HC Deb 04 November 1977 vol 938 cc165-270

11.15 a.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I am grateful for the opportunity to tell those hon. Members who have managed to come along on a Friday something about what we have done in education, what we are doing and what we intend to do. I think that that would probably be the most helpful way in which to approach this debate.

Let me say, first, that finance has become a little easier than it was. Since one cannot wholly divorce concern about standards from the resources available to education, this is of great importance.

On 26th October my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced certain additions to the education budget. Apart from the contributions to the arts and science budgets, to which I shall return. I am glad to tell the House that a sum of just over £6 million will be made available through the rate support grant to local authorities for two purposes. The first will be to enable them to employ about 1,000 more teachers in areas of deprivation. The second will be to afford them the opportunity of increasing the number of discretionary awards to students who are not eligible for mandatory awards. It is perhaps worth saying that these sums will be additional to whatever sums ap- pear in the rate support giant settlement, which, therefore, will be larger than it otherwise would have been.

The education service, like other local authority services, has been subject to considerable restraints over the last two years, I do not believe that the education service has received disproportionately harsh treatment, but there is certainly evidence that the desire of most authorities to give priority to maintaining pupil-teacher ratios has resulted in fewer resources, for example, than we should wish being devoted to non-teaching costs.

In addition, the staffing strains that schools undergo when the number of pupils begin to fall, first in the primary and then in the secondary sector, will need to be met if standards are not to fall. It is an illusion to suppose that there can be an exact correlation between the size of school population and the needs for staff. Also, at a time of falling school rolls in the primary sector but still rising school rolls at the upper end of the secondary sector there is particularly an acute need for in-service training for teachers, some of whom have to be eligible to deal with different children from those they have experience of teaching. I cannot anticipate what final decisions the Government will reach when the rate support grant settlement for next year is made later this month, but I recognise the difficulties that the education service is facing and I hope that the Government will be able to take due account of these problems in their proposals for the settlement.

The details of the education components of the construction package, which was also announced in my right hon. Friend's statement, will be made known shortly. At this stage all I would say is that I intend that there should be a second special reorganisation beginning in 1978–79 so that the Government's aim of pressing ahead with comprehensive reorganisation may make further progress.

I should like to say something about the progress that has been made on comprehensive reorganisation. At present nearly 80 per cent of pupils are now receiving non-selective education in over 3,000 comprehensive schools. Thirty-two local education authorities have completed reorganisation and eight local education authorities are fully reorganised except for the voluntary schools, which will be comprehensive by 1980. A further 13 local education authorities expect to be completely reorganised by the end of the decade and seven more shortly thereafter.

Progress here is dependent to some extent on building work. That is why the new education programme within the construction programme will be useful. It will help authorities that are anxious to complete reorganisation. It will also, I hope, help other authorities, which are claiming that lack of building resources makes progress to reorganisation more difficult, to adopt a more constructive approach.

This leads me to the action that we have taken following the passing of the 1976 Education Act last November. I have written to 36 authorities requiring the submission of proposals under section 2 to give effect to the comprehensive principle. Only one of these authorities was completely unreorganised; in the other 35 authorities some progress had been made, and I therefore required proposals to bring about further progress.

I have received proposals from 27 authorities, and have agreed that another six should be given more time to submit theirs. Three proposals are wholly satisfactory, and I have directed the authorities concerned to proceed to publish notices under Section 13 of the 1944 Act. I am either considering, or am in consultation with, the other authorities and, where appropriate, the governors of voluntary schools.

The proposals made by 10 authorities are, for various reasons, unsatisfactory, and I have required them, under Section 2(4) of the 1976 Act, to submit further proposals in substitution of the original proposals. In some cases I have considered the proposals to be generally satisfactory in terms of the scheme of reorganisation proposed but unsatisfactory so far as the date of implementation is concerned. In others I have decided that the proposal has educational disadvantages, or makes inefficient use of resources.

I have recently heard the charge that I have turned into a bully. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John Stevas) is apparently concerned about possible damage to my image of sweet reasonableness. I am grateful to him for his solicitude, but let me make it clear that I have every intention of using the powers conferred on me by Parliament where I regard the proposals submitted to me to be unsatisfactory and to require further proposals to be made.

I have a duty under the 1944 Act to promote the education of the people and to secure the effective execution by local authorities of the national policy for providing a varied and comprehensive educational service in every area. Successive Secretaries of State of both parties have considered proposals for secondary reorganisation in educational terms and have rightly felt that they should point out to authorities, where necessary the educational advantages of a particular set of proposals and, on occasions, to use the powers of section 13 to reject proposals which they considered to be educationally unsound.

I have no wish to impose any particular solution on authorities. I have looked, and shall continue to look, at each set of proposals on its merits. I accept the need for full and wide consultation, but I shall not agree to this being unduly protracted to achieve delay. I shall look closely at the building and resource implications of each proposal and continue to act within the law to achieve as quickly as possible the implementation of the comprehensive principle set out in Section 1 of the 1976 Act.

I must ask the Conservative Party whether it is sensible or straightforward to counsel delaying tactics, using every weapon in the book. It might be politically clever to do so, but it is educationally irresponsible.—as if the Conservatives knew that they were about to win an election. They are not about to do so, and the damage that these tactics create for education is something that must be taken seriously by the House of Commons.

Half-baked schemes for combining selection with comprehensive education is something of a contradiction in terms. The hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) wants selection back at the age of 11. The hon. Member for Chelmsford appears to want it back at 11, 12, 13 or 14, which is, I suppose, upping the stakes. Our object is to improve the standards of all schools and to offer more information and more involvement to all parents. This is a matter about which the Liberal Party has made representations to us and expressed its concern for parents to be involved.

First, we believe that certain basic information about schools should he readily accessible to parents at appropriate stages in their children's school careers. Most authorities are already good about this, but to help to achieve reasonably consistent minimum standards I shall, before the end of the month, be issuing a circular that will provide authorities with a check list of the kinds of information that should normally be available in written form.

The list covers a wide variety of topics, from simple things such as the school telephone number to more complex information about the school, such as the arrangements for meeting teachers and the subject options available at different stages, and to things that are the responsibility of the local education authority, such as the opportunities available in further and higher education and the local arrangements for free school meals and maintenance allowances. The list does not attempt to be comprehensive—nearly everyone whom I consulted suggested additions rather than deletions—but I hope that the authorities and schools will find it a helpful guide to reviewing their present practice, and that parents will find it a useful indication of what they can reasonably expect.

Secondly, we want to improve the system of school government and, in particular, to increase the involvement of parents and teachers, and to make the schools more open to the community. Fortunately, we have recently received the report of Mr. Tom Taylor's committee on the management and government of schools. Some of its recommendations are controversial, but on others there is, I hope, sufficient basis of agreement to allow us to act without delay. In particular, we believe that each school should have its own governing body, and that representatives of parents, teachers and the community at large should have a statutory right to membership of that governing body. This will in no way diminish the professional responsibility of the teacher or the statutory rights of the local education authority, but it will create the kind of forum for discussion, explana- tion and influence that will help to open up the relationship between the schools and the community.

Another question of concern to parents is the amount of say that they ought to have in which schools their children are to attend. It has become steadily clearer in recent years that the law on school admissions is confusing and contradictory and that the extent to which parents can express their preferences varies widely from one part of the country to another. We recognise that for the great majority of children their nearest school is the school which they will naturally attend and which their parents will want them to attend.

The extent to which parental preferences can be met is bound to be limited when a school is over-subscribed, and it is clearly contrary to the interests of the children in a school to put undue pressure on it. We believe that parents should be given a proper opportunity to express a preference for a school and to have that preference taken fully into account, along with all the other relevant factors such as the need for local authorities, as school rolls fall, to be able to deploy their resources effectively, to run an efficient education service, and, in the case of secondary schools, to operate a satisfactory comprehensive system.

In proposing that this general framework should apply equally across the country, we are proposing what many local authorities have already been able to offer parents. The ILEA is a notable example of good practice in this field. The legislation will also require authorities to set out their admission procedures clearly and provide for a coherent system of appeals by parents, first to the local authority, and then to Ministers.

These legislative proposals on policy for school admissions are currently the subject of consultations with the teachers, local authority associations and others, and I shall take full account of what they have to say. If there is time in this Session, there will be a Bill containing these proposals, but that is a matter that rests in the hands of the House. It will extend mandatory awards to certain courses partly provided in Community countries, and simplify arrangements for the provision of school uniforms, as well as provision relating to the commissioning of educational research. It will also give statutory backing to the industrial scholarship scheme. and there might be room for one or two other improvements as well.

I turn to the question of the steps taken by the Government to improve standards in all schools. I refer, first, to the review of the curricula arrangements which, incidentally, is the first time that such a review has been undertaken by any Government since the passage of the 1944 Act. The Green Paper, Education in Schools, says that the time has come to try to establish generally accepted principles of the secondary curriculum for all pupils ", and we are clear that all partners in the education service must be involved in working out these principles.

The first step is a review of curricular arrangements in each local authority area. Consultations on the form of a circular that will ask each local education authority to report on various aspects of its curricular arrangements are now almost complete. I hope that the circular will be issued by the end of November, and local education authorities will be asked to respond by 30th June 1978. In the light of those responses there will be further consultation on any guidance that might be issued thereafter.

That is one response to the concern about the performance of schools, but it is not the only one. I notice that the Conservative Party has said that it will make a full study of educational standards. The Government have gone beyond making studies and are taking direct action on a scale never dreamt of by the previous Conservative Government.

Secondly, there is the assessment of Performance Unit in the Department of Education and Science which, following the White Paper of August 1974, was established in the autumn of 1975. As a result of the setting up of the Assessment of Performance Unit the Government will monitor standards in the school system as a whole. It will start, we expect, in 1978 for mathematics., 1979 for languages and in 1980 for science.

I want to make clear to the House that this is a monitoring of standards in the school system as a whole, based on samples of children. The assessment of individual children is in our view best carried out by teachers, who are aware of factors affecting performance and can immediately take any action that may be necessary. Such assessment forms a continuous part of a teacher's relationship with pupils.

APU monitoring will provide a basis for comparison of standards over time. No such comparable evidence currently exists. However, I repeat that there is no evidence to show that standards have fallen. In our view the single most effective way of improving the quality of education is to improve the standards, support, training and career development of teachers. It is remarkable how little we have heard about this from the Conservative Party during the past two years. Since the Houghton Report was published in 1974 there has been far greater stability in school staffing.

The greater continuity of curriculum and educational approach has brought great benefit. Wastage has fallen dramatically, from 10½per cent. in 1974–75 to 61 per cent. in 1976–77. This fall in wastage, brought about partly by the employment situation but mostly by the fact that post-Houghton salaries are so much more attractive, is particularly welcome in areas such as Greater London which in the past have suffered greatly from lack of staffing stability. The provisional indications are that Greater London's wastage rate, which was as high as 14 per cent. in 1973–74, has fallen to only I per cent. above the national average. This is already being reflected in reading and literacy standards in London schools.

We have made our first priority the maintenance of school staffing standards, although not all local authorities have agreed with us. Between January 1976 and January 1977 the average class size in primary schools fell from 2778 to 2774 and in secondary schools from 2275 to 2274. I am not saying that this is a great decline, but these are the lowest figures of class size that this country has ever seen.

The proportion of children in classes over 30 fell from 45 per cent, to 42 per cent. in primary schools and from 15½ to 14 per cent. in secondary schools. It is, of course, a matter for head teachers to deploy teachers in ways which in their judgment will best suit their pupils' interests. But the addition I have already been able to announce of 1,000 extra teachers in disadvantaged areas will help this pupil-teacher ratio to fall still further, despite the difficulties education has encountered.

Fourthly, in regard to action to improve standards, we are directly allowing expenditure for better induction of young teachers. At the regional conferences there was much criticism of the way in which so often young probationary teachers are thrown in zit the deep end, sometimes dealing with the most difficult classes of all. We believe that more supervision and more help for these young teachers is very necessary so we. have allowed in public expenditure provisions for the first time—I would point out to the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) that this is the first time that any Government has done this—for direct help in induction training, additional supervision and lower work-loads for young teachers, and more help in dealing with the training they need in that practical first year.

Fifthly, we have made additional provision for in-service training in the rate support grant settlement for last year, which will be continued this year. I have been discussing with the local authority associations the best way of keeping up momentum. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that there has been a considerable recovery in the figures, and we are now very close to the targets that were established. This is very different from what the situation was a few months ago

Lastly—and this is also the first time that any such measure has been taken—we have launched a £3½million programme, financed largely through the Training Services Agency, to support the training and retraining in the current academic year of additional teachers in shortage subjects : mathematics, the physical sciences, craft, design and technology. Nearly 700 awards have been made under the TSA-financed scheme and in addition 200 teachers are attending retraining courses in the shortage subjects with the support of grants from local authorities. This means almost 1,000 teachers on the retraining courses, and there are still applications coming in.

In spite of what the Conservative Party says about its desire to improve standards, and although these shortages had persisted for many years, no steps were taken to retrain teachers in these specialist fields when the Conservative Party was in office.

All these measures in different ways affect teacher unemployment: the additional 1,000 teachers for disadvantaged areas, the provision of in-service training for teachers, and the lesser work load for probationary teachers. I should also mention new provisions for early retirement of teachers over 50 where it is in the interests of the education service or where for reasons of stress the teachers do not want to continue. All these will affect teacher unemployment. I want to say to my hon. Friends and to the Liberal Party—both of whom have made repeated representations upon this—that we are very much aware of our responsibility in relation to teacher unemployment. More measures are under discussion and consideration.

The last point that I wish to make about standards is that we are getting additional stimulus from the Department of Industry, particularly from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Industry in regard to consultations between schools, careers teachers and employers about creating more links between school and industry.

I wish to say one word about the statistics that are so frequently thrown around about educational standards. I will give the House just three statistics. In 1975–76, the last year for which we have statistics, the proportion of pupils leaving school with two or more A levels, as a proportion of the relevant age group, was 12.5 per cent. of the whole school population. That is the highest figure ever reached in this country. The number of youngsters leaving school with no qualifications in that year was 17 per cent. compared with 44 per cent, five years earlier. I mention this because both at the upper academic end of the scale and at the end where young people are struggling for qualifications the figures do not bear out the charges repeatedly made in this House that educational standards have declined.

The House will know that at present there is a certain amount of discussion in regard to examinations at 16-plus and also with regard to the Certificate of Extended Education. As the House knows, we have set up a group to study the proposals for the 16-plus examinations. The group is working rapidly, so the timetable of the original 16-plus proposals will not be affected. The group is to consider the administrative and financial issues and also to question the feasibility of linking the 16-plus examination and in particular the CSE, and GCE boards. I have also decided to appoint a small group to work quickly in regard to the Certificate of Extended Education. The group will have an independent chairman and, in addition to representatives of my Department, will include members with appropriate educational experience, serving in an individual capacity in schools and further education, as well as others drawn from local authority, trade union and employer interests. Their names will be announced to the House shortly, and meanwhile I am approving the extension of the experimental CEE schemes for 1978 and 1979.

I want now to say a few words on a subject that has also been of great interest to the House, namely, the question of provision for the under-fives. I will first tell the House a fact of which many hon. Members seem to be unaware. Between January 1976 and January 1977 we had, I think I am right in saying, the largest increase—or one of the largest increases—in the number of young people in nursery schools and classes that we have ever had. The increase was 31,000 additional pupils—an increase of 15 per cent.

I mention that because a great deal has appeared in the Press which I regret to say has not been absolutely accurate. For example, in a recent study by the National Union of Teachers called "The Needs of the Under-Fives" the NUT quoted the proportion of four-year olds in nursery classes and nursery schools and primary schools as 35 per cent. and the proportion of three-year olds as 5 per cent. Those figures were very widely quoted in the Press.

I am not proud of the true figures, but they are substantially better—they are 56 per cent. of four-year olds and 13½ per cent. of three-year olds. I think that the House should have the most up-to-date figures so that we know what we are discussing.

I am concerned and want to make clear my concern that there has been a decline in the number of rising-fives entering infant schools. This is a matter that I have recently discussed with the local authorities and intend to pursue with them. I hope that the House has the position clearly—there has been a substantial increase in nursery classes and nursery schools which most people regard as the most desirable provision for under-fives, but that has been offset by the number of rising-fives entering infant schools. We are now working very closely with the Department of Health and Social Security and will shortly be issuing a new circular together with that Department with regard to provision for the under-fives.

At this stage I also want to tell the House that, in addition to the present nursery school programme, for which we have bids totalling about £4 million for a programme amounting to £376 million, we hope to make further provision under the urban programme, details of which will be announced shortly, with special bias towards the inner cities.

Free school meals is a matter that hon. Members have often raised with me. I want again simply to mention the facts and figures. Under the re-rating of provision for free school meals in August and November, about 500,000 additional children are entitled to get free school meals. In consequence of this, parents with a gross wage of £70 a week and with two children will he entitled to free school meals which will now embrace about one child in four in the population. We are taking urgent steps further to publicise the new scales as a result of the November uprating, including arranging for posters to be displayed in post offices, libraries, citizens advice bureaux, and so on. Leaflets are being produced by the Department and we are proposing to local authorities that they send out leaflets to parents.

We are also undertaking interviews with television and BBC stations. We are issuing versions of the leaflets in minority languages—I have to say quickly as well as in English and Welsh—namely, in Urdu, Gujerati, Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali, Turkish, Greek and Chinese, so all parents will be reached.

Provisional figures show that there has been a decline in the overall take-up of school meals of about 15 per cent. There has already been an increase in applications for free school meals of about 13 per cent. This is before the next major round of publicity.

I want to end my speech by making a few remarks about higher education and about further education, now that I have dealt in some detail with the schools. I apologise for keeping the House, but there are many things happening at present.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South).

It is all well worth while.

Mrs. Williams

I thank my hon. Friend and will thus be tempted to make this one further remark. My hon. Friends will know that we have recently issued a consultation document to the ethnic monorities in the country seeking their support for the monitoring of figures so that we can take positive action to increase the number of teachers from the ethnic minorities and also discover the reasons why amongst some of the ethnic minorities there is disproportionate number in schools for the educationally subnormal.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry

In South London in particular.

Mrs. Williams

In many areas. We need to get the facts. I can do so only with the support of the ethnic minorities themselves. I am pleased to say that all the indications are that such support will be forthcoming.

I turn now to the subject of higher education. Let me say, first, that the latest indications on the use of surplus education college premises for other educational uses are very encouraging. So far a firm educational use has been found for 13 colleges or annexes and the matter is under active consideration in a number of other cases. A majority of the colleges which were scheduled for closure in 1978 and 1979 will have other educational use, ranging from comprehensive schools to further education available to them.

In addition, the House may want to know that we have made changes in our arrangements for voluntary colleges enabling them to be purchased by local authorities for other educational purposes with the purchase price reduced by the amount of outstanding capital grant owed to the college, with subsequent repayments waived by the authority so long as such educational use remains.This has dealt with the problem that voluntary colleges have had to find a sum of money for repayment on an outstanding date. The most recent case only yesterday is that the voluntary college at Culham will be used for the staff of the JET project as the first European school.

In higher education the reductions in colleges of education places, which amounted to about one half of the 85,000 young people in teacher training in 1975, have already been made good by the rest of higher education, the university and the public centre. Over and above that compensation there will now be a 9 per cent. increase in the number of places planned. That means quite straightforwardly that in the public sector higher education colleges there will be an increase of nearly 40 per cent. in the number of places over the next five years, and in the universities the figures are being increased from 270,000 at present to between 300,000 and 310,000 an increase of 12 per cent. So I can say to the House quite clearly that there will be an extension of higher education opportunities and not a contraction, in spite of the reduction of college education places.

