§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Norman Fowler)
The immediate context of the debate on social security is that in two weeks' time we will be uprating social security benefits. That will add another £2 billion to spending on social security. It will bring total spending on social security to well over £40 billion a year—almost a third of all public expenditure.
Uprating pensions and other linked long-term benefits by 7 per cent. will raise the single person's pension by £2.50 a week and the married couple's pension by £4 a week. That will mean that between November 1978 and November 1985 pensions will have gone up by over 96 per cent.—some 10 percentage points ahead of the rise in prices. Thus we have more than fulfilled our pledge to protect the value of the retirement pension, and that is a pledge that we stand by as firmly today.
This month's uprating means that since 1979 this Government have increased the social security budget by 30 per cent. in real terms. Some of that increase has been due to unemployment. I make no apology for the fact that we have given that substantial support to those in need of it, but it is important to recognise that the major part of that real increase in spending is due to real increases in the value of benefits, and in particular to the increased number of pensioners. Since 1979 the total number of pensioners has increased by over 750,000. The result is that we are now paying higher value pensions to more pensioners than ever before in history.
This Government have done even more. We have more than doubled the mobility allowance and taken it out of tax. We have abolished the invalidity trap and taken war widows' pensions out of tax. We have cut national insurance contributions for the lower paid. Therefore, let us be clear. The debate is about the policy of a Government, who, by any measure, have already committed vast resources to social security and, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer's statement tomorrow will show, are planning to maintain that commitment.
There is a further fundamental point. Since 1979 we have also cut inflation to a fraction of the 27 per cent. peak that it reached in the mid-1970s. It is now below 6 per 319 cent., and falling. The reduction of inflation is of crucial importance to all those on low incomes and to pensioners in particular.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) tends to have a short memory on this matter, but when we look back to 1976, when inflation was running at 20 per cent., and more for a whole year on end, we see that it was the hon. Gentleman who, according to The Times, was shouted down at a pensions rally. The report stated:Old age pensioners shouted down Mr. Meacher, Under-Secretary of State at the DHSS yesterday as he tried to explain the Government's record on pensions".In fact, those pensioners had learnt from bitter experience a fact that we should all face—that one cannot separate economic policy from social policy. High spending and the high inflation that follows will always undermine a Government's social objectives, however worthy they may be. Inflation is a social evil as well as an economic one. It attacks the poor hardest and destroys the security of the pensioners first. It must therefore be a first social priority to drive inflation down and to keep it down. We must never return to the days of hyper inflation of the mid-1970s.
There is another aspect of the debate that goes beyond comparisons of past performance, and that is the case for reform for the future. The fact is that the present system cannot be sustained. Social security has become a creaking structure in danger of collapse, and parts of the system are simply indefensible.
We cannot defend a system whose rules are frequently contradictory and which can leave so many people trapped in a position where it is not worth saving, not worth bothering to earn more and where a man can actually lose money when he takes a job. We cannot defend a system that is so complex that it creates major difficulties, both for those who operate the system and for those whom it is supposed to help.
We cannot defend a system that fails to deliver adequate support to many of those who are in the greatest need. For example, the evidence accumulated during the course of the social security review pointed to a clear need to provide help to working families on low incomes, which the present system fails to meet. We cannot defend a system that makes promises for the future that are clearly beyond the capacity of this generation to command and of the next to fulfil.
Presented with those challenges, it is simply no good to proclaim that every existing benefit must be preserved, or to come out with a stream of worthless promises to raise public spending more and more. The question is not whether social security should be reformed but how it should be reformed. That is a challenge from which no party can stand aside.
That is why the Government have carried out their review of social security with the aim—for the first time since the 1940s—of looking at social security overall rather than in a piecemeal way. In developing our approach, we believe that the system should meet three main objectives.
First, social security must be capable of meeting genuine need. That means rather more than constructing an adequate income support scheme to replace supplementary benefit. It means recognising that needs change. In particular, it means today recognising that one of the groups which are by any definition in most need are low-income families with children—not just those where 320 the head of the family is unemployed, but where the head of the family is in work. It is for that reason that we have set out proposals for a family premium with income support.
§ Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)
Although I very much appreciate my right hon. Friend's sterling work and his sympathetic attitude towards the least well off in our community, I must ask whether he accepts the grave anxiety among women that child benefit may not continue to be paid direct to them? Many women, not only those in the lowest income group, have child benefit as their only source of independent income. If that is to be frozen, they will be very annoyed.
§ Mr. Fowler
Indeed, I thought that my hon. Friend would go on to make a further point about how child benefit is paid. I cannot pre-empt the uprating statement that I shall make on child benefit, but clearly the whole intent of the Green Paper and the policy that we have set out is to continue child benefit as a basic support that is paid to women, but also to do something more.
I think my hon. Friend accepts that it is no good relying only on child benefit. The problem that has been highlighted in our inquiry into social security is that a whole range of low-income families with children need additional support. Family income supplement is not reaching those children. That is why I believe that although FIS rightly sought to tackle the issue and at the time was undoubtedly a major step forward, it suffers now from a number of defects, not least that it has not adequately tackled either the unemployment or the poverty trap. Our view is that it cannot be justified to have a system where a man can be worse off in work than out of work, or where his take home pay may actually fall even though his nominal pay rises. Our proposals for family credit—using net income—seek to tackle that problem and to bring increased help to some of our poorest families.
§ Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead)
We welcome the Secretary of State's statement that the working poor will be given substantial help. I should like to question the right hon. Gentleman about what he means by substantial and extra help. May we have a guarantee that when one takes account of the loss of family income supplement, the cuts in housing benefit and the freezing of child benefit, the new family credit will amount to more than the loss of income on those three fronts?
§ Mr. Fowler
The purpose is to bring extra help to low-income families in work. We shall set out the objectives and the tables in the White Paper. By introducing family credit we mean extra support, not less support, in that area.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
Is it not also important to bear in mind the Government's avowed intention to reduce the income tax burden on the poor? Are not many people in receipt of family income supplement paying tax?
§ Mr. Fowler
The whole House will share the aspiration to raise tax thresholds. We all agree that many people on low incomes who are paying tax now should be taken out of tax. That is the Government's aim. I am sure that there is widespread support throughout the country for that.
§ Mr. Frank Field
Poor families will not be reassured by the statement that more money will be available globally. People want a commitment that individually they will be better off. Will the right hon. Gentleman give that clear commitment?
§ Mr. Fowler
I have tried to answer that precise point. These issues will be set out in the White Paper. Like everyone else, the hon. Gentleman, even with his expertise, will have to wait until the White Paper is published.
Our second objective is that the social security system must be simpler to understand and easier to administer. I do not see how anyone can be happy with a supplementary benefit organisation which requires almost 40,000 staff to administer, but which, through absolutely no fault of the staff, is not always able to provide the service which is needed.
I do not see how anyone can be happy with a system under which all the main income-related benefits—supplementary benefit, housing benefit and family income supplement—use different measures of income and capital. I do not see how anyone can be happy with a system where local offices simply lack the modern aids which are necessary to provide a modern service.
It is for all these reasons that we are proposing the reform of supplementary benefit, the introduction of a common basis for our systems of income support, housing benefit and family support, and that we are now embarking on the biggest computerisation programme in Europe so that offices will not depend on manual records in the same time-wasting and inefficient way as they do now.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
DHSS staff are experiencing difficulty throughout the country. Will the Secretary of State comment on articles which appeared in the press last week about the confidential Ernst and Whinney report, which apparently advises that 10,000 extra civil servants will be needed to administer the complex new schemes which the right hon. Gentleman intends to introduce?
§ Mr. Fowler
We are examining the staff implications of the new proposals. A reduction in DHSS permanent staff is expected, and we are examining the temporary, transitional implications. I do not advise the hon. Gentleman to rely on reports about that matter. A newspaper report should not be relied upon for an accurate opinion.
Our third objective is that the social security system must be consistent with the Government's overall objectives for the economy. The scope for sustaining social security provision depends on the performance of the economy and the creation of wealth. Equally, it means that social security itself should not place barriers in the way of economic development—barriers such as high national insurance rates, which can discourage jobs, or restrictions on pensions which can prevent job mobility.
The Government's proposals for the reform of social security are set out with those objectives in mind. Clearly the final proposals will be set out in the Government's White Paper shortly.
§ Mr. Fowler
In the next weeks. At this stage, there are two major points to make. The first, is on the current problems we face, and the second is on future policy. The first point is this. Inevitably, there must be a limit to the resources that any Government can devote to social security. The lesson of that is that resources cannot be wasted—that can only mean areas of undoubted need 322 getting less. However difficult the problems may be, we must ensure that resources are properly directed at those who need them.
That is why we are seeking the control of board and lodging spending. Spending in this area has risen from around £200 million a year at the end of 1982 to £600 million a year by the end of 1984. For ordinary board and lodging it rose from £166 million to £380 million in those two years. There was evidence of abuse—both by landlords and claimants—and young people were being drawn into accommodation which they could not afford to pay for if they were in work. Our aim has been to ensure that proper help goes to those with a genuine need to be in board and lodging, while excluding those who do not.
One part of the regulations was called into question by a High Court judgment at the end of July, and as a result we have appealed to the Court of Appeal. The question of what to do in the interim obviously arises. There is a prospect of prolonged uncertainty, because, whatever the outcome in the Court of Appeal, it will be open to either side to consider an appeal to the House of Lords. So if we do nothing there is the risk of confusion—while at the same time calling into question the increase in benefit payable later this month to people in residential and nursing homes. That is an effect that no one wants.
So, for all the reasons that I set out in my statement at the end of last month, I am laying fresh regulations today which the House will have the opportunity of debating very shortly. They meet the Government's immediate objectives, while at the same time responding to the Joint Committee's concerns.
The revised regulations establish the framework of board and lodging areas, time limits and financial limits, without providing for any of the powers questioned in the High Court. They provide for the time limits to be reintroduced for new claimants as soon as regulations are made, but they will not be applied to existing boarders on benefit until 28 July 1986, coinciding with next year's general uprating of benefits. The regulations also give statutory backing to the increase in the limits for residential care and nursing homes due to come into effect on 25 November.
A number of other provisions enable us to deal with difficult cases. I am taking powers to exempt from the time limits claimants who would otherwise suffer exceptional hardship. I am also taking discretionary powers to help in individual cases of genuine hardship. This will mainly help people in residential and nursing homes who before last April were meeting their own charges, but are unable to carry on doing so and are now entitled to supplementary benefit.
The House will have a very early opportunity of debating these regulations, but there is a further important point that I should make on action which is clearly now necessary to combat the emerging evidence of fraud in this area. The House will recall that a special investigation earlier this year in Euston showed that about half of those claiming to be residents in particular hotels were no longer there—about 600 cases out of 1,200. Following that, I asked for other checks to be carried out in all regions. They are not fully completed. When they are, I shall make the full results available to the House during, I hope, December.
Nevertheless, it is clear already that there is similar evidence of abuse in other parts of the country. The evidence that we have from other parts of London, parts 323 of Manchester and Edinburgh, and from towns like Southend, show that an appreciable proportion of claimants were found not to be resident at the hotel named on their claim form. One address which had been given for 24 claimants proved on investigation to have not a single claimant in residence.
Such examples of abuse involve not only claimants but the proprietors of accommodation. This cannot be totally prevented by the passing of regulations alone, although the size of the abuse can be reduced. Clearly, what is needed is a further effort to reduce fraud and abuse, and I intend, therefore, to increase the scale of our effort in this area. I hope that, whatever else we may disagree on, there will be agreement that fraud, whether committed by claimants or landlords, or both in co-operation, should be combated as effectively as possible. I give notice now that this will be our intention in the coming months.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
Before the right hon. Gentleman makes these serious allegations, will he confirm that the overwhelming majority of the 600 in the Euston area had committed no fraud whatsoever, but had simply moved to a different bed-and-breakfast establishment and were not claiming any more funds than they had received previously? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the reasons for this not being known are DHSS bureaucracy and the fact that claimants would lose three weeks' benefit if they made it clear that they had moved? If there has been fraud in as many cases as that, why is it that only 10 have been prosecuted?
§ Mr. Fowler
I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wrong on his first point. There is no evidence of the kind that he has suggested to show that people have simply moved to another address. The fact is that 1,170 claims were examined, covering 30 hotels, and that in 55 per cent. of the cases the claimants were found not to he resident at the hotel stated on their claim form, in spite of the fact that they had the two-weekly returns to the office to confirm where they were staying.
In addition to the evidence from Euston, we now have evidence from Earls Court, from Edinburgh, from Notting Hill and from Southend. If the hon. Gentleman says that it is simply the same problem and that there is really nothing to worry about, I wonder how he explains a situation where, at one address purporting to accommodate 24 claimants, not one was found to be there.
§ Mr. Fowler
The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I said about increasing the efforts in this area. One of the results of that will unquestionably be that we will have to put more emphasis on prosecution than we did in the past. On that matter, the hon. Gentleman is pushing at an open door.
I and my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security have looked at this evidence carefully, although it is not yet complete. When it is, we will certainly put it to the House. On all the evidence that we have, however, I must advise the House that there is a serious problem, and it is right that the Government should take action against it. I cannot defend a situation in which the social security system is being defrauded, because that will only mean losses for those who need help.
§ Mr. Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North)
Will my right hon. Friend tell the House how many prosecutions have ensued from this investigation, and thus, I hope, deny what has been said from the Opposition Benches?
§ Mr. Fowler
My hon. Friend is right. A small number of prosecutions have taken place. That is one of the reasons why I am announcing to the House that more staff will be employed in this area, with the intention of bringing more cases forward for prosecution.
§ Sir William Clark (Croydon, South)
May I follow up the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, North (Mr. Howell)? If there is indeed a hotel which is said to have 24 claimants, and if not one of those claimants is living at that hotel, what is preventing their immediate prosecution? Secondly, are we certain that the 24 claimants are not still falsely receiving taxpayers' money?
§ Mr. Fowler
On the latter point, we are not. On the first point, the whole issue of prosecution in that case is under consideration. It is literally at this moment being considered by the authorities. In those circumstances, I cannot go further than to indicate to the House that what the Government and the DHSS have discovered is a problem that should be tackled firmly, not only in terms of investigation, but with follow-up action. I am sure that my hon. Friends, with their experience, will believe that to be right.
§ Mr. Fowler
No, I have given way twice to the hon. Member in this debate.
The second thing that I would like to raise——
§ Mr. Fowler
I have given way several times. I should like to continue, but nevertheless I give way.
§ Mr. Cormack
I do not know whether my right hon. Friend realises how strong is the feeling on this side of the House and, I am sure, on the Opposition Benches too. My right hon. Friend has given no adequate explanation of why there have not been more prosecutions. How much money does he think is involved in this?
§ Mr. Fowler
My information is that there have been 30 prosecutions so far. What I am announcing to the House is that we will commit more resources and more staff to the pursuit, not only of investigation, but of prosecution in such cases. That is the whole purpose of the follow-up action that we are taking as a result of this investigation.
The Government are determined to take action to combat this fraud in the social security system. That is what we have been battling to do. That is why I have put the proposals and the position frankly to the House.
§ Mr. Fowler
No, I shall not give way.
The second major area is pensions. Whatever disagreements there may be about whether SERPS should be replaced or restricted, I believe that there is now a widespread acceptance that it cannot be left unchanged. What is clear is that between now and 2035 the number 325 of pensioners will grow by something like 4 million—while the number of contributors will increase only slightly. In other words, in the pay-as-you-go scheme which is SERPS the ratio of contributors to pensioners will worsen. There will be proportionately fewer contributors to pay the bill that we are handing down to future generations.
We believe that those issues must be faced now. A nation should have the courage to look ahead. If the best estimates available to us lead us to question whether we will be able to afford the promises that we are making, we have a duty to re-examine the position. It would be an abdication of responsibility to hand down obligations to our children which we believe they cannot fulfil.
It is not just a question of absolute costs—important as they may be. It is also a question of priorities. The number of pensioners will increase—that we know. That increased population of pensioners will need many other services, such as health and personal social services, which we cannot necessarily fully foresee at this stage. What we can, however, ensure is that we do not pre-empt the resources of the state and unduly limit the flexibility of future Governments to carry out the policies that they judge necessary.
The further point to make about pensions is that, although SERPS has dominated the headlines, that ignores the important changes that are to take place in occupational and personal pensions. At present nearly half of the work force is without cover by an occupational scheme of any kind. Around 11 million are in schemes, but more than 9 million are not. What is clear is that that position has remained more or less the same for the past 20 years. It covers not only the years of the so-called "pensions blight" up to the Social Security Pensions Act 1975 but the years since that legislation. In neither of those periods has any significant change in the position been achieved.
It is a central aim of the Government's policy that that position should be improved. We want to see more people with their own pension and a growth in the pension-owning democracy alongside the home-owning democracy that we are already creating. That is not just an aspiration of the Government. It is also the wish of the public, as shown by the Gallup opinion poll commissioned for the review. The public want the security and independence that occupational and personal pensions can provide, and our aim is to meet those aspirations. In any policy to achieve that, there are a number of essential elements.
First, we must seek to give the public new options. We aim to develop, not only personal pensions, but industry-wide schemes in industries where occupational coverage is low. We want a generally simpler regime for occupational schemes. For the man in a scheme who wants to do more for himself, but does not want to go as far as a personal pension, we will give a right to pay additional voluntary contributions. The Green Paper proposal to give everyone a right to pay AVCs has been universally welcomed.
Secondly, we will enable new providers to offer pensions. Our aim should be to give more choice and encourage more competition. Banks, unit trusts and building societies will be able to become pension providers. What they have in common is a particular expertise in serving the needs of individual customers. I 326 want to see them helping more of their existing customers to plan for their retirement, and placing at the disposal of new customers their proven knowledge and skills.
Thirdly, we must ensure that people have access to new and better information. We have already acted to promote this by our new disclosure requirements, which come into effect next year. People have a right to know where they stand in relation to their pension rights. I want to bring about a situation where more people understand fully the value of those pension rights.
Those changes will come on top of the important improvements in the Social Security Act 1985, which protect early leavers, confer new rights to transfer values, and give people more information about their schemes. Those changes will go down as some of the most important improvements made to occupational schemes. Although I am bound to observe that in the months leading up to those changes there was less than enthusiasm from some of the established pension interests, now that the legislation is in place there is common ground that the Government were right to act in this way and that the lack of protection for early leavers was indefensible.
We will consider carefully the points put to us in the consultation on the Green Paper—on pensions and the other issues raised. I make no apology for that. It is right for the Government to consult the public on these issues. In addition, the time has now come for decisions and actions. Good government means facing not only the problems of today, but finding solutions to them. Good government means looking ahead and establishing the kind of system that we want for the future. That is what the country wants, and that is what the Social Security Bill will do.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
This year was to be the year of the biggest review of the welfare state since Beveridge. It is the view of many that it is turning into the biggest fiasco of this Parliament. What was billed as the biggest review for half a century did not even get a mention in the Prime Minister's speech to the Tory party conference this year, and was granted precisely a single inexplicit line in the Queen's Speech. It is inexplicit because, as the Secretary of State made clear today, the Government, two years after the reviews were inaugurated and one year after they reported, still do not know what the Bill will contain. The White Paper is still only half-written, although it is months overdue. Four drafts have already had to be torn up.
On 26 October, and again today, the Secretary of State said
Our aim must be again to listen to what people are saying … We must work that much harder and make sure that at every step we carry the great bulk of common-sense opinion with us.If the Secretary of State had meant that, he would have withdrawn the entire package.
There is no precedent in modern times for a Government proposing a programme of reform which unites such utterly disparate sections of opinion in such a consensus of hostility. Anyone who can manufacture a coalition ranging from the Confederation of British Industry to the Church of England, women's institutes to the Law Society, the welfare lobby to the pensions industry and the Trades Union Congress to large sections of the Conservative party is either a master tactician or a master bungler. Not many people would designate the 327 Secretary of State a master tactician. From the 7,000 responses to the Green Paper's proposals, no fewer than 98 per cent. were critical or hostile. It is only fair to say that the Secretary of State has his enthusiastic, admiring supporters. From an examination of those responses it is clear that they are confined to the Institute of Directors and the Monday Club.
The Labour party is in favour of reform and improvement of the welfare state, but the Government's Green Paper package is not primarily about reform. It is about cuts. SERPS is not being reformed but either abolished or emasculated. Housing benefit is not being reformed, except marginally, but cut by the huge sum of £500 million on top of the £200 million last year. Supplementary benefit is not being reformed, except peripherally, but cut by £180 million. Child benefit is not being reformed, even marginally or peripherally, but cut by £175 million this year, and, if it is frozen, even more next year.
The whole exercise was flawed from the start. One cannot have genuine reform if one begins with a nil cost estimate. One ends up by redistributing poverty among different groups of the poor. One cannot reach independent objective conclusions if one stacks the review committee with Tory placemen and placewomen. One cannot effect coherent reform if one fails to look at social security and taxation as a whole. One cannot expect people to take the charade of the review exercise seriously if one concludes that SERPS should be abolished when the proposal to abolish it was not even considered by the pensions council team.
One cannot expect much credibility to attach to the idea of a review because wide-ranging changes in widows' benefits are proposed when there was no review of widows' benefits. On the other hand, there is a deafening silence on benefits for the 16 to 19-year-old age group, when a whole review was devoted to benefits for children and young people. To cap it all, the Government cannot do all those things and then regale themselves with the spirit of Beveridge. The Fowler reviews have done about as much for social security as the captain of the Titanic did for navigation.
I listened carefully to the Secretary of State and I found he failed to answer four fundamental questions about the Government's intentions. By far the most important—he skated over it again today—is the future of SERPS. There is virtually unanimous agreement everywhere, even on the Government Back Benches, that, in the words of the Government's own social security advisory committee report 1985, paragraph 7(3):
Providing pensions at a level comparable to SERPS will cost the economy as much as SERPS even if that cost is shifted from the public to the private sector. A substantial reduction in total future costs can be obtained only by reducing benefits for future pensioners.Certainly everyone bar the Secretary of State recognises that a compulsory 4 per cent. contribution to private schemes would be nowhere near enough to compensate for SERPS. Indeed, for the low paid with intermittent work records it would barely be sufficient to cover even administrative costs and, if the Secretary of State carries out his original plan, the result will be a huge increase in poverty in old age, which SERPS is now on the brink of eradicating.
It is ironic that what the Government's vindictiveness over the abolition of the GLC did for the reputation of Ken 328 Livingstone the Secretary of State has now done for the reputation of SERPS. By seeking to destroy it he has proved how good it is. It is revealed as far more efficient than the private sector, and its administrative costs of 1.5 per cent. of contributions compare with 18 per cent. for private schemes.
It offers a fully transferable pension with assured benefits at low cost for a large section of the population which the private sector would find it impossible to pension properly. I refer, of course, to the low paid, to those with fluctuating or intermittent earnings and to frequent job changers. There is one other point that must be made clear. Should the near deafening chorus of hostility to the abolition of SERPS force the Government to bow to the inevitable, as I suspect it will, relief at the preservation of SERPS would be premature, indeed wrong, if the Government then resorted to major modifications of the scheme. It cannot be emphasised too often or too vehemently that there is no justification whatever for any such emasculation of the scheme.
§ Mr. Roger Freeman (Kettering)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the proposals contained in the Green Paper for the reform of SERPS show that there will be no saving to the Treasury in the first 10 years; that we are talking about long-term reforms; and that that indicates that the Government are concerned about getting the scheme right in the long run and are not concerned to save money in the short run?
§ Mr. Meacher
I never suggested that in this case the Government were saving money in the short run. There is no justification for changes in the long run either, because no alternative to SERPS could provide pensions for the people I have mentioned at anything like the low costs of SERPS.
