§ 3.11 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General (Mrs. Shirley Williams)
It was two months ago that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in a speech at Ruskin College inaugurated a great debate on the curriculum, the methods, the achievements and the criticisms of our educational system. A few weeks after that in a speech at Rotherham I outlined the structure of the debate and the preliminary discussions that we would be holding with local authorities, teachers, the two sides of industry and representatives of higher and further education.
In the past few days, I have met the local authorities and the teachers' organisations and I expect to complete the preliminary consultations before the middle of December. The purpose of these consultative meetings is to formulate the agenda for the regional conferences which will take place next year and also to put forward questions for discussion. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have published an annotated agenda for the purpose of enlarging the public debate, and we shall welcome any comments on that from any individuals as well as from educational interests.
181 Next year regional conferences will be held in the first half of the year in some seven or eight regional centres and also in Wales. In addition to the educational partners—the local authorities and the teachers' organisations—and the two sides of industry—the TUC and the CBI—we shall be inviting representatives of parents to take part in those regional conferences because we believe that parents have every right to be involved. The main headings of discussion will be the curriculum, educational standards, the training of teachers and the relevance of education to working life.
I very much hope that the public debate will have one effect, and that is to reffect more clearly what is happening in education today. I believe that much of the debate that has taken place in the Press has been hysterical, exaggerated and distorted. I think that this attempt to take the educational debate to a much wider section of the community will do much to give a clearer and better reflection of what is actually happening today in the schools. It will also give an opportunity for those involved in education on all sides to listen to fair criticism, to endeavour to put the object of that fair criticism right, and also to indicate—as I believe they should—the much greater demands that are being made on both teachers and the schools today than have ever been made in the past.
Teachers today are expected not only to educate in the basic subjects but to educate children in a very wide range of other subjects; to prepare them for working life, to give them vocational education, to engage in pastoral care, to create very close links with parents, to create close links with the community outside the schools and to engage in community work of one kind or another. I believe that those of us who are engaged in education owe it to the teachers and the local authorities to recognise just how many demands we make of our schools today that we have never made before.
It is my wish and that of my Department to be as open as we possibly can about this debate, and I said so in the reply that I gave yesterday to the Select Committee concerned with education. My right hon. Friend's announcement to the House yesterday was along the same lines, that factual and analytical material 182 underlying policy reviews, including in some cases programme analyses and reviews themselves, would be published and made publicly available.
I have already attempted to widen the discussion by, for example, publishing the full details of my reply with regard to the Schools Council's proposals for examinations, the annotated agenda for the regional conferences and the papers that have been sent to the Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers. Indeed, I intend to publish working documents whenever I can do so without breaching the confidence of outside bodies.
I want to say something about the rôle of parents in education. We shall be discussing with all the interests concerned how best to improve allocation procedures within the maintained system, and we shall also be discussing—as we said in another place in the course of debate on the Education Bill—how local education authorities can best provide information to parents about the schools that are available to them. We believe that there is scope for a great deal more information on what schools can offer to parents, so that they can make their choices in the full knowledge of what is available.
We shall also be revising the circular on school admissions in the light of comments received, including those from parents. The Taylor Committee, which we hope will report by next Easter, is considering the rôle of parents in the management and government of schools. We want to encourage the interest of parents in their children's progress, and I hope very much that local education authorities will consider the possibility of recommending that school reports should have a two-way element—in other words, that parents should be encouraged to report back upon the progress of their children, as they see it, as well as schools reporting upon the academic progress of the children.
However, we must recognise that as well as having rights parents have obligations, and one of the matters that I hope we shall discuss at the regional conferences is how parents can best carry out their obligations to their children. These involve, among other things, seeing that children get enough sleep to be 183 able to benefit from their education and that they have some time at home in which to read and pursue school work.
Next, I turn to another subject that will be discussed at the regional conferences—the relevance of education and the education service to working life. One of the matters that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister touched upon in his Ruskin speech was the fact that not enough boys—and, even more, not enough girls—are today pursuing courses in science and mathematics. Whether children can be fired with enthusiasm for these subjects largely depends on the quality of the teaching they receive in schools. There is a serious shortage of qualified teachers of mathematics and science, about which I shall say something later.
One of the ways in which we hope to encourage a closer relationship between the schools and industry in all its aspects is to have more work experience and more visits to industry, especially during the last compulsory year at school. Another is to encourage firms, in both the public and private sectors, to adopt schools in their locality so that there can be close links between those who are engaged in the firm, both managers and shop stewards, and the schools.
We have discussed the introduction of differential student grants for engineering and science and we have come to the conclusion that this would not be right or proper. Furthermore, it would make heavy financial demands upon the mandatory grants system.
But we are considering the possibility of an industrial scholarship scheme to attract more boys and girls particularly into those courses which are directly related to the holding of posts in productive industry. I shall be pursuing this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry and shall make further announcements to the House when I can. We are also urgently pursuing the possibility of raising the limits on the sums of money which can be paid to students because of their undertakings in respect of their courses without affecting the level of grant.
I turn next to the position of the essential group between the ages of 16 and 19. A system of pilot schemes of 184 unified vocational preparation was initiated by my predecessor, now the Secretary of State for Defence, some months ago. Six of those pilot schemes are now in operation. They are financed and co-ordinated between the Education Departments and the Training Services Agency, and there will be 24 pilot schemes in all when the scheme is in full operation. I shall announce the second phase of the scheme in some six months' time.
These pilot schemes are primarily designed for young people in employment, but I am anxious also about those who are less fortunate. I repeat the hope, which we have already expressed, that young people who reach school leaving age and cannot find a job should seriously consider continuing their education.
The increased entry of some 50,000 young men and women to full-time further education courses in the last year is a sign that many are doing so. Certain authorities in areas of high unemployment have also arranged part-time further education courses for not more than three days a week, which young people can attend without losing their entitlement to supplementary benefit so long as they remain available for employment. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I would like to encourage other young people to follow this example where the resources are available for them to do so.
I turn next to higher education, and I should like to say a word or two about university numbers. Like the rest of higher education, universities have passed through some very hard times recently. They have had to bear reductions in grant and at the same time student applications fell below what was expected. The universities will undoubtedly go on having to exercise careful economies in expenditure, as will the polytechnics. From my conversations with representatives of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and of the local authorities, I know that they accept the reasons for this.
But at least it looks as though the other main worry, the shortage of suitable candidates for advanced education, has been removed. University admissions, for instance, are increasing. Provisional figures for 1976 show that undergraduate 185 admissions are up by nearly 3 per cent. compared with 1975. The University Central Council on Admissions, figures show that the number of applicants for 1977 entries is maintaining this upward trend. I hope very much that this will continue and that the present proportion of young people attending university and other institutions of advanced further education will remain buoyant. The present level of young people undertaking university education alone as a proportion of the age group is now over 7 per cent.
There is scope for still further expansion. University admissions could rise to about 80,000 from about 76,000 in 1976 without any additional places having to be provided. Most of this increase would, I hope, be in science and technology. Here, too, there are some very hopeful signs. The number of candidates in engineering who were accepted through UCCA for 1976 entry increased by about 8 per cent., which is double the average for all subjects as a whole. The increase in applicants was even more striking, being over 17 per cent. I understand that the early figures for applications for engineering courses in 1977 show a substantial further rise.
We are now looking at all aspects of student support as part of the current triennial review. The results of this will be announced in the spring of next year and will apply to grants for the academic year 1977–78. I am much concerned that the survey of student income and expenditure, a summary of which was published on 18th November, showed that a large proportion of parents do not pay the whole of their assessed contribution towards their sons' or daughters' grants. I shall be asking local education authorities to draw parents' attention to the need to pay their contributions in full. Indeed, I am persuaded that the greatest hardship among students affects those students for whom full parental contributions are not paid. I hope that the reduction of parental contributions, arising from the phasing out of child tax allowances and the introduction of child benefit, will help to ease this problem.
I turn next to the committee which is to study the management of higher education in the maintained sector.
§ Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)
Will the right hon. Lady say something about the level of tuition fees? I understand that there has been a Press conference this afternoon. In the interests of open government, will she explain the Government's intention on tuition fees, and the repercussions, particularly on those coming in on part-time and work-related courses?
§ Mrs. Williams
That intervention shows that I am served right for giving way, because the hon. Gentleman must have been aware that I was in the middle of a passage about higher education and I think he might have waited to see whether I was about to deal with the subject that interests him.
However, I turn next to the subject of the committee on the management of higher education in the maintained sector, which is to be chaired by my hon. Friend the Minister of State. There have been problems about setting up this committee which have followed partly from ministerial changes and partly also from problems about the representation of the groups concerned, but we hope that the first meeting will be able to be held very early in the New Year.
I should emphasise that the task of the group is both limited and practical. Its remit is to devise a better system of management and financial control of the polytechnics and other institutions engaged in higher education, and to improve the co-ordination of higher education with the university sector.
If it is to complete its task successfully and quickly, it must be kept relatively small, and there is no possibility of including members from many of the bodies and associations from which I have received requests to be associated with the work. The membership I have in mind is tripartite—perhaps one-third representative of the authorities responsible for the maintenance of the institution concerned, one-third of those directly concerned with the institutions themselves for their management, and the remainder of individuals either drawn from allied areas, such as the university world, or chosen because of their experience of financial and management problems of a similar nature.
However, I want to assure the House that the recommendations of this group 187 when they are made known will be subject to widespread consultation with the interests which might be affected, and that is all the more important because those recommendations may require legislation to be carried out.
I turn now to the Government's decisions in respect of tuition fees. The House will recollect that my predecessor announced on 5th July proposals about tuition fees for home and overseas students for the academic year starting in September 1977. Since then, the economic situation has not improved. Indeed, the value of the pound has fallen further in relation to most other overseas currencies, and a very tight rate support grant settlement has just been announced.
I have also been considering the advice of the University Grants Committee and the comments of the local authority associations, which we consulted, and other interested bodies on the July proposals. As a result, I have made some changes in those proposals which the UGC and local authority associations and most of the other interested bodies will, I believe, regard as improvements. I should like to give the House the details.
Much criticism has been made of the proposal to raise the fee for full-time home undergraduates and students on courses of advanced further education to £650. I am persuaded that this would have created excessive difficulties for the universities and colleges concerned, for the local education authorities' discretionary award system—incidentally, many made to mature students—and for those students not supported from public funds.
I have therefore decided to recommend instead that the fee for home students for such courses should be £500 instead of £650. At the same time, and particularly bearing in mind the fall in the value of the pound since July, I do not consider that it would be appropriate similarly to reduce the proposed fee for overseas students on those courses, and this will accordingly remain at £650 as previously proposed. That means that there will be no increase in overseas students' fees over and above the July proposal, and because of the fall in the value of the pound in real terms that fee will be less than it was last July.
188 We are thus not able immediately to eliminate the fee differential between home students and overseas students on courses at these levels. But I ask the House to observe that the differential will be much narrowed—£150 for undergraduates and for those on advanced further education courses, instead of around £250 at present—and, in relative terms, much more sharply narrowed still.
Our policy remains to work towards the abolition of the differential as soon as economic circumstances permit. I also now recommend a retained but significantly narrowed differential, this time of £100 in the fees for full-time post-graduate students, to be achieved by raising the fee for overseas students to £850 while that for home students will remain at £750, as previously proposed.
In respect of home students on full-time non-advanced courses and on part-time courses in further education, I have noted that the local authority associations in England and Wales have already issued guidance to their members, with which I am in broad agreement and which will have the effect of increasing the average level of fees by about 40 per cent. For overseas students on full-time non-advanced courses, I propose that the fee should follow the same proportionate increase and should accordingly be increased from £260 to £360, rather than £325 as previously suggested. I think that it would be right in the present economic situation to ask that substantially bigger proportionate increases should be adopted, according to local circumstances, in respect of non-vocational evening courses.
Increases in fee income appropriate to these changes have been taken into account in determining the total of relevant expenditure for the 1977–78 rate support grant settlement for England and Wales, and will likewise be taken into account in the settlement of the recurrent grant to the UGC for the academic year 1977–78. The increased fees for State-supported postgraduate students will be covered with awards from Government Departments, and additional funds will be made available through the science budget to enable the research councils to meet the higher fees in respect of the students they support. Students 189 being assisted under the Government's overseas aid programme will also be safeguarded.
Apart from the changes I have now outlined, the proposals announced on 5th July will stand, including steps to deal with special hardship cases. I recognise that the proposed limitation of total numbers of overseas students in this country, which have risen from 31,000 in 1967–68 to 80,000 in the current year, could not be fully achieved within 12 months without severe disruption. I shall continue my consultations on this with the UGC and the local authority associations to ensure that it begins in 1977 and is completed as soon as possible thereafter.
Full details of my recommendations will be given in a circular which I shall issue shortly to local education authorities in England and Wales. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be communicating with educational interests concerned about the Scottish arrangements.
I await with some interest the comments of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) on the matter of overseas student fees, as I note that his hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), whom we congratulate on becoming the Opposition's deputy spokesman on educational matters, has advocated that overseas students should pay the full economic fee for the cost of their courses in this country. The Government cannot take that view. They believe that it is both short-sighted and selfish.
I hope that what I have said about our intention to eliminate the differential in tuition fees as soon as economic circumstances permit will reassure the House about the Government's concern for overseas students. Of course we welcome them. Their being here is good for our universities and colleges, no less than for the students themselves, and it has great potential benefits for our economy. We are pleased to think that it makes a contribution to good international relations.
Cost is not everything, but we should note that, based on average costs, the charge falling to the taxpayer and ratepayer is about £100 million, or something more, each year. When local authorities are being pressed to reduce expenditure, and are finding it harder than ever to 190 provide properly for their local students, it would be unreasonable to expect them to shoulder still greater commitments. That is why I have had to announce to-day increases in tuition fees. I have mentioned the increase in overseas student numbers. It is worth pointing out that they doubled between 1967 and 1974 and that they have increased by nearly 20,000 since 1974.
I now turn to the draft circular about which the Home Office and my Department had been consulting at official level various interested bodies. Consultation on this draft began as long ago as 1973, but it was played up in the Press as if it were part of some monstrous new conspiracy to discourage overseas students. It was intended to provide clear information to overseas students and college principals about immigration procedure. But it is a draft. It was circulated for consultation, which means listening to what those consulted have to say and not just telling them what one is about to do.
Some wild criticisms of the draft have been made but some have been constructive. I can now say that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are agreed that the draft circular will have to be revised, and our two Departments will be having further consultations on the matter.
§ Dr. Hampson
To clarify a very important point, will the Secretary of State say whether she is talking about 1976 or 1975 prices? In July the figures were given in 1975 prices. I calculate that the equivalent for overseas students of the 1975 prices would be £900 in 1976 prices. As the right hon. Lady knows, in July it was announced that in the following year, 1978–79, the Government would seek to raise a further £14 million from tuition fees. Are the Government still committed to that? If so, these tuition fees will be well over £1,000. Is that not correct?
§ Mrs. Williams
The figures are 1976 figures. The hon. Gentleman has not got it quite right. I can assure him that the savings which were pledged will be fully made in the light of the package that I put before the House.
I turn next to the teacher-training system—
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I should like to follow up what the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) asked. My question concerns mature student fees. I take as an example the teacher returning to university to take an advanced course in sociology and psychology. Does that student have to meet the increased costs of university fees? If so, is my right hon. Friend aware that it would mean that many students would have to leave university mid-term because of the increased costs?
§ Mrs. Williams
I can assure my hon. Friend that if the award were a mandatory award, as it often is, for example, for full-time in-service training courses, it would be met by the local authorities. If it were a discretionary award, the increases would apply. It is for that reason that I have reduced the increase for this type of student from £650 to £500—because I, too, was concerned about that point.
I turn next to the teacher-training system. I am sorry that my remarks are rather long. I shall try to get through them as quickly as I may. As the House will know, I put to my Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers a memorandum outlining a new strategy for dealing with the problem of teacher over-supply and the consequent adjustments which will need to be made to the teacher-training system. I am glad to say that the committee welcomed my general approach, but, naturally, wished to satisfy itself in some detail that the further reductions in the teacher-training system which are necessary would none the less ensure that we retain a capacity adequate to meet foreseeable needs and to permit improvements in pupil-teacher ratios as and when financial circumstances permit. The committee is meeting again next Monday before reaching a final conclusion on my proposals.
I should perhaps add a word or two about the proposals and my intentions for their implementation. Hitherto successive Governments have planned the output of teachers in relation to projections of future school population—which have had to be revised downwards at frequent intervals—and on assumptions about future Governments' policies towards the staffing ratios in schools which might be compatible with public expenditure plans. 192 I believe that this constant change in the expected targets for teacher education has been unfortunate for the colleges and has left many of them in a state of almost constant apprehension about what their future offers.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles) rose—
I will not give way in the middle of a passage, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me. I shall finish the section about teacher training because I may be answering the very question the hon. Member wishes to ask. If not, I shall give way.
Our recent experience has shown how vulnerable any planning of this nature is both to economic circumstances and to unforeseeable fluctuations in the birth rate. What our present proposals envisage as an alternative is the creation of a teacher-training system which, on the one hand, is not so large that it is likely to be seriously under-utilised for considerable periods of time, and which, on the other hand, is not so small that it cannot relatively easily be expanded to meet any demands which we can foresee.
My provisional view is that about 45,000 places is the right size for such a system, but it is also, of course, essential that it is properly structured, that the available places are not divided among too many institutions and that, as far as possible, there is an adequate geographical spread of institutions to support the in-service training activities which become of increasing importance at a time when the teaching force as a whole is at a relatively stable or declining level and new entrants to the profession are relatively few. It is my aim to try to achieve a new balance in teacher training between those in initial training and those in in-service training and one which is more favourable to in-service training than the basic balance.
This inevitably means that a number—and a considerable number—of institutions, perhaps as many as 30, will have to cease to be engaged in the initial education and training for the teaching professions. It will inevitably mean that some of those engaged in teacher education will have to seek alternative employment. But I am glad to say that my 193 predecessors have made generous provision to cushion these changes by redundancy arrangements for those who cannot find further employment and the safeguarding of salaries of those who find employment elsewhere in the education service, as I hope most of them will.
There have been several references in the Press to the possible waste of capital expenditure as a consequence of closing colleges. It is, of course, true that a reduction and restructuring of the teacher-training system on the scale envisaged cannot be effected without the abandonment of some capital assets for teacher training provided at the expense of taxpayers and ratepayers. That is inevitable. But the problem must be looked at in perspective. Teacher education is not capital intensive. In fact, the capital cost of a teacher-training place, including a reasonable proportion of residence, is only about twice the annual cost of providing it, including the cost of supporting the student who occupies it. Annual expenditure on teacher training has been running at over £200 million a year.
Concern has been expressed, especially in the Press, about the possible other uses for college premises. My Department keeps the Property Services Agency informed of any premises becoming vacant for which no further educational use appears likely. Even in these difficult financial times there have been a surprising number of inquiries for premises which might become available for other use. Arrangements have already been made for the disposal of a voluntary college for use as a research establishment. Inquiries for other colleges have come from the British Steel Corporation, the Post Office, police authorities and companies in the private sector.
It must also be remembered that the process of closing a college takes a number of years. Obligations to existing students have to be discharged as well as, in some cases, obligations to those who have been accepted for courses which have not yet started. I think that many colleges which cannot continue in their existing rôles will not finally become vacant for other purposes until after 1980. We shall endeavour to do everything possible—and the prospects, I repeat, look rather favourable—to find other uses of national interest for the colleges themselves—thereby, inciden- 194 tally, saving considerable expense on other public sector buildings. I now give way to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart
The right hon. Lady has diverted from the original point that this process was not planned stage by stage as she outlined. Both Tory and Labour Governments carried on a campaign over a number of years to induce people to train as teachers. Indeed, very often they induced people of mature age to switch from their original jobs or professions to teaching. Is there not, therefore, an obligation on the Government to see that all those people so trained have reasonable jobs in the teaching profession?
§ Mrs. Williams
The hon. Gentleman's point is perfectly fair. But he must recognise that if we are to employ those who have already been trained as teachers we cannot hope to do so if we continue to pour out far more newly trained teachers than we can possibly absorb. It is because I am as concerned as the hon. Gentleman that we should employ those teachers who are already qualified that I believe that it would be an act of sheer irresponsibility to refuse to reduce the numbers coming in to be trained as teachers. That, frankly, would be to train these young people for nothing but unemployment.
I should like to speak briefly about the discussions that we have had with local authorities on the subject of rate support grant, because this also reflects the Government's priorities. In the course of those discussions the Government have reiterated that they regard their highest priorities as being the maintenance of the staff-pupil ratio and the starting of the programme of in-service and induction training which has been delayed in the past. We believe that this is an excellent opportunity to improve the qualifications of our teaching force by in-service training.
It is, however, the case that, in a tight rate support grant settlement, local authorities will find it difficult to allocate sums for in-service training unless they can find corresponding savings even though the Government have indicated the size of the sums available for that training. I want, therefore, to tell the House that we are indicating to local authorities that, with some savings in the 195 capital expenditure area, some savings or restrictions in the growth of non-teaching expenditure, and also, we hope, through the closest possible examination of local authority expenditure on maintained schools and on the fees in independent schools, we can make the kind of savings that should enable in-service education to go ahead.
The number of new teachers employed by local education authorities increased by about 4,700 in the current school year; that is, nearly 457,000 teachers are now employed in maintained schools, compared with 452,600 in September 1975. That was the increase planned in the last year's rate support grant settlement.
The number of registered unemployed school teachers in England and Wales is just under 7,200, as I announced to the House on 2nd November. It is not as high as appeared earlier in the year, but, nevertheless, we feel that it is too high. We estimate that nearly 15,000 of the new teachers who successfully completed their initial training last summer and who have been seeking teaching jobs in maintained primary schools are still unplaced in such jobs, although some of them have found other jobs.
It is an unfortunate paradox that, at a time when there are trained teachers in excess of the number of jobs available to them, there should still be persistent shortages of teachers of certain subjects, particularly in craft, design, technology, mathematics and science. We have some information about these shortages from a survey of secondary schools which we make annually, but it may be that the real shortages are greater than the surveys reveal, in that over a period of years the curriculum has been distorted because of the unavailability of certain categories of teacher.
It is equally true that, in a period when the teaching force is no longer expanding, the adjustment of its composition to match more nearly the true needs of the schools can only take place over a number of years because of the tenure of teachers. Immediately, however, there is a serious and persistent shortage of teachers in craft, design and technology, commonly referred to as teachers of handicraft—a rather misleading description—and departments in secondary schools are under-utilised as a result.
196 My Department will shortly be proposing the institution of a number of one-year courses designed to retrain teachers of other subjects to teach in this area. These courses will be open to newly-qualified teachers who have been unable to find employment—would-be entrants to the profession—but also to serving teachers who wish to change the direction of their careers. I am proposing that those responsible for providing the courses shall consult local education authorities about the vacancies they have for teachers in this area, and I hope to ensure that arrangements can be made for the selection of candidates in such a way that those who complete the courses successfully are assured of future employment.
I also have in mind the provision of similar courses to retrain teachers as teachers of mathematics. In this connection it has been brought to my attention that more than half of the entrants to teacher training who have an A-level qualification in mathematics prefer to pursue their studies as intending teachers in different academic areas.
This phenomenon, at a time of acute shortage of well-qualified teachers of mathematics, will bear further exploration. But it means that a substantial proportion of teachers who have not hitherto been able to find appropriate employment will have pursued mathematics to sixth form level, and it is in this area that we shall look for candidates for retraining as specialist teachers of mathematics in secondary schools. I think that this attempt to retrain teachers for mathematics is a much more satisfactory answer to the problem than attempting to concentrate children studying mathematics in particular schools, thereby reintroducing selection in another form.
The hard sciences, physics and chemistry, present similar problems from the point of view of schools staffing, but there is much less evidence that suitable candidates willing to retrain are available. Much educational opinion doubts whether a period of one year would be adequate for the purpose. I am, however, hoping to pursue this matter further also, with a view to a more limited experiment in this area.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith
(Berwick upon Tweed): I welcome very much the right hon. Lady's practical one-year 197 training proposal, but could she say whether opportunity will be given to those institutions in teacher training which have had their entry of training places cut or removed altogether to provide some of these courses? Will it be possible for them to find a new role in some of the work she has now outlined?
§ Mrs. Williams
I shall look at the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, which is the only sensible thing to do, but I hope that he does not expect me to answer in detail at present. I shall write to him.
I turn now to adult education. I am aware that there has been a good deal of speculation about whether we were preparing to retreat from the proposal for a national advisory council, as set out in the discussion paper issued by my Department in July and of which my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) is a strong champion. I say straight away that there is no foundation for this rumour. On the whole, we have had a not unencouraging response from the local authority associations which, of course, bear the main burden of provision in this sector of education. We are now arranging to complete our consultations with the other interested organisations to which the paper has been circulated. I hope that this process will be completed by Christmas and that shortly thereafter we shall be in a position to set up such a council as quickly as possible.
As the House also knows, we are shortly to establish a youth service forum for England and Wales to provide a focus for the consideration of national policy for the youth service. It will be under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and its membership will include representatives of the local authority associations, voluntary youth organisations and, of course, young people themselves. I hope that it will hold its first meeting before the end of the year.
I am drawing to the close of my remarks, Mr. Speaker, but I must say a word or two about action following the Education Act 1976 which received the Royal Assent on 22nd November.
As the House knows, the Act gives the Government power to require local authorities or governors of voluntary 198 schools to submit proposals where progress or further progress in giving effect to the comprehensive principle is desirable.
At last the principle of fully comprehensive secondary education is written into the law. It is a long time since the divisiveness and the wastefulness of selection for secondary education were first recognised, and over the last 20 years there has been accelerating progress towards a comprehensive system under Labour and Conservative Governments alike. Seventy-five per cent. of pupils of secondary age are now in comprehensive schools.
Parliament has given the Government powers to complete the task as fast as is realistically possible. We have always preferred to proceed by agreement with local authorities and voluntary bodies, and we still wish to do so. Indeed, I should emphasise that, even where the powers given under this Act have to be used, it will be for local authorities and voluntary school governors to propose whatever pattern of comprehensive education seems best for their areas, consistent with the resources available and the need to complete the job with reasonable speed. We do not intend to force unsatisfactory schemes on anybody. But we expect authorities and voluntary bodies to comply responsibly with the law. I am confident that they will do so.
I have already asked eight authorities to submit reorganisation proposals under Section 2 of the Act. The position of other authorities which have not yet completed reorganisation is under review, and I shall write to them before long.
Section 5 of the Act enables me to regulate the use made by local education authorities of places in non-maintained schools. I shall endeavour to ensure that authorities' arrangements in this area are consistent with the comprehensive principle. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have issued today a circular to all local education authorities explaining how Section 5 will operate.
The Act also contains provisions relating to the arrangements for special educational treatment of handicapped pupils, student awards, school milk, and the remuneration of members of independent 199 schools' tribunals. Separate guidance will be issued on these matters in due course.
