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Column 162The second case was that of a low achiever-- I hope that he will forgive me for calling him that--who looks after his mother, who suffers from epilepsy and arthritis. Under the new system he gets £21 a week instead of £57. It will take six months for an appeal to be heard. I do not believe that that was the Government's intention, either, but whatever caused it cannot be right.
I was one of those who praised the old DHSS for saving about £500 million by catching twisters. Twisters are leeches on society, whether they come from the City or twist benefits which should belong to others. I agree that there need to be changes if we are to target money properly ; and I shall suggest three things that need to be done.
We should not do the least that we can and shovel these matters under the carpet. Luckily for some of us, society is composed of people who achieve and are fortunate, but it also consists of low achievers and of those who live in the grey, depressing valley of misfortune. We must make up our minds whether we want to help such people because we must or because we think that we should. What the Government have done best has been to make this a more successful and high achieving society ; the question now is what to do with the achievements. All hon. Members who represent city constituencies know of many people who could obtain benefits if they could afford to take solicitors or accountants with them to the DSS. But if they could afford them, they would not need the DSS. As I have said, the Government need to do three important things. With the £500 million that we have rightly saved from the twisters, we should increase the staff of the DSS who deal with attendance allowances, community care, housing benefits and family credit. The problem is that in Birmingham, for example, only 8 per cent. of the community care budget has been taken up. That is not what the Government intended. As I have said already, good intentions are not enough. It is what we do that matters.
Secondly, as a caring people, we should give more funding to the citizens advice bureaux. Anybody who knows them, as I do in my city, realises that they do a tremendous amount of voluntary work in helping people to claim benefits that are their right and in helping them with their problems.
Thirdly, if we have advertising campaigns about AIDS or to recruit people to various organisations, would it not be right to have a genuine, forthright and helpful advertising campaign so that people know not what they can abuse, but what they can rightly claim to help them with their problems? We should not be pleased that benefits are costing us a few hundred million pounds less, if that has come about not because we have stopped people twisting the system--which we are right to do--but because people do not receive the benefits that are their right.
In the main, we are a prosperous and successful society and it is true that the majority of pensioners are well off. However, if it were true that 90 or 95 per cent. of our people were well off, the army of people who were not well off would be bigger than the army that fought the second world war. As a prosperous and caring society, it is our duty to ensure that the Government and the people want to help those who are unfortunate and who are in need, but who are not getting benefits. If we do not do that, we shall not have the right to call ourselves a civilised society.
Column 163That is why I want the Government to adopt my three proposals : more staff in benefit offices to ensure that people receive what they should, more funding for citizens advice bureaux, which do so much on a voluntary basis, and an advertising campaign to ensure that people know what they should receive, not as charity but as a right. It is our duty to ensure that they receive those rights and benefits. 5.53 pm
Mr. James Sillars (Glasgow, Govan) : My first duty in making my first speech in this Parliament is to express my deep appreciation to the people of Glasgow, Govan, not so much for sending me here--that is a mixed blessing--but for putting Scotland back on the political agenda. That is germane to some of the points made this afternoon. I have no doubt that the Special Branch is now reactivating its files on the Scottish question and that section F of MI5 will have to dust down one or two files as well. I look forward to the Committee stage of the Bill concerning official secrets and to seeing how the Home Secretary defines political neutrality and how he defines people who are a danger to the institutions of the British state. I suspect that he will place us in both categories.
My second duty--and a welcome one--is to pay a genuine tribute to my predecessor, Bruce Millan. When I was in the Labour party with him, he was on the Right wing and I was on the Left wing and there were a number of occasions when we did not agree on policy and other matters. However, I have always had enormous respect for his abilities. When he was Minister of State under Willie Ross, he was probably the best Minister of State at the Scottish Office that we have ever had. He was greatly respected by civil servants, not because he was a Minister who was easily manipulated, but because he was a Minister in total charge of his Department. He was perfectly capable of conceiving and executing policy.
