HC Deb 15 March 1974 vol 870 cc523-630
Mr. Speaker

We have rather less than five hours for this debate. Over 30 right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak. I do press the need for brevity by all. There are a great many Members who want to make their maiden speeches. On the whole I shall give them preference. Some of the older Members may have to exercise a little patience.

11.6 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mrs. Barbara Castle)

There could hardly be a less auspicious moment economically in which to launch the programme of social justice to which the present Government are committed. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition has already said as much in his usual admonitory terms. Perhaps it is a suitable epitaph to the right hon. Gentleman that in his opening comments on the Gracious Speech he condemned in shocked tones our proposals for what he called an enormous step forward in pensions and social security benefits.

We are at least grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for making one thing clear—that the increases that we propose are a marked improvement on anything that the Leader of the Opposition would have contemplated if he had—perish the thought—been returned as Prime Minister. So, pensioners, widows, invalidity pensioners and others—please note.

Historically, if we look back we find that it is economic crisis and not easygoing affluence which has always been the midwife of greater social equality. It was so in 1945. Some of us can remember how Mr. Winston Churchill, as wartime Prime Minister, warned the country that Britain would be bankrupt after the war and that the returning soldier would have nothing to come back to. He said that because he confidently expected to be the post-war Prime Minister himself, so he wanted to lower the nation's sights. But happily, in the event, it was a Labour Government who were returned and who succeeded, despite the intimidating economic difficulties, in transforming the values of our society.

It is the same today. Certainly the economic situation which we have inherited is one of the worst that this country has ever known, so this must mean that the pace of our advance must be slower than we would have wished. We simply cannot do everything at once. But that does not mean and must not mean that we abandon our objectives and our determination to move systematically towards a more equal and a compassionate society. We have stated this firmly in the Gracious Speech, in which we say that a greater measure of social justice is the prerequisite of national unity. We remain firmly of the belief that without another bold move towards social justice we shall never create the climate of co-operation which is essential if our economic difficulties are to be solved.

That brings me to our central commitment in the last election namely, that we would ensure that pensioners and others were given a lift in their incomes to bring them into a better relationship with the standard of life of the rest of us. We shall not renege on that commitment. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made the Government's intention clear and I repeat it. We will introduce legislation which will increase the standard rate of pensions to £10 for a single person and £16 for a married couple. In doing so we shall honour our pledge to the nation. It will be the largest single increase in pensions ever.

We shall also ensure, having given a substantial boost to the level of pensions, that pensions thereafter are increased annually in proportion to increases in average national earnings. That is a pledge which has been given by no previous Government. Only in that way can we create the new climate of social justice which is imperative.

The TUC has been in the forefront of the campaign for the just treatment of pensioners. I know that the implementation of our commitment on pensions will be recognised as a fundamental part of our social contract with the trade unions. I shall look forward to continuing close consultation on pensions with the TUC.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South-West)

Will the right hon. Lady stop pretending that compassion is the prerogative of her party? Will she remember who brought in the annual review?

Mrs. Castle

We are talking about deeds and not words. I am outlining the deeds which we intend to pursue so as to embody compassion in action.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

Before the right hon. Lady leaves the commitment to increase pensions and presumably other social security benefits, will she tell the House what the cost will be so that we can judge the matter more effectively?

Mrs. Castle

I would rather complete this part of my speech. Even more detailed announcements will be made in the context of the Budget. That is the appropriate time to give such figures. Our proposals for pensioners include not only retirement pensioners but widowed pensioners, and invalidity pensioners. Benefits for the short-term sick and the unemployed will be increased so as to maintain their purchasing power.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and I will put the full details before the House in the usual way in due course. Those details will include our proposals for financing the higher benefits, as they will have to be paid for by the rest of the community. The legislation which we shall introduce will make corresponding increases in industrial injuries benefits. Parallel increases in war pensions will be effected speedily by means of instruments under the Royal Prerogative.

We also propose to raise the levels of supplementary benefit scale rates. Increases in those rates will be made by regulation subject to the approval of both Houses. Draft regulations for these purposes, giving in detail the Government's proposals for supplementary benefit increases, will be brought before the House in due course. I am glad to tell the House that supplementary benefit will go up by the same amount as the corresponding national insurance benefit rates. I recognise that that means that the numbers on supplementary benefit will stay just about the same. However, we believe that it is right in present circumstances that those on supplementary benefit, who as we all know are the poorest of the beneficiaries, should get the full increase. It is this which is our priority.

So much for the short term. It is essential, too, that we should lay the foundations of a long-term pension scheme to ensure that in future all our people can retire on incomes which lift them above the levels of supplementary benefit. That is the only way to take pensions out of politics. Unfortunately we have inherited from the previous Government a Social Security Act which will condemn millions of our people, and particularly women, to supplement their retirement income with means-tested assistance well into the twenty-first century.

Unfortunately the preparations for bringing the new Act into operation in April next year have already gone a long way. Therefore, I have the interim problem of deciding how to graft our proposals, to which we are firmly committed, on to the structure which will come into operation in a year's time.

I realise that other people have problems. Employers, trade unions and those responsible for occupational pension schemes all need to know as quickly as possible where they stand on Government policy. All I can say to them and to the House is that there are certain aspects of the previous Government's scheme which we accept. For example, the concept of moving to fully earnings related contributions is essential to our long-term plans. However, there are other aspects of the Social Security Act 1973 which we cannot accept, not least the inferior treatment which it gives to women.

We are pledged in the Gracious Speech to give equal status to women. I played my own modest part in the last Labour Government when I piloted the Equal Pay Act through the House. But equal pay without equal pension rights is meaningless. Our proposals will ensure that there will be equal pension rights.

I promise the House and those concerned that we shall publish the new proposals as soon as possible. Further, I undertake to put before the House as soon as I can our proposals for dealing with the situation in what must inevitably be a considerable period before our new plans come into operation. It is bound to be a considerable period because I intend to consult all those concerned as fully as possible.

I turn to another problem which I know exercises the whole House—namely, the problem of what I call the civilian disabled—those who are not covered by war pensions or industrial injuries legislation. I include, too, those who are incapacitated from birth, those who have never been able to earn their own living, incapacitated housewives, and others who are not covered by social insurance. It is thanks to the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), as well as Opposition Members, that we have in recent years become aware of the extent to which the needs of such people have been neglected in our society.

I am sure that the House will be as pleased as I am that my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe has been appointed as the first-ever member of a Government to be given specific responsibilities for the disabled. The House knows that he will discharge those responsibilities with his usual sensitivity and ability.

In the Gracious Speech we referred to better methods of meeting the needs of the disabled. That is something to which we are all committed. Many of the disabled will benefit from our uprating, but it is wrong that many of them should be left with no income but supplementary benefit. The House will remember that under Section 36 of the Social Security Act 1973 I am under an obligation to review social security provision for the chronically sick and for disabled persons and to lay a report on the review before parliament by 31st October 1974. I intend to honour that obligation.

In the meantime there is a more immediate matter which is of great interest to the disabled. Lady Sharp's report on the mobility of physically disabled people has been in my Department since last October. My predecessor was under justifiable pressure from both sides of the House to publish the report. I have no desire to hold up its publication. I have decided to publish it as quickly as possible. The House will be glad to know that the report will be available on Monday 25th March, the earliest possible date.

The report is comprehensive and perhaps controversial. Hon. Members, as well as the disabled, will want to study it carefully. Once it is published we shall initiate consultations on it as quickly as possible with all interested organisations and groups.

I shall be particularly guided by what the disabled themselves feel about its recommendations because I strongly believe that we must get away from the concept that we do things to the disabled which we think are right. We must do things for them, and above all with them, and I shall welcome their help in solving the problems in these very complex aspects of policy.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

Without having seen the report, one cannot comment. But I hope that there will be some uniformity of availability of vehicles to all the disabled, because there are now so many different categories. It is the difference of categories which leads to such anomalies and hardship. I hope that some uniformity will be the right hon. Lady's aim.

Mrs. Castle

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman knows how complex the problem is. It is this sort of matter which has made me so anxious to get the report published as quickly as possible so that we can start constructive discussion on it. I am sure that the House will be very interested in the hon. Gentleman's views in due course.

I turn to the subject of children. Here again I know that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House welcome the pledge in the Gracious Speech that comprehensive proposals will be brought forward for legislation based on the recommendations of the Departmental Committee on the Adoption of Children. This committee was set up in 1969 by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, then Home Secretary. The House is always specially interested and concerned about proposals and policies affecting children, particularly those affecting children who, for one reason or another, cannot look to their own parents for care, love and security as other children can.

Despite the real progress which has been made in the development of children's services since the children's departments were set up under the Children Act 1948, there have been setbacks. We have had a series of shocks recently with the appearance of reports such as "Children who Wait" and "Trading in Children" and with the tragic cases which have come to light of children injured and sometimes killed by their parents.

The departmental committee's report recommended far-reaching changes in the law on the care and protection of children, and a formidable body of opinion has grown up in favour of legislation on the basis of these recommendations, spearheaded in recent months by the Adoption and Guardianship Reform Organisation. It is over 18 months since Judge Stockdale and his colleagues submitted their report. I know that some of the issues in the report are difficult and complex and some have given rise to controversy.

My hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who is now an Under-Secretary of State at my Department, achieved, as a private Member earlier this year, the remarkable feat of tabling a 64-clause Bill which covered almost every one of the recommendations which require legislation. With that Bill as a basis on which discussions can now proceed, and with the good will I am sure we can rely on in the House, I am hopeful about the prospects of securing the enacting of a really substantial measure which will command general support.

I now turn to the ark of our covenant—the National Health Service, the outstanding achievement of the post-war Labour Government. I am particularly proud that the job that has been given to me by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is to protect and strengthen that great memorial to Aneurin Bevan and to safeguard it against the erosions which threaten it. It was Nye Bevan who always stressed the importance of priorities, and I shall be working out my priorities for the service in the months ahead.

In Opposition, we produced a Green Paper on health care which stressed the need to strengthen the community services, to deal with areas of neglect such as mental health, mental subnormality, rehabilitation and dental care services, and to shorten the waiting lists. The paper will provide a useful starting point for the discussions into which we shall be entering. I remind the House that the experts who produced it came to this conclusion: Perhaps the one immediate step that would do most in the long term for health standards would be to raise the level of pensions substantially. This we have done.

As our manifesto also made clear, the Government are committed to the abolition of prescription charges, and this pledge still stands. But this year, in my view rightly, we have given priority to a big improvement in pensions and, as I have already said, we cannot do everything at once. I am, however, considering whether it is possible to remove some anomalies in the present charging arrangements which have caused particular concern, and an announcement will be made as soon as possible.

But while we are working out our long-term plans, there are certain matters I have to deal with urgently, notably the reorganisation of the National Health Service, which is due to take place on 1st April. The Labour Party has always made it clear that we believe that the last Government devised a system of management in the NHS which was undemocratic and out of tune with the needs of local communities. The last Labour Government's proposals for administrative reorganisation of the service, on which there was extensive consultation, would have given a greater share in the management of the service to democratically-elected local representatives.

We believe that it is essential that the National Health Service should be more responsive to the needs and views of the people it serves and should also take account of the contribution which all those who work in the service can make. However, I ask the House to realise my difficulties. In less than three weeks' time, the new regional health authorities and area health authorities are due to become responsible for the running of the National Health Service. The members of these authorities have already been appointed and arrangements for the transfer of staff are already far advanced.

It would be quite irresponsible and impracticable for me now to postpone this date or to disrupt these arrangements, for to do so would be to run very serious risks with the health of individuals and of communities. Our first responsibility must be to the patients. I have no wish to add to the uncertainties and stresses which the staff within the service are inevitably facing at the present time. Nevertheless, we believe that we can, within the existing legislation, and without disturbing appointments already made, make the new area health authorities into more representative bodies. We intend to draw up as soon as possible a statement setting out our proposals, and we shall invite comments from the many groups of people who have an interest. I hope we shall then be able to act quite quickly to bring about some of the improvements we should like to see.

I must make it clear that this exercise will not affect in any way the appointment or transfer of staff on 1st April. I am very conscious of the heavy extra responsibilities and burdens which the National Health Service staff will have to carry, particularly over the next few months, and I have no wish to add to them. This is why we are not proposing any fundamental changes in the structure of the reorganised service now, although minor alterations cannot be ruled out.

We shall, however, keep under review the working of the newly reorganised service and shall be ready in the long term to propose whatever changes seem to us desirable in the light of experience. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will, of course, be associated with this exercise. The discussions which the Government are initiating on the Royal Commission on the Constitution will obviously be relevant.

There is another matter with which I have to deal urgently. This is the present and future problem of senior hospital medical and dental staff, and the question which we feel is closely associated with it—the place that private practice should have in the National Health Service. On the first point, the British Medical Association and the British Dental Association have asked me to consider a new hospital contract for senior hospital staff. I know that they are seriously concerned about the present contracts under which the consultants work—including those who undertake private work part time—and about their commitments to the service, which they believe are increasing.

I intend to meet their wish for a thorough examination, and we shall need studies of medical work load at consultant level to provide the facts. The examination should also cover the question of private practice which I mentioned.

I shall accordingly be accepting the proposal put to my predecessor by the BMA for a joint working party to enter on a full examination of these matters and to make suggestions for changes. The question of remuneration as such will not he covered, but the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body will be kept informed so that its special interest, for instance, in work load studies will not be overlooked. The importance of this working party is such that a Minister should take the chair.

Meanwhile, we have had to undertake the annual review of the level of charge for private pay beds in National Health Service hospitals which all Secretaries of State for Social Services are required to make at this time of the year. I have taken the opportunity of looking closely at the extent to which these charges bear a fair share of capital expenditure on hospital services.

After looking at the figures I am satisfied that, in addition to the 18½ per cent. increase necessary to reflect estimated running costs of hospital services in 1974–75, the charge for private pay beds in acute and teaching hospitals should carry a fairer and more realistic addition for overheads and should be increased from the present token contribution of £3 per week to £10.50 per week or £1.50 per day. That would more closely reflect the current levels of capital expenditure on the provision of accommodation and services. I expect these increases to bring in an additional £3.6 million next year, just under £1 million coming from the increase on capital account.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

Will my right hon. Friend say that the long-term project is to get rid of these beds altogether?

Mrs. Castle

I have already said that we are proceeding with consideration and discussions on the lines of the Health Care report. My hon. Friend knows the party's policy as well as I do, and I assure him that we have it very much in mind.

I hope that the House will feel that in this first report of our proposals and activities we have made a good start, despite the administrative problems and the economic difficulties that we have inherited. There will be many opportunities in the coming months for us all to probe these matters more deeply, and I am sure that we shall have some stimulating debates. Rome was not built in 10 days, but we have laid some solid foundations in the Gracious Speech. It will be my unwavering aim that we shall build on them.

11.33 a.m.

Sir Geoffrey Howe (Surrey, East)

I begin by congratulating the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Social Services on her assumption of the important office that she now holds. I am sorry that I cannot do so with as much enthusiasm as I had originally intended because I sincerely regret the tendentious way in which she opened her speech and the tendentious pattern that it followed thereafter. Of course, we are concerned throughout the House with the provision of a socially just society. We are also concerned to provide a society that is prosperous and secure—and a right balance between the two.

I was particularly struck by the right hon. Lady's failure to acknowledge what I should have thought anyone with modesty would have acknowledged, how hard her task will be to follow the immense work done in her Department by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), ably supported by my hon. Friends the Members for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) and Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) and my noble Friend Lord Aberdare, a team that remained together and achieved in deeds and not words by common consent and acknowledgement massive improvements in the standard of our social services. It would at least have been gracious of the right hon. Lady to acknowledge that.

Similarly, it was less than gracious for the right hon. Lady to commence by criticising my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition for his comments on the pensions proposals in the Queen's Speech. He did not, as she implied, reject or dismiss them in an intemperate fashion. He said, We are told that there are to be increased retirement pensions and greatly increased social service benefits. We have all been working with the CBI and the TUC towards improved pensions and improved social service benefits and considerable improvements have been made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th March 1974 Vol. 870, c. 60.] He was wise to modify his welcome to the proposals in the light of the record of the previous Labour administration. That seems to be a prudent proposition for him to advance.

We welcome the proposal to improve pensions and other social service benefits. We should like to know how far, if at all, the Government propose to follow the Conservative proposal for them to be reviewed not every 12 months, which we have established, but every six months, as we proposed in our manifesto. In that respect we made a major advance on the record of the previous administration.

I should also like to know to what extent the right hon. Lady is likely to follow the distinction between increases in the rate of long- and short-term benefits. We shall also want to consider how these substantial increases in benefit are to be paid for, and to what extent her policy and that of her Government lays the foundation for future improvement which is so important.

We welcome also the proposals for more help for the disabled and disadvantaged. Of course the right hon. Lady is obliged, as she said—if she holds office that long—to lay before the House in October of this year the report required by the Social Security Act on provisions for the chronically sick and disabled. The Conservative Party had especially in mind, as she has—and I am glad to know it—the position of the disabled married woman, especially where she has a young family, and the position of those who are disabled from birth to the extent that they have never been able to achieve a real income.

We note with interest, and without any lack of tribute to his personal involvement, the appointment of the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) as Under-Secretary of State, however brief his tenure of it may be. It would, again, be sensible, in the interests of balanced discussion of all these subjects, to acknowledge the extent to which the previous administration under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East introduced a massive range of new benefits for the disabled, bringing help of a new kind on the basis of a regular review. I resent and repudiate utterly the proposition that the Labour Party has or ever had a monopoly of compassion or concern for social justice in our society.

I welcome the prospect—which was also foreshadowed in the Conservative manifesto—of legislation on the adoption, guardianship and fostering of children. I am glad that there is to be a continuation of the review announced by the last administration of the needs of handicapped children, and look forward to considering the Sharp Report when it is published.

I make a more qualified response to some of the other comments made by the right hon. Lady. The reference in the Queen's Speech to the progressive improvement and expansion of the National Health Service is common ground. We recognise the wisdom implied by the phrase in the Gracious Speech "within available resources". We regard it as important that that expansion should continue to attach the same high priorities as were accorded by the previous administration. We attach particular importance to the position of the elderly, the chronically ill, the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped.

Some years ago I had the privilege, as chairman of an inquiry into events at a hospital in South Wales, and as a member of the policy group established by the last Labour administration, of being concerned in the improvement in the provision for the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped and with the establishment of the Hospital Advisory Service. Those are areas to which we think that high priority should continue to be given.

We think also that the right hon. Lady will need to give increased attention to the consequences of the Children and Young Persons Act in relation to local authority responsibilities for children, the position of community homes and, perhaps with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education, to the parallel problem of truancy. This is an area where much trouble still lies, and we have still not got the right solution.

But it will not be possible for this administration to give the kind of priority which their predecessors did to these areas of concern if they are anxious to respond to easy popular cries for fashionable, glamorous change. Above all, it will not be possible if they continue to attach priority to such matters as the abolition of prescription charges.

The right hon. Lady said that we cannot do everything at once. She was wise to say that. She will recollect the record of her predecessors in the last Labour Government who did everything at once and then had to reverse it all within a very few years. I warn this administration, because of our concern for the quality of the Health Service, not to overlook the important contribution made by charges to resources which will always be limited for the expansion and improvement of these services along the lines which we all want.

I can make a more friendly response to what the right hon. Lady said about the review which she has in mind of the working of the reorganised National Health Service. I know that there was by no means unanimity about the structure which was established. But there was at least unanimity about the need for a major reform of the structure—the first for 25 years. I am glad that the right hon. Lady accepts that it would be irresponsible and impracticable now to try to unscramble that in any fundamental sense.

It is vital at this stage not to give the impression to those concerned with the administration of the new authorities that the right hon. Lady has prejudged in any way what may be in her mind hereafter. It is vital at this stage to avoid uncertainty. I am glad that the right hon. Lady has acknowledged that at least.