A great deal was said during the debates on the Education Act about resources. I should like to add a word on this subject. One effect of the Education Act will be that resources which would in any case be available for secondary education will in the appropriate areas be applied to the development of a comprehensive school structure. Each year, local education authorities are given an allocation of capital resources for school building. In considering the speed at which any particular local authority could reorganise its schools and the organisational structure that that authority wishes to adopt, I shall take into account the resources available to the authority. Where an authority is genuinely reorganising its schools as resources allow, I would not consider it appropriate for me to use the powers which the Act gives me. But I shall do so in cases where I am convinced that sufficient resources were or would be available to carry out reorganisation but the LEA concerned is dragging its feet in deploying them.
Finally, I want to make absolutely clear that we are determined to press ahead with our aim of developing a full comprehensive system and to reach this goal as quickly as is reasonably possible. Only then will the endless debate about selection come to an end and our energies can be concentrated on making the schools better places, places which will fit our children for a humane and just society and in which individual and collective contributions to its well-being will be recognised and duly rewarded.
I do not now intend to speak about my examination proposals, which will be familiar to the House, beyond saying that, as the House knows, I have asked for more study of them in order to satisfy me on a number of matters concerning educational standards, the acceptability of the examinations, and the administrative arrangements for them. I understand the strong feeling of those who have made these proposals, particularly because a common system of examinations would undoubtedly fit in better with a comprehensive form of secondary education.
However, I believe that it would be irresponsible of me to accept changes until 200 they are widely accepted by society as a whole, including the interests of industry and the wider community. In my view, one of the most dangerous things that any Secretary of State for Education can do is encourage a proliferation of examinations none of which is widely accepted or recognised. That is not in the interests of, above all, school leavers seeking employment. I shall try to find a consensus around the studies for these examinations. I recognise the educational arguments for them, but I believe that these studies are essential before I can make a final decision on these matters.
§ Mrs. Winifred Ewing (Moray and Nairn)
As I do not know in which paragraph the right hon. Lady would have mentioned my point, and as I saw that she was about to sit down, I take the liberty of asking her whether we shall hear a paragraph yet on the subject of devolution. Has she read the paper presented to the Leader of the House which suggests that there will be chaos in Scottish education if the eight universities are not devolved? Would she like to give the House her views on that matter?
§ Mrs. Williams
I think I should be unwise to be tempted into making a further speech on that subject, but I shall of course pass the hon. Lady's remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, who will no doubt deal with these matters in the many debates that the House looks forward to enjoying on the subject of devolution.
§ Mrs. Williams
The hon. Lady will be well aware that her point would in fact bring the universities within the control of Scotland and that this is therefore a matter to be discussed appropriately in the devolution debates and not in the course of a statement on education in England and Wales.
I am sorry to have detained the House so long, but I wanted to put before the House, so far as I possibly could, a very wide range of proposals in education, because it is one of my wishes to try to consult the House as widely as possible on all these matters.
I should like to end by saying that I believe we have a good and strong structure in education in England and Wales 201 and that I think we have thousands of dedicated teachers and head teachers and many councillors on education committees who give up much of their time with much concern and interest to education. I have no doubt that we can still further improve standards in education and I am convinced that in the course of the major debate that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister initiated we shall draw together a consensus on this subject which will give us one of the most exceptional education systems in the world.
§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)
I welcome the words of the Gracious Speech:My Government will pay special attention to the maintenance and improvement of performance in education, and will seek to ensure that the resources available are deployed in the best interest both of extending educational opportunity and of satisfying the productive needs of the nation.I hope that the Secretary of State will not think me in any way ungracious if I say "and about time, too". Whilst we welcome that paragraph, just as we welcomed the Prime Minister's speech on education, we regret that it has been such a long time coming. But we certainly are relieved that there are at least some signs that the Government are finally freeing themselves from their obsession with the organisation of schools in the secondary sector and their equally irrelevant obsession with what is happening in the private sector. We hope that the Government will now concentrate their energies on educational issues which are infinitely more important, such as the raising of standards in the maintained sector of education, where the vast majority of our children are educated.
We are entitled to point out that what the Secretary of State is saying, and what the Prime Minister said in his speech on 18th October at Ruskin College, Oxford, the Opposition have been saying for years. We welcome the distinguished convert, the Prime Minister, who is present. But the Secretary of State was less than fair to the Press when she accused it of being hysterical—I believe that Was the word she used—about these matters. It was the Press, when her predecessors were silent on this vital issue, that constantly reported the shortcomings in a 202 number of our schools, reporting which has led directly to the present change of attitude.
We welcome the Prime Minister's references to parents, in his Ruskin speech. It was on behalf of the Opposition that as long ago as 22nd June 1974 at Stockport I launched the "Parents Charter" precisely to reaffirm the rights and responsibilities of parents in the educational sphere.
The Taylor Committee of Inquiry, to which the Secretary of State referred, was appointed after pressure from the Opposition. We look forward to its report, particularly on the rôle of parents on governing bodies. The present flurry of inquiries in the Department of Education was demanded by the Opposition in a debate in the House in January 1975. The Times reports today that membership of the Schools Council is apparently to be reformed to include members of industry. I requested that reform in a speech at Swinton on 23rd November 1975.
I do not refer only to the speeches that I have made as Opposition spokesman. I pay tribute to the pioneer work of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), who is now such a distinguished ornament of the Opposition Front Bench. I am sure that under my leadership we shall be able to continue this campaign for higher standards.
I also welcome what the right hon. Lady said about her committee on higher education and polytechnics. Proposals to examine the whole relationship of polytechnics to universities and other higher educational institutions have been thought out by the Conservative Party and were, in fact, contained in our election manifesto of October 1974. We therefore welcome those proposals, too. I hope that there is no need to go on any longer on this point, but perhaps I may say that it occurred to me that when the Prime Minister sent for the speeches of his Secretary of State for Education and Science before he made his speech at Oxford, as he undoubtedly must have done, perhaps he was sent the speeches of the Shadow Secretary of State instead. Certainly, if he had received the collected speeches of the right hon. Lady's predecessor it would have been a very slim volume indeed.
203 I must absorb, after reflection, the very important announcement which the Secretary of State made today about student fees. Clearly, they are of a complexity that requires discussion and reflection, and I am sure that she will be the first to realise that her announcement was the first I had heard of them. But I am very glad to hear that the circular about overseas students, which was widely publicised in the Guardian and other papers, apparently is not to be accepted as a basis for Government policy. It is not the function of immigration officials to make academic assessments of students. That is the function of the universities and colleges concerned. Certainly, the Secretary of State must see that they are doing their job, but it would be an undesirable departure to act on that circular.
I must consider further what the right hon. Lady said about the fees of overseas students and the details of her announcement, but I must say straight away that I regret that she has departed from the very sensible proposals of her predecessor. Figures apart, the issue of principle here is the issue of discrimination, and I was pleased when the Government went against the attitude of a previous Labour Administration to this matter and decided to treat domestic and overseas students on an equal basis. It is unfortunate that a Labour Government above all are going back to this discriminatory position.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
From the hon. Gentleman's remarks, the House might be misled into thinking that there was not a differential at present. There is, of course, a substantial differential—much wider than that which I am proposing.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Yes; the proposal of her predecessor was, as I understood it, that that the differential was to cease, and it is that proposal from which the Secretary of State is now departing. I do not think that I shall be alone in considering that to be a retrograde step. While foreign students certainly should pay their fair share towards the cost of their education, we should welcome the fact that they come here to study in our institutions and form part of our culture and our life. Indeed, we should be 204 worried if they did not want to come here, and went elsewhere to study.
Power, in the nineteenth-century sense, has passed from us and, as far as we can see, is never likely to return in that form, but we have something infinitely more important remaining, and that is influence—influence through the medium of the English language—and it would be folly if we ceased to recognise where our present assets lie.
I would be the first to recognise that the Secretary of State has a most attractive mode of presenting her argument. She is indeed persuasive and apparently reasonable. But if one looks more closely at the facts behind the presentation one sees that the realities are not so desirable, agreeable, peaceful and harmonious as she makes out.
First, let me take the question of cuts in education. I remind the House of the figures so far. The Government, as we know from the expenditure White Paper, are planning to reduce spending on education, in real terms, over the three years 1976–77 to 1978–79, by over £1,000 million. The cuts, in education for 1978–79, revealed in the White Paper account for more than a quarter of the total cuts of £2,400 million in that year. They represent the largest single cut in the proposed economies in Government expenditure.
I reflect on what would have been said by the Government had the positions been reversed and they were in Opposition. We should have heard denunciations of ourselves as indifferent to children's welfare, callous and philistine, and so on. We have not chosen to follow that bad example. We fully accept that there have to be economies in education, just as there have to be economies over the whole of public expenditure. However, we look to the Government for two things. First, the education service should not be called up on to bear an unfair share of those cuts—and a quarter is really far too high. Secondly, there should be some reasonable system of priorities to determine the services that are maintained and the services that are cut. It is not a reasonable order of priorities to devote £25 million to comprehensive reorganisation schemes which are not wanted by those upon whom they are being imposed.
205 As to the colleges of education, of course there must be a reduction there. Anyone can see the force of the argument that it is no good producing trained teachers for jobs that are not available. But, here again, our criticism of the Government is of a rather different kind. It concerns not the cuts but rather the manner in which they have made them. They have lurched downwards from one figure to another. The latest figure that we have reached is 45,000 places. I heard with alarm the right hon. Lady saying that that was her provisional position. We have had these provisional positions before. What does that mean? Does it mean that the planning machinery in her Department cannot forecast, with any accuracy or certainty, the number of places that are needed in the future? If that is so, the sooner that planning machinery is reformed—as was so persuasively argued in the Tenth Report of the Select Committee on Expenditure published in July—the better.
I ask that under the right hon. Lady's regime the future of these colleges shall be determined with consultation, tact and consideration—elements which have not been present in the dealings of her Department and her predecessors with these or similar colleges in the past. The colleges have made considerable contributions to education, and they have a right to consideration now.
My second point is this: the right hon. Lady and her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, who are sitting side by side so comfortably and in agreement, are not quite of the one mind that they would like us to think. The implication of the Prime Minister's Oxford speech was that standards are going down and something needs to be done about them. On her television programme the other day the right hon. Lady denied flatly that there had been any dimunition in standards.
I give an example to both the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State of evidence of a decline in standards. I refer particularly to the position in mathematics. There is a report from Berkshire schools showing that standards in those schools are now lower than they were some years ago.
I have my own evidence of a conference that I attended in July of a group of vice-principals in technical institutions. One of the vice-principals complained 206 that the standard of mathematics achievement of students coming to his institution was two to three years behind what it should have been—in other words, behind the normal expectation. When I asked the members of that assembly what their experience was, all raised their hands and confirmed that it was the same as that put forward by the vice-principal making the comment.
The evidence that we are receiving from the universities and from employers is overwhelming. It shows that there is a crisis in mathematics in the schools. The sooner the right hon. Lady accepts that fact, the sooner she will be able to do something to put it right. The crisis in numeracy is, I contend, even graver than the crisis in literacy.
There is doubt and confusion on the question of examinations. The right hon. Lady sounded reasonable, but we understood from Press reports that she had rejected the proposals of the Schools Council for the abolition of O- and A-levels, and the substitution of a common examination for O-level and the Certificate of Secondary Education. Now, apparently, the right hon. Lady is having second thoughts. I recall a report in The Times of 13th November in which it was said that there had been a change of policy in the Department. I shall be happy to give way to the right hon. Lady if she can clarify the state of confusion.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not wish to make me responsible for what Press sub-editors write. It is true that some Press headings said that I was proposing to shelve the examination. If the hon. Gentleman will read the statement that is available in the Library, made on the day that I made my announcement about the examination, he will note that it was never my purpose to shelve it, but to engage in further study of it before I took a decision.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her explanation, but I suggest that it would be greeted with a great deal of relief in education circles if she could bring herself to come to an early decision on the matter and, indeed, to shelve proposals that have been inadequately researched and ill thought out.
207 I emphasise to the right hon. Lady that it is essential that the customers of the education service should have confidence in it. Nothing does more to undermine confidence than constant changes in examinations and the feeling that the Department is not backing up the objective examinations system in existence.
The point raised by the right hon. Lady brings me to a further topic of more general application, namely, that of open government. Several times in her speech the Secretary of State referred to her desire to have more open government in her Department. I applaud that, because nowadays we have to go to the daily Press to find out what is happening in her Department. Instead of ringing up the Department of Education, hon. Members are better advised to ring up the education correspondent of the Guardian, because, day after day and week after week, we read on the front page of the Guardian about documents marked "Confidential", "Private" and "Secret", with all the other paraphernalia which we know that the Government use to cloak their actions in quietude and secrecy.
It would be much better if the right hon. Lady could bring herself to accept the facts of the situation and allow a wide variety of these documents to be published. It was most unfortunate, though I do not hold the right hon. Lady personally responsible, that when the Select Committee on Expenditure asked for the PAR Report it was told that it could not have it. I hope that that report will be made available, so that people can judge exactly what the bases are on which policy decisions are being arrived at by the Department of Education.
Of course, the policy decisions must be kept private. We accept that. However, there is no reason why we should not see the preparatory work. In view of what the Prime Minister said about wanting an open debate on education, we must have the material to carry it through.
Despite the right hon. Lady's soothing words, we do not detect a great deal of urgency in the Government's approach to this problem—[Interruption.] I appreciate that the Prime Minister has to leave, and I am grateful for his courtesy in giving me his reason. I am not often privileged to be told about the move- 208 ments of the Prime Minister, but we must treasure these moments and, indeed, this correspondence for our memoires.
There is little real sense of urgency in the right hon. Lady's approach, and certainly none in that of her predecessor's. For example, when are we to have a debate in this House on the Bullock Report on Literacy? It is a report of the utmost importance with regard to literacy and reading standards. Over a year has now passed and we still have not had a chance to debate it. This is a Government responsibility. If we are to take seriously the Government's concern with standards, we must have a debate on this report.
We should like a debate on the Russell Report on Adult Education, too. Whatever happened to that? The first thing I did when I was appointed a Minister was to receive that report. I assure the right hon. Lady that I left it behind in the Department. I am not saying that the delay was all on one side, but, as the years have passed, so the mould has gathered on that report. We might at least have an up-to-date report on its state of health, and what the Government intend to do with it.
Another very important matter on which there is no clear guidance coming from the Department of Education concerns transport policy. This is of immense importance to parents throughout the country, especially those living in rural areas and those using the denominational schools. What is the policy of the Minister on this question? Perhaps we may have an opportunity of hearing from her later about it.
An important part of her empire of which we have heard nothing is the sphere of the arts. I have suggested that we should talk not about the three Rs but about the four Rs—arts being the fourth. We have not heard a word about the arts from the right hon. Lady, but we have seen some very unfortunate actions being taken. The separate Department of the Arts lodged in Belgrave Square has been quietly abolished.
I know that in this—as in other matters—geography is much more important than history. The fact that one was separated from the main building at Elizabeth House by a considerable part of London meant that one had some of the advantages of a separate Ministry 209 without all the expense that is normally involved. I view with dismay the move of the Arts Department back into Elizabeth House, just as I view the consequential announcement that, within the hierarchy of the Department of Education, a deputy secretary is to be charged with responsibilities both for science and libraries and for the arts.
Taking those steps together with the culpability of the Government in failing to support the Public Lending Right Bill, we are forced to the conclusion that a Labour Government—[interruption.] I do not know to whom the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is pointing, but I can guess without looking behind me. I would merely point out that the status of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) is that of a Back Bencher, while the status of the Government in this case is that of the sponsor of the Bill.
I was appalled to hear the Leader of the House say that now that the Public Lending Right Bill is to be down-graded it will be left to a private Member to introduce this Bill, if he can. If we are in this situation, whatever may have been the sporadic activities of Back Benchers—and they came from both sides of the House and the Committee, as the right hon. Lady knows—the responsibility for losing this Bill rests squarely on the Government, because they never put their support behind it. They never kept a House for it. They could not even get a quorum for it in Committee. The reputation of the Labour Government for supporting the arts is indeed a myth. They are resting on the reputation of Lady Lee, who made great contributions to the arts in the past. That is not enough today. What a sad decline there has been since then.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
Is it not right that we have not heard a word in the right hon. Lady's speech either about young people or the fact that there are 600,000 young people still unemployed?
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I appreciate the enthusiasm and concern felt by my hon. Friend for youth, and I pay tribute to his work in this sphere. But the right hon. Lady did mention youth at various points and I hesitate to take her to task 210 for not making her speech even longer than it was.
There is one last point of concern to local education authorities which I must raise with the right hon. Lady, piercing this bland atmosphere of reassurance which she has successfully managed to create. I was reassured up to a point about what she said in relation to resources and comprehensive schools. I understand her to have said that if resources were not available for proper comprehensive schemes she would not press the local authorities concerned to go ahead with schemes that would be not truly comprehensive but comprehensive in name and nothing else. That is a most important statement of policy from the Secretary of State. I am certainly glad to have it, and shall pass it on to a local government conference that I shall be addressing tomorrow on this subject.
On the second point, which is equally important, the right hon. Lady was reported in The Times of 8th November as saying that she intended to impose a six-months' time limit for the return of schemes from local education authorities. Such a time limit would be totally inadequate for local education authorities to consider all the complicated problems involved, and I should be glad to have the right hon. Lady's assurance, now, that this is not her intention.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
That exactly proves the point of what I was saying. There is this voice of sweet reasonableness, but when we get down to the facts of the situation there is no reason at all. It certainly would not be possible to get any decision of importance on reorganisation out of the right hon. Lady's Department in six months. Why should local education authorities, which have to examine these questions in the greatest detail and which have the future of the children as their direct responsibility, be railroaded into this action in this way? That is really a graphic commentary on the whole thesis that I was trying to develop—that the voice of the Secretary of State is one thing but her actions are another.
§ Dr. Hampson
Is my hon. Friend aware that the North Yorkshire county, which is fully committed to the comprehensive principle, has had committees looking at one of my grammar schools for 18 months? If an authority which has not even started to prepare comprehensive proposals is expected genuinely to consult with parents and others, obviously six months is a ludicrous amount of time.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's supporting evidence. No doubt that example could be repeated not only from the eight or nine local authorities that are standing out against the proposals but from the 30 or more that have made it quite clear that they cannot give a definite date for introducing comprehensive reorganisation.
I conclude by looking briefly at the Opposition's policy on education, which has been developed over the past three years. It does add up to a coherent whole, because it rests not on expediency or pragmatism but on thought-out considerations of principle. The first basis of our policy is an acceptance, both in principle and in practice, that the right to educate children belongs to the parents and not to the State. It is the parent who knows what is best for the child and that is why in the Parents' Charter, and subsequent policy statements, we have put forward concrete proposals as to how that principle could be practised in the education law and system. That is why we were so dismayed when the Government refused to accept our proposal to write into the Bill, which is now an Act, Section 76 of the 1944 Education Act, supporting parental rights. That is why we shall strengthen that section when we are returned to power. We want parents to be fully represented on the boards of governors and we want an appeal system for parents, giving them reasonable choice of schools. We also want prospectuses to be published by the schools so that a choice can be made on the best information that is available.
Mr. Eric S. Heller (Liverpool, Walton)
I can never quite make up my mind whether the Opposition are serious or whether they are joking. The hon. Member must know that as far as the average, ordinary working-class parent is concerned there is no choice whatever. He 212 is caught in a local authority catchment area—and sometimes there is even argument about whether the nearest school is in his catchment area or not. A working-class parent may like to send his children to Winchester, Harrow, Eton, or Haileybury, but in practice he has no choice in the matter. He has to send them to the council school around the corner. The hon. Member is talking absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Walton up to a point. I agree that there is not nearly enough choice for parents in the maintained system. But that is not an argument for restricting choice even more by abolishing direct grant and grammar schools. The hon. Member knows that in the new housing developments around Liverpool the parents are confined to tightly-drawn catchment areas.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I agree. I find myself, on this point, more in agreement with the hon. Member for Walton than with certain Conservative councillors. But what we want to do is to change the situation so that there are no rigid catchment areas. These rigid zoning areas restrict choice, and we want to increase it.
We, on the Opposition Benches, are very concerned with standards. I have heard the hon. Member for Walton make it clear in this House, long before the Prime Minister made any pronouncements, that working-class people are just as concerned about the three Rs as is anyone else.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
What wesay today, the Government say tomorrow. But it is true that concern for standards is not a matter confined to middle-class parents; it runs throughout the educational system. That is why we have concrete proposals for national standards of numeracy and literacy. I wish that the Secretary of State would reintroduce these national standards which were so unwisely abolished by the Labour Government in 1966.
We also want to strengthen the Schools Inspectorate, both centrally and on the circumference. We are deeply concerned about what is being taught in the schools. 213 We do not want central control of the curriculum, but we do want the Department to play a strengthened role of guidance, and we hope that there will be areas, such as mathematics and the relationship between industry and schools, which will be examined closely. If children are bored at school it is not then fault but the way they are being taught, because boredom—as the Secretary of State and myself are in a position to know—is a disease of middle age and not of youth. We want to see the last years at school related to the world at work. After all, Britain is an industrial country and our wealth depends on industry. It is extraordinary that so many children today prefer to go into Civil Service jobs rather than industry. What could be a more important and humane occupation than serving people in industry in order to make their lives more worth while? Furthermore this would help the whole country with the production of wealth.
We welcome the Government's words, but we want to see action to follow up the words. Certainly, better late than never is far preferable to too little too late. If the Government are now seeking to redeem their wasted three years in the education sphere we shall certainly support them. In the meantime, we shall continue to put forward our ideas and play our role as pacemakers in the education debate until we have the power to put our proposals and principles into practice.
§ 4.39 p.m.
Mr. Alan Lee Williams (Hornchurch)
As always, the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has spoken in a reasonable, if not urbane, way, and it is immensely reassuring to the House that in education matters he is to be fully in command of the Opposition Front Bench following the reshuffle of the Shadow Cabinet. However, I do not despair of the appointment of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) to the Front Bench. At least he has taught in a comprehensive school and, therefore, I do not regard him as part of the Establishment. Anyone who can make the mistake of thinking that the Army and Navy Club is the Junior Carlton is not beyond redemption. I am sure that he will play his part on the Opposition Front Bench.
I want to reserve my first few remarks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of 214 State for Education and Science. The education world in general has greatly welcomed her appointment. I do not say that in a sycophantic way. I am simply repeating genuinely-felt sentiments. My right hon. Friend is following up her own known interests in this area. This has not been a reshuffle of convenience. It fits in with my right hon. Friend's long-term interests. She will do what she can in exceedingly difficult circumstances.
My right hon. Friend takes over the job in the most trying circumstances, but she is helped to a certain extent by demographic changes and she will do everything she can to increase the morale of the teaching profession, which at this time is being sorely tested by reports it hears about cut-backs. This is particularly true in the colleges of education I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend's emphasis on in-training, particularly on the relationship which she envisages between industry and education. In that sense I welcome the speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to Ruskin College, Oxford. I know that a number of people were critical of him, but I think that he was on the right lines.
I do not want to speak about education. I want to say a few words of a more general character. This may be the appropriate time to do so because the country is faced with a possible mini-Budget before Christmas. That is the strong rumour that we hear. This may, therefore, be the only opportunity for me to say what I have in mind.
Both we in the House and our constituents are in danger of seeing these matters purely in British terms, as though ours was the only country to face tremendous economic problems, the only country which somehow has not properly coped with them. We know that a number of other Western countries have coped better. Certainly Germany, in the way in which it has faced up to its economic opportunities since the war, is a prime example of social democracy at its best. However, for all the seasons with which we are so familiar, and the history which we know so well, we have structural economic difficulties which succeeding Administrations have found extremely difficult and daunting and have not tackled satisfactorily.
215 Recently I attended the North Atlantic Assembly in the United States. Naturally, many of the delegates there were especially concerned about the United Kingdom's position. They did not see us as the only country in difficulties, however. Canada, for example, has difficulties not dissimilar to ours, and the effect of the so-called separatists in Quebec is an indication of the kind of problem that is presented to us by the Scottish nationalists.
But the major problem we face at present is in dealing with the massive borrowing requirement. Let me stress that I speak only for myself, but I think that I reflect the opinion of many people inside the Labour Party. Although extremely tough measures will have to be taken, we are presented with scenarios which are truly frightening.
I start from the basic premise that I favour growth. I am not an advocate of deindustrialisation or nil growth, although many people find these propositions fashionable at the moment. I have always passionately believed that the Labour Party can only do the things it wishes to do if the economy is growing. Therefore, any measures we take must be massively in favour of manufacturing industry. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor will frame his Budget with that in mind.
There is always the danger, however that when the economy is being scrutinised by the IMF the Government might go too far in one direction. My impression, drawn from what the Americans are saying about us, and in particular, if I interpret him correctly, from what Dr Kissinger was saying—he is on the tail end of the American Administration, but he is not an insignificant figure, and one would guess that the Carter Administration would assume some of his attitudes—is that they and the Germans will not demand impossible political action from a Labour Administration. The last thing they want is the return of the Conservatives to power. They do not believe that the Conservatives could cope in the present parlous circumstances. That is basically the view of the Germans and Americans to whom I have been speaking. They understand this country's special circumstances.
216 The Chancellor is faced with a unique opportunity, but the most important ingredient in all this is the understanding with the unions, call it the social contract or whatever else one likes. I believe that after a period of time the term "social contract" becomes counter-productive. People feel that certain phases of it have passed and that they are now entering into a new phase. Whatever name is attached to it, there must be an understanding with the unions. If the Government went too far towards what might be called a tough deflationary approach they would lose the support of the unions, and that could mean only one thing. The Conservatives would find themselves, on the swing of the pendulum, in power in circumstances which they would soon find extremely difficult, and, privately, they would soon wish that they were back on the Opposition Benches.
That must be avoided for the sake of the country. I do not say that in an excessively partisan way. I hope that I am not known for being excessively partisan in that sense beyond believing that on the whole a Labour Government are better than a Conservative Government. At this late hour I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to bear these facts in mind.
Quite recently I had something to say about my right hon. Friend, but I did not mean it in any personal way. As a former Parliamentary Private Secretary of his. I know of his immense qualities. I believe that he was one of the most successful Secretaries of State for Defence since Winston Churchill. However, I also believe that his period as Chancellor is open to some legitimate intellectual criticism, but I do not put that in any personal way. [Interruption.] I know that the Conservatives will find my comments amusing, but for the moment I am addressing them purely to the Government Front Bench.
By and large my right hon. Friend has attempted to do the right things, and the fact that he has been praised by some Conservatives perhaps puts up some warning lights in a number of us that he may now be becoming excessively monetarist in his approach. I am not a monetarist. I know that if he were here the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) would want to know what 217 "monetarist" means. I am not sure that I could satisfy him.
