§ 3.24 p.m.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL rose to call attention to the serious effects of the policies of Her Majesty's Government on the family; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I do not feel that it is incumbent on me to apologise to your Lordships for introducting yet another debate in your Lordships' House on the family. We had the first one on the 16th June, 1976, when the Primate of All England, the Archbishop of Canter bury, introduced a debate on the family in Britain today. I feel I must express some kind of surprise, and I direct it indirectly to my noble friend the Bishop of Chelmsford because we are old friends of many years standing. I do find it surprising that there is no one from the Bishops' Bench participating in this debate today.
§ During the debate initiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury the then chair-man of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility, a Member of your Lordships' House, spoke and spoke well. I believe the present chairman of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility is also a Member of your Lordships' House. I would hate to think that the established Church of this country is so much in support of the 87 party in this country that has always been regarded as the establishment that it is afraid to come here this afternoon and make any comments which may be adverse ones.
§ There was another debate initiated last year by my noble friend Lady Phillips and on that occasion there was a discussion on the family. As I say, I make no apology, in view of what happened recently, that we should have another one today. We base the justification for it on the policies and the declared intentions of the Government and the effect of these policies on the family. It seems appropriate to us on this side of the House that we should have yet another debate.
In Opposition the Tories made much of the family. The speeches of the present Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer frequently drew attention to the needs of the family. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, took part in the debate on the family introduced by my noble friend Lady Phillips on 2nd May last year. It is true that I have not given the noble Baroness notice that I was going to quote, but she will not find anything objectionable in what I am going to say. In fact I am calling her in aid, so to speak. She said this:
I speak on behalf of a party that believes in the importance of the family …".—[Official Report; 2/5/78, col. 22.]
She went on to say:
There is no real substitute for the family … The country needs the family and cannot afford the cost of doing without it".—[col. 23.]
We completely agree. Our submission is that the policy of the present Government will impose even greater hardships on the family.
§ What is more, we are worried, and I say this very sincerely, about the direction in which the Conservative Party is going. Over the years, certainly since the war, there seems to have been a perceptible change in the attitude of the Conservative Party to the needs of those less fortunately placed in the community. I am sorry that some of the former Prime Ministers, or at least one, is not here today. I think it is true to say—and I have reason to believe that a number of your Lord-ships will agree; certainly a number of Conservatives I know would agree—that the present Prime Minister is, without 88 doubt, the most Right-Wing Tory Prime Minister that this country has known since the war.
§ It seems to us that she is bent on reviving what many thought had disappeared from our society a long time ago—a Tory philosophy which even a good many Tories were unable to accept—a philosophy that says: To him that hath it shall be given and to him that hath not it shall be taken away. We regret that. I am sure that there are noble Lords opposite listening to me who also regret some of the intended cuts that are being considered and that are, in fact, being undertaken.
§ As I have said, my only reason for making the comments that I have just made is that many of us regret that there has been a move not just to the Right but, as many of us think, to the extreme Right. If that kind of thing goes on in the next year or two we may have difficulties and disorders in this country which will be difficult to deal with. The Government are committed to cuts regardless of their effect on the family and that is the matter which concerns us. However, having said that, may I make it perfectly clear that we are not unmindful of the seriousness of the financial situation in which this country finds itself. But I am convinced, as my friends on this side of the House are convinced, as well as others in your Lordships' House, that the measures which this Government are taking to deal with the situation are measures which will have and are having a very serious effect on the family.
§ It is no use paying lip service to the family, describing the family as the backbone of our society and then dealing with it in the way in which this Government are proposing. We are appalled to find that public expenditure is being cut to help pay for massive tax cuts which overwhelmingly benefit richer taxpayers. For a vast number of families tax cuts mean real reductions in their standard of living. Soon after the present Government came into office I drew attention to the fact that, as a result of their first Budget, the Government reduced taxation by about £4,500 million, with the poorest 10 per cent. of taxpayers in this country getting 2 per cent. of the tax reductions and the richest 7 per cent. receiving no less than 34 per cent. of the tax reductions. 89 Is that the way to level up what is happening at present? In view of what I have said, if the noble Baroness has a note to say that it is the way, I hope that she will cross it out.
§ A glance at the gains and losses from the Budget show that a person earning £60 a week gained from the income tax reduction £1.10 a week and lost from increases in indirect taxation £1.60— in other words, a net loss of 50p. Similarly, a man earning £100 a week gained £2.23 from the reduction in income tax and lost £2.75 from indirect taxation— a net loss of 52p. So much for the so-called benefit to the average worker from the Tory Budget.
§ Of the £4.5 billion, practically nothing went to families with children. Prior to the election the Tory Party promised to increase child benefit—a promise which has never been fulfilled. It would have been particularly appropriate to do so in the International Year of the Child, and at a time when inflation is twice the rate now of what it was a year ago. As the Government do not propose to increase child benefit this November, will they do so next April, or will they decline to do so until November 1980? It is with great respect that I ask the noble Baroness whether she will give a definite answer one way or the other: Will it be increased next April, or will it be increased in November 1980 or not at all?
§ In the last few days your Lordships will be aware that there has been a good deal of discussion both in the Press and on television about the poor of this country. Professor Peter Townsend's book gives an account of the degree and the number who were living in poverty in 1977—let me hasten to concede, when there was a Labour Government. We have had a report recently covering the same period by the Low Pay Unit. Some of your Lordships may have seen on Monday night on "Panorama" an account of the situation. That situation existed in 1977, but it is undeniably true that the position has now become worse.
§ It is estimated that there are nearly 4 million families, involving over 6 million children, living in poverty—the yardstick being the Supplementary Benefits Commission rate. If anyone knows anything about the Supplementary Benefits Commission 90 rate he will realise that they are living in poverty. I do not want to go into a lot of statistics, because I sometimes find them rather bewildering and they need a long time to explain. But I was surprised to learn on "Panorama" on Monday night that about one-third of the electorate refused to believe that in this country there were people living in poverty. But then, of course, I realised that one-third of the electorate had voted Conservative at the last election, so it must be that particular third.
§ The Supplementary Benefits Commission told the Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth that the scheme provided particularly for families with children and incomes that are barely adequate to meet the needs of the family. The present Conservative Government's policy, with its high prices and VAT, proposes cuts of about £200 million from school meals, milk and transport. It clearly indicates that we can only expect a substantial increase in the number of poor in the coming year.
§ I shall concern myself with the effect of the cuts on the National Health Service and on the social services. Behind me there are a number of my colleagues who will talk to your Lordships about the effect of cuts in different areas. The impact of the cuts in the two areas that I mentioned—the National Health Service and the personal social services; areas which affect and touch the lives of millions of people—are of supreme importance because such cuts fall upon the services of the handicapped, the old, the young and those who find it extremely difficult to cope, especially old people living on their own. They are to be sacrificed—let us make no mistake about it, and do not let us be afraid to use the right kind of words—in a most disgraceful way in return for what the Government think will be a "better tomorrow". They will be dead by then.
§ There will be cuts in both domiciliary and residential care. There is no doubt whatsoever that such cuts will particularly affect families, and women looking after handicapped children and elderly relatives will experience a reduction in the services of support which such people get from the local authority social services. There will be the silent sufferers who will not make the headlines but whose lives will 91 be greatly affected by cutbacks in the provision of social services. Intermediate treatment schemes—and I am glad that the Home Secretary is so concerned with the behaviour of young people—which deal with many of our difficult youngsters, anti-social young persons, will also be affected; whatever the present Home Secretary proposes to do will be affected by the lack of money that will be available to deal with them.
§ There are 116 social services authorities in England and Wales and we have some information—but it is by no means complete—as to what will happen in about half of them. Some of us have been at some pains to find out. The pattern of cuts established by those authorities will no doubt be followed by the remaining 50 per cent. Valuable staff, already outstretched and overstretched, dealing with people who have complex and difficult problems, will be axed or not replaced when vacancies arise. Training programmes for social workers will be seriously affected when there is a need for trained people. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, herself a very distinguished director of social services in what was then a progressive county, knows only too well—and I do not make political points here—that it was of supreme importance if a social worker was really to be of help to a person, for that social worker to be adequately trained and to know what she was doing. It means that there will be fewer trained social workers. Some community homes, assessment centres and residential nursing homes will be closed, and some day-care facilities for pre-school children will also be closed. Fostering and adoption will be slowed down and reductions in social work service will have serious implications, not only for children, but for families. I want to assure your Lordships that that is so.
§ If I had the time I would spell out in detail the ways in which this will be done. Some authorities are proposing to close homes for the elderly; some are even saving money on fire precautions. A number of local authorities propose to dispense with firemen. In 1975 there were 3,400 fires in England and Wales as a result of which 740 people died; in 1976 there were 4,441 fires, with a loss of life 92 of 732 and in 1977 there were 2,710 fires with a loss of 695 lives. That is the sort of thing that is likely to happen.
§ I say to your Lordships that we shall pay a very heavy price for these cuts. Some local authorities even propose to save on night-sitting services for the elderly. These services are vital because of the high rate of accidents among elderly people during the night, In other areas they propose to reduce such services. Local authorities hope that voluntary organisations will step in and assume responsibility for some of the services which they can no longer undertake. But from where are they to get the money?
§ Voluntary societies, organisations and workers have made a supreme contribution in the field of social services for many, many years. I believe that it was Wolfenden who said that there were 5 million voluntary social workers in this country. But they must have some money in order to carry on. Yet local authorities are cutting their grants to voluntary organisations. Therefore, it is no good us saying that the voluntary sector will take over; it will be unable to afford to. Local authorities are being forced by the Government to embark upon a policy of quick savings without considering the long-term effect on the family and the most vulnerable. It is a recipe for chaos, confusion and disaster. If any of your Lordships are in doubt about this, I recommend you to read the report of the Personal Social Services Council and the report of the Association of Directors of Social Services. It is a horror story and it cannot be described in any other way.
§ In the National Health Service the cuts will mean longer waiting lists, longer travelling time for out-patients and for visitors to in-patients, and in some areas more travelling for consultants. I well remember, when I was Under-Secretary, sitting where the noble Baroness, Lady Young, now sits, the amount of criticism that I received from your Lordships when we spoke about the difficulty of reducing waiting lists and the difficulties relating to the National Health Service. We now find ourselves in circumstances in which the position will become much worse. I understand that there is even some suggestion that in order to raise money 93 hospitals will in future have to look for support from local people running, perhaps, bingo, raffles and that sort of thing. I do not know whether or not that is part of the policy of the present Secretary of State, but I seem to remember him saying that there is no reason why they should not do these things. I wonder whether a result of the cuts will mean that there will be hotel charges for in-patients.
I want to conclude by asking the noble Baroness a number of questions of which I have given her notice, because it would not have been fair to have done otherwise. Your Lordships like answers to questions and sometimes, unless prior notice is given, it is not possible to answer questions. A short time ago some of your Lordships may have read in one of our national newspapers an article drawing attention to a document which had been leaked to that paper from the DHSS. I accept that as being true because I have no reason to believe it to be untrue. However, if it is not true, the noble Baroness will say so. That leaked document in relation to the future said that there would be no right to sick pay for six days; that there would be the abolition of the maternity grant and the abolition to the death grant; and that the retirement pension age for women would he raised from 60 to 65; that there would be the abolition of the earnings-related unemployment and sickness benefit. And it contained, so I read, these words:
Besides reducing the upratings to prices only"—
we did it on wages, which were higher than prices—
it is necessary to have no uprating at all until November 1983, by which time the real value of the retirement pension will have been cut by over £4".
§ I do not raise these matters lightly. I did not introduce this Motion simply because I wanted to have a go at the Conservative Government. We shall all on this side have plenty of opportunities for doing that in the months to come. I did it because I am hoping that the more responsible members of the Conservative Party—and at their last annual conference do not forget that the slogan was "Realism and Responsibility"—will do something behind the scenes about what I and my colleagues on this side of the House believe is a very serious matter. If they do not, we shall remember the 94 promises that they made before the election; and there is a great danger of the Conservative Party becoming the "con" party. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has given us an early opportunity to debate the effect of the Government's policies on the family. I am certainly grateful to him for that, and grateful to him for giving us the opportunity of listening to the three maiden speakers, to whose contributions we look forward later this afternoon. It must have been a pleasant change for the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, to make the kind of speech which he made this afternoon, instead of standing at the Box on the other side of the House and telling us, with equal passion, why there was no money to carry out the various reforms which were being pressed upon him by Members of your Lordships' House. Nevertheless, I agreed with a great deal that he said, and certainly I share his concern about the course now being pursued by the Government and the effect it will have on families.
In fairness, I think it ought to be stressed that the financial position of families with children as compared with others has been deteriorating under Governments of Conservative and Labour complexion. This has been going on for some time. In terms of both the amount of tax-free income enjoyed by different household groups and the proportion of income paid in income tax and insurance contributions, families with children have lost out. The statistics under both these headings for a comparison between, for example, 1963–64 and fourteen years later, 1978–79, bring this fact out clearly. Here we are considering the position before the change of Government.
I shall not weary the House with a string of figures but here is one of those statistics. The percentage of income paid in income tax and National Insurance contributions in 1978–79 by a single person on average earnings was 54 per cent. higher than fourteen years earlier in 1964–65. But for a married couple with two children the figure is 144 per cent.; so 54 per cent. more for the single person, and 144 per cent. more for the 95 married couple with two children. That is an indication of how the relative position has worsened.
The disparity, of course, is most pronounced among the lower income sections. For those below average earnings the disparity is greater than the one I have just indicated. One cause of this was the failure to increase family allowance sufficiently over the years. Of course child benefit introduced by the last Government has replaced family allowance and child income tax allowances and we on these Benches have warmly welcomed that development. But it means that when personal allowances are increased nowadays there is no increase for children unless child benefit is increased at the same time. The present Secretary of State for Social Services, Mr. Patrick Jenkin, when in opposition, spoke in a Press notice about the Conservative Party's commitment to treat increases in child benefit in the same way as reductions in direct taxation. He went on to say:… the next Conservative Government, which is pledged to major reductions in direct taxation, would regard improvements in child benefits, which are replacing child tax allowances, as part of this process".In other words, an increase in child benefit was an essential part of the process of the reduction of taxes.
Now the Government have reduced direct taxation but they have failed to increase child benefit, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, pointed out. Therefore, the relative position of families with children has suffered again. Yet an increase in child benefit should be part of the process, as Mr. Patrick Jenkin himself explained. An increase in child benefit would help redress the imbalance between families with children and others to which I have referred because it would help all families with children, and it would help the poorest most significantly. It would help one-parent families. I welcome the 50p increase in the addition which is given for the first child of one-parent families, but a 50p increase in child benefit would help them even more because it would apply to all the children. Incidentally, perhaps I might say that I welcome the shorter waiting time for long-term supplementary benefit which is now to apply to one-parent families.
96 Turning to an increase in child benefit, that would help to move families off supplementary benefit, and if it was increased sufficiently would get rid of the position where a small number of people on benefit can receive more money when they are on benefit than when they are in work. So it would help to deal with that problem, although it is a limited problem. The Government have argued that child benefit was raised in April and cannot therefore be raised six months later. But that last rise in the child benefit coincided with the final elimination of child tax allowances, and the result, taking into account the increase of £1 but also taking into account the loss of the remaining child tax allowance, meant an increase of 37p for a child under 11, 14p for a child in the age range 12 to 16, and a loss in fact of 5p for a child over 16. Therefore, I do not think we can say that that was sufficient to rule out the need for an increase now in November.
I certainly join with the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, in asking whether it is the intention of the Government to wait 18 months before there is an increase in child benefit, when the child benefit may well be eroded by 25 per cent. to 30 per cent. I think there is an overwhelming case for an increase in child benefit now. Of course, tax reductions will help families along with others, but not proportionately, as we have seen. We on these Benches have advocated a reduction in direct taxation and a transfer of part of the burden to indirect taxation, but we would have linked it with a redistributive tax credit scheme and we regret the fact that the Government, for the moment at any rate, have abandoned any intention of proceeding along that road.
The gains in tax will inevitably—it is part of the exercise—be partly taken up by the increase in indirect taxation. When one takes into account as well inflation at up to 20 per cent., which we understand may be the case in the not too distant future, the probable increase in mortgage interest—and one in five of those on average earnings has a mortgage—the probable increase in rates through the double impact of expenditure cuts and cash limits, many families will have nothing left and many, I have no doubt, will be worse off. The poorest families of course are the most affected by the 97 failure to raise child benefits; they are the worst hit by rising prices and it is estimated that the cost of living for the poorest is about 5 per cent. ahead of the cost of living for the average family because the essentials they require have gone up in price at a greater rate.
Lord Wells-Pestell referred to the leak as to what matters were being discussed in the Department of Health and Social Security and he mentioned some of the items that had been suggested, such as an increase in waiting days, the abolition of the maternity grant, the abolition of, the earnings-related sickness and employment benefit and the abolition of the death grant. Like him, I do not know whether the Government have any intention of adopting any of those things and I shall listen with great interest to the answer which the noble Baroness gives to the questions he put.
I wish to comment briefly on the problem of heating costs in winter. This is important to families and we must think carefully about the new scheme which the Government have introduced and announced on Monday of this week. The electricity discount scheme is to be withdrawn. It was not ideal and it was limited to one fuel, but it helped 3 million people at a cost of some £45 million a year, whereas the new proposal will help 345,000 people at a cost of £16½ million a year. Thus, the new proposal will help fewer people although it will help them more substantially, as I understand it, in that the amount paid out per head will be greater.