I know the concern that many people have about the extent to which consumers of national health services, amongst other publicly provided services, are effectively represented. I know that the Labour Party believes that local government could conceivably play a larger role in the effective representation of consumers and, of course, I have respect for elected councillors. But from my own experience in considering some of these matters in the past, I warn against undue attachment to the role of elected representatives already heavily burdened with the administration of our new large authorities. I hope that more attention will be given in the representation of consumers in this service to the real role which can be played by volunteers—by non-professional representatives of the real consumers of the service.

As a parallel, I quote the part which has been played in the expansion of preschool provision by those who have pioneered the pre-school playgroup movement. I hope that they will continue to receive attention and that the Government will not follow the pattern of paying less attention than they should to the rôle of volunteers—the real consumers. On the same topic, I hope that they will pay early attention to the report of the Davies Committee on complaints in the National Health Service and that they will support the rôle of the National Health Service Commissioner. These are important functions again established by the last Government for which tribute deserves to be paid.

Although the right hon. Lady has learned in the short term some wisdom towards the structure of the National Health Service, I fear that she has not shown signs of doing anything like the same in relation to the fundamentals of social security. She acknowledges our new pension plan which is due to come into operation in 1975. She has not acknowledged the extent to which her party, times without number in the past, endeavoured to establish comprehensive pension plans of the same kind, paying insufficient attention to the rôle which could be played by occupational pensions. She has not acknowledged the extent to which her present equivocation about this is likely to create the risk at least of damage to the development, growth and establishment of pension schemes which are now rolling forward on the basis of the 1973 Act, due to come into operation in 1975.

I know that the right hon. Lady has had a letter from some representatives of those concerned with the provision of occupational pensions. I have in mind especially a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Byers, who holds a position in the Liberal Party quite apart from being concerned with the provision of occupational pensions under the new legislation. I find it regrettable that the right hon. Lady cannot go further than saying that she accepts certain aspects, that she cannot accept others, and that she is prepared to cast this area of pensions into a degree of uncertainty——

Mr. William Hamilton

Why not?

Sir G. Howe

Because the legislation passed by the last Government represents a firm and sensible foundation upon which people's pensions are more likely to be wellfounded than anything put in its place. It is irresponsible to threaten the growth of those pensions on that basis.

I regret also the absence in the Gracious Speech of any reference to the proposals for a tax credit scheme. I recollect that in the distant days of the 1964 Labour administration when the former right hon. Member for Sowerby—one of my most distinguished constituents—held the office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he pledged that the Government would introduce schemes for the elimination of means tests and for the establishment of what was described as a minimum income guarantee. I remember making my own maiden speech welcoming the appointment of the right hon. Gentleman and that commitment.

I am astonished that the Labour Party has apparently cast aside all the work done by the previous administration and by a Committee of this House to lay the foundations for a sensible way of getting rid of means-tested benefits and to secure the automatic provision of benefits in a way which both parties should have striven for, and it is a regrettable omission.

There are more fundamental areas of anxiety in the Gracious Speech and in the right hon. Lady's speech, half revealed and half concealed by what she said. They caused me and most of my right hon. and hon. Friends real concern about the extent to which the Government are likely to be able to develop effective social policies for the benefit of consumers and the providers of those services alike.

We are anxious, for example, about the likely recurrence of wastefulness of provision when we see what is proposed in relation to the Housing Finance Acts, with the threat to withdraw subsidies now going to those in real need and of again expanding them to those whose need is not so great. It is this pattern of provision which causes us anxiety.

We are caused to be anxious as well by the prospect of increasing authoritarianism in the hands of the State or the local authority in the provision of social services. We fear the proposal to encourage municipal ownership rather than to extend the opportunities for council tenants to buy their own homes. We are concerned also about the prospect of the development of a fully comprehensive system of secondary education if it goes in the direction and to the extent foreshadowed in what Government supporters said before the election.

So far there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about the ending of direct grant schools. So far there is nothing about any attack on the right of parents if they wish to have their children educated outside the State system. But already there is an indication of the right hon. Lady's anxiety to squeeze out the private sector from its relationship with the National Health Service. I fear that the absence of any reference to these matters in the Gracious Speech does not imply any accession of wisdom to the Labour Party—merely an accession of temporary caution.

We are also concerned at the extent to which the Gracious Speech does not demonstrate sufficient determination to get to grips with the real source of social injustice—with the causes of inflation. We are also concerned about the insufficient consideration in the Gracious Speech of the capacity of the country to pay for all those matters implied in the Speech itself.

The Gracious Speech talks about … proposals for an orderly growth of incomes. Quite apart from any general question of incomes policy, one asks the question, only in relation to those for whom the State has direct or indirect responsibility as paymaster—as between those working in the nationalised industries and the nurses, for example—what provision will be made to secure not just an orderly but a fair relationship between those groups for whom the State inevitably is responsible? How can we be satisfied that the Labour Party begins to have adequate policies to protect those likely to be threatened still more by inflation, namely, the pensioners?

It is easy enough for the right hon. Lady to talk about a giant step forward with the first large rise about which she has spoken. But if pensioners cast their minds back to the record of the last Labour administration, they will realise that the first large rise will be followed by much smaller and less adequate additions. Indeed, they will recollect the extent to which pensioners were better looked after under the Conservative administration in real and practical terms.

The problem that remains is the extent to which the Labour Party continues to give the misleading impression that it is possible to pay for such social change and justice as it seeks solely by means of the redistribution of wealth. Apart from giving the impression that the Conservative Party has not achieved huge successes in the improvement of our social services, right hon. and hon. Members opposite fall back on the proposition that the redistribution of wealth can be the answer. It is misleading in the extreme to believe that the resources will be available to promote the Labour Government's social programme if the pursuit of equality is placed above all else. This is what causes us anxiety.

Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)

We have brought back the five-day week.

Sir G. Howe

The right hon. Lady has not vouchsafed the cost of the proposals relating to pensions and social benefits. Her right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey), now Chancellor of the Exchequer, last September said that only a very limited amount of money would be available for other commitments if the pensions commitment alone were carried through. Yet, the Gracious Speech foreshadows unquantified food subsidies and unquantified changes in the housing finance system, apart from programmes for education or for public ownership.

The reality that the Government fail to face, and which it is essential should be faced, is that the scope for payment for these measures by the pursuit of greater equality is a wild illusion. If everything over £5,000 a year were to be taken away in taxation, it would not add more than 30p per week per worker.

Inequality in our society has been diminishing. We already have a high and progressive tax system—higher than almost any other country. It is in fact and in reality increasingly difficult to retain and to attract to this country talent not merely managerial, but in the very sphere with which the right hon. Lady is concerned, and, above all, to attract the capital necessary for us to achieve the growth in resources which is essential if we are to have any prospect of expanding our social services.

This is the great divide in British politics. There is no divide between us about our anxiety and determination to eliminate squalor and poverty as fast and fully as we can. I have enough experience in my life—in my home in South Wales, from having represented a seat on Merseyside, done work in the education service in East London, and many other matters, although I am in no sense unique because many of my hon. Friends have greater experience—to know of the necessity for eliminating poverty as quickly as possible. But it will not be eliminated by the politics of envy which involve tearing down rather than working together.

It is wrong for the right hon. Lady to imply the prospect that everything can be done as fast as we would all like and faster than is possible by the redistribution of wealth, by the elimination of choice, by the centralisation of authority, whether in pensions, education, housing or anywhere else. To follow the policies which the right hon. Lady foreshadows—but seldom fully discloses with as much candour here as in other places—is not just to threaten the survival of a liberal society, but, in the long run, is to destroy the capacity of our society to generate the increased resources which are essential and on which we depend for the elimination of poverty itself.

I commend to the right hon. Lady a quotation, whose source she may not immediately recognise, but which is at the heart of what is wrong with the fundamental beliefs of the Labour Party, however much hon. Members opposite may voice their concern for the elimination of social injustice: The worship of equality has developed in an unprecedented manner. This fact has become one of the most important obstacles to intensive economic development and higher living standards. The negative aspects of equality are that lazy people, passive individuals and irresponsible employees profit at the expense of dedicated and diligent employees, unskilled workers profit at the expense of skilled ones, and those who are backward from the point of view of technology profit at the expense of those with initiative and talent. That comes not from the lamented former right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, but from the action programme commended to the Czechoslovak Communist Party by Dubcek in April 1968. It is an accurate identification of the intellectual fallacies underlying the thinking of the Labour Party. If it disregards the necessity not only to make our society a just society but to make it prosperous, it does indeed threaten the fabric of the social services which are so essential to social justice in this country.

11.56 a.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I should like, first, to pay tribute to my predecessor, the right hon. George Darling, who, at the risk of arousing fury on the Opposition benches, I should describe as a man of immense compassion. He was a humane man, an excellent constituency MP, deeply respected by all the people of Hillsborough, who sensibly gave me a 12,000 majority. Already I am learning of the many individual good actions in which he engaged for so many people, and the care and trouble that he, like his predecessor, A. V. Alexander, took to solve the many human problems with which they had to deal. My wish is to emulate their example.

I now turn to that part of the Gracious Speech in which improved educational facilities and the development of a fully comprehensive system of secondary education are promised. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on what, when it is carried out, will be a splendid achievement. It will mean the complete abolition of the iniquitous, anti-educational, élitist 11-plus examination.

I have always been wary of the mental measurers—those people who judge a child at the age of 11 and proceed to hamper him for life, having misjudged him and often blared in his ear at that age that he is a failure. I could never believe in that.

Sheffield is lucky. It has a fully comprehensive system of education, although lacking certain of the finance with which to carry it out even better. It is good to know that this system will be developed throughout the country, as my right hon. Friend has promised.

Up to the election I was a head teacher in what is called a middle school, which is essentially a primary school, and up to last week I was a member of the national executive of the National Union of Teachers. In the latter capacity I went on many deputations to the Department of Education and Science. So much so, my face was fairly well known there. I went there with frequent regularity.

The right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) was virtually immovable from her attachment to élitist education. The Sheffield Education Committee invited the then Minister to Sheffield where there are over 250 State schools. When she eventually came, she visited the direct grant girls' high school, although outside the door were over 250 schools with ordinary children in them.

Incidentally, when Lord James came to Sheffield he visited a preparatory school. He was putting out a report on teacher education. This is indicative of the mode of thinking about education.

What, then, are the fundamental problems which concern us in education? One is the size of classes. Five years ago, I was teaching a class of 48 children in a school in which there were no classes with fewer than 47 children. There is an anecdote in the teaching profession about large classes. It concerns a young, gently nurtured woman, just out of college. She went to a school for the first time, and the headmistress said to her "Now, dear, in front of you there are 45 children. You are expected to treat them as a wise parent would". She turned to the headmistress and asked "Which wise parent has 45 children?". There is something in that.

When a young child leaves home for the first time to go to school, he does so after having had a one-to-one relationship with the most important person in the world—his mother—and he suddenly finds himself in a queue—very often a long one—where it is difficult for even an able teacher to have that one-to-one relationship.

Hon. Gentlemen opposite, I am sure, love small classes. They send their children to places which have small classes, so they must like that arrangement. We would like small classes in all State schools in which to teach our children. That is the real need, and in order to have smaller classes we need more teachers. In fact, we need a great many more teachers.

We need, too, the replacement of old schools. In a school, it is axiomatic that the caretaker first gets to know what is to happen, and he tells the head who then asks the dinner woman. Our caretaker came to me the other day and said "Mr. Flannery, we are to have a new school". I replied "Really? That is lovely, because our school is 100 years old this year and needs replacing". I inquired at the education committee, where a good public servant said "Well, we are having one new school per year in the primary sector in Sheffield, and you are fifteenth on the list". It seems to me that we must do something about this question of new schools. An old school is like an old person. It needs a doctor every now and again, and in our school we were never free of workmen on the premises. That is true of most schools, and money is needed to solve the problem.

Some time ago, the previous Conservative administration put out an education policy statement entitled "Education: A Framework for Expansion". It should have been called "Education: A Framework for Contraction". When the initial euphoria had disappeared, because of the promise of expanded nursery education, the teachers' organisations and education committees ransacked the document and realised that what I have just said about contraction was profoundly true.

But worse was to come. In December, as part of an overall £1,200 million cutback, no less than £182 million was lopped off education, and it is a fact that that has not yet gripped the consciousness of most people. It is a Draconian measure that will have an impact on education, and it is the worst cut in living memory. It will have such an impact that the whole of the educational system of this country will be set back. It has resulted in nationwide deputations, even to friendly education committees, to know where the cuts will come.

The cut-back will cause unemployment among teachers. It is calculated in Sheffield by the chairman of the education committee that we shall have almost mass unemployment if this cut goes through as it is intended. It will mean lower recruitment among teachers, bigger classes because of fewer teachers, and fewer buildings. It will mean withdrawal of the capitation allowance for books and materials, which is already insufficient. It will mean the cessation of necessary repairs and the non-replacement of old schools. It will mean a lowering of existing educational standards, and many other drastic curtailments.

I now propose to say something about the so-called London allowance, because teachers are being drained away from London to the extent that if a special allowance is not given to them it will mean that the system in inner London will be in danger of collapsing. I have recently spoken to many teachers about this problem.

When we asked the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science to help us, the right hon. Lady came out of a Cabinet meeting and our executive was informed that £3 annually would be put on the London allowance. We were disgusted by that. If something is not done to help the inner London teaching service by providing an allowance the drainage of teachers will continue.

The present position means that a teacher, having had all the interviews, having been refereed and having taken up a position, comes to London, gets the job and goes out to get a mortgage but fails to get one and has to go back and say that the job can no longer be held. The situation is as serious as that, and something needs to be done about it urgently. I know that my right hon. Friend has an unenviable task. The previous Government had virtually lost control of every aspect of finance except profits, which they showed splendid expertise in producing and regarded as sacrosanct. I hope that as we stabilise the mess that we have been left the cuts in education can be withdrawn and our whole system of education expanded. That is our duty to our children and our people.

12.7 p.m.

Dr. Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North)

I am in the position of making my maiden speech following on the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I disagree with many of the things said by the hon. Gentleman, but he holds his views strongly and we shall listen to his speeches with interest.

I have inherited a seat that was previously represented by two Members, Sir Eric Bullus who represented Wembley, North, and Sir Ronald Russell who represented Wembley, South, half of whose constituency has come into Brent, North. Those two Members served the House for nearly 25 years, obviously with the confidence of their constituents, because they were returned here at each election. I know from what others have said that those two hon. Members looked after the interests of their constituents. I know, too, the respect in which they were held by many of their friends in the House, and the fact that both were knighted for their services is a tribute to what they did over that period of time.

The constituency of Brent, North consists largely of Wembley. It is a suburban constituency that was built up between the two world wars. It grew largely out of the British Empire Exhibition of 1924–25 which brought fame not only to Wembley and London but to the whole country. Also in Wembley we have the famous stadium which seats 100,000 people, and in these days when there is so much trouble at football grounds, as we have seen recently, I am sure that it will be the wish of all hon. Members that I attend matches regularly on Saturdays when they are played to make sure that there is law and order in the capital and that its good name is not besmirched.

Near the stadium there is the new Esso hotel in which visitors can stay, and further on there is the Conservative club which I can recommend to my hon. Friends. It is known as the Red House, not because of dissentient views or Socialist infiltration, but because of the beautiful shades of colour in which the club was built.

One can find other amazing things in Wembley. One can even find thatched cottages within 12 miles of the centre of London. Recently, a bus driver was so taken aback by the sight of a thatched cottage that he drove his bus into it and the cottage surrounded the bus. If one wishes to visit the constituency, it may thus be safer to take a tube journey of 12 minutes starting from Baker Street after visiting Madame Tussaud's.

I now propose to refer to that part of the Gracious Speech which deals with education. First, on the expansion of nursery education, I know that many hon. Members feel that much family deprivation can be rectified in this way. It might be slightly controversial to say so, since I shall probably be expressing a different opinion from that of many other hon. Members, but I believe that nursery education is not a panacea and cure-all. Research coming out of America indicates that children entering a nursery school at the age of three may be more advanced than others at the age of five, but by the age of seven, there is little to choose between them and those who have not attended nursery schools. It is like a one-stage rocket that does not go up.

The Office of Economic Opportunity in America has found that the best way of helping mother and child is by helping the mother. Dr. Mary Robinson's scheme whereby mothers are paid about £2 a session to listen to talks on education-related subjects such as vocabulary and choice of books has proved of advantage to children not only at the age of five but at the ages of seven and eight. I was particularly struck by what my right hon. and learned Friend said about playgroups. In a difficult financial situation, we may be better helping the family and spending money on extending the numbers of the 250,000 children who are in voluntary playgroups than on the very expensive business of expanding nursery education.

The hon. Member for Hillsborough referred to the teacher shortage, especially in London. The Secretary of State would not be thanked by a parent who saw his child accepted into a nursery school at the age of three while his other son was on part-time schooling at the age of 14, as is the case in many parts of London and other cities. The first priority is to get enough good teachers into schools catering for the statutory age range of five to 16. We need not just numbers of teachers but teachers of good quality. This is a priority that we have not yet fulfilled and it should be concentrated on by hon. Members on both sides if we are to fulfil our pledges to the nation.

Turning to the extension of comprehensive education, for the information of the hon. Member for Hillsborough I should declare that I have spent the whole of my life, apart from service in the Royal Navy, teaching in State schools, that I went to a State school myself, as did my wife, who is also in the teaching profession, and that my children, apart from two years that one of them spent in the preparatory department of a direct grant school, have spent all their lives in State education as well. So there need be no cheap remarks about any comments that I may make about comprehensive education.

Thirteen years ago I would probably have agreed with the statement in the Gracious Speech and the views of many hon. Members opposite. But my experience, certainly in London and many other areas, and also what I have seen in America and read about in Eastern Europe, convinces me that comprehensive education is not the great answer that it was once thought to be.

It is possible, and I say possible, that, in rural areas and small towns, comprehensive schools will succeed, but what is happening in London and elsewhere suggests that there is something in their structure, not just a question of teacher supply or wages, but the difficulty of spread of ability and size and variety of courses, which almost destroys them from the centre.

While we may be moving, as are one or two other countries in Europe—but not all of them—towards comprehensive education, Eastern Europe has moved away from the common school. In America, New York and Los Angeles are moving to highly specialised subject schools. We shall never have a perfect education system; we shall never "hit the buffers" and change no more. We have never finished one form of school reorganisation before starting another, and I can already see signs of change in the present situation.

The fact that in Russia there are 400 highly specialist mathematical and science schools from which 80 per cent. go to university should warn us of the competition that we shall face in industry, science and technology in world markets. We should stay where we are and analyse what we are doing, see what is happening in many other countries and realise that, in the centre of London, many working-class parents this year set up their own school because they were disenchanted with many comprehensive schools in that area.

The statement issued earlier this week by the Secretary of State referred to consultation, before a circular is issued, with teachers and local authorities. Unless Press reports were wrong—I hope that they were—there was no mention of consultation with parents. It is fascinating how readily we talk about participation yet make little reference to the parents, the people most concerned with the education of the children, and they, as Christopher Jencks made clear, are most influential on their children's schools. I predict that parent power will be the power of the 'seventies and that power will not remain with teachers. Parents are very concerned about standards of schools, discipline and so on.

We are likely to go one of two ways. Either there will be an emphasis on national standards because of disillusionment with standards in many schools—I should not be surprised if the Labour Party goes in that direction in the next 10 years—or there will be more parental choice, which in itself will monitor these schools. I support the educational voucher, which is supported by the Left in America, although not in this country, of involving parents in the education of their children, not just by the sop of electing a parent-governor once every three years but by actually giving them a choice of schools on the basis of religion, discipline, academic emphasis, single sex or some other criterion. I do not know how the Secretary of State will do this, but I should like to see wider consultation in each area with parents, and not just with pressure groups such as CASE, which represents probably a much smaller segment of parents.

