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Lords Chamber

Volume 484: debated on Wednesday 11 February 1987

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House Of Lords

Wednesday, 11th February 1987.

The House met at half-past two of the clock Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Hereford): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Hrh The Duke Of York Introduced

His Royal Highness Andrew Albert Christian Edward, CVO, having been created Baron Killyleagh, Earl of Inverness and Duke of York, was, in his Robes, introduced in the following order:

Air Chief Marshal Sir John Gingell

Sir Colin Cole (carrying the Patent)

The Duke of Norfolk

The Marquess of Cholmondeley


(carrying his Writ of Summons)

His Royal Highness The Duke Of Gloucester

His Royal Highness, standing, presented his Letters Patent and the Writ of Summons to the Lord Chancellor at the Woolsack, who delivered them to the Reading Clerk: the same were read at the Table.

Then His Royal Highness, at the Table, took the Oath required to be taken by the Promissory Oaths Act 1868 [31 & 32 Victoria, cap. 72] and subscribed the Test Roll, after which His Royal Highness, having been placed in his Chair on the left of the Throne, rising, thrice saluted the Lord Chancellor, standing by the Woolsack, who acknowledged each salute. His Royal Highness then descended from his Chair and shook hands with the Lord Chancellor and was conducted from the Chamber.

British Aerospace: Value Of Exports

2.44 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what is their assessment of the annual value of the British Aerospace exports.

My Lords, in the 10 months to October 1986 the industry's exports were worth £308 billion, an increase of 10.6 per cent. on the same period in 1985.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that extremely encouraging reply. Can he tell the House what countries take the largest proportion of those exports by value?

Yes, my Lords, the United States of America takes by far the largest share. Other leading export markets are West Germany and Saudi Arabia.

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell the House what proportion of those exports are financed under United Kingdom Government guarantees?

My Lords, this is a very easy supplementary question. Is the noble Lord aware, and does he agree with me, that approximately 25 per cent.—I do not have the exact figure, but no doubt the noble Lord will give it—are under ECGD guarantees? Does not the noble Lord agree that that is very important assistance to British Aerospace? Will the noble Lord give, on behalf of the Government, an unequivocal commitment that the assistance to British Aerospace will continue in its present form?

My Lords, of course, we are delighted with the industry's progress in the export market and in particular the progress of the British Aerospace Corporation. The Government continue to support the industry.

My Lords, in view of the contribution of the airbus in helping to develop the success of British Aerospace, will the Government give an assurance that any aid that is required for future development of the airbus will continue to be given, as it has in the past?

My Lords, the application by British Aerospace for launch-aid of £750 million was received by the Department of Trade and Industry on 20th October last year. A detailed appraisal of the commercial, financial and technical aspects is now well advanced. The present aim is for the Government to reach a decision as soon as possible, in parallel with the other airbus partner governments.

My Lords, in view of the last two supplementary questions, is it not important that the House understands that the assistance given by Her Majesty's Government is no greater than the assistance given by governments of other countries? It is not as if the aerospace industry is receiving a special subsidy or subvention from Her Majesty's Government to advantage it over competitors. The industry is being put into the same position as its rivals.

Yes, my Lords, the Government's aid to the industry, and to the British Aerospace Corporation in particular, conforms with the general rules laid down under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

My Lords, when the American envoys visited this country to make representations to Her Majesty's Government about the special launch-aid given to the European airbus—in particular the proposed £700 million to finance the next version—did the Government succeed in convincing our friends that this did not constitute an infringement of the GATT rules or any other international agreements on fair trading practices?

Yes, my Lords, and we pointed out that the support given to the airbus in the past and any support for the future will be no more than that received by major United States companies who benefit from substantial support from the United States Government through military and other programmes.

My Lords, in the figures that he gave us for the breakdown of exports can my noble friend say what part is played by aircraft parts, and more particularly aircraft engines?

My Lords, if my noble friend would like to table a Question, I shall be very pleased to answer it.

My Lords, can the noble Lord tell us whether this is a company that will come under the aegis of the American audit about which we heard something yesterday?

Horticultural Training Schemes

2.48 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government to what extent Manpower Services Commission schemes include horticultural training and cultivation of produce on vacant local authority allotment plots.

My Lords, horticultural training opportunities are provided on both youth and adult training programmes. In 1985–86 some 11,000 YTS places were available in the standard industrial classification category covering horticulture and agriculture. I hope that many more people will have the opportunity to train in horticultural skills on the new job training scheme. Our training programmes are concerned with achieving vocational skills and qualifications and not with the use of particular training locations. Therefore we do not keep information on the use of vacant local authority allotment plots.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is some doubt about the period of time allowed for this training? Is he further aware that while it is no substitute for a real job, there is the possibility of employment or of setting up small businesses, and in any case that when an individual has had an allotment plot he has subseqently gained an insight into a healthy recreation which may be to his family's advantage?

My Lords, training is not a substitute for a real job. Very often, however, it is the pathway to a real job. One must appreciate that without the right supply of skills from individuals, the jobs will not come about. Under the new job training scheme qualifications there will, for example, be people taking the agricultural board's craftsman certificate in tractor driving, milking and stock handling. There will also be national proficiency test council awards in crop spraying, grading and packing fruit, and many of the skills which are necessary in those areas.

My Lords, will the Minister endeavour to contact local authorities to make sure that some of them are making good use of vacant allotment plots to assist with this scheme?

My Lords, I am concerned to ensure that both young people and adults have the right skills and therefore that we provide the right training. I suspect that the use of allotment plots does not fall within my department's area of responsibility, but I hear very clearly what the noble Lord says.

My Lords, can the Secretary of State tell us what proportion of the young people who are taking horticultural training relates to young women?

Alas, my Lords, not without notice. I shall certainly look into the matter.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the capacity to dig an allotment is limited to heroes and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, and that it would not be a fair test for a YTS youngster?

My Lords, let me say at the outset that neither is it a fair test for a Minister of Her Majesty's Government.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us why local authority allotment plots are vacant?

My Lords, that is surely a matter for the local authority and not for the Government.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that growing vegetables on an allotment, whether or not it belongs to a local authority, can represent a very considerable supplementary income to a family because home-grown vegetables are worth a great deal of money? Is it not therefore very important that local authorities and others should make it possible for people to use their skills in that way?

My Lords, I do not think that I should wander into the area of supplementary income for people in this country. I am quite sure that in themselves allotments are a very good thing.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that in these enlightened days there is no such thing as manpower but that the designation should be "person power"?

My Lords, in the light of the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, will the Minister reply to this question: does he feel that horticultural training is adequately covered in the schemes that he has in mind? Is there no further progress that needs to be made?

My Lords, there are some 11,000 places under the YTS scheme in the standard industrial classification covering horticulture and agriculture, and that seems to me to be a very good contribution in that a two-year training period is provided under YTS. As I have already told your Lordships, I hope very much that under JTS (the training that we are offering in the main for those under 25 who have been out of work for more than six months) we shall have an opportunity of giving many more of our citizens training in both horticulture and agriculture, and indeed I hope in all employable skills.

Home Insulation Grants

2.53 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what were the factors that induced them to announce the withdrawal of the existing house insulation grants.

My Lords, home insulation grants have not been withdrawn; they are being targeted at those most in need. The proposed new scheme would withdraw the general rate of grant at 66 per cent. but would extend the availability of the more generous 90 per cent. grant.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. But does it not mean that many people who are now able to apply for the grant will be barred under the new ruling and that that will be a disincentive for them to have their houses insulated? At a time when our non-renewable energy resources are fast depleting, could not that have an adverse effect on our energy resources and further exacerbate a deteriorating situation?

My Lords, we believe that by targeting the resources to those most in need we are making the best use of our energy resources. The more extended grant will be available not only to those elderly or disabled people who already receive a 90 per cent. grant but to all householders who are in receipt of housing benefit or supplementary benefit. By definition, those must be the poorer people and the people most in need.

My Lords, will my noble friend tell me how many people she expects to benefit from the new proposals?

My Lords, we believe that the proposal will increase the potential number of people who can benefit from the 90 per cent. grant by about 70 per cent. Precise figures are not available. We think that the number of eligible householders will increase from 4.5 milliion to about 7 million. More detailed information will be available when the 1986 English House Conditions Survey figures become available.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that if the Government did more about home insulation there would be much less need for energy conservation and for the building of nuclear power stations? If our homes were properly insulated less energy would be used and therefore we could do away with some of the proposed power stations.

My Lords, the insulation arrangements which are being revised by the Government are intended to improve energy efficiency. The results of Energy Efficiency Year are still being considered but they already appear to prove that.

My Lords, is it not a fact that this year's grant figure is to be less in real terms than it was last year? If that is so, how does it square with the dedication of the Secretary of State for Energy to the energy conservation programme, which he keeps reiterating?

My Lords, we have increased by 15 per cent. gross provisions to local authorities in the housing capital grant programme for 1987–88. There are obviously realigned priorities within that programme. One of our first priorities cannot be to assist well-to-do householders to save their money. The provision in the scheme announced last December should be enough to meet the expected demand from people who genuinely need help.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that people in the building industry involved in insulation say that 80 per cent. of the people who were able to obtain a grant before the announcement was made will not be able to obtain it under the new arrangements? They are expecting a serious reduction in their own work load and further unemployment. Is that what the Government want?

My Lords, during the eight years that the current scheme has been available we believe that most people able to take advantage of it have done so. Making grants available to new groups of people who could not otherwise afford insulation will expand the effective market.

My Lords, has the noble Baroness any fall-back plan to deal with the fact that the more we insulate houses the more we expose ourselves to the danger of lung cancer from radon?

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness a question I asked one of her predeccessors a few years ago? Why is it still a rule that where a householder has insulated part of a house he is no longer eligible for a grant no matter what the need? Does not that penalise people who have helped themselves?

My Lords, the existing scheme is designed to help people start from scratch or improve their existing insulation. There are also schemes which include draught-proofing. Future arrangements to help with the cost of draught-proofing materials are being considered by the government departments concerned, and they would be in addition to insulation.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has, with respect, not answered my question. If a householder has insulated the area above the kitchen, or it has been insulated in the past, that house is no longer eligible for a grant, no matter what the need of the householder. Is that not grossly unfair?

My Lords, it depends upon the extent of the existing insulation. As I said, the existing scheme covers householders from scratch and improving existing insulation. If the existing insulation is less than 30 mm (about one inch) thick, it can be improved up to 100 mm.

My Lords, bearing in mind the sad fact of a by-election in Truro does the noble Baroness wish to reconsider her answer, "Only in Devon and Cornwall"?

Star Wars: Kinetic Kill System

2.59 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether their participation in research for President Reagan's star wars project involves implicit acceptance of the objective of a kinetic kill system in space, as outlined recently by Mr. Caspar Weinberger, the first stage in the deployment of which is to be accomplished as early as 1993.

My Lords, the aim of the SDI research programme is to assess the feasibility of strategic defences. The United States Administration have made it clear that no decisions on deployment, let alone on any particular system, have been taken.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that moderately reassuring reply. I hope that he will not mind if I put three very short supplementary questions to him.

First, is it not obvious that the "broad interpretation" of the ABM treaty on which Mr. Weinberger's plan is based, whereby you reverse what the treaty says on the simple grounds that new techniques now exist for accomplishing what it expressly forbids—

is a repudiation of the treaty and must be so considered by all fair minded people? In the second place—

—will not the Government also agree that if this interpretation is approved it will result in a failure of the arms limitation talks at Geneva? Finally, if Mr. Weinberger's plan is thereafter put into operation—

would it not result inevitably in a kind of nuclear war in space which some people in America would probably desire?

My Lords, perhaps I can answer the noble Lord by referring to the second of the four points which were agreed between my right honourable friend and the President the year before last. It is that SDI-related deployment would, in view of treaty obligations, have to be a matter for negotiation.

. My Lords, can I ask my noble friend the Leader of the House whether the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was not out of order in asking three questions instead of one—and reading the lot?

My Lords, technically yes, but the noble Lord has considerable knowledge in these matters and I try to extend as much understanding as I can to people in this position.

My Lords, I have frequently heard more than one supplementary question put by the initiator.

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that many of us are very gratified to hear his answer, given that the first Question this afternoon by one of his noble friends was read out at dictation speed?

My Lords, it is certainly no part of my business to be gratified one way of the other by what noble Lords feel at any time. My job is to interpret the wishes of the House, and indeed the customs of the House as set out in the Companion to the Standing Orders. This I was seeking to do to the best of my ability.

My Lords, may I return to the Question and ask the noble Lord to what extent he understands the ABM Treaty to have been re-interpreted by the United States Administration? If it has been re-interpreted, as we understand, without mutual agreement between the two parties to the treaty, is it not the case that the testing and the deployment of SDI technology can take place? It is very important that we should get that clear.

My Lords, I am not aware of any change in the United States position in this matter. As your Lordships will be aware, we have consistently welcomed assurances that while broad interpretation of the treaty is legally sustainable, the SDI programme is being conducted within a narrow interpretation. We are not aware of any new decision and we look forward to continuing consultations with our American friends.

My Lords, will my noble friend not agree that the strategic defence initiative is one of the few methods of defence that kills only incoming ballistic missiles and not human beings?

My Lords, unhappily, we have no such assurance as yet because we are still embarked upon the research programme.

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that if what the Americans are doing was being done by the Soviet Union, the Americans would declare that it was in breach of the ABM treaty? Is he further aware that support of star wars is incompatible with a genuine search for peace? Will the noble Lord look again at the Government's policy in this respect?

My Lords, the Soviet Union is indeed embarked upon a major research programme into matters of this kind. It has been doing so for 10 or 15 years at least. That is what makes the position so curious.

My Lords, will the Government confirm that on Sunday Mr. Shultz, speaking expressly for the President, said that there would be no change in American SDI plans before further consultations with the allies? When will those consultations take place? Who will handle them for us? It should be the Foreign Office, not the Ministry of Defence.

Lastly, will the Government ensure that at those consultations the full political and strategic implications of SDI for Europe and the whole world are at last taken into account lest, in the words of Sir Geoffrey Howe, political decisions are pre-empted by the march of technology?

My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that we remain in close and continuous touch with the United States Government on these matters.

My Lords, my question arises out of that last answer. I refer to the speech made by the Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe a week or two ago, in which he said that it remains crucial to seek the answers to R & D questions before reaching conclusions on what may be technically possible. Is that to be dealt with independently by Her Majesty's Government? Have we the machinery to do so considering that General Abrahamson, the director of the SDI office, has said that no one can prove it cannot work which means that he is set on a course of proving a negative?

My Lords, I would remind the noble Lord that the position of the United States Government and the United Kingdom Government was set out very clearly when the Prime Minister met the President in December 1985. It is encapsulated in the four points with which I suspect the noble Lord is familiar.


3.7 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to say a word about the arrangements for this afternoon's two Short Debates standing in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. As it is customary that the mover is allowed approximately 15 minutes and the Minister should rise to reply not less than 20 minutes before the scheduled end of the debate, in the case of the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, it means that all other speeches should be limited to a maximum of 15 minutes, and in the case of my noble friend, slightly longer. But I know that the House will appreciate it if noble Lords would keep their speeches to a limit compatible with the spirit of these Short Debates.

Billiards (Abolition Of Restrictions) Bill Hl

My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to abolish as regards England and Wales the restrictions by way of licensing or otherwise on the public playing of billiards, bagatelle and other games of the like kind under related power of entry. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—( Lord Allen of Abbeydale.)

On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.

Heating Problems: Strategy Proposal

3.9 p.m.

rose to call attention to the case for a comprehensive strategy to end the problems of maintaining and conserving an adequate and efficient level of heating; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am bound to say that during the exchanges at Question Time this afternoon I almost thought that the debate had started and I felt like moving that we should perhaps defer it to another date. However, I think that there is still more to be said on this subject and I shall continue.

During the past few weeks, the nation's attention has been focused once again on the impact of winter conditions on the elderly and other vulnerable groups. Because of the way we have managed these annual crises, the main debate has been almost wholly on the social security implications. These are, of course, important. It has to be said that for all the reasons we have listed in recent debates, the allowances are not adequate, nor do they get to those people in dire need. Nor are they cost effective. For example, heating additions are uprated annually according to inflation but fuel increases have risen higher in recent years than inflation. Since some fuels are more expensive than others and some homes harder to heat than others, the proportion of income that poor people spend on fuel is higher than average. Nor is any account taken in the notional fuel element for supplementary benefit allowances of the standing charges for fuel.

For example, in 1977 the annual standing charge for gas was £6 per quarter but last year it was £39.60; for electricity it was £32.60. We know that for many thousands of homes both charges are relevant because people have gas central heating and electric lights. It means that for many families about £1.40 is already taken up and therefore the heating allowances begin to look even less adequate.

The recently implemented weekly allowance was welcome. By being limited to some supplementary benefit claimants it fails to recognise the plight of large numbers of poor families who do not qualify for supplementary benefit, the plight of people on contributory benefits or low wages or the plight of pensioners living on basic pensions plus a small occupational pension. There are many others who do not identify themselves as suffering from hardship, either through pride or ignorance or for reasons concerned with the protection of privacy and so on. Therefore, the help does not reach those who probably need it the most. There is now widespread agreement that these measures are insufficient and inefficient and that something more is needed. My Motion is directed to that point.

We cannot continue to treat just the symptoms of these problems. The time has now come when we must treat the cause. The central cause of our domestic energy inefficiency is that a comparatively high proportion of the housing stock is old, poorly insulated, inefficiently heated and very often occupied by low income and socially vulnerable households. Three-quarters of the UK housing stock was built before 1965 and hence was not subject to any minimum insulation or heating standards. All that housing is inherently energy inefficient.

Because of its age, 40 per cent. of the UK housing is of solid-wall construction. Virtually none of the walls has been insulated, although I understand such walls lose heat at over three times the rate of the walls of new homes. The uninsulated roofs of dwellings constructed before the establishment of minimum insulation standards commonly lose heat at five to seven times the rate for newly built homes. According to the audits for Great Britain for 1985, 64 per cent. of UK dwellings have below the Government's currently recommended level of loft insulation.

The problem of draughtiness in our houses is equally serious, particularly in older dwellings with ill-fitting windows and doors, unrestricted flues, draughty loft hatches, gaps in the floorboards and cracks in the building structure itself. According to the same audit report, 61 per cent. of UK dwellings lack draughtproofing. I understand that later speakers may wish to develop that aspect.

About 60 per cent. of our housing stock is of cavity wall construction and 90 per cent. of those walls are uninsulated. Again I understand that those walls generally lose heat at just under three times the rate of new cavity walls. Indeed, 52 per cent. of UK dwellings lack cavity wall insulation.

As a result of this poor record of insulation, heating systems are expensive to run and ineffective and in winter the British people live in some of the coldest homes in Europe. Therefore, for too many of our people the problems of what has come to be known as fuel poverty are real and the numbers affected have increased substantially in recent years. Nor does fuel povery affect only the poor. It is a known fact that hundreds of thousands of families with incomes above the normal definitions of poverty cannot maintain adequate warmth in their homes. However, the problems of fuel poverty are most acute when low incomes are combined with high heating costs. I understand that it is called the "British heating problem".

In recent days I have been asked: "What is the difference between fuel poverty and other poverty? Why call it fuel poverty? Why not just call it poverty?" The answer must be that, of the three main items of expenditure, certainly for pensioners and low income families—namely food, housing and fuel—the factors influencing the cost of keeping warm, the fuel factors, are either beyond the households' control or can be altered only through capital expenditure. In other words, the main difference between fuel poverty and the wider poverty is that it is not only a problem of means not meeting needs, which requires more income, but it is also a problem which requires an element of capital expenditure.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I should like to make the point that there are two kinds of fuel. Well-fed people do not need so much warmth as badly-fed people. He stressed the point about food and fuel but I think that food is a very important point, particularly for old people, who should be well-fed.

My Lords, I accept that, but in the context of my remarks I was trying to distinguish between fuel poverty and poverty.

Simply to pour money into poor homes and then out again into the atmosphere, as well as being socially necessary is an inefficient use of resources. The fact is that no successful scheme of only financial assistance has yet been found, and I doubt whether it ever can be found given the circumstances that I have related so far.

What is needed is a system of measurement that establishes the heating needs of the variety of households that exist, allied to a planned programme of conservation measures—say a five- or a 10-year programme—designed to raise the standards of heating in homes throughout the country. I know that much thought and research concerning this aspect of the problem has already been carried out by government departments, voluntary organisations, university researchers and others workers studying the problems. I recently read a detailed study of a proposed method of measurement. It was written by Brenda Boardman for the Right to Fuel Campaign and it certainly made a lot of sense to me. While I do not have time to go through the whole study, I shall in defence of my argument and in support of my case briefly outline the main features of the proposal.

The proposal is for a cost of warmth index. That index for fuel poverty sufferers is based on seven main factors that would determine the cost of keeping warm a specific house for a specific family. They are as follows. The first is heat loss through the building fabric; that can be measured. The second is ventilation loss, again through draughty and poorly maintained houses; that can be quantified. The third is the efficiency of the heating system, and that can be assessed and measured. The fourth is the cost of fuel. It is estimated that the cost of a unit of delivered energy can vary by a factor of more than four between different fuels; that can certainly be measured. The fifth is the external temperature; that indicates how much the temperature has to be raised to achieve a comfortable temperature indoors. The sixth is the internal temperature for any given activity range. The temperature that most people find comfortable can be predicted. The seventh is the hours of occupancy, the assumption being that when the house is occupied it needs to be warm. Again that is capable of being measured.

Those seven factors—four of which relate to the building and heating system, one of which relates to the local climate and two of which are family-specific—can be used to measure the heating allowance necessary to maintain warmth in any specific home. This is much more relevant than the notional figure which is used at the moment to assess allowances for supplementary benefit. These factors can also be used to determine what improvements are necessary to increase thermal efficiency, to reduce ventilation losses and to improve the heating system. Therefore it could be applied to a programme of conservation measures. It is sensible that such a cost of warmth index can be applied to both those aspects of the problem.

In a Newsletter of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, the Fifth Fuel, the right honourable Peter Walker MP, Secretary of State for Energy, said:
"1986—"The Great leap Forward". 1986 will be the year of the Great Leap Forward for energy saving in Britain, according to Energy Secretary, Peter Walker. The Government have designated it as Energy Efficiency Year, and a new promotional slogan—Get More for your Monergy—has been coined.".
We were all aware of the slogan "Monergy" and the campaign, the cost of which was debated at length both in your Lordships' House and in another place.

In the same newsletter, the Secretary of State asked his civil servants:
"to look overseas for examples of where energy conservation programmes are succeeding, in order to achieve his target that 'by the end of this Parliament, Britain should be at the top of the international league of energy efficiency, and not at the bottom'".
He does not have very long now to achieve that very laudable aim. What is the current situation? Our housing stock in Britain is one of the worst heated and insulated in Europe according to the up-to-date facts. The result is that as a nation we are paying billions of pounds more than we need on fuel bills every year, and still people live in cold, damp houses.

Government-led investment has declined dramatically since 1979; namely, from £31·2 million in 1979 on 632,000 local authority homes to a figure just over £15 million in 1985 on 80,000 local authority dwellings. As we have heard today, it is not absolutely certain that expenditure on insulation programmes will remain as it was, and certainly it will be reduced so far as concerns some families. Existing programmes of draught-proofing may be in danger due to a lack of funds unless some assurances are forthcoming. Such investment programmes must he restored and investment increased to meet the needs that I have tried to outline in my remarks so far.

In Newcastle, the City Council have developed special training programmes to ensure that social workers and housing staff can handle energy-related problems effectively. They have opened the first independent energy information centre. They have improved insulation and heating in 2,500 dwellings per year and actively supported all community initiatives to target draught-proofing measures on lower income households. In Birmingham, the City Council have launched a city-wide "Keep Birmingham Warm" campaign. They have pioneered standard energy conservation improvements for a variety of house types. They have supported community and voluntary organisations undertaking home insulation work for the elderly.

In Hackney (an inner London borough), the council has set up a special heating advice project to boost substantially claimant take-up of heating benefits. They have created new ways of investing private sector capital in heating improvements through a special tenant heating and insulation service. They have also adopted a 10 point action plan for follow-up by appropriate council departments. These councils have shown what can be done to ensure that Britain's homes become better heated and better insulated. Such schemes should be supported and other councils should be encouraged to introduce similar schemes. We have the expertise; certainly we have the energy, the materials and the manpower. In fact, it has been estimated that upwards of 50,000 jobs can be created by an effective programme of insulation and heating. We certainly have the incentives. I do not want to give any more long quotations but I have a document from Eurisol which says after outlining a number of facts:
"These facts alone make an overwhelming case for the thermal upgrading of our housing stock as a major contribution to both national energy saving and improved living standards. There is scope for saving 22 per cent. on the national domestic fuel bill, equivalent to £1·5 billion per annum.".
That must be well worthwhile in any programme.

What is needed now is an urgent new national energy drive for all the reasons that I have mentioned; namely, social, economic, employment, energy and environmental reasons. It is urgent for the jobless and for those who shiver or suffer hardship in cold homes during the winter. It is also urgent for our inner city areas and our environment. Whichever government are elected soon will be forced to take practical steps to come to grips with this problem and to develop the comprehensive strategy which my Motion calls for.

Much more can be said but my time is up. I hope that I have said enough to introduce the subject. I shall listen with great interest to the rest of the debate and I look forward to the Minister's response. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.28 p.m.

My Lords, first I should like to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard for I may have interrupted his speech. I had put my name down to speak in this debate but I did not then know that I was to follow him. I am delighted to do so and I congratulate him on his Motion, which I entirely support.