There are already indications that the takeup of classes in colleges of further and higher education is such as to indicate that students who would earlier have gone to colleges of further education are rapidly adapting to a whole range of diversified courses in higher education. As the Prime Minister said to the Careers Convention last week, we need to keep available places so as to provide careers opportunities for girls.

I want now to say a few words about adult education which is rapidly becoming no longer an area of traditional education but one which affords great opportunities and scope for development. However, it is an area in which I freely tell the House that education cuts have been particularly damaging over the past few years.

I am pleased to say that we have just established and had the first meeting of the new Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education. I have already made a reference to the Council for advice on provision in regard to adult literacy. As the House is interested, I want to tell hon. Members about the provision that has been made. Although the pump-priming activities will now be passed over to the local authority sector, I am confident, a.; is the Adult Literacy Resource Agency, that local authorities will follow up the provision for adult literacy. We have agreed that there must be a continued central focus for adult literacy, and for this in principle I am prepared to grant aid. I am presently consulting on the details of this proposal and on the difficult questions which have still to be resolved of continuing support for voluntary literacy organisation, but I will make an announcement as soon as these consultations are completed.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

To all those who have been interested in the adult literacy project my right hon. Friend's announcement will come as a great relief. Is she aware that the many people involved in the voluntary bodies which must raise money for the future are in urgent immediate need of an announcement about arrangements for the future? Will she give an assurance that she will be able to make that announcement in weeks rather than months?

Mrs. Williams

Yes, Sir. I am glad to give that assurance. My hon. Friend who knows a great deal about education, will know of the problems and will be aware that we must await completion of the rate support grant settlement negotiations before we know what proportion will be available through those provisions for adult literacy and what provision suitably falls to central Government. We hope to make an announcement soon.

In the arts, we have now found it possible to provide an additional £1 million for the national heritage. There are expected to be a peculiarly large number of very special objects and country house contents and so on coming available. Therefore, we have decided to make some additional provision for the national heritage fund. In addition, we are discussing the provision of more objects to regional museums and galleries. In particular, we are entering into an insurance arrangement under which objects in the central galleries in London and elsewhere will be able to be circulated much more widely to the regions.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

It is rather difficult for hon. Members to discuss some of the arts, because the Minister responsible is in another place. Will my right hon. Friend find some way in which we can bring the closing of the London Opera Centre, which has done a sterling job with young singers, before the House?

Mrs. Williams

I shall be pleased to look into that. I hope that my hon. Friend will write to me and set out the problems as he sees them.

The cut made in the science budget in the 1975 White Paper has been restored. That amounts to £2 million. An additional £2 million is being provided for the science budget over and above the restoration of the cut. That means that science will be able to press ahead vigorously with the new forms of postgraduate training related to industrial needs and a whole range of crucial scientific work in such areas as marine technology, wave and tidal power, polymer research and many others where research councils are working on the very frontiers of what we need to know as a society.

I am sorry that my report has been lengthy. I hope that at least it shows that in education the Government are doing a great range of things that we believe will achieve much better education standards for all our children, in whatever schools they may be.

11.52 a.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I congratulate the Secretary of State on her agile performance, which was quite effective in putting up a smoke screen to hide both the gaps in the parliamentary programme which are yawning before us in regard to education and the gaps in important areas of policy where no decisions have been taken by the Government.

I also congratulate the right hon. Lady on the speed with which she read out her brief, including some parts which would perhaps have been better omitted, including that reference to a Mr. Huckfield, who is presumably not a Member of the House. At least she did far better than her colleague who read out his brief upstairs in a Committee, including the sentence "Perhaps it is better not to deploy this point in Committee ". One should be selective in the use one makes of the material one is given.

I am glad to say, however, that there are certain parts of the brief with which we can agree. I welcome the help that is to be given to the deprived areas in education. Unlike the Government, we do not believe in equality as such. We believe in equality of opportunity. If we believe in that, it is essential that we do all we can to help those who, because of social circumstances outside their control, are not able to start off at the same level as others who have been more fortunate.

Here I am particularly concerned with immigrant and ethnic minorities, to whom the Secretary of State referred. But I would utter a word of caution about the collection of statistics. I hope that the right hon. Lady will counsel people to go very carefully in this area, because it is an explosive one, and great resentment could be caused if people felt that prying questions were being asked and they were being treated as second-class citizens. It is an extremely difficult area. I hope that the right hon. Lady will make sure that those in her Department and the local education authorities who are concerned with this aspect of policy will retain a balance between the need for information and the need to preserve citizens' self-respect.

Of course, we welcome the fact that teachers have a financially better deal, or had a better deal, owing to the implementation of the Houghton Report, which we supported at the time. But the Secretary of State cannot be allowed to take credit for the decline in teacher turnover, since the principal reason is the increase in teacher unemployment and the drying-up of jobs. One might say that it is a beneficial side-effect that we no longer have a teacher turnover problem, but it is much more important to get rid of the unemployment problem among teachers than to take credit for those things that result from other people's misfortune.

The right hon. Lady mentioned the rate support grant. I hope that in the new rate support grant she will seek to end the discrimination against the counties, because one of the reasons why certain counties have had to cut back on their education programmes is that they have been discriminated against compared with urban areas. My own county of Essex has found itself in that position. The same applies in Oxford and other counties, and it is very important that this injustice be remedied.

The Secretary of State also mentioned higher education. May I bring to her attention the real grievances of university teachers, who have had a bad deal and are extremely resentful about it? I hope that within the parameters of their own pay policy the Government will see what they can do to alleviate the sense of grievance, because it is very important that we have a contented university staff if we are to have flourishing universities.

I welcome what the right hon. Lady said about the arts. As her hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) said, because the Minister responsible is in another place we do not have as much discussion of the arts as we should like. I hope that I am not being unfair to the noble Lord when I say that we do not hear much from him even in the other place. There seems to be an extraordinary silence from the Government on this vital subject.

What has happened to the Public Lending Right Bill that we were so firmly promised by the Minister responsible for the arts? It is not a question of increased Government expenditure, because that has already been taken into account in the Government's budget. Because the Government failed to give the Bill their vigorous backing when it was here before, it has disappeared. Are we to take it that the Government have now abandoned their proposals for a Public Lending Right Bill? We have not abandoned ours. We are determined that justice shall be done for authors as soon as we have the opportunity.

I should like to bring to the right hon. Lady's attention the difficulties of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, a very important company that has never had a penny of subsidy from public funds. The fact that culture is popular does not make it any the less culture. The company is in grave difficulties. I hope that help will be given after consultation between it and the Minister to see how its difficulties can be solved. The company spends three-quarters of its time on tour. We are always quite rightly urging other companies to tour, to take their productions to the regions and provinces. The D'Oyly Carte has been doing that for years, and it deserves sympathetic consideration by the Government in its difficulties.

I said that the Secretary of State's speech was a smoke screen because the Gracious Speech is a non-event regarding education. After all the razzmatazz of the greate debate—we are delighted to be honoured today with the presence of the Prime Minister—after all the professions that education was vital to the future of the country, the declarations of concern about standards, about consultations and the crocodile tears that we have had about the neglect of the rights of parents, it is extraordinary that there is not a word about education in the entire Gracious Speech.

What on earth has happened to the Government's sense of priorities? There is no reference to any action to be taken after the great educational inquest that the Prime Minister initiated. That is extraordinary. If I had not been a Member of the House for 13 years and so exhausted my capacity for surprise, I should be amazed by this omission.

Mr. Christopher Price

Thirteen wasted years.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Thirteen glorious years.

It is odder still that the Education Bill, the contents of which were so sedulously leaked to the Press and which the Secretary of State has outlined today, is not before the House. It has vanished without trace. What has happened to it?

We have seen these leaks inThe Sunday Times, The Times, The Guardian and The Times Educational Supplement.They all seemed to come from some common source. At the time that they appeared, they seemed to be agreed on two matters: first, that there was to be an Education Bill to implement the principle recommendations of the Taylor Report on Governing Bodies of Schools and, secondly, that the 1944 Act was to be amended to clarify and extend the rights of parents over the choice of school. As we know from Section 76 of the present Act, the present position is rather unsatisfactory. The general principle, that children are to be educatad in accordance with the wishes of their parents, is not made effective in practice. The proposals said to be contained in the Bill sound admirable and were entirely in accordance with Opposition policy. We were ready to welcome it. But the great day dawns and there is no Bill. We are entitled to ask: what has become of it? Where it it? It is a great educational mystery. It is like the Sherlock Holmes story of the dog that did not bark. The Bill has not appeared.

The answer to this mystery is indicated inThe Times Educational Supplementtoday. It had been preceded by rumours, but this is the most authoritative report that we have so far seen. There is an article headed "Choice row splits Labour ". We are delighted to read in this article something of what is happening within the fastness of Elizabeth House, over which the Secretary of State presides. First, it states: The department's new legal adviser, Mr. P. Harvey, who came from the Home Office, is believed to be taking to heart the lessons, of the Tameside case in which the House of Lords overruled the Education Secretary's judgment. We are delighted if that is so. We would expect that, when a decision has been taken by the highest court in the land, some notice would be taken by those who are subject to the law. I hope that the Secretary of State has taken note of that as well.

The article states: Mrs. Shirley William's proposals to strengthen the law to give parents clear choice in the schools to which their children go has started a bitter controversy in the Labour Party…. They are particularly concerned "— those who are opposed to this change— that Mrs. William's proposal to write parental choice into law in this way would mean that most local authorities…would have to revise admissions which are working well at present. The article reveals that the dispute is between the Secretary of State and another Secretary of State who is perhaps more energetic than the present one. We see—we shall be interested to hear the right hon. Lady's comments upon this matter—what I may call a picture probe in the The Times Educational Supplement.On one side we see a picture of the Secretary of State—it does not do her justice, but it is not bad—underneath which there appears "Shirley Williams :'I will…'". On the other side there is another picture, rather more unflattering, underneath which there appears "Caroline Benn: You won't…'".

Who is the Secretary of State? Is it the right hon. Lady who proposed the Bill or is it the lady who has apparently killed it off? It is bad enough for the Prime Minister to have Macbeth in the Cabinet; we do not want Lady Macbeth around as well.

The Prime Minister (Mr. James Callaghan)

May I seeThe Times Educational Supplement?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am glad to add to the Prime Minister's education by passing him a copy.

The Prime Minister

I thank the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I should have thought that the Prime Minister, with his great interest in education. would already have readThe Times Educational Supplement.

The Prime Minister

With respect, I read only about facts, not works of fiction.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I do not think that it is fair for the Prime Minister to refer to those distinguished and substantial ladies as works of fiction.

I fear that a pattern is emerging in the Secretary of State's career. For all her reasonableness, candour and charm—which we acknowledge—when it comes to the crunch decisions the right hon. Lady is a weak, not a strong Minister, and she is unable or unwilling to take the decisive action needed in education. Indeed, she expresses herself strongly in favour of certain actions, but, when the obstacles appear, she does not drive her policies to their conclusions. We have seen this happen over the reform of the Schools Council. Nothing has happened there. The right hon. Lady was against the ill-thought-out proposals for common examination at 16-plus and then she appeared to come back in favour of it. Again, on a television programme on which we both appeared, the right hon. Lady recognised the failures of the comprehensive schools to help their brighter pupils, but she back-tracked from that when there was opposition to what she said. The proposal that she made to allow comprehensive schools to specialise was very sensible, but, as soon as that was attacked, the right hon. Lady resiled from her former position.

We have heard much the same today about parental rights of choice and influence. The right hon. Lady talked about a statutory right. It is no use talking about a statutory right unless it is written into a statute. The fact is that there would have been plenty of room for such a Bill in this Parliament and, given the Prime Minister's intense interest in education—that surely must carry some weight in the Cabinet—the right hon. Lady had all the cards in her favour ; yet no Bill has been forthcoming. The Secretary of State's heart may be in the right place, but we would like to know whether her will, strength and the rest of her are in the right place as well. If she is paralysed in action, all the expressions of good will and sweet reasonableness will be of no help to the children in our schools. Regrettably, the only sign of any decisiveness is on the old worn out battlefield of comprehensive against :.elective schools. It is not without significance that that was the most vigorous part of the Secretary of State's speech.

The right hon. Lady objected to the fact that I referred to her as a bully. But she must face the fact that she and her Department are harrying local authorities and voluntary schools all over the country from Preston to Bexley. The Secretary of State is not putting educational issues first, she is seeking to impose ill-thought out schemes for political, not educational, ends.

I should like to make the Opposition's position quite clear. We have said that local authorities must obey the law. We have not counselled delaying tactics. We have said that local authorities have the right to discuss thoroughly the schemes which they put forward, particularly when they involve voluntary schools governed by trusts. We have said that all interests must be consulted, that local authorities have every right to do this at a reasonable pace and not to be hustled into doing it. I have pointed out to them that if they are bound by the law, so is the Secretary of State, and the provisions of the 1976 Act are governed by the provisions of the 1944 Act and other Education Acts.

That is why we have endeavoured to give a legal service to the local education authorities and voluntary school governors who are involved and have said that we will assist them to the best of our ability. We were able to do that in the Tameside case, and the results fully justified what we did.

There is the same sad story of neglect about the great debate. We welcomed that great debate when it was launched by the Prime Minister. We offered our cooperation. It is true that the Opposition were not, despite the misleading words uttered in the House by the Under-Secretary of State, invited to the conferences, but we sent to our local authorities the invitation which we received for them and they sent representatives.

We were bitterly disappointed with the anti-climax which the Green Paper undoubtedly was. We welcome in that Green Paper the emphasis on the need to raise standards and to ensure a flow of dedicated teachers in the schools. These are points which we have been stressing for years, and it would be strange if we did not welcome them when they were contained in an official document.

But the Green Paper has been judged not by the Opposition alone but by the educational world,is a whole as a pathetically inadequate document. There are no positive proposals to improve the education service. Scant regard is paid to parents. There are few proposals to raise standards, and nothing really to improve the performance of comprehensive schools. It can be said of the Green Paper, as Horace said in another context: Parturient monies, nascetur ridiculus mus". Since the Secretary of State has told us that educational standards have not fallen, there will be no need for me to translate it.

The Prime Minister

I do not know what it means.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

It means that the right hon. Gentleman with the right hon. Lady put in a very great deal of effort and work for remarkably little result. That, I think, is the unfortunate verdict on the Green Paper.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

I take it from the hon. Gentleman's preceding remarks that, in the Opposition's view, standards in our schools are to be judged by the level of Latin achievement by our schoolchildren. Is that correct?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

On the question of standards, both the Government and the Opposition would be well advised to steer away from unprovable assumptions and undemonstrable propositions. The debate about whether standards have fallen in schools can go on for many years, but i t will distract us from the main issue: are the standards in our schools high enough for the kind of modern industrial society we have? That is the question on which we should all concentrate. Our criticism of the Government is that it is precisely that question on which they are not concentrating. They have left undone those things that they ought to have done, and have left them undone particularly in this House. In the great debate on education the House has been allowed to play a remarkably small part.

We still have not had—I am delighted that the Prime Minister is present to hear this—a debate on the Bullock Report on standards, which was published years ago. We have not yet had that opportunity. We have never had a chance to debate the Green Paper—the Prime Minister's monument. We have had no chance to debate the Taylor Report. When shall we have a debate on that?

It is up to the Government to provide time in the House for education debates if they believe in what they say, namely, that education is of such paramount importance. It is only today, thanks to the initiative of the Opposition —[Horn. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] Well, where are any of them or where are any of us? I cannot answer for the empty Benches on the Government side any more than I can answer for the empty Benches behind me, or for the Liberal Party, either, which does not seem to be here. There is only one hon. Member on the Liberal Bench. That is regrettable, but we cannot answer for that, though we have ensured our own presence for the debate, and we have done all that is needful for us.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Does the hon. Gentleman say "We "?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I have lapsed into the Royal plural. As a result of gazing at the right hon. Lady, I fell into that grammatical but not necessarily sociological error.

In fact, the Opposition have set the pace of educational discussion throughout the country, and we have succeeded in changing the whole climate of that discussion. Indeed, without our efforts the Prime Minister would never have been able to make that speech and take the initiative which he took. We have many positive proposals to put forward, and I shall refer to a few of them now.

First, we believe that parents must be given a much greater say in the education of their children. Our Parent's Charter proposes that every parent should have a strengthened legal right of choosing a school for his child. We believe that parent-governors should be elected, and they should be elected by every parent with children in the school. We believe that rigid zoning should be abolished. Moreover, in contradistinction to the Government, we believe that all schools should publish prospectuses giving details of their examination and other results. If the Government are unwilling to legislate on these proposals, the next Conservative Government will certainly be willing to do so.

Second, we believe that national standards in basic literacy and numeracy must be introduced, and those standards must be properly monitored by a strengthened schools inspectorate. That is a policy which has been explicitly rejected by the Secretary of State. The inspectorate is at present seriously undermanned. Why have the Government made no attempt to bring it up to full strength?

In addition, we believe that the restoration of national standards should be accompanied by a continuous assessment of the child's progress throughout his whole school life. That is not, I assure the Secretary of State, selection at any particular age. It is a common sense proposal so that there can be a continuous reassessment of the child's progress. Certainly, I welcome the experiment which the APU is making in the monitoring of standards, and I watch it with some interest, but it does not go nearly far enough. It is tinkering with what is really the central problem of education—that is, how we are to get standards raised.

Third, I wish that the Government would stop running away from the problems posed by the comprehensive schools and start to do something about them. What we need is a pragmatic not an ideological approach to comprehensive schools. The Opposition have put forward a six-point charter for comprehensive schools, and I hope that the Government will adopt it.

First, on the question of size—it is on size that parents feel most strongly—we consider that no more monster schools should be built and, where very large schools exist, authorities should be encouraged to split them down into smaller sizes, not, I hope, on to split sites but reducing them in size and carrying out reorganisations within the whole to ensure that the sense of community in a school is preserved.

Second, we believe that the traditional sixth form has an honoured and guaranteed place within the education system. For heaven's sake, let us not make the same mistake over the sixth form college as was made over comprehensive schools, imposing them everywhere without regard to educational considerations, parental wishes and financial resources. There is a place for both these forms of sixth form organisation. I hope that the Secretary of State will not follow the example of her Minister of State and go overboard for the sixth form college.

Third, teaching methods should be much more closely monitored, and mixed ability teaching should be used only where it produces results as good as those achieved by more traditional methods. I think that it is generally accepted now by educational opinion that with a good teacher and a highly motivated class, mixed ability teaching can work very well, but with a bad teacher—or just an average teacher—and a poorly motivated class, or even an average class, it is a recipe for disaster. The Secretary of State should be looking at the matter and coming up with some proposals in this respect. If there has been a decline in standards, or if standards are not high enough, the blame can be placed much more on mixed ability teaching than on the idea of comprehensive reorganisation as such.

Fourthly, comprehensive schools should be free to specialise. The only way to make the comprehensive system work is to offer parents as much variety of school as possible. That is the only way in which to make parental choice effective. I should like to see specialised schools existing which could become magnets, attracting children from the surrounding areas. The Secretary of State has slammed the door on that possibility. I ask her to think about it again and to examine the proposal free from preconceptions and to examine it on educational grounds.

Fifthly, the teachers in comprehensive schools need special help. It is no good denouncing teachers if they have failed. We shall never win anyone to our side or make them give a better performance by denunciation. Teachers need special help when facing special problems. The problems that teachers are facing in comprehensive schools are very largely problems of discipline, yet there is not a word about discipline in the Green Paper.

Take, for example, a teacher whose school changes from a single-sex grammar school of 500 to part of a mixed comprehensive school of 1,500. The head teacher might find that change traumatic. So will the teachers on the staff, and those teachers need help with practical methods of maintaining order in the classroom. They should be given clear guidelines so that they know by whom and how and on what occasions discipline should be enforced. The Secretary of State should be encouraging the colleges of education to do this both in their initial and in their in-service training.

