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Column 655year. Applications for primary initial teacher training are up by 15 per cent. The proportion of teachers leaving teaching for other paid employment is less than 1 per cent. each year.
Clearly, pay is important. Teachers' pay has risen by 40 per cent. overall since March 1986. This year we have given the interim advisory committee a remit to examine, in particular, the pay of head and deputy head teachers. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the total sum given to the interim advisory committee is twice that given last year. It is important to recognise that the Government have taken steps to make teachers' pay a high priority.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the new pay machinery. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State had a constructive round of meetings with the teachers' unions and employers a short while ago. He is now considering the points made to him and he aims to put in place machinery for the 1991 settlement. He is pursuing the matter vigorously, but he does not underestimate the difficulties that remain. I hope that I have managed to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government take schools, education, capital and teachers seriously.
Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks) : I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the problems of housing in North Yorkshire. It is a broad topic and could cover a multitude of subjects, but as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State knows--I am delighted to see him here to reply to the debate--I wish to raise the specific problems experienced by my mainly rural constituents of finding suitable accommodation to buy or rent locally.
The problem has been aired in the House before, particularly in the last Session during the passage of the Local Government and Housing Bill. Yet it merits further attention because it is the single most pressing social problem for my constituents and has a particular impact on rural communities.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be aware of the nature of the problems in North Yorkshire. They are nothing new. There have always been population movements into particular areas. Once it was into the cities, then into the suburbs and now it is back into the countryside. Such movements have always created pressure on housing stock and difficulties for those who were living in the areas concerned to begin with. The problem has always been with us and will probably always be with us.
What is new, however, is the intensity of pressure on housing in areas such as the one I represent. In the 1980s the demand for homes in the environmentally attractive area of North Yorkshire soared. Greater wealth and improved transport allowed many people to move into the area, some for retirement, some for a second home and some for work. In addition, many cottages were turned into holiday homes. In February when I was canvassing in the Richmond by-election I saw how whole villages closed down for the winter, with a large proportion of the housing stock unoccupied for many months of the year. It is principally the natural attractiveness of the dales and moors which has spurred this great demand for housing. Ironically, that natural attractiveness makes it impossible adequately to expand the supply.
Planning controls, particularly in the national parks which cover half of my constituency, are tight and have been tightened. Many local people have the money to build a house and even the land to build it on, but not the planning permission to do so. I would not argue for any general relaxation of planning controls. It is in the interests of the whole nation that our most attractive natural areas are preserved for future generations, but it is important for the nation to acknowledge the price paid and the trouble taken by the local residents. They want to make a living and bring up a family, and they love their surroundings, but they often ruefully reflect that a beautiful view does not pay bills. The price to be paid threatens to be high.
Lancashire polytechnic recently highlighted the scale of the problem in my constituency in a comprehensive survey of all households in Wensleydale. The work was carried out on behalf of the Wensleydale housing forum, to which I pay tribute. The survey confirmed what we already knew. Many people are moving into the Dales. Indeed, in the past 10 years one in three households has moved in. At the same time, local young people cannot find anywhere to live. Forty per cent. of households are of pensionable age
Column 657and fewer than 20 per cent. include anybody between 16 and 25. The consequences of such changes can be both great and serious. The effects on schools and public transport are predictable, as is the strain on health care. There is also the sometimes forgotten impact on the environment. The natural environment that people find so pleasant and attractive depends on the maintenance of upland farming. If the next generation of farming families cannot find anywhere to live, the impact on the environment will be serious. I do not criticise anyone for wanting to live in or move into the area. Many of those who move in become among the most active local citizens. I should like the strains which have arisen to be recognised. Some people in my constituency have said that 95 per cent. of the local population cannot afford the average price of a small house in the Dales. That may be an exaggeration, but I do not think that it is a wild exaggeration.
I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree with me when I say that it is a distressing experience for people who were born in the area, brought up there, and who feel that they belong there, as they have friends and family in the area, to find that they are unable to get any accommodation there.
Many married couples in my constituency have to live in caravans on the premises or in the gardens of relatives. In far-flung rural areas people are not able to go to live in the town down the road instead of in a village or in the countryside. There is no town down the road. People who work in rural areas in many parts of my constituency could not commute from nearby towns because the towns do not exist. One may say that there have always been problems, but when a whole generation faces the same difficulty throughout the country, the problem merits considerable attention. Some people may say, "So what? Populations shift, communities come and go. Industrial and urban communities have experienced great and traumatic changes in the past, so why do any special favours for rural areas?" My answer is that no one wants any special favours. My constituents are the last people to expect the Government to bail them out on any occasion.