I propose to contribute to the debate, I hope from another angle. My reasons for saying that is that on 5th November the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, tabled an Unstarred Question which gave rise to an extremely interesting debate. The debate was concluded by a speech from the noble Baroness who will reply to this debate. Many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, were touched upon in that debate. I agree with him that no harm will be done if efforts now being made to improve the difficulties to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, drew attention are reinforced and continued. If that is so, by next winter we shall be better equipped, not only as a result of insulation, draught-proofing, and double glazing but also, as I propose to show, as a result of an improved system of using off-peak electricity to meet the problem which the noble Lord described as "fuel poverty".

Noble Lords may wonder why I am interested in this matter. The fact is I was engaged in the electric supply industry in the East for many years. Off-peak electricity was then concerned with air conditioning. The reverse is the case here where off-peak electricity is needed to warm houses. I can further explain my interest by the fact that 30 years ago, with the help of the late lamented Lord Stonham, we were instrumental in introducing the words "supplementary benefit" to replace the words "national assistance". I had found during the course of my charitable work at that time in Edinburgh that many people were too proud to go on the parish for help; they would rather starve. The first step was to use the words which 30 years later are on everybody's lips when dealing with the underprivileged.

The words "supplementary benefit" are a very good yardstick by which to measure the extent to which poor people need assistance. Again, in collaboration with Lord Stonham, some years later we managed to drop purchase tax from storage-type heaters. At one time they attracted purchase tax. Coincident with the dropping of purchase tax on storage heaters was the nationalisation of electricity, which unfortunately meant that in many areas very low off-peak tariffs were replaced by off-peak tariffs sometimes seven or 10 times the rates which applied in the early 1950s. I say that with some feeling because I lived in the area of the Clyde Valley Electricity Supply Company, whose basic load was based on hydropower, which is the cheapest form of energy of all. That collaboration worked well.

Following the removal of purchase tax from storage heaters, there was a brief boom in night storage heaters. Alas, the rise in the off-peak tariffs made them less attractive. I shall return to that matter later, because the burden of my contribution to this very useful debate is to suggest that our electricity tariffs are too high anyway.

When deciding to speak in this debate, it was difficult for me to know exactly what I should say until I had heard the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. I have now heard his speech, and I entirely endorse it and the Motion.

I believe that lower off-peak rates and the provision of new types of night storage heater would go a long way towards alleviating the troubles to which the noble Lord referred. I carefully studied the speech of my noble friend Lady Hooper on 5th November last year and that of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, when he put down his Unstarred Question. I believe I am right in saying that both speeches dealt very freely with the problems to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, has referred. I look forward to hearing what my noble friend has to say in response to the noble Lord.

We know that a great deal of assistance is being given in the way of draught-proofing, insulation and all the other simple remedies which can be met by builders. However, what can we do about the price of electricity? Reference has been made to double-glazing, but it is not always successful. Under-floor heating has also been mentioned; I think I am right in saying that it has not been found to be universally satisfactory and that a lot of heat is wasted because of the absence of control switch gear.

It was fortuitous that about 10 days ago my electrician handed me a catalogue on the products of the Dimplex Company. I hold no brief for or any interest in the company, except that in my opinion it is probably the most experienced company in domestic space heating in Britain and perhaps in the world. After the debate last November I remember talking to my noble friend Lady Hooper and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and asking them whether they could do anything to produce small storage-type heaters which would be sufficiently large to cope with a single room or a but-and-ben in which poor and underprivileged people live during the winter. As I say, I hold no brief for the Dimplex Company, but I am fascinated by its latest product which is called the XT ultra-slim and is more or less the product about which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and I spoke two months or so ago. It is a small storage-type heater.

As my noble friend Lady Hooper said in her speech last November (at col. 1164 of the Official Report):
"Modern heating systems with proper heating controls—especially thermostats and time-clocks—are much more efficient than they were ten years ago".
I should like to know how Dimplex managed to get sufficient bulk into this slim heater to retain the heat. In the 1950s I equipped an old house with the original type of storage heaters, which were enormously bulky and very heavy. I should be very interested to know—and I propose to find out—how this new type of slim heater retains the heat.

As the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, suggests, the time has come for a campaign to develop the off-peak ideal from the angle of electricity supply. The off-peak use of electricity not only has a contribution to make in terms of convenience to the less privileged people, but in terms of electricity supply it can make a very useful contribution to cost. If only we could fill in the valley of poor offtake during the night hours, we could improve the overall load factor and the cost of electricity to everyone.

That gives rise to an angle of thought in this debate which I propose to develop. The campaign suggested by the noble Lord and I, which should be implemented, should also be considered from the point of view of the cost of electricity supply. I believe that domestic heating supplies by the electricity boards are too expensive. I have spoken to someone who uses the white meter system—a system which we all respect and which is very well used throughout the country. He said that he was not so sure that it was quite fair and he had a feeling that because he had a white meter his rate for the ordinary supply was much higher than it would otherwise have been. I think that the authorities might look into that.

On the question of supply, as I explained, the Clyde Valley company had advantages due to its basic load being on hydropower. We are always being told that nuclear power produces very cheap electricity. Indeed during the last peak period I believe that large quantities of power were purchased at a low price from the French, who have developed their nuclear fission to this extent. I ask my noble friend and her pundits to say to what extent these cheap purchases of power have been passed on to the underprivileged.

To take another angle on the cost of electricity, I should like to know to what extent overall costs are being affected by the enormous losses involved in the Arthur Scargill miners' strike. Are we still paying for that? Is any measure of the costs involved in that strike being carried to the underprivileged in keeping up off-peak tariffs? Perhaps the answer to that can be found quite easily. If the rates could be reduced, there would be more opportunity for the damp and the other troubles to which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, drew attention to be dealt with by this excellent type of heating.

There is another point to be considered. The catalogue that I have in my hand does not contain any prices. I have not asked what they are, but they cannot be cheap. In the campaign to which the noble Lord referred, is it possible in the benefits for those on supplementary benefit to provide that the capital costs of these small night storage heaters are supplemented, just as insulation, draught-proofing and so on are supplemented? In pursuing the possibility of lower unit costs for electricity, could some capital costs be provided by the state in the campaign to which the noble Lord has referred and which I and I know the rest of your Lordships hope will take place before another winter comes? It is too late now even if there is another cold snap.

I congratulate the noble Lord on the Motion, and I support it.

3.43 p.m.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, pointed out, we have debated this subject recently and indeed on many occasions in the past. Nevertheless I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, is quite right in introducing the Motion in view of what has so recently happened over the winter. He has also drawn the subject more widely than we debated it on the previous occasion. I should like to respond to the opportunity that this has given us by speaking on the subject within a wider framework.

I start with new buildings, because obviously the standards established for new buildings will determine the way in which people will heat their premises in future. The Department of the Environment has recently issued a consultative document on new building regulations. The document contains the department's views on what the heating regulations should be. Comments on the document are asked for by 31st March. I feel that it would be appropriate therefore to refer to the document in the course of this debate.

The objectives set out in that document seem to me to be entirely satisfactory. The proposals,
"aim to save in a cost-effective way about 20 per cent. of the energy required for space heating in a typical house and to improve energy efficiency in offices, shops and many other buildings".
They are, therefore, highly desirable. However, I feel that some difficulties arise from the way in which this is to be brought about. I hope that these will stimulate a good deal of comment.

So far as industrial and storage buildings are concerned, it is stated that because of the diversity in use of such buildings, while every encouragement should be given to achieve effective heating standards by good insulation and other means, nonetheless no minimal standards could be set. I think that this would be unwise. The fact is that every year some 9 million square metres of new industrial and storage space is constructed in this country. At least two-thirds of that is built speculatively—in other words, the use is not known in advance. I suggest that there is a strong case, at least in the speculative building of industrial and storage structures, to have minimum standards of heat conservation.

When it comes to residential buildings there is also a problem because here a concept of flexibility is introduced—the term "trade off" is used—as between different forms of heat insulation. It is suggested that it should be left to the builder to decide which form of insulation is introduced into a house so long as in total it conforms with the energy saving laid down, but I feel that this could be open to some doubt.

It is conceivable under these proposals, for example, that roof insulation would be omitted altogether because it might be claimed that other forms of insulation provided the necessary standard. I feel that the purchasers or occupiers of such new buildings should be assured under the new regulations of minimum standards of insulation for all the obvious features—roof insulation, hot water cylinders, doors, windows, walls and so on. Those are the two points that I would make on the new building regulations.

In regard to the existing housing stock, we know from the many debates that we have had on the subject how extensive the deficiencies are. There are deficiencies in all sorts of respects, but we are concerned with the heating deficiencies. This has been clearly set out by the Government.

I should like here to quote a circular issued in August last year by the Department of Energy as part of Energy Efficiency Year. It refers to the deficiencies in insulation in the 20 million homes in the United Kingdom. It states:
"one in three is without a hot water cylinder jacket, 3 million have only one inch of loft insulation rather than the four inches now considered desirable, 9 million have unfilled cavity walls and 12 million have no draught stripping."
This is a very sad commentary on our existing housing stock. If anything were to demonstrate the validity of the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, I think that these statistics emanating from the Government themselves do just that.

We know therefore that we have a real problem. I hope that we shall be advised by the noble Baroness when she replies to the debate that the Government have decided upon a clearly defined and positive strategy to tackle these problems within a measurable period of time. This is a question not only of promotion and publicity; there must be direct incentives to stimulate people to improve the standards in their homes. In this connection the revamping of the home insulation grants, which came up in a Question asked earlier today by the noble Lord, Lord Dean of Beswick, is relevant. I should have thought that this was just the wrong time to remove an incentive for householders and house occupiers to improve the insulation of their homes.

I am fully in support of extending the assistance provided to those on low incomes, and I should not like to suggest by any manner of means that the Government should go back on what they have done to extend this in that respect, but I feel that they ought to think again about withdrawing this incentive from other householders. I feel that it gives the wrong signal altogether at a time when we are perfectly well aware that so much needs to be done to improve the heat efficiency of the homes of Britain.

What we need, as the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, pointed out is to have clearly-defined standards for home heating. In fact these are well understood by now. It is known what the level of heating ought to be in different rooms according to their usage. I should have thought it highly desirable for these to be given an official status and the action taken to improve homes—whether in the private or the public sector; whether in low income groups or other income groups—related to those objectives. Then we should all know where we stood. As it is, there are no clear standards laid down and this is a vague and grey area.

I should like to refer specifically to the problem of those on low incomes and the elderly. We need to consider the size of this problem. The Department of the Environment estimated in 1984 that £4 billion needed to be spent to upgrade council housing stock in Great Britain to acceptable thermal levels. A large proportion of those homes of course would be inhabited by people on low incomes.

The present rate of annual expenditure for improving the thermal efficiency of these homes is of the order of something like £50 million. If you divide 50 into 4 billion you come to the answer that at the present rate of progress it will take us something like 80 years to achieve the improvements that the Department of the Environment estimated to be necessary. That of course leaves out of account entirely the private sector where there are also many deficiencies.

What is being done by way of public expenditure in improving the thermal efficiency of homes is rightly concentrated on low-income households. It is estimated that there are some 6 million or so of these; that is, householders which are on supplementary benefit. It includes 2 million householders of pensionable age.

The main body conducting insulation in this category of householders is the Neighbourhood Energy Action organisation, with which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and I are closely involved. This was started in 1981. It has already insulated 300,000 homes in the category of those on low incomes and has increased its rate of insulation to 200,000 per annum. It is doing valuable work and has been supported by a number of government departments. It employs 6,000 people under the community programme, and by April 1988, if present plans mature, this will rise to 8,000.

However, despite this progress, as the figures show, there is much more to be done. It is not just a question of doubling up, or indeed trebling up, if we want to deal with this problem in a measurable amount of time. Therefore it is regrettable to have to say that even this programme, which is relatively limited in relation to the nature of the problem, is now being threatened.

Under the Social Security Act 1986 the DHSS proposes to abolish the single payment for the draught-proofing of homes of those on low incomes from March 1988. There has been a great deal of discussion about this to ensure that this help will be forthcoming in some other way, and indeed on a growing scale if the increased programme of the NEA is to survive. But regrettably so far no agreement has been reached.

Unless an agreement is reached by October or November of this year, this major programme will have to start running down because it cannot operate without the funds which have hitherto been available under the single-payment scheme. There is much encouragement for the programme from, for example, the Department of Energy, because it fits so well with what it is trying to do. Indeed, I was over at the department yesterday presenting certificates to some of those who install this draught-proofing.

It would be somewhat anomalous if a programme of this sort, so fully supported by one department of state, were abruptly brought to an end by another department of state. I trust that this will not happen and that the noble Baroness will have some words of reassurance to give us when she speaks. This is a most important issue.

I should like to conclude by suggesting that under the comprehensive strategy that the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, is proposing we should aim basically to do three things. As to new construction, I have made suggestions that under the new building regulations there should be clearly defined minimum standards laid down both for industrial and residential properties. Secondly, so far as existing buildings are concerned, we must put in hand a major programme to stimulate and encourage efficiency in insulation. There should be suitable incentives, and we should aim to try to get the problem resolved within a measurable time.

Finally, so far as the low income groups are concerned and especially the elderly, there is an urgent need for the replacement of the single-payment scheme so as to enable the present programme to go ahead, but that programme itself needs to be at least doubled again, and then again, in order to deal effectively with the problem.

3.57 p.m.

My Lords, perhaps I may first join previous speakers in congratulating my noble friend and colleague Lord Stallard on introducing this debate and giving us the opportunity to speak on a subject which is very important and topical, bearing in mind the inclement weather that we had only some few days ago. I think that the debate has wider connotations than the title we are debating. We are in effect talking about the best use of energy resources in the country.

I would have developed the theme earlier at Question Time, but one has to be concise and short in the questions one puts to a Minister. However, I have figures which show that we, as a nation, are probably among the worst, if not the worst, wasters of energy in Europe. This is comparing ourselves with nations of a comparable size. In most aspects we come out badly in any league, as we are defined as an exorbitant waster of the energy that we produce. I understand that it is over 20 per cent. A lot of this is because on the domestic side the country is almost totally unequipped to deal with the situation. There is far too much energy wasted in the homes of this country.

It is also a fact that the Minister's information today is at odds with the information that has been given to me by professional people involved in the insulation industry. I tried to make the point—I do not think that the Minister accepted it—that under the changes that the Government have announced there would be fewer people applying for insulation benefits. The Minister went to great lengths to tell me that because they had made it 90 per cent. for an increasing number of people, that there would be more take-up. I have the figures here. They are taken from Building magazine early this month. The magazine says that the money available for loft insulation has been cut from £26 million in 1986–87 to £15 million for the year after. If it is being cut, or even if it remains the same, surely if one allows houses that come within the criteria to receive a 90 per cent. grant—I believe the previous grant was 60 per cent.—by any mathematics it is clear that the total can only be divided among fewer applicants. I quote from this article once again:
"Many contractors specialising in loft insulation could be forced out of business by government cuts to next year's Housing
Insulation Grant, according to the National Association of Loft Insulation Contractors. It claims the move will reduce workload by over 75%."
Later the article states that NALIC:
"said 90% of its members' work comes from grant-related jobs. Of this, only 12% is from households on supplementary benefits.
"A spokesman said: 'We will lose many expert smaller contractors who specialise in loft insulation. The government is hoping the withdrawal of the grant will make people turn to DIY.
'Firms will probably be very busy until February, when the grant rules change. But after that they will have to turn to local authority and contract work'."
We already know in the broadest sense that money to local authorities has been cut so there will be no expanding market there. The quote continues:
"The money available for loft insulation has been cut from £26m in 1986–1987 to £15m this year. The government's reasoning behind the cutback is that available funds should be targeted to areas of need."
I do not think anybody would quarrel with that—I believe the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said almost the same thing—so long as the cuts are restored to the other people from whom they have been removed. The quote continues:
"Nearly 90 per cent. of accessible roofs in England are now insulated, and we should now concentrate the scheme's assistance on those people who find it most difficult to afford the costs of loft insulation.".
That statement was attributed to the Minister for Housing, Mr. Patten. The quote continues:
"But according to Eurisol secretary general Ian Knight, 85 per cent. of the 20 million houses in the UK are not insulated to the current building regulation standards.
'More than two million houses still have no insulation in the lofts, 1·25 million have one inch or less and another 2·25 million have two inches or less. Current regulations call for a minimum of four inches of insulation—which is totally inadequate'.".
These are the figures and the opinions that the people involved in the industry are expressing. I fail to be convinced, having studied that document, that the information in the brief given to the Minister by her civil servants was correct. I believe that the builders are right and that there will be a reduction in the number of people applying for housing insulation grants. That is extremely sad, bearing in mind that we are already known as one of the biggest wasters of energy in Europe.

In another debate some time ago a noble Lord, I think on the Cross-Benches, quoted the frightening rapidity with which the world was using up non-renewable energy resources. The figures were quite alarming. It is unforgiveable that we are not safeguarding and using to their maximum efficiency the treasures that we still continue to take out of the ground in the form of coal and oil. I believe the statement that has been made will act detrimentally.

I should like to put a specific question to the Minister. When is the cut-off point when the grants will no longer be applicable? Was it dated from the Minister's statement or will it be from today? If it is from today, will the Minister give an undertaking that anybody who applied for insulation grants during the recent very severe cold weather will—as long as those applications are in the hands of the local authority, they will be allowed to process them—receive their grants. Otherwise it seems rather unfair. I know from my own experience that there was a rush for insulation grants because of the recent cold weather. They were realistic applications, not phoney ones made just because people realised that a benefit was available. I do not know exactly what the average grant might be but, for an average semi-detached house, at the top of the scale, it would probably be about £80 at the most. Before I came to your Lordships' House I insulated my own house. The installation of a four-inch thick thermal cladding in the loft is of immense benefit not only to the occupants of the house but also to society as a whole in terms of energy conservation.

There are a number of other statistics that can be made available to prove the point that the Government are unfortunately going down the wrong road. There are statistics to show the improvement that could be expected in the health of elderly people and in the health of people in the more deprived areas where the housing is particularly bad. Health could be improved in the widest sense from the babies and children up to the elderly people who are so prone to hypothermia in the type of weather we experienced some weeks ago. However, I do not wish to quote any more statistics as I think we have had sufficient to indicate to the Minister that she should go back to the Secretary of State for the Environment and ask him to reconsider this as a matter of urgency because of the pittance that is represented by these cuts in the insulation grant. There is no doubt that there will be cuts in these programmes and people will not come forward without the incentive. We shall pay a much bigger price for it later and in the future the cost will be much higher than if the job were done today.

Having said that, once again I want to thank my noble friend and colleague Lord Stallard for giving us the opportunity to debate such an important and topical subject.

4.8 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, in an excellent and knowledgeable speech, has drawn your Lordships' attention to what I think is a very important problem of our age. I do not intend to follow the knowledgeable noble Lords who have spoken before me, but I intend to read their speeches afterwards because I have already learnt a great deal more about this subject than I shall be able to impart to your Lordships in my brief remarks.

This country is well behind most of Europe in home insulation. I spent Christmas and New Year in Poland and when I left Warsaw the temperature was 35 degrees below zero Centigrade. But at no time in the three weeks I spent visiting people in their homes—I stayed in Polish houses all the time, never in a hotel—was it cold indoors.

I noticed during the recent cold spell here in this country—getting slightly off the subject—that people in London simply did not know how to dress out of doors. For example, going out in that weather in a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt means that it takes you a long time to get warm again back indoors. And that could cause illness. However, that is a diversion. It was said in the press and elsewhere during the recent cold spell that we do not usually face such severe weather. That is not my experience. Almost every year we have a severe spell of weather. There are the odd years when we do not, but we have damp cold every winter in this country. It is then that one reads newspaper stories of old ladies huddled in front of two-bar electric fires but only able to afford to put on one bar. That is a most pathetic situation to read about.

Unfortunately, we cannot go on pretending that this is unusual. As has already been pointed out, damp houses, inadequate insulation and poor heating are still widespread. However, I would divert from the general line of your Lordships' arguments and say that the reason is not only poverty. That is the cause to a large extent but partly it stems from our nation's past. I remember from my childhood that to be comfortable, even indoors, was considered to be soft and degrading in some sense.

There are people with plenty of money who shiver in their houses every winter. We have all met them, and I daresay some of them may sit in your Lordships' House. I have spent many uncomfortable and chilly hours in the houses of friends. The worst aspect of it as has been pointed out by other noble Lords, is that they are probably paying more for the wretched and inadequate heating they have than is paid by people who live in warm houses. Your Lordships will have experienced the type of dwelling I mean—a convector heater here, a miserable little one-bar electric fire somewhere else and night storage heaters turned low because the owner of the house does not think it cold enough to turn them up.

When these people grow old, they probably still have plenty of money. But they may become even colder. I do not know what we can do about them except try to persuade them that living in damp, cold houses is bad for their health. The people I am talking about could spend their own money if they thought it proper. One might also explain to them that adequate heating normally costs less than poor heating and that one-bar electric fires, convectors and similar things consume a huge amount of electricity, as do electric immersion water heaters. The sort of people I am talking about nearly always seem to have their water tanks heated by electrical immersion heaters; I do not know why.

Also, the National Health Service might have more beds to spare and doctors might have more time if we could persuade these more prosperous people to change their ways and to do something about making their houses warmer. It is not good for anyone of any age to live in a cold, damp house. It does not make them hardier, stronger or fitter. They finish up with bad chests and water on the knee, and they cost the health service a fortune.

I turn briefly to methods of heating and the economics of those methods. My knowledge is not nearly as comprehensive as that of other noble Lords who have spoken. At one time I owned a medium-sized Scottish farmhouse, which was very difficult to heat and very cold in the winter. After two or three years of these conditions, I had had enough and I got in touch with an oil company who installed a boiler and several radiators. Under the contract I was to pay off the installation costs over 10 years. Incidentally, there was a large damp patch at one gable end of the house and I had spent a fortune on builders' repairs without any success at all.

The following winter, with the central heating installed, the house was warm and the damp patch disappeared. However, the best news was the heating bill. Including the capital repayments—I stress that point—my total bill for heating was actually less than it had been the previous year in a cold house. That is a good story. It could not be exactly repeated now perhaps because of the hike in the price of oil. Nonetheless, I think it is near enough repeatable. If we can pay less to heat people better we must be winning the battle. That is the way to approach the matter.

I agree with practically everything that has been said this afternoon. I regret, however, that I have to disagree to some extent with my noble friend Lord Ferrier on the subject of night storage heaters. I had these heaters in a home which I owned. One of the troubles was that when it got cold you turned them on. Twenty-four hours later, when the next warm spell of weather started they were operating at full blast so that everybody sweltered while they were subsiding again. Also, as they came on at night, it tended to be rather cool in the evening when people wanted to sit down and keep warm. They were actually best while getting out of bed in the morning and shaving, and that sort of thing. Personally, I do not think they are a very good contribution to the problem nowadays. I found them expensive and inefficient. Quite frankly, I hate them. However, I will not go any further into that. That is really all I have to say on this subject.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, regarding his criticism of night storage heaters, I referred to what the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, mentioned in an earlier speech—that the thermostatic and clock-timing controls today are infinitely better than they were 10 years ago, and more automatic.

My Lords, I am very glad to hear what my noble friend has to say.

4.17 p.m.

My Lords, I am glad that this Motion is being debated. With the inevitable decline in North Sea oil and gas resources, energy conservation is of vital importance to this nation and I am sure that in the long term energy costs will rise.

I want to consider this Motion under three separate headings: first, more effective energy use in new houses; secondly, improvement to the installation of houses by those who can afford it; and, finally, what can be done to help those who cannot afford the cost of improvement themselves or their heating costs.

I congratulate the Government on their new approach to energy efficiency. It took a long time to get any improvements to the building regulations, which specify minimum insulation requirements for new houses. We still await minimum requirements for floor insulation. Roughly 15 per cent. of the heat in a house goes out through the floor and in a fairly well insulated house it rises to 20 per cent. Therefore floor insulation is very important indeed.

We are still behind other European countries in our standards. I vividly remember that in the past my pleas for better standards were met by the assertion that market forces would take care of the situation. I then pointed out that with an uninformed public it would take years before they knew enough of the merits of high insulation for it to affect the building industry and for them to want to pay a small extra sum for better insulated houses. It is now just beginning to become a factor in house purchasing and in the meantime, we have built inadequately insulated houses for a future generation.

"Degree days" can give a useful guide. Our winters are less harsh than those of Europe, but they last longer. "Degree Days" tots up the days, multiplied by the temperature difference between the outside and the inside comfort temperature. On this basis, Edinburgh is almost the equivalent of Bergen, Glasgow is worse than Zurich and London is similar to New York. I know that this concept can be attacked in minor ways, but overall the message remains true.

In my second category are those who could afford to improve the insulation of their houses if they were convinced that it was worth while. It is never quite as easy to achieve effective energy conservation by modifying old houses. It is easier in a new house but much can still be done—draught-proofing, loft and cavity wall insulation and even under-floor insulation.

Double glazing, if considered only on its merits for heat insulation, is rather expensive, but of course it has other advantages. It draught-proofs windows, prevents a cold down-draught from windows and, to some extent, cuts down noise. The sophisticated opening type of double glazing is very expensive, but DIY glazing of windows which need not be opened is fairly cheap and effective. I have adopted this solution myself. At the end of my speech I shall return to the merits of insulating all our existing housing stock.

