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I was struck by the remarks made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), who represents Plaid Cymru, when he said that Wales was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech. Scotland fared scarcely better. Like Northern Ireland, it seemed to be tacked on at the end of the Gracious Speech almost as an afterthought. There was one short paragraph concerning Scotland which trailed Bills to be presented in the House for the new Scottish Enterprise, the winding up of Scottish new towns and the reform of the Scottish legal system.
Such dismissive treatment is a fair representation of the general approach of the majority in the House towards Scottish affairs. From the prejudiced perspective of the Government, Scotland, its people, its history and its national reality seem to be wholly invisible. The Government see only a unitary United Kingdom and a unitary Parliament, within which Scotland is relegated to the status of a peripheral region and held captive--rightly, they believe--by the voting power of the southern half of England.
It is ironic, in a year in which revolutionary changes have swept across Europe and we have heard ringing praise of the new rights and freedoms won by nation states of Europe, that the rights and freedoms of the Scottish people should be so callously disregarded in the Gracious Speech, as in every Gracious Speech since the Government took office in 1979.
In the Government's view, one of the most important documents to be published for Scotland--the "Claim of Right for Scotland"--might as well never have been written. The constitutional convention which now meets in Scotland has, in the eyes of the Scottish people, far more democratic legitimacy than any Minister sitting on the Treasury Bench. Yet it has been callously ignored by a Government who claim the right to govern Scotland but abandon any responsibility for meeting the demands of the Scottish people for self-determination. It now appears that the Government will support the right to self-determination in every nation on earth except the nations which inhabit this island and come under the Government's power. That cannot be right. I was grateful to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) give a clear commitment that in the first Queen's Speech of the next Labour Government there will be a Bill to establish a directly-elected Scottish Parliament for the Scottish people, as is their demand. For the moment, however, we are stuck with this Government and this Queen's Speech. I shall concentrate my remarks on an important measure in the Queen's Speech--the broadcasting Bill. We are told that the intention is to give viewers and listeners a greater choice and more say in the programmes made available to them. I have heard such promises from the Government before. I remember when the Government introduced their reforms in housing provision and housing finance. We were told that they were intended to extend choice and to give tenants a greater say in their housing. For those able to benefit from the personal prosperity to which the Home Secretary referred in his speech, that would be true, but for those unable to benefit from that prosperity the reality has
Column 302been quite different--the reality of record mortgage arrears, repossession, rent arrears, homelessness, dampness and disrepair. When a Bill is introduced promising increased choice, the Opposition have every right to be suspicious of it. We have learnt from the past that it will mean increased choice for some but less choice--and sometimes no choice--for others. That is the reality behind the broadcasting reforms presented to us.
We are told that the proposals for deregulation of the radio services will bring into being a new slim radio authority which will apply a much lighter regulatory regime. We are told that that means there will be no requirement for any companies to educate, inform or entertain. The only clear criteria that the Government will apply will be that the companies should be financially viable--that they have a big bank book--and that they are allowed to purchase with that bank book.
There are some woolly references to maintaining programme range and diversity and meeting local audience demand, but nothing has been made clear about how those things will be defined or achieved by a Government who are introducing a light regulatory regime. However, at the moment we have only the White Paper and not the Bill. Yet we have already seen the impact on the real world of radio of the proposed reforms. In yesterday's Financial Times --Scotland's other national newspaper--I read of the recent trend towards consolidation in the radio sector in advance of the Government's planned expansion of commercial radio. I also read of the serious takeover interest which has been shown in Radio Forth either by the Newcastle-based Metro Radio or by the Glasgow-based Radio Clyde. As the House probably knows, Radio Forth already owns Radio Tay, which is the local independent radio station for Dundee and Tayside. Our experience of that takeover is that it has led to a reduction in local news on Radio Tay, particularly at weekends, and greater reliance on the Independent Radio News national news service.
That was the consequence of control being moved from Dundee to Edinburgh, but what will be the consequence of it being moved from Edinburgh to Glasgow or Newcastle? What will be the consequences if control passes to a non-Scottish company or to a Scottish company which already owns radio stations in three of the four major Scottish cities? I believe that the distinctive local news input, which features local issues in Dundee and Tayside, will begin to reduce, as will the distinctive community-based programmes which were developed precisely for the people of Dundee and Tayside. We shall see greater reliance on the IRN national news service and on programmes which can be broadcast just as easily in Glasgow or Edinburgh as in Dundee. That will mean much less choice and diversity for people who depend on those radio stations. Listeners in those cities will experience a reduction in their choice.