I think that my right hon. Friend has gone too far down that road, however, and I do not think that it is necessary for him to do so. I do not make a personal criticism of him, but I hope that from the basis of my brief speech today he will bear in mind that there is a considerable body of opinion inside the Parliamentary Labour Party which will support any reasonable tough measures provided they enable the central ingredient, which is the social contract, to remain intact. If we can do that, we will not only restore confidence within our movement and the trade unions but we shall be doing what the country basically wants, and that is ensuring the continuance of a Labour Government who are essentially socially democratic.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Walker (Worcester)
I think that for the purpose of debate it would be ideal if the speaker who followed the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams) was a declared monetarist. I do not think that anybody has put me in that category. I very much sympathise with many of the hon. Gentleman's views. The House always listens to him with immense interest. He always speaks In a non-partisan way, be it on defence or economic matters.
I do not think that I am quite as happy and satisfied as the hon. Member for Hornchurch tends to suggest he is about the possibilities in the coming year. This debate is some reflection on that. We know the political work of the Secretary of State for Education and Science over the years. We know, too, that, ideally, the right hon. Lady would like to be in her present office at a time when she was able massively to expand the education service.
Her interest in education would mean that she would go in for the extension of nursery education and do a great deal to help the inner city areas. She would see that new schools were built, and that a better education system was provided. In reality, in spite of the charm of the right hon. Lady's speech, and the splendid details of some of the things that she said, over the coming year she will preside over the most miserable and declining year of education services that we have had for decades.
218 The right hon. Lady will preside over a period during which the teaching profession, if it keeps the social contract, as I hope it will, will have a 61 per cent. increase in incomes, and a 15 per cent. increase in prices. Its members will suffer a drop in their standard of living on a scale never previously experienced in post-war Britain. Teachers will come out of teacher-training colleges unable to get jobs. The expansion of nursery education will be abandoned, and education in inner city areas will get worse. That is the reality of the ghastliness of what will happen under the right hon. Lady—totally against her wishes—in the coming year.
That reflects the desperate situation in which we now find ourselves. The tone of the right hon. Lady's speech and the tone of the Queen's Speech hide from the British people the reality of the present economic situation. What deeply concerns me is that in spite of the dropping pound, in spite of 1½ million unemployed, and in spite of terrible inflation rates, there is still a lack of feeling about how fundamentally weak is our position. One of the reasons for that—and this concerns both political parties—is that in 1974 and 1975, when there was massive wage inflation in this country, both political parties happened not to be in disagreement with it. Therefore, no party has been willing to admit the impact of it even though it has been dramatic.
During those two years we paid 54 per cent. more for doing 4 per cent. less. This is the penalty that we shall suffer. I illustrate that by referring to the public sector, where wages are running at £26,000 million a year. To pay the public sector wage bill it is necessary to obtain £36 a week from every family of four in the country. We have done that not out of productivity but out of borrowing, and we have built up debts.
We are now faced with servicing those debts, and to do so we shall need to obtain £15 a week from every family of four. We are faced with the situation that the public sector wage bill and servicing the public sector debt amounts to £51 a week for every family of four. It is in that climate that the Labour Government, with their passionate desire to improve social services, find that there is no way of doing it. That is why I agree that for the next few years of British 219 economic life there must be some agreement about wages, whatever form that may take.
I am worried about the social contract because it has been broken—not intentionally—on the Government side. Basically, what the Government said to the unions was "If you will accept 4½ per cent., we shall give you 2 per cent. of tax cuts, making 6½ per cent. If you accept that, we shall get inflation down to 7½ per cent.". That did not sound too bad—61 per cent. on one side, and 7½ per cent. on the other. However, as people go into phase 2 they will find that price rises will not be down to 7½ per cent. but will be above 15 per cent. The Prime Minister suggested a figure of 15 per cent.
I do not want the Prime Minister to be biased and consult a private enterprise concern. I suggest that he goes to the Co-op and asks the chief buyers to give him their predictions of what food and clothing prices will be next year. For those two basic items it will be found that, for reasons outside the Government's control, for the ordinary family the rate of Inflation will be worse than expected.
Whether the social contract can be held in a situation where we are asking ordinary families to drop their living standards by such an amount is a big question. I support the Government in urging that the contract be held, because if there is a further wage explosion, it will be calamitous to the future of our economy.
§ Mr. Heffer
The difficulty arose precisely because we had a compulsory in comes policy laid down by legislation. At the end of the period it was like champagne being uncorked. The cork was taken out and the whole situation blew up, just as many of us argued would happen. Is it not right to have a voluntary system rather than get back to a compulsory system, which is what the right hon. Gentleman seems to be hinting at?
§ Mr. Walker
I should prefer a voluntary system. I was one of the Ministers in the Conservative Government who spent weeks and months genuinely trying to get a voluntary agreement with the unions. I am saying that the present Government—or any other Government—if they fail to reach a voluntary agreement could not allow a free-for-all on 220 incomes. My right hon. and hon. Friends who say that if we came into office we should be able to do away with an incomes policy and go over to free collective bargaining are normally those who say that public expenditure should be reduced. I point out to them that if, in an atmosphere of free collective bargaining in the public sector, there were a demand for even a 10 per cent. increase in earnings, at a time of 15 per cent. inflation public expenditure would be increased by £2,600 million. Any savings in housing and food subsidy are dwarfed if there is a major increase in wages in the public sector. That is the reality of the situation.
That being the case, we have to go through—no matter how painful—two or three years during which the ordinary people of this country, particularly in the non-producing sectors, have to suffer a real reduction in their standard of living. Any politician knows how difficult that is for either party to bring about, but that is going to happen.
The Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have said that we need to move extra investment to industry, and yesterday the Prime Minister was optimistic about the prospects for next year. I have no optimism about industrial investment next year. There is a range of factors working heavily against it. First, there is the fact that in 1974 and 1975 industry went through the worst cash flow crisis in its history. Most of the directors and executives do not want to go through that again, and they are now more cautious about investment than they have been at any time in post-war Britain.
A second factor is that if companies want to borrow money they have to pay 18 per cent. if they go to the bank, or 40 per cent. if they get the money on the Stock Exchange. There are not many men who will take risks with those rates of interest. A third factor is that many companies still have spare capacity.
A further important factor to be borne in mind is that if someone takes on additional men now for his investment programme and to take advantage of a boom, he has to question the cost of putting those men off if the boom fades and the company comes up against a slack period. The cost of putting them 221 off is much higher now than it used to be.
A combination of those factors means that there is little chance of extra investment in industry unless there is massive discrimination in favour of the productive sector, both public and private, against the non-productive sector. For nearly two years the Government have postponed the investment programme in the steel industry. That is one of our fundamental industrial sectors, yet the Government are to continue deferring that investment at least until after the next General Election. It seems that the Government are unwilling to do in the public sector what they are urging in the private sector. I do not see that shift within industry.
I ask the House to recognise the part that unemployment plays in all this. There is a total neglect to recognise the highly inflationary effect of unemployment and to see that the situation is different from the 1930s. Then when men were thrown out of work they were paid hardly anything, and unemployment was deflationary. Men who are thrown out of work today get a combination of unemployment pay and social security payments. They pay no tax or national insurance contributions and the cost to public expenditure is massive.
Those who say that we need more unemployment must recognise that l½ million unemployed add at least £3,000 million a year to public expenditure without any production at all and without achieving any good social purpose at all. That has a whole range of bad social effects which in turn affect industrial relations. There is a certain lack of an acceptance of the reality of the situation.
I turn to the balance of payments. I see no sign of recognition by the Government of how very dangerous is the British economic situation. We have de-stocked on an unparalleled scale. We are the most de-stocked industrial country in Western Europe—in the world. Because of the cash flow problems and because of the cost of borrowing, industry has run its raw materials down to an all-time low. There is also a shortage of machinery. If there were a rise in world trade, it would be disastrous for us. We should have to bring in imports at rising prices and pay for them with a substantially devalued pound. The situation 222 is ghastly in terms of potential pick-up of new stock due to the balance of payments position. Once again we are fooling ourselves with general words about all this.
The Government are now talking about the inner cities. The inner areas of a number of our major cities are much nearer to an explosion and rioting and ghastly conditions than the majority of the public are willing to concede. The new Secretary of State for the Environment says that priorities are to be changed from new towns to the inner cities. What he really means is that he can do less for the new towns than he has done and that he has no money for the inner cities either.
I predict that in our inner cities unemployment will substantially increase, educational services will deteriorate and, due to the collapse of the housing programme, housing conditions will get worse. The combination in the social contract mentioned by the hon. Member for Hornchurch will be jeopardised because bitterness and hostility will be created.
The country is in a desperate situation and as yet neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor the Prime Minister have clearly stated just how difficult and nasty the next three years will be for ordinary people. In that three years we must have an economic policy that strongly discriminates in favour of production, and that means an economic policy that discriminates against those decent, nice, hard-working people in the non-productive industries.
We must change the taxation system. We must lower some of the levels of taxation and at the same time lower the penal income tax rates for the lowest income groups. I am pleased that my own party still commits itself to the tax credit system.
There are those in my party who are concerned about the scroungers. The sad fact is that if we had continued in office we should be bringing in the tax credit system next year. I hope that my party realises the impact a tax credit system will have on public expenditure. That impact will not primarily be the result of getting rid of the scroungers but will be because many more people who are not getting benefits today will be picked up. 223 We must aim at getting the right social atmosphere.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
My right hon. Friend should appreciate that one of the consequences of the low tax thresholds from which we are now suffering is that correspondingly the number of people below the threshold, and who therefore stand to be net gainers from the transfer to tax credits, is smaller and therefore the cost is more manageable.
§ Mr. Walker
I agree, and that is why I strongly advocate the tax credit system. I am glad my right hon. Friend, in his important position, has made that remark. He must be the first to agree that even with the improvement in the terms we originally proposed it will still put a heavy burden on public expenditure, and we should be deceiving the public if we said that there would be no increase in public expenditure as a result. I believe that that increase will be worth while.
No matter which party is in power over the next three years, the Government must endeavour to create an atmosphere in which the people will tolerate lower living standards on a scale unprecedented in post-war Britain. The people will accept that only if they see that the system is fair and decent and that at the end they will see an economic growth that will benefit all. The sooner Parliament realises that that is the reality, the sooner we can stop the decline of this country and start the revival.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)
It is always a pleasure to listen to the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). Of this speech today, 75 per cent. might have been made by an hon. Member on these Benches. He will forgive me if I do not follow his fascinating argument but return to the subject of education.
I did not listen with as much pleasure to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), but that could be because I have heard so much of him this year during the passage of the Education Bill. I have heard the speech that he made today at least 20 times this year and there was no new element in it.
224 I was fascinated by his attack on my right hon. Friend for vacillation over the teacher education policy and concerning the lack of a rapid decision to settle the fate of the teacher training colleges once and for all. In 1973, before this Government came to power, no target numbers were set. The hon. Gentleman was in office then and it is partly because no target was set that so many teachers came on to the market when there were no jobs for them. There may have been good reason for the decision in 1973. For instance, the birth rate had slackened in 1971 and there may have been some doubt about target numbers. I concede that, but it ill behoves the hon. Member to attack the Secretary of State for not settling the future of the colleges more rapidly.
When he asks for speedy action over the examination system I hope that he will also urge my right hon. Friend to take a rational decision on the basis of adequate evidence. There is a lack of such evidence at present. I strongly believe in a common system of examinations, but I see difficulties in having a single common examination. I am certain that there is inadequate evidence on which to take a decision one way or the other on the Schools Council's proposals.
If I appear to be uncomplimentary to the hon. Member for Chelmsford let me say that I was not excessively pleased by what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, either. Some of the things she said pleased me enormously. I was very glad to hear, for example, that there was no foundation to the rumours that there were doubts within the Department about the proposed National Advisory Council on Adult and Continuing Education. I was delighted, if surprised, there having been so many leaks from such high levels in the Department to that effect, to learn at this late stage that those rumours had no foundation whatsoever.
I was less pleased to hear what my right hon. Friend said about the fee structure. The hon. Member for Chelmsford said that he would not like to comment.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his unkind references to myself. It is much better to have unkind references than to be ignored by the hon. Gentleman. I made it quite clear where I stood on the question of 225 principle. I said that I much regretted the abandonment of the proposals for which the hon. Gentleman was mainly responsible and which I welcomed at the time. I said that it would not be reasonable to comment on the details, but I hope that I have made my position on the principle clear.
§ Mr. Fowler
The hon. Gentleman made his position on the principle absolutely clear. He knows that he and I stand on exactly the same ground on that issue. However, he said that he would not comment on the detail.
If I understood my right hon. Friend correctly, what she said was that there would be an increase in the fee, as compared with the structure announced in the summer, for overseas students in non-advanced further education and that there would be a reduction in the fee for first-degree and other advanced courses paid by home students, and an increase in the fee paid by overseas students in respect of postgraduate courses. That is to say—to interpret what my right hon. Friend said—my right hon. Friend would achieve certain savings, or additional revenue, as it were, in respect of overseas students on non-advanced courses and on postgraduate courses, and that would be used to offset, as compared with the previously announced structure, the losses occasioned by the reduction of the home students' fee in respect of first-degree courses.
I do not like it. I must be absolutely crystal clear about that. I detest it, because it seems to me to manifest profound illiberalism. Once again we are saying, as we said in 1967, that overseas students will pay more, merely by virtue of being overseas students, and that we shall again begin to select students from overseas not simply on the basis of academic and educational criteria but on the basis of the limits of their purses, their parents' purses or their Governments' purses.
I think that I speak for many hon. Members in all parts of the House. My right hon. Friend may not know, because of the difficulties we have at present with papers of the House, that there is a motion that would be standing on the Order Paper had those papers appeared. That motion contains 135 signatures drawn from every section of the House, and it 226 broadly supports the position that I have just stated.
My right hon. Friend quoted a figure for the cost of overseas students. I assume that that figure was based on average costs, as such figures always are. However, such figures are nonsense, they mean nothing at all. My right hon. Friend knows that they mean absolutely nothing. Why is that so? We have only to look at the present position with regard to places available in higher educacation.
My right hon. Friend herself said that there were vacant places even in universities. There are some vacant places. Qualified demand, though it has picked up over the last few years, has not increased as was predicted earlier. In addition, we have the reorganisation of colleges of education, and though we have lost some places in toto—teacher education places—nevertheless, we have gained some general higher education places because so many colleges diversified; so the number of general education places—not teacher education—increases again. In 1982 the higher education age group peaks, because the birth rate peaked in 1964. Unless we give encouragement to mature students or other groups, we shall have spare places coming out of our ears.
It is nonsense, therefore, to say that we shall cost an overseas student's place on an average cost basis. We can do that only on a marginal cost basis. I shall not ask my right hon. Friend what is the average marginal cost for an overseas student in British education. She could not answer that question. Neither can I answer it, or anyone else. The Government have never yet been able to work out such a figure. I would not embarrass my right hon. Friend by asking that question. However, that would be the sane, sensible basis if one were to give a cost figure. I hope that we shall hear no more of overall cost based on average cost per place in higher education.
That somewhat unhappy subject illustrates the breadth of the concern of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister about standards of numeracy, because the overseas student fee issue convinces me that innumeracy affects the highest echelons of Government.
I turn to some other questions that my right hon. Friend raised. On the 227 question of the curriculum, which was discussed at some length in the document circulated recently by herself and the Secretary of State for Wales, there is a particular point I want to make about the concept of a core curriculum, which appears in that document. In the great debate that the Prime Minister sought to initiate we are in danger of talking at cross-purposes unless we begin to define our terms. What is a core curriculum? We use the phrase as though everyone understands what it means. However, very few understand what it means.
It can mean, alas, more than one thing. It can mean a given core number of subjects or disciplines. That, I think, is the sense in which it was used in the document. It can equally well mean a given core content in specific disciplines. The two are quite distinct, because one can have a core curriculum consisting of a number of disciplines, and yet one can teach people, in two different schools, a totally different body of skills and knowledge because the choice of materials within disciplines is itself so wide.
Thirdly it can mean—and this is what I think it ought to mean—the essential skills and knowledge that we wish to communicate to children in the course of their school education, whatever the vehicle of communication in terms of disciplinary structure. I think that that is a much more helpful approach, because we then get away from saying "Let us turn back the clock to the 1930s and let us again look at the old matriculation disciplines". Let us have a rather more liberal approach. Let us have regard to what has happened in curriculum development since the war. Let us say that there are all sorts of disciplines by which certain skills and basic knowledge can be communicated.
I take, for example, numeracy. One of the things that has worried me—it still worries many people—about our teaching of basic mathematics is that it has often been taught entirely as an abstract discipline. Indeed, sometimes one suspects that when practical examples have been chosen, they have been chosen by virtue of their impracticality. I imagine that all of us in the House have suffered from the syndrome of trying to work out 228 how long it takes to fill a bath when one tap it on full, one tap is half on and the plug half out of a bath which has a given cubic capacity. I have never done that calculation in later life. It seems to me to be a singularly silly way of teaching mathematics. There are other ways of doing that. Some disciplines, be they science or social disciplines—we should not neglect those in this context—can be better vehicles for communicating numeracy than the abstract teaching of mathematics itself.
We should not neglect some of the social sciences, because if one looks at sociology, now much scorned, or politics or economics, one finds that these are disciplines which, at their lowest and simplest level, relate directly to what every child understands anyway and relate directly to that child's everday life.
Therefore, I hope that we shall not go off at a tangent by saying that we must concentrate solely on core disciplines, namely mathematics, English and the like, because that would be a profound error, although I agree with the basic tenor of what my right hon. Friend is trying to achieve. Indeed, I agree 100 per cent.
There are sensible ways of attuning education to the needs of the economy, and there are silly ways of doing so. Even today, 10 years after manpower planning was discredited, there are advocates of the silly ways of doing it—people who say that we should seek, by higher education, to adjust people to the estimated needs for particular types of highly qualified manpower. We all know that it cannot be done. We cannot make worthwhile estimates broken down into particular types of highly qualified manpower. Any personnel manager who is asked "How many microbiologists and chemical engineers will you need to recruit five years from now?" will reply "Do not ask me such silly questions", and rightly so.
Therefore, on the one hand forecasts cannot be made, and, on the other, even if they could, higher education could not be geared to such forecasts with any precision, because the planning period is much too long. So let us not go down that blind alley. However, very general forecasts of general types of qualified manpower that will be needed can be 229 produced. Some inducement can be given to children to enter certain types of discipline—not a specific discipline, but a general subject area—which are thought to be most helpful to the needs of the economy.
I agree with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that one does not do that by jigging with the grant structure. One does it by bringing about more contact between industry and the schools. I blame industry partly for what is happening in the schools today, because until recently no effort has been made to communicate to schoolchildren what is happening in industry. It is no good saying that all the fault lies in the education system. I hope that we can learn something valuable from the education of 16 to 19-year-olds in the unified schemes and in vocational preparation. At any level we can seek to develop post-experience courses, because they have the great value of being built upon some knowledge on the part of the student of what he needs to learn and what the value is to him in job or career development.
I hope that in the course of the next year the Government will be able to evolve a strategy that will bring education much closer to satisfying the needs of the economy. I also hope that it will be possible to do that without causing the excessive friction that would be caused by following some of the sillier suggestions that are sometimes made.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North)
I intervene briefly to call the attention of the House to the appalling situation that has arisen and that is spiralling in Northern Ireland.
The Gracious Speech mentions that in her jubilee year Her Majesty will be visiting parts of the United Kingdom. It has been confirmed once more that it is the Sovereign's intention to visit Northern Ireland in the coming year. This will give great pleasure to the people of Northern Ireland, but we should not be facing reality if as a House of Commons we did not realise that in the present security situation this would be absolutely impracticable.
I hope that when the summer comes the situation will be so changed that Her Majesty will be able to visit the Province. 230 On behalf of the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland I say that she will receive an overwhelming welcome.
The Gracious Speech contains a reference to Northern Ireland. The people of Northern Ireland are very suspicious of repeated assurances given by leading politicians on both sides of the House to the effect that Northern Ireland shall remain an integral part of the United Kingdom and at being repeatedly told by Governments of different complexions in the United Kingdom that they have the will to win the war against the IRA in the Province. These suspicions are based upon certain happenings in the House.
An examination of the Gracious Speech shows that this integral part of the United Kingdom is not mentioned in that part of the Gracious Speech which deals with the programme of legislation for the United Kingdom as a whole but is relegated to that part of the speech that deals primarily with foreign affairs. The people of Ulster regard that as a scandal and an outrage. I should fail in my duty as the spokesman for my colleagues and for my constituents if I did not place that firmly on the record.
We are not Rhodesia. We are not a foreign country. We are part of the United Kingdom, not only by the will of the people in Northern Ireland, but by the laws passed in the House. All the assurances that are given and all the declarations that are made from time to time do not measure up to what appears—or does not appear—in the Gracious Speech.
I have discovered that the House of Commons does not want to hear the hard facts of the situation. There is a great tendency to try to minimise the facts as they are put before the House by representatives of Northern Ireland. Attempts to minimise or deny the facts put by Northern Ireland representatives do not alter the situation that has arisen in the Province.
Every Member of Parliament has returned to this Session overshadowed with constituency problems, and each constituency Member is, no doubt, greatly worried about inflation, unemployment, housing, various problems in the social 231 field—widows, pensions, the underprivileged and education. We have rightly heard the cry in the House for rights, the rights of the widow, the rights of the pensioners, even the rights of the prisoner—I appreciate that, as I was a prisoner myself once—and the rights of the unemployed. Some of the marchers who have come to lobby Members recently have carried banners saying "The Right To Work".
Northern Ireland has all these problems, but it has a much greater problem. We are contending today for the much greater basic right from which all these other rights stem—the right to live. While we as representatives from Northern Ireland want a devolved form of government for the Province, and while we feel the anomaly that those who have embraced nationalism for their peoples are to secure from the House devolution of powers to their territories—that is a matter for the House and for them—I stress that I sit in the House not as an Ulster nationalist but as an Ulster Unionist.
The majority of people in Northern Ireland have voted for unionists of different parties, those who have the common aim of remaining an integral part of the United Kingdom. However, it seems that those who would embrace separatism will have their wishes granted in some measure while those who seek to maintain the Union will he denied their wishes. At present that is not the principal issue, which remains the right to live.
The other Sunday I had a young man and his wife in my congregation. The following Sunday I followed the coffin to the graveyard. As I stood in the family home I was reminded once again that the Irish Republican Army is not carrying out indiscriminate murders but a planned policy of genocide. Those whom it kills have been picked. Their murders have been carefully planned, and they are the key people in the community.
A friend of my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Mr. Ross) was murdered recently, and he was a key figure in the city. Although he was a key community figure and a Unionist, his emphasis was not on any form of politics. His emphasis was on community well- 232 being, on the arts and other activities that help all sections of the community. He was a key business figure.
The other day I stood in a home where the grandfather and the father had been murdered. A few weeks ago an attempt was made to murder the grandson so that the whole family would be wiped out. That has happened over and over again, and it is happening now in Northern Ireland.
The Irish Republican Army has declared that in the county of Londonderry it will kill 10 UDR men. One by one, key figures in the UDR are being murdered. The tragedy is that the seriousness of the situation does not seem to have sunk into the very depths of Government thinking in Northern Ireland.
Only recently my colleagues and I met one of the Ministers responsible for the Army. We came away with sad hearts because we were told that there was a lack of money for making available weapons of personal protection for members of the UDR. I have consulted my colleagues and I am able to say that we are prepared to take a cut-back in every section of our economy if that will allow money to be spent on personal protection for those who are standing between us and the enemy.
You will excuse me, Mr. Speaker, if I vent my feelings in this way. Those of us from Ulster speak under great strain and stress. Those who have volunteered to go out and defend our Province after a day's work have a right to be provided with the necessary equipment for their personal protection. There are those in Northern Ireland who do not belong to this House and who hold no elected office who have as many as 12 policemen looking after their personal protection on a full-time basis while the necessary protection for some members of the UDR is evidently not forthcoming. This is a solemn and serious matter.
There are those who in their folly take revenge. They think that they are avenging the terrible killings of the Irish Republican Army, but they are only spreading the violence. I appeal to those who take that action in the name of Protestants to desist from the brutal and diabolical act of saying "We shall get somebody for this crime" when someone has been murdered by the IRA. The 233 person they get has nothing to do with the committal of the crime. That attitude and action must be condemned.
We should like to see members of all sections of the community doing their best to inform the police of what is happening. The present situation is terrible and getting more terrible every day. I went out last night to see what is happening on the roads in the Province. People have become so frustrated that they feel the time has come when they must give themselves some sort of protection. In fact, a judge has said something about vigilantes in this country. What can the people do in areas where they never see a police officer or where the Army cannot stay? What do they do?
I was in one of those areas last night. I saw some unarmed Ulster Service Corps men seeking to implement road checks to protect the people in their community from attack. There was no interference from the Army because the Army does not go there. There was no interference from the RUC because that force is not there.
I went into another area which is predominantly Loyalist. A road check was set up. Someone must have informed the police because officers came and interrogated those who were operating the road check. It seems strange that in an area in which the police can operate there is a clamp-down on any unofficial way of giving protection. Then in an area where the police and the Army are not seen there is no such clamp-down.
In one area I was in the home of a woman whose husband had been murdered. She said that it had been three weeks since she had seen a police officer or a member of the British Army in the area. A serious situation has arisen. I noted that the men operating the road check gave a leaflet to all whom they stopped. It expressed what seems to be the feeling of many people in Northern Ireland. It states:These patrols have become necessary because of the continuing apparent lack of security in the Province and the obvious lack of will on behalf of our Government to defeat the terrorists in our midst.That sums up briefly the feelings of the people in Northern Ireland.
In the Gracious Speech we are told that there will be a continual dialogue 234 with the Republic's Government on security. This month the deputy Ministers of all the nations at the Council of Europe signed and published the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism. It states that the member States of the Council are:Aware of the growing concern caused by the increase in acts of terrorism;Wishing to take effective measures to ensure that the perpetrators of such acts do not escape prosecution and punishment;Convinced that extradition is a particularly effective measure for achieving this result".It is a good convention, but what do we find? We find that one country which is a member State of the Council of Europe, the Republic of Ireland, dissociated itself from the convention. It gave notice that it would not sign it. Until we have a signed convention between the North and the South, we call never successfully deal with terrorism.
I know that there are many people who have conscientious objections to capital punishment, but at present there is no deterrent. The other day I was speaking to a prominent barrister who had defended a man who was sentenced to 30 years' imprisonment. The subject of that sentence was a young man. The barrister said to him "That is a long time" and the man replied "In five years there will be an amnesty and we shall all be out." Whether or not there is an amnesty, that is the feeling and thinking.
Therefore, the court case, the trial and the sentence do not have any effect on terrorists. There is only one thing that will have an effect, and those who have studied Irish history, read the history of both the North and the South, will know that capital crime in Ireland must be dealt with by capital punishment. Those who take life should know that in the taking they could very well forfeit their own lives. If that is known to be the position, the people of Ireland will not then be held to ransom.