Given the tight constraints imposed on the supply of local housing, people are entitled to seek ways to redress the balance in their favour. It is ridiculous to say that we have a free market in housing when the supply is so restricted. My constituents are entitled to ask whether we can interfere in the market to help rather than to hinder local people who understandably desire to live in their home area. There are powerful moral, environmental and social reasons for active Government assistance to help to alleviate the problems. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister, does not need persuading that there are such reasons but it is worth placing them on record in the House.
It is all the more important for the Government to tackle the problem successfully because if they do not the Opposition will come up with silly, unworkable plans such as their scheme to require planning permission for the ownership of second homes. I warn the Opposition that with that scheme they risk enmeshing themselves in a bureaucratic tangle that has considerable implications for
Column 658basic civil liberties. The Government bear a heavy responsibility to get things right so that the Opposition do not get the opportunity to wreak havoc.
To be fair, my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Department of the Environment in the past year have shown a refreshing awareness of the scale and the urgency of the problem. The noises that have emerged from the Government on rural housing have been positive. I congratulate the Minister on the announcement last February about village sites for low-cost housing, on the great increase in funding for housing associations, on the constructive nature of the recently issued planning guidelines, and because they have generally recognised the existence of the problem. However, I think that the Minister will accept that the initiatives taken so far will take time to bear fruit, and the results may be limited in relation to the scale of the problem.
My hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning yesterday gave a written answer on Housing Corporation funding and activity which was impressive. The Government are providing the means for a huge increase in the activities of housing associations. However, when the money has been shared out by region, county and district, the effects on the ground over the next few years could be small. I have been told by Hambleton district council, one of two districts in my constituency, that one £4 million scheme for 28 dwellings would take up its total share of housing association funding for two years.
Will my hon. Friend impress upon his colleagues at the Department of the Environment and at the Treasury that there is a need for continued increases in Housing Corporation funding as a high priority? He should consider carefully whether rural areas receive as much funding as the seriousness of their problems warrants. The work of the housing associations is welcome, but inevitably, local authorities are still in the front line of dealing with the rural housing shortage. As planning authorities they unfortunately bear the brunt of local dissatisfaction with planning constraints. Responsible local authorities, such as those in my constituency, and throughout the rural areas of North Yorkshire, feel harshly constrained when they try to help to tackle the problems that I have described.
I am aware that, when I raise the subject of local authorities' role in housing provision, I am entering a political minefield. Their creation of great municipal estates was a disaster for Britain and must never happen again, but local authorities in North Yorkshire have a much more distinguished record on housing provision, to say nothing of many other things, and it seems to me that there are three ways in which they can help to tackle the local housing problem. In all of them, there is scope for the Government to be helpful to local authorities without unleashing a spending spree by the less responsible of them.
First, local authorities can seek restrictive agreements on the sale of properties to put people who already live locally at an advantage in the housing market. The Yorkshire Dales national park is making a major effort, which I warmly applaud, to place as many newly constructed properties as possible under section 52 agreements, which restrict subsequent sales. I know that the Government have encouraged the use of such
Column 659agreements in certain circumstances and places. Such a policy must be applied sensitively, and sometimes flexibly, but it is a genuine and constructive attempt to help.
There is much confusion and concern about whether such agreements can be made to stick in planning appeals or in subsequent tests in the courts. Clearer guidance from the Government on this matter would be welcome, although I recognise that it is a complex topic and my hon. Friend the Minister might not be able to give a full and definitive answer today.
Secondly, there is potential for local authorities to provide land or low- cost developments by housing associations or other bodies. At the moment, local authorities are sometimes boxed in by restrictions and penalties if they try to help in that way, and some housing associations are worried that local authority assistance with many possible low-cost developments will never happen. I know that the Government have recently tried to help in this respect and that there is always a danger when local authorities are given financial freedom that that freedom will be abused by a minority of them. I should welcome clarification of the Government's stance and any additional leeway that can be given to local authorities with suitable land or available funding that could be used for rural development. Thirdly, local authorities still have a limited role in providing housing directly. Forthcoming restrictions on the use of capital receipts are likely to reduce the scope of their activity. If so, that will not help the rural housing situation. Local authorities in my area have never been extravagant. They have never incurred huge debts, but their ability to use money to help the local community with its most pressing problem may be curtailed.
I know that this is another difficult area for Ministers, mainly because some local authorities have behaved very differently from those in my constituency, but can the Government study how changes in local authority regulations will affect rural housing, and will they try to find ways in which to replace the much-needed funding that may be lost? There may be other ways in which to assist with rural housing through changes in the planning process. I wonder whether the planning system could be reformed to encourage the private sector to think ahead about the provision of low- cost, local-need housing. Within the framework of a county structure plan, district councils could put forward bids looking, say, five years ahead, specifying how many of the planning permissions they grant should be reserved for local need or be part of low-cost schemes. Such provision would then be built more into the expectations of developers and the plans of housing associations.