Similar circumstances will prevail in respect of the Government's proposals for a regionally based channel three television network. The Government have made a number of concessions to the smaller regional Independent Television companies, such as Grampian Television and Scottish Television. Concessions such as the equalisation of costs of the transmission system are welcomed by Labour Members, but they do not go far enough. The
Column 303major thrust of Government policy remains the proposal to auction franchises to the highest bidder, whoever it may be or from wherever the bid may come.
When the Scottish Grand Committee debated broadcasting policy, the Minister of State stated the Government's policy as being "that the ownership of stations is regarded as secondary". [ Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 11 July 1989 ; c. 5.] The Government do not care who owns television or radio stations in Scotland. The Minister tried to assure us that no one in Scotland need worry about the threat of any potential predator from elsewhere in the United Kingdom or from overseas because the quality and diversity of programmes would be maintained by a strengthened quality threshold which would emphasise the necessity of regional diverse programmes. That was on 11 July, but a small section of The Independent today said :
"TV quality rule cut. The Government has dropped from the Broadcasting Bill the requirement for high quality' regional news programmes on the new commercial Channel 3".
The broadcasting Bill will lead not to greater choice but to the choice offered by the multiplicity of channels on the other side of the Atlantic, which Clive James so appositely described as offering the right to exercise choice between programmes of "infinite similarity" and "infinite mediocrity."
It is a disgrace--at a time when Scotland, more than any other part of the United Kingdom, has a right to Scottish controlled and owned television and radio companies which meet the needs of the Scottish people--that the Government should insist on introducing a competitive, free and unregulated market for broadcasting, which will almost certainly guarantee that Scottish control over its television and radio industry will be lost. Despite what has been achieved in Scotland, we shall be left with international companies moving in to perpetuate programmes which are exactly the same for every part of Europe.
Mr. Gerrard Neale (Cornwall, North) : I have something in common with the hon. Members for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas), because, coming from Cornwall, I represent the Celtic fringe. They having set a fine example, I must follow it and express regret on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall that it was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on his appointment. He brings to the role excellent attributes. I was surprised by the remarks made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about my right hon. and learned Friend, which were ungracious to say the least. The right hon. Gentleman is capable of making a sanctimonious speech, but I have rarely heard one more sanctimonious.
It is a pity that the right hon. Gentleman is not in the Chamber, because I should have preferred to say this in his presence, but if he expected to create an impression on my constituents that if the Labour party were to be elected law and order would be safe in its hands, I am sure that he will instead have put fear into the heart of every Cornishman. It is felt in my constituency that far too often people are
Column 304not imprisoned when they should be. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) intervened in my right hon. and learned Friend's excellent speech to say that in many cases rape victims do not see their attackers sent to prison, and that too often they are given non-custodial sentences.
A number of aspects of the Gracious Speech are four square with the topic of the debate--rights, freedoms and responsibilities. One or two of my hon. Friends mentioned law reform. I speak as a practising solicitor, but, as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, for too long the profession has been cloistered. The way that the Government are opening it up to take account of clients' interests is welcome. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will resist further attempts by it to prevent the changes that he intends to introduce. It is high time that it faced up to the realities of the marketplace.
Changes in food safety are mentioned in the Gracious Speech. Again, it is most important to protect the rights of the consumer. I wish to deal with two aspects, one that relates directly to comments made by my right hon. and learned Friend and one that does not. My right hon. and learned Friend made an excellent announcement about increases in police officers and civilian staff. We in the west country were delighted to hear that news. He will know that we are still short of the number that were allocated in the last review, but we have had substantial increases, for which we are most grateful. My right hon. and learned Friend and my hon. Friend the Minister of State will be aware that a number of requirements have been placed on the police service which take up considerable additional police hours, such as the gun law changes. Hon. Members were determined to see them tightened, but considerable extra time is being incurred in their administration. That must be taken into account when considering manning a wide rural area such as Devon and Cornwall. We suffer a lower ratio of police to population, and I very much hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take that into account when considering police numbers in the west country. I wish to refer to a point that I raised when my right hon. and learned Friend was making his speech--it touches on the point passionately made by the hon. Member for Walton--about strike action being taken by civilian staff who are involved alongside the police. I know that the hon. Member for Walton has always spoken passionately and sincerely about the rights of people involved with trade unions. People in all walks of life feel that we should have rights and freedoms, but we accept that responsibilities have to come with them.
