Before I call the Secretary of State for the Home Department, as I have already said, a large number of hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. Yesterday the Chair was able to call 28 Back Benchers and I hope that the House agrees that that was good. Today I propose to put a limit of 10 minutes on speeches between 6 and 8 o'clock. I hope that all hon. Members who are called will bear that limit broadly in mind.
The House may wish to be reminded that the subject of today's debate has been chosen by the Opposition. The title, "Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities", is a truly Conservative theme. Therefore, I was surprised that it was chosen by Opposition Members.
Balancing freedom with responsibility has been at the core of the Government's policy since 1979. We have been energetic champions of freedom, but of a freedom within the law. We have acted to reinforce fundamental rights, while recognising that with rights come responsibilities. That idea was certainly once unfashionable with Opposition Members, and I am glad to see the two words together today.
Our commitment is no mere rhetoric. Act after Act passed since 1979 has created new rights and new freedoms: the right to buy one's council house; the right given to a tenant to play some part in the management of his estate; the greater choice given to parents in the education of their children; the new rights given to parent governors of schools; the new rights given to schools to manage their own affairs. People have been given the right to own shares in the companies for which they work—and what a success story privatisation has been. Consider the number of people working in industry in Britain today who have a stake in the industry for which they work. Some 90 per cent. of those eligible to buy employee shares have taken up that right. People have the right to choose their own pension arrangements. There is the freedom of choice which comes from greater prosperity and the disappearance of the penal tax rates that obtained when Labour was last in power. I do not believe that even one Opposition Member would be daft enough to stand up in the House and suggest that we return to an 83 per cent. top rate of tax on earned income, or 98 per cent. on unearned income.
I assure the hon. Gentleman that he will not be disappointed, as I shall mention trade unionists and their rights in a moment.
Rights and freedoms cannot exist in a vacuum. They have to be protected by law and exist within the law. He who demands a right to do precisely as he pleases without regard to the interests of others merely deprives others of their rights. In the 1970s, we went through a nasty period when some trade union bosses demanded the right to act as they thought fit without regard to the interests of others. That had to be stopped. Nobody in their right mind wants to go back to those days of intimidation, thuggery, the blockading of hospitals, and the rest of it.
I am sorry that the ambulance drivers think it right to withdraw their services and thus to imperil the lives and the health of the people whom they are employed to serve. It is a great disappointment to me. I am afraid that it is an echo of the past. In the 1970s, we heard plenty about the rights of those who worked, but never about the rights of those whom workers were supposed to serve.
Since 1979, trade unionists have been given a say in important decisions about their working lives. Protection against strikes has been given. The rights of individual employees have been strengthened. The right to a fair, secret ballot before strikes has been provided and we have provided the right not to join a union. Unions still have their rights, of course, but now those rights must be exercised within the law. Immunities that once put the unions above the law have gone, and thank goodness for that.
Does the Home Secretary agree that one of the favourite phrases of Ministers recently, in respect of trade union legislation, is the assertion that they have given the unions back to the members? If that is so, why do they not listen to the ambulance crews who rejected the instructions and ideas of their union leaders who wanted them to accept a 6·5 per cent. pay increase? Having got the right to decide for themselves, union members said in a ballot that they did not want 6·s 5 per cent. but the full 11 per cent. Now that the union has been given back to the members—the ambulance crews—why do the Tory Government apply double standards? Now that the ambulance crews have spoken, why do the Government not pay them the money?
The hon. Member often makes a bad point, but that is a particularly bad one even by his standards. He knows perfectly well that the ambulance drivers have their own negotiating machinery which they could go back and use tomorrow.
No right goes more directly to the heart of a Home Secretary's responsibilities than the right to walk the streets unmolested and to go about one's business in peace, yet those rights can be and are threatened by the activities of criminals. Our job is to prevent crime wherever we can.
The Government have met the task head on. Spending on law and order has risen by 72 per cent. in real terms in the past 10 years. There are 14,600 more police than there were 10 years ago. There are 8,800 more civilians working for the police, thereby freeing uniformed constables to be on the beat.
Perhaps I may go a little further as I should like to touch on a number of other points.
Today, I am able to announce the allocation of 1,160 extra police posts for 1990–91, together with 1,200 more civilians who will release further officers for operational duties.
Is the Home Secretary aware that, over a period of 15 years, a campaign was waged for the release of the Guildford Four, which was eventually successful? Will he now recognise that there is potentially a large number of serious miscarriages of justice involving people in British prisons, such as the Birmingham Six? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman announce that he is prepared to establish a new form of appeal system, so that those who have been convicted on the basis of confessional evidence obtained under prevention of terrorism legislation can be brought once again before the Court of Appeal and their cases reopened and and re-examined? In that way, people such as the Birmingham Six who have been wrongfully imprisoned for 15 years will at last be allowed to go free.
I realise the importance of that point, but I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's assertions. He knows perfectly well that the Home Secretary can refer a case to the Court of Appeal if there is new evidence or if there are new considerations which were not previously before the court. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I shall take my responsibilities in that direction seriously, but at the present time I do not see such new evidence and, therefore, I do not see the grounds for again referring the case. The terms of reference of the inquiry by Lord Justice May are very wide, and he may well touch on some of the matters that the hon. Gentleman has raised, including the consequences of the committal and trial and what happened after the trial of the Guildford Four.
As my right hon. and learned Friend has been sidetracked into considering terrorism, it may be convenient for him to deal with this matter at this point. Has he seen the extraordinary story and pictures in one of this morning's newspapers suggesting that a bomber or sniper could gain access to a window in the Foreign Office overlooking Downing street? Will my right hon. and learned Friend, in his capacity as the police authority for London, ensure that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis investigates that at once? Will my right hon. and learned Friend at some convenient time, and within the limits of security, give an assurance to the House that Nos. 10 and 11 Downing street are immune from any attack of that kind?
Of course I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall look into the matter. Perhaps I can have a word with him later and tell him the result of the inquiries that I have made.
Perhaps I should revert to what I was saying, because I notice that one or two Opposition Members seemed to express surprise when I switched from the Birmingham Six to the Guildford Four. I did that intentionally because Lord Justice May's remit is wide and it would be open to him to comment on the question of references to the Court of Appeal and, therefore, on the possibility of the substitution of some other machinery.
No. I am sorry, but I have given way already. I have been generous in giving way. I am sure that hon. Members will wish to interrupt me later, so I will press on.
I have dealt with the matter of the extra police who will be available in the coming financial year. Far more effort has gone into encouraging the public to help in the task of fighting crime. More than 75,000 neighbourhood watch schemes are now in operation, involving more than 3 million households. Our safer cities programme, which will provide resources and advice for 20 major crime prevention schemes in inner-city areas, is also an important new development.
The safer cities programme is welcomed wholeheartedly in Birmingham. However, I have a question for the Home Secretary, which is meant sincerely. Will he ask the six Conservative Members of Parliament for Birmingham to show interest in the programme and to give it support? So far, only two of them have accepted an invitation to meet the co-ordinator, yet without any organisation, all six Labour Members of Parliament have met the co-ordinator to show their support for the work of the safer cities programme. If the project is to work, bipartisan support is needed. We ask for more help from Conservative Members with Birmingham constituencies because there is bipartisan support for the project on the city council.
I am sure that on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will realise that he is making a partisan point. The scheme has only just started and there will be ample time for all my hon. Friends to meet the co-ordinator. I am confident that all of them will wish to co-operate to the full with that important new development.
In this area, as in so many others, what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs—when he was Home Secretary —used to call "active citizens" are at work. We are involving the local community in this all-important work. Alongside crime prevention, however, we need more criminal prevention—a greater stress on the responsibility to bring up one's children to be honest and law abiding. Parents should be obliged to come to court when their children come to trial, and proper sanctions should be available for use against the deliberately irresponsible parents of irresponsible young criminals.
When criminals are caught, the courts must have adequate powers to deal with them. We should not, of course, fill our prisons with minor offenders and those who can be punished in the community, but the public expects the courts to have the power to mete out really long sentences to really serious offenders, especially violent offenders. We have ensured that the courts have the powers that they need. The maximum penalty for attempted rape has been increased to life imprisonment, as has the maximum sentence for using a firearm in furtherance of crime. The average sentence for rape has more than doubled since 1985 and we have introduced a vital new power for the Attorney-General to refer to the Court of Appeal a sentence that he considers unduly lenient. Already that power is being used to good effect and it gives the Court of Appeal the opportunity to give guidance to the courts of the land on sentencing for the gravest crimes.
The hon. Gentleman knows my views on that matter and I suspect that I know his. He is entitled to his views and I am entitled to mine. I know that the matter will be dealt with in the House only on a free vote. We have had a number of free votes and we shall no doubt have more. My personal view is that our prime responsibility is to ensure that there is maximum protection for the public and if one is convinced in all conscience that the return of capital punishment would add to that protection, the argument is resolved in favour of those who wish to see its return. That is a matter for the hon. Gentleman and for me, but I should not like it to be thought that it is at the centre of my ideas on penal policy. I know that that matter can be dealt with only on a free vote on the Floor of the House, so we can talk about other matters today.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary. While we all welcome the clarity of the guidelines on sentencing for rape laid down by his Department, does he not find it worrying that there is clear evidence that the older the victim, the less likelihood there is of a penal sentence for rape? That is an unfortunate fact, and one which his own statistics demonstrate precisely. It would be wrong if people were encouraged to give evidence against those responsible for rape, but were deterred because they gained the impression that their evidence was weighted according to their age and their nearness to the age of consent. That would be difficult to understand.
The hon. Lady is right when she says we must make it easier for people to make their complaints. A great deal has happened to help them do so and we have moved a long way from the old days when a person might go into a police station, make a complaint in a sexual case and not receive the consideration that she felt she deserved. However, that is a different point from the one with which the hon. Lady started. I know of no evidence to support her assertion.
In this part of his speech my right hon. and learned Friend is dealing with preventing crime and implicity with apprehending criminals. Earlier in his speech he mentioned trade union rights and was challenged by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) on the GCHQ issue. Is not my right hon. and learned Friend concerned that recently there have been cases of ancillary civilian staff, in the communications services which support the police, taking strike action and thus impeding critical activities designed to aid the police? Is it not time that we considered having a special union with a no-strike clause for those civilians working with the police force so that they are taken out of their current unions?
That is an interesting point, but it has never been represented to us before and I should have to give it serious consideration before taking such action. I firmly believe that the strike weapon is one to be used in the last resort and that people who serve the public should hesitate for a long time before using it.
We have to do our utmost to see that those accused of crime have their rights properly protected. I am sure that the House has not forgotten the new rights afforded by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984—the statutory right, for example, of the suspect to have access to a solicitor, and universal tape recording will, in future, guarantee an accurate record of all interviews at police stations, which will be an important safeguard for suspects and police alike. I will say this about recent events: wrongdoing in the police must be rooted out, but the vast majority of police officers carry out their work of protecting the public with real dedication and probity. They are the guardians of our freedom and we should treat with the utmost contempt those who set out to denigrate them out of malice or because it is fashionable to do so.
We must not forget the rights of the victim. The Criminal Justice Act 1988 extended the rape victim's right to anonymity, which now exists from the moment she enters a police station to report the crime. There are now over 350 victim support schemes in operation, providing vital advice and support. Direct compensation of the victim by the offender now takes priority over fining in court. I have to say that in the past too little has been done to stress the rights of victims as against those of offenders. Redressing that balance will be a priority for me as Home Secretary.
I must move on a little. There may be an opportunity for the hon. Gentleman to intervene later.
The Government's responsibilities in relation to crime do not stop at our borders. Crime is increasingly international and our response must match that. We have already played a part internationally in encouraging other countries to co-operate in confiscating the proceeds of crime.
The Criminal Justice (International Co-operation) Bill, which was announced in the Gracious Speech, will enable countries to work ever more closely together in the fight against crime. It will make it easier for us to assist other countries in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offences and to obtain evidence abroad for use in proceedings here. It will, for example, mean that a prisoner in America can be brought here to give evidence. It will enable the police to go to a judge here to secure a search warrant for evidence sought by the prosecution in France.
There is no more international crime than drug trafficking. We have been at the forefront in developing an international response—for example by stationing British drug liaison officers in the principal supplier countries overseas, and by improving co-operation with other countries. At home, we have also stepped up our action against the drug trafficker. The regional crime squads now all have specialist drugs wings and the creation of the national drugs intelligence unit has added another important weapon to our armoury. The maximum sentence for drug trafficking has been increased to life imprisonment, and the drug barons should know that they can expect no mercy from the courts. Alongside the sentence, we have power to confiscate their ill-gotten gains. Confiscation orders to the tune of £13 million have already been made and a further £20 million has been frozen pending trials.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern that perhaps too much emphasis is placed on international co-operation and not enough on initiatives in Britain? According to figures that he has released, the street value of crack seized in the past two years has increased 20 times. Will he look at other initiatives such as the establishment of drug helplines for young people and children? That would enable the authorities to target resources on areas where they are most needed. Does he agree that there is a tendency to concentrate too much on the ill-gotten gains of criminals and not enough on preventive measures? If he looks at the report by the Select Committee on Home Affairs he will see the effect of crack on America's youth.
The hon. Gentleman is plainly wrong if he imagines that all the emphasis is placed on punishing drug traffickers. I shall describe the Government's approach, which certainly embraces the punishment of drug traffickers, the seizure of drugs at ports and education at home, but also the treatment of people who have become addicted to drugs.
We must fight drug misuse through education, publicity and treatment. We have funded specialist drugs education co-ordinators in every local education authority and we are enrolling the whole community in the battle. That is why we will make available £2·3 million next year for the establishment in areas where the drug problem is worst of local drug prevention teams designed to mobilise community resistance against drug taking. Those action teams, which initially will he based in nine areas, will pull together the efforts of the Government, local authorities, local business, churches, voluntary groups and individuals who are all willing to work and to help in this fight.
The House will know that this Session, we intend to bring forward a major Bill on broadcasting. Here, too, the emphasis is on rights and responsibilities. They include the right of the viewer and listener to wider choice and the responsibility of the broadcaster to transmit material of an acceptable quality. That Bill is about choice—the choice which will exist between five terrestrial TV channels and many more that will broadcast by satellite. There will also be wider choice in radio with three new national independent radio stations, and hundreds of new community radio channels. The present framework for broadcasting simply could not remain. The technological revolution will ensure that soon a multitude of channels will be available to us, so a new regulatory regime for independent television, meeting the needs of the times, must be developed.
That regime will stress the responsibilities of the broadcaster. It will set high quality standards for news, for regional programming and for taste and decency. The regulatory body, the Independent Television Commission, will leave programming to the broadcasters, but it will ensure that their product is a good one. The Broadcasting Standards Council, equipped with statutory powers, will reinforce those responsibilities, and the obscenity laws will be extended to cover broadcast media.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance to my constituents and to the people of southern Scotland and northern England that nothing in the broadcasting Bill threatens the future of the Border television station, which is very popular?
The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until the Bill arrives, but he will probably have read that the chairman-designate of the ITC has already said that it is highly unlikely that he will think it right to alter the boundaries of the existing franchises. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman can rest pretty well assured that there will be a franchise that covers the area of Border television. I can also assure him that these new franchises will be awarded to people who have to put on regional programmes, who will have to make programmes in the region, who will have to put on a high-quality news programme and current affairs programmes and who will have to appeal to a wide range of tastes. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that he will be a happy man when the new regime comes into place.
My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that one of the glories of British television in recent years has been the production of high-quality drama serials, such as "The Jewel in the Crown", "Brideshead Revisited", and so on. How does he expect television companies to produce such high-quality programmes if they have to deplete their resources under the terms of the Bill by bidding for the franchises, thus transferring to the Treasury money that would otherwise have been spent on programmes?
I do not understand that argument. We are talking about valuable rights, and it is right that the proper price should be paid by the franchise holders for those rights. It is also sensible that decent standards are maintained. That is why there will be a quality threshold through which each bidder will have to pass before having any hope of winning a franchise.
Some worry has been expressed about networking, but I assure my hon. Friend that there is no earthly reason why networking arrangements should not be made between the eventual franchise holders, just as they are made now.
I shall not give way now because I have been on my feet for a long time.
It would be easy to fall into the trap of saying, "The viewer cannot be trusted, choice will lower standards, let there be no choice." That is precisely what Labour Members' predecessors said when ITV was brought in in the 1950s. They were wrong then and they will be wrong again.
Of course, a great responsibility rests on broadcasters. Television is a very potent medium, and we are entitled to expect high standards, and our proposals stress throughout the need for quality. The viewing public deserve that quality. Broadcasters will therefore have rights, but with responsibilities—the right to enter the market and compete, and the responsibility to provide a quality product.
I must get on.
The broadcasting world is not unique in requiring a balance of rights and responsibilities. This year, in response to concerns—they were well aired in the House —about press intrusion, and the right to privacy, we have established an inquiry under the chairmanship of Mr. David Calcutt QC. We are all anxiously awaiting his findings. I note also the efforts that newspaper editors and the Press Council are making to balance their responsibility to report events with the rights of individuals to remain free of harassment and intrusion. I welcome their efforts, but this time the House really expects them to deliver.
I announced yesterday the coming into force of the Security Act 1989, and the new Official Secrets Act 1989 will come into force early next year. Both measures represent a fundamental reappraisal of the rights and responsibilities of those handling sensitive information. By removing the threat of criminal sanctions from the vast majority of disclosures, the new Official Secrets Act achieves a proper balance beteween between the interests of national security—upon which may depend every individual's right to safety—and the interests of the individual in speaking freely. It has been condemned by those on the Opposition Benches as a repressive measure, but they know perfectly well that it greatly narrows the categories of information protected, and they know also that when in office their Government did precisely nothing to amend the old 1911 Act.
I shall do so shortly.
There is one acid test of a commitment to rights and the responsibilities that go with them. That is the determination of a Government to protect the citizen's right to safety from a terrorist attack. I know that those on the Opposition Front Bench share my revulsion for the terrorist and his works, but for so long as their determination to safeguard the citizens turns on mere words, their expressions of revulsion are valueless. Their real intention remains to remove from people the protection of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974 and the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1978. Nobody in this House would want to take lightly the powers made available by those Acts. The detention of suspects is a very serious matter, and I certainly take my powers very seriously indeed. But, and I am reminded of this by every Army base that is bombed, by every foul murder that is perpetrated, the Government's first duty must be to protect the innocent. The terrorist threat that we face is unique, and we are simply not prepared to lower our guard and place lives at risk.
I have spent a little time reading the Opposition's policy review. If we take at face value what the document states, it is a great compliment to Conservative endeavour. A Labour party document talking about rights and responsibilities is a remarkable new departure. In the old days, the right that the Labour party exercised best of all was a very different one and it was what it talked about as the right of appropriation. As we used to say in Lancashire, the Labour party said, "What's thine is mine and what's mine's my own." That was the old Labour philosophy, and it is only recently that we have heard all this stuff about rights and responsibilities. Even so, the Labour party has a long way to go. In one chapter of its policy review document, a quick word count revealed 58 rights and only 10 responsibilities. The responsibilities relate almost entirely to as yet non-existent Government departments and non-existent assemblies. Perhaps the message that rights and responsibilities must go hand in hand has finally crossed the Floor of the House, but I suspect that, as yet, it has found only a tenuous foothold on the Opposition Benches—
I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me, but there will be ample time to discuss these matters. No doubt hon. Members will be looking at the clock and remembering how many of them want to speak.
The Government are committed to a proper balance of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. The evidence is clear—a list of measures enhancing choice while retaining the fundamental rights of the citizen to safety and protection. It is a record which deserves the support and approval of the whole House.
I offer the Home Secretary our congratulations on his new appointment. He is not new to the subject. Indeed, he already possesses what, in one area of his responsibilities, could be described as a record. I shall not be as unkind about that record as the profile writers of national newspapers have been during the past fortnight. I shall simply refer to the one incident that his previous tenure at the Home Office brings immediately to mind—his arrangements for Miss Zola Budd, the South African athlete, to jump the queue, bypass the usual interrogations and acquire British citizenship within weeks of arriving in Great Britain.
The decision was justified by the phrase that Miss Budd had thrown in her lot with Great Britain. Anyone who believed that was clearly deceived—some people, I suspect the Home Secretary, willingly so. He described Miss Budd's application to come to this country as exceptionally urgent. I have to tell him that in the years ahead my hon. Friends will present him with very many more urgent immigration and nationality cases—sick mothers who need to join their husbands in this country and elderly parents who are desperate to come here to live with their children. We shall watch with interest, although not with optimism, his decision whether to treat those cases in the way that he treated Miss Budd.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be a little more up to date when he is recounting the interesting history of Miss Budd. I hope that he will recall that she arrived in this country as the under-18 daughter of a British citizen father. I hope that he will make it absolutely plain that the most that he can complain about is the fact that her application was dealt with swiftly. He certainly cannot complain about the granting of citizenship because that is the one thing that simply could not be refused. If the right hon. Gentleman is merely complaining about the speed with which the case was handled, I hope that he will consider for one moment the criticisms that would have been showered on the Home Office if it had used bureaucratic delay to frustrate the wishes declared by that young girl to run in the Olympic games.
I understand, of course, the Home Secretary' sensitivity to this issue—nobody could be surprised by it. I was complaining about exactly the point that he made—the fact that one person was given prominence and preference while thousands of other more deserving cases were required to wait for weeks, months or even years because of bureaucratic delays intended to hold back legitimate immigration. I might also have complained that the then junior Minister was acting on the instructions of a Tory newspaper, but that is nothing new for this Government.
Despite the Home Secretary's record, I welcome one aspect of his appointment; we will be spared his predecessor's embarrassed attempts to pretend that he supported the authoritarian aspects of Government policy. The bogus claims to liberalism are now over. The new Home Secretary is unenlightened and proud of it. What is more, as was revealed from what I will charitably call the philosophic passage at the beginning of his speech, it is clear that he has not the faintest idea what liberty and freedom really mean.
Freedom is not a theoretical thing; it is a practical ability to make the choices that a free citizen wishes to make. How much freedom does the Home Secretary think that a pensioner living on the basic pension has to make the choices of a free society? How much educational freedom does he think exists for the families in the inner cities who have no choice but to send their children to decaying, dilapidated, understaffed local schools? How much freedom in medicine exists for my constituents waiting in hospital queues for operations because they cannot afford the choice of private medicine? Freedom exists only when freedom can be exercised, and for millions of men and women in Britain the opportunities to exercise the choices of a free society have been reduced by what has happened during the past 10 years.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one important freedom is the freedom from fear? No one doubts his commitment to protecting innocent lives. Therefore, will he commit a future Labour Government to reviewing the Act of a former Labour Government—the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1974?
I commit at once the next Labour Government, which the hon. Gentleman is right to anticipate, to take all the steps that are right and proper and practical to defeat terrorism.
Since the hon. Gentleman raises the subject, let me respond at once to the Home Secretary's implication that the Opposition are reluctant to deal with terrorism. It was not from the Opposition Front Bench that the announcement came that the IRA could not be defeated; it was from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. The Home Secretary had better be careful what allegations he makes when he is surrounded by colleagues whose incompetence is encouraging terrorism in Northern Ireland rather than defeating it.
At the end of his period of office, the previous incumbent of the high office that the right hon. and learned Gentleman now holds, who was also Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, came up with a new idea which he announced as being central to his responsibilities, and the new Home Secretary referred to it today. That was the idea of
individuals engaging themselves more fully in the community".
The previous Home Secretary wrote:
one way of bringing that about is to give people more power and more scope to take decisions affecting their lives. By devolving power to people and communities we will capture the spirit of the time.
The Opposition have no doubt that passing power from a centralised bureaucracy to the British people is essential to the extension of liberty and freedom, but we are sceptical of the Government's sudden conversion, particularly to devolution.
No Government in modern times have done more than this Government to concentrate power in Westminster and Whitehall or to destroy those parts of our system which provide checks and balances to arbitrary government—free trade unions, autonomous local government and a free press. The Cabinet is led by a Prime Minister who is intolerant of criticism, impatient with dissent and determined to extinguish opposition inside and outside the Cabinet. The Prime Minister has spent 10 years aggregating more and more power to Downing street and now one of her more senior Ministers blandly announces the importance of passing power out to the people.