When he was Secretary of State for Scotland--I do not want to do him any disfavour--he was not the greatest Secretary of State that Scotland has had. That was probably Tom Johnston. However, Bruce Millan was an excellent innovator and executor of policy. It was pure accident that on the day on which I heard he had been appointed a Commissioner in Brussels I wrote him a personal letter to say how delighted I was, without any indication that I would be a candidate in Govan. Bruce Millan's talent and ability will be brought to bear on the Commission for the benefit not only of the people of Scotland, but of the people of Europe. I am glad to have the opportunity to pay him a personal tribute.
I shall now talk about my constituency. If one reads some of the English newspapers, one may have a total misconception about the make-up of the constituency. It is a diverse constituency and contains a good cross- section of the west of Scotland community. However, despite its diversity, it has common anxieties, the major one of which is about youth unemployment. The next anxiety is about the association of drug abuse with youth unemployment.
I must tell the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland that some of my constituents find it almost impossible to understand the obsession with tapping the telephones of trade unionists who are going about their ordinary business, whereas the drug barons
Column 164can get away with a great deal. They wonder why the drug barons' telephones are not being tapped to the same extent as trade unionists' telephones.
There is also continuing anxiety among all my constituents about the Southern General hospital and particularly about the nurses there. I shall not devote the whole of my speech to that, but I can assure the Secretary of State for Scotland that all Opposition Members are disturbed by newspaper reports this morning that a macho attitude is being adopted by the board and management of the Greater Glasgow health board to those nurses who are correctly protesting about grading. I have never found morale in a caring service as low as that at the Southern General hospital since the firemen went on strike in the late 1970s. The Secretary of State should tell the Greater Glasgow health board that the management needs a great deal of sensitivity to understand the pain and humiliation felt by the nurses over the grading exercise.
I have said that my constituency has common anxieties and that, although it is diverse, it has a common characteristic. Each area of my constituency has a great sense of community and has produced very capable leadership at community level. That characteristic of community concern and care was one of the signal factors in the total rejection and humiliation of Thatcherite policies, which the Tory candidate put forward clearly during the by- election campaign. When I listened to the Prime Minister yesterday, it became clear that she was totally divorced from reality. One of my constituents described her as being drunk with power. The Prime Minister commands the Cabinet, the Tory party and, unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition, on frequent occasions. She is not superhuman, but the opposition to her has been so poor that she appears to be a great deal more capable than she is. I shall quote from her speech yesterday-- [Interruption.] I have found the quotation without goading or help from hon. Members. The Prime Minister said : "The Gracious Speech makes clear the Government's determination to hold to firm and successful economic policies. We shall continue to bear down on inflation, to keep firm control of public spending and to promote enterprise. Those are the policies that have brought a period of unparalleled prosperity to the British people--prosperity that has been shared by all income groups."-- [ Official Report, 22 November 1988 ; Vol. 142, c. 21.]
That is the Prime Minister's view of various parts of the United Kingdom. The reality is different in Scotland, and I am sure that it is different in other parts of the United Kingdom as well. I am indebted to the Labour party for having produced, during the by-election campaign, a document entitled "The State of the Nation" which measures exactly what has happened to our country since the Prime Minister came to power in 1979. According to that document, homelessness has doubled. Annual house building has decreased from 9, 000 new starts to 4,000. National Health Service beds have been cut by 3,000. Unemployment is up by 85 per cent., and one third of manufacturing jobs have been lost. In addition, 18,000 teenagers have lost income support because of social security cuts, and the number of Scots whose supply has been cut off by British Gas because they were unable to pay their bill has increased by 20 per cent. That is Scotland under the rule of the Thatcher Government--a long way from the right hon. Lady's claim that all people have enjoyed additional prosperity under her Government.
Column 165About a third of the Scottish population is living in poverty. The cost of Thatcherism in human terms has been deep pain to thousands--indeed millions--of families in Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom. Lives have been blighted by the operation of Thatcherism. Young people have been denied hope. One of the sad features of the weeks leading up to the by-election was the withdrawal by the Leader of the Opposition of the accusation that the Government had cheated on YTS. He should have continued to argue that case against the Prime Minister, and I shall tell the House why. Four thousand young people in Glasgow have been cheated. They were promised that they would get job opportunities, but instead they have been made penniless. In the middle of the by-election campaign, we heard statements from the social work department. [Interruption.] I hope that the Tories are proud of the effect of their policies. The social work department, which is not given to extreme statements, explained that girls would be driven on to the streets and into prostitution, and young men into theft--the only way in which to put money in their pockets. Those young people have been cheated. Those are the fruits of Thatcherism in my country, and that is why the Tories were so completely humiliated in the election.
