|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 368the central purpose of the Bill's actually being implemented by the judges, unless additional steps are taken.
On the day when the Bill was published, Judge Derek Clarkson announced :
"The Court of Appeal is reducing sentences in a way that is derisory and derogates from the authority and dignity of Her Majesty's judges."
Does the Home Secretary think that anyone who takes dignity so seriously and talks of Court of Appeal decisions as derisory will voluntarily co- operate with his proposed reforms? Of course they will not--not until they are encouraged to do so by the policy of ensuring that the will of Parliament is expressed and implemented by a sentencing council which advises on sentencing.
That advice would be designed to achieve some uniformity in sentencing-- between courts, the sexes and the ethnic groups. It would encourage the principles of sentencing--in this case, a reduction in committal to prison- -that Parliament and Government wish to apply. I have no doubt that judges must be allowed discretion. I am not in favour of judges being told precisely what sentences they must apply to every conviction. However, if judges are to be given that discretion, a sentencing council to guide--not instruct--them is essential.
The House should not take my word for it. I quote from last Saturday's edition of The Times. Referring to the Bill, it said : "Another provision ought to be added. The guidelines, though an improvement, still give the judges considerable discretion. Much depends on how the appeal court interprets them. All this is hazardous. The transmission mechanism between parliament, Home Office and judiciary is creaky and ineffective. Judges are notoriously their own creatures, disinclined through long exercise of power to heed outside influence. Penal reformers have long advocated the creation of a sentencing council. Representing all interested parties, its job would be to formulate detailed guidance on sentencing for the courts. Justice demands no less."
I hope that in Committee, the House will demand exactly that. I doubt whether the Government--for all their claims to reforming zeal--will summon up sufficient courage to take such a radical step. However, the next Labour Government will. Indeed, the message from this day of the Queen's Speech debate is absolutely clear : in some areas--combating crime in particular-- the Government's policy has been a ghastly failure. In others-- broadcasting, community relations and the reform of the judicial system--it has been grotesquely wrong. Even when they have accepted the right principles, such as the extension of non-custodial sentences, they have acted--and are acting--with pathetic timidity. The next Labour Government will right all those wrongs.
Several Hon. Members rose --
It is after a seven-year silence that I rise to address the House. I feel rather like a Trappist monk a phrase that has now been given currency by the Leader of the Opposition ; I sometimes wish that he would enact it himself. I am not making a personal statement--I left of my own free will
Column 369--so there will be no statement about why I left. The longest speech that I made in the seven years was to report on the Committee stage of a Bill that was taken on the Floor of the House. Perhaps the most popular speech that I used to make was "I beg to move, That this House do now adjourn." That is not to say that I am moving that motion now ; let us be clear about that!
I have listened to a great many speeches in that period--good bad and indifferent. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has left the Chamber. When I had to do the march up with replies from Her Majesty, with what he called my billiard cue, I stood at the end of the Chamber, marched up and read out the message from Her Majesty. The first time I did it, he came up to me and put his Polo mint over the top of the "billiard cue". I said to the hon. Member for Bolsover, "Dennis, you have obviously done this before." He said, "Ah, but we have now got television."
Obviously he thought that it was worth doing again. The most frightening part of that job is not the coming up, but the going back. I must warn anyone who takes it on about that. That is when the rude remarks begin--"He needs a haircut," "His shoes are no good," and so on. However, I was given great confidence on my first occasion because a revered Conservative colleague, a squire of the realm, said, "Better than the last one." I was comforted by that remark. The speech of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was long on analysis of crime but short on remedies. It was usual Labour party policy--more money, more intervention. No separate debate has been provided to discuss the important subject of the environment. From what the Labour party has said time and again, I understood that the environment was a key subject. However, it has not chosen it for debate, so many of us are here today to make a speech on the environment in a debate that provides a rather loose framework.
