Despite the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Page), I am glad that the Opposition have decided to choose today to ask that the House should concentrate mainly on issues of education and the social services in the debate on the Gracious Speech. That shows that they themselves recognise the importance of these two areas of the Gracious Speech, although, speaking purely for myself, I would have liked a few more hours before making by debut at this Dispatch Box.
Although, obviously, it is my intention to deal mainly with those parts of the Gracious Speech that deal with education, I am sure that the House would expect it of me that I should at the outset make a few comments about another matter that has been of grave concern to myself during the past 10 days, namely, the question of teachers' pay. I shall deal with this matter at once by saying that whilst I am sure that the House expects me to say something about it, I know that hon. Members will recognise how important it is for anyone to avoid saying things that in any way would prejudice or disrupt the normal processes of negotiation within the Burnham Committee.
Hon. Members will recognise that I inherited a problem that the previous Administration had been unable to resolve. I do not attempt or wish at this stage to apportion blame, and I accept that the problem is an intricate one. My own desire has always been to see an honourable settlement and a return to complete normality in the schools and colleges as soon as possible. At the beginning of last week I wrote to all the unions concerned, and the other parties concerned, to explain this to them, as soon as I took office. A meeting of the Burnham primary and secondary committee has now been arranged for Friday of this week, and one of the further education committee for Wednesday of next week.
The House will recognise, in view of the way that the talks have been going, that the Government have a particular responsibility with regard to any question of access to the Standing Commission on Pay Comparability. Therefore, without prejudging more general decisions about the role of the Commission, I have today seen the leaders of both the management and teachers' panels of the Burnham Primary and Secondary Committee to indicate that the Government would be content for the teachers' relativity claim to be referred to the Standing Commission. But I also had to indicate that certain amendments to the terms of reference provisionally agreed by the Burnham Committee were essential if the Government were to agree to the Standing Commission reference.
The Government's view—I have conveyed it to both sides—will be considered by both panels before negotiations resume on Friday, and it would be inappropriate for me at this stage to go into any further detail. However, I wish to add the hope that the terms of reference that I have put to the parties will be found by them to be acceptable should they choose to go down this route.
If agreement is reached on the terms of reference, negotiations will proceed in the proper forum—namely, the Burnham Committee—on the other aspects of the claim. If, unfortunately, agreement cannot be reached on the terms of reference, it is highly relevant that arrangements exist for arbitration either by agreement or at the request of either side if the independent chairman judges that full opportunity has been allowed for discussion and negotiation.
Perhaps I may just add that I am sorry that the teachers unions felt unable to respond to the request that I made to them to resume working normally while negotiations continue. I made it clear immediately on taking office that I would look upon the teachers' pay dispute as a matter of first priority, and that I believe I have done. I can only add that I fear that with the continuation of unwillingness to resume normal working conditions, the only likelihood is that this will damage the case of the teachers in the eyes of the public as a whole.
On this very important point, the Secretary of State says that it is "highly relevant" that arrangements exist for the matter to go to arbitration. Does he mean by that that he will allow the matter to go to arbitration? Secondly, does he adhere to the principles in the Houghton report about teachers' relativities?
The hon. Gentleman must appreciate what I have said. I have no way to stop them going to arbitration, nor can I drive them to arbitration. The decision whether to go to arbitration arises if the chairman of the Burnham Committee rules that the negotiations have broken down. But it is a complete misapprehension to understand that either I or, indeed, the previous Government, have any rights or powers in this matter.
As for the hon. Gentleman's other question, I think that I have said as much as I wish to say at this stage. As I have said, I have referred the terms of reference to the parties for their consideration. I told them that I would be telling the House that I had done so and that I would leave them the opportunity to consider the matter before Friday.
Before coming to education, since we are debating also health and social security, I now turn to those aspects of the Gracious Speech that deal with these matters. As the House knows, we are committed to simplifying and decentralising the National Health Service and cutting back bureaucracy. This means simplifying the present structure, giving much more responsibility at the most local level of authority and reducing the intervention by higher authorities in local matters. We do not, however, propose to make any changes in the structure of the service until the Royal Commission reports, which we hope will be in July. But we shall do everything we can within the existing structure to ensure that decisions are taken at the right level, and in most cases this should be the district.
Concerning the elderly, we shall publish a White Paper on the elderly after carefully reviewing all the evidence that has been submitted by the many individuals and groups concerned with their care. In particular, we must examine closely the needs of and services for the growing number of very elderly people. Consequently it may not be possible for my right hon. Friend to publish the White Paper until rather later this year. As we made clear, we shall introduce a Bill to enable the pensioners' Christmas bonus to be paid.
I am not—nor is my right hon. Friend—in a position at present to give precise figures today on the uprating of social security benefits. The previous Administration quoted figures of about £22 a week for single pensioners and about £35 a week for a married couple. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, speaking then from the Opposition Benches, undertook that a Conservative Administration would match those amounts. I cannot go beyond that and give firm figures today for the size of the uprating, for one very simple reason. We have to calculate on the latest available figures for price movements before finally settling the rates. The present Government, like their predecessors, must therefore wait until the Chancellor has announced his Budget, so that the most up-to-date and most nearly correct figures can be used in forecasting the way in which prices will move over the whole period from November 1978 to November 1979.
Concerning health, our policy on private medicine—
The hon. Member will appreciate that we are dealing with education and other matters for which I am not the Minister directly responsible. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will be winding up the debate for the Government. I think that it would be better if the hon. Member made his point at that stage. However, if he wishes to make a point now which can be considered by my right hon. Friend, I would accept that.
I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I hope that he will not misunderstand me. He has dealt extensively with the business of uprating pensions, but he has not dealt with whether he will uprate pensions in line with incomes if incomes rise faster than prices. I do not think that it would be unreasonable to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to deal with that matter now.
I realise the right hon. and learned Gentleman's difficulty, but he went on to say that we must see the latest figure on prices. That is where the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Thomas) is relevant. The statute refers to prices or earnings. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman cannot answer, perhaps we could be told before the end of the evening whether the Government accept the undertaking that pensions shall be uprated in accordance with the increase in prices or earnings, whichever is the bigger.
I do not want to embarrass the right hon. and learned Gentleman, as it is not his Department, but the question is simple and clear, and I want to make sure that he understands it so that we can have a reply. Will the uprating be in accordance with the increase in prices that he mentioned or the increase in earnings, whichever is the greater? The answer to that is either "Yes" or "No".
Although it is not within the Minister's special remit, he mentioned private medicine. Will he go on record with his view whether the Queen's Speech policy that was outlined yesterday will result in shorter or longer waiting lists in National Health Service hospitals?
I had not said anything about private medicine, but was about to when I was interrupted. The Queen's Speech made clear our policy on private medicine. We believe that pay beds should be available where there is demand for them. Legislation will be needed, and we intend to make progress on that this year. It is important to get the legislation right, and my right hon. Friend will be consulting the interests concerned before taking these matters further.
Turning to the parts of the Gracious Speech that deal with education, the House will wish to know in some detail our plans for legislation, which are considerable. At the time, we made our opposition to the 1976 Education Act quite clear. That Act proceeded on the basis that all maintained secondary education in this country should be reorganised on comprehensive lines, which was a decision that we believed was unjustified on proved educational merit. Further, whilst paying lip service to the rights of local education authorities to organise their own forms of secondary education in accordance with local wishes, in practice the Act required them to submit and implement proposals with which they often did not agree, and on the basis of inadequate resources.
We made it clear, and repeated throughout the election, that we would give the highest priority to a Bill to remove the compulsion on local education authorities to reorganise their secondary schools on comprehensive lines. That we propose to do, and I hope that that Bill will be published tomorrow. Meanwhile, local education authorities and the governing bodies of schools will wish to know how they stand until that Bill gets on the statute book. I therefore take this opportunity to make a statement about action that I have already taken. At the end of it, I shall give way if there are any questions, but I shall be grateful if hon. Gentlemen will allow me to make the statement without interruption.
The previous Government required certain local education authorities and voluntary schools, under section 2 of the Education Act 1976, to submit proposals or further proposals for reorganisation. I have taken the necessary formal steps to withdraw those requirements that are still outstanding. This means that those authorities and schools that have not submitted proposals or further proposals in response to the requirements will no longer be under any legal compulsion to do so. Authorities that have already complied with such requirements will be asked whether they wish their proposals to stand.
The previous Government also gave a number of directions under section 3(1) of the 1976 Act. The effect of these directions was to require authorities to give public notice of the proposals they had submitted under section 2 and to proceed further with them as though they had been submitted under section 13 of the 1944 Act. Where section 3(1) directions have already led to the giving of such public notices and the proposals have not yet been approved, authorities will be asked to inform my Department if they wish me to proceed with consideration of their proposals. In those cases where the public notice stage has not been reached, I have already withdrawn the directions. Authorities and other bodies directly concerned are being informed.
Some proposals made as a result of action under the 1976 Act have already been approved under section 13 of the 1944 Act but have not yet been implemented. Some authorities may wish to proceed with the reorganisation on the basis of the approved proposals. Others, however, may wish not to reorganise, or to reorganise on the basis of different proposals. These authorities will be asked to inform my Department of their intentions so that once the Bill has become law the necessary action can be taken to relieve them of any statutory duty to give effect to the approved proposals.
I have also revoked directions contained in orders made under section 99 of the Education Act 1944 in relation to secondary reorganisation proposals and steps are being taken to terminate legal proceedings where these have been taken.
Turning to another aspect of the Education Act 1976, the former Government used their powers under the Act severely to restrict the freedom of local education authorities to support pupils at independent schools. We shall restore that freedom. Although not in the Bill to which I have referred, I hope in due course to introduce legislation to remove the powers of control over the support by local education authorities of education in non-maintained schools contained in section 9(1) of the Education Act 1944, section 6(1) of the Education (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1953 and section 5(2) of the Education Act 1976.
In the meantime, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I propose not to exercise our powers of control. We are therefore taking the necessary formal steps to give general approval to local authorities' arrangements to assist or to take places at independent schools, so that, pending legislation, those authorities wishing to make such arrangements will no longer need to seek specific approval. My right hon. Friend and I have made, and shortly will lay before the House, an amendment to the Scholarships and Other Benefits Regulations 1977 to relieve authorities of the need to secure ministerial approval to payments under regulation 4(d) of those regulations in respect of the attendance of children at non-maintained schools.
The effect of all the measures that have announced is to honour as quickly as possible the Government's election pledge to allow local education authorities to take up places at independent schools if they wish to do so, and to remove from them the compulsion, imposed by the previous Government, to reorganise along comprehensive lines when they do not wish to do so. I am glad that the Government have been able to carry out that pledge at such an early stage of their administration.
I hope that the Secretary of State does not suppose that from end to end of the country parents will now be in a position to send their children to Eton. Does he realise that even many Conservative-controlled authorities will place more emphasis on improving their own State schools than on diverting money in this way?
With great respect to the right hon. Member, I am dealing with education. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Of course I shall answer. I shall deal with that shortly, when I refer to the assisted places scheme, which is on the same basis as the sale of council houses. We shall take control over its administration to ensure that certain local education authorities will not be able to prevent parents from taking advantage of a scheme that they believe is in their interests. The same undoubtedly applies to the sale of council houses.
As for the 1976 Act, I have announced measures and will introduce legislation tomorrow which will have the effect of restoring to local authorities their rights under the 1944 Act to choose the form of secondary education that they consider most appropriate for their area.
I am not an Etonian or a Wykehamist: I went to an ordinary elementary school. Will the Secretary of State indicate whether his policy means a return to the type of privileged education that existed in my youth, or is it a move towards the egalitarianism in which we on the Labour Benches believe?
Is the Secretary of State aware that local authorities are under an obligation to the district auditors so to arrange their expenditure that they do not incur unnecessary expenditure? Is he saying that if there are a considerable number of empty places in local authority schools, his legal advice is that local education authorities would be within the law in incurring extra expenditure for independent schools, ignoring the existing empty places within their own schools?
All I am saying is that we have restored the situation to that which existed before the 1976 Act, when the sort of points that the hon. Member has just raised would have been equally relevant.
I now turn to another firm undertaking that we gave in our election manifesto—the introduction of an assisted places scheme. As the Gracious Speech has indicated, we plan to go ahead with this as quickly as possible. The previous Government's phasing out of support for the direct-grant grammar schools did a grave disservice both to the education system and to the individual children who benefited from it. In practice, the effect has been to turn the vast majority of those schools into wholly independent schools. Thus, the opportunity to attend them has been removed from the children whose parents cannot afford to pay the fees.
In practice, the Labour Government, in pursuit of what I suppose they would call the ideal of equality, have in fact removed the opportunity for children to get to such schools on merit and have replaced it solely by the opportunity for them to get there on the length of their parents' purse. Thus, the child rich in intelligence but poor in cash has been deprived. A recognised avenue of opportunity for the bright child from a deprived area of our inner cities has been destroyed.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman really implying that in the great comprehensive schools, which about 85 per cent. of our secondary school children now attend, there is no chance of receiving an advanced education? Is he saying that children have such a chance only if the 11-plus examination is reintroduced and if what he calls "merit" is the criterion? Is he really saying that in the face of the vast progress made in examination results, these children do not have a chance of a good education now?
The hon. Member knows that I am not saying that. He and I were members of a Committee on an Education Bill for a long time together and he knows that I have never said that. What I am saying is that the opportunity for education at schools such as Manchester grammar school, which was available to children from the city areas of Manchester, is no longer available, and that is not in the interests of the children of that area. I believe in restoring the opportunity to those children by our proposed scheme. We shall restore opportunity to the child who is bright in intellect and who would benefit from that type of education.
A recognised avenue of opportunity has gone. We are determined to repair that damage by bringing forward proposals for a scheme to allow such children access to the academic standards that those schools provide. We shall do so by giving help to the parents of those children through an income-related grant towards fees.
The scheme will differ from the direct grant scheme in a number of important respects. For example, I want to try to ensure a better geographical spread of opportunity. I accept that there are many issues to be examined, and we wish to consult the direct grant and independent schools associations, local education authorities and other bodies on the main details of the scheme. Our proposals can be discussed in the debate on the education Bill proposed for later in this Session.
In answer to the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), I want to underline a point that I know he has heard me make on many occasions. I wish to emphasise that these proposals do not in any way affect our concern and the concern of the Department for the maintained system in which the vast majority of children are educated. We wish to encourage the best in both sectors—maintained and independent. We want to see a closer relationship between them rather than a widening of the divide. Furthermore, we want to restore to more parents an element of choice in the education of their children.
I am concerned to see that the importance of the views of parents on the education of their children is fully recognised. The Gracious Speech refers to the Government's intention to introduce legislation to ensure that parents' wishes are taken into account and that there is a local appeals system. We know that parental choice cannot be absolute, but we believe that arrangements for the admission of children to schools should be designed and operated so as to ensure that they are as responsive as possible to those wishes. Parents who are dissatisfied should have available to them an effective channel of complaint at a local level to ensure that their case has had a fair hearing. If parents are to be able to make a choice they need the information on which such a choice can be based, and we will make it a requirement for LEAs to provide the widest possible information about their schools.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend say whether the information that local authorities will be required to provide will include information about examination results?
Yes, it will include the widest possible information, if it can be made available. [HON. MEMBERS "Oh."] Of course that must be the case. If a parent is to make an important decision about a child's future, that parent must be given the widest possible information about schools.
The fall in the school population presents the Government and local education authorities with very substantial problems of managing available resources in the interests of all children. But it also provides us with a challenge and with the opportunity to make the system much more responsive to the wishes of parents. Therefore, the wishes of parents must be part of the planning process from the beginning, and not just a supplementary factor to be taken into account at the end.
With respect, the hon. Gentleman must await the Bill. It will be an appeals procedure at a local level. A parent who is dissatisfied, having expressed a preference for a particular school and the LEA having allocated the child elsewhere, must be covered by a system in which appeals are heard by people other than those who took the original decision. That is what I have in mind, but the details still have to be worked out.
I think that it is equally important that parents should have some say in the running of schools. Therefore, I hope that the legislation to be introduced later in the Session will include provision on school government. The Taylor report and the ensuing debates on the Education Bill in 1978–79 stimulated a continuing public debate about the role and composition of school governing bodies. I am sure that such bodies can make an effective contribution to the life of a school and are an important way of bringing parents and teachers together and of involving parents in decisions about the schools attended by their children. We want to ensure, as a minimum, that each school should as a general rule have its own governing body, and that elected parents and teachers should be included on all governing bodies.
I mentioned the matter of opportunities presented by falling rolls. Within a few years there will be a large number of surplus places in schools. This provides opportunities to improve the quality of the service—for example, by relieving overcrowding, converting spare space for nursery and other educational uses, bringing older buildings up to date, and taking out of use wholly unsatisfactory accommodation, including old temporary classrooms which have remained in use for longer than was originally intended. We shall progress as fast as possible, but it will be necessary to determine priorities to make better use of existing resources.
As I have said, with falling rolls there are problems as well as opportunities. As school rolls fall, positive steps will be needed to protect the curriculum. This will depend crucially on the deployment of the available teachers if we are to ensure, for example, that important minority subjects, such as some languages, are not lost from many of our schools. This will depend on the size of schools. Primary schools that fall below a certain level may well have to make alterations in the pattern of staffing. Similarly, smaller secondary schools raise issues about the staffing levels required if their pupils are to enjoy the range of curriculum and options available in larger schools. Local education authorities will have to tackle the problems and formulate their policies.
The crucial question is how to maintain and improve educational opportunities as schools get smaller. I shall do my best to help, but I, in turn, will need their support. Together we must face the fact that after three decades of expansion in the school population, we are now in for a decade of falling numbers in most areas.
What I have already said will have made it clear that one of the Government' priorities, as the Gracious Speech makes clear, is with the education standards in our schools. I repeat what I said on another occasion: I am aware that the concern of parents is vital and primary in terms of the standards of education in the school attended by their children. Standards depend on the interaction of many factors. There is no single and simple measure of education standards, and there is no single or simple way of maintaining or improving them. However, the Government will seek to work through and co-operate with the wide range of relevant agencies, including the LEAs, the teachers, the inspectorate and the examination boards, and on all the relevant aspects of school work and life.
But academic standards are not our only concern. Standards of behaviour are just as important, and this is an area to which we shall be giving close attention. I am particularly keen to consider the problems of truancy, especially among those who are in their final year at school. The Government, the local education authorities and the schools should keep the aims of schools continually under review to ensure that they match the social and economic needs of both individual pupils and the community.
The debate on education initiated by the previous Administration, which concentrated on curriculum and standards, made it clear that there is a need to ensure that as social and economic circumstances change schools' curricula should reflect those changes while continuing to provide a thorough grounding in the basic education skills.
The Department's circular No. 14 of 1977 asked local education authorities to report on arrangements for schools' curricula in their areas. Analysis of their replies is almost complete, and my Department will shortly publish a summary of them. At that stage we shall open discussions with local education authorities, the teachers and other interested parties with the aim of reaching agreement on the steps that should now be taken to help ensure that the aims and curricula of individual schools match the needs of the day and keep under review the educational standards achieved in the schools.
Improvements of standards in schools is dependent to a considerable extent upon the nature and quality of the education and training that we provide for our teachers, both before entry to the profession and throughout their careers. We welcome the move towards higher standards of entry to the teaching profession, but it is not enough to improve the quality of entrants to initial training and to raise the level of courses that they are offered. The courses must be relevant to their professional needs. They must give the intending teacher a secure foundation in the practical skills that are required to encourage good work and good behaviour from pupils. We wish to see more emphasis placed on those practical skills and we welcome the increased attention that is now being given to those matters in training institutions.
There are important matters concerning the education and training of those between the ages of 16 and 18, but time does not permit me to deal with them in any detail now. [Interruption.] I shall do so if hon. Members want me to. I was being kind to the House. Our manifesto undertook to review the relationship between schools, further education and training. In the light of that, and the flow of comments relevant to it that are now being received in response to consultative papers published by our predecessors, the House cannot expect any definitive statement at this time.
I should like to make clear, however, that I attach the greatest importance to trying to meet in the most effective way the wide diversity of aims and needs among young people of that age group. I am also conscious of the needs of the 200,000 or more 16-year-olds who enter jobs each year in which no further education or training courses are planned. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment is associated with me in examining this vital area of the relationship between schools, further education and training.
What I have said about education should be looked at in the context of the Gracious Speech as a whole. In that speech, we have said that we shall ensure that parents have a say in the choice of their children's schools and that a variety of types of school should be available to meet the differing abilities of different children. Above all, our aim is to provide the highest standards of education obtainable. But in the end the speed with which we can achieve our aim depends on the resources that a country can provide That is why it is so important to see our proposals in the context of the Gracious Speech.
The need to revive the economy must remain a paramount issue. It is only out of that revival and the wealth that it creates that we shall be able to provide the standards that in a civilised society we all wish to see.
I believe that nobody who listened to the Prime Minister's speech yesterday could possibly have doubted the strength—indeed, the passion—of her ideological commitment. I mean that as a genuine compliment. The distaste for ideology affected by some of her Cabinet members has always seemed to be dishonest or wet, or both. I assure the Prime Minister at once that there is no one on this side of the House who will regret that the political battle lines were drawn clearly and precisely by her yesterday for the rest of this Parliament.
Those battle lines—the rival positions of the major parties—are further apart today than at any time since the Second World War. Those sections of the Gracious Speech which deal with health, education and social security—I agree with the Secretary of State that they must be taken in the context of overall Conservative policy—demonstrate how wide and deep is the gulf between the two parties. The proposals in those passages invariably and consistently support the strong at the expense of the weak and help the rich to the detriment of the poor.
I believe that they stem from the Prime Minister's definition of freedom, a condition which she seems genuinely to believe will come about as a result of the policies which she presents. She thinks of freedom as the absence of interference by the State. All the policies by which she proposes to implement that philosophy turn out in the end—as they must—to favour the haves at the expense of the have-nots.
Apparently, the Prime Minister can construct a moral defence of a system which allows—indeed encourages—one man to buy himself a privileged place in the queue for hospital beds and thus denies another man the right to obtain the quickest treatment that the Health Service can provide. The Prime Minister will find it difficult to discover a quotation from St. Francis of Assisi that justifies that sort of behaviour.
Will the right hon. Gentleman explain how, after five years of disappointment under the Labour Government and after getting rid of £44 million extra to the Health Service from pay beds, the Eltham and Mottingham hospital in my constituency, which was nationalised at the start of the National Health Service, is threatened with closure after all the compassionate words from Labour Members?
Of course I can explain that. We have not been able to devote sufficient resources to the Health Service over the last five years. The divide between the parties is that of those of us who knew that public expenditure cuts had to be made and made them with reluctance and those now in the Government and Cabinet who regard them as good in themselves and believe in them as an article of policy and faith.
I should like to return to the philosophy of the right hon. Lady, about which I am sure we shall hear a great deal during the lifetime of this Parliament. I believe—this is supposed to be a compliment as well—that she will imprint it clearly upon her Cabinet and her Government. Knowing that the right hon. Lady is inclined to accuse those who disagree with her of conversion to Marxist tendency, let me put my criticism of her philosophy in its proper democratic context. Her error was explained 30 years ago by Professor R. H. Tawney, who said:
It is assumed by the privileged classes that when the State holds its hand what remains as a result of its inaction is liberty. In reality, what remains for the mass of mankind is tyranny
—the tyranny of private wealth and private power, but tyranny nevertheless.
I must tell the Prime Minister that her definition of freedom, with all the damage that it will do to those whom the Labour Party traditionally represents, is a concept in both principle and practice which we shall fight through the lifetime of this Parliament.
I have already given one example of the privilege which the Government, on their own acknowledgment and confirmation this afternoon, intend to extend within the Health Service. The second example, a grosser one, is to be found in the whole paragraph of the Gracious Speech concerning education. It contains four specific promises. Each one in the context of overall education policy can only help, and is designed only to help, a minority of our pupils and their parents.
Here is the first. No one, I believe, not even in the furthest recesses of the Tory backwoods, pretends that the selective secondary system is better than non-selection for the 85 per cent. of our children who do not qualify for grammar schools. I believe—and I hope that I can demonstrate this before my speech is over—that the academically gifted boy or girl has nothing to lose and much to gain from education in a comprehensive school. But, even if I am wrong, the central issue which divides us concerns the majority of our school population.
We believe that the country's education system ought to be based on the principle that all our children and all our young people are of equal worth, equal merit and equal value. A system which segregates and separates, the system which the Gracious Speech seeks to defend and extend, is bound to operate to the benefit of a small and, I believe, a decreasing minority.
I hope that throughout the life of this Parliament we shall be spared any more nonsense about grammar schools and comprehensive schools coexisting side by side. I promise that this will be my only quotation from the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, but since this is one of the few things that he got right in the past five years I think it worth repeating—it is his view, not ours:
One cannot have grammar schools alongside comprehensive schools, or the latter will be nothing but misnamed secondary modern schools.
Therefore, let the Secretary of State for Education and Science say frankly and honestly that in those areas where the grammar schools are to be preserved the secondary modern schools will be preserved as well for 80 per cent. or 85 per cent. of our children.
While we are on the subject of the new freedom—those were the words, "the new freedom", used by the Secretary of State—I wonder whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman could tell us how it will operate in practice as well as in theory. For instance, if the new council in Tameside decides that it wants to convert its secondary schools to comprehensive schools, will the new freedom apply to it, or does the new freedom operate in only one direction?
Of course I shall answer. The Tameside council will be free, if it wishes, to submit a section 13 proposal under the 1944 Act, and it will be looked at in the Department. It will be dealt with in the Department in exactly the same way as applications under that Act are always dealt with.
I do not want to defend my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, East (Mr. Faulds), but I think you ought to know, Mr. Speaker, that the Prime Minister, speaking from a sedentary position, was offensive about Mrs. Williams, and many of us, I think, took great exception to it.
I want to pursue the question of the new freedom which the Secretary of State revealed to us, because the new freedom exists for councils to choose which sort of secondary education they prefer, but it does not exist for them to decide whether they want to take part in the assisted places scheme. I wonder whether, between now and half-past nine, the right hon. and learned Gentleman could explain to us the philosophical criteria which exclude one of those areas from proper freedom but do not exclude the other.
What is the right hon. Gentleman now? Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, yes. The Chancellor of the Duchy says that it is a matter of parental choice, but let me remind him again that in the boroughs where grammar schools are preserved and secondary modern schools are preserved with them, the idea of parental choice, even under the new freedom, will be an absolute myth, as I shall demonstrate. If the Secretary of State is not capable of producing an explanation of why freedom works in some cases and not in others, we shall be driven to the conclusion that freedom works only when it is freedom to do what conforms with Conservative prejudices.
I now turn to the aspect of the matter of which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster reminded me. The second item in the paragraph on education in the Gracious Speech gives the promise to ensure that
parents' wishes are taken into account in the choice of schools for their children.
Opinion in education is, I understand, divided about the desirability of that. For my part, I am passionately in support of it, but I know very well that, in practice, it works only in a comprehensive system. In areas where the 11-plus or the 13-plus survives, for most families the idea of parental choice is a cruel hoax.
In the past 48 hours I have looked up both the figures for and the practices of selection in Redbridge, Essex, Bolton, Bexley and Buckingham. If the House wishes, I, or my right hon. Friend who will speak later, will describe what happens in those authority areas, but let me at this point put the principle in brief.
A tiny proportion of the children obtain grammar school places. In Essex, for instance—what is called old Essex, that is, Colchester and thereabouts—2 per cent. go to grammar schools. Virtually all the rest go to the local secondary modern school—good or bad, overcrowded, understaffed, old or new. The local secondary modern school may be called a high school, or it may even be called a comprehensive school, but secondary modern school in reality it is, and there is virtually no choice as between one parent and another or one pupil and another regarding the school to which children are allocated. Moreover, those secondary modern schools often have worse facilities, are more overcrowded and are more understaffed because of the financial benefits heaped upon the grammar school in their immediate vicinity.
That, I believe, demonstrates our major objection to a selective system which divides young people and their education. It widens the gap between the provision in those selective schools which are regarded as superior and those other schools which are regarded as the ordinary run-of-the-mill establishments to which ordinary run-of-the-mill children go.
Exactly the same principle governs our objection to the existence of private treatment within the National Health Service. Whether there is a division and distinction within what ought to be a universal public service, the treatment enjoyed by the favoured minority improves and the service provided for the rest deteriorates. In fact, while the rich can buy something private and better, the public Health Service will never be good enough. Whilst the children of the influential go to different schools, sufficient resources will never be devoted to the maintained system. That is especially true in an era of scarce resources, when we cannot—I admit it again; I admitted it to an hon. Member below the Gangway who asked me a question and then left the Chamber—devote as much of our national income to these public services as we would wish.
