freedom of speech, one of our basic liberties.
Personal liberty is difficult to define. Like so many other things in life, its importance is recognised only when it ceases to exist. That is why there are many people throughout the world who can say what personal liberty was, but many fewer who can say what it is. Personal liberty may be difficut to define, but it is not impossible to do so.
The threat to personal liberty, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) so clearly stated, no longer comes from without, from another country; it comes from within. Paradoxically, it comes from two institutions whose history in fighting for the rights of the individual is unparalleled—namely, the House of Commons and the trade union movement. I hope that my comments about the trade union movement will not be misunderstood. The movement has a history of which it is rightly proud. It has virtually ended the exploitation of cheap labour that was prevalent a century ago. It has improved working conditions and persuaded its members to accept the implications of new technology. It has nurtured politicians who have served the country well.
But although the history of the trade union movement fills me with respect, its future fills me with concern. I am concerned that it is pre-empting decisions which should be taken in this Chamber. The Government's political priorities are not the priorities of Labour Members who are democratically elected but the priorities of the trade union movement.
The next stage of the Government's incomes policy, which is the most important issue before us, will not be decided by the Labour Party in the House of Commons. It will be decided by Mr. Jones. It initiative has left the Chamber. That has important implications for our democracy.
Labour Members may argue that it is important that the second stage of the incomes policy should have the confidence of the trade union movement and that it should play a part in determining its contents, but the second stage must be acceptable to the country as well as acceptable to the unions.
Who represents the country if it is not Members of Parliament? The fact that the trade union movement occupies so dominant a position on the political stage is not so much a criticism of the movement as a criticism of the House. It seems that we have allowed a gulf to appear between the people and ourselves. The vacuum has been filled by another body.
Mr. Jack Jones represents a large number of workers. I concede that he and his colleagues have a right to negotiate on behalf of those workers for better pay and working conditions. However, he does not represent pensioners or the wives of his members. He does not represent the children or those who do not belong to his union. We do. Stage II of the Government's programme covers issues which concern the House of Commons much more than they concern the trade union movement.
This shift of responsibility from this Chamber, a shift which none of us can deny, has important implications for our democracy. We are accountable in the way trade unions are not. We seek mandates on political issues that cover the whole spectrum—not just industrial and economic matters. We represent everybody in our constituency, not just those who belong to trade unions. One of the threats to our democracy is that to the House of Commons, which is the centre of our democratic institutions.
Before I leave this subject, I wish to recall an incident that took place in a union to which I belonged, the Society of Civil Servants. No long ago civil servants who had not joined that union sent a leaflet which called itself "an invitation" and which said:
According to our records you are not a member of the Society of Civil Servants. Let me tell you how that fact could cost you your next pay rise.
The leaflet went on to describe various resolutions passed by the Society committing itself to negotiate on a basis of benefits for members only. The leaflet also threatened non-members that they would have to bear the brunt of any dispersal policy and with it loss of promotion. This cordial invitation ended as follows:
This is only the start. So if you decide to accept our invitation I shall be pleased to send you a form. If, however, you would still rather keep your £1 a month, you have my admiration. After all, you soon will not have much else.
It is disgraceful that civil servants, whose allegiance is to the Crown, should be put under that sort of pressure. Many civil servants regard the nature of their work as such that they should not join therefore closely identified with one political party. When that union took the step of affiliating to the TUC, I resigned from it, as did a large number of other members.
The second institution that is threatening the freedom of the individual is, paradoxically, the House of Commons, with the nation under the leadership of the Labour Party. I refer particularly to the legislation which the House is passing, the extension of the bureaucracy, which it is causing, and the growing burden of taxation, all of which imply threats to our liberty.
I believe that a good Government is one that undertakes tasks which only a Government can perform—for example, the defence of the country and the administration of the law. A bad Government is one which occupies itself with tasks best performed by others, such as the running of industry. A Government which does more than provide an aceptable framework within which individuals are free to make their own decisions becomes paternalistic, and seeks to apply its own standards to others by denying them choice.
Clear examples that spring to mind are health and education. A man with a wife and three children may find himself faced with a choice of giving up smoking and using the money saved to pay for private health insurance for himself and his family. The sums are roughly equivalent. If he so decides, the premium he pays will increase the total amount of resources available for health care in this country. It will go towards the salaries of doctors and nurses, the construction of new nursing homes and other means. If not, the cost of any illness affecting him or his wife and children will fall on the taxpayer. No additional resources will be available to the Health Service, and he can carry on smoking.
Labour Members wish to deny that man his freedom of access to private health insurance. They call him a queue-jumper. They introduce legislation to curb the growth of the private health sector, and they have other legislative proposals to outlaw private practice in the National Health Service. This is an indefensible restriction of the freedom of choice which will simply increase the pressure on an overburdened National Health Service and deny the resources that it desperately needs.
We see the same erosion of personal freedom in education. One of the biggest social problems facing this country is the diminution of parental responsibility for children. This is a common complaint voiced by social workers, probation officers, police, magistrates and others. Parliament should try to strengthen parental responsibility by encouraging parents to develop to the full their children's potential. But again we find that parents who are prepared to make enormous financial sacrifices to pay for their children's education, having become dissatisfied with the quality of education offered by the local education authority, are penalised by Labour Members. Those parents are accused of buying privilege or of perpetuating a class-based society.
The logic of the Government's educational policy is that of State monopoly. Let us assume that local education authorities acquire all private or public schools. The schools would not then all be equal because the quality of staff and pupils tends to vary. All that would happen would be that parents with resources would move into the catchment areas of good schools. One would have a polarisation of education which would be sharper than exists at present. Labour Members would be driven to the logic of their policy by refusing people permission to move into catchment areas of good schools or, even worse, would start bussing children around the country to achieve a balance of educational opportunity between schools. They do not understand that this pursuit of equality happens at the expense of personal liberty.
The Government are intervening not only in the affairs of the individual but in the workings of industry. I wish to look briefly at the amount of forms that the Government are asking industry and individuals to fill in.
My hon. Friend the Member for East-leigh (Mr. Price) was told in a parliamentary Answer on 8th March that no fewer than 350 forms are available from the Home Department for different purposes requiring completion by the general public. The Department of Industry sends out 780,000 statistical forms each year for firms to complete. The Treasury issues 1,866 different forms which it can require people to complete. The Department of Health and Social Security comes next, with a total of 1,750 different forms. The Department of the Environment has a modest 200; the Ministry of Agriculture 400; and the Foreign Office 96 forms. That is a graphic example of the growth of bureaucracy and the increasing amount of time people must spend in satisfying the lust of Government in wanting intimate details of people's lives.
The purpose of this House is to protect the freedom of the individual and not to erode it. Motions in this House have spoken of restrictions of freedom. The choice of employment has been narrowed as firms have been taken over through public ownership and individual liberty has been eroded by higher and higher personal taxation.
The freedom to leave one's savings to one's wife and children has been attacked by taxation on wealth. Freedom to work for oneself has been eroded by national insurance legislation, which victimises the self-employed. The freedom not to join a trade union is disappearing as a result of the provisions of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Bill. The freedom to provide for the health and education of one's dependants is threatened. The freedom of choice in housing has been narrowed by the elimination of the private landlord.
This loss of freedom has been imposed upon us not from without but from within—from a party, elected on a minority vote, intent on extending the influence of the State at the expense of the individual. It will be the welcome task of my right hon. and hon. Friends and I. when the Conservative Party is returned to office, to reverse that process.
It is interesting that once again the House is debating the subject of personal liberty. Not very long ago the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Hamilton), having been lucky in the Ballot, also selected this subject for debate.
Today's motion is an abbreviated form of that earlier motion. On that occasion the motion said:
That this House, concerned at the relentless erosion of personal liberty, deplores the narrowing of the citizen's choice on every hand, whether in education, in medical treatment or in country sports; and draws attention to the need to recognise the danger of state control, the tyranny of uniformity and the threat to the freedom of society before it is too late.—[Official Report, 16th Jan., 1976; Vol. 903, c. 872.]
At that time the Minister was unable to reply because we ran out of time. We look forward to hearing her today. We
have heard today a repetition of the earlier theme from the hon. Members for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), Woking (Mr. Onslow), and Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). I see that the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) is on the Opposition Front Bench. Since he is co-ordinating Conservative tactics for the next General Election, this subject is, no doubt, to be the grand theme for the Conservatives.
It was Clem Attlee, a previous leader of the Labour Party, who wrote in "The Labour Party in Perspective":
My conclusion is that men and women will be more free, not less free, under Socialism. Freedom will be more widely disseminated. There will be no attempt made to impose rigid uniformity. There will be no forcible suppression of adverse opinions. The real change will be that a man will become a citizen, with the rights of a free man during his hours of labour just as in his leisure time. This does not mean that he will have the right to do just as he will. He will have freedom within the necessary restraints which life in a complex society imposes.
When we look back over the past 30 years I believe that we can say that the vast majority of the people of Britain enjoy greater personal liberty today than they did in the pre-war years under the Tories. Freedom of choice for the vast majority of people in the country is far greater than it was than at that earlier time.
We have had reference to the fact that the Prime Minister is retiring and that the Labour Party is electing a new leader. We are now down to three names in the ballot. I say that if any of the original six had been elected we would be far better led then if we were led by the leader of the Opposition. That is recognised by the country. We have seen changes over the years which have transformed this country.
If the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) gets to his feet I will give him the freedom to interrupt me—a freedom which has been denied my hon. Friends when they sought to interrupt Conservative Members.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has referred to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think that she would particularly want to lead many Labour Members—which is why she has no more than a passing interest in who becomes the next leader of the Labour Party.
There seems to be greater interest in the Conservative Party over whom we elect as our leader than there was when the knife was stuck in the back of the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath). At least Labour leaders retire. The Prime Minister has led this party well and has seen the Conservative Party get rid of Harold Macmillan, Lord Home and the right hon. Member for Sidcup. When our new leader emerges it will not be long before the Conservatives start choosing another leader.
Why is it that the hon. Gentleman describes the circumstances in which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) gave up the leadership in such a way? Does the hon. Gentleman think that is was wrong for the then Leader of the Conservative Party to submit himself for re-election? Was that not the most democratic thing he could have done? Was it not perfectly proper for him to do that and for the Tories to make their choice?
It is a question of the freedom of choice. My point is that it was the choice of our leader to stand down. Whether the right hon. Member for Sidcup removed himself or was pushed I will leave to others to decide.
We see a kind of unrestricted capitalism emerging from the Conservative Party. It talks about the Labour Party going left. The Conservative Party is going so far right that it is almost out of sight. There was no freedom of choice for the people of Britain in prewar days. It was no use talking about educational opportunity when children were working in overcrowded classes. According to Lord Boyd-Orr one-third of the children were suffering from malnutrition.
Tory Members might think that freedom of choice is deciding whether to send one's child to Eton or Harrow. That freedom does not exist for the vast majority of parents. To be fair, the 1944 Education Act, known as the "Butler Act", has meant that educational opportunities are far greater today than they were in the so-called "good old days". We have created a Welfare State. That means that the poverty, degradation and human suffering of those pre-war days has been removed. There are still anomalies in the social services but great progress has been made. Are we to return to the pre-Welfare State days? I am glad to see the hon. Member for Eastbourne shaking his head.
When I read some of the comments of Conservative Members who attack the health and social services it seems as if they want to go back to pre-war days. There was tremendous suffering then. No doubt some people were able to say "What a great amount of liberty we have. What a great amount of choice we have." Perhaps it was, for some, a question whether to take a holiday in the Riviera or the West Indies. There is no choice for the vast majority of people. There has been a great transformation and now the basis of the Welfare State is generally accepted.
The main theme of the Opposition has been set by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. Speaking to the Institute—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members opposite should listen to the quotation first and then wonder whether their constituents will say "Hear, hear", because they will be reminded of what the right hon. Lady said when the time comes. Speaking to the Institute of Socio-economic Studies in New York on 15th September, she said:
The rich are getting poorer and the poor are getting richer. This is due both to market forces and the actions of Government through the tax system.
What is wrong with that? The policy of the Tory Party has been to change the tax system or to try to raise money to meet the needs of people who want hospital treatment or to meet educational needs. Why should we worry if the rich
are getting poorer and the poor are getting richer?
What the right hon. Lady said may have gone down well with certain sections in New York, but it will not go down well with people in this country. She went on to say:
How easy it is with a National Health Service to argue, for example, that the State must provide and service artificial kidney machines to all those who need them".
I shall leave that remark without commenting on it, because to do so would be superfluous. The right hon. Lady continued:
What lessons have we learned from the last 30 years? First, the pursuit of equality is a mirage".