I should now like to consider the real hardship of those who cannot afford their heating bills and whose houses are badly insulated. I realise that, unfortunately, this must mean some central or local government expenditure. The Government have encouraged voluntary groups to put in the insulation. But this is only a drop in the ocean, although I applaud the scheme and those who work for it. In my view there should be an audit for those who are in real need, with more inspectors to see where help should be given as a priority. Just paying out money to those in need is inefficient and not a long-term solution. With old people, particularly those living alone, free provision or loan of low voltage blankets or even heated spacesuits should be considered as a temporary measure. Either of these uses very little electricity and it would be possible to keep warm in a room down to, say, 50 degrees Fahrenheit, below which lung infection in older people may be a consideration.

I end this speech by giving some figures which emphasise the importance of what I have been saying. But much more important in my view is what the Government should do. Over 20 per cent. of our energy consumption in this country is used for domestic heating in some 20 million homes. This represents a cost of some £7 billion a year. Of these 20 million houses, 15½ million have poorly insulated roofs or no insulation at all; 17½ million have no insulation in their walls and almost none has floor insulation. This is a very sorry picture.

By spending under £900 million on cavity wall insulation, the energy saving should theoretically offset this expenditure in about seven years. In addition, there is the £400 million spent each year in direct payments for supplementary heating benefit. Furthermore, the need to construct one new power station costing £1½ billion might be avoided by a large insulation programme over the next few years.

I always try to be honest and the overall picture may not be quite as rosy as I have stated. I agree that some of the increased insulation benefit will be accepted, not by reducing the consumption of fuel, but by getting a more equable inside climate. Nevertheless, the economic viability of what I have tried to describe still remains. I very much hope that the Government will be able to tell us that they are looking very seriously at the proposal to try to insulate our existing housing stock, certainly before the end of the century.

4.25 p.m.

My Lords, I was very pleased to listen to my noble friend Lord Stallard making such a comprehensive introduction to his debate which concerns an all-important subject. I was also extremely interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, covering so many points: first, the new building regulations which seem of absolutely fundamental importance; secondly, the heating deficiencies of our existing housing stock; and, thirdly, the importance of the work being done by the voluntary organisations working in the field of home insulation. I very much hope that the Minister will respond to some of the points which he made at the end of his speech.

If I dare enter into the discussion about night storage heaters, let me from personal experience agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, who said that the present night storage heaters spread the heat throughout the day and do not concentrate it in the middle of the night when, as the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, so rightly said it is not necessary.

We have also spoken today—I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, who particularly mentioned this—about the unaccountable fact that being cold is a more acceptable state in Britain than in other countries. It may be some national characteristic that even well-to-do people in Britain think, as a matter of discipline, that they should put up with being cold. We have also referred to the tragic phenomenon of hypothermia which is considered a British disease. To prove this there is unequivocal evidence that there is a higher seasonal mortality in Britain than in other countries, even if those other countries have more severe winters. One is left facing the question of why we allow this to go on? Why do we accept that there should be ill-health, in some cases death and in many cases extreme discomfort from the cold in our houses, which can be avoided?

Again, one must remember the cruel paradox, that it is the very people who can least afford to pay their fuel bills who need the most fuel. Elderly people, families with small children and the unemployed spend a great deal longer in their houses than those who go off to an office and use the heat provided by their employers. Therefore, as I say, in this paradoxical way it is the poorest people who need the most heat and who are the least able to pay for it.

The AMA has brought out some disquieting statistics, just one or two of which I should like to quote to your Lordships. It has pointed out that the major problems resulting from the continuing underinvestment in better heating and insulation are that there are still 2 million homes which are prone to dampness and condensation, that pressure upon social work case loads has increased because of fuel debts, that there were as many as 130,000 fuel disconnections in 1985–86 and that rent arrears are aggravated on the estates that are hardest to heat.

It also points out that the level of government-led investment in energy conservation has declined dramatically since 1979. In 1979, the dwellings completed under local authority energy conservation schemes were 632,000, and in 1985 the number was down to 80,000, which is a very great decrease. The AMA also made the point that, although the Government have failed to develop a comprehensive strategy nationally, there are a number of authorities that try to do this locally; and my noble friend Lord Stallard quoted what has been done in Newcastle, Birmingham and Hackney. These local programmes and the local work which is going on seem to be of great importance and they could well be followed through on a national level.

I should like to mention one area in the United Kingdom which suffers particularly from fuel poverty. That area is Northern Ireland. I was reminded of this fact a few weeks ago when I visited Belfast to speak at a conference about hypothermia and fuel poverty organised by Age Concern. Northern Ireland provides such an extreme example of heating problems for a combination of reasons. They include greater cold weather, ill health, cold homes and low incomes, which are more significant in Northern Ireland than in the rest of the United Kingdom. For example, a third of the population in Northern Ireland relies upon social security benefits. Average wages are almost 20 per cent. below those in Britain. Heating a home adequately is, according to a Northern Ireland economic council, over 40 per cent. more expensive that in it is in Britain because of higher electricity and gas costs.

For many years fuel poverty was monitored and measured through the number of disconnections made by electricity and gas suppliers. However, such indicators do not provide a complete reflection of fuel poverty. The reason is that in Northern Ireland there are wider powers under the Act concerned with repayment of debts to deduct fuel arrears directly from people's wages and benefits. This ensures that fuel bills are met, no matter what the cost in personal hardship. Furthermore, people who cannot afford to buy a bag of coal, which is the most common domestic fuel in Northern Ireland, effectively disconnect themselves. Therefore, a better indicator of fuel poverty is the increasing evidence of ill health and deaths among people who are unable to keep warm.

People working in the field of energy conservation and fuel poverty in the Province have made many recommendations. They advise that a fuel benefit of £5 a week for those on child benefit, retirement pensions, disability allowance and invalidity benefit should be made. They advise that there should be an end to disconnection of electricity supply on the present basis and that there should be intensive research into the extent of fuel poverty and cold-related ill health in the Province, which up to now has not taken place.

As other speakers have noted, one wonders what can best be done about the situation. The AMA has made some sensible and fundamental suggestions. It first talks about the building regulations, which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has already covered. It talks about the fact that the Government have failed to agree a consistent and effective standard of warmth for Britain's homes. The only agreed level is the minus 1.5 degrees centigrade temperature for severe weather payments which is used rather than the original target temperature for accommodation for the elderly of 21 degrees centigrade, which seemed to be a better way of measuring need.

The AMA also talks about the lack of investment and the fact that the Government have consistently failed to enable local authorities to invest in a systematic way in better heating and insulation. The Department of the Environment estimated in 1985 that £4 billion was needed to be spent on thermally uprating the council housing stock in the United Kingdom. There is little sign that such investment will be forthcoming in the current circumstances.

Lastly, let me add a word to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about Neighbourhood Energy Action, in which I am involved. I should like to mention how that important voluntary organisation started. It began in the 1970s when fuel prices were going up. A group of Durham students realised that old people were suffering very much and were unable to pay their fuel bills. They, as students, were hardly able to help with fuel bills. However, they realised that they could go round to help old people make their houses warmer. That is how the organisation started. The students themselves, in an independent way, went round trying to help old age pensioners to keep warm in their houses.

I stress the great concern that the NEA has and the very great risk to its important work, which has been described by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, and which is under threat. It has built this work up over the years and worked out a very sensible formula. Not only the NEA but many others today will hang on the words of the Minister when she tells us, as I hope she will, how single payments will be replaced. Without single payments, the work of home insulation carried on in this way by voluntary organisations cannot go on.

4.37 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, reminded the House that on 5th November my noble friend Lord Ezra asked an Unstarred Question on this subject. In putting the Question he covered that area comprehensively and he received a comprehensive reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. Other noble Lords took part. However, since then we have had the experience of severe winter weather, there has been a change in the grants for loft insulation and there has been a change in the formula for triggering severe weather payments and much controversy about those payments.

As my noble friend Lord Ezra has said, it is therefore appropriate that we should return to this subject today. I am sure that the House is grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for giving us the opportunity to do so and for making many important points in relation to this subject.

The first thing which strikes me about this problem is the comparison between the United Kingdom and other countries, to which the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven, my noble friend Lord Ilanworth, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred. The increase in mortality in the winter months in the United Kingdom is 24 per cent. The increase in Canada and Sweden, both of which have more severe winters than we do, is 6 per cent. There is much argument as to why that is so. It is suggested by some that there are special circumstances in Britain which bring that about; it is argued by others that it is simply because we do not organise ourselves in order to deal with the cold weather when it comes.

There may be disagreement on that point. However, I am sure there is considerable agreement on the things we can and must do to improve the situation. First of all, we must have a more efficient use of energy. That means that we must improve existing homes and that in turn means loft insulation and draught-proofing. With regard to loft insulation, I believe that 87 per cent. of our homes now have some measure of loft insulation. However, that insulation is only considered to be adequate in about 37 per cent. of the cases. Therefore, if one takes those figures one can work out that in at least half the houses with insulation there is a great deal requiring to be done. This was pointed out by the noble Lords, Lord Stallard and Lord Dean, and by my noble friend Lord Ezra.

As we have heard, the insulation grants have been extended so far as the 90 per cent. rate is concerned to all people on supplementary benefit and housing benefit. However, the 66 per cent. grant has been withdrawn. That means that pensioners, for example, who are only slightly above the benefit level and who could have qualified before for these grants, have now lost their entitlement entirely.

I should like to ask the noble Baroness about the scheme called Budget Warmth. I wonder whether she can give us more information about that scheme. It has been tried out as a pilot scheme in certain parts of the country. Under the scheme, the Electricity Council will insulate a nominated room in the house of an elderly person or elderly people. They will install heating and they will control that heating by remote control at the appropriate temperature. The cost of it is known in advance to the elderly person concerned, which is helpful, and he or she cannot turn down the heating, so there is no fear of being left in the cold. Can the noble Baroness say how that scheme is operating and whether there is any possibility of its extension?

After loft insulation we come to draught-proofing. What we are most concerned about in that connection is the point to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, referred and which has been mentioned by other speakers; namely, what is going to happen after 1988 when the social fund is installed? I think it is generally agreed that loans from the social fund would not be a satisfactory way of providing grants for the materials necessary for draught-proofing. I think it is agreed also that some form of grant is essential but as yet we do not know what that form is going to be. Again, it would be welcome if the noble Baroness could provide us with some guidance on that subject.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to the fact that 61 per cent. of houses in this country lack draught-proofing. We are aware of the work done by Neighbourhood Energy Agency, with which my noble friend Lord Ezra and the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, are associated. My noble friend Lord Ezra said, when putting his Question on 5th November, that even if that organisation doubled its activities it would not be able to deal with the task in less than 30 years. There is therefore an urgency for the kind of campaign which the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, asked for; the kind of campaign which was instituted when, a few years ago, there was the conversion to North Sea gas.

My noble friend Lord Ezra referred to the need to build better homes and spoke about the consultative document. I am quite sure the Government will wish to consider carefully what he said about that. It is encouraging that advice on saving fuel is available from the Solid Fuel Advisory Service, the electricity and gas industries and the Energy Efficiency Office. All that is helpful. There are 6 million homes occupied by people on supplementary benefit. That includes 2 million pensioners. That, clearly, must be the principal area for improvement.

Those are, of course, also the households where paying for fuel is a serious problem. I think it is important that the price of fuel should not be kept unnecessarily high as a result of government policy and dictation. It is essential, too, to have adequate benefits for those who simply cannot meet their fuel bills. It is perhaps not inappropriate to recall that there have been some cuts in fuel benefits in recent years. In 1983 the application of the available scale margin to heating additions for the first time meant that those on long term supplementary benefit lost £1 per week from the heating addition. In 1985 central heating additions were ended for all new claimants.

We know, of course, that there is an allowance for heating in the basic supplementary benefit level. We know that there are additional payments to people with particular heating problems. That is the point: they are for people with particular heating problems. As my noble friend Lord Hanworth pointed out, they total some £400 million a year. Those additional payments are all to be replaced by general premiums to certain groups of people; not people defined by heat problem but defined by other circumstances. We understand that the £400 million is to go into that general pool. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether it would be possible to identify in future years, when the scheme is operating, the amount which is being allocated for heating. I should also like to know whether the noble Baroness is satisfied that the people who now receive these heating additions because of particular heating problems will not lose out under the new arrangements.

Is there a case for a fuel premium, perhaps payable in winter only? That brings me to the severe weather payments. We welcome the fact that the threshold has been raised but it would seem that a retrospective benefit—a benefit which depends on past temperatures —must be unsatisfactory. How is a prospective claimant to know whether the temperature is going to average less than the limit for a period of seven days from Monday to Sunday? If the Government are determined to keep that retrospective system of triggering, will they consider having a rolling seven-day period so that the first seven days which averaged less than the limit would trigger the benefit?

Is seven days perhaps too long? Is not that something we have learnt from the recent cold spell? Perhaps four days is a more suitable period if we are to have this particular type of triggering system. Is £5 per week enough? I understand that £5 would heat one room for two days. Of course, it is important that all rooms should be kept warm if possible, and not just one room. Finally on these payments, is it right to maintain the restriction for those who have £500 or more of savings? That amount is just about the cost, for many people, of a funeral.

Finally, three departments are involved on this general attack on fuel poverty. They are the Department of Energy, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health and Social Security. How is the campaign against fuel poverty to be co-ordinated, and not merely co-ordinated but driven forward? Should not one department, one Minister, take the lead? We know what needs to be done—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, that we have the resources to do it—but whether it is done will depend upon the drive, the determination and the leadership of those in authority.

4.47 p.m.

My Lords, I add my thanks to those of other noble Lords to my noble friend Lord Stallard for giving the House this opportunity to debate this subject again today. I think it is necessary for it to be debated again because, as the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, said, we try to pretend that winter does not happen in this country, but every year we are surprised by it and every year we suffer from it. The only answer is to keep pressing, particularly in regard to the needs of elderly people in cold weather, and to press the matter throughout the summer so that, it is to be hoped, by next winter we will see some improvement.

There has been no shortage of novel ideas this afternoon. I was particularly impressed with the suggestion from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for, I think, some kind of space suit for the elderly. That conjures up a lovely picture of elderly citizens sitting round the television watching "East Enders" through their visors and turning up the heat as necessary! It is certainly a novel idea that I have not heard before.

I am not quite sure about the solution put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, for a room where the occupant could not turn down the heat. I think I might find that uncomfortable and I am not sure that everyone would want it. However, I take the point that we must make sure there is a minimum level of heating.

It is tempting to stray into the whole question of energy conservation but I shall leave that subject for another day and keep to the matter now before us. No doubt we shall hear from the noble Baroness who is to reply about the heating allowances made by the DHSS and the fact that there is a notional heating element in all supplementary benefit payments. We recognise that, but the reality is that the sum allowed is affected by the needs of the recipient. The point has been made by my noble friends Lord Stallard and Lady Ewart-Biggs and a number of other speakers including the noble Lord, Lord Banks, that it is poor people who live in the worst housing. Therefore it is those with the lowest incomes who have to find the most money for heating.

It has been said before, and I do not think it can be said too often because we need to be reminded of it, that these people are liable to have old and less efficient heating appliances. The storage heaters that were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ferrier, may be a solution but they have their shortcomings and there would have to be considerable improvements to them before I for one should want to recommend them as a method of heating for elderly people. In the meantime, very often they were saddled with inefficient old fires and terribly inefficient old gas heaters and they do not have the money to replace them. The money that is paid by the DHSS as a heating element is not sufficient for any capital expenditure on replacement of that kind. Their houses lack insulation, and doors and windows fit badly, so that even the pathetically small amount of heat that can be generated is quickly lost to them.

I shall not go into all the statistics about houses in need of renovation. They have already been given several times this afternoon. Perhaps I may just remind your Lordships that for those with adequate means, who are the people to whom the noble Lord, Lord Belhaven and Stenton, referred, and who probably include all of us in this House, the saving on fuel consumption will put money in their pockets, but for those who are at or near subsistence level—and this afternoon we have discovered what a very high number that is, because not all poor people are in receipt of extra payments—it means a small improvement in their living standards. For the old, as we have seen many times this winter, it can be a life-saving exercise. The noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, intervened at the beginning of the debate to make that point.

The Government's cuts in grants for home insulation are therefore cruel and shortsighted because they hit those who are unable to do anything about better home heating. I know the answer that the noble Baroness will give, because she gave it earlier today, and I also know that those in the very greatest need will still be looked after, but there are a very large number of something like 11 million households which are on the borderline and they will be cut off from any help with home insulation.

The Secretary of State for Energy reiterated his commitment to energy conservation. How can that commitment be reconciled with the Government's cuts in insulation grants? It is very difficult to see the logic. I must also ask how this commitment can be reconciled with the intention to privatise energy supplies. I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for bringing in that subject this afternoon but it is something that has to be discussed. The incentive in privatisation (capitalism, if you like) in the energy industry is to sell more of the product for greater profit. Where does that leave conservation in energy supplies? I do not know whether the noble Baroness has an answer to that question.

I should like to come now to the question of the draft building regulations that are being discussed and to which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, quite rightly drew attention. I know it is not a very interesting subject to many of your Lordships and that it does not make the media headlines, but we must look at the standards that are being applied to new houses and new buildings generally if we are to make any inroads upon the state of our houses for the future. New building regulations are being discussed, and there is, I know, a consultative document. Many of the proposals in that document concern the upgrading of the thermal properties of new buildings, both residential and commercial, but there are flaws in the proposals, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, has pointed out.

While the Government are pushing for improved standards, the draft regulations have a certain flexibility whereby a trade-off between various elements is allowed. There is an overall thermal efficiency target for the building, but within that target it is possible to choose the areas of the building that will be best insulated. The big danger is that one can use the changeable elements within the building; for example, double glazing can be set off against wall insulation. However, double glazing is a changeable element which need not be replaced when breakages occur or when there are other changes to the building. If that happens, the building then falls below the original standard set by the Government and becomes inefficient in those terms, even if it is accepted that the present standard set by the Government is sufficient, which is something that is also being questioned.

I suggest that changeable items should not be part of the trade-off regulations. Trade-off is also to be permitted between floors and roofs as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, mentioned. There is very little argument that roof insulation is more efficient than floor insulation. Floor insulation is valuable but roof insulation has a much greater effect on the temperature of the building. It would not therefore be very efficient if the builder met his requirements by insulating floors, which is cheaper and easier to do, and leaving the roof uninsulated. That too is a possibility under the draft regulations. Obviously, the larger the building, the greater the scope for trade-offs.

Commercial buildings are included in the regulations although they are subject to a lower standard, but large buildings which are designed, say, as homes for the elderly also come into that category and are subject to this wide possibility of trade-off, which needs to be controlled. There should be no loophole left for that kind of building and I hope that when the Government eventually come to printing these regulations, they will decide that this provision must be changed.

There is also the question of industrial buildings which are to be deregulated. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said quite a lot about that and I support everything that he said, particularly in relation to speculative building. Very often by the time such speculative buildings are sold, or indeed early in the life of buildings that have been sold for industrial purposes, they will come on the market and be put to a different use from that originally intended. We have to look at the Government's own wish to relax the planning controls regarding change of use on buildings. That is particularly relevant as regards the Government's proposed simplified planning zones. So far they have not been a problem because they have not yet come into existence, but they will do so in the course of this year. We could have a situation in the future in which buildings with heating standards that are totally inadequate, even by the standards which are proposed in the regulations, will not even meet the commercial standard, let alone the residential standard, which is a use to which they could be put.

To improve thermal insulation after a building has been completed is often difficult and is certainly much more expensive than providing adequate insulation when the building is being erected. We should expect good standards for all buildings whatever their alternative use is likely to be. I must ask the Government whether they have considered the effect on energy conservation of deregulating industrial buildings. Has any thought been given to that question, and has any possible calculation been done on what it might do to the energy conservation programme? Does the Department of Energy know what is proposed in the building regulations or, as so often happens in government departments, is this something which the Department of the Environment is doing off its own bat without any consultation with another department.

There are conflicts, contradictions and inefficiencies in the Government's whole approach to energy supply and conservation and, as always, the victims of muddled policies are those who are least able to fend for themselves. Today's debate has drawn atttention to some of the problems. We hope that the Government will give more coherent thought to the remedies than they appear to have done so far. Again, I thank my noble friend Lord Stallard for the opportunity to join the debate.

4.59 p.m.

My Lords, on these Benches, we, too, are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, for tabling this Motion. The Government fully recognise the importance of the issues that it raises and we are grateful for the many ideas that have been advanced by noble Lords from all sides of the House in the course of today's debate.

The Motion is concerned with heating. But the important question is concerned with individuals and their ability to achieve an adequate standard of heating in their homes. Inevitably, in looking at individuals, our main concern must be with the elderly and other people in our society who are in need. Many noble Lords have underlined and emphasised that point.

The problems are complex. As has been said, a number of government departments are involved with them. The recent spell of severe weather has highlighted many of the issues. It is important to reassess them when we have the summer ahead of us to do a number of the things that need to be done. The Government are continuing to develop a strategy in that area. I shall breifiy mention the various developments and improvements taking place in many of the areas mentioned by noble Lords.

Before turning to issues, I must emphasise the energy improvements to the housing stock that have taken place since the Government came to power in 1979. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the statistics are impressive. Some 6.3 million more homes have well insulated roofs; 2.2 million more have insulated hot water tanks; 1.8 million more have cavity wall insulation; 2.4 million more have double glazing; and 2.6 million more homes have central heating. This improvement has resulted from decisions made by landlords, whether from the private or public sectors, and individual owner-occupiers. It is important that they are aware of the opportunities and benefits. The Energy Efficiency Office which was set up by this Government provides advice and information on cost-effective energy efficiency measures which can be taken to improve the comfort levels of homes and reduce energy costs.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, referred to a number of projects that arose during Energy Efficiency Year. The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also referred to them. They both pointed out the important job creation aspects which can be a side effect of energy efficiency measures. I believe that the designation of 1986 as Energy Efficiency Year and the associated Monergy campaign represented the biggest ever campaign to provide energy efficiency advice and information as well as encouragement to domestic householders. The year was supported by the fuel industries, the energy efficiency industries, those in the field such as Neighbourhood Energy Action and the voluntary projects to which some noble Lords referred.

The Energy Efficiency Office's response material, including the free magazine Monergy News, gives full details of the assistance available for low income households. In addition, the office has arranged with Neighbourhood Energy Action for low income inquirers who use the Monergy Hotline, featured in the office's advertising, to be referred to it for details of voluntary insulation projects in their area. I am pleased to be able to tell noble Lords that that service continues into 1987. It did not come to an end at the conclusion of Energy Efficiency Year.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, spoke of the need for an urgent new national campaign. I submit that we are enjoying a continuing campaign. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Energy is preparing for the Select Committee on Energy a report on how Energy Efficiency Year has contributed to his long-term objective of helping the nation to eliminate the 20 per cent. of our national energy bill which we presently waste.

The subject of gas and electricity prices also arose early in the debate. They were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, and my noble friend Lord Ferrier. Since the last election, domestic gas and electricity prices have fallen in real terms, gas by 7 per cent. and electricity by 10 per cent. In real terms domestic gas now costs less than it did in 1970 and electricity less than it did in 1981. In cash terms, since the election the price of gas has increased by about 3 per cent. Under the Labour Government it rose four times as fast. Similarly, the increase for electricity has been about 2 per cent. a year. Under Labour it rose 11 times as fast. Electricity tariffs were reduced from November 1986 to take account of lower inflation forecasts, higher sales forecasts, improved efficiency in the industry and the 1986 price agreement between the CEGB and British Coal. The result was a price reduction of about 4·7 per cent. for the average domestic consumer.

I hope that that will reassure my noble friend Lord Ferrier. I can also assure him that electricity tariffs were in no way adjusted to meet the costs which the miners' strike caused the electricity supply industry. The domestic gas price increase of May 1986 averaged only 1·7 per cent., well below the prevailing rate of general inflation. This took account of a £1 reduction in the quarterly standing charge. The Government's record on that score is not at all bad.

The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, referred to the effects of gas privatisation. There is no reason to expect higher prices now that British Gas is a private sector company. Indeed, for the first time the domestic consumer is protected by a clearly established maximum price.

My Lords, I was not talking so much about the price as the conservation element and attempts to sell more of the product.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that correction. I wanted to make that point in case it was in people's minds that prices were going to be affected as a result. The conservation issue is also being taken seriously, and is a priority for consideration. Obviously we must keep an eye on things.

I shall also refer to the point about concessionary tariffs for low income consumers made by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard. Successive governments have concluded that concessionary fuel tariffs for selected groups are not an effective way of helping the less well off with their fuel bills. Such tariffs would waste resources by providing help to the many who were not in real need. We believe that the best way to help poorer consumers is through heating additions to supplementary benefit.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, raised the subject of housing and the amount of government spending. It is for local authorities to determine whether the heating systems and the insulation of their housing are adequate and within the financial resources available to them, and to balance the need for improvements against other competing priorities. Gross provision for capital expenditure by local authorities on housing in 1987–88 is £2,922 million, an increase of £390 million over the corresponding figure for 1986–87.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also commented on the level of resources available to local authorities. I hope that what I have said reassures him somewhat. I am not sure from where he obtains his figure of £50 million for the annual expenditure on energy efficiency measures in local authority housing. He may be thinking of the additional allocation of £50 million to the department's Estate Action initiative. Some of the schemes promoted by Estate Action are designed to help energy efficiency, but local authorities will also be spending a great deal more within their own housing programmes.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and other noble Lords, mentioned fuel poverty and help for heating costs through the supplementary benefit scheme. The Government provide considerable help with heating costs for people receiving supplementary benefit. It is worth reiterating some of these schemes.