There may be other ways in which to assist. It may be possible for the Government to give local authorities more advice about opportunities already available to them so that they take advantage of initiatives that the Government have already provided, which they may not do at the moment. Whichever of these suggestions turn out to be practical, I think that my hon. Friend the Minister will recognise that there is a strong feeling in North Yorkshire and many other rural areas that more must be done and that pressure must be maintained on this subject.
This is a most pressing social and economic problem, although none of us is so naive to think that it will ever be
Column 660solved to universal satisfaction. We can no more stop the high demand for homes in the most attractive parts of the country than we can stop the tide coming in. However, we can help those people who wish only for relatively modest accommodation in their own home areas and who want to see suitable sites and local money put to the best use in providing that accommodation. No one is asking for special favours. I ask only that people are given a fair chance instead of facing a planning system and housing market that are stacked permanently against them.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope) : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Memberfor Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) for choosing to use this short debate to raise an important subject. As he does so often, he spoke eloquently and persuasively today. Like my hon. Friend, the Government are concerned to maintain the viability of rural communities and we recognise that ensuring that there is affordable housing for local people to rent or buy has a key part to play in that.
Unlike some Opposition Members, we believe that people must be free to choose where they live. That means that we have no intention of forbidding long-distance commuters and second-home owners moving into rural areas. We recognise that it is important for the health of rural communities that they do not become merely dormitory villages for commuters or twilight homes for the elderly. It is crucial that affordable housing is available for those who live and work in rural areas, including people with limited incomes.
We are, indeed, the first Government to recognise the distinctly rural angle to public housing policy. In July 1988, we announced our rural housing initiative which for the first time set out a specific policy on low-cost housing in smaller villages. Since then we have been steadily putting in place a package of measures designed to tackle the problem.
We are increasing the level of investment in rural areas through housing associations, which have a major role to play in providing affordable housing both for rent and for low-cost sale, in particular shared ownership. We have significantly increased the public funding of the National Agricultural Centre Rural Trust to support its work in providing start-up funds for rurally based housing associations. We have greatly increased the public funds available to the Housing Corporation, so enabling it to establish a special rural programme aimed at villages with a population of under 1,000. The Housing Corporation has recently brought forward increased targets under this programme which should be providing 1,500 homes a year for rent in small villages by 1992-93. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising the enormous additional assistance that we are giving to housing associations in our programme over the coming years. Most people in rural as in urban areas, including those on modest incomes, want to buy rather than rent a home. We are anxious to stimulate provision for low-cost home ownership, and have taken a series of measures to stimulate this under both housing and planning powers. Particularly important is the encouragement of shared ownership schemes, which enable people to part-rent part-buy, thus reducing the initial cost of purchase and
Column 661thereby lowering the barriers of entry to owner-occupation. Most are offered by housing associations, some with public subsidy, others without, but there is no reason why commercial developers should not run similar schemes, and we are beginning to see signs of interest in that.
As my hon. Friend reminded the House, there was considerable debate during the passage of last Session's Local Government and Housing Bill about whether shared owners should be prohibited from "staircasing" to full ownership. I hope that we have now settled that debate. We entirely agree that shared ownership housing should be retained for local people in rural areas, but not by denying people the opportunity to become full owners of their homes. We are introducing a scheme whereby housing associations in certain rural areas will have a pre-emption right to repurchase former shared-ownership dwellings when the occupier moves on, thus ensuring their retention as low-cost housing. The Housing Corporation will guarantee to make the necessary funds available without reducing its rural rented or shared ownership programmes.
The corporation has also been invited to identify separately for the first time a rural element within its low-cost home ownership programme, to allow 250 approvals next year rising to 350 by 1992-93, a trebling of the present level. Of course, the figures are still small, but in a small village even one or two houses can make a substantial difference. We shall keep progress under close review in consultation with the Housing Corporation.
We have been encouraging local authorities to see their housing role as more of an enabling one, working with housing associations and the private sector to increase the supply of low-cost housing rather than developing new housing for rent or sale themselves. They can sponsor housing association schemes from their own resources to top up Housing Corporation provision, and if they choose, they can pay subsidies to private landlords. Next year's local authority housing investment programme allocations were announced earlier today. The average allocation is twice that for 1989-90 because of the better targeting that our new system permits. That is possible only because we still maintain some control over the amount of capital receipts that local authorities are able to spend. If we did not have that control, we would not be able to target our resources in the way that we intend next year. I am delighted to tell my hon. Friend that Richmond has been allocated 230 per cent. of its 1989-90 figure, and Hambleton has been allocated 203 per cent. They have done very well out of today's housing investment programme allocations. We recognise that there is still a role for direct local authority provision, but we hope that authorities will operate through housing associations where possible. If a local authority gives land to a housing association for low-cost housing development, without retaining nomination rights, there would not normally be any consideration and, therefore, no requirement to set money aside to redeem debt. If it retains nomination rights, there is a non-monetary consideration ; but my noble Friend the Paymaster General announced in another place on 24 October that we would provide in subordinate legislation that, in those cases, no debt redemption would be required. So, effectively, there is no deterrent to authorities making land available freely or cheaply for low-cost housing.