It has not been a mirage for most people in this country. She continued:
What is more desirable and more practicable than the pursuit of a policy of opportunity, and opportunity means nothing unless it includes the right to be unequal.
The right hon. Lady—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] I am glad that Opposition Members stand by what the right hon Lady said. Those who have been fighting for liberty for generations have been talking about moves towards equality. The right hon. Lady said:
I believe that you have a saying in the Middle West 'Don't cut down the tall poppies. Let them rather grow tall'.
I have seen poppy fields, and poppies usually reach the same height because they have the same access to the sun and receive the same nourishment from the ground.
The Leader of the Opposition went on to say:
Let our children grow tall and some grow taller than others if they have it in them to do so".
The height of a person is determined, not by any desire within him to grow tall, but by hereditary and environmental factors.
We now have the new theory of the Conservative Party—the policy of the poppy. In my view, it is a policy of poppycock, and the Conservative Party knows it. I wish that the Leader of the Opposition would not make speeches of that sort in New York, attacking this country in many parts of it, but would make them in this House.
The impression has been conveyed by the Conservative Party that a move towards a greater Socialist society will
restrict people's personal freedom. R. H. Tawney defined British Socialism as follows:
British Socialism is the effort, partly critical, party constructive, at once aspiration, theory, prophecy and programme, which has as its object to substitute for the direction of industry by the motive of personal profit and the method of unrestricted competition some principle of organisation more compatible with social solidarity and economic freedom".
Freedom for someone might well mean the denial of freedom for someone else.
I have here the speech of the Leader of the Opposition on the Second Reading of the Development Land Tax Bill. I do not propose to quote from it because it was a lot of nonsense. The right hon. Lady was a member of the Government which allowed unrestricted competition in land speculation. I said in Standing Committee on the Development Land Tax Bill:
Surely something needed to be done when, under the Conservative Administration
of which the Leader of the Opposition was a member
the weighted average price per hectare of land in 1969 was £18,940, rising in 1972 to £39,490 and to £61,190 in 1973".
I said that that was a scandalous situation and went on to say:
Conservative Members have asked what the people want. The answer is that they want this Government to take action."—[Official Report, Standing Committee J, 23rd March 1976, c. 40.]
We should give credit where credit is due. Lord Barber proposed to take action by introducing a tax of 83 per cent., which is higher than the present Government propose for the development land tax.
What the Opposition mean by freedom is freedom for the land speculator to sell land at £18,940 per hectare in 1969 and £61,190 in 1973. That means that some people have made vast fortunes. What effect does that situation have on a person who wishes to build a house and he finds that the price of land increased under the Conservative Government threefold? Freedom for the land speculator is against the interests of the ratepayer, the taxpayer and the house owner.
Reference has been made to the owners of small industries. They have suffered most from the asset strippers who were rampant during the period in office of the Conservative Government. I can give examples of people who speculated in property and took over local industries. They were not concerned with manufacturing goods or with the rights of the men employed in those industries. They were not even concerned with the management of those industries.
Under the Conservative Government there was freedom for the asset strippers, and that is against the interests of small industrialists who wish to make a living by bringing capital and labour together to manufacture goods to meet the needs of the community. Freedom for the asset stripper means the denial of freedom of many men to be employed. I could give chapter and verse of the individuals involved in this practice. One firm was part of the Slater Walker set-up, but there is a whole catalogue of people who have made no contribution to the welfare or industry of this country.
Before the hon. Gentleman's indignation on this subject gets too selective, can he say whether he approves of the large profits which are made, often dishonourably, out of land speculation by Labour councillors in the North-East of England?
I deplore that sort of activity wherever it occurs. When an individual of the Labour Party is involved, the party itself takes action. We should try to ensure that this sort of activity cannot take place, but it is the unrestricted freedom which hon. Members opposite defend. That is the freedom we are tackling in the taxation proposals in the Community Land Act.
At the moment, a community wishing to extend its boundaries may buy land which was previously used for farming and build houses, community centres and schools on it. The community has to pay for the increase in the value of that land. Under the Act, the community will get the benefit of the increased value because it will be taxed at up to 80 per cent Perhaps we could use some of that money to buy the kidney machines to which I referred earlier.
One of the main international issues is the situation in Rhodesia. Where does the Conservative Party stand on that issue? There is unanimity on this side. We have always been behind our leader in condemning the minority who have taken illegal action in Rhodesia and denied elementary rights to the vast majority of people there. Where is the freedom of choice for the black individuals in Rhodesia?
The hon. Member must surely be aware that the principles of progress towards majority rule in Rhodesia were clearly laid down by Sir Alec Douglas-Home when he was Foreign Secretary and also when he was Prime Minister. We have supported the Government in their determination that the majority should ultimately progress towards majority rule. However, the hon. Member might spend a little time telling us about the rights of majorities and the democratic freedoms in other African countries.
The hon. Member claims that it is a fact, but there has not always been unanimity in the Conservative Party on, for instance, whether we should apply economic sanctions against the illegal regime. On numerous occasions, hon. Members opposite have almost encouraged the minority to maintain their position and not to agree to constitutional talks towards a peaceful transition to minority rule. Here is a classic example of the lack of freedom of choice and personal liberty. Liberty, like peace, is indivisible.
I am sure that my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that I am drawing my remarks to a conclusion.
When we talk about liberty, we must not concern ourselves only with the people in this country. We were once responsible for a quarter of the population of the world. In the last 30 years, those people have achieved their personal freedom. We may be able to point to numerous examples and say they do not have the parliamentary system which we know or the freedoms which we cherish. We could be critical of the way many of them have moved forward, but we have no right to dictate from this House the personal liberty and freedom of choice of these people or to deny to any community even the freedom to make mistakes.
Hon. Members opposite are becoming prophets of doom. They think that everything is bad and that we have a gloomy future. They are out of touch with reality. I believe that the vast majority of people in this country consider that they have had an expansion of liberty.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance and we should be eternally vigilant. We agree on that, at least. But it is important that we should be vigilant on all issues, including the exploitation which denies people the opportunity to rise to the heights.
Much has been achieved in the last 30 years, but I would be the last to say that we have reached the new Jerusalem. There is a long way to go. For example, we must improve our social services. We have taken certain industries into public ownership and there is great scope for movement towards industrial democracy in these industries.
One of the greatest authorities on liberty in this country was John Stuart Mill who wrote an essay on liberty.
In his autobiography, John Stuart Mill wrote:
The social problem of the future I consider to be how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action with a common ownership in the raw materials of the globe and an equal participation of all in the benefits of combined labour.
That came from a man who believed in liberty.
Socialism and liberty are quite compatible. It was the veteran French Socialist Leon Blum who said that there could not be democracy without Socialism, or Socialism without democracy. Attempts have been made in some parts of the world to create a social order without the freedom to criticise. The business of the House was changed this week because some hon. Members were critical of a Bill. In that case some Labour Members made an impact on a decision of the House. Our representations were listened to and acted upon.
This country enjoys a great parliamentary democracy which gives a lead to the world. There are parts of the world where unrestricted private enterprise operates. But just look at what happened to New York recently—it nearly went bankrupt because of a campaign against public expenditure. Elsewhere in the world economic exploitation has been prevented but the people do not have the political freedom that we enjoy.
We should seek to create a society where we are politically free to criticise, whether we are in the Opposition or the Government. That is what political democracy is all about. Freedom of choice has been greater in this country in the past 30 years than it was in the preceding 30 years. That is why I hope that the House will reject the motion. The people of this country will move forward to a society of greater social responsibility but where capitalist activity is not unrestricted.
The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) will not expect me to follow his wide-ranging effusions from the past. He talked rather a lot about land speculators. It is astonishing that anybody, even though his heart may be enormously much larger than his head, should ignore the events of the past few years in this respect. The hon. Member is completely ignorant of what has gone through the courts in that time, and it is astonishing that someone from the Labour side of the House should make these claims——
I understand your point, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I shall try not to follow the hon. Gentleman's example.
Of course, any action is understandable if it is by an hon. Member who comes from the Principality, in view of the great day there last Saturday. However, coming as I do from New Zealand, I advise the hon. Member to be prepared and not to allow things to go to sleep on the rugby front, because the All-Blacks may have something to say to the Principality very shortly.
The hon. Member spoke a lot about how there was less freedom pre-war than there is now. There is a certain amount of truth in what he said, but if he allocates responsibility to particular parties for lack of freedom, he should bear in mind that someone who is unemployed has very little freedom. That applied particularly to the unemployed before the war. The Labour Party was in power when unemployment reached its highest peak this century between 1929 and 1931, just as it is the Labour Party which is now in power when unemployment is at its highest since 1931.
To be fair the hon. Member must admit we are passing through an world economic recession. There is high unemployment in many countries, including Europe and the United States.
I should not have given way to the hon. Member if I had known what he was going to say. He is emormously good tempered and therefore one cannot be angry with him. I hope, however, that he will not interrupt me without first thinking out what he is going to say, because otherwise I shall be emboldened not to give way to him in spite of his kindness.
My three hon. Friends made extremely good speeches. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) tackled the subject from the point of view of taxation and its influence upon the freedom of the individual and the liberty of the subject. That influence is enormous. The motion concludes with the words "and freedom of choice", but if taxation is so high that people cannot afford to live—as is rapidly becoming the situation—their freedom of choice is reduced.
Taxation is now becoming so ridiculous that a friend of mine who runs a small business in my constituency has reached the stage where he cannot allow himself to die, as he told me the other day. He is getting on. If he dies before the Conservatives repeal the present tax laws, his business will be broken up and disappear. Many people are in that situation.
I wish to take up a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) who said something that I aid not fully understand. He said that the threat to personal liberty no longer came from the outside. That does not seem to me to be right. The threat to individual liberty is greater from outside than from anywhere within the nation, except in so far as it comes from within ourselves.
The way in which the country is run is up to the people. If the people are stupid enough to elect a Socialist Government, it is sad but undeniable that Socialism means failure. The hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) must not laugh at failure; he must laugh at success. His hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare was laughing all through his speech. He was even laughing at misery. The advent of Socialist Governments has always been accompanied by failure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne spoke of the effect of taxation on freedom, and I wish to talk about the effect of Socialism upon the freedom of the individual. I am worried about the lack of fairness in the presentation of certain aspects of the news. I appeal to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to realise that in talking of the freedom of the individual I may go a little wide of the motion.
The Prime Minister announced his resignation at an extraordinary time, when the pound was sinking fast and had sunk to its lowest ever level, just after the Angolan invasion by Russia's mercenaries from Cuba, and when it was obvious that anything might happen within the next week or two, as it has. Why did the Prime Minister choose such a moment to resign? He was not a sick man, thank God. It was not that he was no longer able to manage his party. He had sloshed all the Left round the earhole the week before, and had been aided and abetted in doing so by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. All was well. The Prime Minister was in the finest fettle.
Suddenly, he lays down his reins of office, he disappears without warning, with no excuse and no reason for resigning at a time of great crisis for the British nation. It is incredible. There was an internal crisis because the pound was rushing downwards and an external crisis because Russia had invaded part of Africa with the tools of Cuba. Speculation was rife that the next country to be invaded by the Soviets with their tools of Cuba might be Rhodesia and then, who knows, South Africa. At such a time the Prime Minister of Britain lays down his tools and runs off.
Does anyone in his right senses believe for a moment that his successor, be it the Secretary of State for Employment or the Foreign Secretary, will be able to handle the mess that is the Labour Party, in the extraordinary way in which the outgoing Prime Minister has handled it? There is no possibility.
I can see how much the hon. Gentleman is enjoying his speech, but he is supposed to be speaking to a motion attacking the erosion of personal liberty and freedom of choice. Is he denying the Prime Minister the right to choose the time of his resignation? What has the time of resignation of the Prime Minister to do with this subject?
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for interrupting me, but, again I am sorry that I gave way, for it was a pointless pursuit to allow him to make his pointless little point.
Resulting from the Prime Minister's resignation we have had a period of about 10 days of delay, with every evening party political broadcasts on independent television and the BBC. Where is the freedom of choice? What about the British people? Are not they also interested in the appointment of a new Prime Minister? What about the Tory point of view?
Last night on independent television I saw programmes dealing with the election of a new leader. As far as I can remember, there were 11 Labour Back Benchers who made their little party political broadcasts. In addition, there was the right hon. and unreliable Gentleman the Secretary of State for Energy, who swaps from position to position. He made a full ministerial party political speech. We are having nightly party political broadcasts on behalf of the Labour Party.