The most important assistance is the regular weekly help to all claimants through the scale rates which are intended to be used for all day-to-day expenses including fuel. Scale rates have increased by more than 6 per cent. in real terms since November 1978. Claimants who need to spend extra on heating, for example because of age or ill-health, get extra weekly payments known as heating additions. Expenditure on the additions in 1984–85 was some £400 million. The Government have introduced automatic entitlement to a number of heating additions to target help on those most likely to be in need of extra help with housing costs. The lower rate heating addition, worth £2.20 a week, is now payable to householders aged 65 or over, and to sick and disabled householders on the long-term scale rate. The higher rate heating addition, worth £5.55 per week, is payable to severely disabled people and to householders aged 85 or more.

However, I recognise that there are poor families who are not on supplementary benefit and do not qualify for heating additions. This is a difficulty but the Government believe it is right to concentrate available resources on those most in need and that it is best achieved through the supplementary benefit scheme. People with incomes above supplementary benefit levels are by definition less in need of help with heating costs. We do not believe that it would be the best use of available resources to spread them more thinly by extending entitlement to those who are above supplementary benefit levels.

My noble friend Lord Ferrier raised what became almost a mini debate in itself on the question of night storage heaters. He has given us the benefit of his experience in the past and in the Far East. I believe that the current design of storage heaters is more compact than earlier versions. The point may soon be reached when, for technical reasons, the size cannot be reduced any further. However, the choice of which appliance to use by the individual or landlord, depending on circumstances, must remain with those individuals.

Some electricity boards have instituted schemes such as Budget Warmth by which they install electric storage heating in the living room of a dwelling and provide heating throughout the winter period for a fixed weekly payment across the year. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, referred to this matter and asked for further information. The noble Lord may be interested to know that the pilot scheme which was introduced by several electricity boards has worked closely with Neighbourhood Energy Action and other charities concerned with energy efficiency advice to low income households, and has proved extremely useful. The Department of Energy is looking at the result of the pilot scheme with a view to deciding whether wider application may be appropriate.

Many noble Lords voiced the opinion, quite rightly, that new homes and building regulations were an area where a great deal of effort must be made because the results should be worthwhile. Indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Hansorth, concentrated on this point. The building regulations have a contribution to make to any strategy for conservation of fuel and power. It is some years since the standards of insulation in the regulations were raised. However, we have, as the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, said, recently set out the proposals for change. The proposals are part of the second stage of the review of building regulations.

Noble Lords may know that the regulations were recast in simplified form in 1985. The main regulations are much shorter. The technical detail is largely contained in supporting documents. In the second stage of the review we are revising the technical content of the regulations and the supporting documents. The proposals are set out in a consultation document which was issued on 15th December, 1986. There is a copy of this consultation document in the Library for any noble Lord who may not have already seen it. The consultation is still in progress and I shall ensure that account is taken of the comments made by noble Lords, and in particular that of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, about a mimimum standard for industrial and storage building.

The consultation paper includes proposals for raising insulation standards. For any noble Lord who is technically minded I can say that that means that the maximum "u" values are to be lowered. I am told that the value is an assessment of thermal transfer through a material. The lower the "u" value the greater the insulation. The proposals in the paper is that for dwellings the "u" value for walls should be lowered from 0.6 to 0.45, and for roofs from 0.35 to 0.25. A new standard for ground or exposed floors would be introduced. That is 0.45. But the consultation paper envisages greater flexibility. The intention is that designers and builders should have more choice in the way they meet the requirements so long as the overall standard is achieved.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested that it might be possible to take this flexibility to the extreme of actually omitting roof insulation altogether. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, was suggesting the same possibility for double glazing. I can assure both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness that it would be a very unusual house indeed which could achieve the standards suggested in the new regulations without having roof insulation and double glazing.

Those regulations apply to both the public and the private sector. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, raised the point about home insulation grants and home improvement grants in particular in the private sector houses. Houses and flats improved or provided with the aid of home improvement grant must have adequate heating facilities under the so-called "Ten Point Standard". This will continue to be a requirement of any simplified target standards as proposed in last year's Green Paper. We have also encouraged local authorities to be helpful to the elderly by making home improvement grants available for better heating facilities and for the provision of central heating in purpose-built old people's dwellings. Improvement grants can also be made available for other types of insulation work such as draught-proofing and wall insulation if that work forms part of a comprehensive scheme of improvement.

The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested that we were withdrawing an incentive for encouraging more insulation at the wrong moment by introducing the new scheme which was announced by my honourable friend in December last year. However, loft insulation is cheap and very cost effective. That is why the Government have supported it by the grant system. People have had eight years to take advantage of the scheme. Our extensive publicity should have, and I believe has, brought to the attention of all householders with adequate means the cost effectiveness of installing or improving their loft insulation. They have their money back very quickly. They receive a pay back in, I believe, two to three years. The proposed new scheme will assist those who do not have the means by increasing the total amount of the grant available to 90 per cent. It must therefore be sensible to concentrate help on the people who most need it.

My Lords, as the Minister is dealing with the new scheme, may I recall that I raised two very important points which it would appear that the Minister does not desire to touch upon. One was that people involved in the building industry say that the new scheme will result in a substantial shortfall in their workload compared with last year. I also asked specifically about people who had already made an application under the old scheme during the recent cold spell. Will they qualify under the old scheme for the grant that, at the time, they were led to believe would be available to them?

My Lords, I was coming to that point, but I am happy to deal with it now as the old scheme is still in operation. The announcement which was made in December said that the change would take place "next year", meaning this year. My right honourable friend will lay a scheme before Parliament under the negative order procedure. Therefore, the point made by the noble Lord that there might be a rush of applications for the existing grant was quite timely. There is the interim period during which they are able to submit their applications under the old scheme, but, at the moment, I am unable to tell him the cut-off date.

I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Dean, felt unable to accept the figures which I quoted during Question Time concerning the effectiveness of the existing programme on roof insulation. I believe that nearly 90 per cent. of accessible roofs in England are now insulated. The noble Lord, Lord Dean, has given other figures, and other noble Lords have referred to conflicting figures. Of course, I shall look into those figures to be certain that we are all speaking of the same thing.

Many useful and helpful suggestions have been made and I fear I am being overtaken by time. Nevertheless, as a number of noble Lords raised the matter, I shall refer to the single payments for draught-proofing which are made by the DHSS to recipients of supplementary benefit and which are due for abolition under the social security review in April 1988. I reassure noble Lords by saying that the DHSS has made a public commitment that alternative arrangements will be made and these are currently under consideration with the Department of Energy and the Department of the Environment. Therefore, the matter is not lost; it will be dealt with.

My Lords, the noble Baroness has given us some reassurance on this very important point, but will she give any indication of when the changed arrangements will be announced? As I mentioned, in the case of Neighbourhood Energy Action, unless we know by October or November, we shall, in all prudence, have to start running down the programme, and that would be very serious.

My Lords, I cannot give a date for any announcement on the subject. I can only say that consideration has been given to the matter since the Statement was made last year. I believe that we are close to the time when a decision might be made regarding the alternative arrangements.

The Government welcome the effect which the voluntary sector is having in this area, particularly the work of the Neighbourhood Energy Action scheme to which the noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, and the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, have drawn our attention.

Regarding exceptionally cold weather payments, I stress that those payments form only a very small part of the total help with heating costs which is given through the supplementary benefit scheme. In 1984–85, expenditure on heating additions was some £400 million but the amount spent on exceptionally severe weather payments was just £1.7 million.

The new system of exceptionally cold weather payments which came into operation on 11th December, 1986, concentrates help on those most at risk from the cold. Those eligible, subject to the normal £500 rule on savings, are supplementary benefit households containing someone who is aged 65 or over, under two, or chronically sick and disabled. Payments can be made in any local office area where the average temperature, recorded at a designated weather station on a fixed seven-day period, falls to freezing point or less.

The Government believe that the new scheme is easier to understand, that it is simple to operate and that it more fairly directs help to those most in need. As all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate have said that it is important to direct funds to those most in need, I trust that the scheme is welcomed.

The noble Lord, Lord Stallard, said that we have the coldest houses in Europe. The noble Baroness, Lady Ewart-Biggs, also made an international comparison, as did the noble Lord, Lord Banks. My noble friend Lord Belhaven gave some of the answers, one of which was to dress more warmly and, in an intervention, it was suggested that we should eat proper food. There is evidence that the seasonal excess mortality is greater in England than in some other countries which have severer climates. The reasons for this are not clear. Happily, the position has improved in recent years, but central heating does not seem to be the crucial factor. This is a complex matter and I assure noble Lords that it is very much under consideration.

I realise that I have not answered all the questions raised by noble Lords and I shall consider the matter further after reading Hansard. However, the strategy which we are developing means that the energy efficiency of the housing stock is improving steadily. In the majority of homes, the decision to make further improvement lies with individual owner occupiers. The Government's main responsibility here is to make sure that they have advice on the cost effectiveness of measures and this is provided by the Energy Efficiency Office. But we also need to be concerned about those, in all tenures, who are unable, for whatever reason, to make improvements themselves. In the public sector, the main responsibility lies with local authority or housing association landlords. In the private sector, the responsibilities and opportunities for providing help where this is needed is more difficult. However, I hope that I have convinced the noble Lords of the Government's concern.

This has been a most useful and informative debate. I should like to thank all noble Lords who have contributed to it.

My Lords, it only remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have participated in making this such an interesting and constructive debate. There is urgent need to find solutions to some very serious problems that could affect millions of our people, their well-being and their quality of life.

I should also like to thank the noble Baroness for her reply, particularly those parts with which I could agree—and there were some. I was slightly perturbed about her advice to people who could not keep warm or whose homes were too cold, which was simply to wear more clothes and eat more food. It reminds me of the fellow who was told to take longer steps to save shoe leather; I do not think the advice was exactly appropriate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Parking Schemes For The Handicapped

5.29 p.m.

rose to call attention to the case for further improvement in the national schemes for the parking of vehicles used by handicapped people, in the interest of both the general public and severely disabled people; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I regard this as a subject of concern not only to those disabled people who have serious mobility problems but also to the general public and in particular to motorists and the inhabitants of towns and cities. My theme is that so far as possible parking privileges for appropriate people with physical handicaps should be uniform throughout the country; also that the system should be sensible, fair, not too difficult to administer and, above all, not open to abuse.

If the badges can be used casually and fraudulently by able-bodied people, the system will fall into disrepute and lose the confidence of the public. Furthermore, if eligibility is extended to people who can clearly walk well enough, again the scheme will be discredited because the consequent congestion will justifiably annoy and disrupt the lives of those who live and work in urban areas.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me for returning to this subject after four years. I initiated the last debate on 15th February 1983, when we were able to consider the 1982 regulations on orange badges which were then about to enter into force. My connection goes back much further. In the other place in 1969 I was a sponsor of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill which became the 1970 Act. Within a few weeks of enactment there was a change of government and I was a Minister. As Secretary of State for Scotland I was involved in putting into effect the parking provisions in that Act, among others.

In 1981 I was also the chairman for Scotland of the International Year of Disabled People. During that year there were opportunities to ventilate a number of points concerning the parking schemes. The most important of those points were included in the 1982 regulations. During the international year quite a lot of consideration was also given to parking at airports. There was a one-day conference arranged by the British Airports Authority at Gatwick which I attended. I must record that since that time there have been great improvements in parking facilities for disabled people at airports.

Coming nearer to the present time, the Government took a major initiative last August, which I wholeheartedly applaud in issuing a discussion document with some suggestions of their own on virtually all the remaining controversial points concerning disabled parking. I understand that the Government have already received many detailed replies from bodies concerned. The Government are still considering the subject so that everything that is said in this debate will be taken fully into account. Although the Government state in their document that they have tentatively made up their minds on some of the points, I trust that they are still open to argument on those points as well as others.

This debate is limited in time. I am lucky in having 15 minutes with which to start. For the benefit of all who follow, I can use some of that time to set out the present position and also some of the matters which need decision and action. I must stress that the subject which I am raising this afternoon is special parking privileges and not other matters affecting the mobility of disabled people; for example, problems at self-service petrol stations or breakdowns on motorways. They are important matters, but they are for discussions on another day. We shall need all the time today to deal adequately with the subject of parking schemes.

When the national schemes were started, based on the 1970 Act, directions and guidance were issued by central government, but the administration had to be carried out by local authorities. It was an ambitious scheme. Badges which were issued by one local authority were valid in other local authority areas 200 or 300 miles away, except for central London. The central government consisted of two parts. Because of separate law and administration in Scotland the Scottish Office in the usual way briefed and guided local authorities in Scotland. England and Wales had another separate scheme. Northern Ireland introduced its scheme eight years later, because its disabled persons legislation was in 1978 and its first regulations were in 1979.

The separate systems from the early 1970s have continued and there are resulting anomalies north and south of the Border which are confusing for drivers. However, considering that this system was introduced in the early 1970s as a completely new concept for this country and was established quickly, it must be held to have been a success. It was certainly a great help to those handicapped people who have difficulty in walking.

Unfortunately, in those early days it was too easy to cheat or to misuse the badges. Except in Scotland the name did not have to appear on the badge. Many local authorities did not put names on the badges when the schemes first started. The badges were issued generously by local authorities; some were issued without very much checking. There was a rough rule of 50 per cent. disability, which was not always based on mobility and therefore the ability to walk. Above all, the worst error was that the badges were not removable. They remained on the windscreen because they were sticky and were intended to be stuck on to the windscreen. That meant when people other than the disabled person were using the car the badge was still on the windscreen. These points have been corrected in the 1982 regulations which we discussed in the debate in February 1983.

The new square badge which replaced the circular badge has to have a name on it. The badge lasts for three years. Any other badges stuck on the rear of a vehicle now carry no parking privileges whatever. The local authorities should be issuing transparent containers at the same time as the badges, so that the badges are easily removable. I believe that most of them have done this. The container is stuck to the windscreen. All this has been excellent progress.

However, we still need to concentrate on the two vital requirements in order to make the system work well and to eliminate abuse. First, the name must be clear and indelible on the badge; secondly, the badge must be removable. The badge should travel with the disabled person from car to car, if necessary, or to a taxi. It should be removed when the disabled person is not the driver or a passenger. Police and traffic wardens must be free to challenge the use of the badge, and should be encouraged to do so, when they suspect that a person is using a parking privilege with a badge and is not entitled so to do.

An example of blatant abuse was to be seen in that brilliantly scripted television series "Minder". Noble Lords who like me, may have become addicts of that series will remember that among the incidental small gems of the sayings and doings of Arthur (played by George Cole) was the slapping of an orange badge on to the windscreen of his Roller to assist its parking in one of his nefarious ploys. I am glad to say it should be much more difficult to get away with that now that the name is required on every badge, and that it can and should be challenged. Giving a false name should be a serious offence. I hope that the Minister when he replies can tell noble Lords that the police and traffic wardens are equipped and in a position to check speedily and start prosecution proceedings when necessary.

The discussion document issued in August by the Government raises further points of rationalising and improving the system. I shall comment only on a few main points. The document reports that the number of badges being used has increased by 17 per cent. since 1983. One suspects that that includes a considerable proportion of people who do not medically require the badges. The wording of the criteria for discretionary judgment is:

"a permanent and substantial disability which causes inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking".

Except for the word "permanent" which I shall discuss in a moment, I agree that that should still be the formula.

Where a medical certificate is required I suggest that it should not be the person's general practitioner who has to be the sole judge. It would be better to have an independent medical test arranged by the issuing local authority. The following letter from a doctor appeared in The Times on 1st March last year:

"A 60-year-old lady came to see me this week. She and her husband have been patients of mine since 1963.
She has some difficulty in walking—she nowhere near fills the criteria, however, for an orange badge for disabled drivers, but she and her husband genuinely feel she does.
It would have been absolutely impossible to have refused this request which would have appeared to have been a total rejection of them, and therefore I agreed. Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence and many people are driving round with orange badges who are not substantially disabled".

That is the main part of the letter. I fully support and sympathise with what that GP wrote, and he posed the problem very clearly.

The test should be mobility. Disablement of other kinds should not be a handicap to normal parking. In my opinion—and this matter is raised in the document—blind people should not automatically qualify. They cannot drive and have to be accompanied by an able-bodied person, who in most circumstances can deliver them and then park. Of course extenuating additional problems should be considered for each individual.

At present the orange badge applies to a disabled person either as a driver or as a passenger. The Government have suggested that there might be the letter "D" or "P" on the badge. Another suggestion is that those aged 65 and over should have a badge of a different colour than orange. Another suggestion is that there should be a photograph on the badge to help identification; and there is also the suggestion that there should be the registration number of the vehicle.

I do not think that these embellishments should be necessary if the name of the person is clear on the badge. The registration number can help to identify a person at a local authority office, but the person can use different motor cars; the badge travels with him. Surely the name on the badge should be enough. If abuse continues and we have to resort to photographs, then I would understand. However, I believe that it is important to avoid adding to the administrative burden of local authorities unless it is really necessary.

There is also the matter of the length of time. At present all the badges are issued for three years. I believe that it should be possible to issue them for shorter periods of six months, one year or two years, provided that the expiry date is clearly on the badge. It might also be possible to issue them for longer periods of, say, six years. That would reduce the amount of administration.

The progress of medical science means that some people's mobility is now much better than perhaps anyone expected it to be in the past. Therefore, I believe that there should be more flexibility in the timing.

I have been discussing eligibility for badges. I should now like to say a few words about the privileges which they confer in normal daytime restricted parking hours. Those privileges are different in different parts of the country. I draw attention to that in the hope that there will be some rationalisation when the Government consider the changes that they will make. Otherwise it is difficult for disabled drivers to know what the rules are in different parts of the country, and they would have to carry a small volume of regulations with them.

For example, in Scotland a disabled person with an orange badge can park on a single or double yellow line for an unlimited time; in England and Wales they can park for only two hours with a special disc clock which is issued only in England and Wales. In different parts of the country local authorities have different rules about parking in residents' parking bays. Central London of course is different and I agree that it is necessary in London to have a stricter régime. There are about 15 million people living in or within easy motoring reach of London, and in those 15 million the number of people with orange badges who would be entitled to park in central London in order to visit shops or other attractions could completely swamp the city.

However, again there are anomalies. Perhaps the most glaring one is that in Westminster a disabled person (who has to be 85 per cent. or more disabled) can with his white card park in residents' parking bays in the City of Westminster even though it is not his own residents' parking area. However, he is not allowed to park on even a single yellow line. In Edinburgh he can park all day on a double yellow line without any penalty, but if he goes into a residents' parking area he will be committing an offence. This is the sort of anomaly that makes life very difficult for the disabled driver. As a small contribution, I suggest that it should be possible to park on a single yellow line but only on a double yellow line in an emergency.

The problems of parking can cause so much frustration and animosity that it is well worth refining these arrangements for the disabled people who need them. If they are demonstrably necessary, fair and selective, the system will be accepted by the public without inconvenience, as a part of normal daily life. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

5.45 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for giving us the opportunity to debate this subject, which is of great importance to disabled people, and to congratulate him on his tenacity in pursuing this subject and the masterly overall picture that he has given us. Perhaps I may also say what a joy it is to have my noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton back once more in the ranks of the mobile Bench.

This is a very well-timed debate, because not only will all orange badge holders have been reassessed under the new criteria, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has said, it gives us an opportunity to look at proposed changes and other possibilities in the Department of Transport's discussion paper. From the discussion paper it seems that some local authorities are being freer than others in their interpretation of the discretionary criterion, and it is very important to remember that 73 per cent. of orange badges are awarded in this category. I can quite understand the growing demand for orange badges by the less severely disabled, because the increasing number of parking restrictions and the growing amount of badly designed pedestrianisation schemes mean that only the very sure and fleet of foot can hope to make the distance and carry out their business in the time allowed.

Inadequate parking provision for orange badge holders can also drive them to park illegally, but it appears that abuse is mainy by non-disabled people. Therefore, the question is: how do we resolve the apparent conflict of interest between 800,000 orange badge holders—and that is one car in 20 on the roads—and the authorities concerned with traffic flow, etc.?

I believe that there are two approaches, and the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled (of which I am a member) sums them up in its response to the discussion paper. It says:
"The question arises: Do we want to restrict the number of people with orange badges, end all traffic congestion by reducing the concessions available to them, and allow parking restrictions to limit the number who can conduct their business; or
"Do we want to reduce the number of people who need orange badges to conduct their business, ensure that the conditions are adequate to allow this, and make sure that the orange badges are only issued to those who need them?
"We argue for the latter, many of the proposals in the discussion document support the former".
I agree, and doubtless the Minister will say, "She would, wouldn't she?" I am delighted to see the Minister shaking his head. Normally the Department of Transport shows a very sound understanding of the problems of severely disabled people. Perhaps it is even more understanding than I thought from reading the discussion paper. Indeed, in paragraph 2 the discussion paper states:
"It has been a basis of the scheme from its inception that the issue of badges should be restricted to those most in need of the parking concessions conferred by it".
Then the paper seems slightly to have lost sight of its goal, and many of the possible solutions seem to be involved with methods of restricting parking.

My Lords, if the noble Baroness will permit me, the statement that one in 20 cars has an orange badge always seems to ignore the fact that in the last three years quite a few of those people will have died or ceased to be capable of driving a car at all. The figure is not very reliable without the subtractions.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his interruption, but that figure comes from the department's own document, which I believe says that there are 800,000 valid badges.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Lord Brabazon of Tara)

My Lords, I can confirm that the correct figure is 800,000 badges in circulation, one in 20.

How do we know the number of those 800,000 badges that are still operative? If the owner dies, how does one find out about it? If the person ceases to drive, how does one find out about it? Such people remain on the list.

I think that it would have been better if I had not interjected but had waited to reply at the end of the debate.

My Lords, obviously there needs to be stricter policing. Measures must be taken to tighten the criteria and facilitate stricter policing and enforcement, but certain concessions will have to be made and existing ones maintained.

I come to measures to be taken to make enforcement easier. I think that the whole question of offences and punishment will have to be tightened up. My noble friend Lord Ingleby will deal with this.

Another move to aid enforcement would be a two-part badge. I agree with a lot of what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said about the existing badge. One part could be on the windscreen—this would be more easily removable than the existing one—with the serial number and issuing authority, etc. The other would have those details plus the photograph and name and address of the holder, who would have to keep it on him and show it to the police or traffic warden when asked. That might be more acceptable than the department's suggestion of a photograph on the windscreen badge. I hope that the Minister will agree to that.

Secondly, I come to measures to reduce the proliferation of badges. I accept that the criteria will have to be tightened. I think that the most effective way would probably be by changing the wording of the fourth discretionary criterion from,
"inability to walk or very considerable difficulty in walking",
"unable or virtually unable to walk".
That would be the same as the mobility allowance, but it would also cover those too old to receive mobility allowance. I think that if possible it would be a good idea also to send a reminder on expiring.

I accept that there should be no expansion of categories to, for example, the temporarily disabled, agoraphobics and people with severe upper limb disabilities—those were suggested. I should have thought that the issue of temporary badges was difficult to administer and open to abuse unless strictly policed. The scheme is, after all, intended for those with a permanent disability. While I appreciate that those with severe upper limb disabilities have very real problems as, indeed, I am sure do agoraphobics, they are not suffering from locomotor problems caused by a physical disability. If we clamp down on the discretionary criterion we can hardly extend the scheme to embrace these new categories.

Let us now see whether those most in need of the scheme can take full advantage of it. The first problem is time. As the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, has said, the two-hour limit on parking on double yellow lines exists in England and Wales but not in Scotland. I feel that it should now be abolished in England and Wales as well. The discussion paper mentions the very alarming suggestion of limiting the parking time to less than one hour. This shows a total lack of understanding of how much longer a disabled person takes to get in and out of a car and to his destination to carry out whatever he has to do. Two hours in most cases is not even long enough to do the weekly shopping.

Another problem is access. It is very important, with pedestrianisation schemes mushrooming everywhere, that parking be provided within the mobility range of severely disabled people, or a "no go" area is created for the very people who would most benefit from shopping in a flat, kerbless environment and one in which the best shops are likely to be. In partially pedestrianised areas, orange badge owners should be allowed access to the streets at all times along with buses and taxis unless other parking can be provided within reach. If access cannot be provided, then pedestrianisation should not take place.

There remain the four enduring warts of the orange badge scheme, the City of London, the City of Westminster, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and the part of Camden south of, and including, the Euston Road. If these boroughs could be charmed into acknowledging the national scheme, this would he very valuable to severely disabled people.

It is also essential that existing concessions be maintained. In the discussion paper the department proposes separate badges for drivers and passengers. This is something which the Joint Committee on Mobility rejects emphatically. There is very real worry that this is the first step to two tiers of concessions. This is not fanciful scaremongering, because paragraph 34(g) of the discussion paper lists different concessions for drivers and passengers as something suggested by some authorities.

The proposal for two different badges stems from a lack of understanding of the practical problems of severely disabled people. Some disabled children cannot be left alone. Many elderly disabled people cannot walk without the help of their drivers. Very severely disabled people who cannot push their own chairs cannot be left alone while the driver goes back, finds a parking place—may be a quarter of an hour away—and walks back. The proposal was a definite one, and is very disturbing. The only circumstances in which the JCMD would accept these two types of orange badge are if Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970 were amended to ensure that the same concessions were offered to all classes of orange badge holder everywhere.

It is very important that existing parking concessions be maintained and that orange badge holders continue to be permitted to park where loading and unloading is allowed, to park on double yellow lines and to park without time limits where time limits do not now exist. I do not pick these examples out of the air. All these are concessions that local authorities have suggested might be removed, along with the introduction of the less than one hour limit and the introduction of a two-hour limit in Scotland.

I accept that there is a need to tighten the criteria for eligibility and to facilitate stricter enforcement, and I believe that this must be done. I am, however, convinced that we need to maintain and add to the existing concessions with regard to time, access and space so that those for whom this excellent scheme was designed can lead their lives to the full.