It is against that background—a background which I admit is one where not as much money as many of us would hope can be spent on health, education and the social services—that I want to ask the Government some specific questions on the funding of health, social security and education.
First, on health, the Gracious Speech says:
A Bill will be introduced to facilitate the wider use of private medical care.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science has confirmed that that means the encouragement of queue jumping. May we be assured absolutely that it does not mean the introduction of some of the more bizarre notions for financing the National Health Service which the Secretary of State for Social Services provided for the House during his days in Opposition? Lest to some new hon. Members some of those ideas seem so improbable as to be inconceivable, I ought to say that I have the reference to each of the occasions when he suggested financing the National Health Service by the insurance principle, when he suggested hotel charges for hospital patients, and when he suggested visiting fees for general practitioner services. May we be assured that they have been dropped and forgotten for ever?
Whilst we are pursuing those assurances, may we have some other reassurance on social security funding and benefits? The first concerns the upgrading of pensions. I do not think that I am being unfair to the Secretary of State for Education and Science when I say that not only did he not begin to answer the questions but as far as I could make out he did not begin to understand it. I ask it again, therefore. We, the Labour Government, instituted and accepted a legal obligation to increase pensions in line with either price increases or earnings increases, whichever were the greater. During the general election campaign the Government appeared to accept only the inflation uprating. If, as we hope, earnings rise faster than prices, under their scheme the pensioner will not receive any share of the growing national wealth and prosperity.
I know from a television performance in which the Secretary of State and I took part on Friday 4 May that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is inclined to cavil about the nature of the uprating promise that we made. To avoid a tedious semantic argument, therefore, let me put the question in very simple terms. Will the Government accept the same pension obligation as the Labour Government accepted? Do they accept—[Interruption.] The right hon. and learned Gentle man is cavilling already. Do the Government accept that they have a duty to forecast increases in earnings and prices and then increase pensions to the highest level of those forecasts? If they accept that duty, will they promise that they will do what we did? When their forecast is in error, will they make it up the next year as we ensured it would be made up this?
On that very topic, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I wrote to the Department and asked whether the 1·9 per cent. would be made up when the next arrangements for pensions were introduced? I was informed that they would be considered in April but that no undertaking could be given. It was not until the election campaign began that the former Prime Minister announced that it would be made up.
I am happy to confirm all that the hon. Gentleman said. It was considered in April, we agreed to do it, and we announced it. I am sorry that he missed the announcement.
On this area of social security, I deal next with the child benefit. We proposed, when in Government, to increase the level of child benefit to £4·50 in the autumn. Will the Government do the same? I hope that they will. Indeed, to be consistent with the image which they created during the election campaign they ought to increase it by more than that, because they belong to the party of tax cuts and there is now no way in which tax cuts can be organised to provide benefit to large low-income families. If the Government believe that financial reductions ought to benefit the community as a whole, as part of their fiscal policy for helping the lowest paid, especially the lowest paid with large families, they ought to increase child benefit by more than £4·50. We have not yet even been told whether they will do it up to the amount that we promised before the general election.
That leads me to the funding of the education service. The Secretary of State for Education and Science begins his tenure of office with two major advantages. The first is the service which Shirley Williams bequeathed to him, which is in better shape in almost every way than it was at any time during the last 25 years. I give only one example. Class sizes are now the lowest on record.
I was going on to make much the same point. Hon. Members who have been attending will recall that I told them of two advantages. Mrs. Williams was the first. The second is the fall in the school rolls which she, I am sure, would happily echo, as I do standing in her shadow. That was one of the reasons why she was able to make the progress which was a spectacular part of our history when we were in office. During the time of our three Secretaries of State, especially the one who abolished the grammar schools and now serves in the Conservative Cabinet—[Interruption.] I am told that he is not in the Cabinet. I am sure that he is working on that. The advantage of falling rolls was undoubtedly an advantage to Shirley Williams, and it is an advantage to the present incumbent of the office which she held with such distinction.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that when he was last in the position that he is now as Opposition spokesman, in July 1973, he moved a motion of censure on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in which he attacked her vitriolically for reducing the number of teacher training places from 119,000 to 60,000, and he said that the difference between a Labour Government and a Conservative Government was that a Labour Government would not use a fall in the birth rate to have public expenditure reductions? Since his own Secretary of State then reduced the number of teacher training places not to 60,000 but to 32,000, is not that typical of the two-faced nature of the right hon. Gentleman?
I remember vividly all the statistical arguments that I had with the right hon. Lady at that time. As I prepared my speech earlier today, I wondered whether I should refer to the one in which The Times, the Financial Times, The Times Educational Supplement, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph all said that she had been proved conclusively wrong. I am not sure whether Opposition spokesmen are entitled to put cuttings in the Library. If they are, I shall put in the Library the cuttings relating to that occasion, because I remember it with a great deal of pleasure.
I have not tried to run away from the fact that the falling rolls are the cause of the condition which the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) described and were an enormous advantage to the Government who came into power in 1974. It is an advantage which can be looked at in two ways. One way is that it is an opportunity to improve the system, and I was delighted that the Secretary of State described it in exactly those terms today. The other way in which it can be looked at is as an opportunity to reduce public expenditure, and I must tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that that is the way in which it was looked at throughout the election campaign.
I was told that during the election campaign the Secretary of State had said that education and science was an area in which savings might be made. If that is not the case, I shall withdraw the allegation at once. But whether he said that or not, there is no doubt that the present Financial Secretary, who probably is now in Treasury Chambers increasing VAT, said in a broadcast on 24 April on "The Money Programme" that one of the main areas in which public expenditure could be cut and in which savings could be made was education.
I hope that the new Secretary of State will resist that idea to the uttermost. Even if he is successful in that endeavour, all of us on the Opposition Benches accept that there will not be the funds available to do many of the things that he wants to do, and certainly many of the things that we want to do. It is in that context that we find it absolutely astonishing—indeed, absolutely disgraceful—that the only major area of new expenditure is £50 million to subsidise free places in independent schools.
That is not a vast amount of money, but I ask the House and the right hon. and learned Gentleman to consider the other things that might benefit from £50 million—remedial teaching in inner city schools, the teaching of English as a second language, the whole range of positive discrimination to help schools in deprived and depressed areas and more in-service training for teachers who can then qualify in subjects where there is now a chronic teacher shortage. None of those things, according to Conservative criteria, has deserved that extra £50 million. Instead, we have this shabby little concession to Conservative prejudice—subsidised places in private schools. Whatever happened to the idea of one nation? When was one nation officially removed from the Conservative philosophy?
I am sure that we shall be told—indeed, we are told in the Gracious Speech—that those places will be provided
for assistance to less well off parents".
I take it that by "less well off" the Conservative Party means the poor. There is a good deal to be said for calling the poor the poor. I assume that this is supposed to be the escape hatch by which the clever and the industrious ascend to the middle classes. Indeed, the Secretary of State described this provision in exactly those terms. I hope that he will examine the history of other escape hatches of that sort in the past 50 years—Fleming, under which working boys were to go to public schools, the entire direct-grant system.
We have all been embarrassed by a single example of the working-class boy who is hawked in front of us to prove how democratic the public schools have become. In fact, all the assistance schemes basically help children who would have gone there anyway but who nevertheless, because of the schemes, receive added assistance from the State. That is certainly what happened during the period in which the direct grant system was in operation. I have no doubt that it will happen when the new scheme is instituted.
That is the practical objection. There is a much stronger objection in principle. It is that the very notion of a superior element within the system—and everything that the Secretary of State said this afternoon suggested that there was this superior element to which all should aspire and which a few might attain—encourages the belief that most boys and girls can be forgotten as they go through the generality of the educational process.
In fact, that will not happen, despite all the things that were said by the Conservative Party during the election campaign about comprehensive education. The Secretary of State will understand that those who sit on the Opposition Benches feel that there is much to regret from those three weeks, not least the result. After the result, the most regrettable feature of that campaign seems to me to be the appalling campaign of denigration which was waged against comprehensive schools. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where?"] Have right hon. and hon. Members already forgotten the poster which said "Educashun isn't working"? What was the message that it was supposed to convey? It was supposed to convey the message that the comprehensive system had failed.
That message was repeated by Conservative candidate after Conservative candidate, and for all I know it is believed by some Conservative Back Benchers. If they believe it, I hope that the Secretary of State will contradict them. If he needs any evidence, I hope that he will look at the press notice put out by the Department which he now runs on 22 September last year. It proved conclusively that the comprehensive schools were producing better education, better academic results, better all-round standards than we had ever known in this country.
The achievement of the comprehensive schools on behalf of our young people and the country is largely the achievement of the philosophy of the Labour Party and the Labour Government.
Some things endure. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a quotation to prove it. I do not often repeat the words of the Secretary of State for Industry, but one of his more endearing aphorisms concerned what he called the Socialist ratchet—those things which Socialists have done which cannot be reversed, those changes which we have so made that the clock cannot be put back. One of those changes is the non-selective system of comprehensive education.
The Conservative Party may do the system damage. It may harm the prospects of a generation of boys and girls in some of the boroughs that follow its prejudices. But the general improvement in education standards which the comprehensive schools have brought about, and for which the Labour Party is responsible, will endure and will remain one of our great achievements over the years.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) spoke scathingly about the new freedom, as he called it. The fact is that the people of this country, when given the opportunity, decisively rejected the old formula of freedom which he and his colleagues represented. When he talks scathingly about the new freedom, he might remind himself of the sort of freedom that existed last winter.
That was the freedom to which the people objected when they had the opportunity during the election campaign. They rejected the freedom that some people enjoyed to leave rubbish piling up in the streets of our cities. They rejected the freedom that some people indulged in to leave dead people unburied. They rejected the freedom that some people seemed to enjoy, as organised bully-boys on the picket lines, to threaten law-abiding citizens and prevent them from going about their work.
Those are the freedoms which the right hon. Gentleman and his party represented. That is why they are now on the Opposition Benches and why they have been decisively rejected. For all the right hon. Gentleman's huff and puff, his case was as unconvincing this afternoon as it was during the past three weeks.
I well remember how strongly in many different constituencies during the campaign people represented to us their aspiration to be able to lead their own lives, to take decisions for themselves to exercise choice for themselves, not to have masters in Government breathing down their necks and doing those things for them. That is what people voted for. They rejected as out of date, out of touch and totally irrelevant the policies which the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues represented to them. The people have chosen the alternative course.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her colleagues in Government on the formidable and forthright programme that they have put before the country in the Gracious Speech. I congratulate her in particular on the courageous and clear way in which she presented it and commended it to the House yesterday. Yesterday was a truly historic day. It will live for many decades in the history of this country and in the appreciation of its people as marking the major turning point for which many have been waiting a long time.
I well remember, as many other hon. Members doubtless do, the occasion during the broadcast of the election results on the BBC when Bob McKenzie referred to the quiet and simple way in which a changeover in Government is made in this country. It was a correct reminder to all of us who practise parliamentary democracy of how natural it is to effect such changes here. In so many countries it is not possible—without bloodshed or turmoil—to effect a change of Government.
We are all inheritors of this great freedom. We can cherish the fact that the changeover has taken place quietly and simply. It has been a change of a considerable dimension, because it is that for which the people voted. I am convinced that they voted to keep more of the decisions in their own hands and to be able to lead their own lives according to their own choice. Freedom and choice for the individual were the themes in the Gracious Speech and in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. They were the themes which we presented thoughout the election campaign.
I am greatly encouraged by what my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said this afternoon about how that freedom would be extended throughout the sectors of our health, education and social services. I ask him to consider carefully the position of the elderly, especially when it comes to the taxation that they now suffer. The elderly find it extremely difficult to make both ends meet in times of rising prices. I am afraid that there is no doubt but that we shall have to endure rising prices for a little longer yet as a result of the inheritance from the previous Government. I hope that we shall soon hear more about the pledge to remove, over a period, the investment income surcharge, and also progressively to abolish the earnings rule.
The general theme that must surely commend itself to everyone in the House is the Government's determination to do what they can to make all our national services more responsive to the needs and wishes of the people whom they exist to serve. That must apply every bit as much in education as it does and should in health and as it certainly should in other aspects of our social services. As the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook said, there is no doubt that in the Health Service there is a need for more resources. However, a great deal can be done by the proper application of resources and by the better management of our resources, and that I am certain we shall see.
When considering the need for better resources in our Health Service, I hope that my right hon. Friend will not forget the need of doctors and nurses to be able to be certain of having proper career prospects and being able to carry out the immensely important work which they have in their trust. During recent pay discussions the nurses conducted themselves with great restraint. I hope that we shall not forget the example which they gave. I hope that we shall do our level best to ensure that the highest possible standards prevail in those professions and that we ensure that they receive a proper reward.
I have an interest in private education which I must declare to the House, but it is not about private education that I wish to speak. I take up the remarks made by my right, hon. and learned Friend about greater parental involvement. I am sure that that can only be for the good. Why should anybody object to that? I have no doubt that all hon. Members desire to ensure that when they invest money in the purchase of any product they get value for money and that they know what it is they are buying. Various consumer protection legislation has been introduced. That has passed through the House from time to time, reminding us of the desirability that those who manufacture and market goods should clearly declare the nature of the contents of packages, the quality of the goods, what they will achieve and how they are composed. That should apply equally to education.
When parents are making decisions about the future education of their children, it is important that they should have the opportunity to balance the re spective merits or demerits of the schools on offer to them. I hope that parental involvement will be encouraged and increased at every possible level and in every possible way, including in comprehensive schools, where parents should know the standards that can be achieved in the best of them and the standards that are not being achieved in some of those which do not aspire to such high levels of performance.
I was greatly encouraged to hear what my right hon. and learned Friend had to say about preserving local choice for the type and organisation of secondary education in local areas. That will give great encouragement to the constituency I represent, where there are first-class schools which were under threat from the previous Labour Government. That threat has now been lifted and those schools can continue so long as that is the parents' wish. That, surely, is the right approach.
Surely it is not right to have a decision foisted upon the people that is against their wishes and taken in the arrogance and exclusivity of some Whitehall cabal represented by the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook. These are decisions affecting the life, livelihood and well-being of individual citizens and individual families. It is right that they should have the opportunity to choose for themselves the path that they wish to follow in these matters.
I turn briefly to another area of choice but away from the subject matters immediately under debate. Probably one of the greatest choices available to us all, which I referred to in my opening remarks, is the freedom to choose the Government of our country. The opportunity for such a choice is not available in every country. One country has been moving towards that clearly and decisively, giving the opportunity for choice in the type and the composition of Government where it had not previously existed to such a great extent. I refer to Rhodesia. I listened carefully to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had to say on the subject. I hope that she will be heartened by the example that has been given from across the Atlantic in the United States of America, by the evidence that has come from that country of a change of heart and a change of attitude. We now have an opportunity to make a fresh start in Rhodesia just as my right hon. Friend is making a fresh start here.
I am enormously encouraged that the themes that we pressed throughout the election are so strongly represented in the Gracious Speech. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her courage and clarity.
The Secretary of State is temporarily absent, but I begin by wishing him well in his appointment. He will have a difficult task talking sense into some of his right hon. and hon. Friends. However, he has earned respect. He, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) and I worked on an Education Bill in the last Parliament, and we gained a fair amount of respect for one another. There was a measure of consensus on some matters that are not prominent in the Gracious Speech but on which action could be taken during this Parliament. I wish the right hon. and learned Gentleman well in that work.
I also wish well the Secretary of State for Scotland, whose territory borders mine and to whom I may have to address the occasional embarrassing question if he ventures on forays over his national boundary. There are similar problems to which the right hon. Gentleman must address himself and he, too, has our good will.
A number of features of the Conservative election campaign on health, social services and education have not found their way into the Gracious Speech. I lay down some markers in the hope of hearing a little more about what is to happen about them.
There is the briefest of indications in the Gracious Speech about the simplifying of the social security system. Most hon. Members who have had to take up cases on behalf of their constituents will feel that simplification is desirable. However, I do not understand how we can substantially simplify the system without moving substantially towards a tax credit scheme. I do not see how we can deal with the problems of the poverty trap—that is, the situation that I am sure every hon. Member had referred to him during the election campaign, namely, when someone finds that he is better off receiving benefits than when in work—unless we move towards a tax credit scheme. There are many circumstances in which, alas, simplicity is not the answer. The simpler a scheme is, the more crude it is and the less effectively it deals with certain problems and circumstances.
The second feature that does not seem to have found its place in the Gracious Speech, but which was briefly referred to yesterday, is social security benefit for strikers' families. There was a reference in the Conservative manifesto to placing on trade unions the obligation to support the families of strikers and to bear a larger part of that cost than the Government, or a larger part than at present. There has been no clear indication what the Government will do on that front. The proposal in the Conservative manifesto was blown up in the election campaign into the suggestion, widely supported in the Conservative press, that there would be a crackdown on social security benefits for strikers' families. The Government must come clean on that issue as well. In the past, I was convinced by what the Secretary of State for Industry said about such a proposal—that the difficulties outweighed the arguments for taking the action favoured by the Conservative Party. It may be that the Government have had a new thought on the subject. If so, let us hear what it is.
We must be told more about how the trend of Josephism in the National Health Service will be reversed. How are we to reverse the substantial and expensive reorganisation that has put the emphasis in all the wrong places in the Health Service? It is not easy to do what I am glad the Government have now agreed needs to be done—to get decisions back to the level of the operating unit, the local medical practice, the local hospital and those most intimately concerned.
I say that not least because many people have been appointed to posts at higher levels expecting to carry responsibility. What will be done about them? It is unfortunate that many of the best qualified professional people in the National Health Service were invited and encouraged to take posts in which they administered rather than treated patients—posts such as area nursing officers, area physiotherapists and area speech therapists, carrying administrative responsibility at area level. That meant that they spend most of their time driving around in a car seeing how everyone else is getting on with the job. It takes a lot of unscrambling to change a system such as that. There are severe implications for salaries, professional status and for what happens to the individuals involved if that damaging trend is to be reversed, as it must be.
We know little about the impact of the public expenditure cuts which are promised and which are inevitable if only to pay for the public expenditure increases in other areas and the tax reductions. Some of them will affect education—the Secretary of State admitted that in a radio programme in which I took part. There is a commitment in the Conservative manifesto that cuts will not be made in Health Service spending. Therefore, there must be a heavy impact on some of the other social services, not least as there is additional spending on the assisted-places scheme. Yet what is needed most to boost standards in education and health is resources. The one thing that makes more difference than anything else to education standards is the number and quality of teaching staff. That—above buildings and other facilities—is the most important. It will require consideration if individual attention is to be given to the most successful and gifted pupils, who need the extra stimulus, or those who are falling behind.
The greatest attraction of private education to those parents who can afford it is that of small classes, the feeling that their children will receive more attention as the teacher has more time to devote to them. We want to bring that aspect much further into the public sector, and we have the opportunity as a result of falling school rolls. But we have that opportunity only if we maintain the present level of resources while school rolls fall.
The Secretary of State said that he saw opportunities for savings as a result of falling school rolls. I do not see opportunities for savings. I see opportunities for higher standards. However, we shall not achieve those higher standards if public expenditure reductions go hand in hand with falling school rolls.
We also need to get morale back into the teaching force. That will not be done until the present pay dispute is resolved. I see serious difficulties here for the Government. They are trying to resolve the dispute without any background of general pay policy. In education as in the NHS, the suspicion surrounds everything they do that the real instrument of pay policy under the Government will be those who work for the Government, such as teachers, nurses and hospital ancillary staff. That is an explicit part of Conservative policy.
The Government do not wish to exercise pay controls in the private sector but see a need to do so in the public sector. I do not share optimism that what they call responsible pay bargaining in the private sector will lead to such restraint that there will not be severe pressures in the public sector. There already are those pressures. There is a great leeway for teachers to make up, from the Houghton report to the present day. There is a great deal of ground to make up for many NHS employees. The increasing desperation that we saw among some public service workers—such as the hospital ancillary staffs—during the winter months was born of the crumbling of the pay policy and of the feeling that they could not beat the tactics which were used by strong unions in the private sector and that therefore they had to join in. The only answer to that is confidence that the Government are prepared to exercise an overall pay policy in which no one section of the community will be treated as a victim or as an example. The Government will live with that difficulty until they change their attitude to pay policy.
I turn to the issue of comprehensive education. My colleagues and I believe strongly in a non-selective education system. So do the Conservatives in the part of the country that I represent. The Conservative-controlled county council in Northumberland planned, initiated and maintained a fully comprehensive education system. There are many others like it. It seems to me that among some Conservatives there is a strange rearguard action to try to make the comprehensive education issue a live, political issue.
I admit that there are some places where the change has not taken place, where it remains a live political issue. But there are many areas where it is a settled matter and where it is widely accepted that this is the way in which we must proceed—not that any of us can afford to be complacent. Many improvements must be brought about, especially in inner city areas, where the attempt to achieve a genuinely non-selective system is frustrated by the way in which our inner city areas have developed—and, indeed, by the way in which they have been denuded of talent as a result of the wholesale clearance of central areas.
There is a problem in making comprehensive education work in some inner city areas. That is not an argument for trying to go back to a selective system. It calls for flexibility, the implementation of parental choice, letting parents opt for the schools which have proved their worth. It calls for co-operation between schools so that at sixth-form level some may specialise in some subjects and others in different subjects. It does not call for the philosophy of the very large school, which was one of the mistakes in the earlier development of comprehensive education.
Would the hon. Gentleman clarify a matter that used to be in dispute when the Liberal spokesman on the matter was the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud)? There seemed to be a conflict as to whether the Liberal Party was against or in favour of direct-grant schools. Would the hon. Gentleman welcome the return of some kind of assisted-places scheme so that talented persons who are now missing out on A-levels in inner Manchester might be able to go to the Manchester grammar school?
No, I would not. I want to make the system of education that is available to all our children good enough for all of them. I want it to provide the best facilities for the brightest children and the best remedial facilities for those who fall behind. I see the assisted-places scheme as an escape route from that system and an admission that it is not good enough. I shall return to that subject.
The question we face with the first piece of legislation proposed by the Government is whether the decision on the nature of the local education system—selective or non-selective—should be made nationally or locally. That is what the first Bill will be about. A perfectly respectable case can be made out for allowing that decision to be taken locally. That is not the view to which I came when I last considered the issue. However, there is a respectable case to be made for it if we can maintain consistency over a period in what we do.
There is an equally strong case for saying that we must settle this issue nationally because children increasingly move around. We must set that argument against it. However, there is no case at all for encouraging a constant to-ing and fro-ing, almost a cat-and-mouse game, between the Government and local authorities over this issue. A member of The Daily Telegraph education staff wrote of the proposals in the Gracious Speech:
The new policy, a reversal of Labour policy, is a complete vindication of the delaying tactics used by large numbers of Conservative-controlled councils to preserve their grammar schools.
I do not think that Ministers will relish the phrase about the success of the delaying tactics. We could be in the same game straight away as whatever the Government decide to institute is subject to delaying tactics from local authorities.
Are we to see the same process in reverse by local authorities which want to rush proposals through while they have the opportunity to do so? Are we to see the same situation over council house sales? We must try to achieve a consensus on issues such as this, about where the decisions will be made, and make it last for some time. If local option is to be the rule for going comprehensive, it is difficult to understand the philosophy underlying the Government's approach. That is not the rule for council house sales. We are bound to bring that aspect into the debate when we see what is involved.
The argument for letting local authorities decide whether to go comprehensive or retain a selective system is that they are in the best position to judge the local circumstances, and that they are elected democratically and have the right to do so. Why does that not apply to council house sales?
There are different issues on the sale of of council houses in different parts of the country. I am very much in favour of people being able to buy their own council house. There are parts of my constituency where I would advocate that course, and there are big city estates where, as long as we can replace the housing stock that has been sold, there are strong arguments for it. On the other hand, I can show hon. Gentlemen parts of my constituency where it would be a social disaster to allow a large part of the council house stock to come up for sale. Many Conservatives in the area have the sense to see that.
In some of the beauty-spot coastal villages in areas such as mine and in similar villages in the hills, the inhabitants no longer live in the old village properties because these have become second homes and retirement homes. The real inhabitants of the villages live in the council houses. That is the only way in which they can afford to live locally. If those council houses were sold to their present occupants, although the problem might be deferred for some years, sooner or later no houses would be left for young families in the area. Any council house which later came on to the open market would command a high price, as some already do.
I am sure that there are some Conservative Members who, given the high standards to which they aspire, would very much like to buy a council house in my constituency. Some of them are beautiful houses, standing in groups of three or four, with a magnificent view of the sea. They are set in beautiful conditions, perhaps 100 yards from the beach. This is a circumstance to which Conservative policy-makers do not appear to have given a moment's thought. How are they to ensure that, in areas where the market pressures are very severe indeed, there will be somewhere to live for people who are receiving very modest local wages? Unless we maintain the council house stock, we cannot ensure that.
As I said earlier, I very much favour people being able to buy their own council houses if we can replace the council houses concerned. But does the hon. Gentleman expect to convince the planning authorities in a constituency such as mine that it would be reasonable to replace every council house that we could sell in some of our beauty-spot villages? Of course it would not be reasonable. We would have council houses from one end of the coast to the other because very many people want a sea view and a nice beach at the bottom of the garden. We simply cannot dispose of and replace the entire stock of council houses in such areas. People of the hon. Gentleman's own political persuasion, who know the area better than he does, are beginning to realise that. Indeed, some of them have realised it for years.
I remember serving some years ago on a local authority that was dominated by Conservatives. The same issue arose, namely, whether to sell a row of four council cottages in a small farming village, with no other property within the reach of people in the area. The idea was dismissed with disgust by prominent Conservatives on the council who thought that it would be a discredit to the area not to ensure that there were houses available for local people to live in. If we cannot provide local options to the local authorities to make these decisions, we shall be making a very great mistake.
I turn briefly to the assisted-places scheme, about which there are many questions to be asked. We are bound to ask how it is intended to work. Is it to be a new 11-plus, taken very widely? Or is it, as suggested at one of the press conferences during the Conservative election campaign, a scheme under which those who apply to and are accepted by independent schools can then subsequently apply for some finance from the State system? If it is the latter, I fear that very many of the children whom the Government wish to assist by the scheme will never even hear about it and will certainly never take advantage of it.
If the scheme is to have any of the desired effects, even for the tiny number that the Government want to assist, it will have to be encouraged very widely. Inspectors from the Department of Education and Science will have to go to schools in poor areas, encouraging them to put forward their brighter children for the assisted-place schools and supplying the necessary particulars. Parents will have to be persuaded to participate in schemes of this kind.
We shall return, if we are not careful, to the 11-plus position, where only 2 per cent. of the children passed. It will be either that or a scheme which will benefit most those who are quite likely anyway to use the independent schools. That is not of very much advantage. The scheme will not be of any advantage to constituents of mine and of many other hon. Members who have no such school within 30 miles of where they live. I cannot see what help it will be to divert resources from comprehensive schools in my constituency when there is no such assisted-place school within anything like travelling distance.
I welcome the remarks of the Secretary of State about school governing bodies because there was a curious omission in the Gracious Speech in that respect. If there is to be a larger Education Bill dealing with issues such as parental choice, these are the very issues in which the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson)—who is now Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science—and others, together with myself, were involved on another Bill in the last Parliament. Surely we can bring the whole lot back into play and begin to build upon the substantial measure of agreement that we achieved.
We want significant parent and teacher representation on school governing bodies. We want to make these bodies effectively representative of the people they serve rather than creatures of a distant political majority or bodies dominated by those who may have good will towards the school but not the direct interest in it that parents and teachers have. There were disagreements about what the balance should be, but as there is common ground on the principle I feel that the Government ought to include it in any Education Bill they bring forward.
There is, I fear, a theme running through the proposals for education and for health that worries me a great deal. The theme is that an opportunity must be provided by a Conservative Government for escape from a State system which will not be adequate. That escape is provided by the encouragement of private medicine. It is provided by the assisted-places scheme. It is provided by the rebuilding of the direct-grant school system.
As a Liberal, I defend the right of people to use the money they have earned in order to buy facilities in health or education which they feel are more suitable than the State system can provide. That is their right, if those facilities can be privately provided without detriment to the State system. But I am not prepared to see a second-rate State service which drives people into seeking an alternative so that they can jump the health queue, or because they find that they cannot get an adequate education for a bright child in a State school.
