House Of Lords
Wednesday, 13th January 1988.
The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ely.
The Lord Bishop Of Guildford
Michael Edgar, Lord Bishop of Guildford—Was (in the usual manner) introduced between the Lord Bishop of Ely and the Lord Bishop of St. Albans.
—Sat first in Parliament after the death of his father.
—Took the Oath.
Middle East: Peace Efforts
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 how they intend to continue their efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and what additional efforts they intend to make.
My Lords, Her Majesty's Government will continue to work for an international conference as the framework for negotiations to bring about a peaceful settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and I wish the Government well in all their endeavours. But the Government must be a bit more decisive. The situation now in the Middle East is highly explosive. We have seen the contemptible treatment of the deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, the organisation which created Israel. The Minister will, I think, agree that his treatment has been contemptible. We know of the appalling situation in that country. In view of all those things—accepting that the Government have done pretty well in trying to get an international conference—will the Minister make contact with the United States, the Soviet Union and leading members of the Security Council to ensure that what they wish to see achieved is achieved as quickly as possible and so prevent an even more explosive situation being created?
My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord that the status quo is in nobody's interest and that deadlock only encourages extremists on both sides. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall continue in our efforts to convince the Americans and the Israelis that an international conference would be an opportunity and not a trap or threat.
My Lords, when the noble Lord refers to an international conference, do Her Majesty's Government have in mind a conference under the auspices of the United Nations? Would the objectives of such a conference be a negotiated settlement establishing the security of Israel and self-determination for the Palestinians? Will the Minister tell the House what the attitude of Her Majesty's Government is towards the deportation from the occupied territories of certain Palestinians?
My Lords, the issues, as the noble Lord will appreciate, are complex. They touch on the substance of the dispute itself. For the parties to work out mutually acceptable arrangements is the best way to take forward the auspices to which the noble Lord referred. It would be wrong to seek to dictate terms from the outside. The two basic principles for settlement are the right of Israel and other states in the area to a secure existence and the Palestinian right to self-determination. Deportation is a matter of great concern and we deplore it. It is contrary to international law and will only create new martyrs to the Palestinian cause and fuel resentment. It was unanimously condemned by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 607.
My Lords, the noble Lord has gone a good deal of the way with me, but he has left the conference a bit in the air. Would he agree that the best course would be to seek to get the United Nations to convene such a conference? Are Her Majesty's Government prepared to take that initiative.
My Lords, I cannot go that far, but I can say that because the issues are so complex and touch on so much of importance in that part of the world it is important that the parties themselves work out mutually acceptable arrangements. An arrangement under the auspices of the United Nations may be the best way in the end, but at the moment I can go no further on that.
My Lords, does the Minister not agree that the conflict between Iran and Iraq is really a test of the United Nations? It is a pointer as to whether the United Nations has any strength or validity at all. It has passed the appropriate resolution. But what has happened since then? Is Russia doing anything about trying to bring Iraq or Iran to heel? What is happening?
My Lords, we move from the Arab-Israeli conflict to that involving Iran and Iraq. There our policy remains unchanged. We are strictly impartial and we have urged both sides to comply at once with Security Council Resolution 598.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would not be appropriate for Mr. Shamir to visit this country?
My Lords, that is a matter to be considered should an approach be made for him to do so.
My Lords, will the Minister say whether the Prime Minister has given consideration to inviting the Prime Minister of Israel to come to London so that they can discuss this matter face to face and, one hopes, make some progress?
My Lords, I am not aware of any such approach, or that my right honourable friend has made any comment upon it.
My Lords, will the Government say what in their view is the ideal solution to this terrible problem? Do they think it would be sufficient if there was just autonomy, that is to say, practical independence for the West Bank and for Gaza in some kind of relationship with Israel, or would they contemplate the formation eventually of some Israel/Arab state with joint responsibilities and joint rights for both races within the boundaries of the old Palestinian mandate?
My Lords, the purpose of the kind of international conference we hope will eventually take place would be to resolve precisely those problems.
My Lords, if, as the Minister has quite correctly said, the same rights apply to the Arabs in the occupied territories as to the Israelis, as created by the United Nations, does it not therefore follow that at some time the Israelis must withdraw from the lands they stole and give them back to those from whom they took them? Before that happens we must concentrate, would not the Minister agree, on trying to get the international conference that he has called for? Will the Government now appeal to the great powers on this earth as well as to Israel and Arab lands to get together before something really dreadful happens which could possibly engulf that entire area in a fearful war?
My Lords, the Government will continue to urge the Israelis to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967 in accordance with Security Council Resolution 242. Meanwhile the Government will urge them to fulfil their obligations as an occupying power. The United Kingdom and the Twelve have come out firmly in favour of an international conference. The United States has not; that is why we shall continue our efforts to convince the Americans and the Israelis, as I said earlier.
Ec: Single Internal Market
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 progress they are making, in concert with the other EC member states, in achieving a single internal market by 1992.
My Lords, we and our Community partners are making encouraging progress towards the completion of the single market by the target date of 1992. Over 100 individual measures aimed at removing barriers have been agreed in the past 18 months, 48 of them during the UK Presidency in the second half of 1986. Completing the single market will involve new opportunities and challenges for British firms. My noble friend has recently announced the launching of a national campaign to ensure that companies are aware of them.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply and wish all good fortune to the new enterprises announced today. Do the targets for 1992 include uniformity in the application of VAT to goods and services; for example, uniformity in zero-rating and exemptions?
No, my Lords. There is no such commitment and the United Kingdom has said that it will discuss the role of appropriate tax measures in the completion of' the single market. However, in line with the Brussels European Council meeting last year, we do not see that as a priority area. In common with other member states, we have some fundamental difficulties with the present proposals, which cannot be adopted except by unanimity.
My Lords, is the noble Lord able to say whether the Government are aware of the opinion of the British Commissioner in Brussels, Lord Cockfield, as regards whether or not satisfactory progress is now being made towards the attainment of a single internal market? Is he entirely satisfied with the attitude of Her Majesty's Government in that respect?
My Lords, we make no apologies for seeking the best results for this country. What is significant is the amount of common ground which we share, although there are differences of perception. Completing the single market will mean that there are a large number of individual measures which member states will have to negotiate and decide. We cannot accept that there is a single Commission package which we shall have to take or leave.
My Lords, will the noble Lord tell the House precisely what extra taxes the Government are prepared to impose in order to achieve the Community aim of a single internal market?
My Lords, the Government are not intending to impose any extra taxes; there is no commitment whatsoever.
My Lords, is it not true that the reduction of taxes on tobacco and alcohol and the imposition of VAT on food, children's clothing and school books would be a high price to pay in order to achieve further European integration?
Indeed, my Lords. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister has made it clear that the United Kingdom cannot accept proposals restricting our right to apply VAT zero rates. We have made it clear that VAT will not be extended to food, gas, electricity or young children's clothing and footwear.
My Lords, I am sorry to press the Minister. Do I understand that the Government are saying that they are not prepared to impose any extra taxes in order to achieve the internal market?
No, my Lords. We have said that there can be no commitment to impose any extra taxes.
My Lords, does my noble friend say that his answer to the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, means that the Government do not regard it as a necessary condition of concluding the agreement that there should be equalisation of indirect taxation?
My Lords, I have said that we will make no commitment in order to do that.
My Lords, will my noble friend say what Her Majesty's Government are doing in order to accelerate the progress of metrication in order that we shall be compatible, competitive and not out of step when the single market becomes effective?
My Lords, my noble friend has a good point. There is an existing derogation and we expect to be discussing the position with the Commission in the coming months.
My Lords, in view of the importance of securing the free movement of professionally qualified workers as part of the completion of the market, is the Minister able to give any up to date information about progress on the general directive as regards mutual recognition of higher education diplomas, which I believe it is hoped will be finalised this year?
My Lords, the noble Lord will recall that I answered a question on that point towards the end of last year. At that time, I said that the Commission's proposal for a general directive was identified by Community Heads of Government in June 1987 as a priority for decision by the end of 1988. Work has been pursued energetically during the Danish Presidency with a view to ensuring that that counsel is met. Mutual recognition of higher educational diplomas is part of the completion of the internal market. It is the aim of the Government to achieve a satisfactory outcome in that area.
My Lords, reverting to the supplementary question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, will the Minister say, while desiring to maintain an absolutely correct relationship between the Government and the Commission, that it is no part of the functions of Her Majesty's Government to please the noble Lord, Lord Cockfield?
My Lords, I have already said that the interests of this country come first. We make no apologies for seeking the best results.
My Lords, perhaps the Minister can indicate what progress has been made in opening up the market for public procurement, bearing in mind that that could present many opportunities for our capital goods manufacturers? At the same time, it would open our markets to competition.
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. The opportunities available in the internal market will be highly significant for companies and business concerns in this country. My noble friend has announced an awareness campaign in order to stimulate British awareness and interest in participating fully in that large new market.As regards public procurement, I do not have a specific answer on that point. However, I shall look into the matter and write to the noble Lord. There are so many aspects to the internal market that it is not possible to carry around the full weight of answers that may be required. However, I shall write to the noble Lord on that point.
My Lords, are books to be zero-rated? If I heard the Minister aright. they were not included in the list which he read to the House.
My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right in saying that books were not contained in the list which I read out. There are no proposals at the moment to include books in VAT. However, I cannot give any long-term commitment that that may not one day be the case.
My Lords, is my noble friend able to dispel the fears of some environmental bodies that the completed internal market would allow hazardous waste materials to be imported from other EC countries without the need for licensing or other authorisation?
My Lords, the controls on imports of hazardous waste under the existing EC directive will not be affected. The directive establishes a system of prenotification by the exporter and acknowledgment by the receiving waste disposal authority in the United Kingdom. I can assure my noble friend that we are not establishing an internal free market in hazardous wastes.
My Lords, in view of the miserable failure of the EC to create a common market in agricultural goods, which was an objective of the Rome Treaty, are the Government convinced that the creation of an internal market in other goods will not create many more problems than it solves?
My Lords, of course problems will be created but opportunities will also be opened up. The Government believe that completion of the single market, on balance, will bring major benefits to the European economy as a whole and similarly to British business.
Listed Buildings: Development Control
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 Section 56(3) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1971 as amended by the Local Government, Planning and Land Act 1980, which gives them responsibilities for sites surrounding listed buildings, is adequate for controlling the proposed developments near St. Paul's Cathedral and other national and historic monuments.
My Lords, yes. Section 56(3) requires local planning authorities, or indeed the Secretary of State, to pay special regard to the desirability of preserving a listed building or its setting when considering proposals for development which would affect either.
My Lords, in thanking the noble Earl for that Answer, perhaps I may take the opportunity of congratulating him on his new appointment. As one of the Friends of St. Paul's who has been inspired by this superb building over the past 50 years, I should like to ask the Minister whether he is aware that the misgivings about the proposed developments expressed recently by his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales are widely shared throughout this country. Is he further aware that many overseas visitors to London, and particularly those coming from France and Italy, are also seriously disturbed by these proposals. Their Governments would never permit similar buildings in the vicinity of St. Peter's in Rome or Notre Dame.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount for his kind words. Yes, I am aware that concern has been expressed about development around listed buildings. Of course no such proposal has come forward. In view of my right honourable friend's quasi-judicial function perhaps it would be wrong for me to comment any further at this stage, as I am sure the House will understand.
My Lords, I should like to join the noble Viscount in offering from these Benches congratulations to the noble Earl. Can he say whether the plans for the site adjacent to St. Paul's have been considered by the Royal Fine Art Commission?
My Lords, I may be corrected but at the moment I understand that there has been no planning application. When such a planning application goes before the City planning authority, at that stage the Royal Fine Art Commission comes in. The developers may have given the plans to that authority without my knowing about it of course.
My Lords, have not the developments which have already been taking place at the site of St. Paul's Cathedral been quite unworthy of the cathedral itself in view of its ecclesiastical, architectural and cultural importance? If the powers are deemed adequate to produce a better result, who was responsible for the failure to exercise them?
My Lords, of course there was a major change in 1980. Before that time legislation to control development was used by governments of both shades of political opinion as and when it proved necessary. However, in 1980 the word "setting" was introduced, which allows buildings adjacent to listed buildings which might have an effect on that listed building to be taken into consideration.
Soccer Violence And Alcohol
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 they have established any link between alcohol consumption and crowd violence at soccer matches; and, if so, what effects they believe the launching of own-brands of lager by soccer clubs is likely to have.
My Lords, the police take the view that the control of the sale of alcohol on trains and coaches travelling to football grounds and inside the grounds has played a significant part in the improvement of crowd behaviour in recent seasons. There is no evidence available to quantify the relationship between alcohol consumption and crowd violence, whether or not lager is sold with club labels.
My Lords, I find it difficult to thank my noble kinsman for that rather flimsy reply. Is he aware that some football clubs are giving free seats to people who buy considerable amounts of named brands of lager? Is he further aware that there is tremendous concern from groups of people who deal with alcohol abuse as well as from the probation service, particularly in the North-West of England?
My Lords, the answer to the first supplementary question of my noble kinswoman is no, but I shall draw the matter to the attention of my honourable friend.
My Lords, I shall declare a rather remote interest as a former director of a company which makes a. non-alcoholic lager. Can my noble friend say whether the Government, through the appropriate authorities, will not encourage clubs to issue a non-alcoholic lager under their club labels?
My Lords, I am sure that those responsible in the clubs will read today's discussions. However, I shall draw this point to the attention of my honourable friend, since there is a working group which looks into matters of this kind.
My Lords, will the Minister accept from me that time and money spent on reducing crowd violence at soccer matches is well spent? Does he not take very seriously the evidence that the danger arising from alcohol-induced violence affects not only those who are in the football grounds? It also affects communities and the transport and shopping facilities of those who live near the grounds? Will he further accept that whether or not it is a football authority, any authority which places the raising of money before the safety of the public ought to be severely chastised?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that time spent on this problem can be beneficial. Indeed, that is what has happened. A working group was set up which consisted of government Ministers, the football authorities and the police. As the House will be aware, measures were announced in February of last year which have achieved considerable success and go a long way to meeting some of the points raised by the noble Lord.
My Lords, will the Government take into account what has already been done in Scotland, where about five years ago much greater restrictions were imposed, including application to the football grounds, and as a result there has clearly been an improvement?
My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. As a result of the provisions in Part V of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 a significant improvement has been seen in Scotland which has resulted in increased attendances at football matches.
My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the grounds of football clubs which are members of the league are now fitted with video cameras?
My Lords, I think that question goes slightly wide of the Question on the Order Paper, which related to lager.
My Lords, does the noble Earl, whom we all congratulate on his new appointment, agree that when in his former capacity he dealt with the drinking legislation applying to football grounds, closed circuit television proved very beneficial? In that latter connection will he confirm that some 60 units have been supplied throughout the country and that the police are at present engaged in carrying out further technological investigation into improved closed circuit television?
My Lords, when I was moved to the Department of the Environment I feared that I might miss the opportunity of debating with the noble Lord across the Floor of the House. I am delighted that my fear has proved unfounded and that we shall continue our discussions. I do not know the exact number supplied. Perhaps I may look into the matter and write to the noble Lord.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the other day at Highbury, Millwall supporters who caused a lot of havoc had been drinking in pubs before they arrived at the ground and that the police did a marvellous job of containing them without any fencing around the stadium?
My Lords, I think that we all owe a debt of gratitude to the police for the tremendous amount of good work that is done in attending at football matches and other occasions where there are crowds.
My Lords, may I refer the noble Earl back to the question of own-brand lagers being only alcohol-free lagers? Would it not greatly assist the police in their valuable work of controlling soccer violence if only alcohol-free lager were permitted under own-brand labels? Surely that is something which the Government could do without great difficulty.
My Lords, the noble Lord says that this is something the Government can do. As he very well knows it is not just a matter for the Government but of co-operation among the Government, the football authorities and the police. I have said that I shall draw the matter to the attention of my right honourable friend.
My Lords, in view of the encouraging Answer that the Minister gave in regard to the experience in Scotland, can I anticipate the debate which will follow by asking whether this is not another good argument for allowing Scotland to run its own affairs?
My Lords, I cannot stop the noble Lord anticipating the next debate. I shall not do so.
My Lords, is not the truth of the matter that the link is between alcohol and bad, and often deplorable, behaviour in the somewhat tribal and exuberant atmosphere of football grounds and journeys to and from them? Is there not a responsibility on purveyors of alcohol, in particular at airports and in the vicinity of cross-Channel ferries, to ensure that its availability is carefully controlled? The reputation of British fans abroad is becoming worse and is leading to greater violence.
My Lords, the noble Viscount broadens the scope of the Question. But he is right on the fundamental point that we are all concerned about bad behaviour from excessive drinking.
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that many of the club supporters are very young? Therefore is not under-age drinking being promoted?
My Lords, there can be few greater experts than my noble kinswoman on underage drinking as a result of the report which she has just produced and which is being considered. I shall draw her remarks to the attention of my right honourable friend.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to say a word about the two short debates standing in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, and the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol. It is customary in short debates that the mover is allowed approximately 15 minutes and that the Minister should rise to reply not less than 20 minutes before the scheduled end of the debates. In the case of the debate in the name of the noble Lord this means that all other speeches should be limited to a maximum of five minutes and in that of the noble Baroness to six minutes. If any noble Lord were to speak at greater length, it would be at the expense of subsequent speakers in the debate.
My Lords, in response to the statement made by the noble Lord, I should like to address a question on the procedure for our short debates to the Leader of the House. While I fully concur with the concept of the short debate, as I am sure we all do, when some of the subjects proposed for a short debate are of sufficient interest to attract so many Peers, as will be the case today, I should like to ask whether the procedure could be modified so that those subjects can be transferred for a longer period of debate.
My Lords, it is entirely at the discretion of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness who are to move the debates today whether they will be two-and-a-half hour debates. Noble Lords opposite have decided that the debates will last for two-and-a-half hours. It so happens that the subjects are popular and attract many speakers. I have no doubt that the discussions will be very good.If the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, feels critical of this, the correct procedure is for him to contact the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. It is entirely at the discretion of noble Lords opposite as to what they do today.
Business Of The House: Debate, 27Th January
My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of the Earl of Perth and the Lord Allen of Abbeydale set down for 27th January shall each be limited to 2½ hours and that Standing Order 35 and
paragraphs 10 to 13 of the Rules for the Conduct of Short Debates shall apply to each debate.—( Lord Belstead.)
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Business Of The House: Debate, 15Th January
My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Skelmersdale set down for 15th January shall be limited to 5 hours and that Standing Order 35 and paragraphs 10 to 13 of the Rules for the Conduct of Short Debates shall apply to the debate with the substitution of "5 hours" for "21½ hours" and "25 minutes" for "20 minutes".—( Lord Belstead.)
My Lords, I appreciate many of the reasons that have led whoever made this proposal to come to this conclusion. I am in no way hostile to it. As this is not an example to which the Leader of the House has just referred of the decision being at the disposal of two ordinary Members of the House but one in the control of government, may I ask what steps he took before reaching the conclusion to put down the Motion?
My Lords, before my noble friend answers that question perhaps he will also answer this. This is a government Motion, not a Motion in the name of a Back-Bench Peer. Can he tell noble Lords whether this is the first occasion on which the time limited debate procedure has been applied to a government Motion and whether this is intended to set a precedent?
My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Diamond, is that this is a matter which has been agreed through the usual channels.I do not know the answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It was felt by the Government, and agreed through the usual channels, that there was a strong case on a Friday to take this debate, highly important though it is, within the five-hour limit. It was thought, as perhaps the main reason, that the House would not wish to sit beyond 4.30 in the afternoon.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
House Of Lords Offices Committee
My Lords, I beg to move that the Third Report from the Select Committee be agreed to.
Moved that the Third Report from the Select Committee be agreed to.—( The Chairman of Committees.)
The report was as follows:
The Committee were informed of a proposal to replace the computer system in the Palace of Westminster Pass Office and agreed that a share of the expense be met from the provision for Police costs borne on the House of Lords Vote.
2. COUNSEL TO THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES
The Committee were informed of the retirement of Mr. K. Newman, CB, and of the appointment of Mrs. E. Denza, CMG, to the post of Second Counsel to the Chairman of Committees and Legal Adviser to the European Communities Committee.
The Committee were informed of proposals to introduce computer methods for preparing the text of the Official Report (Hansard) and the proof reading of Acts in the Public Bill Office and authorised provision for these projects.
4. STAFF OF THE HOUSE
The Committee approved a scheme of flexible complementing at a level equivalent to Civil Service grades 3 and 4 for future appointees to the three Principal Clerkship posts in the Private Bill, Judicial and Committee Offices and agreed to the creation of a new post of Legal Library Executive and three word processing operators for the Official Report.
5. PARLIAMENT OFFICE
The Committee were informed of the promotions of Mr. D. R. Beamish to Chief Clerk, of Mr. E. C. Ollard and Miss M. E. De Groose to Senior Clerk, and the re-appointment of Mrs. F. M. Martin, Senior Clerk in the place of Mr. L. Rutterford, who is retiring.
The Committee agreed a revised pay scale for general assistants.
6. BLACK ROD's DEPARTMENT
The Committee agreed a revised pay scale for attendants.
The Committee authorised further provision for the employment of casual staff in the Library.
8. REVISED SCALES OF PAY AND ALLOWANCES
The Committee approved increases in the rates of pay of the Chairman and Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees and confirmed the application of the following Civil Service memoranda, etc., to staff of the House of Lords:—
- CM/804 Typing Proficiency Payments
- CM/805 Responsibility Allowances
- CM/809 Catering Managers, Assistant Librarians and Curatorial Grades
- CM/8I6 Lawyer's Allowances
- CM/823 London Weighting
- CM/817 Subsistence and meal allowances
- IM/87/3 Industrial Staff pay
- D.E.O. letters dated 17.2.87 and 30.7.87—Pay additions to secretarial grades.
The Committee were notified of the following awards made under the House of Lords' Staff Pension Scheme:—
(a) Pension and Lump Sum to Mr. K. M. Newman, Second Counsel to Chairman of Committees and Legal Adviser to the European Communities Committee, who retired on 1st November 1987. (b) Pension and Lump Sum to Mr. J. Parker, Staff Inspector, who retired on 1st October 1987. [The Committee were informed that Mr. Parker's services were being retained on a fee-paid basis.] (c) Pension and Lump Sum to Mrs. D. M. Baker, Senior Reporter, who retired on 24th July 1987. (d) Pension and Lump Sum to Mr. J. R. Mellish, Executive Officer, who retired on 1st August 1987. (e) Transfer Value payment to Trustees of the C.B.I. Retirement Benefits Plan in respect of Mrs. P. P. Webster, Personal Secretary, who resigned on 31st October 1987. (f) Short service payment to Miss S. J. Griffin, Assistant Manageress, who resigned on 26th November 1987. (g) Preserved pension, lump sum and annual compensation for premature retirement to Miss J. Thomas, Personal Secretary, who retired on 22nd November 1987.The Committee agreed to a recommendation that Miss J. Thomas should receive an additional lump sum compensation payment.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
rose to call attention to the case for devolved government in Scotland; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, having raised the issue of Scottish devolution in this short debate I am greatly encouraged by the number of noble Lords who have indicated an intention to speak. As there has been certain criticism that the debating time is too short, perhaps I may say that in my limited experience of your Lordships' House Scottish matters have not previously attracted such all-embracing attention. I regret that the noble Earl, Lord Perth, who wished to speak in this debate in favour of the principle of devolution, is unfortunately unable to be present.
It is clear that there are those who believe that devolution for Scotland would be a fatal step towards the breaking up of the United Kingdom. There are others like myself, who are convinced that a denial of devolution would be the short road to separation. Whichever side is correct, there can be no doubt whatever that the demand for devolution of democratic power to Scotland, including tax-raising power, has grown very much stronger over the last 10 years.
The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, in 1978 advised Scots to vote against the then legislation because of the absence of tax-raising powers in the Scotland Act. There is general acceptance now that those powers are necessary. It is clear that such devolution with tax-raising power commands the support of over three-quarters of the Scots. This is clear both from election results and from public opinion polls.
I do not consider that it would be useful in this debate to discuss the detail of devolution proposals but to consider why there is such a strong and, I believe, increasing demand for devolution in Scotland. Part of the feeling is the North-South divide, which has widened and which this Government's policies appear to do nothing to diminish. This affects Wales and the North of England as well as Scotland. We in Scotland recognise and sympathise with the frustration felt in the Principality, and in the outlying regions of England. We recognise that we share similar problems. Scotland is, however, also different.
It is a nation brought into the United Kingdom by the Act of Union nearly 300 years ago. It has a separate, established Church, and, as the present Secretary of State for Scotland has said on several occasions, it is the only nation with a separate legal system but no separate legislature. In the volume of the Stair Memorial Encyclopaedia of the Law of Scotland published last year, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Fraser of Tullybelton, drew a contrast between the increased respect shown for a separate Scots identity in matters of the machinery of government and;
"the evident fact that real political and economic power was seeping away from Scotland to London. The public in Scotland were conscious of that fact and unable to alter it".
That is what the noble and learned Lord wrote. That was published last year.
The people of Scotland are clearly determined to alter that fact, and this must be recognised. Why is there that strength of feeling when there has been so much administrative devolution? The Scottish Office is responsible for almost everything that happens in Scotland, apart from defence, Treasury matters, social security and foreign affairs. The trouble is that ignoring the wishes of the Scots when they have an opportunity of expressing them is a form of dictatorship. As we discussed on Monday, local authorities have their powers confined and restricted. Consultation papers are published and the views expressed are ignored on the principle, apparently, that "Nanny knows best".
There is a considerable difficulty in talking of democracy in a country where only 10 of the 72 elected Members support the Government. The Government force their views through by the votes of southern English Members who do not even appear to listen to the arguments being produced. It does not impress the Scots that there have been occasions when a United Kingdom Government have not had a majority of English seats. The reason this does not impress the Scots is that there could not be a United Kingdom Government with only 15 per cent. of the English seats supporting that government. That is the position in Scotland.
One of the results of the arrangements in another place is that if an English or a Welsh Member wishes to ask Questions on, let us say, health, housing or education, he has three occasions to question the three departments, or to try to do so. A Scot has one Minister, the Secretary of State (to whom he can direct all these questions) and only one occasion every four weeks on which he can do it.
On legislation in another place it clearly does not matter what the Scots may say, the Government will have their will. It is not surprising that this is regarded as unsatisfactory. In this situation your Lordships' House would have an opportunity to fulfil its revising function to the full. I regret to have to suggest that on Scots matters this is not done because the Scots do not appear to have adequate representation. We have in this House an adequate number of Scottish landowners. We probably also have an adequate number of Scots advocates, but is Scots life in its full width represented as well as the English or the Welsh? On local government many of your Lordships have recent or ongoing experience in local government south of the border. How many Scots with recent experience of local government in Scotland are there in this House? On education, we have many who speak with authority on English and Welsh education. Where are the Scots in this House who can speak with authority on the separate Scottish education system? There are not very many. Scotland has nine out of the 45 universities. They are not all very recent universities. The university that I had the honour of attending is not the oldest Scottish university, but it had its 500th anniversary before I got there.
In this House we have had many fascinating debates on the difficulties of what is apparently called tertiary education. Chancellors, principals and other professors and teachers from the universities give very useful contributions from all sorts of universities south of the border. They speak with great authority; but the silence from the Scottish universities is deafening because there does not appear to be any Member of your Lordships' House who can or does speak for Scottish universities. The same could be said of medicine, where Scotland has a certain reputation; and the same could be said of the arts and the Church.
The Scottish financial community is a large and efficient business employing over 85,000 people. The noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, stands out as the representative of that community. Sometimes I took part in the financial services debates in the past year. These debates showed that the number from your Lordships' House who work in the City of London was sometimes quite overwhelming; but there seems to be a lack of balance. Scotland was an industrial nation. The closure of modern profitable plants such as the Caterpillar plant causes considerable worries about the branch factory syndrome. There is considerable fury at the apparent intention to close the Ravenscraig steelworks. But where in this House are the Scottish industrialists? Where are the Scottish trade unionists? They are not very noticeable.
It is also perhaps noticeable that from my party (which has 50 of the 72 seats in another place from Scotland) there are only two of us able to speak in this debate who are home-based Scots.
It is for those types of reasons that the Scots see Westminster as inadequate to represent their interests and this inadequacy is damaging to a true democracy. The case for a proper meaningful devolution is clear. I am reminded of the story of an exasperated mother who said to her son, "You'll be sorry when I'm gone", only to receive the comment from her younger daughter, "But I won't, Mummy, will I?" If the Mother of Parliaments is wise it will heed the distrust of the Scots. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, will recognise that when the speaking ration is five minutes, the usual compliments have to go by the board. But I can, I hope, within reason convince him because all my life I have been a supporter of decentralisation in government and in administration. That has always been a part of my political philosophy: an instinct which was very much reinforced during the 50 years or so when it seemed that his party might be successful in installing in this country the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange. That would have involved a concentration of power totally unacceptable to England, Scotland or Wales, and happily the electorate has agreed.By contrast, the Conservatives have always dealt in decentralisation, as the Secretary of State for Scotland, Ministers in the Scottish Office and the apparatus of St. Andrew's House in Edinburgh testifies. Those experiments have been a success. I should like to see them added to, for this reason. I would relate the discontent and frustration in Scotland much less to the subject of devolution, which the noble Lord has raised, than I would to the endless time which it takes to deal with officialdom, whether that officialdom is centred in Whitehall or St. Andrew's House. The people of Scotland need speedier administration and a speedier solution to everyday subjects. I hope we shall get the reassurance from the Minister of State that that is in mind. It so happens that in the early 1970s I had to preside over a committee which explored in depth this question of a legislative element in the devolution picture. The one principle on which we were all unanimous was that any proposal must sustain the unity of the Westminster Parliament. That is the standard by which we should judge. In that context, I must tell your Lordships that there was only one proposition which the majority of us felt we could endorse, and that was the possibility of a Scottish convention which would take the Second Reading and the Committee stage (the main stages of the Bills) in Scotland, which would then finish their business in the Westminster Parliament. It was said to be rather a clumsy device, and two distinguished academic members of the committee dissented on the grounds that such proposals would create more difficulties than they would remove. I think that the question before your Lordships today is whether in the past 15 years or so anything has happened to sway the argument decisively one way or the other. The recent experience of the United States, where government was nearly paralysed because the constitution provided for the possibility of divided councils in the executives, is one that I think Parliament should notice. There would be a danger in certain devolution proposals of a split between the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish convention or assembly. Secondly, there is the fact that we have still been unable in this country, although there are special circumstances here, to organise a satisfactory subordinate legislature for Northern Ireland. Lastly, in recent years there is the fact that some elected and powerful local authorities have fallen down on their responsibilities, particularly in relation to finance. I think we have to take account of these things. I do not think that these constitutional matters are subjects for short debate; but when facing up to constitutional change it must rest, if it is to come, on a reasonable consensus. I do not find that consensus either in England or in Scotland. I do not know about Wales. I am not sure that a consensus is there. Therefore, although it sounds rather unadventurous, for the time being I would like to rest on improvement in the administration, which I think is still possible, in order to get quicker decisions from officialdom in Whitehall or St. Andrew's House. A Scottish convention could bring the debate nearer home in Scotland. But we have already established a system which it would be possible to work, and that is to ask the Scottish Grand Committee to sit more often in Scotland, debating the main clauses of Scottish Bills there. That might be a possibility and I think it is one to which we should give very much closer consideration than we have already done.
