HC Deb 30 May 1963 vol 678 cc1627-52 The amount of relief specified in section 212 of the Income Tax Act 1952, as amended, shall be increased by the amount of the fees paid in respect of the education of the child at any educational establishment to a maximum of eighty pounds.—[Captain W. Elliot.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The Deputy-Chairman

With this new Clause No. 39 it will be convenient to take new Clause No. 50—Medical insurance.

Captain Elliot

This is not an original Clause. It has been discussed several times in the past. I do not want to dwell on the arguments that have been advanced, merely to get the same old answers. Conditions change and old arguments need re-examination. I want to touch on some of the main points. Our Welfare State was conceived by minds conditioned to the 1930s. Things are different in the 1960s and we have to take account of this. People today get benefits from the State even though they can afford to pay for them. Others do not get enough.

This happens in the education service. Free education is a great thing and it must be provided for everybody who needs it. It must be just as good as any other education service. Some people who could contribute more do not do it. They use the State education system and spend their money on other things. Others pay for the education of their children, many at great sacrifice. They hold that one of the best ways to spend their money is in the education of their own children, and I agree with them. The purpose of the new Clause is to encourage people to do that.

I want here to refer to what I think is a Treasury argument—the principle that the State taxes people and that the people can do what they like with the income that is left. It must be admitted that so many special concessions have been given that that argument no longer holds. I mention life assurance as one example. It is considered desirable that people should insure their lives and in that manner provide for their dependants if they are killed, or have the money later —after, say, 20 years. This is considered desirable, so tax concessions are given for it. Some people are wealthy enough to do without assistance towards education. If the Clause is accepted in principle, it could be worded to cover only those who need help.

Basically, the question is whether there should be another education system in addition to the State system. I do not believe that the argument here is entirely on party lines. I would not say for a moment that there is not substance in the argument advanced against two education systems. As with many other issues, we have to decide if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. There are disadvantages in having a free Press, but we believe that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.

It is argued that, if resources are diverted from the State system, the State system suffers. It is also argued that it is unjust that those who can afford to pay can get better opportunities for their children. I believe that that argument is now much weakened and is getting weaker. Many State schools provide as good or better an education as fee-paying schools, although I freely admit that many do not. I believe that the main difference between the two systems is the greater variety in the fee-paying schools and, because of this, parents will, if they can, send their children there, however good the State system is. I do not believe that the State system will ever provide the variety needed. Inherently, a State system is uniform. I am very glad that people are willing to pay for the education of their children, to pay for a different system, if that is what they want. An alternative system is a great safeguard against encroachments by the enormously powerful State machine.

It is argued that fee-paying schools foster a class division in the nation. In the past I have agreed with this view, and even today it probably has this effect up to a certain age. After the late teens and in the early twenties the classes are so inextricably mixed up, certainly in the great mass of the population, that I do not believe that primary or secondary education today can be said, by and large, to have that effect. There is a division, but it is between those who have the advantage of higher education and those who do not—those who attend universities, higher technical colleges and so on and those who do not—and we have no hesitation in subsidising those taking higher education.

I do not want to base my real case for helping parents on this sort of argument. My main point is this. We are all concerned with delinquency among children and adolescents—and we are alarmed on occasions by their wild indiscipline and loose behaviour. We blame the parents. People are always lecturing parents about how they should bring up their children and, no doubt, the responsibilities of parents are very great.

If parents cannot or will not guide or mould their children the State must try to do it for them, but it is a poor second best way if the State is called in. When parents fail it is often a great tragedy, since the vast majority act to the best of their ability for the good of their children. Parents today have a hard road to travel, for they must battle against constant pressure directed at children through the communications media; programrnes on television, books, plays and films masquerading under some high-sounding motives but, in fact, largely for commercial purposes appealing to and fostering a loose mode of living.

This is having a serious effect. Parents are fighting a losing battle against this onslaught. Many are giving up the struggle. I am sure that a number of hon. Members have received letters from schoolmasters asking, "Does not the parent take any responsibility?" I have received such letters. These are the reasons why our detention centres and other establishments are filled as soon as we build them, and why the queues at the clinics are getting longer.

Then we have the Welfare State. I hasten to say that I am not likening that to the sort of things I have been describing. The Welfare State has done great things, but it has its defects, and one is that it has steadily assumed greater responsibilities for our children and has tended to undermine the position of the parent. I have believed this for a long time and a few days ago I got some unexpected confirmation of this view. This came in an article in the Guardian on 20th May. In it the President of the National Association of Probation Officers was stated to have said that The Welfare State was tending to erode the responsibility of parents by providing services which ought to be family duties… The report continued: The extension of State functions into the fields of health and welfare—admirable and desirable as they all may be—had nevertheless, to some extent, taken away the responsibilities of the family…One had every sympathy with the parent of today … for the conditions in which they brought up their children differed greatly from those of their own upbringing". In the Daily Telegraph today—and similar articles appear in other newspapers—is the following paragraph concerning Mr. H. J. Rutherford, Chief Constable of Surrey. The newspaper states: Mr. Rutherford said that since 1955 something ghastly had happened and crime was going up every year. Every year broke a new record. What had gone wrong with the community? He was still greatly disturbed by the appalling crime figures 'I don't think very much more can be done in our prisons. I think the change must come in the homes and in the schools.' I particularly think that that is so in the homes and—

7.45 p.m.