I have tried to be careful not to raise ire on either side of the House in this non-controversial speech. One mention in the Gracious Speech which I welcome particularly and which I think will be welcome throughout the House is the reference to special provision for handicapped children. I have no doubt that the test of a civilised society is how it treats the deprived and handicapped, and I am delighted to see this. On that point, if on no other, the Secretary of State can count on 100 per cent. support in the House.

12.18 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Irving (Dartford)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), who has been a controversial figure in education. He held himself very well in hand this morning, making a highly competent maiden speech in the best tradition of the House, which I think we have all heard with great interest. It is clear that the hon. Member has a good grasp of the subject and much experience. I am sure that we welcome him to our debates and look forward to hearing many speeches from him in future.

It is a great honour for me to return to the House to represent Dartford once again. I am very grateful to the electors for reposing confidence in me. I hope that my opponent, who sat in this House for three and a half years, will soon find a Conservative seat and perhaps return to the House.

It is rather unusual for an occupant of the Chair to return to the back benches and I must accept that my role will be rather more partisan than it used to be. But I want to assure you, Sir, that I have great sympathy with and understanding of the difficult job that you have to do and which you do so well. I do not propose in this respect to give any trouble to the House. I shall seek on another occasion to deal with certain hazards that are attached to being in the Chair, of which I unhappily have personal experience.

I congratulate the Government on the measures in the Queen's Speech and the right hon. Lady on her statement this morning. I believe that there is a full programme for a Session and that it is relevant to the problems facing the country. I understand the difficulties and dilemma facing the opposition parties—whether to accept or to oppose. On the one hand, they see the Government credited in most of the Press as acting vigorously, as if they had a majority, and as seeking to enact their manifesto. On the other hand, they are anxious to claim that every item in the speech is a vote for moderation and something for which they would wish to take credit. I believe, and hope, that this dilemma will face them for a long time.

But there is the other problem facing them—that of finding an issue on which they could respectably turn out the Government. There are few issues of this kind in the manifesto which could stand on their own and be successful for those parties in a subsequent General Election. Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I believe after the first hectic week or two the political situation will settle down to being more stable than it now appears and I think that you will have us with you for a lot longer than you perhaps first believed.

I do not envy the job of Ministers in establishing priorities. All of us know that in every area of activity in every part of the country there are areas of neglect and deprivation crying out for help, for money and for investment. I should now like to deal with a few of these. The first is hospitals, where in the past three years I have had a great deal of experience as chairman of one of the largest management committees in the country.

The need for greater investment in hospital building is apparent to all. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) for the considerable support, running into millions of pounds, that he gave last year to a hospital over which I have some control, a large hospital for the handicapped which has done much to help deal with the problems that have been outstanding for a long time.

Secondly, there is the need for better wages for lower-paid workers in the hospital service. We have lived too long on dedication. If we do not improve the wages of nurses and others in the hospital service, we shall eventually have to close our hospitals because of shortage of staff. In the group of which I am chairman—in one of the eight hospitals—Darenth Park—we have an establishment of 800 nurses and only 40 per cent. in post. This state of affairs cannot continue.

I was glad to see the undertaking to review the reorganisation of the National Health Service. I accept, as my right hon. Friend said this morning, that there are great difficulties in looking at changes only three weeks before the service is due to be reorganised. The service is suffering from great strain and I do not believe that it behoves any of us to put greater strain on it than it has to bear.

I am also chairman of a district council and I have seen the remarkable difference between the reorganisation of local government and the health service. I find that the lack of preparation in the health service has placed a burden on the service that it should not have been allowed to carry. The reorganisation of the local government service has been going on for two years and will take over smoothly on 1st April—although I am bound to say that everyone I know in the health service will do everything he can to make the reorganisation work. But the delay occasioned by the failure to get legislation through and to bring about appointments early enough is creating a disability that will take a long time to overcome.

In my experience two things are clear. The first is that we have added at least one additional burdensome tier to the service which will not add anything to the efficiency of the service. The area health authority tier may well impede the planning of the service, will probably weaken communications and certainly increase the cost of administration. Indeed, in this connection the reorganisation has left a large number of very uneven areas that will be difficult to administer.

Some areas have no more than one district health authority as a component part. Others, such as my own area of Kent, have six. That in itself could create considerable difficulties. But we have removed the lay representation at district level, where it means most, bringing local knowledge and local participation at a level where it can be most effective, while retaining it at higher levels where, by the very nature of things, it must be more remote and, perhaps for that reason, less effective.

I believe that there should be lay members on the management team, because this could help to moderate the difficulties of action and co-operation between members of the management team in an interdisciplinary sense. I find that there are few professionals in the health service at district level who do not regret the disappearance of the hospital management committee, and few have any great confidence in the prospects of success of the system of management by consensus, which is to be the future mode of operation at district level. I do not wish to see community health councils divorced from any responsibility for management. In my view, they will either be so docile as to be irrelevant, or so aggressive as to create tension and conflict, both of which are unfortunate.

I have been talking about the general principles associated with the organisation. I should like to turn now briefly to what has happened in the area health authority in Kent. First, I find it almost impossible to recognise in most of the appointments any similarity with the ideas laid down in the consultative document or the Blue Books which were the blueprints for the service, particularly in regard to the need for managerial ability. I am referring particularly to the area health authority.

Kent has a population of 1.3 million—probably the largest area health authority in the country. The appointment of the 15 members for the area health authority did not allow any representative resident in the three largest districts in the area—Dartford, Gravesham and Medway—with a population of nearly half the total. That seems to me to be a grave omission. This omission was later made good by Kent County Council appointing its own representative for this area. But I do not believe that it was the role of the Kent County Council and local authority representatives to make good the neglect and failure of the area health authority. Indeed, out of the 15 people appointed, six, including the chairman, were directly connected with the Tunbridge Wells and Leybourne group.

The position with regard to officers is equally strange. In one of the largest counties in the country it was not possible to find a single officer suitable to be an area administrator. Indeed, the same was true in the first round in terms of the appointment of the area treasurer. Eventually, on the second round, a 63-year-old officer was appointed who was not at first shortlisted by the national staff committee and who, the House will not be surprised to learn, came also from the Tunbridge Wells and Leybourne group. Finally, at the district level a deputy group secretary was appointed, while an experienced group secretary still had not been given an appointment of any kind—it will not surprise the House to know that he also came from the Tunbridge Wells and Leybourne group.

None of these is a party point. I have here a letter setting out much of this from the Conservative deputy leader of the Kent County Council, Alderman Edward Moore, who shares with myself and many others in Kent the disquiet about the way in which these appointments have been made. The Secretary of State will understand from what I have said that over the next few weeks and months I shall be urging her to look again carefully at these appointments and others to be made in the future, because exactly the same thing has happened in appointments to the family practitioner committee.

I turn briefly to education. Here, again, the priorities are difficult. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said, it is urgent to raise teachers' salaries to ensure an adequate supply of teachers of proper quality. This is more and more important if we are not to do permanent damage to the service, and damage is becoming apparent in many areas at the moment.

I should have liked to talk about higher education, as I have spent the past three years mainly involved in university administration. There are urgent matters in universities, particularly in respect of student grants, but I shall seek a further opportunity to raise those in greater detail.

I was pleased to see in the Queen's Speech the determination of the Government to create a comprehensive system of secondary education. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on his decision to consult local education authorities before issuing his circular. That was not done by the right hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) in 1970. The consequences of that have been extremely damaging to the service.

Secondary education has got into such an extraordinary tangle in Kent that many local people have begun to despair of any progress, and the uncertainty has been damaging to staff and pupils alike. Again, I make no purely party political point. The Kent Education Committee, which is a Conservative authority, has been courageous over the past six or seven years in maintaining its decision to abolish selection at 11. However, the pressures encouraged by the capricious use of Section 13 procedures and others by the right hon. Member for Finchley and her interpretation of the law have placed every obstable in the way of the implementation of the schemes already approved, and the result in Dartford has been chaotic.

Two large schools have been constructed in the grounds of two existing selective schools. These buildings overlap, as one would expect of school buildings which were intended to be part of a comprehensive complex. As long as these buildings remain separate, they will be an impediment to proper organisation and discipline and effective education in those areas. At Wilmington, where one of these schools is situated, the right hon. Lady refused a Section 13 notice to create a bilateral school. This has produced protests from the staff, the governors, the parents, the local education authority and also from the divisional executive, all of which have been ignored.

These schools have many facilities in common, cooking arrangements, halls, even some corridors and playing fields. A greater recipe for difficulty I could not possibly imagine. We are not allowed to run this group as a bilateral school, but to mitigate the consequences of the right hon. Lady's decision we are allowed to have a joint head for these schools. I cannot think of anything more nonsensical. Many parents, teachers and others will welcome the help of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science in securing progress in the reorganisation of secondary education.

I congratulate the Government on a good start. I believe that if they continue in this way, they will ensure, whenever the test may come—whether next week or next year—the wholehearted support of the British people.

12.33 p.m.

Dr. Michael Winstanley (Hazel Grove)

I am sure the House would wish me to begin by joining with the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving) in congratulating the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) who made their maiden speeches this morning. Both of them spoke with conviction and with knowledge on subjects about which they feel very strongly. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing them speak on those subjects on many future occasions.

I shall not take up their remarks, except to say that I agree with what the hon. Member for Hillsborough said about allowing the public sector to sink, which causes the private sector to rise. I shall perhaps refer to that in parallel in some remarks about the health service.

I agreed, too, with what the hon. Member for Brent, North said about judging the degree of civilisation of a community by the way it deals with and treats and behaves towards the under-privileged. Perhaps I could return to that matter also, though in another connection.

I understand that my speech is not a maiden speech. Like the right hon. Member for Dartford, I have been resurrected. Therefore, having spoken often in this House—not too often, I hope—I cannot ask hon. Members for the special consideration which they invariably show to hon. Members making maiden speeches, but perhaps I could ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for indulgence if I stray from the point for a moment to refer to the new constituency of Hazel Grove, which I now have the honour to represent.

Hazel Grove consists of two-thirds of the former Cheadle constituency—the three urban districts of Marple, Bredbury and Romiley, Hazel Grove and Bramhall. It forms a sausage-like shape surrounding the south-east of Stockport, nestling against the Pennines. Thus, it contains many different areas—moorland with hill farms and isolated cottages, villages, prosperous little townships like Marple and Romiley, crowded suburbs like Hazel Grove itself, and even rich residential areas like Woodford and Bramhall. It also has industrial areas like Bredbury, which have heavy and light engineering works. The new constituency of Hazel Grove is, therefore, in many ways a microcosm of England, and it is an honour to represent such a place with such people in the House. I hope to continue to do so for a long time.

Turning to today's subject, social services, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches will be aware that we on the Liberal bench differ from them on certain basic issues, such as a prices and incomes policy. We have always said that any prices and incomes policy, whether statutory or voluntary, can operate effectively only if it is fair. We have also said that such a policy can be operated only in the context of a fair and just society. Thus, my words today are designed to indicate areas in which the Government can rely on the enthusiastic support of all my hon. Friends in order to remove injustices which have crept into our affairs and to help to create a more fair and just society.

I shall try to spell out clearly and briefly areas in which I think there is need for urgent action. If the Government undertake to attend to these matters rapidly so as to enable us to control prices and incomes, I shall feel bound to try to persuade my hon. Friends to assist the Government on that course. Of course, I can make no promises, but on first meeting my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), at a cricket dinner, he spent the evening trying to persuade me to join the Labour Party and I spent the evening trying to persuade him to join the Liberal Party. The result is both audible and visible testimony to the fact that some people are more persuasive than others.

During my absence from the House I have not only put on a stone in weight and got to know my wife and children again; I have returned to other occupations which have helped me in relation to social services. I have returned to general practice in a group practice in a mining area—or, at least, what was a mining area—which therefore contains many elderly people, a number of whom still bear the scars of a lifetime's work at the coalface. They are among the bravest and most dignified people anywhere, and mixing with them has helped me considerably in understanding some of the problems that face us.

In addition, I have been concerned with the presentation of a citizens' advice bureau type of television programme. It is not the programme but the advice bureau run in association with it which is important. It employs experts—Professor Harry Street on common law, Dr. Eric Midwinter on education and Mrs. Ruth Dunkley on social services, and so on. It deals weekly with about 500 cases involving people in difficulty who write about their problems. The programme has been running for three and a half years, and I am glad that the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), who has participated in this debate, has taken part and helped in the programme, as has the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) on many occasions. Members therefore know of it and have participated in it. The cases which come to us —about 500 a week—do so mainly, according to our research, from poor families with low incomes.

These two activities have helped to widen my political horizons and assisted me in recognising the areas of need. When I was a Member of the House before, it was only when I went back home and visited patients, particularly elderly patients living alone, that I discovered what politics was about and realised that these people were not consumed with excitement about the outcome of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill but were thinking about pensions, prices, and so on. So today all I want to do is underline briefly what I have found, and, indeed, what I know from experience, to be major causes of suffering and injustice.

First, I wish to comment on a matter on which I support what the Government are doing and have done. The Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act has been somewhat disappointing because it has operated patchily, because its provisions are not mandatory and local authorities are merely required to operate them to such extent as they consider reasonable and practicable.

We find that what is reasonable and practicable in one area is proved to be unreasonable and impracticable in others. Indeed, we found that different areas have interpreted the Act in different ways. Some have misunderstood its purpose and when asked for a telephone for a disabled person have said "A teenage son lives there and he can go and get the doctor if necessary."

The purpose of providing items such as telephones, the purpose of altering houses and so on under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act was not to enable a disabled person to summon help in the middle of the night, or to get a stretcher through the doorway, but purely to improve the quality of life for the disabled. With the appointment of the hon. Member for Wythenshawe—and he certainly has my good wishes and, I am sure, the good wishes of all my hon. Friends—the Government could not have done anything more reassuring in this matter, because the Act has been something of a disappointment, but I am sure that the hon. Member, who knows all the deficiencies, will be able to do a great deal about it.

I proceed briefly to two other matters relating to the disabled. The first is the attendance allowance, which, as the House knows, is a valuable form of special help for the seriously disabled and for those who have to care for them. There is one respect in which great injustice and dissatisfaction are caused. I refer to those who are acutely ill with a terminal illness.

A person who is suddenly taken ill and who, we know, is going to remain ill for the whole of his life, but who cannot qualify for the attendance allowance, even though fulfilling the conditions as needing attendance throughout the day and night, even though a daughter or son has to stay off work to look after him, cannot qualify until he has had that disability for a full six months. Some people in this category, as we know, die a day or two before the six-month period ends and never get the help from this allowance which, frankly, they ought to get. That is one respect in which we could improve the scheme immediately.

Next, I briefly mention those on invalidity benefit and below pensionable age. Such people write to us constantly. They are people who will often never work again; they get no special benefits; they do not get the £10 or £20 Christmas bonus; they do not get concessionary bus fares; they do not get free prescription charges, or any of the other things automatically given to people in receipt of the family income supplement. They get very little indeed. Many of them feel frustrated and resentful. Many feel that they have had a bad deal. I hope that they will presently get a better deal. Proceeding with a disablement income would remedy the situation for many of those now receiving the attendance allowance and invalidity benefit.

Next, I should like to mention the single parent. Single unsupported parents, not just widows but often deserted wives, particularly those not receiving maintenance or unable to find the person who should be paying, and thus unable to enforce maintenance, are often in serious difficulties. Their situation should be remedied. The onus of enforcing maintenance should be put on the State rather than on the harassed and deserted mother. There are many instances of grave suffering in this field.

I refer briefly to the earnings rule. It seems ludicrous to continue with this unjust arrangement. It operates for the first five years of retirement—from 60–65 for a woman and 65–70 for a man. If a pensioner earns more than £9.60, or whatever is the appropriate figure, he loses that amount of pension. At a time when we know that it is not only economically helpful, but socially desirable to keep many elderly people in employment, it is monstrous that we should continue to discourage them in this niggardly way, and I hope that we shall shortly hear that the earnings rule is going for good.

Let me comment, too, on the so-called £2 disregard for wives' part-time earnings when their husbands are on supplementary benefit. A wife is allowed to earn £2, which is disregarded in the calculation of needs and income for supplementary benefit purposes. It was calculated at a time when £2 was approximately what a wife would earn by doing three mornings a week cleaning. It now represents about a morning at the most, and I think that it is high time that this matter was looked at again. It causes a great deal of discontent, and at the least a wife's income should be disregarded up to what I would call the family income supplement level.

I regard the family income supplement not so much as help and maintenance for poor families—there must be a child, for it only goes to families, and the breadwinner in the family must be in full-time work; it is not so much help for a poor family as a subsidy to enable a bad employer to continue paying poor wages. I would much rather see established a decent national minimum wage than the family income supplement persisted with.

I want to comment briefly on two matters which I am frightened the Government may postpone. The first is the arrangement for the provision of free family planning services within the National Health Service on 1st April. I hope it will be possible for the Governmetn to announce that there will be no delay and that they will, by some means or other, introduce a fully comprehensive family planning scheme within the health service at the earliest possible date.

I agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) about the possible difficulties if there is a postponement in the pesions scheme. It would be particularly unfair to those who are about to retire and I think, too, that the Act has already persuaded many companies and employers to introduce schemes with better benefits, and any postponement might deter others who are thinking of doing likewise.

Of course, the scheme could be improved in many ways. For example, at the moment the employee's contribution—1½ per cent.—is without tax relief. I believe that that was reversed in Committee to give tax relief, and then reversed again on Report. I hope the Government will look at it again. The scheme applies to earnings up to one-and-a-half times the national wage. Why only one-and-a-half times the national wage? Why not across the board?

I hope that the scheme is not postponed and that the Government will seize on the opportunity to improve it.

There is much that the Liberals would like to help the Government to do. We should like to help them to abolish the earnings rule immediately. We should like to see justice for those in receipt of invalidity benefit. We should like to revise the £2 disregard for wives whose husbands are on supplementary benefit. We should like to improve the position of so-called terminal cases under the attendance allowance. We should like to abolish the family income supplement and substitute a family income and a national minimum wage; and we should like, of course, to make big improvements in the position of the single parent.

I am a passionate believer in the National Health Service. It should be perfectly possible for this country to mount a fully comprehensive, humane and efficient health service on a nonpaying basis. It has never been suggested from these benches that the health service should be free. It is not something that falls from the sky. It has to be paid for. What is at issue is when it should be paid for. Should it be paid for at the time of need, or should payment be spread over our lines and over the community on a taxation or insurance basis? I should like to see all charges disappear.

It is my experience that where the health service flourishes, where the hospitals are efficient, where there are not three-year waiting lists for people with allegedly non-urgent operations—what is non-urgent to the authorities sometimes seems pretty urgent to the person awaiting the operation—where the general practitioner service is good and the general practitioner-patient ratio is good, one sees hardly any private practice. Private practice flourishes if the National Health Service begins to disintegrate.

It is found similarly in education: if parents remove their children from the State school and send them to a private school, they remove an important pres- sure to maintain the standard of the State school. The opting out from the health service into private practice is a dangerous development. The way to cure it is not by abolishing private practice, but by doing away with the need for private practice. The way to stop queue-jumping is to do away with queues. The Government can rely on our enthusiastic support for anything they can do to revitalise the health service in which, I assure them, we believe as strongly as they do.

It is a great pleasure to be back. Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I am most grateful to hon. Gentlemen for listening to me.

12.50 p.m.