Finally, with regard to comprehensives, we support the continued system of examinations which are independent. which are marked by independent academic bodies and set by them. We are strongly opposed to the School Council's ill-thought-out proposals for a common examination at 16-plus. It is vital to have an examination system in which the teachers, the parents and the employers have confidence. We must consider those whom I can call the customers of the education service. If we have a system which does not command their confidence, we have failed. If the system is continually changed, we shall destroy confidence in the examination system.

My last word is about a subject which is perhaps more of interest to parents than any other. I am particularly glad that the Prime Minister should be here to consider this part of education, which has been largely overlooked in the debate. I refer to the question of moral and religious education in our schools. I was very glad to hear last week that the Secretary of State—it was either in a speech or in a remark she made—stands, like the Opposition, foursquare behind the provisions of the Education Act 1944 concerning religious education. But to stand behind those provisions is not enough. The Green Paper again ignored this problem. The practical problem about religious education is not assault from without. It is decay from within. This subject is dying in schools, and if we knew the full facts I think we would realise that we are faced here with a real emergency. That is why we are concerned and will concern ourselves over the next nine months, if this Parliament should last so long, with the question of values in schools.

I make it plain that we do not wish this to be any part of party political controversy, but it is right that if there is an area in which the Government do not appear to be taking an active interest, the Opposition should step in and take a lead. The problems in the area of religious education really arc of a fiendish complexity, and they have to be wrestled with at every level. We need the advice and help of those in the schools who are confronting the problems.

We have to ask some basic questions. What is the purpose of religious education today? It cannot be, in a modern secular society, to indoctrinate children in particular religious tenets, but it can and should be the awakening in children of the spiritual side of their lives and character, and giving them the opportunity to make religious choice and commitment. There must be a model on which to do this. It cannot be taught in abstraction. The religious model, which should be the central model for our teaching, should be the Judeo-Christian model, which has been, for reasons of history and culture, the mode by which religious experience has come to the majority of people in this country.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Would the hon. Gentleman not take into account that there are many parents of no religious persuasion who are humanists and atheists and whose point of view deserves to be put equally in the schools?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Gentle. man has anticipated me. Having said what should be central to this teaching, I was about to go on to say that we have to take into account other faiths by which our religious life has been enriched. We have to take into account the agnostic humanist view as well as the Christian humanist view. That is why it is so important to discuss the problem.

What are we to do about school assemblies? In many schools they are not being held and the law is being broken, or else they are being held by teachers who do not know what they are for. Surely this is an area that we should be discussing. What is the purpose of the school assembly today?

Next, what should be the standpoint from which moral education is taught? We cannot have total neutrality in this sphere, but if there is to be a commitment, commitment to what and commitment by whom? This is a question of immense importance that we should discuss. What degree of commitment is required by a teacher of religious education? How are we to ensure a supply of such teachers? What are we doing about in-service training? There is that splendid centre, the Borough Road College, and there is another in Birmingham, but they cannot meet the demand.

These are all areas in which we cannot be dogmatic and should not be political, but where certainly we should be concerned and not indifferent to what is going on. I am delighted to have the support of the Prime Minister. We shall be holding a conference on this subject in February, and I take this opportunity to ask the Secretary of State whether she would be kind enough, if her engagements permit, to honour us with her presence. It is not to be a political conference but an educational conference.

We on the Opposition side feel that we must fill in the gaps which are left in education policy by the Government and we shall do so over the next nine months—subject to the will of Her Majesty and the advice offered by the Prime Minister. We shall promote our ideas and our policies in this Parliament, and when we are given the opportunity by the electorate we shall seek to implement them with vigour and with resolution.

12.19 p.m.

Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

I hope that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will forgive me if I do not follow their comments on the education aspects of the debate. As the House knows, this is a twofold debate, and my interest lies in the other part. I congratulate the hon. Member for Chelmsford on his diction. I hear every word quite clearly, even when he is talking nonsense. I cannot say that for all for all his hon. Friends.

I should like in passing to say a word of thanks to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science. I was able to discuss comprehensive schools just before the recess. I congratulate her on her speech on that occasion concerning Sladebrook Comprehensive School. It was a speech that rang loud and clear throughout the London borough of Brent.

Before I continue with my contribution to the general debate I should like to welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I am pleased to see him in his place in spite of his health problem. I am sure that we shall be a "good neighbour" to him in the months ahead. If I may give my right hon. Friend a little encouragement in his campaign let me tell him that my constituency party hopes in the coming month to deliver 20,000 of his "Good Neighbour" leaflets to householders.

I want to refer particularly to health matters. This is one of the rare occasions when I wish to agree with the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition. In her opening remarks yesterday she said that there was an absence of health matters in the Gracious Speech and that that was no accident. I assure the right hon. Lady that this is the twentieth time that I have made a similar comment about the Queen's Speech, whether of my Party's Governments or not, because for some reason health legislation and health matters take a very low place in the order of legislative priorities.

I am most grateful to the Opposition spokesman on health for being in his place. The programme that Parliament faces in the coming Session and the policies and legislation that the Government are proposing contrast sharply to those the Opposition would have put forward had the electorate decided on a Conservative Government. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) because the programme that would have been contained in the right hon. Lady's Queen's Speech was announced by him last Saturday at a symposium. That was a most important and tremendous contribution to the important debate about National Health Service resources.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

I expected that hon. Gentlemen would wish to refer to the Press reports of my remarks on that occasion. It is a disadvantage that I shall not be able to deal with this point until I wind up today's debate, but I hope that the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) has actually read what I said and not just the Press reports, because there is a considerable distinction between the two.

Mr. Pavitt

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for seeking to put the record right, but I am still inclined to accept the policy as I read it inThe Times. It is not the first time that similar mental processes have been put forward from the Opposition Benches or the BMA. It is said that in a shortage of reesources we must establish a first and second-class service whereby those who can pay do so, so that we can relieve the Treasury of some of the burden of finding the money.

The hon. Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan), who is also an Opposition spokesman, on health matters, had an article in thePharmaceutical Journalonly a fortnight ago when a similar proposition was kited. I accept that this proposal may not yet be full party policy, but these kites have been flown for the past 18 months. The thesis is that one should be able to find additional resources by imposing charges for services rendered. In other words it is a resistance to the basic concept of the NHS, that a time of illness or disability the service should be free, but that at a time of working and health one pays the whole year round.

At the moment the normal taxpayer pays nearly £200 a year towards health services. The normal taxpayer pays 20p for prescriptions whether he gets a bottle of medicine or not. It goes throughout the philosophy that at a time of illness, when one is hospitalised and when one has problems, such as cancer, rheumatism, or whatever, one should not have the additional burden of worrying about whether one's family will be ok.

I am pleased that the report inThe Timesdid not refer to the other point made by some doctors' associations, for that would be the end. That is the making of a charge every time one visits one's GP. I am grateful that at least the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford has not adopted that nonsense, because the first line of defence in the Health Service is to keep people out of hospital by early diagnosis.

If such a charge were imposed, we should be putting a barrier between the would-be patient and the doctor and the charge that one would need to impose would be about 100 per cent. more than the revenue one was ever likely to be able to get from it.

But the real answer to the suggestion is that such a policy would be an absolute disaster for the NHS. The Conservative Party and the right hon. Gentleman are not without heart. The policy of the Conservative Party has always been that one has a safety net for those on lower incomes who could be caught. However, the consequences of such a policy would be that one had yet another army of civil servants checking to see who, because of age or circumstances, would need to be exempted from charges.

At the moment 60 per cent. do not pay prescription charges. They are people in certain categories of age and so on. Further charges would mean that one would have to establish another series of means tests and spend an increasing amount on administration rather than on clinical need and other requirements. Once again too much harness would be put in the system when what we really need is the horse.

The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford is the third in his line of financial boffins who have been appointed by Opposition leaders and who are natural Treasury men. They have been winkled out of their Treasury responsibility into an area quite outside their own. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), then representing Wolverhampton, South-West, was the first to come straight from the Treasury into the NHS, and what a performance that was! It took us another four years to repair the effect that he had on the hospital programme, and yet his plan did not even get off its feet.

He was followed by another financial and economic wizard, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), who wished upon the NHS one of the most monstrous and colossal bureaucratic monstrosities of administration of any Government Department, so much so that now the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Reading, South, makes speeches about getting rid of one of the tiers—probably the area health authority—without ever mentioning that it was his Government who forced the measure through the House in spite of the votes of Labour Members on every issue.

I would say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that his Department does not produce enough publicity about the good things that we have done. For example, in 1976–77 there was an increase in resources over 1975–76 of £808 million. For 20 years NHS expenditure nudged just under or just on 4 per cent. of GNP. Now, after four years of Labour Government, for the first time we are nudging just under 6 per cent. of GNP. Yet we are getting very little credit. We focus attention on the £40 million cuts out of a budget of £6,500 million and ask ourselves what we are to do. In spite of the cuts, there has been a massive increase in practically every department in the NHS over the last four years, including increases in personal training, especially at the domiciliary level, and this has meant massive improvements within personal social services.

In spite of the retraction, which I am sure the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford will mention. I hope that the Conservative Party will choose to make charges in the Health Service one of the major planks in any election manifesto that it issues. I should like nothing more than to be able to fight an election with the general public knowing that, on the one hand, they had services free at the time of use and, on the other, that they had to pay at the time of need.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

The hon. Gentleman is putting forward an interesting argument, but the crucial ques- tion is the balance between the inadequate provision in some areas at the moment and the problem of how to meet it. Those who argue the case for increased charges do so because they are desperately worried about the hopeless inadequacy of the service in some areas. They recognise the public expenditure constraints and they believe, therefore, that it is essential to turn to charges of this kind. Is the hon. Gentleman happy to see the present level of provision in some counties with growing populations?

Mr. Pavitt

That is precisely the point. At present charges come to £172 million, which is 375 per cent. of our total budget. If that were doubled to 7 per cent., it would not touch the basic responsibility of the general public to provide what is needed. To argue in this way is to talk in terms of £20 million, £30 million or £40 million here or there. We have to explain to the public what they are paying for, and I am certain that if that is done, we shall get it from our present sources. About 84 per cent. of what the National Health Service spends comes from the Treasury. Those who earn most pay most. Old-age pensioners pay nothing, and that is right. However, this is the argument of the false dawn, because people will go away with the idea that, with these new payments, we shall have no problem of resources.

The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford knows that with a rapidly ageing population, for every occasion on which a person under 65 years of age sees his GP the person over 65 years of age will see him three times. That means that with an increasing number of aged people among the population inevitably there will be a demand for more resources. We have to accept that responsibility. It must be paid for, and there is no way in which we can meet it by finding a little extra here or there. There is a need for a massive amount of money.

Fortunately for the right hon. Gentleman, he is hot likely to go back to the Treasury for some years. If he ever does, it will be his responsibility to try to find the money.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman said that pensioners did not pay. This is one of the curious anomalies to which I have never received a satisfactory answer. Why are pensioners the only people who have to pay for being in hospital? They have their pensions reduced.

Mr. Pavitt

The right hon. Gentleman's diction is not as clear as that of his hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford. I am afraid that I did not catch the latter part of his intervention.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. He said that pensioners did not pay. The fact is that pensioners and others in receipt of national insurance benefits are the only people required to make a contribution when they are in hospital. Their pensions and benefits are reduced. I was suggesting, for consideration, the possibility that that might be extended to other categories.

Mr. Pavitt

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his diction then, because I heard every word. But once again he is wrong. Included in the social security payment made to a pensioner, for which, incidentally, he has made contributions for donkey's years, there is an element to meet his requirements, including rent, holidays, clothing and food. If that amount is accorded to him, the fact that he is in hospital means that he is receiving the same amount twice from the taxpayer—once in his weekly pension and again in what is paid for him when he is in hospital. But I agree that that is one kind of concession that might be made in other ways. I have in mind, for example, the possibility of trying to seek a way whereby the amount otherwise paid twice became part of an additional saving for the period when the pensioner was convalescing and might need extra money to help him recuperate.

I pass on to welcome the announcement in the Gracious Speech that we shall be considering a Bill this Session relating to the General Medical Council. Presumably that will put into legislative form some of the recommendations of the Merrison Committee. However, I fear that it cannot possibly contain all of them. I should like to ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to outline briefly those parts that will not be contained in the Bill but that were included in the Merrison recommendations and whether, if there are some missing parts, a second Bill dealing with them will be put before us when we come back again in October 1978.

Either my right hon. Friend or the Legislative Committee of the Cabinet got the priorities wrong in choosing between Merrison and Briggs. I draw attention to the statement yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that there could be a Bill to establish new bodies to be responsible for professional standards in nursing and midwifery. If I had to choose between nurses and midwives and disciplinary arrangements for doctors, I should choose the nurses and midwives every time.

Legislation of this kind is long overdue, and it stems from the recommendations of the Briggs Report, which has been knocking around for far too many years. If by chance the dreaded devolution and direct elections Bills go through at a quicker pace than is anticipated, I hope that time will be found to put the Briggs Report into legislative form.

I want to commend the way in which my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security, has gone about the Briggs Report. Following a debate in this House, there was established a working party of the Royal College of Nurses, COHSE and NUPE. In my view, this is the right way to proceed. Before a Bill is drafted and the long hours in Committee which are likely to follow, it is much better for the Government to get together the interested parties at the drafting stage in order to iron out many of the problems and so save time in Committee.

As usual, I have addressed the House on my favourite hobby horse. However, because of the nature of this debate, I hope that I may be allowed to stray a little on to other matters touching upon the Gracious Speech, since I shall not have an opportunity to intervene again.

There are two important omissions from the Gracious Speech that I wish to put on record. The House will not be surprised to learn that I find it deplorable, as the hon. Member for Grunwick, that there is not some indication that there is to be amending legislation to the Employment Protection Act 1975. The history of the past 15 months has shown that the Grunwick case has driven a proverbial coach and horses through the Act.

A gap has been created of which any fossilised employer who is as out of date as Mr. George Ward can take advantage, especially if he has behind him a political interest with large financial backing outside the disputed area between him and his employees. Without the provocation of the hon. Member for Hendon, North (Mr. Gorst) and the National Association for Freedom, this dispute would have been settled in October 1976. There was no doubt then that it had gone on long enough, and it would have ben settled then. As a result of the legal complexities introduced, we have an appalling situation now whereby, after 15 months, confrontation is still going strong.

I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior), who leads for the Opposition on employment matters, because, throughout, he, like myself, has been trying to cool the situation and to get people to the conference table. He has been trying to get a reasonable approach, as I have. At 10 o'clock yesterday morning I put down my first Early-Day Motion of the Session. It concerns the Grunwick dispute and calls for reasonableness, for round-the-table talks, rather than that the confrontation should continue.

If I had my way, I would put the wise words of Mr. Justice Pain in letters three feet high in Chapter Road and Cobbold Road, which are by the Grunwick factory. He said: The faction that is constantly taking matters to litigation may well destroy those democratic organisations they purport to protect. This is a great problem. Like ourselves, hon. Members opposite are concerned for the maintenance of law and order, but nothing brings law and order into so much disrepute if it is seen as a weapon of one side with money against those who have not money. It inevitably leads to a "we and they" situation. I beg the Opposition Front Bench to use as much influence as they can on their wild and woolly Members who think that confrontation is the answer to industrial disputes. I wish to thank my hon. Friends who are not here today because they have chosen to go on the picket line. I should have joined them had it not been for this debate.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

As is the case with the hon. Gentleman, this is not really my subject, but would he, equally, support legislation to limit the right of mass picketing in the way that we have seen it operated in the last few months?

Mr. Pavitt

I should like legislation on the whole subject of picketing. I should like to discuss it not just in the kind of situation—mass picketing—that we have seen lately. After all, I was on the picket line at Grunwick myself 15 months ago, standing in the snow. We went for nine months with six pickets, and nothing happened. People get to a stage of frustration. What more can one do in such circumstances? One arrives at confrontation. One has tried everything else. Although I think that the mass picketing at the moment may well be counter-productive, I understand the feelings of those involved. I can well understand when other unions decide to get involved.

What is happening at Grunwick concerns not just a small photographic firm in my area. It is a challenge to the elementary right of every trade union. It is, therefore, understandable that every trade union is anxious to see a resolution of the dispute and to do something about it.

I plead again for my constituents living in Chapter Road and Cobbold Road. Many of them are elderly people or people with children. They find themselves living in a battlefield, yet it is no fault or problem of theirs. The situation rests fairly and squarely on the shoulders of Mr. George Ward and the management of Grunwick. It has cost APEX, the union involved, about £500,000 ; it has cost the Union of Post Office Workers at least £500,000 ; it has cost the taxpayer probably at least £1 million—and it is all over a matter which any reasonable employer would have settled early on. Indeed, a photographic firm in Leicester settled a similar problem in a very short space of time.

Although it is not contained in the Gracious Speech, there should be power available whereby, when a situation is going on to the detriment of innocent people unconnected with it, and to the taxpayer, who does not wish to pay out £1 million because of it, some action may be taken to bring the concern into public ownership. We have such power to deal with a bad landlord. It is contained in other areas of legislation. I cannot see why we should not be able to have a workers' co-operative at Grunwick, or ownership through the National Enterprise Board, attempting to establish some form of collective responsibility or ownership in a situation such as the Grunwick conflict, where battle lines are drawn and innocent people are being wounded in the fray.

I have just one more subject to raise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am afraid that I have been speaking for too long already, but the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford always inspires me. I regret that the Gracious Speech does not redeem the promise of our 1974 election manifesto of legislation for a Co-operative Development Agency. I declare an interest, although is not financial. I am a Co-operative-sponsored Member. The whole of the co-operative movement will be grieviously disappointed, although we have accepted the assurance by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister when he addressed the Diamond Jubilee meeting of the Co-operative Party on 22nd October that there will he legislation.

My right hon. Friend said yesterday that if time permitted it should be possible to see such legislation brought forward this Session, but in my experience in the House legislation deferred has a long track record of legislation lost. When I was a child in East London we had a proverb, "Tomorrow never comes ". When I was in the Young Socialists, we had a song" Pie in the sky—when you die ". Despite all the best intentions in making promises, too often the legislation is not forthcoming. and that is what I fear will happen in this case.

Precisely because of the new economic climate, precisely because of those parts of the Gracious Speech that extol participation at all levels of decision-making, there should be a massive incentive towards participating, mutually sharing co ownership forms of public ownership. A Co-operative Development Agency would be one of the small instruments through which we could make democracy not just a question of voting or of politics, but of how one runs one's daily life.

12.57 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

There are good things in the Gracious Speech that we are glad to see—indeed, we in the Liberal Party were responsible for getting them put there. I may add that there are many things missing from the Gracious Speech which are not there because we did not want them there.

But one regrettable omission is a commitment to strengthen parental choice and implement the Taylor Report. However, we were glad to hear the Prime Minister's assurance that such a measure would be proceeded with if the timetable permitted. Having heard the protestations of enthusiasm from the Opposition Front Bench. 1 hope that the Prime Minister has taken away with him the thought that such a Bill might proceed more quickly than expected. Perhaps some minor departmental measures could be deferred for a few weeks in order to make room for it, because it has been made more urgent by recent events.

Although we in the Liberal Party may have had some points of difference with the Taylor findings and would, like the Government, like to get more deeply into, for example, the precise balance of power between the governing body and the professional teachers, we were gratified that the conclusions of the Taylor Committee were so close to our own evidence—an experience that we do not always enjoy. We were glad to welcome most of its conclusions, particularly those relating to the role of partnership in the school between parents, teachers and the local community.

I must express my opposition to the action of certain local authorities, particularly Tory councils like Kent, which have recently been taking the attitude that the qualification for membership of school governing bodies is the holding of a Tory Party membership card. They seem to hold this attitude not only for local education authority representatives but even for parent governors. It is this kind of action which makes legislation on the lines of the Taylor Report a necessity.

