Orders of the Day — Queen's Speech – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 31st October 1969.
The debate on the Gracious Speech has so far not been used by the Opposition to explain their own alterna- tive programme for the nation. They have used most of their time for misrepresentation and uninformed allegations. I hope that we shall be spared that today, and for my part—forever the optimist—I hope to hear from the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) the careful and distinct policies and the positive programmes for social service reform to which his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition referred in the article which he wrote in the Sunday Times last Sunday.
I have seen a Conservative Party political centre pamphlet on financing the Health Service which was published today. It suggests combining charges for all treatment at market rates with compulsory health insurance, and the pamphlet states:
Thus, hospitals might become self-financing, and all doctors might once more become private practitioners charging full fees".
So now we know. This is the Tories in their full colours. No wonder they waited until after yesterday's polls before publishing such a document. One admires the admirable but belated frankness of the Conservative Party on an issue like this, and one can only hope that we shall have from the hon. Gentleman who is to follow me as frank a statement on pensions policy as the quotation from today's pamphlet which I have just read.
In his speech on Tuesday, the Leader of the Opposition said that there were in the Gracious Speech very few major items relevant to the mass of the British people. But nothing could be more relevant than to provide for the future retirement pensions large enough to maintain a reasonable standard of living without recourse to means-tested supplementary benefit. I recognise that it seems to be Opposition policy that pensions should be increasingly subject to a means test But that is not our policy on this side.
I am proud of the achievements of the Supplementary Benefits Commission. We are providing more generous benefits, and we now have about ½ million more pensioners on low incomes who are accepting supplementary benefit as of right today. This is a great achievement, and, in particular, a monument to the achievement of my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) who was Minister in 1966.
However, the fact that 2 million out of 7 million retirement pensioners and half of all widows are helped by the Supplementary Benefits Commission is proof in itself that our present system of national insurance is inadequate and does not meet the needs of our people. We need a new system which will provide higher pensions by right of earnings and contributions. We want to see fewer and fewer people dependent upon supplementary benefits, not more.
This can be achieved only by a radical reformation of our present out-dated flat-rate based system. Our new Bill for national superannuation and social insurance will be a major feature of our legislative programme this Session. I have no doubt that it will stand as one of the great achievements of this Government. It will be the greatest social security reform since those based on the Beveridge Report, almost a generation ago. It will be proof of our conviction that our senior citizens are entitled to a better deal from society than they now enjoy under our existing system. The House and the nation must face the fact that the number of retirement pensioners for whom we must make provision is steadily increasing. In 1957 there were 4¾ million retirement pensioners. Now there are 7 million, and the estimate on projections is that by 1980 there will be nearly 9½ million. If we are to do them justice, it means a heavier burden on the earning population. We cannot get away from that.
In his speech on Tuesday the Leader of the Opposition listed categories of people who, he said, had been
… neglected in this country, … [OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1969; Vol. 790, c. 28]
and for whom he said the Gracious Speech offered no hope. If we take his categories of people, we can see a pattern, first, of neglect in the past, second, of improvement since 1964, and, third and most important, of great hope for the future.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned first old people. Next week retirement pensioners will receive the third pension increase since we came to power, which will restore the value of the national insurance pension in real terms to 20 per cent. above where it stood in 1964.
Apart from the pension, the right hon. Gentleman referred to home helps. The number receiving help has risen by over 15 per cent. since 1964. He specifically mentioned home meals. Let me tell him, because he clearly does not know, that nearly three times as many meals on wheels were served in 1968 as in 1964. Whose neglect is he talking about?
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned the families below the poverty line and their children. We have made a great contribution to this problem through fuller use of family allowances. We have substantially increased allowances since 1964, providing real help to low income families with children. In 1964 the family allowance stood at 8s. for the second child of a family and 10s. for the third and each subsequent child. They had remained at this level since 1956, when the Conservative Government gave a 2s. increase in family allowances for the third and subsequent children in a family. The 8s. rate for second children had been unaltered since 1952. Whose neglect are we talking about now?
Now, after the recent successive increases, family allowances stand at 18s. a week for a second child and 20s. for the third and each subsequent child. In absolute cash terms, the rates have been more than doubled; even after taking account of the rise in prices since 1964, family allowances are still worth 72 per cent. more in real terms to a low income family with three children than they were when the Government took office, an achievement of which we have reason to be proud.
In his article in the Sunday Times last Sunday on what he called
the issues we will fight on
the Leader of the Opposition said:
We will put an end to blanket increases in things like Family Allowances.
He should find out what legislation has passed through this House in the last five years before he puts in print statements like that. Unlike previous increases in family allowances, the benefit has not been spread thinly among all families, regardless of income. By means of adjustments in the tax relief, the Government have ensured that the maximum benefit has gone precisely to those families whose incomes are too low to be paying income tax. Families where the father is paying income tax at the reduced
rate have benefited to some extent from the increased allowances, while families paying tax at the standard rate are left no worse off than they were before. I believe that this is the most ingenious and effective means of selectivity yet devised. Yet the Leader of the Opposition pushed this aside in his article on Sunday.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the sick and disabled, including disabled wives. The plight of the short-term sick has been greatly relieved since 1966, when the earnings-related short-term supplements were introduced. This has relieved much hardship for those who were sick and away from work, but, far more important, the new legislation will make a significant improvement in the range and conditions of benefit for the chronic sick and disabled. Our Bill will contain provisions for a new invalidity pension, so that those becoming longterm sick, which means after six months of sickness, will receive an earnings-related benefit. We must recognise that among our claims for sickness benefit we have an increasing proportion of people who are long-term sick and who in most cases will never return to work again. It is one of the features of our changing society, partly due to the Health Service, that people who died of illness in middle age now live on as invalids, with a pension or benefit at only a flat rate level at present.
What of the wives of invalidity pensioners? Under our new scheme, they will be able to earn up to £7 10s. a week, in November, 1969 terms, without any reduction of benefit, and there will be a tapering reduction for any earnings above that level. This is a relaxation which has been requested for many years by my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite. It will greatly relieve the problem of the wife of a disabled or long-term sick person. Yet the Leader of the Opposition seems not to have read the second White Paper published in July.
One important feature in the new scheme will be the attendance allowance for those who are very severely disabled and who are wholly dependent on help from others in coping with the ordinary functions of daily living. I think that most people, whatever side of the political fence they are on, recognise that among the sections of our society in greatest difficulty are the disabled, especially where a severely disabled person is a considerable burden on his family. If he is industrially injured or suffers from war injuries, he is entitled to an attendance allowance, and we shall introduce this for others.
This will be payable to those who satisfy the conditions, regardless of income, and on top of existing benefit. It will apply as much to married women as to their husbands, and will be available through the Supplementary Benefits Commission also to those congenitally disabled people who have never been able to work and thus have no insurance contribution record.
The new allowance will not go to all those who are disabled, which would be a very large number. It will be for those whose disability is very substantial. It will, however, bring relief to tens of thousands of households which today face the very heavy burden of caring for one who is unable to look after himself. It will be a major step forward in meeting the needs of the severely disabled in our society, a step which is long overdue and which during the long years the Opposition were in power they made no attempt to deal with. Whose neglect are we talking of here?
In listing his categories, the right hon. Gentleman might have spared a thought for the widows, but he did not. Apart from raising the level of widows' benefits, we have made considerable improvements by ending the earnings rule for widows and by raising the pension for the 10s. widow to 30s. I remind the Leader of the Opposition and his right hon. and hon. Friends that throughout the 13 years of the Conservative Administration this special pension was kept down to the 10s. rate, which was payable in 1948. Whose neglect are we talking about now?
But in spite of these improvements the widow in our society today does not get a fair deal. Marjorie Proops portrayed the problems of the younger widow very movingly in yesterday's Daily Mirror.
I give her great credit for drawing to the attention of the country the real problem which exists for people who were less than 50 when their husbands died. She asked, at the end of her article, "Who cares?" I want to say that we care, and this is why we will deal with the problem in our new Bill.
The Bill will make two major changes in widowhood provisions. First, when a pensioner dies, the widow will inherit the whole of his earnings-related pension for however long she lives. This will be a great step forward. Second, we will help widows like those described by Marjorie Proops who lose the whole pension because they were under the age of 50 when their husbands died. In our new earnings-related scheme, we propose that earnings-related pensions, scaled down according to age, will be payable to younger widows, that is, those between 40 and 50, when they are widowed or when widowed mothers' allowance ceases.
These provisions will be extended not only to those who come into this category in the future but to existing widows if they would have satisfied the conditions for this new benefit when they were widowed or when their entitlement to a widowed mother's allowance ceased. So this new legislation will bring relief to a large number of people between 40 and 50 when widowed who, as every hon. Member knows, are facing considerable hardships.
Of course, Mrs. Stocker, referred to in the article by Marjorie Proops, will be one of those who will benefit.
The House is grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the help which we will give to widows whose husbands died when they were under 50, but what do the Government intend to do in the way of bridging assistance, since there are widows now existing on 30s. who will not be affected in the short term by these measures?
I take my hon. Friend's point, but I am afraid that he will have to wait for the publication of the Bill; he will not have to wait very long.
Both I and the Leader of the Opposition have been dealing with the major groups of those who are under-privileged in our society, the old, the sick, the disabled and the widows. All of these people, the right hon. Gentleman said, were offered no help by the Gracious Speech. That is a gross misrepresentation and it reveals ignorance of the White Paper on which our legislation will be based. In fact, the crowning glory, I believe, of the Gracious Speech is that it offers hope to all our people, for, even if they escape sickness, disability and widowhood, they will not escape old age. Our Bill will mean not only better pensions and benefits but a fairer distribution of the burden of contributions, a process begun in the uprating due to come into effect next week.
Of course, there have been some complaints from those who expect to contribute more under our new long-term scheme, but surely none would question the inequity of a situation in which a man may be earning £12 a week and pays more than 8 per cent. in his National Insurance contribution, whereas a man earning £36 a week pays only about 4 per cent. Of course, it should be realised that for many millions of low-paid people the new system will mean that they will pay less than under our existing scheme.
For all—this is very important—our Bill will guarantee that pensions regularly keep in step with the cost of living and living standards. This is a guarantee to existing pensioners. It is not right that we should legislate only for the future. We should prove to our people who are now retired that they will not be forgotten in the provision made for the future.
There seems to be only one criterion on which the Opposition will judge the new legislation, at least according to the right hon. Gentleman's speech on Tuesday. That is what provision will be made for occupational pension schemes to live in partnership with the new scheme. This is a very important point, but it is not the only point. The Opposition must wake up to the fact that, although there are 12 million members of occupational pensions schemes, there are also 12 million people who have no occupational scheme. They may be entirely dependent in retirement on their State pension. Of course, we must realise that some of the 65,000 different occupational schemes provide very modest provision indeed. Half of those now on occupational pensions get less than £3 a week out of their scheme.
Would my hon. Friend not also agree that many people in occupational schemes are in very poor schemes?
That is my point, that although there are some very good schemes, which we must respect and whose members we must ensure can maintain them, there are some which are very modest indeed. We must also recognise that we cannot simply divide the population into those with occupational schemes and those without, because we have a mobile population. People may work 10 or 15 years in a job with an occupational pension and may then change their job, receiving a lump sum; from then on, unless they join a similar scheme, they are entirely dependent on State provision.
Nor must we forget that two-thirds of all occupational pensions die with the pensioner and make no provision for his widow—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Nor for his children."] This is true. No funded scheme can provide an absolute guarantee, such as the State can, to protect an occupational pension against inflation. All these, of course, are essential qualities which the State scheme has and must have and which occupational schemes cannot or do not have.
The hon. Gentleman quoted a figure of two-thirds of occupational schemes not covering benefits for widows. Is that two-thirds of the 65,000 schemes or two-thirds of the 12 million members?
It is two-thirds of the 12 million people. Some of the 65,000 scheme may have only a very small number of members.
Therefore, my conclusion on this point is that we need both a good State scheme and good occupational schemes. This, of course, is why we must have a genuine partnership. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to publish a White Paper next week on the basis of the partnership between the new State scheme and occupational schemes. It is the outcome of a tremendous round of consultations with bodies like the Trades Union Congress, the C.B.I., the National Association of Pension Funds, the Life Offices Association and many other organisations. We greatly appreciate their expert advice and the consultations which we have had with them. We consider occupational schemes both a very important source of security for 12 million of the employed population and an important contribution to national savings. We must, therefore, in our new scheme—the House will not divide on this—provide a fair and workmanlike basis for co-operation between the two.
In a speech filled with gross misrepresentations on Wednesday, the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) said that, under the Government's new scheme, occupational pensioners would be "clobbered"—just the sort of term he uses, with no consideration of what truth lies behind it, designed only to create alarm and despondency and fears in the minds of those who have a right to expect that their pension will be there for them because they have paid their contributions. It is just this sort of mischievous allegation which has led some people to express quite unfounded fears. It is unfair that people who look with confidence to retirement with both a State pension and an occupational pension should have been so misled.
I have received letters, directly and from hon. Members, written by people who have been misled about the intentions of our scheme. They have said that they have been told that they will lose their lump sum, that their own occupational pensions scheme would be taken over by the State, firemen and policemen have heard directly that they would not be able to retire at the early retirement age linked with those occupations. It is disgraceful that responsible people should lend credence to these beliefs in the minds of honest people.
The Minister has said that occupational pension schemes should be preserved if they are good and that there should be full consultation. In the light of this, can he say to what extent the very cogent and clear objections of N.A.L.G.O., and its anxieties, are being met in his White Paper?
There have been consultations with N.A.L.G.O., I have had three meetings with its officers. Many of its concerns are without foundation. The basis of what was said in the N.A.L.G.O. pamphlet was that the result of introducing the State scheme would be the "dismantling" of occupational pension schemes. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that not only have there been meetings when we have listened most seriously to the national officers of N.A.L.G.O., but my right hon. Friend and I have met a large number of deputations in different parts of the country to try to put the record straight.
When this sort of alarm and despondency is created it is quite disgraceful. I am not saying that N.A.L.G.O. has any responsibility for the more extreme statements, but I would like to find out who is responsible for them. Certainly the statement by the right hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale was precisely the sort of thing which produces fear in the minds of very genuine people who have been contributing over the years to what they believe is their right, and what must be their right. I want to take this opportunity of giving some assurances and in putting the record straight. I have done it on a number of occasions in the country and I am glad to do it now.
As the White Paper is to be published next week, can the hon. Gentleman tell us how many occupational pension schemes will be closed as the result of the abatement terms?
Of course I will answer. The hon. Gentleman knows, because I have told him, that the White Paper will, we hope, be published next week. This will set out the terms of the partial contracting out or abatement. Anything that then flows will be for occupational pension schemes to decide for themselves. In our White Paper we are providing terms which are fair and reasonable and which will allow a substantial degree of occupational pensions. Of course there may be a degree of cut-back, this has not been in dispute.
It is true that if there were to be for some schemes at the highest level no degree of cut-back then people will be providing for themselves in retirement pensions substantially above what they were earning in their lifetime. We have to look at two things; first what con- tribution the State can make by provision for partial contracting-out. Then, secondly, it is for the occupational schemes to decide to what extent, if any, they want to make adjustments and whether they wish to take advantage of the partial contracting-out facilities. These matters can be discussed when the White Paper is published, and we look forward to an early debate on these issues.
I want to give some reassurances to people in the country. First, the Government's aim is to ensure that in future people should retire with a higher level of pension than is available for most people today. Better pensions, better dependency provisions and better widowhood cover, together with a firm guarantee that pensions will be protected against inflation—that is my assurance. Secondly, at present those who are fortunate enough to be in occupational pension schemes retire with two pensions, a State pension and an occupational one. This will still be so in future, but the general level of the State pension will be considerably higher than it is today. For example, if the new scheme had been in operation for the last 20 years, an average earner who as from 3rd November would retire with a State pension of £5 11s. would retire with a pension of £10 4s. A man on one and a half times the average earnings, £36, would retire with a pension not of £5 11s., but £13 4s. These figures need to be given to get the matter into perspective.
Thirdly, the new State scheme will replace the present obsolete and inadequate flat-rate State pension scheme. It will not take over from occupational pension schemes. Our aim is a partnership between the public and private sectors. There is no truth whatsoever in suggestions that the funds of occupational schemes will be taken over by the State or that lump sums will be confiscated. Occupational schemes will be neither taken over nor merged with the State schemes. Those retiring before 65 with an occupational pension—I am thinking especially of firemen and policemen who have expressed concern on this—will still be able to do so.
Fourthly, occupational schemes will need to decide for themselves in what way to adjust to the more comprehensive provisions of the new State scheme to prevent excessive contributions and over-provision of pensions. In some cases very small schemes, especially those catering for low paid workers, may decide that they want to expand rather than diminish. This is part of the answer to the question put by the noble Lord. Occupational schemes will need to decide for themselves the extent by which adjustment will be reduced by the provision of the facilities for partial contracting-out of the State scheme.
I hope that there will be the fullest consultation between employers and employees in any changes. In Government circles there will be the fullest consultations on any change. We look forward to an early debate on the White Paper when it is published. More important, the country will look forward to the establishment of a fair and more generous system than it has ever known. The Prime Minister was quite right when he was speaking on Tuesday to refer to this Bill as an historic measure.
We now look forward to a clear statement of Opposition policy on these great issues. The opportunity for debate today is a Heaven sent chance for the noble Lord to break his self-imposed silence. It will be interesting for the House and the nation to know what are these clear and precise proposals referred to by the Leader of the Opposition and I gladly sit down so that the hon. Gentleman may reveal to the country just where the Conservatives intend to take us in these vital issues.
I am sure that the House is indebted to the Minister of State for the slightly peevish speech which he has just delivered. Today, in the incredible but absolutely habitual absence of the Secretary of State for Social Services, we debate the social services of our people. We debate the basic security of their lives—a home, a job, education, care for the sick, the disabled, and provision and help for the elderly. We shall look at some of these things, as the hon. Gentleman did in the light of both what has been achieved in the past and we will look at them in the light of what is proposed for the future.
I should like to begin by making some quotations:
Labour will abolish poverty in Britain";
Labour will reform the Health Service so as to give a new deal to the patient. Prescription charges will go and we will restore as rapidly as possible a completely free service";
We will expand the home help and other services which are so vital to the old and sick";
We want a Britain providing full employment for all our people";
We have pledged ourselves to tackle this housing problem like a war-time operation".