Mr. Geoff Edge (Aldridge-Brownhills)

I welcome this opportunity to make my maiden speech, although I am very conscious that, after the excellent speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), it will be no small achievement to match their eloquence in the House today. Like the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley), who I am delighted to see is in a mood helpful to the Government—which mood I hope will extend to the Lobby on Monday evening—I represent a new constituency, Aldridge-Brownhills, in Staffordshire. Just as I was confused as to where Hazel Grove might be, others may be confused as to where my constiuency might be. There is little need for me to invite hon. Members to visit my constituency. Most of them have unwittingly visited it already as they travel slowly up the A5, which runs from one end of my con- stituency, Streetly, to the other end, Brownhills.

This is a new constituency on the edge of the West Midland conurbation. It was formerly a mining area, which was worked in the past by my family—although not exclusively of course. I welcome the settlement of the miners' dispute. I am sure that many people in my constituency who still work in the mining industry will welcome the settlement of that dispute so rapidly by the present Government. But this is a constituency which shows all the characteristics of English society. It contains a remarkable cross-section, from the Birmingham businessman living at Streetly, on the edge of Sutton Park, right through to Brownhills, with its legacy of mining dereliction, and with areas of green belt and new housing in between. To get a cross-section of opinion in English society is fairly easy merely by travelling from one end of the constituency to the other.

In this new constituency there will be a widespread welcome for the measures proposed in the Gracious Speech. Indeed. I am fortunate in the constituency to follow two Members who represented part of it, Mr. William Wells, who represented the Walsall, North part, and Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, who served the Walsall, South part of it. Between them they served the constituency in the House for over 50 years. Having heard the Gracious Speech I may, with a little luck and with the good will of the electorate, possibly be able to emulate their achievement.

The Gracious Speech is a very attractive one, particularly for me, concerned as I have been with the education industry for most of my life. I am pleased to see the proposals for the extension of nursery education. Many of those who have been involved in the playgroup movement—alas, in my case, not as a child but as a playgroup chairman—recognise that although the playgroup movement is doing excellent work, there are tremendous limitations to what can be done. There are many areas in which playgroup education is absolutely vital, but that is where no provision is available. There are other areas in my constituency where people are very anxious to send their children to a playschool and yet have no opportunity because the playschools which exist are already hopelessly over-subscribed.

Education experts have shown us that the early years in a child's educational life are the most important years. A child who is educationally deprived at the age of three is likely to remain educationally deprived at the age of 11—an age which, I am glad to see, is to become far less important in educational life—and educationally deprived at 18, and so on, throughout the rest of his career.

I welcome the introduction of nursery education as a high priority. It will be of great benefit to many who have lacked these opportunities in my constituency and to many people with backgrounds like mine, working-class backgrounds, who have lost out time and again and whose parents have been unable to purchase educational privilege and social status which can be obtained only by hunting after the direct grant schools and public schools. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will pledge himself to the early disappearance of bath of those instruments of social and educational inequality.

But, more than that, there are different problems. Education always needs more money. Apart from the need to expand nursery education, there is a need to expand the provision in primary and junior schools. The class size of 40 is an entirely wrong one. We should try to reduce this size to 30 children per class, and not to encapsulate children in a classroom situation but to use the educational facilities which are becoming increasingly available. We must use these flexibly, in terms of group teaching, audio-visual aids, and so on. As a school manager I know only too well that too often there are fine school buildings which are too small to permit the efficient use of the building for team teaching and so on. This is hampering education. We need more schools. We need larger schools for the junior schools. We need smaller classes. These are an absolute educational necessity.

In addition, I welcome the pledge to get rid of the 11-plus once and for all. There is scarcely in this country an educational expert who will justify the 11-plus any longer. It is little more than an intelligence test, for which children can be trained, so that it measures their degree of assiduity, and, perhaps, a little skill on the part of their parents in training their children to pass the test, rather than any measure of present or future potential in the educational world. Its early abolition is surely a necessity.

I welcome the disappearance of the consummate piece of political dishonesty of the maintenance within one catchment area of schools which are called comprehensive schools and those which are called grammar schools, so that some children are creamed off into grammar schools and the residue are sent to what are called comprehensive schools but are in reality secondary modern schools. That is appalling and ought to have been abolished long ago.

Finally, I turn to higher education, in which I spent most of my life. In the last couple of years we have had the feeling that a twilight of barbarism was spreading over higher education. Universities have been faced with reductions in the number of staff. In my former department alone we have 9,000 applicants for 50 student places. Increasingly, people were unable to get the education to which they were entitled. Even in the Open University, which I have had the privilege to serve for the last three years, the situation was that more and more students were applying for fewer and fewer places. We were rapidly approaching a situation in which we turned away far more students each year than we were able to accept.

Money has been cut. Television facilities have been limited. If we regard television as an effective education medium—and, as a television performer with some accidental skill, I know that it is an important medium—we must make more time available by means of a fourth television channel. I do not argue that the whole of that channel should be devoted to educational purposes. Little more time can be made available for education programmes on BBC2, even in the early hours of the morning and the late hours of the evening. Further opportunities for educational broadcasting must be made available. Therefore, we need more money in higher education, too, and in further education there is a whole constituency of people who lost out in the first game of educational roulette and who still lack opportunities for educational improvement. The Open University has made a remarkable start. But there are many people still on the shop floor and to them we must give educational opportunities. We must interest them in eduction, possibly for the first time.

All of these things need to be done. They clearly will not be done easily or without cost. But education in this country offers a tremendous opportunity not only for social equality but for the personal enrichment of every person in our community. I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel able to develop the educational industry to the full for the benefit not only, I hope, of some of the hon. Members of this House who may be attracted to further education, possibly from the Open University, or elsewhere, but of all members of the community.

12.59 p.m.

Mrs. Lynda Chalker (Wallasey)

As is customary for a new Member in a maiden speech, I pay tribute to my predecessor, Mr. Marples, who had a long and distinguished career serving the public, and particularly as a Minister. Having the honour to follow such a distinctive character has led me back to very much more active pursuits than I have been carrying on in the past few years. Whilst I make no promise to emulate Mr. Marples by running round Hyde Park each day, I find a bicycle most useful. In certain parts of Wallasey it is a most practical form of transport.

The House has probably not heard for the past 29 years anything about the constituency of Wallasey. There have been no substantial boundary changes. The constituency starts at one side near West Kirby, at a little village called Saughall Massie. It then proceeds along a coastal route towards the area of Wallasey Village, where I live. It proceeds from there to the area of New Brighton, which was formerly a central area for entertainment and one which I hope will again come to the forefront of the Wallasey and New Wirral society.

The poorer end of town—I am sure that the residents will not mind me saying so—is one that gives me most concern. It is called Seacombe. It is from there that the ferry crosses the Mersey to Liverpool. In that area are to be found many of the under-privileged and people who need genuine help from every Government and council which comes into office.

It is my pleasure to express straightforwardly my views on a section of the community which exists not only in Wallasey but throughout the country. I refer to those who cannot run, those who will never ride a bicycle again or perhaps have never been able to do so, namely, the disabled. It is to that part of the Gracious Speech to which I shall give my attention. In a time of worldwide inflation it is all too easy to say, "We cannot afford it". It is my contention that the able-bodied should give up a little of their share of the national cake to enable the 1½ million severely disabled to have the chance to lead more satisfying and happier lives.

The loss of limbs or their use rarely means a loss of ability to contribute to society. In many cases one disability will sharpen the ability of other limbs to cope and the mind's attention to deal with the new challenges which are presented. Why should the disabled not lead full lives in the community? Why should they not contribute to business and to social life? I hope that the Secretary of State will encourage the TUC to further employ disabled people in jobs which will enable them to contribute usefully to society, not just for the benefit of everyone else, but for their own benefit as well.

In the County Borough of Wallasey, as it will remain for a further two weeks, the per capita average net expenditure per registered disabled person, excluding the blind, the partially sighted, the deaf and the hard of hearing, has I regret, only doubled in the five years up to 1972 to a total of £16.63. That is very low. Liverpool has done a little better, but that figure outlines the enormous job which we all have before us in looking after those people who are less able-bodied than ourselves.

It is in that respect that I welcome the appointment of the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) as a Minister with responsibility for the disabled. The disabled took new heart with the introduction of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. They continued to take new heart when certain measures were introduced by the previous Government. However, there is much more to be done. There are many areas where relatively small expenditure can do so much. What seems to be required is a little more thought.

Part of the rehabilitation of the disabled and the handicapped is mobility. If they can work and pay their own way it will mean that more money will be available for other people such as the more severely disabled. In that respect I turn my attention to invalid vehicles. There are about 20,000 tricycles known as P70s. As one newspaper correspondent said, they are more like P1870s than P1970s. They are wobbly and unstable in a wind. They have little room inside and offer no comfort. They can accommodate no passengers.

I feel privileged to have sat in one of these vehicles recently. I thought with horror of doing anything more than 2 m.p.h. along a kerbside in such a vehicle. The people who are given these vehicles cannot leap out and run for help when there is a breakdown. There are only 150 appointed agents to service these vehicles. In 1972 there were 5,000 accidents. That figure represents the involvement of one quarter of the total number of tricycles. A lot of people were sitting at home for a long time while the repairs were carried out.

I await with interest the publication of the Sharp Report. I understand that it will be published in 10 days. Before the publication of that report our minds should be turning to the adaptation of conventional vehicles on a large scale. Were it done on a large scale the service would be better. Such vehicles would be more comfortable for disabled people and they would be cheaper to produce. The disabled would then have the joy of being able to take their families with them when they went out. Further, they would not feel so conspicuous as they feel in the little wobbly blue things.

It is perhaps never the right time to discard anything which we have had in our system for a long while. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will tell me that now is not the right time. However, I believe that it is high time that we emulated the work which our European partners have done in discarding the tricycles. It is safer to have four-wheeled vehicles. To convert an automatic Mini for the use of a disabled person costs about £30. Conversion for the more severely disabled can rise to as much as £200. I feel that the £100 which is paid on a quarterly basis is far too small, particularly when it is considered that more money is needed to pay the extra tax which unfortunately is liable on the conversion of a car for the use of the disabled.

What else can we do? Smaller measures are necessary and perhaps the measure which I have mentioned is fairly large. I should be prepared to give up some of my share of the national cake so as to help the people who currently have tricycles to get suitably converted cars.

What else can be done? Many disabled pensioners in our society who have invalid cars do not receive concessionary fares for public transport, for they cannot use it. With the increasing price of petrol it is time to change the system so that disabled pensioners receive some concessionary petrol, as they cannot benefit from concessionary fares.

The disabled in every part of the community and in every city are not interested only in long trips. They all have a need to get to the shops, to the library or to the local government offices. For example, in Granby, which is an area of Liverpool 8 and which is mentioned in the SNAP Report, many disabled people need to get to the local government offices. It is interesting to note how many blocks apart are the local housing, employment and DHSS offices in the Granby area. But the disabled in that area are in a better situation than many others.

It costs only a little to give a lot of thought, and such action makes a great difference. I hope that the next time any local authority social services committee requests a disablement income group, of which I am a member, to attend a meeting it will not organise it in a room at the top of a flight of 12 steps and then another flight of 20 steps. Goodness knows what the committee was thinking about when it organised a meeting in such a room in a certain town hall.

At the time of the petrol crisis it seemed iniquitous that local authority transport should have been removed from the disabled people who wanted to attend meetings of the disabled. Transport was formerly provided but it was not available at a time of crisis.

Then there are the problems of the places they need to get to: for example, the new shopping precincts, which appear to me to have steps galore in some cities, and do not have enough ramps. Invalid cars are unable to move around them because there are special lanes reserved for buses and taxis. Perhaps there is a case for considering whether invalid cars might not be allowed into these precincts or along these specially reserved routes, We need new thoughts throughout planning, before action takes place.

One area in which we could find and use new thoughts concerns paraplegic games. I hope that we shall get the Government's backing to use some of the ideas evolved at Stoke Mandeville for adaptations to sports centres. I am thinking in particular of the one now being constructed at Port Sunlight, in my area. With a little imagination, an awful lot can be done.

Thirteen years ago, a colleague of mine had the idea of building a catamaran for people in wheelchairs. It was organised by Sportsmen Pledged to Aid Research into Crippling Diseases—"Sparks". It is five years since the Duke of Edinburgh launched Sparkle Ito take disabled people in wheelchairs first on the Thames and later on the south coast. Having worked with this organisation for the last 11 years, it is my ambition to have Sparkle II on Merseyside and Deesside for handicapped people in the North-West. I hope that this will be done.

I hope also that the right hon. Lady will look towards making a small grant—a great sum is not needed—to an organisation called the Toy Library Association for the Young Handicapped. The idea is to enable parents of handicapped children to try out various toys for their children in order to see whether they are suitable for their particular disabilities, before they launch out into spending a considerable amount of money on what are expensive toys.

Many nationalised industries are spending a substantial amount of time digging up our roads. I suggest that the Secretary of State for Industry should instruct his planners and those carrying out the work to ensure that, when they dig up roads, kerbstones and cornerstones, they replace them with sloping stones to enable wheelchairs and, indeed, mothers with prams, to get along more easily. Far too often we go back to doing the old thing the old way, because we have not thought about it anew. If the right hon. Gentleman could plan in that way, it would be better than creating a castle in the sky in the shape of a national enterprise board.

There is a whole mass of things that I want to see done for the disabled, who are among the most needy in our community. I hope that the Government, who need a bit more will and a bit more thought, though they certainly have the concern, and the Opposition will do all they can to improve the lives of 11 million severely disabled people and the many hundreds of thousands more who are disabled to a lesser extent.

1.13 p.m.

Mr. Ted Graham (Edmonton)

I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow closely the compassionate and thoughtful speech made by the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) on this occasion of my own maiden speech, except to say that I thoroughly enjoyed listening to her and that the speech was as attractive as is the hon. Lady.

I have the privilege and the honour to represent the Edmonton constituency which was represented in this House by Austen Albu for more than 25 years. I believe that he was liked and respected on both sides of the House. I am sure that hon. Members will share my view that his retirement at the election was a loss not only to Edmonton but to Parliament. He is a man of honesty and great courage. He never trimmed his sails or adjusted his principles for the sake of expediency. He earned the respect and devotion of the people of Edmonton and left behind him a record of achievement for the people he represented that I will find hard to equal.

It is, I believe, customary in making one's maiden speech to refer to the nature of the constituency one represents. Edmonton is a place with a character of its own. Joined with the former boroughs of Enfield and Southgate to form the new London borough of Enfield, it has a history going back a thousand years. It is a thriving, hard-working community, with many industries within its boundaries. It provides work for many of those who live there. At the same time, many thousands of others who live in Edmonton commute to work in London.

Edmonton is bisected by two of the largest traffic routes into and around London—the A10, or Great Cambridge Road, and the A406, the North Circular Road. Like my predecessor, I can envisage that much of my parliamentary attention will be focussed on these roads and on the effects that they have on the people who live in Edmonton. Noise, smell and general damage to the environment are suffered by many people who live in Edmonton. I say at once that I fully recognise that unless we are able to manufacture, transport and export our goods there is a bleak economic outlook for the people of Edmonton. At the same time, I ask myself why thousands of people should suffer abominably for the sake of a marginally faster traffic flow, a marginally more direct route to or from our great works and their customers.

Urban development and urban living have brought not only the benefits of a more efficient exploitation of our resources but, in their train, many hazards to health, both mental and physical, I for one will want, before approving great changes, to examine in great detail and depth any proposals which affect the peace of mind and ability to live peacefully of the people of Edmonton.

I believe that it is very important that we strive to redress the imbalance in our society. Despite progress towards greater equality of opportunity, we know that this is far from within reach, particularly in education. There are still parts of our cities and towns where inequality, deprivation and lack of adequate tools to do the job mean that many of our children are disadvantaged before they start.

Edmonton is no exception—I do not claim it as such—when I say that there is an urgent need positively to discriminate in favour of those parts of our boroughs where our children are the recipients of all the disadvantages. Already living in less-well-endowed communities, they suffer a lack of adequate open space and decent housing, and very often receive their schooling in inferior or outdated school buildings.

This is why I was so dismayed by the savage cuts in education expenditure which emerged as part of the overall cut- back in public—in particular local authority—expenditure in December last year.

In Edmonton this has meant that plans made by the Enfield Council, to which I wish to pay tribute for its endeavours and intentions, have had to be severely curtailed. It has meant that projects for pre-1903 schools due for replacement or remodelling have had to be deferred; the replacement of Croylands Infants School has been deferred, as well as the replacement of the junior school; the replacement of All Saints' Girls School and Latymer Boys Junior School has been deferred; the remodelling of Raynham Junior School has also been deferred, while the project for the replacement of the Eldon and Hounsfield Secondary Schools, both due to start in 1975–76, could be put back till goodness knows when. The replacement of furniture and equipment for the youth service has been badly affected. These schools, these children and these communities need our financial support, not a kick in the teeth. They deserve better, and I intend to try to see that they get it.

As has been said by other speakers in the debate, teacher shortage throughout London affects every borough. Edmonton is no exception. Pupils in two of the five secondary schools in Edmonton are already being sent home early because of the teacher shortage, which means that they are missing part of their education. Two others are on the point of following suit.

I heard only yesterday that an Edmonton primary school was on the verge of having to send pupils home early. Some of the pupils who are being sent home are preparing for their 0-levels and CSE examinations in June. It is bordering on the scandalous that we so manage our financial priorities as seriously to jeopardise the future of our children by subjecting them to these disgraceful pressures and tensions.

I have every sympathy with the teachers—and the local authorities, including Enfield—who are in a situation that is not of their own making. More money and a higher priority for education within the global budget are necessary. The Government's intention in education, as contained in the Gracious Speech, shows that more resources will be available and that there will be a concentration on areas of special and urgent need. That must be of benefit to the people, and especially the children, of Edmonton, and I give those proposals my warmest support.

I very much hope that the new Secretary of State for Education and Science will be able to increase the funds available to sustain and expand one of the bravest experiments of the former Labour Government—the Open University. The university has been keenly supported from the outset by the Prime Minister and will always owe much to the enthusiasm and determination of Baroness Lee.

I declare an interest, in that I am a student of the university. With tens of thousands of others I am benefiting from and enjoying this late academic opportunity. The university is rightly called the university of the second chance. It brings to many the opportunity to enjoy a level of education which, because of their domestic circumstances, it was impossible for them to obtain from orthodox channels. Because of financial stringency the number of students it can take is severely restricted, the range of courses it can offer is limited in choice; and the need to serve the students by television makes the use of television a principal factor which impinges upon the argument concerning the use of the fourth television channel. At present television demands of some students a viewing time for tuition of seven o'clock in the morning. It makes my time of 7.40 on a Sunday morning seem positively leisurely.

The Open University is an educational provision that is in great demand. It fulfils a desirable social and educational purpose, calling for increased and expanding Government support. I have every confidence that that will be forthcoming.

It is customary to declare one's general interest. I am proud to declare that I have a long association with the British Co-operative movement. I continue my deep commitment and involvement by presently serving as a member of the board of directors of the Enfield Highway Co-operative Society. I join 15 other hon. Members who are sponsored by the British Co-operative movement and who will seek to promote, protect and advocate the best interests of more than 12 million individuals who have voluntarily combined in retail societies to create a force for good. The Co-operative movement, besides being a highly successful commercial organisation, has social aspirations which are widely recognised as worthy of support.

As the debate embraces the social services I would say the whole of the Co-operative movement rejoices in the specific reference in the Gracious Speech to the Government's intention to give special assistance to the handicapped and particularly to handicapped children. One of the campaigns waged for many years by thousands of like-minded people was designed to improve the lot of the chronically sick and disabled—an often neglected section of our community. The deep identification with this campaign of the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) is a source of pride to the Co-operative movement, and his just recognition by his appointment as the first Minister to be responsible for the disabled is a cause of immense satisfaction. I offer him my warmest personal congratulations.