The Labour Party, of course, is no stranger to this sort of device, but I am glad that the Secretary of State for Education and Science has firmly set her face against such practices and is in favour of fair representation of the interests of the community as a whole in every school. Let us get away from such strategems and instead concentrate on more constructive measures. There are indications today that this might be the Opposition attitude, although one cannot always take on trust what comes from the Opposition Front Bench. As the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) rightly said. he could not speak for Labour Members, and he certainly could not speak for every one in his own party.

An Hon. Member

Is the hon. Gentleman speaking for everyone in the Liberal Party?

Mr. Beith

A very much higher proportion of the Parliamentary Liberal Party is present than of the Conservative Party.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford referred to the Public Lending Right Bill. He overlooked the extent to which his own supporters contrived towards the killing of that Bill. Can we be so sure that that type of Back-Bench rebellion in his own ranks will not apply to the measures he has supported today?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sure that the hon. Member will agree that it is the right of any Back Bencher, from whatever side, to voice his view in opposition to a Bill. In this case the opposition came from both sides of the House. Is it not the Government's responsibility when dealing with a Government Bill so to put their authority and weight behind the Bill that the activities of Back Benchers are defeated? Was not the responsibility in this case that of the Government because they did not put their authority and backing behind the Bill?

Mr. Beith

I should very much like the Government to put their full weight behind the Public Lending Right Bill, hut it is disingenuous of the hon. Gentleman to ask the Government to put a dish before the House knowing that his own Back Benchers are determined not to cat it. I hope that that will not apply to measures to deal with parental choice and school governors.

Many other educational issues to which the Gracious Speech makes no reference will be discussed this Session. Teacher unemployment is the most urgent and pressing issue. We are experiencing the double evil of large numbers of unemployed teachers, including many of the best who have recently come out of the colleges, and large-sized classes. The problem is experienced not only in the inner cities but in the rural areas as well. The House cannot but look on that situation with dismay.

The situation is crowned by an absurdity. Government special measures provide means of employment and support for unemployed teachers to do anything but teaching. The Government provide help through job-creation schemes to teachers so long as they do anything but teach. They may paint park benches, clean up beaches or supervise children but they may not teach. For that reason we put forward a scheme to enable teachers who have not been able to undertake their probationary year to be financed in schools through the short-term unemployment programme operated by the Manpower Services Commission.

There is an obstacle to that suggestion. Teachers must be employed by the local education authority when on probation. Therefore there is an element of direct subsidy from the Manpower Services Commission to the local education authority in any scheme to finance additional teachers. The fact that after many weeks of serious and hard work by departmental officials no method has yet been found of getting round the obstacles is an indictment of the way in which government is carried on in this country. The continued nonsense of financing teachers to do anything but teach makes Parliament look ridiculous.

We welcome, however, the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement of a substantial addition to teacher employment. We are pleased to be able to continue discussions with the Government on other ways of dealing with these problems and alternative measures.

Of course, the long-term solution will not be provided by such measures. The solution is to be found by schools and education authorities being able to employ more teachers in the future. We look to the next rate support grant settlement to ensure that all authorities, not only inner city and urban authorities, are in a position to increase teaching staff.

It would be an appalling tragedy if, given that opportunity, some local authorities did not take it but chose to use the money in other ways. I have no doubt that it is in the employment of teachers that our first priority must lie. There are many other desirable things, such as equipment, field study centres and additional facilities, but the employment and availability of teachers in sufficient numbers to reduce class sizes to manageable levels must be our priority.

It is discouraging to find that sonic local authorities like Oxfordshire are unwilling to give the employment of teachers priority. That pattern is not general since many authorities—including Northumberland—would be willing to take up the opportunity of employing more teachers. I hope that education authorities have that opportunity in future.

We shall need to concern ourselves with many more educational issues this Session. One is the opportunity presented for expansion in nursery education presented by the falling numbers in primary schools. Physical facilities are being made available in primary schools since many of them now have one or two empty classrooms. The Secretary of State said that more opportunities for nursery education were being made available, but that less is being done to help those who are, coming up to the age of five—she calls them the rising-fives ". By the flexible use of existing buildings and small additions to staff we could provide immediate benefit to those who need education before they are five. Such children are to be found not only in the urban areas. In many scattered rural areas young children may have no opportunity to meet and play with other children of the same age. Unless they brought together in a nursery class their social development can be stunted.

We shall also have to talk more about the development of our comprehensive schools. We are concerned about some of the comprehensive schemes that are being considered. The old secondary modern school system could rear its head again if some schools in an area are not allowed to operate a sixth form while ex-grammar schools keep their sixth form. I have drawn the Secretary of State's attention to some plans, including those for one part of Leeds, which are open to this criticism.

In the wake of the increase in overseas students' fees we should ensure that there is proper selective provision for students from poor countries or poor families. There is no defence for a wholesale in. crease in the fees paid by overseas students unles we have an alternative scheme to direct money to those in need. I accept that the old system did not discriminate sufficiently between students from poor and rich countries nor from poor and rich families, but there is nothing to be said for increasing the fees without creating an alternative system.

I was pleased to hear what the Secretary of State said about the adult literacy campaign. It will give encouragement to those who felt that the impetus might have disappeared without continuing central Government interest.

Many youth and community organisations are also anxious about their future because of possible changes in the grant system. There is much apprehension that the alternative methods of locally-based finance will not enable well-established youth organisations such as the YMCA to continue their valuable work, and I ask the Secretary of State to make an early statement on this matter.

We should take the opportunity to make clear that we stand firmly in this House behind those in the National Union of Students and other organisations who are trying to defend democracy and free speech in universities against those who would try to deprive Jewish students of their rights. Whatever views one holds on Middle East questions, the protection of free speech should be accepted as fundamental in any academic institution. We in this House should make clear our support for those who, within the institutions themselves, are carrying on that essential fight.

I should like to turn briefly to some social service matters. We welcome the absence from the Queen's Speech of a Bill which we certainly did not like but which was on the horizon. That was an occupational pensions Bill which would have written Bullock into the occupational pensions system and which would have made single-channel representation of workers by designated trade unions a feature of occupational pensions system. We are glad that the Government have recognised that against our opposition they would be very unwise to try to introduce it.

On the other hand, we welcome the Christmas bonus decision by the Chancellor. We also welcome the presence in the House today of the Secretary of State for Social Services, and we hope that his health will very much improve.

However, it seems to us a little absurd that with a crisis of major proportions in the National Health Service all we should be discussing in this House is something as relatively peripheral as a Bill to reform the General Medical Council. It is not that we are opposed to such a Bill, though we hope that it will implement more of the Merrison Committee report than the recommendations affecting the size of the GMC. Unless it is a wider reform, it is not worth doing. If there is not time for something wider, let us leave it to another Session and get on with something more urgent.

Nor can many NHS problems be solved by legislation. The Conservatives showed just how much damage could be done to the NHS in their zeal for legislation. One of the three major problems that has faced the NHS over the last few years arises directly from the reorganisation measure which the Conservatives introduced. They created a top-heavy bureaucracy which is diverting the time and attention of far too many people in the NHS and is employing far too many people on the wrong tasks. I hope that eventually we can simplify it, but it would not now be productive to spend too much of the time of the House or the time of those in the NHS in undoing the damage that has been done. We must let those concerned get on with the job as best they can. Where immediate local changes can be made, in response to the perceived absurdity of the original reorganisation, in Liverpool, for example, we should let those concerned get on with the job.

The second problem is the under-capitalisation of the NHS, reference to which was made by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt). The financial resources available to the NHS are still grossly insufficient. We have a long haul to make them up.

Linked to that matter are continuous developments in health care expectations which cannot be met. Every new discovery creates new public expectations, but the resources to meet them are simply not available. Over the last few years the discovery that the NHS is not some- thing with a finite objective or with a clear end in sight when we shall have met the broad range of health problems has not speeded recognition of how we shall find the necessary resources. That is something that we shall need to discuss further this Session.

Perhaps a Gracious Speech which does not promise extensive legislation in education and social services is a good starting point for a Session in which we shall need to discuss fundamental problems in both. Perhaps Governments are learning that there are many problems that cannot he solved simply by changing the law.

1.13 p.m.

Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)

Despite the fact that the debate today is concerned mainly with the two great social problems of education and health, I should like to speak for a few minutes on what is perhaps one of the most crucial matters raised by the Queen's Speech. That is the question of the continuing detente between the East and the West, because without continuing that detente no social policies about which we may talk will be of any really lasting value.

The reason why I wanted to speak on this subject is that I was surprised and rather concerned at the unqualified welcome by the Prime Minister yesterday to the expression by the President of the Soviet Union of his willingness to reach agreement on a moratorium on nuclear testing and a possibility of a total ban on all nuclear weapons. I say I was surprised because the Prime Minister appeared to take that willingness completely at its face value, and that is an extremely worrying matter. Not so, I am glad to say, President Carter, who did not go as far as that when he limited his welcome to the possibility of agreement on nuclear testing but does not go as far as that on the total ban on all nuclear weapons.

There are some simple facts about nuclear weapons that we must recognise. The first fact, which is a basic one, is that the balance of terror provided by these horrible nuclear weapons has provided us with peace in Western and Eastern parts of the world for 32 years. Historically that is a very long time.

Secondly, we in the West have been able to afford to maintain that balance of nuclear terror. Would we, on the other hand, have been able to maintain a balance of conventional terror? Would the balance of the conventional weapons, as they are called, have maintained the peace over those 32 years? We must ask ourselves that question very carefully if and before the Western world is committed to renouncing nuclear weapons, because the Soviet Union has showed no signs at all of cutting back on the enormous weight of conventional arms that she has.

Time and again when those of us who have visited the Soviet Union have asked why it is they go building up this huge weight of conventional forces, far exceeding any defence needs of that country, we have got an absolutely blank answer. They are not prepared to discuss it because they know that it gives them a clear advantage over the West if and when any agreement is reached to reduce or end nuclear weapons. Therefore, that is a matter to which we must address ourselves more before we give unqualified welcome to the so-called intentions of the Soviet Union.

The second matter in the early part of the Queen's Speech that calls for comment and certainly considerable thought in this country is that the desire for detente expressed by all Governments in the West, and certainly in this House, must not be an excuse for allowing ourselves to forget the need to keep up the pressure for human rights behind the Iron Curtain. The pursuit of human rights issues in Belgrade must not be diverted by false Soviet Union arguments that human rights are merely an internal matter for their own country. Nor must the argument that the Soviet Union must not be put in the dock at Belgrade for not having pursued fast enough the agreement in the Final Act of Helsinki be overstated.

Détente without progress towards improvement on the human rights issue inside the Soviet Union is a hollow and hypocritical sham. We want to see progress, and more rapid progress, regarding ending the persecution of religious minorities inside that country and on the inhuman pressures that are brought upon individuals by splitting up their families. Some members of these families are in this country. We know from personal experience of meeting these people the pressures that are put on some peole living within the Soviet Union by preventing their families from being allowed to leave that country virtually keeping them prisoners inside the Soviet Union. Again, there must be an advance towards ending the abuse of pyschiatric medicine within Soviet hospitals, about which there has been so much evidence produced in recent months, not least at that remarkable conference in Honolulu. The disguised imprisonment of people on the ground that they are in need of medical treatment is as inhuman in the Soviet Union as it was under the Nazis.

What some of us found as a result of our visit to the Soviet Union during the summer is that the authorities there are sensitive to criticism of what they are doing and very sensitive indeed to criticisms expressed in this House. I therefore make no apology for drawing these matters to the attention of hon. Members The more we stand up against abuses of human rights, against the splitting of families and the persecution of religious minorities, wherever it occurs in the world, the better it will be for vast numbers of people whose only desire is to live peaceably and to pursue their own beliefs and family lives without interference from the State or anyone else. Better relations with the Soviet Union can be achieved only if the Soviet Union will allow to be made available more genuine information about what is being done inside that country's borders to improve the lot of many of those who are suffering from abuses of human rights.

I turn now to deal briefly with one of the main gaps in the Queen's Speech. It has already been touched on this morning. I am referring to the reality of the deterioration of the National Health Service. There is no doubt that there has been a deterioration in the provision of health services. Some of this falling off in standards is obvious, and some is almost impercepible, but the deterioration has been going on steadily over the past few years.

Perhaps the greatest problem in the NHS. and one which gets no better, is that of the long waiting lists, which are a symptom of much that is wrong. We were told in the Queen's Speech two years ago that we could look forward to a reduction in the length of hospital waiting lists. It was said that the abolition of pay beds would bring an end to queue jumping and therefore shorten the time that some unfortunate people had to wait for certain operations. The fact is that the very opposite is happening. I think we were able to convince the Government at that time that the abolition of the first 1,000 pay beds would make no difference to the waiting list problem. We said that it would probably make the situation worse, and that is what has been happening.

There has been a deterioration also in the numbers of staff in the NHS, and in the numbers of consultancy posts that are remaining unfilled for far too long. This only adds to the difficulties of hospitals and in the end results in increasing the length of waiting lists of people who want an operation.

There is also the almost imperceptible deterioration of the standard of comfort provided for patients in our hospitals. We are not even satisfied that patients get as much food now as they did in the past.

Those are some of the basic things that call for the most searching look into what is going on. I am glad that the Secretary of State has come into the Chamber, because I was far from satisfied that his answer to doctors on the Panorama programme represented what is happening. During that programme the right hon. Gentleman was saying that we have the best National Health Service in the world. I hope that that is so, but I have a nasty feeling that that is far from being the case and that the waiting list problem in other countries is not as great as it is here. It is all very well to say that certain specialties are relatively new, that we do not have enough consultants trained in them and therefore there are bound to be waiting lists, but this situation has gone on for far too long and something should be done to reduce the lists.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David EnnaIs)

I am sorry that I did not hear the earlier part of the hon. Gentleman's speech. I think he will recognise that the problem of long waiting lists has troubled successive Governments, and successive Secretaries of State, and it troubles me very much indeed. I am sure that he will have given a warm welcome to the fact that, for the first time in many years, as my report of about a month ago showed, the length of waiting lists is starting to come down. I am certain that he will welcome that in the House today.

Mr. Boscawen

If that is happening, and if it is widespread, the Opposition will, of course, be very pleased about it. but many people, particularly those whose cases are not acute, have to wait an intolerably long time for operations. In some cases they have to wait for many years. That is why I said at the beginning that one of the gaps in the Queen's Speech is the lack of any mention of bringing the extra resources into the NHS. It is time that the whole issue was opened up into a general debate.

We cannot afford not to examine all kinds of ways of bringing more resources into the NHS. It is not just a question of saying that the sick must not be made to pay anything when they arc because the sick above all are paying for the lack of resources. We must consider all methods that are available to us to bring more resources into the NHS.

It is high time that we considered the matter in a general national debate, instead of throwing political missiles at one another. Instead of saying "You are for making the sick pay mote ", or "You are for having a completely free National Health Service ", let us consider the issue more objectively than we have in the past. We want to see an improvement in the standard of the NHS. This improvement is long overdue, and I greatly regret that there is no mention in the Gracious Speech of how we are going to bring this about.

There are many other gaps in the Queen's Speech. There are one or two measures that I hope we shall see brought forward. I am thinking at the moment of improvements in the transport system in rural areas. I do not know what it means in terms of better relations within the Post Office to allow postmen to go on strike, but I do know that in my constituency the postal service has deteriorated rapidly. We should have liked the Queen's Speech to say something about the customer when dealing with Post Office services. I say that because a first-class letter posted on Saturday in my constituency frequently does not arrive at its destination until Tuesday. The lack of any outward post on Sunday is a matter of great regret and causes considerable concern in rural areas, where communications are notoriously bad.

We welcome some of the minor aspects of the Queen's Speech, but in general it is a ragbag of pretty useless time-filling measures and does not go far enough to meet the real problems that are facing this country both at home and abroad.

1.30 p.m.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

I wish to mention a couple of matters concerning education and a couple concerning health, but before that I must say that these debates are highly unsatisfactory in the form that we have them, with health and education being discussed together. In future we should try to make some effort to discuss, say, education in the first half of the afternoon and health in the second half, or at least try to give some form to the debate. If we want to take ourselves seriously as a Parliament we should have debates rather more worthy of that name.

Mr. Raison

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Surely the problem we have today is that no one knew until yesterday what today's debates would be. Presumably many hon. Members have made other arrangements. Some way must be found of giving more notice in the Queen's Speech of the subjects that we shall be debating.

Mr. Price

I agree very much with that. The tradition that one must not finally announce anything until the Queen has made 'the Gracious Speech could be done away with and an announcement could be given in good time. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education has to leave, so I shall make one of my points while she is still in the Chamber.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) mentioned an article in today's issue ofThe Times Educational Supplementsaying "Labour split on parents" or words to that effect. I know a good deal of what has been going on and what is going on in the Labour Party about education, and I say that there is absolutely no truth in the suggestion of a split. The efforts of my right hon. Friend to make more coherent the arrangements for admission to school have, I believe, everybody's support. There might be differences of opinion about how these arrangements could best be put into effect; but while we are talking about parents it is important to make the point that we in the Labour Party have a great deal of which to be proud, and the Opposition have very little of which to be proud on this subject. We in the Labour Party set up the Taylor Committee. The Opposition had years in which they could have done something like that, but they did nothing of the kind. The two authorities that first started putting parents on the governing bodies of schools were London and Sheffield, two authorities that have probably been under Labour control longer than any other authorities in the country. We are not going to take any lessons on this subject from the Conservative Party.

It is a pity that the hon. Member for Chelmsford is not in the Chamber, because when he denied that he was colluding with local authorities up and down the country to delay comprehensive education by the use of the delaying tactics of the law, that denial did not impress me one bit. The hon. Member for Chelmsford is colluding with these local authorities. Indeed, he is repeatedly adopting the posture of being the Skinner of the Conservative Party and turning Bexley into Clay Cross as fast as he possibly can. If the Conservatives really want to be the party of law and order, they should remember that the Education Act 1976 is law, and do all they can to co-operate and put that Act into operation.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) is not here to defend himself, but in the course of his speech he made it abundantly clear that at no point was the Conservative Party urging local authorities to break the law. On the contrary, he was urging that they would have to comply with the law, including those parts requiring proper time for consultation.

Mr. Price

I heard what the hon. Member for Chelmsford said, but it carried very little conviction with me, bearing in mind the sort of conversations and conferences that the hon. Member for Chelmsford has been having with individual schools, governing bodies and local authorities, conversations designed solely to thwart the intention of the Education Act 1976. The Conservative Party is going in for, if not law breaking, effort after effort to thwart the will of Parliament in this respect, and the country might as well know it.

I return to the subject of parents. There are difficulties about legislation here in that when we legislate we must make sure that, while giving proper opportunity to parents to express their preferences for one school or another, as the best authorities like London and Sheffield have been doing for years, we must nevertheless ensure that, as the law stands.parental preference is one of a number of other considerations that local authorities must properly balance if they are to carry out their responsibilities under the law. The comprehensive principle is another of the criteria that they have to balance.

There is a difficulty here. The 1976 Act defines comprehensive education in a negative way by saying what comprehensive education is not. It states that it is not selective education but it does not get down to the job of defining it in a positive way, and local education authorities have to apply their own positive ideas of what comprehensive education is.

I shall give one example, not from my own local education authority but from Sheffield, where I was deputy chairman of the education authority for some years. In Sheffield we reorganised earlier than many authorities. The policy in Sheffield is to build up community schools so linked with certain primary schools and certain secondary schools that it is normal for parents to want their children to go from one primary school to a certain secondary school. That is what happens in the normal course of events although parents have the right to opt for other schools.