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that it is a question of access to the television screen? The Tory Party changes its leaders far more frequently than does the Labour Party. The Prime Minister has been the Leader of the Labour Party for 12 years whereas the Tory Party during that time has had three Leaders and will probably have another one next year.
Mr. Deputy Speaker:
I am, naturally, prepared to protect any hon. Member, particularly the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), but my difficulty is that although he said that he hoped not to go too wide, he has gone rather wide in dealing with the action of the BBC in deciding who appears on the television screen. I do not think that that is germane to the debate.
The most important aspect is that the threat to personal liberty comes from the outside. That is why I was surprised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton. I understand that the major threat to personal liberty is coming from inside, from within ourselves. Quite apart from the facts mentioned about industry, the closed shop and so on, there is the fact that today even the enormous company—the bigger the company, the worse it is in this respect—is now in a situation that is quite extraordinary.
Always such companies used to be run by the most independent-minded people. The directors have in the main always been very independent-minded, and they ran companies on the strict basis that what they were doing was running them as best they could to make a profit—something that is frowned upon in Britain today. However, even the profit motive is disappearing in the big companies, because they are well aware that if they get into any real trouble, all that they have to do, if they have 2,000 or 3,000 employees, is to ask the Government of the day to bail them out. Therefore, in a sense it does not matter how they conduct their affairs. But of course it matters—although not in the way it used to matter.
I should like to conclude by commenting on the external threat to liberty due to the need to defend ourselves. I suppose that the most unhappy Minister in the present Government has been the Secretary of State for Defence over the past two years. He has struggled manfully to keep any defences at all for the British Isles.
I remember one of my hon. Friends, I suppose that he was my closest friend, telling me why he supported our entry into the Common Market. That is when we fell out. We had been friends for many years. He said "My reason for supporting our entry is that we can build up our defences. I fear that we may not always be able to rely on the United States of America to the extent that we do now, but if we go into Europe and get together with all the Powers in Europe, we can then build up our defences and take on the job that America so stoutly does now." That was three or four years ago.
We are now in Europe, but I see no real move on the part of the Government, and no real leadership, to get us cracking on the matter of Europeans defending themselves against the encroachments of any foreign Power, particularly the Soviet Union. This is very sad and very serious. I suppose that it must be the most serious threat to individual liberty in Britain, because there is no liberty at all if one is able to have one's voice in the world extinguished by force from an outside Power.
We should not give up hope. However, we are our own worst enemies in this respect. That is what I was talking about when I referred to the power being in our own hands. We do not care. To that extent, Solzhenitsyn was absolutely right. He will not be the darling of the Labour Party, because he does not love Socialism. I can understand his reasons for that. But we must have a care and do something about our defences.
The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) said that only certain things were possible and that we must have a certain amount of Government expenditure and so on, and he asked where we would cut it. I shall answer him in his absence. I would not cut defence. If necessary, I would spend much more on defence than we are now spending. The hon. and learned Member may ask where we would take it from. I am not the Foreign Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so it is not for me to work out these sums. It is for them.
We have to have a new resolution in the light of the weakness that has beset the United States and that is continuing, it seems, to beset Europe. We have to wake ourselves up and cure this weakness, and get together with Europe to strengthen our defences, and we must willingly forgo some of the comforts of life in order to be able to protect ourselves from extinction, because that is what one is talking about in discussion of the defence of Britain.
I hope that this debate will do something to raise in the mind of the new Prime Minister, whoever he may be, the question of the defence of the nation and some of the questions raised by my hon. Friends today, who did such a good service for the House in tabling the motion.
I have heard it said that on Fridays Government Back Benchers take rather a long time over their speeches in order to prevent uncomfortable Bills from being reached, but it seems from the length of his speech that the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) has his own motives for not letting subsequent business be reached.
The issue today is very serious. The topic for discussion must be treated with some solemnity, because individual liberty must be fought for unceasingly. It is undeniable that in various parts of the world liberty has been extinguished and that in other areas it is under threat. However, in discussing liberty in the United Kingdom we must keep matters in proportion. When one considers the erosion of liberty, one looks almost last at the United Kingdom. I can appreciate that there are partly political reasons for pretending that liberty is under siege in the United Kingdom, but when one looks elsewhere, one sees what the reality is.
When people in this country profess an unpopular view and make speeches containing views contrary to those generally accepted, they are not in the same position as Mr. Solzhenitsyn. There is a man of immense courage. He is alone, isolated, and maintaining within himself the spirit and determination to write and speak about what he believes, knowing that there are very serious consequences to be suffered if those in authority so decide. The defence of liberty in Britain does not require, so far, that kind of courage, and I hope that it never will.
Double standards are often used in connection with human rights and liberty. One hears one set of people talking ceaselessly about Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union but remaining entirely silent about South Africa or Chile. Then one hears another group doing absolutely the reverse. Neither of those groups can be regarded as defenders of human liberty, because if one really cares about the dignity of individuals and their right to express themselves and to live decent lives free from persecution or pressure, one cannot take one's stand simply because of the nature of the régime in question. Therefore one should be as willing to attack the denial of human rights in a capitalist or colonialist country as one is in Eastern Europe.
I have heard a great deal about what terrible people Labour Members of Parliament are. It has been said by hon. Members opposite who seem determined to denigrate the subject of this debate by reducing it to party political terms of a low order. But I do not even get a reply when I write to the Soviet Union. I have been refused entry into the Soviet Union on three occasions, having been asked on behalf of Amnesty and other organisations to attend trials in that country. To ask permission to attend a trial in the Soviet Union is in itself, apparently, to engage in hostile action towards the Soviet Union.
Flattered as I am by the fear which the Soviet Union apparently has of this humble Back Bencher, I should mention that, unlike some hon. Members opposite, I have also been engaged in attacking what seemed to me to be a denial of or an encroachment upon human rights elsewhere. In Southern Africa, for example, I have observed trials on behalf of the International Campaign of Jurists and I have been there on missions for that organisation, and one has been obliged to criticise what one finds.
When I come back to Britain, I am appalled by the fact that if I criticise Eastern Europe, I am acclaimed by people on the Right, who are silent when I criticise Southern Africa, and people on the Left cheer me when I criticise Southern Africa, but fall silent when I refer to Eastern Europe. Those people are not concerned with individual liberty. They are concerned with pushing a particular kind of political society. They use infringements of human liberty in a society as ammunition to undermine that society in order that a different kind of society may thrive, even though that society itself may be evil.
In those countries, certainly in Eastern Europe, there is no free Press. Indeed, there is no free Press in various parts of the southern hemisphere. The judiciary is not independent. We in this country have an independent judiciary, and we still have substantially a free Press.
We have advantages which are denied to people in other countries. Not only do we in Britain have liberties of that kind which others do not have, but we have liberty of choice based upon our prosperity.
In a Pakistani village it is no use discussing whether there should be a choice between a private doctor or the State health system, because neither exists. Poverty there is so chronic that there is no doctor. It is no use in underdeveloped parts of the world talking about the right to choose to pay for education or go to a State school; there is no school; there is no education; there is total illiteracy. We are not confronted with that kind of issue. We are not confronted with that lack of choice.
The fact that we can talk about restrictions of choice implies a level of prosperity and a standard of living of a substantial nature. Choice comes only with leisure and with wealth. If everybody in this country were wealthy, the demand for a National Health Service would abate. The reason we want a National Health Service, and, indeed, the reason why we have such a service, is that there are poor people who otherwise would not be treated properly, adequately or quickly.
The Health Service exists because the resources available for treatment are not adequate to the demand. Then it is necessary to have Government intervention in order to regulate the position so that those who are ill but are less prosperous than others can none the less receive proper treatment. That is the essence of the demand for the Health Service. It is the foundation of the philosophy which demands more facilities in education to be provided by the State, and it is the ground for the insistence on equality of opportunity.
There cannot be true liberty without equality of opportunity. If we could reach a level of prosperity so that nobody lacked anything and everybody had money for the education and medical treatment he required, nobody would be asking for State intervention. Until that happens, State intervention and interference with human liberty are necessary. In fact, such intervention is an aid to human liberty. Liberty means dignity, and there is no dignity in a sick person who cannot get treatment. There is no dignity in a child with talent who cannot get education.
In the growth of parliamentary democracy those who were its founding philosophers said that democracy and human and personal liberty were founded on the triple bases of Parliament, the judiciary and the Press—and in "the Press" we now include the communications media generally. To be able to suggest that liberty is being profoundly eroded, it is necessary to say that any of those three pillars of freedom has been eroded. What is the evidence that any of those three pillars is now on shaky foundations?
Let us deal with Parliament first. Parliament's job is to check the unreasonable accretion of power to the Executive. Executives of any party and in any system are always seeking to seize more power, and Parliament is there as an obstacle to that end. Therefore, if Parliament is failing to check the unreasonable use and expansion of power by the Executive, that is the fault of no one but Members of Parliament themselves. It means that they do not see matters clearly, or that they are so anxious for office that they are prepared to quieten their unease, or that they are so frightened of their constituency activists that they feel they had better do what they do not believe to be right.
In the end, the defence of the citizen by Members of Parliament depends upon Members of Parliament having courage in this place. It depends upon Members of Parliament being prepared to run the risk of censure, even by their own supporters, when they think that the public interest demands it. By public interest in this context I mean the defence of human dignity and human liberty.
Members of Parliament are human and they look behind them to see what is happening in their rear. Therefore, it would be helpful to Members of Parliament, and beyond Members of Parliament to a healthy democracy, if more people were to participate in the political system. Small groups can exercise a great deal of power. That may not matter if they are truly representative, but if they are not truly representative, there is a danger to democracy. Therefore, the British people have to take their responsibility for the protection of liberty and democracy.
There has been a substantial withdrawal by the British people from the political decision-making process. Fewer people are participating. They sit in their armchairs, or they lounge over the public house bar or the golf club bar or at their masonic institutions, and they complain and grouse, saying how bad things are, but in the end they are as much to blame as any for the failure of democracy, should it fail. If they really care, their duty is not just to groan over the bar, but to go along to the meetings of the party which they support—the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Communist Party or whatever it may be—in order that their voice may be heard so that the parties themselves speak in a more representative way.
It is a curious fact that Members of Parliament are not absolutely typical of the population at large, in the sense that they do things which at any given time the majority of the population may not like. But Members of Parliament do those things, presumably, in the exercise of their belief that what they are doing is right. I say, therefore, that on such issues, be it capital punishment or something else, Members of Parliament, however they may be criticised, are ennobling human liberty. What is more, that is true even if they are wrong, for they have taken into their hands the right to express their view, knowing that it may produce adverse and unpopular reaction, and they do it because they believe that it is in the public interest to express their view or to vote in a certain way.
For my part, I should love to see extended the area in which Members of Parliament are free from the Whip. Indeed—if this is not heresy—I should like to see Members of Parliament more frequently going against the Whip when it offends their deep convictions, for in the end the Whip represents the voice of the Executive, and the Member of Parliament to a substantial degree represents the voice of human liberty. He is there to protect the people from the Executive.
At the moment, therefore, although there can be argument about the imperfections of Parliament, and although it is true that to some extent power has slipped towards the media in a way it has not done hitherto, Members of Parliament are still here, they still often say what needs to be said, and if those who are courageous continue to have courage, and those who are not courageous can find some courage, we have no need to be alarmed about the failure of democracy arising from a collapse of the pillar of parliamentary scrutiny.
Our judiciary is still there. It is still independent of the Executive. It still speaks out. It is still a last resort for members of the public who can gain justice nowhere else in all sorts of issues. Admittedly, the judiciary is drawn from a narrow section of the population, and it may therefore in some ways see liberty from a class viewpoint, but the answer to that, of course, is to widen the class base of the judiciary.
When we compare our judiciary with that in other countries, we see a great deal of which we can be proud. The judiciary in Britain can still be relied on to do that which is against the prevailing wish of the Executive, be it Conservative or Labour, if justice so demands. It is often an irritant that one cannot dismiss a judge who, perhaps, turns out to have been a bad choice, but we impose that restriction on the right to dismiss judges because we do not want the Executive to control the judges. We do not want the Executive to put judges in fear that they may lose their livelihood if they do something unpopular. We need the judges to act with complete independence, and to that end we continue to give them total security in office, although, as I say, that sometimes means that we have to tolerate judges who, after all. ought not, perhaps, to have been appointed in the first place.