The Gracious Speech contains some good proposals, and I am especially keen on the emphasis on parental responsibility. For many years, I have stated my belief that parents, together with their teenage children, should accept responsibility, for the crimes of their children. They should be jointly summonsed in court. If that were the case, the practice of Dad throwing the children out of the house because he wanted to watch television would die. He would not want again to suffer the agony of a court summons. Instead, he would say, "Where are you off to at this time of night?" It is a simple doctrine, but it would work.
The importance of the family is vastly underrated by both sides of the House, especially its importance for children aged one to five. That time span is a crucial part of their development. All parties are encouraging women to go out to work far too soon. We must consider fiscal measures that would encourage women to stay at home. Some of my hon. Friends would raise the issue of child benefit, which I accept is important, but the important new legislation for separate taxation of women provides new initiatives. We must deal with the problem, because we are creating a society of delinquents. There is no longer the necessary close contact between the mother and the child in the formative years--
I am keen that the Government should consider family policy with that very much in mind. If they do not, there will be long-term problems.
I wish now to touch on the environment, even though this is not strictly an environment debate. In particular, I wish to deal with the construction industry, which in my part of the world has been hit very hard by the downturn in the economy. I declare an interest as a political adviser to a demolition contractor. The main problem is that there is a surplus of buildings and of completed new houses. It will be a long time before the industry can pick up the backlog and move forward. I ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor seriously to consider another 1 per cent. reduction in the interest rate before Christmas. That would make a considerable difference. He should also remember that many young couples have mortgages based on an annual rate, which are due to be revised on 1 January. Many people will be badly affected.
Although the White Paper "This Common Inheritance" makes no mention of a Bill, I hope that one will be introduced. I welcome the fact that it deals with the maintenance of cathedrals, something for which I pressed many times when I was on the Back Benches. The Church has lacked a certain responsibility for such buildings, and if it is not prepared to do anything, the state should have the opportunity to intervene. Some of the buildings are in a bad state and need immediate help.
I very much welcome the establishment of the National Rivers Authority, and I am delighted that it is prosecuting every water authority in the country. The chairman is a former Secretary of State for Wales, with whom I worked, and he is a robust man. He is doing an excellent job in making the water authorities more conscious of water quality. Indeed, the Thames is improving rapidly.
The White Paper also refers to leaded petrol. I and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) waged a campaign on that issue many years ago, when no one was interested. A professor in my constituency has been banging on about lead in petrol for many years. The hon. Member for Perry Barr and I had many Adjournment debates in the middle of the night on that issue. We must press harder to ensure that people use unleaded petrol.
I want to say a word about Europe. I know that this is not a Europe debate, but I feel that it is an appropriate subject. Britain is part of Europe, and it always has been. It is not a new phenomenon. We have not suddenly discovered Europe, not having known that it existed and therefore never having been there. Indeed, we have always quarrelled with Europe. Disraeli, when he was Lord Beaconsfield, attended the congress in Berlin in 1878 and had a major row with Bismarck. Disraeli threw down the gauntlet and said, "I want the matter settled." In a loud voice, he said to his personal assistant, "Go down to the station and get the train engine warmed up, because I am going home."
Arguments between Britain and Europe are not new ; they have been going on for generations. The public are not that convinced about complete integration with Europe. They want independence, and they want to retain the British dimension. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister takes the right attitude.
Column 371There is a good programme for this Session. I hope that we are not diverted by leadership issues whipped up by the media. No one telephoned me over the weekend. I sat there, thinking that the media might think that I was a stalking horse, or that it might want to know whom I would support, but not a dicky bird. Of course, someone might have telephoned this morning, but no one telephoned on Saturday or Sunday.
I support the Bills proposed for this Session. There is not too heavy a load. It is a positive, radical approach and I am sure that, on that basis, the Conservative party will win the next election. 6.16 pm
Mr. James Molyneaux (Lagan Valley) : I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) when he referred to the burdens imposed upon the police. I agree with him in certain respects, but I wish to add to his list. I recently had a conversation with an officer of the Metropolitan police, who said that job satisfaction had been so badly damaged by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that many of his colleagues were tempted to look the other way when a crime was being committed because, more often than not, the policeman and not the offender attracted the complaints and the hassle. That must be rectified.