I must tell the hon. Member for Walton--and I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will take this into account--that it strikes fear into the minds of senior police officers and the public when people who work alongside the police, who are allocated to the police service to free police officers from jobs and duties, threaten to take strike action. There is concern when key activities, for example radio communication, are threatened. That can only strike at the heart of our effort to come to grips with the problems of law and order.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to make it clear to the civilians involved that possible strike action will be taken seriously. I suggest that we may have to think in
Column 305terms of a similar solution to that at GCHQ. They should have a separate federation and separate negotiating rights and they should be rewarded if a no-strike agreement is concluded.
One issue which was not mentioned in the Queen's Speech was the Government's commitment to a dramatic increase in infrastructure--such projects as the rail link for the Channel tunnel, and Stansted airport, which my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) mentioned and we have not dealt with that issue. We continue to take away the rights of people who own property that is in the way of those infrastructure projects. Those people are seriously affected in two ways. First, they are not properly rewarded when their properties are acquired to make way for a project ; secondly, under our present system it takes far too long for them to get recompense, or to have any certainty of what will happen. I urge my right hon. and learned Friend, although I know that this is not entirely within his province, to put pressure on his colleagues to look at the way the problem is solved elsewhere. In France and Canada, for example, a profit surcharge is placed on the property value, over and above its existing value, when it is required for a new railway line or motorway. It is right that we should pay more, because such projects make an impact on a property owner's freedom, and that should be taken into account.
I also urge my right hon. and learned Friend to work with his colleagues to streamline the public inquiry system. We should make sure that the process is quicker for public infrastructure projects. Of course we should give all interested parties the right to be heard but consent or refusal should be given at the end of the inquiry, and local authorities should not have to go through the process again to decide whether planning permission should be granted.
Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax) : The Government's proposals are littered with words like peace, freedom and justice, and I suspect that that will increase in the run-up to the next election. The other day, the Prime Minister spoke about individual freedom and measures to enhance personal liberty. However, when we look under the stone, we see that the Government are good at rhetoric and abysmal when it comes to rights.
The Government have systematically attacked trade unions and diminished individual rights so that any claim that there is a balance between employers' rights and employees' rights is farcical. The Government have rejected the social charter ; that shows their real commitment to rights. In industrial and civil law, is there now any freedom for the worker to make a fair contract with an employer? A fair contract has become a mere formality. An employer can dismiss an employee in the first two years of employment without the employee having the right to claim unfair dismissal. Where is the justice or fairness in that?
What kind of twisted logic is it that claims that progress has been made in industrial relations, when employers can evade the job protection laws by offering a fixed contract, and when they can sack the whole work force, as they did in Wapping, with the seafarers and more recently the dockers? Consider the 1974 miners' strike : what has happened to civil liberties?
Column 306How do the Government justify their total rejection of the social charter? Why is the Prime Minister so terrified of the social charter that she will not even discuss it? Is it because of the limits on hours, the right to rest periods, or to have vocational training? Or is it because the Prime Minister cannot stomach the idea of rights for the disabled and for women and because she cannot stick the thought of elderly people having the right to a decent income? The Government want rights only for their supporters--mainly business men and women who own most of the wealth. If they were serious about rights, why did they introduce a Bill to allow employers to dismiss any employee when unofficial action has been organised? Why have they brought in a Bill which denies unions the right to call any industrial action in support of a dismissed member, and which virtually ends any solidarity of action between trade unionists?
The Government's assertion that the closed shop is oppressive is a red herring. We can easily dismiss it when we see the evidence of the Donovan report and the Government's own report in the Employment Gazette in 1980. If we contrast the Government's paranoic hatred of collective action in trade unionism with their attitude to employers, who can get away literally with murder when they flout health and safety laws, we see that the Government have made a mockery of workers' rights. Real democrats do not set out deliberately to criminalise trade unions.
The public are not in sympathy with the Government about the ambulance dispute. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) said, they do not like a Government who talk about the rights of people in Poland and deny rights to people in Britain. The Queen's Speech mentioned working with local government to regenerate cities. During the past 10 years, when have the Government had real consultations with local government or the voluntary sector or worked with them? If they had been more sensitive to local government, and to what the voluntary sector was saying, we would not have the horrendous problem of homelessness among young people. The Government have deliberately cut benefits. They have set out to strangle local authorities so that they cannot build housing or do anything about homelessness.
The Government have also attacked the rights of young people in another area. What other Government can justify a rule which says that any young girl under 18 who is pregnant cannot claim income support, even if she has no other income, until she is six months pregnant? If the Home Secretary wants to talk about rights, he should consider the rights of such young people.
