HC Deb 28 January 1981 vol 997 cc930-4 3.36 pm
Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Secretary of State to carry out a review of the transfer of the whole cost of public education to a central fund financed by income-related contributions; to report to Parliament the results thereof; and to report to Parliament on the effects of proceeding further to introduce an education voucher scheme. The Bill that I am seeking to introduce draws attention to the way in which we find the necessary funds to pay for public education; but my immediate reason for its introduction is that the reform of the rating system which is in prospect for the coming year is producing a crisis in inner London. In the borough of Kensington, which I represent, householders in many family houses, including some not very grand properties, may well find that their rates will increase by £300 or £500 in the coming year.

We already have a social problem in inner London because foreign elements, who do not mind what they pay for property or household outgoings, are tending to drive out the electorate. In the past 12 months the Kensington electoral register has declined by 4,500 people in the areas of more highly rated property. If the increase in rates is implemented, I am afraid that this rapid movement of people out of inner London will become an avalanche. This matter worries me greatly. Therefore, as the Member of Parliament for Kensington, I consider that it behoves me to make a specific recommendation about the way in which rate burden could be substantially reduced.

In general, we place too much pressure on assets through our tax system and not enough on current spending. After all, rates are a form of property tax. This tax has now become far too heavy, particularly in central London.

As regards the future payment for education, the House should look at the long-term evolution of social policy. Looking back to the welfare system in Elizabethan times, we find that almost the entire burden fell on the parish and virtually nothing on central funds. But gradually, in our provision for families, pensions, the unemployed and all other aspects of the Welfare State, we have learnt to depend on central funds. However, we are still attempting to finance education from a local tax. I believe that we should now reconsider that.

In the provision of welfare there is another secular trend, which I believe is right—that is, away from the provision of services in kind to the provision of cash benefits instead. I believe that this is the right time to require the Secretary of State to turn his attention to these matters and to come to the House with specific recommendations.

The object of my Bill is therefore to call for a Green Paper on the finance of education, drawing attention to the urgency of relieving ratepayers of this very heavy cost.

In my proposed Bill, I have made two specific requests. The first is that we should take the whole cost of education off the ratepayer and put it on to a central fund subscribed not only by householders but by all taxpayers falling within the necessary category and in proportion to their capacity to pay. One of the particular anomalies about the rates is that the housing market is not fluid. Often the people with the heaviest family commitments also find that they have the largest rate bill, and there is nothing that they can do about it.

The reform that I am recommending would be far simpler to introduce than more complex schemes of local income tax, or other systems of local taxation which would provide finance for local authorities from activities within their own area. I see the attraction of such schemes; but the House needs to recognise why no progress has been made in introducing anything of that kind. The complexities, in administrative terms, are considerable.

I should perhaps point out to my right hon. Friends who have been trying to resolve the problems of the Inner London Education Authority that my recommendation would also solve that problem. It makes ILEA financially accountable to a branch of central Government rather than to the boroughs, which at present have no recourse. The boroughs must find the money somehow to meet the precepts handed down to them by the ILEA but are not able to contribute, in any effective supervisory way, to the spending of their money.

I recognise that many people have anxieties about the possible consequences, in terms of loss of local control, of removing local authority finance entirely from the provision of education facilities. But it has to be admitted even within local authorities that the wishes of many parents are not able to make themselves felt, particularly in areas of settled political persuasion. We need to consider the possibility of giving parents more say, by direct financial means, in the policy of the local education authority and also that of the particular school where their children are being educated.

The second purpose of my Bill is therefore to require the Secretary of State to report on proposals for proceeding to an education voucher scheme. I included a recommendation in favour of an education voucher scheme about 15 years ago in a pamphlet published by the Conservative Political Centre. I have not attempted to follow that recommendation further since that time. Many people have argued the case much better than I could. I believe that there are two particular recommendations for an education voucher scheme. First, it returns the power of choice to the parents. Secondly, it corrects the unfairness of a system that gives no help to those people who are educating their children privately, and, therefore, paying twice over for the cost of education and receiving no relief for it at all.

