§ [THIRD DAY]
§ Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [30th October]:
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign.
We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
§ Question again proposed.
§ 11.48 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Edward Short)
I hope that the House will acquit me of any discourtesy if I leave the Chamber immediately after making my speech. I am in the middle of an official visit to the County of Westmorland. I travelled down overnight to speak in this debate and hope to return immediately afterwards. I have explained this to right hon. Gentlemen opposite.
Most of my public speeches since I became Secretary of State in April have been about education. It shocked many people to think that a Minister of Education should talk about education. I make no apology for this. I intend to continue from time to time to develop my ideas on the relationship between education and society. Today, I shall devote almost the whole of my time to the resources required by education—manpower, finance and building resources—because I understand that the charge of the party opposite is that this Government are failing to devote sufficient of these resources to education.
I shall also mention four areas of progress—first, secondary school reorganisation; second, raising the school leaving age; third, nursery schools and fourth, polytechnics.
The financing of education is a major problem facing every developed country because education, unlike other services such as housing or health or of social 356 security, generates a demand for more, and rightly so, but the consequence of this is that Governments are faced with an agonising reappraisal of their priorities between education and other services.
I mention this because those who demand more must indicate which sacred cow they would slaughter to provide new resources. This applies above all to the Leader of the Opposition. I do not mean that he is a sacred cow but that he must say which sacred cow he would slaughter to release more resources for education.
I come now to physical resources—expenditure and building. A great deal of nonsense is being talked about expenditure on education, particularly by the Leader of the Opposition. In the four years under the present Government, expenditure has increased by 56 per cent.—from £1,240 million to £1,941 million. During the last four years of the Conservative Government, it increased from £816 million to £1,240 million—a 52 per cent. increase. Looked at as a percentage of gross national product, educational expenditure in 1963–64 was 5.3 per cent. and last year it was 6.1 per cent. Next year it will be higher still.
But because we have increased this share of the gross national product above what it was under the Conservative Government, the Leader of the Opposition calls this the worst crisis in education since 1931. He lives in a dream world where facts have no relevance. In considering the increases between this year and 1969–70, we have said that local authority expenditure as a whole should not exceed 3 per cent. in real terms—not money terms but real terms—above what it is this year. Discussions will open on Monday with local authority organisations on the rate support grant.
For the first time in our history, next year expenditure on education will exceed that on defence. Of course, local authorities will have to get better value for money. They will have to become much more cost conscious. Are the Opposition opposed to that? I am sure that the ratepayers are not. Local authorities will have to decide priorities both in their services generally and within education itself. This is a matter for the local authorities themselves.
I have heard, for example, of a new car park for councillors in the Midlands 357 —an expensive car park to save councillors having to walk 500 yards. I would have thought that that was a low priority whereas the employment of teachers is of the highest priority. I have been asked by some local authorities to state priorities. I have no intention of doing so. The people who ask me to do this would be the first to complain if I did. I should have thought that any councillor who cannot decide priorities ought not to be involved in local government. Government, whether national or local, is essentially about priorities.
I come now to building. I am sure that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) will be pleased to know that, at the moment, a greater amount of educational building work is in progress in Britain than at any time in our history. It amounts to £270 million-worth, plus approximately—I am sorry that I cannot give the exact figures—£60 million of building for the universities. Where is the crisis the Leader of the Opposition spoke about? His Government did not begin to approach these figures.
The last two annual programmes of building starts announced by the Conservative Government for 1965–66 and 1966–67 were for £108 million—to be fair, I will step this up to allow for price rises and thus make it £118 million for these two years. In the following two years the figures have been £134 million and £130 million, respectively. According to the Leader of the Opposition, an increase of 11 per cent. in the building programme brought about by this Government constitutes the worst crisis since 1931.
In 1967, a total of 729 new schools were opened. In the first half of this year, 340 new schools were opened. The comparable figures for 1966 and the first half of 1967 were 535 and 216. If the Leader of the Opposition intends to comment on education in his speeches, perhaps he will first take the trouble to look at the facts.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he has said that he will not be here later. Does not he agree that these numerical comparisons miss the point? If a reduction in resources made available to local education authorities 358 for school building may mean in a particular county, such as mine, that children do not have the accommodation available which they need in the relevant time, this produces a crisis in education.
§ Mr. Short
The hon. and learned Gentleman's assumption is wrong. There will be no children without roofs over their heads in his county or anywhere else.
I come now to the severe cuts I have made in university building. Despite this, the universities will reach the Government's target of 220,000 to 225,000 students in the year 1971–72. Thus, we shall reach a target some 20,000 above the Robbins figure. I have reduced the programme of starts this year from £28.7 million to £18.7 million. The saving this year will be £1¼ million and next year, £6 million. But anyone looking objectively at the relatively generous treatment of the universities in building in recent years will agree that this is a fair re-allocation of resources. The money saved will provide a great many nursery schools throughout the country in educational priority areas under the urban programmes.
I now turn to the other aspects of resources—teacher supply and demand. It helps to put the question of the employment of teachers in context if I refer first to what has happened this year. Some people—sometimes including those who are making pessimistic forecasts for autumn next year—were prophesying early this year that there would be a shortage of jobs this September. The autumn term is now with us and there is no appreciable number of teachers who are willing to move where the jobs are who are unable to secure posts.
In the middle of August, 20 authorities were still short of staff. I notice that many advertisements still appear in the educational journals. What misled some people was that the quota system was working, as local authorities and teachers' associations are agreed that it should work, as a means of ensuring fair distribution of teachers. Area after area which had in the past suffered shortages of 5, 7 or even 10 per cent. or more found that they were able to fill their posts. What changes of this magnitude mean to the teachers and children involved only those hon. Members who 359 have worked in under-staffed schools can really understand.
Although one sympathises with young teachers who do not find it easy to get a job in the area of their first choice, I think that we have made a very useful step forward in the management of teacher resources. It is inevitable, however, that, in a redistribution of this kind, some young teachers will be unable to secure posts in the areas of their first choice, and this has, I think, given rise to some of the pessimistic speculation.
What happens next year, in 1969–1970, will depend upon decisions about the rate support grant which have not yet been taken. Indeed, negotiations have not yet started. Then it will depend upon the decisions about priorities taken by the local authorities. At present, I can say only that the prophecies I have seen in the press of 2,000 teachers unemployed next September have no foundation whatever.
I do not myself see any reason why any of the students who complete their training next year in colleges or university departments of education should find it impossible to obtain posts. I hope shortly to produce projections of the supply and demand position—indeed, within a matter of days—for next year. It would be advisable not to make hasty and ill-informed forecasts about this until the figures are available.
I know that a small number of newly qualified teachers, who are immobile for one reason or another, have been unable to find posts. I hope that their problems will quickly be solved—as indeed they are being—and that the local authorities and colleges will collaborate closely to ensure that these difficulties do not arise in future.
I have heard of one area in my own part of the country, South Shields, in which it is currently proposed that part-time teachers should be dismissed. As far as I can see, the difficulty does not arise from the administration of the quota, nor from Government policy, because that relates to finance for the current financial year—the current rate support grant, which was fixed long before the Prime Minister's January statement. In some areas the number of part-timers is, I believe, being allowed to 360 fall a little, but my latest information is that on balance the total of part-timers is actually up on last year. I now have returns from three-quarters of the authorities and these show an increase over the previous year of part-timers which represents the equivalent of 1,000 full-time teachers.
It is frequently said that the 3 per cent. limit on the increase in local authority expenditure next year will create teacher unemployment. One must first remember that the 3 per cent. is 3 per cent. in real terms, that is to say, salaries and prices will be taken care of. Secondly, the expected increase in school population is a little under 3 per cent., so that there is bound to be some margin for expansion. Thirdly, I believe that it is the view of most local authorities, a view with which I agree, that priority in their expenditure should be given to the employment of teachers over other forms of educational expenditure. The teacher is the fulcrum of the whole system. Lastly, the combined effect of the agreement about unqualified teachers and the improved staffing position of some of the most difficult areas is likely to be some rundown in the number of unqualified teachers, and money will thus be released for the local authorities and be available for paying more qualified teachers.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
Does the right hon. Gentleman dispute the statement, which I have seen made by many chairmen representing different political parties, that the education service needs an annual increase of 6 per cent. in real terms simply in order to maintain existing policies?
§ Mr. Short
Yes, I dispute that, I do not think that that is the case.
I now turn from the resources which we are devoting to education and which I have shown far to exceed anything which the party opposite ever achieved to four areas in which we are making, or are to make, substantial progress in the next few years, namely, secondary reorganisation, the raising of the school-leaving age, nursery education and polytechnics.
I would have thought that there was now little argument about the need to end selection at eleven. The assumption 361 on which this procedure was based, namely, that a child possessed an innate, fixed, unchangeable quantity of something called intelligence which could be measured by objective tests, has now been proved beyond doubt to be ill-founded. Intelligence, if there is such a thing, is now known to vary with home environment, primary school teaching, age and so on. To measure this at 11 and decide a child's educational future, and therefore its economic future, is grossly unjust and cannot be tolerated any longer.
I know that many people are devoted to their grammar schools and I understand their feelings, grammar schools which cater for 20 to 30 per cent. of our children. But grammar school education continues within the comprehensive school and is therefore available to many more children. Local authorities which perpetuate selection at 11 are perpetuating an injustice which has defaced education in Britain for too long. They are condemning 70 to 80 per cent. of our children to be hewers of wood and drawers of water at an age when, frankly, nobody knows of what they are capable. The new Education Bill which is in preparation will contain many new concepts in line with the modern philosophy of education, and one will certainly be a definition of secondary education which excludes selection at 11.
As for progress; 114 authorities have plans for the whole or parts of their areas. On the basis of these approved plans I have worked out projections of the position on the ground up to 1971—I repeat that this is on the basis of plans approved so far. In January, this year, there were 748 comprehensive schools; in January, 1971, there will be 1,180; in January, this year, 81 authorities were operating such schools; in January, 1971, there will be 105; in January, this year, seven local authorities were wholly comprehensive; in January, 1971, 30 local authorities will be wholly comprehensive. Reasonable progress is being made, progress which shows that reorganisation is generally accepted. It also shows that the new concept of secondary education which I intend to embody in the Bill will be generally acceptable in spite of the hysteria of some of the Tory backwoodsmen of Blackpool—not the right hon. Gentleman, I am pleased to acknowledge.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
Surely the right hon. Gentleman will take this opportunity to make some comment on the recent work produced by the National Foundation of Educational Research on the comprehensive school.
§ Mr. Short
Obviously, I cannot include everything. The right hon. Gentleman has indicated a list of the things which he would like me to talk about and I cannot mention everything. I would be happy to discuss this with the hon. Gentleman some other time.
As the Government have already announced, the school-leaving age will be raised to 16 in the school year 1972–73. In the meantime, however, I am considering whether we can move to a single leaving date in the year 1969–70. This would mean that children who would have been free to leave school at Easter, 1970, will stay on until the summer of that year. If it is done in that year, it will mean that the ages of children leaving school will range from 15 years to 15 years 11 months. It will also ensure that all children have at least four full years in a secondary school, and I need not spell out the educational advantages of that. If it is done, the leaving ages in operation when the school-leaving age is raised to 16 in 1972–73 will have to be considered with great care and I would welcome the views of hon. Members on this rather difficult point. Is it the view of the House that if a single leaving date is instituted before 1972–73, it should be retained when the age is raised to 16? The effect of retaining it then would be that there would be compulsory full-time education ranging from 16 to 16 years 11 months.
Under the existing law, the phrase "compulsory school age" means precisely what it says, namely, the age at which a pupil must attend school, that is, there is no option of full-time attendance at an establishment of further education for a child of compulsory school age. I hope to make the law more flexible so that in certain circumstances pupils in their last year of compulsory schooling may attend full time at an establishment of further education. This would offer real educational advantages to some children of 15 years of age, for example, those wishing to 363 pursue apprenticeship training, or craft or office studies, for whom an early start at a college of further education would prove both congenial and helpful. It would also, of course, make things rather easier for the local authorities.
I assure the House that preparatory work is already well in hand for the special building programme for the raising of the school-leaving age. The first task is to decide the overall amount of building needed for the estimated number of pupils. When this has been decided, I shall be able to tell local authorities what information I need from them in order to calculate their share of the total. I assure local authorities that they will be given block allocations within which they will be free to decide where to put the additional buildings and to choose between major projects and minor works as suits them best.
On all these related topics, the single leaving date, the raising of the school-leaving age, the further education option and the school building programme, I hope to make an announcement before long.
§ Sir E. Boyle
As the right hon. Gentleman will know, local authorities are deeply concerned about this. Can he say that he will be able to announce, before Christmas, what the building work will be that they can start in April, 1970, for this purpose?
§ Mr. Short
I would hope so, but I would not like to be absolutely tied to it. I will do my best to announce it before Christmas. I am certain that it will be done at the earliest possible moment.
I turn now to nursery education. The urban programme was announced in a joint circular from the Home Office, the Ministry of Health and my own Department on 4th October. This programme will be a continuing one, but as a start, the Government are prepared to authorise a total expenditure of £20 million to £25 million in the next four years. Initially this programme will cover the remaining months of 1968–69 and the financial year 1969–70.
During this phase it will apply to boroughs which satisfy at least one of two criteria: one that there are more than 2 per cent. of households with more than 364 one and a half persons per room on the 1966 census, the second that there is more than 6 per cent. of immigrants on the school roll on the 1967 return. This brings in 24 local authorities or, counting the inner London boroughs separately, 34. Expenditure in the initial phase will consist of up to £3 million on the provision, expansion or improvement of nursery schools and classes, day nurseries and children's homes as well as expenditure on additional staff, equipment and running costs for these projects.
Rather exceptionally, we will be prepared to look at other capital projects outside these areas. We have made nursery schools and classes our first educational priority under the programme. Nursery education can play a vital part in the education of all children, but for those from deprived homes its importance goes well beyond educational benefit and is to be seen also in social, health and welfare terms.
Since the war successive Governments have felt it necessary to restrict nursery developments, mainly because of the danger of denuding the infant schools of badly needed teachers, and also on capital investment grants. The policy laid down by the Conservative Government in Circular 8/60 has been slightly relaxed in recent years but only in respect of new nursery classes which could be shown to be productive in terms of teachers, that is in enabling married women teachers, mothers of young children, to return to teaching. These classes have normally been approved only where there is accommodation already available. That concession is helping teacher supply, and this is not to be underrated, but this has only had a limited effect in improving the needs in areas where nursery provision is most needed.
The urban programme will give authorities, for the first time, the opportunity to expand nursery provision outside the framework of existing building programmes and free from the constraint of Circular 8/60. It is true that, in the initial phase, it will only affect a limited number of authorities but they are the ones where the need is greatest.
Nevertheless it is a real step forward. We have not yet got all the bids from the local authorities, and until we see these—we gave six weeks, which is not yet up—we cannot know how many children 365 will benefit, but, because it will be a considerable number, much will depend on the use which can be made of existing classrooms, empty classrooms of which there are many in central areas of the old industrial towns, and on the employment of nursery assistants under teacher supervision. I hope that we may have the co-operation of teacher organisations here.
Even in this first phase, thousands, may be many thousands of children, will be given a better start in life than they would otherwise have had. I hope that we shall see the first fruits of this programme from April in the New Year. I am ready to consider increasing the teacher quota for authorities making provisions under the programme, and I am also considering whether we can relax Circular 8/60 in respect of areas other than educational priority areas. I am also considering whether help can be given under the urban programme to play-groups.
§ Sir E. Boyle
One point about the urban programme. Will local authorities have the power to assist voluntary preschool play-groups which come up to the proper standard? That seems to be important.
§ Mr. Short
I did say, perhaps the right hon. Gentleman missed it, that we were looking at the possibility of helping pre-school play-groups under the urban programme. I hope that we can. I would like to pay tribute to the work that they are doing—many are performing a first-rate job.