But many of those who will be eligible for it will already have been receiving, through supplementary benefit, this particular benefit, and others could have received it had they chosen to apply for it. It seems to contain certain anomalies. As far as I can see—I may be wrong and no doubt the noble Baroness will correct me—somebody on family income supplement with children over five gets automatic help whereas somebody on supplementary benefit with children over five does not get automatic help. I wonder if that is right. It seems to be a trifle anomalous.
If the Government had advanced on the lines that they are now embarking on but on the same scale as they did with the electricity discount scheme, with a figure 98 of perhaps three to four times what they have in mind and with a rather wider range of potential beneficiaries so that they were not going to leave people, as they are now, in the range 65 to 75 without any automatic assistance, then this might have been the first step towards the comprehensive fuel benefit which has been advocated by the Supplementary Benefit Commission. But my first impression is that it falls well short of that.
Finally, I come to the cuts in the personal social services, to which Lord Wells-Pestell referred. They will undoubtedly affect families. He spoke about the plans of the 116 local authorities and there is no doubt that services already inadequate in many cases will be further reduced. Services where the targets set by the previous Government were not being achieved will be further reduced. There will be less nursery provision for children under five, less day centres for elderly people, less short-stay homes for the elderly, fewer meals on wheels and fewer home helps. Although I heard it said only last weekend in regard to the London borough in which I live that if all the social workers were to call on every name on their lists it would take them three years to do so, there is to be less man-power available and less training, although there is a shortage of trained people in these services, particularly in residential care. If we accept that there had to be public expenditure cuts on the present scale—and I question that—then surely we should ask whether it is right to insist that the cuts must apply to all services so that children, the elderly, the disabled and the sick have to take a share. Where provision for those categories was inadequate before, surely that provision should not be further cut.
When we discussed the family in your Lordships' House on 2nd May 1978, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, supported the idea of a family impact statement attached to every Government proposal. So many different aspects of Government activity bear on the family. There are the school meals cuts, school transport cuts, education cuts and possibly immigration policy: we on these Benches hope that the proposals in that respect will not destroy the unity of the family by separating husbands and wives, parents and children, contrary to our international obligations. I suppose that this debate 99 is in itself a family impact statement on the Government's policy so far, a family impact statement which we are all helping to draw up. It is clear to me that the impact on the family of these policies will in many spheres be both detrimental and depressing.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Lord BROOKS of TREMORFA
My Lords, a short while ago I was handed a telegram which had been sent to me by my colleagues on the South Glamorgan County Council. It says, "Good luck with your maiden."I am not sure whether they misunderstand what happens in your Lordships' House, but when I return to South Glamorgan I shall tell them that the exercise was carried out briefly and non-controversially, and I am sure that any illusions they may have will be wiped away.
Although I shall not principally refer to Wales, in the Principality, together with a few other areas of the United Kingdom, there has historically been a rather stronger sense of family and community life, largely because of the nature of the industries which employed us. Steel and coal were not simply industries; they were an extension of the family. Indeed, the families lived around the pits and still do in all too few cases. They lived around the steelworks, and in the very area where I live in Cardiff we have just seen the closure of a major steelworks, the major employer in the area, one which employed generation after generation of workers, but those jobs are no longer available to them. I have seen at first-hand what this technological change has meant to the families in my area.
There have, particularly since the war, been tremendous social changes which have had an enormous effect on the family. Indeed, if this debate were taking place in the 'thirties it would be of a quite different nature. As one who was brought up in the 'thirties in a working-class household, looking back on it I can see that the only way we survived was because of the love and care of a close family life. Social changes are having perhaps an even greater effect on family life than the rapid change in technology. If I refer only to the changing role of women in society—I make no judgment on it—I say simply 100 that if more and more women intend to play a role different from that traditionally played, it will of course have a tremendous effect on family life. I would recommend to the Government that they look at the comments in the recent TUC pamphlet on children in our society, in which it is recommended that an allowance should be paid to women who are prepared to stay at home to look after their children.
I am a member of a major local authority, and for some years immediately after reorganisation I was fortunate enough to lead that authority. Local government reorganisation occurred at the worst possible moment for local government. Inflation was just about taking, off. In my view—and here I shall be controversial—local government reorganisation itself was absolutely stupid, and it should be looked at again very closely. Despite those factors, we were forced to make cuts, and I believe that they were made without eating into the fabric of the services that we had to provide. I can tell your Lordships that, although my local authority is at the moment Conservative controlled, many of its members were sick at the thought of the exercise they had to carry out. They are even more worried about the reports they constantly read in the Press as to what is in store for them, not only this year but next year as well.
Whether we like it or not, my Lords, the responsibility for the maintenance of much of our family life now lies with statutory bodies. There has been very little controversy over this matter between the parties since the war; we have all agreed. There has been a consensus which, by and large, has worked to preserve much of the fabric of family life. But I am bound to say that if the reports that we read in the Press are true—that the Government intend to pursue some of the more draconian proposals—the effect on family life will be very severe indeed.
Recently, the Dr. Barnardo's organisation issued a report which is very worrying—it should be worrying for all of us—and here I shall finish my speech. Following that report, the Daily Mirror wrote a very short leader, headed "A Question of Care". This is what it said:Suffer little children … that's the sad message of modern times.Society advances in fits and starts. There are more TVs, cars and washing machines.101That may be progress to some. But at the same time the Barnardo's organisation reported yesterday that more children than last year have been taken into care.Nobody can celebrate prosperity when children are not being cared for in happy family situations.More than a century ago Dickens shocked Britain with his revelations about the way children were treated.We have made giant steps forward from those hard times.Our kids don't work in factories or sweat shops.Yet too many of them are still without the most important benefit they should have.A society in which a secure family life is its main strength.
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Baroness GAITSKELL
My Lords, I am really proud to be the first to congratulate my noble friend who has just joined our ranks on this side of the House. I must confess that I do not even know him, but I think that his speech was absolutely first class, and I agreed with every single word of it. I should also like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell on his speech, with which I completely agreed. I shall not repeat all the facts that he gave, but I reserve one right—the right to "knock" the Conservative Government as many times as I wish on serious issues. My noble friend was very polite about not wishing to "knock" the Conservative Government, but that is not going to stop me. I also wish to congratulate my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell for bringing forward this very important issue so early after the Recess: this question is absolutely crucial to everything that we shall have to do during the next few years.
My Lords, "the family" has become an emotive term. If the Labour Party presents itself as the guardian of the family, Conservatives have always presented themselves as the guardian angels of the family. Neither of the two largest political parties has done enough in the past 30 years to improve the lot of the family. The measures proposed by the Conservative Government, despite their sanctimonious talk about the family, after examination by organisations and experts, supported by facts and figures, point to an assault today on the living standards of the family. How can we otherwise explain the introduction by the Conservative Government—since coming into office with a large majority—of 102 measures for the family. Despite the tub-thumping slogans about income tax cuts, initiatives, and incentives, and despite all the hue and cry, there have followed in the Press and on the air discussions, backed by facts and figures, on poverty, poverty, and poverty again. Such things are inevitable following the Chancellor's Budget.
If the Government believe both in the family and in the power of incentives to bring about economic prosperity, they should be raising child benefits, as the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said, and I agreed with him 100 per cent. The Prime Minister is a mother with a job, and she should be aware that there are other women who would enjoy being mothers and having jobs, too. Generous child benefits might give poorer mothers a real choice of whether or not to work and this might result in some of them choosing to stay at home and simply be good mothers. But as has already been said by my noble friend Lord Wells Pestell, in Sir Geoffrey Howe's Budget the poorest 10 per cent. of taxpayers picked up only 2 per cent. of the tax cuts. The richest 7 per cent. cornered 34 per cent. of the total. I am sorry that I repeated that figure, but I think it was worth repeating. The only concession to the family was a 50p increase in child benefits, but half the total number of poor gain nothing—of course they qualify for supplementary benefits—as the 50p is automatically docked. In answer to this there is the argument that a mother's place is in the home. Yes, it may be—but only if she can afford to stay at home.
But the most scandalous indictment of the Government, as pointed out in New Society, is as follows. If families had obtained their share of the tax cuts, child benefits would have amounted to about £8 per week over the past years. But now that the child tax allowances have been phased out, child benefits have taken on the role of maintaining equity between taxpayers with different needs and responsibilities. If child benefits are not raised we shall slip back into a situation in which, as in the past, the tax system continues to be effectively biased against families with children and favours the childless taxpayers. There is an over riding need to help families with children through the tax system as well as through 103 social benefits. There could not be a stronger argument for a policy which favours taxpayers with children and at least maintains equity between them and taxpayers without children.
There is another argument. Child benefits are tax-free; thus, they increase the difference in income between those who work and earn their incomes and those who live on social benefits, from whose incomes the value of the child benefits is deducted. Thus, child benefits provide an incentive to work, and increase the incomes of those who work well above those of people on supplementary and unemployment benefits. Surely, my Lords, child benefits are therefore in accord with the philosophy of this Tory Government, who put so much stress on the value of incentives in restoring the economy.
My Lords, child benefits are a simple means of recognising and calculating the extra costs of children within a family; so, by helping families with future generations of children we are helping future families, which is a top priority today. Finally, if this Government re main blind to the arguments expressed by all those specially concerned with specific measures to deal with poverty, I wonder how future families with children will regard this indifference, perpetuating the inequality in taxation measures between childless families and those with children.
§ 4.23 p.m.
§ Lord UNDERHILL
My Lords, when considering this privilege of addressing your Lordships' House for the first time I had to face the problem of how, after 49 years' active work politically, I was to make a non-controversial speech on a highly critical political subject; and I should like your Lordships to accept that it is not my intention to be controversial but that I am endeavouring to give a factual account of this subject from deeply-held views. We will all agree that millions of families depend upon the services provided by public spending for an effective standard of life; and, as my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell has made quite clear, we cannot deal with this debate without considering the cuts in public services which seem to be intended or proposed. Life is to be made much harder 104 for millions of families by cuts that will affect children, the elderly, the handicapped and the sick; and, as my noble friend has made quite clear, the Government have emphasised absolutely clearly that the justification for these cuts is that they are necessary in order to pay for reductions in income tax. For myself, I cannot accept that there should be hardship to families in order to provide tax cuts for the better off. I must say that the Government are doing this, it seems to me, without any aspect of social policy, indiscriminately, just across the board, and I hope we shall get some explanation as to why.
Local councils throughout the country are being compelled to decide between alternative services. Those of your Lord ships who have had the opportunity to listen to BBC radio during the last few days will have heard their excellent accounts of the problems which are facing local councils—problems which I would suggest councils should not be asked to face. My noble friend has referred to the Government's intention to relieve local councils of the responsibilities for providing certain services—school meals, free milk, free transport. It is not my purpose to reiterate what has already been said, but perhaps I may say some thing on school meals. Until 12 months ago my wife had worked for 17 years as a part-timer in a school canteen, and she has told me repeatedly of the benefits that children have gained from having a hot mid-day meal. Regrettably, there are a number of children who leave home for school in the morning without an adequate breakfast—and now we are told that they can manage with a sandwich mid-day. Or are mothers who go to work going to have to sacrifice that, so bringing further burdens on to their families, in order to look after their children?
Education cuts are facing local education authorities up and down the country, and I picture the problem of those who serve on local councils as to what they should do in order to carry out the Government's demands. Should they cut nursery schools, nursery classes, bearing in mind that there will be mothers who would then find it difficult to go to work in order to assist with the family budget, as they must because of the low incomes of their husbands; or that, alternatively, 105 there will be the problem of the single parent? Are we to risk going back to women being driven more and more into the hands of unscrupulous child-minders because they cannot pay an excessive charge for nursery accommodation? Local councils have to determine between that and the development of remedial teaching; between that and cuts in school equipment and in school books, the standards of which were already too low even before these cuts were talked about. They have to determine between those cuts, or whether to reduce the number of teachers, and noble Lords will have read, as I have, of decisions already taken by local authorities to dismiss or reduce the number of teachers.
My Lords, it is a very controversial point, but I must say that it makes for a cynical attitude when authorities which have to decide on those cuts know at the same time that it is the Government's announced intention to provide £70 million to enable selected children to have places in independent schools. That seems to me, frankly, to show a gross cycnicism in relation to what are our priorities. Then, my noble friend has dealt with the problems which councils face in other directions. Are they to scrap, curtail or increase the charges for home-helps; are they to scrap, curtail or increase the charges for meals-on-wheels; are they to close old people's homes; are they to close children's homes'? The problems that councils are being forced to face are, as I have said already, problems which I do not believe they should be called upon to face.
My Lords, I should like to refer to just two other things, one of which has not been mentioned in this debate at all so far. That concerns the millions of families which are affected by unemployment and low pay—and time permits me to make only a passing reference to them. Obviously, we cannot blame the Conservative Government for the position with regard to low pay and for the figure of unemployed at the present time; but for doctrinaire reasons the Conservative Government are refusing to intervene, placing reliance on market forces.
I should like to refer to one problem which faces us in two areas; and this is common to a number of other areas. I know Corby and Shotton, particularly 106 Shotton, very well. One has to realise that 6,000 families in each place are going to be affected by unemployment just through the use of the easy word"redun dancy"—which means poverty and tragedy for that number of families. One cannot criticise the Government at this stage for the position in the steel industry, but one can criticise them if they have no intention of intervening, because in those areas there is no alternative employment whatever, and only Government intervention will ensure that that is provided.
My last point is this. I have now been retired for three months. This has given me the opportunity of shopping—something which I have not done for a long time because I have been too busy. I have been appalled by the price rises every time I visit the shops, appalled by the price rises for commodities which are needed for everyday living—rises caused by Government action on VAT. I am appalled by the price rises which I see every time I go into a shop; and now there is no opportunity at all for any protection. In just these brief points, I think there is enough to show that the position of families is being worsened, and is likely to be worsened, by Government action and decisions having to be taken by councils and health authorities which they should not be called upon to take.
§ 4.32 p.m.
§ Baroness FAITHFULL
My Lords, it falls to me to congratulate the maiden speaker who has just spoken. I know that he has been a Labour Party agent since 1972, and everyone in the House knows how much Members in both Houses of Parliament owe to their agents. I think that I am perhaps the wrong person to offer these congratulations because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, worked with the late Morgan Phillips and I am sure that for that reason the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, would have wished to offer the congratulations which I do now. I only hope that the noble Lord will not be so busy shopping that he will not be able to be here for we need to hear him more in this House.
I should like also to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa. I am delighted that he mentioned Dr. Barnado's. Being a member of Dr. 107 Barnado's council, I am glad that lie reads so much about them. I think I should thank the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for the comments he made about me, although he may not make the same comments at the end of the debate because there are many matters on which I would take issue with him. But we are grateful to him for initiating this timely debate.
When there is a change of direction in the administration— and I underline"administration"—of welfare policies necessarily there are bound to be read-justments which can be disturbing, uncomfortable and worrying; but what is important is that the changes are ultimately in the right direction even if, on a short-term basis, they appear frustrating. I have profound sympathy with my ex-colleagues, the directors of social services with their social work staff, and also with the voluntary sector, in the present position. When I was in office in Oxford city for much of the time I did not have difficulty in gaining resources, but towards the end of my time there were great cutbacks and there was difficulty in obtaining resources. But my department was robust. They believed in the work they were doing and were not going to be deterred. Therefore, I should say—although I think it is not generally known—that we had a welfare fund operating in our department and we raised approximately £10,000 a year as a private fund; and we started making good the staff we could not take on by forming a very good group of volunteers who undertook to work with qualified social workers. Thus a great deal of work was done with families without our taking on any more staff.
I wonder whether the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, were as disastrous in content as he made them out to be. His Jonah-like pessimism lacks that robust and wonderfully positive attitude in adversity that we have come to associate with him. I think he under rates the sturdy compassion of the general public for working on their own behalf. These days, we have only to see the self-help groups that have grown up to meet particular needs. All Members of your Lordships' House, on whichever Benches we sit, care deeply for the elderly, for the 108 physically and mentally handicapped, for the children in trouble and in need, for the disruptive and disrupting families, for the homeless, for the single parents and for those who live on the poverty line. Concern and caring are not the prerogative of any one party in this House. Every Member of this House is surely at one on the policies with regard to the family. Where there are disagreements I would suggest, as has been shown by all previous speakers, that it is in the financing of the policies in which we all agree; and I would suggest, secondly, that there are, and have been, difficulties in administration that have been wasteful of money.
In my time as a social worker and, indeed, in my own personal experience, I have often been in touch with children whose father has been cruelly killed and where the income of the family has dropped dramatically. In order to live within her reduced budget and to meet her changed circumstances the mother has had to alter her style of life; and many mothers have done this with great courage and have considered the wellbeing of their children. And so it is with the country. There is not the money to increase our public expenditure—not merely to maintain it but to increase it. On this, I know, many Members of this House do not agree with me. Although the book by Professor Peter Townsend has come out, there is another book which makes out the figures to be quite different. I think that we should look carefully and objectively at both books.
Today, I confine myself to the position of children in trouble and in need and to their families and suggest that we should be looking at the administration of our common policies. In her speech at the annual general meeting, the chairman of Dr. Barnado's, Lady Wagner (as has already been said by one of our maiden speakers) drew attention to the present rise in the number of children in care. The Committee for New Approaches to Juvenile Delinquency points out that there were 880 juveniles in borstal in 1969 and that by 1977 the figure had risen to 1,935. The cost is £94 a week and the recidivism rate is 81 per cent. within two years. Are we perhaps wasting money? Children's homes cost £70 to, in some cases, £100 a week. Community schools for education 109 cost up to £120 a week per child. Here we have evidence that 66 per cent. of delinquents in custodial care commit further offences within three years. My Lords, are we wasting money?