At yesterday's remembrance services, most of us thought of our late colleague Ian Gow. His memory is especially vivid in Ulster--a part of the kingdom that lay close to his heart, and for which he sacrified a promising ministerial career and, only a few months ago, his life. Five years ago, another supporter of another Government resigned over the same issue-- Senator Mary Robinson. She and Ian Gow felt that they could not continue to support their respective Governments, who had reached an agreement that they knew, as we knew, would end in failure. Other Members of this House shared their view.
Many such hon. Members expressed their misgivings as they emerged from the Aye Lobby. They patted me on the arm and said, "James, you understand that we had to obey the Whips--but don't feel too depressed, because such a crazy agreement has no hope of success." Thankfully, Ian Gow lived long enough to know that his action had been vindicated when, on 5 July, the Government were prevented by Irish republicanism from revealing to the House the terms of the policy document to which general assent previously had been given.
Mrs. Mary Robinson, too, has been vindicated and rewarded by her own people --the majority of people in southern Ireland, who only last week elected her as their first woman president. She was quoted as saying in her acceptance speech on Friday that she intends to establish contact with individuals rather than with political parties. As a party leader, I do not resent that suggestion. I know that a head of state cannot consort with political parties, particularly those in another nation, but the new Irish president has it right because too much was asked, and has been asked, of political leaders in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Newry and Armagh (Mr. Mallon) was also realistic when he told the House last Wednesday that it is foolish and unfair to advise Northern Ireland parties to "get together" to find a solution to all our problems. He used another phrase : "We get together every day of the week." [ Official Report, 7 November 1990 ; Vol. 180, c. 77.]
Column 372I pay tribute to his party for its willingness to co-operate in essential matters such as agriculture, education, social security and economic issues. We should be enabled and encouraged to continue our joint endeavours in the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland. An extension of that desirable co-operation was in the mind of the hon. Member for Newry and Armagh when he contributed to the debate last Wednesday.
When the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland launched his present initiative last January, I felt that I owed it to him to accept his invitation. No one who has worked with him over the past 10 months could doubt his fairness and sincerity. That initiative might have been successful had we been permitted to content ourselves with modest objectives. Unfortunately, it was hyped to a quite unrealistic proportion, and against all my instincts we were forced on to the high-wire circus act, with all the inevitable speculation that has wrecked previous initiatives in the past 20 years. Unfortunately, the consequent disillusionment, which is keenly felt by all of us, has further destabilised the situation in Northern Ireland, and the price is being paid in the increasing loss of life, particularly in recent weeks.
Clearly, we cannot drift on as we have been since the collapse of the initiative on 5 July. We cannot expect the community to continue paying the price of escalating violence and murder. We all have a duty to restore stability by means of a modest, unspectacular progression on the road to involving elected representatives in the House and on local councils in the governance of Northern Ireland. That is provided for in the Northern Ireland section of the Queen's Speech.
Those pledges go hand in hand with the subjects of today's debate--rights, freedoms and responsibilities--because Government, Parliament and people must accept their responsibility to guarantee rights and freedoms. The Government have made a start with the presentation of two key Bills--the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Bill and the Criminal Justice Bill.
When the House addresses itself to the succeeding stages of those Bills, I ask right hon. and hon. Members to bear in mind the scale of lawlessness in many parts of the United Kingdom. I ask them to bear constantly in mind our fellow citizens who will be murdered before those two measures receive Royal Assent, those who will live out their lives in heartbreak and misery and the far larger category throughout these islands who cower under the shadow of intimidation of one sort or another.