Column 662There is also no reason why low-cost rural housing should not be provided by private developers, whether alone or in conjunction with housing associations or local authorities, and whether for rent, shared ownership or direct sale, and we are starting to see signs of that happening.
We are taking steps to encourage landowners and developers to help in providing affordable housing for local people. As my hon. Friend said, in February 1989 we announced changes to planning rules, whereby local planning authorities may exceptionally release small pockets of land, not previously designated for housing, for low-cost schemes. The key point is that if the land does not have development value, because planning permission for general purpose housing would be refused, the houses can be let or sold at well below the market price, subject to conditions that ensure that they remain available to local people.
We would expect to see appropriate covenants between the landowner and the developer to ensure that the additional housing remains available for local needs, normally backed up by an agreement with the planning authority under section 52. It is very important that those guarantees are carefully worked out, but I do not share my hon. Friend's doubts about whether they are workable. Many authorities are already working with them very satisfactorily.
My hon. Friend mentioned that there are some local doubts about the legal basis on which low-cost housing would be reserved for local needs. From a planning point of view, it is important that authorities set out clear policies for low-cost housing in their local plans to provide a framework for individual decisions. My hon. Friend referred to a programme for the next five years. Such a programme can be contained within a local development plan produced by the local authority. That would help to reduce any risk of challenge on appeal. I shall give one example, although it is not in my hon. Friend's constituency, but it is nearby. The North Yorkshire authority, Ryedale, has already adopted such a policy on an interim basis, pending revision of its statutory local plan. The policy is very much along the lines that we want to see, and I hope that other authorities will follow their lead. We published guidance on local needs policies in our recent draft planning policy guidance note on housing, and we shall be issuing the final version of that guidance early in the new year.
If there are uncertainties about the legal mechanisms, I suggest that authorities contact the National Agricultural Centre Rural Trust. It has been instrumental in promoting village housing schemes ; it has produced an admirable guide to village housing ; and it can point to cases where legal arrangements have been made to the satisfaction of all the parties concerned. I hope that, if my hon. Friend's local council has not contacted that organisation, our debate today will encourage it to do so.
The trust sees signs of widespread interest among private landowners in making small sites available for low-cost housing. A growing number of schemes are already under way. For instance, in Gloucestershire, an area of very high prices--probably even higher than in my hon. Friend's constituency and with equally strong pressures from outsiders--the Gloucestershire housing society has two shared ownership schemes under way on low-cost sites made available by private landowners, and
Column 663several more in prospect. That illustrates what can be achieved by using the opportunities that the recent policy initiative has made available.
In giving new priority to low-cost rural housing, we are not in any way abandoning our concern to protect the rural environment. We are not abandoning our planning policies or our concern for countryside protection. But it is important to remember that not many new houses are needed in a village--just enough to ensure that children brought up in the village can set up house there if they want to. Many villages have small sites that could be used for two or three houses without any damage to the environment. Most rural district councils are concerned to protect the beauties of their landscape, and I am sure that they will go on being scrupulous about inappropriate development. But that does not mean that there should be no development whatever. It is especially important in rural areas that developers should pay close attention to the environmental aspects of what they plan to build.
The Government have thus responded to the growing concern about the lack of affordable housing in rural areas. Inevitably, our initiatives will take some time to have their full effect, but we have put in place the mechanism to deal with the problem, and that, coupled with increased public and private funding, should provide a significant boost to the output of low- cost housing.
Of course, it can always be argued that more needs to be done, but in the two years since we introduced the rural dimension to housing policy, we have made real progress, and I am encouraged by the reports that I am receiving of innovative housing schemes in a variety of rural areas. Needless to say, we shall be watching developments closely and considering whether further steps are necessary. If more resources are called for, we shall do our best to provide them, although we have to balance rural against urban needs. We are also working on research proposals to assess the effectiveness of our initiatives.
We have recognised a problem which previously went unacknowledged. We have put in place a policy for dealing with it and we have made significant additional resources available to back up that policy. There may be further to go, but I hope that my hon. Friend and the House acknowledge how far we have already come.
Our approach is a positive approach to get more houses built for those in rural areas who need them without imposing restrictions on other people's freedom to own what property they choose. We have spelt out clear and coherent policies that work within the framework of a planning system that protects the countryside without imposing planning controls where they are not justified. As usual, the Labour party is running to try to catch up with us.
Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : Let me begin, Madam Deputy Speaker, by wishing you and everyone else a happy Christmas and a merry new year. In a few hours' time, this place will be closed. The heat of battle will be over and tranquility will have returned to our land. Before that happens, I should like to give the Law Officers a chance to lift the veils that shroud our system of judicial appointments--veils which make that system a complete mystery to the public. I should also like to give the Law Officers a chance to explain why the system is sexist and racist as well as being based on snobbery and class.
As a barrister, I know only too well that the secrecy that surrounds the appointment of judges is almost masonic. Judges are drawn almost exclusively from the ranks of barristers, and most of them are appointed by the Lord Chancellor, in consultation with other judges. The result of that system is that judges recruit other judges to the Bench in their own image- -their own sex, colour, class and prejudices. This system produces an elite --a self-perpetuating oligarchy. It creates a judiciary which in my view is composed of the least forward-looking, least radical and most hidebound body of our citizenry.
Justice at the highest levels has become the preserve of cloistered, geriatric, white men. Is it any wonder that we have judges asking in court, "Who is Mick Jagger?" Is it any wonder that judges have to ask barristers to explain what "bonking" means? If I said to the Law Officers, "Bonking is good for you", they would know what I meant and would not need an interpreter or a barrister to demonstrate it for them.
More seriously, the character of these cloistered, geriatric, white men can explain some of the tragic mistakes that the Court of Appeal made in the cases of the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six. Perhaps the character of these geriatric, cloistered, white men can also help to explain the reaction of judges to the Lord Chancellor's proposals to get rid of the restrictive practices of barristers and solicitors.
That brings me to the question of how the Lord Chief Justice is appointed. Can the Minister describe the system under which the current Lord Chief Justice, Lord Justice Lane, will be replaced when he resigns? Which Ministers will be consulted? Presumably the Lord Chancellor will consult the Prime Minister, but what about the Home Secretary and the Attorney- General? Which senior judges will be consulted? The Law Officers may say that this is all hypothetical and that they do not know that the Lord Chief Justice will resign, but they should remember that the Lord Chief Justice described the proposals to get rid of the restrictive practices of barristers and solicitors, which were brought forward by the Lord Chancellor, as "sinister". He said two days ago in the House of Lords :
"the interests of justice have gone."-- [Official Report, House of Lords, 19 December 1989 ; Vol. 514, c. 146.]
It is inconceivable that the Lord Chief Justice could preside over a system that he believes to be sinister and could continue to preside over a system from which he believes that the interests of justice have gone. It is not tenable that the Lord Chief Justice should be engaged in a running battle with the Lord Chancellor. Although I am sure that the Lord Chief Justice would prefer that the
Column 665reforms were withdrawn and that the Lord Chancellor resigned, that will not happen. Many of us at the Bar believe that the Lord Chief Justice is honour bound to resign and we want to know the system by which he will be replaced.
There is racism and sexism in the system of the appointment of judges. We know that over 50 per cent. of the population of this country is composed of women, yet out of 10 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, there are no women. Out of 27 Lord Justices of Appeal, only one is female. Out of 81 High Court judges, only one is female. Out of 422 circuit judges, only 17 are female, which is 4 per cent. Out of 703 recorders, only 25 are female, which is 3.6 per cent. I should have thought that by any standards that was a disgraceful state of affairs and that it shows that women are shunned, scorned and rejected in recruitment by myopic male judges.
I am convinced that it is no use for the Attorney-General to say, as he has in a parliamentary answer, that we must simply encourage more women to come to the Bar and to put themselves forward as judges. The system must discriminate positively in favour of women as judges. We also need positive discrimination by chambers to ensure that the number of women practising at the Bar increases and thus that more women can come forward as potential judges. How many chambers have a quota for women barristers? In the medical profession, over 50 per cent. of those putting themselves forward to become doctors are women, but I am certain that nothing like 50 per cent. of those coming to the Bar are women. What are chambers, the Bar Council, judges and the Lord Chancellor doing to ensure that more women come forward?
How many chambers where groups of barristers meet have a creche? How many chambers or groups of chambers have a workplace nursery to help women barristers? How many courts have a creche or workplace nursery to help women barristers and solicitors? Is it any wonder that both the Bar and judges exude sexism? Ironically, sometimes this works in favour of women. Judges tend to see the women before them not as intelligent, rational beings but, bringing with them the prejudices of a thousand years of male chauvinism, as pretty little things, full of feelings and sentiment, but lacking in logic and reason. One strange result of that is that women in the criminal courts may get lower sentences than men who have committed the same crimes.