That is not generally what we have now, but there are some very serious gaps in our present health and education services where it is precisely what we have—long waiting lists for some operations, bad inner city comprehensive schools, and insufficient individual attention for bright pupils and for some pupils needing remedial help. Conservatives seem to be too ready to accept the situation and to provide a way out of it—even to use resources to provide that escape route instead of putting them into the very areas where they are most needed. I find that profoundly worrying.
For the vast majority of people it is the public sector that matters. They are concerned with the publicly provided service on which they depend. It is one of the marks of this country that it has long sought to provide free health and education services for our people. The quality of these services is a key factor in the quality of life of our people. I want to continue to take a pride in what we do in this country in education and health services. I do not want to see them become second best. I believe that they are among the first obligations of the Government. I am sorry to see any Government more willing to provide escape routes from them than to remedy their inadequacies.
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this very early opportunity to address the House. I do not know whether it is a breach of the traditions of this House also to thank the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker for the great warmth of welcome which has been given to so many new Members in this House. If it be a breach, I apologise, but I do not apologise for the sentiments I express in giving those thanks, because the Chair—whether occupied by Mr. Deputy Speaker or by Mr. Speaker—has made the role of the new Member very much easier than it might otherwise have been.
I have the honour to represent a division which was in the past represented by the previous Speaker, the late Selwyn Lloyd, in part by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in part by my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram). Immediately prior to my appearing at this House, the division was represented by Mr. Alf Bates, to whom I should like to pay a very warm tribute. He was a very hard-working and popular Member in the division with constituents of all political aspirations and allegiances, and with those with none. Indeed, as many hon. Members will know, he was a Government Whip in the last Administration. It was not an easy task, in view of the composition of that Parliament. My own slim majority reflected Mr. Bates's popularity, despite the electoral misfortunes—no doubt permanent—of his party. I wish him well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in his future activities, although I trust that his ambition will range rather more widely than attempting to regain the seat.
I would not wish to detain the House unnecessarily with a potted history of the division of Bebington and Ellesmere Port. Suffice it to say that it represents all that is best on Merseyside. Contrary to popular belief in the South, there is a very great deal that is good about Merseyside. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) is not here so that I might make an exception to that rule.
Ellesmere Port is a bustling modern town with a diversity of industry which has not to date suffered the ravages of unemployment which are all too common in the North-West. This is equally true of Bebington. But I fear that the clouds are looming on the not-too-distant horizon.
I hope and believe that the economic policies in the Gracious Speech will, in reasonable time, result in a general national level of prosperity which will be enjoyed by my constituents. I shall, of course, urge upon my right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench such measures as are necessary to achieve that end. Merseyside must not be allowed to wither.
Today's debate is in part about education. At a local level I have had the privilege of being responsible for the education service in an area where, contrary to what has been said today, there are grammar, comprehensive and secondary modern schools. I know that I should not be controversial today so I shall state facts. Those schools were and are good schools. I do not rely entirely upon my opinion as chairman of the committee which is responsible for those schools. I rely upon an opinion poll—although I know that such polls are not popular. In 1974–75, after reorganisation, the local authority consulted parents, teachers and those most intimately involved about whether they liked the hotch-potch of a system which included grammar, comprehensive and secondary modern schools. It was clear that the parents and teachers liked what they had.
It was interesting that the same passionate regard was held for the good secondary modern schools as for the grammar and comprehensive schools. I urge the Secretary of State and the Opposition to consider the experience of part of Wirral when dealing with such matters.
I welcome the commitment to repeal appropriate sections of the Education Act 1976. I take the point that has been made about council houses because it is reasonable, but the principle is right—local authorities must be allowed to determine what system they want. I look forward to the early implementation of that election pledge so that in Bebington we may retain the Wirral grammar school, which was responsible for educating the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson). Not long ago the right hon. Gentleman said that the Wirral grammar school and others like it would be abolished over his dead body. In view of what the Secretary of State has said today, the right hon. Member may be relieved from any further contemplation of suicide.
I welcome the commitment to introduce assisted places at independent schools. I am a product of one of the direct grant schools—which might be considered to be an argument against the policy. But it is undeniable that such schools gave opportunity to the relatively disadvantaged. I do not say that I went to school without shoes, but, with pride, I can say that I am the first Conservative Member to emerge from Birkenhead school since F. E. Smith, whose maiden speech was mentioned during procedures to elect Mr. Speaker. I looked up the maiden speech of the great man, F. E. Smith, who was then the Member for Liverpool, Walton at the time of the Liberal landslide in 1906. I am sorry to say that, although it was a jolly good speech, I could not understand much of it.
Since F. E. Smith, one other old Birkonian has become a Member of the House as a result of a mental aberration on behalf of the electorate. He was Graham White, a Liberal. The direct grant schools have made an enormous contribution in terms of education and opportunity. If they did not exist, the State would have to invent them.
The Chair has indicated that hon. Members should keep their speeches short, consistent with being moderately intelligent. I shall therefore content myself, and I trust the House, with saying that I look forward eagerly to the Bill to achieve the aim which was so clearly stated in the manifesto, on which I campaigned and which contributed in no small measure to my victory.
I am grateful for the opportunity of congratulating the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) on his maiden speech. Obviously he is proud to represent such a good constituency. I am sure that Alf Bates, one of my close friends in the House before the election, would want me on his behalf to thank the hon. Member for his kind remarks.
I know that Alf's constituents appreciated his efforts. That was not reflected in the election results, but I do not believe that it had anything to do with Alf's personal ability to represent his constituents.
I welcome the new hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port. I venture to give the hon. Member some advice. In the eight years that I have been a Member I have found that the House of Commons does one of two things to a new Member. If a new Member arrives in an unreasonable frame of mind, the House makes him even more unreasonable. If a new Member arrives in a reasonable frame of mind, the danger is that he will become unreasonable as he progresses through his parliamentary career. The hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port appears to be in a reasonable frame of mind. I hope that he will retain that reasonable approach. We can debate strenuously at times, but we can remain friends. I should be glad for the hon. Member to buy me a cup of tea at any time.
I congratulate the new Secretary of State for Scotland. He and I disagree politically, but I look forward to hearing his speech tonight.
I shall deal first with the question of education. The new Secretary of State for Scotland inherits a good system. We have the best pupil-teacher ratio in the history of education in Scotland. I hope that the Secretary of State will do nothing—however reactionary his colleagues—to damage that system. He is a reasonable man. I hope that he continues to be so. For him to follow the example of the Secretary of State for Education and Science and carry out the policies that are suggested for England and Wales would be a recipe for disaster.
When listening to the Secretary of State for Education today I was reminded of the famous warning about the Secretary of State who started off not knowing where he was going. When he got there he did not know where he was, and when he came back he was not sure where he had been. The Secretary of State's proposals will damage education in England and Wales. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will have sufficient gumption when fighting battles in the Cabinet not to allow anyone to talk down to him. I hope that he will put up the same strong fight as Willie Ross put up when he fought for the Scottish education system.
The success or failure of the right hon. Gentleman will be measured by the achievements of our children through the educational system for which he now has management responsibility. I trust that he will bear that in mind as he seeks to introduce legislation dealing with education.
I have never heard so much rubbish talked about parental choice as I did this afternoon from the Secretary of State for Education and Science. There is not a parent in the House who does not believe that his child is the brightest. There is something wrong with a parent who does not believe that his child is the brightest in the class. Out of every 100 parents who seek to impose their choice on an education authority, 99 will be unsuccessful. Every Member of Parliament—Conservative, Labour, Liberal or of whatever party—will, in the months and years to come, have surgeries that will be full of parents complaining about the injustices that have been wrought on their children because of the legislation the new Conservative Government seek to introduce.
I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) has said, but he seems to be running down his colleague, Mrs. Williams, who brought a Bill before the House precisely in order to enlarge parental choice, and to write that principle into the law of the land.
I was coming to the point which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) has just made. In my constituency of Falkirk a discussion, to put it no higher, is at present going on because of the construction of a large local authority housing development at Hallglen in Falkirk. The parents there are claiming that, when their children leave primary school, they should be able to decide whether the children go to one comprehensive school as distinct from another because of the location of the local authority housing development. As we say, it is six of one and half a dozen of the other as to which school they go to.
At the end of the day the education authority has the management responsibility of seeing that places in both these schools are adequately and properly taken up. It will be the devil's own job to satisfy the parents that their children are not being dealt with unjustly because of a decision by the education authority as to which comprehensive school they should go to. We are talking, in this case, about a geographical problem. We are not really talking about an education problem where children are streamed at 11 years old.
All the appeal procedures in the world will not solve the problem that parents will have when they have to go to the education authority merely to be told "Yes, that is the proper school for your child, but unfortunately you are about thirtieth or fortieth in the queue and the first 20 places were filled by the first 20 children. Therefore, you will have to take your place further down the queue to go to another school." If the new Government think for one moment that they can get away with that kind of policy, they are wrong because chaos will reign in education and it will not be the Government or parents who suffer, but the children. That is something that must be driven home.
I have been listening carefully to what the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) has been saying. I take up the point made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), which was that this is the very same proposal as the Government of which the hon, Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth was a member was putting forward, that all parents should have the right to express a preference. When in Opposition we always conceded that that cannot be absolute and that some parents are bound to be disappointed. Surely that does not mean that we should not try to help as many parents as possible.
The Secretary of State is right in saying that surely we should try, but all I am saying is that in trying the Government have given the impression that they will be able to satisfy everybody. In trying to do this the Government are perpetrating a cruel deception on parents. It will not be possible to satisfy 99 out of every 100 parents who wish to have their children allocated to one school as distinct from another. I am talking not about an attempt but about the failure rate. The failure rate will be 99 in every 100, which will create chaos.
Ase Memebers of Parliament, we will find that every parent will be on our doorstep when that happens. The first time I write 10 or 20 letters, after I have had a survey against the background of the proposed legislation, I shall remember that the Seceretary of State for Scotland shook his head in disagreement.
I turn briefly to the question of the Health Service. I was interested in what the Secretary of State for Education and Science said about the need to reorganise the Health Service. I was also interested in the remarks of the Prime Minister yesterday when we from the Labour Benches—some of us rather rumbustiously, admittedly—accused the Secretary of State for Industry of being responsible for the reorganisation of the Health Service based on the McKinsey study team's report in the early 1970s. The Prime Minister was quite proud to say that we were in Government for four years and did not do anything about it. The right hon. Lady seems to forget that the reorganisation took place only in 1973 and the flaws in the reorganisation have begun to show through only in the last 18 months—particularly in England and Wales. The Labour Government never had a chance to do anything about it.
The reason why I draw a distinction between England and Wales, and Scotland is that in Scotland, as the Secretary of State for Scotland knows well, we have a different system. Our Health Service is not organised in the same way as in England and Wales. We have a one-tier structure. We had the wisdom not to accept the advice of the McKinsey study team. Our Health Service has not been reorganised against the background of McKinsey. I hope to God that the Secretary of State for Scotland does not make changes merely for the sake of it.
I am the first to admit that some changes are necessary and that line management is sometimes far too long. Some of those at the sharp end—those responsible for making people better when they are sick—get frustrated about the time it takes to get a decision from the point where it is made to the point where it must be implemented. I am saying not that changes should not be made in that respect but that it would not be right to upset the fundamental structure which has been developed in Scotland.
It must be borne in mind that our structure is totally different from that of England and Wales. It has been proved that our strutcure works quite adequately, although, as I said earlier, I accept that some changes may have to be made as regards line management.
The financing of the Health Service is one of the points that gave me cause for great concern. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that there was a commitment on the part of the Tory Party not to cut public expenditure in the Health Service. I think that there is a difference between the hon. Member's understanding of not cutting public expenditure in the Health Service and my understanding of not cutting spending in the Health Service. I believe that the two things are different.
I have a suspicion—the Secretary of State for Scotland will have an opportunity to dispel my fears when he winds up—that the amount of money the Government are to spend on the Health Service, as distinct from the amount of money that will be spent on the Health Service, will fall. I have the suspicion that the way in which the difference between what the Government spend in terms of public expenditure and the amount of money that is required to finance the Health Service will be made up in a number of ways.
In my view, one of the ways in which the difference will be made up is through an increase in prescription charges. Despite what Teddy Taylor said in Scotland during the election campaign, I also believe that it is part of this Government's thinking to introduce hotel charges, bed and breakfast charges, for patients when they are in hospital.
The new Secretary of State for Social Services is on record as saying, when in Opposition, that that was one matter that was being considered. If that has been thrown out, I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will make it abundantly clear tonight, because if these things happen we shall then be in the motor car insurance business as regards the Health Service. In motor car insurance the driver who has the most accidents pays the highest premium. In the Health Service which would be introduced by the Tory Government, the person who had the most sickness would make the greatest contribution to the Health Service. That is not the way in which our people want a health service to be run.
As to pay beds, no one is against anyone who wants to buy health care and who finds that he can buy health care in such private establishments as exist. What Labour Members are against, and what we shall fight against when the legislation is proposed, is the use of the people's facilities and resources—the operating theatres which the taxpayers and patients have paid for—so that consultants, surgeons and the rest can treat their private patients. The Secretary of State for Scotland well knows that in Scotland pay beds have never really been a problem. Is it his intention in the future to introduce in Scotland something that has not existed in the past? If that is the intention, the people of Scotland will view it not only with disdain and displeasure but also with absolute abhorrence.
In what I have said I hope that I have fired sufficient shots across the bows of the Secretary of State for Scotland. He will not expect his passage in the House to be an easy one. There will be many times when he is taken to task on the various issues that come between the two main parties. When the new House met, I had hoped that somehow or other it would settle down and that all the divisions that I feared existed would not materialise. I am sorry to say that the Queen's Speech has done nothing to confirm my hope that these divisions would not materialise. If anything, the Queen's Speech has illustrated quite clearly the great division that now exists between the two main political parties in this country. Over the next five years some terrible political battles will be fought, if the kind of policies about which the Tories are talking come to be introduced in the form of legislation.
Let me caution the Government Front Bench as represented by the collection of Ministers who are present at the moment. Great Britain is a democracy. We are all delighted about that. The only way in which a democracy can be ruled is by obtaining the consent of the minority. There is a huge minority. Putting together the number of votes that were cast against the Tory Government, it is not a minority but a majority. The only way in which a democracy such as Great Britain can be ruled is by obtaining the consent of the people and not imposing on them solutions which are unacceptable.
My fear at this stage is that the Government have made up their minds that if they satisfy one section of the United Kingdom—roughly a line drawn south of Manchester—they can remain in power. That is a recipe for division which most of us will reject. As this Parliament goes on, I hope that the Government will moderate their policies and will not seek to impose on us things in both health and education which are totally unac ceptable to the vast majority of our people.
I am glad to follow the impressive maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter). I join with the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) in congratulating my hon. Friend on an impressive, confident speech, in which he showed his obvious pride in his constituency, his knowledge of education—to which he devoted a great part of his speech—and his knowledge of his distinguished predecessors who have come from that part of the world. We look forward to the eloquence from my hon. Friend that was displayed by his predecessor to whom he referred, namely, F. E. Smith.
In my view, this Gracious Speech is a refreshing tonic after the Gracious Speeches that we listened to in the last Parliament. Its themes are incentives, freedom and individual choice. It does not aim to impose State solutions, but rather to create the climate in which Britain's abundance of skills, energy and experience can thrive for the benefit of individual families and the nation as a whole. Indeed, this was the theme of the impressive and authoritative speech by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday. We are already beginning to see that Conservative tonic for which the national voted so decisively in the general election.
I warmly welcome that paragraph in the Gracious Speech dealing with our procedures, which states:
Members of the House of Commons will be given an opportunity to discuss and amend their procedures, particularly as they relate to their scrutiny of the work of Government.
It is one thing for a party in Opposition to favour reforms to equip this House better to control Government. It is another thing for a Government to do so, especially when that Government have an overall majority. I am delighted to see this passage in the Gracious Speech, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will give us an early opportunity to debate the recommendations of the Select Committee which reported in the last Parliament. I support its main recommendations relating to
Select Committees and to Standing Committees. I hope that the House will do so as well. In my view, we cannot have good government unless the House of Commons is an effective watchdog. It is not an effective watchdog under our present procedures. We are now given an opportunity to reform ourselves, with the Government's blessing, and I hope that we shall take this opportunity to do so.
I wish to turn briefly to the matters in the Gracious Speech relating to health and social security. I declare an interest in these subjects. I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security in his place. I come first to health. It seems to me that the NHS has one problem which overshadows all others. It is a problem that came out strikingly during the disruption in the Health Service last winter, which caused so much suffering to patients and people waiting for treatment and which undermined the morale of skilled and devoted staff to whom strike action is abhorrent.
As I see it, the main question is whether we can restore peace for patients and guarantee conditions in which skilled medical and nursing staff can carry out their duties and obligations, or whether our hospitals are again to be a battlefield, with a militant minority using patients as hostages. There can be only one answer to these questions, namely, to return to the original purpose of the NHS—to ensure that patients come first and that all staff accept that their first duty must be the relief of suffering and the cure of disease.
I hope that the Government will do their utmost at an early stage to negotiate no-strike agreements with those involved in the NHS. After all, there is already a promising start. The members of the Royal College of Nursing reaffirmed only a few months ago their intention not to take strike action. Equally, the doctors have reaffirmed that strike action is contrary to their obligations to their patients. Therefore, I hope that the Government will feel that here are two major professions in the Health Service which have already said that they are not prepared to take strike action. I hope that the other trade unions involved in the Health Service will be prepared to do likewise, and that if they are so prepared the Government will recognise this important step forward in the pay, conditions and terms on which those who work in the Health Service are engaged.
In default of this—and I hope there will not be default—I hope that the Government will immediately consider contingency plans to ensure that volunteers are ready to man our hospitals if, unhappily, there should be further disruption, such as there was last winter.
Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that he would be prepared to accept for all ancillary workers in the NHS pay rises equal to those that have been suggested for the nursing profession and for the medical profession only in relation to doctors? Is that the sort of commitment in terms of pay that he is talking about?
I am not suggesting that at all. What I am suggesting is that there are already two skilled professions within the NHS which have said that they do not intend to use strike action.
I applaud them for that. I hope that others who work in the NHS will feel that they, too, should put patients first and will be prepared to negotiate with the Government terms and conditions which will take into account a very important factor. That is what I am saying, and I hope that the Government will succeed in negotiation on these lines, so that we can remove the insecurity which at present hangs over the NHS.
My second point relating to health services is to welcome the reference in the Gracious Speech to the encouragement of independent health services. When the previous Government tried to get rid of private medical care, they took on a great deal more than they bargained for. The result is that the independent sector is now more confident. It is insuring more people and a wider section of the community. It is putting more resources into health than was ever the case previously. The private sector must certainly maintain its independence, but I hope that the Government will be able to build up a real partnership with the private sector and that they will recognise that there are areas, particularly in preventive medicine and in diagnostic services, in which the private sector may very well be able to help the NHS and offer services to the NHS on an agency basis.
I believe that there are whole areas for a constructive partnership to be built to ensure that much-needed additional resources are available to health as a whole.
I now turn briefly to pensions and social security. Again, I welcome the pledge in the Gracious Speech on pensions. Indeed, it was a previous Tory Administration who first introduced the annual guarantee for pensions and the Christmas bonus. But I now ask the Government to consider going a step further. Pensioners do not understand why they should have to wait some months between the announcement of an increase in pension and the increase actually being paid. They feel that they are losing out and that part of the increase is lost in rising prices before they get it.
We have all had this experience with pensioners, particularly during the last election campaign. These are feelings which run deeply and are widely held. The time has now come for the Government to respond to these feelings.
From my previous experience in the DHSS, I accept that time must elapse between the announcement of an increase and its implementation, because of the very big administrative job which is involved in updating the pension books of over 8 million pensioners. But I suggest to the Government that the increase should be backdated. If the announcement is made in the Budget Speech, as is usually the case these days, the increase should operate from then. Once instituted, this need cost no more, but it would remove a genuine grievance and misunderstanding among pensioners.
My second plea on pensions relates to the relationship between the State scheme and occupational schemes. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows very well, there has been a spate of legislation in recent years. We now need a period of quiet, a period of no legislation, so that managers of occupational pension schemes have an opportunity to adjust themselves to the 1975 Act and to im- prove their schemes in the light of that Act.
The only thing that I ask the Government to consider in this respect is making a request to the Occupational Pensions Board to draw up a code of practice to guide pension trustees in their responsibilities, particularly with regard to accountability to their members, the sort of information that they should make available to their members, and the best methods of participation by members in the running of schemes. Pension trustees these days have enormous responsibilities. It would be a great help to them if an authoritative body such as the Occupational Pensions Board was invited by the Government to issue such a code of practice to guide pension trustees in this way.
My final point on social security relates to the proposal to simplify the system. Again, I welcome this. I beg my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary not to be discouraged. Many of us have embarked on the simplification of the system, only to be defeated by the examination that has taken place. The fact is that no one these days understands the system. Ministers do not understand it fully—with respect to them. The House of Commons certainly does not understand it. The officials who administer the system in the offices around the country do not understand it. The public are completely bemused by the vast range of complicated regulations that exist. Of course, there will always be some conflict between equity and simplicity in social security. But we have now reached the stage at which the system has become so complicated that it cannot be equitable.
The orginal tax credit proposals produced by an earlier Tory Administration were designed to simplify the system and to bring together the tax arrangements and the social security arrangements. I hope that in due course they can be introduced in an updated form. But in the meantime the social security system must be made more sensitive to genuine need. There are still cases and groups of people who are not getting the support and the help that they require. We all know of them from our constituency mailbags.
The system must also be tougher on the able-bodied who are work-shy, those who find it convenient to coast along on social security and moonlighting. That is as much a tax problem as a social security problem. If it paid people to work, there would be less temptation to abuse the social security system.
In conclusion, in my view the best test of any Government's humanity is in their care for the elderly, the sick, the disabled, widows, one-parent families and children. A Government cannot care effectively unless they encourage the production of wealth and manage the economy properly. Economic health and social welfare are inseparable and go hand in hand. I believe that the Government's policies in these two all-important fields are right, and I congratulate them on the Gracious Speech. I shall support them in any Divisions which may take place in this debate.
It is customary in a maiden speech to pay tribute to one's predecessor and have a quick trip round one's constituency. I have no sense of obligation in paying tribute to my predecessor, Lena Jeger. She was a most doughty fighter for democratic Socialism and a powerful advocate of the interests of the people I hope to represent. She first came into the House in 1953. She delayed her maiden speech until 1954, when she took the unusual step of talking about defence and foreign affairs, and did so most effectively. She was later told by the late Herbert Morrison that as a woman she should confine her activities to more womanlike topics. She upbraided him, pointing out that if husbands and children were killed in war it affected women as much as men. It was a lesson for Herbert Morrison and should be one for everyone in the House.
The hon. Lady was a doughty fighter for many causes that were not popular when she took them up. She was a great supporter of the Cypriot people in their efforts to establish a democratic State in Cyprus, she was a stout defender of nuclear disarmament, and, despite what she said to Herbert Morrison, she stoutly pursued a large number of what might he described as women's issues at a time when they were unpopular and she was ridiculed for pursuing them.
I am the first Labour candidate since 1945 not to be "Jeger for Labour" in Holborn and St. Pancras, South. Lena Jeger succeeded her beloved husband, Dr. Santo Jeger, whose name is still revered by the older constituents, and rightly so. It is claimed that Boadicea is buried in our constituency under platform 9 at King's Cross station. Hon. Members, particularly on the Labour side, who came across Lena Jeger when her dander was up must have felt like the Romans when Boadicea's chariot wheels came towards them as she was leading the British. In my time I have suffered a severe dressing-down from her and I am sure that it did me good.
Turning to a trip round the constituency, it is curious that what others regard as odd services we regard as major industries and employers. The area includes the Inns of Court, full of tax lawyers and other lawyers who are well off. We also have large centres of learning such as the university that provide a great deal of employment, and a substantial number of great hospitals that provide employment and do a great deal for the sick. The three main line railway stations of King's Cross, St. Pancras and Euston are probably the major employers in the area. It is with great pleasure that I tell the House that I am honoured to be sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen, the better to represent those people who work at and travel through those stations.
Although it may touch on controversy, except for those who live in the Inns of Court and who used to live round the great squares of Bloomsbury, most of the people in the area that I represent—those in Covent Garden, King's Cross, Somers Town and at Euston behind the stations—lived, at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, in appallingly squalid conditions. Those conditions prevailed because of the free market. The services on which those people had to rely for housing, health and education were provided by a free market or, to be more correct, were not provided because the free market was not interested in them. Their ancestors' conditions were greatly ameliorated by churches and charities.
It was no accident that Great Ormond Street hospital, University College hospital and the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson hospital were established in the area that I represent by people of a charitable disposition because they knew that those services were needed. I say to those who are talking of introducing a private element into medical services that the motives behind that are very different from the wholly laudable motives that led to the establishment of Great Ormond Street, the EGA and University College hospitals. The motives behind the establishment of hospitals such as Wellington are profit-making. They provide no teaching facilities for doctors or nurses, and their establishment is a parasite that draws on publicly trained nurses and doctors.
That principle applies also to housing. The disgusting housing conditions in which people lived in the area that I represent were ameliorated initially by housing trusts. Public expenditure by the local authorities over the years is the only thing that has established decent housing in the area. Therefore, the people I represent have much to fear from any erosion of public expenditure on housing, health or education, particularly in our area where so many people are dying to get their hands on the real estate that they see our area as representing.
Although I did not intend to talk about education, having listened to the debate I shall do so. My children go to a local school. Like all the other primary schools in Inner London, it is comprehensive. All the children of the area go to that school. There is no testing. They have adequate and enthusiastic teachers, and children of all races, creeds, colours and levels of intelligence get a fine standard of education. Last Friday I received from the Inner London Education Authority a letter telling me that our eldest daughter would not get into the mixed secondary comprehensive school that we thought was best and that she preferred. We are sad and she is upset, but I believe that we are in a position to choose a school for her amongst a number of other mixed or single-sex comprehensive schools in our area. I am happy to be able to exercise that choice and do what I can to get her a good education, but also to ensure that the children who have less encouragement at home than my children will also be able to get a good education.
To the extent that there are shortcomings in the area that I represent, they are because the Inner London Education Authority proceeded too slowly—not too fast—in eliminating the relics of the grammar school system. Some of the comprehensive schools are more popular than others because until recently some of them were grammar schools and therefore attract ambitious parents more than others that have been comprehensives for a long time.
During her speech yesterday, the Prime Minister referred to the average cost of educating a child at school. She gave the impression—and of course I may be wrong—that she thought that the figures were too high. She said:
The average yearly cost of educating a child in primary school is now £324. In a secondary school for children below 16 it is £455, and in the sixth form, £800 per pupil."—[Official Report, 15 May 1979; Vol. 967, c. 80–1.]
I was amazed to hear that because I think that those figures represent a good bargain. It is a bargain for any ratepayer or taxpayer to get that sort of service from very dedicated teachers. I hope that the Government do not intend to reduce those averages by cutting down either on the standard of buildings or on the number or quality of teachers provided.
The Prime Minister did not mention in her speech the cost per child of a local authority being forced to finance a child's attendance at school outside the local authority system. The Conservative candidate in my constituency in the election was a schoolteacher at Harrow. I made it my business to find out fees at Harrow school. I understand that, depending on the kind of service one wants, one can pay between £2,000 and £3,000 a year at Harrow. Although people decry the public sector, in this case, at least, it seems that the public sector provides a decent service at far less cost than the private sector.
At the beginning of my speech I referred to the doughty and dedicated qualities of my predecessor, Mrs. Lena Jeger. I have gone to schools only as a consumer, either as a pupil or as a parent; I have no other connections with the education system. But wherever I have gone, particularly in the Inner London area, I have always found large numbers of dedicated teachers battling to provide a decent standard of education for everyone in the public sector. I hope that the Secretary of State will quickly resolve the present dispute in the teachers' favour in order to ensure that teachers are given every encouragement and opportunity to provide the sort of education which our children need and which they are longing to provide.