In London, by contrast, since 1870 there has been a policy of General Post, almost encouraging parents to rush around London, so that one finds that some primary schools send pupils to as many as 20, 30 or sometimes 40 different secondary schools and, conversely, secondary schools receive pupils from as many as 20 different primary schools. If I were asked to pick between these two systems I would contend that the deeply ingrained tradition in London is not helpful to educational continuity, and that the Sheffield tradition is a very much better tradition.

I would be very unhappy if any legislation did anything to encourage the Sheffields of this world to become more like the Londons of this world. This must be borne in mind, especially when Conservative Members are colluding with the courts in bringing cases to the court and in attempting to get judgments from the courts which frustrate legislation passed by Parliament.

Mr. Raison

Will the hon. Gentleman explain what he means by colluding with the courts?

Mr. Price

Yes. Until recently the provisions of the Education Act 1944 had been tested in the courts only on a very few occasions since 1944. There has now grown up a body of lawyers—starting with the Enfield Grammar School case in 1968, and one must emphasise that the same lawyers who were involved in that case were involved in the Tameside case—who are very adept at getting the courts to reinterpret areas of education law which had not previously been put into judgment by the courts on what one could call an individualistic basis which runs clean against the normal practice of education authorities up and down the country in the past 20 or 30 years.

That is what I meant by "colluding with the courts ".

We need a new Education Act that clearly defines what comprehensive education is. Everybody knows the difficulties inherent in that, however. In this situation I shall merely say to my right hon. Friend that there are dangers in passing new legislation to which the courts might attach exactly the opposite interpretation to that which we in Parliament intended.

I say no more about parents, because that states some of the doubts about method that some people have. On every aspect of the points that have arisen in the Press about having planned operating capacities for schools, providing information for parents, providing appeal mechanisms for parents, and clarifying the law as to Sections 68 and 37 of the Education Act, there is absolute agreement in the Labour Party and, I think, in the Liberal Party and in many sections of the Conservative Party about the way in which we should legislate if it comes to it.

I was reassured by my right hon. Friend's statement about the future of the adult literacy project. This project is very dear to my heart, since the campaign was launched the same day as I introduced a Private Member's Bill on adult literacy. This concept was in our October 1974 election manifesto as a new project which Labour had started and was very proud of. The difficulty about pump-priming operations like this in an atmosphere in whic.4 local authorities are making cuts right, left and centre is that the pump is primed and then the balloon goes soggy later because certain local authorities are unwilling to shoulder their responsibilities.

In addition, nearly one-third of the adult literacy effort was put in by voluntary bodies of various sorts which, if they are to try to raise the necessary money, either through foundations or locally, need an assurance about the corresponding aid that will cone forward from the Government to keep their activities in being.

Over the past four years many young intelligent teachers who would otherwise be in dull areas of adult education have turned their efforts to adult literacy and have gathered much expertise therein. Many of them do not know where their salaries are to come from next year. I again urge my right hon. Friend to clarify the position of the voluntary bodies as soon as she can, because this body of adult literacy expertise, which goes far beyond people who are unable to read and now embraces people who have lost interest in reading and whose interest has suddenly been reawakened, is a new movement in adult education for which the Government can claim credit but which must not be allowed to die.

I turn to the subject of health. We have just been through a week which has been designated Mental Health Week and which is so designated every year. It is meant to draw attention to the problems faced by people involved in caring for the mentally sick and the handicapped. Members were urged to visit their local psychiatric hospitals this week. I went to visit my local hospital.

I shall explain the difficulty about forming as one's policy the eradication of large nineteenth century institutions. My local psychiatric institution is Bexley Hospital, which is just one institution which when built was miles from London but is now somewhat in the suburbs of London and which is an enormous institution in Victorian buildings.

The dilemma facing the Secretary of State and all the authorities is this. The decision has been taken to try to put the care of the mentally ill and the mentally handicapped back into the community as much as possible. However, some institutions, such as Bexley, will exist until the end of the century. We may succeed in eradicating them eventually, but they will certainly be there for the next 10, 15 or 20 years. The danger is that before we eradicate these buildings they will be granted less and less money and their staff will become progressively lacking in morale.

This is not to under-estimate the tremdous progress that has been made. The number of patients in Bexley Hospital has fallen from 2,500 to 900 over a period of 10 years. This means that there can be about 25 patients per ward instead of 40. The hope is to get down to about 20 patients per ward as more are returned to the community.

On walking through the buildings one realises how unamenable they are and how unsuitable for the expenditure of any available money. The old padded cells have been ripped out and turned either into store rooms or into rooms for interviewing patients and their families. Everything is to cramped and too small.

I plead with the Secretary of State in pressing ahead with the new policy not to forget the old institutions, because it would be wrong for them simply to run further and further down.

Mr. Patrick Jerkin

The hon. Gentleman says that the old institutions do not lend themselves to modernisation of the type that he is looking for. Has he visited the Leavesden Hospital, which I visited recently, and seen what really imaginative modernisation can do to transform the conditions in which often seriously mentally handicapped patients have to live? I was enormously encouraged when I saw the conditions at the hospital. That hospital won the regional nursing competition in that year, the first time a mental hospital has won it.

Mr. Price

I do not want to introduce a depressing note. My impression on going back to a mental illness hospital was that in such terms as paint and curtains it was a much more cheerful institution than those I had visited 10 years ago, but I was also very much aware that it was necessary to put more money into the hospital even while we were trying to put more resources into the community, which Lewisham more than anywhere else needs, as it is one of the few districts which does not have any facilities for the psychiatrically ill.

Mr. Ennals

I heartily agree with the point made by the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). Great improvement has been brought about in the pattern of life and in the physical conditions in which patients are living in mental illness and in mentally handicapped hospitals, though there is a long way to go. Though there has been a great improvement in the staff-patient ratio, there is still a long way to go in that regard also. We may be successful in getting some patients back into the community, but the mental hospital is home for some. It would be wrong for us to allow their home to be other than homely. I give my hon. Friend the assurance that I shall watch this very carefully.

Mr. Price

I thank my right hon. Friend for that assurance. I very much agree with the point that he has made. Especially in London, some of the hospitals at least have the advantage of lawns, trees and green fields outside them in an area where the elderly who need the treatment would not have those facilities.

I suspect that my final comment on health will be more controversial than anything else I have said, but I think that it is absolutely right to raise it in Parliament. I am sorry that there was no mention in the Queen's Speech of a Bill to reform the 1959 Mental Health Act, but I realise that consultations are necessary to secure proper agreement about what should be in the Bill and that these are necessarily lengthy. I also realise that a White Paper may well have to come before we have the Bill.

I should like to make some remarks about a narrow area that a Bill to reform the 1959 Act should cover. I refer to the compulsory treatment of psychiatric patients in hospitals. The Act clearly lays down the procedures for compulsory admission to hospitals. Some changes have been proposed, and some may be implemented. There is a good deal of legal vagueness about compulsory treatment. Some doctors say that if a patient comes into hospital, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, and wants to stay there, he should submit to whatever treatment the doctors wish to impose on him; otherwise he should leave the hospital.

I take very much the opposite view. I have recently been making some remarks on television about electro-convulsive therapy, and I have received a bigger response than to any other subject I have mentioned on television in the years I have been a Member—with a short gap—since 1966. The response so shattered me that I have gone a great deal further into the matter.

It seems that the vast majority of doctors are convinced that they are right to use electro-convulsive therapy and compulsory medication with phenothiazine drugs such as modecate and largactil to the present extent. But correspondence that I have had shows that a large number of patients who receive ECT and compulsory medication leave hospital extremely bitter about their treatment and convinced not only that it has done them no good but that it has done them permanent damage, particularly in terms of memory loss.

The problem will have to be faced in any review of the Act. If we in this House want our protests about the use in the Soviet Union of compulsory medication of political dissenters to be authentic. we must take account of the great distress caused to at least some of those in our psychiatric hospitals who leave feeling extremely bitter after being confined sometimes under sections of the Act and sometimes as voluntary patients.

I have raised the matter in Parliament before, particularly in regard to the recent report on St. Augustine's Hospital, Canterbury, where a number of cases are documented, particularly two of voluntary patients who received ECT against their will, one of whom died soon after.

I understand my right hon. Friend's problems. He conies from a Department that has traditionally been dominated by the medical profession, to the extent that it is very difficult to legislate in any way if the profession is substantially opposed. But I am convinced that there is a strong body of patient opinion that believes that there is a civil liberties point here. I know that my right hon. Friend, as a former officer of MIND, is aware of these problems. I urge him when producing the White Paper not to be too much in thrall to conventional psychiatric opinion but to try to find out much wider opinion before coming to a judgment on how he should approach the matter.

1.55 p.m.

Mr. Timothy Raison (Aylesbury)

I shall not closely follow the lines of the speech made by the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), but I wish to comment on two of his points. First, on education, he spoke about certain Conservatives colluding with the courts. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman did not really mean collusion, because when, in response to a question of mine, he sought to substantiate what he had said, he said not that there was genuine collusion but merely that certain Tories and certain lawyers in particular were having increasing recourse to the courts, which is a different matter.

Mr. Christopher Price

As I am not a lawyer, all the words I use are in the layman's sense rather than any legal, technical sense.

Mr. Raison

When the hon. Gentleman talks about colluding with the courts, a layman would assume that that meant that barristers, outside people and so on were going to the judges who constitute the courts, talking to them privately and fixing things privately to achieve a particular objective. If that is what the hon. Gentleman is saying is happening, it is a deplorable statement, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman did not mean it. If he did, he should substantiate it, which he cannot do.

I should also like to take up the hon. Gentleman's last point about the use of electro-convulsive therapy. I can see that there is a problem. The idea of ECT is always rather frightening to a layman. I can understand that some people who have received it are very unhappy about having done so. We need to examine the matter very carefully.

The other aspect of the question must be that it is very difficult to tell the medical profession "You will have certain patients in your hospital, but we shall try to inhibit the extent to which you can use what you believe to be the best possible treatment for them." Whatever we think about ECT, there is no doubt that in a way it very often works. It is a difficult matter which must be examined carefully and not too emotionally.

I missed the speech by the Secretary of State for Education and Science at the beginning of the debate, and therefore I do not propose to spend much time talking about education. I shall return to the subject of health and another matter in a few minutes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) was absolutely right when he said that the terms of the debate on education in the last year or two had been very much set down by the Conservative Party. In particular, the swing away from a concern with organisation and reorganisation to a concern with standards, which has been highly desirable, is something for which my hon. Friend and others of my hon. Friends can take a good deal of credit.

In making a few points about standards I forbear from making an attack on the Secretary of State for what she is trying to do to destroy the secondary education system in my county of Buckingham, although I have no doubt that her legislation will be adverse if it is fully implemented. I want to take up the point about testing, which has been discussed in education circles in recent years.

I hope that the Government will be prepared to consider much more sympathetically than they have so far the arguments in favour of universal testing of children at certain stages in their school career. I have advocated this for some years, suggesting that the appropriate ages are probably 8, 11 and 14, and have always tried to stress that we are not advocating a way of reintroducing selection. That is a separate argument. We should be doing in effect what the traditional school medical examination does in a different respect—finding out what standards exist in the education of our children. That would be useful when applied to the individual.

It is necessary to know how children are getting on. One of the problems of progressive methods in education is that it is possible for children to slip through the net without the kind of check that was provided by more traditional methods.

Secondly, it is important to know what is happening in individual schools. Again, I am not particularly committed to the idea that test results should be published. That is a matter for argument. However, local authorities should have a clear idea how children are getting on. It is a fact that the abolition of the 11-plus removed one of the instruments of keeping such a check.

Thirdly, testing is useful, just as in the health sphere, in the compiling of national statistics. I do not believe that the Government's decision to look into the possibility of sample testing is an adequate substitute for wholesale testing. Sample testing may be better than nothing—it almost certainly is—but I hope that the Assessment of Performance Unit will soon be able to undertake a proper study of how to get universal testing. It would take time to introduce and there is the question of resources—I do not dispute that—but I believe that it is a proper and eminently sensible objective.

The only other point is that, apart from the search for higher standards in general, we need to concentrate on raising the level of and giving greater support to the teaching profession. Although talk about the parental element and many other matters has been valuable in recent years, there has been a progressive demoralisation among teachers. We cannot hope to achieve higher standards in our schools if that demoralisation among teachers is allowed to persist. When one uses a phrase such as "progressive demoralisation ", one is open to the charge of outrageous generalisation. I do not mean that every school in the country is suffering from demoralised teachers. However, the profession as a whole has become depressed in many ways, and the key to getting better schools is to concentrate on getting better teachers and giving them more support and encouragement.

Specifically, it is time that we took seriously the idea of a teaching council and of taking steps to raise teaching as a profession to a comparable level with other great professions such as medicine, and so on. I hope that if not the present Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford, when he becomes the Tory Secretary of State, will find it possible to give a large shove to this surge for professionalism among teachers.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's most recent remarks and remind him that about a year ago, on behalf of the Opposition, I put forward a proposal for a teaching council to be considered, but, unfortunately, we got no response from the Government.

Mr. Raison:

I certainly acknowledge what my hon. Friend said.

I hope that, in the deliberations and debates about the Taylor Report we shall bear in mind that it is no use introducing a system of school government which adds further to the feeling in the profession that teachers do not matter. It need not follow from Taylor, but the risk is there.

I am not particularly persuaded by Taylor as a document. Apart from the possibility that teachers will not like it, there is to my mind the fact that the Taylor Committee did not understand how power worked. The committee did not go into the problem of how to work a system in which the responsibility lay with one authority and a countervailing authority was created to exercise the responsibility. I appreciate that people have always been unhappy about the weight of local councillors on school governing bodies, and so on, but the reality is that local authorities have to run the education system at local level. I feel that the Taylor system may prove to be a recipe for a certain amount of confusion.

I turn now to devolution. I make no apology for raising this matter when the bulk of the debate today is concerned with other matters. As I and some of my hon. Friends have pointed out before, in present circumstances it is virtually impossible for a Conservative Back Bencher who is not a Privy Councillor to get into the major debates on such matters as devolution. If we have a one- or even two-day debate, by the time the minority parties have had their perfectly legitimate say—nobody can quarrel with that—by the time that Privy Councilors have had their say and by the time that Government supporters have taken up half the time, the chances of a Conservative Back Bencher having an opportunity to speak are to all intents and purposes nil.

Looking at the big debates, one may see one Conservative Back Bencher who, as like as not, is a maiden speaker who has just won his seat from the Labour Party. [Interruption.] The opportunity will soon occur again in Ilford, North, and we all look forward to it.

I see that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) in his place. I should like to make one other point which ties devolution directly to the subjects under discussion today—health and education. If the devolution Bills go through, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North will not be able to debate health and education in Scotland in this Chamber. There will be 70 other Scottish Members of Parliament who, although passionately interested in schools, roads, housing, and so on in their constituencies, will not be able to say anything about those matters if the Government get their way. Those Members will not be allowed to put down Questions about those subjects and there will be no legislation about them. Those matters will be removed from their area of interest. Although many of us have laboured that point, it does not appear to have sunk in. I do not believe that the public and some hon. Members understand exactly what is proposed in the Government's devolution scheme.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that the devolution Bills are to be guillotined at the start of the process. The Government's intention is to have Second Readings and, having got them, if they do, to send the Bills to Committee, but, before the Committee stages commence, to introduce guillotines. That is not only unusual but shameful.

We should recognise that the Government lost their Bill in the last Session over the guillotine, not because of any kind of unholy alliance, but because they repeatedly lost the argument. Those who sat through the long Committee stage must acknowledge that time after time the Government were faced with criticism from both sides of the House which they were completely unable to answer. It was the Government's defeat in argument which gave strength to those who combined to chuck out the Bill on the guillotine.

What worries me about the proposal to have a guillotine from the word "Go" is that it is clearly an attempt to curtail argument on both these new Bills. It seems to reflect the fact that the Government know that they are most vulnerable in the area of argument. Because they have seen before that argument has progressively undermined their case, they are trying to make sure that the argument is not prolonged. Having had a quick glance at the two Bills, I believe that the same thing will happen again.

Mr. John Lee (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I wonder whether, as an erstwhile anti-Marketeer, the hon. Gentleman extends the same argument to the European elections Bill. I hope that he does.

Mr. Raison

I do not quite follow the hon. Gentleman's argument in this respect.

Mr. Lee

I am sorry if I did not make myself clear. Would the hon. Gentleman have the same objection to any curtailment of discussion, which promises to be very long indeed, on the European elections Bill? I hope that he does.

Mr. Raison:

I hope that I am reasonable. I recognise that guillotines have to be introduced. When in opposition we always say that we do not like guillotines. I object strongly to the notion that the Bills should be guillotined from the word "Go ". I object to being presented with a guillotine on Day 2, as it were, which is designed to curtail argument.

Normally a guillotine is introduced after a period of time. The guillotine can be brought in by the Government if they feel that there is obstruction by the Opposition. That is not what is happening here. The Government are being unconstitutional by bringing in the guillotine right at the beginning. As I say, I believe that to be objectionable.

I was also rather shocked by the way in which the Prime Minister in his speech yesterday spoke about this whole question. He used these words: In the last Session we had to endure being held up on the Scotland and Wales Bill for reasons that are now largely removed ". I dislike the phraseology, but I also very much question whether he is right in the assumption that the reasons that held up the Bill last time are now largely removed. The truth is that the new Bill does not alter fundamentals. As I have already indicated, when I was talking about the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North, in particular it does nothing about the problem of the position of Members of Parliament, because there is nothing which can be done about it. It is one of the fatal flaws in the Bill.

The Prime Minister was interrupted by the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), who absolutely rightly asked: Under the new Bill, shall I still be able to vote on many matters in relation to West Bromwich but not West Lothian, as I was under the last Bill, and will my right hon. Friend be able to vote on many matters in relation to Carlisle but not Cardiff? The Prime Minister replied: If my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian does not vote for the Bill he will not be able to vote for anything much else. It will not be me who will deal with him —".[Official Report, 3rd November 1977 ; Vol. 938, c. 29–31.] I should hate to use the word "odious" about the Prime Minister, but I thought that that was an unpleasant comment for him to make to one of his hon. Friends, and it had a bullying tone about it which seemed to me to be entirely wrong in dealing with a matter of this kind.

More seriously than that, the right hon. Gentleman completely failed to meet the serious point which the hon. Gentleman was making, namely, the question about the position of Members of Parliament.

Mr. Bryan Davies

I think that the hon. Member may be guilty of putting a false perspective on the Prime Minister's remark. Many of us on this side of the House thought that his rejoinder to my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) was merely to the effect that, if the Bill was not carried through, the electorate might not sustain my hon. Friend in his present position—a perfectly unexceptionable remark to make.

Mr. Raison

We may quarrel about the interpretation, but what we cannot quarrel about is that the Prime Minister did nothing to meet the major point of substance which the hon. Member for West Lothian made. As I say, he did not meet it because there is no way of meeting it.

Moreover, many other major criticisms are not met in the new Bill. For example, the attempt to separate economic and social policy within what is essentially a devolution scheme remains as impossible as it always was. There may have been some tidying up between the Mark 1 Bill and the Mark II, but the fundamental dilemma remains.

That can be illustrated in many ways, and I shall not pursue that now because this is not the right moment, but I take, for example, the provisions about the operation of incomes policy. Under the devolution scheme this will prove to be bizarre in the extreme. As I read the proposal, it will, for instance, be possible for the Scottish Assembly and Executive to pay very much more to, say, teachers than the Government's going rate at any given moment.

There is also the matter which we never reached in the last Session, namely, the rather curious and interesting arrangement by which the civil servants of the new Scottish Assembly and Executive are to be members of the ordinary national home Civil Service but they will work for the Assembly and Executive, which will pay them—but goodness knows who will determine how much the Assembly and Executive will pay. There is a whole host of problems which will have to be faced.