There are alternatives to costly custodial care for a proportion of the children. Some delinquent children must have residential care, but that residential care should be of a high standard of excellence, and we should do with much less in the country. What are these alternatives? First, there are the day care facilities which have not yet been greatly developed in this country. Dr. Barnado's, for instance, had in Birmingham a day care centre for disruptive, absconding and seriously delinquent children. These children remain at home but go to this centre during the day from early morning until late at night, and the parents are helped. This is far less expensive and is far more effective than removing those children from home and having them in care.
Secondly, there is the provision of substitute homes by foster care services. Here I suggest that we should develop much more than we have this foster care system which of course has been going on for generations. But I would point out that it rather depends upon where you live. If you live in a London borough, only 22 per cent. of the children in care are boarded out. If you live in Sheffield, 55 per cent. are boarded out; and if you live in Warwickshire, 65 per cent. are boarded out. Should we not think of saving money and of giving much better child care by developing much further our boarding out system?
Then there is adoption. I am chairman of the Adoption Resource Exchange. This seeks to place for adoption children who are handicapped, adolescent and difficult to place. Last year 100 children were placed. If they had remained in care in residential accommodation until the age of 18, it would have cost the country £2 million. We have been told—I think rightly—by the Department of Health and Social Security that there will not be further money forthcoming in grants for this society. I therefore put it to all the members of the society that we should either have to make arrangements ourselves for raising further money or close down. The robust answer came 110 from everybody that this work was of absolutely vital importance to the family, that we would form a committee to raise money and therefore not accept a further grant from the Department of Health and Social Security.
Thirdly, there have been remarks made about the activity programme offered to children and their parents which is called intermediate treatment. I have this week been to Norwich and seen an excellent intermediate centre. I have realised that, as such, centres, while they need resources, are nothing like as expensive as waiting for the children to commit offences and be accepted into care. If we reduce the number of children in care by helping them to remain either with their families or with substitute families, the social services departments in our country would he very much better off.
Now may I come to the question of a developing partnership as between voluntary organisations and the statutory services. I believe that there needs to be a much bigger development in this area. There was growing resentment, as has been stated before, at the high rate of taxation that people used to have to pay and still have to pay. But, as has been stated, some people now pay less. There is nothing to stop those people from making contributions, and many of them do. Among the people I have met in Oxford, for instance, there are five who were going to give up their small businesses, which were essential to the community and were employing people, and who are now not going to do so because of the changed state of taxation.
May I give your Lordships a few figures regarding the whole question of voluntary contributions in this country. The Charities Aid Foundation indicate that in 1978 £707 million was contributed to voluntary organisations, and that this sum rose to £818 million in 1979. Volun tary contributions to Dr. Barnardo's were £6,006,000 in 1977 and rose to £8,087,000 in 1978. Therefore, I think we should not denigrate our society. We have a compassionate society which is willing to give and gives voluntarily. May I take this opportunity of mentioning something personal to your Lordships' House. After the debate on the Inter national Year of the Child, one of our much respected doorkeepers in this House 111 who heard that debate carried out a sponsored walk from Westminster Bridge to Brighton. He was supported by his excellent doorkeeper colleagues, both of this House and of the House of Commons. He raised a great deal of money for the Dyslexia Society. People are doing such things up and down the country.
I have not given the Minister notice of the following question, but I should be grateful for an answer at a later stage. It concerns VAT in connection with voluntary organisations. Could there be a review of the VAT legislation as applied to charities which are relieving distress for families and children on parallel lines to local authorities who, under Section 15 of the 1972 Finance Act, are exempt from VAT? The voluntary organisations are giving the identical services. Secondly, I would ask whether at a later date voluntary organisations giving a similar service to local authorities could be exempt from land tax.
I believe, as I have said, that there needs to be a greater development of the partner ship between the State and the voluntary sector. I turn briefly to the management structure of local authority social service departments; and not only to them but to education and health. I wonder whether we have not wasted much money in the past years in our management structures. The best qualified teachers leave the classroom; the best qualified nurses and the sisters that we all used to love are now administrators; and the best social workers are now in a managerial role. The experienced social workers, teachers and nurses surely should be at the grass roots; and were this so I believe that much sounder preventive work could be done and the family could be better helped.
The question of training has been mentioned. I believe, sadly, that, as with education in the 1940s and 1950s, we have perhaps tried to train too many social workers too quickly, and that we would have done better to have trained fewer social workers well so that they in turn could have carried out in-service training programmes and helped with volunteers.
I would just mention the needs of the under-fives, for whom there is no co-ordinated policy and in regard to whom there are at least six or eight different 112 training programmes for those wishing to train. Surely this again is wasteful.
I join the noble Lords, Lord Wells-Pestell, Lord Banks, and others, in their beliefs concerning the child benefit allowance. I appreciate that a change in policy is a goal that cannot be reached overnight but that we should work towards a change in policy, towards increasing the child benefits. However, I have a personal view, which is that there should be a graduated child benefit scheme, giving higher child benefits for children under three years of age so that every mother has an opportunity to stay at home and care for her young child if she so wishes. I believe that much harm would be avoided if we were to do that. Secondly, child benefits should be paid on the same level as payments for unemployment and sickness benefit. Thirdly, I believe that child benefits should be index-linked.
My Lords, we all believe in the corner stone of the family in our society. I believe that much can be done by society itself at a personal level, at a local level and at a neighbourhood level. Therefore I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for bringing up this subject today; but I think that with very great managerial and administrative care we could save much money for those priorities that we believe in.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord GALPERN
My Lords, during my last five years' membership of another place, I had the honour to serve as a Deputy Speaker. Most of my time in the Chair was spent in coaxing and exhorting honourable Members to curtail the length of their speeches. Therefore one of the attractions for me of member ship of your Lordships' House is that in 1965 the House resolved—and I quote—that speeches in this House should be shorter".I propose to teach precept by example but I confess that on the aspect of being non-controversial I am in some difficulty this afternoon because of the subject we are debating. If I say—I say this honestly—that I enjoyed very much my 20 years' membership of another place, then there are bound to be one or two of your Lordships who may think: "How could you have?" and therefore I am creating controversy! But I would ask for the indulgence of the House and hope that, 113 if I do suggest an area of controversy, your Lordships will forgive me on this particular occasion.
Briefly, I wish to discuss the subject of this afternoon's debate from a specifically Scottish point of view. It is a topic that is eagerly and anxiously discussed in home, street, shop, train and bus. The proposed expenditure cuts of 3 per cent. this year and another 1 per cent. next year have created, I regret to say, fear, worry and alarm in the minds of the Scottish people, as elsewhere. For example, the Glasgow local authority calculates that the Tory spending cuts will cost the average family in their area £8.40 per week. Is this a reasonable apprehension? Of course it is. The Government policies will have the most damaging social and economic repercussions. Any cuts in the provision of social services for the sick and disabled, the young and the old, are unacceptable. Yet the Government seem likely to cut provision to levels which will reverse any commitment to a society in which the case for the underprivileged is a recognised priority. My noble friend, Lord Wells-Pestell, has referred to Professor Peter Townsend and his recent publication. I will not go into that except to say that, according to his definition of poverty there are forty million people living in the United Kingdom in a state of poverty.
It is in the local authority sector that the most immediate cuts are taking place. In their circular to Scottish local authorities the Government ask for local authority expenditure to be cut by 7½ per cent. from the Labour Government's projected levels for 1980–81. According to the Secretary of State for Scotland, it is the basis for—and I quote him—continuing and increasing reductions in later years".Further in the memorandum to local authorities, the Government state—and I quote again—that they wish to see:an accelerated programme of school closures, cuts in nursery education and further education to 1977–78 levels, a reduction in the level of library maintenance, economies in the frequency and methods of collection of refuse, a review of road maintenance standards, and a review of con-cessionary fare schemes for the elderly and the disabled".It is also suggested that there should be full cost charges for school transport. If financial support for public transport 114 is to be cut down, then obviously bus fares will have to be increased. There is also a proposal that we should increase the charges as well as reduce the opening hours and the standards of maintenance for leisure and recreation centres.
Let me look very briefly at one or two of these. Concerning school meals, in which I am particularly interested, 150,000 pupils in Scotland will lose their right to free meals if the Government cuts are implemented. I served for several years as chairman of the largest education authority at that time—that of Glasgow Corporation—and we felt great pride when we were told by our medical officers of health and our nutritional experts that our children at school had gained in inches and in mental ability as a result of our excellent provision of school meals. Was all that a mirage? Are we now to throw overboard the expert advice of the medical and nutritional people at whose instigation we instituted free meals or paid meals in our schools? Surely not; but that is exactly what is going to happen. As far as school milk is concerned, at the present time we provide it free for children under seven, but even that has to be left to the local authority to deter mine whether they are going to continue that particular situation.
Let me deal just very quickly with housing. The Government are considering the introduction of legislation over ruling the right of local authorities to oppose the sale of council houses—elected people, elected on a manifesto which declared that they were against the sale of council houses. Nevertheless, there is this intention to overrule their power and the chairman of the Britannia Building Society claims that the mass sale of council houses to their tenants could force mortgages up to 16½ per cent. Such a rate on a £10,000 building society loan for a twenty-five year mort gage would mean a repayment of £138.70 per month: that is £54.20 more than the repayment at the current rate of 11¾ per cent. One could go on for ever about the drastic effects of the Government's policies.
Last night, I listened to a most interesting radio programme on BBC Radio 4. It lasted for 1½ hours and was entitled, "What's for the Chop?" It was introduced by a lady, Mary Goldring, who 115 looked at the different ways in which local authorities are meeting Government demands to cut spending. As I said, it was an excellent and most educative programme, dealing as it did with the views of a wide range of treasurers and chairman of local authorities throughout England—and there was one from Scotland. I would certainly urge all Members of this House, before they cast a single vote in favour of the proposed cuts, to take the trouble to obtain a transcript of that broadcast and to read it.
The Labour Party, inside and outside Parliament, has a duty to protect the working people of Scotland and the rest of the country, and the responsibility to oppose measures which will damage the fabric of our Welfare State. They are being carried out on the altar of tax reductions, from which the main beneficiaries are the very rich of the country. We believe that the Government have an inescapable responsibility to protect the weakest members of the community, and a duty to secure the maximum employment opportunities. That is why we, as a Labour Party, will do everything in our power to press the Government to change their policies.
§ 5.2 p.m.
The Countess of LOUDOUN
My Lords, I am very pleased to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, on his most interesting maiden speech. I hope that it will be the first of many. I wonder whether many of your Lordships realise the extent of the financial burden on a family with a handicapped child—either physically or mentally handicapped, or both. Many of these handicapped are unable to move around quickly; hence more heating is necessary than for a normal child. They may need a special diet, and we all know how expensive that can be. Children grow out of their clothes, but the handicapped, both adults and children, wear out theirs much more quickly through sitting and rubbing, due to wheelchairs and perhaps calipers. There is always extra washing and bedding needed, caused through incontinence, plus the wear and tear on furnishings, caused perhaps by a hyperactive child. These are not luxuries; they are necessities.
Often the parents' earning power is reduced because the mother is unable to 116 work or the extra family responsibilities prevent the father from doing shift-work or overtime. The behavioural and emotional problems, added to these financial ones, may place an almost intolerable burden on a marriage. We all have our breaking point. In the case of some of these families, this point may be put off or eliminated entirely by the provision of holidays for them, with or without their disabled child. Again, I stress that this is not a luxury but may be a decisive factor in preventing the break-up of the home or a breakdown in parental health, and it is alarming to find that for many local authorities this is the area in which the first cuts are to be made.
Under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, local authority social services departments have a statutory obligation to provide many of these items that I have mentioned. As 61 per cent. of local authority spending is financed by the rate support grant from central Government, the drastic reduction in this grant that the Government intend to make, plus their demand for cuts in local authority spending of up to 10 per cent., must have an extremely adverse effect on the provision of social services for disabled children and their families. The voluntary services do a magnificent job, but unless the social services cuts are matched by increases on the voluntary side the result may be a poorer quality of life and greater dependence on others for many individuals, and a considerable extra burden on their families and neighbours. Many disabled and elderly people will be living at home owing to the lack of residential places, but with a deterioration in support services.
Many of the women who will care for these people—and it is predominantly women who will be affected—will also be adversely affected by the envisaged reductions in day care for pre-school children, and in some areas by cuts in grants for holiday play schemes. Local authorities vary from area to area in their provision for the handicapped. Some are extremely good, but at the moment the natural tendency appears to be to look for quick savings. I hope that the Government will be able to give us an assurance that the most vulnerable groups will be protected, and that they will show their compassion for this group of people—the handicapped who cannot help themselves.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should first like to thank my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell for introducing this debate today, and to pay tribute to him for his splendid introduction. Also, I should like to congratulate our three maiden speakers—all from this side of the House, and all people whom I have known and respected for a long time. Perhaps their splendid speeches will stop this nonsense in our Party of wasting time by talking about abolishing the House of Lords. There are far more important issues for them to be paying attention to at this time, instead of tearing themselves apart on this nonsense. I think your Lordships have heard me say this before. I am going to suggest a referendum asking "Which House will you have abolished?" I think that people might get a shock from the answer. But I should like to pay particular tribute to the three splendid maiden speakers, and I hope that there will be many occasions when we shall hear them again.
We are talking today of the family and it would be impossible to range over the whole field. I must say that I am very sorry for the Minister. She has had only one supporter from her own side of the House. I think that if she looks back over the debates under the previous Government, she will see that we did at least come in, even if we sometimes attacked our own Government. Perhaps they have a stronger whipping system on the other side of the House. But my noble friend Lady Loudoun always comes in, and I salute the way in which she never fails to come back to her first love.
This is the International Year of the Child and I shall speak of children. First, the cuts will affect the great mass of children. These are not children who are handicapped, either physically or mentally. They are possibly not even disadvantaged. They probably have good loving parents and they have a bright future. How will the cuts affect this group? These children are all in schools, and there will be a direct effect upon them. There are to be cuts in lesson time, in heating, in transport and in teachers. The under-fives, a group which in my judgment, has never really had full consideration from any Government, will be drastically hit.
118 Grants are to be withdrawn from voluntary groups. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, that I am with her in that this is the renaissance of the volunteer, but the volunteer cannot also be fund-raising. I speak as someone who has worked in the voluntary movement, and if you have to raise all your own money then you do not have time for the job for which you are raising money—a trap which, as I recall, we fell into in the Labour Party.
I listened on the radio this morning to a mother from a London borough, describing the repercussion on her own life through the closure of a nursery group. She said at the end—I thought with great compassion and common sense—that it would be far worse for some other people, for single-parent families, and she referred to fathers—which we do not often do—who were trying to bring up families on their own. She said this would mean that they would have to give up work, thus throwing themselves on the State or returning to the unregistered child minders. As to the leisure-time activities of adolescents, these will certainly suffer. In my own borough, we have a newly built and, I understand from one of my grandsons, who is an excellent detective in these matters, fully equipped leisure centre but this is not going to be opened.
In this connection I should like to refer to the circular to which I drew the attention of your Lordships before the Recess. The circular deals with juvenile delinquency and was issued by the Home Office, the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Social Security and the Welsh Office. It refers specifically to ways in which we can prevent juvenile delinquency. When this circular was issued in 1978, it made particular reference to community based ventures, and there is one sentence in it to which I shall draw the attention of the Government. It refers to "occupy in leisure"; in other words, if a young person has proper outlets whereby he can use his energy and develop his skills he is less likely to become a delinquent. May I take the figure given by my noble friend Lady Faithfull which I believe I quoted on that occasion.
If not on humanitarian grounds, may I remind the Minister that it actually costs far more to keep a delinquent in 119 care than to keep him out of care. Last week, there appeared in one daily paper a cartoon which showed the Prime Minister standing outside a newly built prison and saying to one of her Ministers—I can imagine which one, but we shall guess—"The savings in education will just about pay for this". There is a terrible irony and truth about this statement.
As I move about Great Britain a great deal, I am asked on every hand, in every town into which I go, to bring forward the case concerning the closure of some project or for the cutting down of some project. These schemes are run by dedicated people who for many years have struggled on low pay, with volunteer labour. They need the extra bit of money to keep going.
It is difficult to believe that in a country which owns 2 million yachts we cannot afford to educate our children properly. We are indeed living in an age of private wealth and public squalor. I would be the last to suggest that there is not extravagance and waste in bureaucracy. There is certainly extravagance and waste in private enterprise. And who pays for that at the end of the day? The customer. But cuts, unfortunately, do not necessarily fall on wasteful activities. All too often, it is too easy to quickly eliminate a whole department, to close a ward of hospital beds, as we are seeing now, or to eliminate teachers.
From the imploring letters and sad pleas which I have received from so many people, I have selected just a few. May I draw your Lordships' attention to the Burnbake Trust in Wiltshire. What a wonderful heading: "A new start for offenders". The Trust employs young offenders and teaches them how to earn a livelihood. They are difficult young people. The Trust now faces complete extinction if its grant is removed after October, 1979, and it has already been told that it will be removed.