The costs of the scheme were fully recognised at the outset 10 years ago, and even the Tory Reform Group acknowledged that in its response to the Green Paper proposals. The Tory Reform Group says:
The Green Paper's references to emerging costs seem to imply that the full cost of SERPS was not known in 1975. However, Edward Johnstone, the Government actuary and a member of the pension review team, has made it clear that this is not so.It is unworthy of the Secretary of State to cast doubt on the judgment and capabilities of a senior and distinguished civil servant, purely for his own political reasons. The same Tory Reform Group paper condemns the Green Paper for—and I quote the group's words again—its rather dubious statistical arguments".That is to say, costs are shown in current prices when what really matters, as we all know, is their trend GDP and the dependency ratio.
The only way the Government have managed to convey the impression that SERPS is not affordable—and the Secretary of State did this again today—is by cheating in the presentation of economic forecasts. The Secretary of State for Social Services wants to show that SERPS is not viable and projects an economic growth rate for the next 50 years of only 1.5 per cent. a year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer wants us to believe—and no doubt particularly tomorrow—that the British economy has achieved a sustained revival and projects 3 per cent. a year. Both cannot be right, and both may indeed be wrong. The most reliable estimate is probably the one given by the CBI, and I quote from its response to the Green Paper: 329Even if the economy grew more slowly in the coming decades than the 2.25 per cent. per year performance averaged in the last three to four decades, the proportion of national income taken by state pensions would not rise.In a footnote the CBI says:
Indeed, national insurance contribution rates would fall significantly if the basic state pensions were indexed to price inflation as on current rules rather than increases in earnings.That tells a totally different story from the one put out by the Secretary of State. It firmly gives the lie to the statement made by the Secretary of State in a speech about a week ago on 5 November when he said—and he repeated the same words today:
There is widespread recognition that the emerging costs of SERPS should be reduced.The truth is exactly the reverse. I am glad to see that the Secretary of State is nodding. There is a growing recognition that the costs of SERPS, which have always been fully known, need not be reduced. No argument can justify what the Secretary of State said today.
§ Mr. Kennedy
I concur completely with the hon. Gentleman in his criticism of the way in which the Secretary of State has handled this issue. Perhaps I could ask the hon. Gentleman a question about his own position. Suppose, as appears to be the case, that the Secretary of State moves away from outright abolition without trying to maintain political consensus, and towards some form of restructuring which may carry the pensions industry with it. If the hon. Gentleman were in a position to do something about that in future, would he return directly to what would by then be the former system of SERPS, even though the industry by then would have shifted its position from the hostility which it rightly shows towards the Government at the moment?
§ Mr. Meacher
I welcome that question and I want to make it clear that in two years' time when we are in a position to do something about this we shall reintroduce SERPS, either in the same form or in some improved form. There is the issue of existing pensioners. I know that Tory Back Benchers are not particularly concerned about the 10 million pensioners who at present do not have the advantage of the accrual under SERPS. We are concerned about that. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to put the question. Is his position the one outlined recently by Lord Banks on behalf of the Liberals, which is that the alliance apparently stands for the abolition of SERPS?
§ Mr. Frank Field
May I plead with my hon. Friend to keep a more open mind on what the next Government might do? Is there not something morally wrong in asking future generations to pay a level of contribution towards our pensions that we are not prepared currently to pay for existing pensioners? Given that position, is not there a trade-off, which the Government refuse to make, to reform SERPs in such a way that we pay higher pensions to existing pensioners, rather than planning for the year 2000 onwards?
§ Mr. Meacher
I do not believe that my hon. Friend is right in suggesting that the two concepts are mutually exclusive. I was making the point, in answer to the previous intervention, that the position of existing pensioners—who have not had the advantage, because they retired too early, of the annual accruals under SERPS—should be safeguarded. That depends, of course, on 330 the state of the economy—in particular, the reduction of unemployment and greater economic growth. Pensioners should have an increasing stake in that growth. That was, indeed, the position of the Tory Government in 1980, as stated by the then Secretary of State. The reality has turned out to be very different. But I do not believe that that argument, which I support, is a reason for underplaying in any way the enormous benefits provided by SERPS, and I still stand, on behalf of my party, behind SERPS as the best scheme that our pensioners have ever had.
It is high time that the Government recognised three facts about pensions. First, pensions are about providing a decent standard of living in old age for everyone; they are not about satisfying the fantasies of the Prime Minister about making everyone his own capitalist. Secondly, if the Germans and the French are capable of affording pensions of 62 or 70 per cent. of average earnings, we can do a great deal better than the miserable 29 per cent. which is all we are achieving at present. Thirdly, a broad measure of political agreement and stability is vital for pension planning. The handling of the Green Paper proposals on pensions provides an object lesson on how such things should not be done.
The second fundamental question that the Secretary of State has still not answered relates to what changes he is proposing to make in the social fund in view of the unparalleled barrage of hostility that the matter has run into. He did not mention it today. Perhaps he would like to intervene as I go along. It has widely and correctly been seen as reintroducing the hated relieving officer of the old Victorian poor law. The indignity of asking for discretionary payments and being labelled as a bad manager will discourage many in real need from claiming, especially the elderly, who will be deprived of heating grants as their protection against hypothermia.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the funds available for essential heating, clothing and furniture needs will be cut by no less than 60 per cent., from £260 million this year to only £100 million a year, if the social fund is introduced? In other words, the whole exercise is not about reform; it is about huge cuts.
§ Mrs. Edwina Currie (Derbyshire, South)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the comment made by the Social Security Advisory Committee in paragraph 3.42 of its report? It says:
"We are in sympathy with the general thrust of these suggestions. We think they form a logical development of the present system and will simplify its operations".
§ Mr. Meacher
I am indeed aware of that, and I hope that the hon. Lady is aware that the report goes on to say:It cannot work if the income support rates and premiums are not set at an adequate level.It then goes on to say:The social fund goes too far in making all payments discretionary. The proposal that some payments should be by the recoverable loan is interesting but we think it has a limited role unless basic benefit rates are increased. There should be discretion to make all payments as grants where the circumstances warrant it. The need for an external appeal mechanism will remain.I hope that next time the hon. Lady will read the whole passage.
Will the Secretary of State now accept that there must be an independent appeal against the arbitrary decisions of officials if claimants are not to turn in increasing numbers to Members of Parliament and the High Court? Will he now acknowledge that the principle of recoverable loans 331 deducted from benefit will reduce the income of claimants below subsistence and plunge them into a downward spiral of ever-increasing debt? Will he now recognise that the introducion of means-tested and recoverable funeral payments is almost universally condemned because it will expose the recently bereaved to distressing and harrowing interrogations?
The social fund is a callous and damaging proposal. The Society of Civil and Public Servants and the Association of Directors of Social Services have made it clear that they will not co-operate in its introduction, and for that reason it is difficult to see how it could ever work. As the Secretary of State is now getting into the habit of withdrawing ill-considered proposals such as the board and lodging regulations, which have been withdrawn twice, and perhaps the proposals for SERPS, he should now drop the social fund, which is widely seen to be a half-baked shambles.
The third central issue that the Secretary of State has failed to clarify is the future of housing benefit, where his proposed cuts of £500 million are now widely seen as manifestly unfair. In particular, the proposed combined take-up for rent and rates is clearly unfair on owner-occupiers, especially pensioners who pay only rates and will therefore face substantial losses. The proposed 70 per cent. rate of withdrawal is far too steep and will greatly worsen the poverty trap. How can the Secretary of State possibly justify what leaked DHSS figures show—a fivefold increase in families on the breadline facing marginal tax rates of over 80 per cent.?
The proposal that all claimants, even those with incomes below the income support level, below the state poverty line, will be required to pay 20 per cent. of their rates will once again force millions of people below the poverty line.
The iniquitous proposal to withdraw mortgage interest tax relief for the first six months on the dole from families on low incomes, struggling to buy a house, can only lead to DHSS-created evictions and homelessness.
There are three straight questions that the Secretary of State needs to answer on housing benefit, which he has so far notably evaded. How can it be fair and right to deprive pensioners and widows of housing benefit because their husbands were thrifty enough in their lifetime to save to provide a small occupational pension? When will the Government learn the lesson of the 1982–83 fiasco, when the housing benefit was first introduced, which makes it abundantly clear that local authorities will need far more time than the April 1987 timetable allows to implement the considerable changes proposed in the Green Paper?
Above all, when will the Secretary of State face the truth—that the increase in expenditure on housing benefit, which he is so impatient to cut, has not been caused by any over-generosity in the scheme? It has been caused by increased rents and soaring unemployment, and by the transfer of supplementary benefit cases from the DHSS. If he nods, as he seems to be doing, why does he not make changes in the scheme? Why must he impose it on poor people who have no defence? If the Secretary of State cannot or will not answer those questions, he should not be surprised that the housing benefit cuts are seen as illogical, mean and unfair.
§ Mr. Favell
Is it not a fact that 4 million recipients of housing benefit are not even entitled to supplementary benefit, and that many of them are actually paying tax? 332 Should not the state, whenever possible, encourage people to pay their own housing costs, look after their own children, provide for their own old age and pay for their own funeral?
§ Mr. Meacher
I presume that the hon. Gentleman means that tax reliefs, which are given without regard to need, should be ended so that there could be more money to provide for those in need who are not getting the assistance they need. If that is his argument, I agree with it.
The fourth area that is in such a mess in the Green Paper concerns family benefits. The Government are proposing either to freeze child benefit or yet again uprate it by much less than the rate of inflation. The Labour party is totally opposed to that. We believe that child benefit should be significantly increased. We are also strongly opposed to the way in which it is envisaged that the new family credit will operate, which is hopelessly flawed. It is likely that the take-up rate will be even lower than the family income supplement take-up rate—which was only 50 per cent. because of the need to produce 13 weekly payslips instead of five—because the award period is being reduced from 12 months to six, and because the employer will be involved. We also object to the Government's proposals because deducting family credit from tax and national insurance contributions will encourage employers to pay lower wages, although no doubt that is precisely the Government's intention.
We also object to the proposal because the abolition of the local authorities' discretionary power to provide free meals and the ending of free welfare food to low income families who are not on income support will mean average losses of over £2 a week for about one third of a million families, where poverty and poor nutrition are already rife. Most of all, we object to it because payment through the pay packet transfers family benefit from the woman to the man. In measured tones, the Social Security Advisory Committee report states:it is retrograde to divert resources out of the hands of the person most closely concerned with providing for children's needs.I can put it more bluntly than that. It is totally wrong to claw back money from mothers that is rightly theirs. I hope that I have the support of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), who has already left the Chamber. I hope that women's organisations throughout the country will make their demands felt. That has to be changed.
The overall impression left by the overwhelming mass of responses to the Green Paper is of a botched muddle and a complete loss of direction. It is a series of proposals without any coherence remaining and with more and more inconsistencies and problems exposed, commanding ever-growing public hostility and masquerading simply as a cloak for old-fashioned Tory cuts. It has no political mandate whatever, since not only was there no word about it in the Tory election manifesto but Ministers are strenuously showing every sign of their anxiety to rush the proposals through so that the electorate will not have an opportunity to vote on them in the next election.
There is no group closely associated with the implementation of the proposals that wants them. The employers reject the extra administrative burden imposed on them by family credit and personal portable pensions, which contradicts the Government's policy of so-called "lifting the burden." DHSS staff have made it clear that they will not co-operate with the more extreme and 333 punitive elements of the package and the directors of social services are not willing to be drawn into an exercise that is deliberately designed to increase deprivation. Local authorities have made it clear that they are adamantly opposed to being forced, yet again, into an over-hasty timetable that will produce another monumental fiasco like that of two years ago.
Morale in the Civil Service has plummeted to an all-time low over the Green Paper. That is perhaps the most far-reaching and serious consequence of the whole episode. One has to ask how the Secretary of State can perpetrate two appalling gaffes over the board and lodging regulations and produce a Green Paper that is greeted with almost universal hostility and ridicule and is riddled throughout with inconsistencies, revealing how little the basic problems have been thought through. The answer is that there is a bunker mentality prevailing at the Elephant and Castle. Top civil servants who do not share Ministers' political prejudices have been sidelined—
§ Mr. Meacher
I shall write to the Secretary of State to provide clear evidence to substantiate what I am saying.
§ Mr. Fowler
What the hon. Gentleman has just said is totally without foundation. It is untrue and an even bigger load of nonsense than most of his speech so far.
§ Mr. Meacher
The right hon. Gentleman is talking through his teeth. He is talking falsely and untruly. I cannot use the word "lie", but I would if I were able to, because he is grossly misleading the House. I know perfectly well what I am talking about and so do the civil servants in the Box and those from the Department who are listening to the debate. Advice to Ministers is being tailored increasingly to what it is known Ministers want to hear.
At least one senior civil servant with a distinguished record according to the highest traditions of independent public service has simply been shut out by the Secretary of State. It is because the full range of independent and objective advice no longer reaches Ministers, and because Ministers have undermined the integrity of their Department by politically abusing the channels of communication, that blunder after blunder is being committed, as we can all see.
That is not the way to run a great Department of State. That is why the Secretary of State cannot evade personal responsibility for the way in which he has devalued the Civil Service and sapped the morale of those whom he should be leading. If the right hon. Gentleman had any honour in him, he would know that the only honourable course for him after the fiasco of the Green Paper's near universal dismissal would be to withdraw those rejected documents and resign.
§ Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), in his exaggerated attack upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and his suggestion that there is no mandate for the legislation, which was outlined in the 334 Queen's Speech, on the social security review, seems to suggest that he is concerned that that legislation will receive a wider welcome in the country when it is judged at the next general election. That is what will happen. If it was the bad piece of legislation that he tries to suggest it is, he would welcome the fact that the review will be legislation by the next general election. Judging by his speech, there is not a good word to be said for it, so one would assume that it would bring votes to his party. He knows that my right hon. Friend has had the courage to grasp a nettle to which he continually refers. The hon. Gentleman says that he will do something about it, but never spells it out in detail. He is concerned that the review and the legislation will be accepted by the country for what it is—a real attempt to review and improve the present system of social security.
There is much in the Queen's Speech about which I am delighted. When I look at the speech I recognise that many of the policies were spelt out in great measure in the Conservative manifesto in 1983. I have to say to my right hon. Friend and the Government that there is one measure that was not in the manifesto. That measure relates to the Bill to remove statutory restrictions on shop hours. I do not understand how that Bill has managed to find its way into party politics. When, like many other hon. Members, I attended a Remembrance day service in my constituency yesterday, I found myself wondering what Remembrance day will be like once that Bill had become legislation, if that happened. I found myself wondering what will replace the quiet towns and villages of our country with the processions of ex-service men and women going to their various churches to attend Remembrance day services when the shops are open and the streets are full of traffic and the clamour of people. When that happens, if it does, something will have gone out of the Remembrance day that all of us can remember—a special dignity will have been taken from it. I shall regret that considerably.
§ Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)
May I be of some assistance to my hon. Friend? We do not have laws in Scotland which prohibit trading on Sundays. However, the Remembrance Sunday services that I attended in my constituency were not blighted by the law in Scotland, which does not require people to close their shops on Sundays.
§ Mr. McNair-Wilson
I am grateful for my hon. Friend's comment. He is talking about Scotland, but the Scots, the English and the Welsh are separate nationalities with separate traditions. I ask him to recognise that what may apply in Presbyterian Scotland does not necessarily apply in Anglican England. Can he also tell me how—perhaps the Scots will exempt themselves from this—Easter day will not become one more shopping day, or Christmas day will not become the first day of the Christmas sales? I regret that deeply. I cannot see any reason why we should give commercialism so much preeminence in our thoughts when most of us believe that our nation needs a revival of spiritual values.
If I regret that legislation, I do not regret the presence, in the Queen's Speech, of a Bill to reform social security. Its intention is to simplify the present structure—who will argue that the present structure is not enormously complex—to make it more effective and to ensure that assistance goes to those in need. The proposals have their critics; indeed, there are those—to this extent I follow 335 the hon. Member for Oldham, West—who believe that the concept of a social fund lacks definition. There are misgivings about the loans which will be made available. Will they be anything but a burden to those who receive them? No doubt the Government's White Paper will spell out in more detail those aspects of the Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services referred to meeting real needs. I ask him to consider whether a social security system that pays attention to the needs of the disabled, but not to those who are victims of medical accidents, has a major defect. There is still time to add something to the White Paper to cover that point. For this reason, I shall restrict my comments as to how patients should be compensated for errors made in their medical treatment, not by litigation but within the social security system. Two points must be considered. First, the physical suffering and disability which may be caused to a patient and, secondly, the effect that enforced hospitalisation can have on the business responsibility of anyone, but especially the self-employed.
At present, when a serious mistake is made during treatment, the only redress lies through the courts. Doctors and surgeons can be sued for negligence under the law of tort. Compensation is not obtained easily, and it usually takes years of litigation and huge legal costs before it is awarded. A recent example was the case of Mr. Peter Kelly of Dungannon, who, during an appendicitis operation, suffered cardiac arrest which resulted in brain damage. He had to wait 12 years before he finally received compensation of £400,000 in June this year. Thus for 12 years his family was obliged to care for him without the additional resources which were presumably part of the compensation that he received. The settlement was described by the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on 1 July 1985 as beingnegotiated between the plaintiffs and the insurers of the doctors involved".—[Official Report, 1 July 1985; Vol. 82, c. 80.]Nobody admitted liability. One may wonder who was responsible.
Sadly, Peter Kelly's case is not an exception. On average, cases involving negligence last for seven years. In one case, a baby was presumed to have suffered brain damage after forceps were used on its head six times to assist delivery. When this failed, the baby was born by caesarian section. Initially, the plaintiffs in the case, which was known as Whitehouse v Jordan, were awarded £100,000. The defendant's appeal against the award was allowed by the Court of Appeal and endorsed by the House of Lords in 1981. The case and the appeal turned on whether the senior registrar who had been present at the delivery had pulled too long and too hard with the forceps and whether, if he had done so, it amounted to an error of clinical judgment rather than negligence. Mr. Gerald Robertson, writing about the case in the Modern Law Review in July 1981, commented:
The most disturbing aspect of the Whitehouse case is that it represents all that is wrong with the present system of compensating victims of medical accidents. It emphasises the delay inherent in the system—11 years elapsed between the plaintiff's birth and the House of Lords' decision. It emphasises the expense of the system — the legal costs involved in Whitehouse, charged to the legal aid fund, will almost certainly be far in excess of the original award of damages. Above all it illustrates how much of a lottery personal injury litigation is and how heavily the odds are stacked against the plaintiff if an allegation of medical negligence is involved.In another article on medical negligence in the New Law Journal of 6 January 1984, Mr. Michael Jones wrote: 336It is widely acknowledged that in cases of medical negligence the plaintiff faces an uphill task. In 1978 the Pearson Commission reported that the proportion of successful claims for damages in tort is much lower for medical negligence than for all negligence cases. Some payment is made in 30–40 per cent. of claims compared with 86 per cent. of all personal injury claims.The low compensation rate of the victims of medical accidents is, however, partly due to legal impediments which make it extremely difficult for plaintiffs to prove negligence. The situation is the more poignant since not only are some victims failing to receive the compensation that their cases merit, but on average their injuries are likely to be much more serious than for other types of accident".The proof of negligence remains the main hurdle to be jumped by anyone seeking compensation.
There are various descriptions of medical negligence. It seems that the words of Lord Fraser of Tullybelton in the Whitehouse v Jordan case in 1981 are the most easily understood. He sought to draw a distinction between an error of judgment and negligence and said:
The true position is that an error of judgment may, or may not, be negligent; it depends on the nature of the error. If it is one that would not have been made by a reasonably competent professional man professing to have the standard and type of skill that the defendant held himself out as having, and acting with ordinary care, then it is negligent. If, on the other hand, it is an error that a man, acting with ordinary care, might have made, then it is not negligence.As the law stands, whether it is negligence or an error of judgment is a matter for lawyers and judges. It is of less interest to the patient who may have been injured—who may have been made extremely ill and endured weeks of additional hospitalisation, or even disfigurement for life. He may think it is worth seeking redress through the courts, or he may grin and bear it if the injury is not too severe. Either way, he will want to know what happened to cause his injury.
Action for the Victims of Medical Accidents stated in its annual report for 1983–84 that in 70 per cent. of the cases in which it had been involved financial considerations were secondary to people's wish for an honest explanation of what went wrong and an apology if that was in order. Sadly, such simple wishes are seldom fulfilled. Medical staff and hospital authorities do not rush forward with explanations and apologies. Patients and their relations can write to ask for information, but seldom receive it. Instead they are met with what one frustrated patient described to me as "a wall of silence".
As a Member of Parliament, quite apart from being a hospital patient, I have heard from far too many constituents of how they have written to a hospital authority seeking information and received what I think is called a holding answer — a completely innocuous communication which tells one nothing.
How can we get over this problem? How can we get full explanations, more accountability from doctors and a better way of compensating for acts of medical negligence without resorting to the courts? The answer is to scrap the present system and replace it with a no-faults compensation scheme. The patient suffers, whether the injury or damage is caused by error or negligence. There should be a way of offering compensation without the expense of protracted litigation. My right hon. Friend will know that two such schemes already exist—one in New Zealand and the other in Sweden. The New Zealand scheme started in 1974 and apparently handles about 130,000 claims for accidental injuries of all sorts each year. It is comprehensive and, therefore, costly.
337 The New Zealand scheme has been criticised on two grounds. First, the amounts paid out are substantially less than what might be awarded following a successful legal action. Secondly, it does not involve a rigorous review of the professional circumstances surrounding a particular case and so may lead to a lowering of medical standards.
The Swedish approach, on the other hand, seems to overcome these difficulties, although its scope is more limited. The cost of the scheme in 1981 was 50p per person per annum. The liability was borne by insurance companies with the county councils paying the premiums. The amounts paid in compensation were comparable to what the courts would be likely to award, and claimants were given the choice of using the scheme or going to court. There is a continuous review of the background to claims so that accepted medical practice which has produced unfortunate results may be changed and improved.
If we compare those two schemes with the situation in this country where we rely on litigation, we find that the current financial situation is as follows. The 80,000 doctors employed in the NHS and the 10,000 doctors in private practice contribute £336 per head per annum to one or other of the medical protection societies in England, Scotland and Wales. This provides the societies with an income of £33 million a year. The doctors' contributions are allowed for in their remuneration by the NHS and are tax deductible. Thus the patients, who are also the taxpayers, are contributing money to the medical profession to defend itself against possible claims for negligence by those same patients.
In addition, £1.5 million was spent by the legal aid fund in the last year for which figures are available in pursuing cases of medical negligence against health authorities. The health authorities incurred legal costs in defending themselves in these cases and also paid out sums of money in damages. The total sum is therefore very large indeed. Yet the net effect on so many of the victims of medical accidents is remarkably small.
I do not criticise doctors for wishing to defend themselves against charges of negligence. What else can they do in the present situation? If we seriously intend to reform the social security system and, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services put it,to provide for each other at times of need",we should give careful consideration to including a no-faults compensation scheme in the new Bill, thus reforming social security by doing away with the concept of negligence and bringing compensation to those most in need.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I strongly support the recommendations made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), who called for a no-faults compensation scheme. The arguments against this idea are bogus, and there is no reason for the Government not to bring forward such a scheme to deal with the gross injustices which we see perpetrated every day. I hope that the Government will take careful note of the words of the hon. Member for Newbury and that some action will be taken.