Moreover, the citizen has wider access to the courts than ever he has had hitherto. The motion tells us that there has been an erosion of personal liberty and of choice. The truth is that more people than ever before can now go to the courts with their grievances, and this has been made possible by the extension of our legal aid scheme. Previously, there was no choice open to a poor person to go to court on an action for damages for personal injury, for example. If he could not raise the money to bring such an action, he had no chance, let alone a choice. Therefore, we had to bring in Government money and Government regulation to enable him to have a choice as to whether he brought an action. Naturally, the system is subject to safeguards. The legal aid committees have to be satisfied that there is a prima facie case, and that is perfectly proper. None the less, the legal aid aspect of the Welfare State has increased the availability of the protection of the courts to the British people, and that is a widening of human liberty in any terms.
Admittedly, there is abuse. But, as has been said, if there are 10 good men in Sodom and Gomorrah, the city must be saved, and the truth is that very many people have had access to the courts with good and proper cases, access which they could not have had without State interference in the form of the Legal Aid Fund.
Under our legal system today, few are shut out. We have extended the availability of judicial decision to small claims. The individual may now go in an informal way to an informal court, at virtually no expense, for the settlement of claims of small value. In addition, the Government are seeking to increase the protection of the public by help with legal advice centres and the like.
These advances, of course, represent Government interference with the freedom of those who wish to take advantage of members of the public. If the Government help with consumer advice centres, in the encouragement of citizens advice bureaux and so on, that must be the consequence, because the more people are advised and the more interference there is of that sort, the more is restricted the liberty of those who would take advantage of the public.
But liberty is not something which can be taken by itself, as though everyone must have it for all purposes. At some stage one has to decide that a certain liberty is not desirable—the liberty to cheat, the liberty to steal, the liberty to take advantage of one's fellow men who are ill equipped to cope with a certain kind of approach or technique.
Therefore, much of our legislation, while it has been an interference, has been a worthwhile interference to that end. I realise that it can be argued that we are molly-coddling the public, and so on. Perhaps the day will come when one will feel that the process has gone far enough. But we are still on the upward swing. By denying people the choice to buy bad products, by having our Fair Trading Act and the Office of Fair Trading, thus denying people the right to make a poor choice, we are doing no bad thing. It is an intrusion on freedom, admittedly, but I am sure that most of us would support it.
However, our basic concern here is not with that kind of freedom. The freedom we are concerned about is the right to walk the streets without the policeman's touch on the shoulder, the right not to be imprisoned without strict regulation and without cause, the right to go to a court with the writ of habeas corpus, the right to worship as one chooses, the right to move about as one chooses. Those are the crucial liberties.
Equally, purely in terms of consumer goods and material standards, there are additional freedoms which are being afforded to many. For example, the right to travel abroad has been greatly extended. People did not have that right in the past, because they simply did not have the money. They had no choice in whether to stay at home or go abroad. A substantial level of prosperity and a high standard of living are needed to enable that sort of freedom to be exercised, and we have made progress in that direction, too.
The hon. and learned Gentleman is making a most helpful speech, with which, I am sure, all will agree—certainly, I agree 100 per cent.—but, with direct reference to the freedoms which he has just outlined, will he say something about how we are to protect those freedoms against invasion in strength from outside?
If the hon. Gentleman means that if we wish to protect human liberty and human rights we have to ensure that no act of physical interventions overrides us, I agree with him. That is why the Labour Party supports NATO. No one can suggest that Britain is now capable of defending itself alone against a world Power, so of course we are in alliance with others.
I agree that this country has to have defence and that defence in conjunction with others is therefore important. But one also has to bear in mind that Britain, since the end of the war and perhaps before that, has been operating against a background of the imperial decline, which comes to all empires, and a reduction of resources because of the contraction of industry. One must have priorities and defence certainly is a priority.
That depends on how one assesses the outside danger and how immediate the danger is. Defence is a priority, but we cannot continue to spend as if we were a world Power with revenue from all over the world. I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern and I do not say that I do not share it. We should be entitled to carry on thinking what we want and our mouths should not be closed by foreign intervention. The Chancellor of the Exchequer recently announced cuts in defence expenditure because of the difficulties in doing all the things that need to be done and that we wish to be done.
The media are the third defence against the overriding of our domestic civil liberties. The media are still diverse in their views. Lobby correspondents seek the views of Members of all parties and I believe that if the Communist Party were represented in the House, the media would give voice to its Members' views.
It is fair to say that newspaper editorials tend to be sympathetic to one point of view, and to that extent, by sometimes being less than fair, they take liberties with liberty. We have not got perfection, but we still have diversity of opinion. In the Morning Star there is a voice for those who want to change society as dramatically as the Communist Party does. If that newspaper could sell more copies, no one would put let or hindrance in its way.
That also goes for the papers on the Right. Weekly journals such as Militant and the Workers' Press—which is in some difficulties—can be published as long as there is the readership. I do not say that the Press is marvellous, but it conforms to the basic definition of a free and varied Press. People can read a different view in the daily, weekly or monthly Press. They can express their particular views, although sometimes they might have difficulty if their views do not coincide with the majority or the proprietor of the publication.
There is hope and a basis for saying that liberty is still intact. There is anxiety that economics will gradually reduce the opportunity of the public to read a variety of opinions. At some stage grave consideration will have to be given to the question of to what extent a Government should interfere, if at all, to maintain a variety of journals.
The existence of radio and television is an additional protection to human liberty and freedom. If the Press will not print a grievance, one can try radio or television. Sometimes a scandal will break on television or radio rather than in the Press. There is a carefully regulated charter to ensure that the BBC is as neutral as possible. One hopes that it would have the courage to resist pressures from any side to prevent its giving publicity to matters which others wish not to be published.
Although they have shortcomings, on the whole the radio, television and Press in this country show that we are nowhere near the situation in countries with dictatorships—whether they are military, Fascist, capitalist, or Communist. There is every reason for feeling fairly optimistic about the state of Britain in this respect. Whatever has happened to Britain in recent years, with the contraction of the Empire and our economic difficulies, and whatever is said about the inbred attitudes which prevent us from competing effectively with other countries, it is still true that in no other major country is liberty more cherished or so highly regarded.
Legislation is being passed to protect women and people of other colours from discrimination. We do that because we say that it is an attack on human liberty and dignity if a woman or person of another colour is not given equality of opportunity. We do not want women to be regarded as chattels or as inferior. Our society still cares about all people having the full range of human dignities and equality of opportunity. That makes me very proud to live in Britain. Nowhere else in the world can we feel more inviolable when walking the streets. Nowhere can we have more assurance that there are checks on the physical excesses of power against individuals.
But we have to watch the situation, because bureaucracy is growing. The more complex society becomes, the more bureaucracy inevitably grows. Often it has instituted or developed tentacles which are designed for our protection. None the less, where there is the growth of bureaucracy in any society, the individual can begin to suffer injustice and to be crushed, because it is not always easy to attack a sprawling bureaucracy. Therefore, there are dangers in the diffusion of power from the House of Commons to other centres of power in this country. Of course there are. We have to watch that. Everyone who is vigilant is doing a service to human liberty in this country.
It is, however, difficult to understand a motion in these terms today. As a vehicle for discussion, I agree 100 per cent. with its being on the Order Paper. It should be there, but I rather suspect that it has been put on the Order Paper by Opposition Members not in a spirit of discussing these basic issues which affect all our lives, but merely as a party political ploy to try to convey the impression somehow that the Conservatives are for freedom and that the Labour Party is not.
I do not believe that that is so. The tradition of the Labour Party is for freedom. A great deal of our legislation—for example, the Sex Discrimination Bill—is an indication of that concern. It seems to me, therefore, that if this is the purpose of the debate, it demeans a great subject—a subject which is of such importance that it has made Britain unique among the nations of the world.
I shall not undertake to match in quality the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons). I shall guarantee to beat him in brevity.
I do not propose to add to the catalogue of encroachments on our civil liberties so ably set out by my hon. Friends, and in particular by my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow). He quoted a personal experience of his own, and perhaps I might quote briefly a personal experience. It may be common to other hon. Members and to their constituents. It is the experience of receiving, within a week of having submitted an alternative estimate to the Inland Revenue for tax which I owed, not merely a statement that if I did not pay I would be charged interest but a threat of court proceedings within seven days if I did not immediately pay the estimate put forward by the Inland Revenue.
It seems to me that the Inland Revenue's record of threats of court proceedings at so early a stage is an altogether unwelcome piece of evidence of the aggressive attitude of the bureaucracy towards the citizen. I am not asking the Under-Secretary of State to take this up, because I am already in correspondence with the Treasury about it.
I very much hope that in the debate we can avoid the use of "newspeak". It should be very clear to us that the only freedom which is important, and the only freedom which is threatened, is the freedom to say or do things which are unpleasing to the Government, to one's boss, to one's fellow workers, or to the majority of the population. The only tyranny which is to be feared is not the tyranny of the minority. That is of no consequence whatever. The tyranny which matters is the tyranny of the majority. It is this tyranny with which we should properly concern ourselves.
I know that many hon. Members opposite—this is just as true of members of the Tribune Group as of so-called moderates—are passionately attached to individual liberty. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) quoted Clem Attlee to very good effect on this. None the less, it is impossible not to be worried when so self-proclaimed a champion of individual freedom as the Secretary of State for Employment denies that, by giving one trade union the right to compel into membership and into compliance with union decisions all the workers in Press, radio and television, he is endangering freedom of information- the freedom of individuals to utter and to disseminate unpopular opinions, and the right of the mass of the people to hear such unpopular opinions.
It will not do for hon. Members opposite, as they are so often prone to do, to try to turn this argument aside with talk of newspaper proprietors imposing their views on contributors. That is very fine in theory, but it just does not fit the facts, and no one could bear witness to that more eloquently than the Secretary of State for Employment himself. For many years he worked with Lord Beaverbrook, with whose views he was in continual and total disagreement, and at no stage were any limitations whatever imposed on his ability to express his view freely. Exactly the same could be said of the vast number of newspapers now controlled by Lord Thomson.
This is only what one would expect, because the proprietors, by definition, are many. The potentially tyrannical union is one single union. It is, moreover, a union which has already given numerous proofs of its intention to use its powers to enforce its will.
Even so impeccable a Left-wing Socialist as my one-time opponent and deeply revered friend, the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said in the House of Lords the other day that he had grave misgivings over the extinction of the individual's right to object on grounds of conscience to being forced to join a union.
It is a sobering thought that the man who once used the pen name of Cassius—as evidence of his will to destroy that tyrant Julius Caesar—and who is now the Secretary of State for Employment, and has so willingly connived at the extinction of liberties, should be the front runner in the race for the nomination as Prime Minister of this country. In what sort of hands will our freedoms be if he wins?
The awkward fact has to be faced that the biggest threat to the freedom of the largest number of people in this country today comes precisely from those organisations such as the trade unions, which were formed largely, if not mainly, to safeguard the individual freedom of their members, and which, through collective action, have through most of their history done just that. But, in the same way as the barons, who in 1215 compelled King John to sign Magna Carta, then became oppressors as insufferable as the king they had humiliated, so also the trade unions, having won an enlargement of freedom for their members, are now busy reducing the area of freedom both of their own members and of the public at large.
If I thought that this trade union threat to freedom was a permanent one, I should be intensely unhappy about the efforts which the leaders of my own party are now making to reach an accommodation with the unions. But, quite apart from the fact that the best way to diminish the evil consequences of trade union tyranny is not to confront the unions head on but rather to give them a constructive rôle within the institutions of the State, so also it is true that the threat to our liberty which ensues from the present trade union practices is self-limiting, in that the unions are necessarily divided among themselves and can exert only a negative power. There are a great many things that they can stop Governments and individuals from doing, but there is not much that they can make them do apart from joining a union.
Socialism, as a theory, is a greater threat to freedom than are powerful trade unions. For all its good intentions, it runs counter to man's natural instinct to compete with and overtake his fellows, his instinct to amass a small hoard of possessions and to provide for his offspring. To frustrate and to turn aside those natural instincts, Socialism must have recourse to harsh laws or lengthy periods of re-education.
I have always believed that the first Socialist was a classic figure named Procrustes, who owned a bed. When guests called upon him, if they were too short for the bed he would stretch them until they were the right length. If they were too long he chopped off their feet. Procrustes has always seemed to be the archetype of the true Socialist.
Even if the trade unions remove their threat to our freedom, either because they break up as a result of quarrels among themselves or if, as I should much prefer, they can be found a constructive rôle to play within the institutions of the State, and even if Socialism goes out of intellectual vogue, as I am sure such an alien doctrine must, the threat to freedom will remain. It is that threat that should be concerning us very much more than at present.