The Deputy-Chairman

Order. I do not want to interrupt the hon. Member in the midst of his argument, but I think that he is getting somewhat far from the Clause, which merely deals with the relief of taxation in respect of school fees. I think that the hon. Member is getting a little wide of the subject.

Captain Elliot

I apologise if I was getting wide of the point, Sir Robert. I was seeking to show the sort of thing that is undermining the authority of parents. I had intended to go on to suggest a method by which we could begin to reinforce that authority. In any case, Sir Robert, I had concluded that point of my argument.

If what I have said and the remarks I have quoted are true, what are we to do about it? Are we going to ignore the erosion of parental authority? We cannot do that; and my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary is in a position of responsibility and able to do something about it. Control of the purse strings is an effective way of controlling children, and more and more this sanction, as well as others, is being wielded by the State. The State takes our money and spends it for us, for example on education.

There are several good reasons why the Financial Secretary should accept the new Clause. I will give him only one, but it is a particularly good one. It would begin the process necessary to check the erosion of family stability. It would do this by strengthening the position of the parent and encouraging parental responsibility. The cost would be infinitely less than all the corrective measures required as a result of the weakening of parental control.

Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)

We are discussing the new Clause entitled "Medical insurance" with the one to which my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) addressed his remarks. Last year, the Chair, in its wisdom, chose to select for discussion these two very similarly phrased new Clauses on education and medical insurances together: I could not at that time see a very close connection between the two and I still find it a little difficult to understand the connection.

Nevertheless, I must accept the decision of the Chair. I had hoped that on this occasion the Clause on medical expenses might have been taken first instead of second—instead of being left behind as it was last year. I had hoped that that would be so because, unfortunately, when it fell to the lot of the Minister to respond and to give his verdict on the two Clauses last year he had time to make only a passing reference to the one on medical expenses. Because of the lack of time he was not able to advance convincing arguments against it. Nevertheless, of course, the Clause had to fall.

Maybe the Minister devoted so much time to the consideration of the Clause on education because he foresaw the shape of things to come. I do not know, but I hope that when my hon. Friend responds this time he will devote more of his speech to the arguments in favour of my Clause, which is identical in wording to the one I tabled last year—which means that it is as indifferently phrased as last year's, although its meaning is quite clear.

The new Clause on medical expenses is designed to allow the taxpayer to claim relief in respect of a premium he may pay to cover the expenses of himself and his family incurred through illness. The figure of £15 I have inserted in the Clause has no particular meaning. It could be a little less or more, but it is to the principle that I wish to direct my arguments.

I am heartened by the support I have had since last year from a very influential committee, the Porritt Committee, composed of representatives from all the medical and surgical societies and organisations in Great Britain—in which I include Scotland—which has produced A Review of the Medical Services in Great Britain. In the section on private practice the Committee says: …we attach great importance to preserving and encouraging private practice, for we are convinced of its value both to the public and to medicine itself". The Committee goes on to explain why it believes that the retention of private practice is important for the nation as a whole. It draws attention to the problems of pay-beds in hospitals, and states: We are convinced that the official attitude to pay-beds is misconceived and unfair. In our view, any patient who chooses to be treated privately in hospital should receive some financial recognition of the fact that he is saving the Service the cost of an ordinary hospital bed". It goes on, in a similar reference, to the question of drugs for private patients, which it regards as a very serious deterrent to the development of private practice.

In the final paragraph the Committee examines the ways by which private practice could be stimulated and states that one way would be by giving financial encouragement to schemes for private insurance against the cost of medical care, both in general practice and for hospital treatment.…We recommend, therefore, that contributions paid by patients to provident schemes for the provision of medical care should be regarded as allowable deductions against income in the assessment for tax". I think that hon. Members, looking at the list of well-known persons in the medical world which make up the Porritt Committee, are bound to take note of recommendations from such a source. It was not within the responsibility of the Porrittt Committee to estimate the cost of such proposals and it is not at all easy to get at figures. The nearest I can make it out to be is that the cost, gross, would probably be less than £2 million in a full year; and the net figure might well be very much less.

I say that the net figure might well be less because there would, according to the Porritt Report, be a lessening of demand on the National Health Service which would contribute to a general reduction in the costs of the Service. I am certain that, were he present, the Minister of Health would not necessarily agree with that. But, nevertheless, it is the considered view of a very reasonable and very high-powered Committee drawn entirely from the medical world. It may well he, therefore, that this type of tax concession, instead of adding to the costs of the Treasury, would do that very rare thing, and result in a long-term saving to the Treasury. I commend the Clause for that if for no other reason, because it is so unusual that a tax concession of this kind could result in saving to the Treasury.