May I also draw your Lordships' attention to the handicapped. There are so many examples available but I have selected merely one, a centre in Stafford shire for adult special care. It is a centre for multiple handicapped young people, and it was set up originally with Area 120 Health Authority money. The equipment is not now going to be used because the grant has been stopped and the staff made redundant. These young people represent probably one of the saddest groups of all. They are often blind, they are incontinent and they are unable to communicate. Where are they going to go if that kind of centre is closed?
I have received news in a typical letter from Wales—I shall not quote all of it, because I might be accused of attacking the Prime Minister, and I should hate that—of a newly created centre for very mentally handicapped children. It was founded by the writer of the letter, an old friend of mine, and she says:After a hectic summer … we are now taking up the battle' with Government Departments who chant with monotonous enchantment (and disenchantment to those who listen) the philosophy of Do unto those who have most and to those who have not, refer to the Department of the Devil take the Hindmost".I hope that she is wrong.
Without being unctuous, I did not want the rebate in my pay packet at the expense of the mentally handicapped child, and I know I am typical of very many people. Mr. Robert Adley, a Member of another place, who was on a radio programme with me this morning, said, rather proudly, "I am not a 'do-gooder'. I am a Tory Member of Parliament". I am not quite sure how we are to interpret that, but I say very proudly that I am a "do-gooder". I hope that the Government have enough "do-gooders" in their midst to think again about the terrible effects that the cuts are going to have in relation to the family.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, may I join with others who have congratulated the three excellent maiden speakers whom we have heard this afternoon, and also join in the appreciation accorded to my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell for introducing this Motion. My noble friend Lady Phillips who has just sat down commented upon the paucity of Government speakers in this debate. I believe I am right in saying that there are but three. However, may I call attention to one very cowardly act of the Government: that not one single Peer on the Tory Benches intends to speak in this debate. It has 121 been left to the Baroness in this Chamber, and it is so unfair. How can one throw political invective into such a charming face as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Young? For the courteous Members of the Opposition this is an impossible, ungallant and ridiculous thing to do. I find myself, therefore, in the position of having to try to persuade her—gently, if I may—to use the warmth of her personality to melt the "ironness" of the maiden who governs her political party at the moment.
It has been said so many times that there is very little difference between the major political parties in this country. It has been said that the past Labour Government could have been a moderate Conservative Government. At last, at all events, a very definite distinction can be seen. There is, indeed, a very definite breach between the views of the political parties. There can be no doubt whatsoever that the aims of both parties might have been to try to abolish waste, to try to do away with bureaucracy and red tape and to endeavour to put the economy of this country on to a sound footing. But can one ever imagine a Labour Government getting its priorities, in the process of economy, so entirely wrong, so cruelly wrong as the present Government are doing? And it is no excuse whatsoever to plead that there was a mandate for all this. May I, with all the emphasis that I can command, tell Her Majesty's Government that there was no mandate to withdraw aid from many who will now go cold this winter. There was no mandate to cut educational services which cannot even afford sufficient books in our schools. There was no mandate to abolish the Price Commission. There was no mandate to double VAT. There was no mandate to cut the health services spending and there was certainly no mandate to agree rises in Common Market food prices.
Having said that, I should now like to concentrate, if only for a few moments, on the class of persons by way of family who have, so far as I can tell, not yet been dealt with in this debate. I refer to young married couples who in my view have never had it so bad. I happen—and it was a great privilege—to have served most of the years of my public life in London local government, and proudly there, especially after the war, irrespective of 122 party, we endeavoured to build a sound foundation in local government in London for the family, and especially the young family. What are the things which are important to a young couple? They must be the following: housing, prices, education——
§ The MINISTER of STATE, DEPART MENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Baroness Young)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, has been very kind to me and has said that he does not want to upset me; but I can assure him that I am quite used to an intellectually rigorous argument and I really think I can take it. But before he goes on with his string of criticisms the noble Lord might remember that when his Government was in office they had no mandate whatever for the cuts made by the International Monetary Fund; and if he is going to speak about young couples and housing he might remind himself that it is his party which is entirely responsible for the demise of the private rented sector, which has made it so difficult for young couples to find anywhere to live.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, the noble Baroness will never take from me the gallantry that I wish to show her or the admiration that I shall always have for her, and part of that admiration is for her political courage which made her get to her feet. If I may say so, I doubt whether the courage was matched with relevance. I say that for this reason. It is difficult to conceive that any political party could be mandated by an electorate with regard to the demands which might subsequently be made by an International Monetary Fund when the Government were facing a financial crisis; and how one could ever conceive of a mandate to deal with cuts which were imposed as conditions by the International Monetary Fund is frankly beyond me.
Secondly, I really cannot conceive of a more irrelevant argument than the second one which was advanced, but perhaps I may be allowed merely to continue with what I was saying and not to be put off by that very courteous intervention. I was asking what could be more important than housing, prices, education, hospital services and—certainly to a young working wife—nursery schools. I should like to look at the very thing that the noble Baroness was referring to; namely, the 123 question of housing and her reference to the fact that a Labour Government made it difficult for private landlords to rent housing. It may have been a Labour Government who granted security of tenure where a Tory Government would not have done. It may have been a Labour Government who protected furnished tenancies where a Tory Government might not have done. But I can assure the noble Baroness that it would never be a Labour Government who would impose upon local authorities the duty to sell council houses that were built as a social service for those who could ill afford to buy their homes and to saddle themselves with heavy mortgages. They were built in order to deal with priority lists, to be vacated when people moved so that they could then be given to the next person on the priority list. I agree with her that this is something that a Labour Government would not have done. But unfortunately it is something that young couples in this country now face as a result of Tory Government policy.
If I may now move on to prices, this subject has already been dealt with, but can anybody do anything else—and I am trying hard to use moderate language—than pity the lot of the young housewife in this land at this moment? I can remember that the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter—and I wish he were in his place at the moment—waxed eloquent in a recent economic debate, and he saw fit to quote John of Gaunt from Richard II He referred in moving terms to that lovely description of this country as given by John of Gaunt. Then he stopped short and it was all I could do to remain seated and not to rise, because he stopped short at the words, "This dear, dear land". That was a description that he thought it not appropriate to give. My Lords, it is a "dear, dear England"for young couples at this moment ; it is a dear, dear England when inflation has risen to double the figure at which it was left by the last Government and, on top of that, they have to face 15 per cent. VAT on the goods which they purchase. Then when they think in terms of their children's education they now face the possibility of cuts in the nursery schools, cuts in educational services and presumably cuts in hospital services.
124 If this were purely a political debate, it would in fact be a waste of oratory and this House is not short of oratory. It ought to be an honest exercise, as my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell put it, in an endeavour to persuade, not a hard hearted set of ogres who sit upon Government Benches in this House or in the other place but people who possibly do not know the hardships which they are imposing because they do not know sufficiently well the people upon whom they impose them. I plead with noble Lords opposite, and with the utmost sincerity, to reflect before they impose the most grave hardships upon the solid structure of this country, built upon the honourable family unit.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, it has been a pleasure to listen to three constructive and cogent maiden speeches and also to listen to the Front Bench speech by my noble friend who opened this debate. Last night as I was driving my car home from this house I was alerted on the radio by the talk of a bonfire of controls and the breathtaking stroke that had been made by the Government to let all things rip on the Stock Exchange and everywhere else so that money can move freely all over the world. That is the acme of monetarism. For my trouble and pains over 40 or more years, I went into my study and I picked up, now grey with age and dirty blue, the vade mecum of the professors of the 'thirties who tried to cure the slump; the foundations of the May Report; the two minutes of evidence; the work of all the great professors and pundits of the time, including Sir Montagu Norman, who wanted his name inscribed on a piece of metal because the Gold Standard was going to save mankind. It was all pillars of cloud because they were dealing with unreality; they were dealing with a system of society that existed only on a page of mathematics and in the differential calculus. They were not dealing with the idiosyncrasies of human beings, not dealing with the wants and pains and desires of ordinary men and women around the world. They were dealing with graphs—it is full of them—and statistics trying to prove, and what they were trying to prove. They were trying to prove in a way, although they did not use the word then, that monetarism works.
125 The fanatical monetarists who are now dictating to the Government believe that a fierce credit squeeze, high interest rates, cuts in public expenditure, will have the effect of squeezing inflation out of the system, restoring the confidence of British industry and laying the basis of a great upsurge in output and productivity. It is much more likely, as the TUC, and others on all sides of the House, at different times have said, that this is a complete gamble and there will be a big fall in investment at home because of letting all systems go on the Stock Exchange and letting money flow freely. On 7th August even the Financial Times said:Faith in the Government's economic policy must be built on the hope that a currency and monetary squeeze will have its impact on inflation before it destroys the profitability of large parts of Britain's manufacturing industry".Then it was said:This is a gamble and the stakes are higher than the Government would wish".As someone has already said, there was no mandate for about 70 per cent. of what this Government have imposed upon the British electorate. One-third of the people could not provide a mandate. Also the Government have reneged on their promises on the Health Service, and reneged on their promises of not cutting so much government expenditure in their Election Manifesto.
Furthermore, let us take the Stock Exchange. Mr. Gordon Pepper is seriously disturbed. Now who is he? He is a partner in the stockbrokers Greenwell and Co., who publish a regular, well-informed, splendidly thought-out Monetary Bulletin, and he is a leading commentator on City and monetary matters. In the Observer, which I am sure this well-informed House has read, on 12th August he said he feared that the money supply was rising too slowly for comfort: "The economy should be given time to react to the changes in monetary policy. If it is forced to react too abruptly it will suffer quite unnecessary disruption."
This debate is calling attention to the serious effects of the Government's policy on the family. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Snow (who used to sit over there), who, in quite a striking lecture to the Findley Green Foundation, called 126 attention to what he termed the state of siege; and he opened it by saying:We are living in a lobotomised society".The more I look across the Chamber the more sure I am that we are, if nobody gets up from the other side to denounce these frenetic cuts that are being made. Ordinary human hopes are beginning to disappear and there is a greyness about living and the quality of life. He added in his day—because it is a bit Malthusian, but do not make too much fuss of poor old Malthus:There are already too many people in the world and the overwhelming elasticity of population is confronted"—I added this bit—by the axiom of the limited area of the earth".Absolutely correct; it is one of the problems confronting mankind and they have not a clue how to tackle it, as we are living in an unreal society.
In all this the family is allegedly the basis of civilisation—not allegedly; it is. That is a cliché, but as in all life we say it is a cliché. The trouble with clichés is that they are so often fundamentally true and people take no notice of them; and that is exactly what is happening to the attention of the Tory Government to the family. Now in our own country, which believes itself to be in the forefront of civilisation, the family as a unit is forced by Government to face ruthless cuts, cuts that go back to the 1930s. The system of society in which we are living did not solve its problems by any of the economic nostrums put forward in the famous May Report. Their problem was solved by men killing each other. It was the upsurge of rearmament in 1938 that did it. If we are not careful we shall have that upsurge again if we have militaristic speeches and the "barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world" suggesting that we should have more guns and more nuclear weapons. What kind of family chance will there be there?
We are also losing control of our environment. In all the expectations of the young—I do not want to repeat all the statistics; I want to take the philosophy as a whole—in housing, health, hospitalisation, education, welfare, nursery schools, the whole lot, we are surrounded by squalor, mediocrity; in our planning, even our buildings and everything else, there are cuts, cuts, cuts. The Price 127 Commission was a nuisance to this Government because it informed the general public of expected increases in prices and thereby in some cases curbed prices. Because of that curbing it has been pushed aside. Similarly, the Royal Commission was an embarrassment by issuing statistics to demonstrate the inequality of incomes and wealth. Those things are disappearing, and it will be more difficult for people to study our system of society and find which way it is drifting economically. To the detriment of the family, Parliament is becoming only a court of cassation. What is that? It is the power of annulment. That is all we have got. It is the power of annulment which is paramount in Westminster today, not the power of initiative. The power of initiative has been lost for this last generation and taken over by the Executive, and that applies to Conservatives and Labour in power. It is a very dangerous phase in human society that most Parliaments are moving in that direction; and God forbid that the British Parliament should ever become just a court of cassation where people are satisfied with just annulling things from time to time.
Gibbon pointed out in his great masterpiece:We are in the hands of powerful vested interests with minds that are unsoiled by toil and uncontaminated by experience".The more I read what is happening to us, the more sure I am that poor old Gibbon was right. We are witnessing (Good Lord! I have been speaking for 10 minutes!) the most vicious attack on the Welfare State and the public sector since the hungry 'thirties. I will not quote the Budget cuts. I want to cut this speech down to about 14 minutes, if I can. The cash limits which have been introduced are a great trick. Let me be fair and point out that the Labour Government—I do not want this thrown back at me—used them in 1976 and I did not like it. However, it is something that can hide in local government expenditures. It is making local government try to save £2 billion in cuts. Maiden speakers and other speakers have quoted examples regarding local authorities. In Staffordshire there were cuts in the fire service and in the nursery schools and the people are beginning to protest. There are people who have voted Conservative who have come to me 128 and said so, and who have also said that they did not expect this approach to be made.
Another matter worth mentioning is that a summary of the cuts in themselves is quite terriffic. The 1979–80 cuts involve a 3 per cent. reduction in Civil Service manpower; a 3 per cent. reduction in cash limit expenditure, which includes rate support grants in the local authorities and a general 8 to 9 per cent. squeeze; a £1.6 million cut in spending programmes and £1 billion worth of sales in the public sector. That, if ever one had a nefarious policy, is like a farmer selling his seed corn. We are selling assets. God knows what kind of food we shall get on the motorways. It is bad enough at present. They probably will not be open on Sundays. That is the first move.
If the Conservative Government last beyond 1980—they may not—there will be a 10 to 20 per cent. cut in Civil Service manpower; a 5 per cent. cut in 1980–81 in the rate support grant and another £4 billion to £5 billion cut again in the whole of the spending programme. No wonder Maynard Keynes said this—nobody likes Keynes now; the fashion is Friedman or someone like that. This is not Davies of Leek; this is Maynard Keynes:The decadent international but individualistic capitalism in whose hands we find ourselves is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous—and it doesn't deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it and are beginning to dispise it. But when we consider what to put in its place we are extremely perplexed.That is the matter to which this House should be attending. It should create an historic occasion. It should be discussing the matter less from a party political point of view and more with a philosophical approach. This House could justify its existence by taking a Keynesian attitude to the system of society in which we live. However, our Holy Grail is national productivity, and there is many a problem in that connection. I had better finish soon, although I would like to go on. It is tempting to continue, but do not worry.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, the man down the road, the guru, the Wedgie Benn of the Tory Party, is Sir Keith 129 Joseph. He says—God, this is terrible—that there are six poisons. There is some thing funny about that. Is there a doctor in the house? Sir Keith Joseph says that unions poison the economy. That is the language of the deluded. Sir Keith Joseph, Industry Secretary, in a radio interview said that apoliticised trace union movement, associated with Luddism"—your Lordships all know what this is—was one of the six poisons responsible for Britain's ills. Look how he thrusts it on to them. He went on to say that the other five poisons were excessive Government expenditure; high direct taxation—and that is untrue because we are not the highest taxed in Europe by any means; egalitarianism (a beautiful word); excessive nationalisation and anti-enterprise culture. He said that it was easy or possible to get some of the poisons out of the country's system by tackling the trade union movement. Some noble Lords say, "Hear, hear!" It is a bit moronic.
I wish to raise a question about Luddism and take as an example the silicon chip. Let us consider the telecommunications industry and what will happen to families in that connection. In 1967 there were 99,400 people employed in telecommunications, in telegraph and telephones. By 1976 that figure had fallen to 73,600, but even if the industry managed to maintain the same level of output, employment could drop 10,000 more by the 1990s. Another startling example is cash registers. When one shops in the big stores the registers add up straight away. As regards the mechanised parts of those machines the 1975 annual report showed that in five years the development of those new machines had led to a reduction of the workforce from 37,000 to 18,000. It is not Luddism when there is a protest about that. It is nothing to do with Luddism; it is the fear of mankind.
We have now reached a pitch—and I wish I had time to develop this point—where I guarantee a three-day week in the pits cutting coal well would provide a bigger output of coal than we are getting the way we are working today. Mankind has entered a different trend of history and Members of this House not over-whelmed by party politics should have more debates about it. We may be wrong 130 as regards many of our answers, but we should have more debates trying to find answers to the problem of productivity that is growing all over the world in relation to the massive increase in population. That way, and only that way, will provide happiness for the family.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, that we ought to spend more time thinking about the consequences of the new technology in terms of its effects on not just the family, but on the whole of our civilised life. However, I shall not today follow him in quite that vein. I shall speak, as is my custom, on a few matters which worry me. I wish to begin my remarks by congratulating the three maiden speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—I cannot call him that, I shall call him Reg, as I have always called him—and the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, who have made three very good maiden speeches, which means that in future we shall hear many good speeches in your Lordships' House. I hope that they will attend and give us regularly the type of speeches which they have given today.
In Monday's Financial Times I read that the family food bill had risen by 15 per cent. in the last 12 months. In fact a survey of mine, privately carried out, suggested that most of that rise occurred in the last six months. When the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, spoke he pointed out how he had noticed most of the rise in the last three months. Some of the increase, although not all of it, is due to Government policy. The extra 5 per cent. devaluation of the green pound; the acceptance of a rise in EEC food prices and the increase in the price of milk, are but three examples. It is not only food that has gone up in price; the cost of clothing has also increased. I know I shall be told that VAT does not apply to children, but it applies to children over the age of 13 or 14. As the charging of VAT depends on size, it applies to many children who are much younger than that. However, in any case the family does not consist only of children; the family consists of parents and children.