All those groups are entitled to have their rights and freedoms guaranteed. Whatever reservations some right hon. and hon. Members may have about some aspects of civil liberties--I acknowledge their sincerity--I trust that it will also be recognised that the greatest civil liberty is the right to live and the freedom from fear. Those two Bills can be fashioned into instruments of assistance to the guardians of the law. The hope must be that the pendulum which in recent years has been pushed too far against the keepers of the law will be at least restored to centre point.
Column 373have endured in Northern Ireland and elsewhere. Although I do not propose to follow him in his speech, I very much endorse his concluding words.
It was a pleasure to listen to my former area Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Durant). All those years of silence were not entirely silent ; he used to telephone me occasionally, as I gather people no longer telephone him. The House appreciated what he had to say and is delighted that he has joined the ranks of the civilised once more.
As I listened to the Queen's Speech the other day, it struck me that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Home Affairs bears the lion's share of the legislative programme for this year. I did not know then that among the other measures that will be laid before us there was a further Home Office contingent. It is clear that he and his team have an enormous amount to do. I do not agree with him about everything, or with his views on capital punishment, but I have confidence in his ability to handle these matters in the way that they will have to be handled because they are so important.
I do not agree with my right hon. and learned Friend about the War Crimes Bill. I devoutly hope that the Government will not feel that they have to press this measure at all costs. We all know that dreadful crimes--probably the worst recorded in history--were committed under Nazi rule, but there are powerful arguments against this legislation which were set out with particular force in the other place. Among those who set them out were at least two distinguished Jewish noble Lords, and I believe that they struck a chord with many people in this country who thought about the matter.
We do not like the Bill's quasi-retrospective nature nor the arbitrariness of confining it to one group of war criminals. We feel that it is rather unlikely that anybody will ever be sentenced and punished and, although perhaps this is not so important in principle, we have grave doubts about whether it is right to assign police resources to this task. I do not believe that the Bill will reach the statute book, but even if it does I do not believe that it will be effectively implemented.
We all recognise that the Home Office is faced with quite peculiar difficulties in dealing with crime. The rest of the world can happily align itself to one of two camps--the reformers and the punishers. They can each pursue their paths with vehemence and vigour, but the Home Office is the point where the two arguments come together and my right hon. and learned Friend must try to reconcile those different strands in current thinking. In particular, he must face the dire question of how on earth we reduce our prison population and at the same time reduce crime. It must be said, rather pessimistically, that there has been a fall in the number of people in prison in the past few years, but at the same time there has been an increase in crime, so we are a long way from solving that problem in theory. My right hon. and learned Friend issued a White Paper earlier this year setting out the strategy that lies behind the Criminal Justice Bill. On the whole, it was a good White Paper, but I am bound to say that I have some doubts about an important element in the philosophy which lies behind it and which is repeated in the Bill--the rejection of deterrence as a principle. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) was adamant
Column 374in support of the view that deterrence does not count for anything very much. In the White Paper, greater emphasis is placed on retribution, the notion of the "just desert" for the offender. Incidentally, "desert" is mispelt as "dessert", although that does not necessarily undermine the force of the argument.
It is an error to play down the rationality of much crime, and the White Paper makes that mistake. If one plays down the rationality of crime, inevitably one plays down the value of deterrence. There is a kind of wishful thinking about this. Many well-meaning people wish that deterrence could be proved not to work, but the evidence does not support that idea, although it is commonly said that it does. Nigel Walker, the doyen of English criminologists, acknowledges that deterrence is less effective on the basis of the evidence than some people who made strong claims for it said a generation or two ago. On the one hand, he says, research has not justified the statement of some critics that "deterrents never work". He says that this belief is
"prompted by dislike of deterrents rather than hard evidence." A more detailed study by Donald Lewis in The British Journal of Criminology in January 1986 looked at 15 studies of the general deterrent effect of long sentences : 12 apparently provided substantial support for what he called the deterrent hypothesis, two provided mixed results and only one was
"inconsistent with the deterrent hypothesis."
