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Commons Chamber

Volume 930: debated on Friday 29 April 1977

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House Of Commons

Friday 29th April 1977

The House met at Eleven o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

European Community (Council Of Ministers' Meetings)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about business to be taken in the Council of Ministers of the European Community during May. The monthly forecast for May was deposited on 22nd April.

At present three meetings of the Council of Ministers are proposed for May. Foreign Ministers will meet on 3rd and possibly also on 31st May, although this is less likely because it clashes with the ministerial meeting of the Conference on International Economic Co-operation in Paris. Agriculture Ministers will meet on 16th and 17th May. There will also be a meeting of the Standing Committee on Employment on 5th May.

At the Foreign Affairs Council on 3rd May Ministers will discuss relations with Cyprus, Malta and with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, renewal of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade Multi-Fibre Arrangement participation by the Community in the International Sugar Agreement, fisheries matters and the Community's position for the ministerial meeting of the Conference on International Economic Co-operation from 30th May to 1st June.

The agenda for the meeting of Agriculture Ministers on 16th and 17th May has yet to be decided, but it is expected to include consideration of revisions of the common fisheries policy.

The Standing Committee on Employment will consider a paper on employment prospects to 1980, the review of the European Social Fund, and a Commission communication on co-ordination of the Community's financial instruments.

I thank the Minister for his statement. I should like to ask him three factual questions. There was no mention of Greece in the statement. How are those negotiations going and how soon is a conclusion likely to be reached? Secondly, there is much disquiet and anxiety at home and abroad about the delay in reaching a common agreement inside the EEC on our stand in the Multi-Fibre Arrangement negotiations. The Minister mentioned that this subject would come up on 3rd May. Does he expect that the Community will at last give a mandate to our negotiators? Finally, can the Minister yet indicate when the Council of Ministers is likely to consider and decide the date for the first round of direct elections to the European Parliament?

There was an extensive review of the progress of the Greek application for membership of the EEC at the last meeting of the Council of Ministers. It is fair to say that things are progressing steadily and that from all sides there is a positive commitment to seeing this application through to successful fruition—and that certainly goes for the British Government.

Since I answered a Question in the House on the Multi-Fibre Arrangements the mandate and, particularly, the issue of cumulative disruption have been discussed at the meeting of the Council of Ministers on 5th April. No agreement was reached and discussions will continue in Brussels on 3rd May. The meeting on 18th April was postponed, but we and our partners will be ready for a meeting with the Textiles Committee on Geneva next month.

We are assembling a review of progress on direct elections in individual countries, but there have been General Elections in many of the countries involved and they have interrupted timetables slightly. However, there is a general commitment to see this matter through as soon as possible.

Is the Minister aware that the situation in Cyprus is now serious, since on 30th June the status quo arrangements with Britain will run out and there is no extension of the association agreement? Does he realise that since no financial co-operation agreement has yet been signed, Cyprus is alone in the Mediterranean in this position? There has been much speculation that this has been done because some countries in the EEC—not Britain—believe that, by refusing a mandate to allow the Commission to renegotiate the agreement, they will put pressure on the Greek negotiators at the talks to be held with the Turks. Will the Minister ensure that the mandate for the Commission to get on with the negotiations will be forthcoming on 3rd May?

I have not yet come across the kind of crude pressure to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but I know that his long-standing commitment to Cyprus is second to none. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is concern about achieving a successful conclusion to the negotiations. I had a meeting two days ago in Strasbourg with the Cypriot Foreign Minister when we talked about the situation. We are determined to get on with the job and to achieve a satisfactory position by 3rd July.

Has the possibility of the use of Culham as the centre for European nuclear fusion research been finally lost, or is it still open?

My hon. Friend knows well that it is our commitment to see Culham used for that purpose. We intend to continue to pursue that objective in the Community whatever may be the most effective manner.

Is there any chance that at the next meeting of the Agriculture Ministers my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will take as his text the Early-Day Motion tabled this week by my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) and numerous colleagues, to the effect that the British people and a large number of hon. Members despair of anything good coming out of the common agricultural policy in any way to combat the rising tide of food prices, and that that despair should be reflected in a forthright statement by my right hon. Friend to the effect that we want a total change in the Community's agricultural policy?

It is no secret that throughout the House there is great concern about the whole range of imperfections, as they are seen to be, in the common agricultural policy. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food needs no text: his commitment is there for all to see.

I revert to the Foreign Ministers' meeting and the question of Greek membership of the Community. I welcome the Minister's reiteration of this country's positive commitment to Greek membership. In view of the Community's strange fondness for deadlines, in the discussions that have taken place has a deadline or target date been set for Greek accession?

No target date has been set in those specific terms. What is clearly present is a steady programme of work. The next step is to reach the stage at which there can be a thorough review of all the progress and implications. We hope to reach that stage as rapidly as possible.

Orders Of The Day

Control Of Food Premises (Scotland) Bill

Not amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forth-with pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 ( Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Town And Country Planning (Amendment) Bill

As amended ( in the Standing Committee), considered.

Clause 1

Stop Notices

11.14 a.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 1, in page 2, line 21, leave out 'and' and insert '(A)'.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in page 2, leave out lines 25 to 29.

No. 3, in page 2, line 34, at end insert
'and a stop notice shall also cease to have effect if or to the extent that the activities prohibited by it cease, on a variation of the enforcement notice, to be included in the matters alleged by the enforcement notice to constitute a breach of planning control'.
No. 4, in Clause 2, page 3, line 43, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
'(2) For subsection (1) there shall be substituted the following subsection—
"(1) A person who, when a stop notice under section 90 of this Act is first served, has an interest in or occupies the land to which the stop notice relates shall, in any of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2) of this section, be entitled to be compensated by the local planning authority in respect of any loss or damage directly attributable to the prohibition contained in the notice (or, in a case within paragraph (b) of that subsection, so much of that prohibition as ceases to have effect)".'.

Better technical experts than I found a couple of technical but none the less quite important flaws in the drafting of Clauses 1 and 2. The Bill as drafted makes inadequate provision for the variation of a stop notice on appeal and the consequences of that for compensation.

This is a rather technical matter but it is important that the explanation should be on the record in view of previous discussions. The new Section 90 substituted by Clause 1 into the Act of 1971 makes provision in subsection (3) for the time at which a stop notice is to cease to have effect.

If the enforcement notice to which the stop notice relates is varied on appeal, so that matters alleged to constitute a breach of planning control cease to include one or more of the activities prohibited by the stop notice, the present provisions terminate the stop notice at the time when the decision on the enforcement notice appeal is given where the variation has excluded all of the activities specified in the stop notice. But where some of the activities named in the stop notice are still included in the enforcement notice, the stop notice will remain effective in respect of all the activities named in it until the period allowed for compliance with the enforcement notice expires.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that in such cases the stop notice shall continue to have effect during the period for compliance with the enforcement notice only in respect of activities which continue to be included in any matters alleged to constitute a breach of planning control in the enforcement notice as varied.

The first three amendments to Clause 1 have the effect of providing that, where an enforcement notice is varied, the stop notice will at that time cease to have effect to the extent that the activities prohibited thereby cease to be covered by the enforcement notice. If there are other activities specified in it, however, which are not affected by the variation of the enforcement notice, the stop notice will remain in force in respect of those activities until the period for compliance with the enforcement notice expires.

Section 177 of the Act of 1971 would, as amended by the present provisions of Clause 2, provide for compensation to be payable in respect of loss or damage attributable to all of the prohibitions in the stop notice, even in those cases where the enforcement notice on which the stop notice depends is varied otherwise than on ground (a) of Section 88(1) of the Act of 1971, so that the matters alleged to constitute a breach of planning control cease to include only some of the activities prohibited by the stop notice. This was not the intention, and the new subsection (2) of Clause 2, which I hope to substitute with the agreement of the House by the fourth amendment, remedies the situation by providing that compensation will in such cases be payable only in respect of loss or damage attributable to the particular prohibition or prohibitions in the stop notice that cease to have effect by variation of the enforcement notice.

That is all rather technical but, I submit, very necessary.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 2, in page 2, leave out lines 25 to 29.

No. 3, in page 2, line 34

'and a stop notice shall also cease to have effect if or to the extent that the activities prohibited by it cease, on a variation of the enforcement notice, to be included in the matters alleged by the enforcement notice to constitute a breach of planning control'.—[Mr. Dudley Smith.]

Clause 2

Compensation For Loss Due To Stop Notice

Amendment made: No. 4, in page 3, line 43, Clause 2, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

'(2) For subsection (1) there shall be substituted the following subsection—
"(1) A person who, when a stop notice under section 90 of this Act is first served, has an interest in or occupies the land to which the stop notice relates shall, in any of the circumstances mentioned in subsection (2) of this section, be entiled to be compensated by the local planning authority in respect of any loss or damage directely attributable to the prohibition contained in the notice (or, in a case within paragraph (b) of that subsection, so much of that prohibition as ceases to have effect)".'.—[Mr. Dudley Smith.]

11.18 a.m.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

When I introduced it, I ventured to suggest that it was a modest but not unimportant Bill which, by making some urgent and necessary changes in our planning law, would go a long way in helping to protect the quality of the environment, or at least in preventing the deterioration of the environment.

Many people today are, rightly, extremely conscious of the need to protect the environment. Though I had appreciated the urgent need for such a measure, I had to some extent under-estimated the interest that would be aroused. I have been particularly encouraged by the amount of unqualified support that has been given to me not only from those responsible in various ways for administering planning control, but from all the eminent bodies and associations that have taken the trouble to contact me, in some cases to come to see me and certainly to write to me, that are concerned about and take such an interest in these matters. They have all been extremely helpful, even if there has not been entire agreement on every point.

I am grateful that there has been support at a local level in my constituency. It is no secret that my interest in this subject and my decision to make it the subject of my Private Member's Bill, having won the Ballot, comes about because of abuses that had been going on in my constituency. I referred to these matters in my speech on Second Reading.

I am glad that the publicity that has been given to the Bill has had a welcome response from those who live in mid-Warwickshire who are very much concerned with protecting the environment generally and their local environment.

I am also very grateful for the helpful comments which led to improvements being made to the Bill in Committee, and grateful to those hon. Members who served on the Committee. I am grateful, too, for the encouragement and support that I received from the Department of the Environment, from the Minister and from his officials. It has been extremely useful.

There were two improvements made in Committee that come readily to mind. We have made certain that the stop notice procedure cannot be invoked against a caravan dweller so as to make him homeless or to compel him to move his caravan elsewhere while enforcement proceedings are continuing. In relation to requests for information about uses of land, we have removed any threat of prosecution where someone runs into difficulty in providing the information within the time allowed, by giving the local authority discretion to extend the period set for reply in the notice requiring the information to be furnished.

As the Bill now stands, it achieves the object of strengthening those existing procedures which have proved over the years to have been neither flexible nor speedy enough to give the local planning authorities the right degree of control over unauthorised uses of land, which in many instances cause severe disturbance and discomfort to people living nearby. I doubt whether there is an hon. Member who has not encountered in his constituency the kind of difficulties that arise and that we seek to remove by this small but important measure.

The new powers will act as a positive discouragement to people to contravene planning controls, because they will know that they can be required to cease their anti-social and un-neighbourly activities straight away and they will not he able to benefit from the considerable time bound to elapse before the enforcement procedure is completed.

The problem that the Bill tackles is not confined to England and Wales, and I am fortified by the knowledge that similar provisions are embodied in a Scottish Act that has recently gone on to the statute book. I am sure that in some ways this may have accounted for the motion that appears on the Order Paper on Third Reading, tabled by some Labour Members who sit for Scottish seats. They are not present today but they have given me an opportunity under the rules of the House gratefully to make a few comments on Third Reading. Otherwise, presumably, we should have had a formal Third Reading.

I am convinced that the Bill is necessary and is a welcome measure that gives the necessary extra powers to planning authorities but at the same time protects the individual who can show that he has a perfect right to carry on the activities in question. It is very much in the interests of the public at large that the Bill should be placed on the statute book as soon as possible, and I look forward to its becoming law.

11.23 a.m.

I rise to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith) on bringing his Bill forward and on getting it through to this stage. With Private Member's Bills there are always hazards in getting them as far as this stage.

I also thank my hon. Friend for dealing with the query that I raised in Committee about change of ownership during the 12-month period. My hon. Friend sent me a very full reply, which I believe he got in consultation with the Department of the Environment. Having read that reply very carefully, I am satisfied that the point is well covered in the Bill.

I wish to make only one point to the Minister. I assume that the Department will issue some guidance notes to go alongside the Bill should it become law. My point is that the Bill should be used as sparingly as possible. We have had letters from Justice and the Multiple Shops Federation. They are anxious that the Bill should be a last resort rather than something that an authority immediately uses instead of using the normal processes where it can. I think that the Bill should be regarded as almost the long stop rather than just a stop notice used indiscriminately.

With that small point, which I hope will be noted by the Department and will be put in the guidelines, let me say that this is a useful measure which I am sure will help communities, particularly those areas just on the edge of urban areas where the problem concerned tends to arise when junkyards and similar establishments are set up. The Bill will also help those little villages on the edges of towns where this tends to be a problem.

I congratulate my hon. Friend and wish the Bill success in another place.

11.25 a.m.

I wish merely to add my congratulations to those already given to my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow—

I beg my hon. Friend's pardon: times change.

I am becoming increasingly cynical about Private Members' Bills and rapidly disenamoured of the majority that come before us. However, this Bill is an exception. It is fairly modest, in some ways, in its size, but it has very considerable implications for areas such as mine.

The Bill that my hon. Friend has introduced and is now about to carry successfully through to Third Reading has been welcomed by many bodies in my constituency. It has been welcomed by the planning authorities, which have the very difficult task of enforcing planning procedures. It has also been welcomed by amenity societies, which so often have expressed frustration that when the citizen sees an abuse of planning procedures, he often feels impotent to do anything about it.

Nothing frustrates the citizen more than being told by a planning authority that an undesirable activity, or indeed, many activities, are obviously and blatantly in breach of the planning regulations but that the authority can do nothing in a hurry about the matter. People are told that it can take years to put right. It is the knowledge that it can take years to put right that has given the strength to those who have abused planning procedures in the past.

One of the greatest achievements of the Bill will be that it will undermine the position of those who in the past have felt that they could defy society and say "I might be in breach of planning regulations, but I know that it will take you years to put it right and I shall carry on regardless." These added powers of enforcement, the extra strength of the stop notice, will deter many of those who think that they can defy the law and get away with it with impunity. For that particular reason I very much welcome the Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend.

11.27 a.m.

I should like to add my congratulations to those that have already been expressed by the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) and the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) to the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Smith), who has piloted the Bill very successfully through the House and the Committee. I admire the skill with which he has done that, because, as he said this morning, this is a technical Bill.

The House may not perhaps realise that a number of reservations and doubts were expressed in Committee. The hon. Gentleman dealt with them extremely well and I think that he has gone a very long way to reassure all of us that the Bill is rightly balanced.

The hon. Member for Reading. North expressed concern, as he has done previously, about the possibility of indiscriminate use of the powers that would be granted under the Bill if it became law. I do not fully share those doubts, because I think that the Bill has got the balance right and that, for reasons that I think those who have studied the provisions will understand, it would be unlikely that local authorities would use the provisions indiscriminately.

Nevertheless, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. We shall certainly be looking at the operation of these provisions if the Bill becomes law and we shall take on board the hon. Gentleman's point. Though I myself doubt whether it will require guidance from the Department, obviously we shall watch the matter. If guidance is needed, it will be issued.

For the reasons that have already been given, I am very glad that the Bill is now well on its way through this House and to another place. As the hon. Member for Faversham and the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington have said, the Bill is designed to deal with widespread abuse of the planning system which has caused endless complaints from those who come across these abuses, which have taken place to the annoyance chiefly of neighbours and others living in the area concerned.

I have already welcomed the Bill. I welcome it again and wish it well.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

Insurance Brokers (Registration) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on amendment proposed [ 22nd April], on consideration of the Bill, as amended ( in the Standing Committee).

Which amendment was: No. 83, in Schedule, page 21, line 7, leave out from beginning to "shall" in line 8 and insert

"Five persons nominated by the Secretary of State of whom one shall be a barrister, advocate or solicitor and another."—[Mr. Clinton Davis.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

11.30 a.m.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to make clear that the principal sponsor of the Bill is at present somewhere between here and Strasbourg and has asked me to act in his stead during his absence.

I remind the House that with this amendment we are discussing the following amendments: No. 84, in page 21, line 8 at end insert

'and another two who shall represent the interests of consumers'.
No. 85, in page 21 leave out line 9.

11.30 a.m.

When the House concluded its deliberations on Friday, after five hours' debate, I was in the middle of my remarks on this group of amendments. The House will recall that in moving Amendment No. 3 the Under-Secretary of State disposed of the President of the Law Society in 15 seconds flat. As a lawyer himself, I hope that that will not damage his prospects of a speedy and full return to the Bar, which I trust will take place in the not-too-distant future.

Despite the Under-Secretary of State's brevity, it is not my intention to compensate for that by speaking at considerable length. The House, and especially those hon. Members who have interests in sub- sequent business, might find it helpful to know that my intention is to be relatively brief. I shall restrict my remarks to this group of amendments.

I am sure that the sponsors of the Bill could not have believed that they would have the good luck to return to this business the following Friday and that they would have a clear run. I am sure that they did not believe that if we ran out of time, there would be time the following Friday without asking the Government to find time, although I am sure that that time would have been available had the need arisen. One could argue whether that is good luck or the luck of the Devil.

There would be a disagreement about whether we are discussing this matter because the sun is shining on the righteous or because of the luck of the Devil. I prefer the latter reason. It is up to the Law Society to resolve the matter and to make its own reservations. I do not feel particularly strongly on that question.

I shall confine my remarks to the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward). My remarks are directed to the proposition that the consumer bodies should be involved in the way he proposes. The hon. Member proposes that there should be consumer representatives on the Insurance Brokers Registration Council. That is a fundamental aspect of the Bill.

The Minister's proposition is that the Bill is in some way beneficial to consumers. He believes that this is an important step for consumer protection. If it is not, the public should be so informed.

The hon. Member for Peterborough has been misled by the debate that we have had. The public have also been misled. The hon. Member and the public should clearly understand that this substantial Bill, with all its legal complexities, its massive new bureaucratic machinery and all the costs upon the insurance broker, is not intended to stop bad salesmen selling bad products by bad methods. The Bill imposes other constraints upon them, but it does not stop bad practice.

I hope that the public understand that. If there are people whose activities or sales techniques are adverse to the consumer, who practice bad ways of selling insurance or who mislead the public, the Bill does not propose that they should be prevented. I hope that that is understood by the public and the Press. All that the Bill provides is that in future such people should call themselves something else. They can carry on with the same practice but under a different name. I see that the Minister shakes his head.

The hon. Member is characteristically so partisan on this matter that he cannot present his case in a factual manner. Is he not aware that there is to be a code of conduct? Is he not aware that disciplinary provisions are incorporated in the Bill? Is he not aware that this new organisation will be set up to ensure that its position vis-à-vis the consumer is enhanced by proper practice? Why does the hon. Member leave out that vital aspect of the Bill?

I can only assume that the Under-Secretary of State was not listening, or that even at this stage he has not begun to understand the Bill. There is no suggestion that people who engage in bad practice should be prevented by the Bill from continuing that bad practice. The Bill provides that in future they must call themselves something different. In future a person who currently calls himself an insurance broker will have to change his title to something else, such as "agent", "consultant", or "underwriter." I hope that the Under-Secretary does not quarrel with that.

The converse of the argument that the hon. Member has put to the Minister is that if the Bill becomes law and a person calls himself an insurance broker, the public can expect that he will not practice the low standards to which the hon. Member referred.

The hon. Member has not established that the use of the term "insurance broker" is an element in persuading the consumer to buy insurance. He has not established that the title of "broker" has such status that the individual is persuaded by it to buy insurance.

In practice people who engage in such bad practice are not likely to be prevented by this legislation. Claims of bad practice are exaggerated. Not many examples have been quoted during these proceedings. Many such people do not call themselves insurance brokers even today. Many of the techniques that caused problems in the past were used by people who called themselves something else. The term "consultant" often has greater status than "broker". I hope that the House grasps that argument.

The Bill is not designed to stop bad insurance brokers. It is designed to prevent bad practitioners calling themselves insurance brokers. It is not designed to prevent a salesman selling insurance in the same old way. The Bill proposes that in future that person must operate under a different name.

I concede that there could be a considerable element of consumer benefit in the Bill in the sense that it would extend the area of professional indemnity insurance to a larger number of brokers than at present. That in itself is slightly misleading. Some of the remarks by certain of my hon. Friends would lead one to believe that a professional negligence policy is almost akin to a compensation fund.

The Bill would protect the broker against allegations of professional negligence. For the consumer to benefit he must go through the legal processes to prove his case. Arguments about negligence would not be relevant to the type of consumer complaints which are often based on grievances by the public against brokers.

A poll published this morning made clear that public satisfaction with insurance companies and insurance brokers is almost top of the list of the services provided by commercial and professional concerns. I regret to say that public estimation of the service provided by Parliament was at the bottom of the list. Perhaps that casts some doubt on the validity of the findings.

Would the hon. Gentleman say whether the poll was taken before or shortly after his contributions last week?