This was not a pleasant speech to have to make, but I felt that I had to make it. I trust that hon. Members will think solemnly about the hand that this House had in bringing about part of the tragedy in Northern Ireland. It was legislation passed by this House which destroyed the Parliament and Government of Northern Ireland. But, with all that Government's faults, for 50 years there was comparative 235 peace in that part of the United Kingdom. No one was more critical of many facets of that Government than I was.
The position in Northern Ireland today is serious. I trust that hon. Members will think long and hard about the situation there and will be prepared to face up to their responsibility to do something about it.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)
Although education is the subject noted for today's debate, I beg to exercise the right, confirmed by the Lord President today, to speak on a wide variety of subjects within the Gracious Speech.
I want to make two comments on the debate today. I was surprised that the cuts in education suggested by the Secretary of State for Education and Science were entirely supported by the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) who spoke for the Conservative Opposition. Whatever cuts we may make, certain of them can be overtaken in time. For instance, road building postponed this year can be built in 10 years or 20 years hence. But cuts in education will have repercussions that can never be overtaken.
I was also interested to note that the hon. Member for Chelmsford supported the Prime Minister's speech at Ruskin College. The right hon. Gentleman's speech seemed to be offensive to working-class people, because it implied that their role was to go to universities to be educated to fit them into the industrial capitalist society. If, as has been alleged in the past, universal education came into being at a stage when the British Empire required clerks for expanding industry, it is surprising that the Labour Government should assent to education as being for the better working of the capitalist system than a good in itself.
I was surprised at the Gracious Speech this year. I thought that it would consists of three paragraphs: one on devolution; a second on putting back the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill; and a third on perhaps something else. But we find that the Westminster sausage machine is prepared to grind on as in the past. If the devolution debate is to take up as much time as we have been promised, we shall be in for very much 236 the same kind of late night sittings, cliff hangers, tension, and so on, as we experienced in the last Session.
The Scottish National Party welcomes the promise to produce a devolution Bill. We regret that there is nothing in the Gracious Speech about conveying to the Scottish Assembly control over oil revenues in Scotland, nothing about coming to grips with unemployment in Scotland, nothing about increasing the Scottish Development Agency's resources, nothing about the reform of local government, and nothing about the 50-mile fishing limit. I shall deal with some of those matters later.
On a constituency note, I regret that the Government have still not devoted any attention to the suggestion of the Highlands and Islands Development Board that there should be a road equivalent tariff to the Scottish islands—something which the Norwegian Government conceded to their islands some time ago—which would make a difference to the cost of living in the Western Isles, Orkneys and Shetland, and other islands.
There is nothing in the Queen's Speech to show that the Government are proposing any action to reduce unemployment in Scotland. The Labour Party manifesto of October 1974 stated that the first priority in Scotland would be to create more and better jobs. At the time of the last Queen's Speech, Scottish unemployment was 5.9 per cent. Yesterday it was 7.3 per cent., or over 158,000 Scots without work. That is the reality of the Government's achievement in Scotland. They have no proposals to change the situation. All they can say is "It is just your British luck."
There is one ominous paragraph in the Gracious Speech which states:A Bill will be introduced to restrict the payment of unemployment benefit for certain occupational pensioners".The Government are giving notice of a massive cheating operation. Any member of society who has put aside part of his earnings for a pension should not, years afterwards, at the whim of the Government have his rights diminished in any way.
The idea that this would be done was forecast by Lord Beveridge at the end of the war when the Labour and Conservative Parties had schemes for pensions. At that time the noble Lord 237 said "These pension schemes will cheat you." That seems to have been borne out. That is why Government promises, regardless of the colour of the Government of the day, are becoming more and more suspect to the mass of people in our society.
Yesterday the Prime Minister asked local authorities not to cut services. There is a moral as well as a financial question involved here. Over the years Governments legislated for certain functions to be undertaken by local authorities and they have supplied the finance. Now they say that, in view of the economic climate, they are withdrawing the finance for these services, but they are asking local authorities to carry them on. That is beyond the financial resources of local authorities. I contend that local authorities should face the Government and say "If you want these services to be continued, you must pay for them".
I want now to deal with the question of fishing limits which was raised yesterday by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond). We welcome the proposed legislation to extend fishing limits to 200 miles. That bears out the criticism by some hon. Members during the recent cod war with Iceland—that ships and men were being hazarded unnecessarily for something which the Government knew they were going to concede within a few months.
However, there is no mention in the Gracious Speech about an exclusive limit of 50 miles, which our inshore fishermen are demanding. The way in which the fisheries question was handled reflects no credit on the European Economic Community. Indeed, the Community did not have a fisheries policy until it seemed likely that the United Kingdom would become a member. Then the six member States of the EEC rapidly got together and cobbled one up.
When the Tory Government applied for membership of the Common Market, they did not worry about fishing limits. The Labour Government, when they renegotiated the terms of entry, did not put that item on the agenda. Therefore, the Labour and Tory Governments are culpable if at the end of the day fishermen are left without proper limits.
238 The Gracious Speech contains at least 16 pieces of legislation and further proposals. Yet the devolution Bill is supposed to take up the greater part of this Session. The SNP is most interested in that Bill. We see it as the catalyst to effect real social and economic change in Scotland, but not if its terms are as were outlined in the White Paper. We shall do our best to ensure that, as the Bill goes through this House, it gives the Assembly some real powers for the benefit of the Scottish people.
The hon. Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Mallalieu), in one of the best speeches of its type that I have heard, yesterday told the House of his recollection of the Gracious Speech in 1945. Labour Party policy at that time included home rule for Scotland. Although the Labour Party has been in power for 14 or 15 years since then, it has only now, in 1976, that the Bill for devolution is being introduced.
The Gracious Speech in 1968 said:My Government will begin consultation on the appointment of a Commission on the constitution. The commission would consider what changes may be needed in the central institutions of Government in relation to the several countries, nations and regions of the United Kingdom".—[Official Report, 30th October 1968; Vol. 772, c. 9.]That is almost 10 years ago. If that is the time it takes between consultation and getting a Bill before the House, no wonder the dry rot has set in and this place is falling to bits.
In her speech yesterday the Leader of the Opposition touched lightly on devolution. That was not surprising since Tory policy, according to the hon. Member for Thanet, East (Mr. Aitken) is still evolving. The time is long overdue for the Tory Party to spell out its policy on devolution.
I remind the Government that their October 1974 manifesto stated:We shall give high priority to the setting up of a legislative assembly for Scotland with substantial powers over the crucial areas of decision making in Scotland".We in the SNP remind the Government that these crucial areas must include Scottish control over the universities, trade and industry, the economy, our natural resources, including oil, representation at the EEC, and so on.
§ Mr. Stewart
That is what we shall be seeking to do when the devolution Bill comes before the House.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
I spend a great deal of time in this Chamber resisting temptation. I also do so outside this Chamber from time to time. There are so many interesting points in the Gracious Speech that if one refers to all of them the danger is that the points one really wants to put on record can be left out.
I follow the beguiling voice from Western Isles by saying that of course the legislation will be very difficult. I shall make a plea for even more Bills than the 16 contained in the Gracious Speech. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) on devolution. As an English Member I recall that in my youth we in the Young Socialists were used to singing a ribald song. We wished the father of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), who was at that time the General Secretary of the Labour Party, to scrub the steps of Transport House. The chorus of that song was:When the red revolution comes" and of course afterwards everything will be marvellously changed.Having listened to the hon. Member for Western Isles, and thinking of this coming Session, I could re-write that chorus to make it read:When the dread devolution comes" for I think we shall be here night and day.I wish to address myself mainly to that small part of the Gracious Speech which deals with the National Health Service. That is a subject which concerns us all. It is of concern both inside and outside this House.
The Gracious Speech referred to the major problem of the sensible use of resources. I would ask the Secretary of State to look again at RAWP—the Resources Allocation Working Party. Although I believe that the basic objective of that working party was right—to have a fairer distribution—what has emerged is a rather blunt instrument. It does not differentiate between those areas which are well served and well pos- 240 sessed, and those which are dispossessed. Indeed, in another part of the Gracious Speech special attention is drawn to inner city problems. I assume that will be discussed at some length tomorrow and that certainly effects health facilities as well as others.
There is no doubt that the inner cities and parts of other areas can be dispossessed when the blunt instrument merely cuts so much per cent. across the board. That gives an almost impossible problem for the administrators to solve.
In my own area of Brent and Harrow, Harrow is as different from Brent as cheese is from Chalk. Even in Brent, Wembley and Willesden are almost opposites in community patterns. In Willesden we have considerable problems now identified as the inner city problems. I take responsibility both for my party and for my Government and for Parliament. In our cry about public expenditure we do not sufficiently involve the public in what we mean.
I make a special plea with regard to public expenditure upon health and personal social services. When we talk about cutting back public expenditure on health we are talking about the sick, the disabled, and the elderly. The consequence is that those least able to fend for themselves find themselves again at the end of a great struggling queue.
I would hope that one of the results of the Government seeking to pursue means to improve the way in which resources are distributed will be to involve the public. This is not Government or State expenditure. The Health Service, the hospitals and the general practitioner belong to the people. Therefore, it is important to make people realise what we, and they, are doing.
I believe that most people would he prepared to cut back on their own private expenditure if it meant help for those who are sick and in need. When as a nation we spend more on cigarettes and alcohol than we do on the whole of the hospital service, there is a good case for being prepared to pull in our belts a little in some areas to meet serious public expenditure needs.
I would give one example to the House of the tragedy that lack of resources causes. The Great Ormond Street 241 hospital for children has done a marvellous job for children who have renal failure. That hospital had a special project, but now both funds and the project are finished. We have a situation where renal dialysis machines and transplants are in short supply and the amount of available time on the kidney machine, as well as the amount of kidneys available, means that some people die. We give the doctors and the nurses the appalling responsibility of choosing which. I doubt whether the House would be prepared to say which we should save because we have not enough resources or enough dialysis machines and transplants. Yet that is the kind of decision which the lack of resources leaves the Health Service to try to cope with. If we have to choose between the life of a child aged 10 and a mother of two children, which do we choose?
I would make the strong plea to my right hon. Friend that in the area of the four metropolitan regional health authorities there should be two units especially for children—one north of the Thames and one south of the Thames. It is unfair to pose the choice between adults and children. The mother and father of any child would not doubt that the life of their child should be saved at all costs. That is the kind of responsibility which rests heavily on the shoulders of all of us in this House.
A great deal of the resources problem has been aggravated by the changes under the 1973 reorganisation Act. The reason is simply that we have a completely new system of administration which in its early days has to cope with problems of resource allocation but which finds it impossible to do so without drastic cut-backs because the rate of inflation exceeds the amount of allocation.
In our previous debate on education we heard about the need for maths teachers. The Health Service suffers from a surfeit of mathematics and "arithmeticitis". The accountants come in and the human factor goes out: all that matters is that the books should balance at the end of the day. Of course there must be a concern for balancing the books, but the Government must surely balance that concern with the need to give the best possible service to people in desperate need.
242 I regret that my Government married the Social Services Department to the NHS. In our debates today we are trying to deal with complicated social security and health matters and, at the same time, education, which is an even larger spending Department. The marriage of social security and the Health Service means that two completely different functions are performed and pressure must rest on the cash demands. The Queen's Speech refers to legislation on social security, but it contains no reference to legislation to provide for what is needed in the Health Service because pensions and benefits provide their own imperatives.
I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to one grievous omission—the legislation that is needed for nurses. The Briggs Report came out in October 1972. The recommendations contained in it are complementary to those contained in the Salmon Report. Those in the nursing service talk about Salmon and Briggs just as the ladies talk about Marks and Spencer. The findings of the Salmon Report need to be implemented by the Briggs Report. It is now 1976 and still we await implementation.
The report refers to education and manpower. In this case man embraces woman and we are mainly concerned with woman power. Recommendations on a basic 18 months' training, conditions of work and the nursing career structure are all to be found in the Briggs Report. I understand, as does the hon. Member for Western Isles, that with devolution coming forward next year there is little time for much else, and we shall not get a Briggs Bill but I ask my right hon. Friend to take a new initiative.
The Department will, of course, consult all interests. On this occasion will my right hon. Friend have a pre-legislation consultation with the Royal College of Nurses, NUPE and COHSE? On the assumption that we shall get legislation in the next parliamentary Session, to save a long Committee stage and having to consider many amendments, would it not be possible for the nurses themselves to have a hand in framing the draft proposals? I fear that we shall not be able to discuss those proposals next year, but I hope that we shall be able to do so in the following year.
243 The other report which is overdue for action is the Merrison Report on the reform of the General Medical Council. The report is long and complicated. I do not press my right hon. Friend on that, although he made a statement on it on 16th April 1975. Perhaps he needs a little more time for consultation. The provisions of the report are perhaps more a matter for arrangement with the profession. I should like to see more action on the report, which is extremely important. For the first time for decades suggestions are made about changes in the registration of doctors which could have far-reaching consequences for the patients.
There is another passage in the Gracious Speech which impinges on the National Health Service. That is the proposal to bring forward a Bill on patent law. This follows pressure from the European Community, where a great deal of work has been undertaken on this subject. I urge my right hon. Friend to resist changes to Sections 41 and 46 of the present Act. Where the main purchaser of drugs is the National Health Service, there has to be a fair balance between the rights of the consumers and the rights of the producers.
In considering any alterations to Sections 41 and 46, I hope that the Department will study carefully the resolution passed by the trade unions concerned with the chemical industries of the Nine, which has a bearing upon the way in which legislation is framed.
I do not usually utter warnings to my colleagues on the Front Bench, but as I have been a member of the Committees on all Bills connected with health since I have been in the House and it is likely that I shall find myself on the Committee that considers this legislation, I warn my right hon. Friend that I shall be a hard liner on Sections 41 and 46.
I want to take a little time to pick up other points which I consider to be of prime importance but I re-iterate that the Health Service faces a crisis which, if unresolved, will have a tremendously bad effect on us all, not just this year, but for years to come.
I start by referring to what the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) said in the education debate. I cannot understand why he sees education 244 in one way and I see it in such a different way. A fortnight ago I had the privilege of attending a sixth-form conference in my constituency. These youngsters spent two days of their own time during half-term discussing urban problems. The discussions started with a keynote lecture from a professor and the whole subject of living in cities was opened up. I cannot understand why people talk about the decline in educational standards when I visit my schools. In my young day I would not have had the opportunity to attend such a marvellous exposition and have youngsters keenly debating the problems in their own community.
Last Friday on speech day I visited the Willesden High School in my constituency, which is a comprehensive school with 1,700 children on the roll. I heard one of the most distinguished Members of the House—he is not in his place—make the guest speech. I was most impressed by that occasion.
In my area we have people from all over the world—it is like a minor United Nations. Some children who enter the school have language difficulties and have to learn English in a language laboratory. After all our work in the House of Commons last week, my heart was lifted up by seeing that school and those children, black and white, Indian, West Indian and African, Cypriot, Greek and Italian.
Reference was made by the hon. Member for Chelmsford to the arts. In my view we should be doing much more about the Arts Council. It is the greatest centre of patronage of the arts, yet the amount of control that this House or anyone else has over it is negligible. Indeed no longer is there a Minister in this House, and even if there were, questions about the Arts Council are out of order.
Reference is made in the Queen's Speech to employment. I urge my right hon. Friends in the Government to stem the drift of skilled workers from London. Whole areas of industrial capacity and capability are being turned over to warehouses in which only unskilled workers are employed. Skilled workers are moving out of London and that is having a disastrous effect. In my constituency 60 factories have been closed. Only two weeks ago another 160 workers were made redundant. The unemployment 245 figures and the closure of factories make the devolution discussion relevent only if we apply it to London.
I want school leavers in my constituency to be able to have a job to go to. We have to consider the kind of employment that will give a good mix in the community and the kind of community that can be built up in areas which suffer deprivation after a century of neglect. We have to build up the community on the basis of sound educational development which gives an opportunity for the enjoyment of the arts, offers employment and, above all, gives care and compassion to all who are sick or disabled.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Iain Sproat (Aberdeen, South)
The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) said that one is often tempted to go down many roads, particularly in debates on the Gracious Speech. One such road which I am tempted to go down is that down which the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) pointed with his rather provocative remarks about devolution.
It may be that, from time to time over the coming long days and nights, I shall have cause to make other interventions on this subject. Now, however, I merely draw to the attention of all right hon. and hon. Members that the Scottish National Party wants a Scottish Assembly because it believes that that will lead to the breakup of the United Kingdom. That is why the SNP will be supporting it, and that is why I, and many hon. Members, on both sides, I hope, will resist it. Decentralisation and devolution of administration, certainly; but another Scottish Assembly, no.
I hope that the House will have taken note that yesterday an important new body made itself public in Scotland, a group calling itself "Scotland is British". It is a non-party group. On one side, the whole of the Scottish CBI is officially coming out against a Scottish Assembly, together with all the Scottish chambers of commerce, as well as the Chairman of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, who, incidentally, is a labour supporter. On the other side, there are representatives from the AUEW and UCATT, including some former Labour Members of the House. The Government can no longer ignore the opposition from responsible bodies such as the CBI, 246 on the one hand, and the AUEW, on the other, and I hope that they will take this increasingly on board.
I wish to direct my remarks to the question of social security benefits, and I am glad to see the Secretary of State in his place. Almost the closing words of the Gracious Speech refer to social justice and equality. That is exactly what I am seeking to achieve by trying to bring about a radical reform of our social benefits system. It is a system which was once the ideal of the world, and everyone in the House could be proud of it, but now, in my view, that ideal has gone sour. If hon. Members do not recognise this, and if they do not listen to the people, they are fooling themselves. The system needs a radical overhaul, not just a tinkering here and there.
I remind the House that we are talking about vast sums of money. The whole of Government spending on benefits will next year take up about 20.7 per cent. of all Government spending, far greater than our spending on education or our spending on defence.
Second—this directly touches a principle which we must bear in mind—the present way in which these benefits are disbursed means that the greedy are often depriving the needy. The hon. Member for Brent, South talked about the gaps in the National Health Service. There is not enough money available. We all know that. The disabled will not be provided by the Government with four-wheeled vehicles when their tricycles are phased out. Why? Because the money is not available, because the system is giving too much money to too many of the wrong people. The whole sense of social justice and fair reward in this country is being undermined because so many people know of others who are getting more money than they deserve.
The benefits have just been increased to such an extent that an average man with a family of two children, paying average rent and rates, has to earn more than £55 a week before he is better off working than not working, and, what is more, if one takes into account, as my hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) has calculated, tax rebates and so on, he has to earn about £77 a week to stay in the same position. That is incredible. There is something wrong with this country when a man is better 247 off not working unless he is earning above the national average wage.
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Member says that that is not true, but the £55 I cited is a government figure. The hon. Member will have a chance to put his case later in the debate, but that figure was in Hansard.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)
I shall deal with it later, but if the hon. Gentleman disagrees so strongly, why did he not vote against the order which brought in precisely these measures in June this year?
§ Mr. Sproat
The hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Cunningham) must not be unfair. At that time, after six years in the House, I did not realise just how undermining of the sense of fair reward the system was. I frankly admit that, and I gladly give credit to my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell), who for years has campaigned on this very point, with almost no one listening to him. I certainly take my share of the blame for not having gone into this whole social security racket in greater depth before now.
However, I do not wish to deal with the question of fraud now, although it is important and the Government are grotesquely underestimating it. Even more important than fraud is the question of what one might term legal abuse—that is, practices which are currently quite legal under our social security system but which, in my opinion, should not be legal. Although I said that I should not deal with fraud now, I should say in parenthesis that fraudulent claims for unemployment benefit put a staggering cost on the community. According to the evidence which I have had, much of which I have submitted to the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend, there is no doubt that the greatest single area of fraud lies in the false claiming of unemployment benefit, possibly followed by false claims for sickness benefit as well.
248 I wish to deal with practices which I regard as an offence and an insult to hard-working men and women in this country but which are legal. The first example is that at present it is possible for someone who is changing his job to go to the Department of Health and Social Security and say "I am starting a new job. Here is a letter from my employer proving it. Here is my wage. I do not get paid till the end of the month, and I have no money." The DHSS will give that man the equivalent of two weeks' wages straight away, or a Giro cheque the next day. If his wage is £50 a week, a cheque for £100 will arrive. At the end of the month, he is not required to pay back that £100 to the DHSS. It is absolutely incredible that the right hon. Gentleman can know all about this—I wrote to him about it many months ago—and yet do nothing.
In the second month, if that man changes his job again and returns to the DHSS the office will tell him that he has to live on the wages he received in the first month. That is fair enough. However, if he changes his job again in the third month—let us assume that he is working on construction sites—and returns to the DHSS to say "I have no money, I have used up all my wages", the office will again give him two weeks wages down, and at the end of the month, he will not have to pay it back. Thus, that man can have doubled his wages in one month out of three, Moreover, that money is tax free. Surely, that is the sort of abuse that is an offence to all hard-working people in this country. Yet nothing is being done about it.
§ Mr. Ennals
There is not a single social security office in the country that would do what the hon. Member has alleged. He is telling an absolute untruth in relation to how the system works. I shall certainly be prepared to discuss it with the hon. Gentleman and explain it to him, but there is not an office in the country that would carry out the sort of abuse which the hon. Gentleman has implied.
§ Mr. Sproat
When the right hon. Gentleman winds up will he deny that it is possible under the system? If so, why did the Minister of State say that it was possible, in answer to a Question from me this month?
249 Another example of total abuse of the system is that a person can come into the country and within one week, even if he has never worked here and never paid a penny of tax, be eligible for social security benefit. That again seems to me to be absolutely wrong.
The worst example arose a few weeks ago when a family in Rochdale, which had come here from the Republic of Ireland, were drawing £500 a week in cash and kind in social security benefits. Another case which arose recently involved two teenage Italian girls who were before a london court for shoplifting and who were living free in a "squat". They were receiving social security benefits of up to—speaking from memory—£20 per week each. The magistrate in that case said to the police officer "Surely it is impossible for anybody to come here from another country for a holiday and to say to the social security people that they have no money and then to be paid for that holiday?" The policeman said "No, that is what can happen"—and indeed, that is what happened in the case of those two young girls.
I do not think hon. Members realise the lunacy of the system. The legislation lays down that if needs exceed resources anybody on British soil can claim certain benefits. That seems totally wrong, and it is an insult to people who have worked all their lives in this country and who receive less in pensions or whatever it may be than people who come to this country can claim in benefits.
Again, we all know the story of somebody who paid for a colour television set with social security cheques. No doubt the Secretary of State will say, and quite rightly. "My Department never pays a cheque specifically for a colour television set". No doubt that is true, but what happens is that a visitor visits the flat of a claimant and says "You need so many armchairs, a kitchen table, some carpets, curtains and other things". The visitor tots it all up and the figure may come to say, £300. The Department then makes out a cheque for that amount payable to a furniture store, which might sell other goods such as television sets. When the cheque is taken to the store it can be exchanged for anything in that store, not necessarily for the objects for which the money was intended. In other words, a blanket cheque is given to a claimant, 250 and payable to a store, and the claimant can spend it on whatever he or she likes, and if claimants want to spend it on television sets, they can do so. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the names and addresses of furniture stores which say that this is exactly what happens.
§ Mr. Ennals
The hon. Gentleman is continuing his pack of tittle-tattle, and he does a great disservice to himself as a Member of Parliament. He has sent some of that tittle-tattle to me in correspondence. A great deal of it is hearsay evidence—tittle-tattle which somebody has heard from somebody else. I challenge him to produce evidence involving anybody who in meeting legitimate needs has been able to receive in supplementary benefits enough to be able to buy a colour television set or any of the other things mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. He is consciously seeking to mislead the House.
§ Mr. Sproat
I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman is getting so worked up. It is the system in the DHSS that blanket cheques are given which can be spent as claimants want. If a claimant wants to spend it on a television set there is nothing in present law that can stop him. If there is, let the right hon. Gentleman tell the House when he replies to the debate.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
The hon. Gentleman's constituency of Aberdeen, South contains a fair representation of people who are in need. Will he say whether in his constituency he has come across cases such as those which he has instanced, and, if so, what he has done about them? Has he notified my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services?
§ Mr. Sproat
I have notified the right hon. Gentleman, and I have seen DHSS officers about cases in my constituency as well as about other cases.
I seek to draw these cases to the attention of the House because I do not think that people in general appreciate the situation. It is clear that the Secretary of State does not appreciate the true gravity of the situation. This should not be a party issue, but an issue in which we should combine to wipe out so that the money is properly spent.
I could give so many other examples to the House. Indeed, let me give a 251 further example which many people will find offensive, although in cash terms it is not a great matter. One of my constituents came to me and said that she had gone to a local DHSS office in Aberdeen and said that she had a family living in Inverness. She was an old-age pensioner and needed help to enable her to visit that family. She was unable to obtain such help. However, somebody who was not living very far away from that old lady and whose husband was in prison in Inverness was given help to visit the husband in prison.
One of the campaigns I have pressed in this House over many years is to try to bring about the free installation of telephones for old-age pensioners. I was told by Labour and Conservative Governments that nothing could be done about the situation. Yet when people go to social security with telephone bills of £30, £40 or £50 a quarter the Department pays up. The Department will not pay such bills for old-age pensioners who need a telephone, but lash out money to people who often deliberately defraud the system.
There is another example. It may not be a large issue but it may be offensive to hon. Members. This Christmas certain IRA terrorists will be released from prison and they will go home for a nice Christmas dinner. If the wife of such a man goes to the local DHSS office in Northern Ireland and says "My husband, an IRA terrorist, is coming out of prison, and I should like more money so that he and the family may be provided with a Christmas dinner", that office will regard that as a suitable reason for giving out money. What an insult to many old-age pensioners in this country who cannot get enough money to buy their own Christmas dinner. What must they feel about such money going to the family of an IRA terrorist?
These examples show the unfairness that exists on a large level in terms of residential qualification down to a small and offensive level involving money being given to an IRA terrorist's family. This is why the situation has come in for abuse. That is why there are so many jokes at Royal Variety shows about the situation. It appears that everybody knows about this abuse except the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
252 What is to be done about the situation? Unfortunately, in a debate such as this, one does not have time to go into great detail, but I should like to list one or two points. I should first like to mention the tax credit scheme. No doubt, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) will have something to say about that a little later. What many people find totally offensive is the fact the old-age pensioners have to pay tax on their pensions in certain circumstances, whereas people drawing unemployment benefit and other short-term benefits do not have to pay tax. That is another unfairness which we should seek to iron out of the system.
§ Mr. Sproat
No. I cannot give way.
Again, we all know about the money given by the DHSS offices in payment of rent and rates only to find that that money is spent on drink and gambling. When, later, those people are evicted for non-payment of rent and rates they are put up at hotels at the expense of the ratepayers. There was a case in Glasgow recently where one family, having been evicted, was put up in a nice hotel at a cost of £200 a week. What does one do about that? I suggest that money for payment of rent and rates should be paid directly to the local authority or the landlord concerned.