The main issue, which was outlined at the beginning of the debate—the social security review—is a euphemism 338 for cost cutting by the Government, for replacing the existing scheme with a shoddy and shabby substitute. The Secretary of State has given the game away with his first objective, which is that social security should be consistent with the Government's overall objectives for the economy. He can say that again. That is what the review is all about. The Government are botching the economy and they are now cutting social security because they have botched the economy. That is the reason for this so-called review.
Disabled people are not supposed to be a part of this social security review. Their problems are supposed to be tackled shortly after the survey by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys. However, disabled people will be hit very badly by this review's proposals, particularly by being deprived of the additional allowances of supplementary benefit. All recipients of supplementary benefit will lose the additional allowances, but the vast majority of the additional allowances go to the sick and disabled. Of the 14 additional allowances provided from supplementary benefit, 10 are directly related to disability.
Disability organisations have said that additional allowances make up between 13 and 30 per cent. of the income of those disabled people who depend on supplementary benefit, and the average is 20 per cent. That is a large sum of money, which disabled people look for each time they draw their supplementary benefit. Richard Berthoud of the Policy Studies Institute has said that even now the less common, but no less needed, additional allowances do not reach the people who need them. For example, of those entitled to the additional allowances for laundry, clothing and extra baths, fewer than one-tenth receive them. There is nothing wrong with the provision. The fault lies with the Government for allowing pressure and overwork in DHSS offices to prevent its implementation. The system can and should be made to work.
The Government's response is negligent and negative. They have scrapped all the additional allowances and replaced allowances which have been carefully and delicately created over a long period with a single disability premium.
The Government are seeking administrative simplicity. That is the second objective stated by the Secretary of State. Nobody would ask one surgeon to carry out the same operation on all sick or disabled people. The economic needs of disabled people are just as varied as their medical needs. Replacing the carefully tailored additional allowances for very severely disabled people with one premium is hamfisted and absurd. The most severely disabled people receiving the additional allowances will inevitably suffer when those allowances are averaged out with the disability premium. Individual care will be sacrificed to cost cutting and administrative convenience. In social security terms, a caring nurse is to be replaced by an inhuman robot.
If these deplorable policies are adopted, I urge the Government to introduce a special premium for very severely disabled people. Otherwise, the Government will be hitting the most severely disabled. That would be absolutely intolerable. According to the Policy Studies Institute, the new disability premium proposed under this review will at best reach less than half of those supplementary benefit claimants with related health needs. Even worse—[Interruption.] I hope that the Minister 339 will listen—disabled children and disabled dependants are likely to get lost in the system. It would be very regrettable if that happened.
So much for the Secretary of State's first objective of meeting genuine needs. If children and dependants get lost in the system, we shall be failing to meet the needs of the most deserving. I hope that the Government will consider the matter urgently and make special provision to accommodate disabled children and dependants.
Ministers say that the disability premium will be bolstered by the social fund, which supplements the proposed income supplement. The social fund will be a social disaster for thousands of disabled people. They will need, and have to apply for, the social fund, but disability is not identified as an element of the fund. In addition, the fund will be subject to rigid cash limits and the applicant in, say, November could get nothing if the cash had run out in October. How can the needs of disabled people vary with the months of the year? It does not make sense that an applicant cannot get the cash one month because it ran out the month before. The Government must reconsider their plans, because a cash limit on the social fund is absurd.
Another crucial failing of the social fund is that it will be locally administered, which means that, as with the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, there will be terrible inconsistencies. Disabled people will receive or be refused grants from the social fund depending on where they live, rather than on their needs. It is commonplace for able-bodied persons to misunderstand the needs of disabled people. It appalls severely disabled people that able-bodied people in various DHSS offices around the country will be able to decide whether to allocate sums from the social fund.
When applicants are turned down, as some disabled people will be, there will be no right of appeal. How can the Government justify no right of appeal for severely disabled people? They may be turned down because the cash has run out, because they do not qualify, because they have red hair or because they are wearing a unilateral disarmament badge. They can be turned down for any reason. It is wrong that they will not be told what the reason is and are to be given no right of appeal.
I hope that the Government will reconsider the matter, because they are depriving disabled people of additional allowances that they receive by right and replacing them with an option to beg. Where is the dignity in begging for an additional allowance and being deprived of a basic right?
Disabled people have been assured by Ministers that they should not worry because they will get loans under the new scheme. That means that they can turn from the begging bowl to the pawn shop and become involved in a vicious downward spiral of debts.
The emphasis on budgeting will lead to an awkward relationship between the DHSS and social service departments, especially in community care. Ministers have referred to a "one-off' payment, which has led disabled people to fear that Ministers do not understand what community care means. Domestic help for severely disabled people is a vital prerequisite to keeping them out of institutions. It is not a "one-off' affair—to use the Government's jargon. It is urgent, vital and irreplaceable. Domestic help is a necessity for disabled people all the time; it cannot be provided by a one-off or occasional payment.
340 So much for the present social security proposals as they affect disabled people. It is disturbing that the comprehensive proposals on disabled people will not come until the OPCS survey is completed. The social security review proposals mean that, when the comprehensive review is published, disabled people will be considered as they are at that time, rather than as they are now. Disabled people will begin from an impoverished and demeaning position, because their additional allowances will have been taken from them. That is a cause for grave concern.
Instead of hacking disabled people's benefits and replacing them with inadequate, inappropriate, ill-thought-out substitutes, the Government should devote their energies to creating a comprehensive national disability income with a basic income and costs allowance graded to meet the varying costs of disability. Social security should not be a catchpenny, grudging, minimal, discretionary last resort. It is not an optional extra. Social security should mean what it says, especially for disabled people. Social security should mean freedom from hardship, insecurity and fear. But it is precisely those freedoms which are being denied disabled people under this Government. I urge the Government to think again.
§ Mr. Jim Lester (Broxstowe)
It is always a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), especially when he speaks about disability on which he is uniquely knowledgeable in the House. However, the right hon. Member was uncharacteristically hard on the Government, although I know that they will have listened with great care to his points.
Any Government with the courage to tackle social security, with a review for the first time since Beveridge, are to be commended. Any Government with the courage to tackle animal welfare for the first time since 1876 are to be commended. Any Government who tackle the task of improving the quality of our schools for the 40 per cent. of children who get the least out of education are to be commended.
The Queen's Speech shows that in some areas we are making progress and not walking by on the other side. I am sure that when the social security White Paper is published as a result of discussions on the Green Paper, the contribution of the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South will be taken into account.
I do not wish to speak specifically on education and social security, which are the subjects for today's debate. I want to speak on the part of the Queen's Speech that refers to overseas development and our aid budget. [HON. MEMBERS: "That was on Friday."] I was here on Friday. It was not Conservative Members who made the long speeches that prevented me from being able to contribute on Friday.
I make no apology for speaking about aid during a debate on education and social security, although I know that the Ministers in the Chamber do not have specific responsibility. However, they have an overall Cabinet responsibility, so it is right that I should raise this issue today.
Members of the Select Committee who had the opportunity to travel widely through the Sahara appreciate what a safety net really is. Those who take an interest in social security affairs—that covers virtually all hon. Members—are speaking in this debate of the safety net as it applies to people in Britain. On the other hand, those 341 who visited the refugee camp at Nyala in the western Sudan, at Wadshafife in the eastern Sudan or at Derudeb in the Red sea hills appreciate what life is like when there is no safety net, when there is no shelter and where people depend on humanitarian aid from other countries for every mouthful of food, every minimal bit of medical attention and every glass of water.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will know that as recently as this year I have seen schools in the Sudan and Gambia where it is considered lucky to possess a blackboard, because a blackboard is regarded as a major teaching aid. I have seen children being taught as they sat in the sand, scratching in the sand with sticks because they have no pencils and paper. That is why I make no apology for speaking on this issue today.
Because of my intention to take part in this debate, I examined carefully the speech made on Friday, in response to the debate on overseas development, by the Minister for Overseas Development. I support the theme that was followed in that debate by my right hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice), by my hon. Friend the Member for Westbury (Mr. Walters) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Berkshire, East (Mr. MacKay).
There was a distinct lack of contributions from Opposition Members on this issue. All who spoke on the subject talked of the moral imperative of maintaining our aid programme. But many of us feel that it is time to reverse the trend of reducing our aid budget. The need in the Third world has never been greater and there is now more chance of long-term agricultural development being successful in those countries than at any previous time.
Those who have watched this subject over the years look forward with interest to the Chancellor's statement tomorrow on the net aid programme for 1986–87 because, unless our total aid is increased from the £1.170 million that has been foreshadowed in Treasury documents, it will still represent a decrease in real terms of between 1 and 2 per cent.
§ Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)
Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the reference in the Queen's Speech to maintaining "a substantial aid programme" is the hypocrisy that it obviously is? I hope that he is saying that.
§ Mr. Lester
No, I am not saying that, especially as we have not yet had the Chancellor's statement. I hope that the Chancellor will take note of my remarks, will have listened to earlier speeches on the subject and will have acted accordingly.
If the present aid figure is not altered, there will have been an overall decrease in our aid budget since 1978–79 of 18 per cent. It is no comfort to quote the OECD average of 0.36 per cent. and this country's total of 0.33 per cent., because if we delete the United States figure of 0.24 per cent.—which is not dissimilar from the lamentable figure for the USSR of 0.18 per cent.—we are left with the average for the OECD European nations, a figure which is more similar to that applying to the United Kingdom, of 0.50 per cent. I hope that we shall take that as a more realistic percentage to compare with.
I support the Chancellor's bullish remarks to the effect that we are now entering the sixth year of continuous growth in Britain's economy—[Interruption.]—a trend 342 that all hon. Members should welcome. Therefore, I see no reason why reversing the reduction in the aid budget, reappraising it and redirecting it could not be afforded. Now must be the most opportune time to do that.
Those who are interested in these issues will welcome the fact that rains in many parts of Africa have lessened by half the need for emergency food aid. However, we now have a tremendous opportunity, with an improved policy background being adopted by African Governments in many of the affected countries, to devote our aid to the real solution, which is reversing the decline in the overall agricultural performance, which in spite of drought, civil war and inhospitable Governments is the root cause of famine. That is where we can most effectively apply our aid programme. Hon. Members should examine early-day motion 25, which provides an opportunity to express a view on the subject.
The Select Committee has already produced a major report, "Famine in Africa", which the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has acknowledged as being "very helpful." In that report we applauded the Government's efforts in relation to emergency relief. We spoke of how effectively they had used the £95 million, plus the further £80 million that the Minister for Overseas Development mentioned today at Question Time.
However, an examination of the normal Contingency Fund of the Overseas Development Agency shows a contingency of about £15 million a year. Although I accept the Minister's word that no long-term programme was diverted to meet that total, he must accept that if the normal Contingency Fund is £15 million a year, if there had not been the famine and disaster, the balance of that budget would have been spent on long-term development. It was reasonable for the Select Committee to say that that deficit should be placed back in the ODA budget to enable it to pursue the long-term development proposals that provide the only way to prevent famine.
In addition to the Select Committee report, the all parliamentary group on overseas development recently published a report entitled, "UK Aid to African Agriculture"—a careful analysis of what has been happening to our overseas programme in recent times. I shall not deal with that report today, except to refer to its conclusion:During our inquiry and in the course of the African country visits we have formed the impression that the UK aid programme in support of agricultural development in Africa has many strengths. Its obvious successes outweigh the weaknesses and disappointments which have been documented. There is an urgent need for more official aid in the sector, and the improving policy environment in so many Africa countries is an assurance that the aid can be applied effectively.I commend that policy statement to the Government.
It has been said that the deficit in our overseas aid would be met by private flows of funds by way of export credits, direct investment, bank lending and by the voluntary agencies. However, we show in our report, sadly, that UK private flows to the Third world went down from £4,527 million in 1980 to £1,420 million in 1984. In view of that substantial reduction, it is not correct to say that private flows would make up for the deficit.
I say with all the force at my command that now is the time, when public concern, knowledge and interest in this matter have never been higher; when about 20,000 of our constituents lobbied Parliament less than a fortnight ago; and when parliamentary interest has never been higher—there being at least six early-day motions on the 343 Order Paper signed by individuals and groups of hon. Members drawing attention to this subject—for the Chancellor to respond positively to the points that I have made. Equally, I hope that Ministers responsible for social security and education will add their voices to the requests that I and others have made, so helping to ensure that when the Chancellor speaks tomorrow he responds positively.
§ Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridge, North-East)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), whose concern for the problems of the Third world are shared widely, and specifically by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I am also pleased to see the Secretary of State for Education in his place, because I shall deal predominantly with education matters.
Commenting on the Education Act 1944, The Times Educational Supplement wrote:The war was almost lost because this country lacked a sufficiency of skilled workers: the peace will certainly be lost if it is found to lack either a sufficiency of skilled workers or of citizens skilled in the art of democracy.That was written over 40 years ago, and perhaps the most damning indictment of the Government is their failure to foster such skills. We have a lower rate of participation in higher education than nearly all our competitors. Our investment in basic scientific research is lower. Only recently it was announced in France that the Government were increasing support for such research by over 14 per cent. By contrast, ours will fall by over 10 per cent. in the next few years.
The Queen's Speech says that two Bills affecting education will be introduced. One is to deal with the governing bodies, the other with appraisal of teachers, and on both the House will await details with keen expectation. I welcome the announcement that the duties of governing bodies will be clarified, while their composition will also change. This is an attempt to clear up one of the grey areas left by the 1944 Act. It is not the first attempt, but we welcome the decision.
Certain recent events show that some clarification is desperately needed in a sector where the good will that underpinned the 1944 Act has been dissipated. It is difficult to comment in detail, but I shall assume that the legislation will follow the lines set out in "Better Schools". We welcome the strong commitment to the idea that a school needs an identity of its own and shouldserve the community from which it draws its pupils".Secondly, we welcome the decision not to create an inbuilt majority on the governing body as has been argued in the Green Paper. That was once the policy of my colleagues, but we, too, have seen the error of our ways. A successful school comes about through free discussion, co-operation, and above all genuine partnership.
However, other questions about the composition remain. We should like to see something done about those councillors who seem to collect school governorships as others collect stamps. While I am sure that many of these are committed and give generously of their time and experience, I am equally sure that there are others who do not carry out their responsibilities fully.
We should also like to see some action taken in respect of those local education authorities which appoint members of governing bodies from their circle of friends, their political allies and especially those who failed to win the last round of council elections. It must be recognised 344 that being a school governor is a responsible position, not a token of party service. We have an honours system to provide those.
We should like to know whether the proposals now include room for student participation and for membership of non-teaching staff. Both these groups have a right to participate more fully in school organisation and will have a unique and valuable perspective to bring. I have always believed that a parent-teacher association has it wrong—it should be a parent-staff association, because the input of the school caretaker, the school cook and even the lollipop lady is relevant to the government of the school. It is clear that clarification of the duties of governing bodies is overdue. As The Guardian pointed out recently, the only people who benefit from the present uncertainty are the lawyers. It is certainly not the children.
Where does the Secretary of State envisage, in cases of discipline, for example, that the final authority will rest? Does he feel that it would now be right to have a general appeals system for pupils who feel aggrieved by their punishment or other treatment? The current crisis at Poundswick makes this all the more necessary.
Above all, I urge the Government to be clear right from the outset of this new legislation about the precise balance that they are seeking to create. It will not be good enough to tell LEAs that they must consult the governing body before deciding on teacher-managment issues because that will leave room for uncertainties that may well blow up in our faces.
I shall now raise some queries about teacher appraisal which I know the Secretary of State will consider as he prepares his legislation. There seems to be some confusion as to what exactly the appraisal will be for. Is it supposed to help teachers to be more effective in the classroom, or will it help the LEAs in what the Government increasingly refer to as "the management" of the teaching forcer? Those two are not necessarily the same thing and do not necessarily imply the same method of assessment. The latter language of management and deployment is not necessarily the best way to describe the way that teachers are treated. I may be accused of anti-industry bias, but I do not believe that schools can be run on the same basis as a production line.
We have questions about the need for a nationally imposed scheme. If the proposed Bill is to give powers that might be used, will the Secretary of State tell us under what conditions he will invoke them? If the Bill is to set up a national system, what happened to the consultations and projects mentioned in the White Paper?
Our other questions concern the national nature of what is to be introduced. Is the Secretary of State convinced that a national scheme is the best way? Is there not room for different aims between LEAs and thus room for different measuring posts? The LEAs remain the employers of teachers, and those with the best knowledge, so surely the varied schemes that are already in operation show that there is scope for local excellence. Why does the right hon. Gentleman assume that only his Department has anything valid to say on this subject?
We are absolutely opposed to linking the appraisal system to pay. Merit money is really a euphemism for low basic rates of pay and the further abdication of responsibility by the Government. We believe that any scheme must be open, and probably requires some sort of appeal status, and that the issue of records must be clarified in advance. Who will have access to them, how 345 long will they be kept for and what will be the machinery for correcting them? There must be such machinery, and people must know of its existence.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what he is proposing, as I understand it, is a considerable increase in the kind of bureaucratic nonsense that we already have overburdening our education system? This cannot be right.
§ Mr. Freud
I am glad to tell the hon. Gentleman that I am commenting upon the bureaucratic nonsense that has already been proposed. I counsel the Secretary of State to heed the words of two of his Department's publications. "Quality in Schools: Evaluation and Appraisal" says:Whole-school evaluation and teacher assessment takes a great deal of time and a considerable amount of effort. This not only requires teachers to have the time: it also calls for their support and goodwill. For this to be forthcoming a healthy perception of status and morale are critical and need to be actively sought for.Her Majesty's Inspectorate's paper on "Good Teachers" says:It is important to remember that … no teacher performs in isolation. There is much that impinges on all teachers work which lies outside their control … the contribution of even the best teachers can be limited by outside factors … a wide ranging and flexible approach to assessing the contributions which teachers make is therefore necessary, bearing in mind the variety of factors which have an impact on the quality of their work".Does the Secretary of State genuinely believe that all the desirable qualities can be measured? I remind him that the police have had to drop the word "integrity" from their check list.
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Does he believe in the principle that there should be appraisal of teachers?
§ Mr. Freud
In a word, yes, but it is impossible to quantify exactly how one will appraise teachers. Much must depend on good practice rather than on specifics.
The measures proposed in the Gracious Speech begin to look pretty irrelevant when we remember the current situation in our schools. The Government have said repeatedly that the key to educational quality is the teaching force. Why, then, will the Secretary of State not put his words into action? Why will he not press the Cabinet to relax the grant penalties on local authorities, including Conservative authorities, that want to offer a decent wage to teachers? Why will he not consider changing the Remuneration of Teachers Act so that pay and conditions can be discussed together and some stability introduced into the process? Why will he not realise—and if he does, why will he not come out and tell everyone—that even on free market criteria teachers are underpaid, as well as being undervalued?
The GCSE looks like another casualty of this dispute. I know that the Secretary of State has been urged to postpone it by those who believe in it but who have the task of implementing it—the head teachers. I also know that this is one of the Secretary of State's most prized initiatives which appears to have encouraged a sort of "anything but that" mentality. However, there seems no way in which that can come on stream as projected, and the right hon. 346 Gentleman must decide whether the current system is so bad that it is worth replacing by a deficient substitute, however well intentioned the new GCSE may be.
I know that the programme of rolling teacher training was always ambitious, but I understand that these problems are added to in some areas where subject representatives have yet to be appointed and criteria referencing guidelines yet to be issued. Children will be making their subject choices early next yar, and there is an overwhelming argument for postponing that until the system can be got right.
There is a lot in the Gracious Speech about law and order—much more than about education. One is struck by the contrast between the two. I am not referring to pay, although that is a common point of comparison. There are other similarities which I believe the Government should remember in their treatment of the two professions. Both are dedicated to the notion of public service and to the ideal of the sort of society we want to create for our children. Both are about participation and self-discipline. Both have to do with the setting of moral authority and respect, shared values and leadership.
Many of the young people who riot attend school and face teachers. The social conditions that underlie public disorder also underlie our education system. The teachers and the police are faced with the same individuals and the same problems. The teachers are often blamed for the problems with which the police must deal, but while the police are comparable with the fire brigade, in that they deal with trouble after it has taken hold, teachers are in the business of prevention.
I do not see how we can defensibly treat the two services as anything but interdependent. They are part of the same process, and it is time that the Government remembered that. It is just plum wrong to neglect the schools and to expect the police to pick up the pieces. Just as I believe plastic bullets and community policing to be largely incompatible, so I believe that crumbling schools and policing-by-consent are equally unlikely companions.
I ask the Secretary of State to consider the recent round of public spending reviews. We know that his colleague the Secretary of State for the Environment fought for more cash for housing. We suspect that the Secretary of State for Social Services fought for more cash to meet the nurses' pay bill. Did the right hon. Gentleman also fight as tenaciously for his own Department?
We are dismayed by the repeated sacrifice of the education service. So, I believe, are the parents and so, I know, are the teachers. I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind the words of Jocelyn Stevens, rector of the Royal College of Art, who said:When everyone else is fighting their corner by all the means at their disposal, to remain in the dressing room is a betrayal of one's cause.
§ Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)
This Queen's Speech is a quiet, sensible mid-term package. I hope, among other things, to play an active role in the measures to reform public order law and to reform the nonsensical and immoral state of the law on Sunday trading.
However, I wish for a few moments to reflect on the central, underlying subjects mentioned in the Gracious Speech that are crucial to the whole future of 347 Conservativism and the hopes, aspirations and opportunities of our people. I refer to the linked matters of social security reform, reductions in taxation and reform of the rates.
It is essential for Government to realise that these subjects are inextricably linked. The energies of the Treasury, the Department of Health and Social Security and that section of the Department of the Environment which is responsible for the rating system must combine to create one coherent system of taxation, national and local, and income support that provides properly for the needs of the less well off; offers incentive to all who are able to seek work and to help themselves; and renders those who spend on our behalf accountable at every level of income to those who elect them.
We must show through the reformed system that we recognise that as well as income and pensions, benefits, rebates and entitlements are all essential ingredients of family income. As far as possible, each must be tailored to the individual assisted, not to the service provided, thus leaving the individual to decide for himself how to spend his money or how to vote for it to be spent.
While there may have to be differences between housing benefit entitlements for those in urban areas with high rent and rates, such differences should be dealt with primarily by central Government support grant, and any housing benefit entitlement of the individual should be paid to the individual at the same level, whether or not the local authority is prudent or profligate.
Such a new system will involve the substantial integration of the tax and social security systems and the housing benefit system. As personal income from employment or contributory pension rights rises, entitlements must taper but must not suddenly be cut off, otherwise the incentive to work or to save is destroyed. Such an integrated reform cannot be achieved in a single parliamentary Session. It is now, at mid-term in this Parliament, that the country expects us to look ahead, to light beacons beyond the next election and to show a vision of the kind of society that we as Conservatives are seeking to achieve.
The means of achieving this—computers and funding—will soon be to hand. The computers will soon be available, and, thanks to careful housekeeping, the money is also likely to be available. The crucial technical requirement is computerisation. The computers for the social security system are soon to come on stream, and computerisation by the Inland Revenue should be achieved in the early 1990s.
Tax, national insurance, social security benefits and housing benefit must all be integrated into one system. The notion that the individual must contribute in order to pay for his benefits, which is the principle underlying the national insurance system, can remain and can continue to be reflected in the effective tax rates, but only with the sophistication made possible by the computer can the idea of basic support—tapering off as the individual raises his income by self-help—be put into practice.
The second ingredient, at which Opposition Members laugh but which they would utterly fail to provide, is money. We know that a coherent scheme of tax credits, negative income tax or basic income guarantee—to refer to but three of its sobriquets in recent years—will cost money. I support the Government's declared aim of 348 achieving tax cuts, but I strongly agree with the Secretary of State for Employment that those tax cuts should be aimed primarily at the lower end of the income scale.