To Scotland, Thatcherism is an alien set of concepts and values. It is a philosophy driven by greed and self-interest, and it is a great tragedy for the people of England that it seems to have taken such root in the south- east, where so much of the political power now lies. I hope--it is a genuine hope--that the Labour party in England will reassess the attitudes that it has adopted in the past four or five years and understand that it has no hope of gaining Tory votes in the south-east of England by advocating a watered down form of Toryism. If Socialism is to advance, in the south-east of England and elsewhere, it must be by the moral conversion of people to its principles. That is the only hope for the Labour party.
Scotland rejects the values of Thatcherism because our country has a philosophy of egalitarianism. Unlike the Prime Minister, we also believe in the community. We believe that people have a responsibility to the community but also that the community has a responsibility to people. That is perhaps best summed up in the words of Robert Burns :
"Then gently scan your brother man,
Still gentler sister woman ;
Tho' they may gang a Kennin wrang,
To step aside is human."
Mr. Sillars : It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman should say that. There is the implied arrogant assumption in his remark that only in his language can ideas be expressed eloquently. I have heard such quasi- racist statements from the Conservative Benches during broadcasts of Scottish Question Time.
Column 166a man known internationally--a man who wrote "Auld Lang Syne," a hymn that is sung everywhere. Every Scot will feel the implied insult in the hon. Gentleman's remark.
We Scots are in this place only temporarily. Given that we have an entirely different set of values from those of the Prime Minister and her acolytes-- a superior set of values-- [Interruption.] It is quite easily proven. There is no way that the Scottish community would ever sit back and let young people be treated as they are at present in YTS and outside it. The Scottish people would never allow their education system to be attacked and broken up as the Government intend. Our values are better than the values of the Prime Minister, and the proof is that we have a much better society than the society that she has managed to create down here.
How should we combat Thatcherism in the immediate future? We cannot sit back and wait to see what happens in the next four years. Since the day and hour of the Govan by-election result, there has been no crowing by members of the Scottish National party. We have sought to rub no salt in any wounds because we believe that there should be a united opposition to specific parts of the Government's programme during this Session and this Parliament. I would highlight the opting-out legislation in that respect. Nothing divides us on that subject. The 62 Scottish Opposition Members unanimously defend the Scottish education system and oppose that legislation. The people of Scotland are perfectly entitled to expect us to co-operate and to use the rules of this institution to prevent it.
Let me deal with the longer term. First, I place on record my party's position on Scottish independence in the European Community. The self- styled governor-general of Scotland--Governor-General Rifkind--told us in a frenetic speech at a Tory party seminar the other day that Scotland is much more influential and politically powerful with the United Kingdom representing its interests in the Community. I do not think that he can tell that to the folk of the highlands and islands who are trying to extricate themselves from a situation that he should never have allowed to arise.
There is a fundamental difference between what Scotland is and what Scotland would be if it were independent within the Community. The Secretary of State for Scotland is a placeman. He has no power base in the Tory party in Scotland and he does not command his position from his own power base. Unlike the Home Secretary and one or two other folk in the Cabinet, the Secretary of State for Scotland does not represent a power base inside the Tory party that even the Prime Minister cannot overlook. He is a placeman and he has no power of veto. He can resign only if he does not like certain policies, only to be replaced by the Under-Secretary of State--the chap sitting next to him--who would be much more congenial company for the Prime Minister.
Just before the by-election, the Secretary of State was boasting that Scotland was well represented in the Community. There have been 26 summit meetings in the European Community since Thatcher came to power and the Secretary of State for Scotland has never even managed to get on the aeroplane, let alone got into the door.