I remind the Government that freedom, justice and rights are not just about tearing down the Berlin wall ; they are also about allowing families in Britain to be united. We should contrast the Government's rhetoric on refugees from east Berlin with their treatment of genuine immigrants to Britain from Pakistan and the Home Office decision to send Tamils back to almost certain torture when they were genuine refugees. That shows that the Government's notion of justice is highly selective and is obviously based on the colour of somebody's skin.
I desperately hope that the true democrats in the international community do not, as the Prime Minister claims, follow our ideas. She says that the Goverment have won the battle for ideas. I hope that that is not the case internationally. The Government believe that President
Column 307Cristiani is a moderate democrat. The rest of the world, however, stands shocked when the Attorney-General warns the Catholic Church to get its priests out because that moderate, democratic Government cannot guarantee their safety, and says that others might suffer the same fate as the six who were brutally murdered recently. The Queen's Speech refers to the rights of people in Afghanistan to elect their own Government. I remind the Government that women and children are being subjected to massive bombardment in Kabul. Some of the weapons that are raining death on them come from Britain and the Government have boasted about selling them. I remind the Government that those people also have rights. Britain has an international responsibility towards them.
I desperately hope that the Government have not won the battle for ideas in respect of their policy on Cambodia. The agony goes on for the people there. Pol Pot is on the march again. The Government endorsed his representative at the United Nations. That is nothing to be proud of. That action condemns the Government more than anything in the debate about democratic freedoms. The measures that they have introduced in the past decade have done nothing to enhance personal liberty. I believe that history will judge them accordingly. 8.2 pm
Mr. Gerald Howarth (Cannock and Burntwood) : I must tell the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) as courteously as possible that if she makes too many more speeches like that, we may see our erstwhile hon. Friend Roy Galley back here very soon.
The hon. Lady went on quite intensely about rights, but there was very little in her speech about obligations. She may be anxious to protect the rights of pregnant 18-year-old girls, but I am anxious to find the fathers and to impose on them the obligation that society expects them to meet. I look to my hon. Friend the Minister to do something about that because that is where action is necessary. I also welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's appointment as Home Secretary. It is an important post. He made a most distinguished, convincing and robust speech. We and, I believe, the nation are enormously pleased that law and order is to fall upon such responsible shoulders. As in so many other Departments of state, we have a splendid team at the Home Office.
In the debate on the Loyal Address on 15 May 1979, an event which is writ large in the hearts of many of us, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said :
"Our priorities are to restore the balance in our economy, to restore the balance between the individual and the State, to promote the freedom of the individual under the rule of law, and to defend our interests wherever they are challenged."--[ Official Report, 15 May 1979 ; Vol. 967, c. 87.]
I believe that no Government have tried more faithfully to implement their programme and that today's debate on rights, freedoms and responsibilities offers us an opportunity to examine the record of the past 10 glorious years and to judge the Gracious Speech of 1989 in the context of that of 1979.
I disagree fundamentally with the hon. Member for Halifax about rights. Since 1979, the rights of ordinary trade unionists have been greatly extended and restored to them. They are no longer cannon fodder for class war
Column 308generals, but free men and women armed with the power of the secret postal ballot given to them by this Conservative Government. It is hardly surprising that under the new system of freedom the number of days lost through strikes has fallen from 29 million in 1979 to3.7 million in 1988.
As general secretary of the Society for Individual Freedom in 1969 and 1970, I saw some of the poor victims of the iniquitous Socialist closed shop, and I warmly welcome the proposal to extend the right of redress to a person denied a job for refusing to join a trade union. It is clear from the amendment proposed by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) that the real Labour party has not changed at all and would wipe away all the protections that have been given to ordinary trade union people. To quote the amendment, it would "repeal all the oppressive legislation against trade unions". In other words, it would strip away all the protections. In 1979, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in respect of education and health :
"we shall extend choice and diversity--matters that have been diminished during the lifetime of the Labour Government."--[ Official Report, 15 May 1979 ; Vol. 967, c. 81.]
True to their commitment, the Government have ensured that the right to greater choice and diversity in education has been granted to parents through open enrolment and the assisted places scheme. I warmly applaud them for sticking to their guns when trying to apply similar principles to health care. There is no doubt that such proposals would enhance patient choice and give to large general practices which wanted to do so the chance to shop around in the best interests of their patients, who must be our primary concern. We shall have a system where money follows the patient. I should like similar facilities to be offered to smaller and single-handed practices.
Rights have been extended with regard to home ownership, which in the past 10 years has increased from 10,019,000, or 56 per cent. of the population, to 12,811,000, or 66.8 per cent. of the population. The Labour party has no right to say that rights have been diminished under the Conservative Government, who have extended across the board rights that were denied to people by the Labour party.