I come now to my main point, and there is no need for the House to fear that, because it is the main point, it will be excessively long. I wish to refer now to the social services, and specifically to the National Health Service. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Social Services is here. In company with other hon. Members, I hope that he makes a good recovery from his illness, and we appreciate his coming here today in spite of having been ill.

In some hospitals at present there is a desperate and alarming situation. I can illustrate this from the group of hospitals in and around my own constituency town of Aylesbury. Included in this area are the famous Stoke Mandeville Hospital, the Tindal Hospital, the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital and the St. John's Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, as well as the excellent Manor House Hospital which, I know, the Secretary of State will remember having visited during an earlier incarnation and which has been doing very well.

The basic problem is that the area health authority is spending at a rate of a little over £1 million above its budget. I believe that it has a budget of £26 million, and it is spending rather over £1 million more than that. This is in no sense due to incompetence. I believe that the administrators, those much abused people, are working effectively. The doctors and everyone else are doing all they can to operate the hospitals as well as possible, and this is not a case in which we can just say that if they managed things better they would be able to provide full services.

What is happening now is that, as a result of the tight financial pressure which exists in an area of growing population, the hospital service will have to be reduced in ways which I regard as most alarming. I emphasise that this is an area of growing population. By and large, our hospitals provide services for Milton Keynes, which, as the House knows, is still an actively growing new town. They provide also for my own constituency town of Aylesbury, which is a town of expanding population. I believe that there are few, if any, areas in the country where population is growing more rapidly than it is in north and mid-Buckinghamshire.

That is the first great problem that we have to face. Although the system of allocation makes some allowance for population growth, it does so on an out-of-date basis, tending to lag about two years behind the facts. That is part of our problem. But even if one can argue that we are getting a fair share—I acknowledge that, judged by the RAWP formula, the Oxford region as a whole is not doing too badly and is above many other regions—we are reaching the point where services are about to drop below a tolerable level. At that point the Secretary of State must intervene.

The area health authority has come forward with proposals for reducing its budget in order to deal with the overspending to which I have referred. The proposals are roughly as follows. First, it will move the very attractive general practitioner maternity unit from Stoke Mandeville Hospital to the much older Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital nearby. There is a minor argument in favour of that, namely, that it will bring the unit nearer to the obstetrics services, but that is not an argument of tremendous importance and it was produced rather out of the hat at the last minute.

We have all been very proud of the GP maternity unit. It is a very attractive unit, and it is a great pity that it will have to move. There is a great deal of popular feeling about it. The idea of a unit to which the general practitioner will come and do a great deal of the work is in itself thoroughly good, but most of the mothers who went there felt that this particular unit was one which really did make childbirth as pleasant as possible.

Second, and more important, the old Tindal Hospital is to be closed. I do not mind about that in the long term because it is an old-fashioned hospital and the geriatric beds are to be moved to Stoke Mandeville, but what is worrying is that the total number of beds in this category is to come down from 142 to 130. As a Member of Parliament, I hold my surgeries, advice bureaux—call them what one will—and the problem which is put to me time and again is the problem of old people who are not necessarily gravely ill but who are in that sort of world where they might be dealt with by the hospital service or by the social services. In many cases the best answer seems to be for them to spend spells at home followed by spells in hospital to relieve the continuing burden of care on their families.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that nothing has given me more anxiety in past years than the scale of the problem presented by these old people in my area. and I am deeply depressed by the prospect that the cuts will mean that the problem will grow worse at a time when, for heaven's sake, one would hope that it might get better. This is a very serious aspect of what is to happen.

Third, there will have to be a reduction in the number of beds provided at Stoke Mandeville—by 20 in the acute specialties and 12 in the special units. Those special units include spinal injuries, plastic surgery and burns.

At the same time, nothing is being done to bring into use a new intensive care unit which is sitting there but which cannot be staffed, again because of the financial position. It is not surprising that, at a time when morale is already rather shaky, these new cuts are producing a great deal of anxiety.

I know that in the public eye the threatened reduction in the number of beds in the spinal injuries unit has hit the headlines. Our spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville has, rightly, a worldwide reputation, and I understand why the Secretary of State said that he will personally intervene before any proposal to reduce the beds there is put into effect.

I know that the Stoke Mandeville spinal injuries unit has many very powerful, articulate and influential friends, and I am very glad of this, because it is a very important place. But it is not the only important place, and we are equally worried by the threat to geriatric and other services for old people. I hope that the Secretary of State, in looking at the problem—and, I hope, receiving a delegation from Buckinghamshire—will be prepared to understand the deep anxiety felt not only about spinal injuries but about everything else that I have mentioned.

What is to be done? Of course, we need more resources. I dare say that the Secretary of State in approaching this problem will take refuge in the recommendations of the Resources Allocation Working Party. I do not quarrel with the RAWP objectives. I think the principle that everyone throughout the country should have equal access to proper medical care in the National Health Service is a sound one. I know that there are under-doctored areas and areas of hardship well outside the areas of growing population, but the Secretary of State ought to face the fact that more resources must be made available in growing areas. To have positive cuts and reductions in the numbers of beds in areas of growing population is quite intolerable.

I am as committed as any of my hon. Friends to the view that public expendi- ture has to be kept under tight control. It would be hypocritical for me to stand here and ask that more money be poured into Stoke Mandeville and the other hospitals to which I have referred without giving some indication of where I think that money might come from. Certainly I do not believe that it should come from further inflation of the public sector borrowing requirement.

What, then, can we do? I think, for a start, that the Secretary of State will probably have to steel himself to be fairly tough with London. I know that this is not a popular thing to say, but in London there is over-provision of hospital beds. I can understand that people in particular areas of London are upset if their local hospitals are closed, but they have only to go a bit further to another hospital, whereas in other parts of the country there are no beds available at all. The Secretary of State will have to resist some of the pressures that grow up within London.

I think there is no doubt that charges will have to go up. I do not think that we can duck that. It is inescapable in the present climate. Maybe one day it will not be necessary, but it is necessary now. I have considerable doubts whether it makes sense to put all family planning on a free basis. I do not think that is necessary. I think that the time has come to consider charging for general practitioner visits.

All these are matters which need a lot of argument and discussion, but they reinforce the fact that the position is too serious to be left as it is. The Secretary of State must act, and act quickly.

2.15 p.m.

Mr. Bryan Davies (Enfield, North)

The temptation, with something as wide-ranging as the Gracious Speech, is for hon. Members to discourse equally widely. I felt tempted to succumb to this temptation today, when health and education are the main areas of debate, as I have a keen interest in the development of policy in both areas. However, in the exercise of a self-denying ordinance, which I hope I shall sustain throughout the remainder of my contribution, I intend to address my remarks solely to education, for it seems to me that a great number of issues will arise in the coming year in this respect.

I greatly welcomed very many parts of the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, particularly the part in which she gave assurances with regard to the difficult but none the less very important question of the literacy programme in this country. I recognise that the problems of funding—particularly in the context that quite clearly the original intention was for the local authorities to bear the burden as the years went by—are quite acute. Nevertheless, without some central support many of us would be very worried indeed that the initiatives taken would eventually fall into the sand. That would be an enormous loss.

I feel that there may be merit, particularly in the context of this debate, in looking at the problem of literacy in the general context of social handicap. Discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services might enable us to look at the whole problem of literacy in the context of social handicap and social services. Perhaps local authorities could approach the issue on a somewhat broader front, which could bring forward rather more resources.

Having said that, my main intention today is to present the argument concerning what I believe to be a clear omission in the Gracious Speech—an education Bill. One recognises, of course, the constraints in terms of parliamentary time, and that certain aspects of more contentious legislation are subject to the short-term difficulties of the Government, and the need for an adequate majority to see these issues through. Nevertheless, I maintain that in a large number of areas it is important that we present the issues before this House and before the country. I believe that they would command widespread support throughout the country and that there would also be substantial agreement within this House. I believe that the majority of hon. Members would be in favour of them.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will continue to address her mind to the problem of the 16- to 19-year-old group. We have certainly seen considerable activity over the past two years to re-emphasise the priorities in that area. But it is quite clear that the degree of support in the 16 to 19 group is a critically weak link in the whole area of development in education. I believe that there is now evidence to hand in support of my contention, and I know that the Secretary of State is eager to survey the position among the local authorities. Many of us could testify that over the past year the discretionary element in regard to many courses for those between 16 and 19 has effectively meant a denial of opportunity to students, because of the limited resources which local authorities have been prepared to make available.

I hope, therefore, that if sufficient time proves to be available—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have given some hint—. there will be an education Bill in which the extension of mandatory grants in certain areas for the 16- to 19-year-old group will be dealt with. I certainly hope that we shall make early strides in this direction.

I was very glad to note the enthusiastic support of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) for early moves to implement the report of the Taylor Committee on wider participation of the community in school governing bodies and the role of parents in that respect. I have no doubt that the country as a whole is ready—indeed, eager—for a greater accountability on the part of schools to the local community. I believe that this ought to form the subject of a non-contentious measure, and I am sure that if it could be introduced it would command adequate support to see it through the shoals of the parliamentary timetable.

It is also quite clear that within the framework of such legislation there is considerable support for the extension of information on schools to parents in order that the support which they need to offer to the development of the education of their children is based upon sounder knowledge of the rôschools, the work that is done within a particular school and the ways in which parental support can be made more effective.

Here I wish to reinforce the points which have been ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) about the extent to which parental choice should be elevated to being the single or even the main criterion for school allocation. There is no doubt that there are many difficulties in this area and we should recognise that the concept of primacy of parental choice is both a false prospectus to parents—I do not think any responsible political party ought to put forward such a false prospectus—and one which threatens to hinder the development of balanced educational opportunity in our community.

We ought not to pretent that the introduction of a market mechanism into the allocation of schools solves all the problems. At the end of the day it is quite clear that parents who express a preference for a school in such numbers as vastly to exceed the number of places available will be told by a local authority that their first preference cannot be met. We all recognise that this is the basic reality of the situation. Even if some of the more wildly optimistic schemes of certain Conservative Members could be extended and adopted overnight, the problem would still remain, namely, that clearly within local communities preferences emerge among parents and that clearly first preferences cannot always be met.

That is not to say that parental choice should not play a part in the choice of school. Rather, it is the danger of elevating that particular concept to the prime, indeed the sole, determinant of where children go. The dangers are quite clear —that the objective cannot be realised and the race is to the swiftest. This fits in well with Conservative ideology but it does not fit in so well with the educational needs of the vast mass of our country. It is quite clear that what is presented by the emphasis upon parental choice is that the best informed parents will have their rights identified and enshrined in statutes. Those parents who can afford the further travelling and afford to take time to obtain the information and those who are best equipped to look after their children will, in our educational law, get support in those endeavours.

I maintain that the responsibility of our community is not just to the children who come from the better off homes and not just to those children who are already ably supported by their parents. We also have a major obligation to children who lack such support. That will not be achieved by developing a system in which the schools who have the highest reputation attract the most committed parents and their children while the schools with the least advantages become the dumping grounds for anyone else. That is no solution to our educational problems.

What is more, it runs quite counter to the proposition in the Taylor Report, which I believe has also the blessing of the official Opposition, that schools should be more accountable to the community and play a more crucial role within the community. We cannot see the development of close links in the neighbourhood school if we operate a system of widespread choice which creates a total market mechanism.

In those terms I would argue that the issue about which parents are concerned is not just choice between schools but also choice in terms of the development of their child's education within schools. This is an area in which we can certainly undertake to fulfil our promises. It is in that area that educationalists can set about presenting to parents a range of educational opportunities within the school which knowledgeable parents with regard to the developing abilities of their own children will accept as being the most satisfactory form.

This gets us out of that colossally negative position which British education has been in for far too long, where the crucial decisions are taken far too early in the child's school career. It was a problem with the age of 11 and it is a problem which runs throughout the whole of our secondary school system.

If we are to move away from this we must recognise that the comprehensive system must mean what it says. It must produce a range of opportunity within the school. We must attempt to educate parents to accept this kind of advance rather than the mad race to try to achieve the accurate choice between schools, if such there be, at the age of 11.

I bring to my right hon. Friend's attention the benefit of the experience in my own locality. Under a Conservative local authority a market mechanism is attempted in Enfield. But school choice ranges right across the whole of the borough so that several thousand children have to be allocated each year. What is happening is that certain schools—sometimes, some of us would say, aptly, but in some cases perhaps on the crudest form of rumour—are identified as being the good ones and others as the poor ones. Not surprisingly, we find that the good ones are identified as being in the more prosperous parts of the borough while the less attractive schools are located in the poorer parts.

We are all quite rightly concerned to increase parental awareness of opportunity, but where a local authority places a great emphasis upon the crucial choice at the age of 11 an increasing number of parents of children are dissatisfied with the allocations made. The sampling is fairly rough and ready, but it is fairly clear—and this would obviously be consistent with all our expectations—that as awareness grows, so also the parents' determination to stand by their first choice increases and, thereby, their repudiation of the allocations which the local authority made.

To me this emphasises the fallacy of suggesting that the issues can be resolved in those terms. Enfield is not alone. In various parts of the country a number of parents are even beginning to take the extreme steps of withdrawing their children from schools because their first preferences have not been met.

I do not think that the situation is at all improved by the Conservative Party purporting to suggest that parental choice can be the absolute principle with regard to the allocation of school. What is more, it is quite clear that if during the coming year we are to discuss the issue of secondary school development the Conservative Party, which continually throws out lifelines to grammar schools, should recognise just what a hindrance upon choice any form of selection at the age of 11 eventually is.

If the Conservative Party ever had the misfortune of getting the opportunity to come back to power and to reinforce this principle, I have not the slightest doubt that the concept of parental choice would give way to party dogma in terms of academic selection.

Even more so we should recognise something which is not proposed in the Gracious Speech but which, it seems to me, ought to be there. That is the whole question of the extent to which the debate over this past year has completely ignored the ever growing infringe- ment of equality of educational opportunity in our society represented by the existence of the privileged private sector. We know what the Conservative Party means by "choice ". In terms of real privilege in education, it means choice by the power of the purse.

I do not see why we should sustain a situation in which the fundamentals or the education debate should be conducted, as it has been over the past year and as undoubtedly it will be over the next year, without a real consideration of what is the role of that privileged sector in distorting equality of opportunity.

I suggest to my right hon. Friends that one crucial area at least should be attended to immediately. It is that our public schools do not just represent an enormous inhibition of educational opportunity and equality of educational opportunity. We have a situation where the schools of the rich, powerful and privileged are defined as "charities" and sustain a degree of public recognition in those terms. Because in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the founders of the Winchesters and Etons of this world defined them as institutions for poor scholars, in the twentieth century, in this Year of Grace 1977, we still have a situation in which the privileged, who pay their £1,800 or £2,000 a year to have their children educated in this rather isolated atmosphere and in a framework which leaves many of the issues of the great debate quite irrelevant to their positions of privilege, are sustained by subsidy from the State. To them that hath more is clearly given in this area.

Let me bring to my right hon. Friend's attention the fact that a short, sharp Bill which at least remedied this abuse would not be costly on the public purse—in fact it would bring resources to it—and would command widespread assent in this House. I cannot imagine that members of minority parties would oppose such a proposition, and I should he interested to see the extent to which members of the official Opposition could justify this extraordinary anomaly in the framework of educational opportunity.

2.44 p.m.

Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)

There is one aspect of education that I wish to bring to the notice of the Secretary of State, although she may deny any responsibility for it. It is this very serious problem of getting children to school in rural areas.

During the Summer Recess, I had the opportunity to meet a large number of parents who were very concerned that local authorities, because of the restrictions placed on their expenditure by the present Government, have found it impossible to continue to help some parents with travel passes for their children to go to school. Local authorities are rigorously enforcing the Act which specifies the distances of two and three miles by the shortest route. In rural areas, very often the shortest possible route is quite different from the distance by road, and I wish to bring to the right hon. Lady's attention one or two examples to show the special nature of the problems.

A parent writes to me from one village saying: We live in a small village approximately 2½ miles walking distance (the shortest route), and 3.5 miles by road. There is growing concern as the shortest walking distance entails the crossing of several fields and a river, the fields having been known to be under 2 feet of water in winter, making them impassable. There is another problem when public transport is used, and that is the expense. …a parent with 3 children will have a weekly charge of £4.30, which, together with school lunches costing £3.75, makes a total of £8.05. This is a heavy burden for parents with moderate sized families to contemplate. In some cases they have made efforts to arrange private transport, but their endeavours have been frustrated by the traffic commissioners.

In the Gracious Speech there is a reference to legislation being introduced for the further development of transport policy to meet economic and social needs, including those of rural areas. I express the hope that this will enable Traffic Commissioners to be less rigid in their approach to these matters, if it does not remove their responsibility altogether. They have to look at existing services, and they are reluctant to allow new operators on a route even if it is at the request of parents who have been able to arrange transport at a cheaper cost than that provided by existing services. I hope that the Minister will look at this possibility and see whether in conjunction with her colleagues she cannot find special funds to deal with situations of this kind.

I give one further example, and I mention the area in question. It is in High Bentham, on the Lancashire borders in the Yorkshire Dales. It is an area well known for its walking and pot-holing. It is remote and subject to extreme climatic conditions from time to time.

A parent wrote saying: … on Saturday 29th October I walked the proposed route contained in the reference from my home in High Bentham to Ingleton Middle School which my daughter would have to use to and from school. Walking at a steady pace it took me 1 hour 5 minutes and I was not burdened with satchel, sports gear or other scholastic impedimenta which my daughter would require. During my walk I crossed 18 stiles, two brooks and a stream, Bentham Golf Course and several fields in which various breeds of stock were running free. …If my daughter goes on either of the two public road routes she will need to travel more than 3 miles. It is obvious that this must have been the original decision of the Local Area Education Officer when issuing the present travel passes. These are passes which have now been withdrawn. My constituent goes on: I do not have to stress the problems that will be encountered by children walking any of the proposed unlit routes during the dark winter months. The proposed footpath route would be very exposed in cold weather and at times would be impossible for children in the 11 to 13 age group. Those are only two examples of the problems encountered because of the Government's lack of financial support to local authorities. The matter is causing great anxiety in my constituency. I am sure that the Minister will appreciate the strain on a young person having to walk for an hour or more to and from school when so often the walking has to be done in gumboots. I know a little about walking, having myself completed the London to Brighton walk and many others. It is essential to be properly shod on these occasions. Gumboots, I regret to say, are not the most suitable gear in which to undertake journeys of this length, although of course they have the advantage that they can be discarded on arrival at school and lighter shoes put on.

But that is not the point. The point is that these distances in present circumstances are far too long, and I hope that the Secretary of State will look at the matter and see whether she can help local authorities and parents faced with this problem.

2.50 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen North)

I shall not follow the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) down his fascinating path of devolution, except to say that in many respects he has probably put his finger on the problem. That is, of course, the relationship of Members of this House from Scotland once we have a separate Assembly for Scotland. The same applies to Members of this House from Wales. The distinct possibility exists that, instead of curing the disease, instead of solving the constitutional problem, we might exacerbate it.

Instead of the difficulties of trying to bind the United Kingdom together being resolved, the possibility remains that the establishment of separate Assemblies could well accelerate the break-up of the United Kingdom. There is nothing sacrosanct about that, but it would be a sad thing if we found people driven into narrow alleys of nationalism which could only lead to greater tragedies in future for the people of Scotland and Wales.

I want to refer in particular to the passage in the Gracious Speech referring to improvement in the public services. It is nice to say that there will be more jobs, higher real incomes and improved public services, but it will have to be paid for, and it is necessary to try to recognise where the money is to come from. But I am delighted that already steps are being taken to improve public services in general.

I commend to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services the extension of the mobility allowance to those now aged 55. There has been a steady improvement, which we all welcome. Although in the country at large there has been some misunderstanding of the purpose of the mobility allowance. I think that it is one of the most radical developments in our social services, and it should be further pursued and improved because it has the greatest merit of all—it helps those who are too disabled to drive themselves so that they cannot benefit from things like invalid cars or a specially-adapted car.