If Scotland were an independent member of the European Community, its power and influence would be entirely different. It would take its turn, as do all member states, as president of the European Community. It would set the agenda. That is not an uninfluential role. It would
Column 167represent the Community in its dealings with the international community. There will be many developments after 1992 and the creation of the single market. Further amendments will be required to the treaty and they will have to be ratified unanimously. The Single European Act does not remove the veto over national interests. Instead of the Secretary of State for Scotland lobbying inside the Cabinet, with no power base and no sanction, Scotland would have a Government with the sanction of the veto. Parliamentary representation would be doubled. Instead of Bruce Millan having a term of only four years--it is a happy accident that a Scot is now a Commissioner--there would be a permanent Scottish Commissioner whose influence on many policies would be permanent.
It should interest the right hon. and learned Gentleman, because he is a Scottish lawyer, that there is great concern about the future of Scottish law ; we have struggled hard to prevent it from being anglicised and taken over piece by piece. Scottish law would benefit enormously if Scotland had a permament place in the European Court of Justice. Independence would also benefit Scotland at home, as well as in Europe.
Mr. Sillars : Yes, I know that, but the hon. Gentleman has strengthened my case, because Lord Stuart is no longer a Member of the European Court of Justice. If Scotland were an independent state within the European Community, there would be a permanent Scottish legal representative sitting as a judge in the European Court of Justice. It would not happen--as with Bruce Millan--once every three or four times.
We should have as much power over our domestic affairs as this Government have over us now. A Scottish Government within the European Community would exercise full control at home. There would be no return to private landlords. No old folks would go cold. No young folk would be cheated on YTS. There would be no privatisation of electricity and the other utilities. There would be no privatisation of the National Health Service. There would be no student loans, and there would be no attack on Scottish education institutions and Scottish universities. In a Scotland that was independent within Europe we should shape our own lives and our social and economic policies at home. We should also safeguard our interests in the wider European forum,
Mr. Sillars : After Govan, the debate has started for real in Scotland. After what happened in 1979, many people thought that Scottish nationalism had reached its peak. It took a long time for the Scottish people to recover from the effects of 1979, but Govan has put that issue clearly back on the agenda. We believe that there is an unassailable case for Scottish independence in Europe
Column 168Mr. Home Robertson Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
Mr. Home Robertson : I accept everything that the hon. Gentleman has said about the constitutional crisis that is being provoked by the Secretary of State for Scotland, but does he seriously believe that the majority of the people of Scotland or even of Govan really want independence and to break away from our partners south of the border?
Mr. Sillars : The hon. Gentleman will have to update his vocabulary. This is not 1977 or 1978 ; this is 1988. We are referring to Scotland within the European dimension. All the emotive old phrases about a break-up and a rupture do not arise. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is the last person to refer to what happened in the past. He was converted to devolution when it suited him.
The European dimension does away with the old arguments about break-up and separation. We are referring to a redefinition of partnership, and that is entirely different. Under the Single European Act, there will be no borders in 1992. Trading relations will continue and the process of integration will accelerate. Within the European Community, Scotland would be elevated from a province of Thatcher's England to a full member state of the European Community.
Mr. Sillars : Yes, of course I give way to Scottish Members. There is a fundamental difference between the Scottish National party--and the other non-Unionist parties, I was going to say, but that is not correct because the Labour party is still a Unionist party. The big difference between the Labour party, the Democrats and our party is that they keep telling the Scottish people what they cannot do. We keep telling the Scottish people what they can do. I end by quoting from Professor Smout's book, "A Century of the Scottish People." He says :
"by the exercise of political will, the people hold their own future in their own hands, and in the last analysis, no one can be blamed for our predicament but ourselves."
We can be blamed for our predicament immediately after 1979. We did not do it last time. The Scottish people will do it next time.
Mr. Barry Porter : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) to say that he will give way only to Scottish Members, or is it right and proper that he should at least consider giving way to hon. Members from the United Kingdom in general? It seems to me that it is quite wrong for the hon. Gentleman to make distinctions of that nature.
Column 169Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) has been a Member of this House for a long time. He knows that the hon. Member who is on his feet gives way to whomsoever he wishes.
Dr. Ian Twinn (Edmonton) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars) on his political re-entry into the House of Commons. It was not perhaps the softest of political re-entries, but no doubt the impact of his landing will be felt on the Benches on both sides of the House, as will the impact of his future speeches. He returned here with a reputation and he has not disappointed the House. All of us, whatever he has to offer us in the future, will listen with interest to him and to the style in which he says it. I intend to refer to the part of the Gracious Speech that deals with the Government's intention vigorously to
"pursue their policies for reducing crime".