Other studies have shown that, as punishment for juveniles decreases, so offences rise. There is a well-known example in the book by Charles Murray, "Losing Ground", in which he describes what happened to juvenile crime in Cook county, which includes Chicago. In 1966, about 1,200 juveniles were committed to the state system of training schools. Ten years later, fewer than 400 were committed, but arrests were soaring. The number of arrests before a youth was committed to a reform school for the first time was 13.6. The risk of significant punishment for first arrests fell close to zero. As Murray puts it,
"a youngster who found criminal acts fun or rewarding and had been arrested only once or twice could have chosen to continue committing crimes through the simplest of logics : there was no reason not to." Criminal records were increasingly being expunged. Mr. Murray used words which we cannot ignore-- they are, in a sense, profoundly gloomy--but there is plenty of other evidence to show that we must face the facts that he describes.
What does that mean when it comes to the practical policy of running the penal system which is the task of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary? Does it mean that we should lock up more and more offenders? I do not think that that necessarily follows, although we must be careful about casting away the penal sanction, but it means that we must be sure that those who are sentenced, whether to a custodial sentence or a non- custodial sentence, receive sentences which bite hard.
To be frank, one of our problems has been the way that many young people have been sentenced to non-custodial sentences. They have laughed at what they have received. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend, of all people, will clearly understand that we cannot rely on an
Column 375increasingly non-custodial policy unless we, and the general public as a whole, are convinced that these sentences are having the results that they should have.
Like everybody else, we would like to believe that the operation of the penal system is about not only deterrence but seeking reform. We know that reform has proved elusive in the penal system and that the high hopes in the heyday of the borstal system, for example, have been very much dashed over the years. But we should not give up. If we accept, as I do, that there are many cases where custody is necessary, we should accept that it is vital that it includes not only the deterrent effect of being locked up but a real attempt to provide adequate work and an adequate education in prison. We know that often those facilities are not provided. The Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts is one body that has looked at prison education more than once over the past year or two. It has come up with strong and critical recommendations about what needs to be done about education in prisons. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will give us some encouragement.
We have a time limit. There are other points that I would have wished to make, but I shall end on a different matter, to do with refugees. I have seen references in the press recently to a feeling that we should tighten up our control over people who come to this country seeking asylum. I understand the problem of economic refugees--I have seen them in Vietnam and elsewhere. I understand the intense difficulties and frustration that can be caused to the Home Office by these matters and I know that the public can be alarmed about them.
I hope that we never forget in any changes that we make the fundamental principles embodied in our commitment to the convention on refugees. I hope that there will continue to be some kind of second chance for those who are trying to find asylum if they are turned down by immigration officers and that there will be some way of having their cases looked at. We have at the moment--
Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North) : I agreed with a great deal of what the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) said in his thoughtful speech. Indeed, I agreed with much more of what he said than with what the Home Secretary said in his much longer speech. Today's debate is entitled "Rights, Freedoms and Responsibilities". I should have liked to talk about the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of the metropolitan borough of St. Helens, especially in relation to the iniquitous poll tax and its effect on the citizens of my constituency. I should have liked to draw attention to the iniquitous situation whereby, if St. Helens were receiving the financial support that the London boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth receive, its finance officer would be able to send every poll tax payer in the borough a large cheque and not ask for any money. I should have liked to draw attention to the fact that unemployment, which features so largely in St. Helens and has always been a major factor in rate support grant in the past, does not figure at all in the standard spending assessments of local authorities. But the time factor prevents me from doing that.
Column 376As Home Office Ministers are present, I want to concentrate on the punishment and treatment of young offenders. The figures are frightening. In 1988, the last year for which figures are available the breathtaking fact was that almost 300 14-year-olds ended up in penal institutions. It is a sad commentary on our society that practices that Charles Dickens opposed continue today.