Those are not quotations from the Gracious Speech of 1969. They are quotations from the Prime Minister's personal election address in 1964. As every hon. Member knows, no document is more carefully worded that the individual personal election address to the people whom one is asking for the honour of representing in the House. We shall see how things have gone.
The most basic security of all is a home in which one can bring up one's family decently. The Prime Minister, speaking of the pledge to build 500,000 houses a year by 1970, said:
This is not a lightly given promise. It is a pledge. We shall achieve the 500,000 target and we shall not allow any developments, any circumstances, however adverse, to deflect us from our aims.
That was at Bradford on 27th March, 1966, four days before the election.
In the first nine months of 1969, fewer houses were built than in the first nine months of 1964. More ominous for the future, in the first nine months of 1969, fewer houses were started than in the first nine months of 1964 — 270,000 compared with 317,000. Is this because the housing problem has been solved? Hon. Members should ask any young newly married couple wanting to bring up their families, in their own homes. Is it because the slum clearance problems have been licked? There are 1,500,000 elderly people alone who are living in houses which lack two of the three basic household amenities—a lavatory, a kitchen, a bathroom. The reason for this collapse of the housing programme is economic mismanagement, prejudice against home ownership and sheer incompetence. We shall return to the subject on Tuesday, but it is absolutely > central to the failure of the Government's social policies.
Would the hon. Gentleman also give the figures for the period when his party was in power, figures which he knows to be far worse than our record-breaking housing achievements? Secondly, would he tell us how many local authorities now under Conservative control have positively cut back on housing programmes established by Labour-controlled councils?
I was just giving the figures. I was giving the figures for the first nine months for 1964, when the number of starts was 317,000, compared with 270,000 in the first nine months of 1969. The number of completions in the first nine months of 1964 was 266,000 and in the first nine months of 1969 the number of completions was also 266,000.
I have already answered the question by giving the figures, but we will return to a full day's debate on this subject.
I said that many hon. Members wanted to get into the debate—but not all at once.
Another basic security is a job. On television the Prime Minister said:
We see no reason why it"—
should rise at all apart from seasonal increases.
That was on 30th March, 1966, one day before the election. This month the "Employment and Productivity Gazette" has been published and so we can compare the employment position of March this year with that of the March when the Prime Minister was speaking. There are 66,000 fewer jobs in the North; 106,000 fewer jobs in Yorkshire and Humberside; 111,000 fewer jobs in the North-West; 49,000 fewer jobs in Wales; 66,000 fewer jobs in Scotland. There are 688,000 fewer jobs than when the Prime Minister was making that pledge on the day before the election.
I will certainly concede that this has helped to swell social services spending. Unemployment benefit has risen from £49 million in 1965 to £125 million in 1968, due partially to the earnings-related unemployment benefit scheme but very largely due to the increase in unemployment.
I will concentrate the main part of my speech on the other basic securities, the care of the sick and the disabled and of the old. In the vast range of health and welfare services one can concentrate on only a few of the main strands, and I shall refer to these. The first is the care of the mentally ill, about whom the public conscience has been awakened. Secondly, and related to the first, there is the need to develop community care services where the old can be helped to live in their own homes and where the disturbed and disabled can live in sheltered or specially designed accommodation. The third is the administrative structure of the health services, the need to create one authority which can make a comparative judgment between the different needs and different services. As one example of the need for this comparative judgment, the cost of keeping a child in a remand home is more than £1,000 a year and yet if one social worker could keep two children out of residential care, his or her wages would have already been paid and the children would have benefited.
I shall deal with the mental health services first. When the history of the mentally ill and subnormal comes to be written, the past 12 months will have their place in that history. Unfortunately, it will not be because of any great advances. It is because of the findings of tribunals inquiring into allegations of ill-treatment, because of the disastrous fire at Shelton Hospital, because of a recent coroner's report, because of the increased demand by the Press, television and the professions for reform.
I believe that the past 12 months will have their place in history because these tragedies have awakened public conscience. It has been hurt, and I can only say, "Thank God for that". I make absolutely no partisan point. It is the duty and, with public conscience now awakened, the opportunity for leaders in public life to hammer home the fact that the facilities for the care of the mentally ill and the mentally subnormal are very unsatisfactory. I happily give the Secretary of State for Social Services credit for his speeches on this subject. There is, of course, a good side. Most local authority training centres and many of the hospital schools are a joy to visit. One comes away from them thrilled at what one sees. But it only makes the contrast with the children's wards and the adult wards in so many of our subnormality hospitals the more heartbreaking.
On the good side there is the dedicated work of the nurses, staff and administrators and the brilliant achievements of many of our doctors. But such dedication only makes more frustrating the appallingly difficult—indeed almost impossible—conditions in which they have to work. I saw a film earlier this week which has not yet been released to the general public. It showed something which I have seen too often in walking round these hospitals—two nurses caring for a ward of 50 subnormal children. We have only to ask a mother who has to care for a family of four or five healthy children what her task is to get some understanding of the strain under which our medical staff is working.
Also on the good side there is the wonderful advance in medical knowledge. But this again, as the Minister mentioned, brings its problems. Not so long ago the subnormal did not often live beyond the age of 50. But today the number of people over the age of 55 in the subnormality hospitals has doubled since 1954. We should like to debate this crucially important sector of the health services, and I ask the Minister whether he would try to arrange time for such a debate.
But, in spite of all the speeches, I am concerned to see virtually no action which gives any indication of the Government's determination to secure a higher priority for the mentally ill. The weekly inpatient cost of the mental illness hospitals in 1964–65 was 31·6 per cent. of that in the acute hospitals. Today it remains 31·6 per cent. The last Annual Report of the Department of Health and Social Security fisted 85 major building projects, each costing over £1 million, which have been completed in 1967–68 or have been started since then. Only four of them are said to include a psychiatric unit. Only one is a mental subnormality hospital. Only one includes any geriatric department. The total cost of these 85 projects is £284 million. The six schemes concerned with mental ill-health amount to only £9 million, 3·17 per cent. of the total cost—a fall on the previous year's figures.
When one projects into the future, an equally unsatisfactory picture emerges. The Minister's own departmental report on the subnormality services shows that only 4·4 per cent. by value of all starts on capital schemes over £75,000 from 1968–69 to 1972–73 will be for the subnormality departments in subnormality hospitals. This simply is not good enough. These figures do not reflect the priority which should be given to the care of the mentally ill. I agree with Professor Townsend, who was referring to the rather better figures of the previous year when he said on 20th February this year:
I conclude that there is no evidence of relatively higher priority being given to the psychiatric services in hospital; if anything, rather the reverse".
I have no time to deploy in detail the policy which should be followed, so I shall mention only one aspect. Clearly much emphasis must be placed on community care—hostels, sheltered lodgings, sheltered accommodation, sheltered jobs, special training for those who need training, shelter and care rather than medical treatment. But, in the hospital service, for those children and adults who have defeated the junior training centres, who have defeated the paediatric clinics, who cannot be cared for in children's homes, the Government should take a firm decision that within a set time no unit of care should be allowed which houses more than 30 adults or more than 20 children together.
Not only should the upgrading of present wards be in the direction of small unit provision, but the Government should accept that much of the money which they are pouring into archaic buildings—patching, painting, reconstructing and repairing—is going into buildings which any commercial enterprise would have knocked down 50 years ago. It might give a pleasant historical nostalgia to read that the foundation stone had been laid by the Prince Consort. But the bulldozer is the only answer to these buildings.
I shall make a constructive suggestion to the hon. Gentleman, so perhaps he will wait a moment.
The problem is so vast—there are 60,000 people in the subnormality hospitals—that the Government, any Government of any political belief, must take their courage in both hands and decide to move area by area. With limited resources, we are going on patching and repairing inadequately all over the country. We should concentrate the resources on those areas of the country where the needs cry out loudest.
This shift of emphasis is not only administratively necessary but will be welcome to the clinicians. This is a field of rapid medical advance, and by shifting resources from area to area to cope, not by patching, but by destroying and rebuilding, it will enable each building project to be based on the most modern and the best evaluated scheme available in the country.
There is much wisdom in what the hon. Gentleman says. He has referred to what a commercial enterprise would have done with archaic hospitals. Would he explain why his party, when it was in office, did nothing to deal with them and say whether he is prepared to accept that today our hospital building programme is five times what it was only ten years ago?
The hospital building programme is the ten-year building programme introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell). One of my major complaints is that, while we were prepared to publish the figures of the yearly building programme, the Government no longer publish the ten-year hospital building programme. It is incredibly difficult for the public to obtain the figures which I have obtained. Why have not the Government the courage to publish them? If the Minister is so complacent and proud about only 4 per cent. of building resources being devoted to the subnormality hospitals until 1973, he is entitled to his complacency and pride. I certainly do not share it.
I turn to the community care services in a wider context, but including the mentally handicapped and the disabled. The push of social reform should be to integrate our elderly people in the community and not to isolate them from it. They and the physically disabled should be helped to live in their own homes surrounded by their friends and possessions. Those who cannot hold their own in everyday life should be aided by meals-on-wheels, the home help service, voluntary organisations, health visitors and the wide and invaluable range of domiciliary services. When life at home is no longer possible, they should be cared for in sheltered housing schemes rather than in geriatric wards. It is precisely those local authority health and welfare schemes for the elderly and the disabled which should be expanded. It is precisely these services which are being curbed by the Government cutting the rate support grant.
For about 10 years local authority expenditure has been rising at a rate of 6 per cent. per annum. This year the rate support grant has been halved to a growth rate of 3 per cent. Also only in this year, for the first time, do we see the real effect of the decision to cut local authority health and welfare capital programmes by an average of £5 million a year for the three years 1968–71. It is no good the Minister shaking his head. Let him read the Prime Minister's statement of 16th January, 1968, as reported in column 1588 of the OFFICIAL REPORT.
The real effect of that statement is that old people's homes which should have been built have not been built. Hostels for the mentally handicapped and for the physically handicapped which were to have been built have, in fact, not been built.
Surely every element of social knowledge says that it is these services which should have been expanded. Every human instinct tells us that it is the right thing to do. Indeed, even the economic argument says that this is less expensive—that it is less expensive to develop the domiciliary services so that people may go on living in their own homes and in their own neighbourhoods rather than fill our hospitals with the people who are primarily in need of care and not of medical attention.
I turn to the administration of the Health Service, which the Minister did not mention. I read with interest the statement in the Queen's Speech that
Legislation will be introduced arising out of the recommendations of the Seebohm Committee
—whatever that phrase may mean—and that a second Green Paper on the administration of the Health Service will be published. From the start I have publicly reiterated my acceptance of the principle lying behind the Seebohm Committee's Report—the need to establish a unified social service department. This is essential if we are to build up a comprehensive family service and if we are to strengthen the social work professions which today are in their infancy and whose rapid and strong development is of crucial importance. want to see this unified local authority department have within its responsibilities, among other things, such services as the children's department, the child guidance services and the education welfare services. I should be very reluctant, however, to see any break between this new department and any of the health and welfare services for the elderly, the handicapped, the disturbed, the unfortunate and the homeless.
Medical problems are a kind of spectrum. Nearly all medical problems have a social content. Many social problems have a medical content. The Seebohm Report goes a long way towards covering the whole of the spectrum. But in fact it leaves a residue of what I might describe as the environmental services outside. It leaves health visitors outside. It goes nine-tenths of the way but leaves the door open for including the other services at a later date.
I believe that we should create this larger department now rather than divide responsibilities between this new department and the other health and welfare services. But the Government have given absolutely no indication how they will develop their concept of an integrated health service. The last Green Paper got it wrong. The area boards which they suggested were too remote from people and too small for efficiency.
The general concept of reconstructing the health service which I have in mind is two-tiered. I do not deny that this brings me firmly into conflict with the Maud Report. I have much warmer feelings towards the Memorandum of Dissent. I visualise for the health service an authority covering a large area, because overall health planning must be on a regional basis. Perhaps the chairman should be appointed by the Minister, but there should be firm local authority representation on it and there should be equally firm professional representation. There must be a massive devolution of responsibility from Whitehall.
The task of this authority should be to assess needs and to allocate money. It should not be responsible for the day-to-day administration of hospitals or the health and welfare services. But it should be able to weigh up the needs of the hospital service in its area against the needs of the health and welfare services. When we have one authority, only then can there be the comparative judgment about which I was talking earlier. It is that comparative judgment which is so lacking today. It is quite impossible today to make an effective judgment for any area as to how much should be spent on hospitals and how much on health centres or community care or domiciliary care.
The day-to-day running of the hospitals and the health and welfare services should, however, be the responsibility of the second tier. The scale of such an authority would be quite closely determined for most areas by the need of the hospital service to develop district general hospitals of between 600 and 800 beds.
Finally, I turn to the proposed legislation on pensions. I have left this deliberately to the last not because it is unimportant—I believe it to be important—but because serious debate remains quite impossible, as we still do not know the crucial figures showing the abatement for occupational schemes. I have also left it to the last because it does so little for the people in need today—the elderly. It hardly comes within the definition of social legislation if by that we mean caring for the vulnerable and the poor of today. Overwhelmingly it is just a new method of taxation—and it is being disguised by a sleight of hand, pretending to build up benefits for the future which our children, not ourselves, will have to pay.
What does this promise amount to? It is not legally binding insurance which has to be honoured. It is a flexible politician's promise.
What really is the Minister saying. He is saying "I promise that in return for increased contributions—payable, of course, after the election—our children will pay us larger pensions." Who knows? They are empty words. This is a mere expression of hope. These are the long-term promises made by a Government who have broken every single short-term promise on which they were elected. If I were a trustee for the care of a person's old age I should invest neither in Dalton's nor in Crossman's. But at least with Dalton's one had freedom of choice.
What we do know about this scheme is that for 12 million young and middle-aged men and women it will mean less good benefits than those for which they could have saved, and to which they would have been legally entitled, under their occupational schemes. This affects not just the people in public service but all those millions in private enterprise industries who have occupational schemes —and, indeed, in the nationalised industries where occupational pension schemes are in operation. When we are in office, we make it clear, we shall alter the scheme to ensure that the growth of these occupational schemes is encouraged and not crushed.
But for the old of today the scheme is quite irrelevant. It is true that there is a two-yearly statutory review, and this will be a psychological advantage, a reassurance. It is designed to ensure that the pension is realigned to take account of rising prices. But in practice this kind of uplift is far below the minimum which has been achieved by successive Governments, Labour and Conservative. With the Conservative Governments the real purchasing power of the pension was increased by 50 per cent. Next month the present Government will have restored the real increased purchasing power of the pension by 20 per cent. But beyond the statutory review, there is nothing at all for the elderly of today.
I certainly welcome, as I have done publicly on many occasions, the improvements for the widows and the invalidity pension. But what is the Government's message in their new plan for the old people of today and those who retire in five or ten years' time? It is quite simply, "Tough luck." The Government are busy building up commitments for our children to pay higher benefits for the higher income groups in the future: we cannot do anything for the over-80s who have no pension; we cannot do anything for the civilian disabled till 1972; we cannot do anything to tackle the problems of child poverty by concentrating help where it is really needed.
I would say to the Government, encourage our younger generation to earn and save better benefits through occupational pensions; do not cut back these schemes, for they give better benefits than any State scheme can ever pay. They do it out of savings, not out of taxation. I would say to the Government, do not dream fantasies about 1992 for there is not a soul in the country who believes. Let us, instead, concentrate the resources of the State on those who cannot help themselves, those people who need our help today and not to in 20 years' time.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) has made an even more irresponsible speech than did his right hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Barber) the other day when he was trying to list the priorities as he saw them. One wonders if his party or he himself has ever sought to cost them.
Let me go through them. He criticised the housing figures. Presumably he wants more housing. Does he, or does he not? It means more money; it means more private enterprise housing or public expenditure on council houses. Let me tell him that so far as the Scottish figures for housing are concerned—and I speak only of Scotland in this context—we have nothing to apologise for. In 1963, the twelfth full year of a Tory Government, the number of completions in Scotland was 28,217. In 1966, only the second full year of the Labour Government, completions were 36,029. In 1967 completions were 41,458, and in 1968 they were 41,988, very nearly a 50 per cent. increase of completions in Scotland in the third and fourth full year of a Labour Government, as compared with the twelfth year of a Tory Government.
If one looks at the Health Service expenditure, again in Scotland, capital and current expenditure, in 1963–64, the last year of Tory Government, it was £111·2 million, and in 1968–69, £180·5 million. He talked about the mentally ill, and I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is cause for great concern, but for him to presume to make those partisan points is too much. He always makes party points on this as on other matters. Let me tell him that the new mental hospital which was opened, not in my constituency but just outside it, in Dunfermline, earlier this year, Lynebank, cost nearly £2½ million, and it was the first new mental hospital in the whole of Britain since the 1930s.
So let him not lecture us and let his party not lecture us about the social problems and about poverty pockets we have still in our midst. It makes us sick, that talk; that hypocritical cant on these matters makes us sick. He talks about more social workers, and bulldozers for subnormality hospitals. My God, the bulldozers should have been in fifty or a hundred years ago. Two successive Tory Governments told us "We have never had it so good", whilst these people were suffering.
The hon. Gentleman talks about all these things, but what is it all going to cost? Can he tell us? We are to have all these programmes, his party says, and reduced taxation. It is absolute nonsense, but that is what his party has been saying in the electoral campaigning. Meals on wheels, he spoke about, and more home helps. My hon. Friend gave us the figures, and the extension of these figures. We need more; we need more of everything; but it is idle to present this case as the hon. Gentleman did and at the same time say we can reduce taxation. He must either say to the people, "We are going to get these things and you have got to be prepared to pay for them" or else he must keep his mouth shut.
The hon. Gentleman and the party opposite continually say this, but it depends on what is meant by direct taxation. If we include National Insurance contributions with income tax and surtax and estate duty we shall get a very different answer from the one which the party opposite is now giving. There was a massive increase in National Insurance contributions, a more than three-fold increase under the Tory Party between 1961 and 1964, in the most regressive part of our taxation system. The figures were given in Answers to Questions in this House.
I am not prepared any longer to take from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford or his party their continual accusations against this party of cheating, of deception, of lowering—I heard one Scottish Member opposite the other day say—lowering the moral tone of political life. Such accusations come singularly inappropriately from a party which connived at the lies associated with the Suez fiasco, even the Profumo affair, when five Cabinet Ministers went downstairs and connived at a lie incorporated in a public statement and in a personal statement by the Minister involved. For that party to talk about moral standards in politics, to talk about cheating and deceiving—whom do they think they are talking about?