I know very well that over the past few weeks dissociation from the Prime Minister's policies has become a sport among Cabinet Ministers, but sudden enthusiasm for devolution is taking the joke a little too far.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that there are two interesting and entertaining amendments to the Government motion. One is in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer) and some of his mates. Another diverting amendment has been tabled by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and his chums of the Romanian tendency. As they conflict with one another, what is the position taken by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley)? Which of those amendments has the support of the members of the Opposition Front Bench? We would like to hear more about the Opposition's policies rather than listen to the right hon. Gentleman's knockabout speech on Government policies.
I confess at once to the hon. Gentleman a dereliction of my duties, because I have no idea of the content of either of the amendments to which he refers. The House has no intention of voting or ability to vote on them tonight. I speak for and represent the policies of the official Labour party—the policies of the next Government. I advise the hon. Gentleman to concentrate on the same.
I was talking about the previous Home Secretary's sudden, new-found enthusiasm for devolution. There will be no devolution of powers under the present Prime Minister and no diffusion of power under the present Government—but both will occur when Labour is elected. The next Labour Government will devolve powers to the nations of Scotland and Wales and to the regions of England.
Those powers will not be stolen from local councils, which must be restored to democratic independence. The regional assemblies will enjoy powers previously exercised by central Government, for democracy requires that as many decisions as possible are taken by the people whom those decisions directly affect.
I must proceed, but I will give way later to the hon. Gentleman, who has been anxious all afternoon that I take pity on him.
The preservation and extension of democracy require a series of other specific measures designed to protect and entrench our civil liberties. They include measures to guarantee equality of treatment and status to women and to the black and Asian British, and measures to ensure equal access to, as well as equal treatment under, the law.
Because of the courts' archaic procedures and present organisation, they remain forbiddingly inaccessible to many potential plaintiffs. The cost of justice is beyond the resources of many families. Since 1979, the number of British citizens eligible for legal aid has decreased by more than 13 million. The changes and extensions announced by the Lord Chancellor last week are certainly welcome, but cover only a small proportion of the men and women denied legal aid by the Government. Unless their eligibility is restored, any reform of the legal system will be meaningless to the millions of men and women who are denied, because of cost, the basic civil liberty of access to the courts.
The right hon. Gentleman has moved on from the point on which I wanted to question him—regional assemblies. Is it part of the Labour party's plans that regional assemblies will have the power to raise taxes locally and thereby do away with the raising of income tax centrally? If so, will not the people of the north of England suffer as a consequence of being denied access to funds from the south, which are currently pouring into the north of England as a result of Government activities?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman's conversion to the concept of redistribution, which is at the heart of the policies that we support. Of course, the more prosperous areas must contribute through the fiscal system to investment in and the welfare of less prosperous regions. Equally, areas such as that which the hon. Gentleman represents, where strength of feeling for regional government is overwhelming, should have the power to take decisions on behalf of their own communities. Under the next Labour Government, they will be provided with that power.
Last year and the year before, the Home Office became the instrument by which civil liberties in this country were eroded. Instead of following the example of other western democracies and placing the security services under the control of Parliament, on the initiative of the Home Office the security services were made the creatures of the Government. Instead of a freedom of information Act to ensure that people would know the basic facts behind decisions that condition their lives, there is new official secrets legislation that enables Ministers to release or to suppress information according to their own judgment. Under the present Government, that judgment will always be based not on the national interest but on party advantage. That, I fear, is all part of the pattern: there has never been a time in our history when news has been manipulated more unscrupulously by the Government of the day.
Democracy requires that the media be neither intimidated by Government nor owned and controlled by a handful of millionaires. Yet, during the past 10 years, the courts have been misused to postpone publication of books that might embarrass the Tory party. Broadcasters have been bullied to the point of midnight raids on studios and the confiscation of property, which was not justified —because it could not be justified—by any form of subsequent legal action. Newspaper editors and proprietors have been bribed with knighthoods and peerages—with the exception of Mr. Rupert Murdoch, who, having found it convenient to become an American citizen, had to be compensated with the ownership of The Times and Today without the inconvenience of an inquiry by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. Now we are to have a broadcasting Bill, which might have been agreed between Mr. Murdoch and the Prime Minister over one of their cosy Christmas lunches.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, because I recognise the force of a good deal of his criticism. Why, however, do he and his party refuse to allow the citizens of Sparkbrook to seek the protection of the European convention on human rights in the courts of the realm, forcing them to take the expensive and circuitous route to Strasbourg? That omission rather vitiates the right hon. Gentleman's apparent commitment to the fundamental rights and freedoms of our citizens.
I think that the hon. Gentleman has said in so many words that he supports the concept of a Bill of Rights. My objection to such a Bill is not that it does harm, but that it is a chimera of a protection, which could be overturned by a single-clause Bill passed by an authoritarian Government in power five years later. Such a Bill could be vitiated through the addition of a single clause to a piece of authoritarian legislation, providing that "a Bill of Rights cannot apply to this instrument".
What we need, and what we shall provide, is a number of specific rights enshrined in individual laws, and the constitutional reform to make future Parliaments unlikely to move away from protections for the individual citizen. I object to the idea of a Bill of Rights not because it would do damage, but because it would provide a pretence of protection. What we stand for is the reality, which must be provided in a different form.
May I point out that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who represents the SLD or whatever it is, could have done with a Bill of Rights at the time of the merger of the parties? If there had been such a Bill when the Doctor, Paddy Backdown and the other party leader were all involved, the hon. Gentleman—who took over for a period shorter than that for which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was Foreign Secretary—might have been given some protection.
I am finally convinced that I should press on, and not allow so many interruptions.
Let me return to the subject of the broadcasting Bill, and remind the House that on Tuesday the Prime Minister made two assertions about it. On the evidence of previous ministerial statements, both asssertions were wrong. The Prime Minister said that choice was to be extended, and that quality would he assured. Like all assertions made by the Prime Minister—especially those made with force and passion—these require careful examination.
Certainly, if the proposals in the broadcasting White Paper become law, some viewers will in future own television sets with more buttons to press than those which they own today. More buttons, however, do not necessarily mean a greater variety of programmes, and therefore do not necessarily mean more choice. The evidence from countries where there are many channels but little regulation is that channel after channel provides similar inferior programmes: second-rate old films, quiz games, soap operas and cartoons.
Diversity requires regulation, but regulation is to be abandoned. Without diversity there is no choice—[Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Dover (Mr. Shaw) crying, "Rubbish." I ask him to consider the Bill's proposals. I suppose that he understands that television franchises are to be awarded to the companies that make the highest bids. The White Paper stipulates that the companies that make those bids will have to conform to certain minimum requirements. There was almost universal agreement outside the Cabinet that those minimum requirements—the thresholds, as the previous Home Secretary called them—were inadequate, so on Tuesday the Prime Minister changed the tune, or the language, if not the proposal. She promised that franchises would be awarded only to those companies whose programme proposals passed a quality test. As the evening wears on, I hope that the Government will at last make clear what that quality test—or is it minimum standards —really amounts to.
As described by the former Home Secretary on 13 June, the process of maintaining standards would be wholly bogus. He promised that companies
which failed to satisfy the Independent Television Council that they would meet the requirement would not have their bids considered.
I hear the words "Hear, hear" from the Treasury Bench. Then, however, he said that it would be for applicants
to interpret both the quality test and the diversity test in drawing up their programme.
How can the ITC impose a quality test if the criteria against which quality is to be measured are decided by the
companies themselves? The Home Secretary must know that the men and women who hid for television franchises will be tough customers. They will not be interested in vague promises by Ministers or the Prime Minister's exaggerations about the powers of the new authority. They will be interested in the law.
The Home Secretary made it clear on 13 June that the ITC's decision as to who should receive a franchise would be subject to judicial review. Franchises will be given according to the powers that the Bill specifies for the ITC. Three questions immediately arise. First, will the Bill clearly stipulate minimum standards that companies must accept before a franchise bid is considered? I suspect that the answer to that question is yes. Secondly, will those minimum standards include requirements that were originally omitted from the Government's proposals—the duty to produce education, religious and drama programmes and the requirement to provide a high proportion of locally produced regional programmes—or shall we still be considering the low threshold proposals that in truth do not amount to minimum standards?
Will my right hon. Friend comment on the fact that children's television will be very much at risk if the Government do not give a clear message that the hours during which children's television is shown should be protected and that the quality of those programmes should be guaranteed to prevent them from deteriorating into mere advertisements for toys?
I agree most emphatically with my hon. Friend. When I was in France two weeks ago, representing the party that my hon. Friend and I serve, I switched to Sky Television. I had the advantage of seeing it for the first time and watched what passed for one of their children's programmes on a Sunday morning. It was devoted entirely to an attempt to sell toys, nursery furniture and things for which children could be relied upon to agitate until their parents bought them. That is a highly disreputable practice and I should hate it to be extended to British television.
My third, and most important, question for the Home Secretary is this: what happens if two companies both promise to observe the minimum standards, but the one which makes the lower bid is most likely, in the judgment of the ITC, to produce the best balance of high quality programmes? In those circumstances, will the ITC be able to say, "We know that you have bid less than your rival, but as in our judgment your programmes are superior to theirs, we propose to award you the franchise"? The IBA now possesses that power. If it is to be denied to the ITC, in effect the Government are abandoning a major quality protection. Abandoning quality protection is abandoning diversity.
I make it clear today that if a new Labour Government are elected before the franchise negotiations envisaged in the Bill are completed, we shall feel no obligation to continue them in the way stipulated in the White Paper —giving the franchise to the highest bidder irrespective of the quality of the programmes proposed. Of course, if the contracts are already awarded, it will be our duty to honour them, and honour them we shall. But if the process is not complete, we shall extend existing franchise arrangements until we can introduce a system that permanently preserves the quality of so much British television.
The Prime Minister made a second point about broadcasting. She told us that the Broadcasting Standards Council will
safeguard decency and keep the violence that is unacceptable off our screens."——[Official Report, 21 November 1989; Vol. 162 c. 32.]
That was not a task laid down for that body by the Home Secretary. The provisions for its annual report and code of practice made it clear that it has no powers to safeguard decency, keep violence off our screens or do anything else but
focus public concern and act as a watchdog.
On the evidence of the Broadcasting Standards Council and the Home Secretary's speech today, it appears that on Tuesday the Prime Minister was wrong, although I realise that it would be suicide for the Home Secretary to admit it during this debate.
Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that the threat to programme quality is not a speculative matter for the future should the Bill become an Act? Programme standards are declining now as a result of the threat of legislation. Budgets for documentaries and films are being cut in anticipation of the bids that will have to be made.
Not only is my hon. Friend tragically right about broadcasting and television but he is demonstrating a trait that characterises much of commercial and industrial policy under the present Government. So much time and effort is spent on preparing for takeovers and to combat takeovers that the real work of industry is not being done. Until the Government understand that, great damage will continue to be caused to manufacturing industry and broadcasting.
One aspect of the Gracious Speech, although not categorically wrong, is clearly misleading; and if the Home Secretary's speech today is anything to go by, it was intended as such. We were promised that the Government
will vigorously pursue their policies for reducing crime".
From that, the innocent abroad might suspect that the Government had achieved some success. I certainly hope that the Government will pursue such policies and that they will be more successful than they have been in the past 10 years.
On Tuesday the Prime Minister constantly referred to what had happened and what had changed since the 1970s. However, she did not compare the present crime rate and prison population with that pertaining under the Labour Government. We should not be surprised by that. Now that the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) has left the Government, the Prime Minister is their best statistical manipulator. Let me set out some of the facts which neither the Prime Minister on Tuesday nor the Home Secretary today decided to tell the House.
In 1979 there were 2,536,000 recorded crimes in England and Wales. In 1988—the latest recorded year—the figure had risen to 3,709,000. That represents an increase in recorded crime of 46 per cent. in 10 years. That is the record of a Government who were elected on a promise of law and order and who continue to posture as the party of law and order. Under this Government violent crime continues to increase. It rose by 12 per cent. last year. Families feel less safe in their homes than at any time in recent history, and every right hon. and hon. Member now meets men and women who are afraid to walk in the street or to travel on public transport—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I hear some of my hon. Friends ask why and I am about to explain the reasons to the Home Secretary whether or not he wants to hear them.
The rise in crime can be attributed to a variety of causes, some of which could be combated directly by Government action.
I am interested in what the right hon. Gentleman said about violent crime. Does he agree that one reason why it may appear that there is more violent crime is that the police have encouraged those who suffer from violent crime to report those cases?
Knowing the hon. Gentleman's association with the police, I am surprised that he got that not only wrong but categorically wrong. The fear is that because so few crimes are solved people are not reporting them; there seems to be no point in doing so. We all hear of people who have had a small crime committed against themselves or their property and who have found that there was not the slightest hope of the culprit being caught or prosecuted. I assure the hon. Gentleman that in inner cities if one's car is broken into or one's windows are smashed the tendency is to ask whether it is worth while reporting it because there is no hope of a result. The statistical probability is that the crime figures are much higher than those reported.
No, I must get on.
Some of the causes of rising crime could be combated by direct Government action. We accept the need for more police and more civilians to assist the police and to release police officers to perform their primary duties. Of course, we welcome the Home Secretary's announcement today that more policemen will be recruited next year. We welcomed the same announcement in the public expenditure White Paper, and another one two months ago by the former Home Secretary. If we had as many increases as we have announcements, the position would be much healthier. However, recruiting extra policemen is not the only way to tackle and reduce crime.
In other respects the Government are failing the police. The proposal to privatise the police national computer was bitterly opposed by the police and inevitably will undermine confidentiality, which is crucial to the proper relationship between the police and the public. The Government's refusal to exercise any control over the private security industry damages the status of the police and from time to time puts the general public at risk. However, the extra police are welcome. We shall certainly support that proposal and the Government's suggestions for combating drug trafficking and enabling greater co-operation between the police forces of the western world.
The provision of more police officers is only the beginning. There are other things which the Government should do but are failing to do. There should be more spending on services that prevent crime—ranging from better street lighting and greater security in blocks of flats to a real drive against youth unemployment and the petty crime that results from boredom and despair. Many of those improvements are held back by cuts in local government finance. This week the Government boasted about small specific grants for crime prevention—£750,000 over three years. But rate support grant to local councils has been cut by over £20 billion. Much of that money, had it been available, would have been spent on services to reduce and deter crime.
With respect to my hon. Friend, I must make progress. I have given way many times and many other hon. Members wish to speak.
Real remedies for crime are neglected for another reason—the bone-headed belief in the deterrent effect of stiffer sentences. Because of the present clear-up rate of fewer than one in five crimes, many criminals believe that they will never be caught. They do not have a thought for the severity of the punishment if they are convicted. Yet there is still the belief that stiffer sentences will automatically reduce crime. That belief is epitomised by the mindless call for the return of capital punishment. That call is now led by the Home Secretary, who announced today that if there were evidence to support the view that capital punishment was a deterrent, it should be returned. Has he not been in this and his previous job long enough to realise that there is not a shred of evidence to support the view that capital punishment deters? The only evidence is that it encourages and rewards the atavistic instincts of right hon. and hon. Members on the Government Benches.
There is a further cause of crime that few people now dispute. There is no better way of ensuring that a young man becomes a regular criminal than by sending him to prison for the first time for a petty offence. Prison breeds crime, yet in Britain more people receive custodial sentences than in almost any other Western democracy. I see the ever-eager Minister of State waiting to pounce because when I made this point in a previous debate he said that I was wrong and that, of the countries of the Western European Union and the Council of Europe, Austria, Luxembourg and Turkey sent a larger proportion of their citizens to prison than we did. Since that time, Turkey and Luxembourg have so reduced their prison populations that now only one country in the Western world sends more of its citizens to prison than we do. I do not believe that it is because we have a more criminally inclined population than anywhere else from the Urals to the Atlas mountains; but the culture of prison has somehow taken root in this country and results in our sending too many people to prison and keeping them there too long.
Has my right hon. Friend seen the recently published report by the chief inspector of prisons on Wandsworth prison? We are sending enormous numbers of people to prison and, despite every promise from the Government, from the time when Lord Whitelaw was Home Secretary, none of the recommendations promised has been enforced in Wandsworth or in any other of our major prisons.
It is extraordinary that in Wandsworth and many other major prisons we are keeping men, and in some cases women, in Victorian gaols in conditions which the Victorians would not have tolerated for a day. The Victorians would not have had people in prisons where they could wash only once a week, where there was no remedial training, and where they would have no exercise except for a minimum of one hour a day. It is a rebuke to our civilised society that we continue to keep such prisons in operation. They will remain in operation for as long as we send too many people to prison and keep them there too long. I want to compare the number in prison in 1979 with the prison population today. In 1979, the prison population was 42,220—[Interruption.] If the Minister of State wishes to argue with my figures, he is welcome to do so. However, since the figures were given by him in a parliamentary answer, he can decide whether he is wrong now or was wrong then.
I shall give the figures first, then the Minister can argue with them. That seems sensible.
In 1979, the prison population was 42,220. The latest figure this year is 48,609—an increase of 6,000. We welcome and support the increased emphasis on non-custodial sentences—with, of course the exception of electronic tagging. That was a publicity stunt promoted by the Minister of State which, now that it has proved a fiasco, will, I trust, be dropped by the new Home Secretary.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he would give way once he had given the figures. Will he tell the House how much money the Labour Government put into prisons between 1974 and 1979? They never built a prison, they put no money into refurbishment and they are largely responsible for many of the problems that we have had to try to clear up.
The hon. Gentleman does not realise that the answer to this crisis is not more prisons with more prisoners, but fewer people being sent to prison in the first place. The entire thrust of his answer was the old belief that putting people in prison is the answer to crime. It is not. Non-custodial sentences are clearly not appropriate for crimes of violence or in cases where a convicted man or woman might abscond or commit a further offence. However, in other instances non-custodial sentences are not the soft option but the sensible option. They often allow restitution of damage done or suffering caused. Unlike prison, they avoid exposure to the criminal environment that encourages crime.
In some areas non-custodial sentences are working successfully. To make the application of non-custodial sentences general we need a new Act of Parliament which ensures that the facilities for punishment outside prison are generally available and that the courts are encouraged to award them. We need a new Act of Parliament for many things concerning the system of criminal justice—not least the questions arising from the miscarriages of justice in the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombing cases.
The previous Home Secretary conceded that an examination of the entire appeal system was necessary. The Opposition believe that a new additional form of appeal must be created which enables the examination of contentious convictions in a forum that is not the exclusive preserve of solicitors, barristers and judges. If a layman—someone from outside the judicial system—had earlier been involved in the examination of the Guildford and Woolwich cases, I have no doubt that that wrong would have been righted much earlier. There will be arguments about how that problem can be solved. However, I hope that there is general agreement that it must be solved quickly. The solution, like the solution to overcrowded prisons, requires legislation.
I cannot give way any more.
It is typical of the Government's standard of values that the Gracious Speech gave preference not to a Bill to reform our judicial system but to one whose primary result would be a reduction in the quality of our television. One of the Government's more disreputable techniques is to spend much time and effort announcing what needs to be done while having no intention of doing it. The Opposition have not been at all impressed by the Home Secretary's insistence that the prison population must be reduced. He could have accelerated the reduction by including in a new criminal justice Bill powers to extend non-custodial sentences and by including that new Bill in the Gracious Speech. He chose not to do so.
Of course, we have the legal services Bill—or at least half of it, compared with the first flash of reforming zeal displayed by the Lord Chancellor. All the signs are that attempts to open up the legal profession have generally been thwarted by the vested interests in it. The Government have capitulated. Judges are to have the power of veto over any proposed solution to what amounts to a demarcation dispute between solicitors and barristers. Consistency requires the Government to give the Trades Union Congress general council the right to adjudicate on whether there should be a closed shop.
The hallmark of the Government is not intellectual consistency but prejudice and the belief in every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. We now have the picture by which history will remember this Administration and which typifies the standards and values of the Thatcher years—the Secretary of State for Transport standing in a used car salesroom trying to sell fancy number plates. That says all that we need to know about the present Administration. No wonder they have been rejected by the people of this country.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) will perhaps forgive me if I do not touch on all the many subjects that he introduced into the debate. I am certain that many Conservative Members will agree that his diatribe on what may be in the forthcoming broadcasting Bill would be best left until Second Reading.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook about a tribunal to review serious cases of miscarriage of justice. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be aware that the 1982 report of the Select Committee on Home Affairs made that recommendation. I pray that, after Sir John May has reported, we shall reconsider that important recommendation, when hon. Members may believe that an additional measure should be inserted in our criminal justice system to deal with such serious cases.
I warmly endorse everything said by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary. He made a fulsome speech of vigour. It was typical of his character that he should have addressed the issues associated with what we are meant to be discussing—rights and freedoms.
In Britain, the concept of the citizen and his or her rights goes to the centre of the nature of our society. It is often expressed by that marvellous term, "the peace of our sovereign lady the Queen." By that we mean that every citizen has a duty to uphold the law and to ensure that there is an all-embracing atmosphere in which people may enjoy their freedoms and rights.
Because we have a long history of that concept, it is worth touching on some of the milestones over the centuries that led to the concepts and principles that mean so much to us as a society. The Justices of the Peace Act 1361 created justices of the peace in England. Their duty was to uphold the peace and to ensure that fellow citizens could use the streets freely and without fear. It is typical of the character of our country and its people that the people who held that office were unpaid, as they are today. Some 30,000 of them serve in a voluntary capacity to keep the Queen's peace.
The concept of good citizenship and keeping the peace was further buttressed in 1829, when the first paid police force was established. I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement of increases in the establishment of our paid police service. The 19th-century concept of the police is the same today. The establishment of a paid police force did not remove the obligation on all citizens to keep the peace. Thus, in our age we see the policies of crime prevention as an essential part of our contribution to the well-being of our people.
I take issue with the assessment of the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook of the crime problem. It is easy to reel off figures and statistics, but they mean little unless one considers the underlying analysis. He must know, as Conservative Members know, that over 90 per cent. of crime relates to property. Most crime is committed by young people, and the peak age for offending in males is 15. We know that that crime is prevented and stopped by what the citizen does in his or her neighbourhood to protect their homes and to involve themselves in their communities, villages, towns or districts. The Government have sought to sustain and encourage those principles through their programme of crime prevention and good citizenship. Those are the rights, freedoms and privileges of the British citizen. They go back through the centuries, and we wish to see them encouraged and sustained.
I welcome the remarks made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary about international policing and the initiatives to deal with drugs and international crime. The Select Committee on Home Affairs will contribute to the work of the Government and the House on those matters when it publishes an important report on 7 December listing no fewer than 49 recommendations to help to sustain and encourage the control of serious crime, especially that relating to drugs. Over the course of the next year, it intends to play its part in the contribution that European parliamentarians made to encouraging the suppression of crime that is organised beyond our frontiers.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said much about expenditure, and I heard two pledges made—first, expenditure on what he called regional authorities. I wish that I knew what the cost of those authorities would be, but they sounded suspiciously substantial. Secondly, he suggested expenditure on other parts of the criminal justice system, which again was uncosted. He did not refer to the Labour party's policy review, which brings sharply into question the fitness of the Labour party to form a future Government. As I understand it, it is pledged to repealing the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1989 and to amending, and eventually repealing, the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1987.
In the city of Westminster, those pledges are serious matters indeed. I remind the House that, during the past 17 years of mainly Irish terrorism, more than 100 people have been foully killed on the United Kingdom mainland as a result of terrorist acts, and many others have been injured. I am glad to see my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) in his seat. He and I share an awesome burden in the city of Westminster, because over recent years we have had to consider the murder and injuring of people by the Harrods bombing, the Knightsbridge bombing and the Regents park bombing in my constituency. The repeal of those two measures would directly damage the safety and security of the British people. I challenge the Opposition to reconsider their policy review pledges in that regard.
Since the establishment of paid constabularies in 1829, the police system has been independent of politics. The chief officer of police is free to enforce the law in accordance with Parliament's instructions through Acts of Parliament. He is not controlled by the so-called police authorities or by committees of local politicians. I understand that the Labour party has pledged, in its policy review, to ensure that every police authority is made up of elected members, and that responsibility for the Metropolitan police will he taken from my right hon. and learned Friend and the House, and will become the responsibility of an elected body of people. That is a direct challenge to freedom and to the independence of our police service.
