HC Deb 13 November 1986 vol 105 cc114-209

3 pm

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

I welcome this opportunity of the Queen's Speech debate to report to the House about the progress of the Government's education policies. Much has happened since I last reviewed these policies on Second Reading of the Education Bill in June.

Our education system is a large investment in our nation's future. It is an expensive investment, made by national and local taxpayers. Most of the argument in this House—I expect that we shall hear it yet again from the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) this afternoon — is about the size of that investment. We hear much less from the Benches opposite about getting good value for all these billions, about the benefits to the children, to the students and to the nation.

We hear even less about quality, about achievement, and about standards. Yet the purpose of the investment must be to promote the higher standards of achievement that we, as a nation, must have. Resources matter, of course, whether they are material or human. But education cannot just be seen in money terms, it is not cash but quality that counts, and by quality I mean what the children and students are learning.

Over the past week there has been huge media interest in the teachers' pay talks; they are featured on news bulletin after news bulletin. I only wish that there could be as much public interest not just in the crisis of these talks— I will have something to say about them later—hut in what is happening in the schools.

I am immensely encouraged by some of the things that I have seen as I visit schools across the country. Many exciting changes have taken place in primary schools. The mind of a young child of five or six or seven is probably never as open again in his life to learning, and the interest is intense. It is a very challenging job for anybody to make the most of that great opportunity. The child's mind is searching and that provides great opportunities for teachers not just in such important things as reading and writing and maths but—as we are now introducing into primary schools, for example, in a much more systematic way—the teaching of science.

I have seen an immense change in the type of subjects taught in secondary schools. The greater emphasis is now upon technical and practical education so that one can get the attention, interest and enthusiasm of the 13, 14 and 15-year-olds, many of whom, quite frankly, are often bored at going to school. The technical and vocational education initiative has helped to reshape the curriculum; a new interest and a new relevance are being given to what is being taught; and I am glad to say that in the schools where more practical lessons are established, truancy and absentee rates tend to come down.

Our concern for standards has made us active in the area of the school curriculum and public examinations. We need a good national school curriculum. By that I mean a set of objectives about what should be learnt and what standards should be achieved. We are seeking to establish a national curriculum by agreement with the other partners in the education service.

We have made a good start on mathematics, science and foreign languages, and next on the list is English. I want to see progress towards nationally agreed objectives in the teaching of English, but that is held up because there is no agreement—indeed, there is confusion—about one essential element, which is the question of what pupils should be taught about how the English language works. The English language, in my view, is our greatest national asset. There is widespread disquiet about the standards of English in our schools, and I do not mean only how well children can express themselves in writing or in reading books, but in how they can express their ideas orally by speaking out with confidence. I am sure that a fundamental change is needed. I shall shortly appoint an independent committee to recommend what pupils should learn about the English language. The results will then need to be taken on board in teacher training and in classroom practice.

The curriculum for secondary school children needs to be supported by exams, which most of them take at 16-plus. That is why we are pressing ahead with the GCSE. The first courses have started with the benefit of the extra money that we have found and earmarked for teaching training, books and equipment. The GCSE courses will be more challenging than existing ones, and to get good grades candidates will have to show their ability over a wide range of skills, especially by applying the knowledge that they have acquired and not merely by the orderly recall of facts in a three-hour exam. The GCSE is important because it will raise standards of achievement.

Another thing that worries me about the curriculum is what I consider to be the curse of our system — early specialisation. In my view, no one should be able at the age of 14 years to drop science or the humanities, and I am working towards making this impossible. But after 16 our ablest sixth formers often pursue a narrow curriculum, which I think is limiting and closes far too many options. We are therefore pressing ahead with the introduction of the new AS-level in the autumn. An AS-level will take broadly half the study time of an A-level, and this will allow those who are, for example, specialising in science to do an AS-level, for example, in English or history, and those specialising in the humanities to do an AS-level, say, in maths or chemistry.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

Has my right hon. Friend given any thought to making the new AS-level related in a logical way to the existing Scottish higher grades?