It has another great advantage. It allows people freedom of choice of how they wish to use the benefits available. They can decide to buy a car, to hire a car, or to hire a taxi, or they can use the allowance to help with the expenses of relatives in giving greater mobility. It is a first-class scheme, and I am glad to see it extended.

But in our extension of these different schemes the time has arrived, if it is not overdue, to look seriously at the possibility of a real disablement income, again to give people freedom of choice. I think we have to examine what can now perhaps be described as the plethora of benefits available for those in need. There are so many forms to fill in, so many things to be applied for, that it is not surprising that specific individual benefits for specific individual disabilities are often not taken up at the level they are prescribed for.

We should all be sad about that. We should nail firmly the idea that people who get benefits from the State are somehow hangers-on and scroungers. The pillorying of people who depend on the State for their livelihood—which happens all too often among hon. Members opposite in particular—is one of the reasons for lack of take-up.

I am not criticising the staff of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, who do a splendid job, but my experience has been that when people go to the Commission and the officers of the Commission err, they err on the negative side. People often come to us about the way in which their benefits have been reduced or squeezed to the absolute minimum. The theory that officers of the Commission and the Department lavish money on claims without proper checking is ludicrous and could only be espoused by those who have never had people in great trouble coming to their surgeries.

We need greater expenditure on the National Health Service because particular problems are arising. The general view taken in Scotland as well as in England is that the whole amount of money needed to commission a newly-built hospital is not made available to the various area health boards. They have to try to make savings in other parts of the Health Service, perhaps by closing down rural hospitals or older hospitals in order to get the finance. Yet some of the rural hospitals and some of the older hospitals should be refurbished and perhaps their use changed.

I have an excellent illustration in the situation in Aberdeen and the North-East of Scotland. We have a new hospital but we are desperately short of geriatric accommodation. The situation is that people from the East Coast and from the west hinterland can come to Aberdeen, but people cannot cross from the East Coast to the west hinterland. Thus, people from Peterhead and Fraserburgh in need of geriatric assessment come to Aberdeen, whereas people from the west hinterland are having to go to the hinterland of the East Coast, where the rail services are nonexistent and the bus services poor. For example, very often 70-year-olds cannot visit their relatives for months in winter because of the weather problem.

Staff of the geriatric units—they all do a marvellous job—point to the apparent senselessness of sending people from Aberdeen to the hinterland while people from the hinterland are treated in Aberdeen. It is really a question of logistics and of spending money to improve geriatric services.

It is argued that we can only get this vast expenditure on public services by increasing investment. We want to see investment in manufacturing industry in order to produce the wherewithal, but it is time that we grasped the nettle, and I believe that the Government have done so, and said loud and clear that investment in future is not only to be in manufacturing industry. If we invest in education, health services, housing and the rest, that is just as good an investment for the future of the nation as investment in factories.

We have not been giving enough prominence to this point of view, one which the Labour Party has always held and which Labour Governments ought to hold. We should not allow the revenues from North Sea oil to be dissipated in foreign investment by relaxing exchange controls—that would be to sell out the future and the possibility of getting ourselves out of the economic morass that we have been in.

It is a question of trying to sustain jobs, production and our standard of liv- ing. I hope that the Treasury will have no truck with allowing direct investment to go overseas. I hope, too, that the Government will not take the all-too-easy road of letting the oil revenues be used simply and solely for the reduction of income tax.

Time is pressing and I know that the two Front Benches want their fair share, but Back Benchers are entitled to a fair share. If virtually three hours of a debate are taken up by Front Bench speakers, Back Benchers who have been here all day need a little overtime—perhaps five minutes into the time that the Front Benches want, which is precisely what I propose.

I know that the Secretary of State for Social Services has sympathy with what I have to say about one of the problems that we must face. That problem concerns Southern Africa and the situation in Zimbabwe. I have the greatest admiration for what the Government and the Foreign Secretary have been trying to do and are now doing in their attempts to find a satisfactory solution to the problem of Zimbabwe and towards achieving an independent Government by peaceful means. If that prize can be won, the future of Southern Africa will be changed. However, if there is a fight to the bitter end, there is no possibility of a peaceful change, either in Southern Africa or in the rest of Africa.

Immense damage was caused to that possibility and to the credibility of the Government and the Foreign Secretary by the use of the veto at the United Nations this week. For over 20 years people have been saying that as the possibility of a settlement becomes closer the Western Governments will have to choose their sides. They have said at the end of the day the West will come down on the side of the White minority regimes.

We fail to understand the psychological damage that we are doing to our own case by the use of the veto. No one is asking for economic sanctions and the withdrawal of trade overnight. We want mandatory arms embargoes on Southern Africa and a freeze on future investment. We are asking for things from which the Government have not cringed in the past. We are asking for the use, of leverage on companies by saying that they will lose their export credit guarantees. if they trade with Southern Africa. Sweden and Norway already operate such a scheme.

People always say that we must trade and talk with Southern Africa. We have been doing that for 20 years. During that time the screws have been tightened more and more. We have been told that we must trade with Southern Africa because better economic prospects would change minds. However, the period of the greatest economic advancement was a period when things got tougher than ever for the Africans.

Whom do we imagine is being shot in the streets of Soweto and locked up in prisons without trial? It is nonsense to say that this is a result of economic sanctions and pressures. In Southern Africa people are being locked up or shot and newspapers are being closed down. Those who lately have had their voices stifled are the most moderate reasonable of men. They are the people who are being locked up.

Unless we are prepared to clamp down there can be no future for Southern Africa except that of a bloodbath. I beg the Government not to rely on Mr. Vorster to try to solve the problems. We are not using him. He is using the Western Governments for his own ends. I hope that we shall learn that lesson. If we believe in freedom and the peaceful resolution of world problems, we must be seen to take the initiative by trying to solve the problems peaceably. We must not leave it to violence.

History shows that in Africa the men of violence are those who bring freedom. That has happened in Angola and Mozambique. I hope that it does not happen in Southern Africa.

I hope that during the debate on the Address the Government will stick to their principles. The answer to our problems is not to be found in the Lib-Lab pact alone. We must keep our nerve and follow the Labour Party programme. That will carry the people with us when we face the electorate.

3.4 p.m.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin (Wanstead and Woodford)

I should like, first, to echo the words of a number of hon. Members who have offered their good wishes to the Secretary of State on his partial recovery to health. We realise that he is still facing difficulties. We admire his courage in going about his duties, and we are glad that he is out of hospital and able to take part in our discussions today.

I have some sympathy with those who have been conscious of the difficulties of debating two very large areas of policy on a Friday, particularly immediately after the day of the Queen's Speech. We have to recognise—I do so gladly—that the reason why the Queen's Speech was delivered on a Thursday was that Her Majesty was taking part in the last couple of days of her extremely successful Commonwealth tour of Canada and the Caribbean. We must, therefore, make the best of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) dealt with the education subjects, and although a number of points were brought up subsequently in the debate, I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I do not follow them because I have a good deal to say about the social services side.

There is, however, one point that I must make now. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) is not in his place. He congratulated himself and the Liberal Party on some of the omissions from the Queen's Speech and seemed to think that this was something to do with the Liberals. I have merely to point out to him that the absence of any manifestly overt acts of Socialism in the Gracious Speech is due entirely to the election of a whole series of Conservative Members of Parliament for seats that have hitherto been regarded as safe Labour seats.

On the social services we have a very thin Gracious Speech indeed. I have combed it all the way through twice. I have found one-and-a-half lines relating to the entire responsibilities of the Secretary of State for Social Services: Legislation will be introduced on the composition and certain functions of the General Medical Council. In face of that, it might be thought that I and perhaps even he would he hard pressed to fill the remaining time in the debate. Therefore, I begin by touching on some of the things that are not in the Gracious Speech.

I come straightaway to the most notable omission of all. We had been promised that there would be a Bill on occupational pensions. I shall come shortly to what it might have contained, but I must ask the Secretary of State whether he will now make it clear that the two main proposals in that Bill have really been abandoned sine die. This was the Bill which was intended to confer an exclusive right upon trade unions to appoint 50 per cent. of the representatives of the management of pension funds.

The Secretary of State will know that that illiberal proposal was bitterly opposed not only by the pensions interests and by the Confederation of British Industry but literally by millions of ordinary pension scheme members and pensioners. Almost everyone agreed that it was entirely appropriate, as the Occupational Pensions Board recommended, that there should be member representation on scheme management, but almost no one agreed that that right should be conferred upon the trade unions exclusively. Therefore, I must ask what has happened to the Bill. The Government said in their White Paper the Government will present the new legislation as early as possible. That was in June 1976. No one has been more committed to this proposal than the Minister for Social Security. I quote from The Times, under the headline No retreat on pensions by Mr. Orme. It says: Any lingering hopes that the Government might be prepared to change its mind over one of the central planks of its proposed pensions legislation—the right of trade unionists to 50 per cent. representation on the board of trustees of occupational pensions schemes—could well be abandoned. Manifestly that was wrong because for the time being at any rate it has been abandoned, and yet we know that there is a Bill in draft because that appeared in the Press. It was drafted as long ago as May of this year. Therefore, I ask what is happening. Is that proposal abandoned, or is it something to be kept carefully under wraps, to be unveiled in the unlikely event of the Labour Party winning the next General Election? [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Mr. Kerr) may chuckle, but we are entitled to know the answer to that question. Has it been abandoned or has it just been put under wraps?

There is another damaging proposal which, for the moment, appears to have been shelved. This was the proposal to alter the balance of the Occupational Pensions Board, which was originally envisaged as a board of experts, with small representations from employers and employees. The Government proposed to enlarge the board by increasing the representation from employers and employees. This, too, was greeted with some dismay by many of those concerned because it seemed to be turning the board into a negotiating body when it is supposed to be an expert administrative body

In a Written Answer to the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Shaw) we were told: As already anounced, this Bill will be introduced as soon as opportunity allows."— [Official Report, 11th March 1977 ; Vol. 927, c. 689.] Again, there is no Bill. Has that proposal been abandoned, or is it merely being kept under wraps until some more propitious occasion for the Government? We warmly applaud the absence of that Bill from the Gracious Speech. 'The whole question of pensions has suffered from a surfeit of legislation, and the Bill threatened the bipartisan policy on which both parties had been able to agree.

Another welcome casualty that does not find a place in the Gracious Speech was the Government's ill-starred proposal to carry out yet another upheaval of local government. Their proposal, aired at their party conference, would have transferred social services, and perhaps education as well, from the counties to the districts, or to what have sometimes been referred to as the "Big Ten" cities.

That proposal has been opposed by virtually every professional interest concerned in the social services. It has been opposed by the Association of Directors of Social Services, the British Association of Social Workers, the Institute of Social Work and many others, and by the County Councils Association. The opposition was based on several grounds. The frictional costs of changes are always far greater than anyone expects. It would have involved a distraction from social work tasks which the existing authorities are carrying out, and that would have been bound to increase the risk of casualties—the non-accidental injury to children, hypothermia cases, and risks to other vulnerable groups that are the main clients of the social services.

In many parts of the country districts would be too small to fulfil the full range of services. A letter from the Chairman of the Association of Directors of Social Services, Dr. Meredith Davies, says that the resultant authorities created would in fact, in my opinion, be too small to effectively provide the sort of service which is essential to them ", and he adds that it would upset the principle of co-terminosity of the health services which the authorities regard as important. I hope that the Bill has been abandoned. If so, there will be sighs of relief all round. We need to ask the Secretary of State whether the measure has been abandoned or is merely being kept carefully under wraps.

Those are the omissions, and they are welcome, and I now come to some of the Bills that we can expect.

There is the Bill which is sometimes called the Merrison Bill because it implements the Merrison Report on the General Medical Council. Its purpose is to reform the composition and functions of the GMC. This was subject to a thorough and convincing report by Sir Alex Merrison in 1975. We must await the publication of the Bill, but I do not expect that it will be controversial. It is desired by the profession, or by a large part of it, and I should have thought that we could properly give it a fair wind.

I presume, too, that we shall have a Bill to authorise the payment of the £10 Christmas bonus to pensioners and other welfare beneficiaries. We note with pleasure that the Government have turned their back on all the various criticisms that they addressed to a comparable proposal that was introduced by the Government of which I was a member and that they have repeated a welcome measure which, in the public mind—and no doubt the Government have discovered this already—will always be associated with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sid-cup (Mr. Heath).

I must make the point that £10 in 1972 might be worth £21 now, so the bonus will be less than half the value that it was when it was announced by my right hon. Friend. We see no reason whatever to delay the Bill and we shall give it as fair a wind as we can to make sure that the payment can be made before Christmas.

I must take up the point made by the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) who asked what had become of the Bill on the Briggs Report. I thought at one time that we were going to have such a Bill, and I was surprised not to find it in the Gracious Speech. Perhaps the Secretary of State will confirm that there will indeed be a Bill to implement the Briggs Report on nurses' education. This is a measure which has wide support in the profession and which certainly has important implications for our position in the European Community.

There are now considerable doubts about the position of district nurses. I have the highest possible admiration for the work of district nurses and I believe their work to be of the utmost value to community services and primary care. I have been dismayed to find a great wave of anxiety arising in that profession because those in the profession felt that they would not be given a fair crack of the whip under the Government's proposals. Therefore I must tell the Secretary of State that a Bill to implement the Briggs Report, if it comes, can expect to have a simple passage only if the Government can give an absolute, unqualified undertaking that there will be a separate statutory committee to deal with the educational qualifications of district nurses. Otherwise I fear that the right hon. Gentleman will find himself with a Bill which is a great deal more contentious than he originally thought.

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) referred to a Bill to amend the Mental Health Act 1959. We had a consultative document setting out various suggestions for reviewing and amending that Act many months ago, and the Secretary of State gave his views on what might be in such a Bill. When the Secretary of State made a speech to the Fabian Society in Oxford a few weeks ago he aroused some controversy among those concerned with this matter. We must ask the Secretary of State whether we can expect legislation on this subject in this Session. It was not mentioned by the Prime Minister yesterday. Presumably we shall have a White Paper first. Can the Secretary of State give us any idea when a White Paper following his consultations on the consultative document will be issued? That is another Bill which we have certainly been led to expect. Perhaps it is included in the phrase Other measures will be laid before you. Are we to expect a Bill to make clear that tobacco substitutes are to be within the scope of the Medicines Act and the regulations under the Act? If we have such a Bill, I must make it clear to the Secretary of State that it will not be possible to treat it as some minor, almost formal measure to be hustled through as quickly as possible. We shall need to debate some of the major issues that have arisen in the field of tobacco substitutes in the last month or so.

I was much impressed by the letter in the Daily Telegraph on 15th October by Professor Butterfield, Chairman of the Medicines Commission. Contrary to the impression given by Ministers and certainly contrary to the impression given by the Health Education Council, it is significant that Professor Butterfield. who is a very important professor of medicine at Cambridge, is the first doctor who has said that he would regard it as a very great pity if the work to develop and improve tobacco substitutes were not allowed to go forward. If the climate were so discouraging that all this work was abandoned, he has made it clear that in his view it would be a very sad thing.

Of course he supports the Health Education Council in its wish to give people the facts so that they may be persuaded to reduce their smoking. I would not expect him to say anything else. He says: One earnestly hopes the successful brands of Non-Smoking "— I think it should be "new smoking "— Material containing cigarettes will not be taken off our market. That is a view which many people would share. Filter tips have reduced the incidence of disease. They took some time to get going. Low tar cigarettes will reduce the incidence of disease, and they have taken some time to get going. It would be very unfortunate if, by unfair propaganda, the introduction of tobacco substitutes were to become a sort of seven-day wonder never to be heard of again.

I hold no brief for the tobacco companies. I know that they hold different views about what has happened over the past month. Some of the advertising is certainly subject to criticism. However, we shall want to debate this measure fully and I do not think that it is a Bill which can be, as it were, swept upstairs.

The biggest omission from the Gracious Speech is any reference to the advancing paralysis in the National Health Service. I agree with Pie hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed that legislation is not the answer to what is required, though some legislation may at some stage be necessary.

I remain stupefied by the Secretary of State's complacency in the face of the mounting tide of criticism which he and the National Health Service are now facing. At any rate he shows complacency in his public pronouncements. "Better than ever" he said in response to that very well researched study by the Royal College of Nursing. In his annual report he said that the service stands comparison with any in the world ". As I go round the world I find that this is not the view taken by those responsible for health affairs in other countries. Nobody has imitated our form of Health Service anywhere else in the world.

Faced with the mounting volume of complaint and criticism, the mounting evidence of declining standards of care, whatever may be said about the actual quantity, and with the still sagging morale of the professions, I find the Secretary of State's inactivity almost incomprehensible. He stands there mouthing his platitudes about "better than ever" and "envy of the world" which simply do not match up to the facts which are now repeatedly being seen in the newspapers and on the television and experienced by almost everybody who has anything to do with it. I watched the programme on the spinal injuries unit at Stoke Mandeville and found myself wholly in sympathy with the words of Baroness Masham who described the right hon. Gentleman's comments as "a load of old flannel ". What I find even more irritating is that he then has the brass to castigate those who seek to examine the options of what might be done to improve the situation.

We have not debated the mini-Budget. The right hon. Gentleman said that the £400 million would include a significant allocation for the health and social services. When is he proposing to announce how much of that money is coming to his Department and what it is to be spent on? More important, if there is to be this big spending of capital with only a nominal increase in revenue expenditure, how does he propose to deal with the revenue consequences of the capital spending?

Only yesterday the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bradley), when moving the Loyal Address, said : The recent postponement of the opening of the new 400-bed development at the Leicester Royal Infirmary has caused widespread disappointment throughout the city and its environs "—[Official Report, 3rd November 1977 ; Vol. 938, c. 13.] The capital was there, and the hospital is built, but there is no money to run it. That is happening elsewhere. Where is the money coming from to run the new John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford?

We are promised a substantial new influx of capital spending to help the construction industry, and nobody will quarrel with that, but is it merely to build new hospitals that will be put into mothballs? The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. Corbett), who wanted a hospital, may now get it, but there will be no money to run it as the situation is now.

Therefore, we are entitled to say, as I said last week, that the National Health Service is running out of money. That is as good as admitted by the Government. I wish to draw attention to one of the most curious statements I have ever read in a Government publication. In "The Way Forward ", the Government's document about priorities in health, the right hon. Gentleman said: For the NHS, the money available will be enough in principle to meet increased demand arising from demographic change and leave a very small margin for other demands on the service. What does the Secretary of State mean by "in principle "?

Imagine the scene at a meeting of an area health authority when the replace- ment is proposed of a vital piece of equipment, perhaps a new special baby-care unit to replace one such as that in the Medway district which I visited recently, where cockroaches have to be kept out of the unit by Sellotape. There might be a proposal to hire the staff to operate renal dialysis units now standing idle because there is not the staff to run them, or money to sustain the special spinal care unit at Stoke Mandeville, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) spoke. The area administrator will say "There is money in principle for all these things ", but when the members of the authority ask "Can we have it?" he will reply "No, because it is only there in principle."

What happens when the patients present themselves? Perhaps this is the kind of "black comedy" of which the Daily Telegraph wrote on 26th September. When a patient presents himself with a serious spinal injury he must be told "The money is there in principle, but not in practice."

The Secretary of State knows—and the use of that phrase shows that he knows—that the National Health Service cannot do everything. When he is dealing privately with hon. Members, he makes that pretty clear. On 17th October he wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Prior): The plain fact of the matter is that health authorities have to live within their cash limits, and the Norfolk Area Health Authority is no exception. That was said about a hospital in the city of which the right hon. Gentleman represents part.