I am grateful for that intervention, because it enables me to say, without fear of contradiction, that my right hon. and learned Friend and Ministers in the Home Office do not control the police. They are the police authority—responsible for funding and producing resources—but they do not control the police or give them instructions.
The public fear that the Labour party policy review will mean that there will be people on police committees who will seek to control and manipulate what the police do. Outside the metropolis, justices of the peace comprise one third of the existing police authorities. As I said at the beginning of my speech, those justices of the peace, who have been appointed since 1361, are citizens of England.
They are unpaid. They ensure fairness and balance, and they keep the peace, and that is the system which the country cherishes.
The Opposition have also pledged, as I understand it, to introduce immigration procedures which will be open and fair. They say that they would repeal the Immigration Acts of 1971, 1981 and 1988 and the primary purpose rule.
As Minister of State at the Home Office, my right hon. and learned Friend controlled immigration fairly, and he will continue to do so. Immigration has ceased to be a great issue in Britain. My right hon. and learned Friend has brought peace to the inner cities, because he has reduced the conflict which existed in the 1970s and early 1980s. We are grateful to him for that.
By pledging to repeal that legislation, the Opposition will reintroduce the immigration debate into Britain, and reintroduce anxiety about the future. That is not in the interests of people who live in Britain.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about fairness, but does he not think it is fair that the Government should put right decisions taken previously? For example, if DNA testing now proves that a wrong decision was taken some years ago, should that not be put right—even if the person has now reached the age of 18?
I agree that where an injustice is found to have occurred, it should be put right. I am confident that the procedures associated with DNA testing will do that.
There is no justice or merit in allowing into the United Kingdom people who will be homeless, and who will become a burden on the communities in which they reside; it can only cause conflict. Therefore, I agree that we have a duty to ensure that people who come to England have somewhere to live.
In my speech I have attempted to remind the House of the noble concept of British citizenship and its contribution to the peace and safety of our society.
Rights, freedoms and responsibilities are the core of British democracy. It is appropriate that the Home Secretary dealt with the issue of terrorism in his speech. While terrorism exists in Britain none of us can be content that rights and responsibilities can be fully exercised by our citizens.
I am glad to see the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in his place. I have no wish to make his task any harder, as it is the most thankless task of any Minister of the Crown. However, I hope that he will clarify in the House the statements that he recently made. I cannot believe that he thinks that the situation in Northern Ireland can be likened to that of a colony. It was reported that he talked about it in terms of Cyprus in answering a question related to our colonial past. If that is not so, he should get to his feet and clarify the matter.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland should also clarify and remove the note of pessimism that came into his briefing, because there is a suspicion that it was not an accidental remark—he was flying a kite and preparing the ground. I would be the first to admit that occasionally those holding office may feel that it is right to open negotiations with people who are considered to be terrorists. That is a solemn and ominous step to take, but it can never be excluded. However, it should not be flown as a kite beforehand, or done to test the water.
Due to the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the closeness of the Secretary of State to the Irish Government, his statements have a particular quality. If it were thought that any of those statements had already been discussed in the Anglo-Irish forum, it would only exacerbate the considerable fears about the agreement that are held by the majority of citizens in Northern Ireland. Those fears are not held just by people whose views are based on bigotry, zealotry or the extremes. It is a sad fact that the majority of peaceful British citizens in Northern Ireland do not have any confidence in the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
When I see the inability to mount serious cross-border police or cross-border military co-operation between the two countries, although they are both members of the European Community, I share the doubts of the citizens of Northern Ireland about the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The Secretary of State will find his task more difficult as each time an atrocity takes place the IRA plays on the words of his press interview.
We erode civil liberties in the attempt to defeat terrorism. Right hon. and hon. Members do so consciously and agonisingly. However, we have to strike a difficult balance between having the tools at our disposal to destroy terrorism and knowing that sometimes we shall trample on genuine liberties in a free society when we do so. Right hon. and hon. Members must be fully conscious of what they are doing and that must have the authority of the House.
There is an issue which ought to be covered by legislation but for which none is proposed. I refer to society's responsibility to the people, a minority though they may be, who suffer as a result of accidents and, often now, I regret, treatments undertaken under the National Health Service.
It is typical of the way in which the Government conduct themselves that attention has to be drawn to the fact that an important statement has been made today in a written answer. It concerns the 1,200 haemophiliacs who have the human immune deficiency virus. I have a copy of the answer, which says:
The Government share the universal sense of shock at the unique position of haemophiliacs who have been infected by the AIDS virus".
I share that shock, but we must not let the Government get away with feeling that it is unique. Unfortunately, others have been infected by viruses as a result of being given treatment under the NHS. An example is infective hepatitis as a result of blood transfusions.
I should observe, for the benefit of those who do not know, that the Government have made £19 million available to a trust and, by implication, suggested individual ex gratia payments of £20,000 this year for people who have been infected with HIV. That settlement is massively lower than they would expect to get in the courts. That is the first thing that has to be said. The second is that it is inadequate. The third is that the House bears a great responsibility for those people being infected with HIV.
I feel personally responsible. On 22 January 1975, as a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Security, I announced to the House a programme to make us self-sufficient in blood products, particularly Factor VIII. I repeated that pledge on 22 April 1975, when I said that I hoped that it would be done in two to three years, and I repeated the pledge again on 29 April 1976 in a speech to the World Federation haemophilia congress. When I said that we hoped to be self-sufficient in blood products by mid-1977, I was not speaking in the House, so that that statement did not bind successive Governments. But we are all responsible for the two earlier pledges that were given in the House.
The targets were not achieved and we are still not self-sufficient in blood products. I was told by a Minister of the present Government that they made the decision to be self-sufficient in 1982. Was Baroness Trumpington unaware that the House had already been told in 1975 that Britain would be self-sufficient? What happened?
I have tried to persuade the parliamentary ombudsman to investigate this issue, but failed, for if ever there has been a clear and graphic case of maladministration, this must be it. We are all responsible. It is no use trying to buy off a court case with an inadequate payment given grudgingly. In Canada, sums as high as £150,000 are being paid out. In Germany, there have been supplements of more than £160,000. I have constituents suffering from asbestosis who will get more than £20,000.
The written answer to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred was made in response to my question. I acknowledge the long interest that he has taken in this matter. It is important to recognise that, leaving aside the monetary value of this ex gratia payment, which is not intended to be compensation, there are difficult legal issues involved which make the situation here quite different from that in other countries where individuals are suing drug companies. That is not happening here. It is clear from discussions that I and others had with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday that there is no intention of these payments precluding a court case. It is not possible, thank goodness, to buy off court cases in Britain.
I pay tribute to the efforts made by the hon. Gentleman and many others of all parties to allow the Government to behave generously, but I do not think that even he agrees that they have yet behaved generously. I agree that there are complications. My argument is that we should be legislating for a proper system of compensation that covers haemophiliacs who have been infected with HIV and others, such as those treated with Opren and those affected by thalidomide. We all remember from The Sunday Times and elsewhere the fight that they had.
People do not want to sue the Government when they have been through the NHS. They want a system of fair compensation. They know that what has been done is nothing other than an accident and that there has been no malevolence. Other countries have a legislative system which gives people a statutory right to be compensated fully without having to fight their case in the courts.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the crucial arguments which is usually put forwad by Treasury solicitors and others is that there might be an open-ended commitment? The essence of what he is saying, with which I agree, is that, tragically, for haemophiliacs, the time-scale could not be more limited.
We know that only 1,200 people are infected but, sadly, more than 100 have already died. I believe that it would be possible to negotiate a compensatory arrangement that would obviate the need for any legal cases. For them to be withdrawn, the settlement would have to be generous—at least four times what is currently proposed. The House must accept that it should legislate to create a statutory protection so that people do not have to take the NHS to the courts and so that there is an honest, open and fair system. I hope that this will be covered by the phrase: "Other measures will be laid before you" and that we shall not have to wait for another Queen's Speech.
The Home Secretary rightly drew our attention to the problem of drugs. It is the biggest social problem that this and many other Governments face. It is the dominant issue on the domestic scene in the United States and involves the President. I do not yet sense the same sense of urgency here. I do not think that we have yet grasped what a devastating drug crack is. A person who uses it once is hooked for ever, and has very little chance of successful treatment. Every effort to stop that initial dose is therefore of utmost and critical importance. I welcome the measures that have been announced, but I urge the new Home Secretary to give the matter the highest possible priority.
I want to draw attention to another scandal surrounding AIDS. We should be blunt about it—we are not doing what we ought to do to prevent the spread of AIDS, especially among the drug community. The biggest bridge of AIDS into the heterosexual community is among drug addicts. There are focuses of infection among drug addicts which we know about. Edinburgh is by far the largest in Britain, but it is spreading. We are still failing to do what we have done in the past when faced with infectious illness—to conduct routine blood tests without the need to have permission for them.
When asked whether they want HIV tests, many people will be frightened and resist. We have confronted this problem before. I understand the fear. The main focus of AIDS is in the homosexual community and, because that community has been savagely discriminated against over the years, it senses that new discrimination is coming because of HIV testing, which would be conducted mainly among homosexuals.
Fear of testing and of the unknown has also been experienced before. Syphilis was on the point of becoming a pandemic, and doctors were under tremendous pressure to conduct compulsory blood tests, but they refused. They argued that it would be possible instead to conduct routine testing without permission and for the information to be completely confidential between doctor and patient. That is the public health practice that has been used successfully in the past. Why was it not used for HIV testing? Why were we told that we could not have HIV blood tests without permission and that not to have written permission was an assault on a person? We did not need written permission for a Wassermann test for syphilis. I suspect that most hon. Members have had such a test, unknowingly, 10 or 12 times in their life. In some parts of the United States, it is compulsory to have such a test to get a marriage certificate.
The way to deal with this matter is to identify the focus of infection. We will now have a great fanfare of publicity because of anonymous testing. What will that do? A ludicrous situation will exist where the doctors know that the result of a blood test is positive but will not be able to trace it to the individual or counsel that person who, not knowing that he has HIV, could be infecting his wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. How can that make sense? It is utterly ludicrous.
The medical profession seems to be completely stymied. I receive private, confidential letters from members of that profession asking, "Can you not do something about this?" I write back, saying, "What is the advice of the chief medical officer?" We have persuaded ourselves that a civil liberty is involved. Is it a civil liberty to have people unknowingly infecting some of those closest and dearest to them? It is time that we went back to proper public health prevention practice. The problem exists not only in this country but around the world. I do not know what scientific advice the Government have received or what the chief medical officer has said. I beg the Government to listen to some of the comments of some of the wiser heads in the medical profession who are deeply worried. They believe that we have gone up a blind alley and they are appalled and horrified by what is happening.
I turn to some of the more controversial, and perhaps party political, sides of my speech. I wish to deal with the legislation which should never be placed on the statute book. Nevertheless, that will probably happen. Yet Conservative Members can stop it. The National Health Service legislation is an odious piece of legislation that is wrong in principle and in practice. Few matters unite the whole medical profession. Aneurin Bevan was never able to unite the whole profession against him—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), who stands outside the Chamber but no doubt would like to repeat his comment in the Chamber, mentioned self-interest. I must declare an interest in this matter. I ceased to practise medicine in 1968, but I am still able—[Laughter.] Were the right hon. Member for Chingford to he suddenly knocked down in this place by some terrible disease, the police would first look for all the proper doctors. If perchance there were none around, I would be called to him. I would still be able to treat him, although I am sure that, like me, he would be extremely anxious about my capacity to do so.
Aneurin Bevan was incapable of uniting the medical profession against the NHS. He managed to stuff the consultants mouths with gold and kept them on his side all the time. Even Barbara Castle—a figure unknown to controversy—failed to unite the medical profession. I managed to persuade her to stuff the GPs' mouths with gold, and we paid them for family practitioner advice. At one stage, it looked ominously as though we would have the whole medical profession against us. This Government achieved a unique distinction of uniting hospital consultants, general practitioners, junior hospital doctors, retired physicians, the whole nursing profession—hardly a soul who can speak authoritatively for the NHS is not opposed to the Government's proposals on the NHS.
The tragedy is that there is much merit in the Government's proposals. A good deal of it should be introduced. A more cost-effective Health Service is in the interests of all of us. There needs to be greater medical audit—something not always liked by the medical profession. I have long argued in this place for its extension to family practice as well as to the hospital service.
There is much to be said for more real choice, for enabling patients to go outside their district health authority where there may be a long waiting list, to another district health authority with no waiting. The money should follow the patient. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Conservative Members cheer because they seem to believe the publicity of the Secretary of State for Health which says that somehow this choice is available to patients. It is not. [HON. MEMBERS: "It is."] No. Under the proposed system, if the patients' general practitioner has decided not to have a practice budget—doctors in a small practice will not even be allowed to do that—patients and GPs will be told to which hospital they must go by their district health authority, which will have arranged a contract with that hospital. Patients do not have the right to go outside their health authority area. They do not have the right to choose. One of the major problems with the legislation is that it constricts the freedom of choice of the patient and the general practitioner to go to the hospital that they choose at the time that they want.
The Prime Minister is keen for this right to be extended to those only in private practice. We know her view on health services. In fairness to her, she does not hide her views on most matters. On the day the Health Service White Paper was published and the poor Secetary of State was due to explain it, the Prime Minister said to me:
those who can afford to pay for themselves should not take beds from others."—[official Report, 31 January 1989; Vol. 146, c. 164.]
The Prime Minister wants a two-tier National Health Service. Those people who can take out private health insurance can choose to go to the hospital they want at the time they choose, as the right hon. Lady wants. There will be another Health Service for those who do not take out private health insurance. We know that that is what the right hon. Lady wants because she is the first Prime Minister since the National Health Service came into being to give that old Right-wing Tory ideology the great support of a tax concession for private health insurance. Churchill was asked to do that immediately he became Prime Minister in 1951, and he wisely rejected it. No doubt, if Anthony Eden had had the time, he might have been put under similar pressure. Harold Macmillan, Alec Douglas-Home and the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) all refused to give a tax concession to people taking out private health insurance. Why? It is the surest way to a two-tier health service and to expand the private health insurance scheme.
Of course, we accept in a free society there must be a right to choose to pay privately. I would never take that right away—indeed, we could not do so under the European convention on human rights. It is the same with education: one must have the right to opt out. Is it the role of the state to encourage people to opt out, or should the NHS be designed for all of us to use? That is the crucial point about the NHS and why the legislation is so offensive. It takes us down a route that effectively ceases to design the NHS for the whole population. If the Prime Minister resists the challenge to her leadership, which we hear will occur in the next few weeks, that will happen gradually. Incidentally, I give the right hon. Lady an odds-on chance of resisting that challenge. Perhaps the real stalking horse will come not this year, but next year. That is the challenge for which the Prime Minister must be ready. I still think that the Prime Minister is likely to win the next general election if Labour Members continue to wish to act on their own and avoid any form of combination of Opposition parties. Incidentally, the Indian opposition parties seem to organise these matters rather better.
It is all very well the right hon. Gentleman yawping about what the Labour party should be doing to defeat the Government, but he ratted on us and left. This would not have happened if he had not done that.
The reason for all the Labour party's problems—not your problems, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker—was that it lost the confidence of the electorate on two fundamental issues, the proper defence of this country and this country's destiny within the European Community. No one who fought the 1979 election on the Labour party's manifesto could with any honour have fought the 1983 or 1987 elections on Labour's manifesto. Labour was defeated then because of those changes, but I have been delighted to see Labour change its mind and begin to accept the need for nuclear deterrence, a proper defence policy and continued membership of the European Community.
Some of us have not changed our minds on the questions of defence, foreign affairs or the Health Service. One reason why I attack this Conservative Government is what they are doing to the National Health Service and that is why the Social Democrats will continue to stand for the policies in which we believed before and after 1981. The National Health Service is a factor that unifies this country; it is designed for everyone. If people opt out, they opt out, but the role of the Government is to embrace as many people as possible. Ninety-five per cent. of people use the family practitioner service.
I went to see a general practitioner in the city of Plymouth. I shall not describe him further because I do not want to embarrass him. He is a lifelong Conservative, but he described this legislation as "immoral". I said that that was a tough description and I was not sure that even I should say that. He said that he could go for a practice budget tomorrow because he had all the computerised services, efficiencies and skills, and that he might be driven to do so because that is what the legislation is geared to achieve. The temptation to do so is strong for a good practitioner because the alternative—the direction of where patients should go—is draconian and unwelcome to anybody committed to clinical freedom. He said that he would never vote for the Conservatives if they were to put that legislation on the statute book.
Long after people have forgotten about the privatisation of the water supply or even about the poll tax, the issue of the National Health Service will be the Achilles heel of this Government, and deservedly so. They will lose millions of votes on this subject because the National Health Service is dear to the people. They know that it needs more resources; it has been starved of resources by successive Governments. Six per cent. of our gross domestic product is spent on health, whereas in the European Community the average is 7·5 per cent. It needs not only a large amount of money, but commitment. It is hard to sense any commitment from a Prime Minister who, whenever she needs health care, is not prepared to trust the NHS for which she, as the Queen's most senior Minister, is ultimately responsible.
There are many other aspects of the legislation that I would criticise.
I have listened to the right hon. Gentleman's good speech with a great deal of interest. The right hon. Gentleman has said that everyone in the Health Service is against the Government's reforms. Can he explain why 80 hospitals have opted to become self-managing trusts?
That is easy to explain. Plymouth district health authority claims to include one such hospital. Yet the hospital consultants passed a motion of censure on the district health authority in Plymouth the other day. It held a ballot among the hospital consultants and the consultants rejected the proposals by a massive majority. The Confederation of Health Service Employees, the National and Local Government Officers' Association and the National Union of Public Employees have all consulted their members in Plymouth and they are all against the proposals. There is no majority for them. Yet this authority that has been appointed over 10 years by Conservative Ministers now represents a substantial group of people, who are committed Conservatives apart from anything else, which has decided that it wishes to show an interest in the concept of a self-governing hospital.
The Social Democratic party supports self-governing schools because we believe that schools are manageable units. Pupils enter at the age of 11 and have to stay until the age of 16. We know roughly what percentage of pupils at comprehensive schools are likely to stay on until the age of 18 and we know when the terms are set. However, it is almost a contradiction in terms for a hospital to be self-governing. They cannot be isolated from the community services. All the thrust of modern health care has been towards integrating the community services and the family practitioners with the hospital services. We have not done that adequately, but all the movement has been to bring them together. Hospitals do not know whether a patient will come into the accident and emergency centre at midnight or whether the operating theatre will be opened at 2 am or 4 am. Hospitals have no idea how long people who come in with an inguinal hernia may stay. In some hospitals, they are treated as out-patients, whereas if there is a complication they may stay for up to 10 days and if there is a serious complication their stay could be as long as three weeks. The normal parameters of management are not predictable, as they are in schools.
Another complicating factor is the catchment area. The hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) knows a good deal about this subject. He knows, for example, that a hospital cannot discharge somebody from day surgery unless he is going back to a general practitioner who will take care of him and who, preferably, has a practitioner nurse, and to an area where there is a meals-on-wheels service and a home help service for the elderly. The idea of the economics of the hospital being isolated from the services in the community, such as the social services and housing, and the family practitioner service is nonsense.
Only the Prime Minister, who does not use the National Health Service, could have introduced this legislation. Only the Prime Minister, who has been the chairman of the so-called "review committee", could have brought forward this ridiculous proposal. She seems genuinely to believe that it is the same old story as the self-governing schools. When she hears officials say that the idea is not on, she thinks that it is just the same old argument that they gave her about the self-governing schools. She has thrust this proposal forward. Ministers and most of the Conservative Back Benchers know that it is nonsense, but they are saddled with the proposals.
Are Conservative Members prepared to modify the proposals? I shall suggest a few modifications. There is provision in the Bill for health trusts, which are a good idea because they would give more freedom from Treasury control than we have seen before. However, the new trusts should be introduced on a district health basis. Bassetlaw was the first to come forward with this suggestion, and there are many others. We should stop the self-governing hospitals dead in their tracks and make the district health authorities into trusts, which would be a sensible reform. There should be a few experiments with GP budgets, but we should stop in its tracks the idea that the general practitioner cannot refer to the hospital that he thinks best for his patients and we should especially give patients the right to insist that they can go out of their district health authority area if they can be treated more quickly. Nothing would do more to free the rigidities of the waiting-list system, which is one of the main sources of dissatisfaction.
As a result of interventions, I have not been able to cover as many pieces of legislation as I should have wished. In general, it is a ragbag of legislation from a Government who seem to have lost their way, although people will make a great mistake if they assume that this Government cannot recover. They face a difficult and dangerous economic position. There is anxiety about whether we can manage to pull through without speculation against the pound—of which there has been a good deal in the past few weeks—forcing another interest rate rise or a further devaluation—as has already happened against the deutschmark—which will feed through into inflation. The key economic parameter which will determine the future of this Government and their chances at the next election is inflation. There is no doubt that interest rates will come down and inflation will probably come down as well, but the extent to which and the manner in which it comes down are crucial.
We now hear from the chairman of the Conservative party—who is paid by all of us to be the chairman—[HON. MEMBERS: "He is not"] I am delighted to withdraw that remark.
I withdraw that remark. I do not think that the chairman of the Conservative party should be in the Cabinet, but that is a personal question. He should not be paid by the taxpayer or have Government cars and perks. However, I am sure that that too does not apply to the chairman of the Conservative party and I am sure that all his expenses are paid by the Conservative party, as they should be.
The chairman of the Conservative party has told us that an election is unlikely until 1992. I still believe that stopping the Government's Health Service reforms is the crucial political issue between now and the next election, and their reforms are one of the reasons why, above all, they do not deserve to continue in government after the next general election. The Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and ourselves should weigh that carefully before we let our normal parliamentary and partisan divisive politics allow the Conservatives to win again on 42 per cent. of the vote. They should not have a majority in this House. We talk about rights and responsibilities in this House. If there were a fair representation in the Chamber, the Prime Minister would not have an overall majority. There would be 60 SDP Members and 80 Liberal Members, and the Government would not have a majority.
It is in the Labour party's interests that the voting system of this country should be changed, but above all it is in the interests of the people of this country. In the same way, it is in their interests that there should be a Bill of Rights to make the European convention on human rights justiciable in the courts of this country.
The smaller parties—I include the nationalists and the Ulster Unionists—can contribute much to the politics of this country. One sign of the way in which television time is likely to be carved up in this House is that, despite having a time allocation from 2.30 pm to 5 pm today, the Front Bench spokesmen managed to finish their speeches after the television cameras live broadcasts had been put out. We make no complaint about that, but no doubt it is the sort of management of affairs which we shall see fairly consistently over the next couple of years. However, we have a contribution to make to the House and country and our voice will be heard.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) will forgive me if I do not follow him down the byways of the National Health Service. I entirely agree with the first part of his speech, which dealt with the tragic victims of drug-related accidents. I think that he carried most of the House with him.
While I welcome the Gracious Speech, I believe that it was shorter this year than originally intended. I do not believe that all our problems are solved by passing more and more legislation, as if we were an enormous factory churning out sausages. When we are in opposition we always say that we shall produce less legislation, and when we are in government we turn out more and more. I am not sure that this improves the lot of our fellow citizens or their quality of life.
Today we have been speaking in general terms about rights, freedom and responsibilities. There are two freedoms: international and domestic. I welcome what is happening in the world, particularly in eastern Europe. Instability and the collapse of the Communist empire in eastern Europe have been welcomed—today, President Bush held out a large hand to Gorbachev—but that instability means that there will be dangers over the next two to three years.
If Mr. Gorbachev cannot deliver some economic reforms—there are signs that he cannot at the moment —reactionary elements in the Soviet Union or elsewhere may seize the wind of opportunity to start mischief with the West. Therefore, as the Queen's Speech stated, this is a time for maintaining our defences by having cool heads and a clear vision, while taking a full part in the disarmament talks, particularly in Vienna, so that, in step with the other countries of eastern Europe and the Warsaw pact, we shall be able to reduce our tanks, artillery, planes and, eventually, our nuclear weapons and naval forces. Earlier this year, many people welcomed the great advances and investment taking place in China. However, events in May in Tiananmen square showed that we must take nothing for granted and remain cool.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, in his excellent speech, and a number of other hon. Members mentioned domestic security. People certainly want security and to be able to walk about the streets. As the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Spark brook (Mr. Hattersley) said, they want to be able to use public transport, whether buses, trains or tube trains. The staff of public transport, as well as the passengers, want the security and confidence to go about their business without being mugged, attacked or threatened.