My Lords, I shall try to put to the House some of the feeling in Scotland, and the consensus which I believe there is in Scotland, in the short time that is available. The desire for a Scottish Parliament started with the regret which lasted for many years over the union of Parliament in 1707, mainly I suppose from the Scottish Peers who were not bribed at the time. The Liberal Party has a long history of wishing to have not Scottish devolution or administrative competence but a Scottish Parliament responsible for the affairs of the Scottish people within the framework of the United Kingdom. That is what we shall look for. That is what we want. The Liberal Government of 1913 passed a Bill through its Second Reading but of course the essential thing was Irish home rule and then we had the war.I do think that when we look at the efforts which have been made over the past 20 or 30 years and the enormous surge of feeling in Scotland, then the House must recognise that this is something real and not some vague Celtic tremor North of the border. It is very real and it is a thing that has to be taken note of. For far too long the road for success in Scotland has been furth of Scotland, either in England or in the colonies. The British Empire was largely made I suppose by Scots to a very great extent, who could find no outlet for their energies at home and who felt that at home there was no outlet and therefore the energy they did possess only came to its full fruition when they went abroad. I think that is true today. What we want to see in a Scottish Parliament is a power centre in Edinburgh in the central belt—call it what you will—which will attract and hold people at the centre of power because able people always want to be near the centre and not to be part of a secondary body. No amount of good administration will make any difference to this. A parliament in Edinburgh would promote much more than competent administration and good legislation; it would also promote a flowering of the arts and of all forms of the energy that the Scottish people possess in such large measures. I was astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Home, should quote Northern Ireland. The reason that Northern Ireland was so tragic was of course that it was not a proper unit; it was split in two. Political power was never given to the minority. But Scotland is a different unit altogether, and technically Stormont was a very, very competent parliament. They knew what they were doing. In my own sphere of agriculture, I could see that this small integrated unit was way ahead of what we were doing in Scotland at the time. Technically there is no question in my mind but that the Stormont Parliament was extremely good. They did quite well in the technical sphere. The other point which I must make is that I have been a party manager in Scotland, and trying to get people to stand for Parliament is extraordinarily difficult if they are able people pursuing their own careers. Time and again people have said to me that they would stand if we had a parliament in Scotland. I intend no disrespect to the people who came here, but it is very noticeable that in Northern Ireland the best people stood for the Stormont Parliament, and that is what we would get if we had a Scottish Parliament. One would have good people entering the Parliament; one would have the best. I dare say that that would be to the detriment of Westminster. But it would certainly be for the good of Scotland. Without doubt, the Labour Party's last effort failed because it lacked a proper representative system; in other words, proportional representation. People were frightened to death by the thought that they would come under the rule of a group of Labour Party politicians in the central belt. I know of many good Liberals who voted against the issue for that reason alone. If we are to have a Bill it must contain PR. If that is included, and if the people of Scotland are properly represented, it will benefit the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom.
My Lords, the various proposals of opposition parties for further devolution in Scotland are, I believe, ill-conceived and would be immensely damaging to Scotland, and indeed to the United Kingdom, in the longer run. We already have a considerable amount of decentralisation and devolved government.The suggestion that Scotland would benefit from an elected Scottish Assembly with tax-raising powers, as set out in Labour's Scotland Bill, is, I believe, dangerous and would almost certainly lead to the eventual break-up of the United Kingdom. More immediately, I believe that it would lead to a crisis in the Scottish economy. Just as the Act of Union, and the markets it brought, were vital for the growth of the Scottish economy during the 19th century, so too they are vital for Scotland to overcome the problems of today. These problems are reducing; with unemployment falling rapidly, inflation under control and productivity rising. The political stability and markets brought by the union have provided the basis for very many jobs in Scotland. In recent years, through "Locate in Scotland", we have been uniquely successful in attracting inward investment. There are already indications that this would reduce and cease if there were a real prospect of an assembly with tax-raising powers which so many believe would eventually lead to separation. There is no use Labour saying that tax rates would be lower in Scotland. Labour has consistently opposed the Government's programme of income tax reductions. Any increase would be unattractive not only to those considering setting up new businesses in Scotland but also to potential inward investors. It would also be highly unpopular with Scottish businesses already established. Higher rates of tax would be likely to lead to higher wage demands and that would also act as a constraint on the creation of new jobs. When devolution was last an issue in the late 1970s, the then president of the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce wrote in the chamber journal:
Those words, written in 1977, are as true today as they were then. We must ask ourselves the following questions. Would an assembly improve or diminish our trading prospects? Would an assembly create more productive jobs? Would an assembly help businesses to make a maximum contribution to the welfare of our society? At best the answer can be that for some businesses it will have no effect; for others it will diminish them. Certainly I do not believe that it can improve them. It will breed a new bureaucracy, another tier of government in Scotland and more taxation when the people who create jobs in Scotland want less government and less taxation. The CBI and the chambers of commerce share those views, as do the leaders of the financial community. Towards the end of last year the Scottish Conservative Party decided to check its beliefs by asking individual companies in Scotland what they thought. I should like to emphasise that companies who took part in the survey were selected entirely at random. Although Labour spokesmen have endeavoured to cast doubt on the survey and its answers, they have produced no evidence of support for their proposals from the job creators, commerce and industry. This was the most comprehensive survey of business ever undertaken by the Scottish Conservative Party. Believing that the Scottish business community cannot afford to ignore the devolution issue, Labour's arguments were put to the test of those who actually create the jobs and wealth in Scotland. A cross-section of Scottish companies, numbering 1,688 in every constituency in Scotland—from large employers to one-man businesses—was surveyed during the first three weeks of November. Of those surveyed, 31.2 per cent. responded, a considerably higher figure than is usual in this type of survey. Excluding the "don't knows" and "no opinion expressed", no less than 97.2 per cent. of Scottish businesses stated that they would not invest more in Scotland while 89.7 per cent. stated that they would invest less. Perhaps most worrying of all, 84.3 per cent. stated that they would review their Scottish operations. Most of the companies believed that their business opportunities would be met not by a Scottish Assembly but by lower interest rates, lower taxation, stable exchange rates and business rating reform. That is what this Government are giving to them. The possibility of a tax-raising assembly would have a most damaging effect on investment plans and jobs in Scotland, with a likely exodus of Scottish employers. I trust that today the House will show its distaste for proposals for devolved government in Scotland."There is no doubt in the minds of the Directors of the Chambers that business will he damaged: first because prospects for future investment in this area, whether inward or indigenous, will be diminished. Many people would be fearful to bring new capital into the area because they think it may end up part of a small nation on the periphery of the great European Community. And it cannot be emphasised too often that, despite all the efforts of Government and Industry and Trade Union alike, for historical and geographical as much as for any other reasons, the battle to bring investment here is always bound to be more difficult than it is elsewhere. Who needs more difficulties such as uncertainty will bring?"
My Lords, before embarking upon what I wish to say, I should like to set the record straight. I understood the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, to say that of all the speakers today only two were Scottish based. I hope that the noble Lord will correct me if I am wrong.
I am sorry. I did not make myself clear. I said that only two speakers are members of the party of which I am a member and which has 50 of the 72 seats in Parliament.
Thank you. There is nothing new about Scottish nationalism. In 1713, only six years after the union, a Bill to repeal the treaty failed by a whisker to pass through this House. The 1715 and the 1745 rebellions were as much manifestations of discontent with the British Government as of romantic loyalty to the House of Stuart. But the cruelty with which the 1745 rebellion was suppressed, and the repression which followed, served in retrospect to lend enchantment to a vision which, had it become reality, would in all probability have led to strife and disillusion.The Scottish National Party are really modern Jacobites, chasing a chimera and a romantic illusion. They are always with us, and the support they command waxes and wanes as the prosperity of the United Kingdom waxes and wanes. I should like to compare the union to a marriage of convenience between a rather arrogant and sometimes rather cruel man, possessed of large and rich estates, and a neighbouring lady, with a beautiful but impoverished estate, of great pride and a slightly prickly temperament. To start with, it is not a very happy marriage. She tries to run away; she comes back; she has affairs with other men; and sometimes he beats her. But eventually they settle down together, raise a family, make friendships and vanquish opponents. Their estates are under the same management, their finances and business interests become inextricably intertwined. They present a united face to the outside world. Yet, from time to time the wife still toys with the idea of a separation. I hope that common sense will prevail and that she will realise that she does not have much experience of standing on her own feet and will certainly be worse off without her rich husband's support. I hope that she recognises too that most separations lead sooner or later to divorce, and that the task of trying to unscramble their finances and interests after so long will be too daunting and painful and productive of strife to themselves, their families and dependants to be contemplated. However, I hope that he will try to be more tactful and understanding to her than sometimes he has been in the past and will make a greater effort to make the marriage work. I believe that any form of devolved government for Scotland will inevitably lead to the ultimate break-up of the United Kingdom. That is the declared aim of the Scottish National Party and I believe that that break-up would be disadvantageous to England, but to Scotland it would be disastrous.
My Lords, I am going to do something in this House I have never done before. Do not be alarmed. I know this sounds conceited—and I am not at all conceited—but I should like to quote what I said in the Second Reading debate on the Scotland Bill on 14th March 10 years ago. Mr. Callaghan, now Lord Callaghan, was then Prime Minister and we had a big debate on devolution, as all your Lordships know. I said:
I feel the same today, I am afraid: that is not the point of view of the Opposition. I fully support my noble friend Lord Home. It would be absurd for me to say anything with which he did not agree. Regarding the Scottish Grand Committee, I should have thought that now we are in the electronic age it would be more satisfactory to Scotland if it always met in Scotland and if the Grand Committee was based there. Surely in this electronic age the Members in Westminster, though sitting in Edinburgh one or two days a month could vote electronically and could also see the debates in Westminster on television, if they had time to leave the Chamber of the Scottish Grand Committee. However, what I cannot understand is that Scotland has its cake and eats it. As we have heard today, Scotland has its own legal system. It has its own religion, regional councils, county councils, and community councils. Scotland even has its own language. Of course, it is unfortunate that, as I understand it, there are only 70,000 registered Gaelic speakers. I can say a few words because I had a Gaelic nurse at one time. However, it seems that Scots have their cake and eat it because every Scotsman per capita has a greater slice of the Westminster Treasury than does the Englishman or the Welshman. Also, we have Parliament in Westminster and we have the European Parliament. If we have too many of these organisations we are going to be over-governed. What worries me concerns business and industry. As we have heard from the noble Lord behind me, in those days 10 years ago the Scottish Chamber of Commerce said that in its opinion devolution would be very unfavourable to Scotland. It would affect Scottish industry extremely badly. After all, it has been integrated for so many hundreds of years—nearly 300 years—and industry is as much Scottish as English. I cannot understand the desire of the SNP to have an independent Scotland. I can only imagine that the SNP wants personal power, which will only end in a talking shop. I personally believe that that would be very detrimental to Scotland."When we review the historic benefits of the Union—the most perfect alliance of all time—it is a Union, after all, that has spawned the most successful political communities the world has ever seen. It has spread our laws, language, customs and religions half-way round the globe. In addition, the Union saw the beginning of the most glorious chapter of Britain—that is, a chapter in which Scotland played a most glorious part, and indeed a greater part that her small population warranted."
I do not feel that it should be only Scots who speak in this debate, because I believe that the question of devolution for Scotland is a matter which affects the whole of the United Kingdom and the implications should be carefully thought about.I had some experience of trying to steer the devolution legislation through the other place. When I became Chief Whip for my party and government in 1976, I inherited the Scotland and Wales Bill, which I very quickly realised maximised the opposition and, as the House will know, we moved a time-table or guillotine Motion—one of those coarse procedural methods which are used in the other place—and we failed. Therefore, we had to return to the subject the following year, when I managed, with others, to persuade my colleagues to split the Bills so that we had a Scotland Bill and a Wales Bill, which made the situation more manageable. Although it was a government measure, the support for it and the opposition to it was cross-party, because we always had substantial support from the Scottish National Party. The Welsh Nationalists and a number of Conservatives also were consistent in their support for Scottish devolution, and much the same was true for Wales. However, the principal problem that I had to deal with was in my own party. This opposition came particularly from Labour Members of Parliament who represented regions of the country where economic conditions and unemployment were bad. In particular, noble Lords will recall a great deal of opposition from the North-East of England—from Tyneside, from Wearside, and the coalfields there. These areas which suffered economically were extremely worried that any advantages for Scotland would mean disadvantage for them. To me, this was one of the sad things about the attempt to legislate, because economic adversity turns one region against another. They are competing for resources and that is divisive in what should be a united kingdom. One of the reasons why I opposed the entry of our country into the EC was because I felt it would shift the centre of gravity towards the South and the South-East. I believe that that has happened. I believe too that the problem will be exacerbated with the construction of the Channel Tunnel. We must try to understand the frustrations which are experienced by the Scots and others; that is, those feelings of frustration that they are being pushed more and more to the periphery of activity. Therefore, we should consider very seriously indeed whether or not they ought to have this devolution of powers. I shall not go as far as some people in saying that the whole issue is ablaze, but there is very deep feeling in Scotland. It was not quite as strong in Wales. During the passage of the legislation I was on holiday in North Wales and I did my own little straw poll of people I met in the course of the day, on the bus and so on. On one occasion I was in the butcher's shop ordering some meat and sausages and I asked, "What about devolution?" The butcher replied, "We don't stock it". It was not absolutely and universally acceptable. Unfortunately, the imbalance to which I have referred is reflected in the political situation. I fear that unless something is done it may lead to political instability and a loss of faith in our parliamentary and democratic situation. If we are to satisfy this need for devolution we must have some form of devolved representation; otherwise, the genuine grievances of very many Scottish people may be exploited by minority interests for their own ends.
My Lords, I am personally delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has introduced this debate and given us all the best arguments. I have absolutely no doubt that he has advanced all the arguments that could possibly be thought of. I was full of admiration listening to him.This concept is hopelessly out of date. The debate might well be taking place in 1707 or 1708. As a matter of fact I believe my forebear opposed union at that time. But never mind about that! I do not know of anyone who has written the story of Britain as such, but we can say that after 300 years or more a smaller country agreed willingly to a union with a bigger and stronger country and gave that country its monarch to carry on with. That was the basis of it. It is true that in many ways England took advantage of the situation in a manner which I think has caused some of the emotion being experienced at the present time. I can quote Disraeli speaking of the empire of England. I can remember a time when the Post Office put "North Britain" instead of "Scotland". Those are little elements of an unemotional character, but they are still a sign. I wish to draw attention to the immense importance Trevelyan, in his History of England, places on the Union. It was of immense benefit to both countries. Scotland gained free trade with England and our territories overseas and England became associated with the best educated and the most actively-minded people in Europe. That is the opinion of one of our finest historians. It is utter folly to suggest that this should be chucked away simply to have two assemblies, one in Edinburgh and one in London, shouting at each other. We live in an age when, very shortly, there are going to be great changes. I shall provide one simple example. The traffic in London is absolutely intolerable. People will be forced out of London to go and live somewhere else. If Scotland is separated people will go no further than the north of England; if Scotland is open, then people will go there. This will be a far-reaching event. Secondly, we have an enormous range of all sorts of institutions. Why go to the Stock Exchange when the whole operation can be seen perfectly well in Princes Street or anywhere else? This will break up the concentration of the money markets which has existed for some time. I believe it to be a great opportunity. Far worse than that to my mind—and this is borne out by listening to the questions which we heard today—is the great problem of bringing nations into harmony together. I wish to quote what Sir James Eberle, the director of Chatham House recently said:
In discussing this matter, have we even thought of the far-reaching international implications? Is Scotland to have no contact, or is it to have its own diplomatic services instead of many Scotsmen going into the British diplomatic service and serving it well? I believe the situation will arise where there are three levels of voting. It is difficult enough to have two. I believe that the local authorities should be one elected body. However, we have the districts and the regions, and now perhaps another authority in Edinburgh. I believe devolution is really most unfortunate. As far as I can see, it is almost entirely inspired for purely party political reasons. I say that with regret. I do not think that we should lend ourselves to that in any way. I agree absolutely with what my noble friend Lord Home said. There may be advantages in examining closely the powers and, above all, the constitution of the Scottish Office. Are we getting the cream of young men which we are entitled to have in this very important office? I do not believe it is fair for the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, to say that there is a dictatorship there. I guess that it is far easier to talk to the Scottish Office than it is to the Department of the Environment. I have not tried to speak to either recently but I suspect that it is very much easier. It is a much more open body. I hope that this view will be maintained by the House."No longer can governments safely make decisions in any field without taking account of the international implications".
My Lords, it is some years ago since in another place I took part in the debates on devolution which have already been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks: the original Bill before us and then eventually the Bills proposing separate parliaments for Scotland and Wales. The noble Lord has recalled the opposition to them. I was part of it.In the debate in which I took part I stated then, all those years ago, and I state it again now, that in my opinion this island is too small for federalist government, which depends for its success, wherever it is, on an equal balance between one government and another. I stated then that the island was too small for federalist government and that very firmly remains my opinion today. I looked up my speech today and I stated at that time that the maintenance of a united kingdom is basically essential to the prosperity and general wellbeing of all those who live in Scotland, Wales and any other part of England. That Second Reading debate was in December 1976 and it occurred at a time when there was an unhappy economic situation. It was at a time when public spending cuts were made. In fact in the middle of the debate a statement was made to that effect. There were spending cuts amounting to £2·5 billion and at the same time the Chancellor of the Labour Government of the day was obliged to borrow a further £4 billion from the International Monetary Fund. I think it is a very appropriate moment for us to remember and to emphasise that our comparatively much healthier economy today is healthy not least because of the success of regional policies in all parts of the country, including Scotland. Scotland has particular problems and no one is in any doubt about that and never has been. But the North-East of England also has faced particular problems. The noble Lord, Lord Cocks, was kind enough to mention them. Just south of the Scottish Border our regional problems have been very similar to those in Scotland. There is declining old industry, the need to replace it with new and the urgent need to retrain people to provide the new skills required; and of course Scotland and the North-East of England have a common geographical location. There is the enormous problem of the long haul for goods to more populated parts of the country. The North-East of England and Scotland are adjacent. During the recent summer months my noble friend who is to wind up this debate was kind enough to entertain me at his very charming home in Scotland. He will correct me if I am wrong but I thought that I could see England from the windows of his home. The area which we could see from that lovely house was the scene of past Border warfare. I cannot help feeling that should there be a devolved parliament for Scotland there would be something like Border warfare again. Since December 1976 Scotland and the North-East of England have benefited enormously from regional policies, which have steadily improved over the years. I would suggest at this moment that they continue to do so. Yesterday's Statement suggests to me there has been considerable refinement and improvement in the way that taxpayers' money is being directed towards Scotland, the North-East of England and elsewhere. Scotland does very well out of public expenditure; current spending is running at something like 15 per cent. more than equivalent levels in England and Wales. My concern in the 1970s—and with the proposal before us today—was that a full parliamentary Assembly in Edinburgh, with a full Civil Service and a full press lobby behind it, would give Scotland a totally unfair advantage in terms of attraction of industry over the North-East of England and other regions of the country. The overwhelming majority of people in the country today want to see above all successful government, which they are getting, but this can continue only if the economic integrity of a united kingdom is maintained.
My Lords, I know that many of my countrymen would regard the English as an overtalkative people, and many of my English friends would regard the Scots as a somewhat taciturn and dour race, so it is a kind of poetic justice that this afternoon our speeches are limited to a ration of five minutes.As regards the debate so far, I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, in his otherwise stimulating and interesting presentation of his Motion to your Lordships, at the outset rather oversimplified the position when he asserted rashly that it was clear that three-quarters of the people of Scotland wanted devolution, by which he meant legislative devolution. I hope that what I say to your Lordships, as I consume my ration of time, will make it clear why I think that that is a misapprehension and an oversimplification of the problem as it presents itself today. It is not surprising that of late there should have been a resurgence in the demand for devolution in Scotland. It is surprising that the demand is not more vociferous than it has so far been, with Tory MPs rather thin on the ground north of the border and senior Ministers coming up to lecture us, playing what, as reported, sounded to me rather like variations on the theme "Get on your bikes". It is not surprising that there has been a reaction to that sort of thing. In so far as the demand for devolution has increased, the prime leaders of that demand are the activists of the Opposition parties in Scotland and an organisation calling itself the Campaign for Scottish Assembly. I make no complaint or criticism of that, but I would observe that these groupings so far as the party political activists go are perhaps not as representative of the nation as a whole as they once were. Secondly, there is little evidence that the public are responding with notable enthusiasm to their lead so far as concerns a Scottish Assembly. While public opinion shows a significant majority for devolution, only a minority regard it as a matter of prime political importance. I am frankly sceptical about the feasibility of devising any scheme of legislative devolution to Scotland in isolation from which benefits in the shape of better government would accrue and which would not be damaging to the unity of the Kingdom. I very much agree with the approach of the noble Earl, Lord Selkirk, who has just spoken, but if anyone can succeed in devising such a scheme I shall support it. Those of us who opposed strenuously the Scotland Act 1979 did so because we judged that it did not measure up under either head, and much that has happened since then suggests that we were right. I shall make only one further point on which I think the advocates of devolution are somewhat vulnerable. They appear to have learnt nothing from and forgotten everything about the Labour Government's experience with the Scotland Act. If by any chance we have another Labour Government presenting a measure comparable with that misbegotten Act of 1979 it is essential that there should be a referendum of the people before that matter is finalised. I found myself in opposition to the concept of a referendum when the 1979 Act was being pursued, but people proved themselves more sensible than the politicians when they rejected the Act in the referendum. It is often asserted that there was a majority who voted for the Act in 1979. That is only part of the truth. The simple fact is that 67 per cent. of the people either voted against the Act or did not bother to vote at all, after a campaign in which it was repeatedly asserted by the supporters of the Act that an abstention was the same as a No vote. So much for that illustration of the clamour of the Scottish people for devolution!
My Lords, I rise to support very strongly the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Goold, and the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. I am very strongly opposed to Scotland being separated from England and Wales. We are a United Kingdom and we should remain a United Kingdom. I am sure we must adhere to that principle.Scotland has provided several remarkable Prime Ministers in the United Kingdom Parliament, such as the noble Lord, Lord Home, who has been speaking here this afternoon, Harold Macmillan and Campbell-Bannerman. Mr. Asquith, although he was not a Scot, represented a Scottish constituency, for the many years that he was Prime Minister and a Member of the United Kingdom Parliament. We have given distinguished people to the United Kingdom Parliament, such as Lord Thurso, a distinguished Cabinet member in the Winston Churchill Cabinet, whose son will speak here today. We have today a remarkable Lord Chancellor who is a Scot. Scottish field marshals and other soldiers have fought in wars and made a great contribution. So I think it is very important that Scotland and England be united, making their contribution together, because if you separate England and Scotland we shall be a small country. We have only about 5½ million people, and if we were separated our influence would be small. As part of the United Kingdom, our influence stretches all over the world. Although at the present time, as the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, has pointed out, the Labour Party has a considerable majority in Scotland, I have been associated with politics in Scotland since about 1924 and all the years that my husband was in Parliament—which was 40 years—in Glasgow we used to split Glasgow representatives about 50:50; 50 per cent. Conservative and 50 per cent. Labour. These things change. I agree that it is disappointing for us that we did badly in the last election. That is not to say that we will do badly in the next election. It would be a great mistake to alter in any way or change our relationships within the United Kingdom. The noble Lord, Lord Goold, has pointed out that a separate parliament would need increased taxation and would also add to various complications. If the Assembly had taxation in Scotland and also in the United Kingdom the odd thing would be that the United Kingdom would be raising money for Scotland but would not have any say in how it was spent, because that would be done by the Assembly. Secondly, I do not think that people would appreciate having to pay two sets of income tax, which they would have to do under these conditions. Above all I want the influence of Scottish MPs and Ministers in Scotland to spread overseas. We have had links with Europe for many years going right back into history and to Mary Queen of Scots. We still have great influence in Europe provided we are part of the United Kingdom. Scotsmen and women have travelled all over the world in the past as well as today. We have provided in the past Scots Prime Ministers for Canada and Australia and leading statesmen in many Commonwealth countries. I do not want to see that changed. We all become absorbed by local things, but Scotland has great influence in the United Kingdom Parliament, in the Cabinet and in the world, and I want this to continue. To confine our activities to a Scottish parliament, or Scottish Assembly, would curtail all this, so I am opposed to the proposal being discussed today. I think that the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goold, about the enterprise and business side of Scottish life is extremely important. Obviously nobody will bring businesses to Scotland if they are going to be confined to a small area and not able to deal with the whole of the United Kingdom and also the EC. Therefore, I think that all the arguments that have been put for independence fall down when it comes to the practical way in which we can all contribute. I have, as I think your Lordships know, spent many years—29 years—in local government in Scotland. I have also now been nearly 30 years in your Lordships' House. Scotland can make contributions, and the organisation as it stands today can be improved. We can do things faster, as the noble Lord, Lord Home, suggested, but in the meantime we must stick together. We must have one parliament and one general interest, and we in Scotland must contribute to it as we have in the past.
My Lords, I thought it would be difficult to know what to say in so few minutes, but since I have heard the speeches which have been made today I have found it much easier, because so many points have been dealt with. There was one point that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, raised about the referendum of 1979. The way I analysed it was that 67 per cent. did not vote yes. I think that is one way of putting it.The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, who has just sat down, was talking about the population. I am always struck by the fact that the population of Scotland is less than that of Lancashire and also less than that of Yorkshire. Therefore, the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, particularly impressed me when he pointed out that you have to look all round the problem, including the problem as it affects England and as England affects the problem. Talking of that—and I am picking out things that have not been said—I feel that we suffer a little from inaccuracy by the BBC. Their broadcasters are awfully inclined to talk about England when they mean Britain. It might be wise if they circulated their people and said, "Now, do be careful. You don't need to annoy these Scotsmen by going on about England". I am prepared to go along about England a bit because it has to be remembered that at the time of John Knox and Marie de Guise it was the English fleet which kept France from reinforcing Marie de Guise. We owe such a lot to England that I welcomed the words of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, and of my noble friend Lord Selkirk. The facts that they produced have a great bearing upon the current problem. Scotland has been badly served by its press. The principal papers really are the Glasgow Herald and The Scotsman. The Glasgow Herald calls itself "Scotland's newspaper".The Scotsman calls itself "Scotland's national newspaper", and so they go on and on, and have been binding and binding about England until some of us are sick and tired of their columns of correspondence. I feel that the change in the editorship of The Scotsman may have a beneficial effect, if I am right in judging by the columns of correspondence in today's Scotsman, oddly enough. I feel that we cannot emphasise too much that broadcasters and the press ought to be circumspect in the way in which they approach this problem. The fact is that opinion has changed in the last few months. One of my wisest advisers, a matron, when I first asked her what she thought about it said, "It sounds a good idea, but I don't think a separate Assembly will work". I asked her a few days ago whether she still held to that view and she said, "Yes, I do in a way, but I don't think it will work and for that reason I am against it". That rather is my line of thought: I do not think it will work. I do not think that it is right to talk about an Assembly when we have our own assembly in the Church of Scotland, or to talk about devolution. The idea came from the Conservative Party in the 1940s when it built up the Scottish Office and made my noble friend Lord Home the Minister of State for Scotland. It was an enormous advance. I have some sympathy with the English or the Welsh who criticise the position of Scotland in that in some respects it is at an advantage. As for the Scotsmen to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, referred, I keep thinking over this row in Israel that it was the idealism of a Scottish Conservative, A. J. Balfour, which created the whole idea of Israel. This is an important part of the contribution that Scotland has made to world affairs. I feel that it would not aid that contribution if we were to have the devolution which is pictured by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, despite the wisdom and kindness of his speech.