Furthermore, I believe that there should be a residential qualification. For example, I suggest that a person before becoming eligible for assistance should be required to have lived here for four or five years, instead of being able to enter the United Kingdom and within the first week take advantage of certain social security benefits.
We should consider restoring some form of wage stop, so that people cannot earn more money when they are not working than they did when they were working. I would end the system of giving blanket cheques whereby people can use such money to buy whatever they want within a certain furniture area or whatever it may be.
We should be far stricter concerning proof of identity. There was a case a few days ago in Manchester of a Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, who had used 71 different 253 aliases in order to collect under the "double your money" scheme, getting wages in advance. It is absolutely incredible. Derek Deevy used 41 aliases and would not have been discovered if the police had not been on the look-out for stolen goods. If people are found to be defrauding the system they should be deported, and it should be permanent deportation.
There should be no payment by the DHSS of hire-purchase debts or telephone bills. Some 90 per cent. of the cases seem to arise on these grounds, What happens is that a married couple run up a bill. The husband then nips round the corner to stay with the in-laws. The woman then says that she is on her own, and the DHSS pays the HP debt or the telephone bill. Then, after a few weeks the man comes back, and the couple do not return the money paid to them by the Department. That situation ought to end.
There should be more fraud officers. Fraud officers have estimated to me that, in terms of the fraud they discover, they get back their own salaries within one month. But there are not enough of them. The Secretary of State is not tackling that aspect seriously.
My last suggestion is that if people are drawing benefit from the community they should at least be made to give the community some benefit in return. There are many old folk whose gardens need digging. There are places where land could be cleared. At least let the people drawing benefit do something useful for the community.
Above all, let us face the fact—but not as a party issue—that this ideal has gone rotten. The system needs a radical overhaul. The Government must not bury their heads in the sand. It is costing too much money, it is depriving those who really need help of the help they should get, and it is undermining the sense of fair reward for hard work in this country.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)
Unlike last night, there will be winding-up speeches tonight, commencing at 9 p.m. Therefore, the debate will be shortened by one hour. Sixteen hon. Members are still anxious to take part in the debate. The Chair cannot help those hon. Members who have been sitting patiently wishing to contribute. Only 254 hon. Members themselves can help each other and show consideration by making their speeches as brief as possible.
§ 6.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)
The debate this afternoon has ranged over a number of wide issues. I particularly welcome and appreciate the contribution by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), who identified some of the weaknesses in the British economy and also identified the enormous difficulties of the Opposition Front Bench in coming to grips with the economic situation confronting us in the United Kingdom at the present time.
As the right hon. Member said, in a situation in which unemployment pay has to be paid at civilised levels, when there is an increasing degree of unemployment, an inflationary factor arises. If by some misfortune the Conservative Party were to come to power, public expenditure cuts would greatly reduce employment and this, together with the inflationary aspect of the maintenance of unemployment pay, could lead to only one conclusion. It was identified by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat). It would be associated with a massive onslaught on the living standards of those who are unemployed or who for other reasons are on social security. They would then find that they were paying the cost of the weakness of our economic situation, a situation for which they themselves are not directly responsible and for which all of us must accept a degree of responsibility.
It is for these reasons that it seems to me that it is important that from time to time in the debate on the Gracious Speech we should address ourselves to the economic situation which confronts us. Nevertheless, I have been attracted to participate in the debate on this particular day because education has been identified as one of the major subjects of our concern. I greatly welcome some of the points that were made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General in her opening address.
I appreciated in particular the extent to which my right hon. Friend is committing herself, even in advance of the legislation proposed in the Gracious Speech, to repeal and remove certain 255 aspects of the Official Secrets Act in order to promote more open government. She is already taking responsibility for advancing the cause of open government by ensuring that certain aspects of departmental papers are made more open than hitherto. I welcome, therefore, that part of her very prompt response to the Tenth Report of the Select Committee on Expenditure concerning the necessity for more open government, particularly in relation to issues involving policy and review analysis within the Department.
The aspect of my right hon. Friend's response which I find less satisfactory is the repudiation of the major proposition in the report of the Select Committee that a permanent standing commission should he set up, composed of responsible members from all parts of the community, to ensure that the planning process within the Department is kept under regular surveillance and that the needs of the community are adequately met.
I feel that the Department's response in terms of special conferences on particular issues is no answer to the crucial problem of how to plan in the long term a shift in allocation of priorities and how to identify the real needs of our education system. This is exactly what the Committee was driving at, and I am not sure that this point has been met.
I recognise that the Secretary of State has taken up her responsibilities at a particularly difficult time, but even in times of adversity a great deal more could be done to ensure that our educational resources are spread more generously in order to provide a greater equality of opportunity.
It is appalling, in circumstances in which our colleges of education are seeing their numbers run down and their valuable educational plant is being released from the role assigned to it in the past that we are not thinking of using this ideally suitable plant in order to cope with a very real problem that exists in education. I refer to making proper provision for that large section of our children which requires boarding education and which cannot hope to be provided for by the private sector because of the high fees that are necessary there.
Many years ago a real need was apparent in our society for boarding educa- 256 tion, not in terms of select education for the privileged few but for the children of parents with broken homes and for children whose parents were serving overseas. Very real needs were shown to exist for State boarding education. These needs still exist, and they are met in our society in a totally inadequate way. They are met not only inadequately but in a manifestly unfair way.
As a community, we are prepared to devote public expenditure to ensure that certain sections of that need are met by very lavish grants to parents so that their children can be educated in public schools at the expense of the community at large. The Government ensure that the children of people in the Diplomatic Service and in our Armed Forces serving overseas are educated at very expensive public schools. But when we have an opportunity to develop the State boarding system—which could provide real value for money and meet genuine need, irrespective of the size of the purse—we are not taking this opportunity, and I greatly regret it.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman care to give us figures for State boarding-school places? According to the latest figures, I remember that it costs about 30 per cent more to keep a boy at borstal than to keep him at Eton. It seems to me extraordinarily sensible to use the existing independent school system rather than have a rather more expensive new one set up by the State.
§ Mr. Davies
I was talking about the education of children in State boarding schools, not about borstal or any form of punitive establishment. I do not think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman's figures are of any importance in this discussion.
The figures announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this afternoon about tuition fees in higher and further education were important, and I want to give a word of warning on this development. A Socialist Government should not meet the real needs of the education system for resources by reintroducing and re-emphasising discrimination against overseas students. It should not be Socialist policy to increase the fees element of resources for further and higher education.
257 I am worried that this afternoon's statement was an interim one on the road we are expected to tread over the next few years and that this road will lead us towards a Tory policy—namely, that the cash nexus should play a greater role in the allocation of educational resources. The power of the purse would play an increasingly important part in educational opportunity. I repudiate that policy because, in terms of efficiency in the national economy, it would squeeze appropriate talent. Even more, I repudiate it on grounds of value. It would reduce equality of opportunity by ensuring that those with the longest purses would enjoy the greatest degree of opportunity. This point should be grasped by the Government.
The Queen's Speech contains a range of measures, some of which I recognise as necessary and to some of which I shall give my considered support. However, I must emphasise that there is little in the Gracious Speech which, at a time when we are requesting a considerable degree of sacrifice from ordinary people, indicates that sacrifice should also be sought from the privileged elements in our society.
Why should we preside over an educating system which ensures that children from public school have nine times as much opportunity as those educated in State schools entering higher education? Entry into higher education is not entry into a free market of private resources. Higher education is sustained only by massive funding from the public purse. Why should access to it be guaranteed so freely to that sector of privilege represented by the products of public schools? Why should we tolerate a situation in which privilege is reinforced and enjoys a subsidy from the public purse through public expenditure on higher education?
We should recognise that the majority of the community will be making sacrifices over the next year. It would have been salutary for the Speech to have included measures containing a wider redistribution element in order to reduce privilege.
Fundamentally, this debate is about issues of priority and political philosophy. It was characteristic that the Leader of the Opposition in her speech emphasised that she was concerned not only with 258 the measures proposed in the Queen's Speech but with the philosophy which should underlie them. She was critical of the measures because they did not follow her philosophy, and she argued that different measures would have been included had she been responsible for the Gracious Speech. Her philosophy is abundantly clear.
What worries me is that our philosophy for next year is not clearly expressed in the measures contained in the Queen's Speech. It is argued that the right of freedom to choose is a crucial element of liberty, but the counterpoint of that argument is that freedom to choose is valid only when equality of freedom exists, when people begin from a common base of resources and enjoy equal opportunity to choose. Within our education system that basic equality does not obtain and, therefore, the emphasis upon freedom of choice is false and a denial of the real needs of the community.
I wish that one measure had not been included in the Gracious Speech. I refer to the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, because that measure ought to have been clearly settled earlier. Not only ought it to have been settled, but we ought not to tolerate essential measures that have had the support of this House and have been passed by it being frustrated by another place. Anyone who listened to Monday's debate could not have doubted that there is a majority in this House for the abolition of another place. The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. Wilson) poured scorn upon a Labour Party which had existed for 70 years and had failed to tackle that haunt of privilege. The privilege is not denied by the Tory Party. The argument of noble Lords is not that they enjoy their privilege or merit it but that, having got their privilege, it would be idle of them not to use it. That is an argument which invites only one response. The privilege is illegitimate and untenable, operates unfairly and clearly ought to be abolished.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
The hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) has not yet dealt with the point that the powers of the Lords were conferred upon them by an Act of Parliament passed in this House when the Labour Party had a majority of nearly 200 over all other 259 parties. Therefore, those powers are perfectly legitimate.
§ Mr. Davies
I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) for that intervention. It indicates the degree of moderation and judgment which obtained in 1948 when the Government were carrying out a major legislative programme. There was a compromise about another place which was then thought appropriate, but times have changed. We have already had major changes such as life peerages. The Labour Party, being a radical party, does not sustain its arguments on veneration of the age of Acts of Parliament. Measures which were appropriate 30 years ago are almost certainly inappropriate today.
The public consider that the arrangements made in 1948 are no longer appropriate to the democratic period in which we live.
The Government have shied away from grasping this nettle. I recognise that their reluctance may be due to lack of parliamentary time and their slender majority, but there is a substantial majority in this House for abolition. I doubt very much whether there is a minority party in the House—apart from the Conservative Party—whether Liberal, Scottish National or even Ulster Unionist, which would, if presented with a Bill for the abolition of the Lords, vote against it.
I welcome certain sections of the Gracious Speech, but the omissions are serious.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. When the words "in conclusion" are used by an hon. Member during his speech, it is heartening to the occupant of the Chair. But sometimes as much as five minutes elapses between that phrase and the word "finally". I appeal to right hon. and hon. Members to be as brief as possible, not for the benefit of the Chair but to show their consideration for hon. Members anxious to take part in the debate.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Dodsworth (Hertfordshire, South-West)
I note your repeated strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and promise to observe them.
This debate has shown symptoms of the anxiety currently felt by our people. 260 When listening to the Secretary of State's observations on the educational programme I reflected that, in her county of Hertfordshire, difficulties will arise from the new rate support grant and that they will have severe educational repercussions. As hon. Members for Hertfordshire constituencies, the Secretary of State and I are well aware of this situation.
The comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and the hon. Member for Homchurch (Mr. Williams) both reflected current anxiety about the state of our economy, which, I should have thought, was a matter of overriding consideration, even over the important matters that we are debating today.
This country is struggling to reconcile the false expectations of the past. Some of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) are emanations of the concern which, felt by many people about social security matters and immigration, reflects a deep-seated unease and the desire to protest in some way at what they regard as unnatural courses of justice. Often our people feel helpless and do not know how to respond; we have an obligation to reflect their feelings.
This country's capacity has been built up by the skill of our people, but it has not kept touch with the needs of the world markets which we have sought to serve. We are producers by brain as well as hand, but Governments have supported industry with the obsession that it must produce something. I am an accountant, and I recollect that in the costing textbooks reference used to be made to the cost of producing widgets. I sometimes think that we have become a widget economy, not caring whether they are red or blue, where they will be sold or how much they will cost, but only that we must produce something to keep people in employment. This is not the direction in which we ought to be going. That is not to say that I do not regard industrial production as desirable, but we have to change our priorities and not rely just on brute force, physical energy and productive capacity.
We have become, instead of the workshop of the world, a vast supermarket for serving our consumer needs. We have to turn ourselves into the intellectual 261 service centre of the world. The means are available for us to do that. I do not say that we can make this shift in six to 12 months; it may take a generation; but that is the true ability of our people and we have to make use of it. In doing so we should be responding to the desire of our people to have more fulfilling and job-enriching tasks on which to spend their lives.
During a debate on education, we should see that we are producing through our educational system people who are well equipped to work in that way. This is an opportunity which we are missing at present.
There is a good illustration of the practical success that could be achieved by such an approach. Our invisible exports operations, in which I admit a close interest and knowledge, include banking, insurance, shipping, tourism and overseas investment. They have been growing as a result of innovations and entrepreneurial flair to the advantage of the nation, and have produced employment, activity and wealth. I share the desire of other hon. Members for growth. We must have growth; we must not resort just to the expediency of the moment. Even though the country is in a desperate situation, we must look to the future, take a long-term view, and create a better intellectual service and environment. We have a good example in the City of London.
The Eurodollar market is a creation of this country and a triumphant use of our wits and other people's money. If there is a formula for our success, surely that must be it. That market was a child born in the City and it is now a lively, lusty adult, working hard on our behalf as a major source of finance for us, and is an advantage to our resources. It helps us to balance our books.
Consider the achievements of the City for the past year. Net foreign earnings were £978 million, compared with £397 million in 1968. That is positive growth and a real contribution from the wit, skill and brains of our people. Thousands of ordinary people represent our financial resources and produce these results. Last year, £452 million came from insurance and brokerage. The Baltic Exchange and the Stock Exchange produced £202 million, banking produced £135 million and merchanting operations £109 million.
262 We have a successful track record, and if one make comparisons with industry one can see just how successful the City has been. The gross invisible income last year was £10 billion with a net surplus of £3,100 million. There are some strange ways in which that £3 billion is arrived at from the figure of £10 billion and many of our national resources and services are paid for out of that gross invisible income. It is a protection for us. It helps to prevent the withdrawal of sterling, which has had a traditional rôle as a world reserve currency for many years. We have been world bankers, and this has been an advantage and a money spinner for us. The sterling balances at the end of June were probably about £6,300 million—an increase since the war.
The successes or misfortunes of our Governments cause these balances to be volatile, and we hold them, as bankers, on trust. We are, therefore, vulnerable to movements in international opinion, and if people are afraid that the Government will spend their balances they are put in a suspicious frame of mind, the result of which can be most unfortunate for us.
Our success has been built on the confidence which we have managed to retatin through the City of London. It is a success of which we can be proud, but it is not enough. We should look at what we can do in future with emergent industries.
There is in nuclear power an area where we have an opportunity. So far, we have missed the boat. There is much to be done, and I am not happy about the way in which we have approached this matter. We have had technological superiority and world industrial leadership, but to some extent we have thrown away that leadership. If we look at the affairs of British Nuclear Fuels Limited, we find that its export performance last year was a pathetic £12 million. Yet we are talking about spending money by the billions of pounds in that industry. We must ensure that when we spend money we spend it in the most productive way. There are 200 commercial reactors in 20 countries at present. By the mid-1980s there will be 500 in 30 countries. We must seize that export market.
Recently we considered the JET Project, but that will not be commercially 263 viable for 50 years. We should ask ourselves whether that choice of priorities on a European basis fits in with our national strategy. We have the brains and the skills, and we must ensure that we carry out international market research employing those skills to the full.
I do not believe that we need to borrow £1 billion a year. We can organize our affairs better than that. Of course, time scales are difficult for us in politics. We are, by nature, expedient in politics, and we Conservatives must consider our reelection and getting back into power as a party and a Government, but time scales in industry are over a generation or more.
We must not overlook the need to adopt a strategy towards our service industries. Employment for employment's sake is not enough. We do not want employment by non-redundancies. We want employment which is based on fulfilment and enrichment of people's lives. This can be achieved by growth and success.
I have tried to outline the ways in which we have succeeded as a nation, but we need to be more creative and more in tune with the needs of the world. We must create a Britain which is the intellectual service centre of the world. We have, in our invisible exports, a powerful instrument for success. We must adapt and invent and add to it, so that we reassert the commercial leadership to which we are entitled by nature and location.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Magee (Leyton)
I welcome the passing reference by the Secretary of State to the proposals for the education of 16 to 19-year-olds. However, it is symbolic of the treatment given to that segment of educational need that the reference was little more than passing, at the beginning of an unusually long speech, most of which was devoted to higher education.
I welcome the expansion of higher education in recent years. I do not criticise it: but because of this explosive development the Labour Government should now make another segment of the educational system its priority area. I plead the case for the 16 to 19-year-olds. We are turning far too many people out of our education system at 16 insufficiently educated. And most of the popu- 264 lation leaves school at 16. One has only to look at the United States to see that a really effective modern industrial society can be run only with a well educated work force. Such a work force can be derived only from a good education system.
The hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) spoke as if it were demeaning to adduce the needs of industry as an argument for the expansion of education. I do not accept that. The mass education of our population is based on the Forster Act of 1870. The first thing Forster said in support of that Act was that until and unless the mass of the population was educated, this country could not develop much further as an industrial society. That argument, true then, is true also in the different circumstances of today.
If we are to become the up-to-date, highly technologised, competitive society which we all want, we can do it only on the basis of better education for more of the population.
There is also an equality argument here which this Government should take seriously. Comparing the social resources spent on the education of someone who goes through to degree level with those spent on the majority who leave at 16, there is an enormous disparity. Those who stay at school until they are 18 and go on to further education, and take degrees at 21, have literally thousands of pounds per head of public money spent on them, while those who leave school at 16 have very little spent on them thereafter. The argument of social justice is another fundamental one for switching the attention of the Government to the needs of the 16 to 19-year-olds.
This typifies one aspect of the Gracious Speech which causes me unease. The speech contains a remarkable paucity of proposals which can be fairly called Socialist. We know that the coming legislative year will be overwhelmingly dominated by the devolution Bill and the Bill for direct elections to the European Parliament. Neither of these measures has anything to do with the fundamental, traditional aims of the Labour Party, and both concern matters on which there are very important cross-party divisions.
In addition, what will affect the lives of our people most in the coming year is 265 not any piece of legislation from this House but the way in which the Government handle the economic crisis. That leaves the traditional aims of the Labour Party very far down the list. When one looks at the record of the Labour Governments in power between 1964 and 1970, one sees that they left the country pretty much as unequal a society in 1970 as they found it in 1964. They were in power for six years, and they did astonishingly little to advance the aims of the Labour Party, which are to change society in a libertarian and egalitarian direction. The only important proposal in the Gracious Speech which will have anything like that consequence is that to introduce legislation to further industrial democracy. I regard that as an important cause, but there is very little else which a specifically Labour Government as distinct from any other Government could have been expected to do.
We are often told that legislation to make society more equal has the unfortunate characteristic of costing money. Very often that is the case. But it is not always so, and it is not so with some aspects of educational policy. It is a matter of great regret to me that we still propose to leave the privileged status of the public schools untouched. I do riot want to see the abolition of the public schools, because it is self-evident that in a free society one cannot make it a crime for one individual to pay another to teach his children. If two consenting adults make such arrangements, it is preposterous that the State should attempt to outlaw them. But in a social democracy such as ours, while we can say that people are free to opt out of the State system if they choose, we must make it plain to them that if they do they cannot expect the State to subsidise them.
I would apply exactly the same principle to the National Health Service. I do not think that a free society can make it a crime for a man to pay a doctor to treat him. But the State can say that if he chooses to opt out of the National Health Service, because he thinks he will gain extra benefits by doing so, he cannot expect society to subsidise those extra benefits. That seems to me a clear principle that a Labour Government should pursue.
So I want the Government not to abolish the public schools but to strip 266 them of all those elements of public subsidy which they enjoy. Those elements are considerable. The chief one is that they are treated for rating and taxation purposes as charities, which itself is a bad joke in view of the segment of the population for which they largely cater. There are others, too. They are exempted from the rationing of teachers, to which schools in the State sector are subject. In practice they are exempted from the rationing of school buildings, unlike the State sector. And it does not end even there.
It has been calculated that the amount of indirect public subvention received by private schools amounts to about 30 per cent. of their total budget, which is precisely the difference between the cost of keeping a boy at Eton and the cost of keeping a boy at borstal, which was the subject of a jokey intervention from the Opposition. I therefore regret very much that the Government are not doing something to make the public schools contribute more to society.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
I have three of these establishments in my constituency. I am therefore interested to know from the hon. Gentleman what would be the effect of his proposal. Would it not mean that only the few extremely wealthy people left in this country and large numbers of foreigners would go to those schools if the schools were not to close down? What would that achieve for his system? Has he considered the question of unemployment?
§ Mr. Magee
There is a need in any system for boarding education. But the unacceptable aspect of public schools at the moment is that their wealth enables them to pre-empt educational resources such as teachers, buildings and good pupil-teacher ratios, and then to make those facilities available to families on the basis not of educational or social needs but of ability to pay. I do not even say that this should be outlawed; I say only that it should not be subsidised.
There are other ways in which egalitarian legislation by the Government could be made to produce revenue, not cost money. The wealth tax is an example. I regret that the Gracious Speech appears to indicate that we have dropped for the time being our proposal for such a tax. 267 That is a revenue-producing scheme, not one which would increase expenditure.
One other way in which the egalitarian purposes of the Government are being continually circumvented is by the operation of the other place. Perhaps it is too early on the heels of recent events to expect proposals for curtailing the powers of the other place to be included in the Gracious Speech, but I hope that in the coming year the Labour Government will do something about the activities of that body.
I suggest that, instead of introducing legislation to abolish the House of Lords, the Government should create large numbers of peers who will support the elected Government of the day. It is entirely unacceptable that a non-elected assembly should so flagrantly frustrate the wishes of the elected House. It would therefore seem entirely justifiable for the Government to make new life peers in the way I have suggested. I can think of quite a number of energetic, active, successful young people in their thirties and forties who support the Labour Government and who would give the other place a wholly new lease of life, as well as a wholly new public character. For the first time, that might make the House of Lords a popular institution with a vigorous, vivacious, active and young membership drawn from all walks of life.
In the last Session, the Government lost a number of Bills which I am sorry not to see reintroduced. The Bill on the public lending right has been in two Gracious Speeches, but it is not in this one. I would like the Government to reintroduce it. It is also a tragedy that the seat belts Bill was lost. May be that is not unconnected with the fact that both the Government Chief Whip and the Leader of the House voted against it on Second Reading. I think I detected a marked lack of enthusiasm for the Bill's success in the way in which it was handled by the managers of my own party. The Government produced good evidence to show that the failure of the Bill would result in at least 1,000 people being killed each year who would not otherwise have died, and about 11,000 being seriously maimed and disfigured who would not otherwise have so suffered. I should like that Bill to be 268 reintroduced, this time with the wholehearted backing of my party's managers.
I should like to see the Bill on hare coursing reintroduced and passed. There are a number of such lost measures which on the face of it might appear small but which are genuinely important and valuable and for which widespread support exists.
Let me finally comment on two suggestions by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt). He said he thought it was wrong that the House did not have more control over public money spent, via the Arts Council, on the arts. I dissociate myself from that. The most important aspect of our system for subsidising the arts is that it ensures that party politicians do not exercise patronage over the writer or the artist. That is a fundamentally important principle which I hope we shall preserve. I therefore put myself in the unusual position for a Member of this House of saying that I hope we here do not extend our control or influence over how money voted by us is spent.
My hon. Friend gave a cry from the heart about the way in which employment is being allowed to leave the London area. In this I wholeheartedly agree with him. Every day I get off the Tube at Westminster on my way to the House and I am confronted by an enormous Government-subsidised poster in the station which encourages industry to leave London. There is a picture of a huge green octopus which is meant to represent the stifling effect on industry of the London environment. There are slogans encouraging industrialists to take their factories and businesses away from the London area.
It is madness that a Government-subsidised advertising campaign should be promoting this cause. The capital city is dying at the heart, and it is doing so because employment is leaving its centre. That centre is becoming less and less able to sustain the working population that has traditionally lived in it. I plead with the Government to reverse that policy, which was so mistakenly followed by the GLC for so many years. The GLC has seen the error of its ways and has reversed that policy. I beg the Government to follow suit and to try to reinvigorate the capital.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick McNair-Wilson (New Forest)
No particular day has been set aside for us to discuss the devolution issue, but, as was made clear earlier, any issue can be raised in this debate, and that is the one to which I wish to direct my remarks.
Speaker after speaker this afternoon has referred to the bleak future facing most of us in these islands during the next two or three years; a future that will be difficult enough for Governments to manage, but a good deal harder to bear by those who are looked after by Governments. These problems will create real strains and stresses within our society, and, perhaps, even threaten the veneer of democracy that overlies that society.
In the Gracious Speech we are informed that in the Government's search for further democracy they are to introduce measures to devolve responsibility for both Wales and Scotland. I want to direct my remarks to that devolution as it affects Scotland, because, as a Scot myself, being married to a scot, and having lived some of my life in Scotland, I have a nasty feeling that we could be about to embark on one of the most dangerous exercises that this Parliament has ever seen.
I believe that for us here, in Westminster, to pass legislation, supposedly to take account of the aspirations and desires of the people living north of the border, but without adequately ascertaining their real desires, is to court disaster. There is no one in this Parliament who clearly knows what grass-root opinion in Scotland really wants. Even in the course of this afternoon's debate we have heard widely differing views expressed by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart), the Leader of the Scottish National Party, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen. South (Mr. Sproat). These hon. Members take totally different views about the need for and the reasons behind any new Assembly or devolution plan that might affect the Scots.
I do not find that difficult to understand, because Scotland is a highly complex part of the United Kingdom. It has for many years relied upon traditional industries for such wealth as it has 270 —shipbuilding, coal mining, iron and steel making, and so on. All those industries have undergone substantial changes as a result of the more general economic changes in our whole industrial pattern. Also, as we know from our experience, the Highlands of Scotland have, apart from tourism, been almost a wilderness for the people living there, ever since the days of the '45 Rebellion. It is a country which has been beset by problems, many of which are so deeprooted in history as to be impossible to cure by any Act of Parliament we pass here in this current Session.
Suddenly, in the last few years, yet another element has arrived into this mix of problems, namely, the discovery off our shores of this enormous wealth in the North Sea. I do not find it in any way surprising that the people of Scotland, realising that this wealth will be brought ashore to their part of the United Kingdom, should want to feel that they will receive some benefit from it or even, perhaps mistakenly, to feel that it is, indeed, their oil.