Mr. Baker

I have a high regard for many aspects of the Scottish education system. We are now in the process of consultation over the type of exams that the AS-level will involve. I shall take on board what my hon. Friend has said.

I turn to the changes in the organisation of our education system, especially the Education Act which went on to the statute book last week. For too long we have left too much to the professional educators and the professional providers. The users, the customers, have had too little say and too little opportunity to make their contribution. I think that parents have had too limited a role. Our system is often described as decentralised, but it has not taken decentralisation all that far. Enormous powers have been entrusted to local education authorities, and not always with the happiest results.

The Education Act changes all that. It increases the power of the governing body and the head teacher. It removes local authorities' present dominance over most governing bodies. It strengthens the role of parents and it also puts business people on to governing bodies. The changes here are very radical — for example, from 7 January next year, the governing body will have to circulate an annual report about the discharge of its functions to all parents; and to hold a meeting open to all parents, to discuss the report and the affairs of the school.

A second example is in the appointment of head teachers. It will no longer be possible for a local education authority to foist without more ado upon a governing body a head whom that governing body does not want.

Thirdly, from next September, every governing body will become responsible for spending a sum allocated to it by the local education authority to cover at least books, equipment and stationery. This is a minimum requirement. Some LEAs—Solihull and Cambridgeshire, for example — give much greater financial delegation to governing bodies. In the experiments in Cambridgeshire that I have seen, possibly the full school budget is handed over. There have been some articles about this in this week's press.

Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North)

Will my right hon. Friend consider giving governing bodies the right to have their own budgets and to decide how they are used, rather than local education authorities?

Mr. Baker

I shall come to that directly. What I have been describing, and what my hon. Friend is pushing me to do, is what I believe to be the way forward. It will lead to the keener management of resources and will encourage on to governing bodies people of higher quality. In due course I shall want to use the powers in the Act to extend the list of items on which financial delegation to governors is obligatory.

The local education authority will still be left with far-reaching responsibilities in, for example, teacher training and the management of the teacher force. The local education authorities will also play an important role in the new system of teacher appraisal.

However, the LEA-maintained sector should not have the monopoly of free school education. Parents deserve a choice between what the maintained sector offers and what can be provided by others who also have an interest in raising standards and widening opportunity. That is why the Government are planning to establish up to 20 city technology colleges. These will be in our cities. They will be set up by private promoters who will contribute towards the capital costs. Current costs will be met by a grant from my Department, payable on the basis of conditions agreed with the promoters. The colleges will have a broad curriculum with a clear bias towards technology, microelectronics, maths, physics and design. I have been very encouraged by the response that I have had to the proposals. Urgent work is under way to establish the city technology colleges as soon as possible.

Dr. David Owen (Plymouth, Devonport)

The Secretary of State has already criticised early specialisation, which must be a serious problem of city technology colleges. Is he putting those forward for consultation or has he already made up his mind? Is he prepared to consider the 1944 Act and the voluntary school sector and work in partnership with local authorities instead of imposing on them his scheme for city technology colleges?

Mr. Baker

On the specialisation point, in the booklet on CTCs I sketched out curricula. From those curricula, the right hon. Gentleman will see that humanity subjects, expecially English and a foreign language, are expected to be studied up to and even beyond the age of 16. That is not a narrow specialisation. I am glad to see that one of the chambers of commerce that is pressing me to establish a city technology college is the Plymouth chamber of commerce.

I also have responsibility for—

Mr. John Powley (Norwich, South)

Does my right hon. Friend confirm my view that city technology colleges should be complementary to the existing state system rather than be in competition with it and perhaps with existing technical colleges? They should complement one another and not compete.

Mr. Baker

I look upon them as complementary. They will act as beacons in some of our inner cities to improve the quality of education right across the entire educational system.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Baker

If hon. Members will allow me, I shall continue.