Lord Stockton has again been in the news. When he left office, the man on the national average wage with a wife and two children paid just 8 per cent. of his income in tax. Today, the same man pays 20 to 25 per cent. He would pay even more if the Leader of the Opposition or alliance Members had their way.
We know that because of the combination of the effects of tax and of social security reductions a householder on a low wage has to increase his earnings from £75 to £125 a week before he sees another penny in his pocket. White that sort of unfairness continues, how can we speak of the Conservative virtues of self-help and self-reliance? That is where the money must be concentrated, so that by a combination of reduced taxation and soundly based but tapering benefits the family that relies upon our welfare system for the bedrock of its security may be given not only the benefit of that security but an incentive to try to help itself towards a better life.
I do not pretend that the task will be easy. In principle, execution and presentation it will require the most careful thought. But it is a beacon that we must light beyond the general election, towards which we must struggle now and which provides a worthy objective not only for this Parliament but for a third term of office.
§ 6.1 pm
§ Mr. Jack Dormand (Easington)
The references in the Gracious Speech to education bear as much relevance to the state of our education service as the remainder does to the state and the needs of our country. It is a clear sign of the Government's priorities.
I do not claim that education is in a state of chaos, although many people inside and outside the House use that word. It is not in a state of chaos because of the dedication of teachers, administrators and ancillary staff to the maintenance of standards, in spite of Government policies that are manifestly leading to a deterioration in our education service.
Education is receiving a smaller slice of a smaller cake. In 1983–84, it received 11.6 per cent. of Government expenditure, yet the planned expenditure for 1986–87 is 10.2 per cent. Those figures compare with 13 per cent. in 1973–74. I have taken those statistics from the Government documents "Economic Trends," "Government Expenditure Plans 1984–85 to 1986–87" and "Government Expenditure Plans 1985–86 to 1986–87". We all know that statistics can be made to mean a number of things, and I see that the Minister is nodding. I hope that he agrees with the remainder of what I have to say.
The recent report of the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations dealt with conditions in our schools, and paints a devastating picture of all aspects of the education of our children. If that report does not convince the Government, perhaps they will accept a number of reports in recent years by Her Majesty's inspectors, which present a similar story. I am tempted to spend some time quoting from both those sources, but I shall respect Mr. Speaker's request to confine speeches to 10 minutes.
The introduction to the document "Teaching Quality", published in March 1983, states: 349The school teacher's task is increasingly complex and demanding. Inevitably some schools and some teachers are showing signs of strain.As the Americans would say, "You can say that again." Does the Secretary of State believe that the position still obtains, and if so, why?
Many people in this Chamber, in the teaching profession, in the world of education, together with parents and those with no direct connection with education believe that the position is worse than it was in 1983. This country spends less per head on education than any other country in the EEC, with the exception of Ireland and Italy. The Netherlands and Denmark spend twice as much as the United Kingdom. The HMI and PTA reports show quite conclusively what a low priority this Government place on the education of our children.
The Gracious Speech dealt with the appraisal of teachers, and I am glad that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) referred to that. No one can disagree with the principle, but I find it curious that other professions — medicine, the law and engineering, for example—are not subjected to it. The Government frequently make misleading statements about teachers' unions being opposed to appraisal. The National Union of Teachers has made its view abundantly clear. I cannot do better than quote the joint statement issued earlier this year by the unions and, strangely enough, the Department of Education and Science, which states:The Secretary of State and representatives of the National Union of Teachers met on 21 January to discuss the appraisal of teachers, in the light of the Secretary of State's 30 October letter and his speech at the North of England Conference. There was considerable agreement on the value of a system of appraisal to support the professional development of teachers and the most effective management of the teacher force.An NUT proposal that there should be further exploration of the prospects for joint consideration of appraisal matters was adopted and as a first step the Department will now make contact with the other teacher associations and the local authority associations.Nothing could be clearer than that.
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)
The hon. Gentleman states that teachers' unions do not agree with appraisal, but the briefing from the National Union of Teachers——
§ Mr. Dormand
We all misunderstand each other from time to time. I think that the position is clear.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Chris Patten)
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could help the House by outlining the NUT's position on conditions of service.
§ Mr. Dormand
The short answer is that I cannot do that at the moment, for the very good reason that I gave earlier.
I come now to a matter very much concerned with conditions of service, and want to put a straight question to the Minister. With great respect to the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East, he did not ask the Minister the vital question, so I shall put it to the Minister now. Who is to carry out the appraisal? Some say that it should be head teachers. In most cases, they could make a 350 contribution to an assessment, but they are not infallible, as many of us know. They also have their prejudices, like other human beings. Therefore, I take this opportunity to raise a very difficult problem. How do we get rid of—if I may use that expression—poor head teachers? The problem has existed for a long time and no one has yet found a solution. One could imagine what would happen if such a head teacher had to make an assessment of staff.
Can HMIs make the appraisal? I yield to no one in my admiration of HMIs. I have dealt with many of them, but they visit schools so seldom that it would be unjust if they dropped into a school occasionally and made important decisions that could affect the life and career of a teacher. Some argue that local education authority inspectors could make the assessment. The same argument applies to them as to HMIs. We must not forget that HMIs and LEA inspectors have a whole range of duties and that the assessment of teachers is only one small part of their work.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Waldon)
All teachers recognise that appraisal takes place all the time, but it is of a closet nature. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we need an open and objective system that teachers can trust?
§ Mr. Dormand
The first part of what the hon. Gentleman said is correct and the second wrong.
If inspectors are to be given the task of assessment and if it is to be done properly, the Secretary of State and the local education authorities will have to recruit thousands of additional staff. That would be nonsense. The Government say:Legislation will be introduced … to promote the professional effectiveness of teachers.The best advice that I can give the Government is "Forget it".
Before I came to the House of Commons I was education officer to a local authority. Part of my duty was to deal with incompetent teachers. They were few and far between. They were identified in the first instance by their colleagues. That is the continuing assessment to which the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) referred. Only after that identification was I brought in.
If the Government intend to bring the panoply of inspection to the teaching profession, they are making a grave mistake. They are making a fundamental error, which will lead to antagonism and distrust. The proposal will defeat the Government's purpose. It is unrealistic and impracticable. I appreciate that the Secretary of State's intentions are laudable—they usually are—but in this he is mistaken. I ask him to think again.
§ Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)
I am pleased to speak after the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) because I also intend to devote my remarks to that part of the Queen's Speech which states:Legislation will be introduced for England and Wales to improve the management of schools and to promote the professional effectiveness of teachers.I assume that the improvement in the management of schools will lead to legislation to require local education authorities to make a full disclosure of what it costs to run each school, including the cost of salaries, heating, books, equipment and cleaning so that all those interested in education will know what it costs a local education authority to run each school that it maintains.
That will lead to one specific matter which much exercises the Government's mind. That extra information 351 will make it easier to deal with the mounting problem of surplus school places, especially in those local education authority areas which, at the end of the 1960s and early 1970s—when money was to be had with ease—adopted the expensive three-tier comprehensive system. That system is now in great difficulties because of falling school rolls and surplus places.
I also understand that part of the Gracious Speech to mean that there will be enhanced management training for head teachers and for teachers who believe that they have an aptitude for school management as well as for teaching.
The word "promote" in the Gracious Speech appears to be a recognition of a long-term project. The first requirement of effective appraisal is a common understanding of the standard of performance required from each individual in his or her job. A great deal of advice from management in industry will be needed to make that part of the Gracious Speech effective.
In a circular dated 24 September this year my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science set out ways in which improved industry and education links would make sense for all. He listed various things that he would like to be achieved. Flowing from such an improvement in education and industry links surely there will be high quality advice from management on how best the education service can set about the immensely difficult task of a fair appraisal of teachers.
A recent HMI report on spending in schools and how that affects quality and performance is critical in some respects, but it underlines and encourages precisely what the Government are doing. Under the heading "Quality of Work" it states:In just over three-quarters of all the lessons seen the quality of the provision made by teachers was judged satisfactory or better.On the quality of teaching the report states:Not surprisingly, in almost all lessons where the quality of pupils' work was judged satisfactory or better, it was the high quality of teaching which was considered to be the most significant contributor.That is encouragement to the Government to press on with securing higher quality teaching. It is also an encouragement to the teaching profession and a recognition by that independent report of the dedication with which the overwhelming majority of teachers carry out their task.
The report contains three major warnings which cannot be ignored and which should occasion a careful loosening of the purse strings. The HMI report states:The present state of repairs in schools was judged to be less than satisfactory or poor in 57 LEAs … The present state of decoration in schools was judged to be less than satisfactory or poor in 65 LEAs … The current programme of maintenance was judged to be less than satisfactory or poor in 65 LEAs, almost the same as last year.If that goes on, it will lead to precisely what the report refers to in its preamble on the state of the education service which says:good teaching can be neither nurtured nor sustained where resources are inadequate in quality and quantity … It would be wrong to suggest that these are the conditions in which most teachers now work, but they are those in which too many have to operate.In view of what we read about a loosening of purse strings in other Departments, it is inevitable that those of us who take a special interest in education should believe that that report should put education in line for a careful loosening of the purse strings.
352 The Government have also announced recently a welcome encouragement for those who are adult and unemployed to take advantage of what the education service can offer. The recent circular about REPLAN, as it is called, referred to the funding arrangements and to the provision for the unemployed, and to the fact that the education service is funding this in both the Department of Education and Science and the Welsh Office.
This should not be done entirely by the education service because the Manpower Services Commission in the past few years has steadily managed to take to itself funds which ought to go back to Elizabeth house and be part of the Department of Education and Science. It is interesting that, in the HMI report on provision for adult unemployed, it was said:In those authorities where provision was less than satisfactory the most common deficiencies were provision for the unemployed …This recognises that more must be done.
The Education Support Grants Act, together with money from the MSC, can realise the laudable aim of the Government in their recent circular of giving unemployed adults the opportunity of taking advantage of the education service.
Two other matters ought to attract funds from the MSC into the education service. A recent HMI report says that technology should be a compulsory subject for all young people in schools. That must, of course, also mean better in-service training. The inspectors themselves said that about a quarter of the teacher training institutions are not well organised and need to be better organised to fit in with the Government's laudable aim of increasing and improving the quality of science and technology training in schools.
As regards the current teachers' pay dispute, which has dominated the education debate since the House rose in July, I welcome the statement by the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers that it is to have its first full ballot on pay. I hope that it will go to the trouble of thoroughly explaining to its members exactly what is on offer from the Government. Unless that is properly explained in the ballot, we shall get a funny result.
New negotiating machinery is needed. It is something that the unions ought to be seen to be discussing more widely with their members. We do not need a brand new inquiry to steer the teaching profession and everybody out of their current pay difficulties. What the unions should have done in the past few months—some of them, anyway—is to make regular, effective and sustained use of the services of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. In spite of repeated offers of help from ACAS, one or two of the unions have failed to take up those offers. We are now in November. They should take up these offers immediately, because ACAS has a wealth of industrial advice on how to get out of this sort of situation.
The real danger is that the new general certificate of secondary education, which is of vital educational importance, and of exceptional importance to the career prospects of young people, is in jeopardy. It would be an unbelievably bad day if the classroom disruption were increased by the disruption of the postponement of the GCSE. It behoves unions to remember that, to examine the Government's offer in great detail, and to end classroom disruption.
§ Mrs. Renée Short (Wolverhampton, North-East)
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) in the remarks that he made about teacher training. I am very pleased to see the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the Front Bench because I can address my remarks, through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to him and make some suggestions for the improvement of science teaching in schools, and try to persuade him of the urgent need in the Cabinet for a Minister responsible for science, in the hope that he can use his influence with the Prime Minister. I hope that he has some.
Science and the teaching of science is a sadly neglected part of the education system, although we all agree that it is a crucial part of our development. It is also a crucial part of our reputation as a country and it is very important in the whole development of our standard of living. Yet we have no one in the House to answer for the Government's policy and practice of science. If we ask such a question, we are usually told that it is the Prime Minister's responsibility, that she is answerable for the Government's science policy as a whole, and that the individual departmental Ministers answer for the particular aspects of science that come within their own Departments. As the Minister of State for Social Security, who is sitting on the Front Bench knows, medical science is very much an interest of the Department of which he is a member.
That is not really good enough, however. The Prime Minister is responsible for the entire secret service operations of this country, but she could not be held responsible for the detailed operational or policy activities of that very extensive and costly branch of Government expenditure. Nor can she be held responsible for science policy. On the other hand, departmental Ministers are too involved with the trees to notice the forest and are engulfed in departmental activities and ambitions. As for the Department of Education and Science, which is supposed to look after university science and the research councils, the science part of the Department is very small indeed.
France has a Minister of Science and Technology. Germany has a Federal Science Minister. To whom do they talk about joint or separate science policies when they come to London? Do they talk to the Prime Minister? Do they talk to departmental Ministers? My guess is that they just do not come here to talk about that. When did the French Minister of Science and Technology last come to London on an official visit to discuss science policy questions of mutual interest? As Sir John Kingman, now Vice-Chancellor of Bristol university and formerly one of the Government's principal advisers on science policy, said recently, we absolutely need a Minister of science.
What is the Government's attitude to science policy? I hope that the Secretary of State will tell us. Have they got a clear policy? If so, it is not really very clear to us. I wish that they would let us know about it. I wish that they would set it out in clear terms for the benefit of the House which, even in its present [...]rather dismal state of political division, is not without some intelligent interest in these matters. We need to know also for the benefit of the country what the Government's science policy is.
Last year, the Government had some very good advice from the National Advisory Body and from the University Grants Committee. The National Advisory Body recommended that student numbers in polytechnics, 354 colleges of higher education and the like should not fall significantly below present levels for the rest of this century. Not only must numbers not be allowed to fall; additional resources must be provided to meet the increased demand for higher education, which seems to go on all the time, I am pleased to say, and to provide the equipment and research involved in continuing education. One of the junior Ministers must know all about this report, because he was the chairman of the National Advisory Body's executive committee at the time, and I believe that that report was presented to him.
More important perhaps, the UGC also published a report on higher education, demanding a halt to the cuts, and asking for substantial increases in resources. The Secretary of State will also know that the Select Committee on Social Services has compiled a cogent report on the serious effects of the UGC cuts on medical education, training and research. So the Government have had a lot of good advice. The Secretary of State will also recall that, as chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, I gave him the opportunity to address that distinguished body to explain his intentions.
It so happens that by today's post I received a letter from the chairman of the hospital junior staff committee of the British Medical Association about the dire effects of the cuts in the UGC grant on the training and employment of clinical academic staff in universities. The Secretary of State has delayed his decision about providing additional pay for clinical academic staff. He knows very well that the doctors and dentists working in the National Health Service have been the subject of recommendations for increased pay from their review body. It has always been the tradition that the academic staff should automatically receive the same pay increases as are awarded to National Health Service doctors and dentists.
This year the universities require additional funds to meet those obligations, and for several months the Secretary of State has delayed his decision whether to provide them. He is well aware that many NHS patients get the benefit of treatment from the clinical academic staff employed in the universities. It would be invidious to ask them to work beside NHS doctors who receive better pay as a result of the review body's award.
Junior doctors are especially anxious to preserve the clinical academic sector because they rely on good quality staff for their training and research, which are essential for the whole of their career progression. I hope that the Secretary of State will be willing to make a statement now about that.
From time to time we hear parrot cries about excessive expenditure on research and development compared with other countries, combined with complaints about inadequate return in the practical application of the results of the work in industry. That can only be true—if it ever was true—in the overall sense, and if military research and development expenditure is included. The proportion of research and development throughout industry, the universities, the polytechnics and, last but not least, the Government's research stations and laboratories, which are now sadly emasculated and reduced in substance and morale, is less than half of the total resource allocation for research and development. More than half of the total, some £2,400 million, is spent on military research and development with guaranteed profit margins to firms, and, therefore, is of doubtful efficiency. That is not good for medical and other research 355 in the civilian sector. That figure is twice the sum spent on average by European Community countries, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said in his speech to the Science Policy Foundation on 9 October. Indeed, the proportion of the total spent on military research and development in West Germany is only 10 per cent. and in Japan 2 per cent. Therefore, our spending on research and development for defence is far in advance of theirs.
Expenditure on civil research and development in the United Kingdom represents not much more than 0.5 per cent. of gross domestic product. The argument that that is what we can afford in the present reduced circumstances is nonsense. One of the most important contributions of British science and governance to the administration and furtherance of science, even on a world scale, was the establishment of the Department of Science and Industrial Research with a chain of Government establishments devoted to research and development, by men and women committed to science, and independent of the academies and, for a time, even of the funding Treasury mandarins. These establishments were largely left to their own devices, and allowed to develop ties with surrounding industries because the moneys involved were not large, and their usefulness in war time, when those innovations mainly occurred, together with universities was of vital practical assistance for defence.
Problems arose when science administration became of interest to the Treasury, with the great increase in the cost of some types of theoretical and applied research. The official mind apparently could not tolerate the idea of allowing scientists whose work it did not comprehend to plan and carry out research without direction from above. Therefore, we had the disaster of Trend, which resulted in the abolition of DSIR, and of the short-lived Ministry of Science, when, in the dying years of the Home Administration, Lord Hailsham tried to breathe some sense into an organisation that had no authority or credibility left in it. The Ministry of Technology, which followed under a Labour Government, was no less disastrous, as it always must be where the rigid framework of an executive Government Department is forced in peacetime on a body of scientists and their organisation with little regard to the important matter of scientific interest or independence.
Under the Heath Government the scheme jointly concocted by a Conservative Government and a banker-scientist enabled the Treasury and its allies in the various executive Departments to control our academic and Government scientists alike. Forgotten were the saving graces of Rothschild, the 10 per cent., the warnings about scientific independence and so on. The highly publicised scientific advisers with direct access to Ministers, who were supposed to be equal in access to deputy secretaries, proved to be a sham. Today, I am sorry to say, they are no more than figureheads in their Departments, without staff, power or influence. As a result, the national physical laboratory has sunk to the level of a mere measuring instrument; staff morale at the building research establishment and road research laboratory has been steadily sinking; the fire research station has been privatised, and several others are in danger of going the same way. That is a disaster for Government science, and the Secretary of State must do something about it.
On science in schools, Professor Frazer of the university of East Anglia said in his address to the British Association recently: 356Good teaching is not simply filling a vacuum but helping a child to develop and modify existing frames of reference. The survey by HM Inspectorate of Secondary School Science had shown there was too much highly didactic lecturing in years 4 and 5. … This is not what science is about … A different style of science teaching should be tried—the problem solving approach.That requires a substantial increase in resources for laboratories, materials, apparatus and extremely well-trained technical staff. I have raised the matter before in the House, and make no apology for raising it again. We must take the matter on board.
How many local education authorities can afford to take on additional staff and all the other things necessary to teach science well? I suspect that only a few can do so. Professor Frazer's view was that we would not have achieved science for all in schools by the year 2000 if we continued at the present rate. That means dismal science teaching for a long time ahead.
Ill-trained teachers and inadequate and out-of-date equipment will not bring about the advance that we urgently need. The Secretary of State must accept what Lord Flowers, chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said of the recent UGC report:You cannot continue to cut University costs and expect from the Universities the results it seems to want.We need well-trained teachers, some of whom should be high-fliers in their subject, to enthuse the young. Both the teachers and the young need well-resourced, good, up-to-date equipment for hands-on experience. That means more resources for science teaching. I hope that the Secretary of State will tell the House that he will provide and fight for them in the Cabinet.
§ Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)
I find three matters of particular interest in the Gracious Speech—civil aviation, education and shop hours. I apologise to the House if they do not all fit in with the main theme of our debate today. I am sure that colleagues understand the difficulty in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, let alone doing so on a particular day.
However important those matters may be, I suspect that in the coming Session what really matters for the life of the country and perhaps of the Government is how the economy is handled. Nevertheless, hon. Members will understand that a matter of obvious parochial importance to me is the Bill to regulate certain airport activities and to sort out the future of the British Airports Authority.
In connection with the Government's approval to limit expansion at Stansted, the Government gave general assurances about control of development. In the course of the legislation I shall want to see these assurances becoming more specific. I hope that the Department of Transport, having eased through a decision which obviously caused dismay to people in a large section of my constituency, will not take the attitude that anything can now go and that other perhaps palliative measures included in the White Paper on airport policy can be put on the back burner and quietly forgotten. I hope, not only that we shall see measures to ensure control of expansion at Stansted, but that the opportunities for airport development elsewhere will not be completely forgotten.
I shall have particular regard to the regulatory mechanisms and measures of compensation for my constituents who are affected by the development of Stansted airport. I hope that my concern will be reflected 357 not only in the Department of Transport but in the Department of the Environment. My local authorities, which wish to maintain the general nature of the area and which are given encouragement by the Government to enable them to do so, do not want to see their refusals of speculative planning applications overturned on appeal by the Department of the Environment. Some assurance from the Government on that point during the course of this Session would be welcome in the area I represent.
The Government's announced intention about London's airport system is to keep it in the same ownership, and the Bill will obviously reflect this. Once Bills are launched, we know that Governments have a tendency to defend every last phrase with tremendous rigidity, pouring scorn on all the alternatives which we unworthy mortals put forward. Whenever a major change is made in a Bill, it usually comes after a major clash of arms in Committee.
I plead with the Government to approach the Bill on the privatisation of the BAA with a large measure of flexibility. The argument on this side of the House at any rate will not be about the principle of privatising airports, but simply about how it should be done. I do not expect a Government committed to the enhancement of competition to oppose tooth and nail suggestions from this side of the House that more competition may be achieved by not preserving a monopoly in London's airport system.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if enough people speak as strongly as he does, whatever Bill is brought forward may not get beyond the procedural motion to put it on the statute book? Perhaps, as he says, on this occasion the Government will take notice of the views of Back Benchers on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Haselhurst
I certainly concur with that wish. I hope there will be an open approach by the Government, because this argument goes well beyond mere Stansted watchers. I assure the House and my own colleagues that my approach to this matter is not a sort of latter-day effort to frustrate the Government over their decision on Stansted. I am concerned with looking to the future, not to the past.
I welcome the fact that legislation will be introduced to improve the management of schools and to promote the professional effectiveness of teachers. As someone with one child in the system and two more waiting to go in, I can certainly say hurrah to that.
I should like to offer a word of caution to my right hon. Friend on the subject of governing bodies. There is not one simple situation which we should have fixed in our mind's eye. We are acutely and rightly conscious of local education authorities which exercise what we may regard as an improper degree of influence. It is not wholly satisfactory to swing totally in the other direction and assume that parents as governors are necessarily the fount of all wisdom. Difficulties are already being illustrated. Even now, while we are implementing the effects of the 1980 Act, it is apparent that many parental governors do not feel that they have the qualifications to undertake the task. Many — although perhaps they will not readily admit this—may well have local prejudices which can be as disadvantageous to a school as prejudices from 358 another quarter. We should not automatically regard parents as a better source of governors, certainly not without a proper degree of training for the task.
Teacher appraisal must come if we are to have a truly professional body of teachers. I pray that we do not damn it even further in the eyes of teachers by legislating for it. My appeal to teachers is, "For heaven's sake negotiate on this question." The Government are not trying to say that there is a perfect system which must be imposed. They are willing to listen to anything said to them by the teachers, but the teachers are not talking about it.
We always listen with respect to the hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand), but I was disappointed to hear him talk in terms of warnings and fears on this subject. I say to teachers that there is nothing to fear but fear itself; their own fear, which they undoubtedly have. I hope that they will overcome that and realise that we want to approach this on a totally open and objective basis.