The House has listened with great pleasure and satisfaction to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson). The House will admire his fluency. Anyone who can say that he had not intended to speak on education and then spend the whole of his maiden speech talking about it must have every fact at his command. He entertained and instructed us.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for another reason. I have always wondered what King's Cross station was for, and now I know that it is Boadicea's tomb. Also, the hon. Member revealed that he is sponsored by the National Union of Railwaymen, so now we shall all know whom to complain to when anything goes wrong with the trains. I am sure that the House will look forward to hearing the hon. Member's forthright opinions in the future. As he so rightly said, his predecessor was a doughty fighter but nevertheless a favourite of the whole House. I believe that he has started on that track as well, and we look forward to hearing from him again.
I welcome very much the decision in the Queen's Speech to give local government and parents a greater choice in the types of education available for their children. Everyone who took part in the election will agree that one of the main talking points on the doorstep was the education provided for children. I am sure that this was a decisive factor in the election result. I met many people who had moved house perhaps only four or five miles in order to be nearer a good school.
I can tell my local education authority—if it does not already know—which schools in the Stroud constituency are well regarded. I can tell it—I expect it already knows—that the schools that are well regarded are those where the children learn to read and count before they learn to play with plasticine and blocks of wood. I believe that headmasters should take greater note of the feelings and wishes of parents than many do at present. Some headmasters take very little notice. I can give the "pecking order" of schools in my area, and the parents know very well which are the good schools and those of which they approve.
Therefore, I welcome very much the intention to give, as far as possible, an increased choice to parents. I believe that this choice can be increased by the variety of education provided, and the Secretary of State this afternoon outlined his plans for increasing the variety available.
I was astonished by the remarks of the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing). He decried the possibility of giving parents a choice. He thought that it would only end in heartbreak because in fact the choice would not be available. I believe that the increased variety of schools will provide that choice to some extent. Therefore, I very much hope that the hon. Member's fears will not be realised and that parents' wishes will.
I refer to one other subject—the position of overseas students in this country. The House and the Government should make up their minds whether they welcome overseas students. I suppose that almost everyone would agree that we welcome such students and that we want to see them here, not only because of our liberal traditions of education but also because of the influence that returning students will, in due course, provide for our country and our way of life.
Even if one can differ with me on that point, the fact remains that we have these students here and therefore we must make the best arrangements possible. We have at least 85,000 overseas students officially sponsored or known of, and we also have an obligation as members of the EEC to receive students from Community countries—an arrangement which has not yet started to show any results but which must introduce certain complications. We should prepare for these in time.
Our attitude to overseas students is ambivalent and, in some cases, even grudging. We should try to put ourselves in the position of overseas students who come to this country. Some are mature people who come with their families and do not need any special consideration beyond the facilities that they have come for, but the vast majority come alone. Possibly it is the first time many have left their families. They come to a strange country and a strange civilisation and they need special consideration to make them feel at home.
The first responsibility for making them feel at home lies with the institution at which they are being educated and with the British students with whom they are studying. Some institutions are good at this and have much experience. Some are not so good and have less experience. Some have a pastoral tradition, some have not. Perhaps the Department of Education and Science should do all it can to draw the attention of these institutions to the special needs of overseas students.
The second responsibility lies with the State. It is responsible for the arrangements made for these students. The State, represented by the different organs of Government, has a different approach according to the responsibilities of government of the various Departments. The Department of Education and Science, which is primarily concerned, is sometimes worried that large numbers of overseas students might swamp the British students and dilute the excellence of the teaching that they might receive.
On the contrary, British students are not frozen out by foreign students. Indeed, some courses would not exist at all except for the foreign students who take them. Therefore, British students are able to take advantage of the same courses. There is a possibility that these matters are urged a little vigorously by institutions which profit from the presence of overseas students. It is possible that if the number of overseas students is cut drastically, many teaching jobs will disappear. I believe that the Department of Education and Science should take the view that these students are of benefit to us, and should not have too many misgivings about the quality of education provided.
The Foreign Office and the ODM look at the matter from a different standpoint. The Foreign Office must consider future contact between this country and the countries that send students here, and the ODM must consider the aid problems that arise. Both Departments must consider our relations with European countries whose sudents are bound to come to Britain in increasing numbers as the Common Market regulations are brought into force.
The Department of the Environment must consider the housing and accommodation problems of foreign students, and the Department of Health and Social Security and local authorities must bear in mind what action to take if disaster strikes students and financial difficulties face them when conditions in their home countries change. At present Iranian students are in some difficulty because of changes in their country of origin, and we know that in other cases help has been withdrawn and students have been left in this country almost destitute. The problems of such students fall unevenly on local authorities throughout the country, but for the most part on London. Some local authorities, including that in my own area, never face this problem at all because they have no overseas students in their areas. Indeed, they would not recognise an overseas student even if one morning they woke up in bed with one. However, some local authorities, if things go wrong, have great pressures put upon them. Local people naturally resent their hard-earned money going to support people who happen to be in their area for a short time.
The Treasury is ambivalent on this subject. I understand that the Treasury view is that the charges to overseas students should be increased. Yet another branch of the Treasury says that we earn £309 million gross every year as a result of the presence of these students because of the money they spend on accommodation, food, and so on. Therefore, I wish the Treasury would make up its mind whether such students are a net asset or a net loss to us. Personally I have no doubt that these students are a financial net gain to us. Every foreign student spends at least £1,500, perhaps as much as £2,000, a year maintaining himself in this country. That has to be set against university or college fees.
The Home Department also has a great responsibility in this matter. The Department is concerned about immigration. We know that some students come to this country and then, after a short time, disappear. They go to live with compatriots and cannot easily be traced. It is no crime in this country to disappear if one wishes to do so. We have no arrangements for finding anybody who wishes to disappear. I do not know whether there are statistics about the number of foreign students who disappear in this way. I suppose that we do not know where they are, otherwise we should be able to trace them, but clearly the Home Office must bear this consideration in mind. It is a different consideration from that which faces other Departments.
Most people agree—and I share the view—that there could be too many foreign students in this country if we reach a situation in which we cannot maintain them properly, and if we cannot give them proper instruction, house them and ensure that they are content.
If the numbers of overseas students are to be limited, how should we go about it? There are two obvious ways of tackling the problem. The first is to price them out. This appears to be the course on which the Labour Government started. Overseas students pay far more than British students in college fees. I do not regard that as a sensible way of proceeding. It is very much resented by the overseas students, because they are paying a higher price for the same commodity that is being sold to the British. Furthermore, it is clearly unfair because the higher the price, the richer the country or person has to be to maintain students here. Therefore, I believe that regulation by price will not be useful. It has already made the atmosphere worse than it should be. I believe that overseas students and British students should pay the same fees.
The other way to limit numbers of students is by quota. I believe that that would be a desirable course compared with the price system. A quota system could be self-administered by the institution attended by the students. No institution is likely to enrol more students than it can safely or properly look after. An institution knows its capacity; it also knows the equipment that is at its command and the number of teachers and the amount of accommodation it has available. An institution will enrol students in the way it knows it can best handle them.
I believe that there would be no danger of too many students coming to this country if there were a self-administered quota operated by institutions. The grant which they would receive from the Government would be based on the number of foreign students which the institutions felt they could properly handle. I believe also that such a quota system would tend to solve the problem of the disappearing student. If an institution had to calculate how many students it can afford, it would keep a better eye on them and not allow them to disappear as they do at present.
Because of all these different purposes of Departments and the varying ways in which these matters are administered, wonder whether my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science will consider appointing an advisory council to co-ordinate efforts in meeting the problem of overseas students. I do not believe that it would need to be a very impressive administrative machine. It would obviously need a chairman and a very small staff. It would be able to co-opt people who knew about these problems.
The hon. Member uses the word "quango". I am slightly embarrassed to have been twigged so quickly in proposing another quango. However, it is a very little quango. Anyway, if it is considered unacceptable to the Government, I have an alternative. If quangos are definitely out for a year or so, I believe that the job could be done by a ministerial committee. I do not particularly care who takes the chair. I once chaired such a committee. The Foreign Office or the Department of Education and Science would be an obvious Department for such a committee. Probably the DES would make a better job of it.
Such a committee could meet on a regular basis and discuss the problems which I have outlined. If that were to happen, I believe that the DES would be better advised than it now is in receiving as it does spasmodic reports from various sources. I believe that such a step should be taken because fairly soon we shall have too many overseas students in this country to be able properly to handle, educate and treat them in the right way. Such students will return to their countries and may well influence their countries' future policies. If they have sad recollections of their stay in this country, that will be unhappy for this country and also for the people involved.
I believe that a decision to pull all these strands together is required, and required fairly soon. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will be able to take such a step at an early date.
Before I speak on the subject of education, I should like to spend a few moments dealing with the Queen's Speech in general.
I was struck by the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) when he outlined the tremendous gulf between the two parties. The Queen's Speech has undoubtedly deepened that gulf in the nation on a grand scale. At the same time as we were listening to the Prime Minister yesterday outlining her proposals in the Queen's Speech, the Secretary of State for Employment was trying to pour a little oil on the waters in Brussels, where he was questioned. He said that we do not want confrontation. I cannot imagine that if the Tory Party were to sit down cold-bloodedly and plan confrontation it could have been done more brilliantly than in this Queen's Speech.
Those who have spoken of a winter of discontent will find, if we are not careful, that under the provocations which are about to be engaged in with working people we shall be in for five winters of discontent—on the assumption that the Government last that long—because the Conservative Party has learned nothing from the period between 1970 and 1974. I believe that we shall be in for five autumns, five springs and five summers of discontent because of the amount of provocation which is being engaged in.
I disagree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook that this is the most reactionary Government since the Second World War. I believe that the ultra Right wing of the Conservative Party is now in command. It does not matter who grovels to its members: they are in command. I pay tribute to the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle) because I do not know how he came to be among them. He introduced a note of civilised and liberal conduct in the discussions on the Education Bill, which has gone its way for the time being at least.
The policy that we are in for is cuts, cuts and more cuts. All the unions are now discussing what is in store for them—let us make no mistake about that—and coming to the conclusions which I fear are inevitably justified. However, when I say cuts I do not take into account certain areas into which, far from cutting, we shall see masses of money poured. I gather from the news this morning that no less than an extra £2,000 million is planned for so-called defence. I do not know how long that £2,000 million will last and I do not believe that we need that vast amount of money. That would bring defence expenditure to over £10,000 million. That comes side by side with attacks on education, the Health Service and all the public services.
The unions will watch that with considerable care, as will the teachers. Since the Houghton report there has been an erosion of teachers' finances. Many others have received 30 per cent. increases, although some received less. None the less, their standard of living has been eroded, and, whether we agree or disagree with their demands, the teachers will have noticed the increase that has been given so easily to the police. I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that teachers' wages have always been attached by an invisible thread to police wages. When I was a member of the executive of the NUT we knew that when the police were given a major allowance without much struggle the teachers were activated immediately—the two went together. If anybody believes that the teachers will sit quiet or be easily won over now that the Conservative Party has rushed in to open the flood-gates, he will be in for an immediate summer of discontent. That person does not understand the difference between bribery and straight trade union negotiation.
When I examine the areas into which the Conservative Party has poured finance, I wonder whether it is expecting trouble. I wonder whether the Conservatives are worrying in the background or whether they are as deeply inexperienced as the composition of the Front Bench seems to indicate. Working people—let alone the teachers—will not sit still. Through Fred Jarvis, the Burnham committee, the AUEW and the NUR they will tell the Minister that they will not sit still. I cannot imagine anything more provocative, more unconcealed and more undiplomatic than the already existing conduct of this Government. They have rushed in without full explanation and engaged in bribery that has opened wide the flood-gates.
We are in for confrontations which Conservative Members have placed deliberately on the agenda because they do not understand working people. When one listens to their speeches on education, one feels that they should talk to ordinary people and find out what they are like. [Interruption.] Hon. Members may laugh, but they are owners of vast amounts of money and directorships.
The hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) is an exception. We have examined Conservative Members and we know that, compared with us, they are massively wealthy and they do not understand the unions and the working people.
I turn to the issue where the class of Conservative Members is shown more nakedly than anywhere else—education. The section on education in the Queen's Speech states that
The quality of education will be maintained and improved.
We have listened for years to the "Black Paper-ites" and Conservative Members attacking and denigrating the education system in this country and applauding every backwoods voice that they could listen to or get into print. Everything that they have said about education was admitted in a major report by the DES some months ago to be utter nonsense. Yet we have never heard Conservative Members admitting that they were in error.
In his speech today the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is in the grip of the Right wing and presumably has to say these things, indicated that we shall be taken back many years in education from the achievements that have been gained. That remark was made by the leader of the National Union of Teachers.
Twenty out of the 22 members of the Cabinet went to public schools. I read that this morning and I shall be corrected if I am wrong. What can they know about ordinary people? What can they know about the education of ordinary people? The hon. Member for Ripon laughs. Let me address some remarks to him that I prepared for him, because I knew that he would have to laugh at them. Does anybody think that the railwaymen, the nurses, the farm labourers or the miners can pay their way through Eton and Harrow? According to the Conservative Party, they have the freedom to do that.
Everybody is supposed to have that freedom. But does anyone believe that ordinary people have the money? Every time they ask for an increase they are denounced as vagabonds and rogues by the Tory Party. The truth is that they have none of the chances that hon. Members opposite and their sons and daughters have to go to those other schools, yet the Tory Party is trying to head back in that very direction, and, of course, a Cabinet composed of public schoolboys is bound to think in that way It always will.
I wonder how the Tory Cabinet views the State system. I remember the time when the Prime Minister, then Secretary of State for Education and Science, went to Sheffield. She went to one school, a direct grant girls' school, the girls' high school. Sally Viner went there. I think that she is called Sally Oppenheim now. The right hon. Lady had an adviser in teacher education and training. He had once been called—listen for it—the high master of Manchester grammar school. I think that he was known as Sir Eric James—Lord James now.
Let the hon. Gentleman listen. He will learn something. Admittedly, it will not be palatable to him, but nevertheless he will learn.
That adviser to whom I have referred wrote a report on teacher education and training. He came to Sheffield. I know that he did because I was there. He went to one little school, Westbourne preparatory school. But the Secretary of State and her colleagues and advisers were in charge of State education, with 250 schools in the area outside the door of that little school.
The truth is that the Tories have no interest in ordinary children and ordinary families, and it shows in education more than it does in anything else.
In a moment. The hon. Gentleman need not be too eager. I want to discuss what he and his hon. Friends call parental choice. I believe that the Tory Party has what is known laughingly as a parents' charter. As the Secretary of State knows, a Bill was introduced not long ago, which did not really see the light of day, and on that Bill the Tories argued about parental choice. The spokesman for the Liberal Party said that one of those speaking from our side had not quite understood the question of parental choice, so let us be clear about it.
There is a great difference between what we on these Opposition Benches mean when we talk about parental choice and what the Tory Party means when it speaks of parental choice. The Tories do not mean the same as we do at all. They mean limitations on parental choice. They want parental choice for an elite grouping of their own people. That is the Tory doctrine on parental choice.
The hon. Gentleman has spoken sneeringly of the high master of Manchester grammar school. Will he agree that Manchester grammar school was a great free school but, because of the legislation introduced by his Government, it has now had to become a fee-paying school? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that legislation introduced by the Labour Government has turned that school into a school which places at a disadvantage children whose parents cannot afford to pay for their education? That is the price of Socialism.
Clearly, the hon. Gentleman knows little of what he is talking about, as I should expect. It was always a fee-paying school which offered some scholarships. Nobody forced it to go private. It could have stayed the same. It could have become comprehensive, and that would have been a great advance for all its pupils. They would have got a better education than ever before, and a much wider grouping would have got that better education. That is the reality, and hon. Members ought to know it. All the results are available to them. They can find them whenever they want. They have the DES report, which proves that education is better now than it has ever been in our history and more accessible to a wider grouping.
All that is coming from the Government Benches now about parental choice is sheer Tory demagogy. Over many years the Tories have connived at excluding 85 per cent. of our children on the basis of what they call parental choice. The Tories have prevented 85 per cent. of parents in our country from having parental choice. What kind of parental choice was it that the Tory Party gave to our children and their parents?
Now, of course, when we have comprehensive education and 85 per cent. of our children are in it, the Tories hate it and they are trying their utmost to stop it. Knowing all the facts, they still intend to go back in the direction of private education, with elitism as their aim, wanting private hospital beds for themselves, and the rest. They want all the favours out of the community, and they are arranging things to that end as best they can. But the people will realise what is going on.
We sometimes hear the Tories glorifying the 1944 Act. It was a historic Act in its time, but let us be clear about it. As I said when the Bill to which I have referred was before the House, the 1944 Act enshrined selection and thereby it enshrined rejection as well. It had many good aspects, but the truth is that it was the father of the tripartite system, it was the father of the secondary modern school for ordinary working-class children. It was against comprehensive education because it could be interpreted in that way by a reactionary Government.
We in the Labour Party, therefore, wanted to do something about education under the 1944 Act, and we brought in the 1976 Act, which is one of the greatest Education Acts, tiny though it be, ever to be put on our statute book. It took a great leap forward in education, but the Tories are busily trying to turn backwards now in their own personal interest.
The right hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Prentice), now sitting on the Government Front Bench, used to be the Labour Secretary of State for Education and Science. He knows the truth of what I am saying. He has said it all himself over and over again. I have heard him myself when I have attended education Question Time and education debates. So he has got a bit of an argument to deal with now, I must say.
No, I shall not give way just now. I want to go on to deal with the problem of the 11-plus examination, and I do so as an ex-teacher. I remember how the 11-plus hung like a black cloud over education in our country. It meant that an examination had to be catered for so that children would get through it, to the exclusion of a full and broad education. All teachers steadily learnt this, and I shall never forget the time when that cloud was lifted from our city. I remember how we were then able to educate our children fully and properly, without worrying about the 11-plus.
Many hon. Members may recall that in the classy areas over the weekend when the results of the 11-plus came out one often did not even see some of the children because they were ashamed of having "failed" the 11-plus; and their parents, too, were ashamed that their children had failed.
How dare we as a society say to a child at 11 that it has failed something? That is what competition in education produces. We have now rectified that to the best of our ability, but what are the Tories trying to do? If they can, they will resurrect it. It became clear in a speech made earlier today that if they get away with this they will go further. The clock will be turned back even more than is apparent from those few lines in the Gracious Speech.
I regard the 11-plus examination as a crime against our children. All who saw and knew our schools when that examination went will understand what I mean. I know that the hon. Member for Ripon believes in comprehensive education. He is an ex-teacher himself. He can deny it if he wants, but when that cloud was lifted education flourished and, concomitant with it, comprehensive education went forward because, once that happens, all our children move into comprehensive education. Therefore, by trying to unscramble comprehensive education and to preserve elitism the Government and their supporters will take us a great deal further back.
The truth is—I invite hon. Members to look up all the facts—that there has never been such a success story in our country as comprehensive education has been. All the prejudices of the Tory Party can be aired, but the facts speak for themselves. One has only to look at the examination results, at the satisfaction among our young people in education, at the number of them going to university now compared with what happened in the past.
But what will the Tories do now? They want to create a situation in which progress in education is stultified. They want to go back to the time when the long purse buys education as it can buy pay beds. The hon. Member for Ripon does a great disservice by laughing when these things are raised, and he does no credit to the profession in which he himself was engaged—and, for all I know, may even go back to one day.
I reiterate that not only Labour voters but the vast majority of Tory voters have accepted comprehensive education. It is said in justification of the Government's proposals that the electorate knew what they were voting for because it was in the Conservative Party's programme. But, of course, with the greatest propaganda machine that there has ever been at the disposal of the Tory Party and with many people upset about some of the events during the past winter, the reality is that the electorate fell for it. Now, after what has happened, the whirlwind will soon be upon them. When they see what is to happen in education and what the new Government intend to do, the vast majority of parents, including those who voted for this Government will rapidly be antagonised.
The teachers' unions are with the Opposition in their stand against the proposals. They are appalled at what they see happening because they fought on our side. The Tory Party is in process of recreating the secondary modern schools. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sparkbrook said, when the Government cream off the top 5 per cent. to go to the grammar schools, they will call the schools which remain comprehensive schools, knowing that they are not comprehensive schools. They will bring all their propaganda machine into action to lie to the people, trying to tell them that their secondary modern schools are "comprehensive" schools. But the people are not silly. They will realise what is happening.
The education plans in the Gracious Speech, like the rest of the Speech—although this is the area in which I am deeply interested at the moment—are backward and elitist. They are in the interests of a certain small group of people. They are not in the interests of the people generally. They are plans for the wealthy, directed against ordinary families and ordinary children. We shall oppose them relentlessly.
First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I add my congratulations to you on your appointment? May I also convey to you my pleasure at once again being in the House of Commons representing the constituency of Southampton, Test?
My right hon. and hon. Friends may be disappointed to hear that I do not intend to spend any time at all discussing education. The Gracious Speech encompasses so completely the policies of this new Government that I shall instead refer to three specific subjects, namely, the European Economic Community, the proposals to strengthen law and order, and the sale of council houses.
As a former Member of the European Parliament, where I had the honour to chair the committees concerned with regional policy and transport, I am especially pleased to learn that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister intends to introduce some very firm, sober policies to deal with problems which have arisen over the past five years. Indeed, all three political parties are united in wishing to see significant improvements in the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy, to say nothing of a fairer pattern of budgetary and resource transfers.
As an ex-European Member, it seemed to me that the renegotiation of our Community membership in the spring of 1975 was conducted incompetently and that some of the problems four years later were due to the lack of foresight and negotiating skill of the then Prime Minister and his team. It is not surprising, therefore, that the budget is now so grossly out of step with the resources of the United Kingdom, and I am pleased to learn that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister intends to deal with this in a very forthright manner.
One of the sad decisions of the last Government, in their wisdom, was the turning down completely of the European monetary system. They have taken what I call a rain check on this very important policy. When one realises that the supply of Euro-dollars swilling around in the Communities is about 700 billion, it is clear that there must be an alternative currency. I feel that the European monetary system is a key element in developing European economic and monetary union and a step on the road to complete monetary union. The EMS responds to immediate demands for monetary stability, economic recovery and the creation of new jobs. It is especially pleasing to me to know that the Government which I have the honour to serve as a Back Bencher will be looking to the development of the European monetary system.
The Leader of the Opposition said yesterday that there was no mention of aid in the programme. Of course, it was discovered later that there was some mention of aid. In any event, let me point out to those who do not follow the European scene as closely as they should that the development and co-operation committee in the European Parliament is sending far more aid to the emerging and developing countries than we could ever do. What is more, in our own small way through our budget contribution we are helping the emerging and developing nations through the Commission for Development and Co-operation in Brussels.
I make that point because a great many people seem unable to say a good word for Europe. There is no doubt that some hon. Members are in a fog of confusion about the institutions of the Common Market. It is a complex subject. There are many pillars holding up the European Community, and from time to time it is important to underline some of the advantages of our membership. In terms of regional policy alone, we get 28 per cent. of the budget from the Community for regional development in the United Kingdom.
That is probably enough from me on the subject of Europe. I am sure that we shall have many debates on it in the coming five years.
One of the provisions in the Gracious Speech concerns strengthening the powers of the courts in relation to young offenders and juveniles. It is a tragic statement of fact that, in urban conurbations such as Southampton, juvenile crime and vandalism are running almost out of control. Elderly people living on our vast council estates are unable to live quietly in their homes. One old lady brought to my surgery a carrier bag full of the most undesirable objects which had been pushed through her letter box by children having a lark. The effect upon her was profound. Windows are smashed and, of course, there is rape and there is damage to property and persons throughout our estates.
The position in Southampton is not quite so bad as it is in certain other areas, but there is undoubtedly a need to strengthen police patrols throughout our council estates. In a small way, we have tried to crack this problem in Southampton by putting under the umbrella of the housing department estate patrol officers. We have between eight and ten security officers who will patrol the estates from the time that schools close until 11 or 12 o'clock at night. Their sole purpose is to involve themselves in the community, find out the pockets of problems and report any damage to property or persons either to the housing department or to the police.
It seems strange that in 1979 a housing authority should have to take over what was always thought to be the province of our police force. Our police have been under strain and they have been losing well-qualified officers. Consequently, when I heard the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) say that everyone would be looking at the pay settlements of others such as the police and, I presume, the Armed Forces, I made a mental note to say that I was 100 per cent. behind the new Government in wishing to support the police in every way. I do so because I feel that one of the pillars of the strength of our magnificent victory throughout the country was the law and order issue. People are worried and desperate. Many of them are helpless to fight the problem and look to the Establishment for protection.
We in Southampton have had a scheme for the sale of council houses since 1967, offering a discount of 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. I appreciate that that is not the case in every local authority area. I welcome the proposed 50 per cent. discount for tenants who have been living in a property for 20 years.
Some of the properties built over the past few years have had serious design faults. Some buildings have suffered from condensation and have attracted mould. There are badly designed buildings that are difficult to maintain. Buildings have been put up to the so-called Parker Morris standards in the past 10 years without a scrap of insulation. Consequently, there has been a vast drain of energy through the walls and roof.
Some of the properties that we hope to sell have all-electric under-floor heating, which is extremely costly. I recall from the general election campaign figures showing that the cost of electricity went up by 163 per cent. in five years. It is no wonder if the tenants of such houses do not wish to purchase them, because they will wish to have an alternative supply of energy for heating.
The insulation programme must be fully supported with finance and directives, because better insulation is a way to save energy. There should also be a fund for conversion from all-electric heating to, say, gas heating, whether by warm air or by radiators, in all council houses. There is opposition to the purchase of houses that no one can afford to heat.
The scheme for the sale of council houses is a good one. I sometimes wonder at the dust that is raised when it is proposed, because the majority of council tenants do not want to buy their houses. They are paying extremely low rents; they may not like the area or the house; they may be getting on in years and not want to have a commitment. The Opposition's idea that if we go ahead with the sale of council houses councils will end up with only high-rise blocks is rubbish, as has been proved in practice.
The scheme is another aspect of freedom—freedom for the council tenants at least to have the ability to purchase the houses they are living in. My only sorrow is for people living in high-rise blocks. What a disastrous decision it was by many local authorities and architects to develop high-rise buildings, which are causing great social problems and are so constructed that they cost more to pull down than to build. They are a problem for the future. There is no chance of selling accommodation in any of them to sitting tenants.
Many other housing units must be excluded. For example, we need the ground floors of most of our four-storey blocks for the disabled, so ground-floor flats may well have to be excluded. We have many purpose-built units now. There is the accommodation for old-age pensioners as well as the specialised buildings for the disabled and many other units which may be unsaleable. It is unnecessary for the Opposition to get into such a state over the sale of council houses.
Anyone who goes through a council estate in Southampton will be able immediately to pinpoint the properties that have changed hands. Because of restrictions in cash flow, certainly within the past five years, most local authorities have become extremely poor landlords. There are tenants with poor living conditions, waiting for their houses to be modernised, who would not be justified at this time in purchasing those properties.
Theory does not always work out in practice. The vast council building programme of the past, the building to keep ahead of numbers which never seemed to decrease, has resulted in vast expanses of council estates which are difficult to maintain. They are certainly difficult to administer, and it is very difficult to provide law and order within them. It is extremely difficult to give people hope.
We are still building such estates. My right hon. Friend who replies when we deal with housing might well need to state our housing programme. I believe that it is far better to provide funds to make sure that first-time buyers are allowed to go out into the private market, instead of joining a long council housing waiting list, than it is to subsidise them over the next 60 years.
I had not intended to make my maiden speech this afternoon but was prompted to do so by the debate on education. In my innocence, I had not realised that it would take place today.
I begin by paying tribute to my illustrious predecessors in Blaydon, William Whiteley and then Bob Woof. I knew that Bob Woof was widely regarded within Blaydon as one of the most able constituency Members of Parliament. I knew that he was one of the most respected men in the constituency, respected from his days on Durham county council and from his days as the secretary of the Chopwell miners' lodge, and respected for the great amount of work that he did for Blaydon and the constituents.
What I had not realised until I came here was the great respect and affection with which Bob is held by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by Officers of the House. I hope that in time I can learn to live with his reputation, and perhaps earn at least some of that affection for myself. May I also express the hope that I may be here as long.
The other thing that I must mention about Bob is that his leaving the House is a mark in history. I have the honour to be sponsored by the Post Office Engineering Union. I am happy to join my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Golding) and Westhoughton (Mr. Stott). Bob was the last Member sponsored by the Durham area of the National Union of Mineworkers. This in itself indicates the kind of changes that have been taking place in the area.
When Bob entered Parliament there were 22 pits in the constituency. There is now one. Such figures are true of many areas. The problems caused by the loss of that employment cannot easily be solved. The changes in the constituency are such that it will be a challenge to the Government to try to keep the North-East from dying, particularly the outland areas such as Blaydon.