The threat I speak of is that which industrial society, by its very nature, imposes on the freedom of man. Whether we have a Socialist or capitalist industral society, it is a society that imposes an intolerable servitude on industrial man. He has to undertake work which is intolerable in every sense of the word. He often has to work under extremely disagreeable conditions to make articles which no one needs so as to earn sufficient money to buy the things which he needs. It is no good shaking our heads in woe. It is too late to rid ourselves of the burdens of an industrial society. The world has produced too large a population and our expectations are too high. We cannot return to a self-supporting pastoral society. We are faced with an intolerable industrial society.
Liberal capitalism is as incapable as Socialism, whether it be democratic Socialism or totalitarian Socialism, of finding an answer to this all important question. If we do not find an answer, if those in authority are not seen to be moving towards one, the people may eagerly embrace tyranny as a short-term method of achieving prosperity rather than continuing to accept the present semi-freedom, which does not guarantee them the rising standard of living which they have been led to expect.
I do not know the answer, but we need to go a long way towards industrial democracy. We need to travel much further along that road than the trade unions are now prepared to contemplate. Industrial democracy will have to be based on the principle that the firm belongs to those who work in it and that the managers, even if elected by the workers, shall be left free to manage without further intervention not for weeks or months but for years.
In addition, there must be an effective guarantee that the public interest will be taken into account at all times in the decisions that a firm makes. Given such a set-up, the trade unions as we now know them would become an irrelevant excrescence. Regardless of whether that is the right basis, I am convinced that we must urgently find a way of reconciling man to the needs of the industrial society if freedom is to survive.
I shall concentrate my few words on the economic aspects of this important debate on the erosion of personal liberty and freedom of choice. I believe that the accent must be placed upon the word "erosion". Whatever we may say, we can be proud of the amount of personal liberty and freedom of choice that still exists.
The function of our economic system is to supply goods and services at a reasonable profit for the use and enjoyment of consumers. The profit which is gained—this is often forgotten by the Government and their supporters—contributes to public wealth, either directly through taxes, or indirectly through the fiscal system. The creation of wealth, both private and public, and its subsequent investment in industry, investment which has been for too long at too low a level, is especially important in achieving economic recovery and the maintenance of employment.
As we are not living in a subsistence economy—we can be grateful for that—a substantial part of our business and economic system is devoted to the fulfilment of wants and desires going beyond the bare necessities of life. It is a common enough criticism of our system that these wants and desires exist only because business has created them so as to provide an outlet for whatever its production happens to be. It is that criticism that is at the heart of the attacks that are made upon business by the anti-materialist radicals. They appear in all quarters, but perhaps in slightly greater numbers as a proportion below the Gangway on the Government Benches.
I believe that their attacks are prompted by envy by a belief in an egalitarian society, by naive idealism, by dictatorial Socialism, or by some mixture of those and other elements. There are those who seek a system which has the social ideal of returning us to the grey and utilitarian days which many of us associate with the war and the immediate post-war years. I fear that of those who have such aims, those with the shortest memories and the greatest commitment to the cause are to be found in the Labour Party.
I accept that it is unlikely that such spokesmen, or anti-materialist radicals, will ever be persuaded to believe in our free enterprise and competitive society. We must expect—I am sure that this is expected by my hon. Friends who tabled the motion—their sniping to continue. Equally, we must not waver in our efforts to build a better understanding of our society within our society.
I draw the attention of the House to the function of advertising. I declare an interest in that I am the director of an advertising agency, but I hope that the House will listen to what I have to say on the subject of the awareness and with the appreciation that I speak with a certain amount of understanding of what advertising is about and the contribution that it can make to the maintenance of personal liberties and freedom of choice.
I have already mentioned firms which produce goods and services to sell them at a profit in competition with other firms. This is an essential part of the system if it is to operate efficiently. Although there may be elements of waste, it is a price worth paying to achieve three things that cannot otherwise be achieved.
The first is that it achieves an increased rate of industrial and commercial innovation and product improvement, brought about by suppliers competing for a share of the market. Secondly, it achieves a greater sensitivity of suppliers to the sectional and more sophisticated purchaser and his requirements arising from that same competitive price. Thirdly, it makes available to purchasers a range of products and services from which they can choose with particular wants and desires in mind.
Underlying all this is a belief that production cannot be an end in itself. The true end of production is the consumption of what is produced. If the goods consumed are to be produced, they must be distributed and sold to consumers. Goods are therefore made available through the wholesale, retail and direct distribution systems that we have established in this country. Consumers are made aware of their existence and invited to buy them by means of advertising and display. This is an essential force in the economic system which, by its nature, relies on competition to maintain efficiency, and in this country it is too little recognised.
If the creation of individual and national wealth is the ultimate end of the economic system, honest and properly motivated advertising is an essential means to this end. I maintain that advertising is necessary and is informative as a means of communication. Honest advertisements—and I put accent on the word "honest"—benefit the consumers, manufacturers and society in general. In other words, advertisements protect the individual's freedom of choice and protect the public's right to choose goods and services, and, indeed, to be supreme in selecting those which best fit their lives.
Advertisements are an inseparable part of free and fair competition. The freedom to advertise stimulates increased production and therefore employment. There is a direct relationship between advertising and jobs. It is a means towards economies of scale which help to stabilise prices and allow wide distribution and availability. It also encourages manufacturers to compete with product innovation and to offer better products at a better value.
Advertisements protect journalistic freedom and the freedom of the Press and of the air. The freedom to advertise and the income from advertising help to keep the printing and broadcasting media independent of political paymasters and to make them cheaper and more varied for readers and viewers. This is part of our established British system and is the envy of the world. However, this freedom is being eroded by the Government's recent legislation which allows editors and journalists to be forced to submit to union dictation.
The outcome of all this is that advertisements are an inseparable part of the freedom of speech. Free speech includes the right to recommend legitimate goods, services and ideas to the public. This element is now being used most effectively by the Government. If that right for Government, business or the individual is restricted, freedom of speech is diminished.
In this year, in which we celebrate the freedom of 200 years of existence of the United States, it is perhaps appropriate to quote from de Tocqueville on "Democracy
in America", written over 140 years ago. He wrote:
Everywhere the State acquires more and more direct control over the humblest members of the community, and a more exclusive power of governing each of them in his smallest concerns…. Diversity, as well as freedom, is disappearing day by day.
Because of the truth of that proposition, I have taken the time of the House this afternoon to remind hon. Members that advertising contributes to the diversity and freedom of choice in goods, services and employment. Diversity and choice in turn require freedom of commercial communication. Too often detractors of free communication and those who would limit our freedoms and limit our choice make too much of the running. This debate has provided a most useful opportunity to help correct the balance.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) refers in his motion to the
continuing erosion of personal liberty and freedom of choice".
I am surprised that today we have not seen a mass attendance of Conservative Members.
The freedom to be unequal is clearly the slogan of the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition and appears to be her battle cry in the appeals which she makes at fortnightly intervals for a General Election.
I would join the hon. Member for Eastbourne in supporting the motion if I believed that the erosion taking place in this country was a fact. But I find it difficult to reconcile his terms with what, in reality, is the Labour Government's record. It was a Labour Government in 1967 who established the Ombudsman, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, to protect the rights of the individual. It was a Labour Government who placed on the statute book the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.
Is the Minister aware that on Tuesday next week I shall seek leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967? Will she support that Bill, which will give the House the power to approve or reject appointment by the Prime Minister of the Ombudsman? Does she not agree that that should be an appointment by the House of Commons rather than by the Executive?
I have not studied the hon. Gentleman's Bill in detail, but I shall make a point of doing so as soon as the debate is over and will come to a conclusion on the interesting point he put to me.
As I was saying, the Labour Government brought in the Equal Pay Act. Earlier this month the House discussed the Labour Government's proposals for new legislation to strengthen the Race Relations Act. an Act originally brought in by an earlier Labour Government in 1968. It was a Labour Government who brought in the Employment Protection Act, and we also have before Parliament the Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill. Some of my hon. Friends have mentioned other measures brought in by Labour Governments over the years
The Minister may know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of race relations legislation, as I know she is, but this has always been an area where one has to accept a limitation on personal freedom to ensure other rights to a minority. This has never seemed to me an extension of the area of freedom. On the contrary, it is a limitation
The motion deals with personal liberty. I feel that the Sex Discrimination Act, which I helped to draw up, and the Race Relations Act refer to personal liberty. I take the hon. Gentleman's point and will refer to it later.
All of these measures are specifically designed to increase and not to erode the range of opportunities open to millions of people. For the vast majority of people affected by them they represent a widening of choice. The Government are firmly committed to upholding individual rights and freedoms. This legislation clearly demonstrates that we do more than pay lip service to the idea.
Before looking at some of the specific areas where hon. Members have suggested that personal liberty is at risk, there is a preliminary point which I should make. Indeed, it is one I have made before, when the House discussed the question of a Bill of Rights on 7th July last year. It is one whose truth has long been recognised in all sections of society—namely that no right can be absolute. Even such basic and valued liberties as freedom of speech and of assembly and demonstration—to which we are all committed in principle—must be circumscribed to some extent, since their unrestrained exercise could, in some circumstances, lead, however unintentionally, to disorder.
Equally, liberty and the security of the person must be limited in accordance with the need to provide for the arrest, trial and punishment of those who break the law. As I said during that debate in July, the balance between freedom and restraint is delicate and needs constantly to be redressed according to the circumstances of the time and particular situations. Setting that balance is the very essence of politics. In other words, freedom can be—and in some circumstances must be—circumscribed in the interests of society as a whole, so that their exercise should not interfere with the enjoyment of the rights of others.
Personal liberty is a vital right, but in a civilised society people demand not only liberty but fairness, and the two can sometimes be in conflict. In some areas, therefore—and this is particularly relevant to certain aspects of today's debate—it may be necessary to limit to some extent the freedom of choice of a few so that the majority of their fellow citizens can enjoy a much greater range of opportunities. This touches on the point raised by the hon. Member for Flint, West (Sir A. Meyer).
I remind Conservative Members that in the last two years of Conservative Government in 1972 and 1973 more than 149 Acts were placed on the statute book. I will not list them all in this short debate, but if hon. Members examine them they will see that a large number interfered to a greater or lesser extent with personal liberty. They were justified for the benefit of the majority. Most legislation, if we examine it, interferes to some extent with personal liberty.
With that preliminary point in mind, I will deal in greater detail with areas where it has been alleged personal liberties are being eroded by the Government. The hon. Member for Eastbourne and others complained about the high level of personal taxation. If we simply consider direct taxes, these comments are undeniably true. However, as my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury said on the second day of the recent public expenditure debate, we must exercise great caution when making comparisons, or when talking about this country as opposed to others.
It is a fact that many countries raise a much higher proportion of revenue from social security contributions than we do. As we know, the money has to come from somewhere. The total contributions made by the employee and his employer may well be over 20 per cent. of his salary in some countries—the Netherlands, for instance—compared with 14 per cent. in the United Kingdom. At 41 per cent. of total revenue, social security contributions in France are almost two-and-a-half times higher than our own 16·8 per cent.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that direct taxation in France is lower than in this country. There seems to be a general feeling that, as regards personal taxation, enough is enough. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has spoken of the corrosion of the will to work. He is by no means the only one to be concerned.
All things considered, the burden of personal taxation in this country is not unduly high. Greater tax revenue has permitted us to give help to those who need it. I have mentioned the comparison with national insurance contributions. We have also been able to uprate national insurance and supplementary benefit by considerable amounts. In this way the old, the poor and the out-of-work have been given the right at least to a basic income. I do not think that Conservative Members would consider this right to be an erosion of personal liberty.
It was partly to prevent too speedy an increase in personal taxation that we have now revised our public expenditure programme, as we have made plain in the White Paper. I trust that all hon. Members who today see dangers to personal liberty and freedom of choice in our present levels of taxation will feel able in the months ahead to support the Govern ment's measures to control the growth both of public expenditure—and the extra taxation needed to finance it.
Various hon. Members have mentioned the health services and education. There are parallels here, because we have a State health service and a State educational system and running together with them we have private practice in medicine and private fee-paying schools. The whole ethic of the National Health Service is inspired by the principle that health care should be available to all as far as possible free at the point of use and that access to treatment should be on the basis of medical need alone, not the ability to pay. The exercise of the right to health care on the basis of medical priority alone has to some extent been restricted by the right claimed by some people to use pay beds in Health Service hospitals.
What is the attraction of pay beds? Primarily I would say that it is the opportunity such a bed affords to obtain medical attention at an earlier date than it would be given if the patient went through the Health Service channels. This is bound to lead to resentment among those in the queue whose place has been moved back. The resentment is made worse by the feeling that the staff and equipment of Health Service hospitals which have been provided to meet the needs of the public service are being used for private purposes.