5.56 p.m.

My Lords, of the nine speakers today, four are in wheelchairs. I am therefore one of the speakers who has no axe to grind. In saying that, I am quite sure that those noble Lords who are in wheelchairs are not speaking for themselves; they speak for all such people.

I admit that in listening to the speakers so far I have learnt a lot. I had no idea of the extent of orange badge holders. Therefore, what I say this evening is based on my personal observations.

Nearly three years ago I tabled a Starred Question on the misuse of the orange badge scheme. It was answered by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, in her usual helpful way. On 24th February 1984, I asked (at col. 967 of Hansard):
"how many prosecutions there have been for illegal use of the orange badge scheme for disabled persons from its inception on 1st December 1971 until the implementation of further regulations in 1975; and from that date until the present day".
The answer I must admit shocked me. From October 1981 until the end of 1982 there were only seven prosecutions for this offence. It would be interesting to know the figures from that date until today—not that I would ask the Minister when replying to have those figures at his fingertips.

As has already been said, there is a lot of abuse. As far back as 19th December 1982 this fact was recognised by the Department of Transport, which stated in a circular referring to the orange badge scheme:
"Unfortunately the scheme has come in for much criticism in recent years because of widespread abuse".
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked as a supplementary question, whether the Minister was aware that a number of people who had an orange badge had their pockets stuffed full of parking tickets. On the one hand—I admit that this is some time ago—we have disabled people who require to park where they can and they are getting parking tickets, whereas people who are abusing the scheme are parking more or less where they like and getting away with it.

One of the things that happens is that the ordinary motorist, when he finds that he cannot park close to where he wants to go, sees cars with orange badges and thinks, "Fair enough", but the next thing he sees is some hale and hearty person running along the road, opening the car door, jumping in and driving off. These people do not do the reputation of the scheme much good.

It is probably true that some of the abuses are quite unintentional. A few years ago I was talking to a friend of mine. I do not have his exact words, but basically he said, "It makes life so much easier for me when I go shopping for my wife, who is disabled. Using her orange badge I can park, do the shopping and get home to her very much quicker than before". I said, "But don't you know that you are entitled to use that badge for parking only when the badge holder, your wife, is in the vehicle?". He was genuinely surprised at this. Perhaps his wife, when she was granted her orange badge, knew about it, but he certainly did not.

I also raised in my Question three years ago the matter of badges not being returned, but that has been covered and I do not think I shall bore your Lordships with it further. The orange badge scheme was the first positive step in helping the disabled. But, as many noble Lords know full well, it is not only abused but it has several shortcomings. I may be wrong in this from what I have just heard, but I was under the impression that certainly in London a badge issued in one borough was no good for parking in another borough. If you happened to live in a borough where there were few shops (say, Hammersmith) and you wanted to go to some decent shops and so you drove to Chelsea, then you were out of luck.

My Lords, will the noble Earl permit me to intervene? May I point out that it is only the central London boroughs which do not accept the orange badge? An orange badge issued by Hammersmith is acceptable anywhere in England or Wales and also in Scotland.

My Lords, I am most obliged. I am glad that I covered myself slightly by saying that I did not know much about it. It was only a personal thought. That means that a lot of what I was going to say does not now apply.

The main question is why people who are disabled want to be mobile. If there is a restriction and a person goes to a restaurant and can park for only one or two hours, that means he has to hurry his meal to get away. The same applies if he wants to go to the theatre, or if he happens to be visiting friends or going to a wedding, a christening or even a funeral. Therefore, I should not like to see a restriction placed on the length of time—possibly it should not be all day everywhere, as in Scotland, but the system must be more flexible.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said that he was basically against photographs. He thought that having the name was sufficient. If I were a traffic warden and I saw a car parked and the badge said that it was poor old Mr. J. Bloggs, how would I know who J. Bloggs was and whether he was entitled to a badge? Therefore, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth). If you have a badge with a number on it and you always carry with you a counterpart with the same number and your photograph, a policeman or anyone else could come up and ask, "Excuse me, is this your vehicle?". If you said yes, the policeman could then ask "May I see your counterpart?". If they did not match, you would then be guilty.

I have one final plea. It is all very well having parking facilities on public highways, but what about shopping centres and supermarkets? Nowadays most of these have spaces specifically for the disabled, and time and again if you check the cars not one of the spaces is being used for the right purpose. Disabled people have to park miles away because other people are so selfish and uncaring that they park close to the shopping centre. I feel that the law should be changed so that even on private land if you park where you should not and take up the space of someone who is disabled you can be heavily fined.

6.6 p.m.

My Lords, it would be discourteous of me to contribute, however briefly, to any debate on the orange badge scheme without expressing my deep appreciation of the scheme's very existence and the privilege it is to use it. I confess to travelling by road as a disabled person since 1930, 41 years before the introduction of the scheme. Therefore, I really appreciate it.

Orange badges have transformed the situation in all areas except the London boroughs that have been named and has impelled those boroughs to make similar arrangements for their own disabled residents. This makes it possible for people like myself to wheel and deal provided that conditions do not deteriorate too far. It was in fear of this that I read the discussion paper and tried to follow the rather complicated comment on it by the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled whose careful work on the paper is almost dazzling in its fullness.

We know that many fully eligible badge holders have extreme difficulty finding somewhere to park. The paper suggests that the discretionary criteria appear to lead to unfairness; and the joint committee's answer here is clear. I wish to support the words of my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. The joint committee said that the best solution would be to change the criteria to that of the mobility allowance; namely, that a person should be unable, or virtually unable, to walk. This would be applicable, too, to those whose age exempts them from receiving the allowance. I would entirely support that view.

As regards medical assessment, the Joint Committee of Mobility for the Disabled does not see a real need, as I understand it, to establish an independent source. My view is that if by having another source there is any chance of reducing the issue to unqualified badge holders, then we ought to have that separate independent medical assessment. It could help GPs to be relieved of this onerous duty. I hope that the financial implications will not be found unacceptable, and that such a plan is adopted.

The period of the validity of the badge is discussed and the joint committee does not see that an annual issue would help matters. However, there is surely a case for extending the three-year period of issue where the disabled person is permanently disabled. It would cut down the paperwork and the "aggro". This could only be recommended if the local authorities could be relied upon to have a good record of retrieval. Otherwise, it could be a formula for misuse by a survivor. The JCMD does not favour the proposal on these grounds.

On an earlier occasion in this House, I recommended photographs on badges to be the safest means of identification. The Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled claims that it would be difficult and/or expensive for some severely disabled people to obtain a suitable photograph and that one displayed on a windscreen could lead to racial and sexual harassment. It was not my intention that the photograph should face outwards, but the Joint Committee on Mobility for the Disabled said that some disabled people could see all this—even being asked to undertake to comply with a request for a photograph—as being discriminatory. I agree with one thing. There are some pretty nervous disabled people in the community. We must remember them. The joint committee asks for more identification, checking and monitoring by signature, although it says that signatures should not be in biro which quickly fades.

The main difficulty is to find parking space. There are legitimate disabled people who resent being prevented from pursuing the role or routine they have developed, often with very great difficulty. To have won the struggle and then to lose it by too many orange badge holders on the road sends blood pressure soaring. It seems that more should be done to monitor that the provisions are being met, to ensure that the orange badge is not held by, and certainly not issued to, non-holders. There is no need to repeat the many good reasons why disabled people should receive positive help, not obstruction, to mobility. This is why the discussion paper is important and why I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for his shrewdness in initiating the debate.

6.12 p.m.

My Lords, I should also like to start by thanking most warmly the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, who is visible to me if I turn round sharply. I should like to devote most of my remarks to the orange badge scheme discussion paper issued by the Department of Transport in August last year. As both the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, have said, the scheme is just too big in its present form with 800,000 holders. Even taking deaths into account, newly disabled people are continually applying for orange badges and the scheme has become unmanageable in its present form.

I agree with the noble Baronesses, Lady Darcy and Lady Lane-Fox, that the criteria must be narrowed and that the fourth discretionary category should be those people unable or virtually unable to walk, not those who have considerable difficulty in walking. This may seem hard but it is necessary if the scheme is to remain viable, and therefore to continue to be of benefit to those who most need it.

Various speakers have touched on the possibility of longer life for badges. Sitting here, I think that, in the absence of intervention by the Almighty, it is unlikely that the condition of Members of the mobile Bench will change for the better. Therefore could we not have some longer life badges? As the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, said, there should be some way of retrieving them when we no longer need them.

I turn for a moment to misuse of the scheme. At present, a badge can only be withdrawn for persistent misuse. It was suggested in the discussion paper that it could be withdrawn for one serious offence. The paper went on to give examples of four such serious offences which might justify withdrawal of the badge. The first was lending an orange badge to a non-disabled driver for illegal use: I entirely agree with that. The second example was not displaying a badge or a time clock. But surely, this is too severe a penalty for one misuse: a caution might be more appropriate. The third example was using an expired badge. I must confess to your Lordships that I got into trouble not long ago because my badge had expired and I had not noticed it. I would have felt justifiably aggrieved if my badge had been taken away because I had not noticed that it had expired. I wonder whether reminders could not be sent out to avoid this happening.

The fourth suggested offence warranting withdrawal of the badge was exceeding two hours parking on yellow lines. As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy, and others have said, two hours is unrealistic; for a disabled person to get in and out of the car, do their shopping and so on. Two hours pass in no time at all.

Finally, I should like to suggest the creation of a new offence in order to make the scheme more manageable. It would become an offence to display the orange badge when the vehicle is not being used by the disabled person. The badge would simply need to be taken out of its holder and turned round when not being used by the disabled person. Would this not simplify the enforcement of this very useful scheme? It might mean a slightly larger holder so that someone with an impaired hand movement could manage easily to get the badge in and out.

We are most grateful to successive governments for this scheme, and we feel that with these and other suggestions it could be restored to full health.

6.17 p.m.

My Lords, I make this brief intervention to the debate tonight and I am proud to declare an interest as president of the Disabled Drivers' Motor Club. I am glad to see one of my vice-presidents, Lady Masham, here, who will be speaking after me. I hope we do not disagree too much.

There is no doubt in the minds of my members, and I am sure all Members of the House, of the enormous importance that the disabled drivers' badge has in the daily lives of disabled people. But there is increasing and growing concern, not only among members of the club, but among members of the public generally in the abuse that is going on which sadly diminishes the value and respect for the badges. That is the sad aspect. There is no doubt that stricter control is necessary and that more prosecutions would have a salutary effect. The members to whom I have spoken feel that even when their members have let the side down the withdrawal for a few months of the badge would be a good idea.

We all look with some dismay at the figure of 800,000 badges—a 17 per cent. increase in three years, if that goes on for the next two years. I come to the reluctant conclusion that serious consideration should be given to the issuing of annual badges. I know this would cause considerable inconvenience to some people, and obviously the permanently disabled should have a different system. But I should like to prophesy that if suddenly all the yellow badges became blue badges one year there would be a drop of about 40 per cent. in the number of badges issued. We all know that badges are not handed back when people die and there are many badges in the country which should not be on the cars on which they are displayed. After all, is it any worse to apply for a badge annually than it is to apply for a television licence or a car licence? I feel that this should be considered carefully as should the use of photographs, to which again members of the club have no strong objection.

I certainly agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, that an independent medical assessment would in the end be the most sensible situation. It is not only family doctors but traffic wardens and policemen who are obviously very reluctant to harry disabled people, even if they think that some abuse is taking place.

However, I am sure that we would all deplore any increase of bureaucracy which in turn would increase the burden on the disabled. I certainly would not want this debate to go down as a debate concerned mainly with complaining about abuses. That is not what it should be. What is at stake is much more important: the welfare, happiness and mobility of disabled people, which is so very important to them. They should be encouraged to exercise that mobility and to exercise it in the free way in which we who are not disabled can enjoy it. But, I believe a price has to paid: that price might be greater bureaucracy, and it might be stricter control. In the end, however, I believe that disabled people will he better off when their badge is respected and honoured as it should be.

6.21 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to start by saying how pleased I am to follow the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, and how much his generosity and kindness to disabled drivers are appreciated. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, for bringing this matter of the parking of vehicles used by handicapped people to the attention of your Lordships. To many disabled people throughout the country this is a vitally important matter and it is becoming more so as towns are shutting their centres and shopping streets are getting further and further away for disabled people. Handicapped people are becoming more and more disabled because of this. The chance to work is also becoming more limited.

It is with a certain amount of frustration that I talk in the debate this evening. It was in 1981 that I took the Disabled Persons Bill (now an Act) through your Lordships' House. Was that legislation merely cosmetic for the Year of the Disabled, to look as though Parliament was doing something to help disabled people? The problems of parking seem no better. Section 2 of the Act deals with places reserved for the vehicles of disabled persons and it puts a £50 fine on people who are not disabled but who use those places and also on the wrongful use of the badges of disabled persons. A person guilty of an offence shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £200. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, how many able-bodied people have been convicted under the Disabled Persons Act of 1981 for abusing parking places and the use of the badge?

I hear of so many severely disabled people who are trying to pursue as normal a life as possible but who find that the stress and strain of trying to park near the place they need to go to is getting them down. In the last two days I have spoken to two doctors, one employed by the DHSS and another one at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. Both said that they thought a severely disabled person could park anywhere. That is not the case. People just do not understand the difficulties that disabled people have to contend with merely in trying to get about in their normal lives.

My noble friend Lady Darcy (de Knayth) has a major problem with her teeth, some of which were knocked out at the time of the accident which fractured several vertebrae in her neck and back, leaving her paralysed. When visiting her dentist near Sloane Street, she had a warning not to park her car there again. In no way was it obstructing anything. She now has to take a hired car from your Lordships' House for the return journey at great extra expense.

The examples I am now giving your Lordships are of people who cannot use public transport: they cannot get on a bus or a tube and they cannot walk or get into a cab. A married man who works for a wheelchair firm was delivering wheelchairs to a shop in central London. He received a parking ticket. Will he risk getting more parking tickets? Will he have to give up his job or leave London out? A young barrister who is a tetraplegic (that is, somebody paralysed from the neck down) was working in the City of London. The only way he could get to his place of work was by car. He got parking tickets and was taken to court. This young man has emigrated to Australia.

Another man I spoke to yesterday is now in hospital. He is a lecturer in engineering at Brunel University. When he has to come to central London he has so much trouble finding a place to park that it has put extra stress into his life. He might not be in hospital now if life were just a little bit easier. A headmistress from a school in York who has spina bifida has found the hassle of trying to carry shopping to a car which she has had to park far from the shops just too much extra stress and strain on her, and she has written to me in desperation. All these people enjoy their jobs; they are taxpayers and they have to a great extent overcome their disabilities, but the extra problem of trying to park is just too much.

As a country, we are behind Australia, New Zealand, Canada and most states of America in the facilities provided for disabled people. I ask this question. What is to be done if we have legislation like the 1981 Act and nobody takes any notice of it? The problem is that one has to be severely disabled to understand the problem or else to have some close friend or relative who comes with one and who knows.

Outside the Army and Navy stores the City of Westminster allocated a parking place for a disabled person. It put it at the end of the street where there was a very high kerb. At the other end of the street there was a ramp up the kerb; there was placed a rubbish skip. Which took priority, a disabled person or the rubbish skip? I am afraid that it was the rubbish skip. The "Mobile Bench" in your Lordships' House has been talking about these needs for a very long time. They are getting older and their limbs are getting weaker. They know the necessities even more.

One last matter of concern involves another group of people who have special parking discs. These are doctors who visit the sick and the elderly in their homes. Doctors have a doctor-on-call parking disc and they display the address being visited. This is an arrangement made by the BMA after consultation with other parties, including the police. A doctor visiting an ill patient could be involved in a matter of life or death. The BMA has told me that since wheel clamping has been handed over to a private firm several doctors have had their cars clamped. If that happens, doctors may stop visiting patients in their homes, with disastrous effects for disabled patients, as many of them cannot get to the surgeries and indeed may be unable to get out of their homes at all. Also, many doctors' surgeries are inaccessible.

I hope the Department of Transport will show itself to be responsible and caring in this matter because, if not, it will be the sick and the disabled who will suffer. As doctors are now having their cars clamped, I ask the Minister for an assurance that disabled people will not also have their cars clamped.

6.30 p.m.

My Lords, I believe we should all thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy,—as I think everyone has done—for giving us the opportunity to discuss once again the orange badge scheme, and particularly the discussion paper of the Department of Transport. It has obviously been a well-informed debate, because well over half of those who have taken part have first-hand experience of this subject—something which has been of great value.

I think everyone wants to make it possible for people with disabilities to share in as full a life as possible, and the orange badge scheme, with which I had a certain involvement with Alf Morris in another place some years ago, has made a great contribution to the welfare of many thousands of disabled people. I must confess that until I saw the Department of Transport's paper I did not realise just how many thousands were involved. I had no idea at all that it was such an extremely high figure.

I believe we all want to continue with the scheme, but we must recognise the problems, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, said, and if we want to improve the scheme this is one of the nettles we have to grasp. How can we maintain and increase the benefits of the scheme without imposing a great burden upon the traffic flow? Many examples and hints have been given today about the methods that could be used. I think that most badge holders—and certainly the representatives to whom I have spoken—accept the need to keep traffic moving. After all, a disabled driver is a motorist when he is driving and he wants to get to his destination just as does anyone else. So for everyone's benefit the traffic must be kept moving as well as possible.

I believe—and it has been shown clearly today—that those who have orange badges and use them properly are just as concerned as the rest of us that the scheme shall not be abused. They are also very concerned about unfair use of the badges. Many anecdotes have been told about abuse of the badges, and one of the worst abuses is the way in which able-bodied people have used the badges, particularly in bays designated for badge holders.

I understand that in many cases—the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, put a question specifically to the Minister and I shall be interested in his reply—able-bodied drivers who have been using designated bays unlawfully have been prosecuted under the Road Traffic Acts as against the Disabled Persons Act. I understand that in the vast majority of cases there is merely a parking fine imposed, instead of using the Disabled Persons Act. That Act may be more clumsy and cumbersome to use from the point of view of the police, but there is also quite a difference in the level of fine.

I understand that badge holders themselves have a list of do's and don'ts—where they should or should not park—and some of the examples which were given in the discussion document, and which may have been specially selected, show that there can be abuse by badge holders. They either feel that they have a special right to do things that others cannot do or they are thoughtless. The impression given in the pictures in the discussion paper is that the whole side of a shopping street is taken up by disabled vehicles, and that is not the sort of thing that helps the public's appreciation of the use of the orange badge. I do not know how general that practice is, or whether that was a fortuitous congregation of orange badge holders. So there can be cases of bad and inconsiderate use of the badge. Anyone who has a badge is, I assume, also a competent driver and when someone is driving a car he should obey all the rules as much as anyone else who is using a car on the road.

According to the people to whom I have spoken, the most annoying abuse of the badge is when able-bodied people pretend that they are driving someone else, when they are really nipping out and using the car to do their own shopping. The important point is that one sighting like that goes round the saloon bars very quickly. It multiplies and soon everyone believes that at least half the people who have orange badges are abusing them. That may be wrong, but ultimately it becomes a fact of life.

It is one of the handed-down wisdoms that the orange badge scheme is being unfairly used. We ask a lot of people who already have difficulties, but I am afraid that orange badge holders have to be like Caesar's wife and be absolutely correct in their use of them, as must those whom they allow to drive for them. It has emerged very clearly in this debate that a vehicle should have an orange badge only when it is legally entitled to the protection of the scheme, which is when the badge holder is in the vehicle either as a passenger or as a driver.

I now come to the question of the changes that the department has proposed in regard to the badges. I am absolutely in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), on the question of photographs. I do not like the idea that there should be a photograph on the windscreen. Why do I not have one? That would prove that I am not stealing a car. As regards the name, what right has anyone to know whose car it is just because someone happens to be disabled? So long as there is a number on the badge which corresponds with the registration number of one of the vehicles that the badge holder owns, and there is a separate identity card with a picture on it corresponding to the number on the badge, nothing more is required.

The dangers of photographs have been mentioned by some noble Lords. There are a number of loutish people in the world and there could be a racist angle. If they saw that someone was of a race towards which they felt aggressive, they might wait for the person to come back or do damage to the vehicle. The badge holder might be a young woman of whom someone could take advantage, or someone might have facial injuries which he did not like to have exposed to the public on a badge on the windscreen. So I hope that we can get rid of this idea about the badge. All we need is the badge number coupled with the vehicle registration number and an identity card which is carried by the person who is entitled to have the badge.

We can go to other areas of government for help as regards the standard medical certificate. All your Lordships who have any experience of local government will know that people going to get houses always take a medical certificate showing how much they need a house. It is very difficult for a doctor to say to a patient whom he has known for a long time, "I can't help you in this." It is putting him in a difficult situation. Apart from that, he does not know the overall picture. He may feel that someone needs help, whereas if you have a board such as there is in many local authorities, it can look at the doctor's certificate and say "We are afraid that is not enough." It may be passing the buck, though I do not think it is. In Glasgow, Edinburgh and a number of other cities, there is a medical panel that meets every quarter or so, depending on the amount of business. It goes through the medical certificates and grades them, and I see nothing wrong in that.

I think that it is being too hard to say that only those who are totally unable to walk or who walk with very great difficulty should get a badge. I think that there could be borderline cases and I would rather have a central medical group looking at the problem in each borough and checking medical certificates every month or over whatever period might be found to be convenient in order to decide whether certificates should be granted. This would take the heat off the doctor and such a body might also have a better idea of the situation within the area and be more expert on the problems of the orange badge scheme than the average GP.

I turn now to the matter of taking badges away. I think that the question of withdrawal for use of a badge by another person should depend upon the circumstances. It is too hard merely to say that the badge should be withdrawn if another person uses it. There may be circumstances of emergency and there would need to be some sort of appeal procedure. For instance, a badge holder who parked in a taxi bay, on a suspended meter or on a double yellow line should not have a badge taken away for that one occasion. I have done such things. I am almost certain that the Minister has done something heinous of that sort—perhaps not while he has been a transport Minister, but at some other time. This matter must be looked at very carefully before we go to the extent of taking a badge away from someone for one offence, particularly if there is no opportunity for an appeal.

The final point I should like to make concerns the question of whether or not there should be an effort made to have badges recognised in central London to a greater extent than they now are. When I was involved in this area, the central London authorities put up a good case, much as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, did today. That case concerned the numbers of people who might wish to come to central London. However, I think we should look a bit more closely at this problem. Perhaps we may at some stage reach the sort of situation which we find in American hotels, where a jockey takes a car and parks it. That may be going too far. However, it is the sort of thing which might happen in the future.

The best thing that can happen, as the noble Lord, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, pointed out, is for the people involved in the control of badges and the badge holders themselves to be very correct in the use of badges and for the badges to be used to supply the need of people who must have them in order to live a full life. As has been said, that may be rather harsh. However, the scheme should be used to help those who greatly need some flexibility in parking. Then we would have a right to go not only to the central London boroughs but also to the other boroughs which have time restrictions and ask them to rethink the case.

The first priority must be to get the criteria tightened and to gain more respect for the orange badge. Once there is real respect for that badge, I think we shall be entitled to ask for more concessions from the boroughs both in and outside London.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for initiating a debate on this important topic. He is well known for his interest in matters related to disabled people, as indeed is your Lordships' House. That has been amply demonstrated this afternoon. The subject is of great importance to many people and I believe it is right that your Lordships should formally consider it.

As your Lordships know, the Government issued the discussion paper in August of last year. I feel that some misunderstanding has crept into the debate as regards some of the possibilities and proposals put forward in it. The belief may have been that all of those matters emanate from the Department of Transport. That is not the case. Some of them come from the police, some from local authorities and some from other bodies. The discussion paper considers in the light of experience over the last few years what might be done to ensure that the eligibility criteria for badges are the fairest possible and how exploitation of the scheme by the able-bodied might be reduced.

The Department of Transport has received nearly 700 comments on the paper. These have come from a wide range of interested bodies as well as members of the public. I am grateful to all those who have responded to our paper. Their comments are being carefully considered. I have also listened with great interest to the views of noble Lords this evening. Many points have been made about what should or should not happen. These thoughts will also help shape the results of the review. The Government are most grateful to noble Lords for their contributions this evening.

It may help the House if I begin by giving a little of the history of the orange badge scheme of parking concessions for disabled people. The scheme came into operation on 1st December 1971 by means of regulations made under Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. Further regulations made in 1975 extended the scheme to blind people and improved the concessions available by permitting vehicles displaying orange badges to park on yellow lines. The scheme is intended to help people who have very considerable difficulty in walking and the blind to lead a normal life by allowing them to park close to shops and other places they may wish to visit.

The scheme allows badge holders to park free of charge and without time limit at parking meters or where others may park only for a limited time. They may also park on single or double yellow lines for up to two hours in England and Wales (provided a timeclock is displayed) or without any time limit in Scotland. Several noble Lords have mentioned the anomaly between regulations in Scotland and those in England and Wales. That is one of the matters about which we have been and will be receiving comments.

Badgeholders must not park in a bus lane; where a ban on loading or unloading is in force; or where there is a double white line in the centre of the road. The scheme does not, however, provide exemption from the parking restrictions, except that orange badge holders cannot be wheel-clamped. I should like to confirm to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, that orange badge holders cannot be wheel clamped. That is provided in Section 105 (1)(a) of the Road Traffic Regulations Act 1984.

Badge holders still have the same obligation as other road users to ensure that they do not park dangerously and obstructively. The scheme does not cover off-street car parks, although many local authorities provide some parking concessions for disabled people in car parks. The scheme operates throughout England, Scotland and Wales, with the exception of a small part of central London. It is administered by local authorities, which assess the eligibility of people for badges following the criteria laid down in the regulations.