In the civil courts, we have judges such as Mr. Justice Bernard Caulfield fantasising over women. He described one witness as fragrant, radiant and elegant. I shall not be a chauvinist and comment on whether Mrs. Mary Archer is radiant and elegant. However, some women have asked me how the hell the judge knew that she was fragrant. What scent was this woman using that was so powerful that she could deceive this besotted judge? "I say, it is Chanel No. 5, old man." "Sorry, m'lud, it is Poison by Dior." That is a strange way to approach women in the witness box, and it is strange to use such phrases in summing up.
What about black people? The last census showed, the proportion of black people in the population as 3 per cent. but I should not be surprised if, when the 1990 census comes out, the proportion is more like 5 per cent. Out of 10 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, none is black. Out of 27 Lord Justices of Appeal, none is black. Out of 81 High Court judges, none is black. Out of 422 circuit judges, only
Column 666one is black--one fifth of 1 per cent. of the total. Out of 703 recorders, only five are black--0.7 per cent. of the total. That does not mean that judges are racist, but it reflects the
institutionalised racism of the judiciary. It suggests a shocking lack of concern on the part of judges about the future of black people.
How can black people trust the system of justice when all they ever see before them are these cloistered, geriatric white men?
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. I have allowed the hon. Gentleman a great deal of leeway, but I hope that he will not reflect in that manner on the judiciary. As he well knows, to do such a thing, he would need to table a substantive motion.
Mr. Sedgemore : I am not criticising them. "Cloistered" means that they come from a narrow social background. That is a matter of fact, because they basically come from public schools and universities. "Geriatric" was a phrase used by Lord Scarman. He gave me the idea to raise this debate. I heard him on the radio talking about the response of black people to our legal system and he explained that there were not enough black policemen and was asked, "What about the number of black judges?" He became so embarrassed that I started to table questions and find out what went on. "Geriatric"--at the highest level, although not at the level of the recorders or circuit judges--is a description of the age group of these people. "White" is a description of their colour. No criticism is intended. It is a plain, straightforward statement of fact.
How can black people feel confidence in the system? What will the Law Officers and the Lord Chancellor do about it? Again, positive discrimination is one of the answers, but I have one or two new proposals. We need a fundamental review of how judges are trained and appointed. We need a review that will open out access to the judiciary and get rid of the virtual monopoly of the Bar. It is clear to me that being an advocate is not the same thing as being a judge. Yet nearly all the judges are appointed from advocates, from members of the Bar and mainly from people who have become Queen's counsel at the Bar, but they do not have the same function. Of course it is clear that judges need to know how the courts work. They need to know what counsel for the prosecution and for the defence, for the plaintiff and for the respondent, get up to. But it does not follow that a judge must have been a barrister, and that is not the case in some countries.
All solicitors should be eligible for appointment as judges. Academic lawyers should be eligible for appointment as judges, as should other people who have had distinguished careers in entirely different areas. The Lord Chancellor should look to headhunting when he wants to appoint judges, and that may involve something which is distasteful to the Bar, although perhaps not so distasteful to the Lord Chancellor who is more radical than some of his predecessors. I have great sympathy for the Lord Chancellor and the battle that he is having with the judges in his attempt to reform the legal system. If I can catch Mr. Speaker's eye on another occasion, I shall be saying words in his favour on that matter. Such an approach may involve not only headhunting but advertising.
Column 667That is a wide issue which we do not have time to go into in this debate. The fusion of solicitors and barristers would help to widen the arena from which judges could be drawn. Fusion is a contentious issue. There are arguments for and against, and it is not solely concerned with the appointment of judges but with the whole system of justice. But for other reasons as well, fusion would widen the area from which judges could be drawn.
We should set up a judicial commission along the lines of the Civil Service Commission to look at the recruiting and training of judges. That judicial commission should contain not only some judges--I accept that there would have to be some judges--but distinguished lay people who have been successful in other spheres of life. That commission should look at the issue and make recommendations that would widen the character and nature of those who make up the Bench.
Justice is a precious thing and it should not only be for all the people, it should be seen to be for all the people. Therefore, I hope that the Solicitor-General will come forward with some new and constructive ideas so that we can go into the 1990s improving our system of justice.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) on initiating the debate. He masquerades most convincingly before you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as a respectable, suited, balding white man, as I do myself.
The debate provides an opportunity to explain briefly the way in which judges are appointed. It also provides an opportunity to dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings that prevail when the subject is discussed.
It will surely be common ground that it is essential to the fair and proper working of Britain's system of justice that those appointed to the judiciary should be of the highest quality, in terms of intellect, character and experience, and of the highest integrity.
It should come as no surprise that successive Lord Chancellors have testified that they regard the appointment of judges as among their most important duties. The number and range of the modern judiciary make that task more difficult than it has ever been. I will briefly outline its extent.
First, the Lord Chancellor is responsible for advising the Prime Minister on the appointment of the most senior judges of all, the Lords of Appeal, the heads of the four divisions of the High Court and the Lords Justices of Appeal. He is also responsible for making recommendations on the appointment of High Court judges, circuit judges and Queen's counsel. Those appointments are all Crown appointments and the Lord Chancellor's function is to provide advice to the Prime Minister who, in turn, advises the Queen.