I want to say a word now about polytechnics. The House will wish to know something about the progress and the planning. So far 23 polytechnic schemes have been formally submitted to me. In 21 of these cases the scheme has been approved in principle, subject to certain amendments being made in the draft Instrument and Articles of Government. The Instrument and Articles of Government have now been formally approved in three of these cases—Newcastle, Sheffield and Sunderland. The fact that Newcastle was first is purely because it was further ahead than anyone else.
The other two schemes were referred back for the authorities concerned to reconsider their exclusion of the existing colleges of art from the proposed poly- 366 technics. These were at Birmingham and Brighton. I and my hon. Friend who deals with this, consider it highly desirable that colleges of art should provide an important development in these new organisations.
Most of the six outstanding polytechnic schemes are expected to be submitted very shortly. The exception is the proposed North London Polytechnic, involving the Hornsey College of Art and the Enfield and Hendon Colleges of Technology. This is still at the very early stage of local discussion. The formal establishment and designation of a polytechnic must await the making of the Instrument and Articles of Government as finally approved, the setting up of the governing body, the appointment of the director or a number of other practical steps. Until these are done, it cannot be formally designated. In a few cases, polytechnics are likely to come into being formally in January of next year, and in almost all the remaining cases I hope that the date will not be later than September 1969.
I look forward, and I am sure the whole House does, to the rapid development and growth of the polytechnics, to the point where they will attract public esteem equivalent to that accorded to the universities. They are in no sense second rate universities. They will be of equal importance, and I hope that everyone will regard them in that light. It will certainly be my policy and objective to give them that kind of esteem.
I have described, all too briefly, the allocation of resources to education by this Government. I have described four specific growth points in the service and I suggest to the House that this reveals a record of progress of which no one need be ashamed.
§ 12.17 p.m.
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education and Science has concentrated his remarks, understandably, on the subject of education. My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle), in winding up the debate, will also concentrate his remarks on this important sphere of social progress. The continuation of the debate on the Gracious Speech can, however, range very widely and I understand that it is the general desire that the theme should be a concentration of thought on 367 the social services, housing and education, indeed on the home front in general, and on the social services, in particular, rather than on foreign affairs and economics, to which other days can be devoted.
I, on behalf of the Opposition, and the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Social Services have as our prime task the development of policy to try to secure help for the sick, the unfortunate and the elderly. I begin by saying that any country, and particularly a country which, under the Labour Government has incurred debts of £3,000 million, and in a situation such as that into which we have been dragged today—any country has to create wealth before it can provide better services for the elderly and the unfortunate, and better standards of housing and education.
Any development of social service strategy must have as a major element the encouragement of the great mass of the hard-working section of the community, who are being crushed by devaluation and the consequent rise in the cost of living, and who are also being crushed by high, penal rates of taxation. If we do not reintroduce into everyday life in our society greater incentive to work and greater reward for effort we will not even be able to sustain the crucially important social services, let alone fill the gaps and meet the crying needs in society.
Last year's Queen's Speech stated thatThe principal aim of My Government's policy is the achievement of a strong economy.Now, after devaluation, after a vast increase in unemployment and after the biggest increase in taxation that the country has ever seen, we are told once again in the Queen's Speech thatMy Government will press forward their policies for strengthening the economy.Apart from that absolutely banal statement, there is nothing whatever in the Speech to encourage the young and the energetic.
I would be far more impressed with the Queen's Speech if we saw even a faint glimmer of an understanding of the need to get rid of the Selective Employment Tax, to simplify the tax system, to provide incentives, to reduce personal taxation 368 and also to start reversing the process of nationalisation and reintroducing the theme of competition and free enterprise. This feature of encouraging the young and the able to stand on their own feet and to be self-reliant is as important in social service policy as the concentration of help on the unfortunate and the elderly.
One of the most basic securities of a family is the home in which they live. We deplore the curbing of home ownership and the restrictions from Whitehall which are being placed upon locally-elected authorities who wish to give their tenants the opportunity of buying their own homes.
There is one specific aspect of housing policy which falls within the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Social Services in which the Government have taken a decision which we find extremely unfortunate. Under the rate rebate scheme, war disability pensions are taken into account as income when assessing entitlement to rebate. This is the first time that the traditional immunity from taxation which has previously been given to such pensions has been attacked. These war disability pensions, which are given to those who are wounded, disabled or injured in the service of their country, have up to now always been disregarded in assessing income.
It is true that this was special privilege which was given only to the war disabled, but we feel that the country owes them a special debt. This is a debt of honour, and we ask the Government to introduce legislation to restore the privileges and traditional immunity from taxation which these war disability pensions had in the past.
While speaking about people who have served the public, I would like to welcome the proposal in the Queen's Speech to increase public service pensions. It makes it almost incomprehensible that the Government voted down our own exactly similar proposal when it was introduced into the House and debated only last May. None the less, we welcome the decision to improve the position of the public service pensioner.
I would, however, like to express the hope that when the Bill is introduced, it will contain the following points of Conservative policy in this field: first, that those who retired before 1965 should 369 have their pensions raised to the same level as if they had retired in that year, with, of course, in addition, the subsequent and appropriate cost-of-living increases; secondly, the age at which increases become payable should be lowered from 60 to 55; and thirdly, and, perhaps, most important of all, these pensions should be subject to a regular independent biennial review to ensure that they retain their purchasing power.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)
I agree entirely with what the noble Lord says, but as this proposal has been mooted for at least 20 years can he tell us why, during all the years of the Conservative Government, they did not introduce such a measure?
§ Lord Balniel
I will certainly explain. The reason is that in all fields of social progress reform is a continuing process. Our introduction, for example, of the escalator for public service pensioners was a major reform and was widely welcomed. Our reform for giving concentrated help to those who had been retired for the longest period was another improvement. I accept that not all the reforms which we would like to have seen undertaken were completed, but I emphasise my belief that this one of which I have spoken is an important element in the reform of public service pensions.
At present, the discretion is left to the Treasury. The Treasury, however, are not people whom I would automatically select as my trustee to care for me in old age. Many of the people we are talking about, public service pensioners, positively find it humiliating to have to write to their Member of Parliament to build up pressure and a lobby for an increase in the pension which could as well be assessed by an independent biennial review.
I turn now to social security and health, two services which are being integrated in one Ministry. I note in the Queen's Speech that "attention is to be given", whatever that might mean,to the form of administration of the health and welfare services.We all welcome the fact that proposals for discussion were published in the recent Green Paper, although I think that the Ministry of Health might have been a little more generous in acknowledging its debt to the Porritt Report.
370 For a long time, both sides of the House have recognised that it is a weakness in the National Health Service to have the existing tripartite system with the division between the hospital service, the local authority health and welfare service and the general practitioner service. There is fairly general agreement in the House that these various services should be brought together on an area basis.
The big unresolved question, however, is what sort of bodies the area health boards are to be. Will their members be appointed by the Minister? Alternatively, will there be, as I hope, a massive devolution of responsibility and their development fitted in to the reconstruction of local government which we want to achieve?
The area health boards will, of course, need to have a large professional element, but surely that does not rule out their being fitted in to local government. Our intention is to secure a massive administrative devolution in the Health Service. To us, it is easier and more acceptable to delegate authority to bodies which are answerable to local electors rather than to a ministerially-appointed board which, in the last resort, must be a creature of the Minister.
There must, of course, be deep discussion with the profession and with local government, and we will want to see the report of Lord Redcliffe-Maud's Commission. My own feeling, however, is that the area health boards must possess genuine independence. There must be a sense that they are answerable for the services which they render, not only to Parliament but also to the local community.
There is another major advance which I wish to see secured in health and welfare. This is the acceptance of the principle of the Seebohm Report, which recommends that there should be created in local government a new social security department of a stature comparable, for instance, with the education, housing and health departments which exist today in local government. Again, there must be discussions with the professions and local government organisations, but it is right at this early stage that the Government should announce their acceptance of the principle of the Report, namely, the setting up of a new social security department, so as to end the fragmentation of 371 the social service work which is done at local authority level.
I should like to repeat the comment which I made in the debate last week, that I feel that legislation on this subject could be introduced before the major reconstruction of local government. But equally important is the acceptance of the principle at this stage because only if this is announced by the Government can the professions and local authorities concerned embark on the necessary preparatory work.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the fact that the Governmentwill publish for public discussion proposals for a new scheme of national insurance founded on earnings-related benefits and contributions.On Wednesday, the Prime Minister went off into flights of rhetoric about how wonderful the new National Insurance scheme would be. He was in a fairly safe cloud, because none of us has seen the contents of the scheme. He spoke of its size and conception, and of its great radical nature, and said that it would constitute a social security system for the remainder of the century.
The scheme which is to be introduced is the same scheme to which the Prime Minister referred in his own personal election address in 1964 and which was, to quote his words, to be introduced "without delay". We know very well by now that when the right hon. Gentleman goes off into clouds of rhetoric there is a healthy instinct in the House to probe rather more deeply into what he says. His hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Anne Kerr) immediately said:Will the Prime Minister be kind enough to say whether the basic retirement pension can be raised immediately?That was an understandable question, because the pension in the pensioner's pockets has been devalued and the cost of living is rising rapidly. The Prime Minister replied:I should not like to raise my hon. Friend's hopes in that context at this time.Then my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who held the office of Minister of Pensions and National Insurance for longer than any other Member, 372 asked whether the Prime Minister's statement impliedthat it is the intention that"—the new National Insurance scheme—shall be in operation before the end of the present Parliament".That, too, was a very relevant question, because it is reasonable to guess that the new scheme, when introduced, will involve increased contributions for many people. Already, the weekly contribution per person has increased by 5s., or 40 per cent., under the present Government. The Prime Minister replied to my right hon. Friend:The right hon. Gentleman had better wait and see the White Paper and the whole timetable which is involved."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th October, 1968; Vol. 772, c. 41.]I am prepared to wait and to judge the scheme on its merits, but I should like to make two points at this stage. The reconstruction of the social security scheme should deal with certain groups for which provision is inadequate or, in some cases, non-existent. It should provide for people over 80 years of age who are completely excluded from the National Insurance scheme. There should also be added emphasis on the more elderly of retirement pensioners, whose savings, in most cases, have been eroded by the cost of living.
But the scheme should also be orientated to give greater security for women. I am thinking particularly of the chronically disabled housewife who is excluded from the National Insurance scheme and from supplementary benefits; of widows who are excluded by the rigid age barrier of 50; and of the deserted wives, particularly those with children, whom, it is interesting to recall, the original Beveridge Report recommended should be included as an insurable risk in the scheme.
Secondly, in dealing with the reconstruction of social security, I emphasise the crucial importance of occupational pension schemes. We all know that the cost of pensions will rise very sharply. If we are to relieve the younger working generation of an excessive burden of taxation the only practicable way to do it is to encourage the growth of good occupational pension schemes. Such schemes represent real savings as opposed to the State scheme, which is paid 373 for out of current production. At present, 12 million people are policy holders and the funds accumulated out of their savings amount to nearly £9,000 million. This is an invaluable source of investment for industry which alone can create the wealth out of which we can pay for the social services.
When we are in office we shall encourage personal pension schemes. We want every job to carry a good pension, wherever possible a pension which is transferable when a person changes his job. One of the criteria by which we shall judge the Government's proposals when they see the light of day is the extent to which they encourage personal pension schemes, because if the Government curb personal pension schemes, as they have curbed home ownership, we shall amend their legislation when we are returned to office.
I wish to emphasise the importance of occupational pension schemes, because much of the Government's action seems to smack of hostility towards them. I have heard talk—and it has not been denied by the Government—that occupational pension schemes will be forced to fund a percentage of their money in the State scheme in return for the right to contract out. In fact, they would be forced to invest their policy holder's money in a field in which they would not otherwise invest.
Also, the Government are introducing regulations which for the first time introduce a means test into the National Insurance scheme. This was the proposal announced by the previous Minister of Social Security. They propose to introduce regulations that unemployment benefit should be available only to those in receipt of occupational pensions after the occupational pension has been means tested.
I share with teachers, civil servants, bank and insurance people and all those in receipt of occupational pensions a sense of perturbation about the way in which the Government appear to be, for the first time, breaching the contributory principle of the National Insurance scheme.
I return, finally, to my opening remarks, that, of course, all the talk in the House about social progress is overshadowed by the economic failure of the 374 Government. Their failure in these fields of the social services seems to me to lie not so much in their desire to help the unfortunate, the sick, the elderly. Any compassionate, humane, normal person is anxious to help the unfortunate. The Government's failure lies primarily in their failure to provide encouragement and incentive to those who are the working section of the population. It is they who create the wealth out of which one has to pay for the improved social services, the improved housing and the improved education which we all want to see in this country.
§ 12.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Thomas Swain (Derbyshire, North-East)
I am very pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler), the Minister of State, on the Front Bench. Having listened to a lot of speeches on the Motion for an humble Address, I have formed a certain conclusion about the Opposition, their Front Bench particularly, led by the Leader of the Opposition, and that is that they remind me of car batteries: their bellies are full of acid and their heads appear to be full of distilled water. I think that is a reasonable thing to say about them.
I apologise for intervening in the Ministers' statements and Front Bench debate we have had for an hour and three quarters this morning, but in the main I welcome the proposals as laid down in the Gracious Speech and I can commend the Government on the initiative they have taken in quite a lot of very important fields. Of course, there are reservations which I have in mind and which I shall hold till I see the proposals in detail.
It has been argued quite cogently in this House and outside that the base of our economy is cheap power. Therefore, I was very disappointed to find in the Gracious Speech no reference to this very important subject. In 1967 we had a White Paper on Fuel Policy and a Bill which was consequential on the findings in the White Paper, but to the arguments which I shall deploy this morning that Measure is completely irrelevant and it is the White Paper with which I shall be dealing.
In the White Paper conclusions were arrived at as a result of certain assumptions. I claimed during the 375 debate at that time that the assumptions and the conclusions were wrong. I believe that the arguments which my hon. Friends and I used then have been borne out in fact. My hon. Friends and I have put down an Amendment to the Motion for an humble Address, and it asks for an independent inquiry into the costings of our power-producing industries and for a comprehensive review of the White Paper.
It was assumed in the White Paper that the introduction of power produced from nuclear energy and the introduction of natural gas into our fuel economy would be progressively phased to counter-balance the run-down of coal produced in this country. My researches inform me that the programme for nuclear development and the introduction of natural gas into the economy are well behind schedule. There are several documents which have been issued since the White Paper and which bear out this fact. I am not going to quote them, but I will indicate them—the situation in the coal industry in relation to the forecasts in Cmnd. Paper 3438; the Report of the Committee on Public Accounts, published on 8th July, 1968, in relation to the U.K.A.E.A.; the Second Report of the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries, published on 25th July, 1958, in relation to the "Exploitation of North Sea Gas"; and lastly, the report of the Economist Intelligence Unit on "Britain's Energy Supply", published in September, 1968. The opinions contained in those papers bear out what I am going to say this morning.
The estimates for coal output and the manpower rundown in the mining industry have already been proved wrong. Output is related to manpower. The White Paper forecast that the rundown of manpower would be in the region of 35,000 men. At Blackpool the Minister said in a private conversation with me and my colleagues that the revised estimate would be 58,000 men. Using the Minister's own calculus, I forecast that the wastage will be 60,000 men, 2,000 more than the Minister suggested. This will create a very serious position regarding the global output of coal from the industry. The N.C.B. and the N.U.M. agreed that the first figure could 376 be handled and output maintained, but we all agree that it is impossible to maintain output with the present rundown of manpower. We have a number of figures. I shall not weary the House by quoting lots of figures in support of this statement and the statement I make that the White Paper estimates were all wrong, but I must read out a few.
The White Paper, published just a year ago, said in paragraph 113 that the Government accepted the advice of the National Coal Board that a run-down of 35,000 men a year would be manageable by the industry, and then the White Paper went on:On past experience, and taking account of natural wastage, such a rundown should not create a national problem.A little later it said:The Government have accordingly decided that planning for the industry's contraction up to 1970–71 should be based on this rate of rundown.So much for the planning. What has been the actual course of events since those words were published? The rate of run-down this year is likely to be about 69,000. Indeed, in the first half of the current financial year it was almost up to the figure which the National Coal Board and the Government thought manageable for the whole year. These figures prove beyond doubt that the calculations made in the White Paper about the run-down of manpower were hopelessly out of balance.
