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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1979.

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Photo of Mr John Cartwright Mr John Cartwright , Greenwich Woolwich East 12:00 am, 2nd November 1979

The pensioners in my constituency compare the benefit of the tax cuts which has gone to the most wealthy section of the population with what is happening to them. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman would do well to bear in mind.

I turn next to another problem which crops up regularly in my constituency and which is probably typical of other London constituencies, too. It concerns heating costs, particularly in local authority housing. In my constituency there are large numbers of high-rise blocks of flats where the only heating is under-floor electric. It is not particularly effective and it is extremely expensive to run. Heating costs will rise because the Government believe in rationing a scarce resource by price. I understand the logic of that argument, but it means that there will be severe casualties.

One of my pensioner groups carried out a survey in the tower blocks as a result of last winter's fuel crisis. They discovered that the average winter quarter bill for pensioners using under-floor heating varied between £106 and £130. That is a pretty massive bill for pensioners to have to face. Of course, the last Government's discount scheme assisted them with their bills. A bill for £130 would have attracted a discount of about £27. Now, as a result of the Government's much more miserly scheme, only pensioners over 75 who are on supplementary benefit will get any help with their heating costs. The rest will have no Government assistance. There will be a lot more cold, elderly people in my constituency because of that Government policy.

I turn next, and briefly, to education. I am sure that others of my hon. Friends will deal with school meals, school milk and transport. However, it is most unlikely that the Government will get the sort of public spending cuts they are seeking from those areas alone. It is clear from the White Paper that there are to be reductions in the numbers of teachers. We should pay tribute to the way in which the Inner London Education Authority has maintained the number of teachers in employment despite falling rolls. That has meant an improvement in pupil-teacher ratios in London. It will be difficult to maintain that advance in the face of the Government's policy.

A topic that may not get much of an airing in the House is the problem of overseas students. Thames polytechnic is in my constituency. It has always taken a substantial number of overseas students. My attention has already been drawn to the problems that overseas students are facing because of increases in fees. For advanced courses the fees have already increased from £705 in 1978–79 to £940 as a result of the announcement in July. That is a massive increase for a student to absorb part-way through a course.

The Government are going still further. It is stated in the White Paper that in future overseas students, or their sponsors, must meet the full cost of their courses. The full cost of advanced courses will be between £2,500 and £3,500. The cut will fall most harshly on the developing nations, those which surely we most need to help. Our spending on overseas students from developing nations is an investment of which we shall be glad in the future. I much resent the policy that is being forced through by the Government.

I heed your warning, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about time. There is ample evidence to show that the impact of the Government's policy will worsen the quality of life across the board for those whom I represent and those whom my hon. Friends represent. In the early hours of 4 May, shortly after my electors had reelected me, I said that I thought those who had returned me to this place would have to pay the main price for the new Government. I am surprised to find that the truth of my forecast is coming home even earlier than I had believed.