Whatever view one takes about that is a matter for further discussion, but over the last few years it has given rise in Scotland to a new spirit of nationalism which has not been seen for many hundreds of years. This nationalism will not go away by the mere passing of some sleight-of-hand legislation in this House.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
My hon. Friend refers to the price of oil, but I assure him that as it goes up, so will the feeling of nationalism become stronger still.
What I am suggesting is that before we embark on legislation on the basis of almost non-existent information we should take a straw poll in Scotland to find out grass-root opinion. It is for that reason that although you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, have not seen fit to call it, I have on the Order Paper an amendment to the motion for an Address. I believe that before we embark upon legislation of this kind there should be a referendum in Scotland of the people living there to discern their views on the matter. I shall not go into the detailed questions that one could ask, but they could fall into three distinct categories: whether one 271 wants the status quo; whether one wants the sort of new responsibilities that are outlined in the White Paper; or whether the Scots want separation from the rest of the United Kingdom.
We are all familiar with the arguments for and against a referendum, and no one knows better than I the argument that Governments are elected to govern. I am also familiar with the argument about the sanctity of the Act of Union, but, equally, I am familiar with the problems of Scotland, to the extent that I regard them as almost unique, and I do not believe that hiding behind the fact that Governments are elected to govern will solve the problem of the Scottish dimension.
We have to recognise that if we do not get this right, that if we go about dealing with this problem by passing legislation that is unacceptable, we shall be sowing the wind with frustration and anger, and, if we are not careful, at the end of the day we could reap a whirlwind of terrorism and outbreaks of violence. The hon. Member for the Western Isles, the Leader of the Scottish National Party, is a kindly, genial individual, but there are others in Scotland, in the Tartan Army and elsewhere, who are not so well disposed. These individuals have already shown themselves to be extremely militant. They could start interrupting the flow of oil coming ashore on the East Coast and as a result affect the prosperity not only of the people living in Scotland but of everyone living in these islands.
I do not believe that it is worth giving a hostage to fortune by approaching this question of devolution on the basis of a White Paper that has already received condemnation from many of the people living in Scotland. I believe that, before we commit ourselves to the introduction of legislation, we must find out what are their true views. There is only one way of doing that, and that is to have a referendum.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), who is to wind up the debate on behalf of the Opposition, and who has many links with Scotland, to take seriously what I say. Ulster is a ghastly example of what the wrong legislation can produce in this United Kingdom of ours. 272 On listening to the hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) one was able to discern the sort of situation in which, perhaps unwittingly, we could find ourselves with our friends in Scotland. Let us find out in more detail what they want. Let us have a referendum, and, thereby, minimise the risk of a catastrophe.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
The hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) said that the Chair had not seen fit to call the amendment in his name. The position, to be more precise, is that Mr. Speaker has not made any choice of the amendments on the Order Paper to the motion for an Address.
§ 7.29 p.m.
§ Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)
As one of the Members representing Norwich, I look forward with the greatest enthusiasm to a year's debate on Scottish and Welsh devolution. I shall therefore leave my remarks on that issue for other occasions and not follow the line set by the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson).
I shall concentrate on the short and, one might say, opaque passage in the Gracious Speech that deals with education and refers to the deployment of educational resources,extending educational opportunityandsatisfying the productive needs of the nation.I shall, at the same time, take one or two of my brief themes from recent publications of Select Committees of the House that have made observations about our education system.
Education is under attack. It is under attack as a major area of public expenditure and because of the increasing dissatisfaction in some quarters with its output. We have heard a lot about the so-called burden on public expenditure and the extent to which that is said to have pre-empted resources which would otherwise have been used for investment in productive manufacturing industry. The allegation of our being overburdened by public expenditure is beginning to look thin now that we know that the Treasury has for years grossly overestimated the proportion of gross national product attributable to public expenditure.
273 The Treasury first announced that 60 per cent. of GNP was accounted for by public expenditure. That figure rang round the world. Such diverse figures as Milton Freidman in Chicago and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Jenkins) said that the 60 per cent. figure represented a danger to democratic society. The Opposition seized upon the figure as heralding the end of civilisation as we know it. But now it transpires that the proportion is around 40 per cent.—that is, using international accounting methods. That is no higher than the proportion in other Western European countries.
Opponents of public spending talk as if all investment in manufacturing industry is better than all investment in public goods and services. Their logic states that investment in factories producing soap flakes, electric toothbrushes or Christmas trees is more nationally important than investment in doctors, teachers or engineers. Given our dependence as a country upon innovative talent and technological expertise, education expenditure should have a high economic and industrial, as well as social, priority. The case for a high and increasing level of education expenditure must be made by the Department of Education and Science. It has to be based on the most rigorous analysis, research and planning. We can see from the recent report of the Education Sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee that the Department is not well equipped for that task.
That report was critical of the Department's machinery for analysis and planning. One critic, who had recently been a Minister in the Department, described his planning processes astoo passive, too narrowly conceived, too secret and too little based on a comparative assessment of priorities,He saidThe necessary spring cleaning will have to start, with the Department of Education itself.In describing planning in the Department, its Permanent Secretary lightly dismissed it as a part-time activity. He said that a handful of people were concerned with it:otherwise everyone else does a day's work at the counter, as it were, dealing with their ordinary business and then becomes a planner for half a day".All eight members of the Department's planning unit at middle management level 274 are transitory, administrative civil servants. None of them has any training in educational psychology, sociology or economics. The unit has had three different heads in about 15 months. So here we have a major managerial and policy-making task of central Government being carried out in that amateurish manner for which the British Civil Service has been criticised for years.
The Department has operated under a cloud of secrecy for years. I am glad to hear that the Secretary of State proposes to open up some of its inner workings by making available to hon. Members some of the information in its policy analysis review papers. But there is more to it than that.
Six or seven years ago the Department adopted a programme budgeting system, an arrangement which expresses expenditure programmes in terms of national objectives and which provides a basis for monitoring the effectiveness of policy. That system is held to be the secret, and yet what better basis could there be for a national debate on the results of policy decisions? One Minister after another at the Department has withheld programme budget information on the ground that it involved revealing departmental working papers. The Department has been cloaked in secrecy, and when from time to time the cloak is lifted all we see is a group of isolated mandarins making it up as they go along.
The so-called great debate on the purposes and results of our education system is clearly necessary. Much of the statistical evidence for declining standards is highly suspect, and I look to the Department to get to the root of the matter. Let us have the debate in the open. The criticism of our schools comes from those who still have a rooted objection to comprehensive education although they are becoming increasingly isolated from their former support as more middle-class parents are won over to the comprehensive idea.
Many opponents of comprehensive education cloak their opposition behind an objection to large schools. The present, normally open-minded, Secretary of State for Education and Science has expressed doubts about the wisdom of large schools. In my experience of large schools as governor, chairman of governors and parent, I have found that 275 there are great benefits from size in terms of specialist staff and equipment, for example.
A study of the effects of size with which I was associated showed that the main adverse effect of a large school was that new young teachers were temporarily overawed. Much depends on the internal organisation of the school, and by careful organisation it is possible to avoid any adverse effects while gaining the benefit of size. Before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State comes to any conclusion, she would be advised to carry out some objective research.
One theme of the great debate that alarms me is the massive student drift from science and technology. The recent report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology showed that in the last decade the proportion of graduates with first degrees in science and engineering together fell from 55 per cent. to 46 per cent. and that there were 18,000 vacant places in science and allied subjects. While, between 1963 and 1973, GCE A-level passes increased by 69 per cent., A-levels in physics rose by only 14 per cent., in chemistry by 22 per cent. and in mathematics by 41 per cent. That compares with increases of 120 per cent. in English literature, 122 per cent. in art and 165 per cent. in economics.
There is a massive discontinuity between the needs of industry, at a time when it is a prime objective to reconstruct and professionalise it, and the output of schools. The Government must have a vital interest in this question, and yet the Departments which complain most loudly about the shortage of scientists and engineers are those which discriminate against them in career prospects and which ensure that they do not reach the top management jobs. The fact is that the Civil Services favours the arts graduate over science and technology graduates. If the Government wish to encourage the movement of scientists and technologists into top management places, they should do as the Fulton Committee recommended some years ago.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler
Is my hon. Friend aware that the present Permanent Secretary at the Department of Education and Science is the first professional civil 276 servant—coming exactly within the category which he describes—to occupy so senior a position within the service?
§ Mr. Garrett
I invite my hon. Friend to read the opinions of the union which represents technical, engineering and scientific interests to find out to what extent they believe that they are discriminated against when seeking top jobs in the Civil Service.
It seems to me that the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment should together construct a manpower plan, with an analysis of the gaps between the need for, and the supply of, particular skill groups and should then seek to close them all by forms of encouragement that they can devise, including, if necessary, premium grant payments.
It is regrettable that the Queen's Speech contained no reference to one of the few manifesto pledges as yet not honoured by the Government. I refer to the ending of the charitable status of public schools. Leaving aside the question whether those institutions should have this status, the continuation of these schools with community support and subsidy seems to have the most damaging effects on our society. Nothing does more to promote the conflict in our society on class lines than the fact that almost uniquely in Western Europe the children of the bosses in Britain go to one kind of school and the children of the workers go to another kind of school.
The class hostilities in Britain that are commented on by nearly all foreign observers are fostered more than anything else by the fact that our children do not share a common educational experience. In buying out of the system, the upper middle class does more damage than it can ever understand to our national life. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will at least start to tackle this deep-seated problem by making it more difficult for these schools to survive.
These are challenging times for a secretary of State for Education and Science. I hope that the present one will look very carefully at the machinery in her Department for the analysis and assessment of priorities and for planning and will base her decisions on fact and not on the calumnies thrown at our State 277 education system by people who always insist on buying out of it.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Mr. R. A. McCrindle (Brentwood and Ongar)
It has been said that this Session will be dominated by the subject of devolution. In terms of time, no doubt that is true. However, no doubt many hon. Members will disagree with me when I say that unless and until the Government get us back on the right economic road to survival and prosperity many of the legislative innovations and, no doubt, desirable changes that are outlined in the Queen's Speech will be extremely difficult to achieve.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) I am an Anglo-Scot, having been born and educated in Scotland but having lived most of my life south of the border, and now representing an English seat. Like my hon. Friend, I think, until now I have remained silent on the subject of devolution. I regret that my hon. Friend has left the Chamber now, because I have reached a conclusion quite different from his. From having maintained contacts in Scotland—at, I hope, most levels of society—I have a strong feeling that the time has passed when one can talk about inquiring into the wishes of the Scottish people.
It has seemed to me over the past few years that, perhaps for all the wrong reasons—that is not for me to say—the Scottish pressure for something approaching an Assembly of the type to which the Government have committed themselves is unnecessary, unless we are to reach a situation in Scotland in which there are the most enormous pressures.
Having said that, I want to make it quite clear that the type of Assembly that I have in mind and the powers for that Assembly are nothing like those outlined earlier by the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart). I do not accept the wide-ranging powers on trade and industry, over EEC representation, and the like, that the hon. Gentleman would like to see achieved. However, I consider that, principally for psychological reasons, perhaps, the idea of devolving some meaningful powers to Scotland is a must.
I am not wholly persuaded that the Scottish people will, as a result, necessarily be better off. I am certainly not 278 sure that they should be looking forward to an additional tier of Government with equanimity. I am not wholly persuaded that the total number of Members of Parliament that they send to this House should remain unaltered if devolution is an accomplished fact. All of these matters can be debated.
However, in principle I want to move to a situation in which we can vote for an Assembly of some sort. I must express the hope that my own party will not wish to impose a three-line Whip against the forthcoming Bill. I give the Conservative Party advance notice that that could place me in some considerable difficulty.
My last word on devolution this evening is an attempted answer to those who say that as we devolve legislative powers to Scotland and Wales so we contribute to the break-up of the Union. I suggest that almost exactly the opposite might well result, and that unless and until some meaningful legislative devolution is carried out the pressures will continue and the Scottish National Party, building on those pressures, will gain for separation greater support than any it has today. I do not believe that the Scottish people want separation, but it could become inevitable unless and until we begin to meet them half way towards the objective of greater self-government to which they aspire.
I want now to turn to other matters in the Queen's Speech. I want particularly to talk about the social services. I am deeply concerned about the National Health Service. I am concerned in particular because it seems to be being starved of the resources that it needs not only to expand but almost to exist at its present level. I predict that in the year that lies ahead nothing other than a deterioration in the service of the NHS to the people can be anticipated.
I ask the House to turn its attention to a fairly radical solution. In doing so I must make it clear that I am speaking only for myself, and in no way committing the political party of which I am a member. I want to ask the Front Benches seriously to turn their attention to increasing the resources of the NHS by increasing charges under the NHS. I recognise that to mention this subject is to run the risk of being attacked because 279 one is trying to get at people when they are least able to defend themselves—namely, when they are ill.
We have had prescription charges in existence for many years, under which the poor and the needy are protected. I do not believe that in 1976 a prescription charge of 20p is an adequate reflection of the value of money. The Government should consider increasing prescription charges. I suggest that we consider, not only increasing charges, but also an exploration of a charge for a visit to a general practitioner and a charge for a period of stay in a hospital.
I recognise that these are radical suggestions, but unless and until the Government can put forward alternative ways of increasing the resources of the NHS, I believe that they must look seriously into the recommendations I am making.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller
I intervene merely on a question of accuracy and correction. The prescription charge is not 20p. Each item on a prescription is 20p.
§ Mr. McCrindle
I accept that correction. The hon. Gentleman will probably realise that I was using shorthand in my attempt to be brief.
If there was one principal lesson that came out of the Workington and Walsall by-elections and should be learned by politicians of all parties it was that the people are beginning to recognise that there is no such thing as something for nothing. There is certainly no such thing as a free health service. I believe that for as long as the Government pretend that there is such a thing, just for so long will the Government be deceiving the people and themselves.
The field of social services is one of the most vital in current Government development. I want to comment on the Bill that has been foreshadowed involving unemployment benefits to retired people between the ages of 60 and 65. I suggest to the Minister that this is possibly the wrong approach. Not all retired people aged between 60 and 65 are retired bank managers. There are many people who have worked all their lives in onerous occupations and who, in the judgment of many others, are entitled, and should be encouraged, to retire at 60.
280 I believe that the way to deal with the abuse of unemployment benefit is to tighten the rules in regard to the availability of a person to take up work if it is offered to him. This surely means, for example, that if a person who has retired voluntarily and is at the age of 60 living in Bexhill but has spent the whole of his working life as a commodity broker in London, it must be assumed, at least after a reasonable period, that he is not genuinely seeking employment.
There may be an argument for terminating benefit in some cases, but to do it as the Government propose is to hit at all occupational pension schemes. If one believes their other utterances, the very opposite of that is what they desire. If they choose to act in regard to this category of recipient of unemployment benefit they should do so in the way I suggest.
Once more as regards social security, I note the omission of any intention to legislate for the Government's requirement, as outlined in a recent White Paper, that 50 per cent. of those responsible for pension schemes should be from trade unions. I hope that I correctly deduce that this means that the Government have dropped the idea. Few in the House would oppose the idea of a greater participation in the membership of occupational pension schemes, but it is very different to argue that in the management of all pension schemes trade unionists should have 50 per cent. involvements. The investment of the funds of pensioners is a very important matter and it is, to say the least, questionable whether trade union representatives would always be capable of the expertise correctly to direct the investment of investment funds.
I plead with the Government to restore the incentives which have been almost completely removed for middle and upper management, not least in the nationalised industries. I ask them to move towards a situation in which we can relieve the burden of taxation on these people.
At the other end of the scale I suggest that what is called the tax trap should be opened so that once again it will be more in a person's interest to work than to be unemployed. I do not take the view that it is very easy to tax unemployment benefits, a subject on which there has 281 been a great deal of discussion recently. I do take the view that, if a person is to be given self-respect, the taxation system must be such that he is encouraged to earn his living rather than to remain on welfare benefit.
I want, in conclusion, to refer briefly to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) and to disagree—certainly with the tone—with some of what he said. I do not think that it is wise to bash the Welfare State. I want to place it on the record tonight that I am proud of the existence of the Welfare State in Britain. People must be very careful lest, in expressing what may be justified criticisms in an exaggerated fashion, they lead people to believe that all is rotten in the Welfare State. I do not accept that. Although there is a strong argument for setting un a wide-ranging inquiry so as to reassure many people who are concerned about some of the seeming abuses, I do not accept that all the abuses of the Welfare State that are alleged exist in quite the form that my hon. Friend suggested.
The Government must direct a great deal of attention to the organised cheating which takes place on a large scale. The tendency for foreigners, sometimes perhaps because of reciprocal agreements, to obtain more generous treatment than the indigenous population—that may not be true, but that is the impression that many of our fellow countrymen have—must be attended to. The idea that a payment in kind is made for such things as furniture and television sets is offensive to many people.
However, in asking for an inquiry into all these ways in which the Welfare State is, perhaps, operating badly, I urge my hon. Friends not to be seen to be attacking the Welfare State in a way that would suggest that we are anxious to return to a situation such as operated under the Poor Law.
I welcome the genuine advances in the social services. I welcome the continued provision for people under the Welfare State. I think that unless the genuine fear and concern of the people are attended to by something like the wide-ranging inquiry for which I have called the Welfare State will gradually fall in the esteem of the people, and that would be a loss to all of us.
§ 7.56 p.m.
§ Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)
No one in the House nor in the whole country will object to the identification of abuse, whether it occurs in the social services or in the wider aspect of life in Britain.
The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) made a thoughtful speech with much of which I agreed, though I also disagreed with much of it. I hope that the hon. Gentleman with his reasonable and modest approach, appreciates that where it is possible for a person to obtain a greater sum from not working than from working, it is usually because the wages in the sphere in which he is employed are very low and not because the handouts from the social services are massive.
I turn to the Gracious Speech. Is it the Government's intention in respect of industrial democracy, with the proposals for which I agree, that the nationalised industries should be among the first to have a dose of democracy injected into them? It is not enough for the nation to take over an industry, to saddle it with debts of compensation, to install a titular head, and then to watch it continue as before. All employees of an industry should have full opportunity of participating in the running of that industry.
I know that that has deep implications and it goes a little wider than is indicated in the paragraph of the Gracious Speech dealing with industrial democracy. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will recognise that the nationalised industries should be perhaps the first to be democratised.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett) said about education. It ties in with what I have said about democracy and the nationalised industries. I do not think that we shall ever achieve full industrial recovery until our education system sheds its class bias. Why, for example, should a doctor— or for that matter, a lawyer—be accorded higher social status than an engineer? Britain is the only country where such a situation obtains. [HON. MEMBERS: "Who says so?"] We are one of the few countries where that situation obtains. In Germany an engineering graduate is referred to as "Herr Dokter Engineer". In Italy and France an engineer is 283 accorded a very high status—it is certainly not lower than that of a doctor. There is no doubt that in this country an engineer is not looked upon as being in the same class as a doctor.
I do not agree with the hon. Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson) about devolution. I think he has it wrong. It seems that he knows nothing at all about what is going on in Scotland. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar has the right approach. The Scottish people are looking forward to an Assembly. I welcome the proposals that will be embodied in a Bill. I believe that they go as far as we can possibly go without endangering the break-up of the United Kingdom.
The unity of the United Kingdom must be protected when the devolution Bill is discussed. Stress should be placed on the undoubted fact that if we do not proceed with a meaningful Bill, there will be greater impetus towards the possible break-up of the United Kingdom.
I hope that we shall pin on the Scottish National Party the separatist label. That tag must be pinned on it. The SNP is dedicated not to the Scottish Assembly but to a completely independent and separate Scotland. That is what it stands for, and in the months ahead when we are discussing devolution we must pin that label on the SNP. We must make it clear to the Scottish people that it is a party that is working in every way it can for the break-up of the United Kingdom.
The National Health Service has been mentioned today quite frequently. There is a paragraph in the Gracious Speech that states that the aim is to promote a good working relationship in the service. I agree with that. I agree that the aspirations of all those who work in the service—the doctors, the nurses and all ancillary workers—should be viewed with great concern. However, it must not be forgotten—some people seem to forget this although I do not suggest that it is forgotten by hon. Members—that the service is for the benefit of the patients. That was the purpose of constructing the whole edifice.
There is a sector of the Health Service that I believe to be its backbone—namely, the family doctors, the general practi- 284 tioners. To most people the family doctor is not merely the first point of contact with the service but very often the only point of contact. It is the GP or family doctor who sees the patient and treats him on a continuing basis. Very often the patient never goes further.
The status of the family doctor could be much improved within his own profession. Instead of being a group of isolated figures, they should be leaders of health teams working from health centres and having available to them a wide range of facilities.
It is salutary to note that only 8 per cent. of the expenditure on the Health Service goes to the family doctor service. In my view there should be a shift of expenditure towards the GP service. Such a shift could be made from savings in the service.
I have made some calculations and if only four or five fewer sickness certificates were issued per week per doctor we could save between£250 million and £300 million a year. If only three or four fewer prescriptions were issued per doctor every day, that could effect a saving of about £50 million. I have made those calculations on the basis of what I believe to be the cost of an average sickness week and an average prescription. On those calculations we could save about £300 million to £350 million a year, a considerable amount. That sum could be saved if the GP or family doctor were working with his team in an atmosphere in which he had more time to devote to the patients.
I do not castigate the doctors for taking the approach that because of pressure of time there is a tendency merely to issue a sickness certificate because there are so many people waiting to see them. I do not think that anyone would suffer if we made the savings that I have suggested.
The hon. Member for Ongar and Brentwood mentioned occupational pensions. I view the Government's words here with great alarm. It seems that a Bill will be introduced to restrict the payment of unemployment benefit to certain occupational pensions. This is a subject that has been much in the minds of many of my constituents. I have no doubt that right hon. and hon. Members 285 will have had letters and deputations on this matter.
At first I took a calm view and a dispassionate outlook, but having examined the matter, I have come to the conclusion that the proposals are deplorable. It would be monstrous if a Bill were introduced in the form outlined in the Gracious Speech.
The background is the revelation—I use the word advisedly—that many professional people are greatly benefiting from the present system. It is interesting that in the document that has appeared in the Library the only example of a professional person is a bank manager. The document states:many professional people … retire at 60 on a substantial occupational pension, and then register for employment.So what? I do not see that that is necessarily an evil. It is further contended:since … they are unlikely to find suitable employment, they are able to draw unemployment benefit for 12 months after retirement.It would appear that in putting forward this proposal the Chancellor has been greatly influenced by a report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. That committee reported in 1968 that there wasno doubt at all that many of the occupational pensioners who claim unemployment benefit are not effectively in the field of employment and the present situation constitutes a serious misuse of the national insurance scheme.Those are strong words but the report goes even further and states that the money involved is all at the expense of other contributors.
The document, which is to be found in the Library, states:this type of misuse brings the scheme into disrepute by suggesting that unemployment benefit can be obtained by means of a merely nominal requirement without any regard to the realities of the situation.My word for that, if it is not unparliamentary language, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is boloney. This kind of thinking infringes the vital principle that benefits must not be withheld from anyone who qualifies for them because a few people might abuse the system. If we breach this principle, we might as well forget about social welfare and the Welfare State.
There are other persons who may retire long before the age of 60 years. For example, there are the police and Service 286 personnel. A brave soldier who has served in Northern Ireland may retire long before 60. Is he to be considered a scrounger if he registers as unemployed pending finding another job?
§ Mr. McCrindle
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that not longer ago than the beginning of this week we were all reminded of the genuine desire, probably justifiable, of coal miners to retire not at 60 but eventually at 55.
§ Dr. Miller
I am all in favour of that. The men who have been involved in the worst aspect of coal mining—digging coal—should retire at 55. That would be an excellent plan. I am all for ways and means of achieving that. But should a Service man be considered a scrounger if he retires long before 60 and registers as unemployed, pending his obtaining other employment? It would be a monstrous injustice to suggest that he was scrounging.
Why should people be penalised if they have contributed for years to a scheme which will bring them some benefit when they retire? What about those who are obliged to retire at 60 years of age when they might prefer to remain at work for another few years? You, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are approaching that venerable age. I am sure that you—
§ Dr. Miller
That is exactly the point to which I was coming. As a vigorous, healthy man, you might wish to carry on for another few years. It is not right that you and others should be penalised because of a situation over which you have no control.
It is well known that the TUC, the Civil Service and the Public Service Pensioners Council have all voiced strong opposition to this proposal. The TUC rightly maintains that this proposal represents an erosion of the national insurance principle of entitlement to benefit earned by contributions. It is not good enough to single out workers who are covered by occupational pension schemes for such discretionary treatment. I believe that the scheme should be widened until it embraces everyone who works for a living. That includes miners.
I do not think that anyone would claim that unemployment benefit should be paid 287 automatically to every occupational pensioner. But the right way of avoiding abuse is to ensure that every occupational pensioner satisfies the test of availability for work. That criterion applies to everyone else. It should not be different in this instance. It would be grossly unfair to depart from that principle now. I shall require a great deal of persuading to support this proposal when it is put forward.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (Liverpool, Wavertree)
The House might reflect that there is no mention of young people in the Gracious Speech. Even though a sixth of our population are under 25 years of age and, although the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and Social Services were here, we have heard hardly any mention of young people, their unemployment benefits, or the fact that 600,000 young people under 25 are unemployed. What country would tolerate these levels of unemployment amongst its young?
At the last election, the Labour Party campaigned that a Tory Government would increase the level of unemployment. Indeed, it launched a smear campaign against my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) when he spoke about unemployment reaching a million or over before Britain could solve its problems.
Sixteen-year-olds today are experiencing the most traumatic shock in their lives. For them unemployment is now a way of life. More so than any other generation, they find themselves not wanted by society and rejected by this Government.
Being on the dole is a daunting and deeply depressing experience, but there is now a new sinister twist to it. More and more young people are becoming part of the chronic unemployed. They are either unemployable or remain unemployed for six months or more.
The figures are dramatic. In the summer, more than 200,000 school leavers—those who have never had work—were unemployed. A further 416,000 young people under 25 were also without work. That is a total of 616,000 young people under 25 with no work. But the figure is probably larger than that, because, 288 once a person has done a job of work for a few months, he somehow shifts into the adult unemployment figures rather than remaining with the young. The figure could be higher than 616,000 and nearer to 700,000.
The situation is more serious than that, because we do not know the up-to-date figures. I gather that the civil servants who compile the statistics have decided to strike, so can the Minister tell us what the figures are? The Prime Minister is reported as having said that the figures are even worse, but we have no idea of the true position. It is paradoxical that the Civil Service is, to use a mixed metaphor, cocking a snook at the pied piper because it does not like his tune.
It is not only the civil servants who compile Government statistics on unemployment who are en strike, but those in Cardiff who deal with cherished number plates, the HMSO warehouses, which are preventing our getting adequate supplies of stationery, and now Hansard is not obtainable. Not only can we not have the figures, but we cannot have reports of what we are saying printed in a way which we can read for some time.