That can be interpreted in a number of ways. Whether it reflects on insurance brokers or Members of Parliament I do not know. Those of us who are both can, perhaps, find satisfaction in any reading of the poll.

At this stage the Bill has a doubtful claim in respect of the position of consumer representatives. I believe that this is a Bill designed to enhance the status of certain insurance brokers rather than to help the consumer.

It may be that if the Bill were extended, or some of the desires of the Under-Secretary were carried through, the consumer would have a stronger case. We know that the Minister does not want things to stop here. He said on Second Reading that the Government were not ready to go further along this road but that we were not at the end of the road. He has said in the White Paper that he wants to extend the principle of control so that in future the right to sell insurance shall be restricted to insurance companies, their employees, registered insurance brokers, accredited agents and those who are advertising themselves as primarily sole agents for one company. Once we move to that restriction, I am sure that there will be widespread opposition throughout the country from those hundreds and thousands of people who have agencies of one sort or another and who play a major part in providing an insurance service to the consumer.

If we move to that stage, and this is what the brokers' institutions have paved the way for, there would be a much stronger case for consumer representation on the Insurance Brokers Registration Council. I do not believe that the Bill will be of benefit to the consumer. Nor do I think that it is particularly designed to be of benefit to him. It paves the way for much more restrictive legislation. This has been invited by the brokers preparing proposals and responding to the threats made by the Government to impose legislation if this Bill was not brought forward on a voluntary basis.

If the Bill is designed to put two consumer representatives on the registration council, I suggest that one of them should be a medical practitioner or a psychiatrist. We need someone who can deal with this dreadful disease that I call "regulitis". This is recognised as a desire to regulate everybody and everything, individuals or businesses. It saddens me that it is a disease to which Members of Parliament are particularly susceptible and that it should have spread to what was once one of the havens of free enterprise and competition, namely, the insurance-broking world.

Bearing in mind the length of time we have already debated this issue, I shall conclude my remarks now and hope that another place will take a more robust view of such legislation.

I support the general principle of the Bill and hope very much that it will pass into law. I congratulate—through the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle)—the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) on introducing the Bill. All the consumer organisations that have examined the Bill support it and wish to see it become law. The Consumers Association certainly supports the Bill.

There has been little research into the consumer aspect of the insurance world. I accept that it is probably true, as the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) has said, that there is little public complaint about the quality of service provided by the insurance industry generally. It is true that the Consumers Association does not receive many complaints.

11.45 a.m.

The association carried out an investigation two years ago using a sample of about 500 out of its membership of around 750,000 and discovered that there was evidence of malpractice in that there had been high pressure selling aimed at persuading people to purchase policies which they did not want and which did not meet their needs. That is undoubtedly something which will have to be dealt with in a more comprehensive measure than this one.

As the Under-Secretary has said, this is a much narrower measure than the hon. Member for Faversham was suggesting. The Bill is a step towards consumer protection. The Under-Secretary said on Second Reading:
"our first reason for supporting today's Bill is that it is another step towards our goal of setting up comprehensive protection for the consumer, and in particular the insurance consumer".
For that reason one would think that the consumer interest would be firmly tied into the Bill. I am sorry to have to say that, having studied the debates in Committee on the schedule and on this aspect, there is a large gap which I hope the Government will see fit to fill in the way I propose in my Amendment No. 84.

The consumer interest is not specified anywhere in the Bill. The proposed Insurance Brokers Registration Council is composed largely of professionals. On Second Reading I asked my hon. Friend about the relationship between insurance brokers and the companies with which they will deal. This point was taken up later in the debate when the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) said:
"It must be a very difficult professional task for insurance brokers to give objective advice about the relative merits of different policies independently and ignoring the financial benefit which they themselves may derive from any individual policy."—[Official Report, 28th January 1977; Vol. 924, c. 1908–29.]
My hon. Friend said, as he said this morning, that it would fall for matters of that kind to be dealt with in the code of conduct which would be drawn up by the proposed council under Clause 10. I am sure that that will be generally supported.

We must have a consumer interest at this stage. If there is to be a code of conduct, there must be a consumer hand involved. It was the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar who said on Second Reading that the rule of caveat emptor, which many people have talked about, did not apply in this area. He said we had to think instead of iuberrima fides, which has a bearing on trust. In that situation the case for consumer representatives being involved in drawing up the code is much stronger.

If the House agrees to my hon. Friend's amendment we shall have
"a barrister, advocate or solicitor"
among the membership of the council and an accountant. That will leave three places to be filled. I have a great deal of faith that my hon. Friend and his colleagues will do their utmost to see that consumer interests are represented. However, we are dealing with the law and I do not believe that the Bill gives sufficient confidence to consumers generally.

We have to remember that future Ministers might not appoint the right sort of people. If the best hopes of the hon. Member for Faversham and the worst fears of the Labour Party are realised, it might be that future Ministers would appoint retired admirals or retired civil servants—worthy people but people who do not have the special consumer expertise which is needed in this complicated area.

I remind the Minister that provision has been made in a number of other measures of this kind. I remind him of the terms of a Policyholders Protection Act which, in Schedule 1, says that the Policyholders Protection Board must have at least one person who appears to the Secretary of State to be qualified to represent the interests of policyholders.

Again, in the Fair Trading Act 1973 the Secretary of State is required to appoint people with specified interests to the Consumer Protection Advisory Committee. He must include, for example, persons qualified
"by virtue of their knowledge of or experience in organisations established, or activities carried on, for the protection of consumers."
I ask the Minister to undertake that he will accept my proposition that provision should be made for consumers. I am sure that he meant what he said on Second Reading. The Bill is mainly a consumer protection measure, and I hope that he will accept this proposal so that I do not have to ask the House to divide.

I start, as I have done on most occasions in connection with the Bill, by declaring my interest as the parliamentary consultant to the British Insurance Brokers Association. On Second Reading I suggested that the twin pillars on which this measure should rest were on the one hand professionalism and on the other consumer protection.

As we are discussing a seriess of amendments which, in shorthand, could be described as dealing with consumer protection. I think it an appropriate occasion for me to say, as we come to what I hope is the end of our deliberations, that my conviction that this is largely a consumer protection measure is as strong now as it was when I mentioned it on Second Reading. But the very words "consumer protection" tend to lead one to ask "Consumer protection against what?"

Some critics of the Bill would lead us to believe that there are no practices carried out by insurance brokers against which the consumer needs to be protected. As one who is a consumer but who has also spent most of his life closely connected with the insurance world, and particularly the insurance broking world, I do not think that this is necessarily so. The consumer has to be protected against assuming that an expertise is possessed by someone who at the moment is perfectly free to be an insurance broker, when it might turn out to be an expertise that that person does not possess.

If we had never had a series of experiences such as the Vehicle and General debacle and the Nation Life difficulties, in both of which brokers were intimately connected, we might find it easier to protest that there was nothing to protect consumers against. But, to coin a phrase, we have to accept that 1977 and all that has changed the basis on which the consumer approaches his insurance broker. I believe that that change has been occasioned by a number of harsh experiences, which it will be the purpose of the Bill to correct.

While no one wishes to be complacent—it would be totally wrong to be complacent about insurance sales methods—would not my hon. Friend agree, thinking back to Nation Life and Vehicle and General, that it is most likely that the principal agents, the brokers, would have been quite properly registered under this Bill if it had been in force and, therefore, the Bill would have no bearing on the situation if we were to have a recurrence of the collapse of companies of that order, which I trust we shall not?

I was following up the point about how effective the Bill is in regard to protection. If it becomes more difficult for a person or a company to call itself an insurance broker, it effectively means that standards will rise. If standards rise, surely among the areas in which the public can expect growing competence is in the knowledge of what is going on in the affairs of a particular insurance company.

If it is offering to the public a return on money which self-evidently would be difficult to achieve, it is the responsibility of brokers to point that out to the public and to restrain themselves from selling the product of that company to the public. Until now, there has been no encouragement to do that. Because some of those companies have offered higher commission than most there has been every encouragement not to do it. If, however, the renewal of a brokers registration is dependent on the professionalism that he shows and the understanding of consumer protection that he evinces, in my judgment my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is not strictly correct in saying that these matters do not come within the ambit of the Bill. I concede that they are on the fringes of the Bill as distinct from being within the provisions of the Bill, but they should not be ignored.

The Bill will require brokers to provide service of a certain standard. That goes to the very heart of consumer protection. The Bill will require professional indemnity cover in the case of error. While my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham is strictly correct in saying that that is of greater application to the broker than to the consumer, I am sure he would concede that in an indirect fashion it is of interest to the consumer to know that such cover exists. Ultimately, when the Bill is fully operational, it will require educational standards to be provided for insurance brokers, which will or should give the public added reassurance that when dealing with a person who is called an insurance broker they are dealing with a person who is professionally qualified.

I shall repeat another remark that I made which is apposite to the amendment. Whereas insurance broking at the moment can reasonably be described as a trade, part of the aim of the Bill is to turn it into a profession with professional standards. If that is not in the interests of consumer protection, I do not know what is.

I turn now to Amendment No. 84, in the name of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward). I have some sympathy with the general outline of his remarks but I question whether it is strictly necessary to have a specified consumer representative on the council. I confess that I find difficulty in knowing how one can pinpoint someone who is an adequate representative of the public interest or the consumer's interest in this respect.

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the Secretary of State is given freedom to appoint a certain number of members to the council. I hope he was being mildly churlish in assuming that any Secretary of State would do other than appoint to the council as his representatives people whom he thought represented the public interest. That is the purpose of giving the Secretary of State freedom to make such appointments. I should be surprised if we needed another appointment of someone specifically to represent the consumer's interest, at least until we have decided what the consumer's interest is.

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that there are specialists in this field who have made a great contribution, particularly on fair trading and other matters, and who have more to offer in consumer expertise than ordinary members of the public?

I imagine that the hon. Gentleman is referring to bodies such as the Consumers' Association. I pay tribute to the work of such bodies in many areas, but they cover such a wide spectrum that they are not necessarily the best bodies to represent the consumer in regard to the services provided by an insurance broker. It is no criticism of consumer societies or bodies, but, having conceded the right to the Secretary of State to make these appointments, we should be well advised not to approve the hon. Gentleman's amendment but to react sympathetically to what is behind it and leave to the Secretary of State the choice of the representation that he would wish in order to protect consumers.

12 noon.

The consumer in the past has complained most about the services of an insurance broker in two areas where he has felt least protected. First, he feels that he has sometimes been directed to motor insurance companies which have not always lasted the period of the policy. Second, he has felt that he has been led to believe that the effecting of a life insurance policy will lead to the obtaining of a mortgage which does not materialise.

Here I come to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham. In no direct sense would either of those practices be prevented by the operation of the Bill. He is wrong, however, to assume that the Bill can be seen in isolation. I believe that what insurance brokers do and are allowed to do flows to a great extent from another piece of legislation with which my hon. Friend and I were intimately connected a few years ago, namely, the Insurance Companies Act 1974.

One provision of that Act is currently topical. It explains my point. It is the so-called cooling-off period, an order in respect of which is likely to emanate from the Department of Trade in the very near future. That is an element of consumer protection. If that is related to the consumer protection which, I contend, is written into the limited freedom to describe oneself as an insurance broker, I believe that the consumer will be better protected after the Bill is in operation, but not solely because of the Bill.

I recall saying that the Bill was aimed at lifting the standards of the insurance broking world, and I believe that that is the greatest consumer protection we can offer. My hon. Friend contends that only if a person calls himself a broker is there any element of consumer protection. But he fails to grasp the fact that until now anybody has been able to set up as an insurance broker—

My hon. Friend may say that, and I am as much in favour of private enterprise as he is, but it is unrealistic of him to believe that the unfettered private enterprise to which he subscribes is acceptable in 1977. I sometimes think that my hon. Friend is like Rip Van Winkle. He fell asleep 100 years ago and has now awakened assuming that conditions today are the same as they were then. Self-evidently that is not so.

We must accept that those of us who believe in free enterprise are faced with two decisions. Either we must accept some degree of self-regulation by the brokers, or we must accept direct control imposed by the Government. My hon. Friend cannot have unfettered free enterprise following all that has happened to the consumer in the last 10 years. If he cannot have that, he must choose between two other courses of action. If he prefers complete Government control, I wish that he had said so in the first speech he made on the Bill. If, however, as I suspect, he does not want that, he must follow the middle course.

When my hon. Friend says that the Bill is only the beginning of legislation in this field, he may be right. In all sincerity I ask him what is so terribly wrong with that. Under the Bill, the title "insurance broker" is to be uplifted and accompanied, I suspect, by a massive campaign to educate the public into what an insurance broker will be from this day forward. Is there any reason, therefore, why the trouble and expense to which an insurance broker will have to go should not be set against the continuing freedom of people to call themselves agents when they are really petrol-pump attendants masquerading as experts in life assurance?

One cannot overlook the responsibility that the insurance companies will have immediately after the passage of the Bill. So far from contradicting my hon. Friend when he says that this is just the beginning, I agree with him. If insurance brokers are to be regulated, it is not too great a step, in the interests of the public and the people concerned, then to regulate the insurance agents.

My hon. Friend has been most frank in saying that this is the beginning and not the end of the road, and that is an interesting point. He says that if the Bill had not been introduced the Government would have imposed their own regulations. Does he believe that because a Labour Minister makes a threat one should seek to compromise with it? The Labour Party has promised nationalisation of the insurance companies. Does my hon. Friend think we should go halfway to meet it on that?

My hon. Friend should know me better than that. We have crossed swords on insurance matters many times, and I make no secret of the fact that I take a different viewpoint from his. I tell him straight, however, that it may be that the type of Conservative Government that he envisages would in no circumstances intervene to regulate a business or profession. But I think that I am more likely to get the sort of Conservative Government that I envisage, a Government who recognise the pressures of consumer protection and take steps not totally dissimilar from those we are now discussing and which the present Government and the Conservative Front Bench support.

Once again my hon. Friend is chasing a will-o'-the-wisp. If only we can get him to understand that the Bill is a good compromise in the interests of the insurance broking world, to which I know he is dedicated, and also in the interests of the consumer, we shall be making progress.

Consumer protection is, of course, important, but I do not believe that the way in which the hon. Member for Peterborough suggests we should act is the only way. I therefore suggest that he would be well advised, on the assurance from the insurance broking world that we recognise the need for consumer involvement and consumer protection, not to press his amendment and to accept that the way we are planning to do it is at least as good as the way he wishes.

This has been an interesting short debate. We have had in particular an interesting philosophical duologue between the hon. Members for Faversham (Mr. Moate) and Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle). I feel something of an interloper, and I have no interest in sorting out the problems of the Conservative Party in its approach to this matter or any other. It certainly has enough problems in that regard.

The hon. Member for Faversham, save perhaps for his views on the EEC, dwells in the nineteenth century on consumer protection, and I think that that is to put it modestly. If I recall correctly, he opposed the Policyholders' Protection Bill. He takes the view that the Bill before us is not a measure of consumer protection. I see no evidence that he believes that there is any need for consumer protection in this regard. I am sure that if he went back to the days when this House was discussing whether solicitors should be professionally qualified he would have been against that proposal too. No doubt he would have taken the same line about accountants and doctors. That portrays a most extraordinary attitude about consumer protection at a time when I believe that the overwhelming majority of people, not only in this country but elsewhere, are rightly demanding higher standards.

(Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Is not my hon. Friend saying that this was essentially a Bill for consumer protection?

That is exactly what I was saying. My hon. and learned Friend intervenes just as I was about to go on to say, as I think did the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar, that the questions of consumer protection and enhanced professional standards are integrally connected. That is my case with regard to this matter. I believe it to be a fair case.

I was a little perturbed by something that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar said. I agree with him, but it was the way in which he said it. That was that what we were seeking to do eventually was to turn the organisation of brokers from a trade into a profession. I am concerned about the words that the hon. Gentleman has used only because, in a sense, they reflect on my position. I have moved from a profession into trade. The hon. Member for Faversham is anxious that I should resume my original occupation as rapidly as possible. I understand his wishes but I think that he will be disappointed.

If the hon. Gentleman is a little unduly concerned that my brevity in introducing this amendment last week has severely strained the relations between myself and the President of the Law Society, I can put his mind at rest. The president is a very good friend of mine and has not complained about the brevity of my remarks. I am very surprised that any hon. Member, knowing me, complains about that particular matter. It is the first time.

The hon. Member for Faversham has asserted time and time again that he does not believe that this measure promotes consumer protection one whit. He has tied that argument to the particular amendments that we are now debating. As I have already said, I endorse the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar when he said that the Bill provides the twin pillars of enhancing the standards of professionalism amongst those engaged in prac- tising this business and consumer protection.

The hon. Member for Faversham went on to say that a huge bureaucracy would be created by virtue of the organisation that was to be set up under these proposals.

The hon. Gentleman did say "huge". It can be checked. I do not know whether he now wishes to clarify that. But there is no evidence of that. That is not unusual when one deals with the hon. Gentleman's arguments, because many of them are based on assertions which are not necessarily the naked truth.

Would not the Minister concede that, if one of the alternatives that I put to my hon. Friend—namely, that there should be full-scale Government regulations—was the order of the day, that would indeed create a vast bureaucracy of the sort that my hon. Friend fears?

How vast the bureaurcracy would be I do not know, but it was obviously one of the possibilities that has to be considered. I do not regard it as having been a possibility that was poised like a knife at the throat of the brokers. It was a possibility which had to be considered simply because it was necessary to have a measure of consumer protection. That was my belief and it was evidently the belief of the brokers. I have always opted for a voluntary scheme because I prefer that to the engagement of the Government, or local government, in an organisation designed to offer surveillance over the profession. I believe that if this had not come about then gradually there would have been an increasing demand for some other form of surveillance. But that, too, would have been resented by the hon. Member for Faversham.

12.15 p.m.

What it comes down to is that somehow or other this involves some mystical form of protection for the consumer. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is hopelessly misled about that. I understand that he himself is an expert in brokerage. Although I have criticised the hon. Gentleman and he has criticised me, on many occasions during the course of this debate, I have a reasonably close relationship with him and I admire his stand on many points. I am sure that he attains very high standards. But that is not the case with everyone. We want to ensure, and we are right to insist on it, that there is a means of promoting higher standards for the protection of the consumer.

While the Minister is welcome to carry his own description of my arguments ad absurdum—I do not suppose people will take much notice—may I ask him not to advance points of view that I have not put forward? Some matters such as disclosure, the relationship between brokers and the cooling-off period of life insurance are wholly welcome. What I have argued all along is not about the need for consumer protection. I have simply said that the Bill as proposed does not offer consumer protection.

I apologise if I have done the hon. Gentleman any injustice with regard to his arguments. On reffection, he might agree that he has not altogether been the epitome of clarity when presenting some of those arguments. But I take issue on this fundamental point. The whole Bill, through its measures, is designed to deal with those coming into the profession in future, those who will become registered. It also deals with the establishment of educational institutions and qualifications relating to that, the rules regarding the register, the regulation of conduct, discipline, the keeping of accounts, the compensation fund and professional indemnity., It is not simply designed as a sort of ruse through some subversive technique to increase a monopoly position for the brokers. It is specifically designed to enhance the protection that can be afforded to the consumer by reason of having better standards in this profession.

I do not for a moment presented to have the expertise of the hon. Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate), but my hon. Friend will surely recall that during the Second Reading debate the point was made again and again that there would be the greatest possible consultation with all the authorities and individuals with regard to this matter. What I feel, and what I desire to place on record, is that while I agree with the object of the Bill I do not believe that that consultation has taken place. Every interest has not really been gone into. For example, I recall speeches made from the Opposition Benches about how necessary it was that there should be this degree of consultation. I would place on record that my objection to the Bill is that sufficient time and study has not been given to the matter.

My hon. and learned Friend now invites me—I suppose it is germane to this matter because we are talking about the protection of the consumer—to disclose to the House what ordinarily would have been more appropriate to disclose on Third Reading. My hon. and learned Friend is quite wrong when he asserts that there has been no consultation. I shall come back to that point presently, because I think it is something upon which I ought specifically to comment. The reason why we have these better standards is that greater confidence on the part of the consumer can be reposed in those operating as insurance brokers and registered as such.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) has raised a very important issue. I have a great deal of sympathy with his argument. He proposes that two people should represent the interests of consumers. I should be unhappy to specify that two of the Secretary of State's nominations should be earmarked for consumer interests. There are to be only five places at my right hon. Friend's disposal, two of which are reserved for a lawyer and an accountant. In making the other three nominations my right hon. Friend will have to take account of the claims of a number of different interests and organisations.

I understand perfectly well the strength of my hon. Friend's case for nominating a consumer representative for one place on the council. I am sure he recognises that difficulties would be caused by writing rigid requirements of that sort into the Bill. Certainly I could not accept his proposal that two people should represent the interests of consumers, but I shall reflect on the possibility of incorporating one consumer representative. I am not the promoter of the Bill, but I think it right that we should reflect on the matter. We shall have an opportunity elsewhere to deal with it. My hon. Friend has advanced a formidable case to which we should give proper attention.

I should have liked to hear more about the organisations which my hon. Friend has in mind as possible candidates for the other three places on the council, because some of them might have a consumer ambience. However, in view of what my hon. Friend has said and his intention, using his best endeavours, to meet my point, I should be prepared to ask leave to withdraw my amendment.

There would be no need for the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment. It has not been moved.