There is growing concern at the number of young suicides in our prisons. The brutal end of this system leaps at us through the suicide statistics. This year, 36 young people have killed themselves and a further 116 have tried but failed. In the last incident just a few days ago, a 15-year-old on theft charges was put in prison because no special accommodation was available. In his fragile state, that young boy hanged himself in Swansea gaol.
That shocking death is not isolated. The vulnerability of the young mind has been recognised in legislation ever since the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 stated that the type of incarceration for young people with a criminal record must be left to the discretion of the Home Secretary. It is a terrible indictment of Government policy that young people still end up in adult prisons, but we should not spend time arguing over the past. There is a desperate need now to identify the type of institution required to deal with young offenders from now on.
The situation is bad enough when young people are thrown into prison because not enough secure accommodation is available. It is even worse when there is the threat of the closure of any secure centre that has been doing valuable work in this respect ; yet such an institution, one of the nation's best, could soon close if the Government do not take action now.
Red Bank school at Newton-le-Willows in my constituency is threatened because Lancashire county council, which has financed it since the local government reorganisation in 1974, is to remove itself from the school's management following a review of its child care provision. The council announced its decision in letters to the Secretary of State for Health and to the Red Bank trustees dated 26 September 1990.
The school is designated as a controlled community home with education--a CHE. Red Bank caters for youngsters who are in care for a wide variety of reasons. At present the CHE has a complement of just over 50 young people, although it could accommodate many more than that.
No criticism can be levelled at Lancashire for its review or its decision. It is the council's duty to make such decisions and, undoubtedly, the decision was forced on it by the pressures of the poll tax. The problem is, however, that within the wider provisions of Red Bank is a Home Office secure unit that caters for 26 young males who have committed serious crimes. Such has been the unit's success in dealing with those disturbed people that 23 of them now have open access rights. Their crimes range from murder and manslaughter to arson to rape to drug trafficking. The young people are detained under section 53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
The special unit is not a harsh place, but it has rules that must be adhered to. The young people learn self-control and discipline in an affectionate environment that is sensitive to their special needs. Anyone who reads their letters cannot fail to be moved by their gratitude for what Red Bank has offered them.
The regime and philosophy of Red Bank are based upon security and care, with specialised individual
Column 377programmes to meet each young person's requirements. Such provision can be offered only in such a unit. If any of the children end up in the prison system, it will be a national disgrace. Red Bank, has achieved remarkable results with some of the most difficult and traumatised young men in Britain.
The young men come not just from the north-west but from other parts of England. The secure unit is financed entirely by the Home Office but, if the rest of Red Bank closes as a result of Lancashire's decision, the secure unit will simply cease to be viable. For example, although the unit has its own
gymnasium--essential to get the aggression out of many young men--it depends on the CHE's first-class facilities, such as its sports hall, sports field and swimming pool.
The north-west probation service is horrified at the prospect of closure. I have seen letters to the headmaster at the centre from the probation services of Lancashire, Greater Manchester and Merseyside, all of which have expressed serious concern at the prospect of Red Bank having to close.
Action on Red Bank is needed now. It cannot be allowed to close, and nor can matters be allowed to drift. Lancashire county council has given the statutory two years' notice of withdrawal from Red Bank, but the vital questions of staff morale and the future of jobs remain to be answered. All the expert staff at Red Bank are now looking for alternative employment with long-term guarantees and, given that they have families to support, who can blame them? They are entitled to reassurance about their prospects.
Young people must be kept out of prison. The country is horrified at the suicide rate in our prison system. We must provide more places like the Red Bank secure unit, not fewer.
I conclude by inviting the Home Secretary, who represents a constituency in the north-west, to come with me to Red Bank and see the facilities for himself. Once he has witnessed the work that is being done at the centre, I am sure that he will wish to ensure that it can continue its excellent and valuable work in future. 6.43 pm
Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington) : I welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the affairs of Northern Ireland. The commitments to the defeat of terrorism, political and economic progress, the promotion of mutual respect and trust throughout the community and positive relations with the Republic of Ireland represent a Conservative policy for Northern Ireland which, for the first time in five years, I can support--if, that is, the words in the Gracious Speech comprehend the whole of future Government policy. But perhaps I am being over-optimistic, because there is an omission from the Gracious Speech : it contains no reference to the Anglo-Irish Agreement. I hope that that is deliberate.