The Lord Chancellor is also responsible for appointing judicial officers, such as masters of the Supreme Court and registrars of the High Court and county court, stipendiary magistrates and many tribunal chairmen. He is also responsible for appointing, or advising on the appointment of, a wide range of part-time judges and judicial officers, including recorders and assistant recorders with similar jurisdiction to the full-time office holders whom I
Column 668have already mentioned. Finally, he is responsible for appointing all the lay magistrates in England and Wales, except in the Duchy of Lancaster. They number over 28,000. As the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch accepts, there is a very high, and growing, proportion of magistrates from the ethnic minorities, for the reason that the pool from which they can be appointed is already much wider and more easily available.
To assist the Lord Chancellor in making the main judicial appointments, he looks for the great bulk of his advice to the senior judiciary : to the judges and leaders of the legal profession. To help him in the task of gathering and recording their views, interviewing actual and potential candidates for many of the appointments and summarising and correlating the large amount of information gained, the Lord Chancellor has appointed a small team of officials within his Department, but he personally takes all the important decisions--in particular, on every full-time appointment and all the senior part-time appointments.
Eligibility for judicial appointment is regulated in the first instance by statute. At present, a Lord Justice or above is required to be a barrister of at least 15 years' standing, a High Court judge to be a barrister of 10 years' standing and a circuit judge to be a barrister or solicitor of 10 years' standing, provided, if he or she be a solicitor, that they have served as a recorder for at least three years. There is no statutory requirement for Queen's counsel. These eligibility requirements will be changed if the proposals in the Courts and Legal Services Bill become law in due course. The main change, in terms of judicial appointments, is that solicitors with appropriate advocacy qualifications will be eligible for appointment to the High Court and above.
Progression to the most senior ranks in the judiciary depends primarily on experience and performance in previous appointments. In modern times, the Law Lords have been drawn almost exclusively from the Court of Appeal, and Lords Justices almost exclusively from the High Court. High Court judges are appointed from those members of the senior Bar who are recognised as being at the head of the profession, augmented by some promotions from the circuit bench. The circuit judges are chosen on application from the relatively small number of recorders of sufficient seniority and standing who are recognised as suitable for full-time appointments at this level. At any one time, therefore, although the overall numbers in the profession-- 6,000 barristers and nearly 50,000 solicitors--may seem large, the pool of real candidates for a particular appointment never looks very extensive.
The fundamental principle applied by successive Lord Chancellors is to appoint to each judicial post the candidate who appears to him to be the best qualified to fit it and to perform its duties, without regard to sex, religion, ethnic origin or any perceived political opinion. Professional ability, experience, standing, character and integrity are the criteria, coupled with the requirement that the candidate must be physically capable of carrying out the often quite tiring duties of the post.
The hon. Member asked whether the Lord Chancellor has appointed sufficient women judges, or sufficient judges from the ethnic minorities. He has argued that the judges are drawn from a narrow class and that they are insufficiently representative of the population as a whole. The Lord Chancellor would certainly not reject out of
Column 669hand the notion that in a diverse society those with the responsibility of appointing or recommending appointment to positions of influence and responsibility should be astute, where they can, to make appointments that command the confidence of, and thus where appropriate reflect, the composition of society as a whole. He would therefore readily accept the desirability, where suitable candidates presented themselves, of seeking to make more such appointments, but I do not understand the hon. Gentleman to be arguing--even if he were, I should not be able to agree with him--that this should be the primary criterion.
The prime consideration at every level must be that the judiciary should be appointed from among those best qualified to do the job in question--to carry out judicial tasks. For this, the first requirement, supplemented and combined, of course, with the necessary qualities of character, standing and integrity, must be tried and tested knowledge and experience of the law and practice of our judicial system.
Most of our courts, unlike those on the continent, operate by means of the adversarial system. The judges must, therefore, have the qualities of a skilled umpire between contesting parties, but he or she must have more than that : the judge must have both the detailed knowledge of the law and the necessary analytical faculties to identify and isolate, whether for himself or for a jury, the essential features of a case. He or she must have a knowledge of the rules of evidence and understanding of proper practice, the facility of courteous explanation and the power of judgment-- qualities which can normally be gained only by long and dedicated experience as an advocate in the courts. These qualities are not called for as mere artificial barriers or disguised exclusions based on prejudice. They are genuine requirements. In a criminal case, to allow one inadmissible question can abort a trial.