An example of the interests we must consider is the non-BIBA brokers. We must also consider the interests of the insurance business as a whole. Therefore, the Secretary of State is clearly tied in. However, I do not exclude the possibility of having a consumer representative on the council. In that event, we should have to identify who he or she should be.

My hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, in support of his argument, cited various other Acts. He referred to the Fair Trading Act, with which I am not very familiar, but I think that in that instance he was citing a permissive rather than a mandatory power. I do not know whether he would be satisfied with such a power in this case. We shall discuss the matter not only with the promoters of the Bill but with my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Faversham said that the Bill would not have mattered if it had been set in place at the time of Nation Life and Vehicle and General by ensuring that good salesmanship technique would have been applied. He went on to say—I hope I am not misquoting him on this occasion—that many people who at that time were offering advice would undoubtedly have been recognised as registered insurance brokers. That is true. No profession, however stringent its disciplinary sanctions, can guarantee that its members will offer good advice. What it will do is to ensure that its membership has been properly trained and that people have passed the examinations which qualify them for membership. It will ensure that in the event of misbehaviour the miscreant is disciplined. It will ensure that there is proper provision for a compensation fund. All those things are underwritten in the Bill. That is why the hon. Gentleman has taken the issue of advice out of context.

Of course, one could not give the guarantees to which the hon. Member for Faversham alluded. That would be quite impossible. But, set against the situation as it would be compared with what it is, it is bound to be a substantial improvement.

Neither the Under-Secretary nor I would wish to draw wrong inferences about people acting as brokers in a Nation Life situation. My point essentially is that many of the brokers most successful in selling Nation Life policies were Lloyd's brokers. No one suggests that they were engaging in activities or salesmanship techniques which were unfortunate or wrong. The Nation Life situation could recur, although I hope that it will not and perhaps other regulations will prevent it, but it does not mean that no extra protection will be given by a Bill of this kind.

We are not talking about a direct extra protection. It is a question of the background against which protection for the consumer generally is effected.

I wish to say a word or two about the amendment, which we have rather forgotten. It relates to the replacement of the President of the Law Society's nominees to the council by a nominee of the Secretary of State chosen from the legal profession. I acknowledged in Committee that the provision in the schedule for one member of the council to be nominated by the President of the Law Society contained the undesirable presumption that the representative of the legal profession on the council would always be an English lawyer. My amendments overcome this danger. Scots lawyers would have exactly the same opportunity as other lawyers of nomination by the Secretary of State, and Scots representation generally on the council is safeguarded by the provisions in paragraph 2 of the schedule pointing to the desirability of the broker members of the council being representative of all parts of the United Kingdom.

I turn to the serious question about consultation posed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman). As he said, I emphasised on Second Reading the need for consultation. I said that we would consider very carefully the comments on the registration of insurance brokers that we received following publication earlier in January of the consultative paper issued by the Government entitled "Insurance Intermediaries." We called for comments by the end of March, and I am glad to say that a large number of organisations and individuals have taken advantage of our invitation to let us know their views.

The comments fall into three categories. First, we received many comments on the question of the control of insurance agents, but they are not relevant to the regulation of insurance brokers. We shall analyse the comments and take full account of the points put to us before we make detailed proposals.

Secondly, we received comments relevant to the rules to be made under the Bill. We also received a number of comments on the question of the regulation of insurance brokers which will have to be taken into account when we consider the detailed rules to be made by the council but which are not relevant to the Bill.

Order. May I, with all due respect, point out to the Minister that he is going a little wide of the amendments, which relate to the question of the council?

12.30 p.m.

Then I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This matter was specifically raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington. It is germane to the whole question of consumer protection which arises on the amendment. The debate has ranged fairly widely on the issue. I suggest that it would be unfortunate if I were not able to inform the House of the comments that have been made and which are absolutely essential to understand the issue in a wide-ranging debate of this nature.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I intervened specifically on this point as it affected the question of consumer interests. I therefore suggest that it is clearly in order on the amendment.

I suggest that it is, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I was saying that the comments on the subject of the regulation of insurance brokers relate essentially to the question of the code of conduct and will certainly he taken into acount when we consider the detailed rules, made by the council. We heard from people who are concerned about, for example, the possible cost of registration, about the amount of working capital which will be required of registered brokers and about the level of professional indemnity insurance that will be called for.

The Bill lays down no specific requirements in those respects. It provides simply for the council to make rules after it has been established. These rules will, of course, be subject to the approval of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I give the undertaking to the House that before my right hon. Friend gives his approval we shall want to satisfy ourselves that the council has taken proper account of the comments that have been made and particularly of the interests of the small man in carrying on his business without the imposition of unreasonable burdens and of the impact that is to be made on the consumer generally.

Thirdly, we have received comments concerning the provisions of the Bill itself. We have felt unable to accept some of them. For example, it had been proposed that there should be separate registration for different classes of insurance business, particularly for life business. However, we have taken the view that this would be difficult to accommodate in the structure of the present Bill and could well be confusing for the public.

We have already, in the amendments we have proposed in Committee and today, taken account of other comments. Those amendments have been substantial, as I think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington will acknowledge. We have, for example, revised provisions relating to finance and accounts which we had tabled previously. This owes much to comments made by the accountancy bodies, the British Insurance Association and the Life Offices Association as well as by members of the public. Likewise, the extensive changes made in Committee to Clause 3, widening the gateways to registration as brokers, take account of public comments.

Then there was the general comment on broker registration. I was particularly gratified to find that very few of those who wrote to us expressed complete opposition to the registration of brokers. There was a large majority for the principle of the Bill.

Therefore I thank my hon. and learned Friend, even though we were both apparently gravely in danger of offending the rules of the House, which we had no intention of doing, but I think it is necessary to view the consumer interest agaist the backcloth of what has happened since the Bill was introduced. Substantial and necessary changes have been made to enhance the interest which, I know, are close to my hon. and learned Friend's heart.

I therefore hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made:

No. 85, in page 21, leave out line 9.

No. 86, in page 21, line 10, leave out from beginning to 'to' in line 11 and insert—

'2.—(1) The persons chosen to represent registered insurance brokers in the first instance shall be nominated by the British Insurance Brokers' Association
(2) The persons chosen to represent registered insurance brokers after the retirement of those nominated under sub-paragraph (1) above shall be elected by registered insurance brokers in accordance with a scheme which—
  • (a) shall he made by the Council;
  • (b) shall not come into operation until approved by order of the Secretary of State; and
  • (c) may be varied or revoked by a subsequent scheme so made and so approved.
  • (3) The Secretary of State may approve a scheme either as submitted to him or subject to such modifications as he thinks fit; but where the Secretary of State proposes to approve a scheme subject to modifications he shall notify the modifications to the Council and consider any observations of the Council thereon.
    (4) The Council shall submit a scheme to the Secretary of State for approval before the expiration of a period of two years beginning with the day appointed for the coming into operation of section 1 of this Act.
    (5) In the exercise of any functions under this paragraph due regard shall be had'.

    No. 87, in page 21, leave out lines 18 to 31 and insert—

    '4.—(1) The term of office of—
  • (a) members nominated by the British Insurance Brokers' Association shall be such period, not exceeding four years, as may be fixed by the scheme;
  • (b) members elected by registered insurance brokers shall be such period as may be fixed by the scheme;
  • (c) members nominated by the Secretary of State shall be such period, not exceeding three years, as may be fixed by the Secretary of State.
  • (2) In this paragraph "the scheme" means the scheme or schemes under paragraph 2 above which are for the time being in operation'.

    No. 88, in page 21, line 34, after 'nominated', insert 'or elected'.

    No. 89, in page 21, line 41, after 'nominated', insert 'or elected'.—[ Mr. Clinton Davis.]

    I beg to move Amendment No. 90, in page 22, line 19, at beginning insert:

    'subject to the provisions of section 1 of the Borrowing (Control and Guarantees) Act 1946 or, in Northern Ireland, of section 2 of the Loans Guarantee and Borrowing Regulation Act (Northern Ireland) 1946 and of any order under those provisions for the time being in force'.
    The amendment is intended to make it clear that the council's borrowing powers are subject to the Borrowing (Control and Guarantees) Act 1946 or, in Northern Ireland, to the Loans Guarantee and Borrowing Regulation Act (Northern Ireland) 1946.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendments made: No. 91, in page 22, line 24, after 'nomination', insert 'or election'.

    No. 92, in page 22, line 31, leave out from 'amend' to end of line 32 and insert:

    'the provisions of this Schedule as to vary the number of members and the manner in which they are chosen or appointed'.—[Mr. Clinton Davis.]

    Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.

    Corporal Punishment Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    12.36 p.m.

    I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

    As hon. Members will observe from the Long Title to the Bill, its purpose is to
    "Permit a sentence of corporal punishment upon a person convicted of an offence involving bodily harm to another or malicious damage to property."
    Those words, as is customary in a Long Title, are wide and imprecise.

    "Corporal punishment" might take one of many forms. Crimes involving bodily harm or malicious damage are many and various. Therefore, in the text of the Bill corporal punishment is limited to that which can be inflicted by the birch, the cane or the strap—what might be said to be the traditional implements of discipline administered judicially, educationally or navally, respectively.

    The Bill has nothing whatever to do with flogging or the "cat", nor has it anything to do with capital punishment or crimes of murder. The crimes the punishment of which should be corporal will be designated by an affirmative order of the Secretary of State. To put it in layman's rather than lawyer's language, the purpose of the Bill is to bring back the birch for vandals, hooligans and muggers.

    I have no doubt that if that simple proposition were to be put to the public, and if it were the public who were voting today upon the question "That the Bill be now read a Second time" instead of the usual small number of Members in the House on a Friday, there would not be any Tellers for the Noes. I am not an advocate for the referendum procedure. In fact, I rather dislike it as part of our constitution. However, I believe that if there were to be a referendum on this subject nine-tenths of the votes cast would be in favour of physical punishment for physical violence. I wonder how long Parliament can resist the public demand that an effective deterrent to violence should be adopted and the public belief that the birch is an effective deterrent.

    Since the Bill that I published last year on the same subject, about 1 million signatures have been obtained by those who have supported me in the North-West. These signatures were to a very simple letter. It was not a long petition where one signs one's name and sees that everyone else has signed it. This was a simple letter in support of corporal punishment as a deterrent to crime.

    There seems to be no doubt in the minds of the great mass of people that we should bring back the birch. I shall defer to a later part of my speech the facts from which that view has developed and deal first with the procedure for administering corporal punishment so that the House may know what I have in mind and may consider the practical side of the matter.

    Many people have told me that they accept that corporal punishment is, in all common sense, a deterrent. The infliction of short, sharp pain immediately after a mischievous act, certainly at home, is effective, beneficial and salutary as a punishment. For example, dad might use a slipper on naughty sonny's bare bottom immediately after an act has been committed. But people say that that could not happen if it were a punishment for a conviction. Therefore, they hesitate to give approval to that form of punishment being ordered by a court and being carried out by some official, the police or otherwise. They say that it would be too long after the offence.

    The Bill leaves the rules for conducting a birching to be prescribed by the Secretary of State by affirmative order to be brought before the House. I call attention to Clause 3, which sets out the matters on which the Secretary of State may make an order. The Secretary of State's order can deal with
    "(e) the consent of the convicted person, to waive an appeal against conviction or sentence, sufficient to allow the sentence of corporal punishment to be inflicted before the expiration of the time allowed for appeal."
    I should like to see the rules working in the following manner. Upon conviction for what I call a birch able offence, if the magistrates were minded to impose a sentence of birching, they should inform the accused, who would be entitled to make his choice either to appeal—when he might receive a sentence of imprisonment instead—or to waive his right to appeal and to receive his corporal punishment there and then. If the accused were a juvenile, his parents would have a right of choice.

    That brings me to another point which worries those who feel that corporal punishment is a deterrent and would be useful in preventing the increase in crimes of this kind which I have in mind. People ask "What age of offender have you in mind to receive punishment of this kind?" That is a matter for debate, and I have deliberately left it so in the terms of the Bill.

    Certainly some offenders, even in their mid-20s, would deserve physical punishment, and the public would benefit if it were administered to them. I believe, however, that corporal punishment would be most effective on the under-18s—the juveniles—who ought not to be sent to prison. They do not pay fines, and the probation system is overworked and is not entirely effective. It is mainly that age group which is responsible for vandalism and hooliganism and which the public feel should receive a traditional kind of punishment.

    I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is leaving the point about when a birching sentence is to be imposed. Does he accept that even if his scheme in paragraph (e) were to be brought into effect it would be many weeks after the commission of the crime that the birching would take place? Therefore, any analogy with corporal punishment which takes place immediately after the commission of an offence is wholly erroneous.

    I do not accept that proposition. Frequently, when there has been vandalism, hooliganism or violence to the person, there is an immediate arrest. The accused may be brought before the court the following day. For example, justices have sat in special courts to deal almost at once with offences of football hooliganism. I think that that is the best way to deal with that type of offence.

    If there were a delay in bringing an offender before the court, it would be within the discretion of the magistrate whether to impose a birching sentence.

    It may be that magistrates generally would feel that, if they were not dealing with an offender immediately after the offence had been committed, they ought not to impose such a sentence. Where, however, the case is being dealt with speedily, there is an analogy with the domestic punishment which might be included in other forms of punishment used particularly against juveniles.

    Wilful damage to local council property costs the ratepayers millions of pounds a year. Schools seem to be particularly vulnerable. In some areas, 50 per cent. of the schools are vandalised every year. Street lighting seems to be the next most frequent victim. Then cone libraries and parks. Of other public property, British Rail probably suffers as much as any public body. Certainly, Post Office telephones suffer severely as the targets for vandals.

    I know that the term "vandals" has its origin in the Germanic bands which ravaged the Continent in the fifth century and destroyed works of art. Very few street lamps or telephone kiosks are works of art. The point is that this is wanton damage, and it is the wanton nature of the damage with which we are concerned. If a crime is planned, I agree that corporal punishment would not be appropriate or effective. But the wantonness of modern vandals could be deterred by the fear of physical pain when the culprits are caught.

    The ripped-off telephone in the public call box and the glass-shattered bus shelter have become all too much a part of our life. The forms of punishment or prevention which we employ have failed to stem that kind of destruction. Therefore, we have learned to live with it.

    There is a most depressing editorial in the Daily Express this morning headed "Who's to blame?". It begins:
    "Nobody who lives in city centres, council estates dominated by tower blocks, or in the new towns needs to be told that vandalism is a problem on the increase. The general scale of teenage violence both against persons and property is a frightening fact of modern society, and nobody seems to have a clear idea of what to do about it."
    The particularly depressing part of this editorial is the penultimate sentence of the last paragraph, which states:
    "Vandalism, like racial tension, may be something we just have to put up with until our society becomes generally healthier."
    I believe that that kind of acceptance of the situation, amounting almost to an indifference to its seriousness, is far more damaging to the character, mentality and psychology of our young people, and, therefore, to the future of our nation, than would be a few strokes with the birch. If we are to treat such destruction with resignation and acceptance as part of our way of life, that is a serious situation in which to bring up our young people.

    The editorial to which I have referred said that vandalism is something that
    "we just have to put up with."
    The phenomenal increase in vandalism during the last few years arises from just that kind of acceptance.

    The number of crimes of all types known to the police in England and Wales last year was 2·14 million. That was an increase of only 1 per cent. over 1975. But the number of offences of criminal damage increased by 18 per cent. There were 18 times as many offences of criminal damage in the normal run of crime. In 1975, 78,500 such offences were known. In 1976, the figure was 93,000. That was a substantial increase. A large number of the offences of criminal damage were committed by juveniles. I take the figures from my own area of Merseyside. In 1975 almost 40 per cent. of all persons who committed criminal damage in that area were juveniles—the actual figure was 39·2 per cent. In the case of robbery, which is much the same type of offence 42·4 of known offences were committed by juveniles. Therefore, a large proportion of such crime is carried out by young people.

    Even when vandalism becomes hooliganism, it is apparently generally accepted as being as much a part of the British way of life as the common cold. We seem to have come to the conclusion that there is nothing to prevent it and no cure, so we simply try to contain it—in the case of hooliganism by expensive wire cages on the terraces of football stadia and by employing swarms of police officers. However, because hooliganism leads to both damage to property and injury to people we cannot afford to shrug it off without seriously damaging the welfare of the nation. It is true that if serious bodily harm arises from hooliganism, such as stabbing, the offender is usually prosecuted, but of all the hundreds of youths in a gang that smashes up shops and beats up people in the vicinity of a football ground after the game, few are punished.

    There is another form of hooliganism that I am sure is of concern to many other Members and of which they learn in their postbags from their constituents. It is a form that often causes great hardship to householders—that is, street fighting, particularly in residential areas. It has occurred in my own constituency, and although the police wish to deal with it they seem to be powerless to do so, mainly because of lack of personnel. So the gang warfare continues. Again, one gets the view that authority is rather indifferent to it. That view of indifference could be dispelled if we introduced some outstanding form of punishment by means of the birch.

    I do not accept the argument that if the punishment fits the crime it begets further crime. It is often argued that one encourages violence by punishing it with violence. If that were so, one should not imprison anyone guilty of kidnapping or of holding hostages, nor should anyone guilty of stealing money be fined. That is an entirely illogical argument. We shall not dispel the great anxiety that is felt particularly by old people that they may suffer serious injury through mugging. We cannot dispel that anxiety unless we do something spectacular about it.

    The right hon. Member has twice mentioned mugging. That is an Americanism that has crept into the English language, and the right hon. Gentleman has not been precise about the nature of offence he has in mind. Could he be more specific and describe such offences?

    One has only to look at a provincial newspaper—not necessarily a national paper—on any day of the week to read about occassions on which people have been knocked down violently in the street and injured that way. One can read about women having their handbags snatched and men having their wallets taken from them in violence—and it is usually violence by teenagers. If the hon. Gentleman wants to hear of a specific case I can give an example. When I held a public meeting on this subject in my constituency, an elderly lady who runs a small shop rose to tell the audience that she had been mugged five times, on each occasion by teenagers. Unfortunately, only a week or so later she was mugged for the sixth time, and that was by schoolgirls. She was left injured on the pavement. That is what I mean by mugging. I mean cowardly attacks, sometimes not even for the purpose of gain but merely to obtain kicks out of injuring helpless people.

    I doubt that the public in the South-East realise how much this goes on in the North-West. I speak from experience in my constituency. I do not see these things reported in the national Press, but they happen.

    Old people are particularly frightened. A Marplan-style poll which was taken less than 12 months ago showed that more than half of the pensioners questioned were anxious that they might be victims of violence in the street. In the technical sense we call such attacks crimes of violence, and I am sure that all hon. Members know about the increase in such crimes against the person in England and Wales during the last few years. I have with me a terrifying graph which shows that in the last 10 years crimes of violence against the person known to the police in England and Wales increased from 26,000 in 1966 to 77,700 in 1976. That is to say, they trebled during that period of 10 years.

    As I have said, within these figures there is a large proportion of juveniles.

    Does my right hon. Friend have figures for the increase in juvenile violence over that period?

    It is difficult to find that out from the statistics, but I can give my hon. and learned Friend the proportion for my own area of Merseyside. I have the figures for the proportion of juveniles within the totals. The proportion of juveniles in cases of violence-against-the-person crimes is one in five. In the case of robbery it is nearly half; 42·4 per cent. of all persons known to have committed such crimes were juveniles. It is perhaps robbery that comes near to what I call "mugging", because mugging is included in them.

    Those are the terrifying figures of the increase over the period of 10 years. There is no doubt that the public consider the situation to be serious—and not only the lay public. The Police Superintendents Association has expressed the view that the increase in violence is a decay in Britain's way of life. The casualty departments in hospitals have been reported as saying that the broken jaws, broken noses, the knocked-out teeth, the kicks in the kidney and the boot in the groin are the injuries which have taken over from road accidents as the greatest proportion coming into casualty departments.

    I have here a resolution by the National Association of Local Councils on the subject of vandalism. It pleads for the imposition of heavier financial penalties on the parents of offenders and fitting punishment, corporal or otherwise, for offenders themselves. There have, therefore, been three developments in our society which make it essential that the Bill should reach the statute book.

    The first development is the phenomenal and frightening growth in crimes of violence, the failure of the present methods of punishment to control that increase, and the serious proportions within that increase of juvenile offenders. The second serious development is the resignation by the public and the authorities in the attitude that we have to live with it, that we must accept it, constituting a sort of indifference to the fact that these crimes are increasing so alarmingly.

    The third serious development is perhaps the reverse of that indifference in that it is certain that the overwhelming majority of people are in favour of bringing back the birch. When the Cadogan Committee considered corporal punishment in 1938, there were known to the police only 3,000 offences of violence against the person a year. By the time the Barry Committee studied the subject in 1960, the figure had increased from 3,000 to 14,000. Last year it had gone up to 77,700. That is a measure of the error in the advice which the Barry Committee gave us that soft methods of dealing with violence were best. They were not. They have failed. The public demand that the ordinary methods of discipline practised in the home—in the private sector, to use one of our technical terms—should be applied in the public sector as well.

    Perhaps I might be accused of using figures blatantly and forgetting such factors as increased population, improved methods of detection and perhaps a greater eagerness to report crime than existed 40 years ago. Certainly such factors help to account for the increase in the figures, but crime as a whole increased by only 1 per cent. last year while crimes of damage to property increased by 18 per cent. and crimes of violence by 10 per cent. No one can deny that crimes of violence have increased 10 times as fast, therefore, as other crimes.