My Lords, those who oppose devolution are perfectly entitled to argue that in their view it will harm Scotland. However, they are not entitled to ignore the fact that the Scots want it. This the Scots have shown for a great number of years. Furthermore they have shown too that they do not want to be governed by a Conservative Government in London. They may be mistaken about that but they have made that abundantly clear and there is no possibility, in my view, of their altering that opinion. Indeed the more they see of this Government the less they like them.Those who oppose devolution are forced to argue either that the Scots are not a nation and are therefore not entitled to decide their own destiny or that, although they are a nation, a parliament is not important to a nation. That is a very odd argument except when put forward in the Palace of Westminster. It is the case that every colony which has shown quite clearly that it wanted self determination has been granted it. Many people thought that they would he worse administered but nevertheless no one ever argued that the possibility of worse administration was a reason for not granting the wishes clearly shown by a nation. I cannot accept that the setting up of a Scottish Grand Committee is very important. I have sat on that committee, as have other noble Lords. Of course it fails, in that it is not elected by the Scots. It has a built-in majority for the majority party in Britain, which is not the majority party in Scotland, and its agenda is set by the Government. Nor do I put much faith in administrative devolution. Of course it is a good thing up to a point but it is no substitute for legislative devolution. It is like saying that as long as the prisons are well run it does not much matter who makes the law. Therefore what the anti-devolutionists have to show is either that they think the Scots are not a nation or that a parliament is not important to a nation. I come now to the economic arguments, which are very peculiar. To begin with one would think that the Scottish economy was flourishing. To hear some speeches from the other side one would think that the Scots were euphoric about their economy. If they were, they would return rather more Conservative Members to Parliament. In point of fact the Scottish economy is in a poor state and that in spite of the fact that oil is still booming. When oil disappears the position will probably be much worse. With Scotland's enormous unemployment and the state of many of its cities and so forth, it is no good telling us that everything is going to be all right in the future. The economic argument is very strange. On one hand we are told that Scottish business and so on is terrified of devolution because it would be so hampered. On the other hand we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Cocks—and it is confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Elliott—that the North of England is terrified that Scotland will get devolution because it will he so much better off. One cannot have it both ways. Either Scotland will be gravely damaged by devolution or it will be much better off. Apparently in the North-East, where the people are pretty shrewd, it is thought that the latter is true. Furthermore, what is the evidence to show that Scotland cannot run its own affairs? What makes the anti-devolutionists think that the Scots are incapable of running their affairs at least as well as the British? It may be that mistakenly the Scots will elect a Labour majority in their assembly. But I am bound to say that Australia seems to have got on rather well with a Labour majority. I am bound to say that Glasgow is a good deal better administered than many cities in England. Therefore, though I am not myself an upholder of the Labour Party, I do not think that that in itself is a reason for denying the Scots the right to run their own affairs. If it is argued that small countries cannot run their own affairs and that only large countries can, then Russia should be the richest country in the world and Switzerland the poorest. This has nothing to do with size. As for taxation, I do not know whether Scottish taxation would go up or down, but there is a strong case for levying in Scotland a different kind of taxation from that in England. There is a strong case, put forward long ago, for reducing taxation in the Highlands instead of having this crazy muddle with subsidies on which even the Government themselves are now going back. I once introduced a Bill for Scottish devolution. I have come to the conclusion that the difficulties in the way are not nearly so big as people think. It must be simple. It should be drafted on the lines of preserving for the British Parliament the essentials and handing over everything else to a Scottish Assembly. It must have two features. It must include taxation and it must include less representation at Westminster. Clearly you cannot have an Assembly and also have a full quota of the present number at Westminster. If that is objected to, then the people must show what is the alternative. The situation is dangerous. It is dangerous for a people who at least feel that they are a nation to believe that they are governed as a colony. It has proved disastrous all over the world, not least in Ireland.
My Lords, I should like first of all to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, even in the space of my five minutes, on his persistence in getting this debate down on the Order Paper. I agree with other noble Lords who have spoken that it is a big subject and is more suitable for a longer debate. There is a lot to he said but shortage of time prevents most of us from saying very much of it.I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, that the Conservative Party should not just sweep the subject of the debate under the carpet and hope it will stay there. Whatever one's views may be, I think they are worth hearine, and discussing in this House and in the other place. It is just as possible that the anti-devolutionists will win the argument as the other way round. Indeed, until the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, spoke, it looked as if the anti-devolutionists were winning the argument here. As there is so little time, I shall come straight to one of the main arguments I wish to put to your Lordships and I hope it is something that will please everybody. It has always seemed to me—and it seems so to many of your Lordships this afternoon—that the principal objection to devolution, though by no means the only objection, is that it would create another layer of government, another crowd of bureaucrats, departments, files and all the rest of it, and that all those things would have to be paid for. Thus in the past I have believed that there were stark alternatives before Scotland: either independence or the incorporating Union as it stands today. That was the situation in 1707 and in this respect I do not think things have changed very much since then. By pure chance, however, it seems to me that one thing has changed. The local government Act of the 1970s swept away our old counties and our long-tried system of local government and substituted the rather absurdly named regions—Grampian, Strathclyde, Tayside and Central, whatever that is supposed to mean. Even today after 12 years these regions have so little acceptance that nearly all Scottish people still talk in terms of the old counties and even post their letters to them. It is significant that that is not the case in England and Wales. The regions are established only in travel brochures, AA maps and so forth, which when one reads them seem to be describing and delineating a foreign country. Your Lordships will have noticed one thing about the regions. More than half the population is in Strathclyde. Strathclyde has within it the Lowland counties of Ayr, Lanark and Renfrew, the half Lowland and half Highland county of Dumbarton and the wholly Highland county of Argyle, including the Gaelic islands of the West, Isla, Tiree, Mull, Colonsay and the others. Strathclyde is thus a microcosm of Scotland as a whole, containing a diversity of historic areas with little to connect them except that they are all part of Scotland. Accordingly, I come to the one proposal I want to put to your Lordships this afternoon. It is that we should have a simple Local Government (Scotland) Act and put the whole of Scotland into Strathclyde. Less than half the population would be affected and a good many of those such as the inhabitants of Stirlingshire would hardly notice it. Having done this, I would suggest that the centre of government be moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh and that the new giant region be renamed Scotland. That short Act would give Scotland devolution. Possibly Parliament might then consider giving the new Council of Scotland more power than is ordinarily enjoyed by local government in other parts of the United Kingdom. There are, after all, precedents for that in Stormont. We might rename the council an assembly, a parliament or, if we want to regain some sense of historic continuity, the Estates. The districts could be renamed counties and some of the boundaries might be redrawn so that people would feel more at home in the places where they live. Why not give it a try? It could hardly be more awful than the mess we are in at present.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said quite simply that the Scots want an Assembly. I take up the feeling of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside, when I say that I particularly welcome this debate as an opportunity for some of us to put part of the record straight on behalf of the large numbers of Scots—it was 30 per cent. last July in The Scotsman MORI poll—who, having given the matter some thought, simply do not agree that the best way forward has to be a Scottish Assembly and the 96 per cent. who at that time regarded other issues as of considerably more importance.The record certainly needs straightening. So often in discussion about devolution in, for example, The Scotsman or the Glasgow Herald it seems to be assumed that the only people who really care about Scotland and its Scottishness are those who want an Assembly or parliament. Everyone else, it seems, is at best insensitive to Scotland's needs or at worst suffering from some kind of disability brought on by too much contact with England. The impression given, intentionally or otherwise, is not only insulting to very many Scots; it is also increasingly alarming. It can only reinforce the growing number of younger people one now meets in southern England who find us Scots interesting mainly for our quaintness and begin to say "If they want to opt out, let them. At least it will mean that we are less likely ever to have a Labour Government again". We ignore that at our peril. Of course we are a nation with a separate history, culture, law and institutions. Of course we want so far as is practicable specifically Scottish decisions to be made by Scots. But at the same time we are a nation within a multi-nation state. Our economy is part of the British economy. We require strong, very strong, representation in the British Cabinet and British Parliament to ensure we get the necessary share of the British cake to meet our special geographical and social needs. We have, as I calculate now, 9 per cent. of the population but we require 11 per cent. of Britain's identifiable public expenditure, which we have, 12 per cent. of education expenditure and 15 per cent. of housing expenditure. It would be very interesting for us Scots to settle down of an evening to television and watch a Scottish Assembly arguing the toss in Edinburgh and it is an attractive notion for politicians, especially those from the Central Belt of Scotland who would hope to dominate. But what would be the cost for the people of Scotland? It would mean higher taxes than in England, as has been said, to pay for it, matching rises in prices, discouragement to incoming and existing industry and jobs, inevitably a loss of clout at Westminster and constant damaging conflict with England about our share of the cake. As it happens, those problems were exactly the reasons why, after 100 years of trying to get the Scottish Parliament to fit into the United Kingdom, in 1707 we were forced to accept that it did not work and decided to get the full benefit, especially the economic benefit, of the United Kingdom Parliament. One day in the future the various parts of Great Britain might decide to go for a federal system. That might suit Scotland very well. In the meantime surely the true interests of Scotland lie in continuing and, if necessary extending the massive devolution we have now to Scottish Ministers and the Scottish Office, with its small branch office in Whitehall. And there is room for greater devolution, particularly, one suspects, in greater freedom for the Secretary of State for Scotland from constraints on the balance of his spending imposed by the Treasury. If we want more devolution, let us extend a system that works rather than build a whole new expensive edifice that clearly will not work.
My Lords, I am in favour of devolution by evolution. I certainly hesitate to contemplate the enormity of a change as dramatic as that which has been painted, not only in this House but in another House, and which would so radically alter the management of the affairs of Scotland that the Scottish people, to all intents and purposes, become a separate nation state.I listened very carefully indeed to the words of my noble friend Lord Cocks. I served in the Whips' Office at the same time as he did in another place and I can certainly support what he said, which was that as one saw the economic advantages which would accrue to a major element from devolution one realised there were others who were wretched in their economic circumstances and who saw that as a disadvantage. One of the problems which this Parliament—not necessarily during the present Session, but at some time in the future—may have to face is that of trying to get the balance right. I believe that, for good or ill, in the past the British people have been moving more and more towards a unity, not only a unity of purpose but also a unity in organisation. When one looks at the range of matters, such as big business, that affect the welfare of people one sees that more and more of our businesses are managed not as separate entities but as national if not multinational businesses. Many of the businesses that were at one time Scottish are now an element and a part of a new business which is managed nationally. When one looks at transport, at roads, at entertainment and at television and radio one sees that barriers have been broken down. Speaking in this debate I am very conscious that I cannot possibly speak with the background, the history and the emotion of the Scottish people, but I respect very much the fact that there is a Scottish dimension not merely on this issue but on many other issues. When one looks at devolution for Scotland, one also looks at the consequences for other parts of the United Kingdom. For example, as regards the consequences of a greater devolution of power to the people of Northern Ireland, there are many people in this country who say that they wish we could get rid of what they consider to be bleak or black aspects of Northern Ireland being part of the United Kingdom. Yet we who have to face the terrible consequences of actions of this kind cannot simply look at such issues in terms of last year, this year or next year. We must try to have what I modestly call a historical perspective. For good or ill, we have to make the best of major changes of that kind. We have to improve what the people have. I can understand the people of Scotland, who returned 50 Labour MPs out of the 70-odd, feeling very upset at the consequences that are being visited upon them as a result of having in Westminster a government who are not the kind of government they should have liked. But the answer for them is to bring about change by persuasion. I live in Edmonton, and I remember when the London borough of Enfield was created out of Southgate. Enfield and Edmonton. There were a great many people who did not wish to come together, and who yearn even now for the days when they were separate bits. But, sadly, one has to recognise that time does not stand still, that these changes that have been made have to be tackled energetically and imaginatively. Centralisation is one thing. I only hope that the Government will recognise in their response that the people of Scotland are entitled to be treated seriously as a major region, if not a separate national entity within the United Kingdom. They deserve better treatment from this Government than they have had up to now.
My Lords, as one of the few English speakers, I intervene because, as was the case when this matter was discussed nine or 10 years ago, my foremost concern is still the possible grave implications for the unity of the United Kingdom in the event of devolved government for Scotland.One cannot debate the subject without considering the English dimension and that of the United Kingdom as a whole. One must emphasise that England represents 83 per cent. of the United Kingdom electorate, as against some 9 per cent. for Scotland. To me it almost defies belief that after the disastrous consequences to the last Labour Government of the devolution saga of 10 years ago the Labour Party appears to want to get entangled again in something so emotive and complicated as devolution. However, that is a matter for it. I do not see any great evidence of the Scottish people wanting devolution. There were various polls in The Scotsman at the time of the last general election. It was only about 4 per cent., I seem to recall, who felt that devolution was of any great importance. The rock on which any future devolution would again founder is not just how many seats at Westminster Scotland should have, but the intractable—what used to be called the West Lothian—obstacle which the Labour Party refuses to recognise because there is no answer. At present there is a considerable disparity between the size of the electorates per constituency in England and Scotland. In England, the average electorate is about 68,000 and in Scotland about 55,500. This discrepancy at the moment can be perfectly well justified on the grounds that Scotland has certain special problems and features. In some quarters it is felt that there is a degree of insensitivity to Scottish problems. At the time of the devolution Bill in the late 1970s, it was becoming clear that in the event of devolution there would have to be a substantial reduction in the number of Scottish MPs. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond has said that his party now agrees with this. I think that almost everyone, with the exception of the real diehards in the Labour Party, is probably agreed that that would be so. However, this still does not deal with the crux of the problem which is that after devolution there would still be a block of Scottish MPs able to vote on domestic English affairs while English MPs would not be able to vote on domestic Scottish affairs. Nor for that matter would Scottish MPs at Westminster be able to vote on domestic Scottish affairs. In other words, after devolution Scotland would be able to determine its domestic policies by electing the party she wanted in Edinburgh, but in England the electors would need to elect the party they wanted with a sufficient majority at Westminster to overcome any adverse or contrary majority of the other party deriving from Scotland. In my opinion, devolution for one part of a unitary state would raise the gravest constitutional problems. It is relevant to point out that on three occasions since the war Labour Governments have been in the minority amongst English MPs. As I have said, England accounts for 83 per cent. of the electorate. As of now, this is a tolerable situation. But after devolution it would not be. In my opinion there would be all the ingredients for chaos, confusion and conflict, setting Englishman against Scotsman. There would be a narrow, inward-looking assembly with Edinburgh at loggerheads with Westminster and the union would be in jeopardy.
My Lords, I cannot see that there is any case for devolved government in Scotland. Nothing that I have heard today from proponents of devolution has caused me to change my mind. Indeed I am convinced even more than 10 years ago that devolution is based on frantic sentimentalism and electoral expediency which will do nothing whatever to help Scottish people, their economy or welfare. A decade ago there was a feeling in some quarters that devolution had become respectable because of the rise of the SNP. It was thought that the SNP had become mature and responsible. But where are they now? I do not hear this great call for devolution from Scottish people.Much has already been said by other noble Lords about the Labour Party's proposals. But one thing the Labour Party has continually glossed over is the so-called West Lothian question mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ellenborough. That concerns the role of Scottish Members of Parliament after devolution in the House of Commons. An honourable Member in another place, Mr. Dewar, replied when the problem was put to him—I quote from the Glasgow Herald of 18th November last year—that it did not need to be answered. This ostrich-like mentality towards difficulties is indicative of the Opposition's confusion towards devolution. Similarly, the Liberals have also got it wrong, though they have been getting it wrong for several decades with their belief in a Scottish parliament and federalism which is essentially flawed. Federalism by definition must require several different units to make up the federation. This must therefore lead to the complete break-up of the United Kingdom and to many semiautonomous regions. I do not think that there is a call for such a drastic change, nor is there any proof that it would provide better government.
Would the noble Lord say that there is a drastic situation in West Germany?
One of the points about federalism is that it must require equal partners within its different constituent parts. I do not think you would get that by splitting up England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland because England would always be the major partner unless England were split up. I do not think there is any call for splitting England up.My main fear of devolution, however, is its implied threat over Scottish industry. Currently, businesses, especially multinationals, have to plan ahead for several years in their employment and investment strategy. If they ever believed that a Scottish Assembly with tax-raising powers was a serious possibility, they would change their views towards investment in Scotland quite dramatically. A few months ago a group called the Scottish Financial Enterprise gave a number of your Lordships a brief talk in a Committee Room upstairs. The group was set up by the Scottish financial services industry to promote its excellent record of employment and expertise in Scotland. What came over strongly was that employment in financial services in Scotland has grown from 56,000 in 1971 to over 85,000 today, plus a further 45,000 jobs in other related activities. This is more than twice those employed in the traditional industries of mining and shipbuilding, as well as the technological industry of electronics. It is therefore an extremely important sector. We were left in no doubt at all at the meeting that the prospect of devolution would seriously diminish the role of the financial services industry in Scotland's economy. Any discussion to promote devolution must surely show that people would be better served by it. I do not feel that this has been proved. Indeed, only the bugbears of an economy such as civil servants and more bureaucracy would do well. Scottish people I meet complain about government. It does not really matter of what persuasion that government is or whether it is based in London, Edinburgh or even Brussels. We should not be talking about more government for Scotland but less restrictive and better government for Scotland. I believe that this would gain the support of men and women all over Scotland.
My Lords, to me the government and administration of Scotland are a mess. We in your Lordships' House and those in another place add to this mess from time to time by the ill-judged way in which we sometimes pass laws on Scotland without fully digesting the effect that they will have.The government and administration of Scotland are like an old darned sock which is so full of patches that the original knitting can hardly be seen. As noble Lords will know, that kind of a sock produces friction, discomfort, blisters and pain. I feel that the government and administration of Scotland as it stands at the moment produce among the people of Scotland friction, discomfort and pain much too often. When we talk about devolution we are really talking about refooting the sock, as it were. We are talking about looking at the whole government of Scotland and putting the power to where it should be. This afternoon we have heard a lot in the debate about the disadvantages of a particular Bill for an Assembly in Scotland but we have failed to look at the fact that the reorganisation of local government in Scotland was put through as a substitute for devolution. It was meant by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wheatley, and his committee to be a substitute that would take the heat out of the devolution argument. In my opinion regionalisation destroyed in one enactment what dedicated Scots men and women had taken centuries to build up. It destroyed at local level our sense of identity, cohesion and community. In my view the noble and learned Lord and his committee did as much harm to Scotland as "Butcher" Cumberland and Patrick Sellar combined. A sense of identity and community is essential in times of change, and we live in times of change. The whole world lives in times of change. We are in times of industrial change and social change. If we do not have a sense of identity and community we cannot contribute properly to the changes which are taking place in our midst. It is as essential to the individuals who make up the community as a sense of nationality. Indeed it is more important than a sense of nationality, because a nation is a sum of its communities and not the other way round. One does not make the country first and then divide it up. One develops the communities and then amalgamates them into nations. It seems to me that what we have done to Scotland is to do away with the bottom tier and with the communities which made up the nation of Scotland. We should not be afraid of giving Scotland back its full identity as a nation, because one cannot get unity by force. One can only get it by agreement. I suspect that the majority of the Members of your Lordships' House are parents and grandparents. I ask noble Lords how one holds a family together. One does not hold it together by refusing to allow one's teenagers to make any decisions for themselves but by giving them encouragement and by showing that one is prepared to treat them as equals. Then they will treat their parents as equals and they will contribute to the whole family. That is what we are asking to happen in Scotland. We have heard that industry does not like the idea of devolution. I can tell the House from personal experience that Caithness Glass would never have been founded without the help and the backing of the local communities. My noble friend Lord Mackie of Benshie will confirm that that firm, which he led with such distinction for so many years, would not have been able to continue through the stormy seas it went through without the support of local communities and the patriotic spirit which kept it going in difficult times. I shall finish by mentioning a survey which I heard reported on a radio programme as I was driving in the car. It had taken place in different areas of the country where there was high prosperity and low prosperity. Obviously the South-East of England had high prosperity and Scotland tended to have low prosperity. But in Scotland two towns have vastly differing rates of prosperity. The new town of Irvine, with all its government subsidies and all the assistance that it received from the Board of Trade and various departments, was one of the poorest and least prosperous places in which to live. Inverness, with all the disadvantages of being in the Highlands, was one of the most prosperous. My explanation for this is simple: no decisions are made in Irvine and all the decisions for one-fifth of the landmass of Britain are made in Inverness, because that is the centre of government for the whole of the Highlands area. If one gave back power to Scotland one would get cooperation from Scotland and prosperity in Scotland and England would be improved.
My Lords, I suppose I should really declare an interest in that my forebear the first Lord Polwarth was Lord Chancellor of Scotland during the later days of the Scottish Parliament which then existed. I do not think that I see any proposals from the other side to resuscitate that ancient office.I am very grateful personally to the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, who said some quite unmerited words about me, but I am sure that we are all grateful to him too for having raised this subject. The number of speakers has been clear evidence of the great interest that Scotland takes in its affairs and perhaps gives the lie to the noble Lord's suggestion that we are not sufficiently representative of interests in Scotland. I think that we have a pretty broad experience among us all of most aspects of Scottish life. The consequence of these numbers is that we do not have time to have a proper debate. We have no time to probe and to question statements that have been made. But I should just question the statement that was made so bluntly from other quarters of the House that there is a strong demand among the Scottish people for a Scottish Assembly, let alone one with taxing powers. I do not think that any evidence was produced to justify those very outright statements. But time is running on and I should just like to say a few words on what we really need. I do not believe—my noble friends Lord Goold and Lord Strathclyde put it so well—that more government is what is needed by what is effectively Scotland's life blood; namely, her industry, her commerce, her agriculture, her forestry and her fishing—the creative parts of the Scottish economy. On the whole all government can do is to try to make better conditions in which they can flourish. When governments go further than that they tend frankly to obstruct. What we need is not fragmentation; Scotland is part of the United Kingdom and part of the European Community. All the trends today are towards breaking down barriers and harmonising former differences. Trade and industry depend particularly heavily in Scotland on their international links. That will become increasingly the case. I believe that the creation of an Assembly would almost inevitably increase tax if it had taxing powers and create one more obstacle to the free flow of economic activity across borders which has done so much for us in the past. My experience over a number of years in trying to help to bring industry to Scotland is that what companies seek is the stability provided, first, by the English language—I hope I may call it that in this context—and, secondly, by our customs, our ethics and a well understood system of rules and of government. Once we introduce variety into this we are in grave danger of warning people off. I should like to make reference again to my own experience, this time in Canada. Up to about 11 years ago Quebec housed the headquarters of a large number of major Canadian companies and the international headquarters of companies from all over the world. There was then a government with separatist tendencies, who raised taxation to a higher level than that in the rest of the country. Industry and commerce took fright. There was a massive exodus to the more stable and predictable climate of neighbouring Ontario. At the time I was the director of a great Canadian company and we had much heart-searching before we made the decision to move. However, in retrospect it was the only thing to do. Sadly, if you go to Montreal now you will see many large empty office blocks. Only a handful of major companies have stuck it out by keeping their headquarters in Montreal. Finally, I should like to quote the words of Pope, which have been given to me by my noble friend Lord Selkirk. He said:
"On forms of government, let fools contest.
I believe that that is the line we ought to take. By all means, let us look at further scope for devolving power through the Scottish Office and other departments with major branches in Scotland. We have built a strong position in Scotland and I suggest that that is much healthier than is suggested by some of the more pessimistic utterances which we have heard today. We have built up that position as an integral part of the United Kingdom and through our world-wide connections. We must not jeopardise that position by tinkering with a constitution which has stood us in good stead for 280 years.What e'er is best administered is best".
My Lords, I am an English Peer and, as such, totally Strange. I am also Scottish. I live and farm in Scotland and I was educated in Scotland at, I believe, an older university than that at which the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, was educated. I am also totally Drummond. I speak, as it were, with a Scottish hat. However, lest your Lordships should find that reminiscent of Bernard in "Yes, Minister", I should perhaps say a Scottish bonnet. I shall not mix my metaphors by introducing my noble friend's cakes or the darned socks of the noble Viscount!My five times great-grandfather, Adam Drummond of Megginch, was a member of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and one of the commissioners who negotiated the union of parliaments in 1707. There was then so much poverty, intrigue and bureaucracy in Scotland that he was convinced that only a complete union of parliaments could save the Scottish economy and ensure the future prosperity of the Scottish people. Far from being the end of an old sang, it was the beginning of a lot of jolly good tunes. Two hundred and eighty years on things have not changed. In April 1987 the Scottish CBI said that an Assembly would mean increased taxation, more bureaucracy and possible misdirection of public funds. The General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress has said that he will not support a Scottish Assembly unless it dramatically improves the quality of life in Scotland. My Lords, it would not. I am sure that your Lordships are wondering what has happened to my English hat. What advantage has accrued to us English by the union? We have gained the telephone, the steam engine, tarmacadam roads, television, helicopters and many other useful things. The husband of my noble friend Lady Elliot has saved Westminster Hall for us. We have gained Prime Ministers, a Lord Chancellor and many other distinguished people in life. I think that your Lordships will agree that the Scottish and indeed the Welsh Peers have contributed much to this House, as have the Scottish Members of another place. After 280 years we have become one nation with one Parliament. We can all wear the common hat of being British, for we are all uncommonly proud of being part of Great Britain.
My Lords, when I read the list of speakers in today's debate, my regret was that the House had not moved to Edinburgh for the debate. I am sure that it would have enhanced the reputation of the House in its concern for Scottish affairs.We are not discussing political slogans about Scottish nationalism; we are discussing an exercise in constitutional devolution. As the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, said in his opening speech, it is not useful, and neither do we have the time, to discuss details. There is a great deal of detail to be discussed on the issue. However, I address the issue on the basis of the simple proposition that I support a greater devolution of government for the sake of the democratic well-being of the country. If there is one thing this country has suffered from, it is too great a concentration of political and economic power. The increase of mergers in the economic and industrial fields and the increasing power of central government, which has been a feature of the legislation of this Government, are damaging to the democratic idea and practice. Therefore, I support the proposition that there should be a greater degree of devolution. That proposition need not frighten away Scottish industry. I should do nothing that would be injurious to the welfare of Scottish industry, for I have spent a good deal of my time attracting industry to Scotland. It would not be a disservice to the financial institutions of Edinburgh, which are able to communicate with all parts of the world by means of electronic systems. It would not destroy our prospects of bringing companies into Scotland. Indeed, it might enhance them. As I understand the present position in Scotland, the Exxon Corporation is paying £9 million to the Fife County Council in rates at the present time. If it had put its factory south of the Border, the tax burden would have been £1.2 million. Industry is being punished in the present situation because of the unfortunate rating system which exists. I support the general proposition of devolution because it counters the increasing centralisation of power. Governments and other institutions south of the Border have shown a certain insensitivity to the Scottish people and their feelings. I shall give two illustrations. Recently the Nature Conservancy Council, which has some statutory authority, declared that the Highlands of Scotland should have no more planting of trees for the next two or three years. Recently it had a press conference in London to announce the freeze in the development of forestry and consequent loss of jobs in the north of Scotland. It did not consult the Highlands and Islands Development Board. That sort of behaviour provides the necessary propaganda for the Scottish Nationalists. The imposition of the poll tax on Scotland before it is imposed on England is another matter that offends the sensitivity of Scottish people. We are not going to be guinea-pigs and have a poll tax imposed on us. Unfortunately, the insensitivity which I have mentioned encourages wrong attitudes on the part of Scottish people. The chairman of British Aerospace went to Prestwick recently to congratulate the workers on the production of the Jetstream aircraft. One of the workers met him and said, "You have come here to close us down". The chairman replied, "I have come to congratulate you on your achievement. Why should I close you down?". The worker replied, "Because we are Scottish". It is that sort of attitude, encouraged by Scottish Nationalists, which is wrong. They are exploiting the decent instincts and pride of the Scottish people and exaggerating some of the issues. I am in favour of devolution—devolution on certain conditions. The first is that we abolish one tier of government in Scotland if we are to have a Scottish Assembly. We do not want an increase in the bureaucracy or expenses of government in Scotland; so one tier of government would require to go. Secondly, I am in favour of devolution in Scotland as part of an exercise in national devolution of power in the United Kingdom and not necessarily as an isolated Scottish affair. Thirdly, I am in favour of making government more responsible to the Scottish people, giving them a greater sense of involvement by electing any new Assembly on the basis of proportional representation. I do not want another Strathclyde Mark 2 sitting in Edinburgh. That would be a duplication of government and it would not be totally representative. We would avoid some of the distortions that exist in local government in Scotland if there were a system of proportional representation in which minorities felt that they had a voice. They do not have that at the moment. On those bases I would certainly support the general proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, without necessarily agreeing with him on all the details which are contained in the Labour Party programme.
My Lords, I am only too pleased to thank my noble friend Lord Morton of Shuna for having initiated the debate today. It is some indication of the general interest in the subject that there were so many speakers in the debate. Obviously it is impossible to deal with all the issues from this side of the House, but the general points will be considered or have been dealt with in the past.The first thing to say is that as far as concerns my noble friend and myself, this debate has nothing to do with separation. We have never been involved with separation. For a long time I have regarded separation as a rather infantile type of politics. I am sure that that is the sort of remark that will not make me popular in one or two parts of my own area. I think it is important to mention the last referendum, which was held in 1979. Noble Lords will remember that at that time there was a consensus throughout Scotland that some form of devolved government was required. It has frequently been commented upon and was mentioned again most pertinently last year in another place. Malcolm Rifkind was keen to remind us in the late 1970s that he had campaigned for 10 years for a directly elected Assembly. He dismissed opponents of devolution as "diehards" and "last ditchers". He said that devolution was necessary because on top of the demand of national sentiment there should be added:
He went so far as to say that for Scotland to have a legal system without a legislature to improve, modernise and amend it was "a crazy anomaly". To some extent the noble Lord, Lord Home, who deservedly commands great respect in all parts of the House, agreed with the general sentiment that some change in the system was needed because of the rate of change in the modern world. He spoke in terms of there being too much power in London, but he wanted decentralisation and improved administration. Turning again to the referendum of 1979, Mrs. Thatcher, who was Leader of the Conservative Party at the time, and the noble Lord, Lord Home, went to great lengths to tell the people of Scotland that to vote no would not mean an end to devolution but would lead to all-party talks. I was very close to Conservative Party members in my former constituency and to be quite honest I think they felt rather lonely—unlike in the days of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, when she knew the old Kelvingrove. They had become a small group and were mainly in favour of devolution until the statement from the noble Lord, Lord Home, which carried great weight. They were persuaded that a no vote would be correct, so they voted no. In the referendum 63 per cent. voted, 37 per cent. abstained and there was just a slight majority. I must admit that I was not willing to have devolution on the basis of the size of that majority. The figures of the noble Lord, Lord Goold, on the survey of Scottish business do not quite match with the figures that I have been given on that survey. Perhaps he would give me an analysis and let me know how he arrived at his figures. According to my reckoning only 29 per cent. of those who were asked replied and only 17 per cent. of those asked agreed with the Government in opposing devolution. All of us in Scotland, and people from many parts of the United Kingdom, are worried about the concentration of power and decision-making in the London area. Devolution is an attempt to reverse this trend and return power first to Scotland and then to other parts of the United Kingdom. I believe that a Scottish Assembly, using the various Acts that are available, would be able to rejuvenate the Scottish economy. Responsible Ministers would be much closer to business and local government in Scotland. We believe on this side of the House that that is the way the world is going and that sooner or later Scotland will have its own devolved Assembly within the United Kingdom."the need for good government, good administration and a better deal for Scottish people within the United Kingdom".