Recent policy, founded on the agreement, has been a disaster. Any agreement that is conceived and implemented without consultation with the majority of the population to which it refers is bound to fail and, worse still, a device to enable a foreign state to have an automatic right of consultation in the domestic affairs of its neighbour--a neighbour to whose territory it solemnly
Column 378lays claim in its c onstitution--is a constitutional outrage that cannot possibly endure. I hope that the words in the Gracious Speech mean that the Government are actively seeking to remove that obstacle to peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and to replace it with an agreement more appropriate to the honour and integrity of two neighbouring sovereign states.
I welcome the firm language in the Gracious Speech about the defeat of terrorism. It is much to be preferred to what has become Ministers' ritual utterance after every terrorist outrage--that we shall never surrender to terrorism. We all know that the Government will never surrender to terrorism. What we want to hear from them more often is that we shall defeat terrorism. We want to see the Government taking the offensive against the IRA. It is reasonable to expect and to say that the IRA will not be defeated by military means alone, but there are better political ways of defeating it than appeasement of the Irish Republic and its "constitutional imperative" to take over Northern Ireland.
I am sorry that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland recently saw fit to say that, if only the IRA laid down its arms, a united Ireland would be possible. That is yet another illustration of the way in which the Government seem always to be appealing to the Republican minority in Northern Ireland rather than to the Unionist majority, whose views are constantly undervalued or ignored. We have already heard several references in the debate to Ian Gow, murdered by the IRA, who sacrificed his career, and then his life, for the Unionist cause. He was my dear friend. He was a strong opponent of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. He was generally recognised as one of the best parliamentarians of his generation, displaying not only courage but great political skill and judgment in the causes that he served in the House.
Is it enough for us to lament Ian's passing, pay tribute to his qualities and then pass on to other things as we do for colleagues who die from natural causes? He was struck down by vile assassins. In doing what it did, the IRA was striking not only at him but at every Member of the House and at parliamentary democracy. Is it sufficient merely to bemoan our loss? Should we not marvel at the excellence of the cause that inspired such a man to lay down his career, and ultimately his life? Should we not seek to carry on his good work in this matter? Should we not strike back at the evil thing that deliberately destroyed such a life? Ian founded the Friends of Ulster, a trust established to remind the British people of the value of the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Such a cause is of even greater value in honouring his memory than a charitable trust. I hope in due course to hear from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that the Government will at last give up their insane attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable but will, in future, adopt a policy of integration of the Province with the rest of the United Kingdom. That is a policy of which Ian Gow would certainly have approved.
Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : Two years ago, my speech in this debate took the form of an alternative Queen's Speech for women. I want to consider what has happened since then, after two more years of this Government who are so neglectful of women's interests.
Column 379The biggest thing that has happened is the poll tax, the most amazing feature of which is that it is levied on millions of women who have no income. Only this Government could think of such a breathtaking idea. The Government have been boasting about independent taxation, but they have tied women who have no income completely to their husbands, causing them to be treated like appendages and burdens. The Government have penalised one-income families, most of whom have young children.
They have refused even to give women access to rebates in their own right, and they have forced an unprecedented number of people into debt and into the courts.
While all that has been happening, the Government have kept their eyes firmly closed to the misery that they have created. There is no mention in the Queen's Speech of that problem, and the Government have no intention of doing anything to relieve it.