I shall throw a slightly different light on this issue from that which we have seen so far in the debate. The Queen's Speech referred specifically to the regeneration of our cities. One reason for the crime wave which we face is the conflicts which ordinary citizens, whether young or not so young, have to face. Graffiti diminishes the quality of life for us all. It is part of an environment which encourages lawlessness, mindless violence and vandalism. It can be extremely dangerous for those who perpetrate it. A number of young people have been tragically killed on the London Underground, British Rail and elsewhere. It is not, alas, confined to this country, as travellers to Europe and other parts of the world will testify.
Prince Charles has referred a number of times to the shortcomings of British architects, and I agree with him. However, a bigger shortcoming is that not only do modern houses, terraced houses and flats seem to be designed so that they are not insulated against changes of temperature: their insulation against noise appears to be non-existent. Our fellow citizens often have to put up with misery and deprivation when living in modern buildings, sometimes privately owned, often council owned. They do not need to worry about switching on the volume of their own television set because they can hear the set two or three blocks down. That is not good enough and we should be able to cope with the problem by introducing building regulations to ensure better design. How is it that the Georgians, with their timber-framed houses of 200 years ago, seem to have had better standards of thermal and aural insulation than we have in 1989? The lack of insulation contributes to our citizens' stress, diminishes their quality of life and does nothing to help them to cope with their individual responsibilities.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook that it is no good talking about choice unless we can give greater economic freedom to as many people as possible. That is a good old Tory principle. The more disposable spending power people have to choose, within a range, their home, education, holidays and how they go about their business, the better. However, many people still do not have that choice.
The hon. Gentleman talks about choice, and he also talked about crime in and design of our inner cities. Is it not true that by spending less and less money on the opportunities and leisure the only alternative we give young people is to go into drinking places, pubs and clubs, and that leads to crime and forces them into a downward cycle of criminality? Only last week, the Prison Reform Trust announced this in its survey. That is what makes our cities and towns into no-go areas for ordinary citizens on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. However, the problem cannot be solved on the cheap; alternatives cost money. The French spend money on this problem, and we need to spend money on alternative resources for young people.
The hon. Gentleman is correct. He has almost run me out of my time, but he is right. However, that is only one part of the issue. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, quite a lot of crime is committed by young people below drinking age. Our inner cities and towns should have more resources and their residents should live in decent accommodation. Too many people have moved out of such places over the years so that they have become almost like ghettos for the very poor or very rich. That cannot be right.
There should be more resources from central and local government. I do not see why there should not be more resources from the private sector. Many redevelopments could be funded from private interests. The problem stems from a lack of good manners, neighbourliness, civilisation —call it what one will—and the fact that we have lost something in our family life. Communities with a strong family tradition, whether Jewish or Asian, do not generally face the major crime problem experienced by the Caribbean and Anglo-Saxon communities which seem to have lost their family tradition. The harsh fact is that many families have split up and are not behaving in a community way. There is no longer the good neighbour policy that used to exist. We have torn down much old and bad housing, but we have not rebuilt good communities.
There is no simple solution to the problems. Plainly, we need more police forces and better law enforcement. At the end of the day, in the words of the Bible, we must
love thy neighbour as thyself.
We must return more to family values, and legislation, whether for the Health Service or elsewhere, should stress more and more the role of the family and of people trying to help each other. That should happen in the crowded transport in our inner cities and in relation to the problems of crack about which the right hon. Member for Devonport rightly spoke.
There is much that we can do to help each other that does not necessarily need legislation but rather a greater commitment. We do not need the rather selfish passing on the other side of the road that for the past 20 or 30 years has increasingly been a hallmark of our society. Just as the crime figures have increased, so has selfishness. There is a role for the state and for local government, but there is also a role for every one of us, and not least a role for the family.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate on rights, freedoms and responsibilities. Part of the Queen's Speech about the Government's intentions worries me. It is about the coal industry and on a subject about which I have campaigned since I became a Member of Parliament—the needs of the coalfield communities. The Gracious Speech mentions the Government's intention to introduce a Bill on the coal industry
to assist the financial restructuring of the British Coal Corporation.
That is incredibly worrying to me and to people who represent the coalfield communities. I have read an advance copy of the Bill and note that it contains no promises of solutions to the problems of the coalfield communities for which we have been pressing for a long time. I am speaking about coal mining subsidence damage, which greatly worries people living in the coalfields. Hon. Members will know that we have had many debates on the issue, and motions and early-day motions have been printed. Many hon. Members have asked questions in an effort to press for a solution to such problems.
The Government have said that, when the opportunity presents itself, they will seek to introduce as quickly as possible measures to help people. However, in the Bill the rights and freedoms of people living in the coalfields have been denied. Moreover, the responsibilities to which the debate refers are not being pressed on the British Coal Corporation, which is failing to carry out its responsibilities to those people.
A recent survey undertaken by Trent polytechnic and sponsored by local authorities in north Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire clearly showed that 33,000 homes and properties were damaged in those areas alone. Many other coalfield areas have experienced similar problems. That means that a great deal of damage is accruing and is causing problems for people who live in the areas. There is no point in the Government saying that they will legislate at some time in the future. Somebody called Waddilove, examined the whole issue and reported to a Select Committee. That Committee endorsed the findings of Waddilove, and members of the Select Committee on Energy went to my constituency and talked to people about the problem.
On innumerable occasions I have brought the problem to the attention of Ministers in the Chamber and hon. Members have argued that it must be sorted out. The proposed Bill fails to live up to the Government's responsibilities, and nothing in it will help to solve the problems, some of which relate to the law. People in my area are being used by British Coal in a way that negates their legal rights. There is general proof of that; and it was discussed at a recent conference and has been discussed since with other hon. Members. The financial power of the British Coal Corporation is being used to deny people access to their legal rights. That must stop.
I am pleased to see that the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), is in the Chamber. I can tell him that it is estimated that 35 to 40 per cent. of the people in the 33,000 damaged homes that are included in the survey would be entitled to some form of legal aid because of their financial position. The cut-off level for legal aid is about £1,500 to £2,000 per case. If 35 to 40 per cent. of the 33,000 people eligible for legal aid were to enter the system and engage a solicitor, the cost in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire areas alone would be £24 million or £25 million. That is public money which would be spent on protecting people's legal rights. However, the British Coal Corporation would use its financial power to prevent the cases from going any further. That is a waste of public money and a denial of people's public rights. It is also a case of a publicly owned and operated company neglecting to fulfil its responsibilities.
My constituents, and not only those in areas of coal mining subsidence—and what stresses and burdens that places on people—are worried about the Bill because it denies the rights of workers in the industry. The Bill talks about further legislation to restrict trade union rights and about increasing privatisation. It talks about wiping out British Coal's £5 billion deficit. I welcome that, but it is obvious that its purpose is to fatten up the industry prior to privatisation.
The Bill embodies other measures to encourage privatisation. The rights to approved mining by British Coal will be taken away, while the Government will allow private deep-mining companies to increase underground manning levels from 30 to 150. That is a five times increase in private operations underground.
If that is not bad enough, what about the Government's responsibility for green issues? Will the Coal Industry Bill do anything for the environment? I doubt it. The Government are proposing that opencast mining should be increased 10 times. That is scandalous, at a time when they are portraying themselves as having deep care for the environment. They know that the mining communities and most other people are against any such proposal.
This debate is about rights, freedoms and responsibilities. None of the proposals in the Queen's Speech does anything for those principles. It is clear that the Government intend to restrict trade union rights and public industry rights and to allow the responsibilities of public industries and of Government to move away from what they owe to the people. I intend to campaign against these measures throughout the forthcoming 12 months.
As is traditional in the debate on the Loyal Address, we are having wide-ranging discussions, but the one theme that comes through the speeches is that we all want something to be done by this Parliament, we want some response from the House of Commons and we want Ministers to be accountable for what they say and take action accordingly. This reminds us that we are still speaking in a sovereign Parliament, whether we are fighting for fairer treatment for pensioners or changes in the broadcasting Bill. We are in an arena where power exists and Ministers are truly accountable.
Parliament has its flaws and failings—now visible for the first time to millions—but it is an institution that has survived for 700 years because it has been good at protecting the rights and freedoms of British people and because Ministers are accountable for the rsponsibilities that they take in the exercise of their duties. Therefore, when we debate rights, freedoms and responsibilities, we should worry, as we enter the 1990s, whether all those freedoms and responsibilities will continue to exist. We should ask whether Parliament will continue to have the ability to perform those functions as an independent decision-maker, against the background of a pattern of increasing muscle flexing by the European Community and, above all, against the background of the speech yesterday by President Mitterrand, when he threw down the gauntlet to the British Government and people.
One reason for welcoming the advent of the television cameras in this Chamber is that the public will be shocked when they see how fast power is slipping away from Westminster to Brussels and how swiftly Parliament is being downgraded to the status of a glorified county council or regional assembly. How ironic it is that we should be bringing in the bright lights of the television cameras in the twilight of our sovereign power. Do the public understand that certain forms of taxation can be imposed directly from Brussels in defiance of the wishes of the majority of hon. Members? They will learn soon enough when the EC imposes, early next year, VAT on transport, which will send public transport costs up by 10 per cent. Do the public realise that EC rulings can cause the House to repeal Acts of Parliament, or parts of Acts of Parliament, passed only a few months ago because we believed that they were in the national interest? This happened just three weeks ago, when—on the edict of one European official—we repealed section 14 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which dealt with the rights of our fishermen to fish in our territorial waters.
Does the Home Secretary realise when he speaks so robustly about the strong policies that he will exercise on terrorism that the EC can, as it is threatening to do, completely alter the ground rules about border controls? I could go on, but one fact remains obvious to those of us who have thought about this subject for long enough. It is that parliamentary sovereignty is being eroded and will continue to be eroded unless we resist the march of the Brussels empire builders and oppose the growing pressure for monetary and political union that was exemplified by the speech of the French President yesterday.
In contrast, I welcome the low-key words of the Queen's Speech on the European issue, which simply reaffirmed our commitment to the single market and referred to monetary co-operation. There is no reference to political or monetary union. This is in sharp contrast to the words of EC hyperbole spoken by the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday. Sovereignty is "a fine thing", he told us dismissively. From his tone I thought that his next words would be, "So take away that bauble", as Cromwell said of the mace. The right hon. Gentleman went on to disparage the whole concept of sovereignty, sadly even quoting some words from our deputy Prime Minister which he thought were useful to his case as he ingeniously linked his argument to the controversy over the European monetary system.
I cannot claim such erudition as to have been reminded of that speech, but I am grateful for the Encyclopaedia Britannica from Coventry behind me.
A fascinating aspect of the Leader of the Opposition's arguments about the EMS is that they are almost exactly the same as those advanced by the surreptitious, and not so surreptitious, challengers to the Prime Minister's leadership of our party. As all the world knows, the Conservatives will have a leadership election in the next few weeks. I do not share the view that this is a great apocalyptic event. I think that it will turn out to be something of a non-event. The charge by what may be called the light-in-the-head brigade will be led by that hitherto obscure equestrian animal, the stalking horse, now unmasked as my hon. Friend the kamikaze from Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer). I have a message for him and his fellow horsemen. They have chosen the wrong time, the wrong battlefield and the wrong issue. It is wrong to confuse this manoeuvre with Europe and the EMS. All that that stands for, in their eyes, is "Exit Maggie soonest".
On behalf of those who do not want to see the exit of such a remarkable political leader, I say to the stalking horsemen that they have misjudged the mood by getting up to these shenanigans. They have also misjudged the mood on Europe by saying that the Prime Minister will be isolated at Strasbourg next month if she alone does not want to join the Mitterrand pressures for economic, monetary and political union.
Outside the perfumed salons of the chattering Euro-classes, the Prime Minister's views on Europe are both popular and right. The Leader of the Opposition has leapt, willy nilly, on the bandwagon pulled by the stalking horse and the two of them will set off completely in the wrong direction, rather like John Gilpin and his nag on their famous ride. They are best left to themselves because they are not relevant to the great debate on Europe, which is the crucial national issue of our times.
The fundamental importance of all these manoeuvrings is that they are the overture to what will be the debate of the century—the argument about our future in Europe. There will be divisions in the political parties. If the Labour party was honest, it would admit that the divisions in its ranks are far greater than those in ours. However, thanks at least to President Mitterrand, we can lift our eyes above the argument about the EMS, which should be a low-level argument about whether it is a better or worse currency stabilisation mechanism than Bretton Woods. The EMS is more than that. In the words of the Delors report, it is the mechanism for mandatory stages two and three leading to monetary union and onwards to political union.
Sooner or later, we must ask the British people the fundamental question that has been concealed and camouflaged from them in many debates, especially those on the Single European Act when the issue was fudged. The question is whether we want to continue with British parliamentary government as we know it or move to European union. We can have a single market, the Common Market, the free movement of people in Europe and a free trade area in Europe and still have parliamentary government, just as the Canadians do in the north American free trade area. We cannot, however, go many more steps down the road so clearly signposted by Mr. Delors, and by Mr. Mitterrand yesterday without a major revision of the treaty of Rome and a major change in our parliamentary constitutional system.
For richer or for poorer, I believe that this proudly independent parliamentary nation of ours wants to continue its present constitutional arrangements and does not want the changes envisaged by Mr. Mitterrand. That is the best reason of all for supporting the Gracious Speech and our Prime Minister.
When the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) referred to horsemen, I was reminded of the headstone on William Butler Yeats's grave in County Sligo. It is surely in the interests of the Conservative party that its members do not have their arguments in public. William Butler Yeats's headstone reads, "Horseman, pass by!"
We are talking about rights, freedoms and responsibilities. In Northern Ireland, we do not have the same rights in this Parliament as those which are enjoyed by the rest of the citizens of the United Kingdom. Because of terrorism, we do not have the same freedoms in Northern Ireland as most people in Great Britain have. As for responsibilities, it is regrettable that there are those who are not prepared to share in the responsibility of improving society within Northern Ireland.
I commend the comments made by the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. He firmly expressed his concerns about its success and questioned whether it should continue. His remarks mean that I do not have to spend time on that subject.
When we think about rights, our minds are directed immediately to what is happening in eastern Europe. I had the opportunity last year to spend about seven weeks in Czechoslovakia, the USSR, Poland, East Germany and Hungary. I could not have imagined that one year later I would be seeing so much reform and liberalisation taking place in those countries. Who could have imagined a year ago that we would have a non-Communist Prime Minister in Poland, that Hungary would be preparing for its first free elections and that in East Germany, and especially in Czechoslovakia, there would be talk of free elections? Over the past few months, the role of the Churches has been paramount in these developments. I refer to the Roman Catholic Church in Poland and Czechoslovakia, the Reform Protestant Church in Hungary and the Evangelical Lutheran Church giving leadership in East Germany. I hope that everyone in Northern Ireland has recognised that, whether we talk of the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Church, each Church is working for the same objectives, those of freedom, rights and responsibilities. That is something that we can apply in Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Unionist party is the only political party in the United Kingdom which is linked to the Christian Democrat movement throughout western Europe. Our Member of the European Parliament in Strasbourg is a member of that group, and we have contacts throughout the 12 nations of the EEC. We also have rapidly developing contacts with Christian Democrat movements in eastern European countries.
Coinciding with the meeting of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, at the beginning of December, the Christian Democrat movement will be hosting a conference which will be attended by those who are leading the campaign for freedom and reform in the five eastern European countries to which I have referred. The conference will be led by some of the Prime Ministers in western Europe who are members of the Christian Democratic group, such as Chancellor Kohl and the Prime Minister of Belgium, Mr. Martens. We shall have also the leaders of the reform movement of eastern Europe, such as Lech Walesa. I shall be representing the Ulster Unionist party at the conference.
It will be a matter of regret to me that as I speak at the conference and welcome the reforms that are taking place in eastern European countries, including the fact that they will have parliamentary rights, I shall have to place on record the fact that, within the United Kingdom, there is one part of the nation where the rights which they are about to achieve still do not exist. I refer, of course, to Northern Ireland.
The Ulster Unionist party has tabled an amendment to the Queen's Speech and I ask all right hon. and hon. Members to read it. It summarises the problems in Northern Ireland and the constitutional reforms that are required if we are to have the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities that will soon exist in eastern Europe.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) made some interesting comments yesterday. He talked about the need for parties in Northern Ireland to start talking to one another. That is what the art of politics is about. It involves talks and getting things moving. That is often described in Northern Ireland as political progress, but the term is never really defined. We must get things moving.
The right hon. Member for Devonport has mentioned the stalemate of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. We are not asking for the abolition of the agreement, but we are suggesting that it should be suspended so that political parties can get moving in Northern Ireland. We want legislation for Northern Ireland to be introduced in accordance with the parliamentary procedures of this sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom, as it is enacted for England, Scotland and Wales. We want the right to table amendments. We want also a Select Committee for Northern Ireland. We heard earlier today Members representing Scottish constituencies asking for the re-establishment of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. Standing Order No. 130 clearly recognises the need for a Select Committee to deal with Northern Ireland legislation.
There was a by-election in Northern Ireland recently and one of the candidates, the Conservative party candidate, was supported by the right hon. Member for Mole Valley (Mr. Baker), the chairman of the Conservative party and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. It was the first time since 1921 that a Conservative candidate had stood in an election in Northern Ireland. He supported the things that Ulster Unionists have been asking for over the years. He said that he wanted an end to the Order in Council procedure. He said also that he wanted more powers given to the 26 district councils in Northern Ireland. I am glad that the chairman of the Conservative party supports those objectives. I hope that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland will follow suit in the not-too-distant future. We have a chance, perhaps, to move forward to parliamentary rights in this place.
Secondly, there is the Ulster dimension. We must get Roman Catholics, Protestants, Nationalists and Unionists involved together in the devolved administration of the state. All those who are involved in constitutional parties should be sharing in their responsibilities.
Thirdly, there is the Irish dimension. We shall never solve the Northern Ireland question merely by having talks between Dublin and London and excluding the Northern Ireland people, as the Government did. We shall solve the problem in Northern Ireland only by improving relations between Belfast and Dublin, and at the same time improving relations between Dublin and London. The priority must be talks between Belfast and Dublin.
The Republic of Ireland takes over the presidency of the Council of Ministers on 1 January. When I was a Member of the European Parliament, I worked closely with the two other Northern Ireland Members and with the Members representing Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Irish Labour party in Strasbourg. I hope that the six months from January to July will, first, provide Her Majesty's Government and the Dublin Government with the opportunity to suspend the operation of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, so that talks can take place. I am not asking for its abolition. The Irish Ministers will be tied up full time with their responsibilities to Europe. For the six months of the Irish presidency, they will have little or no time to participate in ministerial meetings of the Anglo-Irish Council—that is, if they intend to give their proper efforts to Europe.
For the duration of the presidency, those Irish Ministers will not be Irish Ministers as such in Brussels and Strasbourg; they will be European Ministers presiding over the Council of Ministers. Just as it was possible on the Floor of the House in Strasbourg for Members from the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to co-operate, when the Irish Ministers are European Ministers it will be possible for the first time since the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement to have some contact between Northern Ireland and Irish Ministers. After July, that opportunity will disappear: we will be back to the Anglo-Irish Agreement if the opportunity presented by Europe from January to July is not accepted by Dublin and London.
I am pleased to follow the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor). I know that he will forgive me if I do not comment on the very difficult problems in Northern Ireland, although I have a great deal of sympathy with what he said. I want to use the opportunity provided by this debate to talk about the rights of the citizens of our country and to consider how those responsible for protecting them are discharging their obligations.
There are several freedoms, rights and responsibilities to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. The first is the right of the citizen to have a good police force. It is a fundamental right of every citizen to expect the protection of the police. In saying that, I must declare my interest as parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation.
The citizen's right depends on a properly manned, properly paid police force, whose standards of conduct are beyond reproach. I very much welcome the statement by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary this afternoon that the force is to be increased by 1,160 officers, of whom 950 will serve in provincial police forces and the remainder in the Metropolitan police. That brings the total strength of the police, at the end of September, to a record 126,127, an increase of more than 14,000 since May 1979. Expenditure on the police during that period has risen by 55 per cent. in real terms. That is good news for everyone who believes, as I do, that the police badly need extra man and woman power, not just in London but in the provinces.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke about crimes of violence, and I made the point, quite fairly, in an intervention that more crimes of violence are reported today because of the policy of the police to encourage those who are unfortunate enough to be the victims of violent crime to report it. In the Metropolitan police area, in which my constituency of Uxbridge is situated, 55 per cent. of violent crime occurs off the streets. The reason that the figures are higher is because many of those crimes are now reported whereas previously they were not. The same applies to sexual offences, and I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook nodding his agreement. More and more women are now prepared to report assaults because they know that they will receive sympathetic and efficient treatment from the police in apprehending the person responsible.
It is also a fact that many streets of London are safe for people to go about their normal business, both day and night. That applies to my borough of Hillingdon, which is one of the safest boroughs in London. However, it is an unfortunate fact of life today that because, understandably, the media tend to cover some of the more horrendous assaults, many elderly people—and, indeed, some of the not so elderly—and young women are afraid to go out at night. All of us have encountered that phenomenon when we have visited our constituents or while canvassing during an election campaign. It is important to put the problem of violent crime into perspective and to realise why there has been an increase in the number of reported cases.
The police have to deal with difficult problems. A number of new phenomena tax them greatly. For example, there is the relatively new phenomenon of the acid house party—or the pay party, as it would be more correctly described. There were 318 such parties in the Metropolitan police area, which includes parts of Essex and Hertfordshire, by the end of October. Seventy per cent. of them had already started by the time the police arrived. At five of them, more than 1,000 people were present. They are difficult events for the police to handle. They require the deployment of a large number of officers who have to consider the right of the ordinary resident to a decent night's sleep. The parties could disturb, for example, a shift worker. All those matters must be considered in the handling of that difficult problem. I therefore welcome the measures that will be included in the green Bill to give additional powers to increase fines for excessive noise and the right to confiscate equipment at illegal parties.
There is another important freedom that all citizens should enjoy—that of being able to attend a football match, together with their youngsters or friends, without the fear that they may suffer serious injury or violent death. Once again, the police have the primary responsibility for safeguarding the citizens wishing to attend a football match, and a substantial number of police have to be deployed to ensure that right.
Again I quote as an example the Metropolitan police area, where, every Saturday during the football season 800 police officers are deployed at matches to ensure that people are not injured, that they do not die and that they can watch the match peacefully. That is an enormous drain on police resources, and all hon. Members recognise that that is a problem. I hope that the Football Association and the Football League will measure up to their responsibilities in backing those who are seeking to remove the scourge of football violence from the terrace of football grounds throughout the country.
It is the responsibility of the police
to uphold the law fairly and firmly; to prevent crime; to pursue and bring to justice those who break the law; to keep The Queen's Peace; to protect, help and reassure people … and to be seen to do all this with integrity, common sense and sound judgement.
That quotation is from the statement of the Metropolitan police about its objectives, and it is widely shared by other forces throughout the country. They and similar purposes are at the heart of the determination of the police to protect the rights of the citizen and they should be welcomed by every fair-minded citizen.
In return, it is the right of the police to expect support from the public, but that right must always be earned. In saying that the police have the right to expect support, I include Members of this honourable House, not only when they are speaking here, but when they are speaking outside this place, on television or wherever. I emphasise that the right must be earned, and I am confident that it is earned by the vast majority of police at every level—not least by the members of the federated ranks who belong to the Police Federation. Why is it, then, that in recent months posters have been claiming that public confidence in the police has slipped? A MORI poll in The Sunday Times in September 1989 showed that the police had the respect of 55 per cent. of those interviewed. Only doctors were ahead of them. Then there was another poll for the BBC "Newsnight" programme only a week or so ago, about which I was interviewed. I have since been able to obtain the details of that poll and they give a rather different impression from the one conveyed by the media when I was interviewed.