131 I want to move to the vexed question of housing. Here I have the impression—I may well be wrong—that there is not the awareness there should be of the extent to which poor housing can have deleterious effects on the health, education and development of children. I may be wrong—and I shall be glad to discover that I am wrong—but that is my impression. A survey carried out by the National Children's Bureau showed that children living in houses which lack a bath, an inside toilet and hot water are slightly more likely to suffer from non-asthmatic chest complaints than children living in houses with those amenities. In fact, any doctor will confirm that.
Overcrowding also affects the educational development of children. In another survey, the National Children's Bureau found that 11-year old children living in overcrowded houses have their arithmetical ability retarded by six months compared with children living in less crowded conditions. Again that is quite under standable. Yet one in eight of our 11-year old children live in overcrowded conditions. In that same survey children in families which do not have their own bath, inside lavatory and hot water were found to have their arithmetical ability retarded by 10 months compared with children in families which have those amenities. Yet again one in eight of our 11-year-olds live in such conditions.
The National Children's Bureau also found that 16-year old children living in overcrowded houses are significantly more likely to be school truants and to have a lower actual attendance rate than children living in less crowded conditions, even when the effect of social class is removed. Another analysis also showed that children in overcrowded conditions are more than twice as likely to be reported by their teachers as delinquent and aggressive than children who are not living in overcrowded conditions. Of course, bad housing can end in divorce.
Yet there are 800,000 families in this country who live in houses that are officially unfit for human habitation and 1 million families live in houses that lack hot water, a bath or an inside toilet. It is estimated that 1 million children live in bad housing conditions. One in six of our 11-year-old children share a bed. 132 The last Government indicated that 300,000 new dwellings would need to be built every year, and it is estimated that a further 400,000 houses would need to be rehabilitated every year if we are to come to grips with this problem.
Yet what do we find? One of the first acts of this Government was to cut £320 million off the housing budget for England and Wales. That is not all. They requested local authorities to indicate the effects of the 2½ per cent. additional cut this year and 5 per cent. cuts in each succeeding year, and also of a further option of 5 per cent. and 7½ per cent. in 1980 and 1981. That shows a callous indifference to the basic need which good housing represents. Moreover, these requests to local authorities were extended to education and personal social services.
I shall deliberately quote to your Lordships from a circular which Mrs. Thatcher issued in 1972 when she was Minister of Education. I quote from paragraphs 19, 20, 21 and 28. In paragraph 19 she said:The value of nursery education in promoting the social development of young children has long been acknowledged. In addition, we now know that given sympathetic and skilled super vision children will also make great educational progress before the age of five".In paragraph 20 she said:The opportunities which the new policy offers for families living in deprived areas, both urban and rural, in bringing up their young children will be particularly important".In paragraph 21 she said:The extension of nursery education will also provide an opportunity for the earlier identification of children with special difficulties which, if neglected, may inhibit their educational progress".Finally, in paragraph 28 she said:All children can gain from nursery education. But it is particularly valuable for children whose home and life are restricted, for whatever reason".I do not believe that Mrs. Thatcher has changed her views, but she is presiding over a Government whose policy will have the effect of restricting the development of nursery education—that very nursery education which she so strongly advocated when she was Minister of Education.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, on a point of information for the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, to whom I always enjoy listening, it is not the Government's 133 policy that nursery education should stop. All the economies will do is slow down the pace at which the number of nursery school places are provided.
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, I said that their policy will "restrict the development of" nursery education. The noble Baroness has merely confirmed that and I thank her. That is not all. There is also a danger that there will be an increase in the cost of school meals and perhaps even the loss of school milk.
I want to dilate on these two matters for a couple of minutes because again, although I have heard a lot said about this at various times and in various places, I am not sure of the extent to which it is realised what could be the consequences of this either reduction in the provision of, or large increase in the cost of, these school meals. So far as school milk is concerned, again, in terms of small children its provision is a very important contribution to their health. In the case of school dinners, on which I said I wanted to dilate for a couple of minutes, what we are likely to have is probably an increase in the cost rather than an abolition.
An increase in the cost will greatly increase the burden on the family because of course it will affect the family income. Since the statutory duty to provide it is what will be removed, there will be different ways in which different authorities will deal with it. There are lots of dangers. There is the question of its effect on working mothers, which has already been mentioned. Some children might have to return to empty houses. I should have thought that the possibility of the child not coming back is very great; that is, staying at home and not going back to school. It is realised that in fact some children may not eat at all. They may have to go without a meal as a consequence of this. I know that when the noble Baroness replies she will indicate that that is not their intention. But one is always guilty of the consequences of any act one commits. In the case of the Government they will not be able to blame an absence of knowledge, because lots of people and many organisations have been drawing their attention to these consequences. I do not intend to go further on this.
I had intended to say a little more on the effect of the cuts in the Health Service. 134 My noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell has dealt with it to some extent. I just want to say that this is not only a problem of the inability to get a bed in the hospital. There are other dangers which are probably worse. There is the danger that there may not be sufficient staff in a hospital, particularly nursing staff. You may find yourself in a ward with an inadequate supply of nurses, or what is in some respects possibly worse, there may well be enough nurses but they are not trained. This is another possible consequence. In fact, since I know the suggestions of some area health authorities as to how they will deal with the cuts, I think this is a likely consequence of the cuts in the Health Service; plus the fact that the Health Service have to pay the increased VAT.
Moreover, there is the question of the increase in prescription charges—an additional burden. Some of these burdens could have been lightened by a substantial increase in child benefit. The Government have not done that. Speaking personally, I am waiting with interest for the reply of the noble Baroness to the question that was put by my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell. I hope that at least the Government will recognise that they have a method of ameliorating to some extent the consequences of their other actions. I expect that when the noble Baroness replies she will give us the usual talk about the economic reasons for the cuts. I hope she does not waste too much of our time on that. I do not accept it, but that is not the point. The real point is that the family could have, and should have, been given priority in the Government's planning. The question I want her to answer is not whether it is necessary to adopt the economic policy that is being adopted, but whether it is absolutely necessary to allow the family to be punished in this way, and whether the Government could have given priority to the family in their planning.
I do not accept that the cuts needed to be right across the board. I know that the Government do not accept that, because they have increased expenditure on the Armed Services and on the police. Therefore, what I am saying is that the safeguarding of the family should be given at least as much priority as law and order. Frankly, I contrast the danger of the possible reduction in the youth service 135 with the short, sharp remedial treatment which is threatened for the youngsters. Again, I am not arguing about the merits or demerits of that. What I say is that I believe that prevention is better than cure.
Finally, I cannot exempt the Government from the opprobrium they deserve for the way in which they behave towards the families of immigrants. It is no use claiming to be a strong upholder of family life, and then to make it difficult for families to be united. That is no good at all. I am afraid that the Government have so far not covered themselves with glory in their treatment of the family. All I shall say at this stage is that there is time for them to recover. I hope they will seize it.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ Baroness MASHAM of ILTON
My Lords, even though the noble Lord is not here at the moment, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, for instigating this debate, which enables us to bring up matters of concern in your Lordships' House. I should like to make it known to your Lordships how grateful I have been to the noble Lord for the considerable assistance he gave me during his time in office at the Department of Health and Social Security. I am happy to say that many of the difficult and tragic cases which came my way and which had been neglected by local authorities were solved, and I am sure that would not have been the case without the help of investigation from the DHSS.
I am pleased to see that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will be speaking for the Government in this debate I know she cares about families in need. I hope that as a Minister she will be able to give us some assurance that all the rumours that are going around are not correct. On Monday a headline in the Yorkshire Post read, "Disabled face 'horrific' job cuts". I am sure every one knows the saying, "A disabled person can mean a disabled family". The options listed were: abandon the quota scheme, cut the disablement resettlement service, abolish the disabled advisory committee, close the employment re habilitation centres, cut training at specialist residential colleges and save on sheltered employment. This publicity has worried many people.
136 I am sure that with more incentive and better organisation money can be saved in many Government departments. I took a young ESN girl on a job creation scheme some months ago. One morning one of the administrators of the scheme spent about two and a half hours with her, and said to me afterwards, "Barbara is not interested in boys". I knew only too well that that was not correct and it seemed to me that a great deal of time had been wasted. Also, far too many officials were involved with each individual case, causing confusion all round. To cut services across the board with no research and with no alternative plan for disabled people would be a quite retrograde step.
I wish very much to bring to your Lord ships' notice today the present plight of one of our most famous hospitals, and this can and does have very serious effects on the family. I must declare an interest as I am an ex-patient and, as chairman of the Spinal Injuries Association, many of our members who are fathers, mothers and children rely on it as their lifeline. The part of the hospital to which I now refer is the National Spinal Injuries Unit at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Aylesbury. This unit at present serves the whole of the South of England, with many patients from all parts of England and many parts of the world.
The spinal unit treats patients who are paralysed from spinal cord injuries. They come to be paralysed through road accidents, when serving in our Armed Forces, by way of industrial injuries, at work on oil rigs, many through sporting injuries, from falls downstairs or out of trees or from windows and buildings. The cord can also be damaged by disease or a medical condition such as a thrombosis in the spinal canal. When these accidents happen it is a traumatic experience and shock for all the family, when one of its members is paralysed from the neck or back down. Expert treatment is needed to prevent pressure sores, con tractures, urinary complications and thrombosis. Family support and advice are essential.
This spinal unit, which for years has been overworked and understaffed, with buildings which have long outlived their useful life, is part of the Oxford Regional Health Authority. The DHSS is aware 137 that in the South of England two more spinal units are planned. At present there is a shortage of at least 100 beds for spinal patients. If spinal patients stay in general hospitals all sorts of complications often arise, one of the greatest being depression through lack of inspiration from similar patients Last winter, when the snow fell, some of the roofs fell in on patients. In August, there was a staff freeze with the result that no patients could be admitted in that month. Now there is a further crisis. The unit has been told to close a ward, and it was suggested that they should close the one women's ward, with the children's annex, which was recently upgraded by voluntary money.
The unit has been told to close 25 out of its 156 beds, yet it is supposed to treat new injuries and look after about 6,000 paraplegics, who often have complications with which general hospitals cannot cope. A 16 per cent. cut seems quite extraordinary when there is already a shortage of 100 beds and no new units yet built. When patients have to remain in general hospitals, their overall treatment is often prolonged, costing a great deal more money. It must surely be the right policy to get patients correctly treated and returned to their families as soon as possible.
All of us who are involved know the great struggle and hardship which severe injury imposes on families. We know the need for new units to take the stress off Stoke Mandeville, but in the immediate future the hospital staff need their morale boosted, not flattened into the ground. The patients, and their families, need reassurance that they will be treated. There is to be a meeting on 7th November, where the decision to close a ward will be taken, and I urge the Minister to try to take an interest before that date. The unit has been starved for long enough by a region that seems to be more interested in the Oxford City hospitals; but perhaps this is inevitable as most of the patients come from outside the region.
It is possible that a fund-raising campaign could help this unit, but unless something happens soon, due to the continuous struggle for survival, the people who care will have lost the energy needed. If voluntary money is raised for any special project, there must be assurances that it will go for that purpose 138 and will not get swallowed up in the vast pool of the National Health Service administration. I would ask the Minister whether the responsibility for a national unit should be left to a local area. Our members of the Spinal Injuries Association do not think so; it has just not worked.
I end on another matter. Last week in Hull mothers protested at the withdrawal of the attendant at a school crossing. Unless children have protection from the terrifying monster lorries which charge up and down the roads and through the streets and from murderers who prowl behind hedges, no doubt mothers will run to their doctors in ever-increasing numbers for valium to dull their senses or will end up with a nervous breakdown. For many years people have been educated to the fact that the State will provide. Volunteers have often been shunned and discouraged. If the State can no longer provide, then the statutory bodies should help rehabilitate society into being more independent and able to help itself, but it is a terrible country if those who cannot help themselves are not supported and cared for and given a life with dignity.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to the three maiden speakers whom we have heard today. I think we have had a very remarkable afternoon. In my speech I shall concentrate upon the effects that the Government's policies on education will have on the family. There will be financial, social, and health effects. First, I wish to refer to school meals. I know that this matter has been mentioned before, but I should like to go into a little more detail. The Bill about to be published will, I understand, give local authorities freedom to charge what they like, to provide whatever sort of meal they like, with whatever nutritional content they like. I hope that the Bill will not absolve them from the obligation to provide a free meal for children whose families are below a certain income level; that would appal me. The relief of individual poverty should surely be a national responsibility, and I ask the Minister for specific assurances on this. If it is the Government's policy to take away the statutory duty to provide free meals, I hope that the local authority 139 associations will get together and decide on a uniform pattern for the whole country.
Last year, 1,159,000 children had free meals—14 per cent. of all children attending school. The hot mid-day meal is for many children the main, and only, proper meal of the day, as my noble friend Lord Underhill has already said. There is plenty of evidence for that. The cost of whatever sort of meal is involved is bound to go up by a large percentage, and families on low incomes, particularly those with several children at school, will be very hard hit indeed, and probably just will not be able to afford the higher charge.
An article in New Society on 9th August this year suggestedthat a price increase of 25p or 30p would, on past trends, lead to a decline of a third, possibly a half, in the number of children paying for meals".An analysis of the take-up of school meals in 1977–78, published in the Centre for Environmental Studies Review in May this year suggested that it will be the children from lower income families who would no longer be able to take school meals, and its tentative conclusion was,that the free school meals scheme is not sufficiently generous to cater for all families who could not afford paid meals".It seemed from this that the price charged deterred a significant number of poorer families who did not receive free meals. The health of our children will suffer.
Let the children go home, some say. This is often physically impossible if the school is some distance from the home, and many mothers work not just for the pleasure of it, but to earn enough to keep the family solvent. Many mothers would prefer to stay at home. DHSS figures show that the number of two-parent families going below the poverty line would be trebled if the wife did not earn. The alternative of giving children cash to buy what they like at a local shop seems to me highly undesirable both from a health point of view and from the point of view of creating bad relations with the local community as well as possible trouble in the streets. Let them take sandwiches, some say. Sandwiches are cold comfort on a cold winter's day.
In talking of reducing public expenditure it often seems to be ignored that cuts and 140 a reduced service have been the pattern for the past three years. I obtained figures of my own LEA showing that £666,000 has been cut from the school meals service since 1976. The total budget is currently £3.7 million, and to achieve the Government's target of savings the authority reckons that it will have to cut a further £1.7 million. The charge will have to go up very considerably to meet that and the food value will inevitably go down. The effect on family finance and children's health will be disastrous. If the services are slashed, if the take-up is less, a number of school meals staff will be unemployed. Nearly all of them will be women, and probably wives contributing that little extra that keeps the family going.
I want to refer next to school transport. Again, I understand that freedom is to be given to provide, or not to provide, and to charge. The ideal of free education for all, accepted since the 1944 Act, is demolished. I guess that most authorities will put on a charge, preferring this to cuts in staff and capitation, and that they will think that the fairest way is to charge a flat rate, that being the easiest to administer and collect. I again asked my LEA the position there. Over the last three years it has made a cut of £81,000 by a reduction in discretionary transport, ignoring in many cases strong protests from irate parents who feared traffic hazards. The authority is expecting to make a further cut of half a million pounds in 1980–81 from a total budget this year of £2 million. To achieve this, a flat rate of about £12 a term would have to be asked for; £1 a week if there is only one child. The incentive from the income tax cuts of about £1.30 per week for the average family is not going to last long.
There are uncertainties of course. Families living not too far from the school may decide to drive. Traffic around schools could become more dangerous. The numbers going on the school bus might go down and fares therefore might go up. Those living in rural areas will, as so often, be penalised. Will there be free transport for those below a certain income level? Will that be left to local decision? Will the Minister please tell us?
I wish to turn to nursery education, which also has already been mentioned. 141 The building programme has been cut from £5.9 million to £4 million. The Labour Government's target of getting 50 per cent. of three-year-olds and 90 per cent. of four-year-olds into nursery education by 1982–83 will go by the board. The chance of using empty classrooms—and there are plenty of them in primary schools as rolls fall—will not be taken because the staff, though they exist, will not be employed. From announcements already made by local authorities it appears that 22 have mentioned cuts in nursery education, five of them abandoning all provision. This is despite what the noble Baroness has just said about the Government's intention. The many other authorities which have named anything from £1 million to £4 million, but have not specified where the axe will fall, will no doubt be lopping off some—we hope not all—nursery education.
The children in our nursery schools, the children who need nursery education, are for the most part the disadvantaged: the handicapped, the children from one-parent families. It is very short-sighted policy to deny these children a good start in life. They need the care and stimulation that good nursery education gives. The parents need relief from day-long care if their children are handicapped, and the single parent needs the chance to earn something to help both pride and pocket. The savings to the nation will be small now, but the cost in future could be very large indeed.
I heard rumblings that local authorities might be given freedom in the new Bill to charge for nursery schooling. Will the Minister reassure us that this will never be allowed——
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, it might be helpful if at this point I were to say that it is not our intention to include in the forthcoming Education Bill a pro vision to allow local education authorities to charge for nursery education.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, I am very relieved to hear that; I thank the Minister very much.
Next I want to speak of community education, adult education, and the Youth Service. These have been favourite targets for Conservative cuts, and in many parts 142 of the country cuts have already been made. Mark Carlisle told the TUC a short time ago that adult education would take a major share of cuts in 1980–81. These activities are looked on—mis-guidedly, in my opinion—as fringe activities, and the service has already been asked to take a disproportionate amount of reductions. In some areas the service has been emasculated. For many people attendance at adult classes is the only significant activity outside work. They may be seeking to enhance and update skills, or improve their general social and personal confidence.