Even if the Minister's figures are to be accepted the situation is a very serious one indeed, and coupled with the failure of nuclear energy and natural gas to be in full production by the dates which were forecast in the White Paper I suggest that there will be a serious gap in the energy resources of this country between now and 1975.
Let us look at the alternatives we have facing us if my pessimistic forecasts are true. I am accused of being a pessimist on this, but all the research we have done rather proves that our pessimism unfortunately will be justified. If production in this country is to expand within an expanding economy as the Government forecast—and if this country is to survive, both these aims must be accomplished—then we all agree that the gap in our energy supply created by expanding needs has to be filled.
377 First, there is the possibility of imported coal. Our experience of this in 1947 and 1948 should prove to the Government that this is out of the question. Anyone with memories of those two years of imported coal and of the amount of money it cost the Government to subsidise imported fuel to the consumer—£77 million in one year—will honestly believe that imported coal is out of the question.
The only other known source of energy is oil. Again referring to the estimates in the White Paper, the import of oil into this country by 1975 is expected to increase by 41 per cent., 1967 being taken as 100. These figures are astronomical, but they are calculations arising out of the figures and assumptions in the White Paper.
Bearing in mind that a conference was held at Sunningdale last weekend, I would like to ask if the answers to the following questions were forthcoming at the conference and whether the Minister is in a position to give us the answers, if they were arrived at last weekend?
What are the new estimates for the import of oil? What price will have to be paid if we buy oil on short term? What effect would long-term contracts for oil have on the future programming of nuclear energy, natural gas and coal?
What is the forecast estimate of electricity costs from nuclear energy in 1975? What is to be the price of natural gas to the consumer by 1975? What effect will the new estimates for energy requirements have on the balance of payments? What experience have we had to give us confidence in the estimates?
Is it a fact that the Seaton Carew decision was made because of the enormous amount of public money tied up in the nuclear energy programme, and did the Minister consider that he should find the consortium with these thousands of millions of pounds tied up in it something to do? Is it not a fact that the forecast estimate of the cost of nuclear energy in 1974 was used, while the cost of coal in 1968 was used and not the forecast estimate of coal cost as presented by Robens for 1974? These are very pertinent questions that up to now have not been answered by the Ministry. Is it not a fact that coal could compete with nuclear energy on cost in 1974?
378 Does my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power still stand by the statements he made on 9th October, 1968, a copy of which I have in my possession? Is the Minister yet in a position to lay before the House any safety factors that have to be tied down by Statute in the production of electricity from nuclear energy? If so, when will he be laying them?
What are the Minister's plans for, and what is the estimated cost of, the disposal of nuclear waste in 1975? How does he propose to deal with the waste from nuclear power stations? All these questions have a bearing on the Amendment and not only on the mining industry but on industry in general, domestic consumers and everyone who uses power. They are all asking for the answers.
Has the Minister any information to give to the House on the possible life of natural gas from the North Sea? Speculation has been made public during the last few weeks that the North Sea gas life can be only 25 years. If so, what long-term plans will be made to fill the gap in the event of North Sea gas running out at the end of this period? How many consumers are now being supplied with natural gas? What is the total number of consumers to be supplied? What is the Minister's estimate of the period when all consumers will be supplied by natural gas? What will be the total cost to the taxpayer for the carcasing of the country to carry the supply of natural gas, and the adaptation and renewal of appliances, by the time the scheme is completed?
Let us look at the Government's management of the Ministry of Power. I have always contended, and I contend publicly this morning, that successive Governments have treated the Minister of Power and the power-producing industries with the utmost contempt. There are nine Ministers in the Foreign Office; five Ministers in education; and four Ministers in the Ministry of Technology, whose main achievement, according to a statement made not long ago, is to standardise the threads on screws and to make childish statements out in the country. The main duty of those in the Whips Office is to shepherd about 340 hon. Members through the Lobbies if and when required by the Government, yet the total salaries in the Whips Office are higher than the total salaries of a senior Minister and a Parliamentary Secretary in 379 the Ministry of Power. I contend that the Minister of Power is responsible for more monetary and servicing policy than any other Minister in the Cabinet, and it is an inhuman task for two Ministers to tackle.
I am not being disrespectful to the Civil Service, but is it any wonder that I and my colleagues accuse the Minister of Power of being in the hands of the Civil Service when such a disastrous state of affairs exists? This is not a commercial plug for myself. I have voted against them too often to get in there, but it is a personal plug in the interests of the power-producers of this country who have up to now done a magnificent job, and I hope and trust that the Prime Minister will take note of what I say.
I hope that my arguments will convince the Government that there is a necessity for a review of the White Paper and a necessity, in the interests of our economy and of the well-being of the nation, to conduct an independent inquiry into the costings of our energy-producing industries. I say categorically that the mining industry is the one energy-producing industry which is not frightened to put its books on the table to be examined by an independent inquiry. We are very proud of that. We do not hide our books; they are always open for public scrutiny and for debate in this House.
I must quote a few figures in support of the industry which I have proudly represented, not only in this House but outside, for a good many years. The coal-producing industry has great achievements to its credit over the past few years. Going back in history, in 1947 the coal industry was the saviour of the economy of the country. The then Government were prepared to drive men into the coalmines at the point of a bayonet. The then Government, and this had to be, were prepared to excuse men from military service to go into the pits. This was the importance of the coal mining industry only 21 years ago. Unfortunately, the situation has now deteriorated to such an extent that the miners have gone back into the position they held in 1935 in the social structure and in relation to their importance to the Government.
A question asked of me during the past fortnight in Bassetlaw was: why are the Government not doing something more 380 for the mining industry and the areas in which pits are being closed? I would suggest that this pertinent question has had a reflection on the result in Basset-law, however proud we are to have held the seat. Let us hope and trust that there are no more recurrences of this nature caused by the apparent neglect by my own Government of the coalmining industry.
The output figures were, during the first 18 weeks of this year, 40.6 cwts., compared with 37.5 cwts. last year, an improvement of 8.3 per cent. If every industry in this country had done as well as that then the Minister would not this morning have had to inform the House of further economic squeezes. We should have been on our feet. That was an improvement of 8.3 per cent. Deep mined output at 55.5 million tons represented a reduction of 4.5 per cent., after allowing for holiday losses. There has also been a rapid improvement in face performance. Saleable output per day on major long-wall mechanised faces reached a peak of 549 tons in May, although it fell back slightly in June to 535 tons. But the June figure still represented a 20 per cent. increase on June, 1967. Mechanised face output at 144.1 cwts. showed an increase of 11 cwts. over 1967–68, without making any allowance for additional craftsmenshifts now included in face statistics because of the widening use of the National Power Loading Agreement. The "face management" course undoubtedly contributed to the improvement.
This has been achieved in spite of a complete review of the wages structure in the mining industry, and I would remind my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity that, when she talks about productivity agreements, the mining industry has reviewed its whole system of calculating its wages structure. It has gone from a complete contract system over to a 100 per cent. day wage structure in two years. In some cases, this has resulted in a considerable reduction in the earnings of men on the coal face. The improvement in output per man shift and the reduction of 2s. 6d. a ton in production costs have been achieved, in spite of all that has happened.
I hope that the Minister will recommend to his right hon. Friend that the 381 wording in the Amendment holds some sense. I feel that only a review of the 1967 White Paper and the setting up of a commission to inquire into the costings of the fuel industries can help solve our economic problems.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Campbell (Oldham, West)
The House has grown accustomed over the last 23 years or thereabouts to hearing from the hon. Member for Oldham, West speeches of great wit as well as wisdom delivered with quite incredible speed. I must tell the House that as the new Member I shall not be able to compete with my predecessor either for wit or for the verbal velocity of which he was capable. But I will do my humble best to match his sincerity in what I have to say.
One does not fight two elections, as I have done in Oldham, West, without learning quite a lot about the Member who has represented the constituency over the previous years. It is in that way, by meeting and talking with the electors, that I have come to know about Leslie Hale. I have found that everyone in the constituency, whatever his or her political views, thought very highly of him. Perhaps I can do no better to illustrate their view of him than to report to the House that very recently the Conservative-controlled Oldham Borough Council decided unanimously to confer on Leslie Hale the freedom of the borough.
Since arriving here just before the Recess, I have found that his reputation in this House is no less high, and I have been regaled with reminiscences of my predecessor by many hon. Members on both sides. It is plain to me that he was one of the characters of this place, and I am sure that, with me, hon. Members on both sides will wish him a long and contented retirement from his labours here.
The constituency which my distinguished predecessor represented for so long and which I now have the honour to represent has one overwhelming problem. It can be summed up in the word "housing". There are various aspects of the housing problem, in terms of slum clearance, compulsory purchase, increasing council house rents, and so on. But the one aspect of it to which I wish to 382 address a few words is the problem of finding finance to enable poorer people to buy older houses.
In the Gracious Speech, the Government announce their intention of introducing legislation for the repair and improvement of older houses. It is regrettable, however, that nothing appears to have been done to meet the problem which we experience in Oldham.
Oldham is a great cotton town. It was developed when cotton was a relatively new and flourishing industry, with the result that over a very short span of years in the last century a great many houses were built there. But the trouble is that if a lot of houses are built within a short space of years they all fall into a state of decay at about the same time, 70, 80 or 90 years later. That is what has happened in Oldham.
In the last ten years or so, a great deal has been done by way of the demolition of old properties and the building of new ones, but there is always a time lag in that process. The result is that there is an acute housing shortage in Oldham. However, if one drives round the town and the urban district of Chadderton, which falls within my constituency, one can see many empty houses. They are old, but they are not yet ripe for demolition. It is possible that they have 25 years' life left in them, and they are perfectly habitable.
Hundreds of them stand empty and for sale, and they remain unsold month after month. It would be possible to buy one for £500, although if it had a bathroom and had been brought up to modern standards one might have to pay £700 or £800. Those are the sorts of prices for which it is possible to buy a house of this kind in Oldham. That kind of figure will seem incredible to those of us who are more accustomed to house prices in the South of England. Yet, although they can be bought at that sort of price and although there are many small families who would dearly love to own one, they remain empty and unsold because there is no finance available for their purchase. Building societies will not lend money on these older houses and the local authority cannot, because it cannot get the loan sanction. I urge the Government to give local authorities, particularly the two 383 with whom I am concerned, sanction to borrow a comparatively small sum—about £100,000 each.
What happens if this is not done? The money is not available, no one will lend that little man £500 to buy his house, so he remains homeless and the house remains empty. In due course he will be given a council dwelling. It will have cost the council £4,000 to build that dwelling. The council will have had to borrow that money—and it can, strangely enough, get loan sanction for that.
Oldham has just had loan sanction for £4 million to build 1,000 dwellings. It has to pay 8 per cent. interest on it; therefore, each of these dwellings, costing £4,000 to build, costs in interest alone £320 a year or £6 a week, so that, with such other items as rates, repairs and administration charges, it is impossible to let such a dwelling economically for less than about £10 a week, which, of course, is impossible.
As a result, every time the council builds a new council dwelling and lets it for perhaps £5 a week there is a running loss which will continue year after year. I know that I have not accounted for such matters as housing subsidies, but my object is to show that the cost of providing and maintaining new council dwellings is far greater than any permissible rent.
If only the council could lend money to people who want to buy these older houses, it would cost them nothing, they could even make a small profit, perhaps by charging ½ per cent. more for the money than they had to pay, and they would house a little family. The council would start getting rates on the house, none having been paid while it stood empty. Another important fact is that, once it is lived in, the house itself will be looked after and possibly even improved, instead of continuing to deteriorate, as it is bound to do so long as it remains empty.
I cannot understand why loan sanction is not given to local authorities, particularly those like the two I have in mind, to lend money for this purpose. It seems such a reasonable thing to do. The only possible objection is that we live in a time of restraint, and 384 that is why money cannot be loaned, but I am asking for restraint, the restraint of using existing houses rather than building expensive new ones, at the cost of building and borrowing money today. A figure of £200,000 is all I am asking for, half for each of two councils. I am not even asking the Government to lend it, but only to give us permission to borrow it. That seems reasonable, and I ask the Government to consider the request.
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)
I have the pleasant task of congratulating the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) on an instructive and entertaining maiden speech. I know from bitter experience how terrifying it is to make a maiden speech, and that, when one is waiting, all the preceding speeches seem interminable.
I think that the House particularly appreciated the hon. Member's generous references to his predecessor. We all greatly respected Mr. Leslie Hale. He was one of those Members who could fill the House just by the announcement that he had risen to make a speech. Therefore, the hon. Member has a reputation to follow. I am sure that, after his speech today, we shall be hearing more of him on housing, of which he obviously has great knowledge, and on other matters.
In some ways, this debate is rather chaotic. It opened with a speech from the Government on education, followed by a speech from the Opposition on social security. This was followed by a very interesting speech on the mining industry. Therefore, perhaps the House will pardon me if I add to that chaos by making a reference to one or two other matters before coming to education and social security.
The first is something which is not, unfortunately, in the Gracious Speech. I greatly regret that there are no proposals for the public ownership of the ports and ancillary services. We have been looking forward to this, those of us representing port constituances—as well as our dockers—for years. I argue this case not on ideological grounds but purely because of economic need. As a trading nation, we need an integrated and efficient port industry. I pay tribute to the amount 385 of public investment which the present Government have put into the ports as compared with the record of their predecessors.
Nevertheless, there is an urgent need for the public ownership of the ports, with a strong National Ports Authority and regional ports authorities. That is why I and some of my colleagues have put down an Amendment to the Loyal Address, virtually in the terms of the 1966 manifesto on which I fought the last election. I urge the Government to see whether it is not possible, even now, to include in the present Session legislation for the public ownership of the ports and ancillary services, like stevedoring. I will say no more, since we are to have a White Paper and I hope that there will be an opportunity to discuss the matter then.
After 75 years, we are at last to have amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act of 1893. This is something for which I asked in my maiden speech just over two years ago, and at last it is coming. No one can say that the seamen have not been patient.
I turn now to social security. I also urge the Government to accept the main principles behind the Seebohm Report. After some experience of local authority welfare and children's committees, I think it is very important that all our welfare services, both local and national, should be properly co-ordinated. Even if the Government cannot bring in detailed legislation until after the Maud Committee on boundaries has reported, I hope that they will accept the principles.
On the new proposals for earnings-related benefits and contributions, I welcome the fact that we are to have a White Paper, but one of the first duties of the new wide Ministry of Social Security is to ensure that they have a good public relations department. It will not be easy to sell this to the general public and the factory workers, because their recollections of earnings-related schemes tend to be, unfortunately, of the graduated pension swindle introduced by the party opposite.
I use the word "swindle" advisedly. It was not a pension scheme in the normal sense; it was half pension and half taxation. Actuarially, the benefits in no way corresponded to the contributions. 386 It is important, therefore, that the new Ministry should, during the coming few months, spend a lot of time explaining the new scheme to the people who will be affected, because of their bitter memories of the previous scheme.
I welcome the intention to introduce legislation to increase public service pensions, although it will come rather late in the day. In general, I agree here with the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who opened for the Opposition, in believing that the way in which the House of Commons deals with the question of public service pensions is nothing short of disgraceful. This criticism applies whichever party is in power. The question is kicked around like a football between the political parties.
I understand that, when the Conservatives were in Government, an hon. Member on the Labour side introduced a Private Member's Bill to increase pensions, and last year we had the similar situation in reverse, with the Opposition introducing a Bill when this Government were in power. The intention is little better than to embarrass one side or the other politically. This is no way to treat public service pensioners, people who have given a lifetime of service.
I urge the Government to set up a procedure under which public service pensions may be reviewed regularly at two-year intervals. I recognise the problems attendant upon economic crisis and I understand the Treasury's argument, but it would still be possible, in certain circumstances, for the Government of the day to say, "We are sorry, but we cannot fulfil the recommendations at this stage. The increase will have to be deferred for six months, perhaps, or a year". But for goodness' sake let us have a regular review procedure so that we do not treat this question like political football, being kicked across the Floor of the House.