Last year, in replying to the debate, the Minister, in his brief reference to the Clause I then tabled, said that he could not accept it because it was inevitable that the proposal would go further. I must confess that that struck me as a most extraordinary argument. Every time a tax concession is made, if it happens to be a reduction in the standard rate or in Purchase Tax, or a new tax allowance, one could say about them all that they may well go further; that next year someone will come along with a further demand to increase the concession which was made during the previous year, and so on. It seems to me an odd argument to advance against a Clause of this kind.

For the rest, my right hon. Friend stated that the arguments which he had used against accepting a Clause moved by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton relating to education applied equally well to the Clause dealing with medical expenses. On listening to what was said by my right hon. Friend, and later reading the OFFICIAL REPORT, I found it very difficult to see how the arguments deployed could be used. The only argument which I concede might possibly remotely apply was that the Minister rested most of his case on the principle that Income Tax personal allowances do not take into account what a taxpayer actually spends on current goods and services. I am paraphrasing what he said and what is reported in column 349 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 5th June, 1962.

That is an argument, although it is only one, which I think would apply to the Clause, but I found it impossible to accept. In fact, many of the allowances given for insurance premiums, on life policies for example, relate exactly to the amount that the taxpayer pays. They do not relate to anything else, and I cannot see why there is any argument against a premium on medical insurance on the grounds that under normal conditions Income Tax allowances do not relate to the amount which the taxpayer pays for current goods and services.

Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) is a little confused. The difference is that in the case of life insurance premiums there is no alternative provision by the State.

Mr. Hall

That is perfectly true—

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

There is a death grant.

Mr. Hall

My right hon. Friend has come to my rescue.

Even allowing for that fact, the words used by my right hon. Friend when replying the debate last year were: Income Tax personal allowances do not take account of what the taxpayer actually spends on current goods and services. I believe that to be an important principle."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th Tune, 1962; Vol. 661, c. 349.] When a person pays for insurance on life, he is paying a specific amount related to a specific sum which his estate will receive upon his death. The tax relief is related to something for which he is receiving a service.

I do not think that hon. Members opposite would oppose this Clause, or that it will not have a favourable reception, because I assume that otherwise there would be a large number of hon. Members opposite who would be ready to oppose it. However, faintly pursuing, I ask the Minister to give this matter serious consideration. I expressed the hope last year that if this could not be done then, it might be done the following year, that is, this year. That is a process which might go on indefinitely until everybody falters. But I know that an increasing number of people are beginning to demand what is elementary social justice and therefore I hope that my hon. Friend will spare time to deal with this Clause as well as the Clause which was moved so admirably by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton.

Mr. P. Browne

As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), we are back on the same treadmill as last year. I have not looked up what I said on that occasion. But I wish to oppose both of these Clauses and I hope that the Minister will do the same.

The Conservative Party believes in equality of opportunity—even though it may not be sometimes apparent when my hon. Friends introduce Clauses of this kind. It seems to me that the State provides the means of educating one's children and the provision is there if one wishes to use it. If one does not wish to do so, and is prepared to spend income on educating one's children privately, that must be budgeted for in the same way as the purchase of a new car.

I reject the arguments that there should be a tax relief on the cost of educating children because if they were not educated in a private establishment there would be an extra burden on the taxpayer. I believe that if that argument is pursued—I do not suggest that it should be—the other side of the argument is that the reason people send their children to private establishments to be educated is the teacher-pupil ratio.

8.0 p.m.

If we were to abolish all forms of private education we should have a better teacher-pupil ratio in the State schools. I do not suggest that we should go to this length, because I believe that people have the right to educate their children as they wish, but it is quite wrong to suggest that there should be tax relief for this purpose.

The second reason with which my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe made great play was the answer given by the present Minister of Education in a debate similar to this last year, but my hon. Friend did not complete what the Minister said. My right hon. Friend added that we did not subsidise or give relief on expenditure from net personal income where there was an alternative provided by the State. This is so with education and it is so with the death grant, which was a mere red herring introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton).

Mr. John Hall

Surely my hon. Friend is wrong. The State provides a pension on retirement, but it is also possible to obtain tax relief on a personal pension.

Mr. Browne

That is perfectly true, but in the case of education and health there is no reason why a person's net income should be relieved in any way where the State provides an alternative. If somebody can go outside and obtain a better pension he can opt out of the State scheme, but he is bound to be in a scheme which the State says is sufficiently adequate. I believe that what the Minister said last year was perfectly fair comment, but, as I said earlier, I base my main argument on the fact that the State provides a system of education which is improving all the time, thanks to the Conservative Government, and if people sent their children to these schools it would have exactly the reverse effect of what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) suggested—that we should expect generally that the more educated people would send their children to private schools.