I see that there is considerable confidence in the police. The respondents were asked to what extent they were confident that the police would be absolutely fair in the way in which they treated an individual. Twenty-one per cent. were "very confident" and 52 per cent. were "fairly confident". That is encouraging.
But one figure rightly troubled the media. It certainly troubles me and I am sure that it troubles other hon. Members. In reply to a question which started as a statement—
Sometimes the police bend the rules in order to get a conviction"—
40 per cent. of those interviewed tended to agree. That is a serious state of affairs and we must consider why it should be so. The probable explanation is the difficult events that have occurred recently in connection with the
Guildford Four. Hon. Members and all police officers have a duty to ensure that the high standards of the police are upheld, so that the difficult events of that one incident will not occur again and the image and the morale of the police can be restored, for the benefit of every citizen.
I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) is not here because I want to refer to one point in his speech. In reply to a challenge from my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) about his role in relation to the Labour party, he said:
Some of us have not changed our minds".
I have to tell him that some Labour Members have not changed their minds either. We fought the last election on the very policies that he rejected when he left the Labour party. I must also tell him that I gained 9,000 votes. I now have a majority of 23,000 compared with 14,000 previously, so my constituents do not support the idea that the Labour party lost the election because of its policies.
I listened carefully to what the Home Secretary said about freedom within the law. We have had to fight for every one of our freedoms. They were not handed to us on a plate. Our religious freedoms, too, had to be fought for. People were transported and others were hanged for daring to be members of trade unions. The laws at the time were oppressive. Laws are not always good; they can be very bad. They can be class laws.
The laws that the Government have introduced against trade unionists are class laws, and they are in the interests of capital against labour. The Government talk about freedom and the idea that we have new rights, but I must explain to Conservative Members—it may not have crossed their minds—that we have always had the right to go to the Savoy hotel. The only trouble is that most working people in Britain would not dare to put their feet inside, except as workers. They could never buy a meal there. We have always had the right to live in a mansion. Most of those working-class people who have lived in mansions have looked after those who owned them. We have always had the right to attend public school. I never wanted to go to one, although I did deliver meat to one on Saturday mornings. But I could never have been a pupil at a public school. Freedom does not apply to everybody. It is relative. When we talk about the new freedoms that have been achieved, we must ask, freedom for whom? Who has gained the freedoms under the Government? Not the working people, nor the trade unionists.
I get a little tired when I listen to some people say how much they support the rights of workers in Poland and the Soviet Union. I can claim to be one of those who, as a fellow trade unionist, supported the rights of Solidarity from the word go. At the very moment that the Prime Minister is saying how wonderful it is that they have a right to organise, the Government are destroying the right to organise in Britain.
The hon. Gentleman is a grandson of Tom Mann. I am sure that his grandfather whizzes round in his grave every time he hears him speak.
The Queen's Speech says:
Legislation will be introduced to make further reforms in industrial relations and trade union law.
Will those reforms be in the interests of the workers in the trade union movement? They are based on two Green Papers, one entitled "Removing Barriers to Employment" and the other "Unofficial Action and the Law". I used to be a senior shop steward in one of the biggest shipyards in the north-west—Cammell Laird. On different occasions I was a senior shop steward on some of the biggest construction sites. Sometimes we had to take unofficial action, not because we wanted to, or because we were seeking to walk out of the gates, but because of the employer's actions. We either took action there and then to defend our rights or we discovered that another right had been lost. The only way was to take unofficial action.
But now the Government propose that shop stewards or anyone involved in the leadership of an unofficial strike may be sacked unceremoniously. I know that Conservative Members will not agree with me, but that is industrial slavery. Our people are gradually being reduced to a position where they can no longer take action and say, "We are not working in this rotten, miserable engineering shop which is filling our lungs with dust. We are walking out unofficially. We have gone through the machinery but have got nowhere and we are not having it." Under the proposed legislation, anyone who can be pinpointed as a leader of such action will be sacked.
Why did working people work for and create the closed shop? Were they a bunch of wild loonies who wanted to impose their power on everybody else? No. They did it to defend their right to decent wages and conditions. They did it to defend their interests as working people. That is why the closed shop came into existence.
No, I have only 10 minutes. It is bad enough trying to make all one's points in 10 minutes without being interrupted.
I have been a little disappointed by members of my party's Front Bench over the past two days. I did not hear the leader of my party make one reference to the Government's industrial relations proposals. I am sorry about that. I am sorry, too, that in debating freedom, no member of my party's Front Bench discussed the freedom of workers to belong to trade unions in the sense that we have understood and fought for that freedom in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I feel very strongly about that, and I want all that legislation repealed under the next Labour Government. I want new legislation that will give workers more rights than ever before, because no right hon. or hon. Member would have anything were it not for the workers who produce this country's wealth. It is high time that they enjoyed the benefits of their productivity.
I am sorry that I do not have time to give an adequate reply to the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) or to follow his points. However, I join other right hon. and hon. Members in congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on his appointment. By qualification, experience and natural disposition, he is an excellent choice for the job.
I do not welcome the large volume of legislation promised in the Queen's Speech. I am sorry that we have not yet rid ourselves of the condition of legislative indigestion that has overcome us in recent years. One way of reducing new legislation would be not to approve any motion that authorises war crimes trials in this country. Almost all retrospective legislation is bad, and it is doubly wrong when it includes special amendments to criminal law that are designed to condemn three elderly men, who will not themselves be able to obtain evidence in their own defence. I hope that the House will not pass any such proposal.
We have drawn several lessons from the Guildford Four case. The defect that invalidated the convictions was uncovered by Somerset and Avon police. The flaw in the legal system that was revealed in that instance was the inability of the Court of Appeal, whether on first appeal or on referral from the Home Secretary, to institute its own inquiry into all the evidence—both that in the hands of the police and that in the hands of the defence—at the time of the trial, as well as any evidence that had come to light since the trial.
Another lesson to be learned is that the Court of Appeal's powers should include that to order a retrial as well as to quash a conviction. However, the Court of Appeal should also have the right to apply a proviso that, despite any defect of law or procedure, justice was done and the conviction may be affirmed.
My hon. and learned Friend will no doubt have his chance to speak, and I trust that his time will not be wasted—as he would be wasting mine if he insisted on intervening.
One unsatisfactory aspect of the Guildford Four case is the impression given by reports of the Court of Appeal's hearing that the police officers concerned in the taking of the confessions were guilty of fabricating them. Careful reading of the judgment shows that that is not true. The prosecution decided that its evidence was unreliable because of other matters. A grave injustice is being done to the police officers concerned in assuming, as everyone seems to do, that they are guilty of some misconduct. I wonder whether they will get a fair trial.
The time has come to consider implementing two radical reforms in our criminal procedures. I am not in favour of putting in place yet another level of appeal to which alleged miscarriages of justice could be referred, but there should be available to the Home Secretary a form of executive inquiry to assist him when he is asked to refer a case to the Court of Appeal, or to assist the Court of Appeal itself on a first hearing. Such an inquiry would work in total privacy so as not to prejudice subsequent proceedings in open court. It would have powers to send for all the papers in a case and to interview witnesses and others having relevant evidence. The inquiry should come under a judicial figure of the highest standing—similar to the chairman of the Security Commission—and its staff should be totally independent.
In selected cases—such as those relating to alleged terrorism and where political considerations arise—legislative powers should be available to enable a criminal investigation to be conducted by an examining magistrate from the very beginning. The police would act only as agents of the magistrate and not as prosecutors, and the questioning of suspects would all be done by the magistrate, not the police.
Under such an inquisitorial system, it is probable that the kind of errors made in recent cases, leading to alleged miscarriages of justice, would not have arisen. At present, there is no option to pursue prosecutions in that way, and we ought to turn our attention to the provision of such an option in our criminal system. Unfortunately, in such cases it is often true that the adversarial system does not always serve the interests of justice. I hope that my suggestions will receive favourable consideration.
Wandsworth prison is in my constituency, and the report recently published by the chief inspector of prisons made the most damning indictment of conditions there. His comments in respect of Wandsworth could be repeated, and often are, in relation to many other prisons throughout the country. A few days ago, the new Home Secretary spoke at a prison governors conference, when he expressed the view, "Things are not so bad. Indeed, they are starting to improve." If his comments were reported correctly, they go to show how much the new Home Secretary has to learn about prison conditions.
I suggest that the right hon. and learned Gentleman reads the reports published by chief inspectors of prisons on their visits throughout the country, together with a selection of reports from the boards of visitors that all prisons have. I suggest also that he visits some of the country's major prisons early in the morning, with none of the publicity surrounding a formal visit. If he walks around, he will see the filth that has been thrown from cell windows during the night. If he visits the wings, he will see hundreds of men walking to slop out. He should also tour the kitchens and inquire about the number of men who will be working in the prison during the day. The Home Secretary should ask how many of the inmates are locked up for as long as 20 hours per day. That is the daily scene in many of our prisons and he should see it.
The sad fact is that we now send far more people to prison than any other European country. That point was amply made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). I am convinced that, until we start to reduce those numbers, we shall see no major improvement in prison conditions.
Home Secretaries in the present Government have told us repeatedly that, once we embark on a major prison programme, conditions generally will improve, and there is much common sense in that philosophy. Before that can happen, however, the courts must stop sending so many people to prison. According to the September figures, well over 48,000 were imprisoned, at an average cost of £288 per inmate per week. Many prisoners could be safely released into some other kind of care. We need only read the annual report of the National Association of Probation Officers, which bases its views on the work that it does with those who appear in court. Undoubtedly, society contains dangerous, vicious people who should be in prison. Sadly, however, they do not constitute the majority of the prison population.
In answer to questions that I put down, the Home Office often cites the vast sums being spent on our prisons, and I do not dispute that information. I suggest, however, that a great deal of that money is wasted. Some of the most incompetent building contractors to be found are employed to modernise our prisons. Home Office officials repeatedly change proposals for new developments. I could give many examples, but I suggest that the Minister read the report by this year's board of visitors at Wormwood Scrubs. The modernisation of one of that prison's wings has been virtually completed, at a vast cost. Why did the modernisation proposals not include the installation of modern toilet facilities in each cell? The board of visitors wanted such facilities to be introduced, and was led to believe that they would be.
Drugs are now a major problem in many of our prisons. The Prison Officers Association has produced report after report for the Home Office; just what does the Home Office propose to do to stem the problem? What, moreover, is its policy on inmates who are suffering from AIDS, whose numbers are also on the increase? What is its policy on prisoners on rule 43? Some 500 inmates of Wandsworth prison alone are in that position. What are the Government doing to introduce proper education facilities, which are not provided in the majority of prisons?
We were led to believe that the introduction of the fresh start programme would bring new hope to our prisons; sadly, however, it has merely created many problems. The programme has been in operation for some time, and I should like to know when the Home Office intends to review it. Many of our major prisons, certainly those in London, are suffering from an enormous staff shortage thanks to the conditions imposed by it.
We should give urgent consideration to the conditions of our prisons and prisoners. I do not believe that the millions contributed each year by the taxpayer are being spent wisely, or that organisations with an intimate knowledge of the workings of prisons and how they should be run—organisations such as the Prison Officers Association and the boards of visitors—are being consulted or listened to. Until that changes, we shall not see the significant improvements in our penal institutions that many hon. Members wish to see.
The Gracious Speech continues the pattern of recent years in its proposals for a vigorous attack on crime. Let me begin, however, by mentioning two matters with which it does not deal. One is the problem of computer hacking, and the allied problems of computer viruses and the general confidentiality of computer systems. I hope that a private Member's Bill will deal with that in the near future, for I consider the criminal act of computer hacking to be an attack on the freedom of the individual.
The other matter is excessive delays in bringing remand prisoners to court. Such delays, for those remanded both on bail and in custody, are to the detriment of our legal system. None of the people concerned is guilty at the time, and many are proved to be not guilty at the end of the proceedings. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will produce legislation to deal with that—in a future Session if necessary—for action taken in recent years does not seem to have solved the problem.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) mentioned drugs, which remain one of our greatest worries. The Gracious Speech referred to international co-operation in the investigation of crime. Although that is, of course, necessary in the case of drugs, many problems occur at a more local level. Drug pushers who approach school children may push gently at first, but it always becomes a hard sell, leading to the drug-instigated crimes of which we all know. All too frequently we hear young people say that they know how to get hold of drugs. It is said by 14 and 15-year-old children, not just in the inner cities but in towns and villages throughout the country. That is a matter of great concern.
I congratulate the Birmingham Evening Mail on introducing a drug information pack aimed specifically at children which I understand has been given to all secondary schoolchildren in Birmingham. I hope that the Minister will think about introducing it throughout the country. Children of secondary school age must be taught how dangerous it is to use drugs.
My right hon. and learned Friend said that if new evidence came to light about the Birmingham Six he would seriously reconsider their cases. The Court of Appeal reached its decision on the evidence that was available at that time. However, the door of British justice is always open, and if fresh evidence comes to light it should be considered seriously. Some of the events surrounding the West Midlands police force have given rise to doubt. One admires the speedy action that the chief constable took against certain units in an attempt to improve public confidence. We need to have confidence in the police, and the public must co-operate with them. Neighbourhood Watch, which involves such co-operation, has been very successful. Public confidence in the police is critical when schoolchildren are becoming involved in drug-taking and minor offences.
Today my right hon. and learned Friend announced that we would have an additional 1,000 police officers, 15 of whom will be appointed in my county, Warwickshire. We have been pushing hard for them and we are grateful that they will be made available. More resources are needed to fight crime on the streets. It is the policeman on the beat who has to take action when both minor and serious crimes are committed. Certain recent events have weakened confidence in the police, and they must take action to restore public confidence. Hon. Members must not talk down the police. However, their actions must be investigated and appropriate punishment meted out if they are found guilty of crimes against members of the public, who depend on the police in many ways. All police forces must carry out an effective public relations job to regain public confidence.
I welcome the proposed changes to the legal profession that were outlined in the Gracious Speech. My only reservation is about the changes that will affect conveyancing solicitors. I hope that there will be genuinely fair competition between solicitors and banks and building societies. Solicitors will then have no reason to complain. The proposals will break down the barriers of what at the moment is almost a closed shop. If we have done away with it in one area, it is only right that we should do away with it in another.
A heavy legislative programme lies ahead of us. Some hon. Members would have preferred it to be lighter. But the proposals, particularly those on law and order, will improve the lot of ordinary men and women throughout the country.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens) for his final point. He referred to ordinary men and women throughout "the country". I prefer to say, "these countries". The rights, freedoms and responsibilities of individuals have to be put into context. There are the rights and freedoms of the different genders—for instance, the rights of women against domination by men for so many years, including their domination in this Chamber. One also has to consider the geographic location of power in the United Kingdom.
The Gracious Speech refers to the Queen's state visit to Iceland, but there is no mention of the nation of Wales, which is still a constituent part of the United Kingdom. That is because Wales is governed by the Welsh Office, which is completely incapable of initiating any legislation. Throughout my 15 years as a Member of Parliament I can remember only two or three Bills which could be described as having been put forward by the Welsh Office. Even such a major Bill as that which set up the Welsh Development Agency was first dreamt up by the Department of Trade and Industry and the Scottish Office and then a Welsh equivalent suddenly appeared. The Welsh Office is capable of drafting clauses—for example, on language policy—but there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of a review of linguistic rights, although it is well over 25 years since the legal status of the Welsh language was reviewed by the House.
The Welsh Office cannot draft legislation, but it is very good at establishing quangos. A body which was established by the Secretary of State recently published the draft of a Welsh language Bill. Its aim is to improve the status of both the Welsh and the English languages in Wales and thereby to create a tolerant bilingual community. Should either of my hon. Friends or I be successful in the ballot for private Members' Bills, we should introduce a Bill which mirrored the one drafted by the Government's own quango, the Welsh Language Board.
Other major rights are omitted from the Gracious Speech and will thus be denied to the people of Wales. Those rights are not just individual or cultural rights. In an important sense they are social rights such as the right to a decent income and the right to employment—what used to be called the right to work, although that phrase is no longer in fashion among Labour Members, according to the Labour party's policy review which I have read avidly.
Other rights include the right to social services and to health. There are major Government proposals for the Health Service. Clearly, Opposition Members will be opposing all aspects of those proposals. There is a long tradition of community care in the voluntary sector, pre-dating the growth of the National Health Service, and then alongside it in communities in Wales, Scotland and the north of England which points to the need for effectively maintained state provision of health care and a unified Health Service, as the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) pointed out.
The Government's legislation for diversity in the Health Service will result in certain regions, localities and districts not being able to have the same standard of service as others. That is an unfreedom for the patients who will be affected.
The Government's policies for alleged diversity in broadcasting will create another unfreedom. In Wales we have a diversity and a duopoly of co-operation between the BBC devolved in Wales to what the BBC in classic compromise-speak describes as a "national region". We have the BBC system, the independent contractor, HTV, and the statutory body established by the House in previous broadcasting legislation—the Welsh Fourth Channel Authority. It is extremely important that that diversity is maintained in the broadcasting changes.
The growth of the Welsh language culture industry in Wales has created some 2,000 or 3,000 jobs—I declare an interest as I have gained a slight addition to my salary from that sector. The growth of the Welsh language television industry must be matched by a growth in the English language culture in Wales. There is a serious danger that that possibility will be denied if the broadcasting Bill does not deal sensitively with the role of the regional contractor of ITV in Wales. I warn the Government that we shall be looking carefully at that when the broadcasting Bill appears.
My final point relates the rights, freedoms and responsibilities that we discuss in the Chamber to the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of people outside the United Kingdom. Today yet again we heard from the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) the classic English nationalist speech. The days of the United Kingdom as a nation state are coming to an end. We have to see ourselves as nations on these islands relating to the nations of the European Community, taking up the challenges that President Mitterrand has put before us again this week and realising that the issues of diversity and of serious divergence within the United Kingdom can be resolved, within a European federation, as we have heard from our colleagues from Northern Ireland.
We should also look to the freedoms being established in central and eastern Europe, many of them in the Soviet Union, based on the national question. For me, the final irony is that so many Conservative Members understand the national question when it is raised in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania but are incapable of understanding it in Scotland and Wales.
Hon. Members always find it difficult to fit their reactions to the Gracious Speech precisely into the segmentation of the debate. Today's debate has certainly ranged far and wide. I begin with a fairly general point about which I do not feel abashed in view of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), but I shall steer back to a subject with which my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be familiar.
Freedom, rights and responsibilities are not altogether removed from Britain's relationship with our European Community partners, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South observed, especially if it is argued that the freedom of our country and the sovereignty of our Parliament are imperilled by our continued membership of the European Community and co-operation with our European partners. The relevant paragraph in the Gracious Speech states that we will
work with our European Community partners to complete the Single Market; to enhance economic and monetary co-operation; to reinforce budgetary discipline; and to carry forward the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
That is fine, but it is not enough. Nor will it be considered enough by many other observers, not least the countries with which we are working.
Events are moving whether we like it or not, and Britain must not be left behind. We stand in danger of being sidelined or marginalised if our commitment to the European Community is not wholehearted. We must also understand what is happening in large sections of our industry and commerce. Control of many companies that are vital to our economy does not rest in this country alone, and decisions can be taken outwith the reach of the United Kingdom Parliament. We must recognise that to achieve effective, democratic control over decisions in international boardrooms we shall have to develop our institutions to co-operate, one country with another, to achieve our aims and to determine what is happening in various countries. We must be ready to talk about how we may alter our institutions as that is one way to retain the control that is slipping away from us because no decisions are being taken by our Parliament. I hope that this year we shall show increasing signs of wanting to move forward rather than hang back. If we hang back we shall diminish the rights of our citizens because we shall surrender the power to have any real say in some of the things that are happening.
Let me somewhat selfishly turn the theme of freedom, rights and responsibilities to a matter that is much closer to home—a constituency matter which I suspect will occupy some parliamentary time this year. It will not surprise me if one of the "other measures" to be brought before us in the coming year will be an order to increase the limit on air transport movements at Stansted airport. That is the device by which the Government, in allowing the expansion of Stansted airport, kept it to a limit of 8 million passengers per annum, despite there being planning permission for 15 million passengers per annum.
At present, BAA plc is building a fine terminal at Stansted, as will be acknowledged locally and further afield. There is good co-operation between BAA and the local authorities. The legal planning permission for 15 million passengers per annum cannot be denied, so it rests upon the decision of the House when the advance may be made from 8 million to 15 million passengers. I hope that no one will think that it is an open and shut case in the eyes of many of my constituents who experience noise disturbance in a highly rural area. Of course, I accept that many people living around Heathrow, Gatwick and other major airports are well experienced in such disturbance, but in a country area it can be a shattering experience.
At present, Stansted handles only 1·3 million passengers per annum. As usual, the infrastructure improvements that are promised in the wake of any major public works development are lagging behind, and people experience the disadvantages before the commensurate advantages. There is always the haunting fear that any further expansion is merely a prelude to even more in the future—a second terminal or a second runway. I hope that some consideration will be given to the downside risks of expanding an airport for the people who live around it. If one of the advantages is meant to be an improved rail service, I hope that we will pay much more attention to it. If we are to have a successful rail link to Stansted airport and at the same time not put a further burden upon my commuters, we will have to look at the capacity of that line.
It is ironic that I was prevented from being here in time for the Gracious Speech because a diesel locomotive broke down on a line which I have argued—successfully—should be electrified. However, British Rail is still operating diesel locomotives on it. My constituents will need to be persuaded that their rights are not being diminished unless, at the least, supportive and protective measures are applied if there is further expansion at the airport.
When my hon. Friend the Minister replies to the debate he may be able to focus on that part of the Gracious Speech which says:
My Government will work with business, local government, the voluntary sector and local people to regenerate our cities.
I make a plea to the Government to give an enhanced role to the voluntary sector and to acknowledge more affirmatively what community development can do to assist local people to participate in the process of improvement.
In this country, the voluntary sector has a great capacity to help, but it needs effective backing if it is to do so. If our cities and rural areas are to be truly regenerated, the quality of life is important. I echo many of the sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed). Active citizenship—on which we are trying to place greater emphasis—means more than people simply volunteering to help others. We need to encourage people to be more active in their own interests whether in community health, crime prevention, running estates or setting up new enterprises. But not all people can be self-starters, and that is where community development is relevant. It can guide people to show them what they are capable of doing and it can channel in help from business which has shown a welcome tendency to want to contribute more to the life of the community around it.
My hon. Friend the Minister of State knows of my interest in the matter as chairman of the Community Projects Foundation. I was appointed to that post by the Home Secretary a few years ago. The Community Projects Foundation is the leading community development agency in Britain, and is one of a number of bodies supported by the voluntary services unit at the Home Office. I cannot see the sense of having organisations such as the Community Projects Foundation unless they are fully exploited by a Government who have helped to set them up. Financial control is too narrow and too onerous. They should be run in a lighter way and on a longer rein so that they can get on with the job without feeling that they are being inspected minutely at even turn. We could spoil things for the veritable ha'porth of tar. We will not do so if we recognise that there is a true role for that type of function in our community.
If community development and the voluntary sector can be given greater encouragement, they will help the Government to realise their objectives in not only the regeneration of our cities but in the other purposes set out so reasonably in the Gracious Speech.
I hope that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) will understand if I do not pursue him down the as yet non-electrified line to Stansted.
I was struck by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), who represents Plaid Cymru, when he said that Wales was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Scotland fared scarcely better. Like Northern Ireland, it seemed to be tacked on at the end of the Gracious Speech almost as an afterthought. There was one short paragraph concerning Scotland which trailed Bills to be presented in the House for the new Scottish Enterprise, the winding up of Scottish new towns and the reform of the Scottish legal system.
Such dismissive treatment is a fair representation of the general approach of the majority in the House towards Scottish affairs. From the prejudiced perspective of the Government, Scotland, its people, its history and its national reality seem to be wholly invisible. The Government see only a unitary United Kingdom and a unitary Parliament, within which Scotland is relegated to the status of a peripheral region and held captive—rightly, they believe—by the voting power of the southern half of England.