This state of affairs causes resentment among those working in the Health Service. The Government have proposed that private practice should be separated from Health Service hospitals. This policy will lead to a situation where, overall, the liberties which hon. Members are anxious to preserve will be increased—the liberty to seek and obtain private practice will still be there—while the exercise of the rights of NHS patients— by the abolition of queue-jumping- will be increased.
The proposals made in the House by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services on 15th December last year also respect the rights of medical practitioners, for they proposed that pay beds should be phased out in a way that paid regard to the availability of reasonable alternative facilities for private practice outside the NHS. In addition, my right hon. Friend has already announced plans to increase the number of amenity beds available in NHS hospitals, so that more people can exercise a right to privacy as NHS patients. But these would be allocated primarily on grounds of medical need and not on grounds of ability to pay.
A parallel argument concerns education and the clamour by Opposition Members for freedom of choice in this regard. I do not see much freedom of choice for the child who fails the 11-plus examination. In my constituency, perhaps not in the constituencies of hon. Members opposite, the 11-plus—a totally unjust examination—is still being held and a child's whole future is determined at that very early age.
The Government's policy of comprehensive secondary education represents a widening of choice, not a restriction of choice, for the vast majority of children. As my hon. Friend the then Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science said in this House last year:
The only way to give real choice to parents—parents should have a choice in the education they want for their children—is to make sure that children go to a school that offers a full range of choice and are not labelled and categorised before they even enter a school."—[Official Report, 25th April 1975; Vol. 890, c. 1974.]
The aim of the Government is to bring nearer the day when all children can thus be provided for, and the phasing-out of direct grants to grammar schools is a substantial step in that direction.
It is sometimes suggested that parents should have a choice between selective and comprehensive schools and that the Government's Education Bill will restrict that choice. The coexistence of grammar schools with comprehensive schools inevitably places the latter at a disadvantage in attracting pupils, staff and resources of a kind that they need to be truly comprehensive. Genuine choice of the kind suggested would be offered only by providing in each area, alongside the comprehensive schools, a full system of grammar and secondary modern schools. Such an extravagant duplication of resources would not be sensible or practicable. Some local education authorities which are resisting Government policy in this matter are, in fact, making inadequate provision to meet the wishes of those parents who want a comprehensive secondary education for their children.
If what Conservative Members opposite are seeking is choice for the few at the expense of the many, they should say so. The Government are committed to the extension of choice for all within a fully comprehensive system of secondary education.
Schools normally are defined by the size of their form entry. To put it in another way, how many pupils must a comprehensive school have before it is genuinely comprehensive?
My definition of a comprehensive school is not a number definition. The definition of a comprehensive school concerns the curriculum, the activities and scope of education obtainable in it.
I come to the subject of the Community Land Act. As in other fields, the question is how best to strike the balance between public and private interests. The Community Land Act will, in fact, operate in an area where there are already substantial restraints on what individuals can do with their own land. Ever since 1947 we have lived with a system under which an owner of land needs permission for development—including even quite minor development such as extending or altering a house—and where there is no entitlement to compensation if planning permission is refused. This is a situation which has now existed for almost 30 years and which has had the full support of the present Opposition when they were in office.
The community land scheme does not involve a radical change in the public-private balance as it already exists under the planning system. One of its aims is to enable the community to make more positive use of the powers which the planning system already gives it. But this possibility of positive action has always been inherent in the planning system itself. The scheme also provides for an increasing share—and ultimately the whole—of development value to accrue to the community. But this is only to set the seal on the effective nationalisation of development value which took place in 1947.
There is therefore no truth in the suggestion that the community land scheme will lead to an erosion of personal liberty and freedom of choice. The scheme affects only land which is identified for development. Such land will come into development in any case.
What is new about the land scheme is that land needed for private development will first pass through the hands of a public authority. But I cannot see that this has any effect on the position of the landowner, who will have to move anyway. We believe that the involvement of public authorities will lead to a better supply of land for development, which is in great scarcity in some areas, and to better planning of that development. Overall, this represents an increase in personal liberty and freedom of choice rather than any diminution.
There seems to be little basis for the allegations that personal liberty is being eroded. The Government's aim is to protect the rights of the individual to the fullest extent compatible with the equal protection of the rights of his fellow citizens and the well-being of society as a whole. We are seeking, not uniformity, but the opportunity for people fully to develop and exercise their abilities and talents at work, at school, or in any facet of society.
It is not possible to talk of individual rights and freedoms today without reference to the question whether some more comprehensive measure is desirable to declare and protect the liberties which we value. Indeed, in one sense we already have such an instrument in that we have signed and ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and are therefore bound by an international obligation to secure the rights it proclaims. In January this year the Government renewed for a further five years—a longer period than ever before—the right of individual petition to Strasbourg under the Convention, and this in itself indicates the importance we attach to the protection of personal liberties.
There has recently been a good deal of discussion about whether we should ourselves, in this Parliament, introduce new legislation to guarantee such basic rights, either by incorporating the European Convention into domestic law—so that it would be directly enforceable in our courts—or by drawing up some purpose-built Bill of Rights more closely related to the circumstances and traditions of this country. Any such legislation would raise complex issues concerning the sovereignty of Parliament, the rôle of the judiciary, and indeed the working of our whole system of Government. These must be fully explored before any firm view can be taken.
A number of studies are currently in progress. In February, the Labour Party published a document inviting discussion on a proposal by the Human Rights Sub-Committee of its National Executive Committee. I understand that the Conservative Party also has a study in hand. In Northern Ireland, the Standing Advisory Commission, chaired by Lord Feather, has been considering the adequacy of existing protection for human rights in that part of the United Kingdom and the possible character of new safeguards. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has indicated, both inside and outside this House, that the Government are carrying out their own study of the implications of general legislation on human rights, and would very much welcome wider public discussion. This is, after all, a matter which affects every man, woman and child in the country.
As an important contribution and stimulus to this discussion, my noble Friend Lord Harris announced in yesterday's debate in another place that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary intends to make available shortly, in the form of a discussion document, the results of a study by an inter-departmental working group of officials of the implications of general legislation on human rights. In a recent speech my right hon. Friend suggested two fundamental preconditions for the maintenance of individual liberties. The first was economic stability—without that, dissension and division inevitably grow and our rights and freedoms are put at risk. The second pre-condition concerned the sentiments of the public at large. There must be a strong popular will for individual liberty and public vigilance in maintaining it.
But this desire for liberty must not be too narrow or exclusive. Rights can be guaranteed effectively only where there is a proper balance between individual freedom and social justice. One cannot achieve the first without the second.
The maintenance of such a balance will continue to direct the Government's policies. We shall continue to make every effort to see that the legitimate desire of the individual for liberty and freedom of choice is satisfied. I cannot, therefore, advise the House to accept the terms of the motion.
In one thing at least, I can agree wholeheartedly with the Under-Secretary. This is an important motion and it is deplorable that there are so few hon. Members present to discuss it.
In a sense, this is symptomatic of what has been happening to Parliament. If Governments insist upon filling the time of Parliament with legislation, there will not only be less time for Parliament to discuss important matters of this kind but also less time for hon. Members to be in their constituencies, with the result that they will tend always to be there on Fridays which offer our only opportunity of discussing matters of this kind.
This subject is not only important but is one on which there have been philosophical disagreements for centuries, long before John Stuart Mill. There will always be arguments of degree and kind with those on one side pressing for economic prosperity, and equating that with freedom, against those on the other side who argue for political liberty.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who so ably moved the motion, and a number of other hon. Friends, including the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone), have concentrated on the economic aspects. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said he thought we were faced with the alternatives of the free society or the Socialist society. I do not agree. The risk with which this country is confronted is the steady movement towards a corporate State rather than towards a Socialist society.
As the powers of trade unions increase and Government agencies confer and consult with the TUC and the CBI before any major measure of economic policy affecting industry is finalised, we are much nearer a corporate or Fascist State than a purely Socialist State. I thought that the mention of a Socialist State would get the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) muttering to himself, and I was right.
We are no nearer the Socialist State than we have ever been. The Socialist State is impossible unless one is prepared to have an almost totally authoritarian State. I remember the late Herbert Morrison—I think it was at the Labour Party Conference of 1948—saying that Ministers in the post-war Labour Government who remembered 1931 had come into office determined that they would never again be blown off course by blind economic forces. I take it he meant the operations of the market and free choice of individuals all over the world in contradistinction to total Socialist planning.
Total Socialist planning of the kind Mr. Morrison was hoping to introduce will always fall down for two reasons. First, this country is not a closed economy or a closed society. It is continually having its plans thwarted by inconvenient foreigners. I thought the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston would agree with that, and again I was right. Secondly there is the most unpredictable of political raw materials—people. People are unpredictable and that is what makes bureaucracies the enemy of people. It is the unpredictable nature of people's decisions which makes Socialist planning impossible.
It was discovered between 1945 and 1950 that, however many controls were maintained, and even if we succeeded in retaining a bulwark against interference and competition from foreigners, we could not run a totally planned economy unless the direction of labour was also introduced. Unless all the factors of production, including labour, can be controlled, one cannot totally plan an economy.
The then Minister of Labour, Mr. George Isaacs, attempted to reintroduce the labour controls which had been dropped at the end of the war but discovered that this could be done only by promising the TUC that the controls would never become effective. What tends to happen is that planners try to go as far along this road as they can, dealing with every anomaly and trying to eliminate the unpredictability of people and their decisions as far as possible.
I am sorry that the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) is not here. He made some interesting observations. He restated what we know is the classic philosophical argument which has always been made about personal liberty and the liberty of the individual. It is, first, that no individual can ever be completely free of constraints. The individual who undertakes the responsibiliites of a family or of being a member of a family is not wholly free. The individual who as a member of a family becomes part of a community is not totally free, for he has responsibility to others, including the responsibility of not interfering with the freedom of others.
The interests of the small community have always been measured against the interests of the larger community and the nation. But what the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said was that the Government—and he said that the Labour Government had done this—must always act in the interest of the majority of people. That is, however, an extremely anti-libertian thesis. It is not even true by his own standards. It cannot be pretended that the race relations legislation has been carried out in the interests of the majority of people. If there had been a referendum of the people about some of the race relations legislation or about the policy of admitting Commonwealth immigrants in unlimited quantities, I have no doubt that the majority would have come down overwhelmingly against the interests of the minority. It is not true, therefore, that Government must always act in the interests of the majority. and if it is not true in the case of race relations, must it always be true in the case of education, health or taxation?
I am sorry to interrupt an interesting development in the hon. Member's argument. Some of us have a rather nostalgic memory of a book which I believed he wrote back in the 1940s with Lord Hailsham outlining the case for Conservatism. Essentially he was deploying an argument not dissimilar from what we have heard this afternoon. He was rightly arguing the case against bureaucracy, and that, certainly with the advantage of hindsight, I accept from the hon. Member. But does he not agree that over the years that have passed since then the Labour movement, and especially the Labour Party, have taken aboard what he said, hence the move for meaningful participation, workers' control or industrial democracy, whatever it may be called, which is now a very big part of the political argument inside the Labour movement? To that extent, therefore, we are obliged, to the hon. Gentleman, but the arguments are a bit old hat.
Many people in this country would be delighted to think that what the hon. Gentleman said is true, but it is not. What has happened is that under the guise of the will of the majority prevailing, all too often the will of a powerful minority has prevailed, sometimes even over the majority. I had intended to say that apart from the anomaly on race relations in the speech by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington, he spoke about trade unions and the closed shop and said that it was clearly in the interests of the majority that the Government should act. But trade unionists are not a majority even of the workers in this country, let alone of the people. Yet the right to work for all workers in this country is being dictated by a minority, not just by trade unionists as a whole, who are themselves a minority, but by a small minority of that minority, often elected on a 10 or 20 per cent. ballot of the members of a union. They are dictating the terms on which some people shall have the right to hold a job. If those people have a particular skill which is exclusive to them, their whole livelihood may be destroyed as a result.
My hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne and Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) and the hon. and learned Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Lyons) talked about the importance of Parliament in this respect. All of them said that the power and influence of Parliament had diminished, that Parliament, which ought to have been a bulwark of liberty, was failing in this respect. Whose fault is that? The Queen in Parliament is still sovereign in this country and if Parliament wishes to exercise its sovereignty over the Executive or anyone else it has the power to do so. The sovereignty of Parliament has been in no way derogated or diminished by any legislation which has taken place, and nor could it be. It is up to Parliament to exercise that sovereignty as it wishes.