If they sent them to the State schools they would find that the level of behaviour in those schools would rise, because one is apt to find that the more responsible sort of parents send a child to a fee-paying school.

Mr. Dudley Smith (Brentford and Chiswick)

I should like to support the new Clause in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain Elliot) and at the same time support the one in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), although I do not intend to go into the merits of these arguments. Some of the points put by my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) are quite persuasive on their face value, but even so I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton when he says that the State is never likely to provide the complete variety of education needed in this country. There always will be a place for independent education, whatever State system we have.

Mr. P. Browne

I did not say that there was not. All I said was that there should not be any tax relief if one sent one's children to an independent school.

Mr. Smith

I will come to that, There are strong feelings on this subject among many people outside this Committee, not only among people who have children at school but among those who intend eventually to send their children to fee-paying schools. There is also quite a body of support coming from people who have children in the State system and who would not begrudge some sort of relief in this direction. We must not forget that only a small number of people affected are rich. The large number are probably hard up or struggling along on middle-class incomes. I know that this is their choice, but these are people who are trying to make great sacrifices to educate their children privately and they face inflation in school fees. It is almost impossible to send a child to any of the great, reputable public schools for under £500 a year. This creates a great deal of trouble among the people concerned.

I have felt for a long time that there is a case for some form of tax relief. Obviously it would not be right to give full relief, but there is a place for some gesture. If all the people who educate their children voluntarily opted out and sent the children into the State system chaos would result, just as chaos would result if those who were entitled to the full amount of rebate on Schedule A put in their claims.

I have always thought that some gesture will have to be made in this direction if we are to retain a varied system of education. I know the arguments advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington. I know that the figure involved even in the quite modest claim put by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe is still a vast sum. Even so, it is a principle well worth establishing and if we made a small gesture there could be great benefit as a result.

Mr. Hirst

I do not know whether I should be supporting both Clauses and I certainly would not be speaking again this evening if it were not for the quite dreadful speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne). There are times when I find myself in league with him, not always to the benefit, or so it seems, of the Treasury Bench, but this is not, one of them by a long way. My hon. Friend had it all wrong. Quite seriously, I believe that it is highly desirable that one should try and make provision for oneself in addition to anything that the State may do. This is the basis of life assurance. We should encourage people to make provisions for themselves and not remain entirely a burden on the State. The hon. Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan), peculiar though some of his views are, some of which I share—

Mr. James Callaghan (Cardiff, South-East)

The question is whether there should be tax relief when one makes the choice.

Mr. Hirst

Of course there should be. That is an encouragement to make it highly desirable for people to make provision for themselves. That is the basis of life assurance. I support both Clauses and if I were to draw a distinction I would support the one in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall) slightly more than the other one because, as my hon. Friend knows, we have shared the view for many years that it is highly desirable, for example, that every facility should be given to the maintenance of freedom in medicine. There are many first-class reasons for that firm belief. It is obvious to me that if people do something materially to help themselves, and incidentally at the same time to help the State in various ways, it is fit and proper that the House of Commons should give them encouragement.

Mr. Callaghan


Mr. Hirst

I will tell the hon. Member. I assure him that I did not have to go to a weekend course for this, but I do not want to be rude to the hon. Member, because we are quite good friends apart from sitting on opposite sides of the Committee.

At present if, for argument's sake, everybody transferred their children from fee-paying schools and placed all those children at once as burdens on the State the situation would be catastrophic and would remain so for many years to come. Therefore, there is a jolly good State reason why relief should be given. Nobody, of course, believes that there should be relief on all the expenditure. It would be quite easy to suggest some criterion, such as relief on the equivalent of what roughly would be the cost per head of secondary education. I do not know that anyone suggests that there should be relief to the extent of sending a child to any chosen school. The relief should be in relation to the cost which the State would otherwise incur if the child went to a State school. I cannot see that my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington could have arrived at his view other than from prejudice.

Mr. P. Browne

Principle rather than prejudice.

Mr. Hirst

In which case my hon. Friend's principle is rather worse than his prejudice.

Obviously on the Clause on the Order Paper dealing with medical insurance the same thing applies. The subjects are totally different, but clearly the object of the exercise is the same, which is that people should be helped to do something of assistance to themselves and the State. This is a partnership. If it were entirely a matter of assistance to themselves alone it would be difficult to argue the case and it would be a prejudice which I would not support. But if there is a bracket—as, indeed, there is—between self-interest and fundamental help to the State, then it is right that people in that bracket should get relief to the extent that they are helping the State.

I know that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary is itching to tell us what he thinks, in that charming way of his. We do not get dusty answers this year. This is the first Finance Bill Committee stage that I have attended in which we have not had dusty answers. We get nice answers, but they are not very effective.

Mr. Turton

I want to add a word to the remarks made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) in a very able speech on education. I feel that the country is in a dilemma. About 250,000 children are being educated in 3,000 independent schools which are recognised by the Ministry of Education. The Front Bench opposite, in Signposts for the Sixties, expresses a desire to abolish the independent schools.