Nowhere has freedom and responsibility been so widely extended as through the privatisation programme--the cornerstone of the Government's industrial strategy. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) was the Minister responsible for piloting through the Industry Act 1975--a sad measure which, although still on the statute book, has been substantially washed away. The Times reported him as saying that
"the Bill was at least a step in the direction he wanted to go, a step along the line of building the type of egalitarian society where the working people would come into their own and benefit by the labours they put into industry."
That is a load of nonsense because it achieved exactly the reverse. Ownership resided in one man--the Secretary of State, the politician. Now, however, we have released 19 major businesses which employ 700, 000 people who have been removed from the control of politicians and put back into the hands of the people. They have gone from one owner to 9 million shareholders. That is real freedom with which, of course, goes responsibility. The talents of employees have been harnessed to the nation's advantage instead of being screwed down waiting on bureaucratic indecision resulting from the interference of politicians.
Column 309Where competition is keenest, the customer has been best rewarded. Only last week, British Airways--previously a languid nationalised airline--posted the best quarterly profits of any airline, anywhere in the world, ever. It was voted airline of the year in 1987 and 1988. It is no accident that British Airways has prospered so well --domestically, it has been under intense competition from that splendid alternative airline, British Midland Airways, and internationally it has faced fierce competition as well.
British Telecommunications is an outstanding example of privatisation being of enormous benefit in releasing the energies of people previously trapped in the public sector. They have been able to harness their talents and resources to the nation's benefit. The number of staff remains constant, at about 245,000--so all the stories about people being out of a job have been disproved--and the service is better than before. We no longer have to wait for an answer to our directory inquiries--we get it virtually immediately.
There has been vast investment in new equipment. In 1984, there were just under 20 million lines in service. Now there are more than 24 million--an increase of 20 per cent. in five years. Who would have thought that the GPO could cope with the explosion in new telecommunications, such as fax machines and mobile cellular telephones, of which many hon. Members are beneficiaries? If it had still been a Socialist nationalised industry, we would not have such equipment. Thanks to the release of those industries into the private sector, we are all able to benefit from the changes.
Competition is beginning to bear down through Mercury. The Labour party said that there would be no pay telephones any more and that people living in the country and people travelling would have no such telephones. In fact, they are not only in service but better than ever.
I welcome the coal legislation. Although not privatisation, it is a measure of liberalisation, which I warmly welcome. I hope that in the fullness of time we can carry on with the privatisation programme which has done so much to the benefit of our economy, the people who work in the industries and, ultimately and most importantly, the customer.
I welcome the broadcasting Bill, which will recognise the new technological realities brought about by satellite and cable yet will provide a framework for responsible broadcasting. I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about quality. If anyone regards the BBC as the standard to follow and "EastEnders" as an example of wonderful quality television, his idea of quality is not the same as mine.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not rule out religious broadcasting and that he will allow religious groups to bid for franchises. My worry about the decline in religion is shared by the hon. Member for Walton, although he may not agree with me on this proposal. I hope that my hon. Friend will take on board the increasing concern in all corners of the House about pornography. Early-day motion 37 has been signed by 127 Members so far. I hope that my hon. Friend will also consider the question of pornography in bookshops. It is not just a matter of what is seen on television. There is concern about the availability of soft porn, which is becoming harder all the time, and I hope that my hon. Friend will look into that.
Column 310It would be a mistake to imagine that Governments can solve all our social ills. Parents, teachers--all of us-- have responsibilities to be active citizens. Not least, the Church has a responsibility to play a role. I am profoundly concerned that the Church of England, with notable and honourable exceptions, appears more preoccupied with secular matters and, when not secular, with multiculturalism rather than with the abiding Christian virtues. The Bishop of Durham knows all about the alleged evils of the Government's policy on the NHS but appears uninterested in the fact that only 20 per cent. of people in Britain are churchgoers and that 34 per cent. claim to have no religion. There are plenty of apologists for criminal behaviour. It is important for the Church of England to understand that it has a responsibility to return to the abiding Christian virtues and to preach them unashamedly throughout the land.
"Judge not, that ye be not judged."
Mr. Howarth : I am making an observation which I hope will be for the benefit of the clergy.
The programme set out in the Gracious Speech builds squarely on the principles of freedom and choice so clearly expressed by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister 10 years ago. It acknowledges public concern for a better environment--the litter proposal will be warmly welcomed by our constituents--and for better public services. The Gracious Speech has a good radical core which anchors it to the mainstream of the Government's achievements. Furthermore, it confirms my belief that in my right hon. Friend we have the finest Prime Minister that this country has been privileged to have leading it since the second world war. I therefore have the greatest pleasure in warmly endorsing the Gracious Speech.
Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland) : On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I congratulate the Home Secretary on his appointment, which came about in unexpected circumstances. The extent to which the Government support civilised standards will be seen through his actions. That heavy responsibility merits the support of the House as the right hon. and learned Gentleman steps out on that task. As he has discharged one job in the Home Office, we have been given a flavour of his attitudes, some of which we viewed with apprehension.
The debate on the Loyal Address takes place against an exciting and immensely challenging international background. The Gracious Speech recognises that reality in the Government's commitment
"to work for further progress on human rights"
in the context of the developing democracy in eastern Europe. This debate has focused on matters closer to home. None the less, in judging the Government's position on human rights, it is right to look at that area of responsibility to which the House must still pay some regard--Hong Kong. The Queen's Speech talks about seeking "to restore confidence in Hong Kong, building on the foundation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration."
The Government's policy on Hong Kong smacks of appeasement of the People's Republic of China. It is deplorable that while the Government welcome the lifting of the iron curtain in eastern Europe they view with
Column 311apparent equanimity the prospect of stuffing through the bamboo curtain the 6 million people in Hong Kong for whom we have direct responsibility. The evidence of this appeasement is to be seen in the Government's refusal to establish a more democratic Government in Hong Kong from 1991, apparently because they are reluctant to provoke the People's Republic of China.
Further evidence is to be found in the apparent climbdown from the position taken in the joint declaration that after 1997 the Hong Kong courts would be given the right of final adjudication of the Basic Law. It has become clear from a memorandum submitted to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that the Government take the view that that final adjudication will lie with the People's Congress of the People's Republic--the puppet parliament of China--and not as the joint declaration has provided. The Government must know, as Sir David Wilson, the Governor of Hong Kong, and the Chief Secretary, Sir David Ford, have made clear, that the only way to secure confidence in Hong Kong and to persuade the people to remain there after 1997 is to give the 3.25 million British dependent territories' passport holders full rights to British passports.
That is not the view of this party alone, although we may be the only party in this House to hold that view, as the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), on behalf of the Labour party, has given the Government the support that they want in seeking to appease the People's Republic. However, it is the view of those who have responsibility for the government of Hong Kong today, and of the leaders of commerce and business in the city of Hong Kong. Mr. Charles Moore, the editor of The Spectator, has written from Hong Kong this week :
"The misfortune of the people of Hong Kong is that for all its protestations, Britain does not want freedom in Hong Kong ; it wants out."
Another international matter for which the Home Secretary has direct responsibility is the measure described in the Gracious Speech as seeking to enhance international co-operation in the policing of international crime. As long ago as 1967, as a private Member, I secured the enactment of the Tokyo Convention Bill to deal with crimes committed on board aircraft. The Government's measures are the latest in a long line. I do not doubt that they are necessary, but they will not be sufficient especially to stop the menace of drug trafficking. I agree with those who say that this is the most serious social evil facing this country. More direct enforcement action, under the auspices of international organisations, is required in the countries in which the drugs originate. The development of international law has been too slow in this area. I hope that the Government will tell us during this debate what contribution they will make to the development of such law.
It is right to recognise, as did the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who speaks for the Police Federation, that there is some disquiet among the public about the police. They have a particular responsibility to maintain the rule of law and it is because they are entrusted with that responsibility that we give them--almost uniquely in society--the power to use force within the law. That power is necessary in civil society, but its acceptability depends on the public's believing that the police are imbued with a sense of fair play.
Column 312Recent revelations--not only the manner in which the Guildford Four were convicted--have tested that public belief. There was the falsification of evidence against Chelsea soccer fans and the Maguire case, which was associated with the Guildford Four. There was the wrongful extraction of admissions from convicted prisoners in Kent spuriously to improve the crime clear-up rate and unacceptable practices were uncovered in the West Midlands serious crimes squad. To draw attention to those matters is not to undermine the standing of the police. Public concern about police behaviour has emerged at various times. The Willinck commission which was set up in 1960 as a result of various instances of perceived police misconduct made a number of recommendations. There was also the Challoner affair in 1963.
I must make it clear to the Home Office that I am not convinced that recent events give rise to a case for a full-scale commission of inquiry into the police, for that would take too long and would require considerable police resources. Most importantly, it would not recognise that the pressures and priorities of policing are changing constantly and a grand new settlement would not remove the continuing need for adaptation and for watchfulness.