Several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, discussed whether the scheme should or should not be extended to cover those four central London authorities. Any change would require an amendment to the regulations. We cannot compel a council to adopt the national scheme. Any future improvement must be achieved by agreement. However, some progress has been recently achieved. Westminster now allows all orange badge holders to use on-street disabled parking bays. This is a modest but positive step in the right direction. We shall consider what more can be done.

The Government's previous review of the scheme began in 1976. This revealed that although the scheme provided very real assistance to disabled people on overcoming their parking problems, an increasing number of complaints about abuse of the concession was causing concern to local authorities, the police and disabled people themselves. This resulted in a number of measures being introduced over the next few years to combat that abuse. These included a new offence to cover the misuse of badges by able-bodied people; new regulations which introduced tighter eligibility criteria; further guidance to local authorities about the administration of the scheme; the introduction of a standard medical certificate; and the issue of transparent adhesive-backed windscreen pockets to make it easy for the badge to be removed when the badge holder was not using the vehicle.

By 1986, the regulations governing the eligibility criteria had been in effect for three years. Since badges are valid for three years, everyone had then been re-assessed under the revised criteria. That is why the Government are now trying to assess how the new provisions have operated in practice. Unfortunately, the scheme continues to attract much criticism. The police, local highway authorities and severely disabled people themselves have been concerned about the number of people holding badges, apparent abuse of the scheme by able-bodied people and the traffic and enforcement problems that are associated with it. If the scheme is to continue to be workable, a balance must be found between the parking needs of disabled people and the traffic considerations of the community as a whole. Many noble Lords made that point.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), said, there are now nearly 800,000 valid orange badges in circulation, which represents about one in 20 cars which may legally ignore some of the parking restrictions that apply to others. In an intervention the noble Lord, Lord Paget, suggested that some of those people might have died. The figures relate to the badges in issue. Relatives should of course return the badge if the badge holder dies. If they do not do so and continue to use the badge it is an offence. However, it is unlikely that there are a very large number of such badges as badges are valid for only three years. That is perhaps a reason for not extending the life of badges beyond three years, as was suggested by my noble friend Lady Lane-Fox.

The scheme is highly valued by recipients of badges, but its privileges can continue to be of value only if it retains the respect of the general public. Badges must be limited in number and issued only to those with the greatest mobility problems. With any scheme such as this it is very difficult to determine the dividing line between those who should be eligible for a badge and its associated parking concessions and those who regrettably cannot be given one.

It would be very nice to be in a position to give badges to anyone with mobility problems; but that would not be practical, not least because severely disabled people will be unable to reach the places they need to visit because the available parking spaces are taken up by other people, with badges, who are better able to walk than they are. That is why the issue of badges must be restricted to those most in need of the concession.

There is also the issue of abuse by able-bodied people either using badges to which they are not entitled or parking in bays set aside for disabled people. We do not have statistics on the level of abuse and I believe that statistics would be difficult to obtain. But many noble Lords will have heard anecdotes of people "running" into shops from cars displaying orange badges or making an equally speedy return when a traffic warden is spotted near the vehicle. Other examples have been given in the debate. Such general impressions of widespread abuse, whether or not justified, are matters for concern because they lessen the respect of the public for the scheme. I shall shortly be coming to offences and prosecutions.

The department recognises that for many disabled people a car can provide the best solution for overcoming their mobility handicap. We are therefore committed to helping and encouraging them to achieve that independence which comes with car ownership. For example, the Government have set up the Mobility Advice and Vehicle Information Service—MAVIS—at Crowthorne in Berkshire where disabled people can go for an assessment of their ability to drive and receive expert advice on suitable car adaptations or modifications to meet their own particular needs. Furthermore, the Government will be holding the third Mobility Road Show—again at Crowthorne—on 12th to 14th June this year. The roadshow, which is held every other year, brings together all the major car and car control manufacturers and provides a unique opportunity for disabled people not only to see but also to test drive the very wide range of cars and adaptations now available.

I now respond to the points made by noble Lords during the debate. Perhaps the most common point concerned the abuse and the offences involved. Legislation already covers various types of abuse of the scheme. Under the current regulations local authorities have the power to withdraw a badge if the holder misuses it. This includes lending a badge to other people or failing to abide by the rules of the scheme. A person who uses a badge without being entitled to it commits an offence under Section 117 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The maximum fine for that offence is £400 and that applies in addition to whatever penalty may be imposed for the parking offence also committed; for example, parking on a yellow line.

It is also an offence for an able-bodied person to use a parking place reserved for a disabled badge holder, on or off-street, which has been so designated by an order made by the local authority under the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984. The police can issue fixed penalty notices to offenders, and both the police and the local authorities have the power to prosecute. If prosecuted, able-bodied people who misuse such places again face a fine of up to £400. We are currently considering what further measures, if any, should be introduced.

As I said earlier, and particularly in answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, there are no central figures for prosecutions of able-bodied people or fixed penalty notices issued to badge holders or able-bodied people in connection with the scheme. The department has seen the results of a few local surveys which demonstrate that the police and traffic wardens do take action where appropriate, although they are careful to deal most sympathetically with disabled people.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether there is any way he can obtain that information so that we may know how many able-bodied people who abuse the scheme have been penalised?

My Lords, I shall certainly see whether there is any further information. As I said, there have been a few sample analyses in various local authorities and if I can obtain more information I shall certainly write to the noble Baroness.

Turning to the issue of temporary badges raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), in particular, the current regulations governing the scheme allow badges to be issued to permanently disabled people for only three years. The department receives a steady flow of inquiries about the issue of temporary badges to people who are awaiting operations, who have had sporting accidents, or who are pregnant, and so on. A number of local authorities would also like the scope to issue temporary badges under these circumstances. That suggestion has been aired in the discussion paper on the scheme and comments on that possible change are being considered.

Many noble Lords spoke about photographs. It was suggested that a photograph on the badge would aid enforcement and deter casual use of the badge by people other than the badge holder. Some organisations have opposed the concept of a photograph on the front of the badge. They would prefer a photograph on the back of the badge or on a separate identity card, as various noble Lords suggested. That is under consideration.

The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), and other speakers suggested that the two-hour limit on yellow line parking should be abolished. That change has been put forward and is under consideration. The noble Baroness also spoke about the difficulty of access to badly designed pedestrianised areas which leads to problems for orange badge holders. The Government are well aware of the need for local authorities to strike the right balance in designing schemes. A discussion paper currently available from the Department of Transport with that title, Striking the Right Balance, gives suggestions, and further guidance will follow.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the misuse of reserved space in off-street car parks by non-badge holders. We agree on the importance of clear signing so that people know where to park and where not to park. It is open to private owners of car parks and local authorities to provide this and then enforce the rules. It would be difficult for the government to attempt to enforce the rules on private property—for example, in a supermarket car park.

My noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu spoke about the annual renewal of badges. That idea is under consideration but it could lead to a considerably increased workload for the authorities—and indeed more effort for the disabled themselves.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, particularly referred to the clamping of doctors' cars. I understand that she is in correspondence with my noble friend at the Home Office on that subject. But doctors' vehicles displaying the British Medical Association badge should not normally be wheel clamped. The noble Baroness mentioned the new privatised arrangements for clamping; but they do not alter the fact that police officers are still responsible for authorising the clamping, and of course before the new operator can move in the police must authorise it. However, as I say, it should not happen to those with a BMA badge. I have already covered the point on clamping of orange badge holders.

Various noble Lords, including the noble Viscount, Lord Ingleby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), suggested that local authorities should perhaps send a reminder when a badge was due to expire. Some local authorities already do so and we shall certainly consider whether we should encourage others to do likewise. We do not of course want to introduce unnecessary complications and expense at the same time.

The Government intend to put together a firm package of proposed changes and this will be the subject of further consultation with representative organisations including those representing disabled people. Any significant change to the scheme can only be made with the approval of Parliament and any changes will be well publicised, including the preparation of an updated leaflet on the scheme.

Finally, may I repeat my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject. I can assure all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate that we shall consider very carefully what has been said this evening in this most interesting and informative debate.

7 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank all the Members of your Lordships' House who have been good enough to take part in this debate. I am pleased also to have had the distinction of hearing no fewer than four speakers from what my noble friend Lord Ingleby described so felicitously as the "mobile Bench". They speak from firsthand experience, and although the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, said that they were getting older, clearly they are still as fluent and persuasive as ever.

I should also like to thank the Minister, my noble friend Lord Brabazon, for replying to so many of the main points. During the period of consultation that has been taking place, many suggestions have been made from all parts of the House and it is good to know that all of them will be taken into account by the Government before any conclusions are reached. Whether in future the badges should be issued annually, whether we should move to another colour (that was a suggestion to try to eliminate some of the badges which should no longer be in use) or whether there should be a photograph are all matters that are due for consideration. However, I believe that the most important point is how the schemes are to be more closely policed and more frequently challenged by the police and traffic wardens if they have the authority to do so. Although changes may be made to the badges, it is the monitoring and policing of the schemes that will be most important.

I very much appreciated the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, who agreed that there was a need to tighten up the system, as I suggested at the beginning of the debate. He also recognised that there ought to be independent medical decisions because it is extremely difficult for a person's GP to take the main decision.

All those who have taken part in this debate have appreciated the help that the orange badge scheme has given to severely handicapped people. We have all welcomed the statement that my noble friend Lord Brabazon was able to make about the use by the police of fixed penalties and powers of prosecution, with the penalty of a high fine, which is even being considered for further elevation. The police have many duties, but I hope that they will be able to give more of their time to this problem of challenging and monitoring the system.

I have just one more point to make. The Minister referred to the possibility of issuing temporary badges. There has been a lot of criticism in this House in the past about the fact that a badge can only be obtained for three years, neither more nor less, even though it may only be needed for a short period. In my suggestion I was certainly not thinking of ordinary accidents, such as a broken leg or a ski-ing accident, nor of pregnancies. I was thinking more of advances that have recently been made in surgery. So many more types of hip operations are now possible that the normal course for someone who may have been completely crippled with arthritis for two or three years, is for them to have one or two hip replacements and be leaping like lambs in quite a short time. It is that kind of situation that I had in mind and which I think now requires badges of a more temporary nature.

Again, I thank everyone who has taken part in this debate, and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Local Government Act 1986 (Amendment) Bill Hl

7.6 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [ Amendment of Local Government Act 1986]:

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, leave out lines 7 to 11 and insert—
("2A.—(1) A local authority shall not—
  • (a) promote homosexuality or publish material for the promotion of homosexuality;
  • (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship by the publication of such material or otherwise;
  • (c) give financial or other assistance to any person for either of the purposes referred to in paragraphs (a) and (b) above.")
  • The noble Earl said: My Lords, with permission from the House I should like to make a few general comments on Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 because both stem from the same situation. During the Committee stage I asked a number of noble Lords who had proposed amendments not to press them in order that we could report the Bill unamended and thereby gain a week before we read it a third time and passed it over to the other place. I gave an undertaking that those amendments with which I had much sympathy would be forwarded to the other place. However, it seemed to me that that was a rather untidy arrangement and that it would be much better to move them on Third Reading in this House.

    The amendments are very simple. Perhaps I may take the second one first in order to get it out of the way. Amendment No. 2 merely pushes a little syntactical sandpaper over what was a rather rough grammatical passage in the early draft.

    The main amendment is Amendment No. 1 which has taken note of the wishes of my noble kinsman Lord Kilbracken, and of the noble Baroness, Lady David, and, so far as it can be met, the wish of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. These alterations to the first part of the Bill give effect to this aim but I ask your Lordships to note that in the context of the Bill, I am one of a partnership, in that, rather like Castor and Pollux, I am the spokesman and my noble colleague Lord Campbell of Alloway is the draftsman. If there are any questions about the draftsmanship of this amendment and how it meets the criticisms made by the noble Lords to whom I have referred, I shall leave him to speak for it. I beg to move.

    My Lords, this amendment seeks to clarify and extend the first limb of Clause 1 of the Bill as it stands. This part of the Bill is of general application. It is by virtue of paragraph (a) in the amendment that the distinction is drawn between promoting homosexuality and publishing material for the promotion of homosexuality. It widens the ambit of Section 2 A(1) as it stands by removing the qualification of only

    "publishing or promoting homosexuality as an acceptable family relationship".
    This limitation was one which did not appeal to certain noble Lords. They wanted a wider provision. Paragraph (c) deals with indirect promotion and publication as distinct from the direct promotion and publication which is dealt with in paragraph (a), both of which, of course, are proscribed. The second limb of subsection (1) as it stands, which is concerned only with the promotion of teaching in schools by the publication of such material or in any other way, is, in effect, a redraft as appears in paragraph (b) of the amendment, subject to a cosmetic change. Because, although the second limb of subsection (1) is designed to proscribe those positive images as an acceptable family relationship, the point has been taken by noble Lords that whatever may be said to the contrary by the local authorities, the homosexual relationship is not a true family relationship but a pretence. The amendment takes that concept on board.

    Direct promotion is proscribed by paragraph (b); indirect promotion by paragraph (c). That aspect of the abuse of rates proscribed by the Bill is of general application under paragraph (a) of the amendment and specific application under paragraph (b) of the amendment. The enforcement procedures under subsections (2) and (3), which stand, apply to both. It is due only to the care and trouble taken by noble Lords on all sides of the House that the draft has been improved in that way. I do not know whether it was Castor or Pollux who was the draftsman. I have done my best with it.

    My Lords, my noble friend Lady David has asked me to apologise for her absence this evening, which is unavoidable, and to say on her behalf that she welcomes the clarification in the amendment, especially, in paragraph (a).

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    moved Amendment No. 2:

    Page 2, line 6, leave out ("were") and insert ("have been")

    The noble Earl said: My Lords, I have spoken to this amendment. I beg to move.

    On Question, amendment agreed to.

    7.15 p.m.

    My Lords, will your Lordships allow a brief intervention? The discussion on the Bill has afforded us a useful opportunity for an exchange of views with the Government on a matter of great public concern. A sincere debt of gratitude is due to my noble friend the Minister for all the care and trouble that he has taken and for keeping an open mind on the important question of individual challenge, direct enforcement and the limitations of judicial review, which he did when speaking in the debate on the local authorities on questions which are directly in point on this Bill.

    As this Bill passes, much of what was at one time controversial is no longer controversial. The lapsed ethos of traditional values has been reasserted, and the principle of the Bill, with its direct enforcement procedure, has been accepted as apt on all sides of the House. In the wake of a recent debate, it is understood that the Government cannot introduce general legislation in this Session of Parliament, and so as on this there is an intolerable aspect of abuse—positive images, the erosion of parental control and the hazarding of the moral welfare of children—the Bill makes but an advisory distress signal to another place. The hope is that it may serve as a basis for an urgent interim measure, pending general legislation, to end that intolerable abuse.

    My Lords, I approve of the Bill. I wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Halsbury and his friends on what they have done in this matter. The Bill is necessary.

    My Lords, this gives me a convenient opportunity to remind the House of the Government's position on the Bill. As my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale said on Second Reading, the Government have every sympathy with the aims of the noble Earl's proposals, and while accepting and supporting the principles underlying the Bill, there are nevertheless doubts about its provisions in a number of respects.

    That is partly because local education authorities are about to lose any power to impose their view of sex education in schools by virtue of the provisions of the new Education Act, since the new style governing bodies, with their increased parental representation, will control the content and organisation of any education offered in their school. That Act must now be given a chance to prove its effectiveness.

    The Government do not believe that the enforcement measures contained in the Bill are necessary. Legal procedures are already adequate to ensure that all those with an interest, including parents, can pursue a case in the courts. Furthermore, the Government are also preparing, in discussion with the local authority associations, a code of practice on local authority publicity under Section 4 of the Local Government Act 1986. The intention is that that should help achieve part of the objective of the Bill. The latest version of the code makes it clear that publicity by local authorities should not attack or appear to undermine generally accepted moral standards. We do not therefore believe that the Bill is necessary or an appropriate method of dealing with this one small aspect of the problem.

    My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her whether she will take on board the considered view of many noble Lords on all sides of the House that her assertion that the Education Act is apt to deal with this problem is totally misconceived? There is no such thing as parent power, about which everyone talks. Sitting on boards arranged by a Secretary of State is no substitute for giving ratepayers or parents direct assess to the courts to assert their rights. There are many of us who, although we are loyal to the Government, believe that the Government's views are misconceived. I ask the noble Baroness to think again.

    My Lords, I only wanted to add to what my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway said, that the noble Earl's Bill plainly represents the considered view, after full discussion, of a large number of your Lordships. I hope that the noble Baroness's right honourable friend will take that into account when considering what further action may be necessary in another place. There is strong feeling about this matter. Many people will be sad to see the noble Earl's gallant initiative frustrated. Many of us hope that the Government will handle the matter in this way.

    My Lords, if I may end with a rhetorical question: what is wrong with a double-barrelled shotgun? Let the Department of Education and Science have its own legislation. That is one barrel. My little Bill is another barrel. What we miss with one, we may be able to shoot down with another.

    On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

    Infant Life (Preservation) Bill Hl

    7.20 p.m.

    My Lords, I beg to move, That the Order of Commitment of 28th January last be discharged and that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee.

    I have never moved a Motion with such reluctance. I hope that your Lordships will understand if I speak with deep feeling and a heavy heart. Noble Lords will recollect that when the Bill was read a second time on 28th January the debate lasted some hours. I thought that it had passed its first hurdle, as indeed did other noble Lords from the reports of the debate which I read afterwards. Of course quite a few noble Lords were opposed to the Bill. That was only to be expected. However, the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, told us that the Government supported it and he commended it to the House. There was not a large number of noble Lords who waited until the Division—72 voted—but then it did not take place until half-past 11. The Bill was then passed by a majority of about 14 per cent. I know that The Times described this as scraping through, but that is the kind of remark which we expect nowadays from The Times in describing such a majority.

    I was confidently expecting to steer the Bill through a Committee of the whole House tonight. However, I should obviously have taken more note of the closing remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby. He said, and I quote his words from the Official Report of 28th January, at col. 1450:
    "If this Bill gets a Second Reading we shall have to fight all along the line".
    He went on to say,
    "There is a long, bitter trail ahead if this Bill gets a Second Reading".
    I should have realised that the noble Lord is indeed a man of his word. I have been advised that this House would witness what I think are called in some places filibusters night after night. The noble Lord was kind enough to say that the House would have to listen to remarks that I would make in Committee ad nauseam. On the contrary, I think that the House would have had to listen to remarks ad nauseam by the noble Lord and others with him.

    I am advised that there would be amendment after amendment. I am advised that the business of this House would have been seriously disrupted by these proceedings. I am advised that the staff of the House would have been kept on duty until very late hours. I am advised that noble Lords would have been in similar straits. This would have been contrary to the traditions of your Lordships' House. I felt that I could not do that to noble Lords. Accordingly, after taking soundings through the usual channels and being advised to move the Motion which is before your Lordships' House, with great reluctance I agreed to do so.

    I feel that I ought to put before the House the reasons for this reluctance. The first is personal. If a Bill of this kind ever returns to the House it will not be mine. For personal reasons—into which I shall not enter here—I am resigning my See on 1st April and from that date I cease to be a Member of your Lordships' House. I have no right even to appear before the Select Committee which I am asking noble Lords to set up.

    Despite a clear majority in the Division, despite the promise of government support, I have been successfully pressed into killing my Bill, which is so close to my heart. I feel it all the more as I now have evidence in my support as a result of a special computer programme at the Office of Population, Censuses and Surveys which I suppose might reach the Select Committee. This may be politics but I confess I am surprised to see it in this House.

    Secondly, this Bill will be delayed, perhaps fatally. This means that hundreds of babies will be killed at a time when they would be capable of being born alive. In 1985 there were 494 abortions of 24 weeks and over, so the OPCS informs me, and, in the first nine months of last year, 196.

    I cannot anticipate the findings of the Select Committee. But if it recommends that the Bill proceeds there will not be much time in this Session to send it, or a similar Bill, to be considered in another place. In any case, a dissolution of Parliament would bring the Select Committee to an end unless it was reconstituted. I moved the Bill because I believed that it could become law, but the Motion which I am being pressed to move makes that less likely unless somebody else decides to re-introduce it.

    The third reason for my reluctance in moving this Motion is that I am committed to the democratic process and I greatly regret that a Bill passed at Second Reading by a clear majority and supported by the Government cannot proceed along what most people would think of as normal democratic lines. It is only with great reluctance that I give precedence to the parliamentary convenience of your Lordships' House.

    However, I see the argument on the other side. Indeed, it has won my agreement. This Bill seems to have given rise to considerable emotional disturbance on the part of certain persons. I can see that it would be best to get it off the Floor of the House rather than to create the bitterness and inconvenience of acrimonious exchanges night after night—and if I may judge from the language of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton, on Second Reading as I find it in the Official Report, these are indeed likely to be acrimonious.

    I hope that noble Lords will bear with me for I am nearly done—and indeed I am nearly done with speaking in this House. The Times informed its readers that I am trying to save this Bill by sending it to a Select Committee. I am doing nothing of the kind. I like a fair fight whether I win or lose. Concerning this Bill and the amendments, I would give blow for blow, because I believe in the Bill and I care about the babies that will be killed when they could be born alive. My reason for moving the Motion which stands upon the Order Paper is this, and this alone: the convenience of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

    Moved, That the Order of Commitment of 28th January last be discharged and that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee.—( The Lord Bishop of Birmingham.)

    7.30 p.m.

    My Lords, I shall not respond either to the tone or to the contents of the speech of the right reverend Prelate. This is not the moment for further acrimony or controversy. This is the moment for conciliation and an effort to have the Bill examined as closely as it requires—and it does require that—in a Select Committee of your Lordships' House.

    Referral to the Select Committee does not kill the Bill. It is not going to the mortuary. It is going to the clinic. When we have heard the evidence about its condition and we have deliberated about the remedies, after a few transplants it may emerge a fit and proper Bill for the approval of your Lordships' House. It may be a candidate for popular approval too. That is not unheard of.

    I wish the right reverend Prelate had studied the record of the Private Member's Bill introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, on animal experimentation and the setting up of a Select Committee of this House to study the controversy surrounding that painful and emotional subject. The right reverend Prelate would have realised that it would have been better had he proposed at the very outset—after the Second Reading—that the Bill should go to a Select Committee for examination and report.

    We do not have Standing Committees upstairs which are a little away from publicity and public gaze. All our Committee stages are on the Floor of the House almost without exception. The right reverend Prelate must surely understand that as parliamentarians we follow procedures at times which ensure that a Bill with which we disagree receives the examination and the scrutiny that we think it ought to have. That is not a filibuster. The amendments which are put forward are not a filibuster. The amendments have been put forward to enable the right reverend Prelate to grasp more readily the full implications of what he is doing.

    The right reverend Prelate was certainly unaware when he proposed the Bill of the controversy that he would arouse, and the implications of any attempt to amend the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929. That Act has been lying moribund for years. This Bill stirs up a good deal of discontent with its provisions which has probably been muted because the Act has been so little used. We have a focus on an Act of Parliament which for 30 years has been ineffectual, which has not resulted in a single successful prosecution throughout that time, and which the right reverend Prelate's Bill proposes shall stand guard over the new dispensation.

    It will be no more successful now than it has been over the years of its existence. In any case, it represents a remedy for a narrow margin of behaviour for which the Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 did not provide, nor did the law of murder. The Act of 1929 was an attempt to bridge the gap between those two.

    To apply it now with the Abortion Act in operation raises much wider issues. The Act of 1929 would no longer be dealing with the miseries of servant girls and others who at that time were denied abortions, who could not obtain any lawful relief from their pregnant condition and who were ultimately driven to strangle their children at birth. That is what the 1929 Act was intended to stop and to make a criminal offence. It is not suitable legislation upon which to build the modern approach to this difficult problem.

    I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate has not taken the opportunity of making a wise and gracious speech in support of his own Motion. He should not have forgone that opportunity merely in order to make an attack on me. I am sad about his disappointment and I quite understand how frustrated he must feel. However, he must be a realist. Those who introduce into your Lordships' House Private Member's Bills which are full of difficulty, controversy and contention, cannot expect those Bills to have a smooth passage no matter how simple they may appear to be on the surface.

    All reasonable people will see that the Bill leaves many questions unanswered. If the right reverend Prelate wishes to know what some of the questions are, I ask him to study the guidelines on late abortion given by the British Medical Association to its members. He will then see the problem and that this Bill would be no solution to it.

    I believe that we must persevere to try to reconcile what I would call the absolutist point of view on the one hand, and the humanist point of view on the other hand. Some reconciliation will have to be found if we are to have any stability in the work which is going on at present in hospitals, in perfectly good faith and in circumstances which those concerned feel fully justify what they do. I hope that the House will pass this Motion in a better spirit than that in which it has been introduced and with a resolve to do our best in the Select Committee.

    I believe that the Government have been extremely maladroit about the Bill. We had a shocking performance from the Front Bench opposite at the end of the debate. The whole of the debate went on with the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, sitting on a brief which he was going to plunge upon the House right at the end of the debate. That was unfair to us and if there is any procedure committee to look into that matter it should study the need for the House to be more fully acquainted at an earlier stage in a debate and not be left in ignorance right to the end and then be faced with an entirely new situation.