Mr. Callaghan

Where does it say that?

Mr. Turton

In Signposts for the Sixties.

Mr. Callaghan


Mr. Turton

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain what his policy is for the independent schools.

Mr. Callaghan

It would be out of order if I were to do that on this Clause. It is up to the right hon. Gentleman to justify a quotation which does not exist.

Mr. Turton

It is well recorded in the evening papers today what is said in Signposts for the Sixties. So far as I can see, it is a perfectly clear quotation.

Mr. Callaghan

As I have insisted that that quotation does not exist, and it is untrue to say that it does, surely the right hon. Gentleman should withdraw his suggestion.

Mr. Turton

Anybody reading that document will find such a bias against independent schools that they would draw the conclusion that hon. Members opposite do not wish them to survive. That is quite an understandable attitude. There is also the other attitude of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne), which I would call a plutocratic argument—that the independent schools should be a perquisite of children with very rich parents who can pay the large fees out of capital.

I support this Clause because I believe that independent schools have quite a different function to fulfil from the function of other schools. The child who attends an independent school is, in most cases, not a child of very rich parents. Those parents believe that by sending their children to an independent school they can give their children that form of religious background which they think right.

Mr. P. Browne

Will my right hon. allow me to interrupt?

Mr. Turton

Not yet.

In the 1944 Act there is a certain agreed syllabus of education. Many of these independent schools try to give a particular religious background which many parents think important for their children.

Secondly, there are many parents who have to change their homes because of their occupations. There is the example of the Services, members of which often do not know what station they will be sent to and, therefore, they have to send their children to independent schools. They are not well off. In the vast majority of these 3,000 independent schools we find children of such parents.

There is at the moment a tremendous drive to get these independent schools structurally sound and provided with all the facilities that we as taxpayers provide for the State schools. Therefore, parents are today paying much larger contributions in order to modernise independent schools and, at the same time, they are making their contribution as taxpayers to the State schools.

I think that it was Lord Eccles, when he was Minister of Education, who worked out that it cost to educate a child below 11 £90 a year and a child over 11 £150 a year. My hon. and gallant Friend, therefore, has suggested that tax relief should be limited to £80 a year, which means granting relief at a maximum of £31 a year in tax.

I commend this Clause. I believe that it helps not the very rich, not the sort of man who is paying large sums to an expensive public school, but the small man who is sending his child to a small independent school and who, at present, finds it very hard to carry on.

8.15 p.m.

If we are to have a policy for the social services in the 1970s, clearly, we shall not only have to make provision for good social services for everybody, but also provide the opportunity for people to get that little bit extra, whether it is a religious background or a better pupil-teacher ratio. We are asking that the taxation of such people should be relieved to a very limited extent in order to encourage these independent schools, and I believe it is vitally important for the future of the country that we should tackle this problem in some such way as this.

Mr. P. Browne

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. I hope that he will notice that I have done him the courtesy of calling him my "right hon. Friend" and not "the hon. Gentleman", as he called me. I should like to know whether he agrees that many of us, including myself, who have children at fee-paying schools are caught up in a vicious circle. We have no plutocratic ideas. We feel that we ought to send our children to good State schools, of which there are many in this country, and yet fear that we should not do so because of our backgrounds. I myself went to a public school and I feel that perhaps my children should go to the same sort of school as the people with whom they have rubbed shoulders before they went to school. This is true of many of us.

Mr. Turton

I must apologise to my hon. Friend. I did not realise that I had lapsed when I used the word "Gentleman" and not "Friend". He is both a gentleman and a friend.

I am not really thinking of this problem as it affects the ex-public school man who wants to send his child to a public school. Such people form a small minority of the 250,000. What the Committee does not seem to realise is that the independent school system is much wider than many hon. Members say it is. I know many such schools in which the pupils are children of shopkeepers, plumbers and foremen, and they are the people on whom the burden of taxation falls hardest.

I hope that if my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary cannot give relief in the form of this proposed Clause this year, he will consider in what way the Government can help these independent school to carry on, if the Government wish them to carry on, as I know it is the wish of the Minister of Education that they should continue to do their work efficiently.

Mr. Anthony Crosland (Grimsby)

This is a proposed new Clause on which, as last year, the Conservative Party presents this incredibly reactionary view. Some of the speeches have been so fantastic that they would have shocked not merely hon. Members on this side of the Committee, but half the younger element of the Conservative Party, who are represented by the hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne).

The "old soldier", as the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst) called himself, talked about week-end courses. I must say that a number of hon. Members opposite badly need a week-end refresher course of education in the independent school system because some of the factual inaccuracies that we have heard are really grotesque. The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said that, according to Signposts for the Sixties, the Labour Party proposes to abolish the independent schools. I do not know what the right Parliamentary expression is. I know what I would call that remark if it were made outside the House and I were not subject to Parliamentary rules.