However, we must urgently restore confidence in the fair play of the police. The chief constable of the West Midlands, Mr. Geoffrey Dear, was right and brave to suspend his entire serious crimes squad. The exposure of wrongdoing by the police themselves should contribute to public confidence that policemen will be brought to account for illegal behaviour.
I also recommend to the new Home Secretary that he should consider strengthening the role and structure of the Police Complaints Authority in uncovering wrongdoing. It should have some responsibility for considering policy questions on policing. I also urge that policemen themselves, under cover of confidentiality, should be able to report matters that they believe have not been put right within the force. The previous Home Secretary allowed such an arrangement for whistle blowers within the security services. An analogous right for the police could strengthen their defences against wrongdoers in their midst.
The central piece of Home Office legislation is the proposal for broadcasting change, although I shall say little on that today because there will be other opportunities to debate the proposals. Freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by article 10 of the European convention on human rights, has come under particular and systematic attack by this Government. That is true especially of the freedom of broadcasters and journalists to report. Nothing in the published proposals for broadcasting will secure that freedom. The Government's censorship arrangements for Northern Ireland were described by the Lord Chief Justice in the Court of Appeal this week as "half baked". But censorship will be extended under the provisions. Lord Rees-Mogg may be more ridiculous than sinister, but creeping censorship, like an unsupervised children's party, may begin in laughter and end in tears. The Government appear to be fearful of the power of television to corrupt the morals of British youth. Their attitude to broadcasting brings to mind the action of many little German states in the 18th century which banned the hugely popular novel by Goethe, "The Sorrows of Young Werther". It was widely feared that a captivated readership would commit suicide in imitation of the book's tragic hero.
Column 313Perhaps the greatest advance in the protection of the citizen from oppressive government in this country has come about as a result of the introduction in 1977 of order 53 of the Supreme Court rule book giving the right of application for judicial review. However, there is a vast need for administrative law to be strengthened to provide further defences for the citizen oppressed by maladministration. The Minister should extend the right of appeal beyond the three-month limit and ensure that assistance is given for judicial review when matters of public importance are being considered.
In a lengthy speech at the beginning of this debate, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) put his faith in securing a number of particular rights by enactment in this House. There is undoubtedly a place for that. I draw attention to the desirability of seeking to equalise the age of pensioners to avoid discrimination between men and women. That cannot be done instantly, but the process should be begun.
Several hon. Members mentioned prisoners' rights. The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) made the most eloquent speech on the subject. Those rights are under serious threat. Every report from Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons contains a more serious indictment of what is happening than did its predecessor. Most horrifying of all has been the succession of suicides committed by young people, some of whom were in prison on remand. I hope that the new Home Secretary will take particular responsibility for that problem.
I draw attention to two issues related to racial discrimination. The Commission for Racial Equality is right to seek new powers to bring actions in its name when it believes that discrimination has occurred. I agreed with the Minister's remarks in a letter to the leaders of the Muslim community about the inappropriateness of seeking to extend the law of blasphemy to cover other religions. He is quite right that in this country the strength of the religion should be relied on to rebuff attacks on it. He should carry his beliefs still further and abolish the law of blasphemy. As it stands, it is discriminatory and has almost fallen into desuetude. The majority of those in the Law Commission believe that it should go. We shall not rid ourselves of the scourge of racial discrimination unless and until we recognise the value to this country of the many cultures which live and are represented within our islands. We look on the matter with positive enthusiasm and believe that those who feel discriminated against will come to recognise and share our enthusiasm.
The Queen's Speech referred to a Bill to improve the administration of civil justice. But we looked in vain for any mention in the speech of improving the justice of administration. Rights require remedies. Despite what the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, the citizens of Sparkbrook should not have to go to Strasbourg to seek the enforcement of internationally guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms. The remedy should lie more cheaply and speedily in the British courts.
In the past 10 years the Government have tested the theory that Parliament is the bulwark of our freedoms. In rejecting the concept of a Bill of Rights, the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said that it could be repealed --so it could. So could any of the laws in which he puts his faith ; many of them have been over the past 10 years by this Government. As Thomas Huxley said, many a theory survives long after its brain has been knocked out. The
Column 314theory that parliamentary supremacy protects our civil rights has long been invalidated. If it survives in any form, it is largely because the Labour party, which wants to take over those supreme powers, is keeping the theory on a life support machine.
The Queen's Speech was strangely silent about enlarging freedom in Britain. It did little to alter the perception that the Home Office has been systematically, carefully and gradually confining the liberties of the subject. We will do our best to prize open freedom by our continuing careful scrutiny and criticism of the legislation which it brings forward.