In Opposition every Member of Parliament is entirely in favour of Government Back Benchers voting against the Government or abstaining from voting in support of the Government, which sometimes comes to much the same thing. When the Opposition party gets into power its Front Bench is much less keen on its Back Benchers exercising their individual rights in this way. But if Parliament wishes to scrutinise public expenditure in detail, it has the power to do so. If the Executive and Members of Parliament want to do that, they can make the time available by reducing the amount of often unnecessary legislation. They can then examine expenditure and taxation. There is nothing to prevent any Back Bencher, if he feels strongly enough, from voting against his party, whether that party be in Opposition or Government.
Most of us would agree that on the minor details of legislation in Committee and on Report it is a pity that Ministers, of whatever Government, are not more willing to accept the verdict of the Committee or of the House on Report, instead of immediately going on the defensive and bringing back the legislation on Report or in the House of Lords to alter the decision of Members of Parliament. It is a matter of how far individual Members of Parliament are prepared to insist on their rights.
The question of the rights of the individual is not one of philosophical black and white, because unbridled liberty and unbridled freedom, whether in the economic sphere or the sphere of personal action on the one hand, or total authoritarianism and control on the other hand, are not feasible on a lasting basis. No party believes in either of them. The question is exactly where to draw the line, and it must be drawn on pragmatic rather than on wholly philosophical grounds. Where is the balance ultimately to be struck? That is what hon. Members on both sides of the House have always to determine.
Over the years, partly because human beings are unpredictable and partly because there is a determination on the part of public servants to try to deal with every anomaly which at first sight appears to be unfair, there has been a failure to recognise that the greatest good may come from a kind of rough justice. The more holes we try to stop, the more small anomalies we try to deal with, the more is the infringement of personal liberties. It is largely a matter of degree, and we have to make a pragmatic judgment.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne said—he quoted the Home Secretary in his defence—once the proportion of the national product which the Government and other public authorities take goes beyond a certain point, the scope for any kind of private endeavour and private incentive is by that much diminished. The Home Secretary set the figure at substantially above 60 per cent., but how can anyone say whether it is 60 per cent., 55 per cent., or 65 per cent.? Often, purely instinctively, one knows that there must come a point at which the liberties of the individual are circumscribed and at which the wealth-creating faculty of the country is diminished.
There is everything to be said for Labour Members with warm hearts wishing to redistribute wealth in the interests of the poor, the handicapped and the unfortunate, but there can be no Labour Member who does not recognise that at some stage the redistribution of wealth totally inhibits the creation of further wealth on which the exercise depends. If all the wealth in the country were to be distributed equally among the population, there would be no wealth creation. There would be no entrepreneurs, managers or risk-takers left and there would be a very low subsistence level of living in this country. If it is accepted that there comes a point when the exercise becomes ridiculous, it is necessary to decide where to stop and where the balancing point is.
We never come to an agreement about it. Perhaps in the end the agreement must be that Labour Members say that the point is about 60 per cent. or 65 per cent., and Conservative Members say that it is about 40 per cent., and we vary, as between Governments, between those points.
However, it must be clear that there is some relationship between public expenditure, on the one hand, and inflation and unemployment, on the other hand. If this were not clear, it is a very strange coincidence that the growth of public expenditure and borrowing has coincided with a high rate of inflation and an increasingly high rate of unemployment. It must be obvious that there is something wrong.
We on the Opposition side of the House recognise, however, that it is idle to talk of freedom when people are poor and starving and suffering from chronic ill-health and malnutrition. Those who have said that it is futile to talk in terms of individual freedom while there is primary poverty and squalor are right. No one on the Opposition side of the House would deny that. However, we are bound to remind Labour Members that to try to deal with every unfairness and with every detail may well result in the wealth-creating machine running down and may ultimately even make life more unfair for the majority of people instead of leaving life a little unfair for a small minority.
Certain arguments have been adduced in terms of education, health and so on. There are arguments to be put on the other side. One cannot provide the best medical care that money can buy for every kind of illness for every person in this country. The cost would be astronomical. One has to try to strike a balance somewhere. The hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans) quoted with disapprobation the remark of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about the provision of kidney machines. It is a fact that one cannot provide everything for everyone out of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money, and sometimes one will have to decide who dies and who lives. These are horribly difficult moral and philosophical questions as well as difficult economic questions.
Again, in the case of education, the Minister said that there was not much freedom of choice for children in her constituency who failed to pass the 11-plus examination. Perhaps that is so. But who is to say that the national interest and the interests of the majority of children will necessarily be better served by dealing with that anomaly by a sweeping and authoritarian measure that denies to very clever working-class children that ladder and stepping-stone through the direct grant grammar schools or the maintained voluntary aided grammar schools to the universities, which they have enjoyed in the past? Who is to say, also, that if we abolish these, the maintained system, totally comprehensive, can survive with quality unimpaired, without that yardstick and standard of excellence which the independent schools, the direct grant schools and the maintained and voluntary aided grammar schools have provided in the past?
We have always to try to strike a balance between the interests of the majority and the interests of the minority. A majority can become a tyranny; but so can a minority. This is a danger. Perhaps the danger is that we shall impoverish ourselves not only economically but spiritually and morally as well by trying to deal with too many small details, by trying to iron out every apparent unfairness, apparent anomaly and apparent injustice. If we go too far along this road, in the end we shall all be worse off culturally as well as economically—educationally certainly. Trying to plan for everything falls down because the unpredictability of people means that official forecasting is virtually always wrong. It falls down, not only because of the unpredictability of people but because we are not a closed economy and a closed society.
Nevertheless we must try to forecast, because one must have some basis on which to try to make any plans at all. The danger comes—and this last point of mine is crucial—when authority, the Executive, the bureaucracy tries to make its forecasts come true by eliminating the unpredicability of people, by reducing the choices which they can make, by trying to eliminate the uncertainties of the future, by trying to lay down the strait and narrow path along which individuals, families and communities may move.
This is the real danger with which society, Parliament, democracy, individuals, families and small communities are faced in this country today. It is the determination of the planner to try to get rid of the unpredictability of people, which means as far as possible the elimination of unpredictable choices.
Among much with which I disagree in the writings of Professor Hayek, he said one true and extremely important thing, which was that nearly all progress in the history of humanity had been the result of accident. It is a sobering and humble thought which those of us who purport to take a part in governing this country ought to remember. Most of the great inventions of history have been the result of accident. Most progress is the result of innovation which is an amalgam of accidental insights, very often arising out of carefully organised teamwork, research and so on; but the fact surely is that the more one tries to limit the freedom of work, the freedom of choice and the freedom of actions of individuals, the less likely it is that in the end we shall not get cultural progress or any material progress as well, on which the whole fabric of the Welfare State and the fabric of the compassionate society depends. Without economic progress and a measure of material progress, there can be no compassionate society—in the Home Secretary's words—and there can be no Welfare State.
We cannot hope to eliminate accident in human affairs. We cannot hope, and we should not try, to eliminate the incentives to individual action which will produce economic expansion and economic innovation. The tax system does it. The minutiae of bureaucratic interference do it. The whole ethos of this present age is against these incentives. This is what we have to change. Unless we can at some stage come to some kind of agreement between both sides of this House, we are, I think, doomed as a country to a slow running down into an unenterprising, uncaring, hopeless mediocrity.
We have to decide at some point where the balance should be struck. Sometimes it will be about figures. Sometimes it will be about whether we should go out with the full rigour of the law and abolish every anomaly and every little rough patch on the face of equality. We have to make the decision. It would be so much better if we could all make it together instead of continually confronting one another with different philosophies.
I know that the extreme Left has a very different philosophy. but I do not believe that the so-called Social Democrats in the Labour Party have a philosophy about these matters which is basically very different from ours. They believe in freedom. The only respect in which they differ from us is in a practical judgment about how far one can interfere with the freedom of individuals and still hope to preserve the wealth-creating mechanism.
I am about to finish, and the hon. Gentleman can then, no doubt. have his say.
There is nothing wicked about the Social Democrats or the Socialists. They are trying, as we are, to act, to think and to legislate in the interests of people. We do not believe that there is some wicked conspiracy and that they desire to introduce a totalitarian régime in this country. Perhaps that is what they will finish with in the end, by accident, but it is not what they want.
What we are dealing with here is a purely practical judgment as to how much official action and how much private action—that is, what should be the balance between these two elements—will make the country most prosperous and the people most happy. That is the decision to be made. It is a difficult decision, and it will not be reached by making political speeches and trying to score points off the other side.
The debate so far has been characterised by a quite amazing degree of complacency on the Government Benches, and I rather regret that some of that soporific spirit seems to have oozed over a little towards our own Front Bench. For my part, I much preferred the robust line taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) when he so ably moved the motion, pointing out the genuine and alarming dangers of the present trend towards the erosion of freedom.
Listening to the Minister and some of her hon. Friends, however, one might have gained the impression that personal freedom in this country was actually on the increase under the present Government.
Indeed, as the Minister read out her highly selective list of items for praise in her freedom-loving Government's programme, especially when she touched on such measures as the Race Relations Bill and the Sex Discrimination Act, I was reminded of a comment made by Mr. A. J. Balfour on an over-prepared speech by the late Sir Winston Churchill that he had
fired his guns down the road up which the enemy has not yet come".
The truth is that the measures on which the hon. Lady spent so much time are not matters of real concern in our consideration of the erosion of individual freedom. My hon. Friends have, on the whole, fought in this debate on rather different battlefields, and I propose to do the same.
I think that the best starting point is the speech of the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Evans), who also seemed to think that personal freedom was increasing in this country. At least, he demonstrated that he had the freedom to hedge his own little bets, because he produced a remarkable eulogy for all three candidates in the present Prime Ministerial horse race, appearing to think that all of them, or any one of them, if elected, would contribute towards the increase of personal liberty.
That view is the triumph of hope over experience. The three candidates in the race appear to have a remarkable degree of resemblance to those notorious three monkeys. They do not see the threat to liberty, they do not speak up in defence of it and they do not hear the appeals for liberty.
The truth can be illustrated by referring to the policies of those three men. For instance, under the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has presided over our finances for two years, we have seen a steady erosion of economic freedom, which has been limited by his Socialist policies. At whatever level of income we stand, we have been stretched on the rack of higher socialist taxation.
The Minister appeared to think that there had been some hints that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had changed his mind and that a decrease in taxation was possible. She obviously did not read the White Paper on Public Expenditure carefully enough. The most shocking paragraph in that White Paper is paragraph 6 which reads:
The Tax burden will still increase.
Any further increases will cause a number of young ambitious managers and technocrats to vote with their feet and get out. It will damage the poor among us, because they will find themselves driven from the will to work by the kind of tax increases which still appear to be in the Chancellor's mind.
There is the increasing public sector involvement in the GNP, which has risen by 10 per cent. since Labour came to power. Two-thirds of our national life will be dominated by the State sector. One has only to look at the burden of debt interest on the public sector borrowing requirement today—just to service it costs almost £5 a week per household—to see how much we have to pay in economic freedom to finance the follies of this Government's economic policy.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government's freedom of manœuvre in planning their economic and foreign policy will depend in future upon the approval of those oriental moneylenders who are sustaining the economy at present?
That is a fair comment. Our national future now depends on an extraordinary degree of overseas indebtedness. Therefore, people's freedom to manœuvre has been limited by the Government's foolishness in borrowing these vast sums.
There is constant interference with private enterprise with price control, dividend restraint and officious meddling by bureaucracy, particularly in the administration of VAT about which I have had endless complaints. Seen objectively, the record of the Chancellor as a candidate for leadership of a party which might actually increase freedom does not measure up to the hopes that the hon. Member for Aberdare had for him.
The Secretary of State for Employment has been the enemy of liberty. He took a completely unacceptable risk with Press freedom when he bulldozed through Parliament the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act, refusing to include in its provisions any minimum legal safeguards against the NUJ operating a mandatory closed shop in journalism. As some of my hon. Friends have often said, a closed shop in journalism, giving monopoly power to one union, is against the interest of the readers and of small independent contributors, and against the freedom of journalists to join a union of their choice.
I am an NUJ member and I believe that the vast majority of members of that union are staunch allies of the concept of Press freedom. But some NUJ leaders—regrettably all too well represented on the national executive—are the enemies of Press freedom and the friends only of International Socialism and its neo-Marxist dogmas. Nowhere is the truth of what I am saying more clearly proved than by the attack on Press freedom launched in Barnsley by NUJ members and supported by the national executive of the NUJ. It is an attack against the right to work of members of the smaller journalists' trade union, the Institute of Journalists.