I am sure that the right hon. Member did not know that it was a total inaccuracy, though he should have done. What the Labour Party says in Signposts for the Sixties is almost identical with what one of our most eminent independent school headmasters, the headmaster of Marlborough, said, namely, that the Government should set up an educational trust which, in voluntary co-operation with the independent schools, would consider various ways in which their future could be altered. I commend a recent book written by the headmaster of Marlborough in which he considers a number of possible reforms, and in the end comes to a proposition very near to that which appears in Signposts for the Sixties.

I want to consider one or two implications of this Clause. The Clause would involve a tax subsidy, a tax rebate—call it what one likes—to roughly 7 or 8 per cent. of the population. That is the percentage of people now taking advantage of private education.

Despite what hon. Members opposite have said about the impoverished professional classes, by far the greater part of this section of the population is extremely well off. Incidentally, if the professional classes are as badly off as all that after twelve years of Tory rule, I do not know what Ministers have been congratulating themselves about. I am glad that the Minister of Education has come in. At least, I have acquired another supporter from the younger sec- tion of the Tory Party. There are now two Members on the opposite benches who have taken a slightly more liberal view.

As I say, this would mean a tax subsidy to the wealthier 6, 7 or 8 per cent. of the population who really should not be so badly off after twelve years of Tory rule. It would be a tax subsidy to people whose children, as it is, will derive immense benefit of having been to the independent schools. They will have the benefit, as the hon. Member for Torrington rightly said, of having smaller classes. It would be a tax benefit to a group of people who voluntarily choose to spend their money in this way on behalf of their children. I am not objecting to their doing so. I simply say that it does not constitute a reason for the giving of a tax benefit.

The hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) produced some arguments which I have not heard for ten or fifteen years. I do not know what kind of life he lives in Carshalton. One gets a quite incredible picture of the kind of people with whom he mixes and the sort of conversations he has if he really believes that more and more of our money is being spent by the Government for the purposes he mentioned, that family life is being sapped, and so on. One used to hear this sort of thing in 1951; I did not know that it was still being said. It is like the old tale about coals in the bath. I thought that it had all gone some years ago.

Captain W. Elliot

The hon. Gentleman cannot possibly have heard what I was saying. I quoted the President of the National Association of Probation Officers and the Chief Constable of Surrey. They were not my observations, but theirs. They just happened to have come out during the past week.

Mr. Crosland

I listened with rapt attention, and in some disbelief, to what the hon. and gallant Gentleman was saying and what he told us the Chief Constable of Surrey had recently said. Apparently, the Chief Constable has said that, in 1955, something ghastly happened and that our crime rate started to soar. This could be due to all manner of causes. but it certainly cannot be due to the Welfare State. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has, no doubt, many historic achievements to his credit, but no one could say that he had enormously increased expenditure on the Welfare State since 1955.

The idea that more and more of our money is being spent by the Government is quite absurd. Until a year or two ago, the Government—

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Norman Hulbert)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now straying very far from the Clause.

Mr. Crosland

You are rather harsher on me, Sir Norman, than your predecessor in the Chair was on the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton. Your Ruling has excluded some of the replies which I wanted to make to him.

Perhaps, on the question of what was said by the Chief Constable of Surrey and similar observations, I may say this. It is closely relevant to the new Clause. In this country and all over the world there has not been a breakdown of family life. There is no evidence of it. It may be the case in parts of Carshalton, but, over the country as a whole, there is no evidence of a breakdown of family life.

Captain Elliot

I must protest at the way the hon. Gentleman constantly picks out Carshalton. My first quotation was an extract from a speech of the President of the National Association of Probation Officers. It had nothing to do with Carshalton; it related to the country at large.

Mr. Crosland

I apologise for picking out Carshalton. However, despite what may have been said by this eminent probation officer, I simply cannot believe that these views are held anywhere in the country outside Carshalton.

Of course, juvenile delinquency has increased, but I insist that there is no evidence for the suggestion that family life is loosening or breaking down in the way suggested. Undoubtedly, juvenile delinquency has increased in this country, and all these terrible things started happening in 1955, but what has this to do with private education? Nothing whatever. There has been no change in the trend as between public and private education since 1955. We have a problem of juvenile delinquency, but it has nothing to do with our education system. It is a problem which exists equally in the United States of America, the Soviet Union, Japan and in every country of Western Europe.

I have no idea what the reason is for this sudden outbreak of juvenile delinquency. In my view, nobody knows definitely what the reason is. What one can say definitely is that it has nothing to do with the balance between private and public education in this country. It is a problem common to every advanced industrial country.

Next, the hon. and gallant Gentleman and one or two other hon. Members suggested that the new Clause had something to do with whether there should be a private education system at all. It has nothing to do with that, either. It has to do with the question whether the private education system should or should not be subsidised by the State. We are not arguing the case for or against the private education system. We are arguing only about whether or not the Government should help it, which is quite different.