Mr. John Browne (Winchester) : Before I begin my speech I shall draw attention to my interests in some of the issues such as broadcasting and health mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I wish to urge support for the Gracious Speech.
In her first Minister, Her Majesty is well served by a giant among giants-- a giant who acts consistently in the national interest. It would be a sin not to support, or even to try to wound, that giant. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will note this. I am sure none of them has eyes so dim, nor ears so deaf, nor hands so numb that they cannot feel the vital need for loyal support at this moment. Within the speech I particularly noticed the first goal : the preservation of peace, not merely of peace alone, but peace with freedom and justice. That is vitally important and I am pleased that it is emphasised.
I am also pleased at the high mention given to the environment. As you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, know well, Winchester has a big environmental problem related to the completion of the M3. I urge the completion of the M3 as soon as possible, but it will penetrate no less than five statutorily controlled areas of environmental protection. Because of this very special environment, the problem demands a great deal of Government spending to ensure that the road is built in an environmentally friendly manner. I hope that some of the recently announced increased spending on roads will be used to ensure that this is successfully achieved.
I support the drive towards Europe which is vital and the improvement of relations between east and west Europe which is vital to our country and the rest of Europe and will have a big impact on the world in general.
This week I returned from the eastern bloc where freedom means the freedom of sovereign states, not the freedom of individual citizens. The position is somewhat similar to that in the trade union movement described by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and Burntwood (Mr. Howarth) in which the bosses, not the individual union members, have the freedom. In eastern Europe, human rights have been systematically denied for decades, so that joy and hope were almost extinguished and had dwindled to a mere ash. It is an area of the world where humanity has been criminally abused for decades.
There is now on the world stage a man that the headlines of history may consider to be the man of the century. I am speaking about Mr. Gorbachev, or Gorby as he is known almost throughout the western world. I had the great pleasure of meeting him and Mrs. Gorbachev when they came here in December 1984. I showed them round the Chamber. At that time, I felt that he was a man with western-style charisma, who was not only able but
Column 315quite prepared to use it for free on the western world's media. I felt that he had the ability to talk over the heads of western negotiators and politicians directly to people at grass- roots level throughout the world. He had the self-confidence to endure and to show on the world stage flexibility and creativity. He showed that remarkably even from the first Reykjavik talks. I saw him as a man who would replace the image of the brutal Russian bear with one of a reasonable, responsible and even reassuring Russia. I felt that Mr. Gorbachev would be a force for change.
However, I did not, and I am sure that most other people did not, think that the change would be quite so dramatic and that the world would have been stood on its head within five years. In essence, the change that he has created is to challenge the world, not to war, but to peace, a new type of peace. He proposes that the old peace of deterrence and mutually assured destruction under which we have lived for 45 years or more should be replaced by a peace of detente. That is a great change in attitude. He has done away with the bogeyman, but a big question remains, that detente does not yet fully exist. Therefore, I strongly support the policy of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister of being careful and approaching the problem by giving encouragement and help while maintaining our guard.
Mr. Gorbachev's main task is to stimulate the Soviet economy, to capitalise it. To do so, he must effectively change gears. Unlike the capital economies of the West there is no synchromesh. Mr. Gorbachev has to double- declutch, and it will demand enormous courage to allow the clutch to free- wheel between the gears while still maintaining engine revs. That will demand all of the courage that Mr. Gorbachev possesses. He has a huge task. Most western capitalist economies have enterprises, equity and currency markets that evolved over hundreds of years. Mr. Gorbachev has to short- circuit such evolution and bring it about in just a few years. It is a gigantic challenge to convert a politically-controlled and planned economy into a market economy. One example of the problem of double de-clutching is to be found when one looks at enterprise in the Soviet Union. Taking an entrepreneurial initiative was essentially foreign to the Communist culture, but now entrepreneurs are being actively encouraged. However, they are being sandwiched between a planned economy, which, of course, means that supplies are uncertain, and a completely unrealistic pricing mechanism. How will they survive? Free enterprise restaurants are rightly being encouraged in the Soviet Union, but they are not allowed a liquor licence. How can they truly compete? Equity of interest in freehold property and in businesses is being allowed, but only on a leasehold basis. That is not the full change of gear that will be necessary to get the Soviet economy going. The official rate of exchange is $1.60 to the rouble but the free market auction indicates a rate in excess of 15 roubles to the dollar. That means that the official rate is about 20 times removed from reality and a tremendous leap will be required to achieve reality and thus convertibility of the rouble.
Mr. Gorbachev represents a great opportunity for the world for peace and more prosperity. He represents hope for the Soviet people and a challenge to the people of the