The constituency runs from the Tyne round through the old mining villages up in the hills through such places as Chop-well. I have the honour to be one of the few Labour Members who have forests in their constituencies. The constituency continues down through the Derwent into the commuter belt and on into the industrial area beside Gateshead.
There are places which were almost allowed to die, villages such as High Spen and Chopwell. I hope that measures will be taken to ensure that there will be no return to the planning procedures that listed those villages as defunct when there are so many who originated from those villages who work elsewhere and who choose now to travel and to try to build the villages into viable communities.
I intend to address myself to the education debate. I understand the convention of not being controversial. Therefore, I shall confine myself to facts. I recognise that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) may not agree with the facts. I look forward to renewing the arguments about them with the hon. Gentleman on a more appropriate occasion.
I have had some experience of education as a former education convener in Edinburgh. In that circumstance there was a concentration of direct grant schools and some highly selective State schools. I had to contend with the problem that the State selective schools were taking in roughly the top 2 per cent. of the ability range. That was a problem because the methods of selection were not especially fine. A vast number of children might or might not have been appropriately placed in those schools, but they were all refused places.
When Labour effectively took control of Edinburgh, it reorganised education. A part of our reorganisation policy was the concept of improving parents' freedom of choice. That was a conscious policy. Bearing in mind the difficulties of such reorganisation, the result in the first year was that by far the largest proportion of parents—I think it was over 70 per cent. —received the school of their choice for their children.
If the Secretary of State is successful—I hope that he is—in establishing the principle of parental choice and if he can find some way of providing real parental choice in the State system, I hope that he will be able to provide the resources for the many parents—it is not the majority, but very many—who will be bitterly disappointed because they cannot be given their first, second or third choices. I make that comment against the background that I do not think anyone will disagree when I say that I have never argued against the principle of parental choice. However, I accept the constraints.
I have seen the effect that the refusal of choice has had. I can have nothing but compassion for the problems that it has caused for parents and their children. At the end of the day it is a resource problem. More money has to be spent if it is to be alleviated.
I was disappointed to see nothing in the Gracious Speech about the education of children who are both physically and mentally handicapped. It is an issue that has concerned me for some time. There is inadequate provision nationally. I hope that in future the Government will see their way clear to making provision that will assist the education of those children and will lead to some alleviation of the problems faced by the parents of such children. I cannot see that that is likely in the near future. I merely make the plea that the Minister considers it.
I thank all hon. Members on both sides of the House for the friendly and helpful way in which they have received me. As a new Member I find this place, to say the least, somewhat strange. The assistance that I have received from hon. Members and staff has been invaluable and it is greatly appreciated.
First, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your elevation to your distinguished office. It is nice to see you in the Chair.
Secondly, I pay a warm tribute to the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who has made his maiden speech. It gives me great pleasure to say that. That is in part because I am from County Durham. I was born there and I went to school there.
I knew Bob Woof as a Durham councillor. He was regarded with great affection in the House. He was a real character and the sort of person who now tends not to come to this place. Many of those who for the first time heard Bob Woof speak in the House and who did not come from County Durham found it extraordinarily difficult to understand a word he was saying, so broad was the Geordie accent. He was one of the old-fashioned great characters that the House produced.
I am also pleased to congratulate the hon. Member for Blaydon on his maiden speech as I spent six happy years in Edinburgh, where I know he was a councillor, and performed good public service in Edinburgh. He has today demonstrated his capacity in no uncertain way. His speech was naturally delivered. I think that we all felt that he knew his subject. He nicely paid tribute to the changing character of his constituency and the problems that it clearly faces. I have no doubt in saying that we all wish him the greatest success. I am sure that he will be with us for a long time and I have no doubt that he will be successful.
It is unfortunate that every time we have an education debate we become bogged down in the argument about the structure of secondary education. It is vital that the new Government immediately redeem their pledge to revert to the Act that was the basis of English education provision—the Education Act 1944. That measure was based on partnership. It provided that the initiative for changing the nature of a local service provided by a local authority lay with the local authority and not with central Government in the form of the Secretary of State.
In 1976 the Labour Government changed that basis. They changed the balance of power in the relationship of the partnership. It is right and proper that we restore it to comply with an Act in which the principles were laid down by Rab Butler. They were good, solid Conservative principles but—in those days—were supported by a Labour coalition partner.
When we consider the reorganisation of secondary education that has taken place since 1944 under both Conservative and Labour local authorities, it is clear that the 1976 Act, far from being "a great leap forward" as the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) would have it, merely tinkered with the periphery. At that time, 76 per cent. of secondary school pupils were already in comprehensive schools. The Labour Government mucked up the partnership and soured relationships in education. They brought back the stultifying argument of 11-plus selection to the forefront of the debate. They wasted officials' time at local authority and central Government levels.
That was all for what? The purpose was to try to coerce as quickly as possible, because of Labour's doctrinaire and dogmatic beliefs, the small remaining percentage of those not in comprehensive schools. The purpose was to coerce even the authorities that had been in the forefront of the comprehensive changeover—often Conservative authorities—that had problematical areas and could not, and have not, found a proper or easy answer to the small rural school. That was often a secondary modern school with 200 or 300 pupils which did not have a sixth form and which clearly was not in a sense a true comprehensive school.
Authorities in that position would have had severe problems. There are many such awkward areas. However, the Labour Government put the boot in and insisted that local authorities such as these should act as quickly as possible, irrespective of the upheaval, and proceed straight away with the final part of the comprehensive changeover.
We should be concerning ourselves with the nature of education and the quality of what is happening in our schools, whether they be called comprehensive or grammar. I want to see an increasing role for the Government in an area which hitherto we have been frightened of entering as a Government or politicians. If we talk about the quality of education, we cannot opt out of being concerned about the curriculum, what is being taught and how it is being taught.
The proposals put forward in the Queen's Speech for the assisted-places scheme and associated matters—the ability of local authorities to take up places at independent schools—are not central policy issues in their own right. They are an attempt, albeit partial, to get to grips with what is a pressing problem in secondary education. It is no good members of the Opposition turning a blind eye to what is happening in many parts of the country, especially in our cities. There is no point in saying that all comprehensive schools are good because they are comprehensive.
The hon. Member for Hillsborough was a headmaster in a middle school, which is different from other types of comprehensive schools. Even within the State comprehensive pattern, schools are different. Some are good, some mediocre and some bad. Some emphasise academic qualities and values; others emphasise other aspects. There is no point in labelling all schools as though they were the same. For heaven's sake let us recognise those differences. Let us applaud the fact that some schools have strengths. Let us back those strengths and ensure that those schools do their own thing with that degree of excellence of which many are capable.
There are many problem areas in comprehensive education, partly because of the environmental nature of the problem and the way in which city populations have moved. Let us look at the position in Manchester. There have been a number of reports. The publication of A-level results there highlighted the problem. I shall not become involved in a comparison of the results with those of the neighbouring areas, but in their own right they highlighted a tremendous difficulty.
The neighbourhood schools in many parts of our cities are not able to produce the environment in which there is the challenge and stimulus needed by people of academic ability. I do not believe that those responsible for education in Manchester would do other than acknowledge that they have a problem. That problem exists in many other parts of the country.
Perhaps the problem will be resolved by changing the nature of the sixth form. With the falling birth rate—by one-third in the past 10 years—we may have to reconsider the position of schools with tiny sixth forms, which will become increasingly less valid. Perhaps those schools will have to become schools for 11 to 16year-olds, with the amalgamation of sixth- form teaching in a central sixth-form college or a tertiary college.
We cannot, whether in Opposition or Government, turn our backs on the need to search for and develop talent. That is just as important a matter of social and individual justice for the child in question as for the economic and future well-being of our country.
Where these problems exist, we may have to concentrate facilities and staff to cope. But there are other ways. Schools in the independent sector often provide academic challenge and stimulus in the way in which they operate. Is it not sensible to say that the people with the capacity and aptitude to do well in that type of environment should have the opportunity to do so? That is the point of the assisted-places scheme.
The Opposition denied opportunities to those families which hitherto they had had. I do not find that many members of the Opposition are ashamed of their own merit and talent.
Is the the hon. Gentleman saying that the academic high-flyers must be segregated and sent off so as to justify the assisted-places scheme? Will he tell us how he will select them?
The details will be found in the Bill. One member of the Opposition pointed out that a simple way would be for those families—there are many in my area in terms of the Leeds high school and the Bradford grammar school—who want their children to enter those schools to take the initiative. They know that they cannot afford it. But it is sensible that parents who know that their child has aptitude and ability in a subject such as mathematics should have the right to choose. There is not a superfluity of mathematicians. We must develop that area.
The Bradford grammar school has expertise in teaching mathematics. A child may be put forward for entry to that school. We must find out whether the child has sufficient aptitude in the subject to enable him to cope. I am not talking about this happening only at the age of 11. It could happen at 12 or 14. That is up to the scheme. This age provides a common point of transfer in the independent sector. So the parents may put their child forward. If the child is accepted and the parents cannot afford the fees there should be some place to which they may turn to obtain assistance. That is a reasonable basis.
It is absurd to argue that the numbers of children involved will result in the decimation of the comprehensive schools and the drying up of the ability of those schools to cope with the rest of the ability range. We are talking about tiny numbers of people. No one will persuade me that a school containing 1,000 or more pupils will be drained of high-quality academic staff because they find that they lack the four or five pupils in the class whom they otherwise would have had.
It is equally absurd to imagine that the scheme would result in the destruction of the comprehensive nature of the system—which the Opposition, if they were not blinkered, would recognise is not comprehensive anyway. In many parts the system cannot be comprehensive because of the social nature and physical problems of the neighbourhoods in which the schools exist.
I now move on to the nature of the curriculum. I want to see the Government move much more decisely in one area. This country needs to develop academic talent as far as possible. But we must recognise that that is not the only function of education. Nor is it the only matter about which we should be concerned. About 80 per cent. of young people are not academically gifted. Nor do they want to do academic work or go into higher education.
All too often, we have geared our system, through the GCE examinations and the yardstick of A-levels, to the academic side of the equation. Most of our young people want—and, indeed, need increasingly in our technological revolution—the schools and social and technical skills to enable them to do well after school in their work end social relationships. Therefore, in addition to the concentration on and improvement of talent which is needed if we are to get the country moving again, we need a new thrust in vocational education to ensure that there are opportunities in the schools which the bulk of young people need.
I itemise some of the areas in which this thrust should take place. It is important to acknowledge that the last year of school should not be classroom-based. We have seen many good work experience schemes that proved the point. For many years in the United States, Canada and elsewhere it has been seen that the school classroom should be a base from which young people should go out and learn through experience. Far too many young people—this is not an indictment of teachers; it is a fact of education—are literally bored in their final two years at school. As a teacher, I had to drum into my pupils in the lower classes at a grammar school matters such as the Seven Years War. In retrospect I am amazed why I did it and why they bothered to learn it.
We must reconsider the nature of the curriculum. The curriculum, especially in maths and science, must be related to the problems of the world outside, such as mortgages and family finance. The subject must not be taught in the abstract. Examples must be related to matters that will be of value to the pupils. Within their final years at school, they should be able to get some experience of occupations and life outside. It should not be simply a matter of the careers teacher giving them a few pamphlets to read, or of industrialists occasionally coming to the school.
This is a difficult task but it must be done. We must find a way of relating these young people to practical opportunities outside, so that for a week or more they are able to sample various occupations and opportunities. That is necessary if they are to widen their horizons. All too many of them, through their family, their peer group and their teachers, have a blinkered view of their prospects.
It would also enable them, when they are back in school, to have a greater sense of motivation and a sense of realism concerning what they are learning in the school. This would in turn help enormously in dealing with the problems of truancy, absenteeism and delinquency that we see in many of our schools. Too many young people do not relate what they are doing at school to anything that they believe they will face afterwards, and that is the real problem. That sense of irrelevance is something that they perceive, whether it is true or not, and it is a very destructive force.
If we are to tackle the problem effectively, it will involve looking at the curriculum and a major effort on the work experience front. The Department of Industry and the Department of Employment will need to be concerned with this effort. We must ensure that there is collaboration between the Manpower Services Commission, if it survives, and the new education unit in the Department of Industry. Thereby hangs a tale, for the Department of Industry has been so disenchanted with what the DES has been doing in this area that it has set up its own unit to further this sort of activity. There must be greater collaboration between our new Ministers to prevent duplication and proliferation of effort and money in this very critical area.
Another important aspect is the level of understanding of industry and what it does. Much has been done to try to get teachers to understand industry better. There are several expensive schemes designed to release teachers to industry or to give them more experience during their teacher-training courses, but these efforts can only scratch the surface. It would be better to release young people from school so that they may have some experience in industry. If we are to get them to understand better how industry and commerce function, we shall have to be much more flexible in our approach than we have been so far.
Private companies have produced training films dealing with such problems as cash flow and showing how businesses work and function. I should like to see Government Departments trying to get our schools and our teachers to use techniques of that sort, at no great cost. The effect would, I believe, be disproportionate to the small sums of money involved.
One such example is Video Arts, involving BBC producers and staff, and using people such as Ronnie Corbett and John Cleese, who can project ideas at a level that young people can understand and in a way which does not turn them off. We ought to be looking more adventurously towards such flexible operations and such collaboration with companies of this sort, possibly in the form of leasing back the materials which they, perhaps in conjunction with the Open University, could provide in this area, so that there is a cheap form of supply of material for our schools and for our teachers.
In our educational system at the higher end, and in further education, we have a wealth of resources in buildings, facilities, laboratories and workshops, and also in terms of the quality of the people. We are limited by financial restrictions and cannot now think in terms of being able to add on a new room or a new laboratory, or of being able to provide new facilities and staff. We have instead to think in other, more flexible directions, and this must involve collaboration.
Why is it not possible to press for the use of the local polytechnic or college of further education as a resource centre for the rest of the local system? This relates to my point about the search for talent, particularly in critical areas such as engineering, technology and modern languages. Sometimes we see attempts by school staff to do this sort of thing, but it ought to be much more positively a matter of policy that we twin the staff and departments of higher and further education institutions with particular schools, where there is already a good base in terms of the quality of the teachers and what they are doing.
That would enable an extra stimulus to be brought into the school by the staff of the polytechnic, so that pupils were not simply playing with abstract notions in terms of engineering and science but building things such as solar panels and racing cars, and enabling pupils to see a horizon which otherwise they would not have seen. That would have an enormous effect in drawing out talent and also in conditioning the attitudes within a school, so that technology becomes something that is respected and for which most of the able people will aim, rather than for subjects such as history—my own subject—or English.
Although there are no longer any DHSS Ministers with us, I should like to mention one or two other points. The idea of collaboration should extend much more in terms of Departments. The whole notion of vocational education, which is so important, hangs to a fair degree on the further education system. That is where the real skill instruction lies. We must try to make the last years of school more flexible, so that young people can be involved in further education. That would be a major step forward.
But those who leave school with few qualifications, or with the need for more technical education, run up against the problem caused by the lack of financial help. There is no effective answer to this problem in Mrs. Williams's scheme for miserable payments to sixth formers, for educational maintenance allowances and so on, nor is the discretionary system satisfactory, because it is being cut back on such a wide scale. But there is already plenty of money in the system, provided that departmental Ministers will collaborate across the divide between the DHSS and the DES, and work together.
I want to give a very strong warning so that our DHSS Ministers do not inadvertently do a great deal of damage in pursuit of what I believe is a very worthy objective, namely, to save money. In their pursuit of the work-shy, the definition of availability for supplementary benefit obviously needs to be reexamined, but if we are not careful we may do great damage to the prospects of many young people. We should be careful not to operate in such a way as to make young people less able to retain their supplementary benefit while on courses. Indeed, we should be making a virtue of the fact that they can retain it.
The last Administration issued an important circular which said that a young person spending more than 21 hours a week on a course was entitled to retain supplementary benefit. That is terribly important, for with that amount of time it is possible to do almost any course. The tragedy has been in the way in which the DHSS has operated the circular, particularly in its local offices. Young people have been told that if they do a proper full-time course for an A-level examination or for a TEC diploma, they will not then be available for a job if it arises, so they get no money.
We know that there are work-shy people who will not take up opportunities when they arise because they want to be able to go on receiving supplementary benefit, but our attack on this problem should not be made in such a way that it affects adversely the position of young people who wish to be involved in further education. I want to see them able to acquire marketable qualifications while at the same time keeping their supplementary benefit. At the moment, if they keep their supplementary benefit, they are in the position of having to take up only the odd ad hoc courses that further education colleges are prepared to provide, and such courses are really inadequate for what is required in a fast-changing world.
We know that already about 200,000 young people are leaving school without decent qualifications. We have to ensure that there are opportunities for them to receive further education. This applies to those who have inadequate qualifications, to those who want to upgrade their existing qualifications, and to those who want to have a chance to get on in the world.
Conservatives believe not just in freedom in general, freedom from restraint, or freedom from Government intervention. We believe in freedom to aspire and to achieve. Children in an inner city comprehensive school, for example, should have freedom to develop their talents and abilities to the full. Equally, in terms of vocational opportunities in the last years of school and after school, they should be assisted so that they may acquire the skills which they will need increasingly in the technological world that we are now entering.
We must use properly money which is already in the system. We are not asking for more money. When cutting waste we must ensure that we achieve value for money. It would be a retrograde step simply to tighten up on the DHSS so that the value of the money paid, in terms of the courses taken by students and the opportunities they create for jobs, is reduced. That would be an improper use of available money. We must balance and we must collaborate. We must be flexible in our approach. I believe that this is the general approach that lies behind the specific areas of policy mentioned in the Gracious Speech.
The hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) made a touchingly loyal speech in view of the scurvy treatment that he has received from his party. I am sad that he is not on the Government Front Bench because education would be better protected with his skills than with those of the present Front Bench.
I wish to discuss the way in which the Conservative Party seems to be pushing education. I hope that I am wrong, but it seems that the Conservatives are making education a commodity which can be bought and sold like anything else. If that is so, it is a sea change which is greater than anything that has happened in education since 1870 when it was decided that we must have a free education system. It was significant that the right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) had to declare an interest in private education. I wonder how many other hon. Members on the Government Back Benches have a profit-making interest in the private education which is to be boosted with public money. I do not know what interest the right hon. Member declared.
At the last election the Conservative Party used the slogan "Educashun isn't working". In retrospect, that will he seen as cheap and tawdry. It will be seen to be unworthy of the objectives which both sides of the House should share when speaking of education. The slogan was produced by Saatchi & Saatchi—the same firm which thought up "What a lot I got" for Smarties and "Drinka Pinta Milka Day". Such advertisements have done more to deface the English language in the last 20 years than anything else, except perhaps certain television advertising. The Conservative Party cannot even spell "literacy" in its press releases. My opponent in the election circulated a leaflet deploring the failure in education standards and the growth of "burocracy". That proves the utterly cynical way in which the Conservative Party approached education in the election campaign.
I hope that, with the welter of officials in Elizabeth House, from the permanent secretary down, just as the Prime Minister, when she was Secretary of State for Education, was made to understand a few realities, the new Secretary of State—for whom I have a high regard in many ways—will have realities dinned into him. I hope that certain ideas will emerge in the light of the spirit in which education has been administered by Tory and Labour Governments since the 1920s and 1930s. I should be sad if Tory policy resulted in a complete break in that trend, as it seems that it might.
When asked what he would do if Tame-side proposed plans to go comprehensive, similar to those proposed before, the Secretary of State answered, using his brief, that he would consider action under section 13. That is the proper answer. In the next month or two the Secretary of State will have to operate under the law. That law will include the Education Act 1976, which requires the Secretary of State, as well as the local authorities, to have regard to the need to educate children in schools where they are not selected by ability or aptitude. The Secretary of State is as subject to that law as anybody else.
If Tameside is blocked by the Secretary of State's fiat, I suspect that he will bring upon himself a civil law ease in the same way as did his predecessor in office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Park (Mr. Mulley). Since he is at least as good a lawyer as my right hon. Friend—perhaps even a slightly better one—I hope that he will weigh his decision carefully before he uses his powers to block the democratic wishes of the metropolitan borough to go comprehensive in September. These events will take place before rather than after the Royal Assent to any prospective Bill. I hope that the Secretary of State will have regard to the law in that respect.
It is impossible to operate the English education system—a central service which is locally administered—without a policy on secondary education. That was what was wrong between 1970 and 1974. If the Conservatives want as their policy a tripartite system, a bipartite system, or a 5 per cent., 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. selection system to be their policy, they must say so.
When the Prime Minister was Secretary of State she simply withdrew circular 10/65 and left all local education authorities in Britain in a complete vacuum for four years. They did not know the principles under which they could put forward proposals. They had no idea whether proposals would be accepted. She could not say on what principles she accepted or did not accept schemes. The best explanation was that she accepted schemes about which she knew nothing and rejected those schemes about which complaints were made to her at tennis clubs. One such scheme in Surrey was well documented.
The Tory Party should come clean. Does it want an 11-plus or does it not? If it wants an 11-plus, what are the principles under which it should operate, what is the percentage elite which it should select, and how will local authorities be expected to administer it? I suspect that the Tory Party has no policy in that respect.
The Conservatives want to do two incompatible things. The first is to allow local education authorities to subsidise independent schools out of public money. The second is to appear to be in favour of comprehensive education and against a resurrection of the 11-plus examination. Nobody is more eloquent about the impossibility of that situation than the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boy-son), who is now in charge of higher and further education. He has said that it cannot be done that way and that one must have a policy.
The Government have said what they intend to do in particular ways but have not stated any overall policy whatever for secondary education. The system of planning secondary education and secondary schools—it takes 10 to 15 years from the start of planning to develop a system, especially with a new population—does not admit of a Government having no policy. I hope that the Conservative Party will eventually come up with a policy.
If the present proposals that have been made are allowed to drift forward, we shall return to a type of 11-plus situation for 2 to 4 per cent. of the population. We shall go back not to 1945 or the 1920s but to the 1880s or 1890s, with a tiny elite selected to attend private schools, subsidised by taxpayers' money, and an impoverished section of schools getting shorter and shorter of money where education is not as good as it could be. We cannot get away from the fact that every penny of the £50 million that the Conservative Party intends to put into independent schools will mean that one child in a primary or secondary school next door to the independent school will go without a textbook, pencil, ruler or rubber—the most elementary materials that are needed to keep basic education going. It is no good pretending that this £50 million is extra, because it is not.
Local authorities have a specific responsibility under the law to spend their money properly and without waste. Suppose that a local education authority with, say, two or three comprehensive schools in its area finds that because of the drift in the population those schools are 70 or 80 per cent. full. It then decides to spend a certain amount of money—based on principles it works out itself—on sending youngsters, whose need for special education or anything such as that cannot be proved, to independent schools. It is almost inevitable that, because of present stringency, a ratepayer will take that local authority to court for misusing public funds. I do not know whether, to cover such circumstances, the Secretary of State intends to include in his legislation provision to the effect that local authorities must not waste public funds except in regard to education.
Although it is not exactly analogous, the Greater Manchester council lost its case and received some very tough comments from the judge about the improper use of money by a non-education authority for education purposes. I hope that the Secretary of State gets the law right. Whether he gets the law right or wrong, there is absolutely no doubt that this proposal consists of a transfer of resources from the poor to the rich, from education facilities which are already impoverished to education facilities which are quite adequate. It will simply mean that this is an extra to the tax cuts for the rich which are to be brought in, an extra bribe to the middle classes. I hope that when the Secretary of State gets down to the smaller small print he will think again about the legality of encouraging local authorities to spend money on independent schools in this way.
The election was fought with constant talk about freedom. The Conservative Party attempted to hold itself up as the purveyor of freedom whereas the Labour Party was not. We heard that the Conservative Party would not allow local authorities to have that particular freedom. We have had indications from the Secretary of State for Education and Science that he may well deprive Tame-side of the freedom to organise its education as it would wish.
The most glaring omission from the Queen's Speech relates to the final page, where it is proposed to amend the Official Secrets Act. On the face of it, amending the Official Secrets Act seems a fine thing to do, but if we amend the Official Secrets Act without at the same time giving some right of access to individuals in the community to official information we shall restrict the freedom of civil servants and members of the public. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), who has been promoted to the Front Bench, is on the Front Bench. He and I worked together on the Official Information Bill in the last Session, which got quite a long way. We discussed the ramifications of the amendment of the Official Secrets Act.
One clear fact that emerged—it certainly convinced me and perhaps convinced the hon. Member for Pentlands, because he was on the side of the angels in those days—was that we cannot half do this job of open government. The criminal law which protects information and the law which allows access to information must go together. The Americans discovered that because of Watergate and they have now a properly constructed Freedom of Information Act. The Swedes have had one for well over a century, and other Scandinavian countries have one.
What terrifies me about this proposal in the Queen's Speech is that it is simply an attempt to restrict the freedom of civil servants regarding what they are allowed to expose in terms of bureacracy and government. It gives no freedom whatever to the public to obtain further information. I hope that those on the Government Front Bench who in their hearts are still on the side of the angels will persuade the Government, when they are framing the repeal of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act—it is common ground that it has to go—that they cannot simply leave it in a vacuum at that point but must go on in one package and amend section 2 on the lines of the Franks report in a way which is completely agreed by both parties. At the same time we must make clear those elements of public information which should be available to every citizen, as they are available in many other civilised countries.
I am grateful that I have managed to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so early in this Parliament. I feel like a young lad being taught to swim who has been thrown in at the deep end. As the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) said, there is so much help from all Members of the House to us new boys that I believe it will be quite easy for me to get to the shallow end and out of the pool within 10 minutes.
My predecessor, Mr. Iain MacCormick, was a Member of the House for five years. He was a hard-working, likeable and popular Member. My appearance here is due to no personal fault of his but to the fact that the people of Argyll did not wish to be counted as people who wanted to break Britain asunder. We in Argyll are proud to be both Scottish and British, and it is the reassertion of that pride which has brought me to this House.
Argyll, if I may say it without raising too much controversy, is by far one of the most beautiful parts of these islands. Doubtless many hon. Members, and certainly many of their constituents, will have holidayed in Argyll. We in Argyll pride ourselves on our excellent tourist trade, where we give mental and physical therapy to all those who work in our cities and conurbations. It is, therefore, of vital importance that tourism, agriculture and fishing are sustained in a healthy state so that Argyll can welcome its visitors to a living beauty. The conviction of my right hon. Friends on the the Front Bench of the merits of small businesses and the self-employed will give great comfort to the people of Argyll, who depend on just those businesses for their livelihood, jobs and wealth.
Argyll has the distinction of having a coastline which is longer than that of France. That is a useless piece of information, but it is always good for making people look very impressed. Naturally, that is partly caused by our many islands, all of which are inhabited. Needless to say, sea transport is of vital importance to these islands. I look forward to hearing from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland his proposals to lessen the burden of freight charges on the ferries to these islands. Such a promise was contained in the manifesto of our party, and all my island constituents look forward to some help being given to them in this direction.
However, one of the subjects of today's debate is education. I have come to this House, so to speak, straight from the chalk face, and the mathematical chalk face at that. Despite all the bland words of educationists, usually very far from the chalk face, there is a general feeling of a decline of morale in schools in Scotland. We in Argyll are lucky in that we have been spared some of the excesses of the experimentation which the so-called progressives have inflicted on education. Thankfully, most of our teachers in Argyll retain a firm belief in the benefits of the three Rs and the traditions of discipline and order in the classroom.
The Gracious Speech mentions standards, and these are of vital importance. Committees such as the Munn and Dunning committees put forward ideas for change, but, with particular reference to Dunning, I urge my right hon. Friend to make no changes to both higher and ordinary grades, whose standards have been maintained by the Scottish Certificate of Examination Board over the years. It is important that children have an aim, and for those children who can aim for it the O-grades and highers form a sensible aim. In particular, I should like to see introduced tests in numeracy and literacy which will be suitable for those children who cannot aspire to O-grades and higher but who also need an aim and a lower level than the O-grades.
Equally, in primary schools, it is important that we have some national or, if we cannot have that, agreed local standards at which the teachers and the pupils in the primary schools may aim. The teachers and pupils need to know at what they should be aiming during the course of primary education so that when a child moves on to secondary education it does so on the basis of equality with children moving from other primary schools. In Argyll we have many feeder schools to each secondary school.
I urge my right hon. Friend to allow secondary schools, in collaboration with their primary schools, to set up tests in numeracy and literacy on which they can agree and at which they can all aim. I assure my right hon. Friend that the teachers in the primary schools, in particular, would welcome such a change.