My Lords, first of all may I go along with everyone who has congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, for instigating the debate. It is a welcome chance to discuss this important subject, and I am very pleased that so many people have seen fit to join in. As my noble friend Lord Belhaven and Stenton said, it proves that in this House we are not prepared to sweep under the carpet this very important subject, which I believe has to be debated at very regular intervals.I should like to single out for special mention those noble Lords who do not live in Scotland but who have taken part in the debate. I do so quite deliberately because this subject is of relevance not just to those of us who live in Scotland but to the whole of the United Kingdom. I especially welcomed the speeches from my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth and the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton, as well as the amusing but very straight and important speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cocks. Those who, like my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth and myself, live on either side of the border have no yearning to return to the days of cross-border differences. I echo the words of my noble friend Lord Home who said in Edinburgh this week:
I found those words about unity very important. They were echoed, if I heard them right, in the speeches of my noble friends Lord Selkirk, Lady Elliot and Lady Strange. I shall come back to the subject of wealth and wealth creation later in my remarks. Those words about unity took me back to my noble friend Lord Pym's analysis in a pamphlet written in December 1978 on the devolution issue when he wrote:"With Scotland in unity with England, the United Kingdom in unity with Europe and Europe in unity with the Atlantic Community, there can be no threat to our increasing wealth".
He added that,"Each part of the state must belong to the union on similar and compatible terms so that all citizens are members of the state on the same basis bearing the same relationship to those in power and authority at each level of government".
This was referred to in the speech of my noble friend Lord Home when he talked about the United States. It must be the starting point, in my view, for any debate on devolution, because in your Lordships' House, although we differ on many things, we are essentially all unionists. I was very interested in, and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Saltoun, for, a very clever speech on the subject of marriage. I was always told that for a good marriage one had to work very hard at it. That is true of any union and in particular, as the noble Baroness pointed out, a marriage between England and Scotland. We have a common belief in the importance of the union. And just as good plants have to be tended carefully to grow, so we have to be very sensitive to the problems and opportunities that lie within a united kingdom such as our own. Many noble Lords taking part in this debate lived and worked in Scotland during the 1970s when, in modern parlance, one could describe devolution as the flavour of the decade. We had the Kilbrandon Commission in 1973, White Papers in 1974 and 1975, minor ones in 1976–77, and the Scotland and Wales Bills in 1976 and 1977, as the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, has reminded us. The Scotland Bill was one of the most complex ever to come before Parliament but, in my view and that of many others, fundamentally flawed. It is right to point out that at that time The Scotsman said that the provisions for devolution in the Bill suited party rather than Scottish democracy. Neither that Bill nor the one unveiled by the Labour Party in November takes proper account of the role of Scottish Members of Parliament at Westminster or the role and status of the Secretary of State. Those of us in this Chamber who are unionists must be concerned to avoid a constitutional change that would weaken Scotland's place in the United Kingdom. I agree wholeheartedly with those who say that any form of unilateral devolution would gravely weaken Scotland's involvement and influence within the United Kingdom. I was very interested in—and I have seen myself—the situation in Canada where there has been an exodus of many businesses from the state of Quebec to Ontario. I agree with those who have talked about the slippery slope to independence. Although I quite understand the response of the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, when he says that this debate will have nothing to do with separation, I do not think that one can completely forget the possibility of a slippery slope to independence if we do not get our constitutional change absolutely right. In passing, can I say how much I agree with my noble friend Lady Carnegy. I find it very strange that those who seek to preserve the union and all that it means and who find fault with devolution plans brought forward by any party can be branded as being against the best interests of Scotland. On the contrary, I would argue that they are the guardians of the Scottish interest. It is crucial for the good government of Scotland that the position of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is safeguarded so that Scotland and its people's views are fully represented with authority at the Cabinet table. I make this point in a non-partisan way. I am very well aware of the long line of Secretaries of State for Scotland of different political persuasions who have been able to argue Scotland's case within Cabinet. And this has been very much in Scotland's interest. I come now to a point raised in a very interesting speech by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilson of Langside. He said that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Morton, had oversimplified the situation. I believe we have to be absolutely certain before we move that the role of the Secretary of State for Scotland is safe and that the whole question of Scottish representation at Westminster is not put in jeopardy. This was acknowledged by the leader of the Liberal Party in his speech in another place on 23rd November. However, unlike the leader of the Liberal Party, I regard the loss of an effective Scottish voice at the highest level as an unacceptably high price to pay for devolution. On the West Lothian question, I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Cocks, say that he had had a tremendous amount of trouble within his own party. He will have known this subject only too well when it was before him in another place and argued very forcibly by the present Member of Parliament for Linlithgow—the creation of a Scottish Assembly with substantial powers that would exclude English, Welsh and Northern Ireland Members of Parliament from debates and votes on most Scottish issues. However, most Scottish Members would retain the right to speak and to vote on all United Kingdom issues including those concerning England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This question was referred to by my noble friends Lord Ellenborough and Lord Strathclyde. Unlike some, I believe it has to be answered. It is a ludicrous anomaly that would immediately arise in the course of the new situation. We have to address the issue very thoroughly and have a proper answer. I do not think that it is good enough to toss the matter off and to say, as some do, that it will work out all right. I fully accept, however, the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Mackie of Benshie, and others that a federal system with proportional representation, as proposed by the Liberal Party, is a logical approach. It avoids some of the pitfalls of the proposals in the Scotland Act 1978 and the current measure put forward by the Labour Party. It is logical, if one is determined to introduce some form of devolution. However, federalism assumes willing partners. Federalism cannot be introduced for one part of the United Kingdom in isolation. The Government see no evidence of a demand across the board for such a major constitutional change. I do not think it is only on the Benches behind me that Members feel that they cannot support a change to proportional representation. This subject has been debated quite recently in another place. I turn now to one of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, about the Conservative Party not having a mandate to govern in Scotland. I find this a surprising argument. The Labour Party cannot have it both ways. After the last election, which was fought on a UK basis, the Government received a UK mandate. Labour governments of the United Kingdom have relied in the past on their Scottish and Welsh Members for majorities. There is nothing wrong in that. In 1964 and 1974 there was no suggestion that they had no mandate to govern the rest of the United Kingdom despite the fact that it was Scotland that gave them their slim overall majority. I say in all sincerity that if the Labour Party wants to govern Britain let it set out its policies so that people nationwide have a chance to endorse them. For it to claim to set up a parliament in Scotland, which it believes it can control, is surely not the best way forward for a unionist party. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Graham of Edmonton who comes from the north of England and understands the position in that part of the country. He said very sincerely that we have to think through the consequences of devolution for Scotland or anywhere else in the United Kingdom. It has been said that a separate legal system would lead inevitably to a separate Scottish Assembly. But the absence of a Scottish Assembly has not prevented a whole raft of distinct legislation for Scotland being built up over the years. In many areas Scottish legislation has been of a pioneering nature. I am not referring to the community charge Bill. There are such things as the licensing laws which were referred to in the House earlier today. We have been told how much better we had done our business in Scotland than we had south of the border. There was the 1980 Bill banning drink at football grounds; there was the establishment of children's panels. Those are three examples of very good Scottish legislation showing the way forward. Whatever views we might hold of particular pieces of legislation, there can be no doubt that it is perfectly possible to legislate for Scotland under the present arrangements in a way which takes full account of the Scottish dimension. I noted carefully what my noble friend Lord Home said about Scottish legislation and perhaps the Scottish Grand Committee meeting more often in Edinburgh. After the 1979 election, as your Lordships will know, meetings of the Grand Committee started to take place in Scotland. Second Readings of a number of Scottish Bills took place in that committee. But I shall take back what has been said in the debate so that we can consider the situation. I come now to what I believe to be a very important consideration which is topical with the announcement on the industrial front yesterday of changes in regional support. We are all interested in creating wealth in Scotland and in seeing a vibrant Scottish economy. I was glad to see the welcome for the announcements we made yesterday given by the Scottish CBI and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. A distinguished Member of the House, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, is a member of that council. I cannot take on board exactly what my noble friend Lord Ferrier said about the Scottish press. Some might say so, but I was only too pleased to see, coming from the middle of a development area in Dundee, a headline saying, "A fairer system for business grants". That is what we hoped would have been the message that we conveyed to Scotland. I was also grateful for the support given by all sections of the House in support of the Scottish Development Agency at the recent passing through the House of the Bill increasing its borrowing powers. Despite the siren voices, I think it is a great credit that in the last year or so we have seen £13·50 of private money to £1 of taxpayers' pump-priming money going into industrial investment in Scotland. There were very much lower figures in earlier years. That must be good. I have to say with all sincerity and with all the power at my command to the noble Lord, Lord Morton of Shuna, that I reject his words just before Christmas in this House when he called the 1980s in Scotland a dead decade of lost opportunities. Having lived in an industrial context in Scotland through the 1970s and 1980s I just do not recognise those words. I very much supported the views of my noble friend Lord Goold in the debate today. Yes, indeed, as has been said by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, change on the industrial front has been very great. It had to be; but I reject strongly the idea that it is a dead decade of lost opportunities. Far from it. We now move on to the Bill which is proposed by the Labour Party to vary the power of taxation. I cannot believe that that means reduced taxation. Therefore, we have to look at a possible extra tax burden on individuals and industry. In 1985–86, the last year for which figures are available, income tax in Scotland amounted to £3·4 billion. It takes no mathematical genius to work out that every £100 million of extra revenue would require an increase in tax of about 3 per cent. How on earth can that be described as beneficial to the encouragement of business and job creation? I do not see it. If the noble Lord had sat, as I did in the recent past, in boardrooms sanctioning capital expenditure in Scotland, he would know that had there been the remotest chance of a threat of increased taxation, those sitting round the boardroom table would have taken very different decisions. I do not believe that people have thought through seriously the implications for industry and commerce of higher taxes in Scotland. I have to say to my noble friend Lord Elliott of Morpeth that it might bring comfort to him to have taxation higher in Scotland than in England, but it would be devastating for Scottish industry. I have heard that there is a clamour for devolution in Scotland. I do not see a demand for it. In assessing demand, polls have their uses and they would seem to follow a consistent pattern. However, we remain prepared to consider constructive changes in the machinery of government and I have been most interested by what has been said during the debate by my noble friend Lord Home and others about the machinery of government in Scotland. I hope we are not seen, as one noble Lord said, as dictators at the Scottish Office. Let us hope not. I think that our doors are perhaps somewhat more open than those of some other departments, but that is a matter of opinion. The arrangements for the government of Scotland which have evolved over nearly three centuries represent, like most of our unwritten constitution, a triumph of experience over theory. I believe that the real issues that matter in Scotland are jobs, health, housing and education. We must not be diverted from those essentials by attempts at constitutional change such as the Scotland Bill—"the line for responsibility must be absolutely dear so that a citizen is certain where power, responsibility and authority for any decision lie".
My Lords, the time allotted for this debate has now elapsed. Does the noble Lord wish to withdraw his Motion?
My Lords, I think it might be better if I moved to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
rose to call attention to the growing problem of environmental pollution; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, before I address the subject of the debate this afternoon I should like to say how much I look forward to the two maiden speeches we are to hear: those from the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. I am sure that they will both contribute well to the debate. Perhaps I may also welcome the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, to his first environmental debate. I cannot promise that he will not have some critical questions to answer, but I promise to put them as nicely as I can.
It is generally accepted that environmental pollution is increasing. What I hope to do in the short time available is to sketch the range of problems with which we are faced, to consider attitudes to those problems and, where possible, to suggest solutions or some alleviations. It may be helpful at this stage to define what we mean by "pollution". For this, I turn to the tenth report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution with which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will be very familiar. It defines pollution as:
"The introduction by man into the environment of substances or energy liable to cause hazards to human health. harm to living resources and ecological systems, damage to structures or amenity, or interference with legitimate uses of the environment".
The commission described that as a useful working definition. I believe that is still true.
There can be little doubt that world-wide public concern about environmental pollution is growing. Scarcely a day passes without some evidence of new problems or some report about action on old problems. Only yesterday we heard of the setting up in Sweden of an international team of scientists to look at threats to the ozone layer. Today there is a large article in the Independent newspaper on the situation of environmental pollution—and this goes on almost daily.
Here at home there is evidence that more and more people are beginning to identify environmental pollution as a personal concern. The Nature Conservancy Council commissioned a poll in 1987 to examine attitudes in the United Kingdom towards nature conservation. The findings are published in their magazine Topical Issues of November last year. They make interesting reading. I shall quote, if I may, from the results of the poll. It was a poll carried out by MORI on a sample of 2,043 adults, which is a quite normal sample for this sort of poll.
People were asked what they regarded as major national problems, and more than two out of three cited unemployment. That is 70 per cent. of those asked. Other perceived major problems included nuclear waste, 49 per cent.; pollution of the environment, 48 per cent. One in three said it affected him personally. This showed a considerable increase over the last Nature Conservancy Council poll, which was taken one or two years previously.
The European Year of the Environment activities have proved of great public interest. What appears to be lacking is government action to match. So let us now look at some of the main problem areas. I pick out a few which attract most attention. The list is not complete and I do not offer it in any order of priority. I mention particularly air pollution, water pollution, marine pollution, acid deposition, noise, litter and waste disposal, because those are the things about which people seem to be most concerned. All those were identified in the Royal Commission's tenth report, and they are still with us.
We have an unhappy record on air pollution. For example, we have been very slow to introduce unleaded petrol and are still doing nothing to encourage its use. Until unleaded petrol is being used, progress on the use of catalytic converters is delayed. The number of cars in the world has increased from 38 million to 350 million over the past 40 years. The United States leads the world in emission control. Canada, Japan and Australia are following its lead, and even South Korea and Brazil are introducing emission limits. In Europe, some countries, notably West Germany, offer financial incentives for the sale of clean catalytic cars.
Where is Britain in all this? The impression is that we are to delay until it is forced upon us. Perhaps the Minister can correct this impression today. I hope he can.
There is evidence that the general improvement in water quality up to 1980 has ceased, and indeed is now reducing. We need to redefine our parameters. For example, should not nature conservation be included as a separate water quality objective? This single act would have an enormous effect on the water quality objectives, and I think would be a very helpful move.
Total pollution incidents have increased from 10,797 in 1980–81 to a staggering 20,414 in 1986–87 in England and Wales. They have nearly doubled in six years, suggesting that all potential polluters—water authorities, industrialists and farmers—are still not taking sufficient care in controlling toxic waste. Although water authorities have the power to prosecute offenders, only 232 prosecutions were taken on in 1986–87. This is 1 per cent. of the total reported incidents. It is an indication that water authorities could pursue a greater number of prosecutions if they wished. Perhaps their reluctance to prosecute is influenced by the fact that they are so often themselves the guilty party in these incidents.
I welcome the news given to us in November that the Government are to adopt a positive attitude towards the discharge of dangerous substances to water. I look forward to seeing the detailed proposals in due course, and perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us when we can expect to see them.
A more difficult problem perhaps is the question of nitrates which come from diffuse and unidentifiable sources. The Water Authorities Association has recently published a useful summary of views on water quality. It is interesting to see one of its suggested ways of reducing nitrate levels, about
which it is very concerned. In The Water Briefing, which came out a few weeks ago, it says:
"One solution is the designation of water protection zones in which agricultural activity would be restricted in order to keep nitrate levels in source water within acceptable levels. This now requires action by Government.".
The question of water protection zones has been raised in this House on many occasions. Can the Minister say what the present government thinking is and whether they are taking any positive steps in that direction?
Marine pollution problems have tended to focus on the North Sea, and rightly so because that is at the moment the most pressing problem. While welcoming the fact that we are now, however slowly and painfully, working towards some action, we hope that in taking measures to protect the North Sea it will not be supposed that problems can simply be transferred to the Irish Sea. We should surely be seeking ways of dealing with problems nearer to the source.
With regard to acid deposition, there is very much to say, but I will shorten it this afternoon. The ongoing saga has been discussed in this House on many occasions and I do not propose to enter the arguments about the 30 per cent. club. However, I should like to ask whether the Government are aware of the new data available to the Nordic Council, which seems to require not 30 per cent. reductions but 80 per cent. reductions in current sulphur emissions and 75 per cent. reductions in nitrogen oxide emissions if further environmental damage is to be prevented. It would appear that the argument about the 30 per cent. club will very shortly be academic.
I know that the Observer newspaper is not the flavour of the month in government circles, but there was an interesting article at the end of December by a Mr. Geoffrey Lean, who is an excellent environmental correspondent. I am grateful to him for drawing our attention to the fact that a report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe shows that our Government accept that emissions may rise by another 500,000 tonnes a year by 1990. I wonder whether the Minister is able to make any comment on that.
Noise pollution is one of the most difficult issues to deal with and yet it is one about which many people complain. The Institute of Environmental Health Officers has produced a draft of complaints between 1971 and 1986. It shows a rise in domestic complaints from fewer than 100 per million population in 1971 to over 1,200 per million population in 1986. Blame must fall to a large extent on the overenthusiastic use of audio equipment. But basic to the problem are inadequate building regulations and frequent failure to comply even with those that exist. I know that other speakers mean to enlarge on the noise pollution problem and I shall not say any more on that subject.
The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, and the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, will be dealing in depth with the question of waste disposal, but I have one important question to put to the Minister. Are the Government aware of the problems being caused by imported waste? The quantity of waste imported has gone up from 5,000 tonnes in 1983–84 to 180,000 tonnes last year. Those figures were given to me in a question at the Environmental Health Congress last year. It was answered by an official of the Minister's department, so I am sure that they are reliable figures. The speaker went on to say that not all of the 180,000 tonnes will be special waste. The vast bulk will be contaminated soil, principally from Holland, coming into the country for landfill.
When we first began to import waste the arguments in favour of doing so were that we had the technology to deal with special waste and that it was better that it should come into this country and be dealt with properly than pollute the environment elsewhere. The same cannot be said of less hazardous waste which is simply being used for landfill in this country. We are short of landfill for our own waste. There is a problem in knowing exactly what is coming in. There is a problem at the point of shipping and there is a problem in identifying the waste when it comes into the country. I think this is not something that we should encourage. I should like to ask the Minister whether there are any plans to regulate, in view of the difficulties which we are experiencing. What has happened to regulation on the trans-frontier shipment of hazardous waste, about which we appear to have heard nothing for some time?
Finally, in my last two minutes I should like to deal with the question of whether there are any positive steps that we can take to reduce the size of the problem. At the top of the list must come energy conservation, coupled, I hope, with a more energetic appraisal of combined heat and power, which some time ago the Government said they were undertaking. Next must come recycling. We are behind most European countries in our efforts to recycle. The CBI extols the savings that can be made and recently exhorted its members to increase their efforts.
There is one other important activity which we can undertake in order to prevent local pollution; that is, to get on with the environmental impact assessments. We have had three years in which to implement the directive from Europe, and so far as I know we still have not done so. Shall we be in a position to meet the due date of 3rd July 1988, the date by which we are obliged to do so?
Attempting to summarise the whole field of environmental pollution in 15 minutes precludes discussing anything in depth. There are many important areas into which I have not entered, but with so many distinguished speakers in the list this afternoon I am sure that an opportunity to debate this vital subject will prove to be valuable. I look forward to the debate with great interest. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I certainly join with the noble Baroness in the welcome that she gave to my noble friend on the Front Bench. He has joined the department over which I had the honour to preside for some two-and-a-quarter years, and if he finds it to be as fascinating and as testing as I did, I am sure that he will be all the better for it.I do not propose to pursue the noble Baroness in all the subjects upon which she touched, mainly for want of time. However, I should like to offer the House one or two comments based on my experience at the department and to ask my noble friend one or two questions. I think it is right to state the fact that the record of the Government on environment is a great deal better than some of their more strident critics would have us believe. It is sometimes quite difficult to get that across. One can understand that the television producer or the features editor will regard it as much more fun and newsworthy to make the flesh creep with stories of desolation, destruction and death than to point out the dramatic improvements that have taken place over recent decades in the quality of our environment. In this country smoke has been reduced by 85 per cent. over the past 30 years. The noble Baroness mentioned sulphur dioxide; no other industrial nation can match this nation's record of reducing SO2 emissions by 42 per cent. since 1970. Winter sunshine in London and in our major cities is virtually identical to that in the surrounding countryside because of the much cleaner air that we now enjoy. The noble Baroness used lead in petrol as a source of criticism of the Government. I must ask whether she has forgotten that it was my right honourable friend Tom King who went to Brussels and actually persuaded the Community to bring forward the date on which unleaded petrol must be available. We now have more stations offering unleaded petrol than do France and Germany put together. There has been a dramatic reduction in the amount of lead being emitted because of the tightening of the standard. Within 10 years lead from petrol will be virtually unknown in this country. In 1979 the emission of radioactive waste from Sellafield was six times what it is today. As a result of the major investment which is going ahead, in 10 years' time it will be one-tenth of the level that it is now. It is right to draw attention to the key step of establishing Her Majesty's Pollution Inspectorate. I take some pride in that I initiated the moves that led to that important development and it fell to my successors to implement them. I believe that it has been universally welcomed. It is sometimes argued that pollution is the inevitable price which we pay for economic growth. I profoundly disagree with that argument. Environmental improvement and economic development are indivisible. In today's world, unless one can show that development can take place without unacceptable environmental risks, it will be severely hampered or frustrated altogether. Unless we generate the wealth necessary we cannot afford to protect and improve the environment. In the Government's response to the world conservation strategy there is mention of an organisation called the UK Centre for Economic and Environmental Development. CEED, as it is known, exists to promote those central propositions and bring together scientists, environmentalists and industrialists to demonstrate that sustainable growth can be achieved only if it is accompanied by the conservation of the environment. I hope that I may be forgiven for a moment or two of reminiscences. At the 1984 London summit of the seven Heads of Government and State that central proposition was broadly endorsed by the seven leaders and they called for further study. It fell to me, as Environment Minister for this country, to convene and chair the first ever environmental summit of those seven nations, which took place in Lancaster House in December 1984. We submitted our report to the Bonn Summit the following year and in it we said:
The "polluter pays" principle is something with which I think everybody agrees and it is now well established. But the wider use of price and market signals falls somewhat uneasily on some ears more used to a system of regulation and administrative enforcement. Yet the seven environment Ministers meant what they said at that summit. Therefore, with my encouragement, my honourable friend William Waldegrave asked UK CEED if it would commission a study into a system of pollution charges and marketable permits. The study was carried out by the National Economic Research Associates, of which I have since become an adviser. On the basis of American experience, where there has been a good deal of legislation in this direction, it showed conclusively that limiting the emission of pollutants by imposing charges and by allowing emitters to trade in pollution permits is a much more cost-effective way of reducing pollution than trying to impose universal standards and forcing compliance. There are well-documented case studies in the United States which demonstrate that for any given level of pollution reduction costs are orders of magnitude less if the system used is charging emitters and allowing them to trade in permits. Putting it much more attractively, I would say that for any given higher quality of environment one can achieve that more quickly by using the market mechanisms than by using a more conventional route of regulations, standards, controls and enforcements. A maiden speech is perhaps not the occasion to try to spell out the argument in detail. It is available and has been published in a booklet, The Use of Marketing Mechanisms in the Regulation of Air Pollution. UK CEED presented that report to the Government, of whom I was by then no longer a member, in the hope that perhaps its economic logic and its evidence of experience elsewhere, as well as its market philosophy, would give it some attraction for Ministers. Of course in the UK charging polluters is a novel idea and novel ideas always take some time to gain acceptance. I have to say that some of our larger industrial firms which find that they can live quite happily with the present system of administrative control are looking somewhat cautiously at the move to a more open market system. However, the board of UK CEED remains quite convinced. I remind noble Lords that scientists, industrialists and some of our leading environmentalists remain convinced that there is real merit in the concept. It is now nearly two years since that report was presented to the Government. My noble friend who is to reply has of course been in his department for only two days and it would be most unfair of me to expect him to give me a full response. However, if he can shed any light on the fate of that report I think that those who worked hard to prepare it would be very grateful. I end on this note. We all want to see continuing progress in the reduction of pollution and in the improvement of our environment. Much science, many measures and a great deal of expenditure will be involved, but I must say to the House that the group of hard-headed industrialists and environmentalists who responded to the Government's invitation and who commissioned this report remain convinced that the wider use of market mechanisms has some part to play in that process and I suggest that they deserve an answer."The mechanisms of the market economy and the forces of competition should be harnessed to solve environmental problems effectively … The 'polluter pays' principle is of key importance in ensuring that environmentally correct price and market signals are given, and should be developed and applied more widely.".
My Lords, first, perhaps I may thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for introducing this debate today. I consider it a great privilege and honour to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, on his maiden speech on behalf of all the members of this House. He has had a distinguished career in the other place, having been Secretary of State in three different state departments. I knew him in the days when he was Secretary of State for Health and Social Security and I found that he was a man who listened and who then took decisions. I must admit that I did not always agree with the decisions but we appreciated the fact that he listened. I assure him that in this House we shall all be looking forward to hearing him on many occasions when he takes part in our deliberations so that we may benefit from his long experience and advice.We only have a few minutes to deal with the problem. I want to confine myself to river quality, to waste recycling and to the ozone layer. On the quality of our rivers, between 1980 and 1985 over 900 kilometres of river were downgraded in quality by the River Quality Survey. That is the first such decline since records began. This decline in quality has been due principally to the discharge of farm and sewage effluents and, to a lesser extent, industrial effluents. There are currently no effective powers to control farm pollution, with the result that pollution incidence from this source has more than doubled since 1980. The situation is such that the improvements forecast in the 1985 survey will be difficult to achieve. To meet the target suggested for 1990 would require the water authorities to improve their performance almost twice as fast as it has deteriorated since 1980. The prospect of privatisation of the water industry has already introduced a prolonged period of uncertainty. We welcome the new National Rivers Authority as a positive step, but it will be some time before it has an impact and one must welcome the action of the Welsh Water Authority, which has taken the precaution of putting in place a shadow NRA to do the job for the 18 months until the privatisation proposals are implemented. Perhaps the Minister ought to suggest that other water authorities should follow suit. On the question of waste and recycling, I shall not deal with the problem of dangerous waste but our society has for too long seemed almost to measure the wealth of a nation by the amount of waste it produces. We have to decide that we can no longer afford so much waste without improved methods of recycling. According to an EC Energy and Research Committee report, one person produces about 550 pounds of waste a year, a great proportion of which is recoverable and valuable material. The Control of Pollution Act 1974 charged local authorities with the duty of producing waste disposal plans, and I should like to know how many of them did and what action has been taken on those plans. In 1984 the Commons Trade and Industry Committee produced a report entitled The Wealth of Waste and in 1985 a further report was produced. As a result, a Minister with special responsibility for recycling was appointed. Will the Minister please tell us what improvements have occurred as a result of this appointment? Other countries in Europe take recycling much more seriously. If one looks at a country like Sweden, we all know what enormous amounts of forest are cut down to produce our newspapers. In Sweden 68 per cent. of the country is covered in forest. In this country it is only 10 per cent. However on one day a week every local authority in Sweden specially collects paper for recycling in order to save their forests. We in this country should do that too. It is impossible to make a reasoned speech in six minutes. On the question of the ozone layer, I am very sad that the Government resist the labelling of aerosols containing CFC. Some industries have voluntarily stopped using CFCs and are labelling them "ozone friendly". That is much to their credit. In the US and Holland 95 per cent. of all aerosols are sold containing no CFC. There is no technical difficulty in production; as a matter of fact, it is cheaper. This is not a record of which we should be proud. This Government have a well deserved reputation for vigour and determination in pursuing their chosen goals. On this record, no one could justly claim that environmental improvement has been one of those goals.
My Lords, I am glad of the chance to take part in this debate in my maiden speech because I regard environmental pollution as one of the really big issues of our time and one which should claim the unbiased attention of all in authority everywhere.When one thinks of pollution I suppose what mainly springs to mind are the belching chimneys of industrial zones and the effluence that can make such a hostile environment of our beaches and rivers. I am well aware that much good work has been done in these areas, although considerably more remains to be achieved. In the short time available I should like to concentrate on some of the less obvious aspects of environmental pollution because I believe that this will serve to illustrate the breadth of the problem and at the same time draw attention to its insidious nature. I want to look at it chiefly from the point of view of human health. The list of substances that can be harmful to health in certain doses is a very long one: lead, which we have already heard referred to, aluminium, mercury and other toxic metals; pesticides and insecticides of all kinds, of which DDT, (once much favoured) is a notable example; cigarette smoke; asbestos, nuclear radiation and drugs. With many of these I have been struck by a pattern which has shown itself time and again. Let me sketch a kind of composite example. At first one is assured by experts that there is no danger to human health at concentrations of less than 100 parts per million, After some years doubts begin to grow as it appears that some people may indeed be harmed at lesser concentrations. There is a lively debate, in which it is pointed out that the Russians have for some time been worried by any concentrations over 20 parts per million. Some time later—I am skipping years of debate here—a new safety limit emerges at 15 parts. At this point a few researchers, more thoroughly alerted to the dangers and with better measuring techniques at their disposal, begin to question whether in some cases as little as 10 parts per million can cause harm to the population. Just recently this pattern has been well illustrated in newspaper reports of the dangers of nuclear radiation. In November I read:
Last week I read:"Radiation is two to three times more dangerous than was previously thought, the National Radiological Protection Board said yesterday".