It is ironic, in a year in which revolutionary changes have swept across Europe and we have heard ringing praise of the new rights and freedoms won by nation states of Europe, that the rights and freedoms of the Scottish people should be so callously disregarded in the Gracious Speech, as in every Gracious Speech since the Government took office in 1979.
In the Government's view, one of the most important documents to be published for Scotland—the "Claim of Right for Scotland"—might as well never have been written. The constitutional convention which now meets in Scotland has, in the eyes of the Scottish people, far more democratic legitimacy than any Minister sitting on the Treasury Bench. Yet it has been callously ignored by a Government who claim the right to govern Scotland but abandon any responsibility for meeting the demands of the Scottish people for self-determination.
It now appears that the Government will support the right to self-determination in every nation on earth except the nations which inhabit this island and come under the Government's power. That cannot be right. I was grateful to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) give a clear commitment that in the first Queen's Speech of the next Labour Government there will be a Bill to establish a directly-elected Scottish Parliament for the Scottish people, as is their demand.
For the moment, however, we are stuck with this Government and this Queen's Speech. I shall concentrate my remarks on an important measure in the Queen's Speech—the broadcasting Bill. We are told that the intention is to give viewers and listeners a greater choice and more say in the programmes made available to them. I have heard such promises from the Government before. I remember when the Government introduced their reforms in housing provision and housing finance. We were told that they were intended to extend choice and to give tenants a greater say in their housing. For those able to benefit from the personal prosperity to which the Home Secretary referred in his speech, that would be true, but for those unable to benefit from that prosperity the reality has been quite different—the reality of record mortgage arrears, repossession, rent arrears, homelessness, dampness and disrepair.
When a Bill is introduced promising increased choice, the Opposition have every right to be suspicious of it. We have learnt from the past that it will mean increased choice for some but less choice—and sometimes no choice—for others. That is the reality behind the broadcasting reforms presented to us.
We are told that the proposals for deregulation of the radio services will bring into being a new slim radio authority which will apply a much lighter regulatory regime. We are told that that means there will be no requirement for any companies to educate, inform or entertain. The only clear criteria that the Government will apply will be that the companies should be financially viable—that they have a big bank book—and that they are allowed to purchase with that bank book.
There are some woolly references to maintaining programme range and diversity and meeting local audience demand, but nothing has been made clear about how those things will be defined or achieved by a Government who are introducing a light regulatory regime. However, at the moment we have only the White Paper and not the Bill. Yet we have already seen the impact on the real world of radio of the proposed reforms. In yesterday's Financial Times—Scotland's other national newspaper—I read of the recent trend towards consolidation in the radio sector in advance of the Government's planned expansion of commercial radio. I also read of the serious takeover interest which has been shown in Radio Forth either by the Newcastle-based Metro Radio or by the Glasgow-based Radio Clyde. As the House probably knows, Radio Forth already owns Radio Tay, which is the local independent radio station for Dundee and Tayside. Our experience of that takeover is that it has led to a reduction in local news on Radio Tay, particularly at weekends, and greater reliance on the Independent Radio News national news service.
That was the consequence of control being moved from Dundee to Edinburgh, but what will be the consequence of it being moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow or Newcastle? What will be the consequences if control passes to a non-Scottish company or to a Scottish company which already owns radio stations in three of the four major Scottish cities? I believe that the distinctive local news input, which features local issues in Dundee and Tayside, will begin to reduce, as will the distinctive community-based programmes which were developed precisely for the people of Dundee and Tayside. We shall see greater reliance on the IRN national news service and on programmes which can be broadcast just as easily in Glasgow or Edinburgh as in Dundee. That will mean much less choice and diversity for people who depend on those radio stations. Listeners in those cities will experience a reduction in their choice.
Similar circumstances will prevail in respect of the Government's proposals for a regionally based channel three television network. The Government have made a number of concessions to the smaller regional Independent Television companies, such as Grampian Television and Scottish Television. Concessions such as the equalisation of costs of the transmission system are welcomed by Labour Members, but they do not go far enough. The major thrust of Government policy remains the proposal to auction franchises to the highest bidder, whoever it may be or from wherever the bid may come.
When the Scottish Grand Committee debated broadcasting policy, the Minister of State stated the Government's policy as being
that the ownership of stations is regarded as secondary". [Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 11 July 1989; c. 5.]
The Government do not care who owns television or radio stations in Scotland. The Minister tried to assure us that no one in Scotland need worry about the threat of any potential predator from elsewhere in the United Kingdom or from overseas because the quality and diversity of programmes would be maintained by a strengthened quality threshold which would emphasise the necessity of regional diverse programmes. That was on 11 July, but a small section of The Independent today said:
TV quality rule cut. The Government has dropped from the Broadcasting Bill the requirement for 'high quality' regional news programmes on the new commercial Channel 3
The broadcasting Bill will lead not to greater choice but to the choice offered by the multiplicity of channels on the other side of the Atlantic, which Clive James so appositely described as offering the right to exercise choice between programmes of "infinite similarity" and "infinite mediocrity."
It is a disgrace—at a time when Scotland, more than any other part of the United Kingdom, has a right to Scottish controlled and owned television and radio companies which meet the needs of the Scottish people—that the Government should insist on introducing a competitive, free and unregulated market for broadcasting, which will almost certainly guarantee that Scottish control over its television and radio industry will be lost. Despite what has been achieved in Scotland, we shall be left with international companies moving in to perpetuate programmes which are exactly the same for every part of Europe.
I have something in common with the hon. Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), because, coming from Cornwall, I represent the Celtic fringe. They having set a fine example, I must follow it and express regret on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall that it was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on his appointment. He brings to the role excellent attributes. I was surprised by the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about my right hon. and learned Friend, which were ungracious to say the least. The right hon. Gentleman is capable of making a sanctimonious speech, but I have rarely heard one more sanctimonious.
It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman is not in the Chamber, because I should have preferred to say this in his presence, but if he expected to create an impression on my constituents that if the Labour party were to be elected law and order would be safe in its hands, I am sure that he will instead have put fear into the heart of every Cornishman. It is felt in my constituency that far too often people are not imprisoned when they should be. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) intervened in my right hon. and learned Friend's excellent speech to say that in many cases rape victims do not see their attackers sent to prison, and that too often they are given non-custodial sentences.
A number of aspects of the Gracious Speech are four square with the topic of the debate—rights, freedoms and responsibilities. One or two of my hon. Friends mentioned law reform. I speak as a practising solicitor, but, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heifer) said, for too long the profession has been cloistered. The way that the Government are opening it up to take account of clients' interests is welcome. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will resist further attempts by it to prevent the changes that he intends to introduce. It is high time that it faced up to the realities of the marketplace.
Changes in food safety are mentioned in the Gracious Speech. Again, it is most important to protect the rights of the consumer.
I wish to deal with two aspects, one that relates directly to comments made by my right hon. and learned Friend and one that does not. My right hon. and learned Friend made an excellent announcement about increases in police officers and civilian staff. We in the west country were delighted to hear that news. He will know that we are still short of the number that were allocated in the last review, but we have had substantial increases, for which we are most grateful.
My right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be aware that a number of requirements have been placed on the police service which take up considerable additional police hours, such as the gun law changes. Hon. Members were determined to see them tightened, but considerable extra time is being incurred in their administration. That must be taken into account when considering manning a wide rural area such as Devon and Cornwall.
We suffer a lower ratio of police to population, and I very much hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take that into account when considering police numbers in the west country.
I wish to refer to a point that I raised when my right hon. and learned Friend was making his speech—it touches on the point passionately made by the hon. Member for Walton—about strike action being taken by civilian staff who are involved alongside the police. I know that the hon. Member for Walton has always spoken passionately and sincerely about the rights of people involved with trade unions.
People in all walks of life feel that we should have rights and freedoms, but we accept that responsibilities have to come with them.
I must tell the hon. Member for Walton—and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take this into account—that it strikes fear into the minds of senior police officers and the public when people who work alongside the police, who are allocated to the police service to free police officers from jobs and duties, threaten to take strike action. There is concern when key activities, for example radio communication, are threatened. That can only strike at the heart of our effort to come to grips with the problems of law and order.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to make it clear to the civilians involved that possible strike action will be taken seriously. I suggest that we may have to think in terms of a similar solution to that at GCHQ. They should have a separate federation and separate negotiating rights and they should be rewarded if a no-strike agreement is concluded.
One issue which was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech was the Government's commitment to a dramatic increase in infrastructure—such projects as the rail link for the Channel tunnel, and Stansted airport, which my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) mentioned and we have not dealt with that issue. We continue to take away the rights of people who own property that is in the way of those infrastructure projects. Those people are seriously affected in two ways. First, they are not properly rewarded when their properties are acquired to make way for a project; secondly, under our present system it takes far too long for them to get recompense, or to have any certainty of what will happen.
I urge my right hon. and learned Friend, although I know that this is not entirely within his province, to put pressure on his colleagues to look at the way the problem is solved elsewhere. In France and Canada, for example, a profit surcharge is placed on the property value, over and above its existing value, when it is required for a new railway line or motorway. It is right that we should pay more, because such projects make an impact on a property owner's freedom, and that should he taken into account.
I also urge my right hon. and learned Friend to work with his colleagues to streamline the public inquiry system. We should make sure that the process is quicker for public infrastructure projects. Of course we should give all interested parties the right to he heard but consent or refusal should be given at the end of the inquiry, and local authorities should not have to go through the process again to decide whether planning permission should be granted.
The Government's proposals are littered with words like peace, freedom and justice, and I suspect that that will increase in the run-up to the next election. The other day, the Prime Minister spoke about individual freedom and measures to enhance personal liberty. However, when we look under the stone, we see that the Government are good at rhetoric and abysmal when it comes to rights.
The Government have systematically attacked trade unions and diminished individual rights so that any claim that there is a balance between employers' rights and employees' rights is farcical.
The Government have rejected the social charter; that shows their real commitment to rights. In industrial and civil law, is there now any freedom for the worker to make a fair contract with an employer? A fair contract has become a mere formality. An employer can dismiss an employee in the first two years of employment without the employee having the right to claim unfair dismissal. Where is the justice or fairness in that?
What kind of twisted logic is it that claims that progress has been made in industrial relations, when employers can evade the job protection laws by offering a fixed contract, and when they can sack the whole work force, as they did in Wapping, with the seafarers and more recently the dockers? Consider the 1974 miners' strike: what has happened to civil liberties?
How do the Government justify their total rejection of the social charter? Why is the Prime Minister so terrified of the social charter that she will not even discuss it? Is it because of the limits on hours, the right to rest periods, or to have vocational training? Or is it because the Prime Minister cannot stomach the idea of rights for the disabled and for women and because she cannot stick the thought of elderly people having the right to a decent income?
The Government want rights only for their supporters—mainly business men and women who own most of the wealth. If they were serious about rights, why did they introduce a Bill to allow employers to dismiss any employee when unofficial action has been organised? Why have they brought in a Bill which denies unions the right to call any industrial action in support of a dismissed member, and which virtually ends any solidarity of action between trade unionists?
The Government's assertion that the closed shop is oppressive is a red herring. We can easily dismiss it when we see the evidence of the Donovan report and the Government's own report in the Employment Gazette in 1980. If we contrast the Government's paranoic hatred of collective action in trade unionism with their attitude to employers, who can get away literally with murder when they flout health and safety laws, we see that the Government have made a mockery of workers' rights. Real democrats do not set out deliberately to criminalise trade unions.
The public are not in sympathy with the Government about the ambulance dispute. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) said, they do not like a Government who talk about the rights of people in Poland and deny rights to people in Britain.
The Queen's Speech mentioned working with local government to regenerate cities. During the past 10 years, when have the Government had real consultations with local government or the voluntary sector or worked with them? If they had been more sensitive to local government, and to what the voluntary sector was saying, we would not have the horrendous problem of homelessness among young people. The Government have deliberately cut benefits. They have set out to strangle local authorities so that they cannot build housing or do anything about homelessness.
The Government have also attacked the rights of young people in another area. What other Government can justify a rule which says that any young girl under 18 who is pregnant cannot claim income support, even if she has no other income, until she is six months pregnant? If the Home Secretary wants to talk about rights, he should consider the rights of such young people.
I remind the Government that freedom, justice and rights are not just about tearing down the Berlin wall; they are also about allowing families in Britain to be united. We should contrast the Government's rhetoric on refugees from east Berlin with their treatment of genuine immigrants to Britain from Pakistan and the Home Office decision to send Tamils back to almost certain torture when they were genuine refugees. That shows that the Government's notion of justice is highly selective and is obviously based on the colour of somebody's skin.
I desperately hope that the true democrats in the international community do not, as the Prime Minister claims, follow our ideas. She says that the Goverment have won the battle for ideas. I hope that that is not the case internationally. The Government believe that President Cristiani is a moderate democrat. The rest of the world, however, stands shocked when the Attorney-General warns the Catholic Church to get its priests out because that moderate, democratic Government cannot guarantee their safety, and says that others might suffer the same fate as the six who were brutally murdered recently.
The Queen's Speech refers to the rights of people in Afghanistan to elect their own Government. I remind the Government that women and children are being subjected to massive bombardment in Kabul. Some of the weapons that are raining death on them come from Britain and the Government have boasted about selling them. I remind the Government that those people also have rights. Britain has an international responsibility towards them.
I desperately hope that the Government have not won the battle for ideas in respect of their policy on Cambodia. The agony goes on for the people there. Pol Pot is on the march again. The Government endorsed his representative at the United Nations. That is nothing to be proud of. That action condemns the Government more than anything in the debate about democratic freedoms. The measures that they have introduced in the past decade have done nothing to enhance personal liberty. I believe that history will judge them accordingly.
I must tell the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) as courteously as possible that if she makes too many more speeches like that, we may see our erstwhile hon. Friend Roy Galley back here very soon.
The hon. Lady went on quite intensely about rights, but there was very little in her speech about obligations. She may be anxious to protect the rights of pregnant 18-year-old girls, but I am anxious to find the fathers and to impose on them the obligation that society expects them to meet. I look to my hon. Friend the Minister to do something about that because that is where action is necessary.
I also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's appointment as Home Secretary. It is an important post. He made a most distinguished, convincing and robust speech. We and, I believe, the nation are enormously pleased that law and order is to fall upon such responsible shoulders. As in so many other Departments of state, we have a splendid team at the Home Office.
In the debate on the Loyal Address on 15 May 1979, an event which is writ large in the hearts of many of us, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said:
Our priorities are to restore the balance in our economy, to restore the balance between the individual and the State, to promote the freedom of the individual under the rule of law, and to defend our interests wherever they are challenged."—[Official Report, 15 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 87.]
I believe that no Government have tried more faithfully to implement their programme and that today's debate on rights, freedoms and responsibilities offers us an opportunity to examine the record of the past 10 glorious years and to judge the Gracious Speech of 1989 in the context of that of 1979.
I disagree fundamentally with the hon. Member for Halifax about rights. Since 1979, the rights of ordinary trade unionists have been greatly extended and restored to them. They are no longer cannon fodder for class war generals, but free men and women armed with the power of the secret postal ballot given to them by this Conservative Government. It is hardly surprising that under the new system of freedom the number of days lost through strikes has fallen from 29 million in 1979 to 3·7 million in 1988.
As general secretary of the Society for Individual Freedom in 1969 and 1970, I saw some of the poor victims of the iniquitous Socialist closed shop, and I warmly welcome the proposal to extend the right of redress to a person denied a job for refusing to join a trade union. It is clear from the amendment proposed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the real Labour party has not changed at all and would wipe away all the protections that have been given to ordinary trade union people. To quote the amendment, it would
repeal all the oppressive legislation against trade unions".
In other words, it would strip away all the protections.
In 1979, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in respect of education and health:
we shall extend choice and diversity—matters that have been diminished during the lifetime of the Labour Government."—[Official Report, 15 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 81.]
True to their commitment, the Government have ensured that the right to greater choice and diversity in education has been granted to parents through open enrolment and the assisted places scheme. I warmly applaud them for sticking to their guns when trying to apply similar principles to health care. There is no doubt that such proposals would enhance patient choice and give to large general practices which wanted to do so the chance to shop around in the best interests of their patients, who must be our primary concern. We shall have a system where money follows the patient. I should like similar facilities to be offered to smaller and single-handed practices.
Rights have been extended with regard to home ownership, which in the past 10 years has increased from 10,019,000, or 56 per cent. of the population, to 12,811,000, or 66·8 per cent. of the population. The Labour party has no right to say that rights have been diminished under the Conservative Government, who have extended across the board rights that were denied to people by the Labour party.
Nowhere has freedom and responsibility been so widely extended as through the privatisation programme—the cornerstone of the Government's industrial strategy. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) was the Minister responsible for piloting through the Industry Act 1975—a sad measure which, although still on the statute book, has been substantially washed away. The Times reported him as saying that
the Bill was at least a step in the direction he wanted to go, a step along the line of building the type of egalitarian society where the working people would come into their own and benefit by the labours they put into industry.
That is a load of nonsense because it achieved exactly the reverse. Ownership resided in one man—the Secretary of State, the politician. Now, however, we have released 19 major businesses which employ 700,000 people who have been removed from the control of politicians and put back into the hands of the people. They have gone from one owner to 9 million shareholders. That is real freedom with which, of course, goes responsibility. The talents of employees have been harnessed to the nation's advantage instead of being screwed down waiting on bureaucratic indecision resulting from the interference of politicians.
Where competition is keenest, the customer has been best rewarded. Only last week, British Airways—previously a languid nationalised airline—posted the best quarterly profits of any airline, anywhere in the world, ever. It was voted airline of the year in 1987 and 1988. It is no accident that British Airways has prospered so well—domestically, it has been under intense competition from that splendid alternative airline, British Midland Airways, and internationally it has faced fierce competition as well.
British Telecommunications is an outstanding example of privatisation being of enormous benefit in releasing the energies of people previously trapped in the public sector. They have been able to harness their talents and resources to the nation's benefit. The number of staff remains constant, at about 245,000—so all the stories about people being out of a job have been disproved—and the service is better than before. We no longer have to wait for an answer to our directory inquiries—we get it virtually immediately.
There has been vast investment in new equipment. In 1984, there were just under 20 million lines in service. Now there are more than 24 million—an increase of 20 per cent. in five years. Who would have thought that the GPO could cope with the explosion in new telecommunications, such as fax machines and mobile cellular telephones, of which many hon. Members are beneficiaries? If it had still been a Socialist nationalised industry, we would not have such equipment. Thanks to the release of those industries into the private sector, we are all able to benefit from the changes.
Competition is beginning to bear down through Mercury. The Labour party said that there would be no pay telephones any more and that people living in the country and people travelling would have no such telephones. In fact, they are not only in service but better than ever.
I welcome the coal legislation. Although not privatisation, it is a measure of liberalisation, which I warmly welcome. I hope that in the fullness of time we can carry on with the privatisation programme which has done so much to the benefit of our economy, the people who work in the industries and, ultimately and most importantly, the customer.
I welcome the broadcasting Bill, which will recognise the new technological realities brought about by satellite and cable yet will provide a framework for responsible broadcasting. I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about quality. If anyone regards the BBC as the standard to follow and "EastEnders" as an example of wonderful quality television, his idea of quality is not the same as mine.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not rule out religious broadcasting and that he will allow religious groups to bid for franchises. My worry about the decline in religion is shared by the hon. Member for Walton, although he may not agree with me on this proposal. I hope that my hon. Friend will take on board the increasing concern in all corners of the House about pornography. Early-day motion 37 has been signed by 127 Members so far. I hope that my hon. Friend will also consider the question of pornography in bookshops. It is not just a matter of what is seen on television. There is concern about the availability of soft porn, which is becoming harder all the time, and I hope that my hon. Friend will look into that.
It would be a mistake to imagine that Governments can solve all our social ills. Parents, teachers—all of us—have responsibilities to be active citizens. Not least, the Church has a responsibility to play a role. I am profoundly concerned that the Church of England, with notable and honourable exceptions, appears more preoccupied with secular matters and, when not secular, with multiculturalism rather than with the abiding Christian virtues. The Bishop of Durham knows all about the alleged evils of the Government's policy on the NHS but appears uninterested in the fact that only 20 per cent. of people in Britain are churchgoers and that 34 per cent. claim to have no religion. There are plenty of apologists for criminal behaviour. It is important for the Church of England to understand that it has a responsibility to return to the abiding Christian virtues and to preach them unashamedly throughout the land.
I am making an observation which I hope will be for the benefit of the clergy.
The programme set out in the Gracious Speech builds squarely on the principles of freedom and choice so clearly expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister 10 years ago. It acknowledges public concern for a better environment—the litter proposal will be warmly welcomed by our constituents—and for better public services. The Gracious Speech has a good radical core which anchors it to the mainstream of the Government's achievements. Furthermore, it confirms my belief that in my right hon. Friend we have the finest Prime Minister that this country has been privileged to have leading it since the second world war. I therefore have the greatest pleasure in warmly endorsing the Gracious Speech.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I congratulate the Home Secretary on his appointment, which came about in unexpected circumstances. The extent to which the Government support civilised standards will he seen through his actions. That heavy responsibility merits the support of the House as the right hon. and learned Gentleman steps out on that task. As he has discharged one job in the Home Office, we have been given a flavour of his attitudes, some of which we viewed with apprehension.
The debate on the Loyal Address takes place against an exciting and immensely challenging international background. The Gracious Speech recognises that reality in the Government's commitment
to work for further progress on human rights
in the context of the developing democracy in eastern Europe. This debate has focused on matters closer to home. None the less, in judging the Government's position on human rights, it is right to look at that area of responsibility to which the House must still pay some regard—Hong Kong. The Queen's Speech talks about seeking
to restore confidence in Hong Kong, building on the foundation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The Government's policy on Hong Kong smacks of appeasement of the People's Republic of China It is deplorable that while the Government welcome the lifting of the iron curtain in eastern Europe they view with
apparent equanimity the prospect of stuffing through the bamboo curtain the 6 million people in Hong Kong for whom we have direct responsibility. The evidence of this appeasement is to be seen in the Government's refusal to establish a more democratic Government in Hong Kong from 1991, apparently because they are reluctant to provoke the People's Republic of China.
Further evidence is to be found in the apparent climbdown from the position taken in the joint declaration that after 1997 the Hong Kong courts would be given the right of final adjudication of the Basic Law. It has become clear from a memorandum submitted to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that the Government take the view that that final adjudication will lie with the People's Congress of the People's Republic—the puppet parliament of China—and not as the joint declaration has provided. The Government must know, as Sir David Wilson, the Governor of Hong Kong, and the Chief Secretary, Sir David Ford, have made clear, that the only way to secure confidence in Hong Kong and to persuade the people to remain there after 1997 is to give the 3·25 million British dependent territories' passport holders full rights to British passports.
That is not the view of this party alone, although we may be the only party in this House to hold that view, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), on behalf of the Labour party, has given the Government the support that they want in seeking to appease the People's Republic. However, it is the view of those who have responsibility for the government of Hong Kong today, and of the leaders of commerce and business in the city of Hong Kong. Mr. Charles Moore, the editor of The Spectator, has written from Hong Kong this week:
The misfortune of the people of Hong Kong is that for all its protestations, Britain does not want freedom in Hong Kong; it wants out.
Another international matter for which the Home Secretary has direct responsibility is the measure described in the Gracious Speech as seeking to enhance international co-operation in the policing of international crime. As long ago as 1967, as a private Member, I secured the enactment of the Tokyo Convention Bill to deal with crimes committed on board aircraft. The Government's measures are the latest in a long line. I do not doubt that they are necessary, but they will not be sufficient especially to stop the menace of drug trafficking. I agree with those who say that this is the most serious social evil facing this country. More direct enforcement action, under the auspices of international organisations, is required in the countries in which the drugs originate. The development of international law has been too slow in this area. I hope that the Government will tell us during this debate what contribution they will make to the development of such law.
It is right to recognise, as did the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who speaks for the Police Federation, that there is some disquiet among the public about the police. They have a particular responsibility to maintain the rule of law and it is because they are entrusted with that responsibility that we give them—almost uniquely in society—the power to use force within the law. That power is necessary in civil society, but its acceptability depends on the public's believing that the police are imbued with a sense of fair play.