All of us are concerned about crime. No matter who we are, our families, friends, homes and property are all at risk from crime. The blip in the 30- year rise in the crime statistics is welcome. I am sure that every hon. Member wants in his heart to be generous and to say that that is good news, but there is no room for complacency. The Government are to be congratulated on their attack on crime and on their campaigns to bring home the need for us to tackle crime individually as well as a society. That is welcome. They have introduced tougher sentences for crimes that demand tough sentences and implemented a realistic sentencing policy which enables criminals to be punished in the community, allowing them to repay their debt to society and to those whom they have attacked or offended. Such schemes have struggled forward in my constituency and elsewhere and they are to be welcomed.
As many publications issued by the Home Office state, much crime is committed because there are easy opportunities to commit it. It is neither professional nor carefully planned. There are many ways in which individuals can reduce crime. At the simplest level, advice in the pamphlet "Practical ways to crack crime" reminds us that we should lock doors and windows and avoid obviously dangerous places. Sound advice is given through neighbourhood watch schemes, of which there are several successful examples in my constituency. I live in such an area. The people involved are grateful for the support that the Government have given to help them protect themselves rather than always look to others to do it for them.
I am pleased that you are in the Chair, Mr. Speaker. We noted the encouragement that you gave recently to younger citizens to take citizenship responsibly. Neighbourhood watch schemes and others such as those with which you have been associated will play a fundamental part in reawakening people to what they can do to help themselves. In their campaigns, the Government have rightly said that much can be done to reduce crime. I should like to concentrate on improved lighting, which helps to reduce crime. It also reduces fear of crime significantly. The Home Office pamphlet, "Cracking down on Crime" depicts a built-up area with no street lights. I hope that that is just a drafting error. There is much that we can do to improve lighting at relatively little cost . I am not asking for a major
Column 170public spending programme ; I am sure that I would be criticised if I did. Small amounts of money well targeted can make all environments safer places.
I am joint chairman of the all-party parliamentary lighting group--a role I share happily with the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), who I am pleased to see in his place. The group takes an interest in the British lighting industry, although not only because we happen to represent areas where lighting manufacturers are to be found. Nevertheless, we have strong constituency interests in that respect and I am pleased to say that the light-manufacturing industry is a healthy part of the British economy.
The group is also interested in what can be done with the industry's products. We have conducted campaigns which are intended to improve the standards of living. We noted poor motorway lighting. Our campaign was well received and is partly responsible for the improved quality and quantity of motorway lighting. We also have views about the poor response of some Government Departments to our campaign urging an improvement in lighting efficiency. Perhaps I can trespass into the Home Department in that respect.
Perhaps it is not surprising that, as joint chairman of the all-party lighting group, I managed to get members of the lighting industry and my local authority of Enfield together to fund an experiment to discover whether better lighting reduces crime. Thorn-EMI was happy to co-operate with an experiment conducted by the Middlesex polytechnic centre for criminology and police studies in my constituency. It seemed to us that better lighting would reduce crime, but one cannot rely on a bright idea-- it has to be tested. The results were encouraging. We found an 80 per cent. reduction in the incidence and fear of violent street crime.
In a survey conducted during the six weeks before we improved lighting conditions, we found a high level of physical attacks on my constituents and a high level of fear of attack. The figures were much higher than those recorded by the local police. Fear is not often reported. The same is true of verbal abuse and of threatening behaviour, and some personal attacks are not reported.
We found that one in 10 of my constituents had been victims of robbery or attack in the 12 months before the survey and that one in five had been verbally abused or threatened. It will not surprise the hon. Member for Barking (Ms. Richardson) that nine out of 10 women feared assault at night and that 50 per cent. of them were frightened of--and avoided--going out in the dark because of the poor conditions. After we had improved the brightness of lighting by a minimum of 500 per cent., four out of five respondents said that their fear had been reduced. In the six weeks following the change, there were no attacks and only two auto crimes, compared with 12 in the previously surveyed period. Moreover, there was only one robbery whereas there had been five previously.