The subject of Sunday trading is far removed and may seem trivial compared to the importance of education. I welcome the decision to bring in a Bill to remove statutory restrictions on shop opening hours. I am under no illusion. I know that strong feelings attend this subject, and they are held by our constituents and by hon. Members. I know also that a number of my hon. Friends are concerned about what they feel is the different nature of Sunday and about how one protects its special quality. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) gave an example of that in his opening remarks. This is a hard argument for the Government to face because it is abstract and depends on best guesses about what might happen if restrictions are removed.
I hope that our debates will be informed by a clear appreciation by all hon. Members of what is actually happening on Sundays, and not by what people believe might be happening or feel ought to be happening. People are out of their homes and on the roads and about the countryside in their millions, and depend on countless numbers of their fellow citizens being in employment on Sundays in order to fulfil their purposes when they go out. Such people often go out in a family unit, keeping the family unit together and going out as a family to enjoy some activity or pursuit. This situation has come about under the current state of the law, and it is by the will of the people. Whatever one thinks about it, I doubt whether this trend will diminish in the period ahead.
I shall approach the debates on this subject looking for the answers to questions such as: why should a person be able to buy sweets on Sunday from a petrol filling station, while it is a criminal offence for a professional confectioner to open his doors to sell them? In an age of increasing leisure, when we are all being urged to discover Britain and to try to put increased emphasis on tourism, can we distinguish a holiday area where shops may open on a Sunday from a non-holiday area where they may not? In the days of modern retailing, how is it possible to maintain any credible distinction between goods that can be sold and goods that cannot be sold? They are probably nestling side by side on the shelves of the shop or supermarket. Sunday will not be spoiled by changes in the law. The day will continue to evolve. It will be different, but people have already demonstrated that they want it to be different in their way and not in a way that is imagined by some hon. Members.
These matters are important, but their importance is diminished by the matter of unemployment, and the 359 Government's success in handling this problem will be the basis upon which the Session will be judged. We are all haunted by the scale of unemployment and wonder how it can best be overcome. It seems that these ghosts now haunt Ministers every bit as much as they haunt the rest of us. I welcome the signs now becoming apparent that greater priority will be given to the creation of jobs. I accept the need for a certain rigidity on the part of the Government when they come to deal with such matters as unit labour costs, wage settlements and inflation, because all these things must approximate to what is happening in our competitor countries. Rigidity is perhaps less welcome in the insistence, even when the Government have created room for manoeuvre, that there is only one way, tax cuts, to boost the economy. Most employers would say demand is important as well. The Government now have scope to back both horses.
The Government say in the Gracious Speech that theywill do all in their power to encourage the growth of new jobs.Therefore, one can back more than one horse. If the Government do not want to back another horse, they do not need to shoot it to prove the point. Let us have an open discussion about how we may achieve the objective which is of concern to us all. The Government, by adopting a more pluralist approach, could widen their appeal and carry with them in their important tasks a broader section of our people.
§ Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)
I want to spend most of my time discussing the care of the frail elderly, whose numbers are alarmingly high in our society.
I shall start with a few statistics, not my own, but drawn from official sources. For example, 16 per cent. of the population in Britain is now over 65. It is the convention of the House to declare an interest, and I shall be a part of that statistic by next Sunday.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
God willing, and given a fair wind.
It is estimated that those over 75 years of age will increase in number by 25 per cent. by the end of the century. In addition, 70 per cent. of the physically disabled are elderly. There is a passing reference to it in the Gracious Speech but not much else. The 70 per cent. who are disabled, who are elderly, occupy acute and surgical beds in hospitals. That is not a consequence of the physical, medical or geriatric aspect; it floods the whole of our hospital system. We have a flood of elderly people in need of help.
It might he helpful to throw some money at the problem, but the people to whom I am referring are in need of services. I am speaking about rehabilitation services. I am speaking about something which is technically possible, economically sound and morally right. I have often referred to it in this House. If the Social Services Ministers were to address the problem carefully, they could save themselves substantial sums of money and do themselves a favour.
I have no doubt that there are hon. Members present who have from time to time, in conducting their political surgeries, met people aged from 60 to 65 with arthritis, with heart disease, who are caring for their aged parents and say that they can carry on no longer. That is a feature of today.
360 It is estimated that, because of demographic trends, in Manchester an additional 14 per cent. of geriatric beds will be required if services are to remain as they are today. But the statistic that worries me most is that word has gone out from the DHSS that the number of beds per thousand for geriatric patients has to be cut from 10 to 8.5. How can that cut of 15 per cent. be achieved without causing suffering and hardship? Why is there no reference to it in the Gracious Speech?
One of the worst crimes that a politician can commit, on being given the facts, is to look at that which is predictable and then run away. Initially, it may cost vast sums of money to deal with the problem, but in the meantime the meals-on-wheels services, which could have assisted, have been reduced. The number of people available as home helps has been cut. On the admission of the DHSS, the number of homes available to accept geriatric people has been reduced. There is a dramatic worsening of the situation at a time when the size of the problem is increasing.
We are hypocritical if we fail to accept our responsibilities. My statistics are accurate. They are from the horse's mouth—the DHSS itself. I reiterate that the provision of geriatric beds is to be cut from 10 to 8.5 per thousand, and that in Manchester the demand will increase by 14 per cent. over the next 15 years.
Will the Secretary of State for Education and Science please look at the pay structure of clinicians who also lecture? In that field a tremendous amount of work could be done, as I shall try to demonstrate. There is little doubt that, in the rehabilitation of the elderly, skills and knowledge have advanced dramatically. I had the great honour to open a rehabilitation unit for the elderly at Ladywell in my constituency. It was a rewarding experience, but it touches only the fringe of the problem.
It is intriguing to speak to the House on a subject which is very rarely discussed and to find a responding chord from each hon. Member. My assumption is, of course, that each hon. Member in the Chamber today has conducted his or her own surgery, and knows the nature of the problem and what we shall have to face in the not too distant future.
The official definition of rehabilitation is the restoration of the individual to his or her fullest physical, mental and social ability. That definition has its limitations, in that not many of us have reached our fullest physical, mental and social ability. Nevertheless, the definition emphasises the importance of treating the whole person within the overall environment.
Another important definition is that rehabilitation is the planned withdrawal of support. In other words, at the time of need, the disabled, the elderly and the frail elderly are given maximum support, advice and guidance so that ultimately that support can be withdrawn and they can go back into the community and lead a full life. That presupposes other problems. Rehabilitation does not fit easily into the nursing and medical model of doing things to or for a patient. It is an educational model; training a person to do things for himself or herself. Such rehabilitation requires a team that understands that approach and can work together.
Rehabilitation starts the instant the person goes into hospital. It may be that it is the surgeon, or a specialist, who has to do the work, but the individual skills required must include a readiness to recognise instantly the importance of rehabilitation so that the decline of the 361 elderly person does not accelerate. One is guiding such people to recovery instantly and sustaining their will to be independent.
Unless schemes of rehabilitation, such as the ones I have described for the elderly, are successfully implemented, our society—I choose my words carefully—will be swamped by hundreds of thousands of uncared for, frail, elderly people. Hundreds of thousands is no exaggeration, because all too many of them are tucked away unsung, unseen and neglected and only occasionally, through a good neighbour, a caring doctor or a caring elderly relative, are they brought to our attention. Even then, we sometimes fail to tackle the problem. We deserve to be condemned as uncivilised unless we tackle the problem with vigour, determination and a true sense of priority. Rehabilitation is more than physiotherapy and occupational therapy: it is a package deal of both the community and hospital teams, which communicate well and work towards common goals.
It is pointless if the rehabilitation programme simply makes a person fit to be lonely. Similarly, there is no point in improving the physical ability of an elderly person if he does not use the skills that he has acquired when he returns home. We talk much about community care. There is a danger of it becoming community neglect unless health and social services departments work closely together and are prepared to provide the appropriate resources.
Members of Parliament are privileged people. We have the chance to vote the funds for adequate rehabilitation. One could argue lightheartedly that I am pleading enlightened self-interest, but I have been making this plea for many years in the House. For the rehabilitation programme to have a long-term effect, there must be good community support from both the statutory and voluntary sections in our community. It is for the Department to harness both the NHS and the local authorities as well as the volunteers. I hope that during debate on the Queen's Speech those elements will be developed.
§ 7.4 pm
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
It gives me great pleasure to speak after the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). On behalf of other right hon. and hon. Members, I should like to wish him a happy birthday this coming weekend and a long and happy retirement.
I was glad to learn from the Gracious Speech that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister was not for turning. I was equally glad to hear that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is not for turning.
Lord Wilson of Rievaulx said in his book "A Prime Minister on Prime Ministers" that the writing was on the wall for a Government when they resorted to the policies of their opponents. How right he was. Unfortunately, when he introduced "In Place of Strife" he did not realise that the Labour party should not try to cut off its left arm. Unfortunately, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) did not realise that it was no way to run a Conservative Government to resort to state controls on spending and incomes, having printed too much money.
The Father of the House was a little more unfortunate. When he finally learnt that the present Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, was right when she said that public expenditure had to be controlled, his 362 conversion took place with the gun of the International Monetary Fund to his head. His head rolled at the hands of the electorate soon afterwards.
It is crystal clear from the Gracious Speech that the Government have no intention of resorting to the policies of the Opposition. The Government still have the utmost confidence in the convictions upon which they were elected.
What of the Leader of the Opposition? Does he have the conviction that Socialism is the answer to the nation's problems? If so, why did he not use his speech last Wednesday to put the case for more state housing, more nationalisation and more trade union powers, because, after all, those are the policies that the electorate associates with Socialism? I shall tell hon. Members why. It is that he dared not. Since the Government came to power, people have grown to enjoy buying their council homes, taking a financial interest in their privatised firms and exercising their democratic rights at work. They have tasted freedom and it has set their taste buds tingling.
The Opposition are frightened to death because they know that Socialism grows out of dependence, not independence. That is why they have launched their attack on the plans of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to reform the social security system. I have a copy of the briefing notes that the Department has supplied, and very good they are too. They are good reading, and I recommend them to all hon. Members. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State lists three main aims of the scheme. The notes state:The proposals are designed to ensure that:i. limited resources are directed at the areas of greatest need".What on earth is wrong with that? Surely that is everybody's aim. What is the complaint about directing resources to those who really need them? Is there any sense in housing benefit being payable to almost 40 per cent. of householders, of whom almost 4 million are not eligible for supplementary benefit, and many of whom are paying tax?
Secondly, the proposals are designed to ensure thatthe rules are made easier to understand and administer".Again, that is a praiseworthy objective. Is there any sense in a family on family income supplement having to go cap in hand for free glasses, milk tokens and free vitamins for expectant mothers and children under school age, refunds of fares to hospital for treatment as well as free school meals? How much better it would be to leave them to run their lives. However, that is not what the Opposition want. They want dependence, not independence. Many of them think that they have a divine right to run other people's lives. Such is the conceit of Socialism.
§ Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
How nice it would be if, as the hon. Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) suggested is necessary, we could always give help where it is needed. However, it is not like that. That is why the Opposition are fighting for something similar to what he suggested.
The debate on the Queen's Speech is rather sporadic because there are so many important subjects, but the guidelines have laid down two for today. I shall deal mainly with education, but the nine words about social security are interesting:A Bill will be introduced to reform social security.363 I listened carefully to the Secretary of State for Social Services this afternoon. It would be better if we said that a Bill will be introduced to deform social security, because the meaning of the word "reform" is to make better. But we all know that the cuts are horrific and that resources do not meet needs. When my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) spoke about the frail elderly, he highlighted a vital issue to which the Government pay insufficient attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) rightly said that education is not in chaos but is in a deep crisis. It is in crisis because the teacher has been undervalued, the status and dignity of teachers have been demeaned and their salaries are so pitifully low that they do not know how they can carry on. When the Government talk about balance, Mr. Deputy Teacher—[Laughter.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Mr. Walker) was a teacher. He is an old friend and I am sure he will forgive me.
The teachers believe themselves to be in a crisis. When the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) says that ACAS would help, he does not understand. Despite what anybody has said, the Secretary of State has flatly refused to give more money. Therefore, although the Government say that the teachers will not go to arbitration—until recently, the Government of the day and the teachers abided by the outcome of that arbitration—the truth is that the Government will not stand by what the arbitrators say. The Government have limited the pay increase to 3 per cent., so there is no point in going to arbitration or ACAS. The rate support grant will only allow for that increase. There is no more money on the table, and this argument will go on.
The Government love unions to have ballots. The NUT, for instance, has had 10 ballots, all with overwhelming results. One is being conducted now. Teachers have made it clear that, unless more money its put on the table, they will continue to struggle.
As a member of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts I have visited West Germany to study primary schools. West German teachers, in a society not dissimilar from ours in terms of its standards of living, get twice as much pay as their British counterparts. The Secretary of State may shake his head, but I have been there and met teachers. They also have half the numbers in the classes. I saw no class with more than 20 pupils and most had fewer.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)
I do not quarrel with the hon. Gentleman about teachers' pay in West Germany; I quarrel with his comment that the West German standard of living is about the same as ours. Their prosperity and their productivity, which leads to prosperity, is greater than ours. Therefore, the pay in every sector of German society is substantially above British pay.
§ Mr. Flannery
The Secretary of State and I will always differ, but the reality is that there are far more unemployed teachers in West Germany than there are in Britain.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science is the most unpopular incumbent of that post in my lifetime. Everywhere he goes, he antagonises teachers with his complete lack of understanding of their conditions of service and miserable pay. He knows as well as I do that, 364 since 1974, the Houghton pay award given by the Labour Government, with the agreement of the Tory party, has been eroded almost completely.
I shall give the House some statistics. In 1974, a teacher's average weekly wage was £59.58, whereas the average wage of a non-manual worker was £43.50 By 1984, under this Government, teachers were earning £129.05, whereas the average non-manual worker was earning £130.81. In 1974, accountants earned on average 12p a week more than did teachers, but by 1984 they were earning on average £45 a week more than teachers. In 1974, computer programmers earned less than teachers; by 1984, they were earning £51 a week more than teachers.
Left to themselves, local authorities would end this long and terrible struggle—the longest industrial action ever undertaken by the teachers. But the Government will not allow them to end it. They have no money to give the teachers more than the 3 per cent. to which the Minister has stuck, but which is less than the rate of inflation. He and his Government are causing great problems in our schools, which will continue unless the teachers are given more money.
A recent report from the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations shows that 72 per cent. of primary schools have classes of mixed age pupils larger than the Government's guideline of 26, and 40 per cent. of schools have entirely lost some subjects from their curricula—music is the most common example. The report also states that 82 per cent. of secondary schools require their pupils to share textbooks and 58 per cent. of them require parents to purchase essential learning materials.
I visited many south-east primary schools with the Select Committee. When I told the Secretary of State that those schools had between two and three times the capitation allowance of schools in areas with high unemployment, all that he could tell the Select Committee was, "Let the local education authority make it up." How can the local authorities make it up when the rate support grant has been cut and they have no more money?
I also visited the best preparatory school in Britain—Summerfields in Oxford—where I met many children from rich and powerful families who had everything that they needed and whose teachers earned high wages. Although I taught for many years, I have never visited such a well-equipped school. Yet a moderate section of the community which wants the best for our children and does not want to strike must continue to struggle because the Government have placed it in such a difficult position.
In the meantime, what is happening to large amounts of public money? While our state schools are being cut to the bone and many of them have gone without decoration for more than 20 years, the assisted places scheme is siphoning off our money into the private education system, which has been well shored up at the expense of ordinary children.
A policeman needs only three months' training before he can don a uniform and is judged able to handle the subtle and complicated problems of racism and urban renewal, yet a policeman, who has low qualifications, gets a higher wage than a four-year trained teacher who is highly qualified. A corporal in the Army receives more money than a scale 3 teacher who is well qualified and has 365 many years of experience. What kind of an attitude are the Government taking to allow such a situation to exist? Most people do not know what is happening.
The teachers are angry and massively united in their longest and most determined struggle. It is not the teachers but the Government and the most unpopular Secretary of State for Education and Science who have allowed this state of affairs to arise. I appeal to the Minister to give the teachers more money and so get them back to teaching. The teachers desire to teach children, but millions of our children are suffering. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) should take the smile off his face because what I am saying is not funny. I am telling the truth about what is happening to our children at the hands of the Government. It is a serious situation and it is time something was done to remedy it. If the Government had decided to give money to the teachers instead of deciding overnight to give a quarter of a billion pounds to Johnson Matthey without consulting the House, this problem would have been solved.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
I want to make it clear that I certainly was not smiling. I am very sad to hear the hon. Member repeating the same errors time and time again. Mixed up with his errors are some truths. I only wish I could convey to him some of the errors he is making, though I acknowledge some of the grievance that he reflects.
§ Mr. Flannery
I am glad that the Secretary of State acknowledges some of my grievances. When he replies I hope that he will deal with what he says are errors in my speech. There are no errors in what I have said. I have spoken from a proper brief which has been researched.
Conservative Members constantly say that teachers are against reassessment, but that is wholly untrue. The Minister knows as well as I that the teachers have said that they are ready to discuss reassessment with the Government but that reassessment should not be tied to this year's wage demand. The demand should be settled first and then reassessment may be discussed. To tie reassessment in with this year's wage demand after all these years is a ploy not to pay the teachers their just earnings.
If nothing emerges from a debate such as this, the struggle will continue. Everyone who has listened to this debate or who reads it in the papers will know whom to blame for the children not being in school. The teachers want to teach the children and they want dignity and status. They are sick to death of being undervalued. It lies in the Government's hands, and particularly with the Secretary of State, to get the teachers back into the schools and so educate our children properly.
§ Mr. Michael Forsyth (Stirling)
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in the debate on the Gracious Speech and to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). I am bound to tell the hon. Member that I have recently researched some private schools and have been told by their headmasters that their problems stem from people like myself who are first-generation parents, who went through the state sector, because our expectations are much higher than those of people who have been used to public schools. I found the 366 conditions in private schools poor in superficial terms—if the hon. Member for Hillsborough was referring to physical buildings and equipment—in comparison with what one sees in the state sector. One of the oddities of the education debate, especially the argument of Opposition Members, is the obsession with inputs in education while far too little attention is paid to what comes out at the other end.
I welcome the Gracious Speech because it is a continuation of the radical strategy adopted by the Government since they were elected in 1979. I wish that the recognition of the failure of state provision in the industrial and commercial areas of life could be carried over. If one thing is certain it is the victory that the Government have achieved in transferring industries that were once in the state sector into the private sector. The Government have not done this because it raises money for the Treasury but because the changeover has resulted in more efficient companies, which are more responsive to the needs of the consumer and are able to compete more efficiently overseas.
In the industrial areas of our land, the strategy of privatisation has broken the mould—I choose that phrase for the benefit of the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy)—of stagnation and decline and put us on the road towards a modernised economy and the transformation of a society dependent on the industries of yesterday into one able to face the challenges of tomorrow. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will embrace the same strategy in his attitude to education. The success of privatisation has come partly from increased competition—in some cases one would have liked to see more of that—but also from the discipline of increased accountability to shareholders and customers. The debate about our schools is far too much dominated by what suits the producers—the teachers and administrators—rather than by what suits the parents. It is astonishing that, although children spend seven hours a day for 11 or 12 years of their lives in the hands of our teachers, we have very few measures of what actually results from that input.
The trade unions and the teachers tell us that standards in our schools have improved except during periods of Government economies. We are told that total spending on teachers, schools and textbooks has risen and that class sizes have decreased. The hon. Member for Hillsborough should consider why textbooks have to be shared in some schools. It is because the education authorities have made it their priority to look after the producers rather than the children and have allocated their resources accordingly. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head and complains about cuts in rate support grant, but the education authorities which take that attitude manage to find hundreds of thousands of pounds for political advertising campaigns, putting leaflets through letterboxes, and so on.
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the inflation rate for books is almost double the general inflation rate and that that has caused acute problems? Moreover, the many worthwhile curriculum changes that we have sought mean that many books become out of date before they are worn out. It is thus a major problem for schools to obtain up-to-date textbooks. The hon. Gentleman should not blame the teachers. He should address himself to the real problem of the price of books and the need to keep them up to date.
§ Mr. Forsyth
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but per capita expenditure in real terms has increased by 17 per cent. in primary schools and 12 per cent. in secondary schools. Within that framework it should be possible to find resources for books. Cuts are made in sensitive areas to put pressure on parents and to grab headlines. That is irresponsible. It is a feature of local authorities playing politics.
The main question is what can be done for the vast majority of people who cannot afford to pay twice for education—first through taxation and then by going to the private sector—and who are stuck with what is on offer in the state sector. Some may be able to move to a better area, and so on, but many have no choice whatever in education. Although there have been some measures in the right direction, there is still very little choice and very little political control for many people in this country. We should be moving towards a system in which headmasters have more control in their schools and in which chief executives can decide policy and resources and perhaps even pay and conditions in their own schools.
Why do we have to argue these matters in the House and outside? Why cannot headmasters be directly responsible to boards of management, with real teeth and power, in schools where parents have a real role to play? Only in that way shall we have schools that reflect the needs of parents.
§ Mr. Forsyth
I should like to give way, but I am up against time.
If schools were financed on a per capita sum basis, so that those that attracted more pupils got more resources, we should begin to have a system that allows parental pressure and teacher merit to secure continuous improvement.
The problem of producer capture—when schools satisfy the needs of teachers rather than pupils—is also apparent in the university sector. The method of funding through the UGC means that students' choices have no bearing on the system. Instead, there is a bureaucratic body. The UGC horse trades, scratches backs and decides which departments will go, which will stay, which universities will prosper and which will do badly. Stirling university is losing by 25 per cent. in one year even when it is inundated by students of a high standard wishing to go there. If the universities and their departments were funded on a per capita basis and those able to attract students of the required standard were given resources, we would move towards some market sensitivity to the demands of students. That is part of the Government's declared aim of allowing competition and encouraging success.
We should also consider the assisted places scheme, which has great merit but is blighted because it applies only at secondary level. Effectively, that means that those who go through the state sector and not through prep schools are disadvantaged. There is scope to increase the number of assisted places.
I do not believe that there are adverse political implications in all this. We are told by those described as consolidators that we must not do anything too radical to upset the electorate, but I believe that extending choice in education would be a popular policy. It would not be 368 popular with the disgruntled ideologues who have education in their grip and would resent the fact that people had a choice, because they believe that they know better. There is an overwhelming desire in Britain for an education system built on the cornerstone of consumer choice.
If the current dispute tells us anything, it is that state provision, under which parents are effectively excluded as consumers, has failed badly and is in urgent need of radical and major reform.
§ Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)
I shall not follow entirely the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who concentrated on education. However, I believe that there is hope for him, because he is interested in breaking a few moulds.
There is a feeling in Scotland that the difficulties faced by the Secretary of State for Education and Science south of the border limit the room for manoeuvre by the Secretary of State for Scotland towards some form of settlement. Prior to the further damage that is bound to be inflicted on the education system north of the border next year, I hope that it will prove possible for the Government either to recognise the right of teachers to an independent review or to follow the approach which the alliance has recommended for several months, which is to allow the Scottish joint negotiating committee to call in its own form of independent consultation. That body could give advice, which would not be binding on either party, on possible ways of ending the dispute. Everyone in Scotland agrees that the current position is intolerable and that immense damage is being caused. The Government and the Scottish Office bear the major burden of responsiblity and blame because of the the way in which they have handled the dispute.