There are many other points that I should like to raise, but I fear that I might err on the controversial side if I were to raise them. For example, I think of the educational disaster which the mixed ability system has imposed on the secondary schools of our country. I think of the need to give much more help to the slow learners in our schools. Much more attention ought to be paid to them. I think also of the need to encourage excellence in our schools.
In my trip around Argyll at the last election, I went into a small church in a place called Kilmodan, in Glendaruel, where there is a plaque on the wall to the kind of person we so need in this country but whom I fear our education system may well be discouraging. That plaque is to a man called Colin Maclaurin. If there are any mathematicians in the House, they will realise that there is a difficult calculus theorem that bears his name.
Colin Maclaurin left his home in the eighteenth century at the age of 16 and went to university to study mathematics. At the age of 19 he was professor of mathematics at Aberdeen, and at the age of 22 he was professor of mathematics at Edinburgh. I should like to think that our system, private or public, would encourage such excellence and genius today, but I rather fear the contrary.
I do not know whether there is anything that my right hon. Friend wishes to say at this stage about the teachers' salary negotiations in Scotland, but I should like to say to him that if an early and reasonable settlement is not forthcoming the general dissatisfaction among the teaching profession will continue. This dissatisfaction is not caused by money alone. It is caused by many other things, including some of the ill-considered changes which we have had in education over many years, usually for reasons of what are called social engineering and not for reasons of education. If my right hon. Friend can give Scottish education five years of stability and five years without drastic change—by all means let us have change, but let it not be drastic—in either the curriculum or the examinations, he will earn the gratitude of teachers, pupils and parents in Scotland.
I must first congratulate the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Mackay) on his maiden speech. Like many other hon. Members, my main association with Argyll is as a tourist. Many of us have visited his constituency and know it to be very beautiful and attractive. I think that the hon. Gentleman may be tempted to spend a lot of time up there rather than coming down to this House, and I am sure that he will resist that temptation and make many contributions in the House such as he has made today, which seemed good humoured, well informed and generally constructive. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will enjoy his time in this House.
I want to concentrate my remarks on education, not least because education was a very important issue in my constituency for both parties during the general election. I do not think that it is any coincidence that the Conservatives did so badly in Bolton when a great deal of attention was concentrated on education.
The Queen's Speech mentions education in several ways. The first commitment it makes is that
The quality of education will be maintained and improved.
I was pleased to read that because, listening to some Conservative spokesmen over the last few years, with all their complaints about schools today and falling standards, one would have thought that there was no quality at all to maintain. I regard that comment in the Queen's Speech as a kind of backhanded compliment to the work of Shirley Williams and the Department of Education over the last few years.
But the other main commitment in the Queen's Speech is one that worries me very much indeed. That is the one which says:
Legislation will be introduced to remove the compulsion on local authorities in England and Wales to reorganise their schools on comprehensive lines.
That is what I want to concentrate my remarks upon. The other points mentioned in the Queen's Speech are important—the moves on independent schools and the subsidising of places at non-maintained schools are all important—but these follow on logically from the kind of hierarchy in education which is the only alternative to a comprehensive system.
This is where the gulf exists between the two major parties on this issue. Once one makes the basic decision that all children will not have equal opportunity and that all children will not go to comprehensive schools, it naturally follows that the Conservative Government will look for ways of reinforcing the privileges that exist for a few at present.
I am afraid that one of the worst examples of the denial of equal opportunities to children exists in my constituency in Bolton. I am afraid that if the Government persist in some of their proposals—for example, subsidising places at fee-paying schools and discouraging authorities from going comprehensive in the future—the educational opportunities of the children in Bolton will continue to be very limited indeed.
I know that many people would think that Bolton was a very progressive and go-ahead place. In many respects it is. But so far as education is concerned we are really rather a dismal backwater. In Bolton, children are still segregated at the age of 11, some being told "You are failures", whilst the others are told "You are successes". We spend far more on the education of those who pass the 11-plus in Bolton than we do on the education of those who fail the 11-plus, who are, of course, the majority.
Let me give the House just two examples. There is one grammar school in my constituency at which the amount per head spent each year is now running at £547. Not very far away from that school is a secondary modern school in my constituency, at which the amount per head spent is £457. Ninety pounds a year less is spent on the children in a secondary modern school. That is just about 20 per cent., and it is the majority who are suffering so that a few can have some privileges.
We in Bolton have a very clear two-tier system. In the circumstances, it is not surprising that so many children in Bolton get turned off education altogether. I should have thought that anyone who is seriously trying to do more than pay lip service to the idea of equal opportunity in education ought to be condemning the kind of system that exists in Bolton rather than, as does the curent Secretary of State, supporting it and saying that it should continue.
This system will continue in Bolton this year. We are now in the very strange position that because we have a Conservative Government this year's 11-yearolds in Bolton will be taking an 11-plus examination over the next few weeks. It is an appalling situation that need not have arisen at all. Indeed, the local Conservative-controlled council said that it would not arise.
To explain why Bolton's 11-year-olds are today having to face the prospect of taking an 11-plus examination, we have to go back to 1976 and the passing of the Education Act by the Labour Government. When that Act became operative, the Conservative council in Bolton said, first of all, that it was not against comprehensives and, therefore, was quite willing to reorganise on comprehensive lines. Secondly, it said that if that was the law, it would not disobey the law and it would go comprehensive, as it was directed to do.
It did not say, as other Conservative authorities said, that it would defy the law or defy the Secretary of State and challenge her powers. Bolton council said, quite openly and without coercion, that it would go comprehensive. It drew up its own scheme for doing so, and the scheme was approved by the Department of Education and Science. Money was provided so that that scheme could be implemented.
The scheme was due to start this September. The children who are leaving primary school in Bolton this July were due to be the first year's intake of the new comprehensive schools. Parents were told of the change. They were sent preference forms asking which comprehensive school they wanted their children to attend. Everyone was told that there would be no 11-plus in Bolton this year—much to the relief of pupils, parents and teachers alike.
But there was a snag. Earlier this year, at just about the time that the tenders should have gone in to the DES for confirmation of the allocation of money, the Conservative council, whose own scheme it was implementing, decided that it needed to think again. First of all, it found what it thought were faults in its own scheme, its own plan, which it had been working out for several years. "I had not quite understood it before", said the leader of the Tories in Bolton—which says a lot for him.
Then the council refused to take up the allocation of money from the DES which had been made available to improve schools in Bolton. This meant a loss of over £1½ million for three schools which are badly in need of spending, and have been for several years. But the local Tories seemed to adopt the attitude that, bad though these schools are, defects though they may have, as long as they are secondary modern schools and their own children are not going to them, it is all right and those schools can exist as they are at present. But they also refused over £1 million for a sixth-form college for Bolton, which was badly needed to give O-level and A-level opportunities to those 11-plus rejects who had gone to secondary modern schools and who had been denied proper opportunities there.
But, thirdly, the council decided that it would, after all, at this very late stage, take legal advice on the powers of the Secretary of State regarding comprehensive education. It got this very high-quality, special legal advice. The advice showed very clearly that the council did not, in fact, have a leg to stand on and that its chances of winning a court case against the Secretary of State were virtually nil. But what is very interesting is the last page of the legal advice. After five or six pages of explanation as to why the local authority would lose any legal battle, the last page says:
It is by no means unusual for proceedings to be commenced which have a scant chance of success for a variety of tactical or financial reasons.
This advice, which was, incidentally, professional advice from the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby (Mr. Brittan)—now Minister of State, Home Office—was what the local authority based its decisions on. It decided that it would adopt a legal position to try to challenge the Secretary of State in the hope of delaying the implementation of a comprehensive scheme pending the return of a Conservative Government.
It is very clear that the local Tories were willing to disrupt a year's education for Bolton's 11-year-olds in order to score a political point. They therefore refused to take up the money that was provided, and they refused to take further steps to implement the comprehensive scheme.
Of course, at this stage, they had to start thinking about what alternative form of allocation they were going to use, because they had told parents and children alike that they would be allocated to comprehensive schools and, therefore, there were no alternative arrangements.
We are now in May, well past the date on which children are normally told which school they will be attending, only two months from the end of the children's final year in primary school, and still the 11-year-olds in Bolton have no idea which schools they will be allocated to next year. The Conservative council has come up with the only answer that it saw possible—an emergency 11-plus examination.
I think that everyone in this House should know that the 11-plus, at the best of times, is a very inaccurate examination. We are all aware of all its faults. For example, we have seen in the past, at a local level, primary schools with a pass rate of 75 per cent., whereas other schools have had a pass rate of nil. But I ask the House to consider how much more unfair this system will be this year, especially when some schools seem to have got wind of what was happening and what was going on in the minds of the council, and some schools have actually been practising the 11-plus examination whilst others took the local council at its word and assumed that they would be going comprehensive. I am afraid that in Bolton over the next few weeks 11-year-olds will be sitting examinations.
The question of choice was raised by the Secretary of State and by my right hon. Friend. It is a fallacy that choice exists in a selective system, and that can be seen by looking at the figures for Bolton. At present, in the whole Bolton area there are 4,300 11-year-old children. For these children there are 857 places in comprehensive schools and they are all outside the old Bolton borough area. They are popular schools that are oversubscribed; parents are keen to get their children into them. There are 654 places in the Catholic schools in the town that are also going comprehensive this year, completely independently of the local authority.
That leaves 2,789 children who are competing for 660 grammar school places, which is all that there are. Of those 2,789 children, 2,129 will be unable to choose to go to a grammar school, and of those who can many will not get their first choice. The Conservative Party, however, still spreads the myth that parental choice can be exercised in a selective system. What about the 2,129 children? They will not get much choice in Bolton this year.
The Secretary of State said that he recognised that there could not be 100 per cent. parental choice but that he was in favour of as much as practicable. Does he think that Bolton's parents are getting as much choice as practicable under the scheme put forward by the Tory council? If he does, he still has much to learn about education and the conditions that exist. If the situation in Bolton continues, the hierarchy will continue. Some pupils will go to school with better facilities, where more is spent on each child and the staff-pupil ratio is better. Other children will go to secondary modern schools where the council spends as little as it can get away with.
Given what has happened recently in Bolton, I have several questions for the Secretary of State. The hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) is not here at present, but I am sure that he is pleased at what has happened in Bolton; he believes in putting the clock back. But does the Secretary of State think that it is in the interests of the children of Bolton to have an emergency 11-plus examination at this stage in the school year with the unfairness and pressure that will result for pupils, parents and teachers?
Secondly, the Secretary of State has said that he will produce legislation, to be published tomorrow, to remove the legal obligation on local authorities to go comprehensive. What will be the effect of that legislation? Will it have restrospective consequences? He knows of several actions that were going ahead and he is almost trying to introduce restrospective legislation to get places such as Bolton off the hook.
Thirdly, who should pay for the court action by the Tory group on Bolton council? It was taken on the advice of the hon. and learned Member for Cleveland and Whitby for tactical rather than legal or educational reasons. If it is suggested that the ratepayers of Bolton should pay, some of us will look to the district auditor for his comments.
Fourthly, will the Secretary of State guarantee that the money earmarked by the Labour Government for schools in Bolton will still come to Bolton? It amounts to over £2·5 million, and substantial improvements are necessary in our schools. We need that money.
Finally, as a matter of urgency, what does the Secretary of State intend to do about the shortfall of sixth-form places in Bolton? The proposed sixth-form college would have gone a long way to meeting that demand. If we are not to have that, what alternative provision will be made and how will the problem be dealt with in the short term?
I apologise for spending so much time on Bolton, but these are important questions and there are lessons to be learned on the national scale. The people in Bolton gave their verdict on the local Tory record by returning two Labour members and ten new council members at the recent elections. The Secretary of State should take that as an indicator of what parents and teachers will think of a Government who try to put the clock back as the Bolton Tories did. If he tries to do on a national scale what the Tories in Bolton did, the Conservative Party will suffer the same electoral consequences.
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Bolton. West (Mrs. Taylor) on the schools situation in her constituency, but I shall take up her remarks about my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Mackay), who completed his maiden speech before she rose. He underwent the process of "devirginisation" with immense credit. His speech was forceful and eloquent and he displayed a power that will be greatly appreciated in this House. He said that his constituents, like himself, demonstrated their pride in being not only Scottish but British. That sense of nationhood came alive in the debates on devolution and it inspires this Gracious Speech and many of the legislative measures proposed in it.
I was reminded of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister some time ago saying that we are one nation or we are no nation. That phrase applies equally to the component parts of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to the various sec tors of our society—the haves and have-nots, the privileged and under-privileged. Throughout the election campaign and this Gracious Speech there was the understanding that we are working for one nation and for a stronger country. This Parliament and the nation can look forward with a spirit of greater confidence and optimism than for many years past.
I wish to refer principally to education and touch briefly on hospital services, but because of my interest in Common Market matters perhaps I shall be forgiven for saying a few words about that. A number of us in the past have opposed membership, but I accept that, certainly for the foreseeable future, the debate about the principle of membership is over. The referendum decision made that clear.
The Gracious Speech makes it clear that we are endeavouring to secure our legitimate national interests. Nations striving for that and endeavouring to get the best that they can for their country do not in any way undermine the ability of the European Economic Community to continue to exist. I should say that the reverse is true. If Britain is stronger and fights for her national interests, that is the basis of true international co-operation between the members of the EEC. That is why I particularly welcome the emphasis in the Gracious Speech on the need to secure a fairer pattern of budgetary and resource transfers and significant improvements in the CAP. I also welcome the emphasis on securing a strong fisheries policy in the interests of our fishermen and our consumers.
These are vital areas of national interest which were neglected by the previous Government. During the election campaign, nothing rang more hollow than the claim of Labour spokesmen that there was a need to reform the budget and the CAP when they themselves had already claimed that they had fundamentally renegotiated all this previously. They failed signally during their period in office to do anything about these major issues.
It now falls to our Government to fight for our national interests. In this, I believe that the Government will have a united House of Commons behind them. If the Government strive to ensure that Britain carries only her fair share of the European budget and to remove the excesses of the CAP, they will have the unity of the whole House. Also, I believe that if the Government pursue these things vigorously they will have the united support not only of the House but of the country as well.
I now turn to the question of education. I congratulate the Secretary of State upon his appointment. I think that he will bring great lustre to the post. His announcement about the removal of the worst features of the 1976 Act is one of the most welcome steps that this Government could take. In my area and in many other parts of the country the threat of change being forced upon them by the previous Labour Secretary of State caused great alarm and despondency among people of all political complexions. That threat has been removed by the election victory, and I am delighted that it has been given such prominence in the Government's programme.
Not only is my constituency my immediate concern, but the situation there demonstrates the damaging dogmatic attachment of Labour Members to comprehensive education for its own sake. I refer here particularly to Sittingbourne, where we have the Thamesside—not Tameside—system of education. This is a system which could aptly be described as a halfway house between the 11-plus and full comprehensive education. It is a system which sends all children to comprehensive schools at the age of 11 and then at the age of 13, on the basis of parental and teacher co-operation, allows some to transfer to more academic schools and proceed to advanced level education.
This scheme has worked well for many years. It was introduced with the approval of the then Labour Government, yet it was a Labour Government who insisted that the scheme was inadequate and needed changing. The previous Secretary of State gave the Kent county council just three months to produce new proposals. But hardly a soul to whom I have spoken in my constituency wants a change. There were endless consultations a year or two ago to discover local wishes. The teachers generally were contented with the Thamesside scheme, the pupils and the parents were well contented and people of all political complexions thought that it was good and that it should be retained.
This scheme represented an excellent compromise, satisfying the wishes of the local people. Yet, for reasons that can only be described as doctrinaire and dogmatic, the previous Government said that the system was unsatisfactory. Thank goodness that the threat of enforced and rapid change has been removed. Had such a change been enforced, it would have cost large sums of money which would not have been forthcoming. Therefore, it was an unrealistic proposal, and had it been enforced within the prescribed three months it would have been an act of educational vandalism.
Now that the threat has been removed, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will consider carefully the possibility of going one stage further. When that Thamesside scheme was introduced some years ago, it was described as "interim". However, it has worked so well—and in educational matters we should all be pragmatic—that I hope he will find some way of assuring local people that it is now permanent.
At the same time, I appeal to Labour spokesmen on educational matters. Where one has a degree of co-operation and consensus about a halfway system which works exceptionally well—obviously there will always be some complaints and some probems—can we not have an agreement to leave things as they are? I hope that we will all agree that the Thamesside system is an acceptable, viable and permanent solution. I am not saying that it would work in all areas. We should ask for diversity in educational matters. I do not believe that some standard comprehensive system should be applied right across the country, because the cities are different from rural areas and one town differs from another. We can reasonably ask for different systems of education, even within the same educational area.
Within my constituency, I have three separate systems. I have already described one. Another operates in Faversham, where we still have the 11-plus. I trust that we have moved away from that depressing ideological trench warfare between 11-plus on the one hand and full comprehensive education on the other. There are many areas in which the 11-plus needs to be changed, but it needs to be changed in accordance with local wishes and not at the diktat of a Secretary of State.
I would like to see the Thamesside system incorporated in other areas wherever it would work. It preserves good schools with proven academic traditions and at the same time allows some excellent comprehensives to be established alongside. There must be viable sixth forms, but one cannot have these if one has very tightly delineated geographical limits, division by division. We must look beyond divisional areas if we are to have greater freedom of choice and freedom of movement.
It is commonplace on the Labour Benches to sneer at the idea of choice. Hon. Members opposite say that it does not exist. But there is nothing more depressing than to talk to parents who are locked into a single school system when they are desperately worried about their children's educational standards. For them there is no choice; there is nowhere else to go. That applies in certain areas of the country. It does not necessarily apply in the larger cities where there is a greater element of choice. But in some areas there is one coeducational 11-plus school with no alternative.
If the child is not achieving a satisfactory standard, what do desperately worried parents do? The previous Government tried to impose that sort of situation on other areas, particularly my constituency. Thank goodness that Government's threat has now been removed and we can now look at the position in a leisurely and sensible manner in order to see what is in the best interests of the people of that area. If Labour had imposed its ideas upon us, it would have been a disaster for many parts of Kent.
In the recent dispute with the teachers, there were threats of industrial action. One threat was that teachers would no longer use their own cars to drive from one part of the school to the other. The local authorities would have had to provide taxis. I wondered what kind of lunacy it was that created schools in which teachers had to drive from one part of the school to another to conduct lessons. Yet that is exactly what would have prevailed in my constituency had the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science had her way. I shed no tears—although I do know that some people did—over her departure from this House. Apart from her presence on the Grunwick picket line, I thought that her threats of a rapid imposition of total comprehensive education, regardless of the needs of the children, merited her defeat at the hands of the electors.
I wish to make one more plea to my right hon. and learned Friend. This is particularly appropriate in my constituency, but I suspect that it also applies to other areas. I wish to make a plea for the village school. Many areas experience the problem of diminishing school numbers. Judged by normal economic criteria, it is seen to be necessary to close a village school. But when one closes a village school one does more than deprive an area of an educational establishment. One takes away part of the very heart of a living community. This has happened in many areas, and often the county council is blamed. However, we know that it is the Department which has insisted on searching criteria being applied on strictly economic grounds to many village schools.
Obviously, one cannot keep open schools that have virtually no pupils. There is a cut-off point below which it is unrealistic to expect such a school to exist. However, I hope that there will be a great bias in favour of keeping such schools open. The educational standards which they offer are generally very high and the social benefits conferred are great indeed. Therefore, I hope that the Department will be unashamedly biased in favour of the small village school.
I wish to turn briefly to the subject of hospitals. Again unashamedly, I wish to refer to my own constituency, which is part of the Medway health district. We are in what was referred to earlier this week as the golden triangle—the South of England. However, many of my constituents do not feel that they live in a golden triangle. In one part of my constituency unemployment amounts to almost 10 per cent., and in terms of hospital resources the Medway health district is one of the most deprived—not just in the region, but in the country. There are many pockets within the otherwise prosperous areas which have suffered acutely. To a certain extent, this problem of deprivation was accentuated by the policy of the Labour Government through their resource allocation working party. Under that policy, many other regions of Britain have benefited, but the South-East region generally has lost out.
Within that region, Kent has lost out especially. Although the region may theoretically be said to be prosperous, I must make clear that within it are many deprived areas. It was impossible for the region to divert resources to its deprived districts when the region was losing funds so rapidly to other parts of the country.
Our problem arises in part from the fact that in the South-East region we have the London teaching hospitals. Those hospitals consume the lion's share of all the resources available to our region. We are sometimes told "The region generally benefits from those teaching hospitals", but that is true of the whole nation. I do not wish to see the London teaching hospitals deprived of resources. They perform an invaluable role and, if anything, they, too, do not enjoy adequate resources compared with the amounts of money available to major hospitals in other nations. However, we cannot allow a situation in which Kent is deprived of money and does not obtain new hospitals simply because the London teaching hospitals require so much.
I hope that the Government will reexamine the whole structure of regional planning in the hospital service. It seems to me more logical that the teaching hospitals should be separately funded by some other system. At least the suggestion should be examined. Even if that cannot be brought about, I hope that the Government will re-examine the allocation of resources between one region and another.
We are talking about a fairly considerable sum of money. Hardly a new hospital has been completed in the South-East of England—with one exception—since the NHS was started. It is not a matter of pride to anybody that that is the case. A large amount of money has gone on maintenance and improvements, and one pays full tribute to all those who work in the hospitals and who make do with old facilities. But we desperately need new and better hospital facilities.
On the subject of resources, during the last year the authorities, following a considerable amount of battering from almost everybody in the area, allocated to our district a few hundred thousand pounds extra. The reason why extra money became available was that the region itself, and particularly the London teaching hospitals, had gained extra resources of about £1 million or £2 million. It was money which they had not expected to gain in that year.
That money had come largely from extra revenue from pay beds. It had come from private patients putting money into the Health Service in London. Therefore, in our area we benefited directly from the extra funds which came in as a result of private patients—people ready to pay for their own health in the London area—yet the Labour Government were prepared to cut that off for arbitrary and doctrinaire reasons.
This is all a question of resources. It we want better hospitals, we must find the money to pay for them. If individuals are willing to put in cash to pay for better health, it would be an act of utter folly if we were to refuse them the right to put money into our hospital services. I have just quoted one example where all our people will be better off if we can persuade individuals to spend their own money on hospital services. I hope that the Government will take a positive look at how to encourage people's willingness to spend money on their own health. I hope that we shall see a reversal of policy in that direction.
Throughout the last Parliament, we pleaded time and again for Ministers to come to the Swale area to examine our problems. They never quite made it, except during the election campaign. Suddenly the former Secretary of State for Social Services found a moment or two to pop into our constituencies and pledge more money for the hospital services. I extend an invitation to my right hon. and hon. Friends in the new Government to come down to my area during the course of this Parliament—unlike their predecessors, who only found time to visit us during a general election.
I wish at the outset to express sincere congratulations to the Secretary of State for Scotland and his junior Minister, the hon. Member for Aberdeenshire, West (Mr. Fairgrieve), on their appointments. I wish them every success in the Scottish Office. I spent a very happy three years and eight months in the Scottish Office, and I very much enjoyed my work. The House knows that there is no highway code for Ministers. One is left very much to one's own devices.
Perhaps I may be allowed to tell a story about a former Secretary of State for Scotland, William Ross. When I first went to the Scottish Office after my appointment, I said to William Ross "What shall I do as a Minister?" His strict advice to me was, in the Scottish vernacular, "Dae as yer telt." William Ross is an ex-schoolmaster and was an outstanding Secretary of State for Scotland. I am delighted to report that my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) carried on in much the same vein.
When I arrived at the Scottish Office in September 1975, there was still part-time education in Scotland, particularly in the West of Scotland. I felt it most grievous that in urban areas of deprivation there was a great deal of decay. That is where the problem was most acute. I am pleased to report that when I left office on 3 May not only had we abolished part-time education but we had the best teacher-pupil ratio ever in the history of Scottish education. That gives credit to the Scottish Office, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Craigton in particular. Achieving that teacher-pupil ratio was one of the reasons why we defeated the Scottish nationalists so resoundingly. I do not make an anti-nationalist argument, but the teacher-pupil ratio was much better than in England—14·5 to one in the secondary schools and 22 to one in the primary schools. Those are good figures, but we were still not satisfied.
The retort from the Government Benches today was that there was a fall in the birth rate. However, if the Secretary of State for Scotland checks the last White Paper on education in the Scottish Office—he was a Minister at the Scottish Office between 1970 and 1974—he will see that it says that when we reach a total of 53,300 teachers for secondary and primary schools we will have reached our ultimate and teacher recruiting should stop. The White Paper said that that was a very ambitious figure and it was hoped that it would be reached in 1982.
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman that we have not only reached the figure of 53,300 teachers, but we have 58,000 full-time teachers in Scotland. My big worry when I look at this Government's proposals is that there is no reference to Scottish education. The right hon. Gentleman, like the previous two Labour Secretaries of State, will have to fight for his corner to ensure that the Scottish position is recognised at the Cabinet table. If he needs any encouragement, he has only to present the Prime Minister with the outstanding majorities that we had in the parliamentary elections in Scotland. That is his best argument for getting a place for Scotland at the Cabinet table.
I am conscious at the same time that I should not rest on the laurels of the best teacher-pupil ratio that we have ever had. Education in this changing society must be the best vehicle for change. There are many problems in our society. We are living in a greedy, materialistic society and no longer is there the "touch the forelock" attitude. Something should be done to harness the undoubted talents of our young people, especially in schools, while at the same time recognising that they no longer "touch the forelock" to their superiors. We are no longer living in a deferential society. However, although there is more freedom, there is an awareness among young people not just of the problems within their own community but of the wider national and international problems. A change in the curriculum is responsible for that as well as the presence of the television set in the living room of nearly every home in the country.
I was conscious that achieving the best O-grades and higher certificates in Scotland was not enough. Something more had to come out of our education system. It was not only from the experience of listening to my advisers and the inspectorate in the Scottish Office—for whom I have a high regard—and listening to the local authority officials or the headmasters but from listening to the pupils that I realised the problems. One fault of Ministers—perhaps I was guilty of it myself at the beginning—is talking too much and never listening. In the various regional areas of Scotland I made a practice of taking aside young people of at least 15 years of age with 10 years of State education behind them and listening to their views on the curriculum, preparation and guidance for college, university, corporal punishment and many other aspects of school life. That was a revelation to the officials at the Scottish Office and it helped to change attitudes at that level.
If I have any regrets in leaving the Scottish Office, they are that the schemes for the launching of community schools were not fully realised. If we are to succeed, especially in the deprived communities, the school should be the fulcrum around which the community revolves. That is the best assistance the Government and local authorities can give—to ensure that every school is properly staffed with proper resources so that it can become a fulcrum around which the community revolves.
If the right hon. Gentleman examines the records—I hope they are not too secret—he will find that the policies are laid down clearly for community schools in every area that has a desire to have one. I am not merely referring to the £6 million community school in Wester Hailes, in Edinburgh. I welcome that, but I was anxious that there should be community schools in the deprived areas of Scotland.
I was delighted when a Scottish colleague who represents one of those deprived areas told me that in that area parents who unfortunately received a poor education because of part-time education and who formerly looked at the school gates as a Mason-Dixon line which they were afraid to cross had been enticed into the school. The cry from one headmaster was that if only he could get a parent-teacher association—which are all too often in areas where they are not needed—he could achieve that involvement.
After a year of perseverance with the concept of community schools in deprived areas, 40 couples were enlisted in a secondary school in a deprived area of Glasgow to use the spare accommodation to study for their O-grades and higher certificates. That is a tremendous breakthrough by any standards. They were coming of their own volition and were not pressurised in any way. They were encouraged by the attitude of the local authority and the headmaster and his staff. If I take any credit at all, it is that the idea was conceived in the Scottish Office and it was an initiative of mine that launched the scheme. One takes a lot of stick as a Minister; perhaps one can take a little credit as well.
Perhaps the only thing that I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State for Education and Science say was that the Government intend to make use of spare accommodation. There is spare accommodation in primary schools, and I do not doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will receive requests from local authorities to close primary schools. I hope that he will have courage in that matter and that when he meets the COSLA education committee he will not accept every recommendation to close schools.
A Tory convener on Tayside took me to task at the COSLA education committee because I refused to close a village school in Tayside. I believe that I took the right decision. It is important not just to ensure that the school is the fulcrum around which the community revolves in big cities like Glasgow but to recognise that the village school is an important establishment in the community. I hope that the Secretary of State will realise the importance of village schools as community schools and community centres. I hope that he will take that on board, because pressure will be placed on him by local authorities to close many primary schools.