If we were arguing the question whether we should have a private education system or not, I should differ strongly from some of the views expressed by the hon. and gallant Member. He said that the system as it now operated did not lead to class divisions of any kind. On this issue, I much prefer the more realistic views of the headmaster of Marlborough, as expressed in his recent book, and the well known views of the headmaster of Eton, who is about to go off to South Africa.

The hon. and gallant Gentleman said that there would be chaos if all the parents who now sent their children to the private schools sent them to the State schools, indicating that they were somehow doing a service by sending them to private schools. Whatever we might do in the course of the next year or two, the huge majority of them will continue to send their children to the private schools. In any case, if some of these parents did send their children to the State schools, the consequences for the whole State system would be excellent. A great deal more interest would be taken in it. This is not a wicked Socialist opinion. It is very much what was said by Lord Eccles a little while ago, when he advised a meeting of Conservatives—of Conservative women, I think it was—that they would be doing a good thing if they all sent their children, at least at the preparatory stage, to the State schools.

The "old soldier"—if I may call the hon. Member for Shipley that—in his old comrade's manner, said that it was very important that we should have self-help. It is important. We are all disciples of Samuel Smiles. Let us have the country full of self-help. But if we believe that this sentiment should be encouraged, and we are so anxious that people should help themselves, why should they be offered a subsidy to help themselves? Let them help themselves on their own, without the benefit of tax concessions, if they are such sturdy citizens.

The most extraordinary argument was the one the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton produced last year also, that as these taxpayers, by sending their children to private schools, are relieving the community of a burden on public education, we should, therefore, help thorn by a tax rebate. How far is one to extend this argument? Are we to give a tax concession to all healthy people because, by not being ill, they relieve us of a burden on the Health Service? Are we to give a tax rebate to all employed people because, by being employed, they relieve us of the burden of having to pay unemployment benefit? Should we give a tax concession to all private motorists on the ground that, since they own cars, they are diminishing the railway subsidy?

Mr. Hirst


Mr. Crosland

I am sorry, but this is exactly the argument which follows by analogy, with precisely the same degree of illogicality. So one can go on with the arguments, though I shall not weary the Committee by doing so.

I mention one more point made by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, who spoke of the children of serving officers abroad, diplomats and the like. Of course, this is a real problem. However, when the right hon. Gentleman said that the public schools were at present mostly filled with the children of people serving abroad, he was wrong. There is only a very small proportion today—

Mr. Turton

I spoke of the independent schools. I said that the public schools were a different matter. The hon. Gentleman has twice misquoted me.

Mr. Crosland

It is certainly not true that the bulk of the school population of the independent schools consists of children whose parents are abroad. The huge majority consists of children whose parents are at home. However, there is a problem here, of course, although it is not one which necessitates people going to independent schools. For a number of years, we have had some very distinguished boarding schools in the public education system. The London County Council school is a very well-known example. The number is growing now, and it is quite possible to find boarding school accommodation within the State sector.

As to religious education, again, no one objects in the slightest to a parent choosing an independent school because there is a stronger religious element in the education. All that we are saying is that this does not constitute a reason for a tax rebate to them. This is a perfectly free choice that people should make with regard to their taxable income. As I have said, it is staggering, and, I suppose, encouraging to us in a sense that this kind of new Clause should still be moved by members of the Conservative Party. It goes counter to a recent Bow Group pamphlet on the public schools and to a Motion moved about two years ago by the hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior) on private schools. It certainly goes counter to everything that the Minister of Education thinks, as well as to the views of the hon. Member for Torrington. The old soldiers never change, and I suppose that that is something to be thankful for in a world apparently full of modernisation and radical change. We have no sympathy whatsoever with the new Clause. any more than I suspect the Financial Secretary will have.

8.30 p.m.

Mr. Barber

With all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. John Hall), I think that these two new Clauses are conveniently discussed together because they both raise the same point of principle or prejudice.

Mr. John Hall

Before my hon. Friend deals with my new Clause entitled "Medical insurance" I hope that he will take note that the official spokesmen for the Opposition were unable to advance any argument against it.

Mr. Barber

I turn, first, to the new Clause in the name of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot)—"Relief in respect of school fees". His proposal is to give an allowance over and above the ordinary child allowance which is now to be increased, and the additional allowance would be in respect of fees paid for a child's education. It would be £80 or the amount of the fees, whichever was the less. Therefore, on the face of it, it is a moderate proposal.

The new Clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe would allow a deduction for tax purposes of sums paid to obtain insurance against medical expenses, and again there is a maximum limit of £15. My hon. Friend explained the details of his proposal, so I need not dwell on them.

The debate has been remarkable for one other fact, and that is the pleasure which I an sure we all feel in seeing my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education back again on the Committee stage of the Finance Bill. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) referred to an observation made by Lord Eccles some time ago about the desirability of more professional people sending their children to State schools. He will know—and I think it right for me to say this in the presence of my right hon. Friend—that the present Minister of Education takes precisely the same view, and I think that it is held by most people who think deeply about education.