Now, the question of education generally. A lot has appeared in the Press recently about students' unrest and the various activities in which they have indulged. I give particular praise to the National Union of Students and the official leadership of the student movement who, throughout all that has gone on, have acted in a most responsible 387 manner. The trouble and violence which occurs and the activities which are pursued in various places are the actions of a relatively small minority of students. However, the majority of students, decent people who want to get on with their work, have some responsibility to ensure that the minority of their colleagues do not wreck the whole thing for them.
Public opinion is hardening on this matter. Those of us who are vitally interested in the subject know this very well. In my constituency, as, I am sure, other hon. Members do, I hear comments such as, "Why are we paying grants out of our taxation for these people who spend their time sitting-in at colleges and acting in this way?". That sort of opinion is on the increase. I fight it wherever I come across it, but, at the same time, I feel that the majority of students have a responsibility to ensure that the minority do not get out of hand too often. There are ways by which they can do it.
There are genuine student grievances in certain places, particularly in art and technical education. In this connection, I refer to the events at Guildford which have made news in recent months. I do not condone what originally happened at Guildford, but I consider that the Surrey County Council acted in the most ham-fisted possible way in dealing with the situation there. It is almost inconceivable that a responsible local authority could act so stupidly as did Surrey County Council in handling the whole matter. However, having said that, I put in a word of praise for Lord Garnsworthy, who has done his best to bring reason into the matter, though, unfortunately, unsuccessfully.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
Will the hon. Gentleman be more specific? To what extent is he critical of Surrey County Council in relation to the staff—I am talking now about staff—bearing in mind, as he knows from his keen interest in the matter, that it is dealing with staff who disobeyed a court injunction? Will he be more specific on what an authority should do?
§ Mr. Mitchell
In the first instance, I consider that the way the council handled the student protest was quite wrong. At one stage, it brought in the 388 security people and dogs. That was absolutely ridiculous. One must not handle things in that way. Second, dismissal of the staff in that sort of situation can only antagonise all other staff and put their backs up. We have already seen the action of the A.T.T.I. in blacklisting Surrey at present.
There are many other ways in which the situation could have been handled. I do not condone the action of the staff in sitting in, but I am convinced that there could have been a different procedure, as there was in the end at Hornsey, for example. To go ahead and dismiss staff in the way Surrey did it was, frankly, a silly way to proceed.
What worries me is, so to speak, the sort of image which is being created. Many of us had hoped that, when the Maud Commission had reported, and we had larger local government units, it would be possible to retain a certain amount of local control over such matters as art education and the technical colleges, but I am beginning to wonder now, if there are to be many Surreys and actions of that kind, whether different arrangements altogether for further education will have to be made. I hope that Sir William Alexander and his colleagues will note the warning. Some of us are feeling that, if we are to have the Surrey type of situation developing, we may have to look for alternative arrangements.
Now, nursery education. I was very pleased to see the reference in the Gracious Speech to additional help for areas of social need, but I go further and say that other areas apart from those specifically covered have a need for nursery education.
§ Mr. Mitchell
Yes, places like Harrow and others which I have in mind. There is a great demand for nursery education.
Admittedly, the resources available to the Government at this point are limited and the amount to be spent on nursery education has to take its place in the queue, but, as I said in a similar speech last year, I see no reason why in other areas, apart from the special areas, nursery education could not be introduced with an element of payment in it as well. I would rather have the element of 389 payment and have nursery education than have nothing at all. I should hope that eventually it would be possible to do away with the payment, but if, when resources are scarce, we cannot have it without an element of payment, I should be happy to have it.
We all recognise the need for a new Education Act, although it cannot be introduced in this Session or before the Maud Commission has reported. Part of it will have to lay down a new definition of what we mean by primary and secondary education. I am reluctantly forced to the conclusion—I use the word "reluctantly" quite genuinely—that there will have to be compulsory legislation on the question of comprehensive education. I had hoped that I should not have to say that, but we are at a stage now when it is clear that only through new legislation embodying a certain element of compulsion will some areas have any form of comprehensive education.
It is impossible to talk of comprehensive education or comprehensive schools existing side by side with selective grammar or other schools. It does not make sense. The word "comprehensive" means nothing if 20 per cent. of children are creamed off to a selective school nearby. We have an absurd situation in Southampton where, basically, we have comprehensive education based on the secondary college system, but there is in the middle one grammar school which retains its selection and takes pupils off every year. In the same context, I am of opinion that the new Act will have to embody the results of a close examination of the whole question of the legal position of direct-grant and non-denominational voluntary-aided schools.
I believe that, with the one exception to which I have referred, the Government have a very good record on education since they took office. The one exception is that I was strongly opposed to the decision to put off the raising of the school-leaving age, which I still think was a mistake.
It is absurd for the Leader of the Opposition to infer, as he did on Wednesday, that the Government have done nothing for education. There has been a 42 per cent. increase in expenditure on education under the present Government compared with the last year when 390 the Tory Party was in office. We have a very good record.
A great deal is being made at the moment of local restrictions. There is ample evidence that a number of local authorities are deliberately taking advantage of certain things to restrict their expenditure on education. There is considerable evidence that in different parts of the country some local authorities are saying that this is a marvellous opportunity to reduce expenditure and to increase fees.
I end as the Secretary of State did, by saying that I am very proud of the record of the Government in education over the last four years.
§ 1.31 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) began by reminding us that, fortunately, the rules of procedure being what they are, we are able to rove widely without incurring your hostility, Mr. Speaker, which is a rare thing for ordinary hon. Members to enjoy, though I reflect that it seems a very short while ago that I found myself under your eagle eye when dealing with a difficult matter concerning baptism, when I was literally left holding the baby. But on this occasion I have a slightly easier brief.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test made a very interesting speech, but he made the very serious charge that there are a substantial number of local authorities—now, of course, overwhelmingly Conservative-controlled—which are deliberately restricting their expenditure on education, I take it for largely political reasons. On another occasion, we must ask him for clear evidence about this. I can speak only of those authorities which I know well, which are certainly Conservative-controlled, and they emphatically are finding very great difficulty at a time of increasing numbers of children, which is the key to so much of it, and at a time of increasing costs. I think that the hon. Member will be in some difficulty in substantiating such a very grave and widespread charge.
There is a reference to young people in the Gracious Speech. If the proposals of the Gracious Speech are carried into law we shall very shortly have voters in many of our colleges and universities and some 391 of our schools. I was recently giving away prizes at a well-known boys school when the headmaster commented that it would be, for him, a very critical discovery that his senior boys could vote and get married without his consent. This will be the result of the lowering of the age of majority and the lowering of the age of voting. I am sure that the Government are right. If one lowers the age of majority, one must lower the age of voting. I cannot see that one can justify two different ages. There is an argument as to whether 18 is the right age, but if one makes the decision to lower the age, surely one must lower the age for both.
I am not bothered about this politically. I have sufficient credulity to suspect that the Prime Minister hopes that this is a move which will help him. I suspect, however, that he will find that the result of lowering the voting age will be to have a much larger number of people who are in favour of change, and that will be a change against whatever Government are in office. I suspect that the next time he will find that he has a burden to bear, and the time after that, clearly, it will be for the Conservatives to justify on the basis of five years of Tory government how excellent their record of stewardship has been. I think that in terms of the political art it will be good, because I believe that it will make us all look much further to the future on all occasions as we shall have a yonger electorate—this will be a good thing—and that there will be less looking back at the past on what we have done or not done or what other people have done or not done.
The hon. Member for Southampton, Test mentioned some aspects of the recent student unrest. Like him, I wish most warmly to applaud the courage of the president, officers and executive of the National Union of Students at the present time. It is all very well for persons like ourselves of much more advanced years to take a slightly detached view of being statesmanlike and the rest, but when one is, like the president of the National Union of Students, of student age and one feels very strongly about Vietnam, as one is entitled to do, it is a very considerable act of statesmanship to advise—he could do no more than advise—his members not to 392 take part in a demonstration when there were reasonable grounds for supposing that it would lead to violence.
At a time when students are under criticism from many people, it is right that we should express our appreciation of what they do. Apart from the fact that the National Union of Students is the largest trade union of its kind in the world, it has given remarkable service in the education field. However, there are two features of this world of student unrest with which we shall have to deal.
The first is the influx of young Americans dodging the draft. Some of these young men are some of the most unsavoury exports that have ever come away from the United States, and they are doing a very great disservice to the great American nation. They are concentrated in certain places. The London School of Economics has always had a very high proportion of foreign students, and this is the key to many of these difficulties. I think it is very questionable whether we are benefiting educationally from the activities of a certain number of young men.
I should be wholly against, for example, such extreme measures as deportation merely because of the views which these young persons hold. That would be most unacceptable. But I hope that if they should fall foul of the law the Home Secretary will not hesitate to use his powers of deportation. Meanwhile, I think we have to say bluntly to our American friends that some of those whom they are now sending over are not a very agreeable type of people. I am not here talking about legitimate controversy about a matter of American politics, on which I realise views are very strongly held.
The second new feature is that in a number of universities and colleges junior members of academic staff now feel it appropriate to associate themselves almost on principle more with the students than with the authorities of which they are members. That is why I interrupted what the hon. Member for Southampton, Test said. I think it behoves people like ourselves in this House to be very critical before, however unwittingly, we give credence to this.
I find it very difficult to believe that it can be acceptable for junior lecturers 393 wilfully and deliberately to disobey the instructions of the authorities of which they are part. This is very germane, because at the London School of Economics the new director, who is a most distinguished and liberally-minded man, has clearly given a warning to some of his junior staff, and this has produced the response from some of them that he is playing with fire, as though they have a complete impregnable position. I have an uneasy feeling that in our usual way we have somehow to find a medium way out of this difficulty.
The medium way must obviously retain for academic staff their total freedom, and it certainly must retain their total freedom to hold and express their own views—anything other than that would be utterly unacceptable to us all. But it must retain ultimately in the authority which is vested in the head of the institution in question, as advised academically, as we know them all to be, the power to enforce discipline, and this is what it is, among their junior lecturing staff just as among anyone else. It is this aspect which seems to me to be now.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell
While I agree with much of what the hon. Gentleman says, he will appreciate that the grievances at Guildford, for instance, go rather deeper. At Guildford, it is not just junior staff who are involved. At least one if not two members of the staff have been dismissed, and senior members, too.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I am aware of the difficulties there, as at Hornsey, and I do not want to be on record as approving every single detail of what has happened, but it is not necessarily the junior staff elsewhere. In The Times there appears this morning a very curious letter written by the Professor of English Law at the London School of Economics on the very point I am mentioning. There seems to be a feeling about that if one is a member of the lecturing staff one has no rules whatever to obey. This I find totally unacceptable. I hope that common sense will prevail, but I have an uneasy feeling that at some stage one vice-chancellor or another will have to test the law.
Let me say in passing that there is a very grave sense of injustice and ill feeling among the members of the Association of University Teachers, and I 394 hope that the Ministers concerned in the Department of Education and Science are aware of this. We are entitled to ask that efforts be made to speed up the decision of the Prices and Incomes Board. For myself, I am highly doubtful whether that Board is the right body to consider the A.U.T. claims. The members of the association have very good grounds for complaint over the time that consideration of this claim has taken. I hope that we may have more appropriate negotiating machinery. At the moment, they have a very reasonable cause for grave complaint.
I want at this point to dip aside, and so exercise the freedom we have at this time to deal with another aspect of the Gracious Speech. I know that there will be an opportunity for this subject to be further discussed, but I shall not have a chance of expressing a view. I refer to the Commission on the Constitution, which has very largely been equated with Northern Ireland. I simply say to the Government that there are places in the world where they have stored up for themselves immense trouble by their inept handling, and this could easily be the case in Northern Ireland as well.
For example, we are landed with grave difficulties in Gibraltar almost entirely, although not exclusively, because of our own inept handling of the situation. At two and a half weeks' notice we cancelled manoeuvres with the Spanish navy which gave them cause for the very gravest affront. We then publicly slapped them in the face by refusing to sell them frigates. Then we wonder why they treat us in a savage way in Gibraltar.
I make no apology for drawing attention today to the problems of Gibraltar, a place I know reasonably well and where a small, devoted band of people live under conditions of acute discomfort and difficulty almost entirely because of the way we manhandled the matter in this country. I know of few things more shameful than to have to try to uphold the word of this country to young Gibraltarians, in particular, who have practically no confidence in it whatever. Has the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) been to Gibraltar?
§ Mr. Roebuck
I have been to Gibraltar on several occasions, and perhaps I know as much about it as does the hon. Gentleman. I was indicating some 395 dissent from his views because he appeared to be attributing the Fascist Franco régime's desire to get hold of Gibraltar to the Government's refusal to sell frigates to Spain.
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I say that gross international bad manners invariably have ramifications, and this is precisely what has happened here. For sheer inept handling of this matter at the United Nations, the noble Lord, Lord Caradon, and his colleagues, have much to answer for. There can never have been a case when we have so mishandled a matter in which we end up by having passed against us a resolution under the anti-colonial rules to hand back Gibraltar to Spain. For sheer ineptitude, this incident appears to take the biscuit.
Potentially, the situation in Northern Ireland is highly explosive. The tragedy of the situation, as some of us know, is that old and lasting passions have been dying down, but it is an immensely slow process. I believe that if over here we quite deliberately intervene and stir up deeply felt prejudices we shall have on our hands far greater difficulties than we realise. I hope that we shall handle this matter with great care, because on all sides there are men and women of good will who are deeply conscious of the shame of past divisions and who are seeking to do a great deal about it in ordinary human terms.
History is full of examples to show that if one intervenes in this way from outside one puts back the very cause one seeks to advance. I give one example. Of all the encouraging features of recent years, the debate within the Dutch Reformed Church on the whole basis of apartheid was perhaps the most encouraging. That debate has almost totally died inside that Church as the result of the way in which South Africa has been pilloried in public. That is a good example of the kind of trends that worry me profoundly.
I used that opportunity to branch out from the general subject of debate, and I now return to it. I must confess that I was very sorry to hear the exaggerated terms in which the Secretary of State thought it wise to paint the problem of selection at 11 years. I speak with the attitude of one who believes that on educational grounds this selection of a 396 child's education at 11 is passing out, and that our experience shows this.
We have seen that Conservative authorities under Conservative Governments were moving in precisely this direction as ever was the case under a Labour Government or under Labour-controlled authorities. Educational reasons make that right. None of us criticises what happened in 1944—the 1944 Measure was a very splendid act of faith by all parties—but to go on from there to paint a picture, as the Secretary of State did, that a certain privileged few were being educated, and that the rest—and these were his words this morning—were hewers of wood and drawers of water, is a gross calumny upon the work of a very large number of teachers.
The fact is that whether or not one holds the views that I hold about the 11-plus, some of the most remarkable real learning has gone on in what we now call secondary modern schools, and teachers have shown—and this is just what they have done with such skill—that those whom previously some people simply cast aside as hewers of wood and drawers of water are capable of very considerable intellectual achievements as well.
To castigate the present system and to exaggerate it is unfair and unwise, because we all know that we shall have to live with it, whatever happens, for a long time. A straightforward reason for any Government trying to make the system work is that for many years the money will not be available to make such a major reorganisation viable. We have to live with the situation as it is and carry out the changes slowly. We all know that.
Indeed, so slow is the pace that the Secretary of State has been careful not even to commit himself to bringing in a new education Bill this Parliament. No doubt he is wise in that. He was careful to cocoon around his undertaking the proviso "when the money becomes available". He is wise. These are the economic circumstances in which we have to work. It is deeply discouraging to the large number of secondary modern schools which will remain, even under the Government's present plans, for the foreseeable future, if language about them is to be expressed in such extreme terms.
397 I hope that we shall be careful before being highly critical of the direct grant schools. I welcome the fact that the Public Schools Commission, as it has come to be known, is turning its attention to the direct grant schools. I think that it should have started with them. I say quite firmly that, to me, these schools have elements of enormous value and that the most important element is that they try to draw together into one school a very wide social range. There can be few hon. Members who have had the experience of talking with a sixth-form in a direct grant school who have not been invigorated by the discovery of the immense social range represented by the boys or girls or both. This is an achievement, and one which I should like to take into the public schools system as well, if only money permitted.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)
I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has said something that he did not intend to say. Does not he mean that this achievement should be taken into the State school system?