    No doubt I shall also be asked how I can be sure that corporal punishment would stem the increase. Is it a deterrent? That is perhaps the crux of the matter. Those who pose the question say "Never mind about emotional and ill-informed public opinion. It may be that everybody thinks it would be a deterrent, but the Cadogan Report in 1938 recommended abolition of corporal punishment except in prisons, and that was done in 1948, and the Barry Committee confirmed that finding in 1960, when it recommended that corporal punishment should not be restored." But I think that we have today an entirely different situation from that studied by the Barry Committee. We have a far more revolting and bestial form of violence these days. We get violence for the mere sake of hurting the helpless, maiming a fellow human being simply for kicks. That has been admitted by so many who have been prosecuted.

    The Barry Committee was dealing with the situation which has arisen out of the activities of teddy boys, but that was gang versus gang and hooliganism rather than violence against the innocent stranger, which is the sort of violence we are seeing now. A fair summary of the Barry Committee's report advising against the restoration of corporal punishment is that it would not substantially reduce crimes of violence although it would reduce them, and that although corporal punishment would not be an especially effective deterrent it would be a deterrent. In effect, the Barry Committee thought that it would be a deterrent but it did not like it. No one likes it. But the crux of the problem is how to check this increase in crimes of violence and the increase in malicious damage to property. That must be done, and it is what our present system is undoubtedly failing to do.

    When the right hon. Gentleman was talking about deterrence, I thought he would bring out some of the factual analyses which have previously been brought to bear on the problem. Does he not recognise that both the committees he mentioned undertook statistical analyses and that the results of those analyses were that among convicted prisoners those who had been birched for crimes were more likely to commit them again than those who had not been birched?

    That is not the case in the Isle of Man, where the contrary is proved. I am giving the figures of the increase in crimes of violence since we abandoned corporal punishment, and the fact is that no other form of punishment has managed to stem that very substantial increase.

    I suppose that the greatest deterrent is the certainty of arrest and detection, but we still have insufficient police for that purpose. The courts' powers of imprisonment have been increased lately, but we have insufficient prison accommodation. The most recent Criminal Justice Act relied greatly upon detention, but we do not have sufficient detention centres. We have increased the limits for fines, but the scandal of unpaid fines is almost proverbial. Against this background the crimes of violence increase.

    In the one area in the United Kingdom in which corporal punishment still exists—namely, in our schools—we are unique among European countries in having such a deterrent. Is the right hon. Gentleman arguing that the levels of discipline within British schools are markedly higher than in schools in European countries and that the efficacy of corporal punishment as a deterrent is thereby proven?

    I do not know how discipline is kept in schools in other countries, but I am certain that it could not be kept in many British schools without the use of corporal punishment. An interesting article recently appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 20th April. It was reported that an education institution in Scotland had held a poll among pupils in several large schools and had found that two out of three thought that their teachers should have the power to impose corporal punishment. I do not think that this form of punishment has a bad effect on pupils and I see no reason why it should not be used.

    I thought that the hon. Gentleman was about to attack me on what is probably a stronger point and one that I must meet. I refer to the fact that many other countries in the world have abandoned corporal punishment. It is said that it would be a retrograde step to return to this form of discipline. The abandonment mainly occurred immediately after the last war. The abandonment in this country was reflected in the 1948 Act. I have a feeling that many of the countries involved followed the fashion of the time—namely, a revulsion against any form of physical pain after we had gone through a world war.

    Finally I must deal with a major matter, although perhaps the House will think that it is not so major. If we believe that we can check this increase in crimes of violence by returning to corporal punishment, are we free to do so? We have signed the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It is said that corporal punishment is in breach of Article 3, which states:
    "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
    I do not believe that the person who drafted that article had in mind that the modest form of physical pain caused by the birch could be called torture or that it could be any more inhuman or degrading treatment than imprisonment. Any form of punishment must surely be degrading treatment in some degree, otherwise I fail to see how it is punishment. Can we really call birching torture? Is it inhuman treatment or punishment? Is it degrading treatment or punishment? I believe that the answers to those questions are "No". Surely the article in the convention was intended to prevent the use of torture administratively, not to prevent reasonable corporal punishment as a result of a judicial decision.

    Although there is some difficulty in dealing with the matter because of the sub judice principle, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Commission found by 14 to 1 that birching in the Isle of Man was degrading treatment and that the issue has been referred to the European Court of Human Rights on that basis?

    I imagine that the Commission came to that decision because according to our constitution the Isle of Man has to be defended by the Government. We know that the Government's idea of corporal punishment is that we should not return to it. No defence was put up for the Isle of Man. This is an example of our extraordinary constitution. So far, the case has gone by default. I do not think it has any strength at all. Let us see what the court says eventually. The Commission had to decide whether there was a prima facie case. No one argued that there was not a prima facie case. The matter is not to go before the Court. Let us see what the case is.

    It seems that common sense and experience prove that the fear of sharp physical pain—for example, by birching, by the cane or by the strap—is a deterrent to the sort of coward who commits the offences I have described, whether it is destruction of property, malicious damage to property wilfully done or physical injury, pain and suffering to the elderly and the weak.

    It is perhaps the victim who is so often forgotten in these cases. Two of my constituents have set up an organisation to visit the victims of mugging. They visit a number of such people on Merseyside. They are generally elderly people who have been completely forgotten. Sympathy is put out for the youth who is arrested for causing the injury to these elderly people, but there are a number of elderly victims who have been forgotten even by the social services. They have been the victims of injury. I think that my two constituents are doing a great job of work. At least they should be rewarded by the courts being given the discretion to impose a sentence of corporal punishment against such offenders.

    1.18 p.m.

    The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) introduced the Bill with his usual eloquence and persuasiveness. I have always regarded the right hon. Gentleman as a most logical individual not especially prone to be moved by momentary emotion I have often had the pleasure of supporting him on other than party matters. I am, therefore, surprised that he should introduce a Bill of this nature. I note that in another place in a recent discussion on the Criminal Law Bill no noble Lord with the slightest sadistic temperament sought to introduce a measure of this kind.

    I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that at present, with the considerable and natural resentment against mugging, violence and vandalism, especially with the recent condemnation of football hooliganism, there is a desire to find methods of coping more effectively with these offences. It is not surprising that many people should adopt the old adage "Spare the rod and spoil the child". I think it was the manager of Manchester United who recently advised "Give him a good thrashing; that will cure him". But we in this House must guard against momentary emotion and undue resentment. We must consider these matters calmly and reasonably.

    The right hon. Gentleman has referred to one of the articles at the forefront of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. He quoted the words,
    "No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment as punishment."
    He rather took the view that applying the birch, the cane, or the strap would not be degrading treatment as punishment.

    I personally would certainly regard corporal punishment of that kind, the infliction of pain by these three weapons, in many cases as coming well within the words "degrading treatment as punishment". The right hon. Gentleman has urged that in some cases those forms of corporal punishment may be a deterrent, but in my view, in order to justify the reintroduction of corporal punishment, it surely must be shown that the degree of deterrence that it would bring about in crime would justify its reintroduction. I emphasise that—the degree of deterrence it would bring about.

    It is said that an analogy can be drawn by reference to the treatment by parent of child, or the relationship of schoolmaster and pupil. I personally would regret the necessity to use such punishment in either of those cases, but there are, of course, important differences in those cases from the treatment of judicial offences. In the case of the parent and child, there is a relationship of mutual affection. The child is punished immediately—that is extremely important—and it is punished as a matter of discipline. No doubt as a rule the parent will know the limitations of a child and there will be no ill effects. At school the master is in a special relationship with the pupil. He knows his boys and he knows how they will react. No such relationship exists when a court orders a person to be birched, and of course, as has been said in the debate by intervention and otherwise, there may be considerable delay between the sentence and its execution, particularly if there is an appeal.

    I remind the House that corporal punishment was virtually abolished in 1863 for most offences. True enough, in 1863 the Garrotters Act was passed, which added whipping for robbery with violence. It was imposed at a time when there was an outbreak of garrotting, although the violence had ceased at the time the Bill was passed. It is interesting to note that the then Home Secretary described the Bill as
    "panic legislation after the panic had subsided".
    In 1885 whipping was added in lieu of imprisonment where a boy under 16 had carnal knowledge of a girl under 13. I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would suggest that it would be a just punishment in that case today.

    In 1898 whipping was enacted for persons deemed to be rogues and vagabonds under the Vagrancy Act. Again, I do not suppose that the right hon. Gentleman would put that view forward today. In 1912, when there was widespread alarm with regard to the white slave traffic, whipping was provided for procuration.

    The law remained unchanged until 1948, but by 1938, certainly for juveniles, corporal punishment had practically ceased to be applied. In 1948—I looked up the figures for that particular year; they are given until September of that year—there was not a single case where it had been imposed in the case of a juvenile. Indeed, even for adults in only a very small number of cases had there been such a punishment.

    The right hon. Gentleman will know, and the House will recollect, that there have been two bodies in recent times which have studied the question of the reintroduction of corporal punishment. A departmental committee reported in March 1938—the Cadogan Report. In 1960 there was the report of the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders, dealing specifically with the question of corporal punishment and whether it should be reintroduced. Both of those bodies received a wealth of evidence, oral and written. Both studied statistics deal-with the effect of corporal punishment. Both came down unanimously against its reintroduction. Indeed, if it had not been for the war, the abolition of corporal punishment would have been passed in a Bill then before Parliament.

    I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of the House in 1961, but perhaps he will recall, as I do, that on 11th April 1961, Sir Thomas Moore, the then Member for Ayr, sought the restoration of corporal punishment in the Report stage of the Criminal Justice Bill. After a long debate, the House—I am glad to say that it was very well attended, unlike the position today—clearly held on non-party lines rejected the clause by a very large majority.

    I remember—this is apposite here—that doughty champion of liberal causes, the late Sidney Silverman, saying in that debate,
    "Deterrence is not the only factor. I agree that it is one of the factors, if it can be established. But the whole history of the matter shows that one cannot establish that this form of penalty is any more effective in deterring crime than any other penalty."
    He added:
    "The fact is that just as the figures show that there has been an increase in crime, the same figures show that the remedy which is being advocated here is not a remedy at all."—[Official Report, 11th April 1961; Vol. 638, c. 142–143.]
    I emphasise the words that the late Sidney Silverman used. They are applicable here, particularly on the argument that the right hon. Gentleman used with regard to his use of statistics.

    I have said and I repeat that unless it is shown that its effect as a deterrent is such that it ought to be reintroduced, it would be wrong to reintroduce corporal punishment. However, apart from the question of deterrence there are a number of factors that in my view show that it would be unwise to reimpose this form of penalty. One is the difficulty of assessing whether a particular boy is suitable for this type of punishment. There is the psychological effect. There is the possible effect upon his temperament. It is perfectly true that in Clause 3(1)(c) the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations as to the taking of medical opinion as to the person's fitness to undergo the sentence, and, in subsection (1)(d), power to make regulations with regard to suspension of the sentence upon medical grounds. However, I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman must recognise that the ultimate psychological effects are very difficult to judge, and whether there is delay in ascertaining what the position is, the ill effect of delay in carrying out the punishment may be very serious.

    It has also always been well recognised, certainly on many occasions, that a boy who has been birched is regarded as a hero by boys of his own age. The matter is well summed up in paragraph 30 of the Cadogan Report, which says,
    "In view of all these considerations, and having regard to the opinions formed by persons of long experience and mature judgment"—
    I emphasise those words—
    "we have come to the conclusion that, as a court penalty, corporal punishment is not an effective method of dealing with young offenders."
    Paragraph 62 of that report continues:
    "we think it undesirable to retain a form of punishment which, as applied to adult offenders against the criminal law, is open to the objections which we have described earlier in this part of our Report."
    I am sure that the right hon. Member for Crosby will recognise that the Bill is drawn in wide terms. As long ago as 1820 the punishment of the public whipping of females was abolished. Yet the right hon. Gentleman, who has a true appreciation of the need to avoid discrimination between the sexes, has not excluded females from the Bill. It prescribes no age limit.

    The Bill leaves wide powers for the Secretary of State to determine these matters. It leaves the Secretary of State to decide to what offences it will apply in the context of those concerning bodily harm or malicious damage to property. It leaves the Secretary of State to decide on conduct and procedure and a delay of punishment before appeal.

    The regulations are to be by Statutory Instrument, which must be approved by both Houses. The right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that when Statutory Instruments come before the House they often go through on the nod or with little discussion. There is a real danger in giving such powers to the Secretary of State. The powers are too wide. Matters of this kind should be enacted with precision in the legislation. They should not be left to be determined by the Secretary of State in regulations.

    I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's every word. If this were a Government Bill, I should criticise it in the same way. However, it is a Private Member's Bill and I want to be as brief as possible. I hope that all these matters can be discussed in Committee. I join with the hon. and learned Gentleman in wishing to see all those matters put right in the final Bill.

    Regulations always pose difficulties. In many cases one must leave powers to the Secretary of State. But it is better for precise details of important matters to set out in the Bill.

    The right hon. Gentleman used the word "retrograde" when he said that other countries had abolished corporal punishment. The Bill is retrograde legislation of a dangerous kind. There are other more effective ways of dealing with juvenile crime, juvenile delinquency and adult crime.

    The courts have ample powers if they would only exercise them. For example, the offence of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm is punishable by life imprisonment. Assault occasioning actual bodily harm carries a maximum penalty of five years or, summarily, a fine of £400 or six months' imprisonment. Unlawful wounding carries a sentence of five years' imprisonment, as does assault on the police. That offence is punishable in a magistrates' court by a fine of £100 or a six-month prison sentence, or nine months on second or subsequent conviction. Common assault under the Offences Against the Person Act is punishable by imprisonment for one year. Criminal damage endangering life carries a maximum penalty of a life sentence.

    The courts have ample powers to deal with the problem if they would only exercise them. Depriving a juvenile or even an adult of the right to attend football matches and making him spend Saturday afternoon doing some useful work or attending a centre would be more effective. I hope that this attempt to reintroduce corporal punishment will be defeated. It is a dangerous step.

    1.36 p.m.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) has put his finger on another example of how divorced Parliament may be becoming from the wishes of the people. There is no doubt that the move to introduce a Bill of this type would meet with widespread support in the country at large. It would reflect the wishes of more people in our society than are reflected by much of the current legislation that is going through Parliament.

    We should give credit to my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby for courageously introducing the Bill, raising the matter and causing us to think about the issues. We know, as we have heard from the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman), that opposition to this type of measure is widespread and cogent. There will be people who will laugh and treat the matter as some big joke. There will be people—the trendies—who will try to diminish the effect of the introduction of such a measure by ridiculing it. One must ask where these trendies have brought our society with all their good wishes and good deeds.

    There are strong objections to the introduction of the measure. It is possible that it would fall under the provisions of the European Human Rights rules and the International Human Rights regulations. The reintroduction of corporal punishment was rejected by a Royal Commission in 1960. It is true that the delay in the implementation of the punishment is an unsatisfactory feature of corporal punishment as it is advocated. It is even true that violence by the State might beget violence by society. That is an aesthetic view. It is only valid in realistic and practical terms if it can be shown that if the State did not engage in violence, there would be less violence. But that is patently nonsense.

    There are strong arguments for the introduction of such a measure. The same objections do not necessarily apply to corporal punishment of children as of adults. The whole emotion of our society may turn against the whipping, flogging and brutalism of adults. Figures have shown that this punishment has had a minimal—if any—effect upon adult offenders in the past.

    When we consider whether corporal punishment is feasible and acceptable with regard to children we are in a different area. The emotions are not the same. Parents administer corporal punishment to their children. Schools do so in certain areas. It is not considered by society at large to be inhumane or degrading to cane juvenile offenders.

    If it is said that there is a special relationship between the teacher and the pupil or the parent and the child which does not exist if the State has some functionary who canes the child, I say that the special relationship between the juvenile offender and the society in which he lives is little different from the special relationship between him and the society in which he studies or works.

    Has the hon. Gentleman studied the arguments put forward and the facts given in the Cadogan Report and the report of the advisory council on this matter?

    The Cadogan Report was produced in 1938. The Barry Report was produced in 1960. Since 1960 there has been a horrific—and that is not too strong a word—increase in juvenile crime, particularly crimes of violence. The figure is five-and-a-half-times as large. That surely obliges us to reconsider not only the conclusions of Barry and Cadogan but the arguments supporting those conclusions.

    The hon. Gentleman is not fully understanding the point of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman). The conclusions that the Cadogan and Barry Reports came to was that the chance of a further offence being committed by those who had been sentenced to corporal punishment was greater than it was among those who had not received such punishment. Following that analogy, if there is to be further corporal punishment, the possibility of offenders committing further crimes is increased rather than reduced.

    I do not think it is valid to use the judgments used in 1960. It has to be borne in mind that at that time there were about 14,000 juvenile offences a year, whereas now there are about 77,000. Something has clearly broken down in our society to allow that to happen. There has been a change of attitude and perhaps a reaction in society. It is not necessary to assume that the same arguments would apply today. For example one difference between the two situations is the amount of corporal punishment inflicted in 1960 by parents and schools compared with the proportion now inflicted. The underlying assumptions as well as the statistics are very different.

    Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one would also have to compare those places where corporal punishment was quite commonly used and those places where it was hardly used? Does he accept that the evidence of the Cadogan Committee was that there was no difference, to prove his point, between the records of the two sorts of places?

    I do not dispute that there is point in the interventions that have been made. The reply I make is that the climate of our society is so different that there is a break-down in the respect which young people have for authority which was not present in those earlier days. It is not possible to assume the same underlying features of our society and use the same arguments.

    The fallacy of the opposition to this suggestion was emphasised by the hon. and learned Member. It is no use saying, as he did, that the remedies for juvenile violence exist and then reading out a list of the provisions available to the courts if we ignore the all-important factor that the amount of juvenile crime has now reached horrifying statistical levels even though the courts possess those powers. The remedies have clearly failed.

    The Children and Young Persons Act has been a failure, whether because of a failure to implement its provisions, or whether there was a misconception of some of the obligations society owes to its younger people.

    Has the hon. Gentleman the slightest piece of evidence that the application of corporal punishment to juveniles would in any way be more of a deterrent than present methods?

    Yes, masses of it. Those of us who took part in the Select Committee proceedings on the Children and Young Persons Act heard and read such evidence. Let me give an example. I am not sure whether this was evidence actually taken by the Committee, but there was a head of a community home which had been an approved school who dealt with this. He said that in the old days, before the Children and Young Persons Act, when he had one of his charges before him for some minor delinquency to which the remedy was a simple one—the cane—there was discipline, respect, dignity and some degree of success within the approved school.

    Alas, under the provisions of the Children and Young Persons Act what happened in the same situation was that when a young offender came before him and he intended to inflict corporal punishment, he had to telephone the local social services department, which sent along a charming young lady fresh from technical college. The matter was discussed and nothing happened. The child laughed. It was a big joke, because authority had no power, no teeth, no discipline.

    This head of whom I speak resigned his post. He said that his job was no longer the same. He felt that he was not doing any good in a society where there was no discipline. Everyone has his own examples. All of us who went to schools where corporal punishment was a feature know that we were deterred from repeating offences when we were caned—

    Of course we were, and we had a darned sight more respect for the teachers and for law and order. What is more, we had respect for our parents if they gave us a good hiding. Anyone who says that that did not happen must be speaking from experience of a very special form of home background.

    Has the hon. Gentleman had the experience of being told by a schoolmaster "You are a very naughty boy and in 10 days' time you will get 12 strokes of the birch."?

    I shall come to that in a moment, because it is extremely important. The existing remedies have patently failed. The public and society are alarmed, with cause. Magistrates are in despair. The police are frustrated. The probation service is overloaded. Children cannot be imprisoned or fined. Even the increase in penalties for soccer hooliganism provided for in the Criminal Law Bill reflects only an expression of hope.

    If one is talking about humiliation and degredation, what is it about our arguments that allows us to say that taking a cane to a child or young person is humiliating and degrading, but that driving hordes of young people into cages in football stadiums—most of whom are not offenders and are quite innocent of any guilt or blame—is not? Is that not degrading and humiliating to young law-abiding people? Let us not have this argument pressed as if it had some great virtue or was inscribed on tablets of stone.

    The hon. Member mentioned magistrates and said that they were in despair, but is he aware that magistrates generally are opposed to the course of action that he is proposing?

    I have spoken to a large number of magistrates. Before the hon. Member laughs I remind him that I am engaged almost weekly in the practice of the criminal law and come into frequent contact with practitioners of the law, the judiciary and solicitors, as well as parents and offenders. We have had much evidence from magistrates, and we often hear from them in connection with our functions in the House.

    It is a ludicrous argument to suggest that magistrates are not in favour of having more teeth and more power to sentence the violent and persistent juvenile offender. Many magistrates, certainly most of those to whom I have spoken, favour some form of corporal punishment for juvenile offenders, provided that we can get round the argument that delay is wrong.

    When society's remedies have so clearly failed and when society so clearly wants something to be done, are hon. Members right to sit back and let the escalation of juvenile crime continue? Is that what the people want? Do we not owe a duty to society to take some action? There is a strong case for corporal punishment for children and young persons.