The hon. Gentleman talked about increased expenditure on these things. When his party were in power in the early 'sixties and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Wirral (Mr. Selwyn Lloyd) introduced their incomes policy, the first wages to be frozen were those of the nurses and hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on that Front Bench supported that, including the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford. Does he deny that? Did he go into the Lobby, or did he not, supporting the freeze against the nurses? Did the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) go into the Lobby supporting that? I ask because she is now campaigning and shedding crocodile tears about nurses' pay. But she supported that policy. We have given the biggest increase in nurses' pay they have had for a generation. It is not enough; theirs is slave labour still; and I have campaigned on this and will continue to do so. The meals allowance they are getting, £48, is nonsense. But it ill behoves hon. Members on that side to complain about these things in view of their record in the 'sixties.
Let us look at the overall picture of social security. The hon. Member for St. Albans (Mr. Goodhew) talked about increased expenditure in real terms. Let me tell him what has happened since his party got their backsides on those benches. Total expenditure on social security has been quite startling in the last few years, and not only in money terms. In 1964–65, total expenditure was £2,051 million. This year—1968–69—it was £3,313 million which is a 61 per cent. increase in money terms and a 37·8 per cent. increase in real terms, in the last five years. We have been criticised for it, because hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite complain about the unselective nature of many of these things.
I believe that the hon. Member for St. Albans is one of the proponents of the idea that we should be more selective in paying out social benefits. Hon. Members opposite never tell us how they would do it. We have done it in respect of family allowances through income tax, which is the fairest way of doing it.
I am sorry, but I cannot give way. I know that many people wish to speak, and I want to sit down soon, but I have an awful lot of abuse to hurl yet. As my hon. Friend said, the value of the basic pensions has increased in real terms by 20 per cent. since 1964. He mentioned the personal allowances for taxation, which are very real to these under-paid people. There are still too many pensioners literally left in the cold. In my opinion the pockets of relative poverty are still too large for anybody with a social conscience to view with equanimity.
One is bound to express great concern for these people, but when the Leader of the Opposition repeatedly sheds his copious crocodile tears for the under-privileged—and the hon. Member for Hertford today gave his full measure of those tears—and talks about the 250,000 children who are below the poverty line, I am bound to ask what his party was doing between 1951 and 1964. Were those children above the poverty line then? Have they suddenly gone below it since 1964? Then we have references to the chronic sick, the disabled, and the old chestnut about the over-80s. I believe that the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who is to reply, defended this position back in 1963.
Since the hon. Gentleman has raised this point I shall certainly refer to it in winding up. But is he sure that he has told us the truth about the nurses? I speak only from recollection, but my recollection is that the claim went to arbitration, and I believe that the arbitration court awarded 7 per cent., and that that was paid.
My recollection is contrary to the hon. Lady's but I will bet her that the right hon. Member for Wirral, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, froze the nurses' wages, saying that the public servants—the people for whom the Government were responsible—would have their wages compulsorily frozen, thus setting an example which he hoped would be followed by the rest of the nation. That is undeniable. The hon. Lady can look at the records. She can get the information from the fellows in the Box, if she wants to.
Order. The hon. Member must not, even inadvertently, call attention to the presence of strangers.
I withdraw that remark immediately, Mr. Speaker, I believe that I am right in my recollection when I say that the hon. Lady defended the non-payment of pensions to the over-80s when she was a Minister. It ill behoves the party opposite now to say that something ought to be done for those people. That kind of hypocrisy leaves us breathless but not speechless.
The implication of the hon. Member's speech is that we are going to spend an awful lot on certain services and therefore, by definition, we must be going to spend a lot less on others. The Leader of the Opposition is on record as saying that he will cut housing subsidies—perhaps not eliminate them, but reduce them drastically. This can have only one implication, namely, considerably increased rents. If the party opposite is going to campaign on that they had better do so.
The hon. Member criticised the new social insurance scheme. We shall debate that matter later at some length. But if we want more generous pensions we must educate our people to pay more for them. The Government do not pluck finance out of the sky. It is a redistributive exercise. I make no apology for that, and neither does my party. We want to see the redistribution of social wealth in this country in a far more equitable way than occurs at the moment. This is one of the major instruments for doing that. It is one, but not the only one. It is not even the major one. I hope that in the next election campaign we shall fight on this as one of our major platforms.
There has been talk about the occupational schemes. Let me refer to the miners' scheme. The miners receive £1 a week. My father was a coal miner. He slogged away in the pits all his life. He did not get a pension, because he was employed by private coal owners. Now they get £1. The miners were ill-advised by their leaders at the time. They were persuaded that they would get a good pension for a not very good contribution. It is not possible to do that. It is not possible in a private scheme, and it is not possible in a public scheme.
The hon. Member says that they will not get the benefit of this scheme for 20 years. I agree that it will not come to fruition for 20 years, but it will go on in that period, as all big national schemes must. When the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) introduced his celebrated swindle it did not appear over-night.
There are certain mischievous and even pernicious influences at work, trying to whip up that kind of scare.
The Daily Express of 28th October said:
Mr. Ralph Harris, general director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, said, Let us hope that the trade union leaders … are alive to the implied threat to the private pensions schemes. Twelve and a half million people with accumulating pensions rights were put at risk by this ill-conceived, mischievous, and redundant pension of State welfare …'".
This is the same person who writes in the Black Paper on Education—which proves his worth.
My right hon. Friend talked about the widows. I hope that there will be some mention in the Bill and the White Paper about existing widows under 50 years of age, because the scheme is bound to take some time to come to fruition and the widows under 50 are one of the most under-privileged sections of our community. It is an indefensible position, and I hope that the Government will do something forthwith for that section of the community.
I turn, very briefly, to an educational point. I represent a Scottish constituency. Those who represent Scottish constituencies find it difficult to understand why the comprehensive principle has been put into the political cockpit. It has been an accepted principle in Scottish education for a long time. We have had our 12-plus or our selection. That is being got rid of in Scotland, and there has not been much commotion about it. I give this warning to right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. It may be that I should not, but I like to be fair-minded. I warn them not to get themselves into the position of appearing to be the party which favours the selection and segregation of children at the age of 11. It will be dangerous for them if they try to persuade the vast bulk of people in England and Wales that it is educationally, morally, socially and economically wise to separate children into sheep and goats for the rest of their lives at the age of 11. That is what the 11-plus means. Those who go to grammar schools are branded as successes and those who go to secondary modern schools are branded as failures for the rest of their lives.
It is rather sinister at this juncture in the educational controversy that the Tory Party's spokesman on education has thought fit to get out. He could not stand the heat. I have much admiration for the hon. Member for Finchley and a great respect for her ability, but we on this side of the House think that she will be the "skinhead" of the Tory Party in educational matters. I hope that we are proved wrong. Already she has made noises about "botched-up comprehensive schemes".
Right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are very careful not to say that they are opposed to the comprehensive principle. They say, "No, we are not opposed to it, but this is not the time." The time is never opportune for reforms of this kind. I hope that everyone believes that Britain's children have the right to the kind of educational facilities which will draw out of them the abilities that they have, at their own speed and in their own time. It is our responsibility to provide the teachers, the institutions and the curricula. At the same time, I do not believe that all children are born equal. Demonstrably they are not. We have to provide the facilities to cater for the abilities of them all.
I gather from reading the newspapers that the hon. Lady has a problem in her family, as I have, that one child is academically minded whereas others are not. Children have to be catered for equally and convinced that one child is not a first-class citizen and another second-class. That cannot be done by putting them into separate buildings, with uniforms and better standards for one class of child. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen disagree with that, they had better say loud and clear that they believe in segregation and that some children at the age of 11 show signs that they will lead the nation and that the failures will be the hewers of wood and the drawers of water.
I do not pay too much attention to the Bill which is to come before us. Whatever we do in the matter of putting legislation on the Statute Book, it will be a very long haul. I hope that we shall not appear to be doing it out of any sense of vindictiveness. Whatever we do, I hope that it will be done with a due sense of our responsibility to the children involved. That is a most important point which must not be overlooked.
We may exaggerate and abuse each other in this House but, at the end of the day, when we discuss education, the lives of youngsters who at the moment are inarticulate are in our hands. I hope that we shall not let them down by indulging in too many verbal and political gymnastics in this House. We have to provide the facilities for all our children in institutions which are as large as possible. Only in big educational institutions can we get the range of facilities to suit the range of abilities in a catchment area. If we accept that principle, it seems inevitable that we go on towards the comprehensive principle.
If there are local authorities in the country who deliberately put their heads in the sand, it is our responsibility here to say, "You will not be allowed to do it." Florence Horsbrugh did that. When she was Minister of Education, she stopped the Labour-controlled L.C.C. from building comprehensive schools. She interfered. This House has the sovereign responsibility in the emergent aspects of policy. Let us not have this humbug about the Government interfering with the rights of local authorities. We have always interfered, be it in health, education, or any other matter.
To be rebuked by the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) for irresponsibility, as my noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) was, must seem a crushing blow. No one speaks with greater authority on that subject than the hon. Member for Fife, West.
I thought that his attempt to play down the Bill concerned with overriding local authorities on educational matters was a complete failure.
The hon. Gentleman is an acute Parliamentarian, and he knows that the issue which will arise on that Measure is not whether the comprehensive form of secondary education is universally applicable or universally right. The Government have made clear that the simple, short point which will arise on that Measure is whether local authorities who do not wish and whose electors do not wish them to move over to a wholly comprehensive system shall be compelled to violate the pledges on which they were elected in order to carry out the policies of the Government. That is the issue posed bluntly by the Government who, admittedly, have shown little respect for local authorities in other matters. That is the central point with which I hope that the right hon. Lady will deal when she replies to the debate.
The hon. Member for Fife, West, was frank. He hates the grammar schools and wants to see them abolished. He gave us all that stuff about segregation, uniforms and the rest of it. But how does the Prime Minister come into this? The right hon. Lady will remember the clear statement which the Prime Minister made at a gathering which I happened to attend of the 1963 Campaign for Education. He was asked the specific question:
Will the Labour Party abolish all grammar schools?
If I may answer the second question first, would the Labour Party abolish all grammar schools, the answer to this, as a former grammar school boy is, 'Over my dead body'.
He then added, with his agreeable sense of humour:
There may be some people who think that is worth it. I do not.
I will not enter into controversy on that aspect of the matter, but that was a clear pledge given in public by the man who is now head of the Government. Although no doubt the results of the five by-elections declared last night confirm that no one now believes a word that the Prime Minister says, it is essential to the decorum of our public life that a pledge given by a man who is now head of the Government should at least be referred to at the time at which the Government of which he is head are doing the precise opposite.
Although it is true that nothing that the Secretary of State for Social Services does ought to surprise any of us, I share my noble Friend's surprise that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to be personally present in the House today or at least to give an explanation for his absence. It is the practice of the House in the debate on the Loyal Address that the senior Minister concerned with the subject being taken should be present to speak. The House will recall that with his habitual courtesy the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was here to do so yesterday and that with his characteristic ebullience the Secretary of State for the Home Department was present to do so on Wednesday.
Today the Secretary of State for Social Services is not here. There may be good reasons, but at least we should have been given some explanation. The matter we are discussing is what his own Minister of State described as the crowning glory of the Government. Whether it be that is perhaps arguable, but it is certainly a matter with which the Secretary of State has been personally associated, as I know, for at least 10 or 12 years. He is, for better or worse—I think for worse—personally very much responsible for these whole proposals. Everybody knows that the Minister of State came in only when they had been largely formulated. It is intolerable that the Secretary of State should not either come here or give the good explanation which there may be—I do not pre-judge it—and which could be given, if it exists.
I sympathise with the Minister of State, the more so because those who have studied the Secretary of State know that these absences are rarely accidental. When there is a matter from which there is popularity to be gained, there is the Secretary of State to announce it. When there is something jolly difficult to explain, it is left, as it was this morning, to a junior Minister.
I rather agree. Given an appallingly difficult—almost impossible—wicket, the Minister of State did very well, though he gave away the fact that he and his colleagues are badly rattled about the effect on occupational schemes of these proposals by the note of unwonted asperity which he substituted for his normal geniality when he dealt with this subject. The House will remember that the hon. Gentleman suddenly became terribly indignant about those who had expressed perfectly legitimate and reasonable doubts as to the effect on occupational schemes in which they are interested. When he came to that stage, he became intensely indignant. He is becoming indignant again now.
I was not indignant because people had expressed concern. My indignation was directed against those who, by their statements, had led people to believe these things, which were quite untrue.
The hon. Gentleman by that intervention, which has taken up two minutes of my time, has confirmed precisely what I was saying—that he is nervous and touchy on this precise point, and rightly so.
Following up what he has said, I want to ask him a number of questions. First, he told us that a White Paper on the abatement terms would be published next week. The House knows that the Secretary of State has been engaged since about February in discussions with those responsible for pension funds on these terms. Can the Minister of State tell us—he must know by now, if a White Paper is to be published next week—whether what is in the White Paper is being published in agreement with those with whom the Secretary of State was negotiating? Can we be told that?
The hon. Gentleman was very keen to interrupt me when I referred to his tetchiness. When I asked a serious question which interests 12 million people he says, "Wait for the White Paper".
The right hon. Gentleman is asking me to intervene. It would be absurd for me to anticipate a White Paper which is to be published next week. The right hon. Gentleman knows that.
The White Paper will no doubt contain very detailed formulae which, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, it would be foolish to ask him to deal with in an intervention. I was not doing that. I was asking him whether the terms have been arrived at in agreement with those with whom the Secretary of State had been negotiating. That question is susceptible of an answer "Yes" or "No". Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to take just a moment to answer the question? Apparently not. Very well. I think that the House will draw its own conclusions.
It would be quite absurd for me to try to speak on behalf of the organisations which have been involved in this consultation. The right hon. Gentleman is simply wasting the time of the House.
The hon. Gentleman knows quite well that he is not being asked to speak on behalf of other organisations, which are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves. Surely he must know whether those organisations and his Secretary of State have or have not agreed. That is what he is being asked, not whether they have expressed doubts. I challenge him to answer "Yes" or "No." He either does not know or will not tell the House.
Very well. I will ask him one or two more questions. The hon. Gentleman said that policemen and firemen would still be able under this scheme to retire at the earlier ages than 65 which are provided by their occupational schemes. I ask him this. which again is susceptible of a plain "Yes" or "No." Will the pensions on which they can retire at, say, 60 be, for the period before they become entitled to their National Insurance pension at 65, at the rates now provided under their present schemes, or will they be cut back? Can the hon. Gentleman answer that? The hon. Gentleman went out of his way to try to reassure these particular people. It was not my noble Friend nor I who introduced this subject. It was the Minister of State. Here again, he must know the answer. Will they be able to retire at the earlier age on pensions in accordance with their present schemes or on pensions which, to use his own expression, will be cut back? The hon. Gentleman does not appear to be so willing to intervene at this point.
I will ask him another question. Before these proposals are introduced in legislation, has the Minister ascertained from his colleagues concerned with the other public service pension schemes whether their schemes will need to be cut back? Has he consulted them? Does he know the answer, and does he know the extent to which they will require to be cut back?
The Minister of State knows full well that some of these schemes—those for the home Civil Service, those for the defence services—are on a non-contributory basis. Is it not obvious that if a noncontributory pension is cut back because a certain amount of extra contributory State pension is being awarded that is to the disadvantage of the person who sacrifices some non-contributory for some highly contributory pension? Can the Minister of State tell us whether in the case of the Armed Forces and the Civil Service, which have non-contributory pensions, there is to be any cutting back? Apparently he cannot.
Let me assure the right hon. Gentleman that all these questions will be dealt with at the time when the White Paper is published. The fact that I am not being trapped into answering every question that the right hon. Gentleman has put does not mean either that I do not know or that there is not an answer, but when the White Paper is published these are precisely the questions which I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will try to catch Mr. Speaker's eye to present.
I want to get it clear on which limb the hon. Gentleman now rests. He said, to begin with, that when the White Paper is presented all these questions will be answered. He then went on to suggest that, if I had the good fortune to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, I might ask these questions. That is not the same assurance, particularly after the hon. Gentleman's performance this morning. I want to know whether the hon. Gentleman's answer means that the White Paper when published will not only give the terms of abatement—that it obviously will do, with greater or less clarity—but will also contain, at least in respect of the pension schemes for which the Government are directly responsible in the public service field, a clear statement of the extent to which those pensions have to be cut back to accommodate the Government scheme. Will it do that? Unless it does that, the hon. Gentleman's intervention was not very helpful. If it means that, he can tell us and I shall pass on from this point. Of course the hon. Gentleman does not assist the House on that point either.
Very well. Let me pursue this a little further. Have the Ministers concerned with the nationalised industries been consulted about the pension schemes in the industries for which they are responsible? This is a direct Ministerial responsibility, because under all the nationalisation Statutes the Minister must approve the pension scheme of the nationalised industry concerned. Have those Ministers been consulted and can they inform those in their industries whether their pensions are to be cut back and, if so, to what extent?
The hon. Gentleman was much more plain than his right hon. Friend—or perhaps he was just less adroit. At Question time on the 20th of this month, the Secretary of State said that the pension schemes would have to be modified. The Minister of State said they would have to be cut back, because otherwise, with the State pension added, the person concerned might be obtaining by way of pension more than he was earning on retirement. That is not self-evident. If the two pensions together are going to reach that level, it is not self-evident that it is the occupational pension which should be cut back. With a proper system of contracting out such as we had under the National Insurance Act, 1959, this does not and need not happen. It is simply the fact that the Government have adopted a scheme from which, of its nature it is very difficult to provide contracting out, that this arises and not because of any law of nature.
Those who are concerned with their pension schemes ought to realise that it is because of the choice by the Government of a scheme of this sort, carried very high up the earnings scale with very high contributions and redistribution between different levels of incomes, that they find themselves, to their surprise, in a position in which they will have to cut back the occupational schemes.
The Minister of State made a fair point about the occupational schemes. He said that they compare unfavourably with the State scheme in respect of widowhood provision. That is perfectly true of some of them. But he did not make the point which bears the other way, that whereas the State scheme has no lump sum provision on retirement, the great majority of the occupational schemes have. Many of the people in those schemes are very much attached to those lump sum payments which help the inevitable readjustment of people when they come to retire.