I also have responsibility for higher education, for colleges of further education, polytechnics and universities. I am glad to tell the House that the numbers entering higher education have expanded steadily since 1979. There are now almost 140,000 more students in higher education than there were in 1979, including an increase of 80,000 in the number of full-time students. The proportion of 18 and 19-year-olds entering full-time higher education has risen from 12.4 to 13.9 per cent. Most of this increase has been in the polytechnics and I pay tribute to the excellent work which is happening in the polytechnics. I am glad to say that the number of first-class degreees awarded by polytechnics went up last year by 20 per cent. The Government have given positive proof and have shown their commitment to polytechnics by increasing the provision next year by £54 million which is an increase of 8 per cent., and £15 million of that £54 million will be targeted towards new courses in science and technology and the extension of applied research relevant to industry.

The Government also recognise the contribution that universities make to our national prosperity. But we must also recognise that there is a need for change and reform. The University Grants Committee and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals have agreed a programme of reform involving greater selectivity of research funding and the rationalisation of small departments, and in the light of the changes that are taking place I announced that recurrent grant to universities for the next financial year will go up by £95 million, an increase of more than 7 per cent.

The sums that I have mentioned are, of course, a part of the very large increase that I announced a week ago in total education expenditure for next year. Local authority spending on education next year will increase by 18.8 per cent. over our plans for 1986–87. The sums that I have just announced are in line with what the local education authorities said they would need to continue their policies and that money will allow for an increased spending on books and equipment and a bigger programme of repairs and maintenance.

By making such sums available, the Government are showing their concern for the quality of education in our schools, polytechnics, colleges and universities. One of the largest increases was the sum for teachers' pay next year, which amounts to some £460 million. The total cost of the pay offer which I announced to the House a fortnight ago is in four years £2.4 billion and in five years £3.3 billion. That is a huge sum of money; it is an advance on the money that was on the table at Coventry in July and it will allow an increase to teachers over 18 months of 25 per cent.

The House will need no reminder of the long-running nature of the problem. Reform of the teaching profession was mooted at least seven years ago. The present negotiations have been going on for over two years. There has been widespread disruption in the schools and this has hit children's education. It is time to bring this long-running saga to an end. That is why I made a statement a fortnight ago on 30 October clearly setting out the Government's position. I would like to remind the House of what I said.

I said that we would make additional resources available only when two very important conditions are delivered. First, there must be a pay structure with differentials which reflect the varying responsibilities of teachers and the need to recruit, retain and motivate teachers throughout the school system and at all stages of their careers. Second, teachers' professional duties must be more sharply defined and clarified, leaving no room for ambiguity, and this must be carried through into enforceable contracts of employment. In particular, teachers should be under the express contractual obligation to cover for absent colleagues, and to be available to work at the direction of the head teacher for 1,300 hours on 195 days of the year.

I must emphasise the importance that I attach to both these conditions — first, pay structure. The teachers deserve and must have a better career structure while continuing to be classroom teachers. Some must be encouraged to take on the responsibilities of headship.

The proposals which I set out on 30 October would, over three years, provide for about half of the teaching profession to hold either the five levels of allowances ranging from £900 a year extra to £4,800 a year extra or the extra payments for deputies and head teachers. The Coventry proposals provided for only 15 per cent. of the teaching profession as a whole to hold allowances, and for the higher of the levels of allowances to be only just over £2,000. A career structure of the sort that I have proposed is essential. If teachers are placed on one long scale with automatic progression to the top, they will have little incentive to improve their performance. They must be able to earn extra rewards for good teaching and for taking responsibility. That is what happens in other professions.

Secondly, teachers' duties and obligations must be clarified. There must be no more arguments about what is or is not part of their duties. There must be no more claims that teachers do not have to write reports for parents or to speak to parents about their child's progress. There must be no more claims that teachers do not have to attend staff meetings. The duties must be clearly set out and teachers' contracts must provide adequate time within which to fulfil them.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

Would the Secretary of State tell the House what legal advice he has received about the constitutionality of the teachers' contracts? Will he let the House examine the legal advice that he has received?