    I come to the point of greatest significance—the delay in implementing corporal punishment. I accept the intervention of the Minister of State early in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby, and I accept the point repeatedly made by the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington and everyone who says that the delay between sentencing and the implementation of the punishment, particularly for young people and juvenile offenders, is wholly unacceptable.

    Unless we can think of some way of getting round this problem, I would not support corporal punishment through the courts for even juvenile offenders. The great advantage of having corporal punishment for juvenile offenders in school or in the home is that it is instant. If hon. Members believe that the cane is a deterrent to some degree—I think that was implicit even in the words of the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington—the deterrent effect results largely from the fact that punishment happens there and then.

    I think that there is a way round this problem. I come now to a proposal that hon. Members should consider very seriously and in which I hope they will see some merit, whether or not it becomes a feature of this Bill or is raised at a later stage in other Bills that will undoubtedly come before the House in an effort to check the increase in vandalism and hooliganism, particularly among younger offenders. I propose that if a young offender is brought before the court on a charge of vandalism, hooliganism, or some other violence to property or to the person, he should be asked by the magistrate whether he is guilty or not guilty. If he says that he is guilty, he should be given the option, in the presence of his parents or guardians, of accepting there and then the corporal punishment decreed by the magistrates. He would then immediately be caned, strapped, birched, or whatever was thought appropriate. There would be, and I consider this of importance, no record following through the rest of his life of having committed a criminal offence. I think that that method would be a considerable advantage.

    Of course, the offender may opt for the alternative and decide to plead guilty or be found guilty through the criminal process. He would then be charged, tried and, if he wished, go through the process of appeal, which might last many months. There would be no question of corporal punishment at the end, but if he was convicted, he would have a criminal record. If it were possible to write this option into our legislation, a number of advantages would follow.

    Leaving aside the implications of this kind of crude, rough and immediate justice proposed by the hon. Gentleman, has he addressed his mind to the following question? How strong is a deterrent if it becomes an easier option for the person who has been found guilty?

    That is a very interesting question. It depends on the degree of humiliation involved and on whether the fashion would grow among young people to look up to their friends who were coward enough to opt for the longer process. It depends on a number of features, but I believe that it is a deterrent in schools and in the home for petty offences to be immediately followed by some form of physical discipline. To that extent it must continue to be a deterrent in my scheme. I do not know whether it would be a greater deterrent if there were not this option, but there is still some degree of deterrence, and I consider that it would be a considerable degree of deterrence.

    Let us look at the advantages of what I am proposing. First, this system would take some criminal activities out of the very expensive, very humiliating, very time-wasting and ineffective criminal process. I speak as someone who from time to time has practised in juvenile courts. It is a very unsatisfactory experience to be counsel instructed on behalf of a juvenile appearing before a juvenile court.

    If, by proper deployment of the legal argument, one secures the acquittal of a young person who has offended—a lawyer may have his own view of whether his client has offended—and if by using the smart lawyer and legal proceedings such a young person gets off, that is a blow struck against society. He will go away and offend again. But if the whole legal process is gone through and the result is a conviction and if the magistrates have to say to young offenders that they understand the pressures and the difficulties and they then tell the offender that he has been a naughty boy and must not do it again, that is another blow struck against society. Either way society does not win in the juvenile courts.

    I believe that the more offences by children and young persons we can move out of the criminal system and out of the juvenile courts, the better off society will be. I say that on the basis of my personal judgment, but that view may not be shared by others.

    There is a second advantage. It has always been said, and the facts tend to support it, that the short, sharp shock is the best deterrent yet invented for the juvenile offender. That is why the detention centres have been a remarkable success in dealing with juvenile offenders. I am proposing a short, sharp and immediate shock—a shock more immediate and far less stigmatic than the detention centres.

    I believe that in the current climate parents go through a very difficult time, particularly in the less-privileged sections of society, in disciplining their children. I am sure that parents would be strengthened by the support that I am suggesting would come through the courts. This is an area in which they do not get support now from the schools. I believe, and the view is shared by many people, that the cane has a deterrent effect upon the juvenile offender in school.

    I do not think that the Barry Committee would necessarily have come to the same conclusions if it had been considering only juvenile offenders. A lot of its conclusions are far more referrable to and dominated by the question of whether corporal punishment is a good thing for adults.

    Although my right hon. Friend says that the certainty of conviction is the best deterrent, I think that that is an inadequate judgment. The most effective deterrent is not just being caught, but being caught and knowing that one will be punished. If the punishment is likely to be derisory and does not put the offender in fear, I think, that there is insufficient deterrence in just being caught.

    My proposal would have the support of a large proportion—perhaps the overwhelming proportion—of magistrates. I have spoken to a large number of them about this suggestion and it has commanded 100 per cent. support, subject to certain qualifications. I think that the proposal would also have the support of most parents, and they represent, after all, the majority of adults in our society.

    My conclusions, therefore, is that there is a case for consideration of this solution to the problem. We can do it calmly and reasonably, as the hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington requested. We do not have to use words such as sadism. We do not have to talk about the humiliation and degradation of giving a 45-year-old man the cat-of-nine-tails, because that is irrelevant to the argument that I am proposing, I am suggesting that it is a penalty which should apply only to juvenile offenders, and statistics show that they are the worst offenders in society at present with this type of crime.

    There is a case for a pilot scheme to see whether this arrangement would work. Perhaps it should be started in a city such as Liverpool or London, or in one of the other big conurbations where the problem seems to be greater. That could be written into the Bill. I know that the Bill has its defects. The criticism that the Bill is too wide and lacks precision was supported by my right hon. Friend the proposer himself. However, changes such as I am suggesting could he introduced.

    I agree that we should not have corporal punishment for adults. However, we should have it for children and young persons. I am convinced that it would deter and that it would be welcomed by the country. I believe that the objections to the wider principle of corporal punishment do not apply since the Bill applies only to children and young persons.

    Those who speak against a proposal such as this have significantly failed to protect society against the offences which children and young persons are currently perpetrating with such horrifying escalation. Therefore, we must come to grips with this problem as Members of Parliament, as those in whom society has reposed some trust to bring the law up to date and to guide it in ways that will make it safer. Those of us who propound this sort of solution should be given a fair hearing, and that means that the matter should be discussed fully in Parliament.

    2.8 p.m.

    I propose to criticise the propositions underlying the Bill, but before doing so I must express my support for one sentiment to which all hon. Members will subscribe. We are all rightly appalled by the rising level of crimes of violence against the person and property. All hon. Members recognise that there is an acute social problem here to which we should address our minds, and we should therefore be grateful for this opportunity to consider these issues.

    This Bill is concerned with finding the most effective way of coping with the problem. Members of Parliament would be insensitive and out of touch with their constituents if they failed to recognise the validity of the outcry which has gone up about certain aspects of crimes of violence. It is proper that Parliament should discuss issues such as football hooliganism.

    I distrust the proposition behind the Bill, because it puts forward an appallingly simple solution to an appallingly complex problem. It is a retrograde solution, since it embodies a system of punishment that is appropriate to a more barbaric age.

    Secondly, there are certain aspects of the Bill which I believe offend against not only all reason but the mature sentiment of the British people. It seems to me that the basic proposition behind the Bill is to raise the stakes in punishment as a way of combating this particular increase in the crime rate.

    I do not deny that the punishment ought to fit the crime. What I am worried about is the development of punishment which may increase the tendency towards criminal activity. That is the worry when the State or society takes upon itself the power to use the same methods of barbarism against those who committed crime as those of which the criminals themselves have sometimes been guilty.

    I do not think that it has been established that societies which are manifestly operated in terms of more brutal punishment than our own have considerably less social disorder. It is not the fact that repressive regimes are more effective in the long run in ensuring order in their society. Nor do I think it is an acceptable proposition that somehow the issue involves cowardly people.

    I have often heard that adjective applied to this crime. I agree that vicious young thugs who set on and mug old ladies are socially reprehensible and ought to receive heavy punishment. I would not seek to disagree with that at all. But the adjective "cowardly" puts forward the wrong proposition, particularly on issues like football hooliganism, when gangs of youths come into physical conflict with each other.

    The suggestion is that this is somehow a reflection of a cowardly mentality and that if the physical element of punishment were increased, the cowards would thereby be deterred. I do not believe that to be the case. When one looks at the phenomenon of football hooliganism, which often involves a great deal of violence against the person, I do not believe that what one is seeing is a form of cowardly action.

    Let us not misunderstand this phenomenon. If one joins in a gang to go to football matches to pick a fight with the opposition, the stakes are often quite high. People know the risks they are taking, and they are prepared to incur those risks. I do not want to defend such violence in any respect, because I regard it as hostile to a good society, but let us not pretend, or gull ourselves into the view, that somehow these people are deterred by the prospect of physical violence.

    Let us not underestimate the extent to which, if the State operates physical punishment against them, it will be regarded as a mark of achievement on their side. I believe it will be regarded as a sort of red badge of courage rather than the deterrent that Conservative Members have suggested. That is the most likely result of any such action.

    Does the hon. Gentleman suppose that there would be anything like the present scale of soccer hooliganism if the offenders did not resort to being in a gang? Is not the very resorting to the protection of a gang a form of cowardice?

    I do not think the hon. Gentleman has made a sufficient study of the problem of soccer hooliganism. Soccer hooliganism is not a gang operating against a smaller number of individuals whereby the gang effectively protects itself and does not suffer as a result. A great deal of the soccer hooliganism which at present takes place concerns rival gangs, each of them armed with vicious weapons and each of them capable of perpetrating upon their rivals the most violent forms of physical punishment.

    The point I am making is not to defend that violence. In all cases members of those gangs are not characterised by a fear of physical conflict: quite the opposite. The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) cannot pretend that somehow we can easily turn to a golden age where violence among sections of our society does not exist.

    There has always been in our society an element of young men prepared to concern themselves with degrees of violence. Policemen in our large cities know that to be the case. I am not saying that this is a social phenomenon that we ought not control and reject. I am merely putting forward what is attestable—that this is a continuing theme in our society that is not marked by physical cowardice.

    As I understand the propositions behind the Bill, one of the fundamental advantages of physical punishment is that it deters the coward. What is likely to happen is that the very incurring of this kind of punishment, far from being a deterrent, could readily become part of the badge of the tribe, with people regarding it as their scars or marks of war. They can readily establish their own primacy within the group by the physical risks that they have been prepared to take. What makes hon. Members opposite believe that the physical risk enjoyed by hooligans, which will be represented if the State inflicts the birch, will be regarded in any other light?

    What is more, this theory of deterrent contains another major logical fallacy. The right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) supported by the hon. Member for Burton, proposed that this should be an option exercised by the criminal. It was suggested that the criminal should decide whether the punishment was meted out, or whether a more protracted process of the law should be followed.

    What kind of logical proposition is it which says that the punishment which the criminal himself might choose is one out of two preferred options? I maintain that this proposition, which, as I understand it, is fundamental to the whole argument represented in the Bill, contains a basic logical fallacy.

    What is more, another great difficulty with regard to the argument for reintroducing corporal punishment is that at present, and within the framework of the Bill, the punishment suggested is the fairly orthodox punishment of bringing back the birch or the cane. In Scotland it is called the tawse. Where do we stop?

    The right hon. Member for Crosby drew the attention of the House to the sufferings of victims of the crime. That. I am sure, engages the sympathy of us all. But he indicated that he thought some extra punishment should be meted out to the criminals as a reward to such victims. What kind of proposition is that? That is surely the concept of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth with a vengeance. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate that the birch or the strap might be far too low a level of physical violence against people who, as we know, are capable of inflicting the most grievous bodily harm on innocent people.

    Where is the right hon. Gentleman going to take us? On the basis of equality, the criminal should receive something similar to the injury that his victims have sustained. That is such a barbaric proposition that no one in this House ought to support it. Yet I detected in the right hon. Gentleman's argument that that was a possibility.

    Has the hon. Gentleman ruled out altogether as any part of punishment that the State should carry out some retribution for the people who suffer from crime?

    I do not rule out retribution altogether, but I certainly rule out retribution in kind. What is more, I rule out the argument that retribution is the most crucial concern of the law. I understand that the most crucial concern of the law is protection of the citizen—certainly to punish, but also to ensure that the crime is not repeated and that the number of crimes against society is reduced.

    Hon. and right hon. Members opposite may ask how that is to be done. I recognise that, like the vast majority of people, I am floundering for solutions to these problems. But hon. Members opposite should not think that, because we have a grave social problem for which we require a solution and for which we are finding extreme difficulty in obtaining a solution, clutching at any particular straw will do. That might appease certain of our constituents. Some of them might rightly feel that there should be a simple solution for these problems. But I do not think that it becomes hon. Members to opt for easy non-solutions to such difficulties. The Bill falls precisely into that category.

    I listened carefully to the argument of the hon. Member for Burton and I think that I understood what he was driving at, but I do not think that we can succeed in making the law more closely approximate to the role of the parent or even of the schoolmaster. Parental discipline is efficacious in so far as it is immediate. One of the crippling costs of the law—I am not talking about the financial element—in relation to justice is delay, because it changes the nature of the relationship between the crime and the punishment for it.

    There are, however, extreme dangers in cutting corners with the law. There is a particularly extreme danger in allowing people the option of waiving their legal rights in favour of immediate justice. Let us suppose that they misunderstood the circumstances in which they find themselves. Many young people would find a situation in which options were placed before them in a court scarcely conducive to rational choice. Whatever the choice, it is a choice of punishment that puts them in an inferior position.

    Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that there are already options which an offender can exercise over a vast range of offences? He can opt to have the matter dealt with there and then in the magistrates' court by pleading guilty; he can opt for a trial which will be delayed several weeks, if not months; or, in many instances, he can opt to go to the Crown court, where the trial will be even more protracted and delayed. Therefore, option is not new in our criminal process.

    I accept that, although we must recognise that the thrust of the discussion has been predominantly about young offenders who, in these circumstances, would find the exercise of judicious option rather more difficult.

    I do not think that that gainsays the basic argument that one would be likely to find, certainly if the proposition were put forward for gang offences, that the gang and the social operation of the gang would determine that as and when these situations obtained the only courageous position to adopt would be immediately to exercise the option of physical violence. I am merely maintaining that such an action would reinforce, not destroy, the group norms of the gang, and therefore the deterrent quality would not be present.

    One basic reason why to move the law closer to the action of the parent is a forlorn hope is simply that few parents mete out discipline on the basis of delay. The idea that discipline in the parental home is exercised on the basis of a tally of the criminal or social offences compiled over the week, with a judicial beating at the end of the week, seems to me so remote from reality as to be absurd. When parents mete out justice in these terms, they are not operating in a legal capacity.

    Moreover, most actions by parents are a reflection of the emotional situation in which they find themselves when their children have transgressed. That is precisely the context in which we would not want the law to operate. As I understand good law, emotion is the very feature that one wants to reduce in favour of getting a rational appraisal of punishment fit for the crime. Therefore, any hope of approximating the law courts to the operation of parental discipline is exceedingly forlorn.

    There are other aspects of the Bill, scarcely touched on, which I find distressing and worrying. I am extremely grateful for the arrival in the Chamber of my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun), because I was worried lest the debate should be conducted in excessively and, if she will not mind my saying, aggressively masculine terms. She will not have failed to note that there is no exemption in the Bill of punishment of girls and women.

    The Bill, in terms of the capacity of justices to mete out punishment to girls and women, takes us back not to 1948 but to beyond 1820. The halcyon days to which right hon. and hon. Members opposite would wish us to return are those days when presumably the efficacy of the whip or the birch against women produced a climate of social harmony, mutual tolerance and absence of violence in the early part of the nineteenth century or latter part of the eighteenth century. My social history is somewhat lusty and, some people would say, not particularly polished, but I assure right hon. and hon. Members opposite that if they were to scrutinise the history of the condition of England at that time they would scarcely define it as a period in which violence against the person was at an all-time low because of the efficacy of the deterrent quality of judicial violence against women.

    Therefore, although it is clear that crimes against the person create acute social difficulties and worries in our society, and although we should not underestimate the extent to which people are grievously worried by the development of such activity as football hooliganism, let us not underestimate the social context. Let me give an obvious and germane illustration of the point. The "red army" which follows Manchester United and which causes much disturbance where-ever that famous football team plays is clearly identified, not only as a phenomenon of the City of Manchester and not even related to people particularly interested in football, but as a nationwide phenomenon of people prepared to go for a fight, to dish out and risk physical violence and to receive it. I maintain that they will not be deterred by the threat of the birch. If the social circumstances of their activity change, an enormous change occurs in their behaviour pattern.

    When Manchester United arrived at Wembley for the Cup Final last year, the "red army" did not ransack London, despite fears that it would. That game was played in a totally different atmosphere and was invested with different social values from the normal humdrum places where such people gather to perpetrate their ills. If we hope to cope with these ills, we must change the social context.

    It does right hon. and hon. Members opposite no good to advance arguments from a restrictive social standpoint. Their allusions to the success of corporal punishment within the school environment reflect their own narrow and often privileged background rather more than the reality even of the education system. The most effective discipline is not exerted in institutions where the cane is still used.

    Nor can public schools point to their continued use of the cane as a mark of their success in operating discipline within the schools. Hon. Members opposite should recognise that the discipline of those schools is related much more to the fact that those who go to those schools accept the views given voice to there and seek to reinforce the values incalcated therein.

    Harking hack to what the hon. Gentleman said about the home some minutes ago, surely he recognises that perhaps the most important influence of all for the later life of those about whom he is speaking is the early life in the home.

    Yes, I accept that. That suggests to me that the problems of crime against society developing within the framework of the home relate closely to the degree of social advantage or deprivation in the home. The fact that crime amongst the products of the privileged private sector of education is at a relatively low level has little to do with the use of the cane in that sector and much more to do with the social opportunities to which those people have access and their respect for a society which provides them with the potential to attain the good things in life. The growth in crimes of violence is occurring at a time when our economic and social position is causing a downturn in expectations and many young people experience a degree of deprivation which is often reflected in the degree of social violence which is arising in the great cities.

    Hon. Members should be grateful for the opportunities offered by the right hon. Member to discuss crimes of vandalism, crimes against the person and crimes against property. However, I believe that the Bill enshrines a wholly simplistic and totally inefective solution to a very complex problem.

    2.34 p.m.

    I apologise through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the House, to the Minister, and in particular to my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page), for not having been here when the debate started. The speed with which the earlier business was despatched caught me unawares. However, I have had the opportunity of talking briefly to my right hon. Friend and I have studied the Bill.

    Without making any commitment at this stage to the specific provisions of the Bill, I can say that I agree with the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) that my right hon. Friend has rendered the House and the country a service at least by drafting and presenting the Bill so that this subject can be discussed openly and rationally and we can obtain the Government's views upon it.

    Nobody disputes that the emergence of juvenile crime—particularly violent juvenile crime on the present scale—in absolute terms and as a proportion of all indictable offences is one of the few fundamental changes that have occurred in our post-war society. This great bulge—let us hope that it is a bulge that will suddenly decline as a feature of the total body politic—in violent and in juvenile crime as a whole is one of the most striking and disturbing features of the post-war age.

    I suggest to the hon. Member for Enfield, North that it is not sufficient to refer to this bulge, as I have described it, as a phenomenon of deprivation or lowering standards of expectation, or of social or economic instability. Professor Terence Morris points out in his latest book that delinquency and adult crime rarely occur amongst groups of refugees who arrive in this country fleeing from persecution, say, in Chile or Eastern Europe. These people have been deprived of every material advantage, inheritance and possession. They come here with no expectation of gaining anything in this country, or indeed in any other country in which they may settle. Their only expectation is that of probably being second-class citizents as refugees, and that is something about which they can make little protest because they are only too glad to be here. Yet they rarely resort to crime.

    It is therefore a puzzle that the emergence of juvenile crime cannot necessarily be related to deprivation in resources, in background, in expectations or in any other measurable social phenomenon. It is one of the features of the present day.

    There is a deep-seated and instinctual feeling amongst perhaps the majority of the members of the public outside the rather more rarified environment of the House that corporal punishment is the fitting punishment for youthful violence and vandalism. We must take that feeling into account and be certain that, if we disappoint their expectations, it is on plausible and rational grounds.

    My right hon. Friend has called the Bill the "Corporal Punishment Bill". The title and the use of the word "punishment" are important. The public who think that corporal punishment has a place in our society and should be reintroduced usually run together two separate ideas of punishment—the notions of deterrence and of deserts. They are separate.

    There is no such thing as a just deterrent. Justice in the context of punishment relates to the context of deserts—the just reward, the just retribution. Justice is retributive in this sense. The hon. Member for Enfield, North disputed that it was fitting to visit retribution in kind. Even there he was on weak ground. I would not say that it is a self-evident case that just retribution should be literally in kind corporal as the offence might originally have been a corporal and violent one.

    But we must bear in mind surely that there is an implicit and self-evident justification for considering retribution in a way which bears at least some relation to the original offence. It is not inhuman to think that there should be a fitting desert or retribution. For many people this, in the context of violent crime, leads them to think that a fitting retribution, a fitting judicially administered desert, should have an element of the physical associated with it. We dismiss this instinctual feeling at our peril, because it is deep seated and it is not irrational or unreasonable that the punishment must be not only a deterrent, but a desert.