If their future pension provisions are going to be cut back—perhaps the Minister of State can answer this—will the future earnings of pension in respect of a lump sum payment be liable to be cut back, too? Will the lump sum payment, because of the introduction of the Government scheme, be smaller than it otherwise would have been? This is a point which I have been asked by dozens of constituents who are in occupational schemes, mostly in the public service sector. I have always said that the Government have refused to tell us. But the anxiety of these people is very real. Can we be told the answer? After all, the lump sum payment does not enter into the equation to which the hon. Gentleman referred of an excess of combined pensions over earnings. It is a once-for-all operation, or sometimes with a further payment when the widow dies; but that is another complication. Can we be told that whatever else is done to the occupational schemes, the lump sums will continue to be earned on the present basis without any diminution whatsoever?
I want to take this matter further. These occupational schemes have grown very much in recent years—the Minister of State knows this—in the public and still more strikingly in the private sector. That growth was one of the purposes of the 1959 Act, and it is a purpose which has been in large measure achieved. Can we be assured that this growth will continue? The whole emphasis for years has been on encouragement. Many wisely administered trade unions have used a great deal of their negotiating power to secure this from the employers. But now we come to the business of cutting back these schemes, it is not only a question of going below the present level. Will growth be resumed?
Let me put another question to the Minister of State. It is the nature of this scheme that the more abatement there is, the sooner it runs into deficit again. This derives from the obvious fact that, as with previous schemes, but on a larger scale, the income paid by way of graduated contributions is used, and will be for many years, largely to pay flat rate bene- fits. That was indeed, if I may remind the hon. Member for Fife, West, what in his unregenerate days the Secretary of State for Social Services described as a swindle. He is now in that business on a much larger scale than any of his predecessors. I am only sorry that the hon. Member for Fife, West has not kept up with him. I want to put this point seriously because there is much anxiety about it. The essence of this scheme is that if any really large amount of abatement is allowed, the income for the next few years will be much less. Indeed, it will be interesting to see what the Government Actuary says in his Report.
It seems to me quite clear that the Government will not be inclined to allow much abatement because of this loss of income and because of the need, therefore, to increase the contribution all round much earlier than would be the case if there were not much abatement. If the occupational schemes are to continue with confidence, it must be absolutely clear that in two or three years' time the Government will not say "There is too much abatement. We are losing income. The terms of abatement must be worsened." That is the fear in the minds of many people concerned with these schemes.
Though all this goes back to "Signposts for the Sixties", published in 1961 when a scheme of this sort was advocated, and though we were told in the 1966 Election manifesto that the "Tory swindle" would be replaced by another scheme—"replaced", if I may say so, was a very delicately chosen word, for it has been replaced by a larger model based on the very principles which were then attacked—it seems curious that this is now introduced only at the end of this Government's term of office and is only to come into operation after the end of this Parliament. I say that, I hope, correctly. It is always possible that the Home Secretary will find the RedcliffeMaud reforms are taking so long that it will be necessary to prolong the life of Parliament. But under the present law it must be after the end of the Parliament.
It seems strange, after hearing all the ideas about which the hon. Gentleman waxed so eloquent, that the Government, after years of brooding, delay this Measure so that it can only come into operation at a time when it will depend on others to decide in what shape it comes into operation or, indeed, if it ever operates at all.
I do not intend to follow the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) in his attempts to persuade the Minister of State to discuss a White Paper that has not yet been laid before us. Nor am I going to follow him into the somewhat complicated and tortuous fields of pension legislation.
However, I cannot forbear to say to the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) that his attitude on housing indicates the sheerest effrontery that I have ever heard. Whenever Opposition spokesmen speak of the housing achievements of this Government, they always conveniently overlook the fact that last year we achieved the highest figure for local authority and private housing that has ever been achieved since the war. The hon. Gentleman never replies to the point which we put to him and which we shall continue to put to him, that the fall in local authority building now is directly the responsibility of councils run by his friends and, in fact, many local authorities which are now building houses and which have changed hands from Labour to Tory are carrying out programmes which were laid down by outgoing Labour councils. If may do a little advertising for something which will, I hope, come before the House next month, I ask the hon. Lord to read with care and interest the forthcoming report on housing subsidies which my Estimates Sub-Committee has investigated. He will find there some of the reasons why our housing situation still presents some of its difficulties.
I read the Gracious Speech with pleasure because it puts before us much that is overdue in both long-term and short-term policies. We shall await the unveiling of some of the legislation with interest, because a good deal of it is still, of necessity, shrouded in mystery. All of us on this side understand both the economic and psychological effects of rising prices on the people, and the disastrous effect of action taken, often against the advice of trade union leaders, on both earnings and productivity. In the mind of most of my constituents, the main failing of this Government has been their unwillingness—surely not their inability—to deal with rising prices. If we had a properly planned economy, which we have not, prices would be controlled. Even some capitalist countries have decided to control prices. So why do not we?
I am glad, therefore, that there is a promise in the Gracious Speech of legislation to deal with the question of rising rents. But I have been concerned by what is written in the Press about my right hon. Friend's intentions. If he intends to allow local authorities to raise rents by 7s. 6d. or 10s. a week without first applying to him, there will be a great deal of opposition from these benches, since that, clearly, will not prevent the increase in rents spoken of in the Gracious Speech.
Another thing which I can never understand in the whole context of rising prices is why my right hon. Friend the First Secretary of State has never attempted to mobilise the most important section of the community, the women, to deal with the problem, particularly where women are the greatest spenders, that is, on the everyday things which mothers with families have to buy. I am sure that, if she were to mobilise the support of women, much could be done to persuade them to be more critical and more effective in the way they purchase the sort of things which they have to obtain every day.
All of us on both sides are glad that the Home Secretary is to introduce legislation to deal with the growing menace of drug addiction. We must be much tougher with those who break into premises and steal drugs which they can then sell on the black market and with those who offer drugs to children in schools, to young people in youth clubs and to young people anywhere. We must deal also with the irresponsibility of doctors who over-prescribe. We have not dealt satisfactorily with that yet, and neither have we dealt satisfactorily with the treatment of drug addicts or with the after-care of those who have had treatment in hospitals. The situation is serious in this respect, and one might have expected the noble Lord the Member for Hertford to mention this as a problem of great concern and one for the solution of which much more aftercare and help is needed from society.
Last Session, we introduced legislation to improve and humanise the divorce law. The Gracious Speech promises that, during the coming Session, there will be further legislation to make financial provision for parties in divorce. My hon. Friend the Minister of State said nothing about that, though I had rather hoped that he would. If the Bill is merely to lay down procedures for the division of joint matrimonial property, there will be great disappointment on both sides of the House. The Government's reply in the other place when the Divorce Reform Bill was before it offered no hope for the divorced wife and children of the lower-paid worker. I am glad that something is to be done for widows, but there are other fatherless families in this country suffering poverty and deprivation. Fatherless families as a whole, including widows, are a section of society within which there is great deprivation and poverty in our affluent society.
What is needed is a proper allowance paid by the State in certain cases for as long as is necessary. In my view, the State should take over the responsibility of recovering from the husband in either divorce or separation whatever he can pay to support his family, and this burden should be removed from the divorced or separated wife. If these proposals are not included in the Bill, we shall try to amend it and have that principle accepted by the Government.
I welcome wholeheartedly the proposal in the Gracious Speech regarding equal pay, but I regret that it will not be effective for another six years at least. This is a long time for women to have to wait for justice. I should like to see a firm date set early within the lifetime of the next Parliament, and I hope that the trade unions will stand firm on the question of equal pay, not allowing special strings to be attached. Women have a special function in society, and the laws which protect women in industry must not be diluted in order to achieve equal pay.
I am pleased to welcome the foreshadowed legislation requiring local education authorities to prepare plans for the reorganisation of secondary education on comprehensive lines. As one who has urged this in the House on many occa- sions, I am delighted that at last—I regard it as long overdue—the Government are to take steps to see that the handful of local education authorities which have defied the Government so far will be asked to put their house in order.
I am sorry that my own local education authority is one of that small number which have made it necessary for the Government to introduce a Bill, and I regret, too, that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), the other Member for Wolverhampton, is not in the Chamber today to defend the action of the Tory-controlled Wolverhampton council in this matter.
I support comprehensive education because I passionately want to see all the children in my constituency having the opportunity of the best kind of education. If the best kind of education happens to be the kind of education which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames mentioned when he was chastising the Prime Minister for what he had said, that is, if it is a grammar school level of education, then it should be offered to a far greater number of children. I support comprehensive education because it cannot be offered or provided otherwise. It is a matter of enormous regret that some local education authorities are prepared to play politics with our children's education.
If the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames says, as the Leader of the Opposition does, that we are imposing our will on local education authorities, where is the imposition of will? The Government had this proposal in their election programme of 1964 and again in 1966. In 1964, we were returned as the Government, admittedly with a small majority, but it was still our policy and those who voted for us then knew it. In 1966, we were returned with a much greater majority, with the same policy in our election programme, and people knew it. We are carrying out the programme on which we were elected to power, as is our duty.
In Wolverhampton, the education authority's scheme is that the two single-sex grammar schools there should be preserved for all time. We have a number of "Cinderella" secondary modern schools which have not been improved at all, and somewhere in between those two extremes there are some so-called comprehensive schools. Many of them ate in good post-war buildings, but by the very nature of things they cannot offer true comprehensive education so long as there is this pernicious creaming off of the small section of top ability children into the two single-sex grammar schools. This does not work. Teachers' organisations throughout the country are solidly in favour of comprehensive education. I have had an enormous number of letters and petitions and have met deputations from teachers and parents in the Wolverhampton area complaining about the hotch-potch that the Wolverhampton authority has introduced.
What does the right hon. Gentleman say? What will the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) say about local education authorities that are thwarting the express wishes of parents and teachers in their area?
At most local elections, including that in my borough, this was a major issue. In the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames, where this was a major issue, Conservative councillors were returned for 59 of the 60 seats. The view of parents and electors in the Royal Borough is therefore very clear.
The right hon. Gentleman is not answering the question I put to him about my area. What would be his reply if he were Secretary of State for Education and the local education authority was thwarting the will of the people and the teachers?
They made their decision at the last General Election, as they will do at the next, when they support a Labour Government again.
It is bigoted selfishness that prevents a sensible proposal being put forward by the Wolverhampton authority, the Birmingham authority and the other seven authorities that are defying the Government. My right hon. Friend has all my support in bringing forward the Bill. It is the same kind of bigoted selfishness that compels the Tory-controlled education authority in Wolverhampton to throw off all the Labour managers and governors. One of the Labour councillors made a speech last March at a prize-giving at a so-called comprehensive school saying that all the schools should be like that and then there would be a much greater opportunity for Wolverhampton children to obtain scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge. Perhaps this explains why the Tory-controlled Wolverhampton education authority did not really want to see proper comprehensive education.
The Leader of the Opposition has chosen this issue as one of the main planks of his opposition to the Government, and he comes forward in his rusty armour as defender of privilege and the 11-plus, and the destroyer of a modern educational system, which comprehensive education is. I think that he is on a losing ticket. Both he and the hon. Member for Finchley have said that comprehensive schools are all right provided they are purpose-built. This means, if it means anything, that we must postpone the introduction of comprehensive education anywhere until we can afford to spend many million of pounds on scrapping existing secondary schools, which may well be very good and in very good buildings that can be expanded and adapted to decent-sized comprehensive schools. It means that we must ignore all this capital stock and postpone comprehensive education until we can go ahead and build a large number of new purpose-built schools. The hon. Lady and the Leader of the Opposition know perfectly well that this is a nonsense.
The hon. Lady also said in her first radio interview after she was appointed that comprehensive schools were all right on large estates, implying that what she regards as second best for secondary education is all right for large council estates.
The hon. Lady said "large estates", and in this country they are large local authority estates, not large private development estates. So she is saying—and this is typical of the Opposition—that second best is good enough for the workers of this country. She has a great deal to learn and a great deal of study to do before she is accepted as a believable spokesman on education.
If the hon. Lady is saying, "We will allow some comprehensive education. We want to maintain the grammar schools, but we are opposed to the 11-plus examination", how would the Opposition then select the children to go into the grammar schools? If they believe in keeping comprehensive schools and perhaps building new ones, but at the same time keeping the grammar schools, how are the comprehensive schools likely to build up viable sixth forms? How does the hon. Lady intend to attract the best academically qualified staff to the comprehensive schools if the grammar schools are allowed to exist alongside them? If she says, "We will keep the grammar schools, but have no 11-plus", what kind of selection procedures would she adopt to allow the parental choice that her party makes great play with?
Perhaps she would also tell us what parental choice existed for children who went to the secondary modern schools under the tripartite system, because the numbers of children entering grammar schools varied greatly in different parts of the country. The average was 20 per cent., so 20 per cent. of the bright children—drawing a line roughly coinciding with the number of grammar school places and not the innate ability of the children tested at the time—went into the grammar schools. The other 80 per cent. went to secondary modern schools, so where was the choice when Conservative Governments were in power?
I hope that we shall be told today that we shall have the Bill very quickly. I want to see it as the first introduced this Session, because we need it. If the Opposition intend to oppose it hook, line and sinker, both here and in another place, they will expose themselves as the defenders of an outmoded, Victorian, divisive education system.
The hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) spoke about the workers being given second best. I intend to speak about the Government's pensions proposals, and I am clear in my own mind that one of their consequences is that many people will get a second-best pension scheme, particularly those in the earning bracket towards the top of the limit set by the Government, or slightly above.
The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security made great play of the apprehensions caused among many people by what he implied were irresponsible statements. I found his speech most alarming. His remark that there would be a degree of cut-back of occupational pensions is in itself enough to increase the apprehensions already felt. He also talked about uninformed allegations. He may not like some of the comments I shall make, but I hope I shall at least convince him that they are not uninformed.
I want to ask four simple questions about the Government's scheme for national superannuation. They are the questions that the man who will be subject to the scheme should ask himself.
First, is it the scheme that the man now in employment wants? Second. will he like the scheme when he retires? Third, does it represent a good bargain for him? Fourth, does it represent a good bargain for the country?
It is impossible to say whether this scheme is what the man now in employment wants, because not one person in a hundred and probably not one in a thousand understands the scheme, its construction, and how it will operate, despite the excellent abbreviated booklet, one of the easiest Government publications to read that I have come across. In mathematics and actuarial matters, simplicity can conceal as well as reveal, and the booklet conceals many of the complications and difficulties. The proposals contain a novel element, the revaluation of each year's earnings before averaging for pension entitlement. A very few occupational schemes have tried this, but it is the introduction of computerised records which makes it possible. This is the scheme's central feature, and a good one, but the Minister should have stopped after that decision and issued a White Paper then, and opened a general discussion on the difficulties which that would create.
Instead, in typical fashion—we know the right hon. Gentleman very well here—he went on to pile ingenuity on ingenuity and his scheme finished up with too many variables. The right hon. Gentleman has got himself, and those responsible for occupational schemes, in a muddle. The person who is not in a muddle is the man who will pay for and draw the pension, and that is because he has not even begun to understand what it is all about yet, but he will be in a muddle when he does.
Also, the complexity of the Government scheme will make occupational schemes more difficult to operate. This is particularly so for the occupational scheme integrated with the national provision. I believe that many people will understand neither the State scheme nor their occupational scheme. I hope that the Minister will, even at this late stage, pursue what I call the White Paper discussions through this Session until the Government arrive at a point of wide agreement and understanding of the provisions, so that the legislation can be attuned to the administrative requirements.
This is what the Government are going to do with Maud: the Gracious Speech says that they will put forward proposals. I believe that time spent in this kind of reconnaissance would be immensely valuable. I am horrified to think that the Government will blunder on with this scheme, determined to bring it in in 1972. As my hon. Friend said, this is unnecessarily hasty, because there will be little benefit within five years for anyone, and the scheme is projected to be fully effective some 25 years ahead.
I said that the scheme had too many variables. The feature which I see as causing the most trouble is the use of tile earnings index for manufacturing industry to provide the updating effect. This has not commanded the attention and discussion that it deserves. This is taking the tiger by the tail with a vengeance. This index is likely to be the fastest rising index that the Government could have selected as a basis for revaluation. If that was deliberate, all well and good, but the Government should think of the consequences.
It is unrealistic to regard this index as likely to be representative of the rate of increase of earnings over the whole range of employment. These are the jobs where skills are increasing most rapidly, where the bargaining power of those in them is the greatest, and where the jobs, in this modern world, involve heavy manual effort which people are reluctant to undertake and which therefore command a premium.
If I am right and the Government have hooked themselves on to the most rapidly rising index, people who work in jobs not included in this index will find their updated earnings for pension entitlement exceeding their annual earned entitlement, even though they have stayed in the same job and kept their relative position in the national wage structure. The extraordinary fact is that a person could say, "My pension entitlement 25 years ago is worth more than my entitlement today, although I am in exactly the same place in the economy. They have updated my earnings by the fastest moving index." This has not received enough attention.
Then there is the question of the 60 per cent.—25 per cent. split, the fact that the first slice of earnings up to half the national average earns a 60 per cent. entitlement for pension, and the next slice, which represents average earnings, bringing one up to one and a half times, earns 25 per cent. This is equivalent to uplifting the first slice by 35 per cent. The Government are providing a basic pension of 17½ per cent. of basic earnings and are then paying 25 per cent. on top of that, so they are providing a basic pension, on average earnings, of £4 a week, and topping this up with 25 per cent. of earnings over the whole level of earnings up to one and a half times the national average.
Why did not the Minister express it this way? It would have had great advantages to recognise that there is still a basic pension in this scheme. It is a 25 per cent. of earnings scheme, with a basic pension put on at the bottom. Indeed, the man of 25 will ask what he is getting for his contribution, which is in respect of that part of his earnings in excess of half national average. He will say, "I am paying contributions for one and a half times average earnings. All I am getting is 25 per cent. of my earnings for my earnings over half national average." He will consider other pensions schemes and say, "I am getting a pension entitlement equivalent to a 1/160th fraction in an occupational pension scheme and am paying a 4¾ per cent. contribution for it." Any occupational scheme with those terms would fold tomorrow for lack of support.
The Minister will say that I should not ignore the basic, and I do not intend to do so. If one takes a man of 25 and
includes the basic, he is getting a fraction of
It would surprise me if the Minister did not understand the scheme. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is making a speech more suited to a Committee than to a discussion on the Queen's Speech.