§ Mr. van Straubenzee
I am obliged to the right hon. Lady for her assistance. I did not mean that. I meant the public schools system. I would like to have the money to enable the public schools, by the use of State funds, to draw a much wider social range of young persons into their ranks. But in the present and reasonably foreseeable economic circumstances, I do not believe that this can be done. I have always believed strongly in broadening the social content of the public schools. The other day, I turned up an essay which I wrote about this at the age of 17. Usually, one blushes at essays one has written at that age, but I would not want to change a word of this one. I have always held this view about the public schools ever since I had the privilege of going to one.
The House will know that great efforts are being made by student organisations to raise a colossal sum of money to help Czechoslovak students in this country for whom we now need to provide higher education. The sum involved is about £400,000. I am aware—and I hope that I am not being ungenerous—that the 398 Government have already made a direct contribution of £15,000, and of course they also come into it in terms of fees. But this is an enormous sum for predominantly young people to raise, and I hope that the Government will feel able to give a generous boost to the fund.
Here is something where we can show openly and expressively our support for a group of people whose country has undergone a traumatic experience. There are times, when I look at demonstrations, when I wish more attention had been paid to Czechoslovakia.
Great efforts are also being made among students to solve the problem of housing by self-help, and I commend this to the right hon. Lady. I am sure that she knows of it well as a good example of the way in which young people are anxious to help themselves, to lower costs, to provide co-operatives and the rest. But they have come up against the technical difficulty of not being able to use the legislation relating to housing co-operatives.
This is, therefore, a direct point where the Government could help and I ask the right hon. Lady, understanding that she cannot answer today, to note that there is to be a Government Bill into which an appropriate Clause could neatly be put to deal with this matter. It would open up for student co-operatives the benefits of the co-operative housing legislation. Perhaps she will make this point to her right hon. Friend responsible. I hope that she will also mention the other points which hon. Members have raised in the debate.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)
I cannot hope to follow the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) in all his geographical wanderings. I hope, however, to touch upon many of the points he raised, although I intend to deal only with education.
I am somewhat disappointed, as are others on this side, by the fact that so little appears in the Gracious Speech about education. But, having heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, I am sure that there will be a lot about education next Session. There is also the usual phrase in the Gracious Speech about other Measures being laid before 399 us, so perhaps there is still a chance of our getting the major education Bill that we are looking forward to.
I am particularly gratified by the implementation of the Plowden Report on deprived children below school age. Here one is referring to the provision of nursery schools, about which my right hon. Friend said so much. I hope that we shall have a break-through which will eventually provide a universal system of nursery education without which any form of education cannot be sufficient.
I also welcome the proposal to introduce legislation to increase the pensions of retired members of the public services and their dependants. This may seem somewhat removed from the subject of education. The proposal has been welcomed on both sides of the House and I congratulate the Government on meeting this overdue need. I shall not go into the points raised about the footballing of this proposal between one side and the other, since it does not matter now. But I congratulate the Government on their intention to bring in the Measure. Many ex-members of the teaching profession will be grateful, for they are now existing on meagre pensions and their standard of living has fallen far behind those of other members of the community.
I now come to a problem which has been frequently mentioned and which is in the forefront of controversy, namely, the reorganisation of secondary education. The Government are pledged to bring this about, and from what I heard this morning there is no question but that they will abolish the 11-plus examination for selection. But does this mean the end of selection? There is a clear need for the Secretary of State to define what is meant by selection, because many local authorities have adopted means other than that of the 11-plus as we know it. They intend to use these means as a way of evading any possible pressure from the Government. With selection, there cannot be any measure of true comprehensive secondary reorganisation.
The Government must be extremely careful about what type of secondary reorganisation takes place, because the effectiveness of existing comprehensive schools has been somewhat impaired by 400 the Government allowing local authorities to permit this duality of existence, the comprehensive school and the grammar school in the one area. Because of that, the comprehensive school has suffered. A recent report has shown that a comprehensive school is dominated by children from the homes of skilled and semi-skilled workers and deficient in representation from the homes of professional and clerical workers. In effect, this represents a creaming-off to grammar or direct grant schools of the children with the higher abilities, and this must have a bad effect on the image of the comprehensive school.
§ Sir E. Boyle
Even supposing one imagined a city in which there was nothing but comprehensive schools, surely there would still be a tendency for certain social groups to dominate in some parts of the city while different social groups were in the majority in other parts. I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in this matter, and I ask him how he thinks one could ever get a balanced intake, even into an all-comprehensive system, if there were no selection system or influencing of the intake.
§ Mr. Shaw
I do not follow what the right hon. Gentleman has said about balance. I regard a comprehensive school as being one which takes the complete entry of any one year without the need for an entrance or selection examination. Then, during the course of the first two years, the comprehensive school would have at least the opportunity to gauge the ability and aptitude of the children instead of having an examination at 11 which divides the children according to what might be the results of that examination.
§ Miss Bacon
My hon. Friend is quite right to point to this. There can be no true comprehensive education when grammar school creaming-off exists side by side with comprehensive schools. However, my hon. Friend said that the Government were allowing this to happen. I assure him that we do not approve any long-term scheme which admits of this; but there are interim schemes when it is impossible for a city to go comprehensive all at once and when there is a grammar school in one part of the city for some time and comprehensive schools in other 401 parts. I know that that leads to difficulties, but I assure him that we do not accept it for long-term schemes.
§ Mr. Shaw
From time to time, when Ministers have been asked about the advance of comprehensive secondary education, we have been told that during the last few years the number of children attending comprehensive school has been increasing appreciably. While that is true, Ministers should not be too complacent, because there must be a lull, if not a complete halt, in the increase because of the pause in the building programme and the increasing unwillingness of Tory local authorities—and I stress that—to implement reorganisation, and because authorities which have engaged in reorganisation must soon find that their schemes are nearing completion. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will be able to tell me when the scheme of my own authority of Redbridge will have been considered and what reply she will give.
It is a sad commentary that after three years from the issue of Circular 10/65, which raised such high hopes at the time, many local authorities are still being allowed to cock a snook at the Department. The Opposition claim the right of a local authority to choose its own form of organisation, but I believe that it is the duty of the Department to ensure a satisfactory and efficient system nationally, and in this respect the Government have been given a clear mandate for the implementation of comprehensive secondary education.
Another issue which has already been mentioned is the situation of the Guild-ford School of Art, now the School of Design. There is a good deal of controversy. The bald point is that a number of the staff have been dismissed ostensibly on a technicality of indiscipline, but the basic issue is surely that of professional independence. The Tory backwoodsmen of the Surrey County Council might well be emulated by like gentlemen on other authorities; and in this there is a major threat to the teacher in the classroom and his security of tenure—perhaps I ought here to state a certain interest. I add my plea to those already made to the Secretary of State to instigate an inquiry into this affair.
Another matter to which the Government might apply themselves is the place 402 of the public school in the education system. Quite rightly, the Labour Party conference at Blackpool this year unanimously rejected the findings of the Newsom Report. I see no place for this privileged sector in the State system. Meanwhile, I humbly suggest that the Secretary of State accedes to the growing demand that these schools be deprived of their charitable status and so of any benefit from the public purse and, secondly, that they should be subject to the same restrictions on teacher supply as State secondary schools.
Finally, I make a plea for a greater proportion of the national product to be devoted to education. I am more than aware of the tremendous advances in education which have been made during the life of this Parliament and I would shout to the high heavens how proud we are of this on this side of the House but there is still very much more to be done, particularly in building. Too many pupils today begin and end their school careers in substandard buildings, with subsequent adverse effects on their attainment.
I crave the indulgence of the House to refer to my own Borough of Redbridge. I am reminded of an article which appeared recently in a local paper, inspired by survey into the state of the borough schools on the orders of the chairman of the education committee. The writer found that the most neglected group of people in Redbridge were the children, and for this he blamed the politicians who had their priorities wrong.
The chairman attempted to shift the blame on to the Government. He is a member of the Conservative Party. The telling paragraph was this:The survey reveals the price of half a century of penny pinching over the rates which denied regular maintenance of school building".With this I would largely agree, and must add that during this half-century Labour was in control only for two very short years following the Second World War. I look to the Government, and I know that I do not look in vain, for a further effort. Knowing that the will is there, I am sure that the promotion of progress in education is in very good hands.
§ 2.12 p.m.
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
As a member of the Chairmen's Panel, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I take this opportunity of adding my congratulations to those already offered to you upon you reaching your distinguished office. May I wish you well and hope that the happy relationship which we have had within the Chairmen's Panel may be extended to all hon. Members and, of course, particularly to myself, as a back bencher of the House.
I would just like to add to the congratulations offered to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell). I was particularly glad that he paid such a generous tribute to his predecessor, because I am one of those who will always recall, as the wittiest speech which I have ever heard, the second speech I heard made by Mr. Leslie Hale in this House. I know that his successor has already given us great pleasure by joining us. We shall look forward to hearing him very often in our debates.
I would like to draw attention, as others have done, to the very limited reference to education in the Gracious Speech. The only definite reference are the words:…and to bring the law relating to education in Scotland into line with current developments.This reference made many of us think very seriously about what this veiled threat contained.
Those of us who know Scotland recognise clearly what is likely to come from this phrase. We see an ancient heritage likely to fall before legislation which will probably refer to our fee-paying schools. I am, therefore, the more amazed to see that this debate should take place today with no Scottish Minister present. When I think of the number of occasions in the previous Administration when complaints came from the Opposition that there was no Scottish Minister present during a debate, it seems astonishing that, in the matter of education, in which Scotland has such immense pride, there should be no Scottish Minister present today. For that reason, I have left out of my speech much that I have prepared and wish to say.
404 But I must make two criticisms because they are emphasised by the lack of Ministerial interest in the debate. Although I have considerable admiration for the work of the Scottish Education Department, I am beginning to wonder whether it still has that forward-looking approach to education which it has long had the reputation of having, or whether it is that the visionaries who were previously within that Department, are no longer there. I cite as an example the great new technical college, in the middle of my constituency, but in a burgh with a separate membership, where public money was expended on a vast and successful technical college without the foresight to determine what the requirements would be in so short a period as ten years.
This brings me to my second criticism, which is that in Scotland we appear to lack adequate research facilities for our educational system. I have to concede to the Minister that there is in England a degree of research, although I understand the department to be small. This is lacking in Scottish education, but I would very much like to see some research there. There is research work to be done into techniques, in administration, in curricula and other matters which is already overdue.
Today's debate has, to a great extent, concentrated on priorities in education. I am surprised that the Minister appeared to confuse us by a sacred cow which should be slaughtered, assuming that one had to be slaughtered. I would have thought that everyone recognised that there will never be sufficient resources for all educational projects, and that it will, therefore, remain a matter of priorities as to how we can best invest that share of the national resources devoted to education. The present share is approaching £2,000 million.
The Minister said another curious thing. He said that he was proud to recognise that this figure was in excess of that expended on defence. I do not want to enter into the deep-rooted conflict on this subject, but it is pertinent to note what my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) said yesterday in the debate on the Gracious Speech:My message in the debate is to ask the Government whether they should not seriously 405 consider stopping the run-down of our forces. I believe that the nation is being put at risk. "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October. 1968; Vol. 772, c. 232.]Here the old argument between the parties comes in. I firmly believe that the resources spent on education must be those which the nation can afford, and that we must not do so at the expense of the basic defence of the nation. We have come very close to running the defence of the nation to a degree which puts the country at risk.
Let us consider, with the resources available at any given moment, what the priorities should be. It seems that the purpose of education is a great deal wider than some of the speakers have suggested. What we should be seeking to do is to give the broadest possible education to the largest number of our citizens, up to the point at which they can both benefit from such education and, in turn, benefit the nation by using their resources to the maximum.
There has been reference to student unrest. This has been associated with the popular word "participation". I sometimes wonder whether, in the process, it has been forgotten that those who enjoy the benefits of our education system, particularly at university level, are engaging in a discipline—the discipline of learning. If they are, it is curious that their leanings in this direction stretch sometimes so very far from the self-discipline towards which the discipline of learning was designed to contribute.
The question of priorities inevitably brings me to the cuts. We should not blink the fact that there have been cuts in the education programme. We all know that figures can be greatly distorted to suit any one person or party, but, whatever the figures may show, the cuts have been very considerable. I do not wish to go into their effect in Scotland beyond saying that for Scotland the cut is £3.23 million out of a total of £39 million in the financial year 1968–69 and £4.9 million out of a total of £58 million for the year 1969–70. That is what emerges from the cuts announced on 16th January, 1968, and which appear in columns 1586–7 of HANSARD for that date. A cut of £58 million for the United Kingdom as a whole, and £5 million for Scotland, has a definite effect on educa- 406 tion.We are therefore again forced into considering the question of priorities.
I draw attention to the position in the City of Glasgow, where there is perhaps as serious an education problem as anywhere. Expenditure on education in Glasgow this year amounts to more than £31,800,000—an increase of nearly £4 million on the previous year. It is worth quoting precisely what was said when this matter was discussed:The City Chamberlain explained that the Committee were no longer receiving a direct grant from the Government to cover the cost of school meals and milk. That accounted for £2,565,470 of the increase. The money would instead be paid by the Government to the corporation as a rating support grant, and most of it would be passed back to the Education Committee.in that form. There is a great deal of muddled thinking in the world of education. We should know much more clearly where the taxpayer stands. I cite that as an example of how one hand gives and the other takes away.
It has been announced that money would be spent on nursery schools. Such schools may be desirable. I think that they are, and that a strong case can be made out for them. But my concern is for our primary schools. There are still many primary schools which are grossly inadequate for modern conditions. I am one of those who believe that if the accommodation, teaching and opportunity in the primary school is less than the maximum possible we are wasting our national resources at source. It may well be proved that our primary need is to raise the standard of our primary schools.
Reference has been made to part-time teachers. Again, I can speak only of the position in Scotland. It is amazing to hear that we have reached the stage in any part of the United Kingdom at which we can do without any teacher at all. There are still hundreds of children on part-time education in the City of Glasgow. This is a scandal of real magnitude. Again, I deplore the absence of a Scottish Office Minister from the House where the basic decisions about primary schools and teacher supply must be made.
We must recognise that in part-time teaching lies the opportunity for many fully qualified married women to come back into the teaching service. It is most unlikely that many young married women can come back into teaching except on a 407 part-time basis because they must give adequate attention to their own families. I hope that the Government will view most seriously the arrangements for part-time teaching and make the curriculum more flexible in order to absorb the maximum number of such teachers.
I should like to make two final points. One concerns the curriculum. Much has been said about comprehensive schools. I do not wish to enter into that argument. In fact, it would be inappropriate of me to do so because the position in Scotland is different from that in England and I would get very confused if I were to do so. I wish, however, to make one point about specialist education in a various obvious and simple direction and to take as my example the teaching of Russian. I know only the Scottish figures, but I believe that, in principle, the teaching of Russian is vitally important to this nation. Far too few children are getting the opportunity of learning Russian. One of the difficulties is associated with the comprehensive school pattern which is developing.
In this respect, I wish to quote from perhaps the most knowledgeable source, certainly in Scotland. The Great Britain—U.S.S.R. Association and the Association of Teachers of Russian have taken a particular interest in this matter. Although there has been Parliamentary Question and Answer recently on this subject, the fact remains, as expressed in the bulletin of the Association of Teachers of Russian, thatReorganisation on comprehensive lines and the introduction of a common curriculum in the first two years of the course of the secondary schools accompanied by a widespread introduction of French into primary schools has already narrowed the choice of which modern languages can be chosen later.This point of view is widely held and strongly supported, and I hope that the Government will look into the matter. On the Government side of the House comprehensive education is held to be the cure for all evils. But comprehensive education is constantly confused with the dogma of party political interests and overlooks the true educational interests of the children.