It was gratifying to get the response that we hoped for. Some 83 per cent. of the women interviewed volunteered the information that they had noticed an improvement in lighting. It is interesting that 62 per cent. of men noticed an improvement. Not many men admit to being afraid, but I suspect that many of us are apprehensive when we go down dark alleyways. Some 62 per cent. of respondents reported feeling safer and more than 80 per cent. of them said that that was the result of better lighting. Those were
Column 171the findings of a fairly good scientific survey, although the sample was small. I have reasonable confidence in the results. Anecdotal evidence is not enough, but I went to a shop in Lambeth the day after I appeared on the BBC "Today" programme talking about the experiment.
Dr. Twinn : It cheered up the owner of the shop as well. His street had been free of crime, but the night before the programme the street lights failed. One woman was physically attacked and a shop window was smashed by vandals. Even improved lighting might fail sometimes--although I hope not if it is produced by Thorn-EMI in my constituency or perhaps by Philips in Hamilton--but that shows what can happen when lighting fails.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) and to Steve Norris, our former hon. Friend, who has been heading Crime Concern, on the good work that he has been doing. They have listened very carefully and, I hope sympathetically, to the results of our survey which are good news for fighting crime. The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Mr. Trippier) has also been kind enough to endorse the advice of our all-party parliamentary group to local authorities encouraging them to install better lighting.
I have no doubts about the validity of the results. In statistical terms there is only a 2 per cent. chance that they could have occurred by random chance had we not improved the lighting. Therefore, it is right for us to ask the Government to adopt the results and promote better lighting to tackle crime. However, if the Government feel that wider surveys are necessary, I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will find on his desk soon--if he has not already--a fairly weighty document, which sets out a detailed survey which could be conducted to test our findings further in wider areas of the country.
Hon. Members might like to know that the expense of the Edmonton experiment was borne by the local council. Although the council never ceases to tell me almost weekly in its letters to me how hard pressed it is for cash, and that despite being a Conservative authority it has been frightened of being rate-capped, it found the money because the amount was not particularly high. It had to find £1,617 from its budget to provide that security in an undoubted blackspot in my constituency. I suspect that it will be able to recoup some of that money in revenue costs from the greater efficiency of the new lighting.
Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton) : I give my partisan support to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) who is making a formidable case in the presence of the Minister, which I hope will have a sizeable effect on his next well-publicised campaign. Will he also emphasise to the Minister the cost-effective benefits that are involved? Value for money is one of the Government's catchphrases. If local authorities invest in new, better, high technology lighting, it will not cost them more, but, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, will save them money even in the short term. One would expect that that would appeal
Column 172to someone as wet around the edges as the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten) who is never slow to pick up a good issue when he sees it. This is one of the best issues around.
Dr. Twinn : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his prompting, although I wonder whether he has not gone slightly over the top. The results of the survey demonstrate cost-effectiveness, not simply in the recouping of electricity costs. With better lighting, vandalism and damage to council property is reduced and police time is saved. I am not sure that one can put a cost on the reduction of fear in society, particularly among women who are afraid of going out. If we improve the lighting, more people will go out in the evenings and that in itself will act as a deterrent against physical attacks because there will be more people around. People will feel safer and happier and if attacks do take place there will be more witnesses so that those who are guilty, who are often known in the community, can be reprehended and taken to court.
I recommend the results of our survey to all hon. Members, whether their constituencies are in rural areas, county towns or inner cities. The problems exist everywhere and our findings bear that out. I hope that the Government will endorse our findings, vigorously pursue policies to reduce crime and improve lighting which is one of the most vigorous and cost- effective ways in which that can be done. 6.34 pm
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : The two previous speeches have reversed the normal order of things. The speech of the hon. Member for Edmonton (Dr. Twinn) was perhaps one of the most uncontroversial in this debate and that of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sillars), which in some respects can be regarded as a maiden speech, was one of the more controversial speeches. The hon. Member for Edmonton was giving voice to the dictum fiat lux. That would be a suitable motto for the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Govan almost overlooked the fact that he was making a kind of maiden speech, because his speech was more a call to arms or a return to the scene of battle. I dare say that we all look forward to hearing from him again on many occasions, doubtless repeating the same themes.