The hon. Gentleman says that it would be surprising if the Minister did not understand the scheme. What I am trying to show—I cannot be more general than this—is that the scheme is improperly described in its title. If that is a committee point, I am prepared to make it here, because the scheme is described as "Proposals for earnings-related social security". But it is not. The contributions are earnings-related but the benefits are most certainly related neither to earnings nor to contributions but are a product of the variables in the scheme. It would be more constructive and honest to say so.
Yet the earnings-related theme appears in both the abbreviated document and the full one. This is a scheme with a number of kinks, and I will discuss one more, whether or not the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Norwood) thinks that I should do so in Committee.
This has a direct bearing on the question of whether the man will like it when he retires. That is the fact that, according to the White Paper and the statutory obligation which the Government are proposing to undertake, in the updating of pensions, two different factors will be used. For the man still working, his past service entitlement will be updated by the increase of earnings in manufacturing industry. After retirement, the statutory obligation to update the pension will be linked to the factor of the cost of living index. The Government may do more, but they have no statutory obligation to do so. These two indices rise at very different speeds.
Taking the ten years 1959–1969 and 100 as the base for both indices in 1959, the consumer prices index had risen to 139 and the average earnings index to 188 by 1969. If the Government tie themselves down to the cost of living for increases in the after-retirement pension, they will have a maturing element in the scheme and two different indices to apply. I have calculated that the man who retires in 1975 and who has been on average national earnings throughout his working career will find that a man also on national average earnings retiring ten years later will have a pension 75 per cent. higher, if the Government stick to the use of the two indices. People may accept that in an occupational scheme, but I do not think that they will accept it as fair in a State scheme. It will also have a peculiar effect on provision for widows.
The Minister may say that the Government will not stick just to the cost-ofliving updating for people after retirement. In that case, I should like a specific answer to the question of what basis the Government Actuary used when costing the contributions required. That is not clear from the Appendix to the White Paper. Did the Government Actuary work on future contribution rates based on the updating of pensions after retirement according to the cost of living index, or according to some halfway house followed in recent years, or according to keeping pace with the national average earnings index?
I will answer that as it is a factual question. His assessment was made on the basis of an earnings relation rather than a cost-of-living relation.
In that case, it would have been much better to come clean and to have included that as a feature of the scheme. I still have some reservations about whether that is the case, but I must accept the Minister's assurances.
When a man comes to retire, will he consider the scheme to be all he wants? It has to be remembered that this scheme will be much less flexible than an occupational pension scheme. This has already been mentioned today. In the White Paper, the right hon. Gentleman made great play with the difficulty which the occupational scheme has in adjusting itself in some of the ways in which the Government scheme will be able to adjust itself. But he did not mention the two vital elements of flexibility which are in occupational schemes and which are not in this. One is the lump sum, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) referred, and the other, which is becoming increasingly important whether one works on the shop floor or in the office, is the ability of an occupational scheme to be adapted to early retirement. This is an important safeguard for men looking anxiously at the restructuring of industry, to use the Prime Minister's phrase. A man is able to modify his pension arrangements so as to take a slightly reduced pension and retire earlier. This feature is not present in the proposed State scheme.
I think, therefore, that the individual will feel that there is a serious lack in the Government's scheme. We are talking about 25 years ahead, and in 25 years the man at the top end of this scheme will be retiring with an earning power equivalent to that of middle management in industry today. That is what the Government are proposing. At those earning levels flexibility and the lump sum are even more important.
The man in a job will get a bad deal out of this scheme, because the new balance of his pension between State and occupational scheme will lead to a reduction in flexibility. The Minister has pitched the level of pension provision under his scheme just high enough to deter the employer from topping it up in view of all the complexities with which he has to cope, but not high enough to satisfy the man retiring at that level of pension provision. The man with career earnings at the top limit will retire with a pension of 36⅔ per cent. of his earnings, while the man with career national average earnings will retire at a pension level of 42½ per cent., incidentally below the famous half pension about which hon. Members opposite spoke.
I do not accept that this is a sufficient figure for a man at this earnings level in 25 years to consider satisfactory. Coupled with the complexities and burdens which will be laid on the employer, they are sufficiently high to persuade the employer that the State is making the provision and that he cannot struggle against all the administrative difficulties.
I hope that the Minister of State will heed my warning when I forecast with absolute conviction that over the next few years there will be an almost total freeze in the provision of new occupational pension schemes. Furthermore, after the initial period of gestation there will be a slower extension of these schemes to new firms and new industries than has been the case hitherto. This will mean a marked check to the level of real savings in the economy and it will diminish the hope of lower taxation. It therefore represents a bad bargain for the country.
The Minister of State laid great emphasis on what he called the ill-founded apprehensions of members of occupational pension schemes. The right hon. Gentleman has made many protestations of innocent intent on this subject. At the moment, it may be his intention to safeguard occupational schemes, but if the Government scheme proves unsound and unpopular, or if the sums are wrong, he may be tempted to monkey about with the rates of his own scheme and with the abatement provisions for occupational schemes. It is no wonder that people are scared. They have an example of what can happen coming into operation only next week. People who thought that they had contracted out of the State scheme are being told that over a certain level of earnings they have to be in the scheme again and have to pay earnings-related contributions. They have no longer an option to contract out altogether.
These proposals are complicated. Many people are genuinely worried. They do not yet know how they will operate their own schemes alongside the Government scheme. I hope that the right hen. Gentleman takes time to reach a stage when he can come forward with proposals which are generally supported and which are thoroughly understood and which will not leave the public at large to sort out the muddle left by an over-ingenious Minister at the Department.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) will forgive me if I do not comment on what he has said. I should like to refer to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) the other day. He made a colourful speech giving his assessment of the contents of the Gracious Speech. He deplored the fact that it lacked colour and he lumped it with all the others he had heard and likened it to a plate of cold porridge. To me it was a sober presentation of Measures which the Government propose to introduce in pursuance of their policy of social justice and reform. If it was presented in black and white, it was just as effective as though it had been presented in glorious Technicolour.
One of the items in the Gracious Speech which pleased me more than anything was the reference to education. Last year I deplored the fact that there had been very little reference to this. I join with some of my hon. Friends in deploring the absence of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) from the Opposition Front Bench. We have always listened to his remarks with the greatest respect, but it seems that the pressures of the purveyors of the Black Book have had their way and we have had a change of incumbent.
I should be the last to make any firm judgment at this stage on the future performance of the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), but together with some of my hon. Friends I am not particularly happy about the future when I read some of the pronouncements she makes on this subject, which must be fairly new to her. I see that she trots out the old Tory cliché that she intends to save everything that is best in the grammar school. That is something we hear over and over again, but I can assure her that everything that is best in the grammar school is to be found in the comprehensive school.
As she has just taken up this new job, perhaps when she goes around the schools she will discover this. In The Teacher of 24th October she is reported as having pledged herself to fight the Government's comprehensive education Bill. She said:
I would fight to save a number of grammar schools that have played an important part in their communities.
The report says that she added that in the newly developed areas a comprehensive school might be best. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) referred to this. I do not accept her interpretation of what the hon. Lady had in mind. I rather fancy that what she had in mind
was that where there was new building, and there was no difficulty about pulling old buildings down, it would be simpler to put up a comprehensive school.
Perhaps it would help if I said what I had specifically in mind. Most of us know the education in our own area best. We have a very large piece of land, which was Hendon Aerodrome, which will be developed, part council part private. It seems that it is extremely likely that the type of school that will be built to provide all kinds of education for the area will be a comprehensive school. There was nothing more sinister in it than that.
I did not see anything sinister in it at all. I thought it was simply a question of the hon. Lady realising that comprehensives were a better form of secondary education and, having a new area in which to build, she would naturally build a comprehensive school there. The only question I would put is if the comprehensive school is suitable for the newly developed area, why is it not suitable for the existing area? It is said that the grammar schools have played an important part in their communities. I agree that they have, but so did the workhouses and these had their champions until the very last moment.
I turn now to the question of the rights of central and local government in education. The Opposition have stressed the point that the Government are attempting to override local authorities. They say that the Prime Minister and the Government are usurping the freedom of choice of the local authorities. The Prime Minister was absolutely right. He said:
… this House, and the Government responsible to this House, have the right and the duty to provide equality of educational opportunity".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1969; Vol. 790, c. 36.]
This is what we have been saying for a long time. The Labour Party manifesto in 1966—"Time For Decisions" declared:
We shall press ahead with our plans to abolish the 11-plus—that barrier to educational opportunity—and reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines".
The Government were given a mandate and it is for them to redeem this pledge. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. They accuse us of not keeping our
promises, and when we keep them they say that we are doing the wrong thing.
Some progress has been made but in particular areas authorities have been holding back in presenting schemes. Unfortunately the Secretary of State has not had the statutory powers to force them to produce these schemes. The Bill mentioned in the Gracious Speech proposes that he will have these powers, and we welcome this. I want to mention one authority which has had its scheme passed, but which should be lumped together with those authorities which have already been named as backsliders.
I am referring to my own authority of Redbridge. Since Circular 10/65 was issued the Borough of Redbridge has been involved in preparing a number of schemes. The chief educational officer produced four schemes, and one after another these have been turned down by the education committee, chiefly because it is just opposed to the whole idea of comprehensive development.
Eventually it did send a scheme up to the Minister and it is interesting to note that on 28th November, 1968, the Department replied to this scheme and, referring to the proposal, said:
that is, the Secretary of State—
accepts that, in principle, they provide a satisfactory long-term basis for the development of comprehensive education within the Borough …
I always wonder just how the Secretary of State came to that conclusion. He then goes on and states that apart from the development of one comprehensive school:
… elsewhere the proposals are susceptible of implementation only over a substantial number of years, and they make no provision for the abolition of selection and separatism in the interim period.
The committee was asked to have another look at the scheme but in the meantime there has been a change in the chief education officer, which has given the education committee another reason for procrastination. Knowing a number of members of the local authority I can only suggest that they are sitting back hoping that after the next General Election they may be relieved of the whole boring exercise.
Will my hon. Friend look again at the possibility of adding the enlargement of Wanstead County High School to the major building programme? Redbridge, in its own weak way, has made a start. We cannot have a mixed economy in education, we cannot have grammar schools and comprehensive schools cheek by jowl, it does not work, but if the authority has made a start perhaps we might encourage it. The proposal is to have another comprehensive school in another part of the borough. Unfortunately the scheme is not included in the major building programme. At the same time I appreciate that the Department is allocating its resources to those authorities which are seriously applying themselves to comprehensive education.
I turn to the Report of the Select Committee on Education and Science on students and their relations with universities and colleges. I had the privilege to be a member of the Select Committee. I think that it will be agreed that its members did a reasonable and competent job. I hope that its recommendation that it be reconstituted to look into teacher training will be accepted. I do not intend to deal with the recommendations in depth, but I should like to comment on some of the issues raised. Perhaps the most controversial is the proposal to set up a higher education commission.
The Committee felt—and I think that I speak for the great majority of its members when I say this—that the disparity between the higher institutions of education, namely, the university and non-university bodies, should be removed. There are those who see in this an attack on the independence of the universities, but I quote the words of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden), who was the Chairman of Sub-Committee B, in commenting on the vast sums of money being spent on higher education. He said:
No one should therefore be surprised that Parliament, without in any way intending to infringe academic freedom, should wish to keep an eye on the value which the nation is getting for this large expenditure".
Indeed, Parliament and the country have a right to know. The binary system is suspect. There can be no justification for treating students in polytechnics and colleges of education as second-class citizens in the academic world. The time has come for parity of esteem between colleges.
The Report urges wide student participation at every level in all higher education institutions. I am confident, from my experience, that among the general body of students—and perhaps for the moment I can turn aside from one or two incidents in which the members of the Sub-Committee were involved—this participation will be used responsibly.
Among the many recommendations was one which had a particular appeal to me, as it must have to all those who have passed through one or other of the institutions of higher education. It concerns the quality of teaching. It is interesting that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in evidence, offered an opinion that indifferent teaching was one of the causes of student unrest. The suggestion is that all newly appointed staff be given organised instruction or guidance on how to teach. I would certainly subscribe to that.
The Report has been widely and variously received, but I would quote an extract from the editorial of a national daily newspaper which said:
The major achievement of this Report is that it puts the student problem in perspective. It cannot be dealt with by policemen, nor by pompous threats from local councillors to stop grants. The basic need is for universities to modernise themselves. This is one report that must not be put on the shelf.
I say "Amen" to that. I hope that the Government will have a very good look at this matter and will do something about it.
I have referred to student participation and to the need to look after the interests of students. I wish to say a few brief words about another matter which is agitating the education world, namely, teachers' pay. The teachers are agitating, and they are agitated by the smallness of their salaries. They have made a reasonable request. I know that this matter is being dealt with by the Burnham Committee and that it is not for the Minister to make a pronouncement on it. But I hope that, should a reasonable settlement be agreed, nothing will be done to hinder it.
I shall try to be brief because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak. There are only two points to which I wish to draw attention. Both concern education. One is a request for elucidation of what is in the Gracious Speech. The other is a regret that what I believe to be a much more important subject concerning education is omitted from it.
The reference in the Gracious Speech concerning education policy requires that local authorities should prepare plans for reorganising secondary education on comprehensive lines. On the face of it, there is nothing very frightening or dramatic about that. This is precisely what a great many local authorities, both Tory and Labour, have been doing for many years. They have been trying to avoid what the vast majority of parents believe to be the handicap in our education system of too early or too final selection. Hon. Members opposite rake up criticism after criticism of the Opposition and say that we are standing up for the 11-plus examination. But they should do their homework, because that is precisely what we are not doing. [Interruption.] I am not referring to the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy). If hon. Members look back to the 1958 White Paper which my right hon. Friends produced on the next steps in secondary education, they will see the encouragement given to local authorities to go ahead with preparing a variety of schemes. That is what the vast majority of them have been doing.
Secondly, we must ask the Government for further elucidation of what they have in mind. If they ask for precise date lines regardless of the resources and finances available, the local authorities and the House have cause for concern about the effects on the children and schools and on the local authorities themselves. If they ask for precise plans conforming to an extremely narrow national pattern, they gravely ignore the variety of circumstances with which local education authorities have to cope. I am delighted to see the right hon. Lady the Minister of State indicating that it is not the Government's intention to put a pistol of this kind at the heads of local authorities.
This is precisely the sort of thing on which we want confirmation and the sort of anxiety that there is among a great many local authorities, not least because of the speeches made at the Labour Party Conference and on other occasions by right hon. and hon. Members opposite. In particular, I want to refer to the speech made by the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short). I was tempted in answer to her to launch into a lecture on the meaning of local democracy, because she tried to differentiate between the wishes of the electorate in her area and the views of the recently-elected authority. We have to allow local democracy to work. If it works contrary to the wishes of people in the area, then the authority can be overthrown. That is precisely what local democracy is about, and that is how we should give it a chance of working.
I would emphasise the financial predicament of education today. It is because of this financial predicament that the pressures being suggested to local authorities by the Government are so damaging. It has taken much trouble and time to change the pattern of secondary education since the 1944 Act. The burden of organisation in respect of the all-age schools, completed only a few months ago, has involved massive secondary reorganisation. This has taken place at a time when the school population has risen in 20 years from five million to over seven million, and it has been a great burden on the education service. We should not minimise the problems which local authorities, teachers and others have faced in taking this scheme of reorganisation as far as it has gone. If it has been hard work, the prospects for the next 20 years are of even harder work on every financial assessment which we consider.
We have a bill for education of £2,000 million. Education correspondents and others tell us that to maintain existing standards without adding anything new will involve another £2,000 million by 1980—or a 6 per cent. per annum increase in expenditure simply in order to stand still. How is this to be done? Or is it to be done? The difficulty is that in too many of our discussions of the subject we are not facing this problem. The gross national product is not increasing anywhere near fast enough to meet this bill—unless we accept that education is to have a greater share of national resources than it is being given today. Is it the intention of the Government that that should happen, and can it be made to happen? The figures are very big and the demands are very strong from all sectors of education.
On the advice which we have received from overseas, and looking at our economy, we are under-investing in education, not over-investing in education. What is the Minister's view about that? If it is her view that these demands cannot be met, then in fairness to the education service as a whole there ought to be indications in the Gracious Speech about the priorities which are to be observed or not observed in the reallocation of resources within education.
In my opinion there is very little scope for adaptation or change within the schools budget. There is perhaps some scope in the schools meals service, but elsewhere, when we look at the actions which local authorities have had to take when faced with a 3 per cent. ceiling on their increases in expenditure—instead of the 6 per cent. needed simply to stand still—we can see that there is little scope for more economy. As reported recently in the local newspaper, my local authority has cut maintenance bills by £370,000 and money for school grounds by £89,000. There are teachers who are willing to teach but who cannot be employed because of budgetary reasons. Such important matters as in-service training for teachers are having to be squeezed in the schools budget. We all recognise that the maintenance budgets cannot be cut year after year, for these cuts are damaging and are bad economics.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member, who is making a first-class speech, but I do not see how he can argue this case and at the same time support his right hon. Friends in demanding cuts in public expenditure.
We shall have plenty of other opportunities to discuss public expenditure.
Bearing in mind this situation in the school budgets, the Government must face the problem and tell us what proposals they have for the pattern of higher education. We cannot continue indefinitely asserting that all the demands can be met and yet impose a ceiling of 3 per cent. in the increase in expenditure each year. The need for clarification becomes pressing. The universities will begin to demand in the early months of next year the details of the building programme for 1972–77. Parents and schools will ask whether the same proportion of the age group will find places in higher education in future.
It would be more realistic and more in keeping with the educational needs of the country if, instead of the paragraph in the Gracious Speech to which I have referred, we were told what the Government's proposals are for the development of education in the years ahead, bearing in mind the country's financial predicament and bearing in mind the claims which the education service must make in order to do no more than stand still in its standards.
I will not follow the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. Hornby) in every detail of his speech, but I wish there were even a sizeable minority on his side of the House who shared some of his views on education. In fact, he will find himself in a very small minority. It will be fascinating to see whether the progressives in the Tory Party go the same way as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) or whether the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) will be not only their defender but their advocate. This is a very serious matter for discussion not only in the House but throughout the country. I will make a few remarks about the principle of comprehensive education later on.