The adult literary classes that have done such invaluable work spring to mind. Retirement is brightened by this provision. Women whose children are off their hands and who perhaps are feeling a little bored and lonely gain a new lease of life from the companionship and interest that they get in this way. In a society in which leisure time is increasing, this service is going to be needed more and more to keep people sane and happy. We do not want the alarmingly large number of those who suffer from mental illness, with all the misery and expense that that entails, to be increased. If costs escalate, as they well may if the service is not to vanish, again it will be the less well-off, those without cars (because already transport to centres has been stopped in many places), those in hospital and the disadvantaged who will suffer. Family life will be less rich, more difficult, more prone to irritation and frustration.
I fear for the future of this service. It appears that a disproportionate cut of considerably more than 5 per cent. is to be made in next year's rate support grant settlement for adult education. Where are the Secretary of State's sympathies on these matters? What are his views? When, in February 1969, there was a debate in another place deploring Cheshire County Council's decision to cease all evening classes for one year—this at a time when the Russell Report and the Open University were being set up—Members of Parliament from all parties joined forces to berate Cheshire. Lord Boyle, then Sir Edward, expressed support for adult education, stressing its value in providing second chances. He said: 143We are not just talking about courses, we are talking about people".There was only one Member that day who backed the suspension of Cheshire's evening classes—the Member for Runcorn, Mr. Mark Carlisle.
My Lords, if the adult side of community education has suffered, I think the Youth Service has suffered more. The number of community educational staff in my area has gone down from 83 to 54, and the youth tutors form the larger part of that reduction. Clubs have been open for fewer nights; part-time and voluntary helpers cannot get the support they once had. Imaginative schemes have had to be abandoned. There was a very good scheme which two policemen, I think, started up with the lads from a housing estate where there had been a lot of vandalism. They organised for them a lot of things with motor bikes, and they asked the education committee for a small grant to help them. It was not given.
I saw that Mr. MacFarlane, at the Conservative Conference, had to face the youth lobby. He said that the Youth Service could not escape the cuts in public expenditure, and he looked to industry and commerce to make a greater effort to help young people. But when a representative from the National Association of Youth Clubs asked him to spell out the kind of aid that industry and commerce could give, Mr. MacFarlane could not do it. This representative complained that they were suffering froma savage moral-sapping cut in our grant".Another youth worker, who had given 27 years of service, said,The shutters are coming down",and gave examples of huge rises in the costs of hiring accommodation which could put some clubs virtually out of action.
My Lords, I do not know how much communication, if any, there is between Mr. Macfarlane and the Secretary of State, but a rather different account came from the Secretary of State on 17th October when he was speaking to the National Youth Bureau. He said:The Government's overall expenditure plans for 1980–81 will be published very shortly, but I can tell you now that in drawing them up we did not assume any reductions in local authority expenditure on the Youth Service…Whatever 144 assumptions we make the authorities must be free to make their own choice of priorities. I would only ask them to bear one consideration especially in mind in assessing their support for the Youth Service. That is that investment in local voluntary organisations yields a large bonus in the sense of unleashing a store of voluntary effort. Conversely, if support is withdrawn, that effort is lost. I think it would be a great pity if the voluntary organisations were made a prime target of expenditure reductions".My Lords, the Government may assume no reductions, but the local authorities are most certainly making them—and all this when the Government are making such a song and dance about law and order.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Pitt that prevention is better than cure, and surely it is wise to keep young people off the streets and out of the pubs when teenage drinking is becoming a really big problem. A report from the National Youth Bureau out this last week puts all this better than I can:The Youth Service through its work with young people at risk can reduce spending on custodial institutions".It points out that if young people are accommodated in custodial units the cost is over £5,000 per person per year. The noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, made this point, and so did my noble friend Lady Phillips. Surely retrenchment on the Youth Service, expected to be 30 per cent. in 1980/81, is one of the most foolish of all retrenchments; and, on top of that, there are cuts in the youth opportunities programme and STEP, the special tem porary employment programme. The report comments:The reduction in STEP funding seems likely to mean the withdrawal of facilities from those young people who are seriously disadvantaged—the unemployed youngsters living in inner city and urban areas".I know, too, that the NSC are worried about the projected size of manpower cuts in the Civil Service. If those cuts are made sweepingly across the board, they could be very damaging. Arbitrary cuts are ridiculous: they must have people there to arrange the programmes for the unemployed. The effect on families where there are unemployed youngsters needs no elaboration.
My Lords, I want to finish on the overall effect of the Government's educational policies on women, because I believe this is one of the most serious aspects of the Government's actions, 145 and means real discrimination against women. I have already mentioned the effect changes in the school meals service and nursery education can mean to a mother who needs to work. There is also the need for retraining, both to bring up to date women who have not been working for some years because of childbearing and rearing, and to train women, made redundant for one reason or another, in new jobs. The TOPs, the training opportunity programmes—excellent programmes—have had their budgets cut, just when the need will be greater; and every LEA, I suspect, will be reducing the money it puts into its budget for discretionary awards. Mine will have cut £180,000 in the three years to 1980/81. The picture in Surrey is similar—£65,000 this year. I am sure that is the general theme.
This hits the mature woman particularly hard. As the Equal Opportunities Com-mission says:Much more money is currently spent on men than on women in post-school education…and because the prime source for women wishing to retrain is discretionary awards, which are to be hit hard, the gulf will be widened further still. The system by which mandatory grants are awarded is based on the traditional male career pattern where qualifications are gained early on and the working life is uninterrupted. The traditional female career pattern, taking into consideration a period of child rearing, is clearly at variance with this, and the system of discretionary grants has enabled mature women to study, qualify and make a valuable contribution to the community in later life. For teachers, in-service training cuts will severely affect the ' woman returner 'Then, again:Most women obtain their further education through the adult education service, and for many women this service provides the only viable opportunity for post-school education. Because women are generally not as mobile as men, institutes of adult education situated within the local area often become the centre for their continuing education '. And many adult educa-tion teachers are women working part-time…".That is what the Equal Opportunities Commission says. So in both these ways, and by less provision by the Open University, women are to be ill done by, and that is not good for family life.
My Lords, there are other education proposals of this Government that I take issue with, but I have endeavoured to stick to those which have a direct bearing on the family's finances and the family's physical and mental wellbeing—and those are alarming enough. Do the Government 146 really know what they are setting in train? When one looks at the proposals for expenditure on an assisted places scheme, and when one looks at the tax cuts that benefit only the family with an income of £10,000 a year and above, can your Lordships possibly think that this Govern ment—led, ironically, by a married woman and a mother—have got their priorities right?
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Baroness STEWART of ALVE CH URCH
My Lords, may I first congratulate our maiden speakers and say that I hope to hear them on many occasions again. May I also thank my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell for introducing this debate and for expressing so clearly and with such imagination the views on this subject that are held by most of us on these Benches. I should like to limit my comments to two matters of educational policy which directly and indirectly are of great importance to family life. The Government's plan to provide assisted places in independent schools for bright pupils is based on the fallacious belief that by means of interviews and examinations one can make an accurate assessment of the ability and occupational potential of young people at the age of 11 or 12. It is true that it may he possible to identify a child who is a potential genius, or one who is mentally defective. But the achievements of most young people during their school days depend largely upon the encouragement they receive from their parents and teachers, the degree of confidence that they have in their own ability, and whether they think that hard work will be worth while from their point of view. It is unlikely that Henry Moore would have become the greatest sculptor in the world if he had not received advice and great encouragement from his parents in the Yorkshire town where his father, who had left school at nine years of age, worked as a coal miner.
If this Government achieve their ends, the young people who do not obtain places, with or without grants, in in-dependent schools will go to comprehensive schools where they will be regarded by many Conservatives as second-class citizens. A small proportion of them will take O-level and A-level examinations and go to a university or to further education colleges on leaving school, 147 but many more will leave school at 16 unaware of their educational potential, and of the value of O-level and A-level school leaving certificates.
Having spent many years as a WEA tutor and a school governor, I am convinced that the great majority of the population in this country fail to reach their educational potential. This is partly due to the fact that it has not been possible for teachers to give them, during their school days, the individual attention which all young people need. This in no way reflects adversely on the teaching profession, for which I have the greatest respect; but if all children of every range of ability were to receive the individual attention they need, we should need smaller classes and many more teachers than we have today. We should need also a far closer relationship between parents and teachers, not only in comprehensive schools but in primary and infant schools.
The comprehensive school of which I am a governor is fortunate in having not only parent governors but an active parent-teacher association which provides many opportunities for its members to meet and discuss the needs of the school. I hope it will not be long before all schools have such committees and co-operating between parents and teachers.
In another educational sphere, I am much concerned to hear that this Government's policy may lead to cuts in the grants to adult education provided by the universities and the Workers' Educational Association. More than 20,000 adult students take part each year in London University's extra-mural classes. No academic qualifications are required by students who join these classes which cover a very wide range of subjects. In addition to classes in economics and sociology and literature and art, there have been special courses for men and women engaged in social work and communication, and also courses have been organised for magistrates, police officers, and tenants of GLC housing estates.
The participation of the universities in adult education has been of great value not only to students but to the universities themselves. As R. H. Tawney said in his book on equality: 148Civilisation is not the business of an elite alone but a common enterprise which is the concern of all".University education is no longer reserved for the well-do-do and the intellectual elite. Men and women of all ages, many of whom are parents and grandparents, join university tutorial classes. Unlike pupils at school and internal university students, they are under no obligation to continue to attend the class if they find that it is boring or that it does not provide for their needs. The students meet their tutors as equals and as a result the universities gain as much from these classes as the students themselves. I earnestly hope that there will be no cuts in grants to the universities' extra-mural departments, and that the Government will abandon their plan to provide assisted places in independent schools, and will give thought to the educational needs of children and adults as a whole.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
My Lords, may I first add my congratulations to the three maiden speakers this afternoon, each of whom brought to us a particular and special personal experience which enriches our debate and each of whom we hope to hear again. It is strange (is it not?) that this is a debate on the family, the family which has always been upheld as the great symbol of the Conservative Party of Great Britain, and that it has elicited one speech from the Tory Back Benches. What has happened to the Tory Party so far as its concern for the family is expressed in this House? Is this not a worthwhile House in which to speak about the family? I think the answer to that is very easily encapsulated in the figures already given. I am not going to repeat the many excellent speeches on specialist subjects made this afternoon; but the fact that you can put on one side the £50 million that this Government are going to find as extra Government finance in order to support the private schools of this country while at the same time they are cutting down the money available for school milk, school meals, school transport, for the number of teachers and, above all, perhaps, for school books in the public sector of our education system, gives the answer in itself.
Yes, my Lords, the Conservative Party is concerned with the family—the families of those to whom it is paying out large tax 149 rebates, the familes with swimming pools for their horses. On the other side, among the vast majority of the children and the families of this country, the answer of the Conservative Party is to cut down public expenditure even when it means increasing the poverty of what we have heard this afternoon is in the region of one-third of our total population.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, before the noble Lord continues, I am sure that he will appreciate the fact that total Government expenditure this year is the same as last year. There is no diminution in the total sum being spent. This is a fact and we all have to face it.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
My Lords, I should like to know, if that is the case, whether that includes the extra cost imposed by VAT; or is the noble Baroness simply talking about a total sum and not the higher prices which have to be paid during this year for the provision of school books and for the provision (as my noble friend Lord Pitt has said) of many children's clothes? Is this all included in the total expenditure that the noble Baroness is speaking of?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I would make two points. There is no VAT on either books or children's clothes. That is one point. Secondly, total Government expenditure, in real terms, is as great this year as last year.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
My Lords, I accept the assurance of the noble Baroness that the sum is as great. Certainly the sum is not as great as it would have been if there had been a different result at the General Election. But I want to extend this argument with one or two personal examples and anecdotes. Only last week I was talking to a headmaster who had had docked from his annual expenditure this year a sum of £x, and he and the parent-teacher association had decided that they would hold a jumble sale in order to make this sum up. So they planned to hold the jumble sale in the school. They were told by the council that a new edict had gone out that if the school was used for any purposes, including school purposes, then rent had to be paid. In other words, the snake was eating its own tail. That, I 150 suggest, is typical of the kind of economy which this Government are conducting.
I do not want to go into the question of school meals because they have been so adequately dealt with; but there is one point arising from the danger of the cutting down or abolition of school meals. In the council area in which I live there has been a public declaration that there is a probability that the school meals service will be closed down completely. We have heard about the nutritional danger of this; but what happens to the children at lunchtime? I was chairman of the governors of a London comprehensive school with 1,350 pupils. At every governors' meeting we had the terrible task of trying to arrange the supervision of those children at lunchtime when there were school meals being provided. What happens if the school closes at lunchtime and there are no school meals? This is a real and immediate problem not just in the cities but also in the country areas and in the small market towns throughout this country. This is a social threat to the lives of the children in their societies.
Before I leave the educational issue—which has been adequately and extensively dealt with—there is one issue that I would like to bring to the attention of the noble Baroness who is going to reply. I understand—and perhaps she can confirm this—that in the first six months of this year 1.25 million fewer school books were bought than in the same period as last year. That is in the first six months of this year, before the cuts in expenditure began. Can she give us any estimate of the reduction in the number of school books that are going to be bought this year after the cuts have been applied than were purchased last year? What is her policy regarding the buying of school books in the public sector as distinct from the private sector?
One could go on. The comparison between income tax rebates on the one hand for the wealthy and the application of VAT on the other. Before the noble Baroness interrupts me again, I shall quote from the Child Poverty Action Group report of this week, that the income after tax enjoyed by childless couples has been increased since the last Budget by 10.6 per cent. of the average earnings of childless couples; 151 but for couples with four children the income has decreased by 8.6 per cent. Is that the Government's policy towards families? Is that the Government's policy towards children? We have seen and we are seeing, as my noble friend Lord Pitt pointed out, National Health Service hospital wards being closed while at the same time the Government are encouraging the use of private beds.
I should like particularly to pay tribute to the contributions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, and my noble friend Lady Loudoun, on the question of the disabled. I want to speak briefly on this issue in addition to what they so movingly put before us. I understood, and many people in public life understood, that the Government had virtually pledged that the money for the disabled would not be included in the cuts that they were organising. In their Manifesto the Conservative Party said this:Our aim is to provide a coherent system of cash benefits to meet the costs of disability so that more disabled people can support themselves and live normal lives".Yet it is reported—and I should like the noble Baroness to give us some answer on this—that the Manpower Services Commission is including the employment services of the disabled in its cut of £150 million during the current financial year. If that is so, that is a pledge dishonoured.
I would also refer the noble Baroness to the two speeches made in July and September by her colleague—and our ex-colleague—Mr. Reg Prentice who said that the disabled would have to play their part in the cuts that were being made in public expenditure. I would further refer her to the speech of Sir Keith Joseph at the conference at Blackpool when he said that we were not spending enough on the disabled for a civilised society, but the most that he could offer to civilise our society was to wait until the economy had recovered. How long do we have to wait? Is it the Government's policy to retain an uncivilised society until their hopeful schemes come to fruition some time in the future? In the meantime, what happens to the disabled?
Two final points which I do not believe have been mentioned in this debate. We are talking about the family life of all people in this country. How is the 152 Government's concern for family life, how is the Government's responsibility for the preservation and development of family life, assisted by their refusal to allow husbands and fiancés of British women to enter this country and settle with them in a family situation? Again I ask the noble Baroness: Is this the Government's policy? Do they intend to prevent British women from having their husbands and fiances in this country with them, or is this just a rumour? If they do intend to pursue this policy, how does that square with any concern for the preservation and development of family life? There is perhaps a rumour, but one that I should like the noble Baroness to scotch if it is untrue: it has again been reported that in the small firms with fewer than 20 employees a woman who leaves in order to have a baby will not—as she is now—be guaranteed her job hack at the end of six months.
Is this Government policy, or is it not? We are entitled to have an answer. If it is Government policy, is this assisting, particularly among a large number of single-parent families, the preservation and development of family life? I ask the noble Baroness to respond. I suggest that it has been convincingly proved through out this afternoon that the present Government were elected on a set of false and contradictory promises and that these have been exposed. They were elected, and I again congratulate them on putting their policy into practice. The sooner they put it into practice the sooner people's eyes will be opened; but so far as the old Conservative regard for the family is concerned, that must have been well and truly destroyed by now.
Let me say one word further on their own policy. As I understand it, the policy of the present Government is that the whole future of this country, including all families living in this country, depends essentially upon an industrial revival, which in itself depends upon increased investment. Investment in what?—not just machinery. Is it not investment in people? And must that investment in people not stem from concern, protection, development and fostering of family life in this country? Is that not in our economic interests, quite apart from the moral aspect? Does not the survival of this country as a society in which we enjoy the standard of living to which we have 153 become accustomed essentially depend upon investment in people? Are not the Government cutting that investment time after time after time for the vast majority of people while providing handouts for the meagre few?