What the professions want to see is a public recognition by Ministers that there is not enough money to do everything that is wanted, a public recognition that they are having to turn away patients, sometimes for years, because there are not the resources to treat them. The NHS cannot immediately meet all the needs that are presented to it, and the public must not be led to expect that it can. It is all very well to write privately to individual Members saying "We can't do it because of cash limits." We want from the Secretary of State an appeal to the public to recognise that the NHS cannot do everything. If the right hon. Gentleman does not give that public recognition, it is not only a fraud on the public but a monstrous imposition on the professions that have to administer the service.

I have spelled out on many occasions my remedies, which include a sense of realism, a willingness to face the facts, decentralisation of administration and incentives to proper economy. This may not be the moment to go into them in detail again, but what sort of incentive is it if a hospital is told that if it beats its budget, the budget will be reduced next year? We must have partnership with the private sector and new sources of finance.

If the real problem is shortage of money, how can it make sense to rule out for ever any question of raising money by charges? There is no issue of basic principle between us on this. The Labour Government introduced charges, and they increased them early this year. Labour Ministers have often defended charges. Even the charges for food and lodging in hospital are matters at which Ministers are looking extremely carefully. Last year I had a long letter from the present Foreign Secretary setting out the pros and cons for suggesting that was an option at which Ministers were looking.

Mr. Pavitt

Over my dead body.

Mr. Jenkin

The hon. Gentleman may lay down his dead body, but Ministers have been looking at those matters. In the context of the Royal Commission, it was sensible. I have no doubt that views have been put before the Royal Commission on those matters. That was what I was doing when I spoke on Saturday. My speech to the Conservative Medical Society was that we should look at the options in the context of the Royal Commission. I said: It seems to me that this is a proposal which must be examined. I must say that in the face of what the Government have done, the hysterical reaction of Ministers is nothing less than sheer humbug. It is all the more so when the Secretary of State is doing so little to deal with the problem.

I think that the Government may have been misled by Press headlines. There were some remarkable headlines. For example, Tories unveil plan for hospital charges and dearer prescriptions. We were doing nothing of the kind. We know about the Holy Roman Empire. It was neither holy, Roman nor empire. I think that must have been dreamed up by a frustrated sub-editor at Charlemagne's court.

The fact is that I do not want to dismantle the National Health Service. I have said so again and again in a whole series of speeches to large audiences up and down the country throughout this year. Those speeches are in the Library, and the right hon. Gentleman can go and read them if he wishes. Of course, if he wishes to continue to conduct the argument on the basis of imaginary Aunt Sallys of his own fertile imagination, he may continue to do so. However, he cannot expect to take us or the country with him.

I welcome debates about the future of the National Health Service, because clearly it requires great attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) made an important speech on Tuesday. He told health specialists of the Institute of Practitioners and Works Study. Organisation and Methods: We want to see a vibrant and thriving NHS. That is my view. I have argued time and again that we want a National Health Service. But for goodness sake, let us look at the options open to us to sustain and improve it in today's economic circumstances.

I ask that we conduct this debate on the real arguments, on actual statements, not on figments of Socialist imagination. On that I am glad to have the support of the hon. Member for Brent, South. Let us not fight the argument on the basis of some of these wild statements which have been made in the past. Let us look at what we are saying and recognise that we all want an effective and efficient National Health Service. Then, perhaps, with the help of the Royal Commission, we may come out at the end with something better than we have at the moment.

3.33 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. David Ennals)

First. I thank the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) for his kind words of welcome to me after my stay in hospital. One never wants to go into hospital, but there are some advantages. Any stay in or visit to a hospital reminds me what civilised, dedicated, hard-working, caring people are the doctors, nurses and health workers who make up our National Health Service. All of us, whether we go into hospital as patients or visitors, must he impressed by the services that they give. I agree about the difficulties that they face.

If patients are asked what they think of the National Health Service, they always say "Magnificent" Those who work in the NHS see the wards, know the problems and face the difficulties. I shall do so in the course of my reply.

In answer to the last point made by the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford, I should say that he obviously wants his ideas widely spread. Indeed, in this month's issue of the Nursing Times there is the first of four articles —there are three more still to come—setting out the right hon. Gentleman's views.

This has been a wide-ranging and thoughtful debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) always speaks with great experience, and I was glad to hear also from my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) and for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), as well as from hon. Members opposite. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) made what I thought an extremely helpful speech, and I was pleased to hear also from the hon. Members for Wells (Mr. Boscawen), Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) and for Skipton (Mr. Drayson). I much appreciate that this has been a serious debate—

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The right hon. Gentleman has left someone out.

Mr. Ennals

No, I have not left anyone out. I am coming to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. JohnStevas).

Our debate has covered a wide range —the Grunwick dispute, the co-operative development agency, public lending right, the postal services, devolution, disarmament, and Southern Africa—and I do not imagine that the House will expect me to reply on all those subjects. Naturally, I shall deal in particular with the social services, but I wish to say a word first to the hon. Member for Chelmsford, who also made a very thoughtful speech.

I agreed with much of what the hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State felt the same. However, he complained that there was no commitment to an Education Bill in the Gracious Speech, and he asked why there had been no debate on the Taylor Report. The hon. Gentleman must be fair. The Taylor Report was published only in September. Clearly, there must be at least three months of consultation on the basis of that report, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department is giving serious thought to it. It is hoped that there may be a Bill. The hon. Gentleman will note that the Prime Minister said that he hoped that it might be possible to find time for a Bill on school management and parent choice. It is a matter of the parliamentary timetable.

However, I must remind the hon. Member for Chelmsford and his right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford. who spoke about what was not in the Gracious Speech, that the success of the education programme or of our health and personal social services does not depend on the number of lines in the Gracious Speech. It depends on far more than that.

When the hon. Member for Chelmsford twitted my right hon. Friend and tried to undermine her reputation for ability as a Minister, he was I think, speaking for a very small minority, though he is quite used to doing that. My right hon. Friend will, I believe, be remembered for her tenure of office, however long that tenure be, as an outstandingly able. dynamic and thoughtful Minister, and I think that most people in the country will accept that. [Hon. Members: She has come in now.1 I waited until my right hon. Friend arrived before I said it. I hope that she may do the same for me one day.

I greatly welcome the debate as an opportunity to review our social policies. I shall speak later about our health services, but I have a word to say about social security first. It is a matter for some pride on our part that during a period of great economic restraint, when we have been faced with a constant barrage of demands from the Opposition for bigger and bigger cuts in public expenditure, we have maintained our social priorities.

We have given top priority to pensioners. So that we might pull through the country's economic crisis, the standard of living of the working population has had to take a dip. Thank heaven, that period is over and recovery is on the way. But pensioners and, indeed, the sick and unemployed have been protected. At the time of last November's uprating, the pensioner's income was worth 15 per cent more in real terms than it was at the time of the 1973 uprating. In a fortnight there will be another increase, to £17.50 for the single person and £28 for a married couple, and that will more than double the pension levels which we inherited. The uprating will represent an increase of nearly 14½ per cent. for pensioners.

I well remember—I have looked up the words—that when I announced those figures in May and said that I believed that the uprating would more than match price increases from November to November, the Opposition scoffed at the thought. They did not actually promise more. All they did was laugh at the thought that the inflation rate would ensure that we should in fact, as I believe we shall, have a margin of benefit for pensioners. I am glad to say that we are on target. I believe that the November to-November inflation rare will show that we shall more than compensate for inflation, with the rate heading for single figures early next year.

But that is not all. The increased tax allowances for the over-65s will mean that pensioners at that age will be free of tax if they have an income of less than £24. As a short-term tax help, no tax will be levied on the pension increase between now and next April. That will mean about £15 for the single pensioner and £24 for a married couple, quite apart from the bonus, which I shall mention later.

Our second priority has been the disabled—a subject mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North. When we took office there were invalidity benefits payable under the contributory scheme to people who were incapable of work, and there was an attendance allowance for those who needed day or night care. Since then we have been able to add the invalid care allowance and the new mobility allowance, which will go up in a very few days. We have extended the invalidity pension to people whose disability has prevented them from ever entering the national insurance scheme In 10 days' time, along with the general uprating, non-contributory invalidity pension will be extended to incapacitated housewives who are unable to undertake ordinary domestic duties. I think that our record in terms of care for the disabled in a period of great difficulty is one of which we have reason to be proud.

Concerning child benefits, the amount payable for every child will go up to £2.30 tax free in April. That means that a mother of two children now drawing £2.50 will get £4.60. A mother with four children now getting £5.50 will get £9.20, with an extra £1 in the case of a one parent family.

Mr. Raison

On this matter of child benefit, will the Secretary of State give some attention to the appalling chaos in Newcastle? An alarming number of my constituents have said that they are simply not getting child benefit since the scheme was introduced. It is time that it was sorted out.

Mr. Ennals

I know that there have been some problems, but we have had to take 3 million new people into child benefit for the first child, so that it has been a very considerable undertaking. There have been some problems but I have not heard of as many worries in the last few weeks as I did earlier. We have been trying and staff in Newcastle have been trying very hard to get it right.

I was very interested to watch what the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford had to say at his party conference in Brighton. On the same day as his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) was promising massive tax cuts, the right hon. Gentleman was promising increased spending on child benefits, even beyond the Government's big boost next April. One sometimes wonders whether he and his right hon. Friend ever speak to each other. Happily, we have not had from the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford the sort of lecturing that we sometimes have.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

I should be fascinated to know how the Secretary of State was able to watch me on television. As soon as I rose to my feet, the television switched to the Open University. But I hope that the Secretary of State has accepted the view which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe) and I have put forward in a number of speeches, and in the House, that the introduction of tax credits poses a choice for public expenditure presentation. Does the Secretary of State regard them more in the nature of public spending, to be included in the Public Expenditure White Paper, or are they more like increases in tax allowances which go into the Red Book every year? We think that the right way to treat them is as tax allowances. They are part of our proposed tax cuts.

Mr. Ennals

I wish now that I had not mentioned it. I said how grateful I was to the right hon. Gentleman for not delivering a lecture to me on child benefits. I can now understand why there was a rapid switch-over on television when he made his speech at the Brighton conference.

What I have said shows over these three areas a remarkable record of achievement, and on top of this we have laid the foundations of our major pension reform. From April next people who look to the State for their income in retirement will not only qualify for the basic pension but will begin to build up rights to an earnings-related additional pension, comparable with the provisions made, admittedly for the minority, by the best employers.

This is the basis of a partnership with occupational pensions that I believe both sides of the House have welcomed. I believe that the new Bill, which will come into effect next April, will probably go down in history as one of the greatest achievements of this Government, and I am grateful to Opposition Members for having made it a bipartisan measure.

We have a solid record of progress and innovation, a record of higher benefits, and new benefits, achieved in spite of the economic and financial difficulties which the Government have had to face. The improvement in our economic situation meant that the Chancellor has been able to find room for a package of measures to stimulate the economy. It was not surprising that he gave his first priority to the easing of the tax burden. But the second priority which he has given is to social security, social welfare and social benefit. Just as we held to our social priorities when the economic going was tough, so we have when it is beginning to ease.

Side by side with the tax reliefs, the Chancellor's package contained a range of measures for the social services adding up to about £180 million of new money. Let me touch first on the Christmas bonus. Over half of this—about £100 million—will be spent on a special £10 bonus to be paid before Christmas to old-age pensioners and a number of other groups. We felt that if there was room in the economy for some extra spending power, the pensioners should certainly have their share.

The bonus will go to a record number of people—around 10 million. Most of them, about 8½ million, will be retirement pensioners, but many other groups are included—invalidity pensioners, those receiving attendance allowance or widow's benefit, and so on ; in fact all the groups who have received bonuses on previous occasions. But on top of these groups we are also bringing in those receiving invalidity care allowance or non-contributory invalidity pensions—including disabled housewives who, of course, get their benefit later this month.

I assure the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford that I shall be bringing before the House next week the legislation to provide for this bonus payment. I am grateful to him for agreeing to help it on its way.

I should like to say a little about some of the rest of the money and the needs of the Health Service. I mentioned that the social services as a whole would gain about £180 million from the Chancellor's package. Apart from the Christmas bonus, the package also contained a major cash boost for the health and personal social services. I can announce today that this cash injection totals over £50 million of capital and revenue in the next financial year alone.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will shortly be announcing full details of the Government's programme to assist the construction industry. About £55 million of this will be devoted to capital spending on the health and personal social services. Around two-thirds will be spent in the next financial year, 1978–79, and the remainder in 1979–80.

The House will know that after widespread consultations I have laid down clear priorities for NHS spending. If anyone suggests complacency on my part he ought to read the green document that the right hon. Gentleman was waving. I have recognised that the Health Service needs more money and that those who work in it want and need more money. If we are to provide this we must not only have some extra money but ensure that the resources we have are used effectively and that we get the best value for them. All the priorities were set out in the document The Way Forward ".

I am determined to shift resources into the neglected parts of the NHS—services for the elderly and for the mentally ill or mentally handicapped. I intend to make sure that the extra capital we have for the next two years is used in ways that not only put into practice the aims set out in our priorities paper but also take into account the expression of both sides of the House to make some improvement in our Health Service buildings. Buildings do affect the quality of life—a point well made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West.

We can make life a great deal more pleasant for many of our geriatric and mental hospital patients, for example, by improving and upgrading wards and other facilities. We can brighten up day rooms ; we can modernise kitchens ; we can put in extra bathrooms and lavatories. These and many other improvements are long overdue in some of our older hospitals, and they can make a real difference to the quality of life of many elderly, mentally ill and mentally handicapped patients.

We can improve the standards of maintenance in our hospitals. I should like the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford to send me the insect or an example of the insect that he discovered in one of the hospitals he visited. It must have been due to inadequate maintenance. I want to put more money into maintenance for the benefit both of patients and of staff. Often we can do it in ways that save money in the long run. If we can instal more efficient methods of heating to save energy, that will save money that can then be used for patient care.

I have been accused of being complacent. However, Opposition Members will see in the document the great amount of time that I have spent travelling round the country to conferences and meetings at every level in the National Health Service working out methods by which we can get the best value for money. I want to see some of the money used to help with the problem of waiting lists, to which the hon. Member for Wells referred and which also worries me greatly. The problem of dealing with long waiting lists is for me a matter of very high priority.

Apart from all this capital expenditure, I can also announce an additional £10 million for current spending on the National Health Service in England during 1978–79, with commensurate sums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and I intend to use this £10 million to ease some of the pressures on the National Health Service, especially the transitional pressures which we face in reorganising our services to meet the demands of the future in terms of the kinds of examples which the right hon. Member for Wan-stead and Woodford gave.

If a new hospital is allowed to be brought into service before the hospitals that it will replace have been closed, there is a problem of dual payments. We are bringing into operation a new hospital which may itself be more expensive to run even than the hospitals which it replaces. We must understand that if we bring in new hospitals almost inevitably the old hospitals that they are designed to replace will have to close. The supposition that closures are all done for reasons of lack of money is quite wrong.

In dealing with these transitional problems—and there are those which exist in Sheffield, Oxford and elsewhere—I want to discuss carefully how we can get the best use of the money that will be available. I shall be discussing it very soon with regional health authority chairmen, and we shall stick within the framework of the overall priorities set out in "The Way Ahead ".

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South spoke about the need for more publicity about the NHS. I agree with him. He is one of the best publicists of its achievements. As we move up to the celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the National Health Service, on 5th July next year, we shall be able not only to sing its praises, which is important, but to try to put right some of the problems which, I recognise, exist in the Health Service.

Let us look at a few of the facts to nail some of the lies. There are those who say "Ennals is complacent ". I am not. I am very conscious of the problems that we face. But sometimes the Opposition engage in a knocking operation, and they are unwise to do so.

I remind the House of one or two figures. The latest available figures are those for the end of 1976. Comparing them with the figures for 1973, which was the last full year of Conservative Government, the picture is very interesting. The number of in-patients treated is up by 122,000 to an all-time record of 5,254,000. That does not mean that more people are sick. It means that some of those who have been waiting are begining to come forward and that services are available for them.

The number of day patients is up by 72,000. Last year, therefore, it reached a new record total of 481,000. The number of medical staff working in our hospitals is up by 12 per cent. over the same three years. The number of nurses and midwives is up by 11 per cent. The number of health centres has risen from 468 in 1973 to 705 at the end of last year, when another 120 were being built. This is progress. and it is right that we should say it in the House.

I turn to some of the contents of the Gracious Speech and to one or two matters which are not there.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ennals

No. There are a number of questions to which I must give answers. The right hon. Gentleman himself listed about five with which I wish to deal now.

I was asked about the medical Bill. I am delighted that the Government will be able to find time in this Session to introduce a Bill implementing some of the recommendations of the Merrison Report. I am sure that it will be warmly welcomed by the medical profession, which has been pressing for this legislation for some time, and by the General Medical Council, which has given my Department a great deal of valuable advice in preparing it.

The Bill will reconstitute the General Medical Council. For the first time, elected members who represent the medical profession will be in a majority over the combined numbers of those appointed by the universities and the Royal Colleges and those nominated by the Crown. The Bill will also give the GMC new powers to suspend doctors from the medical register or to make their registration conditional if their fitness to practise is judged to be seriously impaired because of mental or physical ill health.

A number of the Merrison proposals are not included in the legislation. My Department is working on them. The first of the consultation papers on the different subjects involved will be sent to the interested bodies in the near future. Mention has also been made of the Briggs Committee. One of the other measures that we hope to introduce at the earliest opportunity is to fulfil the Government's commitment to the Briggs review of nursing education and training. I hope that after consultation we shall produce a Bill that will be acceptable to the Opposition. It would be wise to do so. If they can then assist us through Second Reading Committee and in Standing Committee, we may be able to get the Bill on the statute book, as we want.

I have been asked about the review of the Mental Health Act. A great deal of work and consultation is going on. A White Paper which summarises the results of the consultations and puts forward the clear proposals of the Government is likely to be published in the early part of next year. The subject is, therefore, not one which could be included in the legislation for this Session. I hope that we may be able to include it in the next Session.

I was also asked about the Medicines Act. Again, this is legislation which we will bring in if there is time, but we can make no commitment. It is purely a question of the problem of time.

The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford asked why a Bill on occupational pensions was not included in the Gracious Speech. It is not one of those measures which I am suggesting will be introduced in this Session, but I emphasise that the Government have in no way withdrawn from the basic principles of the White Paper.

I should like to say one or two other things about legislation. The House will remember that in June I announced that the Government had decided to accept in principle that there should be a scheme of payment for the benefit of those seriously damaged as a result of vaccination. I said that the detailed provisions would have to await our consideration of the report of the Royal Commission on Civil Liability. The Government stand by that commitment and will take steps to introduce any necessary legislation as soon as practicable after urgent consideration of the Royal Commission's report.

I have said that I want to see more funds available for the National Health Service. I am not surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not take the time to elaborate his proposals, but they will certainly have to be looked at carefully by the country when the time comes for another General Election. My impression is that, while his proposals are not for the dismantling of the NHS, they hit at the basic principle. That basic principle is for a service free at the point of need. It is absolutely essential to the NHS.

I can add my dead body to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South in resisting the undermining of that basic principle of the NHS. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman's message to the electorate is roughly "Because our present objective is to cut taxation, we are sorry that we will not be able to find enough money to sustain the service, so what we have decided to do is to make the sick pay extra; to relieve the burden from the fit, we will charge the sick."

Mr. Patrick Jenkinrose

Mr. Ennals

I cannot give way. I suggest that that sums up the principle that the right hon. Gentleman has set out about the NHS. But it is nothing but the law of the jungle.

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will regret putting such proposals forward, because they are an attempt to take money from those who arc facing sickness, whereas the basic principle should surely be that the burden be shared across the board. It seems to me that every time we have a power cut the right hon. Gentleman drops a danger, and he has dropped one this time.

It being Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.