We were in some difficulty from the beginning of the debate in that the noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) left us in a dilemma. We did not know whether to admire his courage or to be astounded at his naivety when he mentioned housing. He had the effrontery—I am sorry that he is not in his place—to say that the Labour Party was not fulfilling the housing programme. He must know that it is part and parcel of the Conservative scheme to run down local authority house building so that the Conservatives can then say, "The wicked Labour Government have not achieved their target". That is the heartless approach of many hon. Members opposite. I do not think they care about people who have no homes or who are badly housed. They are looking at the problem of houses as something which they hope will do them some good if they misrepresent our views to the country.
Just a moment. The hon. Member will be much more angry at what I have to say in a few moments than he may be at what I am saying now.
I have been looking at the housing situation here in London and particularly in the London Borough of Ealing. The Tory council there inherited from its Labour predecessors a scheme which would in time have rehoused thousands of families who are ill-housed now. The Tory council has not merely abandoned the Socialist scheme, with all the damage which that will cause to the housing situation in years to come. The previous Labour administration had seen to it that it could take into its ownership an amount of land which would help to make a contribution to the provision of homes for those desperately in need. The local Tories are selling that land to private developers to put up for private ownership first-class flats for anything from £12 to £14 to £16 a week, and anyone among those people who thought they would be rehoused in those flats is going to have to say, "If that is the price for a new home I am going to my union branch and I will press for a massive increase in my wages". When they do that hon. Members opposite will say, "That is wrong, too. You must work for low wages and put up with ill-housing". That is the quintessence of their argument.
I want to ask the hon. Member this question in view of his criticism against local councils and their housing programmes. How is it, then, that at the local authority elections there was such substantial support for Conservative candidates that they have swept Socialist candidates out of local government practically altogether?
That is what I am saying. Since some of those Tories came in, there are now many people who deeply regret having their town halls controlled by the Tories, and if they were given an opportunity today there would be even better results than last night's and the Tories would be booted out. That is the answer to that. What I am saying is that the cut-back in housing started when the Labour authorities were defeated at the polls and Conservatives took over, and the result of that is that there are fewer and fewer houses built in Britain for ordinary people to live in.
I have made the point that it is not merely a question of houses not being built but of land which was available to construct homes for ordinary people at rents which they could afford now being sold—this is certainly the case in Ealing—to private developers for the construction of luxury-type flats. Even the local newspaper, the Middlesex County Times in Ealing, which takes, usually, an unbiased line on all local political matters, although it states its point of view quite firmly, on this particular issue came out very strongly about the conscience of the borough. I mention this not because the newspaper did this but because of the amount of abuse which that paper and its editor had to stand from the local leader, the so-called leader, of the Tory Party. The newspaper dared to take a particular independent point of view, and it was savaged by the "defenders of freedom", the Tory councillors, and the Tory Party opposite, because it had not said the sort of things which they wanted it to say. The editor had the courage and nerve to say what he thought.
There has been a great deal said this morning about the new pension scheme. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and a number of hon. Members opposite have mentioned the new proposals, and I do not blame them, because when the scheme was first adumbrated, when the White Paper was first laid, they rushed about saying, without having properly read it, "The wicked Labour Party is going to introduce a scheme which might be an election winner". They discovered that, for once, they were right. So now they have to set about trying to impose as much damage on that idea as they possibly can. It ill behoves hon. Members opposite, particularly those like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, who was a disaster in office when he had the responsibility and did nothing, to turn now upon my right hon. Friends, who have the responsibility today, and who are not only attempting to repair the damage done by the omissions the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his colleagues were responsible for but also trying to bring about a situation in 10 or 15 years' time in which ordinary people who retire from working life will be able to maintain a standard of living commensurate with what they had in their working lives. That has always been one of the massive problems facing this country. We have never done anything like this in this country before.
Parenthetically I would say that when we look at the achievements recorded on the Statute Book of this country in the field of social services in the years the Labour Party has been in power, one can see that they are quite massive; but when, on the other hand, we look at what the Tories claim credit for on the Statute Book in the years and years when they had responsibility, all one can say is that what they did was an absolute disgrace. I must say to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford, who led for the Opposition this morning, and to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, that it is not a bit of use their trying to play the party political game on this issue when they know in their hearts that many of the problems we have had to tackle in regard to pension and superannuation schemes and the plight of the old arose years and years ago, 20, 30, 40 years ago, when we ought to have had the sort of scheme that my right hon. Friend is bent on introducing to this House.
It is right and proper that those concerned with occupational pension schemes should see that their rights are protected, and I gather that my right hon. Friend is giving them every assistance. I wish the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames were in his place for I would say that when he had responsibility he had no concern at all for the 12 million working people of this land who ended their working lives with no pension whatever.
We all know that if there had been the sort of scheme which I want to introduce, and which many of my hon. Friends want to introduce, there would have been a massive pension for people when they retire and a huge drive on public housing, and there would have been such a howl from the Opposition about a terrible increase in public expenditure. We have always had that from them. As individual Members for constituencies, hon. Members opposite come to this House saying they want better roads, better schools, better hospitals, better this, that and the other for their constituencies, but when the Government decide they are going to meet some of those requests hon. Members opposite hold up their hands in horror and follow their not much of a leader in screaming and howling at an increase in public expenditure. I do not think that in doing this they are being two-faced. I really believe that they do not understand what life is all about, or, indeed, what the organisation of a great nation like this is all about. Some of us on this side of the House have made criticisms of certain aspects of the administration of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. I believe that that is how it ought to be, for I believe that criticism in this field ought to come from this side because we have been more involved in it than anybody on the benches opposite.
I would like now to draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend a very grievous situation in an essential part of the National Health Service. I cannot stress too much that what I have to say now requires the immediate attention of my right hon. Friend, and that is the situation of nurses in the National Health Service. The fact that all the metropolitan teaching hospitals, except one, have no waiting list of young women wanting to become nurses constitutes a serious and dangerous situation.
I believe that even the increase granted to nurses by this Government, which was the largest increase they had had in decades, was totally insufficient. It is no good the Government waiting for a national outcry, because the murmurs are there now. Anyone who has spent a period in hospital or who has had a loved one in hospital will say, "I cannot under- stand why nurses are treated so abominably". Their last increase was accompanied by their being charged for meals—a mean, cheap and nasty action.
Because of the shortage of trained nurses, student nurses, and young women wishing to enter the profession, many hospitals are making frantic appeals to the agencies for nurses. To a degree, I say thank goodness that the agencies exist, because they are filling in with former nurses who have retired and who are willing to return to work in hospitals for a few weeks. Although agency nurses do a good fill-in job, they cannot act as tutors; so hospital staffs are beginning to realise that when they have to call on the services of agency nurses the tutoring of nurses suffers. The present disgruntlement amongst nurses because of their low pay, the need for the reorganisation of their hours of work, and the fact that recruitment is falling should receive my right hon. Friend's immediate attention.
I turn now to the problem of the disabled housewife. I understand that the disabled housewife receives no State benefit and would be almost destitute were it not for the endeavours of her family and voluntary organisations. She is ineligible for sickness benefit. She receives no social security payments. This applies no matter how large her family or how low her husband's wage, even if it is below the level regarded by the Supplementary Benefits Commission as the minimum subsistence level for the family.
Yet, because of her disability, the family expenses may be greatly increased. Financial outlay is increased due to the replacement of her services in almost every way in which her activities become curtailed. Help with housework and cleaning is perhaps the biggest single item to be paid for. No concessionary rental scheme exists for the telephone, which is an essential link with the outside world. Extra heating costs arise as soon as physical movement becomes restricted. Crutches and other appliances impose greatly increased wear on clothing. Special diets sometimes must be provided. Generally speaking, a disabled housewife suffers not merely from the fact that she is disabled but in numerous additional ways which the State has not sufficiently recognised.
The problem of the disabled housewife requires my right hon. Friend's urgent attention. He should follow his predecessor's example and from time to time meet representatives of the organisations representing the crippled, the blind, the disabled and, in particular, the Disabled Incomes Group, which has done so much to try to link the responsibilities of Government with the necessities of its members.
I beg the Government to pay some heed to another plea which I make. This has been going on for some years. The physically handicapped experience grave difficulty in getting access to buildings. This point was driven home to me forcibly when a few months ago I brought a number of my constituents to the House. They were all in wheel chairs. We had to negotiate lifts—up one lift, down another—to get to various parts of the Palace. They have as much right to come here as any other member of the public. I am told that there are few cinemas or other places of entertainment that cater for the physically handicapped. I hope that this point will receive my right hon. Friend's attention in future legislation.
Another issue that I wish to raise, which may be the most touching and desperate situation of all, is when a mentally handicapped child is born into a household. Anyone who visits a family which has a mentally backward child is immediately struck by the love and great tenderness which the family showers upon the child, even if there are other children in the household. It is even more distressing when the family wants to show love to the child but is too hard up to give it the attention it deserves. We can only compliment those who are involved in working for and on behalf of mentally handicapped children in the various organisations that exist on the magnificent work that they are doing.
Turning to the question of education, I cannot understand the attitude of right hon. and hon. Members opposite. Many of them had their education in some of the finest comprehensive schools in Britain. Eton, Harrow and other great public schools are classic examples of the comprehensive system. These schools are not concerned about race, religion or colour. People of all races, creeds and colours have gone to these famous com- prehensive schools. There is a little examination, it is true, but it is not taken by the child. It is taken by daddy, on his ability to sign a big cheque.
That is not the way in which Britain can go forward into the future and play a responsible part in world affairs or maintain our standard of life. I do not believe that any longer we can say that the clever ones are those who can pass an examination on a given day between the ages of 10 and 11. It is no good hon. Members opposite saying that they, too, believe in the comprehensive system but want to see massive brand-new comprehensive schools. If Parliament had always waited for perfect conditions before embarking on anything, nothing would have been achieved. Is this the spirit of adventure with which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are imbued, where conditions must be perfect before they will move? That is a completely negative attitude to a real problem.
In common with past legislation, the Gracious Speech makes a contribution to the compassionate society in Britain. We on this side of the House have shown the sort of society that we want, which is one that cares. Under this Government we are moving towards the establishment of a good and decent society which will be not only a matter of pride to people in this country but, I hope, an encouragement to people in other parts of the world.
Before coming to the main burden of my speech, which will deal with education, I will spend a short time on the subject of pensions. I will not discuss in detail the proposal for a White Paper. We are to have a White Paper shortly. We had a debate on the last White Paper in March, when I set out in detail the alternative which I believe to be better than the Government's proposal. I made it clear then that the Liberals' position on pensions is as different from that of the Conservatives as it is from that of the Government, and the difference comes in drawing the line in the partnership between private and public provision. The Conservatives have crossed the line with their graduated pension scheme. I hope that they are now prepared to come back and redraw that line.
This morning, the Minister of State made some remarks about poor occupational schemes. I agree that there are many poor schemes, but why do not the Government introduce legislation to set standards for such schemes? Why do they not set a target for every such scheme so as to provide for 60 per cent. of previous earnings on retirement, for certain minimum standards for widows, and for transferability? Legislation of that sort would be a far better use of the time of this House than the massive legislation on pensions that is to be introduced.
That is all I intend to say on the subject of pensions, and I come now to two matters which I missed from the Gracious Speech. I was disappointed not to see any remarks about the setting up of a national inquiry into the training and remuneration of teachers. I had hoped that the Government at last would do what I have been pressing for over some two and a half years, and that is to set up a high-powered independent inquiry to look at the structure of teachers' salaries and their training.
We are now faced with an interim claim for £135 only months after the Burnham Committee settled the last claim. Temperature in the teaching profession has reached boiling point. Teachers cannot be blamed for having seen that militancy pays off. Why do not we set up a national inquiry to try and ensure that the structure of teachers' salaries is put as a priority rather than merely paying out more and more cash at the basic level?
The second point missing from the Gracious Speech concerns the suggested teachers' council. I hope that we shall have early legislation to implement the findings of the Joint Committee and that a teachers' council will be set up in 1970. An assurance from the right hon. Lady on that point will be welcomed.
I want to concentrate on the limited point of education which is referred to in the Gracious Speech. I do not intend to discuss again the arguments for or against non-selective secondary education. My party was committed to it many years ago. I believe that the country is committed to it, and I have no doubt that the vast majority of people are opposed to selection.
Non-selective secondary education must come, and it is agreed national policy. From now on, the method of implementation should be the responsibility of the educationists and the administrators. Any successful scheme must carry the majority of teachers with it, and it must not alienate them. We must also ensure that a successful scheme has an adequate sixth-form provision. Finally, we cannot accept any doctrinaire commitment to all-through purpose-built comprehensives.
Why is this subject back in the political cockpit, where it has no place? The debate should have been concluded years ago. It is not there because the Government now want to force the pace. It is there because of Conservative hypocrisy. It is their belief that it is possible to abolish selection while keeping these mythical creatures referred to as "the good grammar schools". That is why the subject has now returned to the political cockpit.
The fact that the Prime Minister said in 1963 that the Labour Party would abolish grammar schools over his dead body merely proves that this attitude is good Conservatism. The suggestion that his own career at a grammar school might have something to do with his decision compounds the felony. It is typical of a Conservative to wish not to abolish a privilege which he has himself enjoyed.
We have not heard the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) speaking in this House on education, and I welcome her to our education debates. I spent three enjoyable years paying considerable interest to her views on all subjects while I succeeded in halving her majority, but I never discovered anything about what she thought of education. I look forward to enlightenment today.
If her views are those reported in the Press, we have acquired almost as major an exponent of Conservative hypocrisy as the Prime Minister himself. In The Times Educational Supplement of 24th October, it was reported:
She has already pledged herself to defend the grammar schools from 'botched-up' comprehensive schemes and to support comprehensive schools only when they are purpose-built.
I hope that we shall have a denial of that, or at least an explanation of what it means. What, for instance, does
"only purpose-built" mean? Does it mean that we are to have comprehensive education only in those places where the money is available to build new schools specially for the purpose? If so, we shall have to wait 30 years.
What does "botched-up schemes" mean? To my way of thinking "botched-up" is the expression that we apply to any scheme where we have a desire to preserve the old, "the good grammar school".
What is this defence of the grammar schools which is mentioned in that report in The Times Educational Supplement? Does she wish to preserve selection for secondary schools? Does she wish to preserve it in some parts of the country? If she wants to abolish selection, how does she intend to keep the grammar schools without it? If grammar schools are to be kept in some areas, how can comprehensive schools be comprehensive, and how can they succeed? It may be a little malicious to suggest it, but is the purpose of the whole exercise to ensure that comprehensive schools do not succeed? If we allow creaming off in catchment areas, at some future date when the educationists start totting up O and A levels, those comprehensives which have been subjected to creaming-off will not be too successful.
I hope that she will give her mind to the new points raised in the speech of her leader in this House on 28th October, when he said that this proposal of the Government
has no relevance to the situation of the British people today.
Does it not, indeed! I would have thought that this proposal was part and parcel of equality of opportunity. I happen to believe that that is more than a phrase. I hope that the hon. Lady will reinterpret this phrase in the light of new Conservatism opinion. To my way of thinking, equality of opportunity goes on beyond the age of 11. It is not cut short at that age.
The hon. Lady's leader went on to say:
It is better that they should have purpose-built comprehensive schools than botched-up schemes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1969; Vol. 790, c. 26–7.]
Of course it is better, but surely that does not mean that we have to wait for ever.
I was surprised to see Dr. Rhodes Boyson writing in this week's Spectator—he is hardly a friend of the radical Left—and saying:
The resolution of the Brighton conference promising repeal of the Labour Party's compulsory comprehensive Act implies return to the autonomy of the local education authorities to organise secondary education in their areas as they wish. Authorities like Birmingham, Wolverhampton, Richmond, Southport, Bolton and Surrey will presume that this freedom will include the right to include in building programmes the replacement and extension of grammar schools and the erection of new selective schools.
I hope that that is not the proposal of the Conservative Party today.
What should the Government do? What can we support? First, the Government should set a national target date for the completion of the reorganisation of secondary education. That date should be generous. We need adequate time for transition, and it is better to have a scheme willingly accepted two years later than a forced scheme. I shall not hazard any hard and fast date, but if hon. Members are thinking in terms of 1975 I suggest that that may be two years too early, and that we might be generous to the extent of extending the date to 1977. The Bill should empower the Secretary of State to take powers, after negotiation with each authority, to fix a time limit in each area.
I believe that the Bill should do this because the nation does not want selection. That has already been well decided. If we support non-selective education we must accept the consequences, which are that comprehensive education can be comprehensive only if we eliminate alternative forms of selective schooling. We cannot wait for ever to do this. Each month that goes by we are denying equality of opportunity to thousands of children.
It has been denied that the Secretary of State ought to take these powers. I understand that that is the attitude of the Conservative Opposition. I want to draw the attention of the House to the Preamble to the 1944 Education Act and I ask that it should be compared with the Education Act of 1899. Section 1 of the 1944 Act contains the phrase
a Minister … whose duty it shall be to promote the education of the people of England and Wales and the progressive development of institutions devoted to that
purpose, and to secure the effective execution by local authorities under his control and direction, of the national policy for providing a variety of comprehensive educational service in every area.
I do not wish to make any play with the word "comprehensive" there. It clearly did not mean then what it has come to mean since. But the Act clearly lays it down—and this comes out more clearly comparing it with the old President of the Board of Education's powers—that the Secretary of State has the right and duty to promote a scheme of education of this sort and that he would be lacking in his duty if he did not.
The Maud Report speaks of education as
a national service locally administered.
That is what it is. The Secretary of State therefore has a duty to fix the policy lines on which education shall be locally administered. We have heard a lot about who has a mandate—whether the Government have a mandate because they were returned in 1966 or whether the local education authority in Surrey, or wherever it may be—Kingston-upon-Thames, perhaps—has a mandate.
The Leader of the Opposition last week spoke of this Bill as flaunting
the wishes of parents and local authorities which do not wish to impose comprehensive education.
How does he know about the wishes of parents? The parents that I know of—with very few exceptions—want selection abolished. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that it would
dictate the dogmas of the Government to unwilling parents and unwilling authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 28th October, 1969; Vol. 790, c. 27.]
Again, how does he know? Of course some authorities are unwilling, but what happens in a clash between national and local votes? Local government elections are not exactly representative anyway. If we want to have a referendum, let us have one, but I would not rely upon the local government elections in 1967 when only 38·7 per cent. of the electorate of the county councils bothered to turn out. I do not know whether they turned out then to vote on the issue of selective education.