When I asked the Minister to make a statement about the refusal of his civil servants to handle statistics on the numbers of unemployed young people, all he could say was that he was keeping the whole matter under review. Is that all he is doing? Is he afraid to tell his people that they must get on with the job for which they are paid, or get out? Is the Government's weak handling of their internal problems symptomatic of the way in which they are handling external problems?
We have more than 500,000 young people with nothing to do. Why are the Government so depressingly inactive? Why will they not use the same energies with which they have pursued IMF loans to help with the problems of the young unemployed? What has happened to the spirit of the Labour Government in the 1930s when they championed the child marchers at Jarrow? Their apathy and indifference towards the young are reflected in the Gracious Speech.
Are the Government firmly committed to a lasting reduction in the present level of unemployment? If so, they must realise that it is a long-term, not a short-term, problem. The statistics show that 289 28,000 school leavers were unemployed in 1968. The figure rose to 58,000 in 1971, to 160,000 in 1975, and to 209,000 in 1976. Yet the Government's measures are on a short-term basis. In this way they have fanned the flames of the problem and of inflation.
They pumped £400 million into creating artificial jobs—pulling the wool over the eyes of thousands of young people who believed that going on Government job creation bonanzas was the beginning of their careers, only to find that within months they were back in the dole queues drawing benefits. Perhaps the Treasury official was telling the truth when, in his York lecture, he said that, in order to obtain loans, the Government are forced to agree conditions which make the numbers of unemployed even greater.
If the Gracious Speech faced this reality, it would be one thing. The fact that it does not and that more than 500,000 young people are unemployed and not even mentioned fills the Opposition with the gravest possible forebodings. Let there be no mistake—these figures would be higher if there had not been the raising of the school-leaving age and a great number of the young unemployed had not been siphoned off on Government job creation schemes—schemes which offer a range of different goodies of little value to the young person and of long-term damage to him.
The Government have given £90 million to the job creation programme. Hon. Members might care to reflect that only £78 million has been given to relieving urban deprivation under the urban aid scheme over the last nine years: so much for these great cries about relieving inner city distress when only £78 million has been given to that scheme during nine years.
When the job creation programme was launched, each job created was to be filled with vacational and educational training content. That was the boast. Of all the jobs which have been created on Merseyside—with £4 million spent—I know of fewer than one dozen which contained any vocational or training guidance.
Under the job creation programme school leavers are doing artificially 290 created jobs which never normally get done and which, on the whole, do not need doing. They are paid a totally inflated rate for the job. The young do as they are told. The bureaucracy under the action committee tells them what to do.
The local authorities siphon off some 80 per cent. of the expenditure under the job creation programme. It is another way of building up the rate support grant for some of the more deprived local authorities. Surely that was certainly not the purpose of the job creation programme.
Where else but on Merseyside could an 18-year-old get £43 a week for manual work under the job creation programme? It is said that is the rate for the job, but it is a rate for a job which does not normally get done. The only place where that figure could be obtained would be under a local authority manual work scheme. But there are no more local authority manual work schemes because the local authorities have not got the money to employ anyone.
When a young person gets exactly the same job on the open market that he is doing under the Government's job creation scheme, he gets between £23 and £28 a week. So teenagers have a glorious bonanza digging up holes, planting trees, repairing cracks and doing endless surveys, but the work ethic is being undermined.
Those who cannot get on the job creation programme can go along to community industry. This is a splendid scheme inaugurated some years ago to give some of the less employable young people a chance to do community work. The young people on community industry are doing identical work to those on the job creation programme but they are paid one third less. Those earning £40 a week under the job creation programme get £30 a week for jobs identical to those under community industry.
There is the new Government work experience programme which offers £16 a week tax free but the young person must find his expenses and fares. If he does a course at a training service agency, which lasts between three and six months, he gets £13.65p. plus lunch allowance and fares if he lives more than 291 two miles away. If he has been fortunate enough to have a job for six months and gets on one of the Government schemes, he will get unemployment benefit of £12.90 a week plus earnings-related benefit. If all else fails, he can fall back on supplementary benefit, which starts at around £9 and goes up to nearer £12 if he is over 20.
Yet with all these Government schemes with inflated rates of payment there are still 600,000 young people with nothing to do. Why are the Government silent about them? Why is there nothing in the Gracious Speech about those young people? What is so curious is that the Government have persistently rejected the proposals that I put forward under which nearly every young person could be involved in some work for the benefit of the community. Yet the Government have put forward no alternatives. The Government tolerate 600,000 young people with nothing to do but say nothing about what they will do for these young people.
I have explained many times before that under my scheme every young person would have the opportunity to create his own job for community betterment. He would be allowed to look around the district and decide how he could make life better and how he could improve the quality of life. He could ask himself "How can I help the old, the lonely and the handicapped?". He would get the support of a great number of personal service officers and professionals who work in the area. What a morale booster this would be both for the depressed urban areas in industrial cities and for the young themselves! They would be occupied in doing something useful and would benefit for life by working with people in need and making them happier.
Some young people might not create their own work. They could go along to the job shops, which have already been established on a ticker-tape system, and work with voluntary and statutory organisations in need of help. They could go along and see what work needs doing and volunteer their assistance.
But, unlike the job creation programme, they would get a realistic wage for the job rather than the inflated rates of pay which are made under the Government schemes. I would propose 292 that the rate for the job is the present unemployment benefit. As long as we pay £400 million to young people by creating artificial jobs, there is no incentive for young people to find paid work. Under my proposals they would run their own schemes. There would be no action committees or no bureaucracy. We would give young people the opportunity to do something for themselves.
There is no reason why those who wanted to do long-term work should not do voluntary service overseas in reverse along the lines of the work done by community service volunteers in this country. The community service volunteers find placements for 3,000 teenagers who are prepared to work for pocket money. They do not need inflated rates of pay.
Instead of the Government pouring out £400 million, my proposals would cost no more than the present level of unemployment benefit going to young people. If a young person refuses to do anything, refuses to get a job or refuses to help under one of the Government schemes or one of my schemes, what right has that young person to demand that the State should pay him? Show me a Socialist philosopher who says that people should get paid for doing nothing when there is work to be done.
How do the Government justify 600,000 young people with nothing to do and vindicate their policy? The damage done to our teenage generation is rather like the supposed effects of X-rays 30 years ago—as it was rather a brief exposure it would do no harm. But the exposure by the Government is a long-term exposure and it is doing immeasurable harm.
The esteem in which the Government hold their young is an indicator of the social health of the country. The fact that the Government are indifferent to the plight of half a million youngsters indicates how they feel towards the young people of Britain. Let there be no mistake: even if the Gracious Speech is quiet, if not silent, on this point, I and my hon. Friends will carry on saying the same thing until the Government are shamed into action.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (Lichfield and Tamworth)
I shall not follow closely the speech made by the hon. Member for 293 Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Steen), as the House has heard his arguments before and, no doubt, will continue to hear them. He touched on the issue of public expenditure, on which there are differences of opinion between the two parties and within each party. We are all in no doubt that during the next two or three years the level of public expenditure will continue to occupy our minds and that there will continue to be significant differences between us.
Whatever we feel about levels of public expenditure, we would all agree that we do not like public expenditure to be ineffective. We do not want public money to be spent on projects which have low priority. Ministers and Government Departments do not have vast sums of money to spend. They are talking about cutting back rather than increasing expenditure. I hope that they will reflect on the way in which they are spending money and consider whether there are more effective ways of organising their Departments and the services for which they arc responsible.
Today we are thinking particularly about education and social services. I want to address my remarks to the ways in which we could spend money more effectively, first, on education and, secondly, on social services.
On 18th May, under the Ten-Minute Rule procedure I introduced a Bill which I called the Comprehensive Higher Education Bill. Perhaps I should not have used the word "comprehensive". There are some Conservative Members who react like Pavlov's dogs whenever "comprehensive" is mentioned. They automatically object to any proposal containing that word. The object of the Bill was to rationalise the higher education system. On that occasion I said that the number of students over the age of 18 had doubled during the last 10 years and that under the present system there were 43 universities, 30 polytechnics and 595 institutions of further and higher education with other titles.
I see no justification for this tripartite system or for the traditional independence of the universities. Above all, I see no justification for planning separate higher education courses for universities and other institutions.
Within a few miles of my constituency in the West Midlands there are eight or 294 nine institutes of further or higher education—in Warwick, West Bromwich, Birmingham, Stoke and other towns. Many of those institutes have courses that are under-subscribed. It is common sense to plan higher education courses as one, and not to plan university courses and polytechnic courses, thus duplicating resources and courses, with the inevitable result that courses are unfilled or under-subscribed. It is a commonsense reform to have a regional planning system—one exists but it does not work—involving the universities, which provide a sensible structure of higher education. Let us have some developments along those lines.
We know that there will not be a vast increase in expenditure on the health services. Are we using the resources that we have as effectively as we might, especially on National Health Service administration? It is commonly agreed amongst all hon. Members—even those who voted for the reorganised system, including the responsible Minister—that the reorganised NHS is not working in the way we hoped and that it is administratively top heavy. There is at least one tier too many in the administrative structure.
There is no possibility of another reorganisation of the NHS within the foreseeable future, but officials and Ministers at least should start thinking about which areas of administration are superfluous. The answer is obvious. The area structure is unnecessary. The regional structure is essential—there is no way of avoiding it—and the districts are also, important, but the area level is almost entirely superfluous. It does almost nothing that could not be done by either the district or the region. We shall not have legislation this year, and probably not next year, but at least we should start to learn the lessons of reorganisation. We have learned nothing from it so far.
The same applies to local government. However, as we are today concentrating on the National Health Service, I urge that we review the structure which we now have. Let us see whether it has started to bring any of the benefits which we were told it would. If it has not—and I am certain that it has not—let us decide which level of the administration is superfluous, and let us do something about that.
295 Alongside that is the question of proper public scrutiny of the National Health Service. All we have at present are bodies which we call community health councils. I am concerned about the community health councils. In the first place, I see no reason why they are not elected as most democratic bodies are supposed to be. However, I am more concerned about the way in which they are developing and becoming part of the Health Service administration and the way in which consultants are being appointed to community health councils in some parts of the country.
It seems to me that, if a community health council becomes part of the National Health Service administration, accepting, in effect, the edicts of regional and area health authorities, there is virtually no point in having them. Only if they are genuinely independent of the Health Service, and only if they have a sensible democratic basis, are the community health councils worth maintaining.
As I said before, the great advantage of not having as much money as we should like to spend is that we can do something which politicians, I fear, most infrequently do, and I suspect that Ministers and Shadow Ministers do it probably even less—that is, sit down with a blank sheet of paper and think. That is something which we could be doing over the next year, to see whether we could spend money more effectively and where we could reorganise our structures in those two simple and straightforward ways in education and the National Health Service. I hope that Ministers and their officials will think about the sense of these proposals during the next few months.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)
We all received from your predecessor in the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker, a dignified but peremptory indication that speeches should be short. I wonder whether I could enlist your weighty influence in order to have these vulgar, ugly, unnecessary and expensive digital clocks altered so that they showed not the time but the number of minutes a Member had been speaking. It might be suggested that 10 minutes was the guiding light, that after 10 minutes the figures should go 296 red, and that after 15 minutes a small firework might be exploded.
I ask that because those of us who have been sitting here religiously throughout the debate so far, as I have, find it agonising to see the clock tick by for 17, 18 or 21 or 23 minutes—although I should add that this evening I was more lucky than usual in being able to have a meal in time. We are discussing the Gracious Speech, so graciously given. There is a paragraph which tells us the Governmentwill give the highest priority to the physical and financial needs of the manufacturing industry on which our standards of living depend.Hooray! We are then told that the Governmentwill reintroduce the Bill to bring into public ownership the aircraft and guided weapons, shipbuilding, ship repairing and marine engine building industries.A little lower down we read:Legislation will be introduced to provide for the addition to the employers' national insurance contribution.On the next page we are told:Legislation will be introduced to remove unnecessary restrictions on the powers of the local authorities to undertake construction work by direct labour.That is another kick in the teeth for the private enterprise construction industry.
The only part of the Gracious Speech with which I wholly and unreservedly agree is the final sentence:I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.For the first time, I was about to say that I regretted the presence of the Secretary of State on the Front Bench, because I usually complain that the Secretary of State is not here to listen to me. I shall be rather rude about his Department in a moment, but since he was recently so extremely courteous to me, and I want a favour out of him next May, I feel that my wings are somewhat clipped.
I shall speak first about what may be considered a minor constituency matter, but it has, I think, an important bearing on the Health Service as a whole. I refer to the threatened closure of the Northwood and Pinner War Memorial Hospital. My speech would have been slightly better informed had the Minister answered the letter which I wrote to him 297 a month ago to ask for the figures. I sent him a reminder only today. I am not nagging the Secretary of State, but perhaps he will give a slight nudge to one of his hon. Friends and see whether the answer can come through. It is a matter of great importance in my constituency and I wish to speak about it factually.
The War Memorial Hospital to which I refer can be described as small but beautiful, and it is architecturally quite pleasant. In the hospital service in general, a small service of that sort is un-frightening, friendly, kind and convenient. I hope that the Secretary of State will not lightly discard the use of a hospital with 100 beds which contains an important and sought-after local amenity.
I wish to make my next point to the "packed" Benches behind me. It is no good any of us standing up week after week in the House and in our constituencies demanding cuts in public expenditure and then, when a cut actually happens—such as the suggestion to close the Northwood and Pinner War Memorial Hospital—to grovel to the Minister and hammer on his door with the plea that he must not close the hospital.
One of my most poignant moments as a Member of this House was when I heard Dr. Beeching make his final speech to Conservative Back Benchers after he had decided to leave the railways. He said that if it had not been for Conservative Back Benchers trying to obtain local inquiries on every station closure—all of which stations have now been closed—we could within two years have had a viable railway industry. We must consider this matter involving cuts in public expenditure as it affects our cherised institutions. I hope that, when the Minister examines the figures on which the closure of the Northwood and Pinner War Memorial Hospital takes place, he will regard it as logical and proper to maintain that hospital as it stands.
I turn to educational considerations. I welcome the presence in the Chamber of one of my most distinguished constituents, my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson). Indeed, in one speech today he was described as a distinguished ornament on the Opposition Front Bench. I would not describe him as an ornament because that denotes an object which is rather inactive. We 298 all know that my hon. Friend is always extremely active. I am sure he will have noted an interesting phenomenon on the Labour Benches. A number of Labour Members have mentioned the wish to remove in one form or another the independent element of education. That is a warning light to those of us who have at heart the interests of educational choice and independent education as a pace-maker. We now know that a new attack is to be launched on that important front. Therefore, we must be ready to defend it.
Mention has already been made of the important subject of further education, and, indeed, there was a recent parliamentary lobby on this subject when it was repeatedly argued that further education should not be cut. The argument advanced was that further education is an investment in our young people for the future and that it is only as a result of that investment that we shall return to prosperity. Curiously enough, in the last 10 or 15 years we have spent more and more on education. I put to the group of people I met during the lobby the question whether the wrong students were being taught the wrong things in the wrong way by the wrong people and that possibly this could be symptomatic of the present discontent in the education system. I put it forward only as an idea that I have not heard mentioned before. Perhaps there is a contributory factor here.
Next, on education, we have, I believe, a problem to which sufficient attention has not been given in this country. I refer to the teaching of immigrant children and their integration into the State school system. I believe that, because of the inadequacy in the reading and writing of English of immigrant children, the rest of the class tends to be held back. If the class is not taught at the pace of the slowest, it is certainly taught at the pace of the middling. There is, therefore, a resentment among local parents if they feel that the necessary speed and pressure in teaching are removed.
It was said by the former hon. Member for Cambridge, Mr. Lane, that we should have positive discrimination in favour of immigrants in our schools. But it seems to me that positive immigration in favour of one group means positive 299 discrimination against another and that local people again will feel that their children are not receiving the opportunities that they could have.
There seem to be two courses open to us in meeting this difficulty. The first is bussing, but I believe that we should have absolutely nothing to do with that process because it leads to the greatest difficulties. The second course is to ensure that the children of immigrant families and foreign families arriving here are not admitted into ordinary schools until they have an elementary mastery of reading, writing and speaking English. Some may say that the argument against this is that it is a kind of segregation, but I believe that there is a more dangerous segregation if the immigrants and the foreign children gravitate to the bottom of their class.
I believe that the subject of immigration as a whole—on which nothing was said in the Gracious Speech—is of great and growing importance to the people of this country. I remind the House of the famous and courageous words of the right hon. Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) that "enough is enough". I believe that the time has come to put a total ban—tomorrow, next week or early next year—for at least three years on immigration and on the settlement here of Commonwealth citizens and also of people from the Irish Republic, of whom I shall speak separately.
The speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) this afternoon underlined the dangerous financial position in which the country finds itself. But is it really sensible that, with 1½ million unemployed—and with a warning from the Prime Minister that unemployment will grow—we should allow into this country for settlement more and more able-bodied men and women?
At a time when we are considering major and painful cuts in social services, is it right for the young, the old and the sick relatives of immigrant families who are now here to come into this country and to be a further burden on services which are bound to be under great pressure during the next six to 12 months? It seems to me that it is wrong from the point of view of trying to improve the 300 relations between the immigrants who are already here and the local community.
It is high time that we treated the Southern Irish as foreigners. I see no reason why citizens of Eire should have absolute freedom to come to this country and treat it as their own, to vote here as if it were their own country and, if they wish—I have examples of this in my constituency—to use our social services as a cushion if they find that the mattress in Southern Ireland is too hard. It is inconceivable that this should be allowed to continue and that members of a republic foreign to this country should have the same rights as hon. Members and their constituents.
The time has come to stop granting work permits, except in exceptional cases, for aliens to come here to work, mostly in the tourist and catering industries. Whether one goes to a Wimpy bar or to the Ritz, one is likely to be served by Turks, Greeks or by people from Hong Kong, which is within the Commonwealth, or from Portugal, Spain or other countries. Tourism is here to stay, and it is one of the few growth industries. If an almost total ban on work permits were applied, our own people would begin to work in these industries.
I cannot understand why it is permissible for a British person to work in a pub but not in a steak house. There is some kind of complicated class distinction which I find difficult to appreciate.
I am grateful to have been called at last, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This Gracious Speech is mostly irrelevant, but the burden will soon fall upon the shoulders of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are now on the Opposition Front Bench to sit on the Treasury Bench and to lift the country out of the mire into which it has been pulled by the present Government.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
I thought a few seconds ago that there was to be a "Royal straight flush" of Ministers from the Department of Health and Social Security sitting on the Treasury Bench but, sadly, one has just left. I am honoured that the Secretary of State has stayed to listen to the end of the debate, because I want to speak about his Department.
I want first to draw attention to the fact that it is sad that another Queen's 301 Speech has come and gone without the people of this country being brought face to face with the realities of our situation. It will be far harder and far grimmer for the ordinary people of this country over the next year or two than they yet have any inkling of. It will test the very social fabric of this country itself. Undoubtedly, the ordinary people will feel rising prices and rising unemployment while, at the same time, there will be a cut-back in many of the services they have come to expect as a right. There are bound to be increases in rates, in costs and charges of all kinds, and the people have no inkling of what they will have to meet.
It is no good Labour Members saying that they are against deflation and deflationary measures. Everyone is against deflationary measures if they can be avoided. But they cannot be avoided any longer. It was easy to say at the time of the Queen's Speech last year that unless inflation was tackled—as an absolute priority then—we would run into the realms of madness that we have now reached. But the tackling of inflation in the past year has been half-hearted and it has been counteracted by other measures. The Government proceeded with schemes which had no relevance to the task of overcoming the poison of inflation which affects our country.
Sadly, we are debating another Queen's Speech when we could be finding ourselves on the brink of real trouble in this country. Our people are rightly disillusioned with how little has been done in the past year to overcome our problems.
Tragically, Governments tend to grab at expedients in times of crisis, and this Government have done so in the Queen's Speech. The Department of Health and Social Security seems to have grabbed at the most expedients. The problem is that principles which have long lain behind the system will get knocked down like ninepins by these expedients and they will not be put up again.
The first principle affected is the clawing back of unemployment benefit available to people over 60 who have an occupational pension above a certain amount. This proposal is against all the principles of the contributory social security system. That was why I joined with other hon. Members to defeat an 302 attempt by my own Government to introduce such a scheme. If we have a contributory system, we must stick to it. If holes are drilled in it, where do we stop? There are a thousand other ways to breach the contributory principle. The Government are making a grave mistake on grounds of equity and precedent.
The Government also intend to mix up the tax system with social security contributions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in July the plan to impose a 2 per cent. tax on the pay bill of every employer. This again breaches a principle. It is bad enough having a poll tax on employees, as there will be a tendency to increase unemployment and to decrease the liquidity of industry at the very time when it is needed for investment. It is a bad proposal and the Government will regret it very much.
Another expedient of the Government that will reverberate upon them is the scheme for a compulsory insurance charge on motorists, theoretically to pay for the cost to the National Health Service of road accidents. This is very unfair on the motorist. Why not do the same to those who engage in dangerous sports? Why not do it to those who are in dangerous occupations? In fact, one might ask, why have a free health system at all? The Secretary of State is breaching a basic principle yet again as an expedient.
However, I think there is probably something to be said for this. As so many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, the National Health Service is running very short of funds. Everyone who served on the Committee on the National Health Service Bill realises how every part of the service is creaking and groaning at the seams. We are in danger of being forced into serious cut-backs in health care in this country, and we must find ways of bringing more funds into the National Health Service.
There is another reason for the shortage of funds which has nothing to do with this Government or previous Governments. In the past 25 years we have had health care in this country virtually on the cheap, far cheaper than we deserve. Most hospital buildings in this country were virtually fully amortised long ago and have not cost the Government a penny. We have had, too, a system of extraordinarily low pay for nurses and 303 ancillary workers—they had been disgracefully badly paid.
Also, we had a system whereby consultants themselves did not draw their full due from the National Health Service. They undertook private work outside the service, but now the Government have seen fit to do away with that system and, of course, the result will be increased costs to the NHS. More consultants in future will have to be paid the full amount for their services. We can look forward to a more expensive National Health Service for the same amount of care. As this cannot be avoided, we must bring in new finances to pay for it.
In that respect, the Secretary of State has produced the novel idea of compulsory insurance on motorists. Why not have compulsory insurance on everyone for health care? This would bring in massive new funds for improving the system. It is bound to happen in the end, because if it does not there will be such a public outcry against long waiting lists, lack of new hospitals and lack of decent care facilities that something radical will have to be done. The Secretary of State has set a precedent in bringing this expedient, and it may well develop.
There are many things in the Gracious Speech which are totally irrelevant to our difficulties. Yesterday was a day for symbolism. It enabled millions of people watching to recall that this country must have been very remarkable once to have achieved so much in the past. Even today we still have a standard of living which, although it is slipping badly, is higher than that of most countries in the world, though certainly not all.
That was the symbolism showed yesterday. But where was the encouragement for the people to try to restore the country to what it was in the days when the symbols meant reality? That element was totally lacking from the Prime Minister's dismal speech. The right hon. Gentleman gave us not just very little hope and very little joy, but total misery. Let us have as soon as we can a General Election so that we may have hope for the country and joy in the future.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)
The debate has ranged widely today, and it is the perfect right of hon. and right hon. Members to do that in the debate on the Loyal Address. We have had speeches on the economy from my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Williams). The hon. Member coined a description of the Chancellor of such exquisite delicacy that it merits repetition. He said that the Chancellor was open to some measure of intellectual criticism. We on the Opposition side of the House would wish to express our criticism in rather more brutal language. I shall not deal with the economy, however, since my right hon. Friends will be doing so on Monday and Tuesday, and it would be better to leave the subject to them.
There were a number of speeches about devolution, including those from the hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest (Mr. McNair-Wilson). That is ground over which I tread exceedingly warily. I am sure that on that subject the House will prefer to wait to hear from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) when he winds up the debate on Tuesday.
The hon. Member for Antrim, North (Rev. Ian Paisley) treated us once again with great seriousness to a sombre speech on the dreadful problems of Ulster. I am sure that that is a problem to which the House will have to devote more attention in the coming Session.
After the opening speeches on education, many hon. Members dealt with that subject. My hon. Friends the Members for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Dodsworth) and Harrow, West (Mr. Page) and the hon. Members for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies), Norwich, South (Mr. Garrett), Leyton (Mr. Magee) and Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott) all concentrated on that subject. My impression as a newcomer to education debates was that almost everything that could be said was said in the first two speeches, and therefore I shall leave the subject there.
In winding up I wish to deal with that part of the Queen's Speech which concerns the social services. The hon. 305 Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), who is not in his place and who courteously sent me a message to explain why, gave the impression that he judged progress in the social services by the volume of legislation on it foreshadowed in the Queen's Speech. I take a wholly different view. What matters is the substance, relevance and quality of that legislation, not the sheer number of Bills which the Government try to thrust through the House.
Therefore I begin by dealing with social services omissions from the Queen's Speech. I should be grateful if the Secretary of State would comment upon them. Perhaps the most striking and regrettable omission from what had been expected was the Bill on homelessness. I do not want to touch on how the news of that leaked out so that it was all over Wednesday's newspapers before Her Majesty delivered the speech from the throne. However, it is a matter of real regret to us in the Opposition that the Bill has yet again failed to find a place in the programme.
It was a decision of the last Conservative Government to transfer responsibility for homelessness to housing departments. Anyone who has any connection with the subject agrees that this must have some legislative backing. One director of social services told me that he had calculated that over 50 per cent. of the time of the social workers in his department was devoted in one way or another to dealing with the consequences of homelessness. That seems to be the most appalling waste of resources. The work covers the whole range—battered wives, broken families, those who lose their homes for whatever reason, such as inability to pay the rent, and so on. That should be the problem of housing departments and we regret the absence of the Bill.
If housing departments are to accept this responsibility they must be prepared to divert resources from meeting the general needs of the community, with swelling subsidies for families who could and should be expected to provide much more for themselves, in order to concentrate the resources on those in the greatest need, the disabled, single parents, the very old, and so on. I regret the omission of that Bill.
306 The second omission is that of the Bill to legislate for the Merrison Report on the medical profession. As the hon. Member for Brent, South said, this report came out as long ago as April 1975—more than 18 months ago. It is necessary to reform the structure of the General Medical Council and to provide for the registration and qualification of doctors. The profession had hoped for legislation in the last Session, but now, apparently, we cannot expect it even in this Session. The Secretary of State must tell the House when that Bill will come forward.
The third omission is one which I, like my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), very much welcome. It is the omission of the Bill to give a major share of the running of occupational pension schemes to trade union nominees. The Government know that they have run into major criticisms over their proposal. Indeed, not a day goes by when I do not receive several letters protesting at what is proposed. Almost all those letters accept the concept of member participation. They all reject the idea that that participation should be the sole right of nominees of independent recognised trade unions.