Mr. Baker

The position is that the contract operates between the teacher's employer, the local authority, and the teacher. Part of the negotiations which are still continuing are concerned with the list of duties and obligations. They started with 19 and these have been redrafted to 13. I gather that they are broadly the same. There is general agreement that these obligations should be set out from both sides. The head teacher wants to know exactly what he can ask a teacher to do, and teachers want to know what they are expected to do.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

Does the Secretary of State agree that, even if the salary scales and the conditions of which he spoke were acceptable to hon. Members on both sides of the House, he has not mentioned the third condition — the changing of the Burnham arrangements? As he made clear to the House, he will become the employer in terms of pay determination. How does he expect any worthwhile profession to accept immediate good conditions—even if they were that — and give up something which its members regard as a fundamental right of their occupation?

Mr. Baker

I shall refer to the repeal of the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 in a moment and then answer the hon. Gentleman's question. I was dealing with the matter of duties and obligations. 1 now refer to the resources that the Government will make available.

As I told the House on 30 October, the Government are willing to make very substantial additional resources available to achieve these purposes — £118 million in 1986–87 and £490 million in 1987–88 in England and Wales. The cost over four years would be about £2.4 billion. All this is on top of the increases in expenditure per pupil on education, which I mentioned, leading to an improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio from 18.9: 1 in 1979 to 17.6: 1 this year. Average class sizes are now about 25 in primary schools and 20 in secondary schools. It would not be right to add still greater costs to a settlement of the present dispute. This amounts to a fair and generous settlement for the teachers, recognising their status in the community and in our national life. There can be no question of finding more resources, adding still further to the costs of settling the present dispute and to the £16.6 billion for education services next year.

I now turn to the point raised by the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) about the Burnham arrangements.

Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I wish to raise a matter about teachers and the current round of negotiations. If the Secretary of State is to impose his own contract and his own pay offer, how does he intend to assess teachers' support for that offer? Will he ballot teachers to find out whether a majority of teachers support his proposals?

Mr. Baker

I do not have rights to ballot teachers. One difficulty — [Interruption.] — in the present dispute is determining the views of the teachers represented by the six teachers' unions. Another difficulty, which has been recognised over the years in the Burnham negotiations, is that the six unions have conflicting and differing interests. Those conflicting and differing interests have been exposed over the past six days. The negotiations, which are continuing, have been taking place under the Burnham arrangements. They were set in place by the 1965 Act, but it is clear now that the Act has come to the end of its useful life. If anyone wants proof positive of how ineffective and cumbersome the arrangements are, the negotiations at Coventry, Nottingham and now at London have demonstrated this.

Yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition asked me, in the interests of children, to withdraw our proposals to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act. I remind him that, over the past 18 months, the inability of local education authorities and trade unions to come to any meaningful agreement about pay and conditions has meant that the education of children has been disrupted and disorganised. It is recognised on all sides that Burnham has failed. Burnham has not delivered. Burnham, over the past fortnight, and the past week in particular, has mumbled, fumbled and stumbled. It would appear that the Leader of the Opposition is saying that only when a negotiating procedure is thoroughly discredited must it be retained.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the seeds of the present trouble were sown in 1965 when the Remuneration of Teachers Bill was passed? It separated discussion of pay from discussion of conditions of service. That separation can never be sensible and workable and the present difficulty will not be resolved until it is sorted out.

Mr. Baker

I agree with my hon. Friend. Few people in the education world are prepared to defend the present negotiating procedures of Burnham. The separation of pay and conditions is at the heart of it. There is another difficulty. There was a concordat which was suspended two and a half or three years ago. The Secretary of State for Education and Science who, after all, would be expected to pick up a large part of the bill, had a standing at those negotiations. But that is not the position at the moment. We propose, therefore, to bring forward a Bill that will repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act and establish an interim advisory committee. That committee will advise me on the pay and conditions of teachers. The Bill will be introduced shortly. The children of our country deserve something better than the fiasco of Nottingham and London.

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

I should like to make three points. First, it is not Burnham that is discredited but the Secretary of State and his policies in regard to it. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman may clearly recall that I made no protest about a reform of the Remuneration of Teachers Act but protested about the motives behind the right hon. Gentleman's changes. Thirdly, will the right hon. Gentleman answer questions that he evaded earlier: what is the Government's legal advice and how can they enforce contracts on people whom they do not employ? If the right hon. Gentleman cannot tell us the answers, will he tell us whether a Bill is in draft or whether he is simply using this as a gambit to try to influence matters that should be the subject of proper negotiation?