How can we tell at any given point where the truth lies? I do not believe we can, and I think the lesson to be drawn from recent history is that we need to be very cautious indeed in our approach to known and potential pollutants and their safety levels. I believe we need to be cautious even beyond the boundaries of those areas where the mechanisms of pollution are already familiar. The evidence is that environmental dangers have consistently been underestimated, not the reverse. The reasons are understandable. Scientific medicine is at its best in isolating direct cause-and-effect mechanisms where obvious pathological change (in the worst cases, death) takes place within a reasonable timescale. What we are looking at here, with microquantities of a host of pollutants in varied combinations in our daily lives, is something rather different. Let me take one example. I express no view here on the safety or otherwise of food additives, colourings and preservatives. I would merely say that, with over 3,000 of them in use, interacting on each other and with each person's individual biochemistry, in varying degrees of sickness and health, there is no research project on earth that is going to pinpoint the exact cause of any ill-effects—if ill-effects there are—even in the short term, let alone over a 30- or 40-year period. The scale of the problem is already too vast. In terms of chronic illness, as it is often said, Western civilisation is a sick society. Many people like to point to psychological stress as a culprit. I think it is arguable that the fundamental and pervasive change which has taken place during this century, and which in many cases is accelerating, is in the environment. It is not far-fetched to link the upward curve in degenerative disease and possibly also in anti-social behaviour with the increase in hostile substances with which we are cumulatively bombarded. Many studies have indicated as much. That is why I plead for a greater degree of caution in this whole field than has sometimes been evident so far. The situation is more serious than we realise. Historians of public health tell us that the big advances in conquering disease came about through environmental rather than purely medical measures—housing, sanitation and so on. It would be ironical if we threw away these hard-won advances through failure to heed the environmental message. I am grateful to your Lordships for your indulgence."Nuclear radiation may be between five and 15 times as dangerous as previously thought".
My Lords, it is with a pleasure far beyond convention that on behalf of the whole House I congratulate the noble Earl on his speech. As one of those who frequently raises environmental issues we welcome him with open arms and we hope that we shall hear him frequently on this and other subjects. With his own particular experience we look forward to hearing him speak on the Education Bill later this Session.It has been a temptation to deal with issues that I have raised before—for example, on CFCs, acid rain and the destruction of the tropical rain forests—but I have chosen instead to concentrate upon the disposal of nuclear waste, because it seems to me that that issue is more fundamental than any of the others. I confess that I am not omniscient. Like many other people I believed that with the discovery of nuclear energy, we had a limitless supply of energy which was cheap, clean and safe. How wrong we were! We now know that the production of nuclear energy has become a menace to the whole of society and it is a menace to all the people of this country. The problem of nuclear waste disposal, its security and the dangers of transportation, is a considerable one. If you go to Hampstead Heath you will see a constant succession of trains going along that northern line laden with nuclear waste. We are now told that it is to be flown to Japan. The nature of all these issues is direct and menacing to the population of this country. The noble Earl who has just spoken mentioned that only last week Professor Rotblat of St. Bartholomew's Hospital stated that, according to his research, the estimated safe exposure to radiation was five to 15 times greater than it should be. We also heard last week how, in 1958, the danger of the Windscale fire was concealed by the Government although at the time it was said that a full report had been published. We hardly need to refer to the effects felt throughout the world of the disaster at Chernobyl. This is a growing problem. What is the future to be? Surely it is now clear that the only safe way of preventing the current problem from escalating is to make sure and to state categorically (as the Labour Party does) that there will be no new commissioning of nuclear power stations and that the existing ones will be phased out. We are not alone: in Sweden, where 50 per cent. of electricity is produced by nuclear power, there are specific plans—pledged plans—to phase out all nuclear energy by the year 2010. Yet we are told by a House of Commons Committee that the present British Government are contemplating postponing for up to 100 years the decommissioning of nuclear power stations. I hope that the noble Earl who is to reply—I congratulate him particularly as he is an ex-rebel on those Benches—will say whether that report is correct and how it has been received by the Government. I have a particular and personal connection with the issue of the disposal of nuclear waste. After the NIREX report was published last October I visited the North East to examine the situation in the Whitby and Cleveland area. I found intense public concern over the proposal that nuclear waste should be buried under the North Sea off the Cleveland coast. Now we hear that not only is the coast endangered by the prospect of nuclear waste being buried under it, but the old mines in the Whitby, Scarborough, Cleveland area are also being considered as dumping grounds for nuclear waste. As an inhabitant of Lincolnshire I had the privilege of being connected with the protest at Fulbeck, which was successful. It was successful, according to the Government, because they found that it was less costly than they had thought to bury deeply than to bury shallowly. Is cost to be the criterion for the safety of the British people? I would suggest that in the present circumstances when we have to face the reality of the existence of nuclear waste the only comparatively safe method is to bury that waste on its present site—and that only as an interim measure. I would ask the noble Earl to answer two related questions when he winds up the debate. First, what research into the safe disposal of nuclear waste is being done in this country today? Secondly and connected with that, what responsibility do the Government accept for the research which is essential to find a safe way of disposal and what help are the Government giving to that research?
My Lords, this is developing into an enormously useful and authoritative debate. I wish there were more time for speakers to express themselves. It seems a great pity that the authoritative speech which we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, should be left hanging in the air. I am certainly not capable of following it. Indeed, I wish to speak about a comparatively minute aspect of pollution, that of the sea round our coasts.In this I am helped by the example that has been given to me by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, in his excellent maiden speech. This is not a purely congratulatory remark, although congratulations are deserved. He referred to the unknown magnitude of pollution, if I may condense it in that way. What I might also say about his speech and that of my noble friend Lord Jenkin is that it is a great pity from the point of view of the entire House that they should have chosen to make their maiden speeches in the course of a debate of restricted length such as this. If we have to have laws against pollution, as we do, it is essential that those laws should be observed, as are any other laws. There are areas in which very little attempt is made to obey the law. I take as a typical example in this fairly restricted field that of the pollution round our shores which is caused by sewage being discharged into the sea. The example I have in mind—I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, will have it in hers also—was brought to your Lordships' notice by the Swanage Yacht Haven Bill just before Christmas. Following your Lordships' decision, that Bill is now a thing of the past and I do not wish to resurrect it. However, there was mention in that debate of essential reliance upon the Control of Pollution Act 1974, which was to be observed and strengthened by the Swanage Bill. The Act says in Section 31(1):
"Controlled waters" means any part of the sea within three nautical miles of the coast below low water. That is quite a lot of water a long way out. The Swanage Yacht Haven Bill itself repeated that in almost the same words by saying:"a person shall he guilty of an offence if he causes or knowingly permits—
(a) any poisonous, noxious or polluting matter to enter any stream or controlled waters".
This presupposes that some steps are going to be taken to prevent the discharge of sewage into the yacht haven or into the sea round about it or to bring the offenders to book if it occurs. As I ventured to point out in the course of the debate before Christmas, sewage is not something that comes out of the sea like fish. It is something that comes out of boats, and it certainly comes out of boats that are moored permanently or semi-permanently in yacht havens or marinas with people living in them. Therefore, we might reasonably ask what is going to be done to enforce the law embodied in the 1974 Act. On inquiry, it was elicited from the promoters of the Bill that if sewage appeared in harbours or in the waters round about they would take steps either to sweep it away with booms or to cause it to sink to the bottom of the sea and become invisible. Here is a suggestion that when the law has been broken to the extent of actually polluting the sea all that is required of the people in charge of that situation is that they should push sewage under water and out of sight. This is probably occurring everywhere. There are concentrations of boats lying on moorings all over the place, and they are proliferating round our coasts. The Swanage yacht haven was planned to be a haven for some 250 boats, but others hold thousands. Where is any attempt being made to prevent the pollution that these boats cause? I do not know of anywhere in the United Kingdom. In some states of the United States, and even possibly somewhere in this country, there are regulations calling for the use of container tanks in yachts which would be emptied, presumably, by the local authority. The use of those cannot be enforced in boats which do not have them. This is a subject which I do not particularly want to pursue, and I am sure your Lordships would be happier if I did not, but I wish to draw the attention of your Lordships and of the Government to the fact that this is an area of extreme pollution which is increasing. As the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, said, we do not know how dangerous it is. All I hope is that soon we may be able to refer once again to,"a person who within the yacht haven knowingly discharges or causes or permits to be discharged into the waters thereof any toxic, noxious or offensive matter…shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale".
"This precious stone set in the silver sea".
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss the vitally important subject. It is vital because it bears on the health in more than one sense both of individual people and of the nation as a whole.My purpose in the short time that I have is to speak about two manifestations of pollution which both impair and, I believe, reveal our mental state of health rather than our physical state of health. My first point concerns the plague of pollution at the level of individual people. I am referring to litter disposal. I certainly do not want to strike a holier than thou attitude because I have not been blameless myself in this matter, but I have no hesitation in describing this aspect of pollution as a national disease in Britain. The random ejection of litter at any time and place is largely mindless. It is an ingrained habit to the point of having almost become part of our culture. Millions of people throw away their cartons, paper bags, plastic material, cans and bottles at the place and point in time when they no longer need them in our towns, cities and, perhaps most distressing of all, anywhere in the countryside and along our public highways. It is convenient to dump the larger categories of unwanted goods such as household furniture and machinery in some field or on some piece of woodland. Nor are town dwellers the only addicts in this matter. Farmers cast away their empty fertiliser bags over their fields. My second point is that there is also the form of personal pollution to which attention has recently been drawn in your Lordships' House, and that is the graffiti which desecrate our public places and public transport. That is different from the negative rejection of litter in that it appears to be a positive means of expression of self-identity or group identity in our inner cities in the absence of a sense of purpose and opportunity, which so many young people are experiencing at the present time. As regards litter, it is only fair to say that some blame must attach to those public authorities which fail to provide sufficient litter bins and so on and which fail to clear regularly and frequently enough those conveniences that they provide. I am not one of the strident critics of the Government referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, whose speech I so much enjoyed, but I doubt whether a sufficiently high priority is being accorded to this plague of pollution on the part of either central or local government. The Prime Minister herself was so concerned on returning from various European countries some time ago that she appointed a well-known and charismatic personality in the person of Mr. Richard Branson to head a clean-up Britain campaign. That was a welcome lead, but has it worked? We know that previous propaganda and publicity campaigns have had little effect. We know that by-laws, with the imposition of fines, are difficult to enforce. What has Mr. Branson succeeded in achieving? I mean no disrespect to him. We have heard a great deal about his expertise in balloons and speed boats, but we seem to have heard remarkably little about what he has achieved to clean up Britain. If there are promising moves on his behalf, why have we not heard more about them? Is there not a place for more publicity? Perhaps the Minister—who I am so glad has moved from one department in which I had interests to another in which I currently have an interest—will have something to say about that when he comes to reply. Action is called for more fundamental than post facto cleaning-up operations. It involves tackling the disease at its source. I reckon that the Department of Education and Science and the LEAs have been doing a good job with publicity during this Year of the Environment in seeking to create a national conscience on cleanliness and tidiness. There is another point. I am one of those who have long believed that many of our troubles, including this one, would be solved or diminished if there was a national obligation to serve in one of a variety of ways—without the sole connotation of serving in the armed forces—required of young people in national service. It is relevant to this because tidiness, a feeling of respect for other people and self-respect are part and parcel of service, and the self-discipline required of service helps tidiness. A great opportunity was missed when the youth training scheme was extended from one to two years. I remember suggesting to the Secretary of State for Employment at the time that he included as an obligation an element of training for service in that second year. Nothing came of that, and the more is the pity. It is interesting that national opinion polls among young people have since shown a remarkable majority—I seem to remember the figure of 69 per cent.—in favour of some form of national service. It provides the self-discipline which, if it is lacking, gives rise to the kinds of pollution to which I have referred. I must finish. I had hoped to say something about other forms of pollution which bear on our mental state of health such as the pollution of noise referred to by the noble Baroness and the visual pollution of certain developments on beautiful landscapes. I shall in conclusion just say that it is fundamental to the question of addressing all the forms of pollution I have touched on that those values which have to do with caring, with responsibility and with concern for our environment should be weighed equally with those material values which the Government, understandably, so strongly encourage as a way of promoting enterprise and initiative.
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has raised this important problem this afternoon. Few in this House do more than she does to promote the cause of enlightened and sensible conservation.Last night, to my great surprise, I found myself alone in defending our native broadleaved trees against what I might perhaps rather unfairly call the serried ranks of the sitka spruce lobby. But this afternoon I want to say a word about a different matter—the quality of our rivers, estuaries and coastal waters. During my service overseas I found that many people I talked to were enormously impressed by the success of our Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, which were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. They really sat up when I told them that as a child I had repeatedly seen pea-soup fogs in London but that my children had never seen one. Later on they were equally impressed by the vast improvement made in our rivers after the 1950s, with now 100 species of fish in the Thames and 300 or 400 salmon running up past our Terrace outside each year, and equally dramatic improvements in the Tyne, Tees, Trent, Tame, Taff and even the worst of all, the Mersey. All this has been a tremendous and inevitably costly achievement. But I am concerned that the prodigious improvements in the 30 years from 1950 to 1980 appear to have lost some momentum. The facts have been thoroughly documented—in the Department of the Environment's 1985 Report on River Quality in England and Wales, the Water Authorities Association's report of the same year on Water Pollution from Farm Waste, and last year's admirable third report from the environment committee of another place on Pollution of Rivers and Estuaries. I understand that the Government are encouraging the water authorities to speed up expenditure on improving sewage treatment and long sea outfalls, and that all 10 are increasing their capital expenditure. But there has been a worrying decrease in the lengths of good quality rivers (Classes 1 and 2) since 1980. Ten per cent. of our rivers and canals cannot now be used for drinking water supplies and cannot support coarse fish. There is a disturbing increase in agricultural pollution, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, largely in dairy farming areas. This can be lethal. Yard washings are 10 times as polluting as domestic sewage, cattle slurry 100 times, and silage effluent 200 times. Incidents of gross organic pollution kill thousands of fish. There are other problems; the run-off of pesticides, sheep dips and the leaching of nitrates, which were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and which have already forced the water authorities to close some boreholes, not only in East Anglia but, for example, in Herefordshire. This calls for changes in farming practice, as was recommended by the DoE's own Nitrate Co-ordination Group report in 1986, and perhaps for fiscal measures to restrict the use of nitrogen on the land, as urged recently in this House by the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley. I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, that the water authorities ought to take a tougher line in prosecuting polluters of all sorts, for the cost of a clean-up and the economic costs of the destruction of fisheries can be prodigious. We need to spend more on replacing old sewage works and building new ones to cope with increased housing. We need more preventives to curb agricultural pollution. The techniques are known and are available. I feel a little uneasy about the long sea outfalls, which will only push the pollution out a few miles from our coasts. Are we sure that they do not carry damaging substances like heavy metals out to sea? Who will monitor and control them after privatisation of the water authorities? Will it be the National Rivers Authority? Lastly, when may we expect the Government's response to the report from the environment committee of another place published seven months ago? I greatly hope that it will be a positive response.
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Moran, my first concern is the constant poisoning of lakes, rivers and forests, at home and abroad, by emissions of sulphur dioxide from our power stations; the persistent fallout of acid rain. I understand from a statement by a junior minister in the Department of the Environment that emissions have shown a tendency to rise as a result of increasing demand for energy and that our power stations released many more tonnes of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere last year than the year before. I fear that we may be seen by Europeans and the Scandinavians as the most guilty and dirtiest polluter in Europe.Why is it that Her Majesty's Government will not sign the protocol to the international convention on long-range transboundary air pollution on the reduction of sulphur emissions and will not join the 30 per cent. club, the group of nations which has pledged to cut back sulphur dioxide atmospheric poisoning by 30 per cent. by 1993? Twenty-one countries in Europe have pledged to do so. They have signed. I ask, therefore, why not Britain? Secondly, when the Flowers Commission on coal and the environment reported in 1981 it made mention of the development of the fluidised bed for power stations. The commission asked the Government to stimulate the commercialism of fluidised bed technology and called for the National Coal Board and the Departments of Energy and Industry to formulate a programme for its commercialisation and export. I have a personal interest. As Minister of Power in 1968 and recognising the importance of the research into fluidised bed techniques at the National Coal Board's research station at Leatherhead, I kept it alive with an infusion of American money. There was the possibility of a breakthrough on two fronts, more efficient coal-fired stations and cleaner air—an environmental breakthrough. I should like to ask the Minister what has happened. Grimethorpe near Barnsley was chosen as the testbed site for a commercial power station. Foreign countries were involved. Why has it not progressed as we all hoped it would? In view of the fact that we have had 20 years of research and development and government investment, I hope that the Minister will give us a progress report on fluidised bed technology. I turn now to what I deem to be the greatest despoiler of our countryside and the worst environmental polluter in the land. I refer to opencast coal mining. Opencast coal mining can make many lives a misery every day for up to seven years. Choking clouds of dust drift into homes and gardens. There is constant noise and vibration from machinery, including the stream of coal lorries rumbling through the villages, and the ruination of the landscape for years. Fishing ponds, footpaths, sites of rare plants and other wildlife are ruined. Thousands of people petition and protest every time, but permission to mine is invariably given. The profit motive, not the need for a cleaner environment, determines opencast operations. In many of the villages severely suffering from this ghastly form of pollution, people suspect collusion between the Department of Energy and British Coal. British Coal wants the profits. The Government want British Coal to break even in their given timescale. I know that the opencast executive will argue improved landscaping after restoration. However, some schemes last seven years. That is seven years of awful misery and unhappiness of all degrees of environmental pollution. Offering a better environment thereafter is not the answer; it is just not good enough. Opencast coal mining is not totally necessary. It is one of the worst environmental polluters. It could be drastically reduced with quick environmental results because an alternative—deep-mined coal—is available. Why are the Government encouraging the expansion of this environmental polluter? One is bound to question whether they are really serious about improving our environment. Opencast coal mining blights a vast land area well outside the operation itself. There is a loss of hedgerows and trees and a loss of food production for years if agricultural land is involved. It devalues all property. Old people in retirement have their remaining few years of life ruined. Schoolchildren and students are constantly disturbed. Secondary roads are ruined by the incessant patrols of coal lorries. There is an increase in accidents. Houses are structurally damaged, the economic expansion of industry is halted and new investment in the area is deterred. No investor is prepared to accept such environmental conditions. And, of course, any tourist potential is ruined. The Coalfield Communities Campaign has pleaded with Her Majesty's Government to cut back this major polluter of its areas. Let us remember that the problem is in the North and not in the South, the South-East or the South-West. I believe that now is the time. We should reduce output to 5 million tonnes from the present 15 million tonnes. Let that output satisfy the market demand for anthracite and the blending for power stations. If the Government seriously wish to make advances in improving our environment and in areas where it is sorely needed, the curtailment of opencast coal mining can give t hem a guarantee of success, faster and surer than any other environmental measure.
My Lords, this short speech is motivated by my search for some way to make the general public more concerned and better informed about pollution. The Control of Pesticides Regulations 1986—and specifically Regulation 4(5)(b)(i)—have been in force since 1st January this year. They are a welcome new helping hand for gardeners. Gardening is probably the most popular activity in which the whole family can take an active or passive interest. For some, our shrubs, trees, flowers and vegetables give a unique pleasure. For some, what is important is the overall appearance of the garden, perhaps in comparison with the one next door. But for all, our gardens give the pleasure of the birds, butterflies and the many life-forms whose only refuge may be those gardens.To enjoy these worthwhile delights, at least one person will have had to spend time and money on the garden, which, taken with all the other domestic gardens in the country, is part of a total covering, I am told, about 10 million acres. I am in no position to calculate what those 10 million acres are now receiving in quantities of fertilisers and weed- and pest-killers, but one may wonder whether that money has all been wisely spent and whether many of our garden lovers realise that they themselves are often unwittingly major polluters of our wildlife and countryside. Our sources of supply are the containers and bottles on the shelves at the garden centres and the shops which carry garden chemicals. The regulations to which I have referred at last require the giving of information on how the products should be used and handled. The dangers and effects of incorrect use may not be so clearly stated. The ideal would be for us to rely on home-made compost and soft soap, but many of us must fall back on bought products. Shops and garden centres should now display goods in natural and chemical sections, thus separating for us the natural pesticides, fertilisers and deterrents from the artificially made products. From the discussions I have had with very big garden centres, I believe that many will be pleased to do this. It would then be an easy job to stop using the artificial and to continue with the natural products. There should be just a red or a green light—stop or go. For many gardeners that is all we want to know. But the problem for some domestic gardeners is not quite so straightforward. There is, as it were, an amber light, an amber label, between the red and the green. If suppliers would adopt this colour coding, much good would come of it. I refer to those chemicals, not natural products, that are short-lived and, if used as instructed for their specific purpose, do the job well and very often safely. However, these same chemicals are dangerous, some highly dangerous, if used to excess. Used to excess, the amber label chemicals can be just as dangerous as that other group of products described as multi-purpose, systemic, total weedkillers and fungicides. These are now laying down a slow accumulation of non-degradable chemicals which can only do permanent damage to our garden plots and to the minute organisms which should be providing the natural structure and nutrient content of the soil. Finally—and I hope that the Minister can help me here—there is a growing realisation that for many wild creatures our domestic gardens are an essential haven. But there is too little information, much of it conflicting, on the effect on those creatures of what we use in our gardens and how best we can protect our little haven for their survival and our pleasure.
My Lords, I. too, should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, for enabling us to debate this very important subject. She was quite right in thinking that I had intended to speak about waste and, in particular, about the eleventh report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution on which I had the privilege to serve when it dealt with the subject of managing waste and the duty of care. However, within the very close time limits available today, that seemed too large a subject to embark upon. It occurred to me that a narrower subject might be more suitable; namely, the very radical changes for the better made in systems of environmental pollution control over the past year or so which have received very little attention. I congratulate the noble Earl on the new position he has taken up. I hope that what I say may come in a friendly way to his ear.The radical changes in pollution control policy introduced over the past year indicate a real advance towards a coherent strategy which will, when fully implemented, make a real contribution to reducing the environmental pollution which worries us all. It would be churlish of me not to mention first the radical changes in policy relating to discharges of dangerous substances to water, announced to Parliament (at col. 403 of Hansard of 19th November) just before the International Conference on the North Sea. The changes adopted proposals made in the dangerous substances report prepared by a sub-committee, which I had the honour to chair, of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities. That was the fifteenth report of your Lordships' Select Committee on the European Communities. Those changes related to unifying the approach to controlling discharges of dangerous substances involving both meeting prescribed quality standards in the receiving waters and minimising discharges from point sources. They also extended to controls of such substances entering the aquatic environment from diffuse sources such as the run-off from agricultural land or leachate from landfill sites. These were also incorporated in the ministerial declaration of the Conference on the North Sea which, as your Lordships will remember, was held in November last and which, in turn, embodied with the full concurrence of the British Government the precautionary approach which has so often been urged upon it. Much publicity was given to the further decisions of the conference; namely, to phase out marine incineration of waste and greatly to restrict dumping of waste in the North Sea. These provisions will apply to the Irish Sea as well. That becomes clear from the ministerial declaration. So the implications of the conference go far beyond protection of the North Sea and will radically affect pollution control policy generally. More waste will have to be disposed of to landfill or incinerated on land. It becomes urgent therefore to develop practices akin to those applicable to air pollution in relation to disposal of waste to land and indeed to water. It has always struck me as odd that, in the case of air pollution from particularly difficult wastes, HM Inspectorate of Pollution—formerly the Alkali Inspectorate—concerns itself with the plant and its operation with a view to reducing emissions and rendering them harmless. But waste going to land or water is not subject to any such controls. It is, I suggest, essential that the same principles are applied to disposals to all media, if for no other reason than that reduction in the waste stream and pollution derived from it becomes even more important when disposal to sea ceases to be an option. To apply the same principles and practices to air, land and water will be easier to contemplate since the unified Inspectorate of Pollution was created in April 1987. The consultation paper on air pollution, published by the Department of the Environment in December 1986, paved the way for extension of responsibilities for pollution control—by means of addition of Part B to the list of scheduled processes—to local authorities. These Part B processes require less technical expertise than those under HMIP. Taking into account the real improvement in the quality and qualifications of environmental health officers, who would be the responsible officers, this proposal is not only welcome but practical. The suggestions I have made are merely a gloss on the far-reaching proposals made by government which await legislation. It is a pity that the proposals made in December 1986 have not been given the priority in legislative time which they deserve and which indeed government at the time envisaged for them. Implementation is urgent and important to create a coherent pollution control strategy. It gives me rare pleasure to speak with enthusiasm about environmental policy initiatives taken by government. The enormous contribution to them made by the Chief Scientist to the Department of the Environment, Dr. Martin Holdgate, is well-known among those who are particularly concerned in these matters. On his retirement to take up the very important responsibilities of director general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, it is not out of place I believe, on this occasion, to pay my tribute to him.
My Lords, there are two basic approaches to environmental pollution issues current in this country at the moment. The first is the Government's, which in practice means that they take no action until there is overwhelming scientific proof that a problem has actually been caused. They have adopted this approach in the numerous examples which have been quoted in the debate so far—nitrates leaching into water supplies, the problems of acid deposition from power station chimneys, so-called acceptable levels of radioactive discharges, and so on.There is a second approach which was set out by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales in opening the North Sea Ministers Conference two months ago, to which the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has just referred. In opening that conference His Royal Highness said:
His Royal Highness also said:"Some argue that we do not have enough proof of danger to justify stricter controls on dumping. or to warrant the extra expenditure involved. They say that we must wait for science to provide the proof".
That directly contradicts what was said by two Government Ministers in opening at the North Sea Ministers Conference and the line taken by the British Government in the negotiations during that conference. It is no thanks to the British Government that the result of the conference led to some benefits to the environment, as the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, has just said. In pursuing their own approach to environmental pollution, the Government seem to me to have developed three recognisable techniques, the first of which is the longer tube technique. It is based on the dubious scientific principle that if you fill your bath not through a tap but through a tube of the same diameter as the tap, it will not only take much longer to fill up but will never overflow. This is the technique which has led to ridding London of smog. It has led also to our dumping acid deposition on West Germany and Scandinavia, killing Scandinavian lakes and forests. It is a technique used in the disposal of sewage at sea. We are having longer tubes which remove the problem from people swimming just off the beach, but they dump it in the same body of sea. It is also being used for much more dangerous substances like titanium dioxide waste, for example, where to try to get round the really desperate environmental problem the Government favour a longer pipe out into the same body of water. There are two other techniques which the Government favour. One I think is called, appropriately enough, the Sellafield technique, where there have been genuine reductions in radioactive discharges, as we heard. But the problem is that science has moved rather faster than successive British Governments in that field. International standards governing radioactive discharges have fallen far faster than the level of radioactive discharge has fallen from Sellafield, which is why the Irish Sea is the most radioactive in the world, why Sellafield discharges more radioactivity than all other nuclear installations put together. It is an international disgrace. The fact that discharges have fallen is of no comfort to anybody, least of all to the young children who are dying around the Irish Sea because of the discharges from that plant—the so-called acceptable levels of radioactive discharge. There is a third technique which is also being used at Sellafield; namely, rewriting history or being economical with the truth, at least until the 30-year rule catches you out and the truth eventually has to be told, as it has about one incident. One of the most serious radioactive accidents in the world was at Sellafield, but the truth is not told, I suspect, about many other accidents at that plant. This has been used on a number of occasions, most astonishingly about a rather minor incident but a serious one for those involved in environmental issues. It is the use of tributyl tin paints for pleasure craft and other boats. For many years the Government fiercely resisted pressure from environmental pressure groups to ban TBT paint from boats and insisted they would only do so when there was scientific evidence to show that it was harmful to the marine environment. The scientific evidence was eventually produced, particularly that shellfish were shown to be not reproducing and dying because of the use of the paint. Then TBT was banned by the Government. This action is now being trumpeted, not as an example of the Government's actual approach, which was to wait until scientific proof was available. It is being trumpeted as an example of the precautionary approach of the Government in banning things to make sure the environment is safe. In fact, it is an example of exactly the reverse. In ending, I should like to return to the North Sea Ministers' Conference and ask the noble Lord one question after congratulating him on his new duties. It is well known by all the governments who attended that Ministers' meeting that the UK Government were the main stumbling block to making progress in a number of areas. It is known that some decisions, in particular the decision drastically to reduce ocean incineration by 1991 and terminate the practice by 1995, were fiercely resisted by the UK. I wonder if the noble Lord can tell me whether the British Government will continue with that resistance in meetings of the Paris and Oslo conventions which will be necessary to implement the ban, or whether they will now accept the decision which has been taken and argue strongly in its favour when the Paris and Oslo convention meetings take place."It makes no sense to test it to destruction. While we wait for the doctor's diagnosis, the patient may die".