    I turn now to the merits of the Bill. I am glad that it does not feature the old idea of flogging. I am wholeheartedly against the technical punishment of flogging. I have been against it since a former Conservative Attorney-General, who had some experience of the administration of the cat in the old days, described to me how viciously unpredictable, hazardous and random the effect of that punishment was and how, as often as not, it produced greater hardening or violence in the recipient of the punishment than it was meant to cure and than had been present in the culprit in the first place. I should, without question, reach the conclusion that flogging was entirely inappropriate and should not be resorted to in any circumstances.

    How does that square with the hon. Gentleman's proposition that, if the crime perpetrated had been closely similar to flogging, retribution should follow closely upon it and be of a similar kind?

    I tried to make the point that the notion that retributive justice, just desert, should have some relation to the original crime was instinctually and implicitly reasonable, but that it should not necessarily follow that a specific correlation of retributive justice or desert was appropriate.

    The hon. Member for Enfield, North quoted the Old Testament maxim of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Because people were likely in those days to take a great deal more than an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, it was a precept for moderation, to limit the retributive element of the desert. I suggest that flogging is far too drastic a riposte in the context of any violent crime which is likely to be committed, short of murder, for which other considerations apply. I suggest that flogging goes beyond any reasonable balance of moderation in that context.

    On the more limited proposal in the Bill, I have misgivings both on the score of the deterrent feature of what is appropriate in justice and on the retributive element which should be present. My misgivings on the deterrent aspect are close to what the hon. Member for Enfield, North specified, namely, that we cannot be certain that the deterrent will not be counter-productive. There may be occasions when youngsters like to chalk up, as it were, the number of visitations from the birth that they have received as a virility symbol. And the fact is that the more one undergoes the punishment, the more it is just a tickle and has little serious effect or discomfort. I think that there is doubt whether it is an effective deterrent.

    But here I am an agnostic, not an expert. We want detached and possibly scientific evidence whether the deterrent aspect might or might not be effective. I believe that in some cases it would have an effect. Some youngsters might be deterred.

    My difficulty about the element of retribution arises from the time scale about which my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) spoke with some knowledge from his experience in the courts. My hon. Friend faced the problem head on, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby. The hiatus, the lack of spontaneity and immediacy in the punishment, introduces a new dimension, particularly in relation to what is fair and reasonable, which detracts significantly from the just desert element of corporal punishment. If it is not tob administered promptly, a new, inappropriate element of delay, uncertainty, and so on, is introduced which seriously undermines possibly the deterrent aspect, but certainly the feeling that it is the just riposte. The just riposte to a violent action which may, in the first instance, have been instinctual and spon- taneous, should, as near as possible, be immediate, spontaneous and closely associated with it. If we evacuate that element, I believe that we also evacuate a large degree of the element of appropriate retributive justice in this context.

    I believe that the Government must put before Parliament convincing and demonstrable arguments against the merits of the Bill. It is up to the Government, in the light of the feelings in the country as a whole, to give us positive and convincing reasons why the Bill is not appropriate.

    I am following the hon. Gentleman closely. However, the same feeling as now was present in 1960 and that led to the so-called Barry Report. Nevertheless, the 1960 Committee concluded against corporal punishment in the light not only of feeling, but of the available statistics on the working of the Act.

    The Bill is the result of the rapid change in the incidence of juvenile crimes of violence to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby referred. That is the significant factor. It is post-1965 that we have had this huge bulge in juvenile crimes of violence. This is the new phenomenon. Therefore, it is appropriate that the Government should look at the situation at regular intervals.

    One reason why I am a supporter of the abolition of capital punishment is the irrefutable evidence, as it seems to me, repeatedly tested by different kinds of law applying at different times—the original laws enabling capital punishment to be carried out, the more limited laws enshrined in the Homicide Acts in the early 1960s and latterly the abolition of capital punishment—all evidence that it does not deter. We have had a series of tested situations in which the phenomenon of murder and its punishment has been examined in changed and varied instruments and statutes. Those who have studied the evidence have reached certain conclusions about the effect of capital punishment as a deterrent.

    The public still do not believe it, as the Minister fairly said. When I argue this matter publicly, I am able, in the context of the genuine exchange of views, to bring forward the evidence as I see it. I have invariably found that many people who started with the conviction that capital punishment was right, after having heard the facts from abolitionists, have at the end been fifty-fifty for and against. They do not read the rational arguments in the headlines.

    But there is not the same up-to-date evidence about the birch. In the present state of public knowledge and in the light of the juvenile crime figures, I think that there is a convincing argument for the reintroduction of a controlled experiment in this area. Corporal punishment exists still in the maintained school sector. I think that my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby would contradict me if that were not so. Many headmasters still have the right to cane children, and they value that right. They do not use it often, but they value it.

    I believe that it is up to the Government to carry out a controlled experiment in this sphere, and my right hon. Friend's Bill would enable such an experiment to take place. It might be right to consider a controlled experiment in relation to vandalism in schools. One of the most serious problems involved with vandalism and hooliganism is the massive quantity of damage and public expenditure caused by vandalism by pupils. There may be a case for juvenile vandalism in schools, through the vehicle of this Act, being remitted to headmasters with a view to its being dealt with by corporal punishment. That could be done in the context of the Bill.

    There is scope here for discovering whether the limited circumstances in which corporal punishment can now be used in maintained schools should, through the vehicle of the Bill, be extended in an experimental way to a closely associated catchment area where there is much juvenile hooliganism and vandalism.

    Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was kind enough to refer to my attempt to meet the objections about delay in implementation, will my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) venture an opinion upon the suggestion that I put forward—that we consider offering an option to parents and children to elect to have a corporal penalty there and then as opposed to go through the criminal system?

    That seems to be an arguable proposition and I should like to hear the Minister's view. If it could effectively remove the hiatus—and that is what concerns us—it should be looked at carefully. I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby believes that hooliganism at football matches—which often results in youngsters appearing before magistrates the next day—is an area where it might be possible to conceive of ways of avoiding the hiatus so that the punishment could fit the crime.

    However, I am agnostic in this matter. I am against flogging and I am not convinced that the deterrent aspect of birching is strong enough to be a valid factor, or that there is a real case to argue in favour of the appropriate retribution to violence by youngsters being a corporal riposte, even if it can be humanely reintroduced. This should be looked at, but I am not fully convinced. I look forward with interest to hearing the Minister's arguments.

    2.53 p.m.

    It is a tremendous pleasure to follow the Opposition spokesman, because I am sure that he is a most humane man and that when he talks about being unsure about flogging he really means it. However, I am not sure what he means by corporal punishment, because it is surely a matter of degree as to whether one has flogging or birching. In the end the result is the same.

    I apologise to the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and to the House that I was not here to hear his speech, but I look forward to reading it in the Official Report. However, as I came into the Chamber I heard the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) say something about the cane being a deterrent in school. From my experience in schools I differ about that, but I shall come to that later.

    The Bill purports to deal with offenders who have inflicted bodily harm or are guilty of malicious damage to property. The possibility of a controlled experiment for dealing with people who cause vandalism in schools was mentioned. The word "experiment" was used by the hon. Member for Burton, who suggested selecting a place such as Liverpool or London for the controlled experiment. Although the hon. Member is not now in the Chamber, I should like to ask him, why not Burton? I do not know whether that town has a record of excellence in these matters, but I cannot imagine that it would be easy to select any particular place where such an an experiment could be carried out.

    The problem that now faces the country can be tackled by various means. I agree with right hon. and hon. Members who have already spoken—and certainly with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies)—that we have a problem and that the country is now terribly worried about it. Hon. Members constantly receive representations about what Parliament should do. The Bill and the right hon. Gentleman's proposals fall short of an answer.

    Even while corporal punishment was still a judicial penalty, it fell into disuse during the first half of this century. That in itself is an indication that corporal punishment is not needed. I know that emotions are aroused when a particularly horrific incident occurs, but most rational people generally do not look to corporal punishment as a means of eliminating such behaviour. Informed opinion is agreed that if corporal punishment were proved to be a deterrent it might be acceptable. However, on the evidence that we have, that has not been proved, and in those circumstances I should be the last person to support the Bill.

    It might well be that the threat of corporal punishment would deter a potential offender, but there is certainly little proof that it would affect the hardened criminal. In this context I can speak from my own experience as a school teacher who entered teaching at a time when corporal punishment and the cane were still in fashion. According to my recollection, the same boys were constantly and repeatedly the victims of the cane. In my experience, it was no effective deterrent in those cases.

    It may well be that the traditional "six of the best" earned a temporary respite for the harassed teacher, but the sensitive teacher had a feeling of complete defeat after inflicting the punishment. In no way did the cane offer an alternative for the personality of the competent teacher who had no need of corporal punishment to control his class. That the cane has been eliminated in most schools is a matter for general satisfaction, certainly in the teaching profession. In the same way, the reintroduction of corporal punishment under the law would be a defeat for society, and somewhere along the line the imposition of collective social personality is, and can be, the only answer to the criminal.

    The abolition of corporal punishment was slower in this country than in most others. There is no evidence of demand for reintroduction of the penalty. There is little assurance that such punishment could effectively reduce the crimes referred to in the Bill. If the object is to deter, why stop at the birch? Why stop at the cane? Why not have more severe penalties? That is the danger. If we introduce corporal punishment and it fails, we go a step further. Why not capital punishment? There was a time in our society when capital punishment was used for the sorts of crime for which the right hon. Gentleman would inflict corporal punishment.

    Apart from the general aspects, there are certain specific objections to the Bill. One of its main weaknesses is the delay which must occur between the commission of an offence and the actual punishment. In the case of appeal against sentence, the infliction of punishment would not be seen to have much relationship to the original offence. No mention is made in the Bill of who would administer the punishment. It would be a most distasteful job and would hardly commend itself to the police or the prison service. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would shudder at the idea that perhaps he himself might be called upon to inflict such punishment.

    We are living in difficult times, and violence is a matter of grave concern. There is increasing fear, and fear demands retribution and harsh punishment. That feeling is understandable but it cannot outweigh the judgment of such bodies as the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders as recently as 1960. After consideration of the evidence, the council concluded that corporal punishment in no way assured any substantial reduction in crime or protection for its victims.

    In all, the effect of the Bill would be retrograde. It would brutalise the victim and it would brutalise the executioner. At the next annual general meeting of the Tory ladies, the right hon. Gentleman may be a darling held up as a paragon that the Conservative Party should follow.

    3.4 p.m.

    I suppose that, much maligned as hon. Members are, one thread runs throughout our lives whatever our political party. It is that somehow, in some way, we seek to make life better for everyone. That we happen to make it worse is quite incidental.

    I have a sense of shame that this Bill to bring back the birch, the cane and the strap is before the House. It is a sad reflection on society that it is being debated because, although it may be said that it is populist, that the great majority of people outside may wish to support it, it is retrogressive in that it gives up hope for the dignified society that most of us wish to work for.

    Fundamentally, the Bill would revert to the barbarism of the past instead of using the situations that we have learned about, the feelings that we have as civilised human beings, our ideals, and our hopes to solve problems. There are some right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who nostalgically refer to their schooldays. That is the "A good whacking never did me any harm" syndrome. They may continue to enjoy their school day fantasies, but there is no way that they should inflict such fantasies on the House of Commons.

    Violent juvenile crime is a reflection of adults in society. It is to the adults that we must look to solve the various and serious problems of increasing violence that concern us all. It is no answer to bring back the birch, the strap or the cane. That is the easy way out.

    By and large, children grow into adults despite the adults who bring them up and despite the education system. That has always been so. The one thing that adults must learn is that children are people, too, and need to be left alone as much as possible by adults. They also need to be given rights as people, dignified rights.

    What happens when a young adult becomes a terrifyingly violent human being who is responsible for his actions? What is to be done? I suggest that the answer is not to put the clock back, as the Bill seeks to do, popular though that may be.

    I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies)—I am sorry that he is not in the Chamber—that women are rarely violent. I believe that crimes of violence committed by women are very rare. We are kind, sweet and charming, but tough, aggressive and assertive in the same way as men. However, we are rarely violent.

    What does the Bill seek to do? What is the sense or purpose behind it? Opposition spokesmen talk of controlled experiments and, unbelievably, suggest that head teachers should be given what they call "options". But what is being hidden behind that language? In this place language is very important. Despite talk of options and controlled experiments, it is the undeniable fact that the Opposition believe that adults should be permitted to indulge in the birching, caning and strapping of kids. Punishment appears to be the message of the Opposition. That is punishment that in itself will stack up more violence. It is punishment that gives too much power to adults, to head teachers.

    We are talking about punishment that will, by and large, be meted out to the underprivileged kids in the schools. It causes me a great sense of shame that a Bill to bring back corporal punishment should be before the House of Commons in April 1977. It means that until April 1977 we have been defeated in our attempts to solve one of the serious problems of our society.

    We have, to a very large extent, reverted today to the barbarism of the past. We are showing people outside, except those who use words such as "retribution", "birching", and "caning", that the House not only lives in the past but wants to revert to the past and does not want to put its mind to where it has gone wrong and what we ought to be doing to put that right. It wants to shelve its responsibilities behind the popular move of bringing back the birch, and I am totally ashamed of it.

    3.11 p.m.

    I rise to intervene only briefly. One might make the comment to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Colquhoun) that many of the speeches today have not shown that the House is going back into barbarism, but neither have the speeches against the Bill shown a way forward.

    I think that a consideration of the effects of corporal punishment and the occasions when it might be beneficial—if one uses that term both in the individual case and in terms of society—would be a good thing. It is alarming that some of the speeches that we have heard—I apologise for not being present for the whole debate—have shown little sign of recognising that society has become brutalised by the increase in vandalism and violent assaults. Yet great attention is given to opposing a Bill of this kind without going into detailed consideration and without giving it the chance for a Second Reading when we let go by the very serious increase in violent assaults, not merely in the North-West and not merely in the central areas of the big cities, including London, but out in the suburban areas, such as my constituency.

    The Home Office has kindly provided me with some figures on the increase of both vandalism and violent assaults in my constituency. It is quite clear that society is becoming brutalised. Many inner city areas are losing people whom they desperately need because of the trends of violence and vandalism. We cannot claim as a society that either our schools or the ways in which we can inculcate responsibility, through parents, through the treatment centres, through courts or juvenile bureaux, have been any kind of social control over this deviance. We have not been very successful.

    If we become too excited about the reintroduction of corporal punishment, we are doing a disservice to the victims of violent crimes, and we are often doing a disservice to society itself. In other forms of legislation we impose far fiercer penalties, but, because they do not involve the direct imposition of violence, we seem to accept them. I use as an example—though not one that I would want to follow too far—the threat of making people lose their jobs for doing something that may, one side of the House, be regarded as a matter of individual conscience, such as not joining a closed shop when in employment. We sit by and let someone lose his job, with all the incalculable consequences for the family which may lead to increased domestic violence and to the sort of home conditions that will cause children to grow up to be deviant, anti-social or violent, yet we do not seem to see these things coming together.

    The arguments for considering the reintroduction of corporal punishment lie in various fields. One of the most effective and worthy of serious consideration is that of cost-benefit. The cost to the community of some of the alternative ways—picking up an expression from a Labour Member—of imposing a collective social personality on someone who has been committing violent crimes is very high and the cost to the individual is very high. Sending someone to prison normally means that he loses his job. Sending someone to Borstal normally means that he loses his job. The consequences of the punishment or the deterrent must be balanced, looking at the matter from the point of view of the individual who has been convicted as well. We do not seem to have heard much about that today in most of the speeches that I have heard.

    As time is short, the only point that I shall make is that we must not be carried away by the ideas held in the words "harsh punishment" and we must not be mealy-mouthed about condemning corporal punishment. We must give serious consideration to effective methods of treating criminals, both from their point of view and that of society. We also need to pay serious attention, more serious than that which we have given in our occasional debates, to how we can bring up young people so that they make a useful contribution to society. We must not let deviant behaviour become the norm. This is where the Bill comes in.

    What deterrent is there to a young person who is caught up in a gang when there is a determination to go further or when a young person is on the fringes of a gang which might be involved in assaults such as plague South London? Can such a young person say to the leader of the group "Look, we had better not do this or we shall be hauled up before the juvenile panel"? How can he say "Golly, we might be called before the magistrates"? That is not sufficient incentive to stop a possible crime.

    It would be wise for the House to give a Second Reading to the Bill. I say that not because I support all of its implications, but because it would focus attention on details which are being totally ignored.

    I do my best to resist the total pressure for the return of capital punishment. I also try to get away from the so-called liberal attitude from the green fields that voice the serious problems in our society. I try to remove myself from the argument about whether we have a brutalised society that is shown up by an increase in violence and crime.

    3.17 p.m.

    On a Friday I am normally in my constituency, and I must explain to the House why I am here today. I am here to oppose this obnoxious little Bill. Most Bills contain something to commend them. Apart from the economy of words in this Bill, there is little else that can be said in favour of it. It is a mischievous, pernicious and barbaric piece of prospective legislation that must be quashed. I hope that the House does not give the Bill a Second Reading. There are better things that we could do than waste time week after week in Committee talking about corporal punishment.

    We recognise that there is a growth in crime. We recognise the dangers to some people in some parts of the country when they walk out at night. However, that danger is much exaggerated. Our society is still honest and basically non-violent. Flogging and birching is not a solution to our problems. We wants to find ways to protect members of society, but the Bill is the wrong way of going about it.

    When I heard that an hon. Member had introduced a Bill to turn back the clock, jump into a time machine and return to the eighteenth century, many names sprang to my mind. I did not think that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) came into that category. He is a man of known moderation, and in a moment of weakness one might say that he is of saintly appearance.

    I appreciate that the hon. Member has been wheeled into the debate by the Whips to keep the discussion going so that the Bill will be talked out. If he thinks so highly of me, he might have done me the courtesy of listening to my speech.

    I would not put myself into the category of those who are soft on punishment. I am as aware as anyone of the growth of violence. I get angry when I see light sentences given to people who have committed crimes which I consider, from my superficial knowledge of the case, to merit more serious punishment. I am incensed when, as a football supporter, I see a minority of fans descend on a town with the same destructive capabilities as cowboys after six months on the trail. Bearing this in mind, I feel that whipping is hardly a solution.

    It was Jeremy Bentham who said:
    "The Legislator who orders whipping knows not what he does; the judge is nearly as ignorant"
    We should approach this subject in a dispassionate manner. We ought not to get too emotional. We should look at the facts. Undoubtedly there are many people in my constituency, as in every other constituency, who, if they were given the opportunity, would vote in favour of whipping, of castration for sex offenders, and of kicking out of the country one group or another. There are many prejudices. It is not our role in this legislature to bow before every one of them.

    We are entitled to exercise our judgment. Obviously, in a case like this the limited attendance on both sides of the House, particularly on the Opposition side, is an indication that the degree of support for the Bill is much less than the right hon. Member would wish. The Bill is undoubtedly retrogressive. It takes us back to feudalism. If we reinstate corporal punishment, we shall be virtually the odd man out in the civilised world. There are many other countries which have, like us, a long and dishonourable tradition of birching and beating. Other countries before us have abolished corporal punishment, and although some have far worse crime rates they are not clamouring for the reintroduction of corporal punishment. We cannot claim that we have the most enlightened or humane penal system. At least, we have not yet in this House tarnished our reputation further by demanding the restoration of the flogging laws.

    During the course of the day I was looking at some material, which I thought would be a way of spending my time more profitably than listening to the speech of the right hon. Member for Crosby, which I knew I could read on Monday. Having read the Bill, I was fully aware of the kind of speech that would be made. I came across the Cadogan Report, to which hon. Members have referred. I also came across the Seventh Report of the Commissioners on Criminal Law published in 1843. Here were members of the ruling class, the fairly reactionary Establishment, with views on criminal law far more enlightened that than those to be found in some parts of the House.

    The Commissioners adopted the approach that:
    "it inflicts an ignominious and indelible disgrace on the offender"—
    I think we would agree with that—
    "and tends, we believe, to render him callous, and greatly to obstruct his return to any honest course of life."
    In 1843 people realised that flogging was detrimental to the interests of society as a whole as well as to its individual citizens. They saw clearly that one obvious way of rendering a person who committed a criminal act a criminal for life was to whip him.

    That view was reinforced in the Cadogan Report of 1938, which said:
    "corporal punishment is apt to produce feelings of resentment and bitterness, which may make the offender more anti-social and more, rather than less, likely to commit other offences. It is essentially an unconstructive penalty. At the best, it can exercise no positive reformative influence: at the worst, it may produce reactions which make the individual who receives it less willing, or less able, than he was before to lead an honest and useful life in the community."
    I do not believe that the young people we are talking about, who commit crimes of violence, are beyond redemption. Beating them will not cure them. Penal thought has greatly matured since 1843.

    The hon. Member has quoted the Cadogan Report. That dealt with robbery and crimes of violence and related only to flogging. That has nothing to do with the Bill.

    It does not really matter how one couches the words "flogging". "birching" and "beating"

    If the hon. Gentleman had listened to earlier speeches, particularly mine, he would know that I said that the Bill was nothing to do with flogging or the "cat". Flogging is normally thought of as the term for use of the cat-o'-nine-tails.

    Since I have not had the advantage of listening to the right hon. Gentleman's speech I am prepared to withdraw that point. But whatever terminology is used, corporal punishment still involves physical beating, whatever the weapon used. I lump together flogging, beating and birching because I think that in many ways they are interchangeable.

    Will my hon. Friend reject the indignation of the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) and reflect that the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders dealt specifically with corporal punishment, which I understand the right hon. Member for Crosby is proposing to introduce?