Finally, I wish to declare not a pecuniary but an abiding interest in local government. I had the good fortune to serve as a member of the Enfield Borough Council—thereafter the London Borough of Enfield—throughout most of the 1960s. That service taught me in a modest way both the art of government and the constraints that prevail in government. Those of us in the House—and there are many on both sides—who have served in local government are well aware of the immense amount of time given to the community by officers and councillors. We in the House must surely recognise that the closest possible collaboration between national and local government is essential if we are to serve the people whom we seek to represent.

Local government touches the homes and the workplaces of the people every bit as much as does national government. It is highly important that Members of Parliament fully understand the problems and aspirations of those who seek to serve our communities in local government, and I shall, therefore, take a particular interest in ensuring not only that those who serve in local government understand more fully the views of the House but also that the House is left in no doubt as to the views and aspirations of those who serve our communities in local government.

1.26 p.m.

Mr. Michael Roberts (Cardiff, North-West)

I offer my sincere congratulations to the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham) on his fluent maiden speech. The House will look forward to hearing him on many future occasions.

I extend a welcome to some parts of the Gracious Speech, especially those dealing with the extension of nursery provision and the review of the provision for handicapped children. In some areas the replacement of primary schools is probably of greater priority than is the continuation of the nursery system. I hope that due consideration will be given to local authorities which feel that their money could be better spent in that direction.

I turn to that part of the Gracious Speech that promises a fully comprehensive system of education. I do not find that proposition unattractive, except in so far as it might mean that support will be withdrawn from direct grant schools. That would be absolutely detrimental to the educational system. The direct grant schools cannot be considered to be socially divisive. They establish standards of excellence which are of great importance and are much appreciated. I am thinking particularly of the direct grant school in Cardiff, which provides an excellent service for the whole community and caters for children from every walk of life. It would be a tragedy if that school did not continue to serve the interests of Cardiff. It cannot be argued that its removal would make the system more comprehensive or more effective.

I hope, too, that the Government do not intend to abolish all grammar schools. There are grammar schools which provide a first-class service and which have standards of excellence which are appreciated and in great demand. It is nonsense to say that only by the abolition of all grammar schools can a fully comprehensive system be established. I hope that the Government will not adopt any ill-conceived and hastily drawn up schemes that may have been rejected recently and resubmitted by the new local authorities which will come into operation on 1st April. That would be the worst approach to comprehensive education. It would mean accepting second-rate systems merely because they carried the tag "comprehensive".

I remind the right hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) that in this sense he is Secretary of State for Education and Science and not for social engineering. The recent election gave no mandate for radical change, and any Government responding to the nation's demand for a Government of national unity should approach this matter with extreme caution.

There is the dangerous assumption that the introduction of comprehensive systems means in itself that we have reached the promised land. That has not always been the experience of parents and teachers. They do not always look at schemes which have been introduced as being ones of unmixed blessings. I regret that in the Gracious Speech there was no recognition of the need to improve comprehensive education where it is already established. It is clearly assumed that that which has been established as comprehensive education is functioning splendidly and giving a first-class service to the community.

I refer to the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), who has great experience of comprehensive and secondary education. I was very pleased some time ago when my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) recognised the dangers and weaknesses in comprehensive systems of education. She recognised that very large schools can be a great disadvantage. I hope that the new administration will look carefully at the way in which some of the very big schools function and ask themselves honestly whether this is what we set out to achieve when we embarked upon the road to comprehensive education some years ago.

It would be folly to ignore that there has been a breakdown of discipline in a large number of our schools. In some it is because of the shortage of staff, and I know that this has contributed. In others it is perhaps because of the deprived nature of the areas which they serve. However, throughout the country there are complaints about the breakdown of discipline in areas where neither of those two factors applies.

Then we have the problem of truancy. We have no figures, but we read alarmist reports in our newspapers about the extent of it. I feel from my own discussions with teachers and others involved in comprehensive education that this is a very real problem. It is a matter to which the new administration must give attention, otherwise the comprehensive schools that we have will break down and not provide the service that we expect of them.

Although I know that this is not accepted by my own Front Bench or by the Government, I believe that we should look carefully at the effect of the raising of the school leaving age. I was an advocate of it. I supported it throughout. However, I feel that its effect has been to put an intolerable burden on certain comprehensive and secondary schools. I do not suggest that the experiment should not have been undertaken. But the very fact that we have raised the school leaving age and made provision for children up to the age of 16-plus has meant that there is now in our secondary schools a system which can receive the whole lot. But I speak with the support of a large number of teachers when I suggest that where both parents and teacher agree that it would be in the interests of a child to leave, we should consider that child leaving at the age of 15-plus.

I know that I shall be asked whether I would allow my own child to do so. However, that begs the question. The present system puts an intolerable strain on teachers and affects the very nature of our system of secondary education. This is a matter that the Government should look at again. I asked the previous administration to give it their consideration. For very good reasons, they refused. But I ask the new administration to look at it. If they do, I am certain that our secondary schools will be improved and that the number of children leaving early will be very small.

The priority today in secondary education is not the wholesale advance of comprehensive education. It is to make the present system more effective. If we are complacent about comprehensive education as it exists today, we shall drift to disaster.

1.35 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

I rise as the third resurrected maiden, as we have been called today. I asked my Whip whether my first speech in this new Parliament would be described as a maiden speech. He told me that if I ever had any parliamentary virginity I had lost it in 1966 and that my first intervention would not constitute a maiden speech.

I must congratulate those maiden speakers to whom we have listened so far today. I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Edge), and the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), who is an added incentive to Government supporters to be present in the Chamber and to look across to the other side of the House.

I first pay tribute to two who previously represented parts of the new Lewisham, West constituency. The first is Carol Johnson, who has given a lifetime of service both to the Parliamentary Labour Party and to this House. A warm tribute should be paid to him. He succeeded Herbert Morrison in the South Lewisham constituency. I am sure that we all wish him a happy retirement.

The other is John Gummer, whom I succeeded. He represented the West Lewisham constituency with an assiduity and fervour seldom experienced by any constituency. I am sure that his standing in the Conservative Party will guarantee him some niche in the stockbroker belt to the south in the coming years which will enable him to return to this House without troubling the electors of West Lewisham again.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)


Mr. Price

I was saddened by the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). So far this debate has been a very good one, but his speech was just that sort of empty party "yah-boo" politics which the electorate voted against in the recent General Election, and I do not want my own speech to fall into that category.

My first remark as a London Member concerns the crisis in London schools. A number of hon. Members have referred to it already. I make no apology for returning to it, since few people realise how deep and serious the crisis is.

The part-time schooling which has been affecting London schools is only the tip of the iceberg. The crashing loss of morale in secondary school after secondary school in the London area over the past two years is a tragedy because it will take so long to build again. Schools are very delicate organisms. Once they lose morale, the long, slow climb back is very difficult. In the present circumstances, with the existing shortage of teachers, it is an extremely serious problem, and in my view quite the most serious problem which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to tackle in the coming months.

Part-time schooling in London is illegal. The law prescribes that parents shall cause their children to receive full-time, efficient education and that local authorities shall supply the schools. It lays upon the Secretary of State the responsibility for ensuring that local authorities are in a position to supply those schools.

The gravest criticism of the Conservative administration over the last few years is that while prating about law and order in other directions they allowed the law on education to be totally flouted within London and did nothing about it. On the one hand, they complained about truancy,—I shall want to say something about truancy, because it is a nineteenth century word about which we must think a little further—and, on the other, they created truancy among London school children by not supplying sufficient resources to the London education system to enable it to function properly.

Another partial cause of this tragic loss of morale—I can speak feelingly about it partly because my children are in London schools and partly because my wife teaches in a London school and evening after evening I am reminded of the depth of the crisis that is upon us—has been the personality of the right hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) during the last three years. I pay tribute to her in some ways. She has done a certain amount for education. She launched a nursery school programme, which was quite an achievement. I understand that her arguments within the Cabinet achieved for education a some- what greater share of finance than another Minister might have obtained.

However, in two respects I believe that the right hon. Lady has been an absolute disaster to the English educational system. The first is in her totally capricious use of her powers under Section 13 and the creation of uncertainty all over England and Wales in the planning of new secondary schools. No local authority, whether Conservative or Labour, whether in her home town of Barnet or anywhere else, knew from one week to the next how it could plan its schools and where it should lay its plans for the future.

Education does not work like that. The Minister cannot say, "Wait till the plans come in and I will then tell you". The noble Lord Boyle, when Secretary of State for Education, went out of his way time and again to give local authorities certainty about what would happen in future. In contrast, the right hon. Lady has done grave damage to our education system.

The second respect in which the right hon. Lady has done damage to our education system is her constant assertion—instanced by her visit to Sheffield, to which reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), when she visited the local direct grant school, not any of the State schools—that she believes in a divisive education system.

The teachers in State schools have had enough stick as it is. They had their wages frozen. The conditions with which they have to deal have become more difficult week by week. On top of this, to have a Secretary of State for Education administering them who openly says that she is more interested in the tiny privileged private sector than the public sector for which she is meant to have responsibility, has been more disruptive than anything else to the morale of the teaching force.

I believe that my right hon. Friend's task during the next few months will largely be concerned with money and doing something about the London allowance, but also with morale and going round schools and displaying that at last we have a Secretary of State for Education who believes in the State schools for which he is responsible.

I should like to echo many of the remarks that have been made by hon. Members opposite. Many of the issues in education are ceasing to become partisan. I am sure that cross-party alliances will be discovered even more in future. We need more humility in our approach to education problems. We have made our schools too big. It was a bipartisan agreement during the 1950s and 1960s that comprehensive schools had to be enormous. I welcome the ILEA's decision to go in for smaller comprehensive schools. I hope that in future the concept that a school can be smaller will be accepted more widely.

I agree in large measure with the hon. Member for Cardiff, North-West (Mr. Roberts) about the raising of the school leaving age. This measure was brought in too late. If it had been brought in 10 years earlier it would have had substantial support by the teachers and gone through more easily. I suspect that it was brought in when conditions were not right.

Many of the problems afflicting our secondary schools arise directly from the raising of the school leaving age and the abolition of what is called the FE option—the right that 15-year old youngsters used to have to vote with their feet and get out of school at the age of 15. They no longer have that right until they reach the age of 16. That is a great loss to the education system.

In future we shall need more of a pluralist approach towards education. We should not believe that school is the only place through which education is achieved. There was a great deal of wisdom in the Education Act 1944 in insisting that the duty of the parent was not to send his child to school, but to cause him to receive efficient full-time education either in school or otherwise. It is said that the words were written in partly for the hospitals and partly for the very top pinnacle of the aristocracy who were used to hiring tutors and were terrified that the 1944 Act would take this time-honoured privilege away from them.

I applaud the use that is now being made in education of the "otherwise" part of the law to combat many of the Problems of truancy. In a part of the borough of Lewisham which is not in my constituency there is the Albany Club, where many children who cannot be contained within local secondary schools can be contained outside schools under an arrangement by which they remain on the register of a school but spend very little time in it.

I hope that my right hon. Friend, faced with these difficult problems in secondary schools, will use all the resources that he can find within the community—youth clubs and adventure playgrounds during the day time, resources in the ownership of the Social Services Department as well as Education Department—to solve some of our secondary school problems, and will not feel that the only way to combat truancy is a harsher, more disciplined regime within our schools. In many ways that will make a bad situation worse.

Throughout the world many of our basic assumptions about education are being more deeply challenged than ever before. Looked at fiscally, the education system in this country and in other Western European countries is the most vicious system of regressive taxation ever invented.

Out of public money, we spend up to 10 times as much on the most privileged of our youngsters as we do on the least privileged. Unless we can constantly recast our education system in favour of the less privileged youngsters—which means putting money into further education rather than sixth form education, which means putting money into adult education rather than university education and which means putting money into pre-school education rather than orthodox education—the arguments of those who say that school is the greatest inhibition to education and the arguments of those who want to mount a frontal attack on the whole education system—the sort of things put forward by Ivan Illich in his book 'De-schooling Society"—will gather force in a reactionary and quite disastrous way to the detriment of the whole social fabric of the country.

During the last 100 years since the Education Act 1870 we have taken our education system for granted. We have taken compulsory education for granted. We cannot do that any more, and unless we constantly change it so that it becomes very much less regressive and much more fair, we may find that we are unable to resist the strong attacks that are being made upon it from all over the world.

1.52 p.m.

Mr. Neil MacFarlane (Sutton and Cheam)

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this opportunity to make my maiden speech so early in the life of this new Parliament.

I have the honour to represent Sutton and Cheam, which is a constituency fairly well known throughout the length and breadth of the land, and which is about 13 miles from Westminster. It is on the ring of outer London and on the fringes of Surrey. It is a compact constituency with about 61,000 electors.

We were privileged to have as our Member of Parliament for nigh on 20 years the late Sir Richard Sharpies, and I am sure that hon. Members were as saddened as we were in Sutton and Cheam when he was assassinated last year so early in his new appointment. He is still mourned and held in deep regard and high affection throughout Sutton and Cheam.

My most immediate predecessor achieved a notable and remarkable by-election victory at. I hasten to add, my expense in December 1972, but I also hasten to reassure the House that it is not my intention to pursue his suggestion that we should bridge and dam the English Channel and divert shipping through other channels.

In Sutton, we believe that we are adapting to the needs and requirements of a commuter constituency. We believe, too, that we are retaining the identity of the constituency, which we have long held to be of great importance.

During the General Election I was greatly impressed by the large number of my constituents who expressed grave disquiet over education throughout the country. My impression was that nearly all my constituents were anxious that education should cease to be a party political football which has so consistently been kicked about during the last 10 to 15 years. Indeed, they were all anxious that the best of what we had should be preserved and that the rest of the schools should be brought up to the required standard. It is clear that education has gone through a changing and difficult pattern, and through a diffi- cult decade. I believe that the nation is crying out loud and clear for some stability in the structure of secondary education.

I urge the Secretary of State for Education and Science, for whom I have had the greatest regard and utmost respect ever since we contested East Ham, North as it was in the hot summer of 1970, to ensure that any future schemes for the reorganisation of secondary education are accepted only if they offer obvious advantages over existing systems. At all costs we must avoid creating a comprehensive school where the buildings are about half a mile apart. We must bear in mind the size of the schools and achieve the right optimum number so that the pupil-staff relationship can be excellent.

Now that we are in the year when the raising of the school leaving age has finally arrived we find that the 16-yearolds are with us for the first time, and I think that we have to concentrate and see how effectively we can make this work to the benefit of the school in general.

My own view is that it is a mistake to assume that all 15- and 16-year olds will benefit from a further year in an academic environment. Indeed, I understand that many schools have already recognised this problem and are introducing a multitude of technical courses—car maintenance, woodwork, metalwork and building—to non-examination level. Surely these youngsters would be better employed and happier in themselves in commencing some form of apprenticeship. I therefore suggest that the right hon. Gentleman must give careful consideration to a scheme whereby the final year in education can be replaced in certain circumstances by a recognised apprenticeship scheme.

The advantages of that are many. First, the reluctant classroom pupil would benefit from an attractive alternative. Secondly, young people who might otherwise not have considered craft training might be encouraged to do so. Thirdly, some of the pressure will be lifted from the overstretched teaching staff, particularly in the Greater London area.

In Sutton and Cheam, as in so many other places, we have parents who have disabled children. In recent years, a start has been made to provide schools which are specially equipped for the disable and handicapped child, and I urge the right hon. Gentleman to see how he can expand and improve this facility. It is important that this sector is understood.

All this will, of course, cost a lot more money, and I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind that the retention of the private sector enables the taxpayers' money to be spent in other areas of weakness. Nursery education is an area of weakness. Much has been done, but much still needs to be done in this direction, particularly in large towns, densely populated cities and overcrowded suburbs. All have a need for extended nursery education.

Above all, I hope that the Secretary of State will not remove the fundamental right and the intended role of local government by taking away from local education committees their right to create and plan their own education policies. I hope that education can become a nonpolitical issue, but that can happen only with toleration and understanding. If the Secretary of State can resolve the worries and difficulties confronting parents and staff he will, over the course of this Parliament, earn their total admiration, and he will thoroughly deserve the gratitude and good will of both sides of the House.

1.59 p.m.

Mr. Alf Bates (Bebington and Ellesmere Port)

I am one of those Members who represent a new constituency and therefore have the pleasure of being able to mention the work of two previous Members. The borough of Bebington, which is half of my constituency, will probably be best known to hon. Members for its soap and chemical works, particularly those of Unilever, and also for its historic and picturesque village of Port Sunlight. It formed part of the old Bebington constituency which was well represented from 1970 by Mr. Eric Cockeram, who in addition to his constituency work became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer.

The other half of the constituency, the borough of Ellesmere Port, was represented most ably by yourself, Mr. Speaker, until the General Election. Your work in the House is well known to hon. Members, as is your service to the nation. What may not be as well known to hon. Members, but will certainly come as no surprise to them, is the excellent and devoted service that you gave in the constituency to the people of Ellesmere Port. For that service, we in Ellesmere Port are proud to have you as one of the freemen of the borough. I have the daunting task of trying to follow that record of service. Hon. Members will be glad to know that in trying to do so I shall not expect to receive any preference in catching your eye.

Ellesmere Port is a young and growing town: since 1950, its population has about doubled to 64,000. It is also a highly industrialised town, providing 50,000 jobs for its own residents and for many people from the whole of Merseyside and the ports of Cheshire and North Wales. That industry is modern industry. We have a large paper-manufacturing works, Bowaters; a modern and excellent car plant, Vauxhalls; and at Stanlow, we have one of the largest oil refineries in the country. We are therefore particularly interested in references to oil in the Gracious Speech.

One of the urgent tasks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will be to formulate an integrated energy policy—which I hope will be more relevant to the nation's needs than just cleaning our teeth in the dark. In formulating that policy, I know that he will not forget that there are, in places such as Ellesmere Port, many jobs connected with oil and its chemical by-products.

While it is right that some of our new resources of oil and natural gas should be used to help depressed regions, it would be wrong to help the old deprived areas simply by creating new ones. We have in Ellesmere Port the plant and expertise in oil refining. Economically it would be foolish and socially it would be unjustifiable not to continue to use that to the full, wherever our oil comes from in future. Some of us will be pressing those points on my right hon. and hon. Friends.

We are today particularly debating education. A matter of some importance is the concern felt in colleges of education, where the majority of our teachers are trained, at many changes that are taking place there. I have the honour, I think, to be the only hon. Member who is also a member of the Association of Teachers in Colleges and Departments of Education, which represents the people who train our teachers.

The policies of the previous Government meant a reduction from the 1971–72 figure of 114,000 teachers in training to between 75,000 and 85,000 by 1981. The reason was not any economic difficulty. Indeed, by the peculiar distortions of language in which the last Government so often indulged, that was part of "a framework for expansion". They saw recruitment into schools in 1981 as being only 47,000. In itself, that would not be enough substantially to reduce class sizes. But of that 47,000, it was intended that only 16,000 should come from the three-year and four-year courses and that 16,000 should come from re-entrants to the profession.

It is clear that the number of re-entrants depends critically on the number of people initially trained. Of course, if it is to be assumed that there is to be a high number of re-entrants to the profession, it must also be assumed that many have in the first place left the profession. Over a long period, we shall not be able to rely on such a high number of re-entrants.

The report of the committee of inquiry into the training of teachers contained many good points. What might be described as "the aims of James" are to be welcomed. In particular, I would instance the expansion of in-service training, the improvement of induction into teaching and the achievement of an all-graduate profession. Colleges will also welcome the opportunity to widen their areas of teaching.

However, we must seriously question the proposed numbers who are being trained and must ensure that the training of teachers is placed firmly with higher education and not with areas of further education—and certainly not with a third-rate amalgam of the two.

Teachers in training colleges have provided valuable service, particularly over the last difficult decade. First, the numbers in training have risen in 10 years from 40,000 to nearly 120,000. Second, teacher training has been extended to three years. Third, many new courses have been introduced, particularly the B.Ed. course.