    However, I have no ill feelings about this matter. I have done a great deal in this field over many years in the hope of saving a great many people a lot of misery through the operation of the existing law. I hope that we can accept the right reverend Prelate's Motion, understand his frame of mind, forgive him for making me the scapegoat of his discontent and get on with the business of the Select Committee. He may feel that up to this point he has achieved a considerable amount of progress. There is no need for him to be gloomy and disappointed about the matter. Attention has been focused on this difficult problem and he has been instrumental in that. It is now in the hands of the wise council of your Lordships' House. All that is an achievement; it is something that has never before been accomplished in Parliament. We are possibly on the way to solving something which needs to be solved in a conciliatory and common-sense way.

    I therefore warmly support the right reverend Prelate's Motion. I hope that he will feel, after the Select Committee commences its work, that his achievement has not been lost and his endeavour has not been entirely in vain.

    My Lords, as a contribution to emollience, let me say that the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, and I are a rather eccentric pair of sparring partners. We can each tear strips off one another at Second Reading and then collaborate harmoniously in a Select Committee.

    The noble Lord referred to my laboratory animals protection Bill and the Select Committee to which it was referred. I should tell your Lordships that it was on the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, that I moved its reference to a Select Committee, and I was immensely grateful for that piece of good advice.

    Looking back to the Second Reading debate, statistics were being flung across the Floor of the House from different lobbies. All were in disagreement with one another and all required very close critical analysis. The task of doing that is quite beyond a Committee of the Whole House. I believe that the Bill is one that should be referred to a Select Committee of the House.

    I remind your Lordships that, having set up a Select Committee, we shall have an expert adviser probably on the embryological and gynaecological aspects and another expert adviser on the legal aspects and the draftsmanship. We shall be able to invite the public to give evidence and although one member of the public will, alas, no longer be the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham, he will still be the right reverend Hugh Montefiore. I am perfectly certain that he will be one of the witnesses asked to give evidence.

    I support the Motion and I hope that it will commend itself to your Lordships' House.

    My Lords, I should like to say a brief word about the Motion. The right reverend Prelate said that he moved the Motion with deep feeling and a heavy heart. I should like to say that I support the Motion with deep feeling and a sigh of relief. I say "a sigh of relief" because this is the very course which I recommended during Second Reading. I do not often quote my own words, but at col. 1427 of Hansard on 28th January this year, I said that if the abortion settlement of 1967 was to be disturbed:

    "nothing should be done without careful consideration by a committee. I am perhaps biased but I should prefer a parliamentary committee".
    That is exactly what is being proposed by virtue of the right reverend Prelate's Motion and with the good offices of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, to whom we should all be extremely grateful that this happy outcome has been arrived at. While talking about the Select Committee, I should like to mention to the right reverend Prelate that although unhappily he ceases to be a Member of your Lordships' House on his retirement in April, he will most certainly be able to give evidence before the Select Committee, if he so chooses. I think he was under a slight misapprehension when in his opening speech he said that he thought he should not be able to do even that.

    I should like to say that this is not being referred to a Select Committee for what the right reverend Prelate rather bitterly called "parliamentary convenience". It is not for that reason. It is for the reasons referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury. I hope I do not embarrass the noble Earl by agreeing with him. It is in a Select Committee that those who are for, against and neutral can come to talk in a civilised manner on a subject which is highly contentious. They can hear the expert evidence which is so necessary for that Committee to hear, notably from the medical and legal professions. For those reasons, I very much support the right reverend Prelate's Bill. Although I should like to have seen him returning "blow for blow" in a Committee of the Whole House, as the medieval prelates used to go into battle with a mace, we shall have to deny ourselves that pleasure. I am very happy to support his Motion.

    My Lords, I support the Motion which has been moved by the right reverend Prelate. In doing so, I too should like to thank the noble Viscount the Leader of the House for the very good sense of his intervention in this matter. He is always emollient, and I hope more so than ever on this occasion.

    The position is very clear. We have a highly controversial matter which could be dealt with by Standing Committee and Report procedure, almost inevitably late at night, and squeezed into what time can be made available for it. That is not the best way of handling a matter of this kind. The alternative is the Select Committee procedure which I should have hoped the right reverend Prelate would agree is more apt for discussion of a subject which has historical, moral and difficult legal and medical aspects upon which the House will wish to be advised by experts who are able to give authoritative views.

    As my noble friend Lord Houghton of Sowerby has reminded the House, the Act which it is sought to amend has hardly ever in practice been used. I understand that in the past 30 years or so there has been no successful prosecution upon it. The Act has now stood on the statute book since 1929 and only now is the first attempt being made to alter it. In those circumstances, I hope that the right reverend Prelate will not feel that those who have made the suggestion to which he is now acceding have been either unrealistic or unfair. Certainly, I am convinced that this is the best method of dealing with an extremely difficult subject.

    My Lords, the Bill introduced by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and to which your Lordships gave a Second Reading on 28th January, is in itself a straightforward measure. It is short and simple in form; and the right reverend Prelate explained that it was designed solely to take account of scientific advances which have taken place since the 1929 Act was introduced, as recorded in the report of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. These advances apparently have the result that babies are capable of survival at a significantly lower gestational age than when the Act was passed. On that basis, as I indicated during the debate on the Second Reading, the Government have accepted the case for the change to the law proposed in the right reverend Prelate's Bill, which would complement the action already taken to reduce the maximum gestational age for abortion to 24 weeks.

    We recognise, however, that behind the findings in the Royal College's report and the simple provisions of the Bill there lie issues of greater complexity concerning the interaction of the Infant Life (Preservation) Act, the Offences against the Person Act and the Abortion Act; and that the impact of the proposed change on the latter, in particular, is a matter upon which differing views are strongly and sincerely held. This was evident from the Second Reading debate. Accordingly, the Government agree that it would be wise for the Bill to be committed to a Select Committee, as moved by the right reverend Prelate, so that there can be full examination and discussion of the issues.

    My Lords, I have listened with close attention to the noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I have appreciated the moderation with which they have spoken. When I informed your Lordships' House about the consequences of continuing with the Bill, I was only reporting to the House the advice which I had received, and I phrased my words in that form. If anything good can come from this Motion, no one will be more delighted than I.

    On Question, Motion agreed to, and Bill committed to a Select Committee accordingly.

    Co-Existence In Plural Societies: Report

    7.48 p.m.

    rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have studied Report No. 72 from the Minority Rights Group Co-Existence in Some Plural European Societies and whether they find it a helpful contribution to dialogue and co-existence within Northern Ireland.

    The noble Lord said: My Lords, this question concerns co-existence. Co-existence is something which we all desire but need to strive for with all the effort and intelligence we can command. This is true whether in the East-West context, or in parts of Europe such as Northern Ireland or the Basque country, and even in some plural areas of contemporary England. My task tonight is to sketch in the background to the report which we are considering and to outline its content and indicate its main relevance to Northern Ireland. I should like to say how grateful I am to all noble Lords taking part in this debate. I am sure they will develop its themes and I look forward to the Government's reply.

    The report came about at the request of the Churches Project on Human Rights and Responsibilities in the United Kingdom and in the Republic of Ireland. The report was published in November, 1986. On the other hand the project itself expects to unveil its own longer text before the end of this year. I should like to thank the Minority Rights Group for reminding us that human rights problems are potentially soluble. It has done so by giving us some significant examples of ethnically or religiously divided societies where civil wars once prevailed, or which plagued international statesmen and disrupted relationships between neighbouring states, but which now enjoy amicable inter-group relationships.

    The report contains five case studies. The first two, by Professor Antony Alcock of the University of Ulster, survey particular local situations: the South Tyrol (or Alto Adige as the Italians call it) and the Swedes in Finland, with particular reference to the Aland Islands. The remaining three studies consider the recent political culture of Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands. These three countries have had complex and chequered histories and have suffered from the interference of more powerful neighbours. Their societies, though divided by language, religion and ethnic factors, nevertheless show how coexistence can flourish when it is actively sought and is buttressed by appropriate institutions.

    Let us look in greater detail at the first two cases that I have mentioned. After 1918, the South Tyrol was detached from Austria and given to Italy, despite the existence of an overwhelming majority of German-speaking inhabitants. The fascist government later set out to Italianise the province to the detriment of the German-speaking Tyrolese. In 1946 the Italian and Austrian leaders, De Gasperi and Gruber, reached an agreement to improve the situation. The ultimate future of the province however remained in doubt until 1955 when it was settled by the Austrian peace treaty. The area remained in Italy, but with a local constitution drawn up with very little local consultation and only nominal devolution of powers.

    The discontent of the Tyrolese expressed itself in terrorism, which continued for 15 years until 1970. It was ended by a new Italian-Austrian package agreement of 1969 followed by an improved local constitution with effective safeguards for minorities, including both the Tyrolese minority in Italy and the Italian minority in the South Tyrol.

    Turning now to Finland, we note that this is a new country dating from 1919. Swedes make up 6 or 7 per cent. of the population. The Swedish and Finnish languages enjoy equal rights and the resident Swedes look on themselves as co-founders of modern Finland. This helpful climate made for a relatively easy solution to the problem of the Aland Islands, with the help of the League of Nations. The islands lie between Finland and Sweden where the Baltic Sea leads into the Gulf of Bothnia. Their population is about 22,000 and is 95 per cent. Swedish.

    What happened there was that in 1921 Sweden withdrew its claim to sovereignty, and at the same time Finland agreed to preserve the Swedish language, culture, traditions and character of the islands. The agreement was reflected in the local constitution of 1922 which was revised in 1951. This provides for a generous measure of local autonomy.

    I suggest that Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands are only indirectly relevant to Northern Ireland. They provide examples of tolerance, compromise and pluralism. On the other hand, the South Tyrol and the Aland Islands are, I believe, directly relevant. Why should this be true of two such distant and remote corners of Europe? I shall attempt to explain. The fact that satisfactory solutions were reached depended much on the wisdom of Austria and Sweden and on the enlightened co-operation of Italy and Finland. Austria accepted the international frontier as drawn after the First World War and confirmed in 1955. Sweden renounced its claim to sovereignty. In return, Italy and Finland provided acceptable local constitutions with autonomy and protection for minorities. In each case what Professor Alcock calls the "territorial destiny" of the area had to be settled before appropriate arrangements could be made for its inhabitants.

    What, then, is the territorial destiny of Northern Ireland? In theory it is part of the United Kingdom, with or without devolution. Nevertheless, as Professor Bernard Crick has pointed out, the British citizenship of its inhabitants is conditional upon the continued and expressed desire of the Northern Ireland electorate to remain part of the United Kingdom. This conditional—one might almost say provisional—status came in with the Ireland Act 1949 and was repeated in the Sunningdale Agreement of 1973 and the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985. The uncertainty is reflected in Article 2 of the 1937 constitution of the Irish Republic, which baldly claims sovereignty over all 32 counties of the island of Ireland. This claim led directly to attempts in the Republic to have the Sunningdale Agreement ruled unconstitutional and to the mild degree of ambiguity present in the Anglo-Irish Agreement, and in particular to the different headings of the official text which were widely commented on at the time.

    The practical consequences of such uncertainty are, alas, that the fears and "siege mentality" of the Unionist community are greatly encouraged. For instance, it becomes possible for Unionists to refer to the Republic as a hostile alien state. Terrorists, on the other hand, are encouraged to think that eventually "our day will come", either through the weariness of some future British Government or perhaps through the emigration of many Unionists. The British and Irish guarantees, far from making Unionists intransigent, actually make them very insecure.

    Here, I wish to welcome in the warmest possible way the discussion paper called Common Sense, published at the end of January by the Ulster Political Research Group. It is a real contribution to dialogue and coexistence. The document says:

    "At present Northern Ireland exists and is a part of the United Kingdom. This situation may not be the wholehearted wish of everyone in the province, but must be recognised to be the wish of most".

    That is an excellent starting point, and the authors of the document opt to remain within the United Kingdom instead of choosing independence, as was the case in their earlier pamphlet of 1979 entitled Beyond the Religious Divide. Unfortunately, the authors do not remove all uncertainty, because they allow for the possibility of a 66 per cent. majority changing the status of Northern Ireland and rewriting its proposed written constitution. In spite of this, they have contributed something really worthwhile to internal dialogue, and one can only urge the other parties to be equally constructive.

    We can rejoice that all the major political parties in Britain and Ireland are committed to the principle of

    consent within Northern Ireland and of agreement between the two sovereign governments. This was clear as long ago as the time of Sunningdale. It was reinforced by the communiqués issued in December 1980 after Mr. Haughey had met Mrs. Thatcher and again in November 1981 when Dr. FitzGerald met our Prime Minister. In the debate of 19th November 1985 in the Dail on the Anglo-Irish agreement Mr. Desmond, then Minister of Health, quoted Professor Kevin Boyle as follows:

    "Irish Governments have always behaved internationally on the basis that our supposed claim to Northern Ireland was in reality an aspiration of the nation to be united and not an assertion that this State claimed Northern Ireland as part of its territory, which in some way was illegally occupied by a foreign state. Articles 2 and 3 concern the political theory that the Irish nation should be united some day. They do not represent a claim to the territory of Northern Ireland".

    This view was expressed in practice in 1925 when Mr. Cosgrave and the Government of the Irish Free State recognised Northern Ireland in an agreement registered at the League of Nations. It was expressed again by the Fianna Fail Government which signed the 1973 Treaty of Accession to the European Communities and accepted without reservation that Britain signed on behalf of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    Unfortunately, these finer points are not generally known to Unionists. They, like me, tend to think that constitutions should deal in facts and not in aspirations and political theories. We all have to accept that consent for change in the status of Northern Ireland does not now exist and is most unlikely to do so in the foreseeable future. This, I suggest, is realism in Ireland just as much as in Britain.

    I now ask Her Majesty's Government: do they agree that uncertainty exists in Northern Ireland and elsewhere? Do they accept that uncertainty is what destabilises things and prevents internal agreement? Will they work towards a known, definite, certain, unconditional territorial destiny for Northern Ireland within the recognised international frontier? Such a course will demand exceptional wisdom and forbearance from the people and Government of the Republic of Ireland. It will have to be a co-operative venture—I cannot emphaise that too much—but once clarity has been achieved, fears will subside and it will become possible to work out the appropriate measures to ensure local autonomy, both cultural and political, together with the necessary protection for minorities.

    I plead in support paragraph 618 of the report on minorities made in 1977 to the United Nations by Signor Francesco Capotorti. He wrote:

    "History shows that the minority problem can poison international relations. However, with the new standards set by the United Nations in the framework of human rights, minority groups can now play a positive part in international relations. When their rights are guaranteed and fully respected, minority groups can serve as a link between States … and thus help strengthen co-operation and peaceful relations between the countries concerned … The Special Rapporteur strongly believes that bilateral agreements dealng with minority rights, especially between neighbouring countries, would be extremely useful. It must be stressed, however, that co-operation with regard to the rights of memberss of minority groups should be based on mutual respect for the principles of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States concerned and non-interference in their internal affairs".

    My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down after his extremely interesting and well-researched speech, I wonder whether he can clarify one point. He said that in theory Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. Would he not agree that in statute law dating back over many decades, Northern Ireland is also an unequivocal part of the United Kingdom?

    My Lords, I do not intend to enter into debate with the noble Lord. What I suggest with all the strength at my command is that there is an excessive degree of uncertainty about the future.

    8.3 p.m.

    My Lords, I believe that we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving us the opportunity this evening to discuss this more than interesting report.

    Mr. Paul Sieghart, in the afterword to the report, claims that the report,
    "shows clearly that all the classical divisions between majorities and minorities are potentially bridgeable."
    It is his emphasis in the report on the word "all" that I am reflecting. This is in my view an optimistic opinion in relation to Northern Ireland. My conclusions, on the strength of my reading of the report and the case studies in it, are that the claim is not altogether proved. I will come to my reasons for giving the conclusions of the report less than total acceptance. I should like to start by saying how very valuable I found my reading of these five case studies, drawn as they are from Western European experience, demonstrating how people of different backgrounds—whether of religion, culture, language or nationality in the broadest sense—thrown together by accident of history, have learned to co-exist without the need to redraw national boundaries. There are lessons to be learned as to the way to bring harmony to disharmonious situations and as to pitfalls to be avoided.

    I am firmly convinced that in a generalised way, provided more damage and distress will be caused by redrawing frontiers which history has handed down to us than by retaining the status quo, it is better for frontiers to remain undisturbed. Nevertheless, a wise majority in a plural society will make absolutely certain that the minority are afforded special consideration, rights and respect.

    The report draws attention to five countries where the story seems to be, "Happy ending, so far". I propose to speak about the South Tyrol because in the history of the South Tyrol over the past 70 years I see the closest similarities to the Northern Irish predicament. It seems to me that this view is shared by the editors of the report and Professor Alcock, because the South Tyrol case study is placed first and dealt with at greatest length, and has the most boldly presented conclusions.

    I consider that the most important element present both in the Northern Irish and the South Tyrol situation is the presence of the aspiration of the minority in question to be united with a motherland on the other side of a national frontier. This element, as the noble Lord has pointed out, is largely absent in the cases of the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and the Swedes of mainland Finland. It is present in the case of the Finnish Aland Islands alone, but here under 30,000 Swedes are involved, separated by some 40 miles of sea and nearly 200 years of history from their Swedish motherland, and there seem to be other good reasons why these Swedes should be satisfied with the status quo. Thus I see that the Aland Islands throw no great light on the present Northern Ireland problem.

    The South Tyrol, in the words of Professor Alcock, contains one of the richest stores of information in the world on the issues involved in dealing with the problems of divided communities. The area contains a number of lessons for Northern Ireland, some very important, some less relevant. That is his claim, and it is with two of his lessons that I should like to deal.

    The first lesson that Professor Alcock draws—and he refers to it as the "decisive lesson"—is that peaceful inter-community relations can only be carried out within a stable political framework. This seems uncontroversial enough, but when we examine more closely what he means in the Irish context it seems clear that by a "stable political framework" he implies that both Westminster and Dublin should guarantee the permanence of the present frontier between North and South; in particular, it suggests that Parliament's declaration to the Protestants that the present frontier will last unless and until the majority in Northern Ireland decide otherwise is seen as unfortunate and unsafe. This is certainly a view with which one may sympathise—even share—but it seems to me that he recommends not just the withdrawing of the declaration; he goes further. What he implies is that the word to be used to the minority is "never", and I do not believe that that is a word that we should be wise to utter.

    Professor Alcock argues that, because the Catholic minority have these aspirations, power sharing is out of the question. He writes
    "it is clearly absurd, if not dishonest, to share power within a political framework when it is the avowed intention of one of the parties sharing that power to do away with the framework within which that power is shared".
    He also sympathises with those who justified discrimination in jobs and houses by asking why the benefits of the state should be extended to those who have wished for, and often sought, the abolition of that state.

    I find this lesson and these conclusions not altogether helpful. The thrust of his argument it seems to me is directly against the Anglo-Irish Agreement. My submission would be that the aspirations of the minority community, including aspirations to a different political destiny, must continue to be respected, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister will reiterate the Government's determination to stand by the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement in this respect.

    The other lesson that Professor Alcock draws, and to which I would refer, is his fourth. It is that those Irish nationalists are wrong who claim that Ireland should be united for the geographical reason that Ireland is an island and that its people, by a large majority, want unification. It could be that the argument is wrong but not, I would say, for the reasons that Professor Alcock gives.

    His argument seems to be that at the Treaty of Versailles the frontiers of Europe were wrongly drawn in the case of the South Tyrol because the South Tyrol was seen as part of the Italian "island", being separated from Austria by mountains instead of the sea, sharing with Italy a Mediterranean flora and also forming part of a geographical entity with the Trentino, an Italian-speaking part of the Austro-Hungarian empire about whose incorporation in the Italian state no doubts are expressed.

    He implies that the South Tyrol should have gone to Austria. I would not quarrel with that judgment. Nor do I need to refer to the other reasons for Italy's annexation of the South Tyrol. But he writes:
    "The consequences of transferring territory on the basis of geography rather than democracy were cultural genocide, international tension, terrorism, economic sabotage, and more than six decades of inter-community tension which has not entirely died down".
    He asks:
    "In Italian terms, has it been worth it?"
    My submission about all this is that the conclusions as to Ireland do not follow from the premises. The references to geography do not seem to me to answer the Irish nationalist argument. The references to democracy seem to me to beg numerous questions. I am not for one moment putting a case for a united Ireland, but there is no sense that I can see in which the unification of Ireland, either now or had it taken place at the time of partition, could be said to be on all fours with the incorporation of Bolzano into Italy. I see no sense in which the Irish can be said to have been saved by partition from the troubles which beset the inhabitants of Bolzano.

    The principal point to be made against Professor Alcock's analysis at this point, it seems to me, is the simple one that the German-speaking minority were a local numerical majority in Bolzano, so that it was possible to establish local autonomy for them. In the case of the United Kingdom the minority with whom we are concerned are, within their own local area, a numerical minority. They do not have the possibilities which were open to the German-speaking inhabitants of Bolzano.

    What seems to me to be the lesson to be drawn from the history of Bolzano and of the other case studies is that the Irish question does not fit neatly into any of these moulds. In my view the present political settlement and the state of affairs in Northern Ireland are inherently more than unstable. The old remedies, canvassed at length in this report, are good, but they are not sufficient. New and radical constitutional openings have to be sought, and in the Anglo-Irish Agreement we have one such new opening.

    Those within the Province who oppose the agreement—and I know how many they are and how sincerely they do so—must realise that they dig their own graves by distancing themselves from us in the way that they do. What they are now doing is insisting that they too are a minority within the United Kingdom. I believe it to be plain that a situation where the Northern Irish Catholics are a local minority within a Protestant population who are determined themselves to be a minority within the United Kingdom is too inherently unstable to survive. I shall be very interested to hear the views of my noble friend the Minister on this report.

    8.14 p.m.

    My Lords, I am doubly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for raising this matter; first because I think that it is good that he has given a chance for your Lordships' House to discuss these reports, and, secondly, because I am an ex-chairman of a minority rights group, and I am grateful to him for the publicity he has given to them. I should like to emphasise that this debate, as I understand it, is not about Northern Ireland but about the possible relevance of certain reports about other minorities in Europe to the situation in Ireland. If it were about Northern Ireland, I would hardly dare to intervene because I do not claim to be any expert on that matter.

    It seems to me that there are two general points to be made about these reports. The first is that each minority situation differs from the other, and there is very little to be gained by studying the situation in the Aland Islands if you are dealing with Northern Ireland. Secondly, the reports leave out of account the growth of terrorism. We now have terrorism all over Europe which has, so to speak, latched on to minority problems, but which in many regards is simply an expression of thuggism which has taken up minorities while, really, it wishes to destroy any form of law and order whatever, and is not particularly interested in their grievance.

    I should also like to say what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine; a man of great wisdom, as one would expect having known his father, with whom I spent at least two very enjoyable weeks going around the southern hemisphere. I agreed with a great deal of what he said.

    The only report which seems to me to have direct relevance to Northern Ireland is the one on the Tyrol. The lessons I draw from that are, first, that one should, if possible, avoid getting into these situations. As the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, said, the situation after the 1918 war was quite indefensible by any principles which were supposed to govern the peace.

    I do not want to pursue this matter, but there is a slight danger that you may get into difficulties in Scotland. The Labour Party has had an overwhelming majority in Scotland for some time and looks like increasing it. Unless some notice is taken of this in the general government of the British Isles, I can conceive of a situation in which there may be difficulties.

    However, I pass from that to my second point, which is in relation to the Tyrol. It is made clear that an acceptable solution was only found when the parties accepted that the future was settled; that it was going to remain a part of Italy. In Northern Ireland—I speak very much subject to correction by leading experts such as the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—it seems to me that there is still ambiguity about the future.

    It is said that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom until any plebiscite or referendum decides that it might go to Ireland. So long as there is this slight uncertainty, then of course the more violent elements have a reason for continuing. On the other hand, we have the southern Ireland constitution which still claims Northern Ireland as part of its domain.

    I do not say that this is right, and I have crept very delicately, I may say. But the right lesson apparently to be drawn from the Tyrol is that the British should say quite firmly that Northern Ireland is to remain part of the United Kingdom, and a whole part; that it is going to elect Members to Parliament commensurate with its rights; and that it is on a par with any other part of the United Kingdom.

    Once that is done, you begin to make special provision for the rights of minorities. You follow up the Anglo-Irish Agreement on consultation, which I regard as important, and possibly you have plebiscites in some of the border areas and allow those wishing to go to the Free State to go to the Free State if they vote that way. But there is no more talk of further plebiscites deciding whether it shall remain part of the United Kingdom, and, if possible, we should dissuade the southern Irish from claiming it as part of their domain.

    I am sure that this is unacceptable and I do not put it forward from that point of view. But the lesson of these reports is that so long as the parties concerned, the Austrians and the Italians, allowed for some possibility of the situation in the South Tyrol altering, so long terrorism and unrest continued. But once it was accepted that it would remain part of Italy, then it was possible to devise all sorts of power sharing and all sorts of protection for the rights of minorities, and the situation was accepted. I do not know whether that could happen in Ireland, but it seems to me to be the conclusion of these reports in so far as they have any relevance to Northern Ireland.

    We appear to have tried devolution which I supported. I supported the Prior recommendations for Northern Ireland, but they do not appear to have worked. Therefore, I am coming round to the belief that, rather like Solomon's judgment, something rather fiercer must be said. So far as I can see, the only thing that can be said, again reverting to the Tyrol, is that it should be a part, a whole part, a normal part of the United Kingdom. Then we can get round to making suitable arrangements for the minorities.

    8.21 p.m.

    My Lords, in all the years that I have been a Member of either House, I have always been struck by how very far, in debating or taking decisions on Ireland, either the Republic of Ireland, the island of Ireland or Northern Ireland, from reality we always seem to be. I am not too sure how to explain this, but I think it takes one to be Irish, to live in Northern Ireland, to represent a Northern Irish constituency or to have been born and reared in the Irish Republic before one can feel all the emotions attached to the problems of the relationship between Britain and Ireland.