Mr. Baker

There is certainly a Bill in draft and I will be bringing it forward. The ultimate responsibility for the enforceability of conditions of contract must, of course, lie upon the employer. That is recognised in the discussions and negotiations which are going on. It is recognised now because there is disruption in some of our schools. Some authorities are imposing contractual conditions and some are not. That dilemma will arise from these negotiations or from any further system. It was agreed in the negotiations that the role and duties of a teacher should be sustained and laid down and that that should form a part of a contract of employment. When a contract of employment is formed, the only person who can exercise enforceability of it would be the local education authority. I recognise that, and it is recognised in the existing negotiations.

Mr. Kinnock

If a local authority of any political persuasion or make-up does not concur with the view of any Secretary of State for Education and Science as to what the contract means and how it should be enforced, how will the Secretary of State seek to enforce a contract over people whom he does not employ?

Mr. Baker

This is the problem that exists now and will continue to exist under the existing negotiations. [Interruption] I shall answer the right hon. Gentleman correctly because his hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North knows that this is the position. If a contract exists which sets out the duties and obligations of a teacher and which the teachers, head teachers and local authorities want, at the end of the day it is essentially for the local authority to enforce it. Some local education authorities are doing that — in those local education authority areas, some of them Labour, where there is disruption in schools, contracts are being enforced and money is being stopped — and some are not. That happens because there is not a universally agreed definition of a teacher's duty. Such a definition is needed.

As I understand it, in the negotiations so far there is broad agreement among all sides as to the definition of a teacher's duties. That has been the core of the discussions at Coventry on the 19 conditions. In fact, that will be part of a contract of employment. But I readily recognise that it is up to the local education authorities to enforce it, because they are the employers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] I have answered the right hon. Gentleman's question absolutely precisely.

The talks are still going on, as I understand it, at this moment. I must tell the House that I do not intend to copy the example of Mr. Pearman and sonic unions by giving an instant knee-jerk reaction to the outcome of their discussions. I shall look at it with my colleagues. I shall judge it against the background of the conditions which I laid down on 30 October and which I have reiterated today. I shall, of course, tell the House of my conclusions. I must emphasise that I shall judge the outcome of any negotiations against the background of the conditions which I have reinforced and reiterated today.

All parties will need to make a sober appraisal of the situation. I have heard some reports of union leaders saying that they intend to turn schools into battlegrounds. Those are not my words and that is not my intention. The offer that I have put forward is generous. It is sufficiently generous to resolve the problem. Any teacher who disrupts education in the coming weeks and months will do an enormous disservice to the children and will not be lightly forgiven. How would the teachers justify such action when they have been offered a 25 per cent. pay increase over 18 months? The working parents of children who have been sent home or locked out as a result of such action will not forgive the teachers, and nor will the country.

3.31 pm
Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

This afternoon the Secretary of State for Education and Science, with the hype that has become his hallmark, has attempted to set out the Government's stall in the run up to the general election.

Of course, there are many good things in British education, and I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is taking the opportunity to familiarise himself with the nation's schools. That is a good thing and it would be a good thing too, if more Conservative Members did that. It would certainly be a good thing if more of them sent their children to the state schools. [Interruption.] J Yes, I went to a private school, but I sent my children to a state school. That is the difference.

Mr. Greenway


Mr. Radice

There are, of course, major problems in our education system which are widely recognised by pupils, parents, teachers and voters alike. I welcome the fact that, under pressure from the voters, the Government have at last understood that education should be a priority.

We also welcome the fact that, after seven years of saying that the nation could not afford extra money for education — I have heard that from the previous Secretary of State time and time again— the money has been found, although, characteristically, the Secretary of State multiplied by three the actual increase in spending on education for 1987–88.