These changes show the work and strains of staffs in colleges of education and they are now about to go through another major reorganisation. Many will welcome many aspects of the reorganisation, but they will not welcome being reorganised out of a job or out of promotion prospects. Nor will the country welcome reorganisation which leaves us short of teachers and leaves our children in over-sized classes.

Staffs of colleges of education have provided a good service for this country for many years, giving a higher education to thousands at a smaller cost than any other sector. The last Government seemed too ready to run them down. I hope that the new Government will reconsider that policy and assure them of the viable future that their importance warrants.

2.8 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

May I first congratulate the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates) both on his entry to the House and on his interesting and valuable first contribution to our discussions. I should also like to join in congratulating the other maiden speakers whom we have heard in such profusion today.

I also congratulate the Secretary of State on his appointment and wish him well in it. I had the good fortune for nearly 18 months to be in the Department of Education and Science and I know that he will find, as I did, that he has some of the best and most agreeable advisers in the whole Civil Service. I am sure that they will give the same loyal service to him and his Ministers as they gave to the former Secretary of State and her Ministers.

I should also like to pay tribute to the former Secretary of State for Education and Science for all her work in the educational field, particularly her concern with the rights of parents and with nursery education, and to remember the White Paper which will long stand as a monument to her endeavours.

I should like to mention the arts because they have not had a mention in our discussions. I should like to make a plea for them. I am glad that there is still a Minister responsible for the arts in the House. But I regret the reduction in status of the position from that of Minister of State to Under-Secretary of State. May we have some explanation of this? It has been received with considerable anxiety in the art world, and it would be helpful if we could have some assurance that it does not mean that there will be a lower priority for arts expenditure in the Budget of this Government than there was in the last.

Secondly, I hope that early action will be taken on the question of public lending right. Before I left office some weeks ago, all the obstacles to the implementation of public lending right had been cleared away and we had established agreement amongst all sections of the writing world on how we should proceed. It was the present Under-Secretary responsible for the arts who, in opposition, pledged that there would be up to £4 million made available for public lending right. That is quite a generous sum, but it would be interesting to know from the Secretary of State whether we can rely on the pledge made in opposition being fulfilled in government.

In general, may I hope that at a time when economic stringency necessarily places limits on the achievement of our material objectives we shall try harder than ever to achieve our spiritual and artistic goals and bear in mind that a comparatively small investment in this sphere of the arts can give very big returns.

I wish briefly to consider two points on education in general—the first on the future of the private sector in education, and the second on the issue of student grants.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) in opposition made a rather intemperate speech at Cambridge last year promising the abolition, in two stages, of the private sector in education. First, private schools were to be deprived of their rightful charitable status under the law, and, secondly, they were to be driven out of existence and it was to be made a criminal offence to provide for fees private education—a rather extraordinary invasion of professional freedom.

Mr. Christopher Price rose

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will forgive me for not giving way so that I may develop this argument. I want to speak briefly, and there are many other Members who wish to speak.

With the happy translation of the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook, to foreign affairs—which is perhaps not so good for foreigners but rather nice for us—we have, I hope, entered another phase. I put this question to the Secretary of State: may we take it that this proposal has been dropped and that there is not to be an invasion of the right to teach and the right of parents to choose private education for their children? May we also assume that the pledge in the Labour Party election manifesto that All forms of tax relief and charitable status for public schools will be withdrawn", does not apply either? If so, that would be a definite amelioration of the position.

The private sector is not the most important sector of our education system, but it is an important part and it is a help to the maintained system because by its existence it guarantees liberty and provides an alternative and a safety valve. It is also true, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. MacFarlane) said, that it would place additional strains at a difficult period on the maintained system of education to have to accommodate over half a million pupils who are at present being catered for in the private sector.

I hope that the vendetta against the private sector can be considered at an end and that we shall concentrate on the improvement of the maintained system of education and get on with those vital tasks of getting nursery schools established, improving primary and secondary schools, and so on. There is plenty to do without fighting those who are saving the nation money by providing a private enterprise service of their own.

May we also be assured about the future with regard to comprehensive schools? The Queen's Speech refers to the development of a fully comprehensive system of secondary education. I wonder whether that registers some kind of change of policy, because it did not talk about a system of comprehensive schools and of course a "comprehensive system of … education" is a mixed system. It was the Secretary of State's predecessor as "shadow" spokesman who said that within days of the return of a Labour Government it was the intention to issue a circular to local authorities asking them to submit plans for a total comprehensivisation of schools and that in the absence of such plans no new secondary building programme would be made available to them. May we take it that that, too, has been scrapped?

As to the direct grant schools, which are so important, am I right in assuming that the new Minister is much less hostile than his "shadow" predecessor to the continuation of these schools? If that is so, that indeed would be another gain, because 20 per cent. of pupils in private education are educated in these schools. They have high standards of academic excellence, and they provide a useful bridge between the maintained and private sectors and a wider social mix than do many independent and comprehensive schools.

We are probably all agreed that the present level of student grants is inadequate. The students have lost out on inflation and the grants need to be revised. My right hon. Friend was able to give interim relief of £10 million to students last autumn. While I was still at the Department, we initiated the first stage of the review of student grants to establish an agreed factual basis. May I ask whether that stage has been completed and, if so, whether it is intended to publish the findings?

Government policy towards students was set out last year by the hon. Member for Sparkbrook in a letter to the president of the National Union of Students. He said in that letter that it was the intention of a Labour Government to effect an immediate and substantial raising of the level of grants, at least to match the increase in the cost of living since the last review. He said, further, that he would do away with the parental means test for students who were 18 or over, and, thirdly, that the discretionary system of grants would be replaced. Those are brave words. Do they still apply? May we hear from the Secretary of State on those important issues?

I gave a pledge on behalf of the Conservative Government that we would review the married women's grant at an early stage. It is most important that that should be done. I hope that that pledge will be honoured by our successors. I was able, with the agreement of the Secretary of State, to raise the level of parental contributions to start at £1,500. To do away with the parental contribution altogether would in the long run be desirable, I think. It would, however, cost £60 million to do so, unless it were netted in with the reform of the tax system including a system of tax credits. What are the new Government to do about that?

Finally, student grants are not in a satisfactory state because there is a logical contradiction at the heart of the policy. We are saying, in effect, that student grants should be enough to cover full-time education without recourse to loans or to vacation work, but no Government have ever provided sufficient money for that to be translated into reality. So long as that is so, there will be trouble about student grants and students will feel that they have not been fairly dealt with.

I put it to the new Secretary of State that the time has come for another Anderson Committee to examine the whole question of the basis of student grants, of what we are trying to do, of how much money we are prepared to devote to this matter and to consider the question of loans, vacation work and so on in the new context of today. If some distinguished and generally acceptable educationist—somebody like Lord Boyle, for example—were to preside over such a commission, it would be a major contribution to our educational future.

Mr. Christopher Price

Why did not the hon. Gentleman do it?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Because I was not Secretary of State. Therefore, I was not in a position to do so. However, I am putting this matter to the man who does have the power.

In the past we have had some fierce controversies in the House over education. No doubt we shall have them in future. But I hope that one of the beneficial side effects of this limited period—we do not know how limited—of minority government will be that we shall be able to establish not so much a continuing polemic on education as a dialogue, so that we can draw on the educational expertise which may be greater in this House than in any of its predecessors.

2.22 p.m.

Mr. George Reid (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I am grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech early in the life of this Parliament. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Dick Douglas, for his diligence and hard work on behalf of the people of the constituency.

Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire lies at the very heart of Scotland. It is the Scottish heartland where the Wallace and the Bruce ensured that our people would never fall prey to alien domination and that we would eventually enter this Union and this House as free and equal partners.

The motto of Clackmannanshire is "Look aboot ye" which, translated for the benefit of Sassenach Members, broadly means "Look around you and face the facts." The facts today are simple. They are appropriate both to this debate on the Gracious Speech and to the political situation in which the SNP finds itself in this extraordinary Parliament.

The right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Social Services spoke movingly about social justice. There are two key Scottish factors relating to the economic arguments used by the right hon. Lady. First, Scotland has come at the back end of the queue for virtually everything since the war, under both Tory and Labour administrations. We have had the worst housing and appalling unemployment. We have had an emigration rate of 1 million people leaving since the war, which would be a scandal in any open democracy. The social consequences for the people of Scotland are severe.

Secondly, we have the curious anomaly that Scotland is well on the way to generating a majority part of the United Kingdom's wealth. We have no balance of payments problem. We have one of the best export records. We have no food problem. We have vast natural resources of coal and deep water and, above all, Scottish oil. Let me say that the security for any international loans which may soon be negotiated will un- doubtedly be Scottish oil. We believe that Scottish oil will shortly underwrite the whole economy of the United Kingdom.

The avowed purpose of the party that I represent is to see a genuine return of social justice to the people of Scotland and to create in our own dear land a compassionate and a caring society where there are no great disparities of wealth or of poverty. We wholeheartedly welcome the proposals for greater social justice contained in the Gracious Speech. We welcome the rent freeze. We welcome the subsidies. We welcome the increase in pensions and social services, the concern shown by the right hon. Lady for the Health Service, the proposals for the redistribution of wealth and for the protection of the lower paid and the disabled.

But we should also like Her Majesty's Government to give due consideration to Scotland and to other areas as being something of a special case. May I give several instances? It has been broadly calculated that one in five of the population of the United Kingdom lives currently on or near the poverty line. Taking account of higher unemployment lower incomes, higher food and fuel costs and the rigours of the Scottish climate, the Scottish proportion is much higher. As many as one in four Scots live on or near the poverty line.

The recent report of the National Children's Bureau, "Born to Fail", calculates that one child in every 16 in the United Kingdom is socially disadvantaged by the combination of poor family housing and economic conditions. In South-East England the proportion is one in 47: in Scotland it is one in 10. The extent of poverty in Scotland is a national scandal.

Secondly, although we welcome the proposed pension increases, in Scotland and certain other areas their value is automatically diminished. We should like Her Majesty's Government to consider an automatic supplement for such areas. In Scotland gas can cost up to 50 per cent. more than in the English Midlands; coal costs £1 per ton more; food 5p in the pound more.

A recent local government survey in the West of Scotland calculates that our Scots climate leads us to use at least 11 per cent. more coal than our friends south of the Border. Summed together, that means that the current pension for an old person in Scotland is worth between £1.20 and £1.50 less than in the Home Counties—between £2.10 and £2.35 less for a Scots old couple than for a comparable old couple in the Home Counties.

As right hon. and hon. Members are well aware, the House was lobbied yesterday by members of the National Union of Students. They, too, with teachers, nurses and other lower-paid workers, fall into categories of special need. I remind hon. and right hon. Members that SNP policy is to abolish discretionary awards and to make all grants mandatory, to end the parental means test, to increase the main rate of grant for all students and ensure that it is tied to the cost of living, and to end discrimination against married women students.

A brief speech such as this can indicate only a few of our social attitudes. We shall attempt to achieve what we can within the House, but we naturally feel that we can achieve greater benefits for our people if we are given a Scottish Assembly with fiscal powers. That is the heart of the matter. I believe we can achieve more for the Scottish people within five years in a Scottish Parliament than in 25 or 30 years of heartbreaking struggle in the British House of Commons". The words are not mine: they are those of that late and revered Member for Glasgow, Bridgeton, Jimmy Maxton.

The attitude of the Labour Party, once the party of home rule in Scotland, is the crucial element for the SNP in this Parliament. On the one hand in the Gracious Speech there is mentioned discussions on devolution for Scotland and Wales. Some of the hon. and right hon. Members from Scotland on the opposite side of the House have, we suspect, in Scots political terms gone through one of the most remarkable conversions since the light was seen on the Damascus road.

On other appointments—of Lord Crowther-Hunt as a constitutional adviser to Her Majesty's Government—with the greatest respect to the noble Lord I have to say that he is a minority voice on Kilbrandon. Scotland is not Yorkshire. As Wednesday's issue of The Guardian commented: Lord Crowther-Hunt's objections that Scotland and Wales ought not to be given political rights denied to the English regions is an irrelevance. The pressure and the sense of nationhood exist in Scotland and in Wales. That is an established fact. What is happening in Scotland is not the rise of a new party, the SNP: it is the regeneration and rebirth of a nation.

Therefore we in the SNP regret to say that we are profoundly suspicious of the intention of Her Majesty's Government in this matter. We have no indication of support for those excellent proposals put forward by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sillars). There is to be more talk apparently—some of us would say more havers and blathering—but no action.

On the issue of self-government, no one can save both his faces for long before his credibility runs out. What the SNP wants is a clear declaration of intent about self-government. Three amendments on devolution have been tabled to the Gracious Speech by ourselves, our dear friends in Plaid Cymru and by our Liberal friends.

We wholeheartedly welcome the broad proposals for greater social justice, but we believe that we shall never get genuine social justice and the creation of a compassionate, caring, egalitarian Scots society without control of our own affairs by Scots, for Scots, in Scotland.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

It is a great honour to address the House on this occasion. I have already come to recognise it as a place of many contrasts, not the least being that it seems to be one of the few institutions in Britain in which hon. Members, far from courting, tend to drift away from maidens. However, I intend to be brief and to make only one or two substantive points.

First, however, I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) on a forceful speech. I shall congratulate him even more if he shows his old allegiance of 1973 to the Labour Benches and brings his new-found friends with us into the Lobby on Monday evening. I should like to comment on the contribution by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). I gratefully acknowledge his support for the student grants lobby and students in the difficulties that they face and of which I am all too well aware, recently being a college lecturer. But I would debate with him forcibly his defence of privilege and private education. But probably that ought to be dealt with by the major artillery of my right hon. Friends rather than the pop-gun contribution of a maiden speech.

I have the honour to be the first Member to be returned for the constituency of Enfield, North, but I pay tribute to the man who for more than 14 years zealously and tenaciously pursued the best interests of the people of Enfield, East, which now forms two-thirds of the new constituency. Mr. Mackie is a man of the greatest charm and integrity. It is no surprise to me to discover that he is as well liked and well respected in the House as he is among the people of Enfield. For six years, between 1964 and 1970, he served the Labour Government as a Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture. I am sure that the whole House joins me in wishing him well in his retirement from national politics and in his continued pursuit of the many interests that lie close to his heart, particularly, of course, farming.

I cannot aspire to earning a similar reputation in that respect although I seek to emulate his notable record of four consecutive election victories. Enfield, North is an exciting and challenging constituency to represent. Its diversity is such that it bids fair to be a microcosm of the country—rolling agricultural land within the new boundary ensures that Enfield is partly custodian of the green belt.

In the eastern part of the constituency, famous industries, such as the Royal Small Arms factory and Thorn Electrical Industries, make essential contributions to our national well being. Historic Enfield, with its well-known association with Elizabeth's hunting exploits in Enfield Chase—not always successful, if we believe the Earl of Leicester—is now a borough of the great metropolis, sharing many of the capital city's advantages, as well as some of its most pressing problems. One such problem, on which I wish to concentrate in this maiden speech, is of crisis proportion and is facing Greater London hospitals. They are problems that are reflected widely in the country, but they manifest themselves particularly acutely in the hospitals of Enfield.

My constituents will have welcomed, as I do, the Government's intention to improve and expand the health service. That intention must be translated into speedy reality, for the direct consequences of the previous administration's unfair wages policy, which cut most harshly into the public sector, is a shortage of all kinds of staff in hospitals. The inadequacy of pay scales in the health service is having two deleterious effects.

The first point concerns the closure Jf hospital departments and wards. Several ward closures have recently been announced in the hospitals of Enfield and there is a fear that there is insufficient staff to utilise the new buildings due to be available later in the year. Secondly, and this is the main burden of my contribution today, the increasing dependence of those services which stay open on part-time staff supplied by agencies produces notable disadvantages to the service. That applies not only to nurses and doctors but to the whole range of para-medical staff and, more recently, to hospital porters and stokers, too.

Even staff from the agencies with the highest standards—and there are some that hospitals approach only as a last resort—bring attendant disadvantages when compared with full-time staff. Agencies are being used frequently by full-time staff in other hospitals as a means of earning overtime, often the only way in which people can meet the living costs in London. But staff working excessive hours cannot give those highest standards of care to which my constituents are entitled.

The employment of agency staff creates resentment among full-time staff, who are paid less for doing the same tasks as the part-timer. Because of their greater commitment to the hospital as established staff, they are often obliged to take more than their fair share of the unpopular duties. The National Health Service is being held to ransom by the agencies, for it is obliged to pay vastly inflated rates. Some agencies charge almost double the standard rates paid to full-time staff.

Thirdly, agency staff are often less efficient because of their unfamiliarity with the routine in hospitals, and a lack of continuity of staff creates serious difficulties in health care.

In the face of these problems my constituents have not elected me to sit silent upon the peak of the back benches while the concept of the lump—so resented in the building industry and whose abuses in that connection are soon to be abolished by Her Majesty's Government—makes its appearance increasingly and in dramatic fashion in the health services, to their obvious detriment. My constituents will want swift action from a Government whose election owes most to its correct identification of Socialist principles in the distribution of national resources—to save the health service from the brink of collapse, a state to which the previous administration's policies have substantially contributed.

I thank the House for its indulgence in tolerating the language of controversy in this my maiden speech. Time, however, is short. Even the most optimistic of my right hon. and hon. Friends have failed to give me categorical assurances that this Parliament will last a full five years. My constituents rightly demand action now. I have no intention of returning to them for their renewed support without having pressed vigorously for early action in this critical area, for improved staffing and improved payment to staff in our hospitals, and the abolition of yet another aspect of private infiltration into the health service.

2.40 p.m.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

It is my privilege, on behalf of the whole House, to congratulate the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies). They have both made their maiden speeches with confidence and assurance. The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire brought with him his obvious knowledge and authority on the problems of Scotland. We look forward to hearing him on many occasions in the future. The hon. Member for Enfield, North started with an excursion into the history of Enfield and then came up to date with the problems of the hospitals and the staff in the hospitals which are being faced at present in his constituency. We look forward to hearing from him frequently, be it in this Parliament or a future Parliament.

Perhaps not surprisingly, I wish to comment on the social services, in which I have been involved during the last three and a half years. First, I join in the congratulations which have been offered to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education and Science and his ministerial team, and to the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Social Services and her ministerial team. Over much of the range of social services there is broad agreement. I hope that the fact that we have a minority Government with a stalemate Parliament will not stop the progress in better care for the needy, which all sides of the House wish to see.

I pay tribute to the able, dedicated officials of the Department of Health and Social Security, who are second to none in Whitehall and will, I am sure, serve the present Ministers in the Department as loyally as they served us during the period of the previous Parliament. I cannot help noting, in passing, the ministerial inflation which has been taking place in the Department of Health and Social Security. There are now five Ministers in the Department under the present administration. Under the previous Government there were four to begin with and three towards the end of our period in office. If productivity for pensioners is to be measured by Ministers on the pay roll, the present Government ought to do about twice as well as we were able to do in the previous Government.

I welcome what the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Social Services said about National Health Service reorganisation—that she did not intend to stop that in its tracks This major reorganisation is due to come into operation very shortly, at the beginning of next month. The staff who are working in the service at present have the dual burden of reorganisation, and all the additional work which that involves, as well as providing a service under the existing arrangements. It is, therefore, vital that this reorganisation should go ahead. I am glad that the right hon. Lady has taken an early opportunity to say that it should do so. It is vital to the efficiency and morale of the service and those who are working in it, and it is vital to the quality of service for patients.