My Lords, whenever the subject of pollution is mentioned either the Government are blamed or the farmer. I am pleased to note that most noble Lords who have taken part in the debate tonight realise that such a simplification of the problem is rubbish, for it is man and nature who are and always have been the main cause of pollution. It is not in the Government's nor the farmer's power totally to control either. That is not to say that both should not try to minimise the problem.I shall confine my remarks to water, both fresh and sea, where improvements can and are being made by both the Government and the farmer. I give two examples. The nitrification of water is often laid at the door of modern farming and its use of pesticides and fertilisers. I think the noble Lord, Lord Moran, suggested this. As your Lordships will know, this is far too simple a view, for the release of nitrates from the soil is caused by any form of cultivation. As a result these nitrates may percolate through the soil into the water unless there is a growing crop to take the nitrate up. This is one of the reasons why I so strongly support the practice of stubble burning, minimal cultivations and the planting immediately of a winter crop. If my memory serves me right, some noble Lords, perhaps including the noble Baroness, did not much approve of my defence of such a habit. I must therefore assume that they are in favour of a higher nitrate level in our water. I mention this example not just to tease the noble Baroness but to emphasise the importance of careful research before we jump to conclusions, conclusions often reached by what I call the precious see the countryside by courtesy of the television by the fireside fraternity. So I repeat my plea to the Government for adequate research funding, although I add that because of research and the dissemination of that research to farmers a great improvement in how to deal with farm effluent has been achieved since 1980. We are aware of the problem of our farm effluents and that is the reason for an increase in prosecutions which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Moran, raised. I believe that the reason for the increased prosecutions is that the problem is now realised and we are trying to do something about it. Most farmers enjoy their surroundings; most fish, sail or shoot. We do not wish to destroy our environment and I know that the great majority will follow sound, unbiased advice. My other plea to the Government concerns the future privatisation of water. In the past water authorities have been obliged to connect new development onto the sewerage system, which has resulted in overloading. In the case of Anglesey, there is not one single chemical treatment works. This results in foul pollution of our beaches, a disgrace either to the planning authority for allowing such developments or the water authority for inadequate sewerage. I make a special plea to the Government to make sure that when water privatisation happens this stupidity is corrected. Finally—I think I am repeating the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Jenkin—I ask noble Lords not to exaggerate the pollution trouble. We now have better health, safer and relatively cheaper food and water than ever before and we now live longer. Perhaps that is a mistake. I do not want to sound complacent, but should we not sometimes count our blessings?
My Lords, in listening to the remarks made by my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, I was sorely tempted to use my limited ration of time to talk about coal. However as there are other things that I wish to talk about I shall limit what I have to say about coal to a few short sentences. First, I agree with what the noble Lord said about the fluidised combustion process. I think that it holds out great promise not only of improving the efficiency of combustion but also of reducing emissions in the atmosphere. I, like the noble Lord, would like to know what progress has been made in that area.However when it comes to opencast coal, with which I have been much connected in my time and which I have always regarded as an integral part of the mining operation, I believe, as I think the noble Lord more or less admitted, that the opencast coal operators have achieved a great deal in minimising the impact of their operations while they take place and in restoring the land afterwards. However I wish to turn to other matters connected with this important debate and deal with some of the things which the noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, in her very important opening speech included in the definition of pollution. First, I wish to remind your Lordships of what I consider to be the most important legislative measure ever taken in the history of dealing with pollution that is on our statute book; namely, the Clean Air Act 1956. I wish to pay tribute to that Act because at a stroke it removed from the atmosphere of Britain the visible pollution. Those who are old enough—I presume I must exempt the noble Lords sitting on the Front Bench opposite—to have experienced the smog of 1952 will have known what a killer that was. As a result of that smog 4,000 people died. I remember having to go home that evening. I had to walk two miles. It took me three hours and I had to walk in the gutter. My problem was linking up with the gutter in the next street when I came to the end of the street in which I was walking. We shall never see that again, thank goodness. However as regards atmospheric pollution we now have a battle against the invisible pollutants. We have won the battle against the visible pollutants. Nobody should minimise the difficulty of winning the battle against the invisible pollutants. I presume that an invisible foe is always more difficult to grapple with than a visible foe. But I hope that it will not be many years before we have a debate here on a new measure, perhaps a second clean air Act, which will deal with this problem. Regrettably the Control of Pollution Act 1974 did not deal with the problem for the simple reason that many of the issues arising from invisible pollution had not then been fully identified, so no fault lies with those who formulated the Act. Furthermore although the Act contains a number of useful provisions, some of the provisions have not yet been brought into operation. That Act was an example of a very peculiar form of legislation which I hope will not be too often repeated. I am talking of an Act that contains good and sound measures but where they are subject to the responsible Minister deciding when they should come into operation. I wish to refer specifically to one of those particular issues which could have been dealt with by now, I believe in a very effective manner, but which due to the way in which the provisions in these two bits of legislation—that is not only the Control of Pollution Act 1974 but the Litter Act 1983—were dealt with has not been brought into effect. I refer to litter which has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lord Hunt. There are provisions in both the Control of Pollution Act 1974 and the Litter Act 1983 for dealing effectively with the litter problem by enjoining local authorities and other relevant bodies to prepare a plan for so doing, to review that plan from time to time and to bring within the scope of it voluntary and other bodies which could achieve the desired result. So far that measure, in spite of the fact that it has lain on the statute book since 1974, has not been implemented. Now much has been said and written about litter. No doubt it is a very good thing that people in high places should make speeches about it and remind us of the problem. But speeches alone in this particular sector at any rate do not solve the problem. It must be resolved by firm, clearly defined, continuous action. That action should involve not only government, not only local authorities, not only the people who live in the towns and the villages, not only the voluntary bodies, but everybody. But a lead has to be taken officially. I can quite understand why the Government have been reluctant to bring into operation that particular provision because it could no doubt be thought to add substantially to the cost of local government. But I should like a reply from the noble Earl to the question: would it not be possible in regard to that provision which has lain dormant for so long to try to apply it on a pilot scheme basis? Would it not be possible in close conjunction with the Keep Britain Tidy Group, with which the noble Lord, Lord Parry, and I have had much to do, to try out one or two schemes in one or two chosen local authority areas to see how they work? I believe that we should persevere along this line. I believe that unless we take some action of that kind we shall find it very difficult to deal with this problem of litter. As this is the time of year when one should be making resolutions I wish to make a resolution that well before the end of this century Britain becomes a litter-free zone.
My Lords, there used to be an expression to the effect that:
It is not much in vogue now but it seems that a successor might be that pollution is ever with us. For if, as I did, we consult The Times newspaper index we find a main heading "Pollution" and a veritable raft of subsidiary headings: Atmospheric, Exhaust Fumes, Ozone Layer Depletion, Noise, Radioactivity, Water, Marine and Coastal and finally Policy and Legislation. There are very many references under each heading, all of which must indicate—and this very well subscribed debate is further proof—that the subject is one which is at the forefront of the minds of a majority. I shall say more about that later. The year from 21st March 1987 to 21st March 1988 is European Year of the Environment or EYE for short. EYE is based on two premises, fact and opinion. First I shall discuss facts. I am sure that each of your Lordships has his own personal portfolio of horrors, as we have heard, so I shall not delay the House by spending my very limited time listing them individually. I have already mentioned the broad categories. But I should as an exception like to highlight one: it is that last October scientists from Surrey University reported that lead contamination of vegetation and dust along the M.25 motorway is:"the poor are ever with us".
Some pollution is insidious and continuous, some a spectacular disaster as at Chernobyl and Sandoz, the one irradiating the entire continent of Europe and the other shattering the ecosystem of the EC's largest river. I said that EYE was based on facts and opinion. As regards opinion I should like to refer once or twice to a paper delivered by Mr. Stanley Clinton Davis, the European Communities Commissioner responsible for environment and transport, which was given to the Royal Society of Arts in February last. In 1986 the Commission organised a Europe wide poll to test attitudes well before the start of EYE in order to compare them with a similar poll taken in 1982. Mr. Clinton Davis summarised the results of the poll as indicating:"near a level that mining companies would consider a worthwhile deposit for recovering the metal and, on the Surrey section, has in two years overtaken that on the M.l."
"First, and most important, public awareness of, and concern about, environmental issues continues to grow. The poll shows that, since 1982, this has been the case in all member states of the Community. Chernobyl and Sandoz can only have accentuated this trend.
"Secondly, the problem causing the deepest public worry is chemical pollution. Fifty-nine per cent. of respondents named chemical plant as the pollution source that most worried them. And forty-eight per cent. placed chemical products first on the list of names about which they felt the need for greater information.
Mr. Clinton Davis's European bird's-eye view is that the environment is a very democratic issue, in the sense that people are often more in tune with what is needed than are their governments and that constant vigilance is necessary because it is a sad fact that the producers of pollution are better presenters of issues that influence government decisions than are those who have to live with the consequences. I should like briefly to indicate that there is another side to the coin and selectively mention a few positive initiatives that are being taken. The CEGB announced last October proposals to spend £600 million on flue gas desulphurisation at Drax and Fiddler's Ferry power stations to reduce all CEGB power stations' total sulphur emissions by 15 per cent. Can the Minister confirm that that plan has run into difficulties, as I have read recently? Secondly, perhaps I may ask the Minister, as did the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, why this country resolutely refuses to join the so-called "30 per cent. club" of 21 nations committed to reducing emissions by almost one-third by 1993? As regards the atmosphere, 60 NASA scientists have reported that last September the ozone shield over Antarctica thinned to the lowest level since recording began, with a 55 per cent. overall loss since 1979. They said that it was conclusively established that chlorofluorocarbons, known as CFCs, are mainly to blame, although extreme weather also contributed. Constructively, an international agreement to halve world consumption of CFCs by early in the next century has been reported as reaching tentative approval. Will the Minister state this country's position on that accord? Finally, as well as EYE, we have in this country several pollution-reducing initiatives. First, there is the Pollution Abatement Technology Award, which is the UK arm of the EEC's Clean Technology Award. Secondly, there is the Green Product Design Award, which aims to encourage the incorporation of environmental considerations into the design stage of new processes. Thirdly, there is the Good Environment Management Award to reward company staff at all levels who have achieved better environmental awareness in the workforce or in the local community. Finally, there is the Award for the Export of Appropriate Environmental Technologies, which speaks for itself. Within each of those four categories, awards are made first at the national level in each member state of the EC and then the overall European award winners will be announced in Brussels in March. There is some good news; we need a lot more. In conclusion, I can hardly do better than to paraphrase the well-known words used by Mr. Clinton Davis in ending his address to the RSA, which were mentioned earlier:"Thirdly, in most countries of the Community the public feels that the authorities are not doing enough to tackle the problems of the environment. In several countries more than half the respondents felt that public authorities were doing too little; the Community average was forty-seven per cent. Another sixteen per cent. were even more gloomy—they did not believe that the public authorities were doing anything at all. In other words, a sample sixty-three per cent. of Europeans are dissatisfied with official measures taken to protect the environment."
"And so, when the meek come to inherit the earth, let us hope that there will be something worthwhile for them to inherit".
My Lords, perhaps the House will accept that my compliments to my noble friend Lady Nicol and to the two maiden speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, are as warm as they are short.When the Minister took over the diary of his predecessor, our new Leader of the House, he will have found in it a date which was earmarked for a meeting with the leaders of the cleaning industry of Great Britain. It may well be that pressures on his time will lead to a necessary postponement of that meeting. However, he will know that it is a very important date and one to which the cleaning industry has been looking forward for some time. The House will know from the remarks of the president of "Tidy Britain", which is the new name of "Keep Britain Tidy", that I am its chairman. I am also the chairman of the British Cleaning Council and the British Institute of Cleaning Science. In case the Minister is tempted to ask me to declare my interests, as one Minister once was, I declare that they are honourary appointments. I take great pride in them because I believe that those organisations perform an important service in the cleansing of the environment of Great Britain and that progress is being made. It is absolutely essential that the voluntary bodies understand that they are appreciated. Some confusion was caused when a rearrangement of impetus caused a slackening of pace in some of the contributions that were being made by the long-established voluntary bodies. When new personalities and organisations are introduced, it is essential that what they are about to do is understood by them and by those benefiting from their obvious initiative. There is a very important cleaning industry in this country. It is professional and it contributes possibly as much as £9 billion to the economy. Waste disposal is one aspect of the problem; the casting down and cleaning up of litter is another aspect. Those matters fuse naturally into one of my other interests, which was for 10 years or so that of promoting tourism in Wales and Great Britain. It is essential that we understand that a major contribution is made to our economy by tourism. The cleaning industry is basic to tourism, in the same way that hotels are. Great damage was done to the economy when, because of other influences and reasons which might or might not have been avoidable, a rat was seen sitting on some uncollected rubbish in the centre of London. The photograph of that rat went around the world. In terms of tourism, that rat is infamous. It cut across the efforts to promote Britain and its earnings from tourism. I do not want to confuse the issue. We know that it is difficult to grapple with changing society. I shall quote something which I have quoted to the House before:
Part of the problem is that we sometimes introduce legislation without having educated people as to the true purpose of the legislation. Those things are fundamentally important and if we add the product of tourism, which can be as much as £6 billion, to the product of the cleaning industry, we are talking about big money in a shrinking economy. I wish to draw attention to the bodies representing the professional side of the cleaning business. One of the things that is not often underlined in our discussions is the fact that the collection and disposal of waste clears one problem and creates another. Disposal of waste in tips and litter in bins about the country creates small areas of intense difficulty. Perhaps I may say a word about the fact that many lorries are streaming up and down the motorways and the rural roads of Britain with insecure loads, scattering rubbish as they go. When the Minister meets with the cleaning industry and hears from it of its plans to contribute to the effort which he can sustain with his leadership, I should like him to understand that those professionals in the industry also contribute to the voluntary bodies which I have mentioned. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, has done us all a favour in introducing this debate. We do not do ourselves much of a favour in limiting speaking time so strictly. However, I shall not abuse the privilege."Let us educate, educate, educate and then we can legislate, legislate, legislate".
My Lords, I am both delighted and disappointed to be taking part in the debate this evening. I am delighted that so many noble Lords have taken part; I am disappointed that because there are so many speakers I shall have such a short time to speak about a subject of primary concern to our health. It has been a factor in the past and will remain a major influence on the nation's health in the future.A very large number of refined and synthetic toxins exist in the environment today, with the activities of man being either direct or indirect sources of those poisons. People are affected on an individual basis with apparently a wide range of susceptibility being exhibited among individuals. Although the body has mechanisms to eliminate these toxins, changes in lifestyle in modern civilisation, with less exercise, have resulted in poorer excretion of these toxins, with the result that they tend to accumulate in the body. It is important that your Lordships understand that a normal, healthy individual can cope with small amounts of these toxins but when the amount retained becomes a stress, in combination with the other stresses of life, it becomes too much for the body's defence mechanisms and symptons such as the appearance of allergic reactions, headaches or other unexplained illnesses start to appear. Many of these pollutants eventually reach us via the water supply and the food we eat. I should be grateful if the Minister could comment on or confirm that our water supplies in this country are in line with EC regulations in terms of purity. I had intended to say a few words about the presence of nitrates and pesticides in our water supplies but, as is ever the case when you are one of the last speakers on the list, the subject has already been covered and I shall move on. However, I should be interested to hear whether there has been any change of attitude to the use of antibiotics and steroids in animal foodstuffs, which again are increasingly present in drinking water and food and must be regarded as serious pollutants. Another major pollutant, not generally recognised, relates to the harmful effect of artificial electromagnetic fields on public health. During the course of this century there has been a massive increase in electromagnetic fields ranging from ionising frequencies such as radioactivity to extremely low non-ionising frequencies used in military communications. These low frequencies are mostly associated with the electrical power system. They are very pervasive and it is only in the remotest parts of the world that the intensity of these low frequencies is not several orders of magnitude above the natural level present on our planet. Readings taken on human subjects using an oscilloscope have shown that the mains power supply and the television time base frequency induced are the dominent wave forms in the human body. Significant harmful electric and magnetic fields can be set up with the use of everyday domestic electrical equipment. There is considerable international variation in safety exposure standards to non-ionising electromagnetic radiations. Exposure limits to microwave radiation have received considerable attention since the safety limit set by the USSR compared to that set by the USA differed by a thousandfold. The regulatory bodies in the US have set the limit at the threshold to thermal effects produced by microwave radiation, while the Soviet limit has been determined on the evidence of non-thermal effects. These electromagnetic fields work in two ways. Actively the waves penetrate the body setting up disturbance fields resulting in metabolic changes, adverse reactions and the possible triggering of allergies. Passively these fields jam natural beneficial electromagnetic signals, affecting health. Modern building techniques also shield natural electromagnetic fields and contain artificial fields generated by ring mains power supply and much of the electrically powered paraphernalia found in offices and workshops. Possible effects of these artificial fields have been largely ignored in the West but data have been accumulating which implicate the effects of electromagnetic fields in a wide range of physiological processes and behaviour. The general conclusion from studies is that there is a correlation between artificial environmental electromagnetic fields and a broad spectrum of ills as opposed to specific illnesses and that these ills are a reaction to the stressor wave form. An example of that is the disturbed sleep or behavioural patterns caused by the ring circuit at home. It is referred to as geopathic stress. If any of your Lordships or your families have difficulty sleeping try changing the position of the bed, turning off the LED electric alarm clock and making sure that the power to the television set in the bedroom is completely turned off. It does have an effect. There is a growing body of opinion that exposure to the pollutant effect of artificial electromagnetic fields is a serious potential risk to public health. Regulatory bodies have been slow to respond to this risk and since the sources of the artificial fields are so much a part of 20th century living, it is difficult to see how any legislation can be imposed to control the situation. However, it should be possible in the future, for example, to avoid siting intense sources of artificial electromagnetic fields near centres of population in order to decrease the risk of exposure. A re-evaluation of these risks is necessary in the near future. My noble friend the Minister has my sympathy. This is a vast subject with vital influence on our future health and existence. I hope that the Government will feel able to give due consideration to all the points raised in our interesting debate this evening.
My Lords, I readily devote the first of my allotted six minutes to giving sincere thanks to the two maiden speakers and also a welcome to the Minister with his new responsibilities.I think that noble Lords would generally agree that the growing problem of environmental pollution has been highlighted by my noble friend. Instead of piecemeal legislation on these matters, I wonder whether consideration might be given to the introduction of an environmental protection Bill—I hastily say not in this Session, please! Have the Government any intention of taking such a course of action? There is no lack of information. Reports of all kinds have been mentioned today, not least the reports of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which has already submitted 12 reports since 1971. I was sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, did not refer to the eleventh report, which was on managing waste and for which he had considerable responsibility, although I understand why he did not do so. I had the privilege of reading that report during the recess in readiness for this debate, and I noted that the commission said:
This particular report on waste contains 112 recommendations. I shall not ask the Minister to comment on each of them. However, what steps are being or have been taken by the Government on the recommendations that do not require legislation? Similarly, what consideration has been given to any of the recommendations that require legislation? Frankly, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the problem of litter is a national disgrace; there is not the slightest doubt about it. It must be linked to the question of recycling of waste and the work of local authorities. How far are local authorities constrained by financial considerations when dealing with waste? We have heard that the extent of recycling, particularly of glass, is well below that in other Western European countries. Local authority amenity points are a great boon. I have one in my own area. However, are the number, siting and opening hours of such points constrained because of the financial position of local authorities? What happens when they are closed? The one in my own area is situated in a lane leading almost nowhere. Because the amenity point is closed at 5 o'clock, litter is simply dumped, because not everyone finds those sort of hours convenient. Is the Minister satisfied that the European Year of the Environment has made the impact that was desired? The November Journal of the Environmental Health Officers quotes the chairman of the UK's European Year of the Environment Committee, who said that the UK had a good record on enacting EC law but was rather less good on enforcing it. That leads me to echo the question asked by my noble friend Lady Nicol regarding the European Community directive on the Environmental Impact Analysis. Will the Government be able to indicate by 3rd July 1988 their plans for the assessment of the effects of development projects on the environment? Reference has been made to the conference in November on the protection of the North Sea. As a result of the decisions taken there, what steps will the Government now be taking? The conference was held only a month and a half ago. We still have the problem of the dumping of industrial waste. We still have the dumping of sewage sludge in the North Sea. We are the only country in Europe that does this. Will the Government be in a position to make clear statements to the third conference on the North Sea? I understand that it is to be held in the Netherlands in the early 1990s to review the position. I must pass over other points and conclude with a comment from the report by the Royal Commission to which I have referred. The report states:"All forms of waste have one feature in common: waste, being no longer required by the owner, is consigned to the environment".
This means education by all possible means, through the media. It means legislation on all aspects of pollution, and enforcement. It also means adequate financial resources for the environmental officers in local authorities, and for the general work of local authorities on the question of waste and other aspects of pollution. I believe we must insist that market forces must not dominate over environmental needs."By waste management we mean management of waste at all levels of responsibility and at all stages, from production, through handling and transport, to its ultimate disposal".
My Lords, we have considered today important illustrations of the pollution which man makes and which man must acknowledge, deal with and best of all prevent. It is an important and very wide-ranging subject. We are all indebted to the noble Baroness for raising the debate today.The noble Baroness and others in your Lordships' House have argued that the problems of pollution are growing. Your Lordships have identified some indicators which are at present going the wrong way. I acknowledge those, although the overall picture remains encouraging. Our debate today illustrates above all a growing perception of pollution problems among the general public. I find that encouraging. Grass roots conservation organisations have undoubtedly raised levels of awareness. That is growing. There is an expectation of action. Action is expected from industry, from government at local, national and international levels and from us all as individuals. My noble friend Lord Craigton forcibly reminded us of one aspect today, which was as gardeners. I was interested in his suggestion of a red, amber and green labelling system, because simplified labelling is one of our objectives. Let me first say a word about the role of industry. Industry is responsive to public opinion. There is an ever-growing awareness of industry's dependence on an environment which is nurtured, not degraded, and of a practical understanding of clean technology. Thinking green can make financial sense. Many partnerships between industry and conservation have been forged since the introduction of our Conservation and Business Sponsorship Initiative in 1983 and I am sure that more will follow. Our pollution abatement industry, however, is fragmented. Technological development pioneered in one sector can fail to realise wider applications. This is an important loss in commercial and environmental terms. We must succeed with a broad-based, aggressive pollution technology industry. To this end we have set up an environmental protection technology scheme through which the Government will take the initiative in concert with industry to identify market opportunities, publicise priority areas where new technologies are needed and part fund research and development. The Government have taken vigorous action to protect the environment. There is a long way to go but we should remember the important achievements. We hear much today about the problems caused by acid rain. It is right that concern should be widespread. What is perhaps less widespread is an appreciation of the scale of action that we are taking. As part of a £1 billion clean-up programme we have agreed that three of the largest coal-fired power stations be fitted with flue gas desulphurisation equipment at a cost of over £600 million. I believe that the CEGB expects to submit its applications for consent for the first FGD plant at Drax power station later this month. I can therefore say to the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, that there is no reason to believe at this stage that the timescale will slip and that the commissioning of the plant in 1993 will be delayed. These measures should help to ensure that our emissions of sulphur dioxide, which have been on a downward trend since 1970 but are now beginning to rise in consequence of increased industrial activity, will be kept in check and should be further reduced during the remainder of the century. From then on the dismantling of the existing plant and its replacement with new low acid technology and with nuclear power will bring rapid and more substantial reductions in emissions. I should like to dwell on that. The downward trend was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley. The recent indications buck the trend of the past 15 years or so, which, as noble Lords know well, has been in a strongly downward direction. It is some 40 per cent. down since the 1970 peak. I have no wish to deny that this is happening. It is a feature of our strongly buoyant economy. There seems to have been some overreaction to the news. First, the upward trend in the 1986 figures is exaggerated because the previous emission figures with which they are compared—those of 1984–85—are artificially low as a result of the miners' strike. Secondly, if we look at the figures in terms of the effect on acid deposition in Scandinavia—the point about which the noble Lord, Lord Melchett, was concerned—according to the latest UN modelling results, Britain is responsible for about 9 per cent. of sulphur deposited upon Norway. An increase therefore in the UK emissions of the kind about which we are talking—which was about 5 per cent. between 1984 and 1986—means an increase of about a half of 1 per cent. in the total deposition upon Norway. That is not insignificant. I appreciate that it is not insignificant, in particular when viewed from the Scandinavian perspective, but I suggest that it is not a signal to panic at this stage. Indeed, some upward movements in emissions had been expected because of higher economic growth. The CEGB's major power station action programme, to which I have just referred, was introduced in anticipation of trends that we are now seeing. The noble Lord, Lord Mason of Barnsley, was joined by the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, in asking about the 30 per cent. I can only repeat what has been said before in this House. The reason we did not join is that the dates are so arbitrary, 1980 to 1993. The 1980 date is a long way from the beginning of our programme, which was 1970. Once again we showed the way. This brings me to the memorable maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding. I am grateful to him and to the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for reminding the House that the Government's record is extremely good. Far from doing nothing to introduce unleaded petrol, the UK initiated the move in the EC to low lead and unleaded petrol. The Government have reduced lead content in petrol to the minimum level to be safe for all cars on the road today. There are now some 550 filling stations throughout the country selling unleaded petrol. The availability of unleaded petrol has made great strides, but the problem, as with so many matters to do with pollution, as I have discovered in the very short time I have been in the department. is the need to educate and persuade people either to use it or to take action on it. The major 25-year programme to clean up the Mersey Basin, begun in 1984, has not been an isolated initiative. The £300 million spent on the Thames has rendered it the cleanest metropolitan river in Europe. Similar projects continue on the Tyne, the Humber, the Tees and other rivers, improving the water quality significantly. Last September the United Kingdom, together with the EC and most other member states, signed the international agreement on measures to control chemicals, notably CFCs, which have a potential to damage the ozone layer. I refer to the Montreal Protocol, which was a major environmental achievement in which the UK played a full part in support of the European Commission. We are following very closely the work that was undertaken and the agreement that was signed and are actively considering implementation. The department has held preliminary talks with industry representatives on the extent to which implementation might be self-regulatory. We shall also be considering measures with the European Commission and other member states. We accept that the global aspects of air pollution, which the noble Baroness, Lady Robson of Kiddington, mentioned, are of high importance. I can assure her that the UK plays a leading role in international research into climate change. The Government do not underestimate the threats to the environment. They will not shrink from the evidence, and they will continue to co-operate fully across national frontiers where the environmental threat is international. Our new initiatives to enhance environmental protection are wide and comprehensive. On water there are proposals to create a new system to manage and protect our national water courses under a new agency, the National Rivers Authority. Additional measures have been announced to bring new strict controls over the discharge of potentially hazardous substances from industry. I believe that what I have said will be welcomed not only by my noble friend Lord Stanley of Alderley but by the noble Baroness, Lady Robson, and the noble Lord, Lord Moran, who raised in particular the question of long sea outfalls. I can assure him that the NRA will monitor the outfalls which, as he knows better than I, are an approved method (provided that they are constructed properly) for the disposal of waste. I turn now, if I may, to matters dealing with the air. We are extending special controls over industrial processes and giving more effective powers of control to local authorities. On land waste, we have proposals which we hope to finalise shortly to overhaul the current control systems to provide more effective enforcement. These include the introduction of a duty of care on waste producers to ensure that their waste is properly disposed of and also the registration of waste carriers. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, raised the question of waste imports. I acknowledge that the trade in waste is growing and that the United Kingdom is taking its share of growth. As she said, last year we estimated that around 180,000 tonnes came to the United Kingdom. But we cannot be classed, because we are importing that waste, as the dustbin of Europe. In 1983, which is the latest date for which I have figures, some 2·5 million tonnes of waste crossed the frontiers of EC member states alone. But the importation of waste into this country and how it is treated is no different from how we treat waste generated in the United Kingdom. It is dealt with in precisely the same manner. Neither is this waste swamping the United Kingdom disposal industry. It is a minute proportion of the waste generated in the country every year and adds only 2 ounces to the 80 pounds generated per capita in the United Kingdom every week of the year. At sea we have agreed new measures to protect and enhance the quality of the North Sea, including the end of incineration of waste at sea, the dumping of harmful industrial waste and the jettisoning of garbage from ships. More generally our policy is to take an integrated approach to pollution control in order to protect the environment as a whole. We took an important step in this direction in April last year when we combined the various pollution inspectorates into the unified HM Inspectorate of Pollution. I welcome the support from the noble Lord, Lord Nathan, for the proposals in the consultation paper issued by the department in 1986 reviewing the air pollution control systems. These were in general widely supported and indicated a major consensus on the way ahead. The Government regret that it is not possible in the very full parliamentary timetable in the opening Session to find a place for new air pollution legislation; but in order to progress changes as quickly as possible we are now in detailed consultation with the interested bodies about proposals which we plan to lay before your Lordships and another place within the next few months. I hope your Lordships will understand if I return for a moment to the reference to the North Sea. I should like to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to my distinguished predecessor, my noble friend Lord Belstead. He is already sorely missed in the department and by all those associated with the environment. But it was my noble friend who was responsible for the arrangements for the Second North Sea Conference in November and he represented the United Kingdom at it. The success of the conference was in no small measure the results of his efforts and those of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, who chaired it. The final declaration represents unanimous agreement on actions to be taken to protect and enhance the North Sea environment. It was signed by all eight North Sea states and the commissioner of the European Communities responsible for environmental protection. A copy of that declaration has been placed in the Library of the House. My noble friend Lord Cork and Orrery will be pleased that the principal changes in the policy resulting from the declaration concern the input of dangerous substances to rivers and estuaries and sea disposal of waste. It is particularly pleasing to note that a task force is to be set up to ensure better coordination of North Sea research and monitoring. The United Kingdom will be hosting the inaugural meeting of the task force before Easter. I propose now to deal with some of the other points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Underhill, mentioned the eleventh report of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, which dealt with waste. The recommendations concerning legislation have been adopted almost in their entirety by the Government in their 1986 consultation paper. We hope to be able to announce the results of the consultations very soon. The noble Baroness, Lady Nicol, and the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, asked about the date of 3rd July. That is the correct date and we hope to meet it. It is our intention to bring the necessary regulations into force by then. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Boding asked about the value of market mechanisms. We continue to assess the potential of market mechanisms in the control of pollution. The CEED report, to which my noble friend referred in his distinguished speech, has been a useful and most welcome contribution to our thinking on this matter. Environmental policy must evolve on the basis of sound science, informed debate, foresight and a proper balance between development and conservation. We accept the precautionary principle. Although it is nice after a spell of six years or so to debate these matters once again with the noble Lord. Lord Melchett, I fear that we are as wide apart as ever and disagree as we have done before. I cannot let him get away with some of his remarks. As he knows, we have led the way in promptly eliminating the hazards of TBT and are currently engaged in persuading other EC countries to take the same action. I am sure that he knows that since 1979 the liquid waste discharged from Sellafield has been reduced by 85 per cent. and further reductions will take place in the early 1990s. I would also remind the House that the United Kingdom hosted and chaired the successful North Sea Conference and fully subscribed to its unanimous conclusions. I am sure that the noble Lord has read the report from it with diligence. I can assure the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, who gave what I thought was a forceful and apt maiden speech, that we do not wait for incontrovertible evidence of cost and damage before we take action. We act instead to prevent releases to the environment of substances which we can reasonably expect to pose a threat to it. In that manner we shall achieve practical solutions to pollution problems. Having tackled those, which may now appear easy, we shall be better equipped to disentangle the newest, more insidious and most intractable problems, including some of those which have been so eloquently described today. Let me conclude with a reference to the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, the Brundtland Report. I was rather surprised that none of your Lordships raised it today, because this is a truly comprehensive and balanced assessment of the formidable problems facing the world, and yet it is essentially optimistic. It does not offer doom and gloom but a way forward by means of economic growth sustained by integration of the environment and development. We have already given the report a warm welcome in the UN General Assembly. Our domestic policies are based on a belief that protection of the environment and encouragement of economic growth are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. The commission's report sets the world a difficult agenda but one which we cannot afford to ignore. Its recommendations must be followed up on national, regional and global levels so that periodic reviews of progress can he made in achieving sustainable development in order to safeguard our common future. I know I have not answered all the points that have been raised. I undertake to write to those noble Lords whom I have not answered. I know that I have an awful lot to learn. I look forward to working with your Lordships in this area.