    I was going to refer to the rather more recent material in the report of the 1960 Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders, which updated the Cadogan Report and found more modern studies. There is no evidence to support the argument that the beating of people would be beneficial to society and reduce crime. The statistical analysis in the council's report confirmed the Cadogan Report. If anyone argues that the Cadogan Report is 40 years out of date, there is more recent material to verify the view that it took.

    Therefore, 130 years ago people rejected the "Attila the Hun" approach to penal reform and the idea that retribution swift and terrible should fall on the perpetrator of a crime. Even in the nineteenth century we moved away from the purely retributive and punitive element of punishment. Even then, many people saw the need for a reformative element. We must not turn the clock back in our analysis of penal reform by bringing on to the statute book a law that would generate an excessive element of retribution. That would be wholly unwarranted.

    I shall not say that the Bill is badly drafted, because I am in the process of drafting my own Bill and I know all the obstacles that a Back Bencher faces in producing a Bill that is acceptable to competent parliamentary draftsmen. As my hon. Friends have said, however, today's Bill confers a spurious equality on women.

    There are some women Members who have broad enough backs to withstand a judicial beating, but I am not advocating that. Moreover, the mind boggles at the thought of a Bill becoming law that would allow society to beat or flog women. There are some women and men who might find flogging desirable, but we are not referring to them now. We are referring to the majority of women who will recoil with horror at the prospect of being prospective "whipping girls".

    I do not support the flogging or beating of men, but a Bill that would incorporate beating or flogging for women is too ludicrous for words. Any legislature with any pretentions to being moderate or in any way civilised must respond in the most hostile fashion to proposed legislation of that kind.

    On the subject of football hooliganism, often raised today, I feel most incensed when I see youngsters—and some who are not so young—committing acts of violence and doing a disservice to the rest of the members and supporters of their football club, but to assume that one can punish them by beating them is too laughable for words. Referring again to the Cadogan Report, I note that it looked at violence amongst youngsters and asked whether there was not a considerable danger that people who had just been birched would be regarded as heroes among their companions. A Manchester United fan who was arrested and birched would be almost trembling with excitement at the prospect of telling his friends what had been meted out to him. He would try hard to take his punishment like a man and to show his punishers how tough he was. He would also want to show that he had not been intimidated, and an obvious way of doing that would be to go out and repeat the crime.

    The Cadogan Report said:
    "Cases have been cited to us in which boys who have been birched have committed a fresh offence within a few days of the birching, sometimes even on the same day … there is good reason to suppose that in many of these cases the boy committed the second offence mainly in order to establish himself in the eyes of his companions."
    I am sure that there is fresh evidence to fortify this 40-year-old analysis.

    We are often told that magistrates are too soft on hooligans, but I suggest that we should look at the punishments that are available to the courts. They are incredibly severe. For common assault the maximum punishment is one year in prison. For endangering life it is life imprisonment. For criminal damage it is 10 years. For wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm the maximum is life imprisonment. Anyone who thinks that the law is not potentially severe enough needs only to look at the arsenal of weapons available to the judiciary.

    I hope that the hon. Member will expand on the question of fresh evidence concerning the conclusions of the report. Will he say why the conclusion he reached about repetition of offences does not apply equally to terms of imprisonment and fines?

    If one looks at the reasons for soccer violence, one needs to consider the environment within which the people concerned are living. As a liberal member of his party, the hon. Gentleman should be aware of that. Far more sophisticated weapons are available to society to combat soccer violence than simply catching youngsters and hammering hell out of them. That will do no good, and there is a great deal of evidence to support my claim.

    Violence is still inflicted by society on youngsters in schools. The majority of the teaching profession is in favour of maintaining corporal punishment. In my area we still use a venomous little weapon called the tawse. A former chairman of the education committee was reported in the Daily Telegraph two years ago as say in that it seemed appropriate to use the tawse as the town had always had a strong link with the leather trade. That is why the tawse is still used. Thankfully it is used more sparingly now, and constraints have been made by the local authority on its use. But it is quite intolerable that corporal punishment is still meted out in our schools.

    Conservatives may say that they were punished as youngsters in school, and perhaps that is the best example we could have for not inflicting such punishment on others. We are told by those who are called experts that we need to enter politics to compensate for psychological deprivation suffered during childhood

    Some Conservative Members may have had an additional psychological deprivation in the form of physical punishment, and that may be why they hold the views they do. No Frenchman, German or Swede will accept that his youngster could be beaten by a civil servant or a teacher. They may accept that a teacher, in total frustration, may whack a pupil. There are, however, few countries, including even the supposedly totalitarian and dictatorial nations, which would think of inflicting physical punishment on children. I hope that we will some day get round to the idea, as most other countries have done, of abolishing the strap, the tawse and the whip.

    There are few things that can be said in support of the Bill. I very much hope that it dies a death and that the way in which it dies will offer the right hon. Gentleman no encouragement to reintroduce it. I willingly concede that he has a great deal of support, but in this House there is a strong tradition on both sides of compassion and liberalism. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members will not tolerate the reintroduction of a barbaric practice which has been rendered obsolete for 100 years.

    It is amazing that we are even thinking of reintroducing corporal punishment. Let us surely look at other devices available to assist in bringing about the changes that we want to see. We all agree that there is too much violence, but meeting violence with violence is barbaric and I hope that the Bill will die a death today.

    3.35 p.m.

    I share the lack of welcome which my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) gives the Bill. I should be more confident of its dying a death if it did not have the status of a perennial flower which is cut down and seems to die in the autumn only to be resurrected a year hence.

    I have purposely waited until this stage of the debate in order to give hon. Members an opportunity to state their views as fully as possible. While I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) about welcoming the opportunity of debating the subject, I do not welcome the focus of that opportunity.

    I would summarise the Government's view at the beginning. It is that we do not agree with the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) on the matter of principle. We disagree even more strongly with regard to the details of his Bill. I shall be criticising it in detail during the course of this speech. But nothing I say—this is common ground between both sides of the House—detracts from the fact that we are deeply concerned about the crime rate and about the problem of the victims.

    The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) in a sense visualised the matter as if we were an isolated country producing a phenomenon of greater violence and crimes all told. We are not. This is part of an international phenomenon. I would say to right hon. and hon. Members that if the mere severity of punishment were in itself an answer to the rising crime rate, the problem of combating crime would be a simple one. But the fact is, and this has been proved in our own history during ages as well as in international history, that it is a very much more sophisticated problem than that.

    I reject the principle precisely because I believe that hon. Members are giving a simplistic solution to a very complex problem. Indeed, simplistic solutions which did not work would call for further and harsher simplistic solutions which would bring about a greater measure of disillusionment and a greater sense among people of the unreality with which we face the situation. It is right that people should be told fairly and squarely that the combating of crime is an enormously complex and difficult problem. We should always be alive to the question of how we minimise it, and in what way, but there is no single coin-operated solution that will produce a diminution in crime.

    Additionally, corporal punishment is an emotive issue. It is none the worse for that, provided that the emotion is harnessed. Although emotion may guide our expressions of feeling, it is not a sufficient basis alone upon which to approach legislation. We therefore have to approach the question in a rational manner. To judge by many of the people who write to us, and from some of the speeches, there is a lack of appreciation of how far we should be turning back the clock if we were to agree the Second Reading today.

    It is 28 years since, by Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1948, we abolished the corporal punishment provision. The right hon. Member for Crosby, in an intervention, said that the Cadogan Report dealt only with robbery with violence. This was because even before 1948 the powers of courts to impose corporal punishment existed only for a very much narrower category of offences, which mainly consisted of robbery with violence. Even during the nineteenth century there was a steady reduction in sentences of corporal punishment.

    The hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) made, from the point of view of advocates of corporal punishment, an interesting and well argued speech, but he fell into error by not considering the fact that before 1948 magistrates had allowed corporal punishment to fall into disuse, even when it was available for the punishment of juveniles, because they had concluded from their personal experience of imposing such sentences that they were not effective as a deterrent. But, for many of the offences that would be caught by the Bill, I am bound to tell the right hon. Member for Crosby that it is 1861 since many of the offences of which he spoke were eligible for corporal punishment. For women it was abolished in 1820. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman presents the spectacle of someone marching resolutely forward to the nineteenth century.

    I refer the right hon. Member for Crosby to paragraph 85 of the Barry Report on corporal punishment, particularly on the subject of the disuse of juvenile punishments. I cannot agree with the right hon. Gentleman that this is a post-war phenomenon. This country has been much slower than most in abolishing juvenile punishments. What is significant is not necessarily that we were behind the rest when we abolished them, but that this of all countries is the only country which seeks to reintroduce the penalty. All other countries which have done away with it and which are faced with similar syndromes of crimes and violence—

    Yes, in many cases much worse—have not sought to reintroduce punishment of this sort. We should be alone among the countries of the Council of Europe if we were to introduce judicial corporal punishment.

    I intervened in the speech of the right hon. Member for Crosby on the question of birching in the Isle of Man. The right hon. Gentleman introduced a disingenuous argument when he tried to wriggle out of the fact that the European Commission on Human Rights, by 14 votes to one, had decided to refer the question of birching in the Isle of Man to the European Court of Human Rights because it was degrading treatment or punishment by saying that it was not defended. But he cannot get away from the fact that it was decided by 14 votes to one by people who, as a preliminary issue at any rate, must interpret the convention, that such punishment was degrading or inhuman.

    I am somewhat hobbled in dealing with this matter because of the sub judice rule, and I should prefer, if possible, to leave it there.

    I wish to correct what the hon. Gentleman said about my comments. I admit that there was merely a decision by the Commission that there was a prima facie case to answer. My point was that the case had not been answered. Nobody had defended it.

    Certainly, in so far as that is true. No court case has yet been heard. No defence has yet been issued. I took careful note of what the right hon. Gentleman said originally. He said that it was not degrading, that it was not inhuman, that what he was saying did not fall within that definition. That was his categoric statement. This is the purpose of my rebutting the point.

    What the proponents of the reintroduction of corporal punishment must assure us of, at the very least, leaving aside the humanitarian arguments, though I do not believe that they can be left aside, is that the very reintroduction of corporal punishment would make a substantial impact upon crime. It is noticeable that no evidence has been adduced—

    I cannot say why the right hon. Gentleman did not adduce the evidence. It is no use saying "I have heard", or "Some man told me", or giving all the other subjective opinions which are impossible of collation and which are not collated. Of course there are subjective opinions on this side. Where the right hon. Gentleman is so woefully wrong on this question is that the subjective opinions on this side are backed up by two commissions which have carried out independent and objective research into the subject. The right hon. Gentleman can point to no such support on his side.

    Does not the Minister consider that there is an obligation upon the Government now to elicit the facts so that all the statistics, the opinions and the views can be ascertained as from 1977 and not as from 1938 and 1960?

    The hon. Gentleman is asking that facts be elicited. The Government constantly keep under review the question of criminal penalties. This is why the Criminal Law Bill is being introduced in this House next week. However, there are no facts—

    I must be allowed to continue this argument, if hon. Gentlemen ask me questions, they must suffer the penalty and listen to the answers.

    The hon. Member for Burton has asked for facts. As 1948 was the last year in which corporal punishment was used, no new facts about the incidence of new offences, for instance, would come to light. All that would come to light is how many more people had written to the hon. Gentleman in the meantime.

    I can quote to the hon. Gentleman the facts set out in the report to which reference has been made. It was stated in 1960 that a large number of people had written to the advisory council supporting the return of the birch. It was stated also—this is why the Departmental Committee on Corporal Punishment was setup—that there had been a growing demand for the reintroduction of the penalty.

    So there is no new phenomenon, no new shift of public opinion, which was not evident also in 1960. Therefore, the statistics and the facts, with which I shall deal in more detail, are as relevant today as they were then, because the statistics and the facts are concerned primarily with the incidence of re-offending by people who had received corporal punishment and those who had not where the crimes were similar.

    If hon. Members will go through the tables produced for the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders they will see that, if their argument were to be correct, because of the deterrent value of the birch those who had received corporal punishment would have re-offended less than those who had not. "Once birched, you never forget it"—that is a summary in crude form of the argument of hon. Members.

    The Advisory Council found exactly the opposite—that a greater percentage of those who had received corporal punishment for their offences re-offended than those who had not received corporal punishment. Whatever the level of the crime, what is relevant is the rate of re-offence and whether, by the imposition of corporal punishment, re-offence is to be prevented or whether it is encouraged in some way. That would operate at whatever rate crime was being committed.

    Are there not two elements of deterrence? The first is the deterrent to an offender, upon which the Minister is now speaking. The second element of deterrence is to others than the offender. That is the feature upon which the Minister cannot produce statistics.

    No one can produce evidence about that matter. That is so whether we appoint fine enforcement officers or, for instance, in the case of the penalty of imprisonment in default of paying fines. The deterrent is not to people who go to prison, but to those who would have gone but were deterred. That is not a scientific matter. Either the people who re-offended were typical because they re-offended despite the birch, or the hon. Gentleman's statistics and arguments are wrong.

    The Cadogan Committee in 1938 reached the view that there was no evidence that corporal punishment administered to adults was especially effective as a deterrent. That was analysed statistically. The Committee also noted that the more experienced juvenile courts had discontinued the use of birching, because they had not found it a deterrent.

    The Committee made the point—right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should take this on board—that, instead of the crime causing revulsion to parents in the sense "Our son has done wrong and disgraced us", the imposition or superimposition of corporal punishment as a penalty for the crime often led to sympathy going out to the offender. The imposition of the penalty evoked sympathy rather than the reverse.

    Reference has been made to birching being a symbol of courage or of manhood—the British equivalent to the German duelling scar. That is not an unfair comparison. In many cases it would be such a badge of courage. That again is not new.

    Right hon. and hon. Members know the distinguished membership of the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders and therefore would not level at it the accusation that it was yet one more collection of do-gooders, but to others outside this House that may not be so. One vital point should be pondered well by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen. The Barry Report stated that some members of the council had started out in favour of the reintroduction of the birch. The fact that they unanimously came to the conclusion that it should not be reintroduced was despite some of their initial prejudices. I should have thought that point would weigh heavily with right hon. and hon. Members.

    The Minister was dealing with the statistics when I tried to intervene a little earlier. Did not the Barry Report specifically state:—

    "The statistical evidence on this aspect of deterrence, namely, the further deterrence of the person who had received judicial corporal punishment, is, therefore, no more conclusive than that on the deterrent effect of this penalty on others."
    Why does the Minister keep using Barry as his Bible in support of this argument?

    I keep using the Barry Report because it is the only one in recent history which has dealt with the matter in an unemotive way, which the right hon. Gentleman did not do today. So far from the right hon. Gentleman discharging the burden of proof—

    The right hon. Gentleman has got his headline for his local paper. That is the way that he has approached the matter.

    I shall not give way on this point. The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that he has failed to discharge the duty of proving that the punishment that he says should be reintroduced is any deterrent at all. The House must consider—

    No. I have given way many times and I must make the Government's case on this point.

    The House must decide whether corporal punishment would get in the way of other methods of treatment. We frequently hear that community service orders are worth while and that they are a constructive way of tackling juvenile crime. If corporal punishment were added to the calendar of punishments available to the judiciary, such constructive attempts to integrate and to militate against such offences would be effectively destroyed. The Bill is reactionary.

    The hon. Member for Burton said that punishment has failed, but I must remind him that it is only five years since the Criminal Justice Act was passed in 1972, and that is a short time in which to deal with the question and to see whether the punishments and framework that it provided are succeeding. That is certainly so when one bears in mind that the Criminal Law Bill will be introduced next week.

    I hope that before the Minister concludes he will reconsider and withdraw his allegation that the motive of my right hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) was to obtain local newspaper headlines. This has been a useful debate and that remark was not worthy of the Minister.

    The right hon. Member for Crosby was being extremely offensive. The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) might not have seen him, but I did. I did not say that that was his sole motive, but that the emotive way in which he approached the subject would have got the headlines. It is no use the right hon. Member sneering at my use of statistics when he dealt with the matter in the emotive way that he did.

    There are practical objections to the Bill. First, there are gross deficiencies. We do not know for which offences corporal punishment would be available. It is dealt with as an additional form and not a substitutional form of punishment in the Bill, and it could therefore be introduced for a number of offences punishable by anything from life imprisonment to a care and protection order.

    The Bill does not deal with the age of offenders. It is no use saying that

    Division No. 115]

    AYES

    [3.59 p.m.

    Alison, MichaelPage, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby)TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
    Bottomley, PeterTaylor, R. (Croydon NW)Mr. Ivan Lawrence and
    Langford-Holt, Sir JohnWeatherill, BernardMr. Andrew Bowden.

    NOES

    Carter-Jones, LewisGeorge, BruceSnape, Peter
    Cocks, Rt Hon MichaelHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
    Colquhoun, Ms MaureenHoram, JohnWeitzman, David
    Cunningham, G. (Islington S.)John, Brynmor
    Deakins, EricMikardo, IanTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
    English, MichaelPavitt, LaurieMr. Ted Graham and
    Freeson, ReginaldRichardson, Miss JoMr. Ernest G. Perry.

    As it appears from the result of the Division that 40 Members are not the Bill can be changed, because we must deal with it as it stands and it leaves the matter open as to whether adults and juveniles can be corporally punished. The right hon. Member must tell us whether 55 and 60-year-old people would be affected by the Bill and whether the matter would be left open.

    The Bill does not make clear whether corporal punishment would be reserved for first offences or whether it would be available on subsequent offences. The main argument, dealt with by the hon. Member for Barkston Ash, is the delay in the infliction of corporal punishment. It might be right in the home that the immediate imposition of corporal punishment does some good. As a father, I often think that it does more good to the parent than to the child and that that is the chief motive for it.

    Leaving that aside, it is implicit in the right hon. Gentleman's scheme that between the commission of the offence—and that is the crucial date, not the date of conviction—and the punishment a long time may elapse. It is no use the right hon. Gentleman saying that in cases of football hooliganism the punishment might be only a day or two days later. That limitation is not contained in the Bill. Therefore, if one is not to abrogate the responsibilities of the court—and I must talk in shorthand to the right hon. Gentleman—his scheme—

    Question put, That the Question be now put:—

    The House divided: Ayes 6, Noes 17.

    Present, the business under consideration stands over until the next sitting of the House.

    Dunfermline College Of Physical Education For Women (Change Of Name) Bill

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Second Reading deferred till Friday next.

    Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill Lords

    Order for Second Reading read.

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 66 (Second Reading Committees) That the Bill be now read a Second time.

    Question agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read a Second time.

    Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills)

    Motion made,

    That it be an Instruction to any Committee to which the Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Bill [Lords] may be committed that they have power to make provision in the Bill to enable motor vehicles to be used on journeys falling partly within and partly outside experimental areas designated in accordance with the Bill.—[Mr. Graham.]

    Passenger Vehicles (Experimental Areas) Money

    Queen's Recommendation having been signified

    Motion made, and Question proposed,

    That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to enable the requirements of Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1960 and other requirements applying to or in connection with public service vehicles to be modified in areas designated as experimental areas by the Secretary of State, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase in rate support grant which is attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session authorising the making of arrangements for the grant of travel concessions.—[Mr. Graham.]

    4.10 p.m.

    We have already taken some time after 4 o'clock today, and I know that there is at least one hon. Member who has an urgent engagement outside the House besides the Minister. Therefore, I do not think that it would be right to take up much time on the Money Resolution this afternoon, for that reason and that reason alone. Otherwise, it would be right to take up the allotted time and go on until 4.55 p.m. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister—the Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam)—is very happy that someone else has an engagement outside the House besides himself. However, if this becomes a habit I shall have to rethink the procedure.

    The Money Resolution authorises an addition to the rate support grant in respect of the expenditures authorised in the Bill. I should like to ask, first whether any addition to the rate support grant as a result of the Bill and of this Money Resolution is thought likely to be additional to the rate support grant that would otherwise be authorised. That is, of course, always a difficult question to which to find the answer, because no one knows what the rate support grant would otherwise be. We shall not know that until next year, by which time these particular expenditures will no doubt be mopped up and embraced in the total for the rate support grant, which, being very large, will swamp the minor expenditure involved in the Bill.

    I notice that the last paragraph of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on the Bill states:
    "The effect of the Bill on public funds is not expected to be significant, and it is envisaged that there will be no additional manpower requirements."
    It is all very well to say that the expenditure will not be significant, but what does that mean? Are we talking of £10,000 a year or £500,000 a year? Just how much are we talking about? I can think of other expenditures that any sane person would regard as not being significant in relation to any line in the public expenditure lists. I think particularly of the amount of money that would be needed to reopen the closed ward in St. Mark's Hospital in Islington, the cost of the reopening of which, as you may recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would be only about £4,000 a month. By any standards, that is not a significant amount in order to restore a hospital of international reputation to its full working condition.

    As a result of the reluctance of the various authorities to allow that £4,000 a month to be spent—£1,000 a week, let us say—a significant number of people, women in particular, are not able to be admitted from the waiting list to that hospital for treatment for various very serious bowel conditions, and even cancer of the bowel.

    The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum on the Bill states that the effect of the Bill on public funds is not expected to be significant. What I want to know is whether it is likely to be more or less than £50,000 a year. If it is more than £50,000 a year and can be dismissed in this throw-away language in the Financial Memorandum to the Bill, I should like to know how this money can be treated as nought while the money required to keep open a ward in a hospital such as St. Mark's is regarded as something so terrifically significant.