    There are always the polite circumstances in which one congratulates the proposer of whatever the subject is. I have read each and every report that has been promulgated by the Minority Rights Group. But, as has been said in different ways by the noble Lords, Lord Coleraine and Lord Grimond, there is no way of comparing the Irish situation with what pertains in Sweden, in Belgium, in France, in Italy and the South Tyrol. They are all part of the one land mass of Europe. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are part of the one land mass that is the island of Ireland. Those other disputes that have taken place over many centuries are not about the constitutional issue of the existence of the state. They may be religious disputes or they may be disputes about ethnic cultures or many other factors, but there is no way that the people of Belgium want to become part of France or the people of France want to become part of Spain. We have already seen many difficulties in relation to the Common Market negotiations or to the people of the South Tyrol. None of those disputes is about changing the constitutional position of the country in which it began. I have read all those reports. In fact at the beginning of all the reports issued by the Minority Rights Group there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. The authors go through all 30 of the articles. The last, Article 30, states:
    "Nothing in this declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.".
    The other 29 articles of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights are in Northern Ireland all contradicted by Article 30, because in the state of Northern Ireland as it is presently governed by the British Government, the denial of jury rights, the institution of Diplock Courts, the existence of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act and the existence of the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act all contravene Article 30 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

    But when we talk about individuals, any person or group, then we have to think of the paramilitary organisations, both those on the so-called Irish Nationalist side and those on the so-called Loyalist side. These people do not only infringe human rights, but they take away the most basic of all human rights; they take away the life of the individual who is opposed to their particular creed. If they do not take away his life, they take away his limbs. All the atrocities committed in Northern Ireland are in total contradiction of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

    The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, in introducing this discussion tonight asked us to consider what has happened in Spain, Germany and France to see whether in some way what has happened there could be made applicable to Northern Ireland. I say to him with the greatest respect that this cannot be. I have already referred to all those other disputes which have taken place on the great land mass of Europe. Ireland is an island. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, a few moments ago saying that the minority in Northern Ireland refused to accept certain provisions for the state that were set out by the Government of Ireland Act 1920.

    In Northern Ireland we have two minorities: we have the double minority syndrome. In Northern Ireland we have the Unionist majority within the context of the Six Counties who would become a minority in the context of a united Ireland. We have the minority within the context of Northern Ireland who would form part of the majority in a united Ireland. Thus there is a terrible conflict of the irresistible force and the immovable object. Where does one begin to apply the arguments we have heard advanced here tonight? The one main conflict in Northern Ireland is not about speaking Irish, it is not about singing Eireann songs, it is not about whether one is a Catholic and attends Mass on a Sunday or about being a Protestant and going to some form of Protestant form of worship in Northern Ireland. The basic conflict in the context of Northern Ireland is: do you accept the validity of this state? Do you accept the constitutional position that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and that the Republic of Ireland is a foreign country?

    So we come to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I believe that that agreement has been promulgated with the best of intentions to allow the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland to live under their basic human rights and freedoms and to apply the same principle to the majority in Northern Ireland. But then you come to the conflict. I have lived there and I do not view the Northern Ireland situation with the same tranquillity. I know the passions that are there in Northern Ireland, where the Protestants, ethnic, Unionist, "Plantation" —and I hope that word is not taken as being offensive—say, "We are part of Britain and part of the United Kingdom", and where 40 per cent. of the population in Northern Ireland, the Catholic minority, say, "This is our island; you were brought here in the 16th and 17th centuries and therefore you have no right to dictate the future progress of this country."

    It may be that if you had a 5 per cent. or 10 per cent. minority in Northern Ireland they would be very easy to deal with. You could afford to be generous because that minority would never be any real danger to the majority. But where you have a 35 per cent. or 40 per cent. minority all the seeds of conflict are sown. It is totally unreal to ask, in this House or in any other place, that the normal minority human rights and social justice provisions be set into such a conflict.

    I realise that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has been motivated by the very highest ideals. I have known him for many years—indeed, long before I became a Member of your Lordships' House—but what he is asking, and indeed what the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, has been asking, is that the minority in Northern Ireland of 35 to 40 per cent. accept the boundaries of the present state. That is what the noble Lords are asking.

    Given Irish history and Irish emotionalism, that is something which they will never do. Even though the Anglo-Irish Agreement is allegedly down the road, the minority of the people of Northern Ireland will not accept it. They may for public relations reasons appear to accept it, but I am one of the minority in Northern Ireland. There is no way that the 40 per cent. Irish nationalist minority in Northern Ireland are ever going to say, "Yes, we have given up our allegiance. We are prepared to accept the boundaries. We shall not continue to yearn for or strive for a united Ireland". Once they take that attitude—which is a legitimate one, particularly in an atmosphere such as there is—it immediately brings a response from the Northern Ireland Unionist, who is totally opposed to that belief in the minority community.

    Here we have the conflict between the two communities. The Northern Ireland majority are not going to agree to any concessions which will make it easier for their political opponents to take them out of the Northern Ireland state. The political and religious minority in Northern Ireland are not going to agree to any solutions that may be brought forward which will make them a permanent part of the partitioned state of the six counties of Northern Ireland.

    As I say, here we have the conflict. It is not about speaking Irish, Dutch, Walloon or French. It is about the existence or the non-existence of the Northern Ireland state. What this House is trying to do—and we have been trying to do it for many years, if not indeed for many centuries—is to establish the relationships between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

    I should like to think, but I am realist enough not to believe, that some of the ideals which have been promulgated tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, could be realised by seeing what has been happening in other ethnic or religiously divided communities and applying them to Northern Ireland. But I have lived most of my life in Belfast, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has lived in a rarefied atmosphere very far removed from all the emotions which exist in Northern Ireland. I should love to think that I could go to Belfast next week and tell them that the UDA document which was issued last week and which is an advance is worthy of discussion. I am the first to recognise that any political discussion or assessment in Northern Ireland, from whichever community it may emerge, is worthy of discussion. I quite agree on that; but I would be less than optimistic of its eventual success.

    This debate is certainly worth while and I understand the reasons which have motivated the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. But the situation in Ireland and in Northern Ireland is totally unlike the document which has formed the basis of this discussion, Report No. 72. As I say, I have read these reports over many, many years. I only wish that all those people who are so honestly and ideologically motivated and who have produced the reports could give me hope of just a little step ahead to solve the problem of Northern Ireland. It is terribly sad to say it, but the document which has prompted this debate is totally irrelevant to Northern Ireland.

    8.37 p.m.

    My Lords, at the outset I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for having given us the opportunity for this debate tonight. I am also sure that the Minority Rights Group and the authors of Report No. 72 are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for the debate.

    Those of us who regularly address ourselves to debates on Northern Ireland affairs know that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has always broadened the basis of our discussions of Northern Ireland affairs with his own personal view of the problems and the way they can be overcome, and with his breadth of vision. His speech tonight has been in line with the contributions for which he is noted in your Lordships' House.

    The report is not a sensational document: it was never meant to be a sensational document. Throughout its 18 pages it is informative, sometimes challenging and sometimes awkward. But I believe that it is illuminating in some of its paragraphs for those who seek to bridge the divisions within divided communities.

    We are reminded that there are divided communities in other parts of Europe which manage to live side by side in peace. The South Tyrol, which is 66 per cent. German speaking and 30 per cent. Italian speaking, has been given very full treatment in the report; and a number of noble Lords have concentrated on the lessons to be learned from the South Tyrol.

    Then the authors have dealt with the position of the Swedish-speaking community in Finland and on the Aland Islands, but admittedly 95 per cent. of the community on the Finnish Aland Islands are Swedes and they really constitute one community. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, that that particular lesson is not very relevant in the context of Northern Ireland. The authors have gone on to trace the history of the linguistic situation in Belgium and the position of the minorities in the Netherlands and Switzerland. Again, I did not find the lessons from those communities very relevant to Northern Ireland which is the problem on our doorstep.

    From the case material, primarily from South Tyrol and to a lesser extent from the Swedish community in Finland, the authors have drawn about half-a-dozen specific lessons of varying degrees of relevance to Northern Ireland, and I propose to touch briefly upon the three main lessons. The first is the need for certainty about a territory's destiny. This appears to be the central lesson from the experience of South Tyrol and the authors come back to this lesson on more than one occasion in their report. It has been heavily underlined tonight by the noble Lords, Lord Hylton, Lord Coleraine and Lord Grimond.

    But if this conclusion is true, then it seems to leave us with a problem because the territorial destiny of Northern Ireland is surrounded by uncertainty or—to use the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond—ambiguity. If the lesson is valid, are we therefore to conclude that the absence of certainty of territorial destiny will defeat any substantial movement towards bridging the division in Northern Ireland, or do we say that this is not proven? Or can one compensate in another way for the absence of certainty of territorial destiny?

    I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Coleraine, that our hope must be that, given the co-operation and co-ordination between London and Dublin which was promised in the Hillsborough agreement—and that is the co-operation and co-ordination which was totally lacking for almost 65 years after 1921—and given other initiatives, time may modify the central lesson which the authors are drawing from South Tyrol.

    The second main lesson is the necessity for a method of decision-making which ensures that there are built-in safeguards for the minority, either by giving the minority a veto or by ensuring that a majority decision which discriminates against the minority is subject to judicial review. I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, was rather pessimistic about the possibility of building such a structure in Northern Ireland. But I doubt whether this lesson can be bettered at this stage particularly when it is accepted by people in Northern Ireland that the Province cannot go back to the pre-November 1985 position. There must be a reasonable alternative. That is the clear impression that I formed when I was in Northern Ireland last September.

    There is a third main conclusion if we accept the core of this report. That is the message that human rights problems are potentially soluble and that it is not a waste of time or of resources to seek to tackle them and to build bridges. It seems to me that that is the message which is worthy of repetition in your Lordships' House. So this lesson gives us hope that the immense difficulties of Northern Ireland—and we acknowledge that they are immense—will be overcome before we are worn out. And sometimes I detect a note of despair in some speeches in your Lordships' House.

    It is right to remind ourselves that in the concluding paragraphs the authors of the report acknowledge that the divided community of Northern Ireland, like the divided community of the Basque country, is different from the communities which they have studied in this report. Therefore, we cannot be expected to draw a simple comparison with the divided communities in North-West and Central Europe. The problems of Northern Ireland are more complex and are larger. In Northern Ireland we have a major conflict of nationalities amalgamated with a passionate conflict of religions. My noble friends Lord Fitt and Lord Blease always remind us that the bleeding wounds of this conflict have been visible for centuries.

    I was not surprised to read that the historian Liam de Paor concludes in his book The Peoples of Ireland published last year that by 1922 Northern Ireland had become—and these are his words—"an impossibly divided community." We cannot ignore that conclusion. So, never ignoring this historical dimension and never overlooking a certain fatalism about the quality of mind of some of the leaders of both traditions, particularly the religious leaders of both traditions—a fatalism which reminds me sometimes of the words of Patrick Pearse—there yet emerges within Northern Ireland itself, if only occasionally, a hopeful message and an illuminating flash of light as from a lighthouse.

    That beings me to the constructive proposal published by the Ulster Defence Association on 29th January last, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and others. In essence, the statement calls for discussions, for a constitutional conference, with a view to establishing a devolved Northern Ireland Assembly with guarantees for the minority community and a Bill of Rights. This is an advancement and it is very much in line, as we have seen, with one of the major lessons identified in the report.

    We must all think it significant that this proposal has been advanced by the UDA, which has hundreds of members serving life sentences for violence in the Province, and which has been so consistently hostile towards the minority Catholic nationalist community. So the proposal, if the UDA can deliver it, could he a span in the bridge which has to be built between the two communities in Northern Ireland leading to co-operation, reconciliation, peace and justice.

    I look forward to hearing what the noble Lord the Minister has to say to the House in response to the report. How do the Government approach the lesson of territorial destiny? Do they believe that, in the circumstances of Northern Ireland, we can compensate for the absence of certainty of territorial destiny? Many of us, including very many outside your Lordships' House, will be interested in the Government's response to the UDA initiative. Can the Minister give an indication of government thinking? What conditions must be satisfied before the Government consider that a proposal offers a real way forward? Indeed, do the Government have confidence in the ability and skill of the UDA to undertake the major task of gaining popular support for the proposal?

    Finally, I should again like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for the short debate tonight and also to thank the Minority Rights Group for its interest in the problems of dividend communities.

    8.50 p.m.

    My Lords, I believe that your Lordships will agree with me that we should first offer our congratulations and our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who in a very thoughtful and fascinating speech has given us yet another opportunity to consider some of the vast number of problems of Northern Ireland. I shall try to answer as many as I can of the points raised by the noble Lord. I think I may call the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, a serious student of those problems, as are other noble Lords. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Coleraine produced a thoughtful study of some aspects of the report. However, even with these serious studies of the subject, a mere Scot like myself could only attempt to answer some of the questions.

    The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, touched upon the history of these problems. They go back much more than a mere 70 years, much further back than the problems of the South Tyrol and the Aland Islands. As every nationalist says in Northern Ireland, the problems go back 700 years. And yet, it is a mere 15 or 16 months since the Anglo-Irish Agreement was signed at Hillsborough.

    If I may return to the very interesting debate that we have had this evening, we of course started from the position of the international context which is set out in the report of the Minority Rights Group. As the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, and other noble Lords who have spoken this evening have reminded us, however intractable the problems facing the people of Northern Ireland may be, they are not wholly unique. For my own part, I read with the greatest interest the report of the Minority Rights Group. It is a praiseworthy attempt to draw a number of international parallels to the situation in Northern Ireland. I think your Lordships would agree that the report is a serious study and that the remarks made this evening also fall into that category. Any serious study which is directed at helping to bring about peace and stability in Northern Ireland is most warmly welcomed by the Government.

    The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, admirably summarised the main elements and indeed the conclusion of the report. I agree with him that the examples of the South Tyrol and the Aland Islands are the most interesting in the context of Northern Ireland. Of course there were other lessons to be learnt from the other three examples in the report. I found the report's discussion of all these problems most interesting. I give an undertaking to your Lordships that I shall be studying the bibliography. I am pleased that Professor Alcock will not be too far from my place of work and I may be able to pursue further studies.

    Perhaps I may make two points at the outset this evening. The first is that in both the South Tyrol and the Aland Islands the problems seem to have involved linguistic minorities. As as been pointed out by your Lordships and stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, many members of the nationalist minority community regard the Irish language as an important part of their cultural heritage. I stress that the Government recognise that worthy aspiration.

    At the same time I think your Lordships will agree that almost everyone in Northern Ireland speaks English as their mother tongue. If we then go back to the elaborate arrangements which have been made and which exist in the South Tyrol for ensuring harmony between language groups (and possibly also cultural groups), these arrangements may not be necessary in this respect for Northern Ireland. The whole dimension of the problem as it applies throughout the history of what was the South Tyrol does not exist to the same extent in Northern Ireland. It may exist in some aspects but it does not exist in others, which may be the most important aspects.

    The second point I wish to make at the outset so far as the report is concerned is that the positions of the South Tyrol and the Aland Islands, as part of Italy and Finland respectively, are guaranteed by international treaty. Your Lordships will see that on pages 5 and 9 in the report. The report argues, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, stressed in his remarks, that certainty about the future exists in these two areas which does not exist in Northern Ireland. I think that point was also the first point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies.

    So far as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is concerned, I may begin to diverge a little from his remarks this evening. The whole approach of the Government to the vast range of problems of Northern Ireland rests on the principle that Northern Ireland should not leave the United Kingdom without the consent of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland. That point has been—I shall not say hammered home. It has been reiterated in forceful style by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt. The principle is also written into Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, which says that the majority of the people of Northern Ireland wish for no change in the status of Northern Ireland. Unless the people of Northern Ireland are about to change their minds—and I see no sign of that—then there is no uncertainty and none is likely to arise.

    So far as the report is concerned, I believe that we also have to recognise that Northern Ireland's problems are very much its own problems. There are many problems and the history and situation of Northern Ireland is unique. Comparisons with other international situations, as we have in the report, are most interesting and illuminating. They give great grounds for education. However, I do not think they suggest any one, two, three or four blueprints for solutions. So far as the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, are concerned, I believe that that was the main thrust of his dissertation on the report this evening.

    As regards Northern Ireland, let us not forget that few societies have been divided for so long, so deeply or on such fundamental principles. I do not think that any other community mentioned in the report before us has been subjected to a terrorist campaign of such intensity as that which the people of Northern Ireland have endured for many years. I see the noble Lord, Lord Fitt, nodding. We admire his courage and the courage of everyone in Northern Ireland who attempts to lead what we would see as a normal life in the situation in which they find themselves. This point was clearly brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and I took his remarks on board so far as that point was concerned.

    Let us not forget that campaign of terror and the climate of hatred in Northern Ireland which the terrorist campaign has spawned. These matters go a long way towards making the underlying problems of Northern Ireland much more difficult and ensuring that they will take a much longer time to tackle. Terrorism and the lack of political consensus combine to worsen the economic situation.

    The economic situation was clearly illustrated in Professor Alcock's report as far as the South Tyrol is concerned. Economic difficulties feed terrorism and they go on to feed political instability. It is the interlocking of Northern Ireland's political, security and economic problems, which though separate are related, that makes them so difficult to alleviate. They distinguish Northern Ireland from the five examples covered in the report.

    The solution to the problems of Northern Ireland lie with the people of Northern Ireland themselves. An improvement in their situation depends crucially upon their own efforts; the efforts of every man, woman and child in Northern Ireland and in particular the efforts of their elected politicians. If the people of Northern Ireland are to solve their problems they need the help and the sympathy of this Parliament and of the United Kingdom Government at every stage.

    The report which we are debating tonight is a helpful reminder that the people of Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands have all found broadly satisfactory solutions to the problems of their divided or fragmented societies. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, these problems are soluble given good will and a readiness to accommodate others—though whether those two qualities are available in sufficient quantities in Northern Ireland is a matter for debate. The noble Lord, Lord Fitt, has given his opinion and my noble friend Lord Coleraine will also have his thoughts on that.

    The Government's objective in Northern Ireland remains the creation of a peaceful and stable society in which individuals may live free from violence and the creation of institutions with which members of both the majority and minority communities can identify. That sounds a mere aspiration, but it is one that this Government seek most warmly. Of course we hope that the people as a whole will have confidence in and support the arrangements by which they are governed.

    I should like to touch briefly on the Anglo-Irish Agreement. We believe that the agreement is an essential part of that reconciliation which will come about in Northern Ireland but only when the two sides of the community achieve sufficient mutual respect and make sufficient mutual accommodation to participate a little more creatively in the public life of Northern Ireland. We hope that the Anglo-Irish Agreement provides a mechanism for that to come about. The aim of the agreement is to recognise the rights and identity of all the people of Northern Ireland and to respect the aspirations of each community.

    It is worth stressing to both communities in Northern Ireland that the agreement offers the commitment in Article 1 that the status of Northern Ireland will not change without the consent of a majority of people there. It is also worth stressing that the Irish Government have not before in their history given such an undertaking in what is an internationally binding document. I venture to suggest that the reassurances which they have given establish a new degree of certainty about the future of Northern Ireland. I say a degree of certainty because nothing can be cast-iron or 100 per cent., certainly with the history of Northern Ireland.

    Your Lordships will be aware of the fairly brief history of the agreement. Of course it has met with a hostile reaction in many quarters in Northern Ireland. We deeply regret that so far the Unionist parties have chosen not to take up the opportunities for discussions and forward movement which are open to them. I again stress that the Government have repeatedly made clear that they are willing to participate in a round-table conference about devolution. I think the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, was hinting at devolution, but as a Scot I noted what he said about my own homeland. I do not attempt to bring in any similarity between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has made clear that his door is open to the Unionist parties on any matter which is of concern to them. We have added that we would be prepared to operate the agreement sensitively in the interest of encouraging such talks. I think your Lordships will agree that it is a matter of the greatest regret that the Unionist parties have chosen not to take up those offers.

    The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Fitt—in fact most noble Lords—mentioned the UDA document entitled Common Sense. That is of course a weird but most interesting title emanating from such a source, but we live in hope. The noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Prys-Davies, made reference to that document. The Government's policy is to seek a form of devolved government in Northern Ireland which will be widely acceptable in the sense of being acceptable to both communities.

    In so far as this solution advocates the creation of a form of devolved administration operating on a consensus basis, the document Common Sense is consistent with the Government's policy, but I note two elements. The leader of the Ulster Unionist Party has pointed out that these proposals are irrelevant; and the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party said that they amount to an enforced power-sharing and that they are unacceptable to him. To paraphrase the words of one well known lady, "They would, wouldn't they?". Certainly we find that this document is of considerable interest.

    I probably could cover a fairly wide spectrum of the problems of Northern Ireland but your Lordships would not wish me to go too wide this evening. I shall try to restrict my remarks to answering the questions raised. I hope I have covered some of the main problems.

    I turn briefly to the comments of my noble friend Lord Coleraine. It is interesting that he found a note of optimism in the report. I was interested in his thoughts on the boundary of Northern Ireland in relation to that of the South Tyrol. The boundary of the South Tyrol—which was in Austria and is now in Italy—had been drawn, I think, in 1918 and eventually seems to have been settled in 1969 or even 1972. However, as far as the South Tyrol is concerned I agree—and there seems to be a firm guarantee—that the boundaries are indeed settled by international agreement.

    I heard my noble friend mention the Treaty of Versailles and I was thinking of the historical point. From my elementary studies of this subject some years ago, I seem to remember that there was a Treaty of St. Germain but I think that it was the Versailles Conference; that is what they call it. No doubt we can discuss that at a later stage. So far as I am aware, the treaty of St. Germain dealt with arrangements between Austria and the allies, but I certainly know that the report points out that the Versailles Conference dealt with the setting up of what is now the South Tyrol.

    We are very grateful for the personal interest of the noble Lord, Lord Grimond. Indeed, his name appears en grand titre in front of the MRG report. We are very grateful that he has come here this evening. Certainly in your Lordships' House nobody need fear giving vent to his thoughts on the problems of Northern Ireland, because this House particularly values intelligent discussion, if I may put it that way, especially such as that which we have had this evening. Above all we value the remarks that have been made on the subject this evening by the noble Lord. As brought out in the report, he stressed that each minority is different, and he emphasised the problem of terrorism. I enjoyed what I might call his "Irishism". When we look at the history of Ireland and the present situation perhaps we should not start from that point. However, the situation in Northern Ireland is a fact and we must try to deal with it as best we can. I reiterate once again that Article 1 of the Anglo-Irish Agreement emphasises that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, and of course that rests on the principle of consent.

    The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, suggested that there was no sensationalism in the documents and the report before us, and that indeed they were illuminating. I found them very much so. The noble Lord covered various points respecting the South Tyrol, including the certainty about the border, and giving the minority a guaranteed part in the decision-making. I shall not continue speaking for too long this evening about how this will apply in Northern Ireland. However, I take on board the fact that the problems of human rights are potentially soluble. I give him that guarantee. We also agree with the noble Lord, and are continually attempting to see what can be done to take the rougher edges off the problems of human rights in Northern Ireland which were so clearly described by the noble Lord, Lord Fitt.

    As regards Northern Ireland and the report that is before us, political stability is essential to the future of Northern Ireland because it helps both to isolate the terrorists and to further economic development. In turn, these two processes will reinforce one another. Political stability can be brought about only by a form of government for Northern Ireland that is widely acceptable there. Any constitutional devices that are designed to secure the interests of one or another group within that devolved government will be of interest in so far as they may assist the parties to reach agreement or indeed agree on any arrangements which may be widely acceptable.

    The report of the Minority Rights Group suggests a number of such constitutional devices and how they might apply to Northern Ireland. They are all of great interest and we shall certainly study them. I hope that they will also be studied carefully by the parties in Northern Ireland to see to what extent, if at all, they might meet the needs of those parties.

    My Lords, perhaps I may intervene to ask the Minister a question in relation to the UDA document. However, I assure him at the outset that I have absolutely no contact with it, except for having had posted to me, as have others, its document labelled Common Sense. Do the Minister and the Government consider that this document is worthy of discussion? Will Ministers be prepared to discuss with representatives of the UDA?

    Let me say at the outset that I have the greatest reservations about members of the UDA because of their past history, but if the elected leaders—the Official Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and other elected leaders—are not taking part in discussions, do the Minister and the Government consider it an advance that an organisation in Northern Ireland that is allegedly claiming to represent many people there has put forward such views? Are the Government prepared to meet not only the UDA but others who appear to have constructive views on the solution of the Northern Ireland problem?

    My Lords, I think that the noble Lord has asked me five supplementary questions. I shall try to be brief and say that we are interested in the Common Sense report. I do not think that the noble Lord would expect me to commit the Government to go any further than to take what I call a passive interest—not even an active interest. We shall acknowledge receipt of this document and that we have seen it—indeed it has been widely published—but nothing more. Certainly I shall not dabble in questions of the paramilitaries, the UDA or anything else.

    The minority group report suggests a number of devices. The Government will take careful note of them. I repeat that in the last analysis those ideas are of value only so far as they enable the elected representatives of Northern Ireland (that should cover at least three of the questions asked by the noble Lord in his intervention) to reach agreement among themselves. The phrase "among themselves" is of particular relevance. They must agree a form of government which will be widely accepted in Northern Ireland. We want to bend our efforts towards that objective. I assure the noble Lord that the Government will continue to do so with patience and, above all, determination.

    Port Of Fosdyke Bill Hl

    Returned from the Commons agreed to with amendments; the amendments considered and agreed to.

    House adjourned at fourteen minutes past nine o'clock.