My Lords, the noble Earl has another five minutes still to speak. How is it that he has not mentioned anything about nuclear waste disposal? Is the Government not concerned about it!
I have, my Lords. I have not mentioned a lot of other things which your Lordships would have liked me to mention.
I should like to compliment the Minister on his first appearance dealing with environmental matters, on the agility with which he answered all the questions and on the comprehensive way he dealt with them. I know that he will be writing perhaps concerning the voluntary organisations about which people are very concerned.It remains for me to thank all noble Lords who have taken part in what has been a very interesting debate. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
Press Standards Council
rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will now set up a Press Standards Council similar to the Broadcasting Standards Council recently announced by the Home Secretary.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, we have a small but very select list of speakers. I am sure that the other orators will join me in paying a tribute and saying how delighted we are that the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, is to follow me. I have done a little research and my own impression is verified. The noble Lord, Lord Deedes, is the only discoverable figure who has been a Cabinet Minister and the editor of a national morning daily newspaper. Someone, in a petty-fogging mood, might say "What about John Morley!" He was a Cabinet Minister and later of course a distinguished Member of this House; he wrote the Life of Gladstone in who knows how many volumes. But he was only editor of the Pall Mall Gazette which was after all an evening paper. So the claim of the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, remains unique. We all look forward very much to hearing from him.
The noble Lord, Lord McGregor, is recognised as an expert in this field having been chairman of the memorable Royal Commission. The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, is treasurer of the Christian Broadcasting Council. If my morals slip I know he will soon put me straight. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, was editor of the Manchester Evening News and the Daily Herald and for many years a leading figure in Fleet Street.
My noble friend Lord Mishcon has had a very high reputation in this House for a number of years as a man for all seasons, but always astute and always kindly. I think the House likes that combination particularly. Then we have the noble Earl, Lord Arran, whose father was so much more successful than I have ever been in looking after the underdog. I have never done as much for any underdog as his father did for the homosexuals and the badgers. He looked after the interests of both with equal distinction. I know he himself has followed the family tradition with much distinction in Fleet Street. We have a very strong team and the House will now allow me to offer a few thoughts.
In setting up a Broadcasting Standards Council Mr. Douglas Hurd has broken new ground. My submission tonight is that a similar body, which need not be precisely the same in range, is urgently needed for the press. In February of last year I introduced a Motion in which I insisted that the tabloid press had deteriorated and was continuing to deteriorate. I insisted that if possible that deterioration ought to be arrested. No-one at that time contradicted me. No-one in my presence or in writing has ever argued that I was wrong in saying that the standard of the tabloid press had deteriorated and was continuing to deteriorate. No-one disagreed with the proposition that steps ought to be taken, if one knew what they were to be, to arrest this decline. But there has been widespread disagreement. We may find ventilated tonight what steps should be taken to stop the decline.
I am not confining the debate to the tabloid press. I throw it open for anyone to discuss the question in any way he wishes. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on the earlier occasion, called attention to an amazing headline in The Times. Maybe all sorts of things will be extracted from the so-called "quality" press. I use that expression without sarcasm because, by and large, I respect that quality. My own primary concern, however, will be with the tabloid press. I leave the whole field open to others.
I am not going to repeat many of the things I said on the last occasion, because nothing is more tedious. I said then that the tabloid papers have become more sensational, more unfair, more careless of the truth, more intrusive into private lives, more ready to persecute and stir up hatred and more inclined to lean in a pornographic direction. My words seem to me even more true today.
In case anyone thinks I am being rather extreme, simply left-wing, or something dangerous of that sort, I shall now quote from a leading article in the Daily Telegraph on 22nd December, which made a wider criticism. Some phrases I could hardly bear to use myself. The article said:
"The popularity and credibility of the British press has never been at a lower ebb".
In what was quite a full leading article, the Daily Telegraph did not argue that the quality newspapers were perfect. But it did argue that the public judged the newspaper industry chiefly by its lowest common denominator—the tabloid press—adding:
"Many of its employees behave routinely in a fashion more appropriate to wild beasts than professional writers".
These are not my distorted views; they are the views of the Daily Telegraph—the considered views of that great Conservative paper. The article went on:
"A significant portion of the tabloid press is wholeheartedly devoted to peddling fantasies, often malevolent ones".
That is put it more forcefully than I could manage. But many of your Lordships will, I am sure agree, with the sentiment expressed by the Daily Telegraph.
I wish to be very objective, calm and collected here. I do not wish to imply that the tabloid newspapers which are, after all, read by such a high proportion of the population, are intrinsically evil. Every morning I visit my newsagent where I buy a quality newspaper in addition to those we receive at home. I shall not say which ones we receive at home and which ones I buy in the newsagents. My wife will not have one of the quality newspapers in the house so I have to get it at the newsagents. My eye ranges down the front pages of the tabloids. Sometimes I give way to temptation and actually buy one. I am not sure that that is an experience which all noble Lords have undergone, although I suppose that most occasionally look at them in this House. However, I am not sure that any noble Lord present buys many tabloid newspapers.
At the time of the King's Cross tragedy the estimates of the dead increased, as one moved along the line of newspapers, from 30 to 60 and there is certainly more drama as one proceeds downwards. However, I should like to say with emphasis that sometimes the front page is positively beneficent. I have criticised the Sun and I shall continue to do so. I suppose it is possible that the Sun will continue to criticise me. However, its front page was recently devoted to the rescue of a young woman who had been wrongly accused of assisting prisoners escaping from Gartree. That was a thoroughly humane front page and I only wish that there were more.
Since February there have been certain striking events in this area which I am sure have not escaped your Lordships' attention. There was the Jeffrey Archer libel case, which riveted the nation. In the end the jury, (rightly, I am sure, if I am allowed a view) came to the conclusion that a scandalous libel had been committed and it awarded Mr. Archer £500,000 in damages. The editor of the newspaper in question, the Star, refrained from entering the witness box. The poor man soon lost his job, which was hardly a coincidence. I hope that he has obtained other employment, because noble Lords will understand that I do not follow these people vindictively once they have fallen.
What followed was more extraordinary. One might have thought that the Star would have learned its lesson and decided to improve its moral tone. Quite the contrary: it established intimate links—a kind of amalgamation—with a paper which on the last occasion I said I hoped would not be taken in this House, and therefore I refrain from mentioning it this evening. It appointed as editor a gentleman from the unsavoury world of this unmentionable newspaper. In other words, it thought that it had not moved far enough down market. What followed was creditable to many people, including at least one member of your Lordships' House. Wisdom prevailed, no doubt sincerely on the broad level, but it seems to have been encouraged by the withdrawal of a considerable amount of advertising. That in itself was a tribute to the good sense of the readers. All good luck, therefore, to the Star for reacting swiftly to improve its moral quality.
The characters in that story are not done with yet. The News of the World came out of the Archer case even worse than did the Star, though more cheaply. In court the editor was revealed as being involved in a kind of plot to set up Mr. Archer. One might have thought that that editor's career would have suffered a temporary setback. Quite the contrary: soon after the trial, Mr. Murdoch acquired the Today
newspaper, thus winning control of slightly more than one-third of the British national press. By his own choice he is in his latter days an American citizen. At this critical moment, who does he appoint to the key position of editor of the new paper? He appoints no less a controversial person than the same Mr. David Montgomery, editor of the News of the World, who cut such a sorry figure in the Archer case.
Mr. Murdoch's view of what he wants to see in his newspapers could hardly be more plain. I am aware that this House does not like personal attacks but when Mr. Murdoch controls more than one-third of our national newspapers it is impossible to ensure that one censures them without censuring him. I say deliberately that Mr. Murdoch is far more responsible for the present situation in the tabloid press—and therefore, to some extent, in the press as a whole—than all his editors and journalists put together. If I appear to have cast scorn upon Mr. Montgomery or anybody else as editor of a newspaper, one should point the finger much more decisively at the boss. If any noble Lord present is pleased with the present quality of the tabloid press—and the Sun has certainly led the move downwards—he will give credit and applause to Mr. Murdoch. If noble Lords consider that the present condition of the tabloid press is quiet deplorable, they will attribute to Mr. Murdoch a terrible responsibility. It is a consoling thought for Mr. Murdoch and for us all that tomorrow is another day, and that is the only consolation that I can derive from this situation.
I approach the other great panjandrum of the press, Mr. Robert Maxwell, with rather different feelings. I have met Mr. Murdoch only once and I found him to be charming. People always tell me that he is an engaging man as though it were a kind of justification for these newspaper atrocities. In so far as I have met him, I have found him to be charming. However, for many years I have regarded Mr. Maxwell as a friend. I hope that our friendship will survive these remarks and this evening. I like to think of Mr. Maxwell as a socialist; perhaps a funny kind of socialist but he may say the same about me and therefore we are all square in that respect. I try to give his newspapers the benefit of the doubt but lately, no doubt under the strain of the competition of the Sun and the News of the World, the Maxwell papers have also moved down market.
Someone was recently kind enough to apologise to me on behalf of the group for printing a ridiculous mistake about myself but they show no scruples whatever in their dealings with those less able to hit back. When they decide that someone, to use a phrase of their own, is "a vile person", they find it easy to believe every false rumour about that person and to persecute him, as do some other tabloids, with unrelenting cruelty and dishonesty.
But, it may be asked, why do not individuals who have been libelled in this way bring an action? Perhaps one day it will happen, but the story of the Archer case is not encouraging. In addition to the £500,000 in damages, we are told that, taking the two sides together, the costs amounted to over half a million pounds. From the outside it appeared to be touch and go to the end. The total figure of £1 million has only to be mentioned to explain why tabloid newspapers feel fairly safe in their policy of character assassination, therefore.
There is an overwhelming case for legal aid for libel complaints. I said that on the last occasion and the House was told that the Lord Chancellor of the day would look into the matter. We are now two Lord Chancellors further on, but I pay my tribute to those Lord Chancellors whom we have come to admire over the last year. I hope that the latest incumbent will look carefully into the matter.
I should like to say a few words about the treatment of the Royal Family by the press, particularly the tabloid press. I want to be fair: our Royal Family has never been as popular as it is today and those concerned with the media—newspapers and broadcasting—are entitled to take some share of the credit. But instance after instance occurs of absolutely outrageous treatment of the Royal Family by the tabloid press. I am sure that no noble Lord present and no one who reads these words will need me to tell them that. I shall mention only two instances, though I could point to unnumerable others.
I have a copy of the News of the World dated 12th July of last year. On the front page of that newspaper there is a photograph of Princess Diana and under it the heading "Diana on the Booze". The front page refers us to pages 16 and 17, where the matter is dealt with at great length. I will only mention the main headline, "Bubbly Diana hits the bottle". What follows is not fit for your Lordships' ears.
I expect that there are many Members of this House who know Princess Diana and her husband much better than I do, though I am sure none of them admires them more than I. At least I know them well enough to say at first hand that the whole of this article is a disgusting fabrication, and I am sure that the whole House will agree with me about that.
The last two issues of the News of the World have sunk to new depths. The House might not have thought that possible. They have sunk to new depths which anybody who consults the file in the Library will soon discover. I do not wish to publicise the contents tonight. It may be said 'Oh well, it's only the News of the World: that has always been a shocking paper". Some noble Lords will remember creeping out of their school to some forbidden newsagent to buy the News of the World. I cannot accept that as a defence.
It is not only the News of the World which behaves in this way towards the Royal Family. The House will be aware that on the Saturday before Christmas six popular papers published in advance a garbled version—I repeat, a garbled version—of the Queen's Christmas Day speech. If some of those newspapers dislike being put into the tabloid category, they earned the title on that occasion. No censorship can be too severe for this deliberate and flagrant breach not only of all traditions but of all principles of honour, decency and trust.
What recourse is left for the injured person or for the citizen who is disgusted by what he reads in a newspaper? I expressed my appreciation on the last occasion, and I repeat it now, of the establishment by the National Union of Journalists of its own Ethics Council. The problem, as I said then, is that an editor of a newspaper is not likely to be a member of the NUJ, and behind the editor lurks the proprietor. Nevertheless, once again I wish everything good to the Ethics Council of the NUJ.
That brings me to the Press Council. Nothing I say should be taken as an adverse comment on the work of the Press Council. I have a great respect and much sympathy for it as it labours under appalling difficulties. People may say: "Surely the Press Council is an adequate remedy." I can only ask them to take another look at the tabloid press and they will hardly arrive at an affirmative answer. It may indeed be asked, "What would we do without the Press Council?" Noble Lords will recall the dialogue in the Oscar Wilde play in which one character asks, "What would life be like without coffee?" and the other replies, "What is life like with coffee?" In other words, I cannot accept the complacent opinion that things are all right as they are.
In an impressive foreword to the latest report of the Press Council the chairman calls attention to the disgraceful, indeed insulting, flouting by the Sun newspaper of its finding on one particular occasion. It is impossible to believe that the Sun would adopt that attitude and flout the Press Council in that disgusting way without the actual approval of Mr. Murdoch, who, as I mentioned earlier, now controls slightly more than one-third of our national newspapers.
The chairman of the Press Council indicates in his report the likelihood that such behaviour will jeopardise the voluntary control of British newspapers. It will, he fears, lead to the establishment of some kind of compulsion which he would much regret. I do not see the dichotomy quite as plainly or sharply as that. I understand that the Home Secretary, Mr. Hurd, is setting up a statutory body which, in that sense, would have government authority behind it, but it would be entirely independent of government and newspapers alike. Its findings would be advisory but I entirely agree with the Home Secretary that they should carry much weight.
To summarise my argument, I am saying that what is sauce for broadcasting is sauce for newspapers. I shall be interested to hear in particular from the Minister what arguments, if any, apply in the one case and do not apply in the other. I have spoken for long enough. I have left many loose ends, the most obvious one perhaps being the relations between this new body and the Press Council; but after all Mr. Hurd has to work out the relations between his new body and the existing machinery for dealing with broadcasting complaints.
There is a desperate need to find a remedy for a crippling disease whose long-term effect can only be to corrupt our nation. I hope that what I have said tonight will help to contribute to the discussion and will be of assistance to all those engaged in this search for the right answer. I speak as one for whom reading newspapers remains one of the great pleasures of life and one who regards journalism, with all its human failings, as a thoroughly honourable profession.
My Lords, I feel that a maiden speech about the national press by somebody who belongs to it needs an extra measure of the indulgence which I know your Lordships are always kind enough to grant on these occasions. However, I felt moved to join the debate which has been opened by the noble Earl because, like him and possibly from a different standpoint and a different angle, I share his misgivings and I am increasingly troubled by the standing of the national press. It is, to echo some words that he used, at a very low ebb—perhaps the lowest I have known in about half a century of journalism.The noble Earl has given us his reasons for that. One does not agree with all of them, but some of them in my view are very difficult to contradict. What I want to dwell on, however, are not the reasons but the consequences of that state of affairs, of which sometimes, I believe, the press itself is hardly aware. There is no doubt in my mind that with the loss of popularity and credibility with the public there has also been a considerable loss of power for the press. Newspapers, or at least some of them, are inflicting on themselves a more humiliating penalty than the Press Standards Council which the noble Earl has just proposed, and for this reason. They are no longer taken as seriously as they would wish. They are forfeiting their influence. They are in danger of losing any parliamentary democracy, their raison d'être, which is important. Profits for some newspapers may well be higher. We can rejoice at that. I hope that newspapers are going to enter, with new technology, a less anxious period than they have been through in the past 20 years. However, the extra profits have not all been won without some cost to the standing of the press as a whole. Let me say at once, without controversy, that I have reservations about the noble Earl's Press Standards Council, but my reservations are unimportant. I will, however, make the noble Earl a present of this. Were the Government minded to establish such a council, or even something more severe, they would in my view have very little difficulty in doing so. There would be a cry from the press and at least two cheers from the general public. That is, to my mind, a very grave state of affairs. Not only have we lost power—and this is the serious point—we have lost public support in defending ourselves. Witness what is happening over the Official Secrets Act, about which I personally think the press tends to get overexcited, and excessively so. The Government can do as they please with the Official Secrets Act (perhaps I should not tell them so) without the smallest risk of losing public support. The public are not interested in press susceptibilities about the Official Secrets Act; the public are far more interested in protecting their own rights of privacy. There is one other area upon which I wish to touch, finally, to illustrate the consequences of public contempt for the press. One duty of a newspaper is occasionally to expose an individual, even at the risk of a libel action. I think a particularly important duty in this respect may sometimes lie on a newspaper's City pages. Sometimes this duty can be fulfilled only by letting the law take its course, by going to court and by refusing to settle out of court. In my time as an editor of a national newspaper I had perhaps a hundred of these cases to weigh up—to go to court or to settle. I doubt if I would weigh up many cases today. I would settle and stay out of court. As the noble Earl has indicated, juries are finding a way of attaching public anger with the press to the damages which they award against a newspaper. Thus in my view a valuable freedom is lost. Defending what you believe to be right may now cost you a large sum of money related not so much to the libel which has been inflicted but to the opinion of the jury of present-day press methods. In my view that is a grievous trend. Given the abundance of talented and honourable journalists at our disposal—and I think it is right to stress that—this seems to me to be a sorry condition for our national press to have reached. We are coming to a point when a glaring contradiction is to be observed. On the one hand, there is an abundance of talent at the disposal of the profession. In my time as editor I interviewed young aspirants, and the quality rose with every one I met. Yet the British press is sadly despised by large sections of the public. In a maiden speech, which must be uncontroversial, I must be careful about what conclusions I add to this. I am reminded of the words used many years ago which I heard from the late Aneurin Bevan. He said that we should never attach blame to the monkey for the sins of the organ-grinder. If I may say so, it is not closer superintendence of what appears in newspapers that is most needed; it is closer attention to how and by whom newspapers are acquired.
My Lords, it is an especial pleasure to me to discharge the conventional duty of your Lordships' House in welcoming a maiden speech, but there is nothing whatever conventional in what I shall say regarding the noble Lord, Lord Deedes. He was a distinguished and widely respected editor of the Daily Telegraph for a dozen years; an editor about whom I have never heard a sour comment or other than unstinted praise from people in his occupation, to whom praise comes with difficulty. He brought to his maiden speech real experience of the world of newspapers and also the ability to take a detached view of its present circumstances, for which no indulgence is required. What he said was wise and direct and your Lordships will hope that he will make frequent contributions to their proceedings.Newspapers are fundamentally important in a democratic society as a central part of providing the comment, criticism and information without which a democratic electorate cannot make rational choices. At the same time they are an industry like any other and we all know that the only genuinely independent newspaper is one that makes a profit. They must sell in the market by meeting its demands. There is nothing new in the appeal of sex and violence to British or other readers. They appear to have revelled in them since the end of the 18th century.
Long before, my Lords. That does not make that more attractive but it is not to be forgotten either. I fear we are now a much more violent society than we were in the youth of many of us and we certainly have adopted new sexual attitudes and behaviour, not all of them for the worse. Certainly some of them permit a public expression of sexuality which has developed in very recent times.Our newspapers today reflect those changes and that is part of the market. It seems to me that there is no possibility of arguing in favour of a free market for many goods and services and excluding newpapers from it. If they are not to be excluded from a free market, they are going to meet different segments of the reading market. I agree with a great deal of the comment on the press made by the noble Earl, but he tended to speak as though the tabloids were a major part of the press. They are not. There are more than a thousand local newspapers, which hardly ever appear before the Press Council and rarely for any of the reasons that the noble Earl finds offensive. There are 6,000 or 7,000 periodicals only a tiny number of which could be covered by the criticisms that he was making. So do not let us talk of newpapers as though they consisted very largely of tabloids. In the second place I find his assertion about deterioration very difficult to substantiate. I know that in my profession the quality of university entrants and other students has been deteriorating steadily for 40 years; everybody says so. All of us, as we get older, appear to see deterioration. But how do we demonstrate it? Certainly I and other people have tried. I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, laid emphasis, as I think anyone who discusses this issue should, upon the improving quality of journalists. Journalists are now much better trained and much better informed than they used to be. No doubt some will say there is room for further improvement. Of course there is. I do not suggest that there is a legend of deterioration, but before we assert it as an established generalisation we need a lot more evidence. When the noble Earl says that the tabloids are corrupting, he is attributing to newspapers an influence for which there seems to me to be very little evidence. People generally attribute a high influence to newspapers. Politicians think they are influential in shaping political opinions, just as many other people think that advertisers are influential in making people buy goods which they do not want or want goods they ought not to buy. Again, let us be sceptical about attempts to establish that sort of relationship. For the sake of argument let us accept that all the noble Earl's charges are proved and we have to deal with a set of tabloids that are so influential that they are in fact corrupting. He wishes to deal with this by setting up in parallel with the proposed Broadcasting Standards Commission a Press Standards Commission. I have been trying to discover what the duties and powers of the Broadcasting Standards Commission are going to be. All that I have so far been able to find out is that it will be charged with a duty of monitoring sex and violence. The powers it will have when it has discharged that duty have not yet been stated. We do not know whether the broadcasting authorities will simply take note of what the commission says or whether they will have a duty to assimilate the findings of the commission in their own practical guidelines. I very much hope that the noble Earl who is to reply to the debate will enlighten us on these matters. Suppose that we did have a Press Standards Council charged only with the duty of monitoring. How is a commission or a council going to monitor all the national daily, national Sunday and local newspapers and presumably all the periodicals as well? It seems out of the question that any single body could do that in any useful way. There is a practical difficulty in deciding what the press body would cover. We come to a point of fundamental importance: the difference between the press and broadcasting. It is commonplace that from its birth broadcasting was regulated by governments because frequencies were scarce and governments had to allocate them. The sources of information in a democratic society such as ours are both broadcasting and the press. Broadcasting is much more accessible to control by government because one part of it is regulated by statute and the other part is subject to a Royal Charter. The press is the only institution in our society which is wholly independent of government in the ways in which it is set up and conducts itself within the law. Together with many other democrats, I am exceedingly apprehensive about proposals the effect of which would be to bring government into control over the press. I am very glad to hear the noble Lord opposite saying "Hear, hear", because, as it has been stated on several occasions. I know that to be the view of the Government themselves. That difference between the press and broadcasting is a fundamental flaw in the proposal which the noble Earl has made. It is to a large extent on that ground that I would reject his proposal.
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether he sees any way of improving the quality of the tabloid press, or does he just think it is like the weather and something one cannot do anything about?
My Lords, I was going to come finally to attempt a quick answer to the noble Earl's question. The task is to make the self-regulatory Press Council effective. It is no accident that with the exception of Portugal and Sweden, where special and long-lasting considerations apply, no democratic society has the equivalent of a statutory press council. In almost all democratic societies this work is done by self-regulation. The reason for that is the plain one that they all recognise the imperative necessity of keeping the press independent from government.I do not think that means that we have to accept that the sanctions that could be wielded by a press council must be wholly voluntary, save in the sense that they must be applied willingly by all members of the press. The noble Earl himself pointed to the fundamental failure, which is that some proprietors of a very small number of national papers will permit their editors at act in breach of the commonest and most widely accepted ethical standards of journalism. I see no possibility of persuading the press to accept the guidance of the Press Council in the areas that the noble Earl spoke about other than persuading the proprietors to instruct their editors to observe the ethical standards outlined in the guidance of the Press Council and I hope sooner or later to be set out in a code issued by it. If we had a code that journalists and members of the public could read, this in itself would be a helpful development, but fundamentally it is the proprietors who have to be persuaded on this point. They have to be persuaded to give a public commitment to provide the Press Council with an adequate and regular income so that it does not have to carry a begging bowl around in order to keep itself going. Secondly, they have to give a public commitment that they will instruct their editors to observe the guidelines of the Press Council. This would apply 'to very few newspapers because the vast majority observe the guidelines already. It is not beyond the wit of Her Majesty's Government to discover non-statutory means of exerting pressure upon the proprietors of delinquent newspapers. I do not know whether this has yet been attempted. If it has not, it certainly ought to be.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, for his memorable maiden speech, which I am sure made a great impression on all of us on the basis of his wide experience.I am happy to support the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in this debate. We both think alike basically on the issue of pornography and its corrupting influence, and he scratches my back as often as I scratch his. Broadly speaking I agree that a Press Standards Council ought to be set up. A good deal has been said over the years, and particularly in the debate on the noble Earl's Unstarred Question of 18th February 1987 (in which I took part) on the harmful influence of the press, and particularly the tabloid press. But in my view—which I think is widely shared—television and, to a lesser extent, radio are the greater evil, particularly where young people are concerned. I therefore warmly welcome the proposal to set up a Broadcasting Standards Council, although details of this body have not yet been announced, and I gather that the whole proposal is still under wraps. And so I—and I think many others too—eagerly await the fruition of this splendid idea. Here I must say a word or two about the Christian Broadcasting Council—which the noble Earl kindly mentioned—of which I am the treasurer. The main aim of this body, which was formed some four years ago, is to encourage the production of TV programmes which are positive, uplifting and constructive, in contrast to the negative and frequently destructive programmes which feature all too frequently on our screens. Although we have not made any spectacular progress so far, and our activities have not yet come to the notice of the public at large, nevertheless the council has been able to stimulate the production of TV programmes suitable for family viewing. These programmes are, of course, made by Christian bodies. One example I could give is the video "Shadowland", made by Lela Productions, which has won several awards and was shown approximately a month ago on BBC 1. In speaking of the radio broadcasting sphere I might mention that several of the smaller provincial stations have producers who have put on some useful Christian-based programmes. However, this debate is about the setting up of a Press Standards Council, to which I must now turn my attention. The principal need of such a council is surely to curb the excesses of the tabloid press, as the noble Earl, of course, agrees. I have said before, and I have no hesitation in saying again, that it is the young people—particularly perhaps the 12 to 20 year-olds—who are the most affected by these tabloids. Here I think especially of such teenage tabloids as Loving, Look Now, Honey and Jackie. All these publications have circulations in the region of 200,000 to 300,000. One may well ask, "What harm do these magazines do?" Are not today's teenagers so steeped in sex (some of it, I fear, perverted) that the message of these glossies is like water off a duck's back? I do not share this view. There must be teenagers today—and I know several—who are, if not wholly uncorrupted, at least neutral in their attitudes, and it is surely such people who can be—and in many cases are—swayed by the sort of messages that these glossies put over. The main themes running through many—indeed I would say probably most—of these repulsive publications seem to be the assumption that premarital sex, even if the participants are below legal age, is normal, natural and necessary; the promotion of abortion without discussing the serious moral implications of destroying life in the womb; a bizarre fascination with witchcraft and the occult; and promotion of the idea that homosexual relations are just as acceptable as heterosexual. Surely such a diet of amoral, if not downright immoral, ideas must pervert the young. At all events—and the sooner the better—we must somehow endeavour to arrest the flow of moral ills which is slowly but inexorably seeping through our society. I liken this process to an overflowing cesspit. How well do I remember, as a child, before the days of piped sewage, seeing such a cesspit at my grandmother's house in the country. It gradually overflowed on to the garden and the tennis court, in the end making play there impossible and ruining lawns and flowerbeds. Every day it had advanced a few feet, and it seemed that nothing could stop that nauseating flow. The question surely is: can the proposed Broadcasting Standards Council and, if it ever takes off, the Press Standards Council, wholly halt the flow of sewage—which is what it is—from the media? Although I strongly support the noble Earl in his proposal, I must admit that I have my doubts. Like the carpenter in Alice in Wonderland, I feel bound to say "I doubt it" and shed a bitter tear! But about one thing I am absolutely clear, and that is that these two councils must be based on Christian teaching. There seems to me to be no other basis for their existence. Christianity has been the bedrock of our civilisation over the past 2,000 years and must surely continue to be so.
My Lords, first, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, on his maiden speech. I welcome him all the more warmly as he is a distinguished editor and a veteran of journalism, who will fight to preserve the freedom of the press in spite of its notorious shortcomings.When I read my noble friend's Unstarred Question, I was reminded of the story of a Jewish pants presser whose telephone rang one sweltering afternoon in New York. A refined voice asked, "Is that the House of Rothschild?" "Mister," he answered, "have you got the wrong number!" My noble friend has the wrong number today because this is a most unpropitious time to propose restrictions on the press. At the moment, as a consequence of the Wright and the Cavendish publications, the Government are in conflict with the most serious and respected newspapers in this country. This is not the time to go into the affair in depth and after all there are cases pending. It is sufficient if I quote from the Observer of last Sunday: Like Ko-Ko in the Mikado, it said:
But, unlike the Lord High Chancellor of Titipu, she cannot put them on the chopping block. What she can do,"Mrs Thatcher has a little list. On it appear the following names: the Observer, the Guardian, the Independent, the Sunday Times, the London Daily News (now deceased), the Evening Standard, the BBC, the Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald and the Sunday Telegraph.'