Recent revelations—not only the manner in which the Guildford Four were convicted—have tested that public belief. There was the falsification of evidence against Chelsea soccer fans and the Maguire case, which was associated with the Guildford Four. There was the wrongful extraction of admissions from convicted prisoners in Kent spuriously to improve the crime clear-up rate and unacceptable practices were uncovered in the West Midlands serious crimes squad. To draw attention to those matters is not to undermine the standing of the police. Public concern about police behaviour has emerged at various times. The Willinck commission which was set up in 1960 as a result of various instances of perceived police misconduct made a number of recommendations. There was also the Challoner affair in 1963.
I must make it clear to the Home Office that I am not convinced that recent events give rise to a case for a full-scale commission of inquiry into the police, for that would take too long and would require considerable police resources. Most importantly, it would not recognise that the pressures and priorities of policing are changing constantly and a grand new settlement would not remove the continuing need for adaptation and for watchfulness.
However, we must urgently restore confidence in the fair play of the police. The chief constable of the West Midlands, Mr. Geoffrey Dear, was right and brave to suspend his entire serious crimes squad. The exposure of wrongdoing by the police themselves should contribute to public confidence that policemen will be brought to account for illegal behaviour.
I also recommend to the new Home Secretary that he should consider strengthening the role and structure of the Police Complaints Authority in uncovering wrongdoing. It should have some responsibility for considering policy questions on policing. I also urge that policemen themselves, under cover of confidentiality, should be able to report matters that they believe have not been put right within the force. The previous Home Secretary allowed such an arrangement for whistle blowers within the security services. An analogous right for the police could strengthen their defences against wrongdoers in their midst.
The central piece of Home Office legislation is the proposal for broadcasting change, although I shall say little on that today because there will be other opportunities to debate the proposals. Freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by article 10 of the European convention on human rights, has come under particular and systematic attack by this Government. That is true especially of the freedom of broadcasters and journalists to report. Nothing in the published proposals for broadcasting will secure that freedom.
The Government's censorship arrangements for Northern Ireland were described by the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Appeal this week as "half baked". But censorship will be extended under the provisions. Lord Rees-Mogg may be more ridiculous than sinister, but creeping censorship, like an unsupervised children's party, may begin in laughter and end in tears. The Government appear to be fearful of the power of television to corrupt the morals of British youth. Their attitude to broadcasting brings to mind the action of many little German states in the 18th century which banned the hugely popular novel by Goethe, "The Sorrows of Young Werther". It was widely feared that a captivated readership would commit suicide in imitation of the book's tragic hero.
Perhaps the greatest advance in the protection of the citizen from oppressive government in this country has come about as a result of the introduction in 1977 of order 53 of the Supreme Court rule book giving the right of application for judicial review. However, there is a vast need for administrative law to be strengthened to provide further defences for the citizen oppressed by maladministration. The Minister should extend the right of appeal beyond the three-month limit and ensure that assistance is given for judicial review when matters of public importance are being considered.
In a lengthy speech at the beginning of this debate, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) put his faith in securing a number of particular rights by enactment in this House. There is undoubtedly a place for that. I draw attention to the desirability of seeking to equalise the age of pensioners to avoid discrimination between men and women. That cannot be done instantly, but the process should be begun.
Several hon. Members mentioned prisoners' rights. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made the most eloquent speech on the subject. Those rights are under serious threat. Every report from Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons contains a more serious indictment of what is happening than did its predecessor. Most horrifying of all has been the succession of suicides committed by young people, some of whom were in prison on remand. I hope that the new Home Secretary will take particular responsibility for that problem.
I draw attention to two issues related to racial discrimination. The Commission for Racial Equality is right to seek new powers to bring actions in its name when it believes that discrimination has occurred. I agreed with the Minister's remarks in a letter to the leaders of the Muslim community about the inappropriateness of seeking to extend the law of blasphemy to cover other religions. He is quite right that in this country the strength of the religion should be relied on to rebuff attacks on it. He should carry his beliefs still further and abolish the law of blasphemy. As it stands, it is discriminatory and has almost fallen into desuetude. The majority of those in the Law Commission believe that it should go.
We shall not rid ourselves of the scourge of racial discrimination unless and until we recognise the value to this country of the many cultures which live and are represented within our islands. We look on the matter with positive enthusiasm and believe that those who feel discriminated against will come to recognise and share our enthusiasm.
The Queen's Speech referred to a Bill to improve the administration of civil justice. But we looked in vain for any mention in the speech of improving the justice of administration. Rights require remedies. Despite what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, the citizens of Sparkbrook should not have to go to Strasbourg to seek the enforcement of internationally guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms. The remedy should lie more cheaply and speedily in the British courts.
In the past 10 years the Government have tested the theory that Parliament is the bulwark of our freedoms. In rejecting the concept of a Bill of Rights, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that it could be repealed—so it could. So could any of the laws in which he puts his faith; many of them have been over the past 10 years by this Government. As Thomas Huxley said, many a theory survives long after its brain has been knocked out. The theory that parliamentary supremacy protects our civil rights has long been invalidated. If it survives in any form, it is largely because the Labour party, which wants to take over those supreme powers, is keeping the theory on a life support machine.
The Queen's Speech was strangely silent about enlarging freedom in Britain. It did little to alter the perception that the Home Office has been systematically, carefully and gradually confining the liberties of the subject. We will do our best to prize open freedom by our continuing careful scrutiny and criticism of the legislation which it brings forward.
Before I begin my speech I shall draw attention to my interests in some of the issues such as broadcasting and health mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I wish to urge support for the Gracious Speech.
In her first Minister, Her Majesty is well served by a giant among giants—a giant who acts consistently in the national interest. It would be a sin not to support, or even to try to wound, that giant. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will note this. I am sure none of them has eyes so dim, nor ears so deaf, nor hands so numb that they cannot feel the vital need for loyal support at this moment. Within the speech I particularly noticed the first goal: the preservation of peace, not merely of peace alone, but peace with freedom and justice. That is vitally important and I am pleased that it is emphasised.
I am also pleased at the high mention given to the environment. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know well, Winchester has a big environmental problem related to the completion of the M3. I urge the completion of the M3 as soon as possible, but it will penetrate no less than five statutorily controlled areas of environmental protection. Because of this very special environment, the problem demands a great deal of Government spending to ensure that the road is built in an environmentally friendly manner. I hope that some of the recently announced increased spending on roads will be used to ensure that this is successfully achieved.
I support the drive towards Europe which is vital and the improvement of relations between east and west Europe which is vital to our country and the rest of Europe and will have a big impact on the world in general.
This week I returned from the eastern bloc where freedom means the freedom of sovereign states, not the freedom of individual citizens. The position is somewhat similar to that in the trade union movement described by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burn twood (Mr. Howarth) in which the bosses, not the individual union members, have the freedom. In eastern Europe, human rights have been systematically denied for decades, so that joy and hope were almost extinguished and had dwindled to a mere ash. It is an area of the world where humanity has been criminally abused for decades.
There is now on the world stage a man that the headlines of history may consider to be the man of the century. I am speaking about Mr. Gorbachev, or Gorby as he is known almost throughout the western world. I had the great pleasure of meeting him and Mrs. Gorbachev when they came here in December 1984. I showed them round the Chamber. At that time, I felt that he was a man with western-style charisma, who was not only able but quite prepared to use it for free on the western world's media. I felt that he had the ability to talk over the heads of western negotiators and politicians directly to people at grass-roots level throughout the world. He had the self-confidence to endure and to show on the world stage flexibility and creativity. He showed that remarkably even from the first Reykjavik talks. I saw him as a man who would replace the image of the brutal Russian bear with one of a reasonable, responsible and even reassuring Russia. I felt that Mr. Gorbachev would be a force for change.
However, I did not, and I am sure that most other people did not, think that the change would be quite so dramatic and that the world would have been stood on its head within five years. In essence, the change that he has created is to challenge the world, not to war, but to peace, a new type of peace. He proposes that the old peace of deterrence and mutually assured destruction under which we have lived for 45 years or more should be replaced by a peace of detente. That is a great change in attitude. He has done away with the bogeyman, but a big question remains, that detente does not yet fully exist. Therefore, I strongly support the policy of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of being careful and approaching the problem by giving encouragement and help while maintaining our guard.
Mr. Gorbachev's main task is to stimulate the Soviet economy, to capitalise it. To do so, he must effectively change gears. Unlike the capital economies of the West there is no synchromesh. Mr. Gorbachev has to double-declutch, and it will demand enormous courage to allow the clutch to free-wheel between the gears while still maintaining engine revs. That will demand all of the courage that Mr. Gorbachev possesses. He has a huge task. Most western capitalist economies have enterprises, equity and currency markets that evolved over hundreds of years. Mr. Gorbachev has to short-circuit such evolution and bring it about in just a few years. It is a gigantic challenge to convert a politically-controlled and planned economy into a market economy.
One example of the problem of double de-clutching is to be found when one looks at enterprise in the Soviet Union. Taking an entrepreneurial initiative was essentially foreign to the Communist culture, but now entrepreneurs are being actively encouraged. However, they are being sandwiched between a planned economy, which, of course, means that supplies are uncertain, and a completely unrealistic pricing mechanism. How will they survive? Free enterprise restaurants are rightly being encouraged in the Soviet Union, but they are not allowed a liquor licence. How can they truly compete?
Equity of interest in freehold property and in businesses is being allowed, but only on a leasehold basis. That is not the full change of gear that will be necessary to get the Soviet economy going. The official rate of exchange is $1·60 to the rouble but the free market auction indicates a rate in excess of 15 roubles to the dollar. That means that the official rate is about 20 times removed from reality and a tremendous leap will be required to achieve reality and thus convertibility of the rouble.
Mr. Gorbachev represents a great opportunity for the world for peace and more prosperity. He represents hope for the Soviet people and a challenge to the people of the free world. It is in the definite interest of the West and of humanity in general to support him. However, we must be mindful of the fact that this huge change will create huge tensions. Nature abhors a vacuum and we must therefore proceed with care. That means that we must proceed just as outlined in the Gracious Speech.
In helping the Soviet world to make this enormous change in such a short time we must look at matters such as economic and financial advice and even at assisting in understanding the present value of money and how to make the Soviet currency convertible. We must look at ways of encouraging them to start up and build equity markets and at ways to internationalise their products.
Secondly, we must support them with financial credits and with the application of technology to basic industries. We must encourage still further East-West trade. We must help with education, especially in management and in the whole culture of new enterprises.
We should also offer help about how to distribute products in such a vast and often inhospitable part of the world. I understand that about 50 per cent. of the food produced in the Soviet Union rots before it ever reaches the consumer. That is a huge amount of food. At the moment, the Soviet Union faces rationing, and almost 100 per cent. rationing is forecast by the end of the year. If the distribution chains could be improved, the Soviet Union could almost double the food supplies that it now enjoys.
Thirdly, we must co-operate with the Soviet Union on balanced verifiable and integrated disarmament. Fourthly, we must inspire the Soviet people by example on human rights, inflation, the environment and the operation of a multi-party democracy.
The last part of the Gracious Speech on which I wish to comment deals with Europe, and especially the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system. That of course implies a federal state eventually rather than a national state. It is important for us to join. We must therefore look seriously at that question and ensure that we understand exactly what sort of Europe we are joining. Which Europe do we wish to join given the huge changes that are taking place? Is it the Europe that ends at the east German border or is it the Europe that extends to the Ural mountains?
What kind of Europe will it be? Will it be full of national states or will it be federal? Will it be capitalist or Socialist? Will it be dominated by a united Germany or will it have a balanced distribution of power? The huge changes that we have seen has great importance for us. It is in the interests of Britain to join and in my view there is no question about that. But we must do so at a speed that is commensurate with a pragmatic and careful approach. We must ensure that it is the Europe that we wish to join.
Several of my right hon. Friends and some Opposition Members have talked about Europe and said that of course a huge change has taken place. I agree with them about change, but it should make us most careful.
The European exchange rate mechanism is dominated by the deutschmark and it is anti-deflationary, for the deutschmark. Unfortunately all the economies in that mechanism are not always in phase so what is in the interests of the deutschmark is not always or necessarily in the interests of sterling. Of course we must join the exchange rate mechanism, but only on terms which are right for our country and for Europe, and which are pragmatic and timely.
I urge the House to support the Gracious Speech, which, as I have said, has been recommended by a giant among giants. It should be supported.
I have been here since 10 minutes to 3 and I have listened to just about every speech. I am going to be a little different. I marched down the corridor to the other place to hear Her Majesty read the Gracious Speech. Coming back, I got it at the Vote Office and read it. I listened to what the Secretary of State had to say a lot earlier on—a long way back—about crime. However, this Queen's Speech is a crime against the nation and the people. That is what it is all about. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Government will take my suggestions on board.
We have heard a lot about crime and what the Government are trying to do about it. They have been saying the same thing since 1979. They have poured money into the police forces every year, increasing the numbers and the equipment that the police have so that they can do their job more efficiently, and they have increased their wages over and above those of ambulance men. Millions of pounds have been poured in, but crime is rocketing. I maintain that they have got it wrong. They are doing their sums wrong. They have got their job wrong. Some Ministers who stand at that Dispatch Box should be ashamed of themselves because they are not doing their jobs. They ought to drive themselves in the direction of the prevention of crime. All they are doing is increasing crime and putting more and more work on the police forces, who are doing a first-class job, but all the crime is passing them by, so the situation gets worse and worse.
I point out to the Secretary of State that we are supposed to talk about fairness in this place—fairness for the people out there. The Home Secretary does not set a good example. I remember that at half past 2 one morning, when I was the last Member on his feet to speak on the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, he tipped off the Chair that the Government were to move the closure, so I did not get in to make my contribution. If that is fairness from one who is now the Home Secretary, how can I believe that the people will get fairness with his kind of legislation?
The Queen's Speech deals with involving and supporting local authorities and helping them to do their job. Since 1979—the Queen's Speech continues this—the Government have been slowly but surely destroying local authorities. They are taking away the rights of people, for example, in my constituency, where the local authority works on behalf of the people in the community. Slowly but surely, they are introducing laws to take the powers of local authorities. As each year goes by, their legislation makes that worse.
The Government are destroying local authorities and local democracy. They brag about it at the Dispatch Box and when they go on television, supposedly talking to the people about how they are doing the right thing because they are cutting public expenditure. The people in my community are suffering because of the Government's activities. They are privatising many local authority functions. When this happens, we find that the community does not get the kind of service that it had when the local authority was responsible. I have known local authorities that emptied dustbins once a week. People are now lucky to get that done once a fortnight. That is the kind of thing that is going on, and they call that progress. They are going backwards—they are in reverse. I do not know about double de-clutching, mentioned by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne), but the Government are going the other way. We will put that right when we are in government: make no mistake about that.
It is shocking that my local authority has not built a house since this lot came in. What is the end result of that? Along with the local authority in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale)—I remind the Minister that I represent Ashfield, and my hon. Friend and I come from Nottinghamshire, next door to each other—we had a policy of building bungalows for elderly people. However, we could not build them without some finance from central funds. Elderly people were put in these bungalows. They vacated two and three-bedroomed houses which could then be made available to those who wanted them—couples with families and couples who had just got married but who are now at the end of a massive queue, all because of the Government's policies on local authorities and on providing proper housing and accommodation.
The only thing that this Conservative Government are bothered about is selling council houses. Now our stock dwindles every year and I do not know how these people will manage. I went to see the vigil at the end of Downing street last week. I do not know whether the Home Secretary went to have a word with the people from Shelter who organised it. Was he concerned about those youngsters who live in cardboard boxes every night? I bet he has never been in a cardboard box in his life. He is not responding, so he has not, and he does not know what it is like.
I want to say a word about the Coal Industry Bill. I think that it is shocking the way the Government are going on. They are preparing for the privatisation of the coal industry. I am old enough to remember the bad old days of private ownership in the mining industry, before nationalisation. I stand here as an experienced collier who spent 35 years in the pit before coming to this place, so I know what I am talking about. I know that, when this Chamber is full, all those youngsters sat on the Government Benches do not know what working is or what pit mining is about.
I shall tell the Minister what used to go on under private enterprise. The owners used to ignore safety. No. 1 was production, No. 2 was earnings and No. 3 was safety. Nationalisation turned that on its head and made safety first, and that is where it should be. If we are not careful, with the Government wanting to privatise the coal industry, we shall go back to having next to no safety in he mining industry because of the old profit motive. That will be the result of privatisation in all its forms.
The mining industry can look forward only to a rough time from that lot on the other side of the House, the Government, and that is why we must get them out of office as soon as possible. We must ensure that we are on the other side of the House, on the Government Benches, so that we can put things right for those who deserve a fair deal.
We already have private mines, and most of them are small holes in a hill. There are numerous private mines in Derbyshire and consequently the Derbyshire people know all about their operations. A limit of 30 employees per private mine was introduced for safety reasons, but this lot —the Government—are talking about 150. That is scandalous. That shows that the Government could not care less about safety in the mining industry.
I can prove my point by saying that there are fewer inspectors entering mines now than there were five years ago. The Government have cut public expenditure on Her Majesty's inspectors and as a result both men and management are not being examined properly to ensure that safe working practices prevail. It is not surprising that accidents, especially fatal ones, have increased during the year. It is an extremely serious matter, but the Government could not care less. When my hon. Friends and I advance these arguments, Ministers either stand at the Dispatch Box or sit in their places with grins all over their faces. As I have said, these are serious matters.
I see that the Minister of State, Home Office is shaking his head. He should remember that he is a Home Office Minister and has collective responsibility for the mines and quarries inspectorate. Let him not shake his head at me. I am an experienced miner and I know what I am talking about. I know what is going on in my constituency. The Minister does not have a pit in his backyard, but I bet that he has a double garage with a couple of cars. There are people back home in my constituency who have to walk because they cannot afford to go on a flippin' bus. They are suffering because of the Government's cuts. The Minister is responsible for that because of collective responsibility. I tell him again that he should stop shaking his head. I shall take no notice of that. The Minister and his right hon. and hon. Friends do not like home truths.
I tell the Minister, the Secretary of State and you, Mr. Speaker, now that you are back in the Chair, that not one of you has an opencast mine in your backyard. That is true, is it not? I have them back home in my constituency. The people I represent back home have had a bellyful of opencast mining, and they have had it for years. They want to get rid of it. They have to put up with dust and noise for 24 hours a day. Shot blasting takes place during normal working hours while the poor beggars who work nights are stuck in bed.
Of course, the Government are not bothered about that. All that they are bothered about is the old brass. They are intent on filling the pockets of a few, and one of their policies to achieve that is income tax reductions. The Government look after their own lot, but they ignore the workers.
The Government had better take note that there is much concern about the suggestion that there should be an extension of opencast mining. As I have said, it takes place in my constituency and on the borders of it. My constituents are suffering because of the noise and the dust that is associated with it.
I shall refer briefly to the National Health Service—[Interruption.] You see, Mr. Speaker, the Minister thinks that is all a big joke. Is he laughing at me? Perhaps he is talking to the Secretary of State and laughing when he should be listening to me. I am trying to make a serious contribution to the debate. I represent 66,000 electors and there are 103,000 people within the constituency. They are all concerned about what is going on and I am seeking forcefully to express their concerns.
I hold a surgery every Saturday morning, and many of my constituents come to tell me that they have been told by their doctor that they cannot have a certain drug because it has been blacklisted by the Secretary of State for Health. The Minister of State, Home Office was formerly a DHSS Minister. There are many people who need a certain drug if they are to remain alive. One of my constituents came to see me in a wheelchair. He could not bloomin' walk. He had been told that he would have to use an alternative drug. His doctor had said that the so-called alternative would not do him any good and that if he wanted the appropriate drug, with which he had been supplied before the relevant regulations were changed, he would have to pay for it.
That is how the Government treat people who probably served their country during the first world war. They treat war widows in the same bloomin' way. You should see Ministers, Mr. Speaker, when my hon. Friends and I talk about war widows. They are ducking and diving all over the place. Once again, they should be ashamed of themselves. All they are interested in is ducking out of paying the widows properly.
It is all right for the bosses, because they can get what they want. As for the lower-paid worker—the real worker—the Government take the view that he can have the crumbs after they and the bosses have eaten the cake. That is going on now, but there will he a switch when we, the Opposition, move over to the other side of the Chamber and occupy the Government Benches. Let no one make any mistake about that.
I have received serious representations about the discharge from hospitals of the mentally disabled. It is felt that they should be in the community. There is a real problem with housing those people, but someone has to take on the job. That can be difficult when both adults in the home go out to work—yet they must both work because of the Government's policies. They need to work if they are to have what they need to live. There are real problems with discharges from mental health institutions. I compliment the district health authority in my area, which does a marvellous job. We need some coppers—not police officers, but cash—so that we can do the things that need to be done for those people.
When I was coming to the House yesterday, I saw a small placard at a news stand that said, "How to retire in comfort." I did not bother to get off the bus to get a copy, but it is evident from the Queen's Speech that the Government want everybody to contribute to a private pension—they are private barmy—so that they can look after themselves in their old age. There are millions of elderly people on a pension. It would be ridiculous to suggest that they should contribute to a private pension scheme, and they certainly could not afford it, yet the Government are not prepared to look after them properly.
Elderly people in my constituency are suffering, but the Government will not listen when we try to tell them that. Every year, before the Budget, there is a lobby of the House by the elderly, yet they cannot even come in and have a cup of tea. That is how the Government treat pensioners. We suggested the use of Westminster Hall if the weather was inclement, which it usually is in February or March, but we were told that it could be used only for special occasions. Those elderly constituents who have come to lobby the Government about a decent pension so that they can live decently have to wait outside.
Almost every hon. Member who has spoken today has mentioned drugs. I have been here almost from the beginning of the debate, and I have heard hon. Members expressing concern about imported drugs. I know that the Minister is concerned about the problem, because I have heard him say so many times. It is a real problem among the youth of our nation, yet it is the youths who will become the adults of tomorrow. They will be the workers and the people who will run the nation when I have my retirement book, which is not that long away. We will be dependent upon those youngsters. There is a problem with crack coming to this country from America. I remember that, not so many years ago, the number of Customs officers was reduced by 1,000 and I questioned that at the time. I was lucky to be called during Prime Minister's Question Time.
I am not having that. I respect the Chair and Mr. Speaker—I really do—so I will not accept such remarks from my hon. Friend.
During that Prime Minister's Question Time, I told the right hon. Lady that the number of Customs officers had been reduced and she took it on board. She acted, money was made available and the numbers were increased. They should be increased even further because we must closely monitor the problem. It is becoming worse, and the Minister knows it. He attends seminars and presents publications about it. It is a problem for the young and I hope that we will do something about it. If the Government are prepared to grab it by the scruff of the neck, I will give them all the assistance they need to do so.
I will not attempt to follow the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). I enjoyed the presentation, if not the content, of his speech. We now have television cameras in the Chamber and if ever we reach the stage where Oscars are presented, the hon. Gentleman will have little competition in winning the first award.
The contagious habit of doughnutting seems to have reached the Opposition Benches. The Opposition Whips do not usually sit where they are sitting now. However, they make a charming group and no doubt we can expect similar occurrences in the future.
Our debate is entitled, "Rights, freedoms and responsibilities" and I want to deal with them as they affect the international and national scene in my constituency.
Internationally, perhaps the most important issue that we face is what is happening in eastern Europe. They are exciting developments and, in so far as they affect rights and freedoms, they are exciting for the people of eastern Europe who are emerging into democracy for the first time and enjoying their new freedom.
However, we should beware of euphoria. One of my hon. Friends referred, in endearing terms, to "Gorby". We all want the changes to succeed, but they have introduced the greatest uncertainty that Europe has had for 40 years and we must tread carefully. It is vital for the Government to protect the freedom and democracy that Britain enjoys and which has been the beacon for those people now emerging from eastern Europe. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to proceed with caution in the negotiations in Europe to ensure that we gain all that we can but do not take any risks.