Because of the rules of order and also as a matter of prudence, I merely ask the House at this stage to endorse my view that these are matters on which the Government should now be required to state their policy clearly and to present a reasoned examination of the pros and cons. The time is ripe for this, and I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce my Bill.

3.44 pm
Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)


Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Gentleman wish to oppose the motion?

Mr. Straw

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

When I came into the Chamber I had not intended to oppose it. I thought that it was another hare-brained but entirely innocent proposal of the hon. Member for Kensington (Sir B. Rhys Williams) which those who take a benign view thought should go through. The truth is, however, that although this is a hare-brained and crackpot scheme it has dangerous implications for the education of children, not only in London but throughout the country. I speak as the hon. Member for Blackburn, but for three years I was a member of the Inner London Education Authority. I am concerned deeply about what happens to London's education.

I oppose the hon. Gentleman's proposition because it represents a twofold diversion from the way in which the Conservatives are seeking to wreck London education. They have diverted enormous funds from the education budgets in London to the much better-off shire counties. It does not lie in the mouths of Conservative Members who have walked through the Lobbies in support of the massacring of the education budgets of London—

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that the money spent on the primary education of a child in ILEA is twice that in my constituency and many of the shire counties to which he has just referred?

Mr. Straw

The hon. Gentleman, who is familiar with the rules of the House, knows that on Ten-Minute Bills interventions are not generally permitted. If the hon. Gentleman or any of his colleagues on the Conservative Benches had any idea of the problems of educating children in London and the massive social problems faced by the education authorities, they would understand why some additional expense is involved in that education system, just as it is in many other inner city areas.

The first objection to the proposed Bill is that it is a diversion from the consequences of the action of the hon. Member for Kensington and his hon. Friends in forcing funds away from London. Second, it is a diversion away from the chaos into which the Government have plunged themselves through their pledge to abolish rates. Only in 1976 the present Secretary of State for the Environment stated from the Opposition Dispatch Box that the pledge to abolish domestic rates was one of the wisest ever made by the Conservative Party. Despite that, the Government are in total chaos about what they mean to do.

Instead of seeking some long-term and comprehensive alternatives to rates and putting that before the people, we have from the hon. Member for Kensington a proposal to establish a form of local income tax which would be biased heavily against low-income people. The hon. Gentleman says that he objects to those who have their children educated privately paying twice. We understand the hon. Gentleman's view. He is paid twice over—as a Member of the House and as a Member for a European seat.

Mr. T. H. H. Skeet (Bedford)


Mr. Straw

It may be disgraceful, but it is true. If the truth is disgraceful, I am sorry.

This proposal would load an even higher burden on to the families of the least well-off in inner London. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to avoid the avalanche, as he described it, of people moving out of London, the answer lies in his hands and those of every Conservative Member—that is, to restore the inner city programmes established by the Labour Government with all-party support and to ensure that the rate support grant is based on a fair system of distribution and not on the politically biased system that the Secretary of State for the Environment has set up. I hope that all hon. Members will take the opportunity to crush this proposal at the first opportunity.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 67, Noes 168.