It is worth recognising that in a year or two there will be the same pressure to close secondary schools. I discussed with the principals of the eight universities in Scotland that in seven or eight years' time, because of the fall in the birth rate, many universities will have difficulty in filling their faculties to reasonable numbers. It is an immensely challenging period of education.
The fall in the birth rate provides an opportunity to use the resources to give education not just to children between the ages of five and 16 but to those who unfortunately missed out because of part-time education and difficult family circumstances.
I hope that the concept of community schools will not stop just where it was when the Labour Government left office, and I look forward to that initiative being carried forward during the period of the present Secretary of State. I believe that the rewards to be gained from it will not just benefit his Government but will benefit society as a whole in Scotland.
I turn now to another aspect of education in Scotland. As a former PPS to the Secretary of State for Industry, I was very conscious of the many industrial problems which we had at that time. It was always my desire as a Minister responsible for education in Scotland to make schools and teachers in schools aware of the real world outside. I have a high regard for the members of the teaching profession, and especially for any teacher who tries to look after a class of secondary pupils nowadays, but I feel that too many teachers go from school to college and then back to school totally unaware of the real and competitive world outside education.
With that in mind, again with the help of the Scottish Office officials and the inspectorate, we launched the scheme known as education for the industrial society, and within that concept a major aspect has been the teaching of industrial relations in schools. I am pleased that, with the help of the regional authorities, we now have teachers seconded to industry, and with the help of the CBI in Scotland and of the STUC more and more regional authorities are now teaching industrial matters.
This work is being done not as an addition to the curriculum. I emphasise that because, if there is anything that teachers, especially head teachers, distrust, it is additions to the curriculum. I think that we did the right thing in ensuring that this concept permeated the curriculum and was made part of it. I am sure that that contributed to its success.
I am pleased to tell the House of the reaction to the project which I received from representatives of Germany and Sweden, countries which do not have a great deal of industrial troubles, when I spoke about it at Strasbourg to the European Education Ministers. Those two countries are now copying the scheme which we have in Scotland today. This is a tribute to Scottish education, which has always in international terms been seen as, perhaps, offering the best education system in the world. I recognise that it has many defects, but I make to the Secretary of State the plea that that concept of understanding industry in school and ensuring that industry gets involved in education at all levels should be strongly pursued. It is showing tremendous rewards already. It has a long way to go, but I hope that it is something that the right hon. Gentleman will do his best to encourage.
I come now to one or two comments on our health services. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) spoke directly about health matters, drawing upon his knowledge as a very capable Health Minister in the Scottish Office, I have one or two worries about the situation in Scotland. Just as we have the best pupil-teacher ratio in education, so, similarly, we have the better ratio of general practitioners to population in comparison with England, and we have the best level of community medicine specialists in comparison with England. Pro rata, we have many services in health and allied matters in excess of what is available in the rest of the country.
That level of provision is available to us because of the vigorous efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Craig-ton and his predecessor when they held office. But I am worried when I hear comments about coming cuts in public expenditure. I hope that no one is looking for tax cuts in salaries at the expense of our hospitals or the numbers of general practitioners or community medicine specialists, especially in our deprived areas. I hope that that is not to be taken as the "one nation" scenario that seems to come out of the Gracious Speech and which greatly worries us.
The Secretary of State will remember that he is responsible also for social work. The Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 which my right hon. Friend the Member for Craigton piloted through the House was a significant Act at that time, and what was then envisaged has advanced considerably with the help of the regional local authorities. But there are two extremely significant aspects of the work under that Act, and I refer, first, to the care of the young offender.
We have in Scotland what are known as list D schools. We have 26 of them. I was more than annoyed when I found what was happening in relation to a number of the youngsters who end up in list D schools, especially as someone representing one area from which they came. When I arrived at the Scottish Office, I found a waiting list of more than 400 youngsters waiting to get into list D schools.
There had to be an initiative. We had to change attitudes. I remember launching a scheme called the community parents scheme. Briefly, it was designed to encourage working-class families to foster young offenders in their own homes. If we cannot redeem young people of 12, 13, and 14 at that time in their lives, I see little hope for them when they grow much older.
I was quite pleased when progress was made with that project. Although it was a small project in terms of numbers, it has been very successful. It is creating responsibility within the community itself. I can tell the House of one spin-off benefit about which I was pleased to hear from the director of social work of Strathclyde. He said that not just the creation of interest in young offenders made the scheme a success, but there was the further fact that it encouraged thousands of other parents to foster ordinary children in the children's homes which we have in Scotland.
Because of the break-up of marriages—even in Calvinist Scotland, I am sorry to say, one in four marriages ends in divorce—all too often the children of such broken marriages end up in the care of the local authority. What is very pleasing is that of the 11,000 children whom we had at one time a significant number have been fostered because of the encouragement of parents prepared to take young offenders into their own homes.
I believe that that example set by those brave parents has been of great value. There have been no failures. It is a great encouragement. Perhaps it is a cliche, but it is worth saying again that if we want responsibility to be shown we must give responsibility and encourage responsibility.
The philosophy which I tried to lay down as a Minister—I hope that this does not seem in any way arrogant—was care in the community rather than care in the institution. That was the philosophy laid down in the Scottish Office, whether for the geriatric unit, the old folk's home or the young offender. It does not always work. We still have to have the geriatric unit and we still have to have the old folk's home. But I hope that we shall reach the point when we do not start building many more because, by a sort of Parkinson's law, the more old folk's homes we build, the more they will be filled.
There must be not only a change of attitude on the part of local authorities but a change in attitude on the part of families, because wives work now as well as husbands. We have in Britain the highest percentage of working mothers among all the countries of the EEC. I am not against mothers working—they do not do it just for pin money—but I think that the present trend tends to obscure the natural responsibility that people have for their elderly parents.
I think it distressing that all too often the programme for local authorities in the past was to keep on building geriatric units and old folk's homes, creating—as I put it rather crudely, perhaps—yet more and more human filing cabinets. Perhaps that was a crude definition, but I am sorry to say that it was a definition which fitted the rule among many local authorities a few years ago.
I am glad to register in the record of the House my highest regard for the people who work in these institutions. Anyone who nurses in a geriatric unit, where most of the patients are incontinent, is a very brave and resourceful member of society. We should always recognise that the job of such a nurse is a very difficult one. All too often elderly people are taken into geriatric units when they are past normal care and attention. A visit to such a unit is a very sobering experience for anyone who is involved in the National Health Service.
I touch on one other matter in social work which I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will pursue. It is a subject in which many of us are interested, but we do not often have the opportunity to do anything about it. It is concerned with the care of our mentally handicapped, especially our young mentally handicapped.
For the most part, the provision of occupational centres is reasonable, but it is not enough. We need far more of them. But we are grievously short of facilities once a youngster reaches the age of 16 because he has nowhere else to go than back to his parents' home. Because of the immense energy of these mentally handicapped youngsters, they become extremely difficult, especially for their mothers. Any general practitioner who has to deal with a family in such circumstances will confirm that all too often the mother becomes an old woman before her time.
The resourcefulness of the young mentally handicapped is worth examining. I almost clinched a deal with a large engineering company to take mentally handicapped youngsters and, after a period of training, put them on the shop floor in a certain part of the factory. Because of their mental condition they can do tedious, monotonous jobs with regularity and efficiency. In Philips, in Eindhoven, there are mentally handicapped people employed on television assembly work. They have a very high productivity rate and an excellent attendance record. The quality control there is first rate. That has been started in Scotland, albeit in a very spasmodic way, but it is worth encouraging.
I get more and more concerned about the number of mentally handicapped youngsters in our society. It is to the credit of my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) that, as a Back Bencher in a previous Government, in a Private Member's Bill he made sure that they became the responsibility of the education authority and did not just remain in the care of the social work authority. In other words, there was a responsibility to educate them, and 99 per cent. of them can be educated. If we do that, we are not simply adopting a compassionate attitude. If they are taken out of their homes and brought back into the community, they are capable of making a considerable contribution to society.
I hope that I have got across to the House the importance of care in the community rather than care in our institutions. The tragedy is that I do not detect any compassion or any element of caring in the community in this Gracious Speech. The Secretary of State for Scotland is a compassionate and a caring man. I hope that he can convince me that what I read in the Gracious Speech is totally wrong.
Although this is not my first speech in the House, since I am what is affectionately termed a "retread", I hope that I shall be allowed to say a few words about my constituency and about my predecessor, Michael Clark Hutchison, who represented Edinburgh, South in this House for some 22 years. I believe that he will be remembered in this House for his quiet wisdom and laconic wit. He will be remembered for the courage and strength with which he stood up for his beliefs and for his kindness and generosity to all those whom he met. It is an honour to me to follow him in the constituency, and I hope that no one will object to my taking this opportunity to wish him a long and happy retirement.
It is an honour for me to have been elected to represent the most beautiful of the seven constituencies in the capital city of Scotland. Comprising, as it does, some 59,000 electors, it has the compactness and unity of a vital part of a major city while managing to retain the strongly identifiable communities from which it originally sprang. From Gilmerton to Liberton to Morningside, each area retains its identity, with its own problems and aspirations to conserve what is good in each while adapting to the pressures and demands facing every modern city today. The challenge of representing and working for all the people in the constituency is one that I look forward to with great pleasure.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate, especially as so much of the Gracious Speech concerns the hopes and aspirations of so many of my constituents. I do not wish to detain the House for long, but I should like to make a few observations about the Government's proposals for the public sector of education in Scotland.
I have heard much from Labour Members during today's debate about the effects of the Government's proposals, suggestions that they are divisive, suggestions that they will create privilege. What could be a more insidious and damaging form of privilege than that which has arisen over the past years from the catchment zones? In constituencies such as mine, the only way in which people have been able to exercise parental choice has been by being sufficiently well off to buy houses in the catchment areas of the schools of their choice. What greater social divisions can be created not by where one sends one's child to school but by where one buys one's house—indeed, buying it at a premium because it happens to be in the area of a desirable school?
It is the rigid catchment zones, which have been so strictly applied in cities such as Edinburgh, that have caused so much resentment among thousands of parents who have found over past years that they have no say in where their children are schooled, who find in certain circumstances that their children are being transported some miles to one school while their neighbours' children can go to the local school, and who find that it is a decision taken by the drawing of an arbitrary line by an arbitrary official of the education committee.
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who told us that he was involved in education in Edinburgh some time ago. He said "At that time we tried to create choice." All I can say is that that is not happening today. I believe that the resentment of parents in cities such as Edinburgh is well justified, because their undisputed right to have some say in where and how their children are educated has been almost totally ignored. It is for them that I welcome the proposals in the Gracious Speech to introduce legislation to ensure that parents' wishes are taken into account in the choice of school for their children.
I can say with confidence that in Edinburgh there will be a vast welcome for such legislation, when the hated catchment zones are at least relaxed. That welcome will be even greater when parents find that their wishes are considered for the first time in years and that they can have a real say in where their children go to school. The greatest bonus of all will come when the decisions which affect not only the parents but the children, which affect whether the children go to their local school or another school better suited to their particular needs, are no longer taken exclusively by faceless bureaucrats but are taken by parents and headmasters as well.
Of course, there will be some problems; of course, there will be some initial disappointments. But it is dangerous and irresponsible to exaggerate them. Of course, the majority of parents will wish to see their children going to the local schools. But the difference after the legislation goes through will be that they will go to the local school because their parents want them to go there rather than because the State forces them to go there.
Therefore, I believe that the proposals are a brave and realistic step towards creating the rights of choice for all parents in the public sector of education, rights which have been denied to them for far too long. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland will realise the urgency of the proposals and implement them as soon as possible.
Having had the privilege of serving with you on the Chairmen's Panel for a number of years, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I say what a delight it is to see you occupying the Chair tonight. To have the honour of being the first person to be called by you augurs well for the future. We wish you many years' happy experience in the Chair.
I am delighted that so early in the debate on the Gracious Speech two subjects of special significance to my constituency—education and health—have been selected. I have listened to most of the debate. It has been interesting from the point of view that I cannot believe that those who are now Opposition Members were canvassing in the manner of those elected as Conservative Members.
At most of the houses at which I called, I found that education and health were considered two of the most important matters. I was always asked to give a promise that a Conservative Government would give freedom of choice in education and that they would not abolish the grammar schools. I was asked to confirm that that is what the Conservative Party really meant. Several householders took great care to observe that a Labour Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson), at one stage in his career swore that grammar schools would be abolished over his dead body, and yet the Labour party went on to abolish them with all that that involved.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) refused to give way on two occasions. As soon as he finished his speech, he walked out of the Chamber. He showed no courtesy to the House. He did not give us the opportunity of telling him what we thought about his proposals. It was fascinating to learn what he was doing as a headmaster. I contrasted what he said about schools with the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), who also has teaching experience. My hon. Friend paid tribute to the successes of children and referred to what is needed in education. The hon. Gentleman talked only about failure. He talked about children who failed their 11-plus taking a lower position in society. Having said that, he claimed that the success of comprehensive schools is demonstrated by examination successes. He does not want examinations when they do not suit him, but he wants them when they do.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) is a Kent man, like myself. He is familiar with the excellent service that is provided by the Kent education authority. He is as familiar as I am with the desire in the villages to maintain village schools. We have all been shown how village schools give communities a centre point. One of my village schools is used as a social centre. It is used to provide for children's welfare. It would be a great mistake to abolish village schools.
In Folkestone we have two effective grammar schools. We also have private schools and language schools. The language schools have formed a new industry that has been built up since Britain's membership of the Common Market. It has been a successful venture and has done much to expand the town's ability to look after visitors, because there is an all-round season with the presence of the language schools.
I urge that consideration be given to the building of schools and that a comparison is made between school building and hospital building. I make a special plea that my hon. Friend the Minister for Health gives consideration in his programme for hospital building to the various reports that have been issued by the Public Accounts Committee, on which I have had the honour to serve for a number of years. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted.
There is something peculiar about the Department of Health and Social Security as opposed to the Department of Education and Science. The Department of Education and Science learns by its mistakes, whereas the DHSS does not. Indeed, it exaggerates its mistakes. For example, the teaching hospital in Liverpool cost £40 million. When construction was completed, it could not be opened. Another example is the hospital that has been built on the other side of the River Thames opposite this place. There has been vast expenditure.
I am listening intently to the hon. Gentleman's comments on hospital building. His own family firm built a hospital in Glasgow, the sick children's hospital. I was a Minister responsible for such matters at the time. I described it as a catalogue of errors. Every corridor had to be screeded more than once. The water supply was totally inadequate. None of the 300 windows—my daughter was a patient, so I know what I am talking about—could be opened. It was a great disaster and it was built by Costain. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will think deeply before he talks about hospital building.
I am deeply grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning that fact. Costain took over three hospitals and completed them successfully. I was not in the company at the time. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had given me notice of the question as I cannot be expected to speak on a subject without notice.
The construction of the Peterborough hospital became overdue—the contractor went bankrupt over it—as a result of a planning failure. We took over that hospital and successfully completed it. So often the Department blames the builder when difficulties arise in the construction of hospitals. The hon. Gentleman made a valid point. A constructor carries out only what he is instructed to do in the specification. If the hon. Gentleman complains that the windows leaked as a result of bad specification, he makes my point conclusively. The hon. Gentleman is not getting away with this one.
My company—I used to be chairman—built hospitals to its own design in the Middle East. I was responsible for the design of a heat-stroke ward in the Middle East which saved hundreds of lives. We were allowed to design and construct those jobs. The hon. Gentleman must not come the old game of always blaming the contractor. That is good old stuff.
One of the problems of hospital design is that when a regional authority builds a hospital it produces a new committee, the members of which have no experience in building. Its members are generally medical men, who are excited to have the opportunity of constructing an enormous building. If only the authorities would put a builder, quantity surveyor or architect on that committee at that stage of the proceedings, they would be able to learn from experience. I am most grateful that the hon. Gentleman made the point. He made my point better than I could have done.
At St. Thomas' hospital we see wide corridors which were designed so that patients could be propelled at 30 m.p.h. and so that beds might pass each other. The corridors are twice the required width. The wide corridors at that hospital cost £4 million. They must be heated, cleaned and maintained at great cost.
My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham mentioned the lack of hospital facilities in Kent. I agree—in the shadow of a London teaching hospital—that too much money has been allocated to teaching hospitals. We have been the poor neighbour in the shadow. My hon. Friend said that he did not begrudge the money spent on the London teaching hospitals I refer to the small, private St. Saviour's hospital in my constituency. At one time it was situated in Paddington. It was sold for its site value. The authority took over and extended a modern hospital with the money received from the sale of the site.
I often wonder whether the high site values of the London hospitals qualify them to be where they are. Some of them are not kept on their present sites for patients' convenience. Probably they are there more for the convenience of specialists, who want to be near Harley Street.
The area medical facilities were considered at a conference held in Guy's hospital. As a joke, I suggested that we should sell St. Thomas' hospital and put the European Parliament there. We could obtain £100 million for that site and do away with the nonsense about Strasbourg and Luxembourg. What a wonderful asset that would be in London. Following that suggestion, several specialists told me that that was not such a silly idea. Think of the site value of St. George's hospital. Think of some of the site values of the London hospitals. We have depopulated London. We are moving people out of London, yet we are still building hospitals in London. It would be easy to raise £100 million by the sale of some of these hospital sites, and the money could be distributed to places where hospitals are really needed.
There is a great problem with hospitals in my constituency. I will not go into too much detail because the former Minister for Health came to my constituency some time ago and I had the opportunity to show him round. He was able to see some of the problems and I know that he realises them. But let us consider for a moment what has happened. It was decided in about 1960 that Kent needed a new hospital, and there was a long argument as to where it should be built. It was decided to build it at Ashford. This was so inconvenient for Folkestone that after two years it was decided that it should be at one end of the bypass in order to make the journey a little shorter. Building then commenced. The seven operating theatres have been built, but there are now no funds with which to provide the beds. We have this very modern engine room of a hospital, but we have not the accommodation to deal with the patients.
At Folkestone we have the Royal Victoria hospital, which is held in considerable affection in the area. There was great despair when it was decided not to extend the hospital. Dover and Folkestone are two of the major passenger ports, and a new motorway is being built in the area, yet in Folkestone we do not have a casualty unit after 6 p.m. My constituents are not clever enough to have accidents only before 6 p.m. It is amazing that after 6 p.m. they have to go 20 miles to Canterbury for treatment. There is real concern about this.
It was found that the new William Harvey hospital at Ashford was to be open for similar hours. Thanks to the help of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Speed), we were able to pressurise the present Minister to such a degree that we now have a promise of a 24-hour service at that hospital. But in a town such as Folkestone, with a large summer population—visitors are usually more accident-prone than the local people—it is ridiculous that we have only very modified services. When there was a cry for some more complicated cardiac machines, one of the sisters in the hospital raised £3,000 in a fortnight. That showed how much feeling there was on the matter.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister, with his medical experience, will investigate this matter very carefully. I am satisfied that it will be possible for him to make savings of millions of pounds, and I hope that this money will be properly distributed for the alleviation of suffering.
There are many complaints concerning over-administration in the hospital service. Only last Friday I was sitting next to one of the sisters in the Canterbury hospital. She was full of complaints that, instead of being able to do the work for which she was trained, she is spending her time filling in forms. We must as a party take some blame for producing such an organisation, but it went wrong largely because Socialist government breeds bureaucrats. If I could get from the Minister some assurance tonight that he will look personally at this matter, I would feel that from my point of view the debate was well worth while.
I am grateful for the opportunity of making a contribution this evening. During the pre-election period and following the disclosure of the result, I promised the people of Ashfield that I would come here and do a job regularly on their behalf. I have been here only a few days and I have been appalled by some of the things that I have found. I can give an example. People have stopped me, telephoned me and written to me wanting to know whether I would pair.
I tell Conservative Members that no way will I pair with them. I have been elected to do a job, and that is what I aim to do. Any question of pairing with me is not on. I hope that heed will be taken of that.
I listened carefully to what was said about the Queen's Speech. I listened carefully to what was said about the Health Service and the elderly. Until 2 o'clock today, I was the chairman of a community health council, and had been so since the reorganisation of the National Health Service. My feet are on the ground. I know what the Health Service is about. Many hon. Members who have contributed to today's debate know very little about the National Health Service. They know very little about the nitty-gritty and the "shop floor" of the service.
I am worried about what the Government propose for the National Health Service. I shall watch carefully. We have a pay-bed system. The Labour Government, slowly but surely, cut down that system. No doubt the Conservatives, who have the votes, will extend the pay-bed system. That system abuses the National Health Service.
An example is to be found in my locality. A private unit is adjacent to the general hospital. Some people who can afford only a couple of days in the private unit pay for that and then transfer to the general hospital. They jump the queue. Extending the pay-bed system in the way intended by the Government will make matters worse. It will affect my constituents who are involved with mining and depend heavily upon the National Health Service. They will not like an extension of the pay-bed system.
I should like to make a suggestion about teaching hospitals. The Central Nottingham health district has suffered financially since 1948. The distribution of finance is unfair. The hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) talked about his area. He should think himself lucky because about £125 per head of population per year is spent in his area on the Health Service, but in my area about £65 per head of population a year is spent. There is a massive difference.
The Labour Government did their job in setting up the resource allocation working party, which suggested that there should be fairness in the distribution of finance for health services in the regions. The Labour Government accepted that report. We accepted it locally, except that it will take far too long to obtain equality.
I hope that the new Secretary of State will take cognisance of what I am saying and speed up the process. It will take about 15 years to obtain equality across the nation. I hope that it can be speeded up so that only seven and a half years is needed in order to give my own locality the opportunity of providing the service that is really necessary because of the lengthy waiting lists of people who require various specialty services.
We have a particular problem with regard to chiropody for the elderly. There is no doubt that it is a national problem. However, in my locality we have looked at the figures and we suffer more than any other part of the country. What does that mean? In my constituency we have elderly people who, because of the want of a chiropodist, sit in their chairs day after day, week after week. Their bodies deteriorate, and before we know where we are they need a hospital bed—all for the want of a chiropodist. I agree that this is a national problem, and it must be looked at seriously. I hope that the Secretary of State will grapple with it. In my area we have a worse problem than elsewhere. This is a cry for help in the hope that something will be done.
In my area a controversy has been raging, in relation to the Health Service, about medium secure units. We have met all sorts of people in the locality, people who are to provide the service, including the National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children. The powers that be want to put a medium secure unit on a campus for the mentally handicapped, and it does not fit there.
I well remember the previous Secretary of State for Social Services making a statement when he was president of MIND in which he said that the mentally ill and mentally handicapped should not be mixed. There is a distinct danger of mixing those two specialties because of the wish to put that medium secure unit on the campus for the mentally handicapped.
We have met all sorts of people, all those who really matter, and they are against this proposal. Yet the powers that be are determined that they will win their fight and ignore the representations that have been made. I hope that note has been taken of what I have said, that some action will be taken with the people who have the power to make such a decision, and that the decision will be reversed. We are not suggesting that we do not want the unit in my locality. We want the unit desperately, but it must be in the right place.
I conclude in the hope that the appeal I have made to the Secretary of State with regard to the Health Service in my locality will help in the way I have suggested so that we can get out of the desperate situation in which we are at present and have been for far too long—reaching as far back as 1948. I make that appeal and I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for having given me the opportunity to do so.
First, I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to catch your eye. Indeed, perhaps I may have that pleasure on further occasions in this Chamber.
I acknowledge immediately the work of the former Member for Rugby, Mr. William Price, who was first elected in 1976. He was rightly regarded in Rugby as one of the best constituency Members. I also had the honour of knowing Mr. Price's two immediate predecessors, the late Mr. Roy Wise—also known to you, I believe, Mr. Deputy Speaker—and his predecessor, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Johnson), who is equally well known to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Rugby is one of the few select towns which has given its name to a national sport. I am, of course, referring to rugby football. Rugby is also well known for many other facets. For example, it is well known that it is the heart of the heavy turbine industry. Indeed, the heavy turbine industry at GEC is probably regarded as the premier example of that industry in this country. Equally, Rugby is known for the importance of the motor industry. Part of Chrysler is situated within the constituency and is well known for the excellence of its motor cars. Finally, Rugby Portland Cement is also an integral part of the Rugby constituency.
Having mentioned those three industries within the bounds of the constituency, let me say that Rugby has a large agricultural contingent. Rugby is an excellent mix of industry and agriculture, and perhaps hon. Members may be interested to know that the River Avon itself rises close to the bounds of the constituency of Rugby.
It is appropriate that I rise for the first time in this Chamber to speak on the subject of education. I say that not just because I have six sons but because education is close to my heart. I am a member of the local education authority, which is the Warwickshire county council. I was delighted that the Gracious Speech referred specifically to the repeal of that part of the Education Act 1976 which referred to compulsory comprehensive education. I am also delighted to note that it will be speedily repealed.
I believe that parents know best what is right for their own children, and I certainly believe that local education authorities are best fitted to respond to the needs of the people within their localities. Rugby has kept its grammar schools, and I was delighted to accept a description applied to me during the run-up to the campaign, namely, that I have fought the greatest rearguard action since Dunkirk in defence of those same Rugby grammar schools.
As a Warwickshire county councillor, I am well aware that the people of the Rugby constituency hold those schools in high regard. It is fair to mention that about 63 per cent. of parents within the constituency voted to keep those schools. That vote was recorded in an impartial questionnaire organised by the then area education officer. Rugby wishes to keep its grammar schools, and I am pleased that the Conservative Government and the new Secretary of State will allow the Warwickshire county council, as the local education authority, the opportunity of keeping those grammar schools.
Parents in Rugby do not believe that that is elitist, but they do think that it is best. Certainly the only privilege that Rugby parents ask for is the privilege of choice. The cost of reorganisation within the Rugby constituency was estimated at about £2 million. I believe—I am sure that many of my hon. Friends will agree—that £2 million could be spent in many better ways than on a reorganisation which is neither required nor wanted.
I move from the question of reorganisation to that of falling rolls. I believe that falling rolls, particularly in primary schools, represent a magnificent opportunity to improve the teacher-pupil ratio. I am well aware that this hinges on the amount of money that will be available to local education authorities. Equally, as a member of a local education authority, I am aware that the previous Administration slashed the amount of rate support grant to certain county councils, particularly the shire counties. Indeed, it is factually right to say that Warwickshire has lost about £13 million over the past three years, and the burden that that has placed on ratepayers within the county of Warwickshire is indescribable. One must hope that the present Administration will be looking to ways and means of restoring to the shire counties the weighting that previously existed, for certainly the shire counties have carried a great burden of rates generally.
Indeed, I hope that the present Administration will look for fairer means of financing local government, for the present system of financing local government is manifestly unfair. I believe that a new system should be speedily brought into being, and with the least possible delay, and that the new system should reflect people's ability to pay. As I say, the present system is grossly unfair.
However, I was delighted to hear the reference made by my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham (Mr. Moate) to village schools. I have fought very hard for village schools within my own constituency. Village schools provide a valuable service to the community. They are, in fact, the heart of the community. So often we find that when the village school goes the community gradually begins to die. Fewer younger families move into the area. Many villages, particularly around our larger towns, become mere dormitories. Certainly the village school performs a most valuable function. It is to be hoped that the new Secretary of State for Education and Science will place particular emphasis upon keeping our village schools, for certainly in this connection biggest is not best.
I take note of the hour and how it advances. In closing, perhaps I may make a passing reference to hospitals. We in the Rugby constituency have a hospital known as St. Cross, which performs an excellent function and provides a good facility to the people of my constituency. Yet for too long that hospital has been starved of funds. For too long funds have been directed to area hospitals nearby. One must hope that hospitals such as St. Cross, which perform an excellent function and satisfy the need of smaller communities such as Rugby, will be able to attract a fairer slice of the cake.
I am obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
During the debate today, we have had no fewer than six maiden speeches. I think that I have heard every one, and every word of every one. I shall comment on that in a moment, but before doing so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to express to you the congratulations of the whole of the Opposition and, indeed, of the House generally, I am sure, on your assumption of office. We know your qualities as an ordinary Member of the House, and we look forward very much to sitting under your chairmanship.
As I say, we have heard six maiden speeches. I have been impressed, and not a little surprised even, by the self-confidence and fluency with which all of them, without exception, have been delivered. All the hon. Members concerned paid tribute to their predecessors in very felicitous terms. All of them described some of the problems of their constituencies, again in very felicitous terms.