This very week, the day after tomorrow, the Government are to impose a three-line Whip to reject a Private Member's Bill, a Conservative Member of Parliament's attempt to reform Section 2 of the discredited Official Secrets Act 1911. There are good people, it is true, who sympathise with the Government's desire to prevent former officials in the security service telling us how it works or how it used to work. Yet they feel it essential to debate matters which have been brought into the public domain and which concern such serious subjects as the alleged breaking of the law by intelligence officers and alleged attempts to destabilise a democratically elected government. The Government are not well advised. Indeed it is a remarkable achievement for a Conservative Government to have antagonised the serious national newspapers, the universities, the medical profession and the Civil Service. Now, although my noble friend's Unstarred Question comes at an unpropitious time, it is nevertheless timely. It is only a day or two since the annual report of the Press Council was published. It reports that for the third successive year it received a thousand complaints. I should like to quote from a lecture given about four weeks ago by Mr. Kenneth Morgan, the director of the Press Council. He said:"is to take them to court to prevent them from publishing things she does not want published. In a country which claims to value its democratic freedom, it is a remarkable catalogue of government interference in the full and fair reporting of matters of legitimate public interest".
My noble friend is looking not at the aggrieved serious newspapers but at the other end of Fleet Street where the national tabloids are notionally published today. And his desire to discipline them is by no means sinister. He is wanting to recruit, it seems to me, not a policeman but a parson, who would express his moral disapproval and persuade the sinners to come to the penitent bench and change their ways. Quite rightly, my noble friend called attention to some of the abuses of certain tabloids which publish stories that owe more to the imagination than to fact, even when they are referring to harmless and reputable members of the establishment such as the Royal Family. I deplore abuses of freedom, too. I long for the days of the popular serious paper—Pickering's Express, Barry's News Chronicle, Hardcastle's Mail, Cudlipp's Mirror and the stolid Labour Daily Herald. Those were what were then known as serious popular newspapers. The only survivor of them really is the Mail, which, although tabloid in size, is recognisable as the paper it has always been since Lord Northcliffe started it in 1896. But we have to recognise today that the serious popular newspaper has lost its function—though not for ever—to the electronic newspaper which provides a middlebrow service of news and comment each day and all day from dawn until midnight. What the tabloids do is to give the kind of news which gets short shrift on television, and to give it with sensational impact so as to try to compete with the terribly powerful impact of colour television. The pages are an awesome record of an age of violence and of random, value-free sex, and it is this and not just the abuses which some people wish to curb. They like to live in a beautiful world in which everyone reads the Telegraph, The Times, the Guardian or the Independent; but, alas, we are not all of such fine clay—not even all of us who serve in your Lordships' House. In our Library, we have each day 18 copies of The Times, 16 copies of the Telegraph, 12 copies of the Independent and 10 copies of the Guardian. But we also have eight copies of the Sun, the Express and the Mirror and we have three copies of the Star, the raunchiest of them all. Those tabloids, I am quite sure, are not consulted by noble Lords simply because of the sociological insights they provide. I suspect that they are read and enjoyed, and that for some of us page three stimulates happy memories of a long-departed virility. Today I laid hands on the Sun and found a leading article attacking this House. Fair enough, but it was grossly inaccurate. They pictured us dozing off in the Chamber after lunching on ripe pheasant and vintage port. That is an example of the remarkable kind of folk memory of Fleet Street. Thirty-odd years ago, Rab Butler as Chancellor of the Exchequer called the nation to vigorous action and to cast off the sloth induced by ripe pheasant and old port. Those were the days when there was gaiety in Fleet Street. Indeed, there used to be a very vivacious and idiosyncratic column written under the name of Arran. As I say, those were the days of gaiety, and the noble Lord, Lord Cudlipp, instructed Donald Zec to find a dozen working people to join him in dinner at the Savoy Hotel with ripe pheasant as the pièce de rèsistance, followed by old port. He had great difficulty in getting a quorum. He approached a gang of navvies down a hole in the road and they told him to push off, or words to that effect. The bus drivers thought that he was checking on their schedules. But eventually he filled his table in the Princess Ida room and everybody enjoyed the port, though not the pheasant. The Sun must understand that we do not live in that way, that today's menu in the House of Lords offered plaice, liver, liver and bacon and lamb—the kind of menu which I am quite sure is to be found in the Sun canteen. One person in four was having a single glass of house wine. All the rest were drinking water. Not one bottle named Sandeman or Taylor was in sight. To be serious, the new broadcasting body will be concerned with questions of taste, with the tone of television and radio. That may be necessary for a service which comes into the home and cannot be sampled in advance by a single mature person and if necessary censored. For broadcasting complaints there is still to be a separate body which corresponds to the Press Council. The Press Council does a pretty good job of work and there is no continuing problem, apart from one or two tabloids. As the noble Lord asked, shall we monitor the whole press, national and local, because a few newspapers fall below the minimum standard? Broadcasting has never been free as the press is free because it has, for technical reasons, until now been a quasi-monopoly and is thought to require regulation. The press is the gander, the broadcasting companies are the goose, and they are very different creatures. The press is free to publish within the law, and 12 million people buy these tabloids every day. Who can say that their style is wrong or their sensationalism unacceptable? Their errors, yes; their extravagances, yes. These are the products of competition in which all are struggling to excel or to survive. Each of these newspapers in today's conditions is going its own way and Fleet Street is losing even its geographical unity. I thoroughly agree with what was said about the need for proprietors to exercise their influence, but there is no chief proprietor around. We have nobody like Cecil King to offer leadership to Fleet Street. If the Prime Minister were to ask to whom she should go and talk, to exercise an influence over Fleet Street, I really do not know who that person would be. I do not think he exists."This has been as bad a year for both press responsibility and press freedom as one can remember. The harassment of the Prince and Princess of Wales, the disclosure in the Archer libel action, for example, of the degree of prurience, intrusion into privacy and dubious methods to which popular newspapers can sink in search of circulation recalls Sir William Haley's description of them 40 years ago: 'newspapers who have moved into the entertainment industry—and not very high grade entertainment at that'."
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? Surely Mr. Murdoch is enormously powerful. He is supposed to be on very close terms with the Prime Minister. Should she not be exercising some influence over him rather than the other way round?
My Lords, I have no idea what her relations with Mr. Murdoch are. All I know is that he is not in this country. One of the reasons newspapers in most parts of the world are capable of self-censoring is that they are local, provincial or regional newspapers. Their editors and proprietors are within sight of the local population and are subject to the praise and blame of that population. Here our proprietors, even our journalists, are remote from their readers.However, I feel that this phase of the tabloid press will not last for ever. There are signs that for commercial reasons—not for any moral reason—both the Express and Today are trying to break out of the tabloid mould. They are doing it very timorously and not consistently, but I do not give up hope.
My Lords, first I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Longford on your Lordships' behalf for introducing this debate on very interesting matters. He is to be thanked if only because he brought into the debate the worthy maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, which we also much enjoyed. If I may say so, he was also responsible for the speech of my noble friend Lord Ardwick, which we enjoyed very much indeed too.I do not know whether it is coincidence or that eternal providential sense of humour which has always had as its agent in this House the Chief Whip's Office that this debate follows immediately on the growing problem of environmental pollution. It seems to have been a very worthy introduction to the speech of my noble friend Lord Longford. I must confess that that immediately brought me to read again some portions of the report of the Royal Commission which was chaired with such eminence by the then Professor McGregor, now our colleague the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, who participated in this debate. I cannot help it. I cannot resist the temptation to read to your Lordships the poem by William Cowper which preceded the introduction to that report. It is entitled "The Progress of Error" and it was written in 1782. It states:
"How shall I speak thee, or thy power address,
Thou god of our idolatry, the Press?
By thee, religion, liberty and laws
Exert thy influence and advance their cause:
By thee, worse plagues than Pharaoh's land befell,
Diffused, make earth the vestibule of hell:
Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise,
Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies,
Like Eden's dread probationary tree,
I think that that poem possibly illustrates in rather beautiful language the fact that was brought out in this debate, that the evils of the press as we have seen them illustrated tonight by examples from some portions of that press do not belong only to the 1980s. William Cowper wrote that poem 200 years ago almost to the day. What is the problem that is thrown up? We have a glory in this country. I believe that there is no division in your Lordships' House—there should not be—between the Government Benches and the Opposition on this great principle which is our glory; that is the freedom of the press. Alter that freedom, manacle that freedom by any kind of governmental control and the treasure, the jewel that we possess, will become tarnished in no time at all. In governmental hands that your Lordships cannot forecast at this moment heaven help the inheritance that we have of the freedom of the press. I do not go all the way with the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, when he asked why, as there is a free market in everything else, there should not be a free market in the press. There is not a free market in goods which hurt the health of the nation, be they adults or be they the young. There are curbs upon that freedom in that those products are not allowed to hurt the health of the nation.Knowledge of good and evil is from thee".
My Lords, If I may say so, my words were "within the law".
Yes, my Lords. The words used were "within the law". Obviously if the law were to be imposed here by Parliament—I speak in the context of the Official Secrets Act—and it had the effect of limiting the freedom of the press in any statutory form, I believe that we would be doing wrong. But we must ensure that the curbs which are very often voluntarily accepted in industries, be they the tobacco industry or other industries, are imposed upon sections of the media such as the press. If I may say so the press has at the same time got a complaint. The complaint is not that it is being made a mockery of in regard to certain freedoms but that the courts are now being made a mockery of. I say that with sadness.In this debate your Lordships have referred to Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. This morning I read in The Times a short paragraph which I shall read to your Lordships in order to show where we have gone in this matter and how necessary it is for the Government to act. I know all the difficulties of a previous Bill brought before Parliament where there was disagreement and where the Bill therefore was not enacted. However, there is a very firm duty imposed on the Government to see that not only the press but also our system of justice is rescued from the ridiculous situation which is created by the wording of Section 2 and all its uncertainties. The portion I wish to read from The Times is on page 2.
The article continues:"Judge has second thoughts on 'spy'".
your Lordships will know that that is the Scottish word for an injunction—"A judge who last week stopped The Scotsman from publishing extracts from the memoirs of Mr. Anthony Cavendish, the former MI6 officer, has had second thoughts. Lord Coulsfield said yesterday that he now felt his interdict"—
The noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate is a very respected figure in your Lordships' House. Apparently he, as a member of the Government and in the responsible position of Lord Advocate, has been saying to a judge: "You are wrong in thinking that this matter is not in the public interest. It is." There is confusion throughout and the country's judges are being put in a ridiculous position. Parliament must put on its thinking cap in order to get a sensible Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act as speedily as possible. What is the purpose of this Question? Knowing my noble friend and respecting him as I do, I believe that it is to bring to the attention of the House the falling standards to which the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, referred in his memorable speech. He is right to do that. There is no doubt about the falling standards. Your Lordships have had questions of sex and violence brought before you. But what about the invasion of privacy and photographers pushing into all sorts of places in a way never known before so far as Fleet Street is concerned. I have seen it with my own eyes and it is a disgrace. It is done on the basis that you must bring back to your editor stuff that will presumably improve the circulation of your paper, regardless of the moral issues involved and regardless of what you do to human beings. Reference has been made to members of the Royal Family. It is perfectly true that they have the respect and affection of the majority of people in the nation. I say with every sense of responsibility that the repeated scandalous stories are eating at the very foundations of our constitution. They are producing an effect in regard to members of the Royal Family which is absolutely pitiable. They cannot defend themselves. If a politician's reputation is attacked, he can get up and defend himself. An ordinary member of the public who is attacked can issue a writ for libel if, as was pointed out, he can afford to do so. But what can members of the Royal Family do other than to rely on the decencies of Fleet Street, upon which one was able to rely for quite a few generations. I do not think that the solution suggested by my noble friend is appropriate in this case. In this House a Question was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford, for Written Answer. It was answered on 26th October 1987. He asked what plans the Government had for strengthening the oversight of the portrayal of violence and sex in broadcasting. The Minister of State at the Home Office, who at that time was the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, replied by explaining the purpose of this Council:"constituted an 'undue interference with discussion of matters of public interest'. In a written judgment at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, he said the interdict should be recalled. A decision on whether to do so will be taken in the Court of Session of January 26th. At the appeal hearing, the judges will also hear arguments by the Glasgow Herald and Scottish television. Lord Coulsfield said yesterday that he now deferred to the view put forward by the Lord Advocate, Lord Cameron of Lochbroom, that the matter was in the public interest".
So it is not with this council, my Lords. The Minister continued:"We propose to establish a new Broadcasting Standards Council, divorced from programme making, which will act as a focus for public concern about the portrayal of violence and sex on all forms of television and radio receivable in the United Kingdom. Responsibility for enforcing programme standards and for responding to complaints will remain with the broadcasting authorities".
The difference between broadcasting coming into the home and the newspaper being voluntarily purchased on the newstand has already been brought out. However, this is not the sort of council that will have the powers which I believe the noble Earl seeks for an equivalent council in the newspaper world. What should we be doing? Something ought to be done. I respectfully suggest to the House that we ought to be strengthening the Press Council which is already there. What were the views of the Royal Commission which was presided over, as I have said, by the noble Lord, Lord McGregor? On page 215 of the report the commission sums up:"but the new council will be able to monitor the relevant programme standards and publicise its findings, where necessary on individual programmes. It will also be able to initiate studies and research on the relevant programme standards".
Furthermore—and the noble Lord, Lord McGregor, referred to this in his speech—it:"we consider that the Press Council should be funded in the same way as at present, and with greater resources to enable the work to be extended, but with lay members, if the Chairman is included, in a majority; should have more staff and more money to advertise itself, its purposes, and the standards it upholds; should initiate more complaints itself, institute procedures designed to lead to speedy conciliation and provide an effective right of reply".
That is almost 40 years ago. The Press Council does not advertise in the national press. The public do not know enough about the Press Council and their right to complain to it. Advertisements appear in the regional and local press, but not in the national press. I ask, "Why not?" That was recommended by the Royal Commission and it is a very sensible recommendation. There is not yet a code for journalists, and the Press Council has relied upon the ruling that it has already given, building up a common law based on precedent. That, I know, was very much the wish of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Devlin, who is a very distinguished past chairman of the Press Council. But precedents are not good enough. The facts of the position can differ from a previous precedent. Precedents take years before they become comprehensive as a code of conduct. Why not have a code of conduct? Why does not the Press Council get on with it, one might ask? I ask the question in this speech tonight. What about an obligatory agreement to observe the standards and the code? There are objections to that, I am told. There could be arguments from those who do not sign the contract. It could have other disadvantages. Why should we not have an exclusive club of which all Fleet Street could be members, indicated on the front page of any newspaper that wished to do so—and one would hope that they all would, and the approach could then be made to the proprietors as has been suggested—with the words "This paper is subject to the jurisdiction of the Press Council." That is the exclusive club. If one does not print that one does not belong to the exclusive club. What do the words "subject to the jurisdiction of the Press Council" mean? They mean a written undertaking to abide by its code, to accept its decision, and to cooperate in any inquiries that may be held. Why does not the Press Council advertise its findings where there has been a complaint but not simply, as very often happens, through the newspaper against which the complaint was made? That is presumably read by the loyal readers of that newspaper, who will continue to read it. Why should not the whole of the public know as a result of the decision, and a direct advertisement by the Press Council, that a complaint was made against newspaper A, that the complaint was whatever it was, that the paper has been condemned by the Press Council, and that the reasons for the condemnation are as set out? That, again, would strengthen the Press Council—a voluntary council. As a result of these matters recommended in the main a long time ago in the report of the Royal Commission, we should have a Press Council which would at last have some teeth even though it relied upon voluntary cooperation. As a result of such matters our Fleet Street might return to a healthier state than at present."should operate a written code of conduct for journalists; should express its condemnations in a more forthright way, give reasons for its decisions, and take a stronger line on inaccuracy and bias. We leave it to the Press Council to decide whether these proposed changes in its role, and particularly the emphasis which we believe it must give to protecting the public interest, require formal change in the objects set out in paragraph 20.10. We hope that these recommendations will be accepted and acted on by the Press Council, and that it will fulfil the hopes that were held for it in 1949".
My Lords, first and foremost I want to say how grateful I am that the noble Earl has raised this matter—a matter of great topicality and interest. It was only last February that he brought before your Lordships' House the question of the moral standards of the tabloid press, and in his speech then he suggested that he was dealing with a subject which, so far as he knew, had not been dealt with in this House before. Although his starting point this evening is rather different, many of the concerns he raised last February have continued to attract much attention. And, more generally, questions relating to both the press and broadcasting have been very much in the public eye. The House will be grateful to the noble Earl for making this evening another notable contribution to public debate about these matters.I should also like to pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Deedes on the occasion tonight of his maiden speech. For many years he distinguished himself as the editor of the Daily Telegraph. This evening he has distinguished himself in the wisdom and knowledge that he has brought to this debate. We know that his huge experience in newspaper matters, and many others besides, will at all times be much to the benefit of your Lordships' House. Secondly, the press is a subject not altogether unknown to me personally, since it was my employer for almost 10 years of my life—albeit, I vouchsafe, on the managerial side. It is impossible not to agree with and support much that the noble Earl and many other speakers have said. I am sure that all noble Lords will at one time or another have sympathised with the character in Tom Stoppard's play "Night and Day", who said:
When the subject of press freedom was debated in another place last November a disturbing number of honourable Members cited instances in which they had been misreported or had been the subject of erroneous stories in the press. They were concerned not for themselves but more for what this might suggest about the treatment of individuals more generally by some parts of the press. There have been particular instances mentioned by some noble Lords, such as the intrusion by journalists into the privacy of members of our Royal Family—and I am thinking of intrusion well beyond what could possibly be justified as being of legitimate public concern—in which public opinion has reacted strongly against standards of professional conduct which were clearly unacceptable. Such naked and aggressive intrusion into the privacy of members of the Royal Family is, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, forcefully pointed out, abhorrent to all sides of your Lordship's House. I do not for a moment suggest that such instances are representative of the state of the press in the United Kingdom as a whole. Indeed, there have been very encouraging developments, such as the way in which the Independent has established itself as an award-winning new daily paper of very high quality. In other respects the condition of the press has improved greatly over the past few years. In particular, restrictive practices and excessive manning levels are both on the retreat. All that I am saying is that the noble Earl has again rightly raised matters which must give us food for thought. Another part of the background to this debate is the public concern which has been expressed about the portrayal of sex and violence in broadcast programmes, and especially on television. This concern was reinforced by the Hungerford tragedy, but existed before then. It was recognised in the Conservative Party manifesto, which gave a commitment to strengthen the oversight of programme standards. Later last year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced his plans for implementing that commitment. A Broadcasting Standards Council is to be established, initially in advance of legislation, although it will be placed on a statutory footing at the earliest opportunity. The BSC will not be a regulatory body, but will act as a focus of public concern about the portrayal of violence and sex on TV, radio and in videos. The new council will be able to consider and analyse complaints, initiate discussion and research and, where necessary, express and publicise views on individual programmes without waiting for its annual report. It will also be able to stand back and look at patterns and trends across the areas for which the individual regulatory bodies are responsible. We expect it to be, indeed it must be, influential. Certainly, it will not be and must not be toothless. It should reinforce rather than undermine the regulatory responsibilities of the BBC, the IBA, the cable authority and the other responsible bodies. The BSC is at an advanced stage of preparation, and my right honourable friend will be making a further announcement about it very shortly. I know that the noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, among other noble Lords, keenly awaits these details. With the increasing background of concern about standards in some parts of the press, it is only natural to ask whether an equivalent of the BSC is needed to strengthen the oversight of press standards. Such an argument clearly has its attractions, and the noble Earl has made his case with penetration and skill. I would counsel caution against any underlying assumption that the press and broadcasting are, or should be treated, on the same footing. I want to advance six points in arguing against making too much of any apparent parallels. First, our constitutional arrangements for broadcasting have recognised from the outset the unique nature of the broadcasting medium. Some noble Lords may say that it does not make much difference whether dubious material appears in a newspaper or on television. If it is salacious or offensive, then it is its salacity or offensiveness which counts and not the medium by which it is delivered. That is true as far as it goes. But it leaves out of consideration the fact that television and radio programmes have a vividness, a capacity for addressing a vast audience absolutely simultaneously, a potential instrusiveness and an apparent authority which articles in the press cannot match. This difference in the nature of the two media is not of itself conclusive, although it does, I believe, partly explain why general public concern about violence and sex on television has been more anxious and more strongly expressed than public concern about press standards. But the difference underlies other respects in which the parallel breaks down and it is these respects I shall return to later in my argument. Secondly—and again I do not advance this on its own as a decisive consideration—this Government are rightly sceptical of any proposal which involves creating a new statutory body unless the case for it is fully made out. If broadcasting and the press were on exactly the same footing, then the same logic which led to our proposal to establish the new Broadcasting Standards Council would also apply to the noble Earl's proposal for a Press Standards Council. For reasons which I will explain, we are not convinced that it does. Before I move on, it is worth mentioning that some people have argued that the remit of the Broadcasting Standards Council should extend to the press and to the cinema. In this way they seek to achieve the same end as the noble Earl, but without creating a further new quango. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has rejected this proposal. We do not want to dilute the effectiveness of the BSC by giving it too wide a remit. If a demarcation is to be drawn, the natural way of doing it is to include programmes which may be heard or seen by the whole family in the same sitting room from the same or linked equipment, irrespective of whether what is being watched is a television programme or a video, or which radio programme is being listened to. The historical development of, and oversight arrangements for, cinema and the press are in fact very different. My third point is that we should not underestimate the effectiveness of the existing Press Council. While my fourth and fifth points will be concerned with the implications of replacing the Press Council or giving it new statutory powers, I want to pause first on the role which the Press Council currently performs. This is not always understood, and some comments about the council have been unfair or misconceived. It was on the recommendation of the first Royal Commission on the Press that a General Council of the Press was established to provide a framework of self-regulation for the press. The Press Council now has 18 professional members and 18 lay members under an independent chairman. Over the last 10 years the council's caseload has trebled. The council has sharpened up its procedures. For instance, since 1978 it has had an official conciliator who can employ informal procedures to reach agreement between the parties on a complaint. Since 1984 it has operated a fast track correction procedure. This expects editors to correct significant inaccuracies within six days. The council aims to rule on any complaint of such inaccuracies within a fortnight. These changes followed the recommendations of the most recent Royal Commission on the Press. The Royal Commission thought they were preferable to undermining the Press Council by establishing a separate press ombudsman. The Press Council has implemented them. The Press Council's adjudications constitute an important set of principles for the press and in 1985 it did actually publish a digest of these in convenient book form."I am with you on the freedom of the press. It's the newspapers I can't stand".
My Lords, before the noble Earl continues, I hope that he will deal with the suggestions as to how the four recommendations of the Royal Commission could be observed. Will he make clear the fact that the principles to which he has referred in the booklet refer only to past decisions and not to a code for journalists?
My Lords, as always, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for making matters clear on that point.It is frequently claimed that the council is a watchdog without teeth. The independent chairman of the Press Council, Sir Zelman Cowen, is quite clear that it is wrong to argue that the council is an apologist for the press. He says that press members on the council are often the sternest critics of a newspaper's performance. The council requires publication of its adverse adjudications. This requirement is almost invariably respected, although there are questions about whether adjudications are published with a publicity and visibility comparable with that of the original offending material. The Press Council's adjudications undoubtedly carry moral authority. Where, as often happens—for instance in matters concerning the privacy of the Royal Family—the adjudications coincide with a strong public feeling that fair play has not been observed, it is a foolish editor who pays no heed. His rivals in the circulation wars will not hesitate to publicise the council's adverse findings. My fourth point takes up the implications of giving the Press Council sharper teeth. My suspicion is that, depending on what form these sanctions took, they would either be ineffective or would be bought at a very high price. The foreword to the council's 1979 report by the then Chairman, Sir Patrick Neill, devastatingly exposed the deficiencies of the Steyn Bill in South Africa, which tried to provide teeth for a proposed General Council for Journalists by imposing special statutory controls on the profession of journalism. Few of us would want to go down that road. But any special statutory powers—and this is my fifth point—would necessarily involve us in abandoning the principle, which has served this country well since 1695, that the press is subject to the law of the land in exactly the same way as the ordinary citizen. It was in recognition of the dangers of departing from the time-honoured framework of press freedom in this country that three successive Royal Commissions on the press recommended against switching from voluntary to statutory regulation. And if ever statutory powers were to be granted for the regulation of the press why then not at a later date that same statutory power for magazines and books! Newspaper editors are free in law to decide what to publish, save only for the need to observe the law to which all citizens are subject on such matters as defamation, obscenity and contempt of court. While recognising the strength of concerns about some aspects of behaviour by some journalists, the Government do not believe that the case for special legislative arrangements for oversight of the press is yet strong enough to justify the departure from our traditional framework of press freedom which this would entail. We should remember Macaulay's comment that Parliament's refusal to renew the Licensing Act in 1694:
But I should stress that the press themselves could tilt the balance of the argument if they became significantly less responsive to the Press Council. My sixth point returns again to the differences between the press and broadcasting. Partly because broadcasting is a more vivid and intrusive medium, its whole regulatory history and framework has been different. Its regulation is entrusted to broadcasting authorities, acting as trustees for the public interest, which are rightly expected to set much higher standards than the general law in such areas as good taste and decency. The broadcasting authorities are also concerned with such matters as accuracy and impartiality in broadcasting, and the BBC and the IBA have drawn up their own guidelines on right of reply. As regards unfair treatment and the invasion of privacy, there is a statutory Broadcasting Complaints Commission. There are other differences, too. Broadcasting electromagnetic spectrum is scarce, although ways of increasingly overcoming spectrum scarcity are an important part of future policy thinking; little of broadcasting finance has been raised through direct consumer payment; and broadcasting has traditionally been provided as a public good on public service principles. In each of these respects there is no real parallel with the press. The implications of these differences range very widely, but I should like to note one here. This is that the economics of the press and broadcasting are very different. In the case of the press there is a direct market relationship between a newspaper and its readers, which at present exists only to a very limited extent in the case of broadcasting. Apart from anything else, this may help to explain why concern about press standards is different in kind as well as degree from concern about violence and sex on television. The newspaper industry is subject to, and has to be responsive to, market signals which do not at present exist in the same form in the case of broadcasting. At this point I should like briefly to turn to a few points mentioned by noble Lords in the debate. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked for a review on legal aid in cases of libel. Since the inception of the legal aid scheme in 1949 actions for defamation have been expressly excluded from legal aid by statute. Legal aid has never been available for defamation proceedings because such actions are intrinsically precarious and uncertain and are more likely to prove fruitless, trivial or ill-founded than other kinds of proceedings. My noble friend Lord Deedes warned us in a most solemn and carefully considered speech of the sorry condition that the press had reached. I note carefully some of the excellent points he made. The noble Lord, Lord McGregor of Durris, talked of the violent times in which we live and said that newspapers only serve to reflect such times; but are not such times brought on, albeit inadvertently, by newspapers? The noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, repeated his anxieties over the editorial policies and standards of some of the magazines currently on the market, mentioning a need for a more Christian and less profane editorial attitude. The noble Lord, Lord Ardwick, was not one to praise the current scene of newspapers in this country—in fact, the reverse. I wish I were more optimistic about his signs of improvement in several newspapers. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, read, if I may say so, with his usual eloquence a poem by William Cowper to demonstrate his points. On the point that he made concerning the statutory right of privacy, the Younger Committee on privacy saw risks in placing excessive reliance on the law in order to preserve privacy. It commented that it was impossible to devise any satisfactory yardstick by which to judge, in cases of doubt, whether the importance of a public story should override the privacy of people and personal information involved. The Royal Commission on the press recommended against a statutory right of privacy on a number of grounds. In addition to the arguments advanced by the Younger Committee about the difficulty of applying a public interest test in this context, it also considered the Press Council a better forum for etablishing rules of conduct for the press in relation to invasions of privacy; and argued that the Press Council's status and importance would be reduced if its jurisdiction in this area of activity were to be removed."attracted little attention…but has done more for liberty and civilisation than the Great Charter or the Bill of Rights".
My Lords, the noble Earl is always very courteous, and I intervene only to make my position quite clear. I did not in any part of my speech suggest that there should be a statutory protection of privacy. I was again talking about the code of conduct.
My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has said.In making these six points I have tried to bring out that in terms of its history, its legal framework, its economics, its technological nature and in many other respects, broadcasting is not on all fours with the press, even though appearances may sometimes suggest the contrary. Therefore, although it may sound attractive to set up a Press Standards Council similar to the Broadcasting Standards Council we must have regard to the many dissimilarities between the two media. It follows from what I have said that a statutory Press Standards Council could not occupy in relation to the press a parallel position to that envisaged for the Broadcasting Standards Council in relation to broadcasting. In my conclusion of the case for the Government declining to set up a Press Standards Council I wish to make one final point, and perhaps the most telling of all. While the Government have undoubted understanding of, and sympathy for, concern about the at times grave irresponsibilities of members of the national press, they nevertheless consider that not only would the creation of an effective ombudsman—and I stress "effective"—or of a statutory body be extremely difficult to bring about but that the dangers posed by the interference with the liberty of the press that might ensue would be severe. Nonetheless we cannot and never will eliminate the possibility of statutory controls if serious public concern over conduct by members of the press is not met by the present arrangements. Never should the proprietors of national newspapers look upon themselves as being inviolate or at all times able to hang a "hands off" sign outside their gates. That would constitute the gravest folly. At all times journalists must prove themselves worthy of the British tradition of press freedom. It is debates such as today's which will serve to remind them that that heritage, which is rightly prized, should never be taken for granted. With those thoughts in mind, that is why the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has performed a great service in once again raising the question of press standards in your Lordships' House.
House adjourned at seven minutes past ten o'clock.