In the DES press release on 6 November it was claimed that education spending would increase by over £2 billion. In fact, if the planned increase for 1987–88 is measured against what is called the estimated outturn, or what is actually being spent this year, the increase is only £650 million.

Mr. J. F. Pawsey: (Rugby and Kenilworth)


Mr. Radice

Wait for it. The great victory over the Treasury, of which the Secretary of State was boasting to assembled journalists last week, is largely accounted for by the Government reluctantly accepting that local education authorities are sensibly this year, as in the past three years, spending more than the Government planned. Indeed, if we substract the extra £460 million which the Government have sensibly earmarked for teachers' pay, the additional money allowed for education is £190 million, an increase of little more than 1 per cent., or well below the rate of inflation. In the coming year education will be a lower proportion of public spending than in the previous year.

Parents and teachers could be forgiven for concluding that the Government's last-minute change of direction is influenced far more by political calculation, both electoral and personal, than by genuine conviction. What is more, the increase announced in the autumn statement is clearly far too little and too late to put right the many glaring problems in our schools. We did not hear anything from the Secretary of State about the shortage of books and equipment, the peeling walls and leaking roofs, the demoralised and alienated teaching force or the neglect of special education. We also did not hear about the cuts that his Government have made in higher education over the past eight years. If the Secretary of State does not accept my word, he has only to listen to his own advisers, Her Majesty's inspectors, who have been warning successive Secretaries of State about the inadequacy of provision and the state of repair in far too many of our schools.

In an election year the Secretary of State will want to listen to what the voters have to say. According to public opinion polls, parents object to having to pay for basics such as books and they support the idea of smaller classes. The Secretary of State might note that. Parents also want greater investment in education and they are very unhappy about the Government's handling of education.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

Those who lead some of the teachers' unions have stated that if no agreement arises out of the present negotiations, or if the Secretary of State imposes a solution, as may happen, the schools will be turned into a battleground. Parents would like to know whether the hon. Gentleman supports that. What would he say to teachers and teachers unions about using schools as battlegrounds?

Mr. Radice

Most people in the House know that over the past two years I have been working for peace in our schools.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

The hon. Gentleman is not doing a good job on Labour committee members in the talks on this offer.

Mr. Radice

I am not in government. What a mess the Secretary of State and the previous Secretary of State have made of our schools.

The Secretary of State has told us about his colleges. I believe that they are educationally unsound, technologically inappropriate and socially divisive. It will mean that many pupils will be creamed off and scarce teaching resources will go from already hard-pressed inner city schools to the new colleges. It will mean that the inner cities will be divided, because the select few will go to the best equipped schools, while the overwhelming majority will go to the schools with inferior resources. Does the Secretary of State really believe that he will solve the problem of the backwardness of our technological education by providing 20 colleges when there are over 3.5 million pupils in our secondary schools? We need to ensure that all those pupils get a good technological education.

Mr. Pawsey

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that those schools will set a standard in technology which will ensure that industry and education come closer together? Does he accept that the technical colleges and technical schools — technical schools have long been abandoned — did a first-class job for British industry and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should be applauded for the initiative that he is displaying in introducing the 20 experimental schools?

Mr. Radice

Twenty schools will make little difference. That is the truth of the matter. They are an electoral gimmick. In any case, in the past that sort of experiment did not work.

The long-running teachers' dispute is perhaps the central issue of this afternoon's debate. It is common ground that the key to raising education standards is the performance of our teachers. I hope that it is also common ground that we cannot attract and retain the best graduates unless teachers are decently paid. We have heard much in the past two days about the Secretary of State losing his patience. Frankly, those of us who have been working hard for the past 18 months for a long-term settlement of teachers' pay and conditions much resent both his attitude and his clumsy interference in the negotiations earlier this week. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman and his Government that if they had come up with the sort of money that they are now offering the teachers we should never have had a teachers' dispute at all. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

The issue that faces the House this afternoon is whether the Government are prepared to accept the long-term and comprehensive deal that has been so agonisingly worked out over the past few days by the employers and teachers. Over the past few days the Secretary of State, his civil servants and his press department have consistently rubbished the negotiations, as I know, but I urge hon. Members and the Secretary of State to stand back from immediate political and tactical considerations, undertake a sober appraisal and look at the merits of such an agreement.