I will cut out all that I intended to ask about Scottish universities. However, it is of great concern to all of us with universities in or near our constituencies that the university grants have been less than 408 adequate for the demands made on the universities. The universities have done a magnificent job in the expansion in university education which they have made possible in recent years. It is very difficult for them to see the opportunities still within their grasp and they get insufficient resource to meet them.
One vice-chancellor, in his report, doubts the extent and the speed at which his university can proceed and states thatThis doubt arises from the very disappointing grant which the U.G.C. announced.A further note of particular interest is the University Grants Committee's new interest in a more modern sense of assessment in determining how much each university should get.
The vice-chancellor to whom I have just referred says in his report thatIt is clear that the Grants Committee are adopting some changes in their approach to the universities. Not only are they now working more through subject sub-committees, but they have approached more closely to the system of formula financing…that is to say, made calculations about student numbers and the cost tag on each student…in calculating the grant appropriate to each university.I regard this as a significant step forward in the assessment of adequate university grants and I hope that it will be widely followed.
§ 2.31 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
As I received my early education in Scotland, I was interested in the points made by the hon. Lady the Member for Renfrew, East (Miss Harvie Anderson). I hope, however, that she will forgive me if I do not follow her in those remarks.
The Queen's Speech raises many interesting topics. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Parker), who spoke on Wednesday, I regret that it contains no proposals to deal with housing finance. With my hon. Friend, I feel that if the problems of local government finance for housing are not tackled local authorities will be discouraged from building new houses.
I appreciate the great contribution made by the Government in housing. I am, however, concerned about two matters: the restrictions on local authorities in lending money for house purchase and, even more so, the increases 409 in Greater London Council rents. I know that there are great difficulties, but I feel that these increases impose a burden on G.L.C. tenants which many of them cannot bear. I know that this is the case with many of my constituents on the Woodberry Down estate and I hope that the problems in regard to them will be looked at urgently and sympathetically.
I wish today, however, to draw attention to two matters about which no reference is made in the Queen's Speech. Members of Parliament are concerned, and rightly so, about constitutional changes, economic difficulties, foreign affairs and kindred matters, but I want to draw attention to something much nearer home, which, in my view, is no less important and which seems to me to have been far too long neglected. I refer to what I regard as a most pressing problem: compulsory insurance of passengers in motor vehicles. I am glad that my hon. Friend the former Minister of State, Ministry of Transport, is present, so that he can hear what I have to say on this matter.
On 15th March, 1967, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport gave the numbers of passengers in cars and taxis who were killed or seriously injured in the five years from 1962 to 1966. Over 5,130 passengers were killed and 77,335 were seriously injured. I understand that those figures do not include the slightly injured or passengers on motor cycles or motor scooters. Since then, the number of vehicles on the roads has increased and is increasing. We heard today, for example, a statement concerning the new registration of motor vehicles and the measures which are being taken in regard to them.
I recognise that the Government have done an inestimable service in introducing the breathalyser, the 70 m.p.h. limit and legislation under the recent Road Traffic Act which will undoubtedly lead to a considerable reduction in road accidents The fact remains, however, that the toll on the road—the terrible carnage—presents an appalling problem. The victims who are killed in accidents often leave dependants in difficult circumstances. Those who are seriously injured or severely handicapped are often maimed for life. The provision of compensation 410 by compulsory insurance is surely a matter which should receive urgent and immediate attention.
Under existing law, passengers can receive damages only on proof of negligence. It has often been urged—for example, in a recent speech by Lord Upjohn—that there should be insurance covering accidents however caused. That is a problem which will have to be tackled sometime. I urge, however, the immediate necessity of making provision for compulsory insurance covering passengers in all kinds of motor vehicles.
Under the Road Traffic Act, 1960 all owners of motor vehicles must be insured against third-party risks. Thus, any third party who is injured and who can prove negligence is secure in the knowledge that the insurance company will compensate him, but a person who is injured through the negligence of the driver of a vehicle in which he is a passenger—unless he is being driven for hire or reward, or unless the driver is insured—merely has his remedy against the driver. If the driver is a person of little or no means, he will be unable to enforce the judgment; the passenger, the innocent victim, will have no remedy. The prudent driver insures against such risks, but there is no doubt that there are a considerable number of drivers who do not take out such cover and that a majority of motor cyclists certainly do not do so.
In February, 1961, my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) introduced a Private Member's Bill which would have made such insurance compulsory. The Government of that day, although to some degree sympathetic, stated through the Minister that it was not a Bill which the Government would have sought to introduce. The then Parliamentary Secretary said:We are not convinced that there is a sufficient weight of evidence to make out an overwhelming case for an alteration of the existing law, or that a large number of members of the public suffer hardship because the present law is defective…. Our attitude may reasonably be described as one of open-minded neutrality."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February 1961; Vol. 634, c. 829.]In the result, the Bill was withdrawn.
From time to time, as my hon. Friend the former Minister of State will know, Questions have been addressed to the Minister of Transport in this matter. I 411 understand that in March, 1966, a special committee of the National Road Safety Advisory Committee was appointed to consider what should be done. In December, 1966, the Minister stated that consideration would be given to it when the report was received. On 15th March, 1967, my right hon. Friend stated that she would consider the position when she had completed the study of the report. Nearly 18 months has passed, but to date nothing has been done. As far as I can see, there is not a word in the Queen's Speech about possible legislation.
On 15th March, 1965, I raised the problem of hit-and-run drivers and the need for amendment of the agreement with the Motor Insurers' Bureau. The Government acted in that matter and the agreement has been revised to the benefit of those who suffer accidents. Insurance of passengers in motor vehicles is an urgent problem. It has been said against it that it may be unpopular because premiums payable by drivers, and particularly by motor cyclists, would be increased. Unpopularity, however, is surely no real objection if justice is to be done. A person with a lethal weapon like a car or motor cycle should be prepared to pay the cost so that others may be protected. I ask the Government to act urgently in this matter.
The second insurance problem that I wish to raise is a rather acute one. There are a series of building and construction regulations of 1948 and 1966 which form a safety code between employers and employees. Unfortunately, accidents frequently occur during building work. The victim can secure compensation from his employer if he can prove that the accident was caused by a breach of some Statutory regulation, an unsafe system of work, or some other ground at common law. If the employer is insured, or if he is a company with ample means, no difficulty arises with regard to payment of such compensation.
There are, however, cases of sub-contractors where a sub-contractor is a single person and, therefore, not an employee, or where the sub-contractor employs workmen for labour only. These persons are classified as self-employed and they thus escape liability for S.E.T. and National Insurance. That, of course, 412 results in a loss to the Revenue, but the more serious aspect is this. If a subcontractor is insured he may not be covered by the statutory regulations. If men are engaged for labour only and are thus self-employed they may not be covered by the regulations.
It may be that such a person suffers an accident, and can prove that it was due to negligence on the part of the subcontractor or a fellow workman. He may then have a remedy at common law and may obtain judgment. If the subcontractor or fellow workman is not covered by insurance and has little or no means, in the result the injured person has no redress.
This is a serious problem. Men have suffered and will suffer because of the failure to insure. It may well be that discussions should take place with the trade unions to remedy the position, but it seems to me that the Government ought to ensure that there is compulsory insurance which would cover all these cases so that nobody may be killed or injured without there being any chance of compensation. I hope that the Government will give urgent attention to these matters.
§ Mr. Speaker
I remind hon. Members that there are still others wishing to speak and that there are only 23 minutes left for the general debate before the winding-up speeches. Short speeches will help.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Jones (Northamptonshire, South)
I was interested in the point which the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) made about the level of rents in the G.L.C. area. I share his concern, but I think that both of us can be reassured that a sensible rent rebate scheme is being operated so that those upon whom the increases fall will have some recompense there.
I wish to turn to the reference in the Gracious Speech to a change in the administrative structure in the health and welfare services, to which the Speech says the Government "will give special attention". I welcome the Prime Minister's assurance that the Government will be putting proposals before the House as a result of the Green Paper 413 and the Seebohm Report, but it is to be hoped that these proposals will not be taken in isolation from the report of the Royal Commission on Local Government or issued without due consideration of that report.
Any changes in these administrative structures will have a profound effect on the future of local government, and it is essential that the Government should not do anything to prejudice local government in its present and future rôle but ensure the essential part which local government plays in our democratic society.
The Green Paper analyses the shortcomings of the tripartite structure set up under the National Health Service Act, 1946. It points to the need for a unification of this structure and the need for hospital executive councils and Part III responsibilities of the local authorities to be made part of a whole pattern of community care. Entirely satisfactory; and I shall not dwell on this. From the point of view of the consumer, such a unification leading to improved and more readily understood arrangements of the services to the community would be a boon.
What is not acceptable for reasons which I shall outline, is the proposal to create area boards appointed by the Minister. This point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) and I entirely agree with what he said. We have heard a great deal from the Prime Minister, in his speech on this Motion for an Address, and indeed at his party's conference, about participation. However, we have not yet heard how this is to be put into practice. I suggest that the Health Service is a vital area where participation should and needs to be extended. The reverse could occur if the Green Paper were followed. The drawbacks of the present Health Service structure are outlined in the Green Paper which questions the failure to achieve those technical standards known by the expert to be possible.
What is not dwelt upon are the drawbacks felt by the consumer. Concern is centred upon the hospital service in particular, and that concern revolves around two main points. First, the feeling of helplessness on the part of the com- 414 munity who have no appropriate system of machinery to deal with their complaints. Secondly, the local authorities have no influence or control over the development of hospitals in their own areas and hospitals work in isolation, leaving the residual problems to the local authorities to cope with as best they may. There is a total absence of democratic or public accountability of the hospital regional boards and the hospital management committees.
If participation is to mean anything the administrative requirements to be put forward by the Government should make sure of a real effort to incorporate the hospital services and the rest of the health services in the reformed local government system. It is worth pointing out that the problems of the Health Service administrative structure are analogous to those of local government in terms of area and function and size, and a solution to the two problems would seem to be worthy of more consideration than the Green Paper gives.
We all hope that the Royal Commission will recommend the creation of authorities which are strong enough to merit a considerable devolution of central Government power and a clarification and simplification of the number of ad hoc bodies. The proposal to create area boards appointed by the Minister runs entirely contrary to this. It is totally unacceptable and objectionable—and may I say that the comments I am getting from the Government Front Bench are particularly unacceptable and objectionable and inappropriate even if made sotto voce. If the hon. Gentleman wants to make an interruption or ask a question perhaps he will rise and make one and allow me to answer it.
It is objectionable—and I refer to him again in view of his additional comment—because it is extremely damaging to the future of local government in terms of the high hopes for strengthened system of local government which so many of us have entertained, and also because of the destructive effect it would have on the recommendations in the Seebohm Report.
§ Mr. Roebuck
As it is apparent the hon. Member is going to read every dot and comma in his speech, would it not be for the general convenience if he circulated it?
§ Mr. Jones
I want to be accurate in what I say. I have heard very many remarks by the hon. Member off the cuff which have been very inappropriate to the circumstances of the occasion. If he begins to throw stones, he should be clear in his own mind.
Although the Seebohm Report was not concerned with medical services it stresses their importance in relation to the rest of local authority social services. In paragraph 676, it says:We have arrived at the firm conclusion that a family service cannot be fully effective until the Social Services Department and the Housing, Education and Health Departments are the undivided responsibility of the same authority.The expert examinations which have been made of this scheme favour as complete an amalgamation between health and welfare, including housing, as is possible. It would be a grave folly on the part of the Government to introduce any proposal to take away Part III Health Service responsibilities from local authorities in view of the weight of expert opinion.
Equally, I would regard any such transfer of these services to area health boards as a very severe blow to the structure of local government and a further example of this Government seeking the accretion of centralised power while talking away—and, indeed, only talking about—increased participation.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State of Social Services, who was Minister of Housing and Local Government, has given unfailing support to the whole sphere of local government, and it is unfortunate that he should be introducing questions which appear to undermine the authority and the responsibilities of local government. The right hon. Gentleman, on 24th October, said:I cannot say that there is a unanimous view that the service with elected local councillors is better".—[Official Report, 24th October, 1968; Vol. 770, c. 1660.]That is a very severe statement to make about the important part that local government has to play. The right hon. Gentleman went on to express doubts about handing the Health Service over to local authorities. It is to be hoped that, as he said then, he has not yet made up his mind, for to do so at this point would be a grave blow to the Royal Commission which he set up.
416 What is needed is a joint study of the Report of Royal Commission on Local Government, the Green Paper and the Seebohm Report, with no further diminution of the responsibilities of local authorities meanwhile. As a result, we may then see a real devolution of Government power, a real democratisation of areas of administration and a more enthusiastic participation by the community. Men and women can participate only where they have a chance to do so.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. David Ginsburg (Dewsbury)
I shall briefly refer to one item of the Gracious Speech and perhaps at slightly greater length to one important omission.
Included in the Gracious Speech were the words:My Government will develop policies to encourage a better distribution of resources in industry and employment and to make fuller use of resources in the Regions.I am concerned that no news of the Hunt Committee was given by the Prime Minister. There is a problem with the grey areas, and the Government's understandable preoccupation with the development areas means that industrial modernisation in constituencies like mine has not received sufficient priority. We all feel that the Hunt Committee can give a new sense of urgency, and I wish to know from the Minister when the Hunt Committee will report, and when we can expect to hear the Government's conclusions on that Report. I would remind him that the Under-Secretary of State for Economic Affairs gave certain assurances late last spring of the urgency of this matter, and I hope that these promises will be kept.
I want to turn to the serious and unfortunate omission from the Gracious Speech of a fuel and power policy, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Swain) has already referred. The problem of pit closures has been a grievous one for the constituencies affected. Many of us have fought in vain to have certain closures deferred. The Government, to their credit, have endeavoured to ease the lot of the miner by additional financial provision for redundancy, but my criticism of successive Ministers still remains, that they have failed to give the industry adequate hope for the future.
417 As Ministers have said, there is a major programme of new coal-fired power stations, but there is a distinct fear that this programme has finality. There is also a fear, which has not yet been contradicted, that the C.E.G.B. want to build no more coal-fired stations. In my submission, this would be a major social and economic error.
Two Select Committees, of one of which I was a member, have cast the gravest doubts on the machinery for our energy policy and have said that the argument for an independent inquiry into generating costs is very powerful, and successive Ministers of Power are very vulnerable for having sat on this important recommendation for a year.
Apart from those two Select Committee Reports, there is the Report of the Brookings Institute and the report of the Economist Intelligence Unit. Many of us are criticising the present Minister on his decision about Seaton Carew. He would have been on much stronger ground had he held the inquiry first. Even now, I wonder whether a pause would not be practicable while the matter is re-evaluated. Granted that a power station has to be built on that site, I believe that preparatory work could be put in hand which would not prejudice the decision on the ultimate character of the station.
The Minister of Power seems to be absolutely certain that nuclear power would be cheaper than coal power for Seaton Carew. I am far from certain on that score. The record shows that there have been significant economies in the cost of conventional power stations, and I ask the Government, if Ferrybridge power station, in Yorkshire, is being built at a capital cost of about £40 per kilowatt, why does the Central Electricity Generating Board contend that a coal-fired power station at Seaton Carew would cost about £70 per kilowatt? There is a major discrepancy here which should be explored.
Nuclear power is a fine British technology, but, equally, it should be recognised that this has been an expensive venture, something like £1,000 million, for which the pay-off domestically and in exports has been very modest. The Government should, therefore, look again at this question, because the cost in social and economic terms of running 418 down our coal industry at the rate we are doing could be most serious.
I gave the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Power notice that I intended to speak on this subject, and my remarks are bound to be somewhat stronger than I had intended because I have since received a letter from the Minister of Power in connection with a resolution by one of my local parties on this subject, and it seems that he is still firmly closing his mind to the idea of an independent inquiry. This raises the whole question of communications between the Minister of Power and the Prime Minister, because on 15th October, in the House, the Prime Minister said, in reply to a question that some time before he hadgiven instructions that the matter…be reviewed yet again."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th October, 1968; Vol. 770, c. 201.]The former Minister of Power, who is now Minister of Transport, said that he had decided to permit the building of nuclear power stations nearer big cities. I asked him to publish the report of his experts, and subsequently I saw him. The matter has been under consideration by the Government for a very long time, and I would hope that at this stage a decision could be made. In my opinion, there is no danger in the Government being courageous and publishing the report and trusting the people.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
Mr. Speaker, I am grateful to you for giving me five minutes. In view of the brief time at my disposal, I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow a number of the points which have been made in the debate.