As the Committee knows, proposals on much the same lines as those of the new Clauses have been considered by this Committee on a number of occasions in the past. Indeed, almost identical Clauses were discussed only last year. The view of my right hon. Friend on these matters does not differ from that of his predecessor or my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne). Incidentally, I hope that my hon. Friend will again be good friends with "the old soldier", my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr. Hirst). I should hate there to be any serious differences of opinion between them on this the last day of our Committee stage.

It is true that my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Dudley Smith) said that many parents make considerable sacrifices to send their children to private schools. Indeed, a number of members of the Opposition are doing just that, and it is certainly not for me to question their reasons. I accept, as must any sensible person, that there are circumstances which may make it desirable, and, indeed, sometimes almost a necessity, to send a child to a private school. There may be compelling religious reasons for it. The parents may be abroad or travelling round a good deal. They may take the view that a particular private school provides in a locality a better education than the available State school, although that is by no means always the case. But, whatever the reason, we on this side at least are unanimous in believing that a parent should be free to send his child either to a private school or to a State school as he pleases.

On the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), I certainly have the clear impression that the Leader of the Opposition, once again, has been attempting to slide out of his party's declared policy by trying to curry favour all round and to satisfy all shades of divergent opinion. It simply will not do. I agree with my right hon. Friend. As I understand it, the declared purpose of the Labour Party is to integrate the independent schools into the State system, and the Leader of the Opposition and no one else in this Committee can wriggle out of that. We should be clear where we stand on it.

On the new Clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe, I can see no reason why a person who so wishes should not opt for treatment outside the National Health Service. Since the new Clause appeared on the Notice Paper, I have been considering the Report of the Porritt Committee, which is certainly very valuable. Sir Arthur Porritt, I gather, has referred the Report to the nine sponsoring bodies and has asked for their views. Until those views have been received, I do not think it would be right for me, least of all, to comment on what is said.

I agree that any financial assistance, such as an allowance on premiums for medical insurance for tax purposes to the limited extent which my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe proposes, would encourage a greater use of private medical practice. That is one of the points which the Porritt Committee made. This is self-evident and it is certainly relevant to my hon. Friend's new Clause. I apologise to my hon. Friend for not dealing first with tax relief for premiums on medical insurance. Perhaps next year he will table his new Clause earlier than my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Carshalton. The basic question which the Committee has to decide in relation to the proposal for school fees and the proposal on premiums for medical insurance is whether there should be a special Income Tax allowance for people incurring this type of expenditure.

As one would expect, this was one of the most important issues considered by the Radcliffe Commission on the Taxation of Profits and Income. I think that its reasoning and conclusions are sound. The passage in which it dealt with these matters is not long, and I should not normally have troubled the Committee with it even at this hour but for the fact that it is directly concerned with the principle behind the new Clauses and, moreover, refers to the possibility of giving allowances on the same basis as is proposed in the new Clauses. I therefore think that I should quickly read it because it is certainly very relevant. The Commission states: We have been pressed to admit not merely the forms of family circumstance that we shall categorise later but also such matters as social responsibilities, medical expenses, disability, children's education, household maintenance. All these claims have their persuasive elements. But they must be judged in the light of a rule to which we have had again and again to refer our own tentative proposals: income tax is an annual tax that has got to be administered. It is a tax that has to be collected each year from many millions of the population. It cannot therefore proceed on the basis of minute inquiries into a multiplicity of personal circumstances of individuals. The range of allowances must be limited to certain broad categories of distinction that commend themselves by their obvious justice: they must be simple in their terms and free from detailed refinements. We should not regard these limitations as sacrificing equity to administrative requirements, for in tax matters there is no equity in that which is not reasonably capable of being put into practical operation. I make no apology for reading that passage because it is right on the ball on this occasion, and I am sure that the conclusion of the Royal Commission was the right one. It was the view taken also by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) and it is the view of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Therefore, while I certainly sympathise with the objectives behind the two new Clauses, I hope that in view of what I have said, my two hon. Friends will not seek to press them this evening.

Mr. John Hall

My hon. Friend has not dealt with the question of the cost of my new Clause. Is he able to give an estimate of the cost and to comment upon my suggestion that it might result in an overall saving?

Mr. Barber

When my hon. Friend raised the point I made inquiries, but my information so far is that it is not possible to give him any meaningful figure of the cost of his new Clause. I doubt whether there would be a net saving to the Exchequer if we accepted the Clause, but it is a matter of opinion.

Certainly, there can be no doubt that the greater the extent to which people resort to private medical practice, obviously to that extent there would be a saving to the State. That I accept. I regret, however, that after making inquiries to try to provide an answer to my hon. Friend I was not able to do so.

Question, That the Clause he read a Second time, put and negatived.