First, the package offers a substantial increase in pay which is broadly within the Government's price tag. Secondly, it provides a structure of pay that will help recruit the best graduates and reward the classroom teachers, who are vital for the improvement of standards, while at the same time providing a career structure. For the first time, the package links pay and duties and provides a clear definition of what teachers' duties should be. It assists the raising of standards and the improvement of the education service by reducing class sizes and providing preparation time for teachers. Last, but not least, it is a voluntary agreement, freely agreed between the local authorities and the teachers. As such, it is far more likely to stick than any settlement that is imposed from above. All in all, such an agreement offers by far the best chance of a new beginning for our pupils. Above all, it will bring long-term peace to our classrooms and provide the best framework for improving the education prospects of our children.

I have heard criticisms, mostly from the Secretary of State. One is that the agreement is far too expensive.

However, as I said, the pay proposals will be within the Secretary of State's price tag. Perhaps there will be some extra money for the improvement of the service. As I understand it, the money will be phased in over five years. I hope that the Secretary of State is not saying that he is against smaller classes.

Mr. Greenway

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Radice

I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Greenway


Mr. Radice

No, I shall not give way.

Mr. Greenway


Mr. Radice

I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman's first intervention was not any good, and I shall not give way a second time.

There has also been a criticism — [Interruption.] There has also been a criticism of the pay structure. It has been said that it does not reward senior teachers — [Interruption.]

Mr. Kinnock

Quiet, that boy at the back.

Mr. Greenway

The right hon. Gentleman should be quiet at the front.

Mr. Radice

—but the pay structure rewards classroom teachers, and those are the people whom we need to reward. It also provides an adequate promotion structure. In a pay structure one needs to achieve a balance between recruiting the best people into the profession, keeping the best people in the classroom and providing a proper promotion structure. That is what this pay structure is trying to achieve.

The last criticism is that it is said by some that the agreement will not stick, but my latest information is not only that the agreement is likely to he signed by unions representing the majority of members but that the majority of unions will sign the agreement. We should remember that agreements between the local authorities and teachers very often go through on a majority vote. I well recall the previous Secretary of State hailing an interim agreement last January which was not supported by the biggest union, the NUT. In any case, I believe that an agreement such as I hope will be brought to a successful conclusion tonight is far more likely to stick than is a settlement imposed from the top.

We know that the Government intend to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965. We can agree, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition said, that the negotiating machinery needs to be improved. In particular, there is a general consensus that pay and conditions should be negotiated together.

Mr. Greenway

The hon. Gentleman is waking up, is he not?

Mr. Radice

I have always believed that they should be negotiated together. I hope the hon. Gentleman welcomes the news that the employers and teachers have agreed on a new negotiating machinery which discusses pay and conditions together, and on which the Secretary of State or his representatives would be present. Judging by the evidence, we need a reform of bargaining, not its abolition. We shall emphatically reject any pay-fixing arrangements that give all the power to the Secretary of State. We shall reject them as being dictatorial, arbitrary and an affront to basic rights.

Mr. Pawsey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on the question of reform?

Mr. Radice

I am sorry, but I shall not give way. The Secretary of State says that he who pays the piper must call the tune, but I remind him that he is not the sole piper.

Mr. Pawsey

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Radice

I shall not give way. I remind the Secretary of State that he is not the sole piper, and that at the moment the local education authorities are the senior piper. As a result of Government action, they will be paying 54 per cent. of any settlement. In pay settlements, it is not the Government but the local education authorities which are the chief piper. Of course, rate-capped authorities will have to pay even more. Indeed, ILEA will be paying the whole lot.

Nobody knows whether that is all that will be in the Bill, or whether the Secretary of State will use the excuse of the so-called changing of pay arrangements to impose a settlement on the teachers. If the Government use the new legislation to impose a settlement, they will he wrong in principle and they will run into severe problems in practice. It is one thing to have a contract and teaching duties that are freely agreed—indeed, I believe that that will happen — but as Sir William Pile, a former permanent secretary to the Department of Education and Science, has recently said, it is quite another for the Government to impose a contract on 425,000 teachers.