On the national scene, I make no apology for referring again to those unfortunate haemophiliacs who have contracted AIDS. Several hon. Members have referred to them tonight, and we know that more money has now been made available. But a Government who say that the NHS is safe in their hands must ensure that those who use the service should be safe in its hands. Those haemophiliacs who contracted AIDS have done so through no fault of their own, and that is one of the most tragic things that can happen to any group of people. If the Government do not move substantially and ensure that all the financial cares of those people are removed, a deep stain will remain not only on the Government but on the House of Commons. We must strip away the legal nonsense, get to the heart of the matter and give those people the real assistance that they need now.
The hon. Member for Ashfield mentioned war widows. It is wrong that those who lost their husbands before 1973 should be treated on a basis different from those who have lost their husbands since. It is iniquitous, and there is no excuse for it. We are talking about rights and freedoms and they should have their rights. We are talking about responsibilities, and it is the Government's responsibility to do all that they can to remove the anomaly and ensure that all war widows receive the same pension and the same treatment. That is only right.
We in Suffolk also have rights and responsibilities. Suffolk is often thought of as a pleasant part of the world, and it is. It is the kind of place that people visit for their holidays and they may think that there is little need there. But we, like the inner cities and the urban areas, have our problems. For too long, Suffolk has not had a fair deal from the Government on its rate support grant. It is time that places such as East Anglia and my constituency had a fair deal. I have referred many times in the House to the major problem of the A140 which runs north to south through the centre of my constituency. We want it to be made into a dual carriageway and we expect an announcement on that later this year. I hope that we shall have good news on that before the end of the year.
I refer finally to responsibility—particularly personal responsibility—and to standards. All that this House does is legislate, but however much we may do that, we cannot control the way in which one person deals with another. Tonight we have debated drugs and violent crime. We might also debate child abuse or, on a lesser level, litter or sensible driving. On an international scale, we debate the problems of pollution. We may try to legislate for them all, but at the end of the day it comes down to the way in which the individual behaves.
As to crime, we may debate punishment and prisons, but ultimately it is the way in which people deal with each other that is crucial. That comes down to catching them young; to schools, church and family life; to what young people watch on television; and to the atmosphere as a whole that is created in our country. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) spoke of the role of the citizen, and I agree with his comments. To emphasise my point, I repeat that, although the House can legislate and legislate, at the end of the day all of us in this great country must learn to respect each other and to treat one another as we would wish others to treat us.
Perhaps my final words should be these. Tonight, we are debating rights, freedom and responsibility. Perhaps for all of us the most important of those is responsibility.
Having been present in the Chamber since 2.30 pm, I wish that I had time to follow Conservative Members along the great philosophical boulevards down which they have taken us today. In a most extraordinary speech, the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) described the Gracious Speech—I believe that he must have been referring to she who ordered it to be written rather than she who read it in another place—as being written by a giant among giants. The hon. Gentleman informed any putative challenger that it would be no less than a sin to challenge the author of the Gracious Speech. The hon. Member for Clwyd, North-West (Sir A. Meyer) had better watch out, because purgatory clearly awaits him if he goes ahead with his well-trailed challenge.
The hon. Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) also spoke about sin. In a homily delivered with all the piety of the Reverend Jimmy Swaggart, the hon. Gentleman informed the House that his idea of freedom is to allow religious organisations to bid for television franchises under the broadcasting Bill—so Jimmy Swaggart could indeed be beamed to television screens in this country.
We heard other tantalising ideas, too, but I have not time to pursue any of them. The only issue that I have time to address is the country from which I come. Listening to the speeches made yesterday and today, I was struck with great resonance by the extent to which this is a very English House of Commons. The whole occasion of the state opening, the panoply and the deliverances from Government Members are so very English. The speech made this evening by the hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), whom I hold in high regard, was also a very English, nationalist speech. It embodied no concept of there being more than one nation in this state and that the others, too, might have national aspirations.
When it comes to rights, freedoms and responsibilities, the Government should genuflect a little more towards the rights and freedoms of the Scottish people to assume more responsibility for their own affairs. Clearly they demand it. At election after election they have demanded it. At the last general election, the Government were reduced to a risible rump in Scotland. Not even a football team, but a mere two taxi-loads of Scottish Conservatives were returned to Parliament.
Throughout today's debate—Heaven knows, I have sat through virtually every minute of it—not one Scottish Conservative Member made an appearance in the Chamber, although on this of all days of debate on the Gracious Speech it would have been possible to discuss Scottish government. The Scottish constitutional convention, which represents almost all the social and political forces in Scotland, is deliberating about the kind of self-government and the kind of Parliament that the Scottish nation wants, but as far as Conservative Members are concerned it might as well not be there.
The Gracious Speech has paid no attention to Scotland. The Scottish people will remember that fact when the time comes—and the time is not far off now.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I well understand that you have to balance your selection of speakers and interests, and that you have to introduce time limits. As one who speaks in the House regularly, I also understand that hon. Members must take their turn in the list. What I do not understand is why a 10-minute rule was introduced between 6 pm and 8 pm to enable as many as possible of the large number who wished to speak to do so—a rule with which the House co-operated—and then, from 8 pm onwards, hon. Members were allowed to make speeches lasting for 20 minutes or more. That seems grossly unfair to hon. Members who have sat for five or six hours hoping to participate—even when the speeches were as good as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), which I greatly appreciated.
I sympathise very much with the hon. Gentleman, but the procedure is now in the Standing Orders. I could have imposed a 10-minute limit between 7 pm and 9 pm, or between 6 pm and 8 pm. I chose the latter course because I hoped that that would indicate to those who spoke after 8 pm that they, too, should speak for approximately 10 minutes, or perhaps a little more. That happened yesterday and, as I said earlier today, no fewer than 28 hon. Members were called. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not been called today and I shall bear it in mind on the next occasion.
The debate has been interesting, thoughtful and at times very entertaining. I do not wish, Mr. Speaker, to take away your right to tell the House how many speakers have been called but, if my counting is correct, there were 22 speeches from the Back Benches. Those speeches have covered a variety of matters that could loosely be placed under the heading "Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities"—the Health Service, the prison system, the voluntary sector, ports, local authorities and the like.
I was interested to hear the Home Secretary say that the Opposition had chosen what he described as "a truly Conservative theme". That was rather a cheek, in view of the extent to which the Government have limited freedoms and, in a sense, responsibilities over the past 10 years.
Much has been said about local and regional government. Let me tell my hon. Friends the Members for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) and for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) that the Labour Government will present a Bill for a directly elected Scottish assembly early in its first Parliament: that is a priority. Local and regional government have been attacked and denuded of responsibilities, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) said: it has been deprived of resources since the present Government took office.
Local government provided useful and popular services. The Greater London council provided them, but the Government abolished the GLC. At a time when local government is so vital, it is a cause for concern that many good and dedicated people who in the past would have been glad to work in local government are reluctant to do so. Many of the rights that were vested in local government have vanished. Trade union rights have been viciously curtailed. The Government vendetta will go on and on.
Those who need the most help—women, the ethnic minorities and the disabled—need help to raise their standards to the level that others enjoy. Their limited rights, however, have been eroded by the Government—for example, their right to affordable housing and their rights to training, jobs and services. Their right to decent health care, free at the point of need, has also been eroded.
One of the Prime Minister's favourite sayings is that people must stand on their own two feet, but far too many people do not have even a toehold, let alone the space and the opportunity to put their two feet on the ground. There are serious inequalities between north and south, men and women, black people and white people, the able bodied and those with disabilities and between those who have and those who have not.
It is, however, increasingly apparent that the "haves" in Britain are becoming more and more uneasy and uncomfortable. They are beginning to recognise that society cannot be fair unless each and every one of its citizens enjoys positive rights. They now recognise that positive action needs to be taken to compensate for past discrimination, so that a large number of people can take advantage of the rights that others enjoy.
The formal removal of discrimination by means of legislation—there has not been much of that from the Government—is not sufficient to enable all our citizens to have access to real choice. The right to call one's home one's own is entirely meaningless if there is insufficient money to pay the mortgage and the home is repossessed. The right to work is meaningless if a parent does not earn enough to pay for child care. The right to health care is meaningless if there is a shortage of dialysis machines. The right to visit friends or to go to an evening class or the cinema is meaningless if one is afraid to walk home in the dark, or if public transport is not available. It is the Government's responsibility to provide the framework within which citizens can realise their potential. Without the basics, the rights mean absolutely nothing.
As for the right to a job, unemployment and low pay lead to poverty, homelessness, ill health and misery. Attacks on employees' rights have punished in particular those who have been out of work for a long time and women. That is unjust and intolerable. It will lead to great problems in the 1990s when Britain will need women in work. They will be needed far more than they have been since the end of the second world war.
The Government have jeopardised women's ability to work in a number of ways, but I do not have time to refer to them all. I shall list just one or two examples. They prevent married women from registering as unemployed and therefore stop them taking up many training opportunities. They have attacked parents' rights to affordable child care by taxing workplace nurseries. They have attacked women's rights to decent pay. Women make up almost half the work force but earn just 75 per cent. of the average man's wage. What is left of the wages councils now sets only a basic minimum rate of pay. Their decimation in the past decade has set women back years. More than 90 per cent. of employees covered by wages councils are women who are among the lowest of our low-paid. The Government's response is a long-standing commitment to abolish wages councils altogether. That is their contribution to the much-heralded future demographic changes.
In addition to creating difficulties for women in employment, the Government refuse to provide the support that women need for their families. For example, they have shamefully blocked the EEC directive on parental leave which would have been of so much value to women and their partners. We realise that the next Labour Government will have to meet the overwhelming desire for child care by channelling far greater public and private resources to ensure that child care is treated no longer as a privilege or a perk, but as a necessity to enable parents to exercise their right to work. The next Labour Government will help local authorities to provide comprehensive and integrated care for children under 14.
Caring is not just about children. We need to establish rights for those who care for elderly or disabled people. Therefore, the next Labour Government will replace invalid care allowance with a proper benefit paid at the full basic pension rate to ensure proper support for carers, with laundry, shopping, meals on wheels, and, most importantly, respite care. Those measures will enable people to enjoy freedom of choice about how to combine home, family and employment. Our plans for comprehensive child care will be of great benefit to children.
Much has been said, not least by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), about the need for safety on the streets. Many right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House mentioned the need for greater policing. But the callous individualism which is the legacy of the present Government has led to a brutal and brutalising society. Women come to my surgery—I am sure that hon. Gentlemen have the same experience, and if they have not perhaps the women do not tell them—and tell me that they are too scared to go out alone at night. They are too scared to visit friends, so they feel trapped. Often women say to me, "I am like a prisoner in my flat".
The dereliction of the urban environment is a scandal. We have to put resources back into the community to make sure that people are not trapped and that local authorities have resources for better street lighting and better, more responsive transport services that women can use, especially at night.
We need more staff on buses. I receive constant complaints from women, elderly people and others about one-person operated buses and the deregulation of buses. We need staff on London Underground instead of machines which cannot help anyone. A machine cannot answer a call for help, but a person can.
Much has been said about housing, and some Conservative Members have talked about the extension of the right to a house, but I think of the people who are condemned to live in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, often for a long time. That is not a pleasant prospect. They have no prospect or hope of an immediate home because the Government have stopped house-building and have strangled local authorities' role in it.
What we need, and what a Labour Government will do, is to consider rationally the question of housing. We will not allocate a small amount of money for the homeless, which the Government did last week and which wilt not solve the problem, but will tackle it radically so that the 118,000 households who are now living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation have a right to homes of their own. Among those 118,000 households, a generation of children has grown up in damp and dangerous conditions. They were born in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, and it is a scandal that we should have such conditions in Britain today.
The problems of single homeless people are equally appalling. Increasingly, the young, vulnerable and mentally ill are living on the streets. I could go on about the deprivation that the Government have heaped on the heads of far too many people, denuding them of any basic rights that they had and giving them no support to enable them to help themselves, but I want to use the last few minutes to make one or two other observations.
I mentioned the poor position of many women. I should like to ask the Minister of State about his ministerial committee on women's issues. I take issue with the phrase because I think that all issues are women's issues. Issues cannot be divided into men's or women's. I should like to know exactly what that ministerial committee—which is headed by a man and which, I understand from its latest press release, is composed of 12 people, 10 of them men and two women—has done. It does not appear to meet very often. From time to time, it has issued edicts from on high about the necessity for workplace nurseries to be provided by employers, but it has said nothing about what the Government will do to provide comprehensive child care. Although I have not been able to obtain any minutes, I understand that it had a meeting about domestic violence. All that we saw was an article in The Independent last August, which I think was written by the Minister, saying what an awful thing domestic violence was. We know that, but we want to know what the Government will do to help.
By contrast, the next Labour Government will have a ministry for women, which will be meaningful. It will monitor what Departments do to ensure that women have an opportunity to participate in decision-making.
A spin-off from televising Parliament is that many people have been stunned by how few women there are in Parliament. The television cameras show the rows of dark and grey-suited men and pick out one or two women here and there.
I was slightly aggrieved and hurt when, in his opening remarks, the Home Secretary kept referring to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen, when I was sitting in his line of sight. I did not think that I was so invisible, but perhaps he is blinder than I thought.
In conclusion, I wish to make a serious point. We have all been excited, interested and expectant about what is happening in eastern Europe, where we have seen people grasping at and asking for their freedoms. That is a good sign, and we have all been encouraged by it. People in those countries have got up and said, "Enough is enough". But the constant echo from the British people is, "She has gone too far", and, "This Government have gone too far". The Government have assumed an authoritarian air during the past 10 years and people are uneasy about that. I warn the Government that the parallels with eastern Europe will not be lost on the people of Britain.
We want the Government to provide people with a vision of a better society, and of a partnership between local government and the citizens whom it is there to serve. That is what the next Labour Government will try to do after these 10 wasted years.
We appreciate the kind remarks of welcome by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to his new post. I thank the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) for the kind remark that he made in my direction. I think that that is the most northerly part of the country from which I have been paid a compliment.
I am happy to be limited to a 20-minute speech this evening, as was the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson). It is right that Front Bench spokesmen should be limited in time when other right hon. and hon. Members have been limited. Inevitably, however, I shall not be able to reply to all the points raised in the 22 or 23 speeches made today.
We have had an interesting and wide-ranging debate. We have gone from one end of the alphabet to the other—or at least from "A" to "T". For the As we had the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes). I do not know what got into the hon. Gentleman this evening. He let some of his old-world charm and courtesy slip. I think that it was a double first for him. It was the first time that I have heard him launch one of his splendid personal attacks and not let the person reply. His main attack on the Home Office was that we were not fulfilling a statutory responsibility for the inspectorate of mines. The Home Office does not have that responsibility and has never had it. I am surprised that the hon. Member for Ashfield is so ignorant about the mining industry.
At the other end of the alphabet, my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), in one of the funniest and most pointed speeches that I have heard in the Chamber for some time, made a vigorous attack on everything from Delors to stalking donkeys. I think the whole House enjoyed that.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heller) made an excellent attack on his own Front Bench. It is no wonder that the Spectator gave him its Back Bencher of the year award yesterday. I am sure that the general management committee in Walton would have been proud to see him there, served by waiters wearing white gloves, and that the excellent silver cup that he was given will go down well at an auction at the Walton Labour party summer fete next year.
Three principles underline my right hon. and learned Friend's approach, as Home Secretary, to rights, freedoms and responsibilities. First, rights and responsibilities go together, but the order should be responsibilities and rights. Secondly, we think that all citizens should share the same rights and responsibilities, and that there are no special cases for anyone in our society—there is no opting out of the duties of being a British citizen. Thirdly, rights and responsibilities are there for all of us under the law, as made in this place.
Those three themes have run through many of the speeches that we have heard today, including those by my hon. Friends the Members for Ashford (Mr. Speed), for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst)—I have noted his arguments about the voluntary sector—for Nuneaton (Mr. Stevens), for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth), for Winchester (Mr. Browne) and for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord). Those three fundamental assertions are at the core of my right hon. and learned Friend's philosophy, which he set out so dearly in his opening speech.
The hon. Member for Barking spoke about women's issues and criticised the fact that the Government have a ministerial group on women's issues. I suppose that, logically, she should therefore criticise her own suggestion that the Labour party should have a Ministry for women. I can tell her, as she clearly does not know much about this, that the ministerial group on women's issues was set up as the Government's response to the United Nations discussions in the early and mid-1980s.
The hon. Lady asked for some information and I am giving it to her, so she should pay attention. The first hon. Member to chair the ministerial group on women's issues was my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary when he was Minister of State. I am now the chairman.
It is this Government, aided and advised by the ministerial group on women's issues, who have provided independent taxation for married women—something that the Labour party promised for years but never delivered. Independent taxation was delivered by the Treasury, not some special high-falutin' Ministry for women. Through the ministerial group on women's issues, the Government have improved opportunities for women in public life—for example, by doing all that we can to get more women on the lists for public appointments. We have introduced equal opportunities proofing for all civil servants so that new items of policy or legislation prepared in the Civil Service take account of women's needs. The Government have stressed the rights of mothers to make their own choice about whether to work. It is their choice. We have provided for the support of higher quality standards for child care through our widely welcomed five-point plan for child care which was issued on 11 April 1989.
In the past four or five years, helped by the Government, there has been an extraordinary, quiet revolution. About 1·5 million women have returned to work or joined the work force for the first time. A substantial number of them are self-employed business women. They did not return to work because they were coerced by a recruiting poster saying, "Your country needs you." They made a free choice and, in doing so, made provision for child care, aided by Government taxation policies and Government policies on child care.
The ministerial group on women's issues has laid great stress on women's right to safety. I agree with the hon. Member for Barking that crime and the fear of crime detract from freedom. We have issued special non-patronising advice to women and men to try to reduce women's fear of crime. That was welcomed by the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon). I do not see the hon. Lady in her place, but it was reported in the Daily Express that she welcomed our advice, so it must be true. We have encouraged crime prevention initiatives with the Department of Transport, in particular, to provide better street lighting and safer public transport, especially on the Underground.
Those are just a few of the achievements of the ministerial group on women's issues. I shall send further information to the hon. Member for Barking if she is interested. By comparison, all that we have had from the Labour party today have been vague, uncosted promises. Just you wait until the shadow Chancellor gets his little calculator out and gets to work on the promises that the hon. Member for Barking made today, Mr. Speaker, She proposed a full and integrated system of child care. How will that be brought about? The electorate will want to know. By when will it be introduced, and how much will it cost? Such vague promises will vanish like mist on an autumn morning when we come to a general election. Such promises will be treated with contempt by women, who do not want to be treated as a minority special interest group by the Labour party.
I was fascinated by the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt), who is not in his place because he has gone north-east to relish his triumph, flushed out of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) something of the emerging Labour party plans for the constitution. They were dismissed in two or three sentences by the right hon. Gentleman. Those plans have been largely hidden in the debate. I suspect that I am one of the few Members to have looked at the Labour party's policy review and read the chapter on the constitution. I bet that there are not many Labour Members who can hold up their hands and say that they have read it. [Interruption.] I cannot see one—I see only the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), a Welsh Nationalist, whom I congratulate.
The review suggests that there will be a new upper House. We are not told how it is to be elected or what the franchise is to be. We are not told what right to representation in that House a voter will have. We are given only a promise—that this new upper House will
reflect the interests and aspirations of the regions and nations of Britain.
That will be a gerrymanderer's charter. If one reads on, one sees that the electoral practice suggested is more characteristic of Panama city than of the United Kingdom. What proportion of the members of that upper House will be elected? What electoral system will be employed? The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook does not like such questions being asked because he has no answers. Will the elections be at the same time as those for the House of Commons? A host of questions need to be answered.
The questions become more interesting when we turn to Scotland. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) said in his brief speech that he looked forward to seeing a regional assembly for Scotland as early as possible, but very different suggestions were put forward today by the Labour Front Bench. Sometimes it was said that such an assembly would be announced in the first Queen's Speech of a Labour Government and sometimes it was said that it would be brought in later in the lifetime of a Parliament. The electoral system is unspecified in the muddled, intellectually incoherent package brought forward by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. I suppose that, logically, many hon. Members would think that the addition of new democratic rights in Scotland would automatically entail a reduction in Scottish seats in Westminster, but that is no part of the package. It is constitutional painting by numbers in the interests of one political party.
The most blatant political chicanery of all is yet to come. I hope that hon. Members will pay attention to this because it is important for the future of democracy. According to the policy review, our parliamentary boundary system contains some "obvious anomalies". There is something up with our totally independent parliamentary Boundary Commission. The proposal is to relieve the commission of its independent status.
I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman, much as I should like to do so.
It seems clear that while enlightened self-interest has some charm, transparent fraud practised on the electorate has not one redeeming feature. Such suggestions from the Labour party show that the right that it assumes is for a Government to rig the system as best they can and that the responsibility that it assumes is for a Government to feather their own electoral nest. If the Labour party goes ahead with those proposals, it will deliver us a great electoral plus. The people would not wish in any circumstances to have our independent electoral system interfered with in the way that the Labour party wishes.
Nor do people want our police interfered with—on this I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who made a splendid speech. According to the policy review, Labour seems to want to introduce the political control of police authorities by politicians. That would be incompatible with impartial law enforcement. I give this pledge—that we shall resist with determination Labour's plan to interfere with the operational independence of the police. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge is satisfied with that.
The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook also talked about the need for crime prevention and I agree with him on that. However, he then lectured us about the state of Britain's prisons, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). I can tell the House when some of the problems about the state of Britain's prisons began. It was in the period 1974 to 1979, when the only bigger cut than the cut that the Labour Government imposed on the prison building programme was the cut imposed on the hospital building programme.
Turning to more rational speeches, we also had an excellent speech from the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor). I listened carefully to what he had to say because I hold him in great respect. He once canvassed me in the high street at Hillsborough when I was a very junior Northern Ireland Office Minister—I suppose that all new Northern Ireland Office Ministers look the same to Ulster Unionist politicians—and I was tempted to vote for him. He complained about something that one of our new Conservative candidates standing in the Castlereagh council election in Northern Ireland had recently said. Although the right hon. Member for Strangford may not have liked what he said exactly, it must have been sad for the Ulster Unionist party to see their candidate pushed into third place by the Conservatives.
No, I have only a few minutes left.
Like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, I can say that the Government accept, as do most hon. Members, that direct rule is not a satisfactory method of government in Northern Ireland. That is the point that the right hon. Member for Strangford made, and that is why we want to make progress towards better arrangements that would involve more fully locally elected representatives from both sides of the community in the Province. The best way for Ulster Unionists such as the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) to address their concerns is to talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, whose door is open to them at any time if they want to talk to him.
I move sadly but naturally from Northern Ireland to terrorism. The most fundamental right of all, to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary alluded, is the right to protection against terrorist attack. My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Mr. Wheeler) was correct in what he said on that, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was right yesterday when he condemned the
unjust, merciless, brutal and cowardly killings at Deal.
According to a report in The Times, the archbishop continued:
By murdering 11 men and injuring many others, these people have polluted yet more the very cause they claim to be serving.
As my right hon. and learned Friend told the House earlier, the Government do not intend to allow the IRA further to pollute this country with terrorism. The prevention of terrorism Act is vital in that task. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, we shall not drop our guard. Alas, for reasons that I cannot understand, the Opposition, by opposing the prevention of terrorism Act, wish us to drop our guard. There have been many recorded cases over the years in which the use of the Act led to the arrest of those who wished to murder and maim, and to the discovery of bombs that would otherwise have been used for carnage throughout the country, including Scotland.
I cannot for the life of me understand the Opposition's extraordinary attitude, and I beg the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook and his colleagues to think again. How can the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook direct the House, as he attempted to do in his brief discussion of the prevention of terrorism Act, towards a discussion of responsibilities when he patently refuses sometimes to take responsibility for his own Back Benchers who do not sufficiently condemn terrorism? If the right hon. Gentleman truly wants to debate rights, why is he also unable to recognise that the repeal of the prevention of terrorism Act would detract substantially from the right to protection that our armed forces and civilians deserve?
One of the greatest British freedoms is the freedom not to be blown to smithereens. Our citizens want that freedom and it is our responsibility to ensure it. The British people will reject the Labour party's policy which, by default, will make it easier for terrorists to strike men, women and children in this country. Between now and the next general election we shall lose no opportunity to point out the way in which the Labour party will weaken the defences of the British people against terrorism from wherever it comes.
In the short time left, I shall turn to broadcasting. We were treated—
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.