What is a mandate? Which of us in this House can say what his mandate is? In my constituency in the last election I made it clear that I was wholly in favour of non-selective secondary education. Was I elected for that reason? Were the county councils in Surrey elected at the last election to retain the grammar school system, or was it because the electorate had found Government policy excessively unpopular?
I have no doubt that a referendum in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames would clearly show that the people of that constituency were against selection. Why, if we say that we should have a local option on this very important issue, do we not have a local option on the question of raising the school leaving age? Why not have it on the question of the size of school classes, or the pupil-teacher ratio? It is already the duty of the Secretary of State to enforce school regulations on local authorities. That is laid down in the 1944 Act.
What of parental choice? No one is more concerned than I to extend freedom of choice wherever possible. In the Bill of Rights introduced by my right hon. Friend—I was a co-sponsor of it—Clause 9 provides that
The education of children being a matter of concern to the community, the law shall provide minimum standards of education to which every child shall be entitled; subject thereto, no law shall restrict the right of a parent to provide education for his child in such manner as the parent shall think fit".
There is no clash between this statement of principle and maximising equality of opportunity. What choice does one have? Throughout my constituency there is virtually no choice either at primary or secondary school level. Even in big cities the choice is remarkably small. Very few working-class people have the choice, because they do not have transport to get their children across London, or Birmingham, or wherever it may be. Let us get rid of this cant about this being an attack on the freedom of parental choice.
Some may be a little concerned about the choice of the few, but I am more concerned about extending the choice of many. I hope that eventually it will be possible to introduce some sort of market place system of education. The day may come when we have enough schools to allow this kind of choice to take place. In the past—although I have not managed to convince my party about it—I have advocated a voucher system. Let us have choice within the selective system by all means. We support comprehensive education; I think I have made it clear that I support it to the full. It is not my first educational priority. I put it above raising the school-leaving age, but I put it well below developing the primary schools. The success of any secondary reorganisation must depend largely on a prior levelling up in primary education.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) because his contribution concerning the selection system has underscored the fact that the mood of the nation as a whole for its abolition is much more widespread and not confined within the councils of the Labour Party and the Labour movement.
Far be it from me to lecture the Opposition on the tactics that they should employ in the country. In fact, the more mistakes they make the better we shall like it. But it would seem that the groundswell of reactionary opposition exists now only within the Tory Party. We do not need even to go to the White Paper, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. Hornby), who is not at present in the Chamber. We only have to think of the exhibition on our television screens of several delegates going to the rostrum at the recent Tory Party conference, disclosing that there is a sizeable reactionary mood in the Tory Party against this long overdue development.
People have long held the view that the 11-selection—it used to be called the 11-plus examination system—was a barbaric system, a residue from the past, an overhang from a bygone age. When we ask people whether they went to grammar schools or whether they were the poor relations and went to elementary schools and then possibly later on, after leaving school at 12 or 14, they pursued other forms of voluntary educational activity, we find that it was largely the luck of the draw which determined what they did. It had much to do with the choice of parents and whether they were sufficiently anxious for their off-spring. It also depended to a certain extent on where they lived. In certain counties, their chances of getting to grammar school free would be that much greater than in other areas with larger populations.
It is an indefensible situation and its abolition is long overdue. The nation cannot afford to carry it on much longer. Therefore, the Government must step in, when it is evident that local authority after local authority now temporarily in reactionary hands is trying to hold back this long overdue reform.
We are discussing education and pensions, and one might tend to find a disconnection between these topics, but I see a very simple connection. The connection is that there is a great national anxiety about the need to harmonise our resources in two respects—to make use of our nation's talent, which we cannot do under the present secondary forms of education, and to provide security in old age. I have listened to every speech in this debate, with the exception of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) because I had to go out and have some bread and cheese. Those speeches have surprised me. It seems that the Opposition Front Bench spokesmen do not comprehend how ordinary people feel about pensions. Otherwise they would not over-labour this anxiety—a justifiable anxiety—amongst people like the members of N.A.L.G.O.
The origin of that organisation had a great deal to do with the struggle to get some parity of pension rights in the past. We who were brought up in the trade union movement—I am a former T.U.C. regional education officer—did not look upon N.A.L.G.O. as a proper trade union organisation, but it is a trade union organisation which has been growing up. Part of that growing up process occurred when it decided to affiliate to the T.U.C. only a few years ago. Representations have been made to me about this anxiety, and it is right that this anxiety should be reflected in this debate. It has been so reflected by contributions mostly from the other side of the House.
In spite of that, I think that most hon. Members opposite are missing the boat. We have a total insured working force of about 24 million, 12 million of whom are in some kind of occupational pension scheme which augments the basic State pension arrangements. Therefore, 12 million are shut out. Most of those 12 million who are involved in occupational pension schemes are in an entirely inadequate situation. I have figures which show that of about two million who are at present entitled to draw occupational pensions, a large number receive only £1 or £2 a week. There are those who have changed occupations, such as building trade workers, who are shut out. But even those in sheltered occupations, on the railways, in the mines and other nationalised undertakings, have what I call, for want of a better term, lousy pension schemes. I was a railway worker and the pension was nothing to write home about.
There must be an extension of State facilities. No Government in their right mind would rough-ride any existing decent occupational pension schemes such as those which embrace civil servants up to the "top hat" pension schemes which affect boards of directors who salt away in enterprise after enterprise large sums of money to ensure that they will not have a catastrophic drop in their accustomed standard of living when they become too old to toddle along to their meetings. It seems to me that the Opposition are missing the boat. They do not seem to understand that those with decent pension schemes are very much in a small minority.
I remember when the Labour Party's ideas for national superannuation were first put forward by my right hon. Friend who is now the Secretary of State for Social Services. After that, we had what we have, perhaps, loosely described as the Opposition's pensions swindle, their graduated pension system. It came in answer to our scheme, but it was designed very cleverly. I made a minute study of it. I had to go to shop stewards' meeting after shop stewards' meeting to explain the intricacies of the damn thing—or, perhaps I should say the difficult thing. I learned a great deal about it. It was a cleverly arranged affair, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) on it.
The Opposition's scheme was designed to steer people into occupational pension schemes. Perhaps we are steering people away—I hope so—not from good superannuation schemes but from half-hearted schemes. Only a publicly arranged development of the kind which we propose could properly do what is required.
I come now to what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams). He made his maiden speech on the question of transferability of pension rights. It is almost a fetish of his, his pride and joy. But it is not what one has in an occupational pension scheme. Normally, when a man leaves an employer, all he has is the return of his own contributions plus a small rate of interest, and so on. We need full rights of transferability because we need the mobility of labour. So often, men of 50-plus have been glued to an employer, unable to move into new spheres of enterprise although they wish to do so, because they are bogged down and would lose their pension entitlement.
Security in old age, education and housing rank together as the three supreme domestic issues of our time.
In the few moments available to me, I mention, first, the subject of housing. I am glad that the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) is present. He is my constituency neighbour, and from his constituency refugees come pouring into mine. The hon. Gentleman supported the present Government's gimmick of saying that the Greater London boroughs are not building houses. On Wednesday, the Home Secretary had the nerve, in my presence, to accuse Harrow of having no plans to build new houses next year or the year after. That is reported at column 202 of HANSARD, and in the next column he is shown as having said that councils 'like this are falling down on the job.
In every word he said the right hon. Gentleman was, either intentionally or unintentionally, misleading the House, Harrow and the country. We have a massive and important building programme. All the information about it is available at the Ministry of Housing and Local Government. There are 458 houses now under construction, 212 to be completed this year and 246 to be completed in 1970, a further 123 to be started in 1970, and with an option or bid for at least 200 or more for 1970–71—a 4 to 5 per cent. increase in the total stock of houses in Harrow.
How a Minister of the status of the Home Secretary could allow himself to be involved in the "smearhead" of the by-election campaign in London yesterday I am depressed to think, yet it was he who had the nerve to criticise one of my hon. Friends about a lowering of Parliamentary and political standards.
Now, the errors and omissions of the Gracious Speech. There is nothing about Part II of the Prices and Incomes Act, which, presumably, is to be reintroduced in November. There is nothing about the most vital aspect of our industrial life today, unofficial and unconstitutional strikes. If there were a few of the Secretaries of State present, we might have some notice of this taken in the Cabinet. Eight Ministers could have been here, yet at one time I wondered whether the Minister of Agriculture would come up from Camberley to sit in as a "night watchman" on the Front Bench.
I wonder whether the Cabinet wishes that it could have the conciliation pause which it funked out of last June to deal with the strike of London firemen. London will be left undefended from fire for two hours on Guy Fawke's day next Wednesday, and, as far as I know, nothing is planned to meet that emergency. The Home Secretary ought to be not in Leeds, where his is now, but in his office organising a disaster corps, and arranging for the Royal Engineers fire-fighting squads to be brought into London next week. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Ealing, North may laugh. Is not he worried about the state of his constituents' homes next Wednesday evening? He should be.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science, who has not graced this debate by his presence, said that he would put the screw on the independent schools, which I think means putting the boot in. He wants to squeeze the independent schools, especially the smaller ones, by a number of means. He is going to force them to adopt standards which do not now exist in possibly even a majority of the State schools, and by continuous inspection of excellent schools is driving people who run them into a state of uncertainty. But they provide a useful and important part of our education system. We in this party believe in parental choice. We believe that the parents of the 450,000 children who are educated independently should have the right to send them to independent schools. They are saving the taxpayer £50 million a year, and spending £100 million of their own money. The independent schools are also making a contribution to invisible exports of at least £10 million a year spent on the children from overseas who are educated here. I wish that I had time to elaborate a little more on a section of our education system which is too often forgotten.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), the new Shadow Minister, for whom we all have great affection and respect, will seriously consider that if our party believes that there should be individual contributions to pensions and health services with tax relief, there should be similar treatment of independent contributions to education, especially university education, where there is no parental choice.
This has been a fairly wide-ranging debate, which is probably one of the reasons why I have been put up to reply. When one has held six portfolios in seven years, one can wind up on almost any subject.
I should like to start by dealing with some remarks by the Minister about widows' pensions and our record with regard to them. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who taught me most of what I know about politics and particularly most of what I know about pensions, and the then Cabinet took the view that priority in widows' pensions should be given to the widowed mother with young children. I think that they were absolutely right at the time. Because of that decision a great deal of extra help was concentrated on the young widowed mother. In October, 1951, the first child of the young widowed mother had benefit of 10s.; the second, 7s. 6d.; and the third, 7s. 6d. I am including family allowances, because the Minister did. By the time we left office in October, 1964, we had increased those benefits to 37s. 6d. for each child. In real terms, that was an increase of 287 per cent. for the second and third children of widowed mothers, and 158 per cent. for the first child. It was a very impressive record. Perhaps it was because we did so much to concentrate on such cases that the hon. Gentleman and his Government have been able to concentrate their activities on different beneficiaries under the social security system.
I promised the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) that I would reply to his point about the over-80s. I expect that he will return soon. It is true that at one time I defended the non-grant of pensions to those who had not contributed to the national insurance scheme. Perhaps I may give a little explanation. I think—at any rate, I remember reading some of the observations of the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton)—and we took a similar view during our time. When the scheme was introduced in 1946 the choice facing those coming up to retirement was whether they should opt out of the scheme or contribute every week for 10 years from 1948 the sum of 4s. 11d. employee's contribution for a pension of 26s. a week. To them it did not seem a very good bargain, and to me at that time it would probably not have seemed a very good bargain either. Many of them preferred not to contribute. Some of them said, "We may not be here in 10 years" and others said "By the time we get it, we shall have paid for it several times over", and they chose not to contribute.
What happened at the end of 10 years was that, largely due to my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, pensions had increased many times. We had had several increases by 1958 when the 10-year entrants came in, and it was seen then that the pension was extremely valuable. From that time forward there came to be a certain amount of agitation, but still we said, "Some of you had the chance to contribute and you chose not to do so."
But there comes a time when a principle has to be abandoned if the reality of the situation is such that some people are suffering hardship. I think that we would all agree with that. I remem- ber that in 1965 I myself put some questions to the then Parliamentary Secretary about the amount which some of the beneficiaries would have contributed. The pre-1946 pensioners came straight on to the new scheme without having contributed extra to it. The figures which the then Parliamentary Secretary gave and which may be found in column 146 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 25th March, 1965, showed that the maximum contributions payable towards his pension by a man aged 65 retiring in October, 1946, and his employer amounted to £30 and that the benefit which this pensioner would have drawn in return for those contributions up to that time would have amounted to £2,000 for a single person and £3,200 for a married couple.
I asked that specific question realising that in these cases the link between contribution and benefit was very tenuous and that there would be a number of people who did not happen to be members of the old scheme who would say, "Look what they have been having for £30; it did not come out of their contributions but from the general contribution of the general body of taxpayers". At present, there are a number of over-80s who are undoubtedly suffering hardship, I think that we all feel that, because they have no pensions. In some ways, they are the victims of the inflation which has benefitted us. I do not think that any of us suggests that they should have the full pension which they would have had had they contributed in the early years, but most of us, on whatever side of the House we sit, would wish that they should have something to recognise the vastly increased amount received by others in return for very small contributions.
At the time, I suggested that all hon. Members would gladly accept 3d. a week on our stamp. I think that we would all wish them to have a small modified pension. It would be a great help to them. The problem is that, although all of us wish it, it is not done.
The hon. Lady has not mentioned the fact that, of course, all these people, if they are in financial need, are entitled to claim supplementary benefits. My impression is that a good half of the category of the people the hon. Lady is discussing are receiving supplementary benefits, which, of course, are at a higher level, if they have no other income, than National Insurance benefits.
I, too, used that argument in my time, but, as the Minister knows, it is not a valid argument.
It is not valid because inflation has gone on at a faster pace. It still does not alter the fact that a number of people have had the value of their savings substantially eroded and are still suffering hardship partly because of the inflation which has benefited those with earned incomes. I still think that all of us, on either side of the House, would wish to be able to give them some small pension and would gladly pay for it. I promised the hon. Gentleman that I would deal with that point, and I have dealt with it in, I think, a thoroughly Friday afternoon spirit, admitting that perhaps I was at fault as well.
Perhaps I should say one last thing about the contributory principle. If hon. Gentlemen, who were then in Opposition, had been quick enough off the mark, which they were not, they would have picked me up on the contributory principle, because there are people who benefit under national insurance after never having contributed a brass farthing. I will give two examples. One is the guardian's allowance, of which my right hon Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames will know, to which an orphan can be entitled although no contribution by either parent has ever been made to the scheme. The principle is that they shall be of insurable age and is not the contributory one. The other is the industrial injuries scheme, under which one can benefit without ever having made a contribution. Perhaps I could chide the hon. Gentleman a little for not having been fast enough off the mark to trip me up. I do know some of the answers; perhaps the hon. Gentleman will also consider that point.
I should like to answer the hon. Lady the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), also in a Friday afternoon spirit, rather than with a carefully prepared speech, because I think that is what the House would want and I am not perhaps choosing my words precisely. She spoke about comprehensive schools. My impression is that they are very varied. They will vary according to the area they serve and according to the children who attend them, and one will not find that there is equality of educational opportunity everywhere because a comprehensive education system exists.
I think that there will be as great varieties in comprehensive schools as there are in some areas in all types of school. Undoubtedly, in a number of 11–18 comprehensive schools there are not enough sixth-form courses, even in areas where there are no grammar schools. This is one of the problems which seem to be emerging.
I noted that what the hon. Lady wants to do—I think that it is what we all want to do—is to give the best educational opportunity to every pupil. I sometimes wish that we could keep our eyes firmly on that and not so much on the institutions. After all, the hon. Member for Fife, West pointed out that in Scotland they have had a system of comprehensive education for many years, including under Tory Governments, because this happened to suit Scotland. I hope that he is not suggesting that this Government should override the wishes of Scotland if it wishes to do so in another sphere.
The hon. Lady also mentioned that the proposed Bill was in the Manifesto. There is certainly some mention in the Labour manifesto and I looked it up quickly during the debate. But what there was not in the manifesto—I think that this is what is now in question—was a whole attack on the concept of partnership between Government and local authority in education. This, I think, is what is really under attack now. Hitherto, it has been partnership, and this went right back to the 1944 Act and is enshrined in it still.
The hon. Lady also mentioned parental choice. Again, may I draw upon my own experience, as I am sure she does on hers? All our areas are different, and this is one of the reasons why we shall oppose the Bill. In my area, there is a certain amount of parental choice between grammar schools and also between secondary modern schools, many of which are excellent. I accept that I am fortunate in that my area has some very good secondary modern schools which offer O-level courses, and in some cases parents can choose between the grammar schools and the secondary modern schools.
I have also known parents come to me and say, "We want our child to go to a comprehensive school." This has been arranged, and if need be, the pupil has gone outside the area to the nearest comprehensive school. I am thinking of one case where a child went over the boundary to a school in Hampstead. In my area, therefore, we have had some parental choice which could operate either in favour of comprehensives, or between grammar schools, sometimes between grammar and secondary modern or between secondary moderns. In some areas there has been very real parental choice.
When the hon. Lady talks about her area does she mean the Borough of Barnet?
My area is, or was, the Borough of Finchley, which eventually became incorporated into the very much larger Borough of Barnet. Within the Borough of Barnet, when I refer to my area, I refer to my constituency because all hon. Members know the education in their constituency intimately. They know how much it differs from any particular average pattern.
The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw) asked why, if we have comprehensive schools for new establishments, should we not have them everywhere? As we know, the fact of the matter is that there are still a number of old buildings, and, however much we regret it, there will continue to be a number of old buildings for a long time yet. Some of these are so distributed that they will not and cannot yield a viable comprehensive system.
I understand from the Prime Minister's speech that he intends to make education questions one of the main issues of his election campaign. If this happens I can only put in the excellent educational record of the Conservative Government. Both sides of the House can claim benefit for the Butler Education Act, of 1944, which is the Act governing all other education activities now. We on the Conservative side never looked back. We were always forward-looking in educa- tion, and with this in mind it was we who initiated the four great educational reports, the Robbins Report on higher education, the Crowther Report on education for pupils aged 15 to 18, the Newsom Report on less able pupils and the Plowden Report on primary education.
We initiated these because we were constantly prepared to look at the changing circumstances of education, to look forward and to see what the requirements were. We have not been able to implement some of the proposals in the Plowden Report because the present Government have inherited them and taken over some of them. These reports and our action with regard to them illustrated our essential concern with education, with the need to develop precious talent wherever it is found and also with the need to provide special help in areas where the children have not previously had such a good chance because of housing or other environmental factors.