I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, on the Front Bench. May I add perhaps one sly word following our exchange earlier this afternoon. Is it not important for our children to learn some thing about the world in which they live, and to learn that the world has become a hamlet now and not even a village? What are the Government going to do? Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young, could have a quiet word about this before the noble Baroness replies. What are the Government going to do in order to extend the social consciousness and the international consciousness which some of us have been trying to promote throughout the educational system and which the Government have now apparently brought to an end?—because there again the future of this country depends upon the consciousness of children in the kind of world in which they are living today and in which they will be living in the next 20 years.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, as the noble Lord has asked me a direct question, I will give him a direct answer to that. I think the most important thing that the educational system can do for all the nation's children is to equip them to face life as it is; to have good standards, to have good academic standards, to have good moral standards and standards of discipline and to train them for the jobs which are going to be available in the world. That should be of first and prime importance, and it should not be side-tracked by all sorts of statements which are really almost incomprehensible in their vagueness. I think we want to do something for children and that, if I may say so, is what parents really want for their children in this country.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
My Lords, I frankly do not understand what the noble Baroness is talking about. I understood that what she has been suggesting is precisely what I am talking about.
§ Lord HATCH of LUSBY
The committee I was referring to, which the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, knows about, was assisting the teachers' training colleges, teachers, universities, polytechnics—every form of educational institution in this country—to broaden horizons and to develop international understanding, and to teach teachers how to convey that international understanding to children. This is what I am talking about. That work, as I understand it from the answer this afternoon, has now been wantonly abandoned. I am simply pointing out that the future of the children in this country depends upon their consciousness of their role in the world in which they live, and I want to know what the Government are going to do to replace the work which this afternoon they have announced they have abandoned.
Finally, please, do open your eyes as a Government to the fact that, by your actions today, you are deepening the gulf between the two nations; and those two nations, as has been shown in Peter Townsend's book and in all the surveys which have been summarised during the past ten days, are, first, the majority of working-class families and children in this country and, on the other hand, the few who have benefited from your tax cuts in your Budget. Secondly, there is the division between the North and the South. If you look at all the figures in every independent inquiry that has been made, they all coincide in one respect—namely, that the depths of poverty are to be found in the North, in Northern Ireland, in the North-East, in the North-West and in Scotland. This is a division which was shown in the Election and it is one which I believe the Government are perpetuating by their policies towards the family.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord MCCARTHY
My Lords, I should like at this time of night to do three things as quickly as I can. First, I should like to congratulate the maiden speakers, as others have done. Secondly, I should like to summarise the essence of the attack which we have sought to make on Government policy so far tonight; and, thirdly, I should like to deal with one or two aspects of the debate, and in particular the impact of Government 155 policies on employment and the family, which I do not think has yet been fully discussed.
It is a great pleasure for me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, of Transport House, and the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, lately of another place, on the excellent speeches they have made. They have obviously given us the result of their experiences in local government, Parliament, Transport House and shopping queues. We welcome what they have said. We welcome their recruitment to our ranks and we look forward to hearing from them frequently. I would, though, find it a little surprising— that all three maiden speakers came from this side of the House; were it not for the fact that the great majority of speakers also came from this side of the House.
That means that I have to spend a little time saying something about the only speech which has come from the other side of the House so far: the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull. I thought she was very well named tonight. I thought she did her best for them: I thought she was faithful to what their policies were. I expected her to do that. It was not all that convincing, but I expected her to try. I think the remarkable thing about that speech was that even the noble Baroness admitted that things must get worse before they get better, or at least things must get more frustrating before they get better. The only trouble is that it gets increasingly difficult to believe that things are ever going to get any better when it is increasingly clear that they are getting worse every day. She also raised a notion, of which we have heard quite a lot from the representatives of her party in the other place, that since there is clearly going to be a reduction in public provision we must expect there to be an increase in private provision and that voluntary effort must now expand to take over what the State is not going to do any more.
The fact is, of course—and this has been borne out in many books, not only Professor Townsend's book—that the voluntary societies who perform an essential and indeed expanding role in social provision depend increasingly upon public provision themselves; that the 156 excellent ladies who man the Citizens' Advice Bureaux for nothing depend upon public funds to set them up; that the housing advice centres, and even Dr. Barnardo's, which incidentally is 40 per cent. Public funded, depend upon public provision.
§ Baroness FAITHFULL
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I specifically said that the figures that I gave did not include either grants from local authorities or payments by local authorities. The figures that I gave were entirely voluntary contributions.
§ Lord MCCARTHY
Yes, my Lords. Of course they were. They made up the other 60 per cent. My point is that public provision underpins the voluntary social services. As I was going on to say, even an organisation which one would think was at the very heart of the voluntary area of social service—the WRVS—raises no money at all of its own. So that voluntary provision depends upon the existence of earlier public provision.
Another point she made was that, somehow, we could perhaps supplement the voluntary provision in future by collections, by Bingos or by sponsored walks. You can always do that for popular causes. If you are trying to get money for a kidney machine or to do something about dyslexia, you can get people to pay for causes of that kind. But if you are trying to get money for alcoholics or to look after sex offenders it is a little more difficult. Moreover, the money you get is for new capital. But we have now reached a stage in the National Health Service where, if you really have its interests at heart, you have to think twice before you provide money for more capital equipment on a flag day. That will provide more kidney machins and more expensive capital equipment of all kinds, but only the State will provide the revenue to run it. It is very easy to provide £100,000 for an expensive piece of equipment by voluntary effort, but it may cost £300,000 a year to run it. You do not get money like that from voluntary provision, so there has to be an underpinning of State provision.
I turn to the second thing that I want to do tonight; that is, to talk about the essence of the debate that we have sought 157 to put before the House. In moving the Motion, my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell gave specific details of a whole range of cuts which have already been made in the National Health Service and in private social services—longer waiting lists, reductions in domiciliary care, cuts in training social workers, specific cuts in grants to voluntary bodies, specific cuts in school meals and so on. The only answer that we have had so far from the other side is, "We did not intend it to happen. It was not supposed to take place and it has nothing to do with us."He pointed to the fact that it was being done to finance regressive tax concessions, which were bound to make the rich richer and the poor poorer, and no answer on that has been given. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Banks, who spoke from the Liberal Benches, agreed, on the whole, with the substance of that charge. But he pointed, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, and others, to the importance of asking the Government tonight what they intend to do about child benefits, and I trust that we shall get an answer.
We then had more than 10 speakers from this side of the House, and the only speeches about which I should like to remind the House are those which did not merely fill out and develop the points made so well by my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, but actually widened the debate to cover new issues. In this respect, I would particularly remind the House of what the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, said about the consequences of the Government's policy so far as housing is concerned, and its effect on immigrant families and young people, also, his point about the need to have some sense of priorities. He said that if there are to be cuts, let us have some priorities. I shall come back to that, for I should also like to mention the noble Baroness, Lady David, who talked about the problems of education and gave a whole series of examples of cuts which we are told were not intended and were not supposed to happen.
The only point I want to add to this general debate so far is that we on this side of the House are not asking for the moon. We are not saying that the Government, given the economic situation which this country is in, should go out and meet all the demands for increases in 158 social and personal services. We know that there is an infinity of demand for new nursery schools, old people's homes and so on. It is a question of priorities. We know that this is a low growth economy. We know that we need to control the rate of increase in public expenditure.
I have no desire to go back over a whole series of measures which were introduced by recent Governments, many of them by the last Labour Government, in order to try to control and introduce priorities into the use of Government expenditure. I make no apology for cash limits. Until the introduction of cash limits, local authorities could send in supplementary estimates whenever they wanted and they were always paid. This is no way to run the social services. I also make no apology for the introduction of RAWPE into the National Health Service, which was intended to give more money to the under-privileged areas and less money to the more privileged areas. I make no apology for the manpower watch, which was introduced in the Department of the Environment. Until there was some control over the growth of public employment in local government, public expenditure could not be controlled at all. Above all, I make no apology for the introduction into the National Health Service of the principle of not meeting all the revenue consequences whenever additional capital was provided. The introduction of the revenue consequences of capital expenditure was an essential control in the public services, and we are not suggesting that all these things should go.
What we are saying is that there is no evidence at the moment that public expenditure is out of control. It is declining, and has declined since 1974 as a percentage of GNP. It has declined in volume less since 1976. The cash limits themselves were underspent in the last two years by 3 per cent. We are saying that even in this context it is only realistic and sensible to honour the proposals for very modest increases in the rate of real increase in Government expenditure, set out in the last Government's blue paper on expenditure plans. That is all we are saying.
We are saying that reductions in the volume of expenditure which is now being introduced by this Government is not 159 being introduced for reasons of control. It is not being introduced to enforce priorities. As has been said, it is being introduced for partisan and ideologically doubtful reasons, to reduce the marginal rate of taxation to 25 per cent., to find additional money for certain things. And let me say, while I am on this point, that it is just not true to suggest—in fact, it is devious in the extreme—that we are to have the same level of public expenditure in real terms in all the main services this year as last year. The Government intend to spend more money in a number of areas—on law and order, on defence and on private schools—and this is to come within the overall figure which they say is to remain the same.
Then, again, if the National Health Service continues as it has been continuing, it will need more money simply to stop where it is, because of the age structure of the population. No provision is made for that. Also, no one can tell what this Government are going to do, and how far they are going to fund the many references before the Clegg Commission. These references are not fully funded now. They were not supposed to be fully funded by the last Government, and we do not know what consequences that will have for the overall availability of funds in public expenditure. Above all, we do not know what is to happen to the value of money. We do not know what is going to be the value of the money we have available in the public sector if the level of inflation and the level of wage increases go on rising in the way that it looks as though they are rising at the moment.
So I move to the third point I want to raise: the effect of the Government's policies on employment. On the question of employment, I should have thought that we could have hoped to have a very large measure of agreement on all sides of the House. The employment situation in this country is desperate. Especially is it desperate in the medium term. The Treasury model tells us that we shall have 2 million unemployed by 1980—or, if it does not, the forecasters ought to be shot because every other model forecasts at least those figures. Also, if we are going to have unemployment at this level we know that we shall have much higher 160 levels of unemployment among young people. If the future resembles the past, we know that we are going to have roughly twice as much unemployment among young people as the average national figure, and we know that in certain parts of the country, as the noble Lord, Lord Hatch of Lusby, has reminded us, the level of unemployment there is going to be far, far greater.
It is in this context that one must turn to what this Government have suggested. The Manpower Services Commission has been asked to make a number of cuts. It was reported in the last edition of the Youth Aid Bulletin that on 13th June last the Secretary of State for Employment wrote to the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission thanking him for his co-operation in making cuts in the 1979–80 programme and asking the chairman what could be done to secure major changes, of the order of £100 million to £150 million, in each of the next three years—that in the present employment situation. He conceded that these were large savings and suggested that they should be finalised by late July. On 15th June he wrote again seeking significant reductions in the Manpower Services Commission staff and suggesting that this might be done by "performing functions less intensively, or curtailing them or dropping them altogether". In this way, said Mr. Prior, it should be possible to reduce staff expenditure by 10, 15 and 20 per cent. by April 1982. As a result of these two letters, the Manpower Services Commission's office prepared a paper. This indicated, they said, that cuts of this size would involve the ending of the special temporary employment programme during 1981, considerable reductions in existing training programmes, in grants and in ITB operating expenses. The Manpower Services Commission also calculated that to save £150 million it would be necessary to close a number of skill centres and reduce the size of the employment transfer scheme. Not unnaturally, the Manpower Services Commission were unanimous—we are speaking here not just of the TUC but of the CBI as well—in pressing the Government to minimise these cuts be cause of the rising tide of unemployment which they also must estimate will reach 2 million or so by 1980.
It seems to me that the time has come for the Government to exempt the Manpower 161 Services Commission and to exempt also the job creation scheme—which is small enough, in all conscience—from the consequences of these cuts. It seems to me that if there is any priority for the Government, this priority should be recognised. And it is not just a priority which is being asked for, as I say, by the TUC. This was a unanimous decision of the Manpower Services Commission. And the most awful thing of all is that this is being done in the name of an ineffective pay policy, required in order, we are told, to cure wage-induced inflation. Yet we all know that it will not cure wage-induced inflation; it will simply raise the level of unemployment.
Of course, nobody is saying—and I have not come here tonight to say—that it is easy to do much about unemployment at the moment. Unemployment rose under the Wilson Government; it rose during three out of the four years of the Heath Government; it rose under the last Labour Government until the last 12 months of that Government. It is caused by a whole range of things which I am certainly not going into at this time of the night. It is becoming extraordinarily difficult for Governments to do anything about unemployment, however much they may wish to do so.
But I say that it is insane; I say that it is immoral, in terms not simply of the family but in terms of the economic future of the country at this time, for a Government to give the active creation of unemployment a fundamental role to play in their policy. If you ask the Prime Minister, as she is always being asked, what is going to happen if people get large wage increases this year, you are told that there will just be more unemployment and that this has got nothing to do with the Government—as though, in some sense, it will be everybody's fault but the Government's if this happens. In fact, it will be the Government's fault. Because the Government, having declared that they have no need to seek trade union co operation and having rejected all other forms of pay policy, have no alternative but to sweat it out, whatever the cost to investment, competitiveness, unemployment and even family life. Those are some of the reasons why we have put this Motion before the House tonight, and I commend it to all noble Lords.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said at the opening of this debate this is the third debate that we have had on the family in three years. In 1976 we discussed the family on a Motion by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, and again in 1978 on a Motion introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, which I recall very well.
I should like to begin my remarks by congratulating the three maiden speakers whom we have heard this afternoon: the noble Lord, Lord Brooks of Tremorfa, the noble Lord, Lord Underhill—may I say to him that if his idea is that he made a non-controversial speech I shall tell all my colleagues that we had better fasten our safety belts when he decides to be controversial—and the noble Lord, Lord Galpern. I have listened with great interest to what they have had to say and I shall read it tomorrow in the Official Report.
Many of the issues which were raised in those debates have been raised here again this afternoon. That is to be expected and to be welcomed because any discussion of the family must touch on the most fundamental and enduring questions that we face as a society—the structure of society itself; the responsibility of parents for the upbringing of their children; the economic situation of men, women and children, particularly older children: their opportunities for work, the livelihood they gain from work, the support available to them when they are out of work ; and the major philosophical question about the role of the State in the economy and in the provision of all the services that families need: health, education, housing and social services in particular.
In the debate on the Loyal Address earlier this year in another place, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said:The family is the great unit of society… It is promoting the family which lies at the heart of our philosophy".I should like to state unequivocally at the start of this reply that we stand by this statement, and, despite the criticisms today, I am indeed glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has introduced his Motion.
163 Having listened, however, to the very many critical speeches which have been made this afternoon, I begin to think that some noble Lords opposite are really under the impression that there exists somewhere or other in Whitehall a crock of gold which, for some inexplicable reason, this Government are unwilling to distribute to the very many deserving causes which they have described at considerable length. The facts, however, are not like that. As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has said, we as a country are in a serious economic condition.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I will say now to the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, that I did appreciate a number of his statements, and that if he will contain himself in patience I shall come to them later on in my remarks. We as a country are in a very serious economic condition, living comfortably only by the accident of North Sea oil. We are now, with the exception of Italy and Ireland, the poorest country in Western Europe—and no wonder that there are so many poor people in this country; I find it quite as deplorable as anybody else who has spoken today—whereas 20 years ago we were the richest. Our economic growth is stagnant and, worse still, our factories today produce about the same amount as they did during the three-day week. Nobody can rejoice at this situation and nobody can want to do anything else but try to improve it. That is why we have made the revitalisation of the economy our over-riding priority, and in order to achieve this, enterprise must be encouraged and rewarded by the reduction of direct taxation. To meet this there must be cuts in Government expenditure. For the truth is that if only we could get economic growth in the economy then we would have the money for all the desirable projects that have been debated today. As it is, if the Opposition really want to help the poor and the needy they should not be complaining about the present economies—many of which they themselves would have introduced had they won the election—but encouraging both sides of industry to produce more. That is the only way to achieve better services.
164 The fact of the matter is, as I have already indicated, total Government expenditure is no less this year than last year in real terms. Indeed it would be interesting to know how a Labour Government, had one been elected, would have financed the extra £4,000 million of expenditure. Would they have put up income tax to 40 per cent., or would they have put up VAT to 20 per cent., or would they have had a combination of both? Or would they indeed have waited for the International Monetary Fund to step in again when the next crisis arose, to force the economies on the Government and to force the cutbacks that they would have had to make? Of course, much of the pain of the present economies is there because they are the end of a large number of economies that were introduced, not with any pleasure on anybody's part—certainly not on my part—in 1976 by the International Monetary Fund, and it is because we are obliged to make further economies on top of those that the situation today, as my noble friend Lady Faithfull so well explained is in fact a serious one in many parts of local government. I recognise that. That is the truth of our situation and we might all of us just as well face it and not pretend that there is some easy way to get infinitely better public services in this country.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, the noble Lord may say, Oh dear, dear ". I have listened with great patience to what has been said this afternoon, and I would say to him and to his colleagues that if they really think that by taking every last halfpenny away from every rich person in this country they will pay for the services they are under a misapprehension, because what the May election showed was that in fact, in order to pay for the services, income tax had to be very high for a number of what I think they and I would call "working people", and those working people did not like the high taxes. That was one of the reasons why the Conservatives won the election in May.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I would not be so sure that we would not win it now, because I believe in the common sense of the British people.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I am never certain about elections, but I am sure about the common sense of the British people and they know perfectly well how serious the situation is.
I have been asked about our priorities. In our Manifesto we gave two priorities: defence and law and order, which I believe all would agree are basic functions of the State. They are an absolute essential for families because without peace abroad and order at home little is possible at all. At the same time, it is neither possible nor desirable for individuals to provide these services for themselves.