    There are other questions. According to the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum,
    "The Bill empowers the Secretary of State to designate experimental areas within which the law relating to public service vehicles may be modified by authorisations granted by local authorities."
    Is it the expectation that there would be one experimental area, half a dozen, or what? No one can glean from the memorandum to the Bill just how many such places are likely to be authorised. If more than 10, 20 or 30 are authorised, I imagine that the expenditure is likely to come above the figure I have quoted for the expenditure needed to reopen the cancer ward at St. Mark's Hospital.

    I repeat the concern I expressed last Friday about the bringing on of these Money Resolutions at this time of the week. I do not see why the House of Commons should be bothered on a Private Members' Bill day with Money Resolutions of this kind. Money Resolutions are not private business. If I had put down this Money Resolution, it would have not have got onto the Order Paper and if it had it would not have been called. A Money Resolution has to be put forward by a Minister of the Crown. Therefore, although a Money Resolution might relate to a Government Bill or to a Private Member's Bill, it is Government business, not private business. Therefore, it should not be tagged on to the end of the day which the House has chosen to allocate to Private Members' Bills. That does not prevent Government motions coming on at the end. Two more Government motions are coming on after this one which the House in its wisdom will no doubt pass.

    As I did last week, I wonder whether the reason behind the bringing forward of a motion like this on a Friday is not that it happens to be a day upon which the Bill is on the Order Paper but that it is thought to be a day on which it might be possible to slip the thing through without any aggrieved Member, like myself, being around to stop it.

    I hope that the Minister will address himself to at least the first of the points I have made. I do not expect him to do any more. I shall understand, as will my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson), if he is brief. Roughly, what amount of money are we talking about? Is it likely to be under or over £50,000.

    4.19 p.m.

    In spite of the unexpected nature of the circumstances, I can reply specifically to my hon. Friend. There will be four specific areas designated under the Bill. They will be small in number and small in area. The areas are North Devon, North Yorkshire, Dyfed and South Ayrshire.

    I suppose that any extra expenditure incurred would be in addition to rate support grant in the sense that it would not have been incurred if the Bill did not get through. The Bill is designed only to cope with concessionary fares and the use of concessionary fares in unconventional forms of transport. The Bill is designed to provide for that in four particular areas as an experiment only. The amount of money involved is very small indeed.

    All the administration of concessionary fares will remain as before. It will simply mean, for example, that a person who has a bus pass will be able to use it not only on the normal stage carriage service but when travelling in a neighbour's car or a car run by the WRVS. This is allowed under the scheme but not under the ordinary bus licensing system. To that extent, my guess is that the amount of money involved will be considerably less than £50,000 a year. Those are the fairly clear answers to my hon. Friend's questions.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Resolved,

    That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to enable the requirements of Part III of the Road Traffic Act 1960 and other requirements applying to or in connection with public service vehicles to be modified in areas designated as experimental areas by the Secretary of State, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any increase in rate support grant which is attributable to any provision of the said Act of the present Session authorising the making of arrangement for the grant of travel concessions.

    Price Commission Bill

    Motion made,

    That, during the proceedings on the Price Commission Bill, any Standing Committee to which the Bill may be allocated shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it shall meet.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]

    To be considered upon Monday next.

    Public Accounts

    Motion made,

    That the Standing Order of 18th December 1974 relating to the nomination of the Committee of Public Accounts be amended by leaving out Mr. Robert Kilroy-Silk and inserting Dr. Oonagh McDonald.—[Mr. Walter Harrison.]

    To be considered upon Monday next.

    Social Security Services

    Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Graham.]

    4.21 p.m.

    Before he leaves the Chamber, may I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) for his courtesy in allowing me to have my Adjournment debate at a reasonable hour? I promise him that I shall not interfere again with his effective way of continuing the debate about his hospital.

    I want to talk about a different question involving the social services. The subject with which my hon. Friend is concerned is far removed from mine. I wish to talk about the effect of public expenditure cuts on the Civil Service and in particular upon the Department of Health and Social Security. In the continuing debate about the effect of public expenditure cuts much is made by the Opposition about the numbers of the Civil Service. There is talk about overstaffing and faceless bureaucrats. The civil servants are sometimes represented as layabouts. It is said that the numbers should be cut in the interests of efficiency.

    We see many stories in the Press about the Opposition's approach. I am disturbed to find that there are discussions going on between the Department of Health and Social Security and the staff of the Department about further cuts in the staffing of local social security offices.

    I have always taken the stories and the protests of the Opposition about overstaffing with a large pinch of salt. In my experience, the staff of these Departments are hard-working and in many cases overworked. They have a great sense of service to the community. This particularly applies to DHSS staff, who have a special relationship with the public, which can be hard on them since it involves a continuing process of dealing with complaints, difficulties and sorting out a complex set of procedures.

    I am worried to learn that there are discussions going on concerning the cutting by 500 of the staff in local social security departments. These savings can be made only at the expense of the service offered to the public. The staff savings will affect the beneficiaries. They will affect service to old-age pensioners, the sick, disabled, the unemployed and single-parent families, all of whom are least able to help themselves.

    One of the effects of a reduction in staff would be a cutting down on the amount of home visiting. I have had many good contacts with my local social security office and, looking at it from a Member of Parliament to constituency point of view, one of the purposes of home visiting is to ensure that the full facts of each individual case are known so that financial and welfare needs can be met.

    The social security system is very complex and needs to be fully explained to all new claimants. Guidance and advice are a permanent necessity. Face-to-face contact in the home environment, as distinct from the environment of the social security office itself, is an important aspect of the service. It is only in this way that needs can be identified and catered for. It is impossible to administer such schemes without this kind of personal contact. A Government who deprive the public of the right to a full and comprehensive service are running away from their responsibilities.

    The review of the supplementary benefits scheme currently under way is designed to make a fundamental study of the whole scheme. I understand that in the review every aspect will be looked at with a view to improving the scheme and making it as efficient, comprehensive and humane as possible. I hope that it also makes it less complex. We must tackle the complexity of the system and the difficulties that recipients of benefits have in understanding and trying to unravel benefit upon benefit.

    It is vital that such a review should have full public participation and that every opportunity should be given for evidence to be submitted and debated publicly. It is totally premature to make arbitrary cuts at this stage when the review has only just commenced. The whole purpose of the review could be totally wrecked. Full participation and debate will be denied to everyone.

    It is wrong to impose cuts on social security staff in the present economic climate, when people are feeling the effects of rising prices, which fall most heavily on people at the lower end of the income scale, such as old-age pensioners and single-parent families, as well as the whole range of other people who draw social security. They need the service that they have now, and this is not a time to cut the service by reducing staff.

    There is no evidence to suggest that home visiting should be cut, or that it is being overdone. All the evidence points to the reverse and to the need to increase this aspect of the service. At a time when local authorities are being forced to cut back on their social services, the need for adequate back-up services is even greater.

    Home visiting also ensures that abuse is kept to a minimum. We heard a great deal from certain Tory Members about abuse, and I know that the Department is inundated with what are in many cases fictitious letters and complaints from the public about abuse. If abuse exists, home visiting and inspection of the home circumstances are one way of curing it.

    Let us look at the impact of the proposals on the public, especially on the unemployed. I understand that it is proposed that all new unemployed claimants should be interviewed in the local office and that home visits should be made only if there are known specific problems. On that basis many problems will go unnoticed and will be allowed to grow. More problems will be created for the unemployed claimant and his family.

    This is an area where there is an increasing need. We have 1·3 million unemployed, and that number is growing. Surely, when a man or woman is thrown on the dole he or she needs help and support. Much more is needed than a visit to the local office and a conversation across the counter.

    When a man is newly unemployed, he needs every support that he can get from the State to adjust to his new status of being on the dole. He will experience a sudden reduction of income and will not know of the supplementary benefit rates available. He will not be familiar with the range of facilities available and, by ignoring this kind of claim and depriving the claimant of a home visit, the Department may be leaving thousands of families without the support to which they are entitled.

    We then come to the extra needs payments. Lump-sum payments will be made to meet additional needs on request, I understand, so long as they do not exceed £15, or £25 where children are involved. No visit will be made under the new proposals to investigate why an addition is required, and the payment of the money by itself might not simply solve the problem. Many claimants may simply be claiming the basic maximum whether or not it is sufficient to meet their needs. If there is no visit, no genuine contact between the social security office or the unemployment benefit department and the recipient in his or her home serious hardship might result.

    The very request for an exceptional needs payment and the very words "exceptional needs" indicate that the claimant is undergoing some special hardship and is having difficulty in managing on the rate of benefit. Many other factors could be involved. A home visit could cover all these aspects, and yet it is proposed that such visits will be abandoned.

    We come then to visits by inspectors, and this is another aspect of the difficulties that will face beneficiaries if the Department cuts down on its staff and, consequently, on home visiting. Inspectors' visits are part of the back-up system for cases dealt with by post. A visit used to be made every five years to check that all payments due were being correctly paid and to ensure that the welfare aspect had been fully reviewed. The Department proposed that these visits should be made at least every three years when the home visiting procedure was reviewed in 1976. But now, if these new proposals go through, I understand that the visits will be completely abolished. The final safety net will disappear altogether.

    I come to the home visiting procedure generally. Claimants who continue to receive supplementary benefit for more than six weeks receive a home visit at some stage depending on their circumstances. A home visit is required initially to determine how frequently visits should be made in the future. The needs and circumstances of the claimants are—and they should be—the deciding factor.

    If these visits are not now mandatory and if claimants will not be allowed to have them as of right, the deciding factor will move from being the claimant's need to being what is considered to be a satisfactory work load for the local offices. That is entirely the wrong premise upon which to decide whether a home visit should be made. In other words, in future the arrangement will be that where the staff is not available, no visit will be made.

    I understand that cases of high priority will still receive a visit, but how are priorities to be measured if so many cases have not been visited and their needs are not adequately known? This is a vicious circle and I am surprised that the Department has got itself into such a mess over the proposed cuts.

    Inequality of treatment could occur because circumstances vary from office to office and from town to town. Visits will be made at the discretion of the manager instead of automatically following a claim for supplementary benefit. I dare say that the Minister will say that there will be greater use of postal procedures, but, if they are to be efficient, they must depend on a well-educated public which fully understands the system.

    I have already referred to the complexity of the procedures, the complexity and range of benefits and the complexity of the leaflets which describe these benefits. It is not too bad if people are unable always to understand them so long as a home visit takes up the points that they have not been able to understand. But if these home visits are not made and if the Department's staff has to rely on postal procedures to sort out the needs of the claimant, there will be a very large number of people who will have to go without what they are entitled to.

    Claimants will be required to call at their local offices as a result of the cut in home visits. I am sure that the Minister himself, as a Member of Parliament, has received complaints from constituents, as I have, about the already overcrowded waiting rooms in social security offices. That is not to apportion any blame on the members of the staff. They are dealing with claimants as quickly and expeditiously as they possibly can. But there will be more queues if people are required to go to the office to see the clerk.

    It is not the best place in the world to discuss one's private life, or what one needs, in front of a crowded public-caller section. It is totally the wrong environment. There is an appointment system, but that will become absolutely overloaded and delays will be inevitable. I believe that these proposed cuts will be a disaster, because they will mean that the cases that really need a special kind of treatment and that need to have identified for the claimants the areas where they can claim will go virtually unnoticed.

    I have already heard from staff members in local offices at all levels, from the level of the counter clerk to the level of the manager, about the difficulties that they are undergoing at present and about the heavy work load that they have to suffer. Nevertheless, they are at present doing an enormously good job. But if the staff are cut, the remaining staff are forced to take on the work load of the staff who disappear as a result of the cuts, and the whole situation will become impossibly difficult for the remaining staff to endure. That will reflect very badly upon the recipients of all sorts of social security benefits.

    There seems to be no real evidence to suggest that these cuts will do anything but harm. I feel that we should rely upon the review of the Supplementary Benefits Commission which is currently under way. We should wait for that to see how we can smoothe and iron out the difficulties in our social security system.

    I beg the Minister to give the House some assurance on this whole question. The proposals are just not sensible. They will not only increase unemployment among the staff—a factor that must surely be taken into account as well—but they will have a serious effect on those people in our community who are at present the hardest hit and who need the maximum help, understanding and care from the community.

    4.39 p.m.

    I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) on raising this important topic and on providing the opportunity to give the House later information than that given by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security in his Written Reply to her series of questions on 18th March 1977.

    As the House already knows, all Government Departments and public services have been asked to examine their projected expenditure in order to achieve administrative savings, and my Department is no exception. In consultation with officials, my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), as Secretary of State for Social Services, agreed on broad administrative areas of the Department's work which would be examined as candidates for a reduction in expenditure. That examination has, under the overall supervision of the Department's establishments officer, almost been completed for those savings which it is proposed to make in this financial year.

    For my Department the need is to reduce or eliminate activities which would produce savings in our administrative costs equivalent to some 2,040 man-years in 1977–78 and 5,290 man-years in 1978–79. At current prices these figures represent some £6·6 million and £19·2 million respectively.

    Although we shall not necessarily have to reduce our staff numbers to the extent I have quoted, depending on the amount of administrative savings we can effect in other ways, we are of necessity a staff-intensive organisation and it is inevitable therefore that a large part of the savings will have to be made by cutting out or simplifying work so that fewer staff will be needed. I should add, however, that we hope to achieve the savings generally without giving rise to any redundancies.

    I now come to some of the specific proposals about which my hon. Friend is rightly concerned. We know that both claimants and local office staff find the present supplementary benefit scheme complicated. This makes for difficulty of comprehension and difficulty of administration. The Supplementary Benefits Commission, in its admirable report last year, drew attention to the labour-intensive nature of this scheme which now pays approaching £1·5 billion a year in benefits and provides assistance to nearly 3 million claimants plus their dependants.

    We have seen the number of staff in local offices working on supplementary benefits grow from about 12,500 to about 30,000 in the last 10 years or so, compared with an increase of 25,000 to 30,000 for local office staff working on contributory benefits. There are many good reasons for this disparity in growth rates, but it shows that we need to look very carefully at our system of administering supplementary benefits to see whether it can be simplified, because the option of simply recruiting more and more staff is not open to us.

    That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services announced last September the establishment of a small team of officials to conduct a review of the supplementary benefit scheme. We hope that this team will be able to produce some ideas for public discussion early next year. In the meantime, in looking at ways of saving administrative expenditure in the more immediate future my Department has therefore had very much in mind the theme of simplification of procedures in our supplementary benefit scheme.

    One of the possibilities which we have been examining extremely carefully has been that of reducing the number of supplementary benefits children's rates. At present there are five rates, covering the ages 0–4 years, 5–10 years, 11–12 years, 13–15 years, and 16–17 years. A reduction from five rates to three would produce some worthwhile savings in administrative expenditure as well as simplifying the scheme a little. We are therefore currently considering whether this reduction in the number of rates is worth proceeding with.

    We sympathise entirely with the concern expressed by my hon. Friend that in seeking administrative savings we should not take action which hits at the poorest groups in our society. That is why we do not wish to rush into a decision on this issue, and I can assure the House that we shall be considering extremely carefully the points raised by my hon. Friend, representatives of staff interests, and others about any reduction in the number of children's rates. We shall in particular take full account of the views of the Supplementary Benefits Commission on this. I know that the Commission is not opposed in principle to a reduction in the number of rates because it realises that, if the scheme is ever to be simplified, a start has to be made somewhere. I share the Commission's concern about making any changes which would make families as a whole worse off. The Government will therefore be examining this question carefully in the coming weeks and will announce their decision in the not-too-distant future.

    Another area within the supplementary benefit scheme with scope for administrative savings and simplifications is that of what has become known as the "tolerance rule". This relates to an arrangement affecting supplementary benefit order books whereby small reductions of up to 20p in benefit following a change of circumstances are deferred until the current order book expires. Deferment of reductions in benefit is compulsory and this works to the advantage of the claimant, because the difference is not recouped. We are thinking of increasing this limit from 20p to about 50p.

    At the same time, we are also contemplating the introduction of a comparable rule for small increases of benefit. At present there is no such rule, although where the increase is not more than about 20p, claimants are encouraged to leave matters until the next order book is due, when arrears are paid to them.

    We are now thinking of introducing a compulsory savings rule so that increases of about 50p in benefit will be deferred until the next order book is due or entitlement ceases. We would, of course, release payment of any increase where it was clear that hardship would otherwise be experienced. Taken together, these changes in the "tolerance rule" would considerably reduce the number of order books which have to be withdrawn and replaced and would produce administrative savings of the equivalent to the cost of about 60 to 70 staff. It would also of course be a useful simplification. No final decision has been taken by Ministers to proceed with these changes but if we do go ahead it will be necessary to make changes to the Supplementary Benefit (General) and the Supplementary Benefit (Claims and Payments) Regulations.

    My hon. Friend has drawn attention to her fear that a reduction in the number of visits made to recipients of Supplementary Benefit could result in their needs, including exceptional needs, not being adequately catered for. From the days of Poor Law onwards, the making of home visits to claimants has been accepted as the normal method for obtaining the facts needed to assess individual claims.

    Familiarity with this system has led some to see it as the only proper way to obtain information in relation to supplementary benefit claims. At the same time others have sometimes criticised our insistence on visiting all claimants initially and thereafter at intervals for review purposes, and this led to changes in 1966, at the time of the introduction of supplementary benefits, whereby pensioners have had the right to have their claims dealt with exclusively by interview at the local office.

    Visiting claimants is of course a staff-intensive and therefore expensive way of eliciting facts about a claim, and within recent years the Department has successfully introduced a method of reviewing supplementary pension claims and their equivalent through a system of postal review. This system is not used in those cases where it is known that the claimant cannot read or makes known the difficulties in form filling.

    Together with this postal review, the appointments system, which has vastly improved the ability of local offices to handle office interviews, has now allowed the Department to consider proposals to deploy reduced visiting resources where the maximum benefit will be gained in terms of obtaining information relevant to the assessment of benefit entitlement, identifying welfare needs and deterring and discovering fraud and abuse. To supplement this, more use will be made of other methods, such as letters and telephone calls.

    These proposals in total should make no difference to the ability of claimants to make known their needs. The methods for some will be different, but the service, which has so often been praised by hon. Members for its excellence, should not be impaired.

    For some time visiting had been increasingly considered and discussed within the Department as being in need of change. The mandatory system, whereby local offices are required to visit certain categories of claimants at predetermined intervals, is increasingly imposing a burden upon offices which they cannot always meet, despite substantial additions to staff, particularly when faced with other pressures.

    A working party of officials had therefore been set up to look at the future visiting needs. The requirement to seek reductions in this area of the work was therefore referred to that body. It has now proposed that visiting should be reduced in four specific ways to which my hon. Friend alluded and that local office managers should in times of pressure have guidance, in the form of standard priorities, for the remaining visits.

    These priorities may be varied to suit local circumstances. This will give a degree of flexibility not hitherto available under the mandatory system, which in practice, to greater or lesser degrees from office to office, was beginning to creak. Local offices will be staffed to provide a full visiting service in normal circumstances and managers will be expected to provide that service. The flexibility I have just described is to cope with the abnormal. I shall now outline the four areas in which officials have recommended that we reduce or discontinue visits.

    First, most unemployed claimants for supplementary benefit already take advantage of the appointments system and make their claims in person at the local office. This, it is considered, should be extended to all unemployed claimants so that, unless travelling distances are unreasonable, they will be called to the local office for interview, fares being paid as necessary. They will, of course, be required to produce evidence of their circumstances and where this does not prove sufficient to support their claim or establish their bona fides, an urgent visit will be arranged to examine the claim in detail.

    Secondly, current instructions to local office staff require that where a claim is made at the local office, a running award can be made without a prior visit unless there is doubt about the validity of the claim, or there are found to be other problems requiring quick resolution. In those cases where a running award is made, a visit has to be made in the sixth week of the claim if benefit is still in payment. An examination of this procedure has shown that little is gained from it. We are producing much fuller guidance for local offices on the need to establish the genuinness of claims and what to look for in considering this aspect so that doubtful claims will be visited sooner, and this will further reduce any value these visits have. We propose, therefore, that the visits made after six weeks should be discontinued.

    Thirdly, at present all claims for exceptional needs payments, with the exception of those made during a call at the local office for items such as working clothes, have to be investigated by a home visit. The number of requests for exceptional needs payments has risen dramatically for a number of reasons in recent years. It has doubled since 1968 to 945,000 requests in 1975.

    We propose three changes to reduce the number of visits on this account. When a grant for clothing is requested and it is for items that the SBC would normally pay for, a payment will normally be made without a visit unless a grant for similar items has been made within the past year or the amount involved exceeds a figure yet to be determined—say, £20. Where a grant is requested for something not covered in the scale rates—for instance, repair of a cooker—and the facts can be established, no visit will be made. Then, where a social worker supports a claim and the request does not appear unreasonable no visit will be made.

    Fourthly and lastly, the system of inspectional visits, originally introduced to test the effectiveness of a postal review system, is proposed to be abolished. However, I assure my hon. Friend that no firm decisions have yet been taken. I should like to make clear that other proposals which would have no impact upon the public are under consideration. Some would produce as an equivalent in manpower terms only minor savings, but in total they add up to a not insignificant figure.

    There is also a proposal under consideration whereby claimants for legal aid who submit—

    The Question having been proposed after Four o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

    Adjourned at nine minutes to Five o'clock.