I was disappointed with the observations of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this morning about Southern Rhodesia. This is a matter which will obviously require a great deal of attention from the House during the Session which has just begun, and I would have thought that the Prime Minister might have been considerably more forthcoming about the reasons which had prompted 419 him to send the Minister without Portfolio to Salisbury.
Recently, I was in Central Africa. Although I did not go to Southern Rhodesia, I had an opportunity of speaking to many people who had been there within recent weeks. My impression from them was that sanctions were beginning to have a tremendous effect upon the Rhodesian economy, and also that a number of activities in the bush were causing the illegal Smith régime to come to their senses.
In addition, there is evidence from the columns of the Rhodesia Herald, a newspaper whose editor and staff should be congratulated for the journalistic integrity that they have displayed during the crisis, indicating that many white Rhodesians are coming to the conclusion that the Smith régime have been pursuing the wrong course and that they are prepared to put appropriate pressure on them so that they are obliged to come to a decent settlement. In view of those indications, it would seem that Her Majesty's Government have been somewhat precipitate in having negotiations with the régime at this time; and that it might have been far better to let that unsavoury bunch stew in their own juice a little longer. They would then have been more ready to accept reasonable terms.
I listened with interest this morning to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I was glad that he appeared to be moving in the direction of imposing some sort of solution on those areas which so far have not decided to reorganise their secondary education along comprehensive lines. I was interested in a Written Reply which I received today from my right hon. Frend the Minister of State which showed that, of 163 local education authorities, 116 now have plans for comprehensive education implemented or approved; and that, of the remaining 47, 16 have schemes which are under consideration by her Department. The question which the House has to face is what is to be done about those reactionary local authorities, such as Harrow, which are procrastinating about the introduction of comprehensive education.
It is said by some hon. Gentlemen opposite that it is a matter which should 420 be left entirely to local authorities. I dissent from that view. There are many matters which should be left to local authorities, perhaps more than are at present; but the general principles of the nation's system of education are matters for determination by the sovereign Parliament.
If Parliament had not decided many years ago about the general principles of education which should be offered to our children, we should have many areas today in which the local authorities are Conservative-controlled where there would be no education at all. So I strongly support the move that my right hon. Friend is making in the direction of imposing comprehensive education on all local authorities.
Earlier today, I had a brush with an hon. Member opposite about whose constituency I am not clear since his visits here are so infrequent. I understand that he is an estate agent, and perhaps I might say a brief word about his occupation and its relationship with local authorities.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has stated that the consultations towards the setting up of a constitutional commission will in no way inhibit the Government from introducing legislation to reform local government. I want to draw attention to certain difficulties which arise when estate agents serve on the planning committees of local authorities.
A case has been drawn to my attention recently in which three councillors were involved in a planning application in respect of a piece of land in the Green Belt which was, or had been, owned by the chairman of their political party. It would seem undesirable to have persons sitting on planning committees who are estate agents, their employers or employees and who ply their trade in the same area.
Another case involving an estate agent who is a councillor concerned an appeal to the Minister. In that case, the estate agent represented his customer in what was an appeal against the decision of his own council. That is a very sad state of affairs.
In answer to a question from me, my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Housing has said that these matters, although there 421 are some safeguards, are best left to the good sense and honour of those concerned. The House will agree with that, but where there is clear evidence that good sense is not being used, we have to consider the necessity of legislation; although I understand that there are some local authorities—Salisbury has been mentioned to me—where there is a gentlemen's agreement that estate agents who work in the area should not sit on the planning committees.
I look forward to this new Session very much. Last night's result at Bassetlaw has shown that the strategy of my right hon. Friends is beginning to work. I remember, as a schoolboy, hearing the late Sir Winston Churchill during the war refer to his efforts to increase war production. He said—I do not quote exactly—that in the first year one got very little, in the second and third one got a little more and in the fourth and fifth one really came into one's harvest. That, I believe, is exactly what is happening with regard to my right hon. Friends. I look forward to a continuing Session of very heavy legislation, which will make this nation much more prosperous and more compassionate than when my right hon. Friends took office.
§ 3.6 p.m.
§ Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)
If I remember Sir Winston's words correctly, his phrase was "in the first year a trickle", and the majority at Bassetlaw yesterday was rather a trickle.
Listening to this debate, I was reminded of a remark of a music critic that one should not be frightened by the piano concerto of Schoenberg, since it sounded rather like a Brahms concerto with the tape played backwards. One may feel that a debate opened by the Secretary of State, who had to leave for reasons which we understand, and wound up by myself is a tape played in a curious order.
Before commenting on education, I join all the others who have given two sets of congratulations—first to my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) on his maiden speech. By chance, I made the last speech from this side congratulating and 422 sending good wishes to Mr. Leslie Hale just before he left us, and I am very happy to welcome his successor with every warmth and to congratulate him on an excellent and sincere maiden speech. Second, I join in the congratulations to Mr. Deputy Speaker on his new appointment. This is apposite in this context, because I know the immense amount of his time which he gave years ago to the work of the special schools.
In speaking about resources, the Secretary of State was highly critical of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition's references on Wednesday, but I consider that they were entirely justified. Certainly the Government are devoting considerably more resources this year to education than in 1963–64 or 1964–65. They could hardly do otherwise, because there are so many more children to educate. I suggest that if we are to come to any realistic appraisal of this subject, we must remember that there are now 450,000 more children in the primary schools alone than five years ago.
In addition, the numbers of students in the colleges of education have just about doubled, there has been a vast increase in university education and a much bigger one than most people realise in the colleges of further education and the technical colleges. Therefore, it is not surprising that we are today talking in terms of much larger sums.
I come back to this point, and I make no apology for emphasising it—that there are local authorities which are acutely concerned, first, about the school building programme and, second, even more, about the effects of the Government's policy over the rate support grant. First, the school building programme. I mention this briefly, since we now have the advantage of the table published in HANSARD arising out of an Answer which the right hon. Lady gave last week.
Two things are clear—first, that the major building programme for 1968–69 is smaller than for the previous year. At a time when the population has been rising, the major programme for 1967–68 was £101.5 million, and the major programme for 1968–69 will be £92 million. This explains much of the anxiety which is felt for the future about roofs over heads.
423 In addition, as the figures show, there has been a far bigger cut in the improvement element. The improvement element, which was running at £297 million in 1965–66 and £30 million in 1966–67—those were the last two programmes for which the previous Government were responsible—remained at almost the same figure for 1967–68 but has now been cut to £12.6 million, a cut of much more than half, for 1968–69. It is worth remembering in this connection the remark of the present President of the Board of Trade, that it is, after all, the improvement element which gives the measure of our priorities. To anticipate a point which, I imagine, the right hon. Lady may wish to make, I know that there has been the special allocation for Plowden priority areas, but this nothing like makes up the difference to which I have just referred.
§ Miss Bacon
I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman knows that, taking the total allocation for school building, the amount which can be devoted to replacements and improvements is determined by the amount left over after we have provided for basic need in areas of new population. I am sure that he when Minister, like other Ministers of Education, had to provide for roofs over heads first.
§ Sir E. Boyle
That is true. I am only pointing out that, after the complaints which were made in 1963, when I was responsible for the building programme, we on this side brought the improvement element up to about £30 million. It has been drastically cut since then. The point I also make is that, to a great extent, this results from the decision to postpone the raising of the school-leaving age, and the House should be in no doubt as to how serious a decision that was for the education service.
As regards the consequences of the pegging of the increase in the rate support grant to 3 per cent., I though that the Secretary of State was far too complacent. I cannot believe that he has any real conception of just what frantic efforts local authorities are now having to make to trim expenditure in order to keep within the ceiling laid down by the Government. I could devote a long time to quotations, but I shall do no more than give the House two or three, because these things 424 should be said. I take, first, something said by a member of the right hon. Gentleman's own party whom everyone who knows him would accept as a fair witness, namely, Alderman Broughton, the president of the A.E.C., who did excellent work, as I well know, as chairman of the West Riding Education Committee over a number of years.
Alderman Broughton's presidential address is quoted in this report in indirect speech, but I have no doubt that it is correctly rendered:Alderman Broughton said that even after reducing the amounts to take account of rising prices, the impressive fact was that spending on education had doubled in the ten years between 1955 and 1965. There had been an average annual increase of 9 per cent. in those years. Against the background of this growth were set the problems of estimating for 1969–70. In the West Riding it had taken three attempts to get the estimates down to 9.7 per cent. above the previous year. To keep to a 3 per cent. increase in real terms would mean in the West Riding these things: having to keep the teaching staff to the level of January 1967, despite an increased number of children; cutting out grants for school uniforms and essential clothing; reducing by 20 per cent. the provision of books, stationery, apparatus and equipment; suspending non-vocational F.E. courses; eliminating direct grants to the universities and all discretionary awards; cutting out all school redecoration and reducing spending on repairs to a ceiling of £100,000. And still the total would top 3 per cent.That is the sort of problem with which large local authorities are faced as a result of the Government's decision. I have many other examples which I could quote, from Lancashire, Tees-side, Flint and so on. The right hon. Gentleman was, understandably, a bit defensive about South Shields. I was interested to see the comment in the N.U.T's own paper:Whatever happens, nothing could reveal more starkly the appalling dilemma which the Government's purblind attitude is imposing upon those who must take responsibility for the education service at the point where it really matters.It is problems of that kind which many education authorities face today, and I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition made abundantly clear in his speech where the responsibility lies. A number of areas—for example, Lancashire—are proposing to limit their increase in educational expenditure not to 3 per cent. but to 4 per cent., which I think is a brave but perfectly right decision. But the 425 fact remains that authorities all over the country are faced with the problem of cutting essential standards or letting the rates rise. We shall leave public opinion in no doubt next year where the responsibilities rest for this state of affairs.
I was very surprised to hear the Secretary of State dispute my suggestion that the education service needs 6 per cent. a year in real terms in order to maintain existing policies. That is certainly the view of Mr. Chataway in London and of all the experienced chairmen to whom. I have spoken.
I finish with one more point on this. Hon. Members may fairly say—I make no complaint of it—"Look, we are in a grave economic situation. What would you have done?" I tell the House frankly that, rather than impose problems on this scale on local authorities, it would have been much better to have taken adequate steps in time to cope with the consumer boom at the start of this year, when many of us, like my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge (Mr. Hornby), were saying that this should have been done.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I preface my remarks by saying that many of us on this side of the House have the highest regard for the right hon. Gentleman and his approach to these problems and deep appreciation of his sincerity. But, while we can understand and follow the argument and the criticisms of the Government made by him, where does he stand in respect of the statement by the Deputy Leader of his party on television last night, who decried the whole principle of State education and urged that we should almost do away with it and that people ought to organise education on their own private basis? With all respect, the Conservative Party cannot have it both ways.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I know my right hon. Friends the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Opposition extremely well, and I know that neither of them wishes to eliminate State education. The Leader of the Opposition has made a number of speeches on this subject, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has on numerous occasions in this House 426 expressed his sense of the importance of education not just in terms of the individual but in terms of national efficiency.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I shall read his remarks since the hon. Member has drawn my attention to them, but I have no doubt where he stands on the subject.
I turn to the remarks of the Secretary of State on the subject of secondary education. I shall say something first about reorganisation and then a few words about the raising of the school leaving age. On reorganisation, I endorse the observation of my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) that it is not fair on the secondary modern schools or their teachers to suggest that those who do not get into grammar schools under the bipartite system are "condemned to be hewers of wood or drawers of water". It is that kind of extreme remark that exacerbates opinion on the topic. It is also unfair if one thinks in terms of the large numbers in secondary schools who have gained O-levels for mathematics during the last ten years. We know now that there are far more younger people than we used to think who can do serious mathematics and make a good showing in general science or the use of a second language. I felt that this was an exaggerated and unfair reference.
I return to what I said at the Conservative Party conference on this subject. I believe what I said to be the truth. There is a very wide measure of opinion in this country which has not been happy for a long time over selection into separate schools at the age of 11 and believes that a rational, gradual approach to change is right. But it is equally clear that any attempt to force the pace at a time when resources are limited could only result in the imposition of a large number of improvised and educationally damaging schemes
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw) just is not right when he suggests that all Conservative-controlled authorities would like to come to a full stop in this matter. Historically, that is nonsense. It was a Conservative-controlled authority, Leicestershire, which, in 1957, introduced what was in 427 those days an important experiment. I can say, having visited a very large number of Conservative-controlled authorities and having talked with their leaders, that many of them have what I regard as sensible reorganisation plans backed by adequate resources and, what is even more important, backed by public opinion. I have always left them in no doubt at all that, whenever they had a sound scheme, they could count on my full support.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw
If I gave the impression that all Conservative-controlled authorities are prepared to jettison, or not to implement secondary reorganisation, I certainly withdraw it. I think that I spoke of most of them. I certainly hope that I did not give the impression that every one of them is in that category. I know that there are many Conservative-controlled local education authorities which are go-ahead and, in some cases, more go-ahead than some Labour-controlled authorities.
§ Sir E. Boyle
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remark. An interesting figure was quoted by the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) when he said that at least 116, and probably about 130, authorities have reorganisation schemes of one kind or another. My belief is that the Government would do very much better to help the very large majority of those local authorities who want to reorganise instead of being so obsessed with a minority who are either still doubtful or do not want to do so.
I hear frequently, as the right hon. Lady must know, from Conservative-controlled authorities, which say, "We would like to bring in a scheme for a comprehensive school in a certain area, but our problem is that the Ministry at the moment has not got the money. Again, the authority of my hon. Friend the Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) is proposing to reorganise, in a three-tier direction, but says that it was dependent on the money for raising the school leaving age. No authority can do a proper job without resources.
A number of rather extreme remarks on this subject come from the Comprehensive Schools Committee but also, 428 sometimes, some useful points. The Committee is right when it points out the number of areas where we have 11 to 16 and 11 to 18 schools side by side. There is a real problem here of ensuring that the 11 to 16 school gets its reasonable share of bright pupils. I believe that this can only be a satisfactory pattern if there is accelerated promotion for a proportion of pupils in the 11 to 16 schools, but I say to the right hon. Lady: let her help sort the problems inherent in certain schemes, and do everything she can to help those authorities who really want to implement them, instead of being so obsessed with the majority still standing out.
§ Miss Bacon
That is precisely what we are doing. We set aside £7 million in England and Wales and £1 million in Scotland in each of two years to help counteract the £36 million taken out by the postponement of the raising of the school leaving age. The £7 million means that no local authority which intended to go comprehensive in 1968 has had to postpone its scheme of reorganisation. Similarly, when we announce the school building programme next week, no local authority which intended going comprehensive in 1969 will have to postpone because of the withdrawal of the school leaving age money.
I admit that the right hon. Gentleman is right in saying that resources are important—we would all like more—but he is missing the point. The point is that some local authorities have not started at all on a scheme for secondary reorganisation, particularly in his part of the world. This means that, as the years go by, there will be whole areas, particularly in the West Midlands, where the system of education will be entirely different from that of the rest of the country, and that has nothing to do with resources at all.
§ Sir E. Boyle
The success of the schemes of those authorities which naturally want to reorganise are likely to be much more effective in persuading the minority than any number of circulars or laws. In this context, let us remember what I thought was one useful point in last week's article by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price), who pointed out that we are learning from 429 experience all the time. Many of the best comprehensives are the most recent, as he pointed out, and this is a very strong argument for going ahead steadily, without forcing the pace. I think that The Observer summed this whole matter up well last Sunday, when it said:The only result of trying to force through quicker changes would be to increase the number of unsatisfactory makeshift schemes, which would merely detract from the reputation of comprehensives. It would be best to drop the pretence that there may be some miraculous short cut method of going comprehensive.I am sure that that is true.