I agreed with the Secretary of State when he said that economic policy could not be separated from social policy. He is right, and that was why I was filled with gloom when I saw in the Queen's Speech the apparent conviction that economic policy will not change. If it does not change, there will be little hope that the social policy can be substantially improved.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that what he is saying applies equally to what the Secretary of State said about the problems of the NHS?
§ Mr. Kennedy
Yes. I know of the hon. Gentleman's long interest in these matters and I am sure that he agrees that it is important that—perhaps at Question Time tomorrow—Ministers should confirm what the extra cash that we read is being given to the NHS amounts to and whether it matches the £250 million that I understand the Royal College of Nursing, the British Medical Association and the Institute of Health Service Administrators have identified as an absolute minimum. That may have been what the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) was getting at.
There is little doubt that the Government's economic policies will not create the conditions that will enable the proposed reforms of the social security system to be acceptable across the political spectrum. I found the lack of further detail in the Secretary of State's speech about his plans for SERPS astonishing. I expected him to begin 369 to spell out in more detail what he intends to do, because he seems to have backed off from his original position of outright abolition.
The Secretary of State talks with great confidence about the future of the pensions industry, but within the past week the Financial Times reported that Mr. Brian Coote, the president of the Society of Pension Consultants, speaking at a dinner at which the Secretary of State also spoke,attacked the Government for failing to seek political consensus on plans to overhaul the pensions system.This failure, he claimed, had re-introduced uncertainty which made long-term planning for effective retirement provision an impossibility.It is interesting to set that statement alongside the nonsense that the Secretary of State produced today. It is not valid to argue, as the right hon. Gentleman attempted to argue, that the Government have achieved a consensus in the industry and that they are satisfying the demands of consumers. The Company Pensions Information Centre said earlier this year that preserving consensus about future pension policy is more important than preserving SERPS. That is right.
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) referred to a recent speech by my noble Friend Lord Banks about the alliance view of the future of SERPS. We think that if there is to be some restructuring or modification of SERPS, as opposed to its abolition, the Government should seek to get the all-party consensus which does not exist at present, and to take the industry with them. The hon. Member for Oldham, West dug his pensions grave even deeper today by promising that, even if the industry backed any restructuring, a future Labour Government would tear up the plan and revert to a system which alliance Members acknowledge is not redistributive enough and is not targeted at those in most need.
The lessons of the review so far suggest that there is sufficient goodwill and sufficient realisation of the political necessity for a consensus for the Secretary of State to achieve it. If he does not seek that, the alliance would prefer a restructuring of SERPS, reducing some of the longer-term costs and using savings that could be made by that restructuring for the lower paid.
These matters were discussed in detail in a debate earlier in the year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). That money could then be ploughed into a short-term immediate increase of 20 to 25 per cent. The Government Actuary's figures show that that could be brought about. That is our preferred option, though it cannot be for any party the ultimate option if the Government are willing to give on the issue, and I hope that they will give.
§ Mr. Kennedy
I gather that the Minister has received an SOS message. I had better give way, therefore.
§ Mr. Newton
Whatever message I may have received, it has nothing to do with what I am about to ask the hon. Gentleman. I want to be clear about what he is saying, because much depends on what he means by "short-term." The only way in which short-term resources could be made 370 available from SERPS would be by cutting the pensions of people who are already receiving SERPS pensions. Is that the policy of the alliance?
§ Mr. Kennedy
The Minister will appreciate that that is not the policy of the alliance. Perhaps I was wrong to use the word "short-term," and I will clarify the position.
Our preferred option throughout has been that the savings that would accrue from changing the current system of SERPS—a system which we have acknowledged has long-term implications, and we are not satisfied that it is sufficiently egalitarian or redistributive for the poorest in society—could be ploughed back into the basic pension, releasing funds for an immediate increase of 20 to 25 per cent.
While that may be our preferred option, all political parties, including the Conservative party, should be willing, for the sake of achieving consensus and therefore political continuity in future pensions policy—that aspect is particularly worrying to the pensions industry—to seek agreement with other parties, whereas so far they have not been willing to do so.
The reports of which we read last week, and about which the Secretary of State was vague and disappointingly woolly today, give rise to the view that there is a state of chaos at the Elephant and Castle over how the social security reviews will be implemented. That is greatly to do with the fact that they have been carried out in an unbelievable fashion. They have been produced without any indicative figures, and there is fear that the Government may rush into legislation without having thoroughly considered the implications of its implementation.
That is why we have expressed concern at the fact that there is no commitment to extend the long-term rate of supplementary benefit for the long-term unemployed; at the fact that child benefit has been frozen, when all the indicators suggest that it should be increased in real terms; and at the fact that the rating system, which the Government admit is unacceptable, is neverless considered good enough to enable more people to contribute towards such a system. That is all happening at a time when we should be moving towards an integrated tax and benefits system which would allow basic benefits, with additional payments to recipients, so that their needs may be met in a more humane way than, I suspect, the social fund—about which the Secretary of State has been talking, but about the size of the budget of which we have no clue—is liable to do.
For the Department of Health and Social Security, the Queen's Speech must be a disappointment, because the reviews remain clouded in doubt. As the ministerial team at that Department has changed, and as we have two new Health Ministers, it is difficult to know whether to be relieved or despondent at there being no mention of the National Health Service. Given that there may be additional resources—we should be told exactly how much they will be—let us hope that the Government have decided, as they are in the bunkers of social security reform, for once to leave the NHS alone and allow it to come to grips slowly with the implications of the Griffiths report and the new general management structure. If they are willing to do that, then, from the point of view of the NHS, they will have my support.
§ Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)
I hope that it is in order for me to call attention to an important matter that is missing from the Queen's Speech—the whole complex of issues covered by the Warnock report.
That report called for urgent legislation, and hon. Members will have received large postbags on the issues that it covered. Ministers have said that they wish to introduce legislation as soon as practicable. I gather that the Government are in a consultative stage, studying the public response to the Warnock report. There is a danger, however, that during this neutral stance, a private Member will bring in legislation, as happened last year when the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) jumped the consultative phase by attempting to bring in his own Bill.
What will the Government do this year if there is introduced another private Member's Bill similar to that introduced last year? Will they try to rely on another by-election writ to save the day?
The Bill which the right hon. Member for South Down introduced I believe flew in the face of public opinion. Public opinion polls carried out earlier this year showed a clear majority in favour of allowing research, if it helped to eliminate genetic diseases. There was a 51 per cent. majority in the Marplan poll in April and a 63 per cent. majority in a further Marplan poll in May. Woman magazine, from 3,000 responses, had an 80 per cent. majority in favour of allowing such research. The Labour party annual conference passed a resolution by a majority of 90 per cent. deploring the action of the 44 hon. Members who voted in support of that private Member's Bill.
The Warnock report unfortunately said little about the potential benefits of research, and I am sure that the good lady whose name the report bears would have said more had she been aware of some of the doubts that were to be expressed later. I strongly recommend the Government to set up within the Department of Health and Social Security a working party of experts to examine the potential benefits from such research, for it is in that area that the public are anxious to see benefits gained, if research is to be allowed.
Meantime, the Minister must vigorously oppose any attempts to bring in private legislation before the Government have had time to consider the recommendations of the working party. I am sure that the public would welcome a positive move of that type by the Government. Indeed, the public have shown their anxieties already in two respects, particularly in respect of handicapped children.
In Britain, 10,000 children are born each year with obvious genetic problems. Throughout the world, 4 million such children are born each year. It is reported that there are 185,000 handicapped children in our schools and that there are 60,000 severely handicapped children in the United Kingdom. About 20,000 children are in care, more than 3,000 of them in institutions. Fostering and adoptive homes are desperately needed for those children. It is a crying shame that children should be left in institutional care.
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Government established a scheme by which special aid was given to people prepared to foster particularly the mentally 372 handicapped and retarded, we could give the mentally handicapped and the retarded a better life than could be given to them in institutions?
§ Mr. Thurnham
I would support any measures which encouraged people to provide homes. Such children are more in need of love and care than ordinary children and it is a crying shame that so many of them should be in institutions.
When the right hon. Member for South Down introduced his Bill, he referred to the dignity of man. I ask where the dignity is for such children in institutions. I challenge those who oppose research to provide the names of people willing to foster and adopt such children. They are keen for others to do the caring; they are not so keen to do it themselves.
I refer hon. Members to an article written by Madeleine Simms, in the Lancet for 2 November this year, in which she refers to a survey of mothers of mentally handicapped young adults, two thirds of whom said that they did not consider that looking after their children was time well spent and with hindsight they wish that they had had an abortion. How can we refuse to allow research that would help to reduce the incidence of such grievous affliction and handicaps?
In addition to that, the public are concerned about the problems of infertile couples. At least one couple in 10 has difficulty in conceiving, and in the North-West health authority in my constituency there are four-year waiting lists for in vitro fertilisation treatment. When patients finally get the treatment, their chance of a successful pregnancy is no better than 10 per cent. Although techniques have been developed to allow the freezing and storing of both semen and fertilised eggs, there is no technique for storing unfertilised eggs, and research is desperately needed on that.
The Roman Catholic church has doubts about this issue, and I draw attention to a book written by Friar John Mahoney, who has recently been elected the first president of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain. In it, he casts great doubt on the position taken by those who feel that no research should be allowed. He draws attention in his book, which is entitled "Bio-ethics and Belief", to three objections to the theory that an embryo is so sacred that no research on it can be allowed.
Firstly, the article points out that 30 per cent. of embryos die naturally before implanting in the mother's womb, without allowing for the numbers lost through contraception. Second, an embryo in its first stages has no brain and can hardly be considered to have a soul. Third, he draws attention to a problem to which, as far as I know, no answer has been put forward. It is that, in the very early stages, an embryo can divide to form twins and then come together again to recombine. It is difficult to imagine that an embryo can be considered as an individual when it is capable of doing that.
I shall quote two passages from Friar John Mahoney's book. On page 64 he argues:The time of implantation should be considered as the critical stage.On page 97 he says about the embryos, to which he refers as "nodes":The destruction of such biologically human 'nodes' does not entail the destruction of a human person.
§ Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)
I know that my hon. Friend does not intend to mislead the House 373 I acknowledge immediately the sincerity with which he speaks, and I understand his particular circumstances. However, will he confirm that the Catholic bishops remain opposed to experimentation on the human embryo?
§ Mr. Thurnham
It is for that reason that I have drawn the attention of hon. Members to the book written by Friar John Mahoney, who is a leading Catholic theologian. As the Catholic Church has such grave doubts, it would be inexcusable for a minority group to try to impose restrictive legislation.
The Medical Research Council and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have set up a voluntary licensing authority and I ask the Government to examine its work to see to what extent it applies to the recommendation of the Warnock committee, which called urgently for the setting up of a statutory licensing authority.
We owe it to those who are most handicapped to do nothing that will limit the chances for improvement in this sector, where great love and care is needed and where action by the Government is so necessary.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)
I regret that I shall not follow the points made by the hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham). He made a first-class speech, on which I congratulate him. I hope that some of the facts and figures that he has given will receive a much wider publication than is usual with speeches made in the Chamber at this time of night. He has a genuine approach to these problems, and I, as a previous member of the Medical Research Council, cannot fault him in any way. I regret only that time does not permit me to amplify the expert case that he made. I hope that it will be read by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
It will not surprise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to learn that I intend to speak mainly about a great omission from the Queen's Speech. This will be the 27th contribution that I have made to debates on Gracious Speeches since I first came to the House. In the year that I came to the House, I was the first new Member to make a maiden speech and I chose to speak about the NHS. Like the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy), I am appalled by the fact that a £2 billion public spending Department, affecting every citizen, has received no mention in the Gracious Speech for the first time in my 27 years' experience.
I ought not to be surprised that the NHS has not been mentioned, because, in spite of the Government's protestations that the NHS is safe in the Prime Minister's hands, we have witnessed the amputation, limb by limb, of hospital specialties, to the extent that there is now a five-year plan for the complete closure of general hospitals, with the intention of changing them into old folks homes or geriatric hospitals. The Government should have said something in the Gracious Speech about their record and their future plans for the NHS.
My second charge is that the NHS has been facing starvation by cuts in resources—a malnutrition diet that has led to less patient care. It is a tragedy that it is leading also to the erosion of the morale of dedicated nurses, doctors, Health Service workers and all the 1 million people who are employed in the Health Service. I regret 374 that the Minister for Health is not here, although I welcome the Minister for Social Security, because he has always treated me and the House with courtesy. My speech will be directed at the Minister for Health, and I know that he will make sure that I get from his colleague a written answer to my specific questions.
The new Minister for Health replaces the Prime Minister's supreme statistics juggler. Never has there been a Minister so effective in selecting figures, tossing them around the Chamber and showing a bigger and better Health Service at the end, while each of us knows that instead it is smaller and inferior. Some 40 years ago, both the new Minister for Health and I, believe it or not, served on the Standing Conference of the National Voluntary Youth Organisation and were delegates to the World Assembly of Youth. Now, we are both old boys. At that time he was noted as being wet, and I hope that his new office will not dry him out.
There has been much hospital closure by stealth, and I can give two immediate cases. Hon. Members from both sides of the House fought to keep open the cardiac surgery department at our own hospital of Westminster. We fought against that closure, and I had support from the House of Lords, from the previous leader of the Liberal party, Lord Grimond, and from others. However, cardiac surgery has now finished, as has ophthalmology.
That closure came about in spite of the fact that the evidence showed that we would have been able to maintain these specialties, which affect not only the patients needing that treatment, but the feedback to radiology, pathology and all the other specialties of the ancillary professions. Will the Minister give a guarantee that when specialty department consultants retire at the Westminster hospital they will be replaced by a permanent specialty consultant, and not by an acting consultant? I say that because we lost the cardiac consultancy at Westminster when, in 1981, Mr. Drew retired and the bureaucrats decided not to make a new appointment. This is what is known as preventing the growth or development of a hospital by blight.
The most important point about this closure by stealth has been shown in my constituency. I took a strong delegation to the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security consisting of people from my constituency, led by the Methodist Minister. They were concerned about the closure of a ward in Neasden hospital and the delegation included a ward sister and a nurse from the hospital. Neasden is located in my area of Brent and has 83 old folks' beds. The warning shot was the closure of ward C. All the indications were that this was the beginning of the closure of the entire hospital, and within five days of meeting the Under-Secretary the district health authority, on the casting vote of the chairman, decided to close the hospital.
The Minister should now intervene to prevent this disaster, especially in view of the fact that the decision to close went ahead only on the casting vote of the chairman after the district health authority vote had tied eight to eight. He should stop this closure for three reasons. First, last year a 94-bed geriatric hospital in my constituency was closed at Leamington Park. Secondly, the elderly people affected will be transferred to Acton, Wembley and central Middlesex, and with the bus cuts that are now taking place in my constituency it will be practically impossible for their relatives to visit them. As a result, those old people 375 will die, not just from their geriatric problems, but from loneliness. If relatives are unable to visit them, there will be a gap in the care and attention that they require.
§ Mr. Newton
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words earlier. I shall ensure that the points that he has made are drawn to the attention of Health Ministers. So that no one is misled, I am sure he will agree that if a community health council objects to the proposed closure of a hospital, the matter will normally come higher up the ladder and arrive on a Minister's desk.
§ Mr. Pavitt
The community health council has objected, as has the Conservative-controlled borough council. I am therefore certain that the matter will be discussed at higher levels.
My third point affects the Home Secretary. This hospital is in the heartland of a deprived inner city area. The Stonebridge high rise blocks suffer from all the problems imaginable, and, together with the St. Raphael's estate, this area has a higher proportion of black people than in Handsworth or Brixton. The infrastructure, including the community hospital, is gradually being eroded or destroyed. This closure could also have repercussions for community relations, because if people are no longer able to visit their elderly relatives, another problem will he heaped on those that already exist.
I have read the regional and district strategy with great interest, and I have made lengthy submissions to the regional health authority on what is happening to Brent. There are three Members of Parliament serving a population of 250,000, yet the 10-year strategy means that all the major services are likely to be transferred outside my borough to either Hammersmith or Paddington, leaving Brent with a skeleton service.
The Neasden hospital occupies a key site on the north circular road. In terms of profits and asset-stripping it will be a bargain, because the property developers will be able to build a hypermarket or warehouse and make a fortune out of it. Consequently, that entire area will continue to be run down in terms of health, education and other social services.
The Government have from time to time talked about believing in patient care. This allows me to bring up a constituency case of someone who is finding difficulty in obtaining treatment. I received a letter from Euan Milroy, consultant urologist at the Middlesex hospital, one of our finest teaching hospitals. He was apologising for being unable to do his job properly, and said:Current Government policy has resulted in this Health Authority being asked to sustain revenue cuts which are impossible to plan and achieve in any sensible way on the required timescale. Since June this year workload reductions of the order of 30 per cent. have been imposed on our acute surgical services, including my speciality, and further cuts in operating time and medical staffing are being discussed. The service we now offer is steadily worsening; waiting times for our specialist facilities are increasing and sadly the Government's plans to reprovide such services in areas where they are more accessible to the patients are not coming to fruition".That is not the story that we hear from the Government time and time again—that is reality.
In Brent, an under-staffed ambulance service is dealing with a 10 per cent. increase in emergency calls. A pregnant woman waited 40 minutes, and a respiratory crisis case 32 minutes, while the ambulances stood idle. We are not short of ambulances, but, because of lack of funds, we cannot employ the people to drive them. I commend to the 376 Minister an article which I shall send to him from the Wembley Observer, which gives chapter and verse about the sad state of the emergency services in my area.
A health cut which nurses will deplore is that after 98 years the Nursing Mirror will cease to exist. The 1910 issue contained a very good article about Florence Nightingale, but sadly that publication is now finished and this journal was very popular with nurses.
The Government may massage the statistics, but the reality is that an injection of £250 million is needed to stop the rot. Over the last three years, there was an actual growth in resources of 0.2 per cent. in the first year, 0.8 per cent. in the second year and a loss of 0.1 per cent. in the third year. Those are not the statistics that come from the Government. Bowing to pressure, the Minister has stated that some of the money that was to be taken from district health authorities to meet the nurses' and doctors' pay award will be replaced by an increase from the DHSS. How much will be injected? Will it be the £250 million for which the BMA and the Royal College of Nursing are asking, or a lesser sum? May we have a definite figure?
The health of our families is an imperative part of government, yet there is not a word about it in the Gracious Speech. That is appalling. The situation is now traumatic and is developing into a disaster. We need a full day's debate on this subject—distinct from social security—at the earliest opportunity and I hope that the Leader of the House will find time so that hon. Members can pursue this subject. On health, this Goverment think only in terms of figures, statistics and cash. They lack care and compassion.
§ 8.8 pm
§ Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)
It is appropriate that we are debating education and social services, because if we do not have education of the relevant and appropriate standard, we shall not have the prosperity that we need to pay for social services.
I want to turn my attention to the education side of the discussion. There is a reference in the Gracious Speech to having better management of schools and a need to promote the professional effectiveness of teachers. For a time, I served as a governor in a large secondary school. Along with me there was one parent governor and one teacher governor. The rest were appointed by the county council. I often asked myself who really ran the school and who was managing it. I have no doubt that it was the head, who on almost every occasion was backed by the county council. It was difficult for governors to get their way. There were occasions when they saw the need for improvement and change, but if the head opposed it, it was difficult to force through those changes simply because the county council invariably backed the headmaster.
How can we change that? What can we do to ensure that schools are managed more effectively by those who care about them?
Governors should have more authority, but I accept that if there are no checks and balances there is a danger of extremists serving on governing bodies. If the governors had a real interest in the schools, they would not be extremists and would not adversely upset the management of the schools.
It will be more satisfactory to have additional parent governors on boards. When I served on a governing body, some of the parents wanted improvements to be made in the school. However, one governor insisted that the school 377 was satisfactory and that there was no reason to recommend changes. We asked him which school his children attended, and discovered that they had been sent to a private school. He sat as a governor of a state school which he thought needed no changes, yet it was obviously not good enough for his children.
The Secretary of State has several roles in the management of schools. He must determine the criteria by which schools are managed. There is a clear need for national co-ordination to establish and maintain a degree of uniformity. Minimum standards must be upheld, and the Government have an important role in ensuring that they are lifted.
I cannot support the present assisted places scheme. Although it may be a short-term necessity, it is highly desirable that in the long term our state schools become so attractive to parents and children that there will be no need to cream off our better pupils and send them to private schools at public expense. I deplore the scheme because by creaming off some of our more able children it satisfies the vociferous parents, who without the scheme would be clamouring for improvements in education standards.
The Secretary of State also has a role in the physical management of schools. I have hitherto described to the House how some of the schools in my constituency are grossly neglected. Floors are not properly repaired, ceilings leak and some parts of the buildings have not been painted for 20 years. As a result, timber is rotting and must be replaced and window frames have deteriorated to the stage where they need to be ripped out and replaced at great expense. That could have been avoided had more money for maintenance been available earlier. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) referred to some of those points.
One of the most important areas for the Government must be the management of teachers. When I was in industry it was considered that a major part of a manager's job was to ensure that the staff were properly motivated. Without motivation, a team or a work force will not see a job through to its proper completion. The majority of teachers in Essex are professional, dedicated and caring. They have frequently demonstrated how they care for the pupils in their charge and the diligence with which they carry out their duties. It is not surprising that they also care about their salaries, conditions and promotion prospects.
Although I believe that the teachers deserve more pay, I would not go so far as the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) and say that they should be compared directly with the police. There is a large element of danger in police work which is not usually found in the teaching profession, although I know that it can be found in some inner-city areas. The police work unsocial hours and—a major difference—they are not allowed to strike or take other industrial action. They are compensated for that in their salaries. If teachers did not take industrial action, it might be easier to increase their salaries.
Although the first offer of 4 per cent. was not satisfactory, especially as Scottish teachers were offered 5 per cent., I believe the current offer to be reasonable, and it should be seriously considered by the teachers' 378 unions. The current offer of 6.9 per cent., together with the £1.25 billion that will be made available for appraisal over four years, makes an acceptable offer.
I know that teachers are unhappy about appraisal, but I do not know why. The hon. Member for Easington (Mr. Dormand) said that other professions—engineers, for example—were not subject to appraisal. He is wrong. I have worked in the engineering, motor and chemical industries and I know that scientists, engineers and industrial managers are constantly appraised. When I was appraised, I found that the system recognised and rewarded ability, experience and professional strength. The system can be used to correct weaknesses in practice and gaps in knowledge. I strongly believe that if teachers accepted appraisal, they would discover its merits.
I think that I know why the teaching profession is worried about appraisal. During the recess I addressed a meeting of 200 teachers, and it became clear that they were frightened of appraisal mainly because they did not understand it and did not know how it would work. I ask my right hon. Friend what sort of scheme he envisages for them. He has said that he will discuss it with the teaching unions, but it is usual practice for an employer to make a detailed offer to an employee, who then responds. There have not yet been any detailed suggestions from employers on how the proposals should work. I strongly suggest that that is done as a step forward in solving this most unfortunate dispute.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) referred to too much emphasis being placed on input in the education profession and not enough on output. I wish to concentrate on output. Education has many purposes, but its main purpose must be to prepare students for work. We try to prepare them for apprenticeships or university, where they may undertake technical training to work in this highly technological age.
I do not believe that the old youth opportunities programme or the current youth training scheme are substitutes for apprenticeships. Of course, both schemes have been highly beneficial and better than no training at all—but the very nature of such training does not instill into pupils the technical discipline and depth of knowledge that they gain from apprenticeships. I am distressed when companies tell me that they cannot find toolmakers, electricians and electronics engineers of the right calibre—yet they and neighbouring companies are not taking on apprentices.