Perhaps I should add a further priority; it is a change of attitude, and it is to our approach and a change of attitude on family policy that I now turn. We give the word "family" several meanings: the basic parent-child relationship, the wider blood and marriage relationships that spring from it—grandmothers, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, sisters and brothers—and the still wider social and neighbourhood networks based on friendships and sharedcommunityexperiences and problems. In all these senses we shall put the family at the forefront of our policies, and what these different conceptions of the family have in common is that they are society's own spontaneous and natural forms of organisation, its best and most enduring protection against loneliness, deprivation, instability and cruelty, and its best—indeed its only real—sources of energy and progress.
To the extent that our political structures help these vital natural resources our country will take a happier and more successful path forward. But over the years trends in government and in the development of public services have put these resources at risk. We have seen a gradual encroachment of the State and public agencies on the lives of individuals. Individuals have been encouraged to depend more on the public sector for employment, for cash support, for social 166 welfare of all kinds. Their sense of responsibility for themselves and their families, their powers of initiative, their ability and willingness to share and solve problems with neighbours, family and friends have all, to a certain extent, been undermined by the gradual but inexorable growth of the public sector, and sometimes frustrated by the unresponsive and bureaucratic structures of some of our public services. It is our aim to bring home to all individuals the extent to which they can and should take responsibility for their families and themselves.
We recognise, of course, that certain services need to be publicly provided for a large majority of the population, and that other services and support must be publicly provided for those whose circumstances make it necessary. I should like to reassure everyone that it is no part of our policies to dismantle or damage the major public services or to withdraw cash and other forms of support where it is genuinely needed. Nevertheless there are many times when an individual or a family must say: "How can I help myself?"and not, "What can the State or local government do for me?".
In discussing voluntary effort, the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, said that it was almost impossible to have voluntary effort without State funding. Of course, one of the difficulties is that we have now reached the situation where, because the State has played so large a part in our lives, there is nowhere else to go for a great deal of funding but to the State or to local government. However, one of our emphases must be the support of the voluntary services, and I hope to see an increase and growth of the whole of the voluntary movement as being one of the most cost-effective ways of providing many of the services which we have. If I may say so again to my noble friend Lady Faithfull, the examples which she gave are very helpful in this respect.
We must make clear to society as a whole that progress, creativity and stability are qualities that come from individuals, families and other spontaneous and natural social groupings working together, and they are not qualities that any Government can impose. In one of the first and most immediate roles of the family, the upbringing of children, I acknowledge that the role of 167 parents has in many ways become more difficult over the years. Society is more turbulent than it once was. Its intellectual and moral climate prevents anyone bringing up children with difficult problems and some of the advice available from expert sources is perhaps less than helpful. I am glad to say that few, if any, teachers, sociologists, doctors or social workers would go so far as the comment which a colleague of mine heard at a conference not long ago on family life:Children are far too important to be left to the family".But I believe that in general parents are doing what they have always done; namely, providing a basis of emotional security and discipline which is vital for the balanced development of their children. Highly skilled professionals—teachers, doctors, nurses and health visitors and in cases of serious difficulty or risk, the social services, all have an essential role to play and it is right that they should be available through the public sector. Because in today's more mobile society the experience of grand-parents in bringing up children is often not so readily available to young parents we should pay more attention to education for parenthood in our schools.
In saying this, neither I nor my colleagues believe that the State can or should provide everything. Where parents on their own cannot cope—for example, where both are out at work—there is a great deal of support available in local communities. Neighbourhood groups, pre-school play groups, family centres can all be organised voluntarily and informally and such initiatives often correspond better to the family's real needs than schemes which are formally organised through the public sector.
Turning to the wider social issues, it was no accident that in our Manifesto we grouped changes in a considerable variety of public services under the heading "Helping the Family", including housing, education, health and welfare, the environment, social security, and services for the elderly and the disabled. Our general aim in these fields is to increase the individual's and the family's freedom of choice, to maintain, and, as the economy permits, to improve, all essential public services, and to make the public services 168 more responsive to individual and family needs.
I should first like to turn to the elderly, for, oddly enough, although almost every other aspect of family life has been raised this afternoon there has been no mention at all of the 8½ million elderly people on retirement pensions in the population, the group of people that is now increasing as a proportion of the total population. I believe that one of the most encouraging aspects of life today is that a higher proportion of elderly people are being cared for by their own families than at any time since the First World War. As the House will know, we are raising retirement pensions on 12th November by nearly 20 percent. thus keeping pensions in line with prices and making up for the shortfall of the previous Government of nearly 2 per cent. in the rise of pensions. This added increase will help the elderly not only with their everyday bills but with their fuel bills this winter. Furthermore, we are pledged to keep pensions in line with prices, and we will pay the £10 Christmas bonus this year as we indicated we would.
In housing our policies will give greater freedom of choice to all sections of the community by extending home ownership. I might say to those many people who have raised the question of the sale of council houses, that according to every single survey ever taken the majority of people would like to own the homes they are living in. Therefore it is a desirable policy. It is one that obviously supports the family by giving it, above all, security, and it gives it at the end of the day some thing of value to hand on to the children. So we are entirely committed to our policy of extending home ownership, particularly to council house tenants and first-time buyers, through promoting shared ownership and encouraging the private house-building industry. In addition we hope to bring back an increase of homes into the private rented sector.
There are a number of detailed points that I have been asked and I feel it is right that I should now turn to them. I should like to turn first to education. We are introducing shortly in another place a Bill to ensure that parents' wishes are taken into account in the choice of schools for their children, and to ensure among other things that school governing 169 bodies should give parents a voice in decisions about the schools their children attend. On nursery schools, I should like to reiterate that we do not intend to introduce into our Bill any provision to allow local authorities to charge for nursery education. It is our policy that there shall be co-operation between the DES and the DHSS, and indeed I meet my colleagues of the DHSS regularly to co-operate closely on all matters of provision for the under-fives. The latest figures that I have for nursery education are those of January 1979, when there were about 230,000 children in England and Wales receiving nursery education and a further 234,000 in ordinary classes in primary schools. Over 38 per cent. of all 3 and 4 year-olds were receiving education of whom 19 per cent. were in nursery schools and classes. I accept that this is still some way short of the Plowden target, which envisaged 90 per cent. of 4 year-olds and 50 per cent. of 3 year-olds, mostly on a part-time basis. Nevertheless we continue to move towards the Plowden target, but for the time being we are giving priority in the provision of nursery education to the admission of handicapped and socially disadvantaged children, including children of the ethnic minorities who come from homes where English is not the main language of the family.
§ Baroness DAVID
My Lords, if the noble Baroness will forgive me, what are the Government going to do about the five local authorities which are closing all their nursery schools?
§ Baroness YOUNG
I do not know whether five authorities have closed all their nursery schools or are thinking about this as one option. So much discussion nowadays concerns people thinking about what they might do, but they have not yet done so. I would hope that this is an area where authorities would look closely at the possibilities that the noble Baroness, Lady David, herself mentioned, of using empty primary school classrooms and of making use of volunteers to help. I believe people should ask themselves how they can meet this need, and I believe that with goodwill a great many of these difficulties could in fact be overcome. It is enormously encouraging how successful the whole of the pre-school play group movement has been. I believe there are now some 300,000 children 170 being looked after in this way in pre school play groups entirely by voluntary organisations. It shows that where people know there is a need it can be met, and I hope very much that this is one of the ways in which we shall use the resources we have as a result of falling roles to meet what is clearly a very greatly felt need.
Turning now to the question of school meals, milk and transport, it is our intention in our second Education Bill to allow authorities to make a charge for school meals, provided of course that they provide somewhere in the school where children can bring their own food, for which they must not make any charge at all. We have taken the view over educational expenditure that we wish above all to ensure that the basic fabric of the educational system will not be affected. The Association of County Councils suggested to us that there were three areas of expenditure in education budgets which are not strictly educational matters; those are school meals, milk and transport.
I am surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Pitt, who took such a gloomy view of what local authorities will do over these matters, they themselves being most distinguished members of local authorities, cannot believe that local authorities will take care of the needy as central Government will do. The present subsidy on school meals is now £400 million annually, and we are hoping for a saving of £200 million, so there will still be a subsidy on school meals which would of course be available to help poor children, and I accept that there are some who will need to be helped. But I think, in the context of everything else, it is not unreasonable in the world today, 1979, nearly 1980, a very different world from that in the war when all this was introduced, when food was rationed, when the average standard of living was considerably lower than now, to look in this context at school meals.
The facts are that the actual take-up of school meals is 66 per cent. only of children in attendance at schools. I suspect that part of the reason why there is this short fall of take-up is that children do not always like the meals provided. The boys want one thing and the girls something else and they do not feel like the kind of meal being provided by statute. Is it not more sensible, therefore, to give freedom 171 to authorities to provide a different sort of meal to meet the conditions of today and to make a charge for it? Incidentally, I am sure I do not need to tell noble Lords opposite that the reason why 5p has gone on school meals this autumn is that this was agreed by the last Labour Government, so it is nothing to do with the Conservative Government. Is it not sensible to look at this enormous expenditure to see if we cannot find a better way of providing a mid-day meal for the children of this country? This is what we are attempting to do. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Galpern, about some Scottish figures. I very much regret that I have not got those with me, but if I can get the answer to the question he raised, I will write to him about it.
Turning now to the matter of health and social services, raised by a number of speakers, again the fact is that in real terms personal social services expenditure is very nearly double what it was in 1971–72. The reductions which the Government are seeking are on the plans which they inherited which allowed for very considerable growth. In fact, the current expenditure target for local government as a whole in 1979–80 is only 1.5 per cent. below the estimates for 1978–79 which were prepared towards the end of 1978. It may prove to be an overestimate if the experience of the previous years is repeated. The outfall for 1980–81 is only a further 1 per cent.
I am sure that ways can be found of stretching resources especially by drawing on the services of the voluntary sector and the potential of the community as a whole. I would once again commend to all in local government the very interesting figures which my noble friend Lady Faithfull gave on boarding out and on fostering. Not only is fostering usually better for children—it is undoubtedly cheaper. The great variation between one authority and another is most extra ordinary.
In my view, what these matters have done for us all is to cause local authorities and the Government to think very carefully about where their priorities lie. If one has less money to spend, it concentrates the mind in a very real way on the essentials: what one really needs to provide and what could be provided by somebody else. It is in that spirit that 172 I believe everyone needs to look at the situation in which we find ourselves.
I was also asked by the noble Lord, Lord Banks, about fuel assistance and those on supplementary benefit. The supplementary benefit allowance goes to families with children under five and the Family Income Supplement Scheme gives £1 a week to all families receiving the supplement. If that is not a complete answer to his question, and he would like me to answer it further by correspondence, I would be very happy to try to do so.
I was also asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, about Stoke Mandeville Hospital. I am told that my right honourable friends in the Department of Health and Social Security are well aware of the unique importance of the spinal injuries hospital at Stoke Mandeville. There are a number of special Questions down in another place to the Secretary of State on this matter and I can promise the noble Baroness that I shall answer all the points that she has raised as soon as I am able to do so. However, she may like to know that all the possible savings that she quoted in the long list that she gave, are not savings that have been made—they are simply alternatives that have been considered. I assure her that no decisions have, in fact, been taken on any of them as yet.
I was asked also about the whole question of immigration policy. My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Raison, who is responsible for immigration policy, gave an indication earlier this month that the new rules on immigration would not debar the partners of British women born here. I hope that when they do appear—and I understand that they will appear in a Government paper—they will solve the anxieties of many people who have made representations on this particular point.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness would give way for a moment. She emphasised the words "born here". Therefore, is it her Government's policy that British women who are subjects of this country, but who were not born here, will be hit?
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I do not think that I am in a position to give 173 an answer to that question at this stage. It is obviously a most important point that has been raised and if I may I shall write to the noble Lord upon it because I would not want in any way to mislead the House on a matter of immigration policy. I was also asked whether or not women who are employed in small firms might no longer be subject to the Protection of Employment Acts if they are having a baby. I should like once again to assure noble Lords that that is a matter which has been dealt with in writing in Government proposals for changes in the provisions of the Employment Protection Act, on which no decision has yet been. taken.
I should now like to answer the questions which were raised with me by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. I am very glad that he gave notice of those questions and I shall do my best to answer them. He asked first about child benefit and indeed that issue was raised by a number of noble Lords. I confirm that we recognise the importance of child benefit, but I regret to say that I cannot give a guarantee this evening that there will be an increase in child benefit in April 1980, as he has asked. Secondly, he asked whether the Government intended, as the Guardian leaks suggest, to make people wait six days for sickness benefit; abolish maternity and death grants; delay women's pensions until 65; and abolish the earnings-related supplement. On all those matters I can only tell him that reports have recently appeared in the Press that the Secretary of State for Social Services is considering whether to achieve the necessary cuts in public expenditure by one or more of a range of options. The responsible Ministers have to explore the whole range of theoretical possibilities for savings, to assess what is involved. Other Governments have done much the same. The social implications are in mind, as well as the savings, and no decisions have yet been taken on any of these matters.
The last question he asked me was whether we intended to postpone any further up-rating in benefits until 1983–84. I think that the noble Lord can reasonably expect the Government's legislation restricting the statutory up-rating guarantee to prices, to retain the assumption of annual up-ratings. I hope that that will meet his point. We have said that, as 174 far as the retirement pensioners are concerned, the pensions will keep up with prices and we stand by that. We have already indicated that pensions will increase on 12th November, as we promised in our manifesto, and on that occasion they will be slightly more than keeping up with prices.
In conclusion I should like to say that the House and the time do not allow me to answer all the many questions that have been raised. I shall study the Official Report carefully and write to noble Lords on the points that I have already indicated. I do think in this connection—and I say this in all sincerity—that we must keep a sense of proportion about what is going on.
As regards local authority expenditure, the Government have asked for a saving for 1980–81 of 5 per cent. on anticipated expenditure. It is not 5 per cent. on actual expenditure, but 5 per cent. on the former Government's proposals. We must recognise that the Government are spending as much this year as last year. Therefore, to talk about the dismantling of the Welfare State or family policies, is right out of turn.
It is easy to exaggerate, for example, the Assisted Places Scheme. The Assisted Places Scheme would not even come into any of the discussion that we have had at all because it cannot conceivably begin before September 1981 and the cuts that we are talking about are for the financial year 1980–81. Even then it would begin on a much more modest scale than has been described. I should like to give the assurance that, even if we did not have the Assisted Places Scheme, it is a completely separate budget and there would be no more money for education. I give that as an illustration of how easy it is to get a great deal of this matter out of proportion. I am sorry for it, but it can worry people who should not he worried and I do not think that it is helpful in a public discussion of the economy at a time when we all wish that things were better than they are.
The Government remain committed to policies to support the family. We shall be publishing the report of the Central Policy Review Staff entitled, People and Their Families, which I believe will be of great help and interest to all those who have taken part in the debate today, as 175 well as to many individuals and organisations outside.
Two years ago I introduced a debate on the family at the Conservative Party Conference. I said then that the family stood for four great principles: for stability, continuity, individual responsibility and self-help. We need those qualities today. That is why we, as a party, will do all that we can to support the family, to help the family to help itself and to do so in the wider network of the community.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am sure that it is the view of the House that, as we have had a debate lasting a good many hours, it should not be prolonged much longer. It is perfectly true that both sides have said all that they wanted to say but I shall ask the indulgence of noble Lords for three or four minutes in order to make one or two comments on what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said in her summing up. Before doing so, may I say that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, was in a very difficult position in having to support policies which she must know from her experience will have a devastating effect upon the family. However, she probably will not admit to this. What surprised me about her contribution was the fact that I seem to remember not so very long ago she joined my noble friend Lord Parry in demanding from the Labour Government that more money and attention should be given to the care of the mentally and physically handicapped. If I have understood her correctly now, she is agreeing to those people being deprived. I wonder whether the noble Baroness has changed her mind because there has been a change of Government. In my view the whole basis of her argument resulted in a recommendation that family adversity is a virtue. However, it certainly is not a virtue for a family that is living in poverty. It is no good saying that there must be changes, that people must accept them and put up with them. If you are living in poverty, a few coppers makes all the difference.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, whom I should like to thank for trying to reply so fully to this debate—and those of us who have been in her position know only too well that it is most difficult to sit down and feel satisfied with all the replies that you have given—asked 176 whether we, on this side of the House, think that there is a crock of gold. Yes, there was a crock of gold of £4,500 billion which the Government gave to the richest people in this country—at least, they gave almost the whole of it, 34 per cent. of it. That crock of gold could have been used in a very different fashion.
Our main complaint against the Government is that they embarked upon this almost overnight, without giving any notice at all to local authorities. Local authorities were not given time to plan how these cuts were to be made, and they had to make them in a hasty and piecemeal manner. I think that that is largely the cause of the trouble. The noble Baroness asked what we would have done if we had been faced with this situation. All I can say is that I hope that we would not have run away from the responsibility of sitting down with the local authorities—and a number of professional bodies represent local authorities—and saying: "This must be done; let us work out a plan as to how it can be done".
I should like to thank the three maiden speakers. I cannot imagine that a situation will arise again where there will be three maiden speakers in a debate which, right from the beginning, was going to be controversial. On the whole, they discharged their responsibilities extremely well. I wanted to give my noble friend Lord Mishcon a piece of advice, but as I believe that all advice is bad and good advice is fatal, I shall not attempt to do so. However, I agree that the noble Baroness is all that he says: courteous, charming and very delightful. I have known her much longer than he has. I say to him, do not be taken in by that, for underneath there exists a tough, thoroughbred Tory. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.