I regret that a cloud of uncertainty appears to hang over the reform embodied in the Social Security Act. The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley) made very much the same point. The reform had a long gestation period. There was full and long consultation and long parliamentary scrutiny. What is now needed is stability and reassurance for the future so that the work of implementation can continue uninterrupted. To tamper with the reform which is now being implemented and to change it to any substantial extent would be a wanton act of vandalism. It would be intolerable from a minority Government who are in office but not in power. It would provoke the most determined and vigorous opposition both inside and outside parliament. I am sure that it would not succeed if it were tried. I hope that it will not be tried but in the meantime I say to those who are running or considering improvements in pension schemes, "Continue with your plans and back your judgment in the interest of improving pension arrangements".

A great many improvements have already been made. Decisions have been made in anticipation of the Act which will come into operation in April 1975. Improvements in pension rights for men and women have already been made. New pension rights have been introduced for women and for widows. There has been progress in the transferability and preservation of pension rights. The public sector has been setting a good example. All the public sector schemes have either improved their arrangements or are in process of improving them in anticipation of the new Act.

It would be intolerable at this hour to put all that at risk, to stop the progress in its tracks and to wreck the timetable which has been laid down, thus destroying the expectations of millions of families who are involved in the improved schemes which are coming about or which are being planned.

The basic scheme is a different matter. Benefits and contributions can be changed each year. That is a consequence of the annual review which we were improving to a six-monthly review. There is a flexibility provided so that the Government of the day can respond to the needs of the time and the economic con- ditions as they see them to be. The firmer financial base which the earnings related contribution under the new scheme will provide makes it easier for Governments to respond in that way.

The Secretary of State said that the Government were committed to a big increase in pensions, namely, an increase to £10 for a single person and £16 for a married couple. I interrupted her to ask her to inform the House of the cost of such proposals. She said that she was not able to give the answer, or that she was not prepared to give it at that time. That is unfortunate. It could easily mislead the House and the country to put forward proposals for increased benefits without giving any indication of the cost and how the cost will be met.

I believe that the cost of the proposals will be at least an additional £1,200 million a year, and probably more. Whatever the cost may be—and I appreciate that there may be difficulties in giving the precise figure at this stage—it can be paid for only by workers, taxpayers and consumers, including pensioners. It remains to be seen whether the cost can be met without wage claims and without price increases giving another vicious twist to the inflationary spiral. If that happens it is the pensioners who will suffer first and suffer most.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Brian O'Malley)

On the basis of what the hon. Gentleman has just said, will he confirm that it is still his view, which he expressed in the House before the election, that pension increases to £10 and £16 are extravagant? Is that what he is repeating in opposition?

Mr. Dean

That is not what I am saying at all. I am saying that it is less than frank, and is misleading, for the right hon. Lady to give clear figures of improvements in pensions and benefits without also stating, in the same speech, what cost is involved and who is going to meet it. I have therefore made my own attempt to give the House what I believe to be the cost and how it must be met.

I end by making several short pleas to the Minister of State—whom I welcome in his place—and to the Under-Secretary of State. First, the right hon. Lady has announced pension increases to come into operation. Will she also ensure equivalent increases for those most in need—those on long-term benefit? I welcome her statement that there will be an equivalent increase for pensioners on supplementary benefit, which will mean that they will get as big an increase and that therefore there will be as many as before on supplementary benefit. I think that course is right.

Will the right hon. Lady also ensure that those on long-term benefits get the same increase? I am thinking particularly of widows and those in receipt of invalidity pensions and invalidity allowances. I am also thinking of war pensioners and war widows. I hope that the right hon. Lady will ensure that they have an equivalent increase and that the pattern which we set when increasing the main supplementary allowances for war pensioners each year will be continued, because this is the best way in which one can give most help to those who are the most severely disabled or the most elderly.

Will the right hon. Lady continue the £10 bonus? It need not be expensive if it is part of the uprating package. I believe that it gives more pleasure than almost any other improvement that could be made. The fact that it is a lump sum means that the pensioner can get little extras which could otherwise not be bought—for example, a Christmas present for a grandchild. It is this sort of thing which makes all the difference. It means, also, that the pensioners can be assured that the great machine recognises Christmas.

I welcome the fact that the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), in his new appointment as Under-Secretary of State, is taking responsibility for the disabled. I welcome the moving maiden speeches made by my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) and Sutton and Cheam (Mr. MacFarlane), dealing with various aspects of disablement. There is a long way to go before any of us can be satisfied that we have done enough for the disabled.

The right hon. Lady said that she is due to report to Parliament by October about the next stage of advance. I hope that in that next stage she will continue working, as the last Government were doing, on more effective help, in particular for disabled housewives and those disabled at birth or in youth. Some of them now get attendance allowances and some supplementary benefit, but many of them are outside the National Insurance Scheme because they have no work record. The aim should be benefit as of right for these two groups of people.

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Lady has said that the Sharp Report will be published shortly. This is not an easy subject and it is only right that the House and the country should have an opportunity of sharing with the Government the considerations of the problems involved.

To summarise, the dilemma here is that mobility by vehicle is important, but it is also expensive. That is the dilemma that the Government face, and we have to face it with them.

Fourthly, I come to the earnings rule and the disregards. We all want to encourage people to work, and to earn after retirement. We all want to see that people who have been thrifty and have saved through occupational pension schemes are not penalised. Disregards have not been increased since 1966, and since then they have been devalued by 50 per cent. possibly more. It is one of my regrets that we were not able to bring this priority to the top of the list, but the case gets stronger year by year, and I ask the Government to pay attention to it.

My final plea concerns the tax credit scheme which, alas, was not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. I recognise that Ministers have expressed misgivings about the tax credit scheme. I ask the Government to modify it if they must but to go ahead with it in some form or other, for that is the best way of providing cash for mothers with children, including the first child. It is the best way of taking many pensioners off means-tested supplementary benefit and raising their income by an automatic process. It is the best way also of raising the income of the lower wage earner and the one-parent family. There will never be enough money in social services to do all that any Government want to do. Therefore, the harsh reality of priorities has to be accepted by the Opposition as by the Government.

Where the Government aim to destroy they will receive vigorous opposition; where they aim to build they will receive support.

2.57 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

I am almost tempted to congratulate the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) on a maiden speech. It was so different from the speeches he made when he was on the Government benches.

For the third time in my membership of the House, Labour has been called upon to clear up the mess that has been left behind. It was so in 1945, in 1964, and now again in 1974. We have now a desperate state of affairs, a situation that would test the nerves and need all the resources of any set of men. The Government have begun well. The miners' strike has been settled. "Back to work by Labour" has proved to be no idle slogan. Rents have been frozen, and the Queen's Speech foreshadows a series of measures which bear out the Government's determination to put matters right.

There have been considerable factious criticism and loud-mouthed threats from so-called minorities. Examination of their content can lead only to the clear conclusion that if the Government were not permitted to carry out the measures contained in the Queen's Speech and an election were precipitated the country would know that the much-vaunted declaration that all the minorities wanted was the good of the country was a falsehood. It would be realised that the work of the Government was being frustrated by politicians who wrongly thought that they could pursue policies for their party's sake. I hope that the Opposition will note that criticism.

I notice that the Queen's Speech states that A Bill will be introduced to increase pensions and other social security benefits. Listening to the hon. Member for Somerset, North one wondered where he would have found the money for the increases that he said would be given by his party. The promise to increase pensions to £10 per week for a single person and to £16 per week for a married couple was welcomed by all pensioners. This is a much needed measure and I hope that it will be enacted soon.

I welcome, too, the promise progressively to improve and to expand the National Health Service. I hope that it will be possible at an early date to abolish charges for prescriptions. Here I draw attention to the anomaly that such charges are still made to women aged between 60 and 65 although in fact they draw pensions.

I am glad that the Gracious Speech refers to the help which is to be given to the disabled. I am especially glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has been appointed as the first Minister specifically responsible for the disabled. I well remember the introduction of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill in 1970, in the drafting and passage of which I was able to assist. I remember, too, the strong support given by the then Labour Government in making sure before leaving office that it reached the statute book. Again and again we have complained about the laggardly manner and the delay on the part of the Tory Government in seeing its provisions implemented. With a Minister for the disabled and, I hope, a disablement benefit, we may well see the Act become a real charter for the disabled.

I welcome, too, the direct reference in the Gracious Speech to the reform of the law relating to the adoption, guardianship and fostering of children on the basis of the recommendations of the Inter-Departmental Committee on the Adoption of Children. In his speech on Tuesday, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the Children Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. David Owen) was being taken over by the Government as the basis for a similar Bill. My hon. Friend's Bill failed to secure a Second Reading because of the Dissolution of Parliament. It entailed a great deal of research, and it was an excellent piece of much needed reform. I am glad that a measure of this kind is to be introduced. I do not suppose that it would even incur the opposition of the important number of Liberal Members even if they were here to debate it.

During the election, my attention was drawn to a Tory canard that a Labour Government would nationalise Jewish day schools. I assured them, as I am sure is the case, that a Labour Government would have no intention of doing so and that the rights of sectarian schools would be respected fully.

Finally, I wish to comment on another topic which is not referred to in the Gracious Speech. Hon. Members will know that in 1945, under a Labour Government, the then Minister of War Transport and the companies dealing with motor insurance entered into an agreement for the setting up of a fund to be administered by a body to be appointed and which is now known as the Motor Insurers' Burea. The object was to implement the recommendation of the Cassels Committee to provide compensation for victims of accidents occurring on the road where no compensation was available because of the absence or non-effectiveness of insurance cover of the driver to blame for an accident. It dealt very successfully with many cases. However, there were cases of real hardship where the bureau refused to pay under that agreement. I raised this matter in the House then.

In April 1969, again under a Labour Government, a new agreement was made dealing with compensation for victims of untraced drivers—that is, hit-and-run cases—and giving a right of appeal. The years have passed. I urge upon the Government the need to review the position. Under the 1969 agreement, damages for loss of expectation of life as well as loss of earnings, whether or not to be repaid, are excluded. Damage in respect of accidents off the highway and to property is not covered. An appeal to an arbitrator lies, rather than to a court of law. Moreover, the periods of notification of claims, which are a condition precedent, are far too short.

Since the passage of the 1973 Act introduced by the hon. Member for Stechford (Mr. Churchill), passengers are now covered, but I have indicated a number of points which I suggest show that the Government should intervene and review the position. This is essential, as the increase in the numbers of drivers or vehicles since 1969 inevitably means a greater number of accidents.

Finally, I welcome the constructive approach by the Government. That is what the Opposition, if they vote against the Address, seek to destroy. I look forward to a real effort to save this country from the economic and industrial chaos brought about by the last Government.

3.5 p.m.

Mr. William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

First, I am sure that it would be in accordance with the wishes of the House that I should mention the 10 maiden speeches to which we have had the pleasure of listening throughout today, and I willingly do so.

I welcome in the warmest terms the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson). He brings to this House great personal experience in education. As was mentioned by one hon. Gentleman opposite, my hon. Friend is not ashamed to say that he has definite and direct views. But on this occasion, as was also commented upon, he conformed to the conventions of the House and made a most interesting, non-controversial speech. I am certain that on other occasions, unshackled, unlike today, we shall have the benefit of his more controversial views.

I also add to the many tributes that were rightly paid to my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker). I think that the whole House felt that hers was a quite outstanding maiden speech, full of sympathy for the disabled, of whom she was speaking, and with a particular expertise which caught the attention of all hon. Members.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. MacFarlane) also made an admirable speech. We look forward to hearing from those hon. Members on many subsequent occasions.

I very much enjoyed the maiden speech by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I note that neither he nor my hon. Friends the Members for Wallasey and Sutton and Cheam are present. Perhaps I may point out that another agreeable convention of the House is to return to listen to the winding-up speeches when hon. Members have made contributions to the debate. Had the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough been present, I would have said, and will say so that he may read it in HANSARD, that when I contemplate that he was making a non-controversial speech, I tremble somewhat for what will happen when he gets into his stride in a controversial way. The whole House welcomed and took pleasure in the hon. Gentleman's rightful tribute to George Darling, who must surely have been one of the most popular Members on either side of the House.

The hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills (Mr. Edge), making a kindly reference to his two predecessors and, speaking without a note, told us that he was a lecturer in the Open University. He, too, making a strictly non-controversial speech, used a phrase which attracted my attention. He talked about the "twilight of barbarism". For an awful moment I thought that he was referring to the last three and a half years of "Barberism".

But that could not have been so as he was being non-controversial. It must have been a kindly reference to the impending retirement from politics of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber). We look forward to hearing from the hon. Member for Aldridge-Brownhills on many occasions.

I did not hear the speech by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Graham), but I understand that he is a student of the Open University. The Open University seems to have a certain amount of influence in the House. He must be a keen student, for he told us that he has to listen to his course at 7.40 in the morning. That impressed us greatly.

We heard an informed speech from the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates). It is valuable indeed to have a member of the ACTDE in the House. I have always taken the view that that is one of the most professional and able of the many professional bodies in education, but I wish that it were possible to get one's tongue round the initials more easily.

The hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid), who represents the Scottish National Party, ought to know—and he, too, will have to read my speech; it really is a pity that so many hon. Members who have taken part in today's debate will have to read HANSARD to find out what was said in reply—that my forebears arrived in this country in a year glorious in English history, namely, 1745, to suppress the Scots. I shall tell the hon. Gentleman more about that and discuss its implications when we are together in the Division Lobby on Monday.

The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) described himself as a college lecturer. I am sorry not to be more informed about the hon. Gentleman, but he made an extremely attractive speech and he, too, will bring a great deal of expertise to our debates.

It seems appropriate that we should welcome back the right hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving). Many of us remember with gratitude his skilful conduct of our debates when he was in a neutral position. The right hon. Gentleman made an oblique reference to this, and I think we all recognise that he paid a price for his appointment. It is nice to have the right hon. Gentleman back.

On a personal basis, I am delighted that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) is once again back in the House. I apologise for not having heard his speech, but I am told that he, too, made a kindly reference to John Selwyn Gummer, whose bright ability we all hope to see back in this House in some capacity.

I am sorry to have taken so long over that part of my speech, but it is in accordance with the traditions of the House, and seems to be right, that I should make those acknowledgements. I have, however, overlooked the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley), and I apologise for doing so. I should have referred to his having returned and made a quasi-maiden speech—[Interruption.] I did not like to say that he could not claim to be a virgin.

I am sure, too, that it would not be repetitious to extend a personal warm welcome to the Secretary of State, his Minister of State, and his Under-Secretary of State. I recall taking over from the Minister of State in 1970, and I recall, too, the many occasions on which the Under-Secretary of State showed a most assiduous interests in education during debates in the House. I am sure that he is the right man in the right place. Certainly the Secretary of State conies into that category, and he can be assured that in a personal capacity, while we shall be watchful of his politics and policies, there will be no hostility to him as a man, for we recognise him as having great courage and determination.

I refer first to the reference in the Gracious Speech to the subject of handicapped children. It so happens that in 1970 the first task that I had at the Department—a period of my life to which I look back with unashamed pleasure; the three Ministers concerned are in the best Department of State—was to pilot through a small Bill which transferred to local authorities the responsibility for the education of mentally handicapped children. That itself was a Bill left over from the previous administration. I make the point because it shows the continuity of policy over such a wide range of education administration.

The truth of the matter is that much of this is an ongoing process. I am always glad to know that, with the good will of both sides of the House, we got rid of the stigma of the ineducable child. I welcome the promise of a major review of the needs of handicapped children, but I ask the Secretary of State to expand a little on what he has in mind.

The ongoing nature of all this is exemplified by the fact that it was in November last year that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) announced a major review into the education of handicapped children. Its terms of reference were: To review educational provision in England, Scotland and Wales for children and young people handicapped by disabilities of body or of mind, taking account of the medical aspects of their needs, together with arrangements to prepare them for entry into employment; to consider the most effective use of resources for these purposes; and to make recommendations. The House will recall that Mrs. Warnock accepted the Secretary of State's predecessor's invitation to act as chairman. I draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey to the inclusion in those terms of reference of a reference to the preparation for entry into employment. She made a point of this, and she was absolutely right.

We put in hand in the previous Government the increasing of the number of teachers trained in the teaching of the mentally handicapped. The 1972 White Paper foreshadowed an increase in the special school building programme, which I understand was not affected by the recent reductions, and for which naturally I must take responsibility. When the Gracious Speech talks about "a major review" I assume that this means more than implementing what the Secretary of State found on going to the Department.

Whatever it is that the right hon. Gentleman wishes to do, within reason, he will be helped and supported from this side—this is an important field—but I hope that the Gracious Speech is not merely a reiteration of that which was in any case policy before he was appointed.

There are some fascinating questions to be answered. Is it right, for example, to segregate children with a handicap? There have been some interesting experiments in this field in Russia. In some types of handicap the feeling is beginning to grow that we have been wrong, although well-meaningly so, to segregate children with a particular handicap. Should it be done perhaps more on a partial basis?

The handicap in which I take one of the greatest interests is that of deafness. I have always thought that deafness is one of the most acute of handicaps, because so often it is made fun of. No one would ever think of making fun in a film or a play of a blind man, yet it is frequently thought witty to do so of a deaf man. Perhaps I feel this strongly, having much deafness in my own family and having grown up with it all my life, but I feel deeply about the careful education and preparation of deaf children.

We therefore await with interest what the Secretary of State has to tell us. Much of the Gracious Speech refers to children in need of special help. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not start in too defensive a mood in his Department or in relation to the general education service. I doubt whether he will find any of his very able advisers to be complacent about what is done. There is much else to be done and we all know it, but let him look, for example, at the report which has already been mentioned, "Born to Fail".

It is true that there are grave lessons to be learned from that report by the National Children's Bureau, but it would not be an unfair summary of it to say that the general education service comes well out of it. This is to the credit of men and women of all parties serving in all parts of the country in all capacities. Before we start saying what should be improved and what is not good enough, it is sometimes worth remembering where we have been, if not successful, certainly more so than people sometimes realise. After all, we already, by the common consent of all parties, discriminate in favour of deprived areas, as indeed we should—the nursery school programme, certainly in its early stages, the primary school programme, in its early stages and indeed in its later stages, because many of the old schools were themselves historically in areas already deprived.

I would put among the provision for those who need special help the raising of the school leaving age. Here I ask directly the Government's intentions. I hope and think that I do not need to, but it would be valuable to have this clearly on the record at the first available opportunity. If the last Government had been calculating electorally, they would not have implemented the raising of the school leaving age which, I must remind the House, was postponed by the Labour Party. Electorally, I have no doubt that this is a most unpopular measure. But I believe passionately that it is one of those occasions when Members of the House of Commons—by that I mean Members in opposition as well as in Government—should give a lead to public opinion and not merely be drawn along behind it.

I believe that if one is seeking to take care of those in need, or disadvantaged, the raising of the school leaving age, the giving of a full secondary course, is in itself one of the most potent ways in which to do so. That it brings great strain in its wake I have no doubt. That we have difficulties in this first year I have no doubt. But on the principle I believe that Government and Opposition should stand firm. I am standing absolutely clear and firm on behalf of the Opposition. I am prepared to go through the necessary criticisms from behind me or within the country and I hope that it will be clear beyond doubt that the Government are standing firm against what I detect as a rising tide of criticism against the raising of the school leaving age.

But it would be helpful to know if the right hon. Gentleman has it in mind to fix a single early leaving date in the summer. There is a problem here about those dog days after the examination period is over and before the term is officially complete. There is a problem when the date is different in different schools or, at any rate, in different local authority areas. It would help considerably if we could know what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind in that respect and certainly what further ideas he has for helping children in need of special help.

There was bound to be, and is, a reference in the Gracious Speech to the whole question of reorganisation at secondary level. I believe of this at least I can claim for myself, and the right hon. Gentleman will not be able—indeed, he is a fair man and would not wish to do so—to pin upon me a hostility to the comprehensive concept in secondary education. What I say to him is that I beg him not to fight old battles. I beg him not to fight battles which were relevant at the time that he was last in the Department. I do not believe that that is his natural make up, but we are all party politicians and I realise that from time to time we have to take part in that process. I believe that when he picks up the threads which he knew so well when he was previously in the Department, he will see that the arguments have tended to move on from what they were ten years ago.

Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman this question. Is he proposing, for example, to move by legislation? If so, he should refer to the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), who sits behind him and who was the man I always regard as one of those who helped us so much in 1970 on the famous occasion when the legislation concerned was not got through. I should have thought that the Labour Party had learnt the lesson that legislation is not the right way to deal with this.

Are we returning to secular—"1066 and all that"? If so, may I give a friendly warning to the right hon. Gentleman to watch his law? More Governments have come croppers in small and sometime medium ways through inability to get their law right than for almost any other reason—and if the right hon. Gentleman notices in that a slightly wry feeling, it is right that it is there.

I believe that Ministers will now realise that their predecessors—and I know the right convention is that they do not see the papers of their predecessors—have taken enormous trouble in each individual case. I am only asking in respect of the actual reorganisation process that the right hon. Gentleman will avoid rigid and doctrinaire positions.

Let me give an example. First, is not thinking changing rapidly? Has it not changed concerning size? This was a point made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West. I believe that compared with the time the right hon. Gentleman was last in the Department, there has been a radical re-think about the appropriate size of an effective comprehensive school.

Secondly, let the right hon. Gentleman, I beg him, watch speed of implementation. Were time longer, I could give him chapter and verse on individual cases in the administration of which I was a member where greater time meant a far more effective reorganisation scheme. I believe that one of the mistakes made by the last Labour Government was to seek to go so fast that in some cases they did grave damage to the whole concept of a comprehensive system by a botched-up job because it went much too fast.

Finally, the Secretary of State must know that there are anxieties on the denominational front. If he could say something about his attitude to reorganisation schemes concerning denominational schools this would be enormously helpful.

As I have said, there are new battles today. There are battles in which parents feel passionately, for example, about standards. They do not mind so much about the label on the school door. It is the standard of the children's education when they get there which matters. For example, there is the inquiry into reading standards. Some of the revelations we have had from schools of all kinds—and all parties are responsible for this—are pretty chilling. It will be very helpful to the right hon. Gentleman when he gets Sir Alan Bullock's report on his inquiry in the summer.

Another cause of anxiety to many parents is the question of discipline. To say this is not to be critical of teachers. It is certainly not to preach for the return of repressive methods in dealing with the young or anything of that kind. But we cannot and should not overlook the anxieties caused to many parents by the break-down or near break-down of discipline in certain schools. Whilst I am uneasy about a plethora of inquiries—and a great deal is going on in the Department at the moment—I wonder whether the time is beginning to come when a further inquiry into that might be right.

Behind all this, of course, lies the quality of the teaching staff. The schools are important, but the quality of the teaching staff seems to me to be the overwhelming problem facing any Government. Here I ask the right hon. Gentleman this question: what is the position of the teachers today? What is their position in relation to phase 3? As I understand it, the Minister responsible for prices speaking in the debate yesterday said that phase 3 is definitely in force. The teachers, as we know, have settled under phase 3 within 8 per cent. Are they still bound by that? Do they have any freedom to reopen the matter with him if they wish?

To take another burning question which has been raised in the debate, what is the position of the reference of the London allowance to the Pay Board? I understand that it has been publicly made known that it is expected that the result of that reference will be available in June. It is a very fundamental reference, of course. What is the position? We need clarity about the Government's policy in this matter. Is it still in operation? That is central to the whole problem of the amendment to the Gracious Speech to which some public reference has been made and which is on the Order Paper.

I turn briefly to the question of further and higher education. I am glad to see, if the Press reports are right, that the Secretary of State intends to make the 16–19-year old group his rather special concern. In that connection I think we should all find it helpful to know whether what I think may be fairly interpreted as certainly an indication, if not a pledge, by the Lord President of the Council during the General Election to restore the cuts made before Christmas will be honoured. I hope that I am not doing the Lord President an injustice. I have carefully provided myself with the Press handout upon which I am relying for that indication, as I see it, by him. It would be very helpful for us to know.

I personally think that a further extension of compulsion in further education is something that he should approach with considerable care. When I have talked this over frequently with those who run our colleges of further education I have found that there are at least two schools of thought—problems of enforcement, the changed relationship between those who teach and those who are taught, if there is an element of compulsion. There is, after all, compulsion both ways. This is something he should take very great note of before entering these fields.

Reference has been made to the universities, a subject which there is not time to develop now. But if the right hon. Gentleman felt able to share his thoughts with us on how he sees what appears to be a falling demand for university education, we should be interested to hear them. I am cautious about accepting the figures of the UCCA Report absolutely as baldly as they have been interpreted, at least until one has had time to analyse them further.

I hope also that the right hon. Gentleman will say something about the Open University. I was very close to—some I hope might say responsible for—the project of a cohort of 18-year olds going through the Open University process. It was widely thought that we had in mind then the idea of getting university education on the cheap. That was not so. The right hon. Gentleman will find that I particularly felt deeply that the cohort should include a segment of those who were not qualified. I was anxious to get into this new, exciting and fascinating experiment a group of young people who would not otherwise have had the chance to go into higher education. I understand that that process is rolling and I hope that we shall see it go further.

I end by saying this: the right hon. Gentleman will have the duty, in time, of telling the House what he proposes to do about maintenance grants. Once again he will be dealing with a minority subject, in that students—bless them—largely through the activities of a small number of them, are among the most unpopular of constituents to represent. I speak with feeling on this subject. For my own part, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give priority to the parental contribution. I do not mean that there should not be an increase in the grant—that is common ground—but that he will place weight upon the parental contribution side.

I have spent the last 17 months of my working life in a society which is extremely intolerant. I believe that one of the reasons why students and universities have become so unpopular with so many people is that they have allowed some of that intolerance among which I have lived to enter into their own society. I have now become totally intolerant of intolerance.

If ever there was a place where a man should be able to speak his mind clearly and freely, whatever view he holds, it is in a university. Some senior academics have done a grave disservice to the university world by not standing up and being counted when their own university was the scene of a disgraceful exhibition concerning freedom of speech.

The right hon. Gentleman embarks on his task with personal good will. We shall be watchful, but we shall not be captious. We shall know that he and any of us who are interested in the subject will be entrusted with the future of the nation, and that is not something to trifle with.

3.34 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Reg Prentice)

I should like to begin by paying tribute to all the maiden speakers to whom we have listened in today's debate. If I pay them a collective tribute instead of the individual tribute I should like to pay, my excuse is that there were so many of them. I am delighted by that. However, if I were to comment individually on their speeches I should have no time left to reply to the generality of the debate.

My hon. Friends the Members for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), Aldridge—Brownhills (Mr. Edge), Edmonton (Mr. Graham), Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Bates) and Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) showed among them a tremendous experience and grasp of educational problems. It reinforces the view I hold of this new Parliament, that my ministerial colleagues in the Department of Education and I will face a great deal of pressure and prodding from Members experienced in this area. This I welcome wholeheartedly.

We listened to maiden speeches from the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. Reid) and the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), who said he was not being controversial. I look forward to his being controversial. I thought he did pretty well as it was. I missed the speech of the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), but I believe it was outstanding. The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. MacFarlane) maintained the high standard that we have come to expect from the long list of Conservative candidates who have come second in my constituency over the years.

We welcome the return to the House of my right hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Irving), my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Dr. Winstanley), all of whom spoke most effectively.

It would have been a terribly dull day if maiden speakers had followed what used to be the tradition of making anodyne and totally non-controversial speeches. Fortunately, that tradition is largely past. Today we heard lively speeches with controversy in them and they made for an excellent debate, on both themes of health and social security and on the Department of Education.

The House will not expect me to reply to the many points raised on the Department of Health and Social Security. Ministers from the Department have been present throughout the debate and will have noted all that was said and will study hon. Members' comments. May I make a general point on the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe), because we have heard from him what has become a familiar Conservative theme, which we heard a lot about in the election campaign, namely, that the egalitarian aspirations of the Labour Party were meaningless because of the kind of bogus arithmetic that he brought before the House. He said that if the earnings over £5,000 a year of everyone were confiscated it would come to only 30p per person throughout the country. This may be comforting for those like myself who earn more than £5,000 a year, but it totally misses the point.

What we are saying is that our society is so disfigured by inequality and by differences of opportunity and the remains of class distinction that there is a loss of human dignity and human relations, which we are determined to tackle. Of course, it will be difficult and complex to do, but it is the central motif of this Government that we shall try to tackle this problem.

As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said the other day, the fact that we are passing through a period of economic stringency and difficulty is all the more reason why we should aim at satisfactory standards of social justice. As he put it, if sacrifices are to be borne, the broadest backs must bear the heaviest sacrifices. Therefore, at this time above any other, we should redistribute income in favour of pensioners, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) proposes. Above all, at this time we should also be thinking in terms of priority needs of those who are being left behind in our education system.

The hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) referred kindly to my colleagues and me, for which I thank him. I congratulate him on his initial speech as shadow Secretary of State. I am sure that we shall have a cheerful enmity between us over many long and happy years in the future, with him speaking from that side of the House and my colleagues and I speaking from this side.

I am glad the Opposition chose to debate education. I hope they will often choose this subject for debate. I hope that private Members will also choose it in private Members' time. I wish to see this subject debated on the Floor of the House as often as possible, because it will reflect our constituents' growing concern about education standards. In the election campaign I found, as I am sure many hon. Members found, that far more people asked questions and expressed concern about education standards than ever before. We must tackle these problems against this background.

In recent years, under both Governments, the allocation of resources to education has increased to a point where we are now spending nearly £4,000 million a year—nearly 7 per cent. of the gross national product—on education. Yet we are saying, as hon. Members have said throughout the debate, that this is totally inadequate, that we are faced with problems of over-crowded classes, of the out-of-date school buildings, of too few of our young people getting day release or block release for further education, of too low a standard of living for our students living on grants, and that therefore, on every one of these items, the community must think in terms of expansion.

At the same time, I am bound to add—and everyone in the House I think will agree with me here—that we are facing up to this challenge and making decisions on priority against a background of the most severe economic crisis that this country has ever known in peacetime, a record balance of payments deficit, record inflation and totally unnecessary damage inflicted on our economy by the three-day week.

In The Times of yesterday, there was an article by the education correspondent forecasting that I should have only a short honeymoon with the education world because I should not be able to satisfy all its demands. I do not expect or demand a honeymoon from anyone who has an unrealistic view of the economic situation. I do not look for a honeymoon at all. What I look for is an informed dialogue between the Government and educationists in which the Government recognise the problems of the educationists and the educationists recognise the economic problems of the Government.

Nobody can contract out of the economic crisis facing Britain—no one, including educationists—and this has to be in the background of our discussions. It is against that background that I believe, as I said earlier, that there is all the more urgency behind our policy of trying to secure a more just and egalitarian system.

I should like to make a brief reference to those parts of the Gracious Speech which are directed to this end. First—comprehensive reorganisation. We have already made it clear that we are determined with the fastest possible progress to end selection at 11-plus. I take in some ways perhaps a nostalgic view of this issue. I was a Minister of State in the Department when Circular 10/65 was drawn up, and I shared responsibility for it.

We were not at that time beginning the process. It had already begun in many of the most progressive local education authorities. It had begun in London, it had begun in Coventry and Bristol and in many other areas. I believe that the Labour Government gave it an impetus, and all the reactionary gestures of the last Government could not halt that impetus. They prevented some good schemes from going through, but they were bound to accept others, and we are now at the stage when about 47 per cent. of secondary pupils are in comprehensive schools.

I use that figure with a slight hesitation because sometimes schools are defined as comprehensive that would not meet all the requirements of being comprehensive, where guided parental choice or some other formula in fact amounts to some degree of selection. But still, given the widest definition, the central point that I am making to the House is that 47 per cent. of our children are in comprehensive schools, but more than half of them are not. The fact that the other half are not should be of great concern to all of us who believe that the comprehensive system widens the opportunities open to boys and girls during their secondary education.

Therefore, I was able to announce on Monday, with the agreement of my ministerial colleagues, three basic points as a beginning. The first was that my clear intention is to withdraw the Conservative Government's Circular 10/70. Secondly, my intention is to consult on the details of a new circular with the local education authorities, with the teachers' organisations and with the voluntary bodies. This consultation need not be a lengthy process but it must be effective. Therefore, when hon. Members ask me, as several have, for the content of the new circular, I am bound to say that consultation must take place and that I shall bring forward the circular at the earliest possible date, but I cannot enter into detailed commitments in advance of that consultation.

The third point in my statement on Monday was to invite local authorities to look again at proposals which they had put to the previous Government but which had been turned down by them. We should like to consider them again with a view to getting them into operation at the earliest possible date.

The hon. Member asked us not to accept botched-up schemes. Of course we shall not. The Labour Government between 1964 and 1970 turned down some schemes that we thought inadequate. We want to carry into effect a policy of going comprehensive as quickly as possible and as effectively as possible.

Whether we should legislate is still an open question, but it will not be this side of the Summer Recess. Certainly we want to see how we get on with the approach contained in our new circular. Legislation must remain a possibility, but I believe that here we are stating and carrying out a policy supported by the majority of educational opinion among teachers, parents and local authorities. It may not be necessary to legislate on it, but it is a possibility that we must keep in mind.

One reason why we are not sure whether legislation will be needed is that the structure of local government is changing—the new local education authorities take their powers on 1st April. Some authorities which refuse to move on this matter will be absorbed into larger authorities which have already gone comprehensive in all or part of their area. It is a new situation that we shall watch carefully.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) asked about direct grant schools and independent schools. I shall be studying the problem. He did some research into the statements of some of my hon. Friends during our time in opposition. If he had carried his research back to the time when I was Minister of State in the Department he would have found some fairly militant utterances of mine which I do not retract at all.

My second comment is that it would be rash to assume that parts of our manifesto or our declared policy which are not in the Gracious Speech have been abandoned. The Gracious Speech is for one Session, and for even one Session includes the phrase Other measures will be laid before you. Hon. Members should not assume that because there is no detailed commitment within 10 days of our taking office, these are matters that will not receive our close attention.

Mr. Molloy

My right hon. Friend has made comments about the speech of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), but as we all know the hon. Member for Chelmsford, when in office, was not concerned with public sector education. He was concerned with direct grant and grammar schools, with the result that there is a massive crisis in education in London because of the desperate and ever-increasing shortage of teachers. Teachers are leaving the metropolis because they cannot find anywhere to live. London weighting is too low, and that has exacerbated the situation. The Secretary of State should not be concerned with the grouses of hon. Gentlemen opposite. He should tackle immediately the fast-growing and extremely serious education situation in the Greater London area.

Mr. Prentice

Yes. As a Member of Parliament representing a London constituency, I am well aware of the problems to which my hon. Friend refers. I spoke earlier of the need for more resources for education. I think that this need is greatest in the inner city areas, and perhaps greatest of all in London. I am well aware of that. Indeed, this ties up with my next point.

The Gracious Speech laid emphasis on the need to do more for children in need of special help. I think I can claim that this represents a continuity of policy with the decisions of the previous Labour Government, who initiated the policy on educational priority areas and the urban programme, a policy which was continued by the Conservative administration.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford mentioned special techniques which were used in terms of the teacher quota, building programmes, Section 11 grants, priority for nursery places, and so on. I am sure that we need to develop and to refine these policies and to recognise the challenge presented to us by the position of children who are being increasingly left behind at present.

In some senses the story of the last few years has been one of greater progress, with more pupils taking O levels and A levels, more staying on at school and more going on to further and higher education. That very progress itself means a larger psychological gap between those who are doing these things and those who are not. The problems of those who are not doing these things must be among our priority concerns.

In looking at the question why various boys and girls are not realising their innate capacity, we find that this problem of educational disadvantage clearly overlaps other problems of social disadvantage. Clearly, it is related to housing needs, employment problems and so on. At the same time, there are purely educational aspects of it. There are more disadvantaged children in Newham than there are in Hampstead; but there are still some in Hampstead. We have to identify the educational part of this problem and do more to act upon it.

It is partly a question of resources, but not entirely. We are entitled to issue this challenge to everyone engaged in education—to teachers, administrators and so on: to use all the energy and imagination that they can—as many are doing already, but others are, perhaps, not doing enough—in order to deal with the problem of children in these categories.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Prentice

I had better finish my speech, because I have only a few minutes left.

On the whole question of nursery education there has been a good deal of discussion in the debate. We have given it a degree of priority, in terms of the Gracious Speech, both because we believe that there is evidence that all children benefit from the commencement of the educational process at an earlier age than the age of 5 and because we relate this question to the question of children with special needs. We realise that there are some who, by the age of 5, because of social disadvantages, are already behind their contemporaries and find it exceedingly difficult to catch up. There has been a great deal of research on this subject and many books have been written about it. Different views have been put forward in the debate.

As I must be brief, I can only say that I found the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Aldridge-Brown-hills on this point more convincing than the views of the hon. Member for Brent, North. On further education, the hon. Member was quite right in saying that personally I want to do more for the education of the 16-plus age group, and particularly those members of that group who do not go on to full-time higher education. As a nation we rightly devote considerable resources to those who stay in full-time education after the normal school leaving age. But those who leave school at 16 also have educational needs. If we look at the present provision for day release and block release, we find that it is on far too small a scale for boys and on a disgracefully small scale for girls. These are matters which should be highlighted in our future plans.

I need more time to consider whether the report relating to students' grants should be published. I hope that we can reach a conclusion on new grant levels within two months at the most. Grant levels are now a matter of urgency and discussions are going ahead. I accept the view which is generally accepted that the settlement of grant levels should be for one year and that there must be no question, in view of recent experience, of trying to settle them for a longer period.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State has already had discussions with the President of the National Union of Students. I believe that they will meet again next week. Any view we take and any solution which we find will not be influenced by any popularity factor. We shall take an objective view of the needs of students and the education system.

Reference has been made to the decision of the last Government to initiate a review of the needs of the handicapped child under the chairmanship of Mrs. Warnock. I have repeated that invitation to Mrs. Warnock. We must consider the other aspects of the inquiry. We shall be considering them in the context of the Government's whole approach towards handicapped children and handicapped people.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services referred to the fact that we now have a Minister who is specifically charged with the problems of the disabled community. I shall be dis- cussing those matters with my hon. Friend. The inquiry, under the leadership of Mrs. Warnock, will go ahead as part of our strategy.

We are committed to maintaining the higher school leaving age. The date of leaving in the summer is a matter on which the previous administration invited consultation. They had asked for the views of local education authorities and teacher organisations. A review of opinion is taking place. I shall be studying that review as soon as possible.

As has been made clear already by the Government—I now refer to teachers' pay—phase 3 remains in force. I do not want to go beyond that. That is partly because it is nearly four o'clock and because the House will be debating these matters at greater length on Monday.

I said earlier that I hoped we would have many debates on education. I am sure that that will be so. There is a continuing debate on education both inside and outside the House. It seems to be part of conventional wisdom when reading the Economist or the financial columns of the newspapers to talk about the need to shift resources from consumption to investment. There is a tendency to put all public expenditure under the heading of consumption. I want to see entering into the dialogue the recognition that education is a vital part of investment.

It must be recognised that when we talk of investment we are talking not only about plant and machinery but about the level of skills and the level of ability of people at work. The provision of courses for young people in further education which are relevant to their day-to-day work is a most important aspect of our investment programme. We need to see investment primarily in the needs and the rights of the individual, but secondarily in terms of our investment for the future prosperity and living standards of our people. It is in that spirit that I hope we shall have many further debates about education policy. I hope that people inside and outside the House will discuss these matters with the urgency that they require.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ernest G. Perry.]

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.

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  3. ADJOURNMENT 14 words