Now I come to the raising of the school leaving age. I am among those who still regard an extra year of full time education as highly desirable and indeed essential. As I have often said, it is a real test of whether or not we are committed to the ideal of secondary education for all. But I warn the Government that, if they want to achieve this in 1972–73, we must have details of the 1970–71 building programme in time. I am told by many people concerned that they must have the details by Christmas this year.
The Government will have my support in wishing to clarification of the law concerning whether the whole or part of the last year at school can be done in a technical college. We want to look at 15 to 18 education as a whole—the resources of sixth form provision and also the technical colleges which we have at our disposal.
I was interested in the suggestion that we might give thought to whether, at one and the same time, we should both bring in a single school-leaving date and raise the school-leaving age. If we bring in a single leaving date in 1969–70 and then in 1972–73 raise the leaving age while retaining the single leaving date, it will mean 230,000 extra children in the schools and far more near-17 year olds in full-time education than many people realise. I will consider what the right hon. Gentleman said about this and perhaps discuss it with him privately, for it is a legitimate point for consideration. But no decision to have a single school leaving date can ever be a satisfactory substitute for the raising of the school leaving age, and I hope that all of us in this House are committed to bringing in that reform at its new postponed date.
430 I turn next to the subject of higher education. I am disturbed over the decision on the university building programme and, indeed, over the right hon. Gentleman's attitude to the universities. To raise the student target and then to cut the essential wherewithal twice in a few months is the negation of planning, purposive or otherwise. I cannot help agreeing with the article in The Economist recently, which said:By the time these cuts become effective they may quite possibly be irrelevant. If cuts are really needed in the short term, they should be made on current account. Nothing could be worse than slashing away at projects which could not have come into use until the early 1970s.In terms of the immediate pressure on resources, these cuts will give little relief but may seriously affect the freedom of action of a future Government just at the time when public opinion is again becoming concerned about the problems of competition for university entry. That is why it is not a sensible decision. I remember that the feeling that the universities were not expanding fast enough was a real political factor in the early 1960s and it would be political madness to make the same mistake again now.
I am as concerned as the right hon. Gentleman that the polytechnics should be a success. They are important institutions and the nearest approximation to university education that the part-timer ever experiences. They will have a major part to play in professional education. Yet it is also true that they can never be a substitute for adequate levels of university expansion and university places.
I was interested, on this point, to see an article recently by Dr, Richard Layard, who said that students will continue to put universities as their first choice, and the restriction of university places will only intensify the unhealthy competition for university entry. I am sure that is true. I was disturbed at what seemed a suggestion almost of disdain, or even hostility, to the universities in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. When all is said and done, surely one of our main educational objectives must be to enable young people of both sexes, and one would hope with an ever-widening variety of social backgrounds, to take traditional university courses in the arts and general sciences.
431 Therefore, while I am entirely for the development of the polytechnics, I should not wish this to be at the expense of the objective of university expansion, to match rising numbers of qualified applicants, that we have maintained throughout the 1960s. I would like, too, to say a word about the colleges of education. I very much look forward to seeing in this country a Council for Teacher Education, to replace the old National Advisory Council and to do for the colleges what the Schools Council is trying to do for the schools.
I would also mention briefly this difficult issue about the salaries of university teachers. They have had to wait a tremendously long time for the P.I.B. to give an award. I am deeply concerned about it, and I am sure that we will all be pleased to meet their representatives when they come to this House. I very seriously doubt whether the P.I.B. is the right body to be concerned with their pay. At any rate we should as a House consider this whole matter very carefully, because it is certainly a serious one.
As to the urban programme, we welcome as far as it goes the decision announced on 7th October that 34 local authorities would be allowed to spend up to £3 million on projects concerning children's homes, nursery schools and day nurseries. At the same time, as I ventured to say earlier today, it is just as important that the Government should give encouragement to voluntary and private provision of nursery education. There is also the very great importance of local authorities being able to assist large numbers of pre-school play-groups. And when we talk about our policy for the educational priority areas, let us not make the mistake of thinking that we must always speak in grandiose terms. A great deal can often be done, with modest resources, for example, where a limited site becomes available, large enough for the setting-up of an adventure playground. This can be a very great help to a large number of children.
I also express the hope that the Department of Education and Science will keep a very close eye on this important subject of education for the children of immigrant families. A number of experts have been rather depressed by our lack of curiosity over American experience. 432 There is also a rather naive belief one sometimes encounters that so long as we tackle the language problem, everything else will solve itself. Frankly I do not believe this. There are many issues, like dispersal, which badly need more research and greater attention, using experience from overseas as well as from this country.
Above all, let us never forget the importance in this context of housing policy side by side with education policy. Some months ago there was a leading article in The Times which I thought was about the best leading article I had ever read on this subject. It talked about the dangers of "a vicious circle in which a black face means a poor job, a home in a bad neighbourhood and therefore a school below average standard for the children". That is the measure of the problem and we should never forget it.
Many hon. Members will agree that this has not been a happy year for education. I do not see how anyone could avoid the feeling that the service has been subjected to cuts of disproportionate severity. The postponement of the raising of the school-leaving age, the very severe mauling of the school building programme, and the pegging of the rates support grant, are all factors. I have just had a message from Mr. Chataway saying that I can, with his full backing, report that it would take an increase of 6 per cent. or 7 per cent. simply to implement existing policies—[Interruption.]. Whoever is in charge of the Inner London Education Authority is certain to be a relevant witness. Now we have the moratorium on university building. This is not an inspiring record.
But the most important thing at this moment, after probing the implications of decisions already taken, is to look forward—to ask, for instance, how soon we are to have details of the 1970 school building programme which will be of vital significance to the raising of the school-leaving age at its postponed date. What efforts are now being made through local education authorities to acquaint schools with the full details of degree courses available in institutions of higher education? Above all, whatever our economic difficulties, let us be quite clear about the educational tasks which still 433 lie ahead and which remain to be fulfilled, and let us maintain our determination on no account to lower our sights.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Stephen Swingler)
May I, first, add my congratulations to those of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your taking up your appointment?
May I also congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Bruce Campbell) on his maiden speech? We on this side of the House were, naturally, very pleased with his mention of his predecessor, Leslie Hale, a remarkable character who had a wonderful flair for educating and entertaining the House at one and the same time. I notice that the hon. and learned Member who has taken his place shares at any rate one quality with him—the capacity to speak at some length without a single note. We look forward to hearing him again and no doubt to crossing swords with him.
One of my hon. Friends described the debate as chaotic. I am not sure that that was not going a bit far, but the right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that perhaps there was something a little peculiar about the batting order. He acknowledged the reasons why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science had to leave. I acknowledge that I know why the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who spoke for the Opposition on social security, has also had to leave.
According to my notes, the subjects of the debate have ranged over fuel policy, estate agents, Gibraltar, Rhodesia, ports, and home ownership, not to mention any educational matters some of which have to do with my responsibilities in the newly merged Department of Health and Social Security. I have been happy to hear hon. Members employ their freedom in this way in this wide-ranging kind of debate and I hope that they will be equally happy to hear me say that I do not propose to answer, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, all the questions which have been raised under those headings, although I assure 434 them that all the points which they have made will be noted by my right hon. Friends who, I am confident, will reply where necessary on specific issues as rapidly as possible.
There is a special reason for this on my part: this happens to be the very first day on which I have taken up new responsibilities as one of the Ministers of State in the merged Department of Health and Social Security. I shall, therefore, confine myself—and no doubt the House will not expect any world-shaking pronouncements—on account of my being in that position.
I come at once to the matters raised by the noble Lord and I will endeavour to reply to the various other matters which have been raised concerning the tasks which await my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and my hon. Friends as we survey our new inheritance. We know that in this subject there is always plenty to do. First, there is a group of organisational problems arising from a number of important reviews which have been mentioned in the debate.
It is no accident that the Seebohm Report on Local Authority and Allied Personal Social Services and the Green paper on the structure of the Health Service and the Report of the Royal Commission on Local Government should be becoming available more or less together. A good deal has already been said about the Seebohm Report. There will be general agreement on the aim of drawing together as far as possible the work of the various social services, but it is far more difficult to determine just how far or how fast this should be done and the proper lines of demarcation. We know that we must fully consult those concerned before bringing forward our proposals for action.
The hon. Member for Northants, South (Mr. Arthur Jones) posed a question to which the answer is this. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State pointed out the other day that we must take our decisions in the knowledge of what the Royal Commission recommends for changes in the structure of local government.
The Seebohm Report was published on 23rd July, and at the beginning of August we asked the local authority associations to give us their views on as 435 many as possible of the Report's recommendations on which they wished to comment, and, in particular, for at least preliminary views on the Committee's recommendation for the setting up of new local authority social service departments and on the timing of the reorganisation of these services in relation to measures which might be called for by the Royal Commission on Local Government in England. We asked for these comments by the end of this month. Other bodies were similarly asked, and a general invitation to comment was published in the Press.
It would be premature to attempt now to reach any final view on the Seebohm Committee's opinion regarding the need for one central Government Department to be responsible for dealing with the new social services departments which it has in mind at local authority level. The new Department of Health and Social Security which has just come into being does not, therefore, embrace child care in addition to its other welfare functions. Hon Members, may agree that we have enough to be going on with, and we shall have to consider these other matters in the future.
The Green Paper on the administrative structure of the medical and related services in England and Wales was purely a tentative document to focus discussion. Here, too, decisions wait on a full expression of views by all concerned which can be looked at along with those expressed on the Seebohm Report and in the light of the Royal Commission's Report. The theme of the Green Paper is that the pattern of health care is becoming more integrated and that a unified structure is, therefore, required. A readiness to collaborate already exists. To give this freer play, organisational changes may well be needed, but in making these it will be important to make certain that they incorporate and improve the good features which already exist.
A major issue of principle confronts us here, and this was a point on which the hon. Member for Northants, South dwelt at some length—whether to organise a devolved health service round 40 or 50 area boards with comprehensive responsibilities for medical and related services, or to place this function 436 upon whatever local authority structure may emerge in the light of the Royal Commission's Report.
I turn to a few features of the merger of the Departments. As hon. Members have already noticed, one of the advantages of the merged Department of Health and Social Security is that the various services, in cash and in kind, can be viewed together and better co-ordinated. It will be our aim to carry further the humanising work of my right hon. Friends the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and the present Paymaster-General in helping to render the acceptance of benefit, as a matter of right, consonant with human dignity.
The Government have already come a long way in the attack on poverty. For the low wage-earner with family responsibilities the main instrument has been family allowances, and the striking increases made over the last year from 8s. for the second and 10s. for the third and subsequent children to 18s. and 20s. made a great difference to the plight of these families, though we cannot yet claim that their problem, rooted as it is in low earnings, has yet been fully solved. They are further helped by the rates rebate scheme, the income limits for which have recently been raised, and by the local authority rent rebate schemes, which we have encouraged, and by the series of welfare benefits, such as school meals or welfare milk, which are available free or at reduced charges when a family's circumstances warrant this.
For the old, the unemployed, the handicapped out of work, the real value of pensions and other National Insurance benefits has also been substantially raised so that even when account is taken of the latest price increases they are still 15 per cent. better than when this Government came to power, and supplementary benefits have been raised each year since 1965, the most recent increase taking effect only a few weeks ago.
Insurance benefits to which people contribute are appropriately available to all, but it is becoming increasingly clear that other benefits financed out of taxation must be on a selective basis if they are properly to achieve their object of relieving poverty and distress, as we are trying to make them do. For that reason, the recent large increases in family allowances have been combined 437 with a reduction in the total tax allowances for families so that only those families outside the ambit of Income Tax receive the full benefit of the increases.
There are two further problems in the benefit field which engage our attention. The structure of benefits is now both impressive and pretty comprehensive, but since it has grown up piecemeal it tends to be a very complicated one and there is certainly a problem of ensuring that those entitled take up their benefits. This arises, particularly perhaps, with people of modest means but who are above the lowest levels of incomes and who, because they are in work, are not in regular contact with the social security system. We must do what we can to simplify things for people many of whom find forms and income scales difficult to comprehend. There are, I think, useful possibilities for co-ordination here as there is certainly, too, scope for a voluntary helping hand to the bewildered.
The second matter is this. Once benefits are increased to the size which they have now reached, there is inevitably some possibility of abuse. Under our social security programme, the benefits to which people have a statutory right when out of work have now, for the first time, reached a reasonable level, and for this we should be thankful. There can be no question of cutting them back. But it has meant that the gap between these benefits and what some men can earn has narrowed to a point where, if they become unemployed, there is less incentive than of old for them to take any job that is going, however lowly paid. This is partly a problem arising from low wages.
The vast majority of those who draw benefit for any length of time are perfectly genuine people and not malingerers or scroungers. The number who deliberately seek to take advantage of the situation by attempting to prolong their unemployment longer than necessary is very small. What we have to do is to make sure that this tiny minority do not get away with it, and this we are doing. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General recently announced measures for tightening our control against abuse of this sort and these measures will be continued.
438 I should like here to refer to another point which was mentioned by the noble Lord the Member for Hertford in connection with occupational pensioners. The hon. Member raised the question of the recommendations of the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee on Occupational Pensioners. As the House will be aware, the problem of paying unemployment benefit to those with occupational pensions was referred by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, whose recommendations my right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General later accepted. In preparing draft regulations to be put to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, however, she has proposed considerable modifications to the original scheme put forward by the Committee. The draft Regulations embody those modifications.
As the noble Lord suggested, during the last two months a great deal of anxiety and concern has been expressed by a number of bodies and individuals about the kind of approach to the problem which is inherent in the proposals of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. My right hon. Friend the Paymaster-General has been engaged in weighing up the arguments which have centred round this issue. I have now been asked by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to undertake as soon as possible a review of the situation when the National Insurance Advisory Committee has considered the many representations made to it and has had an opportunity of hearing oral evidence from some of the bodies concerned.
I come now to the new scheme which also featured in the comments of the noble Lord the Member for Hertford. A major piece of work on which Departments have been engaged for some time is that of the complete recasting of our present social security system. As forecast in the Gracious Speech, our proposals on this will be put in a White Paper before very long. Briefly, as is known, the intention is to substitute for the present mainly flat-rate system a much more flexible system with contributions and benefits related to individual earnings. Only in this way can we ultimately hope to achieve what was, I think, the original aim of Beveridge—contributory benefits adequate in themselves to live on.
439 This has, in fact, never been achieved, for two reasons: first, because the level at which benefits were set when the present scheme began in 1948 were so low that right from the outset those who had nothing else to live on needed supplementation. This position has continued to the present day. Secondly, the flat-rate system has imposed a limit on the extent to which benefits could be improved because the flat-rate contribution needed to pay for these benefits could not be raised by more than what the lowest-paid worker could afford.
The only way out of this straitjacket is a fully earnings-related scheme which, in return for contributions graded according to each person's ability to pay, will provide a pension related to that person's standard of living as achieved in his working life, and even for the lowest paid this should be adequate to live on without supplementation.
For the details of this scheme, for which, I know, many Members are eager, I must ask the House to await the publication of the Government's proposals later in the White Paper.
On the question of contracting out, which has been raised, I can say that the Government's aim is that of working in partnership with occupational pension schemes. The question will, therefore, be sympathetically considered by my right hon. Friend and there will be full opportunity, following the publication of the Government's proposals, for consultation on this question with representatives of all those who are concerned with occupational schemes.
§ Sir E. Boyle
Can the hon. Gentleman say when we can expect the White Paper? Will it be before or after Christmas?
§ Mr. Swingler
I am not in a position to give the right hon. Gentleman a date, but we do want to publish the White Paper very soon. It is a most important proposal. It is most important, therefore, that there should be adequate time for consultation. Whether it will be just before or just after Christmas I cannot say, but it will, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, be in the very near future.
Thus it will be seen that we have a very full load of work in the merged Departments, and many problems yet 440 which we have to overcome, but we shall continue to develop our work in the spirit which we have inherited as a result of the considerable achievements of our predecessors.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ernest G. Perry.]
§ Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.