One of the things that the House appreciates is a maiden speech founded on the local experience of the Member. We had that from every hon. Member who made a maiden speech today, including the hon. Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes), who spoke from very practical experience of the Health Service. We heard what I thought was a particularly good maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras. South (Mr. Dobson). Again, we heard a very good maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), who is a fellow Scot, although he has moved to England.
Perhaps I might give just one word of advice to the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. Mackay). He described his constituency as one of the most beautiful in the United Kingdom. It is the convention of course, to describe one's constituency as undoubtedly the most beautiful in the United Kingdom. In the case of Argyll, I think that that happens to be true, so it is a pity that he did not say it. I take great pleasure in saying it for him. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) spoke from his experience in his own local area in education. We shall look forward to hearing all these hon. Members again.
We welcome also the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for Education and Science. By Conservative standards, he has a liberal, moderate reputation, although this afternoon he did his best to obscure it. In welcoming him, I express my regret, which will be widely shared by everyone here, that Shirley Williams is not with us today. I welcome, too, the right hon. Gentleman who has taken over from me as Secretary of State for Scotland. I have told him personally, and I repeat in the House, that I hope very much that he enjoys that difficult and sometimes thankless ministerial job.
I shall start by mentioning pensions, and I repeat the questions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). The debate has been dominated by speeches on education but it is also about health and social security, including pensions. I hope that the Secretary of State will give definite answers to two specific questions. We did not get definite answers from the Secretary of State for Education and Science and we were not even sure that he understood the questions. I dare say that since these questions were put the Government have used the seven hours to get proper answers. The Secretary of State for Social Services is looking as well informed as ever, and I hope that he will give the answers.
First, will there be an increase in child benefit? Increases in social security benefits in the autumn are mentioned in the Queen's Speech, but do they include child benefit? The Labour Party manifesto included a definite pledge to increase child benefit. Do the Government intend to do the same?
Secondly, and even more important, what do the Government intend to do about retirement pensions? We did not get an answer from the Secretary of State for Education and Science this afternoon, and the question is simple. At present the 1975 Act provides that the Secretary of State must increase pensions according to whichever is higher, the rise in the cost of living or the rise in earnings. That is a statutory obligation. It is not at his discretion or an administrative convenience. Will that statutory obligation continue, or will the Government repeal that part of the legislation?
The Government must know the answer. It is not a detail. Details of other pieces of legislation have been described to the House this afternoon, but that is a major issue. As we are to have legislation later in the Session, and it is specifically mentioned in the Queen's Speech, we are entitled to know whether it will repeal that obligation.
The Conservative Party was extremely coy about it during the election campaign. It committed itself to increases in pensions to take account of rises in the cost of living, but that is a less onerous obligation than is at present in the statute. If pensions were solely increased according to rises in the cost of living, one would simply be freezing the real value of pensions. If one compares the Labour Government's record over the past five years with that of the Tory Government before them, one finds that it is considerably better in terms of increasing the real value of pensions. They went up by 20 per cent. under the Labour Government. That is partly because we took on the statutory obligation of making the increases at the higher of the two rates.
I am not asking what the increase in November will be. That was not the question put to the Secretary of State, although he gave an answer based on it. I do not want to know whether the increase will be £2·50 or £4 in November. The Government naturally do not want to give an exact commitment on the amount at present.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman said very frankly that the Government wished to await the Budget to see what would happen on prices. As we believe that the Chancellor intends to put up the rate of VAT, we can understand why the Government want to await the Budget to get an estimate of the increase in prices up to November of this year. I am not asking for a figure; I am asking about principles. Do the Government intend to keep the obligation that is in the 1975 Act, or will they repeal that provision?
Unless we can get a specific assurance from the Government this evening that they will continue that obligation, we must assume that that provision will be repealed. We said during the election that we feared that this would happen. I hope that every retirement pensioner in the country will take note of the fact. The Secretary of State for Scotland has had plenty of notice of this question, and I hope that he will give us the necessary assurance. If we do not get it, there is only one conclusion that we can draw.
I turn to the National Health Service. There is a passage in the Queen's Speech about it, but its terms have not yet been explained to the House. I am not complaining that the Secretary of State for Education and Science did not explain it. He is not a Health Minister, but the Secretary of State for Scotland is. No doubt he is well informed about this provision in the Gracious Speech, and I hope he will explain it. It says:
A Bill will be introduced to facilitate the wider use of private medical care.
What does that mean? Does it simply mean abolishing the Labour Government's Act to phase out private pay beds, or does it mean something more? The House is entitled to an answer.
My fear—and I have every reason for my apprehension—is that the Government are about to introduce two different standards of health service. There will be the ordinary service available to the bulk of the population, and the preferential favoured service available for those who can pay for additional facilities. Is that what the Government intend to do? I very much fear that it is. If the Secretary of State can reassure us on this matter, we shall be very happy to hear it.
The whole issue of pay beds is an absolute irrelevance to the development of an effective National Health Service in this country. It is of particular irrelevance in Scotland, where it has never been the issue that it has been south of the border. The number of pay beds left in the NHS in Scotland is now only 114 as a result of the previous Government's efforts, and the Health Service is all the healthier as a result.
There are real issues in the Health Service in both Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. Perhaps the Secretary of State will say something about them. For example, we are told that the administration will be altered. The previous Conservative Government made a disastrous mess of the Health Service reorganisation in England and Wales. I am glad that in Scotland some of the same mistakes were not made. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, in looking at the Scottish situation, will not be dragged along on the coat tails of his English colleagues. I hope that he will look at Scotland separately. There are one or two things in Scotland that require attention, but I am not convinced that wholesale reorganisation is necessary. Certainly we take the view that it is necessary south of the border, and obviously we shall look at the proposals when they come forward in due course.
The issues in the Health Service are not just issues involving administration and structure. They relate to resources, hospital building and other matters. For example, the Labour Government in 1977 issued in Scotland a capital programme involving 12,000 beds and new hospital building. There was particular emphasis on accommodation for geriatric, psychiatric and mentally handicapped patients. It would be useful to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether he intends to continue with that programme. I do not ask him for details at this stage because that would be unfair, but some speeches have been made about maintaining small hospitals—which by themselves sound very attractive but which have considerable implications for the large programme of district general hospitals throughout the country.
I should like an assurance that that well-established programme, which has been going on for rather too long—and at least I agree with the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) about that, because these things take a long period to come to fruition—should not be upset, because if that were to happen it would be a disaster. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will assure the House that that is not the Government's intention.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will also say that he is equally committed to the development of health centres, because the record of the Labour Government in Scotland in that respect had been a very good one. Indeed, we doubled the number of health centres in operation in the five years from 1974 to 1979, and at the date of the general election we had a considerable additional number at the planning stage. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say something about priorities in long-stay and psychiatric hospitals. It is vital to maintain momentum and continuity in that important part of the service.
More than anything else, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say something about the resources which the Government intend to devote to the NHS. Unless there is a commitment of money and resources to the NHS, none of these priorities can be achieved. It is all very well to talk about cutting out waste, excess and extravagance. Nobody is against that.
No doubt in any large service it is possible to find areas where savings could be made, but we can only have a healthy NHS in this country if there is a commitment to increased resources for it—even if that commitment is on only a comparatively moderate rising trend, as it was in the last public expenditure White Paper published by a Labour Government. It is not enough to say "We do not intend to cut back". It is necessary to say that there should be at least a modest expansion if we are to cope with demographic changes and the incidence of ageing people in our population.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give some assurance on that matter tonight. If we do not have such an assurance, I think that we can only reach the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman is more concerned about the comparatively small number of people who can benefit from private pay beds and the private sector of hospital provision than he is about the vast mass of the population who depend on the NHS—and a very good service it is, too. It is necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to give us some assurances on that score tonight.
I wish to turn to the subject of education and to ask one or two questions about teachers' pay. The Secretary of State for Education and Science was vague about what was happening in certain aspects of teachers' pay. I do not press the Secretary of State for Scotland to give absolute details because I understand that negotiations are proceeding. However, it is a pity that during the general election campaign the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland who has responsibilities for education made some foolish remarks about the negotiations. We forgive him for that as it is typical of the individual concerned, but we shall expect rather more from the Secretary of State for Scotland. Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether there has been any movement in Scottish negotiations? That is the first factual matter about which I hope he will provide us with some information.
I welcome what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said this afternoon about the Standing Commission being open to the teachers. My own view, which I expressed before the election—it has not changed now that I am no longer directly responsible for these matters—is that the offer that was made to the teachers in Scotland was very fair and that they were unwise to reject it. That offer included a reference to the Standing Commission. However, I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman has again made that offer available.
We do not yet know the Government's policy on public sector pay. They seem to be proceeding by a series of ad hoc decisions—the decisions about the Armed Forces and the police and now some sort of decision, although we are unsure what it is, about the teachers with reference to the Standing Commission.
It will not be possible for the Government to deal with the teachers, the nurses or the local authority workers by a series of ad hoc decisions. They will have to take a view about public sector pay. The Conservatives avoided doing that before the election and said that it was not neces- sary. If the Government believe that they can persuade the teachers to accept a settlement which the teachers do not feel to be fair in relation to other settlements that the Government have made in the past few days, they will be disillusioned quickly. If they think that they can persuade the teachers or anybody else that they are receiving fair treatment, that treatment has to be set within the context of a general policy on public sector pay. Today is as good as any day for the Secretary of State for Scotland to provide an indication of the Government's view on public sector pay.
The impression that has been given so far is that the Government have not thought about the matter and are proceeding by a series of individual decisions. That could build up considerable problems for them. The Secretary of State for Scotland has an opportunity tonight to provide more information than his right hon. and learned Friend provided this afternoon.
I turn to the main question that has dominated the debate—comprehensive education and selection. I regret that in their first Queen's Speech the new Government have gone out of their way deliberately to reinstate and inflame arguments about selection which had died down in most parts of the country. They have created divisions where there need not he divisions. That has been the effect of the passages in the Queen's Speech about the intentions of the Government on assisted places and the reinstatement of aid to grant-aided and direct-grant schools. It is an indication that the Government are obsessed with the interests of the few to the detriment of the interests of the majority.
Comprehensive reorganisation in Scotland is virtually completed. Almost 100 per cent. of secondary pupils in Scotland—outside the small previously private granted sector—are now educated in comprehensive schools. That has not been achieved with the deterioration of academic or other standards, for standards in secondary schools have improved. That is not only my own view or the view of politicians but the view of independent examination boards, the inspectorate, the teachers' unions and everyone who is involved in education in Scotland.
If it is a tragedy to restart the arguments south of the border, it is an even greater tragedy to restart them in Scotland, where they are dead. Comprehensive education is accepted by the vast majority of parents in Scotland.
There are problems of parental choice within the comprehensive system. I shall listen to what the Government have to say about parental choice, but "parental choice" in a selective system is a misnomer, a falsehood and a snare and delusion for the vast majority of parents. Parents cannot choose grammar schools for their children. A selective system by its nature is bound to disappoint the vast majority of parents who choose a grammar school for their children. There is no real freedom of choice for parents or anyone else within a selective system. Indeed, it is recognition of that fact which has led to the selective system being so discredited not only in this country but in most other countries of the world.
There are bad schools within the comprehensive system, or, at least, there are schools with problems, but the way to deal with schools which have problems is to put additional effort and resources into them, which I am glad to say the Labour Government did by providing special money to local education authorities in Scotland to employ additional teachers in schools which had previously suffered from teacher shortage and part-time education. That is the way forward to deal with the particular difficulties which we have in some of our urban areas. I dare say also that there are certain possibilities for parental choice which can be applied there as well.
But to set aside the comprehensive system and to go back to selection is to throw the baby out with the bath water; it is to reinstate a system which creates divisions, jealousies, recriminations and considerable bitterness and disappointment for thousands of parents and children. Yet that seems to be what the Government are intent on doing.
I believe, with the hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson), that what we should be talking about far more in our education system today is what happens within the schools themselves—problems of curriculum, problems of assessment, problems of making the education within our secondary schools in particular relevant to the world in which our children and all of us live.
That is why I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will even at this early stage say something about the Munn and Dunning reports and the response which I made to them two or three months ago. Again, I am not asking him to give a detailed response tonight, but I strongly took the view then—I hope that he will take the same view—that one of the essentials or priorities within secondary education, even under the comprehensive system, is to develop, in particular, courses for the less able pupils, courses which they will find relevant, courses with which they will identify and which will motivate them, thereby eliminating some of the problems which we have at present in our secondary schools.
That was my priority. I very much hope that the right hon. Gentleman will adopt the same kind of priority for secondary education in Scotland and that his right hon. and learned Friend will do the same for secondary education in England and Wales as well.
There are the problems of the 16-to-18 age group. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to them today, but in very vague terms. It seemed to me that the only time when he was precise came when he spoke about Conservative plans for assisted places in the direct grant schools. He seemed to know exactly what he wanted to do there, but when he talked about the vast majority of pupils he went into vagueness and platitudes almost beyond belief. We must expect a little better from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and I hope that the Secretary of State for Scotland will have something rather more definite to say about some of these other problems in education when he replies.
There are considerable problems still in education, but they involve public expenditure. An effort to solve them entails a cost in money and resources, and we shall not begin even to tackle the problems that we have unless there is a commitment to maintain and increase resources in our education service. When the Prime Minister speaks, as she did yesterday and on other occasions, about getting value for money and about deploying resources—the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke in similar terms this afternoon—we are entitled to know exactly what is meant, for most of the resources in education go on paying teachers' salaries, on buildings and on the essential fabric of the education service.
If this Government are to save money by cutting back the essentials, it will be extremely damaging to education. But it will also be damaging to education if they embark upon a cost-cutting exercise which means cutting the so-called frills. I have in mind, for example, an attack upon nursery education—although that is not a frill in my book, and I do not think that it is a frill in the books of most hon. Members—or an attack upon adult or community education. These have been the victims before, but if this Government start the process of looking at our education service on the basis that they must save money they will do considerable damage to the service and they will fail to grasp the opportunities which are available to us from the falling school rolls in the primary and secondary sectors.
We are right to be suspicious of this Government because they fought the election on their intention to cut public expenditure. We said in the election campaign that it was impossible to achieve considerable savings in public expenditure unless essential social services were cut. There is the indication already in the Gracious Speech that that is precisely what they intend to do.
It is a divisive Gracious Speech. It contains proposals which will cause divisiveness and confrontation where there should be co-operation. It confirms some of our worst fears about pensions in its lack of real commitment to the system that we have operated over the past five years. It is a Speech that is lacking in specification for the education service except in relation to a small privileged sector of education.
The same is true of the National Health Service and the same is also true of the problems of our inner cities. Nothing was more fatuous than the Prime Minister's reply yesterday to the questions put directly to her about the inner city programme. To talk about personal freedom and personal initiative in sloganising, vague and simplistic terms when one considers the massive and complex problems of our inner cities is an insult to the people who live there and an insult to all those, not all of them on the Labour Benches, who grapple with the very serious problems of our inner cities and the deprivation that we see there.
The Government have given the House a Queen's Speech of which we are suspicious and extremely apprehensive. If our worst fears about the social services are realised, as I am afraid they will be, I give notice to the Government that we shall fight them every inch of the way.
On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, may I say first how very pleased I am to see you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the Chair. We are certain that you will perform the duties of that office extremely well, and we hope that you will do so for a very long time.
We have had one of the most refreshing debates in this House for some time. If it is a sample of the standard that this new Parliament will produce, I look forward very much more than I perhaps was to our debates.
I want especially to thank the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) and his hon. Friends the Members for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) and Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone), who were members of the Scottish Office team in the last Administration, for their warm and genuine welcome to me and my hon. Friends in our new offices. We much appreciate their good wishes and, although I cannot congratulate them on any of the political matters they left behind, they have been much respected in their offices and I hope very much that we shall see them shadowing for Scottish affairs for a very long time.
We have had a remarkable series of maiden speeches today which have given great pleasure to all who have listened to them. We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bebington and Ellesmere Port (Mr. Porter), whose assurance in making his maiden speech made me feel that he must have been here before for some considerable time. His experience of education, in particular, has been extremely valuable to this debate. After his splendid maiden speech, I very much hope that we shall hear my hon. Friend often.
I was sorry not to hear the whole of the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson), but I greatly enjoyed what I heard and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will address us often.
I also heard only part of the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam), but it was a pleasure to listen to him. The part of his speech that I heard was extremely thoughtful, which, my right hon. Friends tell me, the whole speech was. As we know the hon. Gentleman in Scotland, it is a pleasure to see him here and we look forward to his contributions.
We also heard a fine maiden speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey), which showed a detailed knowledge of the workings of the education committee and education generally in his area. My hon. Friend also gave a review of his constituency, which he clearly knows extremely well. We enjoyed what he said.
There was also an enjoyable maiden speech from the hon. Member for Ash-field (Mr. Haynes). Most old hands in the House will have particularly enjoyed his statement that he would never pair with anyone. I welcome his courage, and I am sure that we shall see him here frequently. We look forward to that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Ancram) was very diffident in his approach, describing himself as a retread. We knew very well from his many contributions to the House in the past that he would be an asset to this new Parliament. I very much welcomed what he said. It was good to see him here.
I have left to last in this review of our maiden speeches, which I hope is complete, the remarkably fine speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Argyll (Mr. Mackay). It is a pleasure to find someone with such a deep knowledge of education contributing to our deliberations. I am particularly pleased to see my hon. Friend after the long time he has spent waiting to get here.
I was very flattered that the right hon. Member for Craigtown approached this subject with a wide-ranging number of requests to me to solve all the problems on education and social security which he knows only too well are lying around on the shelves. He seems quickly to have caught the Opposition disease of amnesia. His memory is excellent for everything that has happened since 4 May, but he seems to have forgotten almost entirely all that happened previously.
Listening to the list of demands which the right hon. Gentleman produced with such confidence, one would have thought that he knew that he had left behind a treasury overflowing with golden doubloons ready to be spent on every possible education and social service matter that could be thought of.
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that there are many problems. I am sure that he will not expect me, in 10 days, which is all that I have had so far, to have solved all the problems he left behind.
I shall do my best, as is always my way, to answer as many questions as I can in the time available. I hope that the House will enable me to deal with most of them.
Various hon. Members referred to Health Service charges. I assure the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) and other hon. Members that the Government have no plans to introduce any new Health Service charges. We made that clear during the election, and I make it clear once more. We await with great interest the report of the Royal Commission on the National Health Service.
There was an element of courage in the hon. Gentleman's raising the subject. We cannot help remembering that it was the Labour Government that reintroduced prescription charges. This they conveniently forget when it suits them to do so. It seems that they have also forgotten that they increased ophthalmic and dental charges during their term in office, so lately lamented, on two or possibly three different occasions. I hope that they will keep a sense of perspective when they are carried away by the higher flights of oratory, as were several Opposition Members this evening.
I was especially interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Hillsborough, who seems to live in an entirely imaginary world.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for Hillsborough can give directions how to get to his imaginary world, because as far as I can see it is peopled by Conservatives—I think I am quoting him correctly—who are incredibly rich while everyone else is incredibly poor. I wish I could find this place, and I should be glad if he showed me the way.
I understand that the hon. Gentleman is standing for election as Chief Whip of the Labour Party. It is an excellent proposal, but he will be aware that one of the features of being Chief Whip is that one never makes a speech. It may be that his speech today will encourage many of his hon. Friends to vote for him.
The right hon. Gentleman has made the important statement that it is not the intention of the Tory Government to introduce new health charges. May we take it that there is no possibility during the lifetime of this Parliament of prescription charges being increased or, even more important, hotel or bed-and-breakfast charges being introduced in the NHS? May we take that from the right hon. Gentleman's state-must?
I referred to "any new charges". I am not aware that there is a hotel charge now. The hon. Gentleman may make his assessment of that. As I have said, the previous Labour Government altered the existing charges on several occasions. No Government would ever give an undertaking that they would never in their career increase any of the charges. The previous Labour Government did not do that, and nor so far have the present Government.
There has been a great deal of discussion by Opposition Members about a social security uprating. Our position has always been clear. The previous Administration offered upratings of about £22 for single persons and £35 for married couples. That offer was clearly designed as an election bribe. It seems to have been extraordinarily unsuccessful, judging by the composition of the House. However, we have given an undertaking that we shall make that increase. That has been made clear. The precise amounts depend upon figures that are not yet available. The figures will be taken into account as soon as they are available.
It is true that there is a statutory obligation to have regard to changes in earnings as well as prices. However, the Opposition, when in Government, did not do any better in maintaining the real value of pensions than the previous Conservative Government.
If the right hon. Gentleman cares to overcome his amnesia, he will be as aware as I am that in two years out of the past three, taking those years by themselves, the previous Government did not succeed in carrying out that duty. He must face up to that fact. Although there was no statutory obligation to carry this out, Conservative Governments consistently increased pensions by more than the rise in the cost of living. The right hon. Gentleman cannot get away from those facts.
I am sorry. The right hon. Gentleman knows that I am always courteous in giving way. However, I have a large number of questions to answer. I have given way quite enough. I must get on with my speech.
What I said may be read and studied in Hansard. It is clear and complete. I shall now move on to the next question.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) asked about child benefit, as did the right hon. Member for Craigton. The right hon. Member for Sparkbrook gave the answer for me. He pointed out that this was a matter for the Budget. He would not expect me, any more than he would have expected himself if he had been in office, to forecast the contents of my right hon. and learned Friend's Budget speech. I shall make sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will have drawn to his attention the remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. That is as far as I shall go at this stage.
I shall not give way. I have only a quarter of an hour in which to answer questions. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be determined that I shall not have time in which to answer his questions, which is a pity.
The right hon. Gentleman asked about private practice. The question of private practice is not nearly as important in Scotland as it is in the rest of the country. The right hon. Gentleman wanted to know what was intended by our pledge to facilitate the wider use of private medical care. The answer is that we meant exactly what we said. We shall allow people to pay for private treatment if they wish. We shall cease the vendetta that was waged against the private sector by the Opposition when in office. This can only assist the National Health Service, which would lose revenue approaching £30 million, not to mention good will, as a result of the previous Government's policy on this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) raised a number of important issues on social security—an area with which he is extremely familiar. We are most grateful for his suggestions. I know that my right hon. Friend will consider them seriously. My hon. Friend drew attention to the considerable administrative difficulties which confront Ministers when they seek to effect such changes and the need to draw a balance between flexibility and simplicity. We very much share my hon. Friend's concern, especially about the need for simplification and the need to tackle the "Why work?" syndrome.
I turn to the subject of education. I am anxious to have some time in which to cover that. I hope that if I have omitted anything on Health Service matters I may return to the subject later.
I was asked, quite correctly, to say what I could about the negotiations in Scotland concerning teachers' pay. As the House knows, pay negotiations for Scottish teachers take place in the Scottish teachers salaries committee. A recent pay offer in the committee proved unacceptable to the teachers' union and, while negotiations were not formally broken off, the management side undertook, without commitment, to explore with the incoming Government the possibility of securing some improvement in the cash offer and in the proposed staging arrangements.
I have subsequently been approached by the general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland. I am very conscious of the need to reach an early resolution of this problem and I have been considering it as a matter of the greatest urgency. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for industry and education at the Scottish Office has arranged to meet the chairman of the management side of the Scottish teachers salaries committee on Friday of this week. He will be seeing the joint secretary of the teachers' side subsequently on the same day. The House will be glad to know that the Scottish teachers salaries committee has arranged to meet again on 25 May to continue its earlier discussions. In the meantime, I do not think that it would be right for me to make any statement that might prejudice these discussions, which I hope will be successful.
We have had some discussion today about parents' rights, parents' choice and a parents' charter. We believe that what lies behind this is the desire to give parents a greater influence over school education, and we believe that this will help to raise standards. At present, education authorities designate catchment areas for their schools and sometimes enforce those with what many parents consider to be undue rigidity. Most of us meet this in our constituencies in one way or another. I appreciate the very complex administrative task with which education authorities are faced. Obviously the management of the system is considerably eased if authorities know precisely the area which each school will serve, but we are allowing the weak spots of the system to be concealed if we do not allow parents to vote with their feet to some extent. It may be right to expose some schools to criticism and to require education authorities to give serious consideration to ways of bringing them up to standard.
The relaxation of catchment areas and the introduction of a system which allows parents to exercise a choice of schools will require extensive consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and other interested bodies. It is not a change that I propose to introduce overnight, however much I may sympathise with those parents who have already laid their cases before me and former Ministers.
It is interesting to note that the desires of parents are not by any means always concerned with the place where they live. Many parents would like to have their children go to a school near where either the mother or father works. This sometimes makes it much more convenient. In the meantime, I hope that education authorities will consider sympathetically the requests they receive from parents for the admission of their children to schools other than those serving their area. I take this opportunity of reminding them of the provisions of the Education (Scotland) Act 1962, which requires them, as it requires me, to
have regard to the general principle that, so far as is compatible with the provision of suitable instruction and training and the avoidance of unreasonable public expenditure, pupils are to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents".
That may help to put the question into perspective.
The next subject, which has been covered a great deal, is the standard of education in our schools. Some concern has been voiced recently, particularly in industry and commerce, about educational standards in schools and the low level of achievement by some school leavers. But I am also told by those in education that such evidence as is available in Scotland suggests that pupils' performance in the basic skills of literacy and numeracy has not fallen over recent years. [Interruption.] Wherever the truth lies, I am anxious to improve the quality of education and to encourage the schools and colleges of further education to keep pace with the changing demands of modern life. Since my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North (Mr. Fletcher) will be responsible in the Scottish Office for both education and industry—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"]—he will be very well placed to encourage the development of close links between these important sectors. I have asked my hon. Friend to have full consultations with the education bodies and with both sides of industry about the best ways to improve the quality of education.
I was asked about the Munn and Dunning reports. It is over 18 months since those reports were published, with their major proposals for changing the curriculum and assessment in the last two years of compulsory schooling. The process of consultation on those reports by the previous Secretary of State for Scotland seems to have been somewhat leisurely. I do not share his apparent hesitation to tackle the problem of differentiation between levels of courses. I am somewhat surprised about the lengthy time scale which he proposed for further development. I intend to consider as quickly as possible the question of further action on those two major reports.
I turn to the question of grant-aided schools. Opposition Members might notice that the whole of my speech on education so far has involved the mainstream of the maintained sector. I hope that that will put right the wrong emphasis which has been expressed in some speeches today. Our top priority is the education of the majority of our children. It will continue to be our first priority.
The Labour Government's policy towards grant-aided schools could scarcely have been more misguided. They invited the schools to enter the public sector but offered them no inducement to do so. Those schools were supposed to hand themselves over to the local authorities, retaining no powers of management, continuity or anything else to safeguard their character and traditions which are thought to be of high character and standard, whether one agrees with them or not.
It is not surprising that the schools preferred to aim at independence. The inevitable result was to raise fees and to exclude from those schools a most valuable element—the able children of lower income families, the children of parents who wanted to see their children make the most of their ability and who were prepared to make sacrifices but who could not afford to pay the full cost. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I hope that the jeers from the Opposition will be noted. We are discussing parents who wish to see the best possible education for their children.
Our aim is to undo as far as possible the harm that has been done. We have not yet had time to make detailed plans. My intention is to concentrate on reopening and, if possible, widening the path for promising children from lower income families.
I have done my best in the time available to answer as many questions as I can. I have not had time to tackle some questions, and I shall do my best to write to those Members concerned.
This is my first opportunity to address the House as Secretary of State. The way in which I wish to tackle the job is to bear in mind that there is a role for both sides of the House in the conduct of Scottish affairs in this Parliament. On many occasions the Opposition and I will disagree. I shall be prepared to tell them that I do not agree with them and I shall put my point of view as strongly as I can. However, I hope that the Opposition will always feel that the Scottish Office is open to them so that they may ask questions and approach me on constituency matters. I shall listen to everything that is said by the Opposition. I hope that I shall be able to accept as many suggestions as possible that they make in debate.
I hope that the interest in education and the Health Service in this Parliament will be as great as it has been in the past. We shall, no doubt, produce legislation on these subjects in the course of this Parliament. I hope that the Scottish Grand Committee, when it considers these matters, will have the value of the advice of as many hon. Members as possible, particularly those new Members who made maiden speeches today which have been so valuable.
There remains the question of Health Service policy in general. I hope that as soon as possible we shall have time to discuss these matters at greater length. I am glad that we have had this debate today. The Opposition have done a service—