The prime requirement for our judges, therefore, is the ability to manage trials skilfully, to preside effectively without intervening too much and to produce sensible, just and legally valid decisions. To do this requires long years of experience in successful practice as an advocate--normally at least 10 years is appropriate and, for the more senior and taxing appointments, even longer is desirable. Without such a background, the judge will simply not have the experience to do the job properly and he or she will not command the respect and confidence either of the advocates or of the litigants who appear before him or her.
This need for essential experience has a number of important implications for judicial appointments. It means primarily that the composition of the Bench at any one time is to a great extent dependent on the composition of the legal profession in the age groups from which appointments can reasonably be drawn. I cannot help observing that if the ethnic minorities have increased from 3 to 5 per cent. in the 10 years since the previous census, that increase of 2 per cent. must be composed to a considerable extent of people under the age of 10--a little early, I think, for judicial appointment! That is the principal reason why, at the moment, more women or more members of the ethnic minorities have not already been appointed to the Bench. The Lord Chancellor has stressed time and again, and I am happy to repeat it today, that he is personally anxious to see more women and more members of ethnic minorities appointed to the Bench. But he cannot properly appoint to positions of such responsibility people who do not have the necessary
Column 670qualities to do the job ; and it is a simple fact that, at present, there are not enough women or ethnic minority candidates in the legal profession in the appropriate age groups and with the right experience for him to be able to make many such appointments. Nothing would be worse for the reputation of the judiciary--nor would it be fair either to women advocates or to advocates from the ethnic minorities-- than for the Lord Chancellor to lower the standards for appointment to the judiciary simply to ensure a different racial or sexual mix. The Bench in 10 or 20 years' time is likely to look very different in terms of racial and sexual composition from the way it looks today.
I revert therefore to the way in which the Lord Chancellor makes his decisions. His aim is to do so on the basis of the widest and fullest possible consultation with the senior judiciary and leaders of the Bar. The purpose is to obtain the verdict of the professional community on each candidate, in so far as there is one. The main method of consultation is by organised rounds of regular consultations with all Supreme Court judges and Law Lords and by annual meetings with a broad cross-section of the circuit bench, including all the resident and designated judges, and with the leaders of the circuits and the Bar as a whole. Particular efforts are now made to seek out views on solicitor candidates for appointment. That can sometimes be difficult, as they may not be seen so frequently in court, but the Lord Chancellor makes appropriate allowances for that when reaching his decisions. It is perhaps worth stressing what, again, the Lord Chancellor has said on many occasions : he is anxious to encourage more solicitors to put themselves forward for judicial appointment when they have reached the appropriate age and standing.
The breadth of the Lord Chancellor's consultations enables him to apply another important principle in the modern system. As far as possible, he avoids making final decisions about a candidate on the basis of the advice of any one person, however senior. That is a safeguard against both favouritism and personal prejudice. As a result of those continuing consultations, the Lord Chancellor's Department holds a large and growing body of information and opinions about several thousand lawyers and judges. In so far as the material consists of facts about them, they are treated as entitled to be told what it consists of and, if necessary, to correct it. If the material consists of expressions of opinions--as much of it does-- about a candidate's work and his suitability for appointment, it is treated as confidential.
In addition to the regular and extensive process of consultation, the Lord Chancellor regards certain senior judges as having a special voice as his advisers on certain appointments. In particular, the Lord Chief Justice and the other heads of division have that position in relation to appointments to the High Court, and the presiding judges of each circuit have it in relation to the appointment of recorders and circuit judges. However, in the end, the responsibility for all those appointments is the Lord Chancellor's alone, and he alone makes the decisions on whom to recommend for each of them. The hon. Gentleman has suggested--it is by no means a new suggestion--that some sort of commission should be appointed to replace the Lord Chancellor's role in advising on judicial appointments. But how will a commission be in a better position to appoint women or members of the ethnic minorities to the judiciary? At the end of the day, a judicial appointments commission will be working with
Column 671the same raw material in terms of candidates for appointment that the Lord Chancellor is now and, unless the hon. Gentleman is seriously arguing that judges should not be appointed on merit but on the basis of some artificial quota, a judicial appointments commission will not be able to make any significant difference to the number of such candidates who can be appointed.
The position is, however, improving, or perhaps one should say developing, as the House would hope, as both women and ethnic minority members become more established and senior in the profession. Over the past 10 years, the proportion of women called to the Bar has risen from 24 per cent. in 1977- 78 to 37 per cent. in 1987-88. Among solicitors, the proportion of women admitted has likewise risen over the same period from 26 per cent. to 45 per cent. and it may already this year have reached 50 per cent. There are no comparable statistics for the ethnic minorities, although the numbers are increasing. In the past two years, the Lord Chancellor has recommended the appointment of two black silks in each year. As their seniority progresses, we can look forward to women practitioners and practitioners from the ethnic minorities playing an increasing and valuable role in the ranks of the judiciary.
Ambulance Dispute (Protest)