At the beginning of this 10th year of consecutive Conservative Administrations, the Gracious Speech provides the House with the opportunity to take stock and review what in the United States of America might be called the state of the Union. There are times when the metropolitan preoccupations of Ministers seem astonishingly out of touch with the pressures of resentment and hostility that are building up in the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. It is an appropriate debate to say clearly to the Government that the state of the Union is most unhealthy. The people of Northern Ireland are being governed virtually by edict. There is deterioration in the security situation in Northern Ireland. The rules of law that we have cherished in Parliament are giving place to abnormal measures. The Gracious Speech contains provisions dealing with the prevention of terrorism, putting on hold provisions which we would have wished to regard as highly abnormal in a civilised democracy which is attached to the rule of law.
Column 173The people of Scotland are greatly discontented. The Secretary of State for Scotland behaves rather like a satrap in the later stages of the Turkish empire, more anxious to please the sultan than to recognise and remedy the discontents around him.
The Gracious Speech and the manner in which it was introduced by the Prime Minister give little hint of those discontents. Many, if not most, of the commentators on the legislative programme have observed the assertive ascendency of the Government in proposing further privatisation of the public utilities, water and electricity. They rightly see those measures as a statement of the Government's continuing ideological commitment and having little to do with the environment or consumer choice. We Democrats view the expansion of choice as a social and economic imperative, but we view with complete scepticism and incredulity the assertion that choice will flow from the privatisation measures.
However, as well as the economic triumphalism of the Government, there is discernible in the legislative programme another theme on which the Opposition have chosen to focus. It is the strengthening of central Government power at the expense of individual and community freedoms. That is not new under this Government nor is it dramatic, but the continuing drip of legislation is corroding democracy. The new programme, like others before it, further curtails local government discretion over expenditure. In this case it affects especially the revenues from rates and rents. The programme moves towards the permanent establishment of abnormal Executive powers to deal with terrorism. It proposes placing a restriction on public admission to football matches and proposes to gag those connected with the intelligence and security services. The programme seeks to insulate the Security Service from parliamentary supervision. In Scotland, the Government propose legislation to transfer the financing of schools from local authorities to central Government and propose a system of education aping that which has already been introduced in England and for which there is plainly no demand in Scotland.
In addition to those legislative measures, the Home Secretary has announced that he intends to press ahead with proposals for England and Wales that will shift the burden of proof in criminal prosecutions from the prosecution to the accused. That will be done by allowing adverse comments on the exercise of the right to silence. That measure, coupled with the introduction of television censorship and a strategy of dismantling public service broadcasting, suggests that the Home Secretary is a willing accomplice in this erosion of democracy and is at heart a patrician autocrat.
As the Government proffer their explanations for these several measures, it becomes clear that in carrying out their utilitarian balancing act of arguments to justify them, Ministers have lost sight of the fragility of freedom. The jurist Ronald Dworkin well expressed what was happening in this country. In an article in The Independent on 8 September, he said :
"the value of liberty cannot be measured piece-meal in iotas of information sacrificed or imagination stifled or creativity impaired. When liberty is judged that way, measuring the costs of its compromise case-by-case against some gain in administrative or military or diplomatic efficiency or popular
Column 174approval, it must always lose. For liberty, measured in that way against the immediate aims of ordinary politics, will always seem speculative and marginal ; it will always seem academic, abstract and dispensable."
Not only the fractured parliamentary Opposition is concerned about the trend illustrated by this catalogue of Government legislation proposed in the Gracious Speech. The Daily Telegraph, normally a powerful supporter of the Government, said in a leader of 27 October that there was real concern about the ban on the broadcast of interviews with Sinn Fein. The same leader also criticised the Government's
"lack of respect for the very concept of local democracy". It suggested that a Government entering their 10th year of power have a substantial duty to display a proper humility and to remember that the use and abuse to which future Governments might put these measures are not within the present Government's control. The Home Office measures that have been the focus of the debate are the one that seeks to establish a statutory basis for the Security Service and that which provides for the long overdue removal of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. They will require to be scrutinised in much more detail than is appropriate in the debate on the Loyal Address. I regret that the Home Secretary chose to treat the debate almost as though it were a Second Reading and devoted most of his speech to an exposition of the modest little measure on the Security Service. It is a modest measure and to make as much of it as he did was to illustrate the insensitivity to the issues of freedom that is all too characteristic of the Government.