The figures show that from 1983 to 1985—only two years—the number of apprentices has fallen from 102,000 to only 73,000, a drop of 30 per cent. That is deplorable. I hope that we can reverse that trend either through the education system or through liaison and discussion with industry.
Should we create more science and engineering university places to compensate for the lack of apprentices? In the last six years the number of science and engineering graduates has increased by 30 per cent.—from 27 per cent. of all graduates in 1979 to 37 per cent. of all graduates in 1985. That is commendable and I am delighted.
However, we must not compare ourselves with ourselves. We must compare ourselves with international standards. Although a large percentage of students in higher education qualify in engineering, those qualifications are mainly of a lower standard than those of our international competitors.
379 If one adjusts the output of science and engineering graduates to the population of other countries, one discovers that Japan is producing three times as many engineering graduates per head of population, Germany two and a half times as many, and the United States one and half as times as many. Although we are improving, we are not yet doing well enough.
We must manage our schools better. It is necessary to motivate teachers. We must produce more science and engineering graduates. Science and engineering must be taught in a stimulating way to encourage people to study them. In that way more young people will be qualified in technical subjects on which the future of the country depends.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It might be in order, but is it fair that the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham) should be called to speak in the debate when he missed the first three hours of it, thus freezing out at least one Conservative Member who has sat throughout the six hours?
§ Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)
I treat that point of order with the contempt that it deserves.
The hon. Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) allowed me to intervene in his speech earlier to mention handicapped people. I shall draw attention to the problems of the mentally and physically handicapped in my short contribution. The mentally and physically handicapped are the forgotten children of the medical services. No sin has been committed by those born with such afflictions. Society has a duty to make their lives tolerable and happy and to be as caring as possible. The facilities available for handicapped people are inadequate.
My constituency has a large mental hospital with a secure unit. It needs rebuilding resources, additional staff and facilities. It is the focal point for many handicapped people in the region. It was with great sadness that recently we learnt that facilities are to be withdrawn.
In our stressful society the number of mentally ill people is increasing steadily. Expenditure today is insufficient to meet the needs of the sick. Last year we discussed the problems of those who are incarcerated in secure units and secure hospitals. The Martin inquiry which Nancy Ritchie QC led, the report of which was released earlier this year, described the inadequate resources available to secure units. It stressed that those who had to man the wings at night did not have the necessary training. If we ask staff in secure hospitals such as Rampton to perform necessary duties, we must provide the facilities to ensure that they are adequately and fully trained.
Often people say that they do not want to know about mentally sick and handicapped people. It is not a popular issue. It is not a vote catcher. It does not command priority when allocating resources. I hope that we shall now devote the resources that are so desperately needed. I hope that in the months ahead the new Health Ministers will have the courage to bring the Martin report to the Floor of the House for debate.
380 I hope that the new Ministers will fight their corner for the mentally handicapped to ensure that increased resources are made available. We need additional funding for those who wish to foster or adopt mentally handicapped children. Such funding will not cost much in the long term, but it will earn vast amounts in human caring terms. Even in these supposedly economically deprived times, our society could make that investment.
A classic example of a vaccine damaged child is to be found in my constituency. Recently the compensation for such a child was raised to £20,000. In these inflationary times, £20,000 is nowhere near adequate to cover future costs, even if it is invested in the most profitable and excellent way. Parents grow old and the cost of supporting a child damaged through no fault of its own will become crippling in the child's later life. Even if that sum grows by 20 per cent. per annum and the parents have a return of 10 per cent. on it that money can never replace earning power. What will happen to the vaccine damaged person at 40 or 50 years of age when the parents have died? He or she will be taken from a loving and secure unit into an institution, even though it has a small investment income.
We have not made adequate provision for the children who have been damaged by vaccines. The case in my constituency is a classic example which draws my attention, and I hope that of the House, to the need. It is the lack of foresight, the lack of appreciation of the needs of the handicapped in one form or another, that is so sadly absent from the Gracious Speech. Even if it is lacking at this stage, however, I hope that the Government programme in the months ahead will make good that omission and will bring back to the Floor of the House one of the greatest social problems of our time, the fact that in the past few years the Government have failed to recognise the necessity of meeting the needs of those who are handicapped either physically or mentally, who are damaged by vaccination or are damaged by the stress of society and become mentally sick, and of those who have to care for them and try to cope with their problems. I hope that in the Session ahead we can once again turn our minds to those problems and do something to help those who cannot help themselves.
§ Mr. David Evennett (Erith and Crayford)
I welcome the measures outlined in the Gracious Speech as both constructive and innovative. They are good for the nation, for its people and for the future. We often hear, as we have today, the wailings of Members on the Opposition Benches but this Gracious Speech is one for the times in which we live. It will capture the public mood and imagination because it shows that this Government are thinking, planning and acting in the interests of all the people of the country.
Today people have genuine concerns about a wide range of matters from law and order to health and social welfare, but they also realise more than ever before that the Government cannot promise the moon nor do everything. There is always a need for a partnership between the state and the individual, with the Government setting the scene for people to act. What is needed from the Government today is leadership and a realistic vision for the future, because people are realistic about the present and hopeful for the future. The Gracious Speech will be welcomed for offering the realism, radicalism and leadership needed today.
381 I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell) that the Opposition have few plans, few policies or ideas. All they want to do is spend more money. That is the sum total of their commitment.
At this stage the details of the various legislative proposals remain to be revealed, but in principle the proposals are impressive, offering a coherent vision of the United Kingdom tomorrow. Those of us on the Government Benches have a vision for our country, a vision of a fair and decent society, in which individuals can develop their talents and opportunities to the full, in which those who are less fortunate are well cared for, and in which the public sector, so vital in certain areas, is efficient, effective and providing first-class service to all.
To concentrate on one particular aspect of the Gracious Speech, education has been at the forefront of Government policy in the past few years and, as a consequence of the rather regrettable teachers' dispute, in the forefront of media coverage in 1985. I say "regrettable" because the teachers who strike are, in my opinion, unprofessional. They should let reason prevail and accept the present pay offer so that comprehensive negotiations can take place on a future career and salary structure for teachers. I do not, however, want to follow the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) in discussing the teachers' dispute and teachers' pay. All I want to say—and the Secretary of State has said it regularly—is that the vast majority of teachers do a first-class job, and their present action does not portray them in a good light. That is unfortunate.
Education remains a vital service. For an individual it has an important effect in shaping his or her life, but it is also important for our society because of its benefits to the nation as a whole. In the 1970s, under a Labour Government, we lost our vision of education for the future when the then Secretary of State, who has now changed parties, pursued a policy of destroying schools and with them the education and employment prospects of many young people. Today we are reaping the benefits of such destructive policies in our schools and in the employment market.
The Government have put the real issues in education back into the arena for discussion and debate, and we should all welcome that. They have also done much to update, improve and advance the education service for the good of all, not just for one section of the community but principally for the good of children who are the most important when it comes to education.
In the Gracious Speech we have been promised a major education Bill this Session, something that I positively welcome. We have been told that this legislation will seek to improve school management and promote the professional effectiveness of teachers, both real issues in education today and ones that the Government will deal with as part of their consistent programme of improvements in the education service.
In today's society, being a teacher in a classroom is not the easiest of jobs. We would all accept that. We have seen a decline in many of the values of our society so that problems in the classroom are all too common. Nevertheless, the classroom is also the place where some of those problems can be resolved and the decent values of a democratic society restored. In her speech to the House the other day, my right hon. Friend the Prime 382 Minister said that standards and values could only be improved by a concerted effort on the part of all—parents, teachers, church leaders, community groups, and so on. But teachers have a key role. They have a strong and lasting influence on the children of our nation, and their actions are often a deciding factor in whether or not a pupil develops into a decent citizen.
We are fortunate because the vast majority of our teachers are competent and, therefore, discharge their onerous tasks effectively, but there are some who have difficulties in the classroom either with discipline or in carrying out other teaching duties. These teachers need help, and the forthcoming legislation will give them that help by introducing professional assessment.
It is important that assessment is seen in that light because it is a powerful and effective way of helping to identify problems. It is not a witch hunt; it is simply a tool which allows the effectiveness of teachers to be assessed and, where deficiencies are found, to help overcome them. There are very few teachers—and I go round the schools in my constituency and my borough—who could be classed as incompetent and beyond help. That is nonsense. So, to me, assessment of effectiveness is not about finding bad teachers and sacking them; it is about helping teachers to be more effective in doing their jobs. That is why it has my support.
We have yet to see the details of the legislation, so it is difficult to know by whom or how the assessment will take place, but I am confident——
§ Mr. Evennett
I am sorry, but my time is too short.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will wish to see assessment conducted in a considerate and comprehensive manner so that it is helpful in identifying the problems experienced by individual teachers and those experienced by the teaching profession as a whole.
One small matter that concerns me is who will conduct the assessment. As we all know, there are often personal differences which arise when people work closely together, and I am worried that an assessment may be left to one member of staff in the same school, whether a head of department, head teacher or whatever, and the person making the assessment may allow his or her judgment to be clouded by other issues, and the subsequent report may be slightly biased, unfair or damaging to the teacher concerned. Secondly, if assessment becomes the sole responsibility of the local education authority, again a teacher may be unfairly assessed but this time on the basis of his or her political views or beliefs. The House is only too aware of some local authorities which are overtly party political in what they do. It is not, therefore, beyond reason to conceive of the possibility of a bias in such an assessment. However, assessment need not be so subjective or open to abuse. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will give those points consideration when he structures his Bill and presents it to the House. I urge him to consider involving some other body in the assessment, such as the schools inspectorate, which has done a first-class job in all that it has attempted during the past few years.
The other matter that I wish to raise concerns the better management of schools. I welcome the opportunity for more parents to be involved in our schools generally and 383 specifically, for example, as school governors. If schools are to provide the educational facilities that society wishes, it is only logical that parents must be given a greater say in what goes on in them. Without their support and co-opeation all our efforts to improve education provision will be of little value.
The government of schools should be based on a power-sharing arrangement between parents and the education authority. I hope that my right hon. Friend intends to allow governing bodies to be divided roughly equally between parents and others. In that way extremist manipulation of governing bodies will not occur, and we shall have a far more representative sample of the views of society on the governing bodies of our schools. That would be more effective for education.
In conclusion, this is an exciting year for education because of the changes that the Secretary of State will introduce. I hope that the achievements that we have been fortunate enough to witness during the past few years will not be destroyed by the continuation of the teachers' dispute. I hope that it will end soon so that we can get back to the real business of improving education for the whole of society and, most important, for our children.
§ Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield)
There are many tragedies outside the House, and the Government are responsible for them because of their legislation and policies since 1979. The Secretary of State for Education and Science can well give me a look. He is one of the ringleaders who has caused our national problems by introducing awful legislation. Even before 1979, the right hon. Gentleman ruined the Health Service by its reorganisation. Since then, even Conservative Members have said that the reorganisation of the Health Service in 1974 was a disaster. The present Secretary of State for Education and Science sits on the Government Front Bench, but he was responsible for that.
The tragedies do not end there. In 1979 my constituents had certain rights, but when the right hon. Gentleman was appointed Secretary of State for Trade and Industry he removed those rights. Since the Tories came to office, five pits in my constituency have been closed, but no new industries or finance have been introduced there to help my constituents, especially the youngsters who wanted to work at the pits, to get back to work. That is a tragedy.
The £10 million of enterprise money that is knocking around for industry is a joke. Back home we are holding regular meetings to sort something out, but we are not getting very far. Meanwhile, the number of youngsters joining the dole queue increases.
Now education is being put in a mess, again by the same Secretary of State. The teachers will win the battle, because they undoubtedly have a good case. My constituents tell me so. Indeed, I do not have to go so far, because two of my children are in teaching. I get the message loud and clear when my married daughter comes at the weekend, and from my daughter who still lives at home. They can see what is going on, and they are adament that they will win. I support them and I believe that they will win. Earlier today my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) pointed out how teachers' earnings have fallen continuously under the Government. Is it any wonder that people are up in arms?
§ Mr. Haynes
No, I shall not give way.
When one looks at the education system that the Government are running, it is no wonder that people are up in arms. I have had my say about the Secretary of State for Education and Science, but I hope to God that the Prime Minister does not offer him the Chancellorship. By God, we would be in a mess. That would be the end. What a mess we would have to sort out when we returned to office after the general election.
While doing my duty on the Front Bench, I discovered that the right hon. Gentleman was also responsible for high-rise flats. Throughout the country one sees the problems that they have created. The right hon. Gentleman has created a mess in education, industry and social services. I hope that he does not become the Chancellor of the Exchequer, because if he does, we shall be in a even worse mess.
The Gracious Speech says many things, but it does not say much about some matters, including the review of social security benefits. The Labour party has made it clear how people who are already suffering will suffer even more. Such people come to my surgery on Saturday mornings. Elderly ladies who at present receive heating allowances will be disqualified if the Government get away with their proposals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) made it clear how much money would be cut from social security benefits. Here the Government go again, hitting the lowest paid and those without a job, and slapping £10 million on the salaries of the highly paid. That is easy. It has been the same with all Tory Administrations. They have always looked after their own. The end result is that they pour money into the Conservative party coffers. It all fits.
I am trying to stick rigidly to the Gracious Speech. I listened to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East and Penarth (Mr. Callaghan), who said that hon. Members on both sides were worried about law and order. That is true. We are all worried, and we must get together and do something about it. I have some facts with me. Today we have 10,000 more police officers than in 1979, millions of extra pounds have been spent on equipment for the police, and police earnings have been well above those of anyone else, but despite that crime and violence have increased by 40 per cent. What a marvellous job the Government are doing. They appear to be going the wrong way about it, and the British people have rumbled them.
§ Mr. Haynes
Tell him to sit down, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I remember listening to a Home Office Minister speaking at the Tory party conference. [Interruption.] While hon. Gentlemen are bawling, they are missing important points.
§ Mr. Haynes
I listened to a Minister at the Home Office telling the Tory party conference about stiffer penalties for drug dealers. Hefty financial penalties will be imposed and one of the end results will be that they will land in the nick, and that will create another problem.
Like the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo), I too am interested in the prison service, 385 and I have here the real message from the Prison Officers Association. It is that prison officers are in a mess now and do not have the staff to cover the job in the prison service. If we add to the prison population, the prison officers will have a worse job, and they are having enough difficulties at present with drugs coming in.
I should like to tell the House about another matter, because it really takes the biscuit. Apparently the Prison Officers Association is being asked to participate in training so that its members can cope with the change that has taken place in the levels of violence and drug abuse. The Home Office sent a video tape to a prison so that prison officers could watch the tape and receive training, but they do not have a video machine to play it on. The prison officers wrote to the Home Office and the Home Office said, "Sorry, we do not have the money for one."
That is the way that this Government are carrying on. Is it any wonder that we are in such a mess? It is high time that the Government woke up and started going down the road, in the interests of the people whom they are supposed to serve, and stopped serving their masters who pour money into the Conservative party coffers. It is time that they started looking after the ordinary folk because, if they do not, we shall do it when we get back into office.
§ Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North)
I am grateful to have a chance to speak briefly in this debate on the Queen's Speech. It will not be possible for me to follow the wide-ranging choice of topics of the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), but I should like to refer briefly to education. We have had an interesting exchange of views on this important topic. In particular, I welcome the reference in the Queen's Speech to legislation for improved management in schools and legislation to promote the professional effectiveness of teachers. The theme of my approach to this subject, as is the theme of the Government's approach, is the intention to improve standards of education.
I want to mention something which I am sure other hon. Members have also encountered. Even though I was an educator myself and am therefore prejudiced in these matters, over and over again I receive complaints about standards in education, in spite of the excellent work the Government are doing to try to improve matters. We are still getting complaints about numeracy, literacy and the general level of education in schools. In spite of the real achievements that are being made by the Government, it is correct to say that all is not well with education.
Together with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) I have been working with the university authorities in the University of East Anglia to make sure that it is possible for speakers to come into the university and address students on any subject about which they feel strongly. We have had some success in that aim. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security was able to attend such a meeting only a few months ago. A great deal of preparation and trouble was necessary in advance in order to ensure that, even at a university as good as the University of East Anglia, that meeting went off without a hitch and successfully.
It is therefore with great distress that I and many of my constituents, probably the vast majority of my constituents, witnessed the appalling scenes in Manchester 386 university last week when my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office was not allowed to speak freely in one of our institutions of higher education. Yet Robbins, the founder of the modern idea of the university, set down as one of the principles that a university should be for the transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship. I am afraid we are seeing that even in that respect we are failing in all too many respects.
Education is in the front line of our battle for civilised values, and I therefore support the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) who mentioned exactly the same point in his excellent speech. The matter of the promotion of professional effectiveness of teachers is also referred to in the Queen's Speech. That, of course, is linked to the present teachers' dispute which has been referred to, not surprisingly, on a number of occasions in this debate. In Norfolk, during the last few days pupils have gone on strike as a protest against teachers going on strike.
I worked in teaching and in schools for many years, and to me that is an appalling indictment of the kind of leadership our young people are getting. On top of the tree of responsibility for this must be those union leaders who are taking teachers out of the schools on strike. I am not suggesting that the blame for this dispute should be laid at one particular door, but this dispute is wholly irresponsible and completely against the best interests of professional teachers. I speak as someone who spent his working life in schools before becoming a Member of Parliament. It is completely against the interests of the teachers for anyone to lead them out on strike. Pupils coming out on strike is surely an indictment of the leadership of the teachers' unions. It is all very sad. That is the view of the vast majority of my constituents, whatever party they support.
As a former teacher, I am aware of the problems in education. Low morale has been referred to and reference has also been made to a reluctance to strike. Many teachers in Norwich who took part in this dispute have spoken to me about their reluctance to do so, and I accept that. I am also aware of the tremendous commitment of teachers to extra-curricular activities, in addition to what they do in the classroom. I support hon. Members on both sides of the House who have spoken highly of the excellent work our teachers do. Many of the problems we are facing have arisen not just since 1983 or 1979, or even since 1974: they are long standing and will not go away that easily.
During my time as a professional teacher I became convinced that certain reforms were necessary to help the morale of teachers. To put it in a nutshell and without specifying in detail exactly what I mean, many of the very reforms that I wanted to see, like more help for new teachers, more in-service training and a better and fairer salary structure, are part and parcel of what the Government are now putting forward and trying to talk to the teachers about. I hope that the latest offer can at least be debated and discussed. It was a matter of great sadness to me that the leadership of the NUT saw fit to dismiss the latest offer after a mere 20 minutes.
I welcome the changes resulting from the review of the teachers' panel on the Burnham committee and hope that they will lead to an early settlement. However, even if the dispute is settled quickly, I fear that urgent reform, to the benefit of teachers, may yet be delayed. I hope that all those concerned in the matter will see sense before it is too late.
387 There are many other issues, not referred to in the Queen's Speech, on which I feel strongly. This morning I had the chance to be at a meeting at the Institute of Physics to discuss the shortage of physics teachers. I listened with great interest earlier to the speech of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). Although I do not agree with all her conclusions about science education, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will give serious consideration to the crisis that has arisen from the shortage of physics and mathematics teachers. I think that he is already aware of my views on the problem.
I welcome the fact that the Government are giving thought to and making proposals about the composition of governing bodies in schools. We are moving slowly towards the right balance. I am one of those hon. Members who are a little fearful of giving too much weight and power to parents. Therefore, I welcome the direction in which the Government seem to be moving. I believe that there should be an increase in the representation of community leaders—people in business, in the churches and in the various professions. Perhaps we should be moving away from the idea of political or local authority appointees towards boards of governors made up of wise men from the community. Although I would welcome the appointment of councillors on governing bodies, we should move away from a system in which power is with local authorities as such, and put the greater power instead in the hands of headmasters. That point has been referred to already in several excellent speeches.
Education has suffered for too long by being entangled with that other knotty problem of local government finance. I should like to see education removed, once and for all, from local government. I accept that the arguments against that proposal are powerful, and I have not the time to address the problem in detail, but I can see no clear way forward until we finally get to grips with the proposal. Therefore, I hope that it will not be too long before we see the end of the Burnham negotiating committee in its present form and the setting up of a professional teachers' council—a suggestion made by at least one of the teachers' unions. I hope that education will move away from its entanglement with local government politics.
I welcome the proposals in the Queen's Speech. As I have said, I am looking forward to more radical measures on education, because our future—I think this view is supported in all parts of the House—depends on our young people. I shall continue, as one of the Norwich Members, to support measures which will lead to higher standards of education, to higher morale for teachers, pupils and all concerned with education, and to better discipline in our schools. In the words of the school report, we are on the right track and we are doing well, but we must try harder.
§ 9.2 pm
§ Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)
I cannot agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) about taking education away from local government. Nevertheless, I am in a strange situation. Although I disagree with one Conservative Member, which is my natural bent, I agree with most of what was said by another, the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark). I find that he, like myself, is an engineer, and I concur completely with many of the things that he said. 388 I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not present because I should have liked to ask his permission to use part of his speech at any Labour party meetings that I attend.
There are only two lines in the Queen's Speech about education issues, and I regret that more was not said about education, but those two lines cover the Government's concept of education and what they feel should be done about it. The Government are tinkering with administrative parts of the service. They are not talking about radically changing the education service, as it should be changed. They are complacent about the present ills in the service. They must recognise that education is one of the basic needs of the nation while considering other elements such as employment, the economy and increasing social problems. The Government do not seem particularly keen to pursue any of those subjects.
The present teachers' dispute is justified. It has been covered in the debate so I shall not touch on it too much. It is a symptom—only a part—of the chronic disease that is rapidly spreading through the education service at all levels. The Secretary of State's contribution over the past few months to that doctrinal problem can be described as an injection of polluted vaccine. His recent comments and statements have served only to make the patient more susceptible to the illness that he is suffering from.
I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members took the same opportunity as I did during the long recess to visit schools and educational establishments in their constituency. I am interested in education matters, and I thought the recess was a grand time to do something about it. Before I came to the House, I had a long relationship with the education service in my county, both as a member of the education committee, and as leader of the county council.
I was constantly reminded by teachers during that long vacation, from the end of July to the middle of October, that I get longer holidays than they do. During that time, I visited eight schools. The schools were in three categories—middle schools, high schools and a special school. During those visits, I had the opportunity to meet parents, governors, heads of the schools, the staff and everyone involved in the education service, including the children. One of the major topics of discussion was pay but there were other elements, and I shall talk about those rather than teachers' pay because it has been well covered. If as many £1 coins had been given to teachers as there have been words talked about the subject, there would be no need to worry about the dispute.
The general public feel that the education service is a vital element of our society. Many people have now become more aware of its value. It is facing many problems, many of which are becoming accepted as the norm, such as deterioration of buildings and lack of resources. I shall give one example of a school in my constituency. It is a Roman Catholic school, Saint Robert's in Morpeth. Two thirds of the building is now out of use simply because it is falling down. The authority has never been able to provide money to repair the building and the school is now using temporary classrooms. The children might have to be relocated from the building, which is closely associated with the Roman Catholic church in the town, to a building about half a mile away. That is damaging to the development of Roman Catholic education in that town. There will be a loss of the links between the church and the school. That is not because of a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the education 389 department or the local authority, but because of a lack of finance, tied up with the rate support grant problems and the spending restrictions.
In my constituency, there has been universal criticism of the lack of materials and equipment. As recently as last Friday, I visited a school where I am chairman of the governors. The head told me that the school required a new television set. That television set cost about £300. The authority gave £200. The school has borrowed £100 from the parent-teacher association so that it can purchase the television set.
We have made progress in education over the years. My father was not as well educated as me, and I went through difficult times in the 1940s. My son was better educated than me. I am not sure whether my grandson will have the same opportunities as his father.