In Barnsley and everywhere else the IOJ and the NUJ have passively coexisted as fully recognised, fully legal trade unions for more than 60 years. But now, as a direct result of the misguided policies of the Secretary of State for Employment, an ugly new mood of militancy has been unleashed in certain quarters of the NUJ. These people are trying to flex their monopoly power muscle to exclude other journalists from the right to work. The events in Barnsley—which I fear may well be the harbinger of similar events in other parts of the country— have now taken this distasteful turn to the point where the TUC General Council yesterday supported the NUJ with the recommendation that other trade unions should not handle IOJ work.
Only because they have committed the outrageous crime of belonging to the smaller journalists' union, a number of IOJ journalists are being subjected to disgraceful pressures designed to stop them from getting genuine access to news and designed to prevent them from exercising their right to work. I am not in the habit in this House of quoting Labour Party resolutions, but I can do no better than place on record the following resolution of the Streatham Constituency Labour Party:
That this General Management Committee condemns the actions of the NUJ in seeking to prevent members of the IOJ from gaining access to news on the grounds that such action is a blatant attack not only on the right to work but also upon the freedom of the Press upon which our parliamentary democracy depends.
We can all say amen to that. But we should ask ourselves the more profound question: how on earth has it come about that views as diverse as those of the Streatham Constituency Labour Party and those of my hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate should coincide and be united on this issue?
The answer is that the Secretary of State for Employment took that unacceptable risk, to which I have referred, of ramming through, without legal safeguards, the legislation for a closed shop in journalism. Why did he do it? He did it because he has become such a lap dog of the trade union movement that he simply cannot tolerate the idea of mentioning in the same sentence in an Act of Parliament the words "law" and "trade unions".
We now have in this country today a real threat to personal freedom in the shape of an organised body, the trade union movement, which has privileges far greater than those of the rest of the subjects in this country. Not since the days of the divine right of kings, or benefit of clergy, have we had a body recognised to be above the law, and with the imprimatur and approval of the Government for being so. The Secretary of State for Employment may well have been all in favour of freedom in the past. Indeed, he is all in favour of freedom today, but he is in favour of freedom only for trade unionists and not for anybody else.
As for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who is also a candidate in the Prime Ministerial horse race, I have less to say about his views on individual freedom, although there are some aspects of his policies—most notably the recent withdrawing of passports from individuals in this country—which show certain unacceptable tendencies. Perhaps he is the best of the bunch, although, as Shakespeare said.
there's small choice in rotten apples.
Lastly, I turn to the most important theme of all in the debate—parliamentary freedom. I came here just over two years ago in the innocent delusion that, as a Member of Parliament, one might be able from these Benches to make some small contribution to the way in which our country is governed and directed. But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) pointed out, the initiative has left this Chamber, and Parliament's powers have been steadily eroded over the past two years. More and more, Members of Parliament are just corks tossed on the top of increasingly dirty waves.
Undoubtedly my hon. Friend is theoretically correct. I listened with great interest to his comments on the theory of the sovereignty of Parliament. But, with great respect, it was the sort of lecture that could have been delivered with total accuracy in the nineteenth century. In 1976 it is not true or accurate other than in theory. That may be due to the will of individual Members, but the practical result is that Parliament has become the Jack Jones puppet show when we consider the behaviour of Labour Members. To a large extent, Labour Members do what they are told by their trade union bosses.
The unions are calling the shots. They do so in terms of the voting of Labour Members, the right to work and the right to make economic policy. Occasionally, the CBI is allowed a look-in in the decision-making process, but Members of Parliament are not. If parliamentarians cannot protect their own freedom within this great institution, how are we to have any hope of protecting the freedoms of those outside?
Having listened to the speeches of Conservative Members I am reminded of the translation of the words of Lamartine:
O liberty! O liberty! what crimes are committed in thy name!
Many crimes have been committed today by Opposition Members in the name of liberty, but it is necessary to congratulate those who decided to table a motion that permitted a general debate of this character.
I congratulate the three successful Members on combining to have one debate. It has meant that our proceedings can be so much the shorter. It was an excellent idea and one on which they are to be congratulated. I envy their facility at devising a debate of so great a generality. My ambition is to table a motion that will provide for a discussion on how we are to make the world a better place in which to live, but until that time comes this motion will suffice for a general debate on the character and foibles of mankind.
I am not unaware that issues of personal liberty can be of the greatest importance to the individual. I recall a visit to North Wales last year. When I had finished my business of visiting telephone exchanges and telephone engineers I expressed a desire to go fishing. The Welshmen who accompanied me were in favour of the idea. I suggested that we obtained licences and permits to fish. My friend Mr. David Maxwell, who has since died, expressed astonishment that I should think of getting a licence or permit. He argued that it was unheard of to buy a licence or permit, especially for water owned by an English woman in North Wales.
I persisted and the Welshmen were very uneasy. They thought that the application of such restrictions was a limitation of their freedom. For me it was a momentary matter until the beginning of the year, when I realised that there has been an erosion of freedom in London which has concerned many people—namely, the introduction of fishing licences for fishing on the Thames. For the first time since the Middle Ages, due to legislation passed by the Conservative Government, English men and women must purchase a permit before they can fish from the banks of the River Thames. Previously they had freedom to fish in the Thames without let or hindrance. Such was the attitude of the Tory Government to the rights of individuals.
When we talk in terms of the erosion of personal liberty, we think of other pieces of Tory legislation in past years. It was the Conservatives who introduced legislation to cover water udertakings and to reorganise local government. Against the background of such legislation I do not know how Opposition Members can have the nerve to talk about the great threat to the freedom of the individual because of the growth of bureaucracy. The Conservative proposals for local government reform have led to more duplication of facilities than has any other single act in history. I admire the nerve of Opposition Members seeking to lecture us on these problems and to complain about the multiplicity of forms.
The Conservative Government did much to erode personal liberty. If the present motion had read
to call attention to the erosion of personal liberty under the Conservative Government",
I would have gone into the Lobby this afternoon to support the motion.
The motion mentions the continuing erosion of personal liberty and also deals with the question of freedom of choice. Certainly the motion is very imprecise. Opposition Members should try to define the word "liberty" in this context. Surely Opposition Members in tabling such a motion are not saying that they would like to see an increase in permissiveness—in other words, permissiveness in personal choice in matters of pornography or in any aspect of social life. I should be surprised if that were the case.
Reference has been made to freedom being downgraded to permissiveness. How do Opposition Members draw a distinction between freedom on the part of the individual in the social sphere and permissiveness? Permissiveness is to one person what freedom is to another. We must take a more balanced view than the Opposition appear to have taken.
I support the general message in the remarks of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude). In this respect we have to be pragmatic. There is no philosophical black or white, except in university common rooms. We as legislators cannot talk in terms of philosophical black or white in terms of freedom. Had there been more time available, I could have discussed these matters at greater length in a philosophical sense, but perhaps I might be permitted to make one or two observations on this score.
The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) opened the debate by saying that it was the duty of the State to protect the citizen from external attack. He left the impression that that was the sole function of the State. For a few minutes last night I looked up Hobbes' "Leviathan" and found that, according to this great English conservative philosopher, one could find many causes for quarrel in society which would lead to the necessity of having a powerful executive State to stop that quarrel. Those causes were competition, diffidence and glory.
We need authority not only to save us from external attack but to protect us within our own shores from our fellow men and women. I do not believe that the hon. Member for Eastbourne would be content if the Government were to concentrate their expenditure on the provision of soldiers, sailors and airmen around the coast of Britain—although I appreciate that that move would cover his constituency.
As an inland Member of Parliament I would be most disturbed if I were told that the responsibility of Government ended with the provision of a defence force to protect us from external attack. I look to the State for this and more. I look to the State not only for security from physical attack but for security from physical harm arising from other causes. There is no simple proposition which says that the State must exist only to protect people from external attack.
There are three points among the many that have been raised that I would wish to deal with before turning to other matters. I am sorry that those who made these points have left the Chamber. I agree with the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon that parliamentary sovereignty remains. I listened to the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) talking about corks on dirty water or dirty corks on water. That was the analogy he used for Members of Parliament. That is not my view of a Member of Parliament. In attacking Parliament such people are merely reflecting an insecurity in their own position.
Members of Parliament can have a great influence on the Executive, and not only by voting against decisions of the Executive. We have seen an example this week when a threat to vote against Government legislation has been more effective than the actual voting. I have always believed in this approach. In a week when the Government have withdrawn the Weights and Measures Bill we cannot talk about the impotence of Back-Bench Members. The Government, rightly, gave way for the moment—and I emphasise "for the moment" because of Back-Bench pressure. Back-Bench Members have far more powers than they sometimes give themselves credit for, and certainly more than people outside sometimes give them credit for.
For many years I served in the Whips' Office. From a Whip's point of view, the problem of government is that Back-Benchers are far too difficult rather than that they are malleable and slaves of the Whips' Office. It is not true to say that we have a Government with a slavish Back-Bench following and that the initiative has been wrested by Government from Parliament. That could not be so with a Government who have a majority of one.
Whether or not is is correct to say that Back Benchesrs have an influence on their Front Benchers, the fact is that the Front Benchers exert little or no influence over their own Ministries. Has the hon. Gentleman observed that the Government had to be pressed to set up and re-set up the Select Committees on Cyprus and on Violence in Marriage, on both of which I serve? Month in and month out, they refused to do it. Governments do not exert any influence or control over their own Departments.
If hon. Members opposite are saying that in politics there is always inertia and that institutions will defend themselves, that has always been so. It is not new. One must put effort into maintaining the influence. My message is that, if one takes the trouble, one can influence events. Only this week I was recalling the influence of the hon. and learned Member for Thanet, West (Mr. Rees-Davies) on the passage under the Conservative Government of the Bill on the totalisator. The course of that legislation was altered by Back-Bench Members on both sides in Committee because the will was there.
I have always been fond of looking at caricatures in journals of politicians of an earlier age. Why should not the public caricature be critical or not be filled with cynicism of politicians? That is part of their freedom and liberty, and it is part of the strength of British political life.
It is not true to say that we on this side of the House are puppets of Mr. Jack Jones. I declare my interest as an assistant secretary of the Post Office Engineering Union. It is not true to say that the Government are controlled from Congress House by the TUC. One has only to read the economic review of the TUC to appreciate on how many points the Government have disagreed with Congress and its General Council. I know that many members of the Tribune Group in this House have wished that on certain points, including import controls, the Government were the puppets of Jack Jones and Congress or at least followed their policies.
There has been enormous differences of view between the TUC and the Government in certain areas, but it is valuable for Governments to try to arrive at agreements with institutions such as the TUC, the CBI, the NFU and the City. If a Government are trying to pursue a wages policy, they should attempt to arrive at a policy which will be supported by those involved in wage bargaining. In a democracy and a land where we pride ourselves on not using authoritarian measures, we should try to govern by consent, and that is where the question of the Government's discussions with the TUC arises.
The question is whether a Government are to govern by consent or by putting into prison as many people as necessary in order to change the established nature of society. I find it odd that hon. Members opposite want such a revolutionary change and wish to create a climate in which there will be continual conflict and in which a wages policy could not succeed.
I have listened again to the interminable arguments of hon. Members opposite against the operation of a closed shop. The union of which I am assistant secretary does not propose to have a closed shop.
Because the members have discussed the matter and we have no need of a closed shop because of the peculiar circumstances of our industry. However, each case differs and the fact that my union does not want a closed shop does not mean we shall not support workers who find it desirable to negotiate a closed shop with their employers. We strongly believe that when a majority of workers are able to persuade an employer that there should be a closed shop, one ought to be established. We must bear in mind the two elements of that argument—first, that there is a majority within the union concerned and, secondly, that the matter is negotiated with the employers. The closed shop cannot be imposed without the consent of the employer.
I recognise the importance of minorities, but we have an argument here similar to that about taxation. I would like very much a system of taxation which would entitle me to be a conscientious objector to the payment of taxes. I would be happy to pay my money to a charity instead of to the Chancellor during the years of Conservative rule. However, the State does not allow me to do that. It insists that if I draw the benefits I must pay my dues. Our whole political life is based on that simple proposition.
The closed shop is a principle upon which certain professions are based. I have in mind the profession of which the hon. Member for Eastbourne is a member.
I should like to examine the training period of the solicitor to see whether he belonged to a closed shop. My suspicion is that he would belong to one of the most successful closed shops in history.
The reason that the engineering workers came together in the 1850s was very simple. They had looked at the doctors, the lawyers and at the other professions and they saw that by joining together and establishing minimum standards, by ensuring that only those with the qualifications could do the work and then by controlling the qualifications of entry they could manipulate the labour market.
I refuse to listen to the speeches of lawyers about the iniquity of the closed shop as it relates to other workers. The Opposition have failed this afternoon to make out a case against the closed shop——