The earning capacity of the nation depends on the highest level of achievement in the professions, in science and technology, industry and commerce. This is the wealth of the nation, coming from those who have the most talent. This is especially true and will continue to be true in the future of the development of mathematical aptitudes because almost every sphere of science or economics is becoming more numerate. Every advanced nation is attempting to spot its specially gifted mathematicians and other specially gifted children early.
Whether it is called selection or spotting, what has to be done is to give them the full chance to develop their talent, if necessary long before the age of 11. When I went to Russia recently I was interested to see that they are detecting mathematical talent in children at an early age, taking them to special schools and training them, because they believe that such talent is at its most creative between the ages of 20 and 24. Therefore, before the age of 20 it is necessary to get the children through all its schooling and normal university training.
They are doing it, first, for the aptitude of the child, and, secondly, because the wealth and future of the nation will depend, to some extent, on developing the aptitudes and abilities of these children. But if the wealth of the nation depends upon these, then the well-being and standards of the country depend on the level of education of all children and the skill of all citizens. It is in this respect that we have been so successful over the past 10 to 15 years in developing the educational abilities of all our children.
I know that very different conditions prevail in different areas, but the figures for the nation as a whole prove what I have been saying.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ton-bridge (Mr. Hornby) pointed to what I believe is the outstanding problem facing us in education. It is not the Bill foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech, but the difficulty of finding enough money and manpower to carry out existing education policies. This is the paramount problem. It will face the right hon. Lady's Government or my Government. We know the enormity of the problem, and this is the problem to which we should be addressing ourselves.
I do not know what figures the right hon. Lady the Minister of State will advance about future expenditure. The figures in which I am interested are those put forward by Kathleen Ollerenshaw in her paper this year to the I.M.T.A. Annual Conference. She pointed out that although educational expenditure now runs at £2,000 million a year—approximately 6 per cent. of the gross national product—if we are to carry out existing policies, and if we have the same increase in teachers' salaries and in the gross national product in the next 10 years as in the past, then by 1979–80 the cost of the programme will be £5,000 million a year and it will take about 8 per cent. of the gross national product. I have not seen those figures questioned, let alone destroyed. It is a very sobering thought that if we are to carry out existing policies this is what we shall need. This is the problem to which we should be addressing ourselves.
I proposed to indulge in a statistical exercise about the growth of educational expenditure in our last four years of office, compared with the rate of growth in the Government's first four years of office. I will give full details if anyone requires them. All the figures came from the 1969 Blue Book. Let me give the results, because it is the answers which are interesting, although I am happy to give the complete calculations. As the hon. Member for Fife, West knows, I do not usually come to a debate other than well documented.
In the years 1960 to 1964 expenditure on education rose by 53 per cent. In the years 1964–68, under a Labour Government, it rose by 49·5 per cent. That is at current prices. Taking it at 1963 constant prices and knocking off selective employment tax, which appears on the expenditure side also between 1960 and 1964, while we were in office, expenditure on education rose by 29 per cent. In the first four years of the Labour Government it rose by 22 per cent. I quote those figures to show that our record is good.
I have only six minutes left, so I shall be grateful if the hon. Member makes a short intervention.
Perhaps the hon. Lady would tell us the purpose of this exercise. The selected figures which she is giving are for the last four years of the Tory Government and the first four years of the Labour Government. It would be much better if she took the first four years of the Tory Government and the first four years of the Labour Government.
The hon. Member must know that he is talking the most intolerable educational nonsense. That is so because of the way in which pupils progress through the schools. If he makes that kind of assertion I shall never again listen to him with any belief.
The Gracious Speech foreshadows the new Bill in these terms:
A Bill will be introduced requiring local education authorities to prepare plans for reorganising secondary education on comprehensive lines.
It is interesting that the Bill seems to be fairly moderate. It is not to compel local authorities to introduce comprehensive schemes but to compel them to prepare schemes on comprehensive lines. I doubt whether that indicates that the Minister intends to stop at the stage of preparation. It is more likely that he has found his powers inadequate under the 1944 Education Act.
You are aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I should have preferred longer before coming to the House to speak in an education debate, but at least I came to the House, which is much more than did the Secretary of State for Education, although it was at my own inconvenience.
May I submit very quickly some preliminary observations on the compulsion on local authorities which is foreshadowed in the Bill? First, under Section 8 of the Education Act, 1944, the local authority is the body whose duty it is to provide schools sufficient in number, character and equipment—and this is the important point—to afford all pupils opportunities for education according to their abilities and their aptitudes. I remind hon. Members that education is more about pupils and their abilities and aptitudes than about institutions or some of the other things with which the Bill will be concerned.
Secondly, under this provision many different schemes have been developed, varying with the needs of the locality. Every hon. Member will go to the Minister and say, "But our locality is different and you must make special provision for us." Under these provisions there have been many varied educational innovations. For example, the Tory-controlled Leicestershire authority was one of the first in England to do away with the 11-plus, and the Tory Government did not interfere with that decision, believing that the true relationship between Government and local authorities is that of partnership of both and not dictatorship by one. That is what local democracy is about. If the electors by their votes indicate that they want a comprehensive scheme—and they may well do so—and that scheme is within the essential requirements of the 1944 Act, one would expect the local education authority to prepare such a scheme, because any elected body which ignores the wishes of the electors does so at its peril, and the peril is very quickly shown.
Under the exercise of his duty the Minister would need to examine the scheme in the light of Section 13 and other Sections of the Act. Our main concern is to see that there is provision for the varying abilities and requirements of the children and that the doors of opportunity are kept open to all children to go on, if they are capable, to O levels and A levels and, beyond that, to university. I have never understood why anyone puts forward any particular age of development. Children will develop their abilities at different ages and the task is to spot the ability when it develops and to make the facilities available.
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. That is what it is all about. But we do not necessarily get better education in a comprehensive system than we already have in a number of authorities. Let us take the example of Bournemouth, which has one of the best education records of all local authorities. I have full details of the Bournemouth scheme, which puts all children to O-level courses and some to A-level courses, which benefits the children, which the parents like and which is educationally sound but which does not happen to fit in with the Government's dogma. It is educationally sound and it is liked by the parents. Why should Bournemouth be compelled to change merely because of a Bill, which, incidentally, provides no money whatever to facilitate the change?
It has been said that I dislike botched-up schemes. I am thinking very much of one in my own constituency which, it seems to me, would never have been put forward on educational lines. It is this: a grammar school in a condemned building is to be amalgamated with a secondary modern school in a condemned building one mile away, across two main arterial roads. Neither is adequate. There is a two-tier system: the pupils go to the secondary modern from 11 to 14, and they go to the grammar from 14 to 18. Both buildings are inadequate. Teachers will have to go from one to the other if they are to retain the principle of teaching all ages. There are not enough laboratories in the secondary modern school so some are being provided on a third site.
So I wrote to the Minister, "Even if you are in favour of the comprehensive system, this does not make sense. It would never have been put forward on educational grounds as a viable scheme. Please may I have a purpose-built comprehensive school if you want this kind of education?". The answer is, "No; it is fifth in the order of local authority priorities". The first four, of course, are getting roofs over heads.
This scheme ought not to go on. In view of my great complaint about the prospective Bill, I ask the Minister whether she proposes to attempt to compel non-viable education schemes to go forward merely because of the principle of compulsion.
My time is up. I have a great deal more to say. There will be another opportunity.
As the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) has said, this has been a Friday debate which has ranged very wide. It was put down as a debate on pensions and education. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), in her excellent speech, talked about rising prices, rents, drugs, the division of property among divorced people, equal pay and comprehensive education. I hope she will forgive me if I do not reply to everything that she said.
I want to speak principally on education. and I have only two or three sentences about the rest of the debate.
A few hon. Members asked for details about the new pensions scheme. Well, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and others who asked about this to await the coming White Paper which my hon. Friend promised would be produced next week. I am sure there will be plenty of opportunity then to debate the details.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who opened the debate, asked for massive increases in public expenditure. We would like all the things which he would like, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) so eloquently reminded him, one cannot ask for all this increase in expenditure and at the same time ask for reductions in taxation.
Mention was made, I think by the hon. Gentleman, about the amount of money spent, and I would just like to remind the House that between 1963 and 1964 the total expenditure on social security was £5,157 million compared with, in 1967–68, £7,803 million.
I will come to some of the other points in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Arnold Shaw) raised the question of teachers' salaries, but I think he will appreciate that as the Burnham Committee is now sitting considering an interim award asked for by the teachers it would not be appropriate for me to say anything about that this afternoon.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the Select Committee's Report about students, and I would like to thank the members of the Committee for this valuable Report which makes some very far-reaching suggestions for changing the organisation and government of the institutions of higher education. We shall be considering this actively. I am sure my hon. Friend would not want me to declare our views on that today, but we are very grateful indeed for the comprehensive Report and for the work which went into it.
My hon. Friend also asked if I would add the Wanstead County High School to the building programme. I would rather write to him about that at a later date and let him know what the position is.
The hon. Member for Tonbridge (Mr. Hornby) asked what the Bill relating to comprehensive education would contain. I shall say a little more about this later. For the details of the Bill we must await the publication of the Bill, which I hope will be not too long delayed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) asked about the mentally handicapped. He will be pleased to know that we shall soon be ready to introduce a Bill to transfer responsibility for the education of mentally handicapped children from the Department of Health and Social Security to the Department of Education and Science.
The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) asked about the Teachers' Council and also about an inquiry into teacher training. With regard to the Teachers' Council, my right hon. Friend has initiated discussions with teachers and others with a view to conferring a greater measure of self-government on the profession of teaching through the establishment of a General Teaching Council. Discussions have been going on. A working party has been hard at work. We hope to be able to put these proposals before the House shortly. Indeed, we hope that we might get a Bill in this coming Session to put this into operation. It all depends on getting the various bodies to agree. I have no reason to believe that there has been any hitch or that there will not be full agreement.
With regard to a successor to the National Advisory Council for the Training and Supply of Teachers, it might be possible for national arrangements which might succeed those formerly made through the National Advisory Council for Training and Supply of Teachers to be incorporated in some way into the hew body. We are considering this question. We realise That something must be done. We are considering whether the new Teachers' Council or something allied to it might not have some part to play in this.
One or two hon. Members have raised the question of primary schools. I agree with those who have said that primary school education is most important. We are able to devote more of our school-building programme to primary schools and, because over the next few years the numbers in our schools will not be increasing so rapidly as they have been in the past few years, we shall be able to devote more of the building programme to replacements of old schools than we have been able to do over the last few years or than the previous Administration was able to do. Thus, we shall be able to have far more money available for the replacement of primary schools.
The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley produced some figures. It is said that everybody can produce figures to prove something or other. I have also got some figures with me which I propose to give to the House. These are my figures. In 1963–64 the amount of money spent on schools was £784 million. In 1968–69 it was £1,155 million, an increase of 47 per cent. In 1963–64 £135 million was spent on further education. In 1968–69 £247 million was spent, an increase of 83 per cent. In 1963–64 £43 million was spent on teacher training. In 1968–69 £85 million was spent, an increase of practically 100 per cent. On Great Britain's universities, in 1963–64, £159 million was spent. In 1968–69, £307 million was spent, and that represents an increase of 93 per cent. It is sometimes said that one can find figures to suit one-self. If right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite think that that goes for me, it goes even more for the figures quoted by the hon. Lady.
I now turn to comprehensive education. In this debate, interest has centred on the Bill to be introduced this Session to put an end to the 11-plus selection. It might be thought, as the hon. Member for Cornwall, North appeared to think, that it is not necessary again to debate the merits of it. But the history of events, since 21st January, 1965, when this House endorsed the Government policy to end selection at 11 and to eliminate separatism in secondary education, shows that people are overwhelmingly in favour of removing the injustices of selection, with all the wastefulness and deprivation which it involves.
The party opposite does not know where it stands on this matter—
We are told that it is right for some areas but not for others, that parents should have a choice—I believe in that, and I will return to it. We hear people talking airily about "botched-up" schemes and saying that local authorities should please themselves. I believe that these arguments all cloak the extent to which some people would like to keep 11-plus selection.
Why do we want to get rid of selection at 11? I want to get rid of it not because I happen to be a member of the Labour Party but because I have taught in a secondary modern school and have seen the waste of talent that there is among many of our children. Whatever case there was for selection disappeared once educational research had revealed the fallacy of supposing that intelligence is wholly innate and immutable and that a child's potential does not significantly develop during his life.
We know now that all educationists agree that whatever gifts a child may be born with can be enhanced by many factors—home environment, and not least by a good and extended education. How monstrously unfair, then, it is to deprive a child who, at 11, was behind some of his fellows, of the opportunity to develop further, to catch them up and perhaps even to surpass them.
First, we see the effects of the 11-plus on the primary school, where parents sometimes press teachers to introduce curricula which the teachers may not like but which are felt necessary to get children through the 11-plus.
There is no satisfactory method of selection. However, what some right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite do not understand is that it is impossible at one and the same time to abolish the 11-plus selection and have separate schools for those who pass it. The comprehensive school gives every child a chance, late developers and everyone else. The dividing line between those who get grammar school places and those who do not is very thin. Those who would pass in one town would fail in another. Whether or not a child gets to a grammar school depends more on where he lives than on his ability. The provision of grammar school places varies between 8 per cent. in some areas and 40 per cent. in others.
I come to the question of parental choice. What choice is there today for parents in those areas which still have the 11-plus examination? What choice is there if their children fail to get a grammar school place? Can they go to the local education authority and say, "I prefer a grammar school for my child"? If they do so, will they get a grammar school place? Of course they will not. The only choice that exists for parents whose children failed to get a grammar school place and who want their children to develop properly is to buy independent education.
As my hon. Friend says, like the hon. Lady. The main choice that I want to see is the kind of choice that we get in comprehensive schools today. In the comprehensive school a range of subjects is available for everybody. There is a continuing choice throughout a child's school life. Yesterday I checked on the choice of subjects available in one comprehensive school—Tulse Hill. There is English literature, English language, British Constitution, English economic history, history, economics, social studies, geography, law, ancient history, Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, applied mathematics and all sciences, woodwork, commerce and accounting, and art. These subjects are available in many other comprehensive schools and give a greater choice even than the grammar school.
I now come to the point about botched-up schemes. The schemes which come to me for approval have been devised by local authorities after great care. Working parties have been set up, including teachers. They often sit for a long time. To say at the end of the day that they have produced botched-up schemes casts a grave reflection on local authorities, many of them Conservative. I remind the hon. Lady that Barnet produced a secondary reorganisation scheme through a local council with a large Conservative majority. They are in favour of comprehensive education. They produced a scheme which we accepted in principle in 1968, but we thought that they were going a little too quickly. They wanted to implement the plan in 1969. We said, "No. Think again. We do not think that you can do it in that time." When the hon. Lady talks about her local authority I hope that she will realise that the ball lies in her local authority's area and not with us. We did not tell the local authority to hurry with that scheme; in fact, we had to tell it to hold back.
Even in 1965 there was already a good deal of evidence that progress towards abolishing selection was commanding increasing support in many areas. So we asked for the voluntary co-operation of all local authorities. Of the 163 local authorities in the country, 129 have now had schemes of secondary reorganisation approved, 108 covering the whole or the greater part of their areas and 21 covering smaller parts. So about two-thirds of all authorities have plans—many of them in process of implementation. Of the remaining 34 authorities, nine have submitted schemes which are now being considered by my Department, nine other authorities have had schemes rejected—usually because they involve some degree of unacceptable adherence to selection—eight have not yet submitted any official proposals, and a further eight have declined to do so. At the very time when a minority of authorities are either ignoring national policy or openly flouting it, many others are making great strides in bringing their plans to fruition on the ground.
It is one thing to accept that comprehensive development cannot be achieved at a uniform pace because of the varying local circumstances and the differing degrees of need for new building, but it is quite another thing to have a handful of local education authorities setting their faces against the planning which must precede any effective action. This is not simply a question of defying the Government. It is defying the main stream of educational progress and arbitrarily sentencing sections of the youth of the country to a loss of opportunity which the majority of their fellows will enjoy.
It is said that it is the local authorities that must decide, and what the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley said is quite true, that in this country we have a national system of education locally administered. From time to time over the years we discuss and change the respective powers and duties of Government and local education authorities. But there are some things which must be nationally decided. We do not say to local authorities, "Please yourself about the school leaving age." When the school leaving age is raised in two years time it will be a national decision. We do not allow local authorities to say, "In our area there is a great demand for children to go out to work at the age of 14 or 15 and, therefore, we should stand out". The Government and I believe that such an important matter as the principle of selection at the age of 11 must be a national decision. The Bill will, therefore, empower my right hon. Friend to require local education authorities to submit plans to him for the reorganisation of secondary education in their areas on comprehensive lines.
Local authorities have produced varied and imaginative schemes for ending selection at the age of 11. Local authorities have produced a variety of schemes. Some have produced schemes for all-in 11 to 18 schools. Others have produced schemes for middle schools, and others for sixth form colleges. We hope that this variety will continue and that local authorities will be left to produce the schemes which they think are best for their areas. We do not want one pattern, but we do say that the principle of the abolition of selection at the age of 11 should be a national decision.
We have always relied and we shall continue to rely on local education authorities to think out the proposals which, in their view, will best meet the needs of their areas. But this freedom to plan on the basis of local need cannot be extended to become the licence and anarchy implied by no planning at all. We seek to ensure through the proposed Bill that the enlightenment and successful planning of the majority of authorities shall not be marred by the inertia or unwillingness of the few. There is no rational case for seeing the measure as one providing for the formulation from the centre of what ought to be local plans. Local circumstances and local needs will continue to be the main determining factors of all plans for reorganisation.
The hon. Lady has said outside this House that she is a product of a grammar school. So am I. So is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and so indeed are many of us. That does not mean to say that the system is the best system for this country. We are the lucky ones. We got through the net into the grammar school. I am concerned about the children who do not have the opportunity that we had. About four-fifths of the children today in areas where there is no comprehensive reorganisation do not have the opportunities which were enjoyed by those of us who went to grammar school.
Reference has been made to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about abolishing grammar schools over his dead body. We do not want to abolish anything. We want to extend to everybody the opportunity which is only available for the few. That is why we intend to bring in this Bill at the earliest possible moment.