The following quotation sums up the state of education today. Ashington high school has its 25th anniversary this year—it was opened in 1960—and in his report, the school's headmaster concludes by saying:And what of the future? A Yorkshire exile's honesty compels me to state that I am afraid of what it might bring. At the moment we are more than holding our own in the face of appalling economic and social problems and an educational atmosphere which is bedevilled by a dispute caused by political indifference, absence of DES leadership, lack of funding and a frightening decline in morale. At the time of writing I see no prospect that the scenario will change for the better, and this when the educational world is being asked to introduce the General Certificate of Secondary Education, the Certificate of Pre Vocational Education and 'AS' examinations, pre-vocational courses, student profiling and credit accumulation schemes, science and Craft Design Technology for all, to name but a few of the monthly directives which our various masters send north. These facts have to be stated, not dodged, even in the context of a 25 years celebration!What a comment about 25 years of the life of a school.
§ Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)
This has been a wide-ranging debate, covering many issues—education, pensions, the National Health Service, disablement, Sunday trading, law and order and even Stansted. The underlying theme has been the concern that is now felt throughout the country about what is happening to the services that are so important to civilised life. Our people understand, even if the Government do not, that comprehensive welfare services and a dynamic and vigorous education system provide the essential framework without which it is not possible for the country to survive and prosper. That is why polls show that they are prepared to give such a high priority to securing decent pensions, a high quality National Health Service and good education for all.
There is a cryptic sentence in the Queen's Speech referring to education:Legislation will be introduced for England and Wales to improve the management of schools and to promote the professional effectiveness of teachers.From newspaper leaks, I understand that that refers to the representation and functions of school governing bodies and to assessment and appraisal. Without having heard the Secretary of State speak or seen the legislation, it is difficult for an Opposition spokesman to comment in detail.
With regard to representation on governing bodies, I am glad that the Secretary of State has accepted that his 390 original Green Paper proposal that there should be a majority of parent representatives was unworkable. Of course, there must be an increase in parental representation, but what is required is a balance among parents, the local authority, community and teachers.
On the issue of functions, there is little doubt that we need to clarify and, in some areas, strengthen the powers of governors. They must have a voice in the choosing of staff, curriculum, discipline and financial matters. However, as with representation, there has to be a balance. In the end, the exercise of powers and functions of governing bodies has to be compatible with and within the framework of local authority control and policy. We look forward to seeing the Bill.
I hope that the Government do not intend to impose a system of assessment on the teaching profession. Assessment, or appraisal as I prefer to call it, could be useful in assisting the professional development of teachers. The teachers' unions have already said that they are in favour of appraisal, contrary to what some hon. Members have suggested, providing that it is not linked directly to pay, promotion or dismissal. The Secretary of State should not be imposing legislation but discussing with the teachers and employers how best to introduce such a system. Unless a system of appraisal has the support of teachers it will not be effective.
The management of schools and teacher appraisal are important issues but they do not address the growing crisis in British schools. I have repeatedly warned the Secretary of State in the past two years about the declining standards of educational provision in too many of our schools and the appalling state of morale in the teaching profession. The Secretary of State's adviser, Her Majesty's inspectorate, has made abundantly clear what is happening in the schools: the inadequate provision of books and equipment, schools in a bad state of repair and maintenance, too many parents having to make substantial contributions to the purchase of essentials and too many classes, either too large or, in the case of primary schools, of mixed age groups.
The picture consistently presented by the Her Majesty's inspectorate to the Secretary of State has been confirmed recently by an independent survey carried out by the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations. The survey was based on a questionnaire sent to 4,800 home school associations and covering 609 primary schools and 201 secondary schools. The survey states that, on average, teachers have larger classes, less free time and fewer resources to enable them to teach with maximum effect.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)
Would the hon. Gentleman confirm that only one in five people responded to that survey?
§ Mr. Radice
That may be true, but the questionnaire still covers 609 primary and 201 secondary schools which is, I think the hon. Lady would agree, a large section of our school population.
The survey goes on to warn that, instead of a broadening of the curriculum, a narrowing is taking place and that parental contribution has sharply increased in school funding. It concludes that the overall picture is one of an alarming state of deterioration as schools struggle to maintain standards in the face of an increasing lack of resources.
391 The Secretary of State will answer that, while the Government have been in power, spending per pupil has risen and pupil-teacher ratios have fallen—I anticipate his already familiar refrain. If the Secretary of State is honest, he would also admit that that has happened not because expenditure has increased—in fact, the proportion of GDP spent on education has fallen significantly since 1979—but because the number of pupils has fallen. Falling rolls create serious problems relating to curriculum, access and costs. They also present great opportunities. A Government with a higher priority for education than this one would have used the leeway opened up by falling rolls to tackle the crisis of provision which has been revealed by the Secretary of State's advisers. This Government, and the Secretary of State above all, are against public spending. I remember that in the 1970s the right hon. Gentleman said that one of the great evils in Britain was excessive public expenditure.
§ Mr. Radice
I do not believe that we are spending an excessive amount on education, and I hope that the hon. Lady does not think so. Even so, I had expected to hear that the Secretary of State was in the forefront of Ministers fighting for extra resources for their Departments. In the leaks about the public spending battle which we have had from Whitehall, we have heard about housing, energy and even defence, but there has been a deafening silence about education. I can only hope that the Secretary of State has not, in his usual Quixotic manner, offered more lambs for the slaughter——
§ Mr. Radice
He has done so before. We await with great interest the statement on educational expenditure later this week.
On the teachers' dispute, which has so disrupted our schools for nine months, I say immediately that the Opposition believe that the teachers have a powerful case, as many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said. The dispute is about much more than pay. Rightly, teachers are fed up with the way in which their pay has been eroded. More generally, they feel undervalued.
The teachers must teach in the overcrowded classrooms and cope with the shortages of books and equipment that we have discussed. The teachers must motivate pupils whose only realistic prospect is prolonged unemployment. The teachers must deal with the consequences of poverty and deprivation in our inner cities. Teaching has always been tough and demanding. The Government's policies have made it even more so.
It is demoralising to teachers—I know this because they have told me—to hear Ministers, including the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor, blame them unjustifiably for a host of social evils. Even the Secretary of State, who is after all the leader of the education community, has too often indulged in generalised criticisms of the profession. He should know better. Hon. Members will understand the strength of feeling among teachers only by taking those underlying discontents into account.
The Secretary of State's handling of the dispute has made matters far worse. It was typical of the Government that they should choose to announce massive increases for 392 top salaries when they refused to provide extra resources for teachers, and when negotiations between employers and teachers had reached a critical stage. It was typical of the Secretary of State that he refused to fund the local authority employers' structures package and announced how much he would put in only at the beginning of August—six months into the dispute. The sum was significantly less than that behind the local authorities' package.
At the root of the dispute is the Government's inconsistent, confused and unfair public sector pay policy, and their hard line on local authority spending. The assumption behind this year's rate support grant was that teachers would receive only a 3 per cent. pay increase, which in real terms would have meant a pay cut. Once the local authorities decided, rightly, to pay more to settle this year's claim—that is what we must do now—they were in danger of losing central Government funds and even of being rate-capped. The current offer of 6.9 per cent., end-loaded to 7.5 per cent., would cost local education authorities considerably more than the £290 million that it would put into teachers' pockets.
If the Government really wish to see a settlement to this year's claim they should provide extra resources. At the very least the Secretary of State should ask the Cabinet to authorise the disregard of the penalties which this latest offer would impose on local education authorities. I should like to hear what the Secretary of State has to say about that.
Even if a settlement is made on this year's claim, which must still be in doubt, it will not satisfy the teachers——
§ Mr. Radice
I will not give way at this point.
If standards are to be improved and reforms of the curriculum and examination system are to be carried through, there must be a long-term settlement of the teachers' case. That is why there needs to he a quick-acting, independent inquiry into teachers' pay and its structure, and the Government ought to guarantee to fund the findings of that inquiry.
§ Mr. Radice
We rightly expect much from teachers, and they, in their turn, rightly expect to be paid a professional level of salary. We have heard a lot of talk from the Prime Minister and others about teachers having to act as professionals. If that is so, they should be paid a professional level of salary. Teachers must also be highly valued for what they do. I want to hear more about that from the Government.
Whatever the merits of the matters raised in the Queen's Speech, unless the Secretary of State also tackles the twin crises of the declining provision in our schools and the deteriorating morale of the teaching profession he will rightly be judged to be fiddling while Rome burns.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)
The hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) explained that he could not be present at this stage of the debate because of a long-standing commitment. The House will not expect me to follow up 393 the questions raised by the hon. Gentleman, as I have enough to speak on in connection with education and science.
I should like to make one general point before I deal with the subjects that have arisen today. Both the hon. Member for Oldham, West and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) made comments about the lack of resources that the Government feel able to make available. That echoes a widespread sense that resources are not as widely within reach as politicians and the public would like. I wonder why that point is not more frequently debated in the House. It is not as if successive Governments do not want to please the public. Of course they do, because they want to be re-elected.
There must be something behind the lack of resources that explains that constant problem of successive Governments. It so happens that the problem is explained conveniently to the public in a table on page 22 of this week's copy of The Economist. Many of my hon. Friends have recognised that productivity in this country is far lower than it could be and far lower than it is in north-west Europe or, indeed, in North America.
The result of that low productivity is that we have lower spending power both individually and for social services and fewer resources generally for private and public use. One has only to visit north-west Europe to see how much the higher standard of living, greater prosperity and on the whole better endowed social services mean to the public there. One can put the blame for that state of affairs wherever one wishes—on successive Governments of both parties, on management, on trade unions or on opinion formers, in any combination that one wishes—but it has been true for decades. Admittedly, this Government are slightly reducing the gap. Nevertheless, there is a deep lesson for the whole House in the facts exposed in that little table, familiar to all of us but seldom sufficiently discussed.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
No, this is not an economic debate. I am not allocating blame as I should like. I am speaking in broad terms of the background to the subject under discussion.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
No. The hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) did not give way and I have a lot to cover.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
All right, I will give way just once to the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett).
§ Mr. Bennett
In 1979 the Government's justification of tax cuts for the very rich was to solve that very problem. Six years later, the problem has not been solved. We have had to pay for those tax cuts by savage reductions in Government expenditure on education. Those cuts have created many of the problems that the right hon. Gentleman now has to address.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
No, we spoke of the need for us to try to win office in two successive Parliaments and we 394 referred to the problems of this country as deepseated. One of the problems was that at that time we had 98 per cent. taxation at the highest levels—higher than anywhere else in the free world—which was discouraging the enterprise and initiative from which jobs and prosperity come.
It must at least be conceded to the Government that productivity in this country has risen far faster than it has in north-west Europe or the United States and that investment has risen faster——
§ Sir Keith Joseph
No, both manufacturing investment and investment generally have risen faster. I will send the details to the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Bermingham
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is not going to send us the Adam Smith report.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would benefit greatly from reading the great books of Adam Smith—"The Theory of the Moral Sentiments" as well as "The Wealth of Nations".
Today's debate has benefited from a number of speeches not on the main subject to which I am replying. I pay tribute to the force and sincerity of the contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) on overseas aid, my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) on airports, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) on Warnock, and the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) on the elderly and on a subject on which I used to enjoy being his ally—rehabilitation. [Interruption.] That is a serious claim and I do not think that the hon. Gentleman will deny it. I should also mention the contribution of the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) on the National Health Service and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) on Sunday trading and medical mistakes. On the latter subject, my hon. Friend was joined rather passionately by the right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) who, like the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham), spoke about the disabled. I am sure that the Ministers concerned will heed the speeches made on all those subjects.
I wish to discuss specifically education and science. I acknowledge the continuing interest in science of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short). I wish that more hon. Members took such a deep interest. There is no lack of contact between the Government and the Science Ministers of north-west European Governments. In recent months, I have seen the French and Italian Ministers of Science and Technology. Recently the West German Minister, for a personal reason, cancelled only at the last moment a visit to Britain.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), is at a great function tonight at which his presence is required as the local Member of Parliament. I hope that my hon. Friend, who is intensely diligent, will be acquitted of any disrespect to the House. He is constantly in touch with his opposite numbers in north-west Europe, as is my hon. Friend the Minister for Information Technology.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East made a serious point. Members of the Advisory Board of 395 the Research Councils have spoken to me about their worry that so many scientific opportunities are available yet there is not enough finance to deal with them all. The board has impressed upon me the serious brain drain of much of our scientific talent. The Government are aware of the problem and are worried by it, and we shall consider what it is possible to do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) spoke of the need for more science students in higher education. The Government agree, but the House realises that for people to become science students in higher education they must have made the right choices at school at the age of 14. Not only must there be teachers of science, maths and physics—the conditional offer by us, of extra money could make possible the sort of pay needed to attract such skills that are in short supply—but we must persuade parents to tell their daughters that it is perfectly respectable and sensible for girls to study science and engineering. They are just as good at it as men and the country would benefit from their contribution. I must controvert a remark by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) who said that there were proportionally fewer students in higher education in Britain than in some of our neighbours' countries. In fact, the proportion is about the same as in north-west Europe—fewer than in America and Japan, but at least the same as in West Germany and France.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) rightly drew attention to the appalling behaviour of some students when my hon. and learned Friend the Minister of State, Home Office recently spoke at Manchester. We await further explanation of that episode.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East knows that one of our problems is that many university laboratories contain obsolete equipment. I am glad to say that the Government enabled a start to be made on re-equipping some of those laboratories last year, and that will continue.
I note the comments of the hon. Members for Eccles and for Wolverhampton, North-East about the pay of clinical dons.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) rightly spoke of the importance of technology. He will be aware that in preparation for a further spread of the technical and vocational education initiative, the Manpower Services Commission, acting on behalf of the Department of Education and Science, has been given a substantial amount of extra money—£20 million—by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Budget to provide training for teachers to equip them to teach under the TVEI.
As for the effectiveness of our schooling, I acknowledge straightaway that teaching is hard.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
No. I will not give way again.
I acknowledge that HMI reports often show, after full inspections, that some teaching—not only science teaching—is too didactic. The Government intend to increase in-service training to help teachers to improve their performance where necessary, but the constant cry of Her Majesty's inspectors, throughout almost all their reports, goes far wider. They say that, on the whole, 396 teachers do not expect nearly enough from children of all abilities; expectations are too low. I believe that it has been forgotten that stretching is part of caring. I do not pretend that teaching is easy. It is a very hard job.
I must move quickly if I am to deal with all the questions raised in the debate. My hon. Friends the Members for Bedfordshire, South-West and for Rochford and the hon. Member for Durham, North mentioned maintenance and decoration in schools. It is true that the last HMI report on the state of schools, in connection with finance, drew attention to a worrying lack of maintenance in a number of cases. That reflects accumulated neglect over many years, but those who quote selectively from the report do not do justice to the report as a whole, which draws attention equally emphatically to the inspectors' view that some local education authorities waste a great deal of money that could be used for more important educational purposes. Both those propositions are found in their report.
The hon. Member for Durham, North quoted a report by the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations, but I must agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) who pointed out that the report was based on only about 3 per cent. of primary schools. That would be a large enough survey, if it were statistically and scientifically based, to reflect the state of opinion between parties. It is not a number that we can afford to neglect. However, the survey was not scientific and, without denying that there are serious failings in school maintenance in many cases, we must take the report with a pinch of salt.
The Government's intention to put into legislation the proposals in "Better Schools" for the government of schools has been generally welcomed, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden that the Government intend to initiate a modest effort to train governors.
The important subject of appraisal was mentioned by the hon. Members for Durham, North, for Cambridgeshire, North-East and for Easington (Mr. Dormand) and by my hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden, for Rochford and for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). The Government see the appraisal of teachers as being intended to help both the professional development of teachers and the management of the teaching force. For that purpose, we intend to expand and to make more effective the provision of in-service training, so that those who need that training for their own career development and increased effectiveness will, I hope, find it available. The Government intend to seek an enabling power in the legislation to be brought before the House. We hope that the powers will not have to be used, because we hope very much that the employers of teachers and the teachers' associations will agree on methods—I use the plural—of appraisal. There will be no single "staff college" method that the Government will seek to impose. There will not be an imposition in that sense.
After all, appraisal is widespread now in an unsystematic way. We seek that there shall be fair systems of appraisal made systematically available so that the career and professional development of teachers may be made more effective.
The methods that will be used will, we hope, be worked out between the local education authorities and their 397 teachers. We are waiting to put to use the taxpayers' money that lies ready for such use in pilot schemes which the LEAs that volunteer for the purpose will try out.
We recognise that time will inevitably be involved in appraising, and in the document that we produced on school teacher numbers and deployment we acknowledged that more teachers than would otherwise be needed would, taking account of the time to be devoted to appraisal, have to be financed. There is to be a conference this week in Birmingham on the subject of appraisal.
Among the many speeches made in this debate, I had a great deal of sympathy for the general views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth). He made a number of comments that were worth considering and in particular he said, rightly, that too much attention was given in the House exclusively to inputs into education—of course, inputs are important—but not enough to outputs—to the benefits that education supplies. After all, we are speaking of compulsory education; we require 11 years' compulsory schooling of children.
There can be no doubt, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling emphasised, that there is an intense and widespread desire for better schools and higher standards. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North confirmed that from his point of view. We can all rejoice that on the aim of higher standards and better schools there is agreement in the House as a whole. We all agree that there are improvements that we can seek.
I acknowledge that teaching is hard. It is harder than it has been in the past, and we are asking more of it. I acknowledge that not all parents are an active help to the teacher in encouraging their children at school. I acknowledge that the curriculum has not been ideal, though we are trying, and, I believe, succeeding, to gain consent from the partners concerned to make it more appropriate—to make it more a matter of the application as well as just the acquisition of knowledge; to encourage the speaking of foreign languages, to encourage discussion in the classroom, to encourage experiment in laboratories and to encourage manual and technical skills—problemsolving skills and design skills. I acknowledge that the examination system has not been ideal, though, as the House knows, we have made decisions which will lead to a change there.
I acknowledge that most teachers are good and dedicated and work extremely hard. However, I cannot reconcile the behaviour of many of the teachers now with professionalism. I acknowledge that many teachers are refusing to disrupt and that heads are bearing an intense burden to try to safeguard the interests of the children. Moreover, I acknowledge that very many teachers must be anguished at what they are doing or at what is being done, and I repeat that many teachers are refusing to disrupt.
Having said that, I must fulfil the expectation that the hon. Member for Durham, North predicted. I shall say that, since the Conservatives came to office in 1979, the pupil-teacher ratio has gone to record levels. In other words, there are fewer pupils per teacher than ever before. Moreover, in terms of real spending — spending per child in real terms—it has gone up since 1979 by 16 per cent.
I also acknowledge that this improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio and in real spending is not manifest to many 398 teachers and parents, because many local education authorities are choosing to deploy the money that they control in ways that are relatively wasteful. For example, they do so by extravagant school cleaning and arrangements for school meals, or in failing to propose the closure of half-empty schools.
I have never claimed that this improvement in spending per head is disconnected from the fall in the number of pupils. There are 1 million fewer pupils in our schools than there were seven or eight years ago. The Government have reduced the amount of spending on education proportionately less than the fall in the number of children, so that in real terms there is a rise in spending per head.
I turn to the sad subject of the teacher dispute, and I start with a little history. Until recently there were plenty of candidates for teacher training who were thought to be at least of acceptable quality. True, there was widespread grumbling on pay, but it did not appear necessary to change pay in order to recruit and retain teachers of the desired quality. Even then, we were not able—this has been true for many years—to recruit teachers for certain subjects such as mathematics, craft, design, technology and physics. Recently, there have been all too many anecdotes of good teachers quitting. That has not yet been noticeable in the published statistics, but the anecdotal evidence is enough to make us all deeply worried.
In the light of these changed circumstances, we have recognised that it is necessary to alter the pay and promotion structures so that employers of teachers may be able to recruit, retain and motivate teachers of the right quality. That argument is over. The Government acknowledge that to recruit, retain and motivate people of the right quality a new career structure with money differentially available will be needed. That is why I offered, without any quantification, extra money from mid-1984 should a bargain agreeable to the Government be reached. Alas, the discussion of that bargain—put forward by the employers, in terms of which the Government did not wholly approve—which might have led to modification, which in turn might have led to extra money for this current year, was brought to an end by the National Union of Teachers walking out of the discussions in December 1984.
This year, in August, the Government made available an additional sum of £1,250 million over four years on certain conditions, and that extra money was embodied in an offer made by the employers on 12 September. Alas, the unions summarily rejected it.
We believe that a new career structure and the acknowledgment of the conditions of service are necessary for primary, secondary and special school teachers. We have accepted the need for a new career structure, with pay for recruiting, retaining and motivating people of the right quality. The additional pay made possible by the Government on certain conditions would be additional to annual pay increases.
But I must emphasise that the Government would only release this extra money subject to two factors. The first is that the teachers' duties were clarified, and I should perhaps explain why the Government regard this as important. We do so because, if there are to be better schools and higher standards, we think it necessary for the employers, parents and children to know what exactly the teachers can be relied upon to do. We are relying upon them to do the same as teachers have traditionally done for 399 decades, plus the one additional duty of appraisal and minus another duty that has been disputed—midday supervision.
The great Houghton report—that is how it is regarded by the teachers—stated in its last paragraph:We wish to stress that we believe the salary levels we recommend justify expectation of professional standards of performance in return.Precisely the same sentiment was expressed in the Clegg report in 1979, yet, make what excuses they like, the teachers have effectively failed to carry out those wishes. Both Houghton and Clegg represent judgments of what should rightly be expected of teachers, yet neither expression was converted into contractual terms. After Clegg, the employers made a long and sustained effort to make progress through talks. First, there was the conditions of service working party, which resulted in no agreement. Then there was the sub-committee of the Burnham committee, the joint structure working party, which the NUT walked out of in December last year. It is really disingenuous of the teachers' unions to maintain that they have tried to negotiate conditions, because the results show that they have not been willing to discuss and agree the conditions expected of them by Houghton and Clegg.
Of equal importance to conditions of service is our belief that we should provide a promotion and career structure for teachers that recruits, retains, motivates and rewards effective teachers of the right quality. In the past we were told that one of the main reasons for the demoralisation of teachers was the fall in the number of promotion prospects due to a fall in school rolls.
§ Sir Keith Joseph
I shall not give way.
Yet the conditional offer made available by the Government has enabled the employers to provide for 400 70,000 or more extra promotions. One in five classroom teachers can expect promotion if that offer is accepted on the conditions that have been proposed. The offer is based not on the even sharing of the money among all teachers but differentially, to award effective teachers and to provide incentives for teachers to be effective throughout their careers.
That means that the career prospects for teachers are very much improved. In fact, one third of teachers can look forward to substantial pay increases under the offer and one third to significant pay increases—all on top of the pay awards normally negotiated each year. The heads will be able to expect an 18 per cent. increase on average in their pay if the offer is accepted.
How can these reforms—extra pay conditional upon acceptance by teachers of conditions of service and a new career structure and professional development—be negotiated? I am very ready to be convinced that the Remuneration of Teachers Act should be replaced. I would be willing to go to colleagues and to ask for legislative time if I could be convinced that there is an alternative to that statute that would enable the necessary negotiations to occur.
Bringing together the negotiations on pay and conditions is a constant proposal that is made to me, but I must remind the House that that is precisely what has occurred in Scotland. Scotland has a single forum where both pay and conditions are negotiated, yet that has not resulted in improvement. Machinery is not enough. There must be a will to negotiate. Then the machinery does not matter so much. Without the will to negotiate, it is not possible to arrive at the right negotiated answer——
§ It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed tomorrow.