The benefits that may be thought to flow from placing the Security Service after all these years on a statutory basis seem to be exiguous. The move may be welcome, but it does not seem likely to open security policy to scrutiny. That is because the proposed arrangements are for the establishment of a commissioner and a procedure for ministerial oversight. The commissioner will be answerable to the Home Secretary alone and, as far as one can make out from the Prime Minister's response to a question yesterday from the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) the intention is that accountability to Parliament will be exercised in future as it has been exercised in the past, without any disclosure of official Government thinking on security matters.
Of greater significance than that measure are the provisions proposed for the replacement of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act. Those provisions will certainly merit the most careful scrutiny, I hope on the Floor of the House. Clearly, the proposed legislation is a backward step for the security services and for the people who work or have worked in them. It is an extraordinary response to the "Spycatcher" episode that the Government have thought it right to introduce such a Bill. It is welcome in so far as it is designed to increase the flow of information or at least to remove the criminal penalty for revealing information. However, it is extraordinary that a measure that seeks to remove the traditional whistle- blowing right of the public fails to take into account the experience of other countries.
The provisions will not stop the Peter Wrights from publishing abroad. That can be achieved only by entering negotiations with other countries along the lines suggested by the House of Lords in the "Spycatcher" appeal. I hope that the Government can reassure us that such discussions
Column 175are taking place, because, clearly, the publication of revelatory stories is very much against the national interest.
The Government and the Home Secretary would be more likely to achieve their purposes if they looked with favour on the United States example. In the United States, people in the security services are required to enter contractual arrangements with the Government. They are in a contractual relationship of trust that protects both the Government and the agents from unwarranted risks. How this works was demonstrated by the United States Supreme Court in 1980, in the case of Snepp v . United States. In seeking to return the profits of the publication of a book by a former CIA director to the nation, the Supreme Court held that a constructive trust would protect the Government and the agent. The Supreme Court said :
"If the agent secures prepublication clearance, he can publish with no fear of liability. If the agent publishes unreviewed material in violation of his fiduciary and contractual obligation, the trust remedy simply requires him to disgorge the benefits of his faithlessness. Since the remedy is swift and sure, it is tailored to deter those who would place sensitive information at risk. And since the remedy reaches only funds attributable to the breach, it cannot saddle the former agent with exemplary damages out of all proportion to his gain."
The essence of that remedy is not just that there is a breach of trust and of contract but that there is a provision for Congressional supervision of the security services which is an integral part of the process of protecting the nation's secrets.
The Government's unwillingness to allow the establishment of a Select Committee, a committee of senior Privy Councillors or any form of parliamentary oversight of the security services is a mistake which will not assist the effective protection of the secrets that must be preserved. It flows from the Government's mistaken conception that their job is principally to protect information rather than to ensure that information is made freely available, save in closely defined circumstances. A democracy thrives on information being made available to enable the elected representatives to participate in debate in a truly informed way. It is regrettable that the Government are not promoting a freedom of information Act but seeking instead merely to do away with the plainly outdated section 2 of the Official Secrets Act.
I hope that during this Parliament the Government will be persuaded to review their attitude and will again consider the possibility of widening the right to information. There has been an erosion of freedoms in the Government's lifetime, and I have some sympathy with the Leader of the Opposition, who yesterday looked around the House at the conclusion of his speech and appealed to the good men and women who will resist this trend. He did not speak with any optimism about the prospects.
Our system of parliamentary democracy contributes to this erosion of freedoms. It is a system of Cabinet supremacy which does not work effectively when there is no sensitivity to the views of others, no protection for minority rights and no recognition that our constitution works not by its written provisions but by the conventions that one listens to the Opposition's point of view and concedes that one can get things wrong from time to time. I do not believe that our constitution is working in a way that protects those essential freedoms. For that reason, I put it to the House, especially to the Leader of the