Division No. 56] [3.50 pm
Adley, Robert Marlow, Tony
Alexander, Richard Mates, Michael
Atkins, Robert (Preston N) Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Meyer, Sir Anthony
Blackburn, John Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Bowden, Andrew Montgomery, Fergus
Brinton, Tim Myles, David
Brotherton, Michael Neale, Gerrard
Bryan, Sir Paul Needham, Richard
Budgen, Nick Page, Rt Hon Sir G. (Crosby)
Chapman, Sydney Pawsey, James
Churchill, W. S. Pollock, Alexander
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Cockeram, Eric Rost, Peter
Costain, Sir Albert Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Cranborne, Viscount Shersby, Michael
Dorrell, Stephen Sims, Roger
Eggar, Tim Skeet, T. H. H.
Faith, Mrs Sheila Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Farr, John Stanbrook, Ivor
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Steen, Anthony
Fookes, Miss Janet Thornton, Malcolm
Fox, Marcus Viggers, Peter
Fry, Peter Waldegrave, Hon William
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Gower, Sir Raymond Waller, Gary
Greenway, Harry Whitney, Raymond
Heddle, John Wilkinson, John
Langford-Holt, Sir John Williams, D.(Montgomery)
Lawrence, Ivan Winterton, Nicholas
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Wolfson, Mark
Lloyd, Ian (Havant & W'loo)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Tellers for the Ayes:
Mackay, John (Argyll) Mr. Matthew Parris and
McQuarrie, Albert Sir Brandon Rhys Williams.
Marland, Paul
Abse, Leo
Allaun, Frank Cunliffe, Lawrence
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n)
Ashton, Joe Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Deakins, Eric
Beith, A. J. Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Benn, Rt Hon A. Wedgwood Dixon, Donald
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp'tN) Dobson, Frank
Bidwell, Sydney Dormand, Jack
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Douglas, Dick
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Bradley, Tom Dunlop, John
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Eadie, Alex
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Eastham, Ken
Buchan, Norman Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) English, Michael
Campbell, Ian Ennals, Rt Hon David
Campbell-Savours, Dale Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Canavan, Dennis Evans, John (Newton)
Cant, R. B. Ewing, Harry
Carmichael, Neil Faulds, Andrew
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Flannery, Martin
Coleman, Donald Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Forrester, John
Conlan, Bernard Foster, Derek
Crowther, J. S. Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Cryer, Bob Freud, Clement
Garrett, John (Norwich S) Powell, Rt Hon J. E. (S Down)
George, Bruce Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Golding, John Prescott, John
Graham, Ted Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Radice, Giles
Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife) Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Richardson, Jo
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Haynes, Frank Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Heffer, Eric S. Roberts Ernest (Hackney N)
Home Robertson, John Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Homewood, William Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Hooley, Frank Robinson, P.(Belfast E)
Howell, Rt Hon D. Rooker, J. W.
Howells, Geraint Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rowlands, Ted
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Ryman, John
Janner, Hon Greville Sever, John
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
John, Brynmor Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Johnson, James (Hull West) Short, Mrs Renée
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Silkin, Rt Hon J. (Deptford)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Silverman, Julius
Kerr, Russell Skinner, Dennis
Kinnock, Neil Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Lambie, David Spearing, Nigel
Leadbitter, Ted Spriggs, Leslie
Leighton, Ronald Stallard, A. W.
Lewis, Arthur (N'ham NW) Steel, Rt Hon David
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Stott, Roger
Litherland, Robert Strang, Gavin
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Straw, Jack
Lyon, Alexander (York) Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
Lyons, Edward (Bradf'd W) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Thomas, Dr R. (Carmarthen)
McKelvey, William Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Maclennan, Robert Tilley, John
McMahon, Andrew Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
McNamara, kevin Wainwright, R. (Colne V)
Marks, kenneth Walker, Rt Hon H. (D'caster)
Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton) Watkins, David
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Watson, John
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Wells, Bowen
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Welsh, Michael
Maynard, Miss Joan Whitehead, Phillip
Mikardo, Ian Wigley, Dafydd
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Mitchell, R. C. (Soton Itchen) Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)
Molyneaux, James Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Winnick, David
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Woodall, Alec
Morton, George Woolmer, Kenneth
Newens, Stanley Young, David (Bolton E)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Palmer, Arthur Tellers for the Noes:
Park, George Mr. John Maxton and
Parry, Robert Mr. Alfred Dubs.
Penhaligon, David

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Mitcham and Morden)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise the queston of police control of the traffic on the road between the Palace of Westminster and Westminster Abbey. Many of us have offices in Dean's Yard. At certain times of the day it is almost impossible to get to the House in time when we hear the Division bell if there is no policeman to stop the traffic. Today we did not have undue difficulty. However, the matter has been raised before and we have not yet received an intimation that a policeman will always be available to control traffic.

Mr. Speaker

I will look into the matter and write to the hon. Gentleman. The police do their best to help us, and I shall see what has gone wrong.