Indeed, the Government have got themselves into a position of total confusion. If there are no recognised trade unions involved in the scheme, their proposal does not apply. If the scheme has existing arrangements which are satisfactory to the members, assurances have been given that those arrangements will not be upset. If the scheme has only a few members who are members of recognised trade unions, apparently every one of the 50 per cent. has to come from those trade unions.
Do not the Government recognise that that proposal is bound to reverse the highly desirable process whereby increasingly works and staff members are members of the same pension scheme and that their proposal is bound to separate them and that we shall go back to the old class distinctions in pension schemes from which, happily, we thought we were getting away? It is an impertinent, intolerable and intolerant arrogation of privilege, and it is unacceptable to the many millions of people who are members of pension schemes. I welcome the 307 fact that yesterday the Prime Minister said that "more consultations will be needed".
I move from the omissions to what is proposed in the Gracious Speech. First, there is the Bill to provide for the limitation of unemployment benefit for occupational pensioners and to reverse last year's decisions on earnings limits. I understand that we are likely to have the Second Reading of that Bill next week. That will give us an opportunity to deploy the arguments at length and so tonight I shall say only that on the earnings limit proposals we do not accept the Treasury figures. It must be difficult for anyone to accept the Treasury figures, because every time it produces a figure it produces a different one. Therefore, there is no possible consistency and the arguments must be highly suspect. The House accepted the increase in the earnings limit from £35 to £50 a week when it legislated last year after very full debates, and that should be allowed to stand. It was agreed on both sides of the House that it is desirable to reduce the element of means test. It is desirable to get rid of what is a severe disincentive for the elderly remaining at work. It is much better that those who want to continue to work should be free to do so without suffering the harsh financial penalty of the earnings limit.
The proposal to deal with occupational pensioners and unemployment benefit is one which, as Ministers know, has aroused deep misgivings which have been voiced this evening by my hon. Friends the Members for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) and Brentwood and Ongar, and by the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller). The Opposition's view is quite clear. We acknowledge that it is an abuse of social security if a man retires at 60 on a full pension, having always expected to do so, and simply claims unemployment benefit as an added perk, without any real intention of taking full-time employment.
Many such people move to the seaside or other retirement areas where there is no prospect of their finding work of the sort for which they are fitted. There must be a distinction between that type of case and that when a proper entitlement can be shown—for instance, where a man has prematurely retired on a 308 reduced pension and needs to continue to work to meet obligations and to provide for his family. Such a person is genuinely seeking work and should not be deprived of unemployment benefit when work is not available.
To take away benefits in those circumstances is to breach the principle that unemployment payments should be available as of right. The Government proposal singles out the man who has an income in the form of an occupational pension and it does not take into account any other income from savings. This is yet one more discouragement to the growth of occupational pension schemes which the Government claim to want to promote.
There would be abuses of the scheme as there would be nothing to prevent a firm's deferring the date of payment of a pension so that a man would be entitled to unemployment benefit, and then paying him a higher pension afterwards.
This is the wrong way in which to tackle what are admittedly abuses. We shall examine whether it is better to tighten up the rules on availability for work and to see that they are strictly enforced.
We are presumably to have legislation on what is known as the crash tax. We do not oppose the National Health Service charging for treatment in appropriate cases, but that is not what is proposed by the Government. Instead there is to be a flat-rate indiscriminate charge on all motorists irrespective of blame for the accident, guilt or liability.
In other words, this is simply another tax and it is wrong for it to masquerade as anything else. There will be no benefit to the Health Service because, pound for pound, the Revenue will replace money which at present comes from the Exchequer and it will have no influence on costs because the charge will be unrelated to the treatment. All the Government are doing is setting up a new bureaucracy to collect a new tax through new machinery.
If as a matter of policy they have decided that that must be part of the tax increases necessary to bridge the Budget deficit and that they need to put more of that burden on the motorist, why cannot they add another £3 to vehicle excise duty? That would have exactly the same 309 financial effect and would not require extra staff for collection or an extra penny to the cost of collection.
§ Mr. McCrindle
Does my right hon. Friend realise that as the collection point for this tax is likely to be the insurance broker, it is estimated that between £7½ million and £10 million additional cost will be involved as they act as unpaid tax collectors?
§ Mr. Jenkin
My hon. Friend knows much more about that than I do and I welcome his support. We shall examine the proposition. I hope that the Government will take note of the strong protests and the alternative course open to them.
The only reason that the scheme is being operated in this way is that the cost of it will then come on the budget of the Secretary of State for Social Services rather than that of the Secretary of State for the Environment. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman the Environment Secretary said that he had stood enough and that it was time his right hon. Friend took some of the burden. For that reason the Government have come up with this cock-eyed scheme.
On the question of smoking, I noted with great interest what the Prime Minister said yesterday. All I would say at this stage is that while wholly accepting that if we could reduce smoking that would make a major contribution to better health and the prevention of illness, I hope that the Government will always take account of public opinion on this matter and not try to rush ahead of public opinion, which would only frustrate their objectives.
Millions of people enjoy smoking. Tens of thousands who work in the industry depend on it. The advertising represents a very important source of revenue to a very vulnerable Press, and the tax represents a very significant contribution to the Exchequer. That means that there can be no sudden shift as a result of a great policy lurch. I hope that the Secretary of State will take that into account. The measures must be gradual and must follow closely with public opinion.
I am very interested to see what is to be done about patents. It is about time that we saw the patent law reform legislation that has been promised for so long. 310 The hon. Member for Brent, South referred to Sections 41 and 46 of the existing Patents Act. I disagree with him. I believe that the Government would be right and wise to accept the recommendation of the Banks Committee that Section 41 of the Act should be repealed. Section 46, the section that the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) invoked when he was Minister of Health on the Tetracycline patents from Pfizer, gives the Government all the protection that they need against abuse of patent rights by a private company in the face of Government interests. They do not need to retain Section 41 which deals with compulsory licensing and which is seen by the industry as a very severe threat to the integrity of a patent and something that may put at risk all the enormous investment that goes into the invention and development of a new drug.
I should like to touch on three more subjects: the tangle of confusion surrounding social security benefits and tax thresholds; the Resource Allocation Working Party exercise in the NHS, which seems to be producing real disruption in some regions; and the effect of the rate support grant settlement on the personal social services.
First, social security, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) devoted the larger part of his speech, is a subject which in the last few weeks has generated much heat and indignation and has provoked a long and wordy motion on the Order Paper from Labour Members. However, I want to emphasise how much common ground there now is between the Secretary of State and the Opposition Front Bench.
We now all agree that the tax threshold is far too low and that that is a major cause of the problem. The Minister for Social Security, who was with us a few minutes ago, is not normally the most ardent champion of taxpayers' rights. However, he has agreed that the tax threshold is too low. It is well below the poverty level. Even recipients of family income supplement are now paying tax. What could be crazier than the recipient of a means-tested benefit like this actually paying tax to finance his own benefit? The first need, to make sense of it all, is to raise the tax threshold.
311 Secondly, we all seem to agree, in principle at any rate, that the short-term benefits ought to be taxed, as they originally were when social security was introduced in the 1940s. I was fascinated to hear the Secretary of State on the radio the other morning, shortly before my own broadcast with Frank Fidd the other morning, when he saidThe problem is to find a way of taxing short-term benefits, although in equity I think it ought to be done.So do we. We said so in "The Right Approach". Even the Prime Minister did not seem to dissent from the logic of that. He merely questioned whether it was practical. We think that it is perfectly reasonable that if the threshold can be raised, all benefits can be taxed, and all income, both short-term and long-term benefits, can be treated in the same way.
Everyone recognises that as a result of those two things some families are better off out of work than in work. That is simply an affront to common sense. It is only a minority of the unemployed. No one has ever pretended otherwise. However, even Dr. Donnison's figure of 10 per cent., with unemployment at its present level, means that we are talking about 130,000 families who find themselves better off out of work than in work. There are hundreds of thousands more for whom the margin of advantage from working is so small as scarcely to make it worth while at all. I do not need to quote the figures—they are all in Hansard for 15th October. We agree that there is a large number.
We all recognise, too, that there is a fair measure of dishonesty in the social services administration. I mean abuse by beneficiaries, not on the part of civil servants. I agree with the Minister for Social Security thatthere is no reason why social security fraud and abuse should be a party political issue.He went on, on 21st September,We are determined to take the most rigorous action against fraud and abuse",to which I say "Hear, hear." There could be nobody who would challenge that. To try to pretend that somehow those who seek to reinforce the Minister's 312 words are engaging in a war against welfare beneficiaries is a travesty of the truth.
The Government have announced a new drive against fraud. I do not believe that it will be effective, because they have not accepted the case that they must have more fraud investigators on the ground. They have recently recruited, or are about to recruit, 1,414 extra people, but not one of those, as I learned from a written answer, is to be an investigator: they are all going straight into the offices in the regions. The main point is that neither side doubts that more needs to be done.
Fifthly, both sides agree that social security is now far too complex and that there are many thousands who do not claim benefit they are entitled to, probably because they do not understand the system. As Dr. Donnison said in his annual report about all the instructions to the counter clerks, they areso long, so complex and so frequently amended that officials themselves often find them very difficult to understand.The Government have now set up their internal inquiry to see how the system can be made simpler and intelligible. We agree with that, too.
Then both sides agree that basically the tax credit principle is the right way ahead. The Government promised to introduce the child benefit system. That is simply child tax credits. It is exactly the same principle as we put into the Green Paper in 1972. It would be a major contribution to getting rid of all the nonsenses—the poverty trap, and so on.
The child benefit scheme could have and should have done all this, but the Government ran away from it. It is a matter of profound regret that the Government panicked at the last moment. The result is that we now have the growing scandal that the new arrangements that are to come in in April 1977 for the sort of mini-child benefit are bogged down in total confusion and the right hon. Gentleman has had a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and myself setting out the confusion that exists.
Ministers may think they know what they are doing, but I can assure the right 313 hon. Gentleman that no one else does. The leaflets which have flooded into the post offices all over the country are in large measure wrong. There have been leaflets, there has been a correction, and there has been another correction. Now we are promised another correction still, because the Government have chopped and changed and shifted backwards and forwards all through this year because of their fatuous decision to abandon the scheme in the first place.
The right hon. Gentleman must be bitterly regretting that he allowed himself to be pushed aside from the child benefit scheme in that fatal series of Cabinet meetings last May. Child benefit, which was at one time the hope of millions of hard-pressed families with children, has now degenerated into a total administrative fiasco and it has sown despair amongst the organisations like Child Poverty Action Group, Gingerbread and One-Parent Families which pinned such hopes upon it.
So there is widespread agreement about what is wrong. The Government must now tell us what they will do about it. I will tell them what they should do. It is not simply to drift on with no clear strategy and no long-term plans, as the Government seem to be doing. They must raise the tax threshold and, if necessary, do so by raising indirect taxes. They must tax the short-term benefits. They must simplify the social security system. They must press ahead with implementing the tax credit principle and putting a full child benefit into action. They must take very firm action on fraud and abuse, and that means having more fraud investigators on the ground. That is what they should do. The Secretary of State must tell us what his Government actually intend to do about it.
I can deal with the subject of the National Health Service fairly briefly. The report of the Resource Allocation Working Party is looking to the next stage of that process. Areas and regions are at present living under the initial allocation that was announced at the time of the Budget last March.
I do not dispute the need for the evening-out of resources throughout the country. I do not see how anyone could dispute that objective. But it must be done with great care. It must be spread, 314 inevitably, over a long period if disruption and hardship are to be avoided. When real resources are static, or even shrinking, greater care must be taken, otherwise we shall find ourselves with the real disruption that is now taking place in the four Thames regions, which are facing serious difficulties.
If we are to have a switch from acute services to community services, which may well be right, it must be recognised that that will put a severe strain on services. When that is combined with regional re-allocation, the strains become intolerable. When we add to those strains the teaching hospitals in the inner London areas, which draw their patients from a wide area, I suggest that the difficulties become so intense that the Government must think again. The resource allocation exercise, though right in principle, is proceeding much too fast. The Government must take account of the very real cries of woe from areas within the four Thames regions.
The right hon. Gentleman did not have an easy inheritance, but I hope that I have given some indication of the lines on which the Opposition believe that he should advance in helping communities throughout the country to help themselves and to care for the disadvantaged in their midst. Let an assurance go out from the House that so far as resources allow, and whatever our disagreements on the details, both sides of the House are on the same side in trying to help the disadvantaged in our midst.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)
We have had a wide-ranging debate which included Northern Ireland, devolution, Scotland and Wales. We have discussed the banking and insurance systems, immigration and the job evaluation scheme. I shall not make any attempt to deal with the wide range of subjects, some of which may be raised again at another stage of the debate on the Gracious Speech. Explanations for absence during my reply and during the speech of the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) have been given by a number of Opposition and Government Members.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, in 315 opening the debate, outlined the strategic thrust of the Government's education policy. I think that she gained a great deal of approval from both sides of the House. It is right that the House should take part in the great debate on education which was initiated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Certainly I shall bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has explained her absence this evening, the important points that have been made.
I much enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). He saw himself—I thought surprisingly—as the pace-maker for Government policy. It was an attractive prospect, but one wondered why he had not been a pace-maker for Government policy when his own party was in Government. However, I thought that he was rather amusing.
Criticism has come from both sides of the House about the shortage of mathematics and technology teachers. It is necessary to ask why they were not trained from 1970 to 1974 when the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition was Secretary of State for Education and Science. That is precisely when those steps should have been taken.
The hon. Member for Chelmsford became a little het-up about the position concerning the arts. Surely one could find few less offensive methods of saving public expenditure than moving the arts from Belgrave Square to Elizabeth House.
I shall concentrate on aspects of health and social services that have been raised by the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Had the right hon. Gentleman had my experience of living in Belgrave Square and Elizabeth House, he would know that there is nothing more offensive than moving from one to the other.
§ Mr. Ennals
I have not had the experience of living in either, so I shall not compare notes with the hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford also thought of himself as being a pace-maker. He suggested all the things that he thought the Govern- 316 ment should do and referred to the problems that the Government should solve, none of which the previous Administration were able to solve. Equally he urged cuts in public expenditure, but he opposed every method proposed by the Government to do so.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about the Bill on homelessness. I have a great interest in seeing the responsibility properly moved to housing departments. That matter will be dealt with in the debate tomorrow by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
I want now to move to the National Health Service. Looking back over the last 12 months, there has been a considerable change. There was a good deal of turmoil in the National Health Service at the time of the last debate on the Address. The junior hospital doctors' dispute was at its height. Many consultants were bitterly opposed to our policy in terms of the Health Services Bill, which has now received Royal Assent. Relations with the medical profession were at a low ebb.
I have done my best to improve relations with the profession while making it clear that I stand firm on the principles on which the Government have based their policy. I pay tribute to the constructive way in which the leadership of the British Medical Association has responded to my efforts to bring about a greater spirit of co-operation.
I have also sought to improve contact, through trade unions and other bodies, with the many other groups working within the NHS. I have tried to say to all those who work in the NHS, particularly following a period when there has been a great deal of industrial action and threats of industrial action, that whatever difficulties we face and whatever disputes arise should be settled by rational discussion and negotiation, not by actions which can only damage the interests of patients. I have said that our concern is primarily the interests of patients.
The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford mentioned the absence of any reference to the implementation of the Merrison Report. I know that many doctors will be disappointed that there is no reference in the Gracious Speech to 317 legislation to implement all or part of that report. I hope to make a statement soon about the Government's views on the Merrison recommendations.
I am sorry that it has not been possible to include in the programme of legislation for this Session the implementation of the recommendations of the Briggs Committee on nursing. I know that that will be a disappointment to the nursing profession. I shall be meeting representatives of the nursing profession next week to discuss this matter.
We are under many constraints, partly because of the important proposals concerning devolution to Scotland and Wales, to which the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) referred. Because of those important proposals, there will be an absence of time for much legislation which we would have liked to see introduced.
Another constraint is money. A third is the fact that we need, after all the reorganisation of the National Health Service and other upheavals, a period of consolidation. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield and Tamworth (Mr. Grocott), who has sent me a note explaining his absence, referred to some of the difficulties of reorganisation. I must say that I agreed with him.
The cost to the National Health Service—[Interruption.] It is all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to laugh.
§ Mr. Ennals
I should like to continue. I have already given way.
The cost to the NHS in terms of confusion, time and money flowing from the reorganisation introduced by the Conservative Government has led to many difficulties.
§ Mr. Patrick Jenkin
The Secretary of State has made profound criticisms of the reorganisation. I should like to know whether he agrees with his four right hon. Friends who signed the foreword to the Government's document "Prevention and health: everybody's business", which said:The re-organised NHS, however, provides an improved administrative framework within more comprehensively and to plan the allocation of resources more effectively both at local which it is now possible to look at priorities; and at national levels.
§ Mr. Ennals
That is a heavy and costly administrative framework. It may have been true that there was not enough administration in the Health Service before reorganisation, but I think there is somewhat too much now. That is in no way the responsibility of those working within the administration itself—they are carrying out obligations created by the legislation for which Conservative right hon. and hon. Members were responsible.
It would be quite wrong for me now to undertake some further reorganisation which would throw the Health Service into turmoil. But I am determined that we will reduce the amount which is spent by the Health Service on administration, and that we will do so in an orderly way. That is now happening, with consultation between myself and the regions and areas, in order to improve administration and the process of decision-making and to streamline our system.
The Gracious Speech said that the Government intendto make the best use of the resources available to the Service for the benefit of patients".Part of that is to improve administration and to release some resources for patient care. Resources have to be redistributed in two ways. The first is a redistribution between services so that more money goes into the services neglected in the past. I am particularly thinking of the Cinderella services—the mentally ill, the mentally handicapped and the aged and the physically handicapped. In the past we have not adequately planned our Health Service resources. Had we done so, we would not have found these areas of gross neglect which we must put right.
Secondly, there will be a geographical redistribution from one part of the country to another and from relatively well-off regions to those which are less well served. This inactivity would not have happened if in the past the Health Service had been more effectively planned.
I believe that we have to switch resources. It will not happen by itself. It has to be planned. There has to be some reorganisation of the way in which services are provided so that uneconomic buildings or services can be closed, with a concentration on new services and on those which provide better value and better facilities for treatment and care, 319 otherwise the whole service would simply ossify.
There have been a great deal of misunderstanding and a lot of wild Press stories about sudden mass closures of hospitals. The redistribution of resources is a long-term process which has to be planned years in advance. Regional health authorities planning to close old hospitals as part of their rationalisation of services must consult—quite properly—all those concerned, including the general public. We believe in open government. We believe that it is right that there should be wide consultation, including consultation with the community health council. Any proposal to close a hospital which causes significant controversy will eventually come to me, as Secretary of State, to be settled.
The hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page) referred to his own hospital, the Memorial Hospital. I cannot give him an answer in that case but I have to say that, of course, there will have to be some closures.
We have a pattern of hospitals which was created many years ago. At that time they provided an important service and they do so even now. No one ever wants to see his own local hospital closed. I can understand people wanting to retain their hospitals, but not if that is at the expense of providing newer and better facilities more efficiently and more effectively.
Some irresponsible statements have been made and wrong impressions have been gained. I have seen the suggestion that I was about to close four teaching hospitals in London. I saw that the University College Hospital was on the list for closure. Those statements are not true. We have to ensure that there is careful consultation and we must not allow those alarms and rumours to catch on. Whenever wrongful allegations are made, the record has to be put right.
In principle, it is right to proceed with the reallocation of resources, but we must watch carefully the pace of redistribution. The tighter funds become, the more difficult it is to make a rapid shift. In the present financial circumstances it is clear that, if we tried to make the switch, within a very few years we could find ourselves destroying hospitals and services which 320 are a shining example to the country and the world and vital to the task of teaching the doctors of the future.
Although I have made no decision, I shall within a short time indicate to the regions what their allocations will be. The principle is right that redistribution should be proceeded with, but I must watch the pace carefully.
We are talking about resources. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced certain measures, to one of which the right hon. Gentleman referred. It is also referred to in the Gracious Speech. It is a Bill to make provision for the recovery of the full cost of treating under the NHS people injured on the roads. This will be done by imposing a charge, which is expected to work out at about £3 per vehicle. The principle is not new. It has been applied since the 1930s, but the operation of the present principle brings in only a small sum of money.
It is said that this has nothing to do with the NHS, but we are talking about accidents costing the NHS about £40 million a year. It is wrong that the NHS should have to bear the heavy cost of accidents. If additional funds are not made available to protect the NHS, to that extent cuts will have to be made in other aspects of the service. It is no good right hon. Gentlemen constantly saying that there must be public expenditure cuts and every time we propose methods of making cuts voting against them.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to occupational pensions. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said yesterday the Government's proposals for legislation deal with two major reforms—member participation in the running of schemes through recognised independent trade unions, and equal treatment for women. He went on to say that the Government want to introduce a Bill as soon as time is available. Although the right hon. Gentleman pointed out a degree of difference and disagreement, within the consultations that my right hon. Friend has been conducting there has been a great deal of agreement on a large part of this legislation. There has been agreement on the need to make progress towards greater member participation, more disclosure of information and the equal treatment of women. There will be further consultations with trade unionists, pensions 321 interests and others. That was said by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The principles contained in the White Paper and the proposals are right—
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)
I am glad that there will be further consultation, but does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that, whereas there is broad agreement on participation by members of occupational pension schemes, there is strong opposition to that being done purely through trade unions? Will the right hon. Gentleman also bear in mind that the managers of pension schemes are working hard to get themselves geared up to the new pension arrangements starting in April 1978? Every new obligation added by the right hon. Gentleman makes it more difficult for them to meet the deadline that he has laid down.
§ Mr. Ennals
I can deal now with only part of what the hon. Gentleman has said. As a result of the consultation which has been proceeding—it has been private consultation, not public—the gap has been narrowed. There is no doubt about that, and I believe that the gap will be further narrowed. After long years of conflict, having established a new and good relationship between the Government and the occupational pensions movement, we do not now wish to create any situation of conflict.
It has been suggested by the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford and by his hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Sproat) that there ought to be a complete reshaping of our social security system. Those who think that we need a complete overhaul should remember that this is precisely what the Government have done in respect of contributory benefits. The introduction in 1978 of the new pension scheme will, I believe, be a historic reform which will go down as one of this Government's greatest achievements. It was a major reform. [Interruption.] Hon. Members know that very well; they were involved in the legislation. It was a major reform, and it was undertaken after a great deal of study in which both sides of the House were involved.
As regards supplementary benefits, I acknowledge what was said in Professor Donnison's report, the first report after the 10 years of life of the Supplementary 322 Benefits Commission. The administration of the system has become too complicated. It has been increasingly responsive to human need and, as it has done so, it has become more complicated. Very well. We must look at it carefully, and to this end a major study of supplementary benefit is being undertaken.
Child benefits, despite what the right hon. Gentleman says, are on course for full implementation by 1979.
§ Mr. Ennals
No, I shall not give way. I have a great deal to deal with arising out of what the right hon. Gentleman said. The components of our social security system have been or are being reviewed.
At this point, I must deal with some of the criticisms made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South. His speech in the House tonight was a disgrace. Over the past few months he has conducted his campaign, starting with wild allegations that at least 20 per cent. of claims for social security benefits were fraudulent and that 50 per cent.—I ask the House to note the figure—of people claiming unemployment benefit were not unemployed at all.
§ Mr. Ennals
I shall give way in a moment. The hon. Gentleman has never substantiated those outrageous allegations, which constitute a slur on hundreds of thousands of honest people who are unemployed through no fault of their own. I challenge the hon. Gentleman now to admit that his blanket allegations are nothing more than fiction or fodder for the headlines which he likes to achieve.
My Department is always ready to look at specific allegations of fraud or abuse. In July the hon. Gentleman said that he was receiving 1,000 letters a week. So far, he has sent us 632. Less than one-third of these contained allegations specific enough to warrant investigation. We are now down to 200. How many of the allegations turn out to be justified and how many of them are simply gossip or tittle-tattle over the bar or across the garden wall remains to be seen.
That is the result of the hon. Member's massive publicity campaign, amounting to an open invitation to people who thought 323 they knew a scrounger to let him know. That is the answer to his notorious allegation about colour television sets.
The hon. Member has repeated his by now notorious allegation about "a colour television set on supplementary benefit". Let me explain to him the nature of the exceptional needs payments under the Supplementary Benefit Scheme. They are limited and specific to meet urgent needs for such articles as bedding, clothing and furniture. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take those things away from needy people, he should say so. If those matters amount to a largish sum, there will be checks to ensure that these sums are spent for the purposes for which they were meant. There is no question of colour television sets. If the hon. Gentleman can prove a case where that has happened—because we have not yet found one—I should be grateful if he would now speak up.
§ Mr. Ennals
No, I cannot give way.
I must deal, although not in depth, with the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provision) Bill. There have been a number of criticisms of that measure by the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle), my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller), and the hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen). I shall not deal with the issue in detail because it will be debated next week when the Bill is dealt with on Second Reading. It is a Bill that seeks to save expenditure of roughly £85 million. In part it deals with the payment of unemployment benefit to claimants who already have substantial occupational pensions. It also deals with the earnings rule and with other matters. I shall not deal with those points now because, as I have said, the Bill will be discussed on Thursday of next week.
I return to the question of fraud. Having touched on some of the allegations made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, I wish to make it clear that the Government are totally opposed to any form of abuse or fraud. We are determined to stamp it out, and we have taken steps to do so. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security set up a systematic review earlier this year and announced short-term measures 324 to improve visiting arrangements and identity checks. Since 1970 we have doubled the number of prosecutions for fraud and have increased the number of special investigators. Furthermore, we have taken many measures which, for obvious reasons, we do not make public. Our ability to catch crooks who exploit the system has greatly improved.
Opposition criticism would carry more conviction if they had done something practical about the problem when they had responsibility—or if they could avoid demanding at one moment an increase in civil servants to vet benefit claims and, five minutes later, a reduction in the number of civil servants.
One of the unfortunate consequences of the almost hysterical outbursts from the Press, in view of the campaign waged by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South, is that many honest and genuine claimants are deterred from drawing benefits because they fear that they will be branded as scroungers.
§ Mr. Ennals
It is wrong that it should be supposed or suggested that those in need of assistance, because of unemployment, sickness, age or whatever it may be, are scroungers off the Welfare State. I have respect for the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, and there is a measure of agreement between us, but I wish that from the Opposition Front Bench the right hon. Gentleman would dissociate himself from some of the Conservative Back Benchers. I wish that he had shown the courage displayed by the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in exposing the squalor of that kind of campaign. The right hon. Member for Sidcup saidOur purpose in winning elections must be at the same time to unite the nation. This cannot be done on the basis of waging a campaign against scroungers.I hope that many Opposition spokesmen will learn lessons from the wisdom of that courageous statement. In a masterpiece of understatement, the right hon. Gentleman called this process "unworthy". I go further. I say that it is vicious, unprincipled and squalid—and it is time that the present Leader of the Opposition had the guts to call a halt.
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr.Harper.]
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.