In order to disguise their lack of commitment to women's issues, there has been some fanfare abut the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Mrs. Rumbold), who is trumpeted as the Minister for women. Her actual responsibilities include animal welfare, Sunday trading, British summer time, inner cities and women's issues. The latter takes the form of chairing a ministerial group which has existed for some time, which was previously chaired by a man and which meets three or four times a year. That just about describes the sense of urgency that the Government feel about the issue. In contrast, the Labour party is committed to a proper and powerful Ministry for Women, headed by a Cabinet Minister. As well as introducing legislation, it will examine all Government policies and actions for their impact on women, and ensure alteration when necessary.
Another press fanfare greeted the Government's latest new earnings survey. We were told that women were closing the gap between their wages and men's. Closer examination reveals no cause for headlines. It is true that women's earnings grew very slightly more than men's between April 1988 and April 1990. However, average male earnings are £94.01 more than average female earnings. Women's earnings remain very much lower even when reckoned on an hourly basis, thus disregarding longer hours and overtime premiums. My calculations show that, on the most optimistic way of looking at the figures, the gap would not be closed for full-time workers for at least 22 years. I just hope that women will not be so patient.
My calculations take account only of full-timers, disregarding the basic flaw in the statistics which exclude many part-time employees precisely because they are low-paid. The lowest paid are simply not counted by the Government in the new earnings survey.
In case anyone thinks that large numbers of women work part-time because they do not need the money, I can state that it is precisely because women have responsibilities for children and other dependants that they seek part -time work. That same factor means that they need their wages--and better wages--very much indeed.
Part-time workers, temporary workers and home workers are being subjected to ever-worsening conditions as well as to low pay. The EC wants to improve the position of women workers, but this Government have set their face against all the EC initiatives. In particular, they opposed a draft directive on part-time work.
Column 380My union, USDAW--the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers--organises many part-timers. We have a slogan :
"Full-time rights for part-time workers."
We know a lot about it and we are furious that the Government should have stated in evidence to a House of Lords Select Committee :
"While there are clearly advantages which some part-time workers suffer in relation to full-timers, it is possible to see this as a price which part- timers, in particular women, are prepared to pay for the opportunity to fit work into other commitments."
Women do not voluntarily decide that they are willing to pay the price of poverty pay and insecurity. They do it because they have no alternative. Employers know that, and they take advantage of it. The Government have also said that they prefer to leave such matters
"for voluntary agreement between employer and employee, either individually or through collective bargaining."
Collective bargaining needs trade unions strong enough to face employers on equal terms. This Government have place every possible difficulty in the path of the unions, and they then have the nerve to call them in aid when opposing measures such as the EC draft directive.
The Government demand that employees show a reasonable level of commitment to an employer before acquiring rights against that employer. Those working eight hours but less than 16 hours a week must work continuously for the same employer for at least five years to qualify even for basic employment rights. The Government call for commitment by workers to employers. We ask : where is the commitment by employers to their workers?
Exactly the same story can be told about the draft directive on temporary workers. The Government have stated :
"Temporary workers do not necessary want the same conditions as permanent workers. They may prefer other advantages to those of security, such as flexibility to work when and how they wish." Temporary work with no contract is on the increase, and the main characteristic of the new temporary work is not flexibility, but simply the likelihood of being pushed around and then pushed out when that suits the employer.
In the past two years, no progress has been made on rights for part-timers, temporary workers and home workers. Over the past decade, their position has become worse, especially for those who have not yet joined a trade union.
Only this Government in the EC oppose a draft directive giving rights to parental leave. In March this year, on behalf of the House, I went to an EC women's conference in Brussels. The women from the other 11 member states felt tremendous anger against the British Government for depriving them of that improvement. That has done the reputation of this country no good at all in the eyes of the women of Europe.
The Tories parade themselves as the party of the family. However, when people throughout Europe, including Britain, were asked to choose the priorities for family policy, housing was top of the list. This Government preside over ever-increasing homelessness. When I spoke in the debate on the Loyal Address two years ago, homelessness was overwhelmingly a London problem. It is now nationwide. We have a housing crisis in Preston as a result of homelessness and Government attacks on council