First, there is the constitutional issue. After all, the Government are not the employers. Secondly, there is the practical issue. The Government and the Secretary of State must answer Sir William Pile's question as to how they can impose contracts and conditions of service on people whom they do not employ. We have not had an answer, and we should be given one.

Mr. Kinnock

The Secretary of State said that that was a dilemma.

Mr. Radice

It is a dilemma for the Secretary of State. I understand that.

In conclusion, I believe that the way forward proposed by the Secretary of State will not work and does not deserve to work. The more we hear from the Secretary of State, the clearer it becomes that he does not believe in partnership and thinks that he can run all education and all our schools from his office in Elizabeth House. We reject his authoritarian approach, because it is wrong in principle and will not work in practice. We shall obtain peace in our classrooms and make progress in our schools only if we are prepared to give priority to education, not just at election time, but in a sustained way over a number of years; if we are prepared to invest effectively and wisely in improving standards, widening opportunities and generally improving the education of our children; and if we are prepared to accept that education is a partnership between pupils, teachers, parents, local education authorities and the Government.

3.49 pm
Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-West)

It would gladden the heart of my hon. and much revered Friend the Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes), whom we all love dearly, to reflect that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) and the spokesman for the Liberal party have all been educated at most distinguished public schools. Having heard the debate so far, I believe that the Old Paulines have won the battle over the Wykehamists hands down. However, I shall await a final decision until we have heard from the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud).

I do not know what my hon. Friends thought, but I felt that the hon. Member for Durham, North was somewhat hysterical because he was arguing such a weak and thin case. I should add that I like the hon. Member for Durham, North. I also like the Leader of the Opposition very much indeed — after all, someone who likes rugby cannot be all bad.

I made my maiden speech from the Opposition Benches 21 years ago during an education debate. I congratulate my right hon. Friend and the Government on at last getting away from some of the nonsense that has prevailed over the years since 1965. I therefore support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I believe that the endless row over teachers' pay has been a blight on the education of our children and a squalid blight on the character of what ought to be a most respected and responsible profession.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on having screwed a very substantial settlement out of the skinflint Treasury. That is no mean achievement under any Government, but is particularly so under this one. As a result, teachers have secured a larger percentage rise than any other public service. That should be said loud and clear. I hope that my right hon. Friend will continue to say it, and it should be borne in mind by the public when they reflect on the negotiations.

I have always contended that teachers as a whole are underpaid and have been for many years. But my right hon. Friend is absolutely right about the way in which the money is to be applied. Some 23 years ago, in a similar row, I remember urging the late and much respected Lord Boyle when he was Secretary of State for Education that out of the global sum agreed for the increase he should reward the best teachers and those with experience and responsibility much more than the bottom end who had just come out of training college. That was not done. Over the years this differential has gradually been whittled down. The status of the profession has gone down with it.

We hear a great deal about the fact that teaching should be a "profession". So it should be. But one of the characteristics of a profession is that it is tough and competitive at the start and that the rewards that come later for skill and industry should be large enough to be an incentive to achievement. It is much more important to provide adequate differentials between those of long standing who are committed to the profession and those newcomers who may disappear after a year or two. Very often the dedicated teachers have the most family commitments and the greatest financial commitments, and they should attain some priority. That is why I congratulate the Government on having belatedly recognised this fact.

Of course I understand that the NUT and other union leaders are obsessed about the votes of their many members rather than with standards of excellence. But that egalitarian nonsense and levelling everyone down is damaging for the tillage of the profession and the quality of our children's education.

Everyone has an interest in education — parents, ratepayers and taxpayers. For more than 20 years I have argued that teachers' salaries, which are by far the biggest item on the rates bills that we all loathe receiving, should be the responsibility of the Exchequer. After all, the Education Act 1944 placed an obligation on the Secretary of State to provide an adequate supply of teachers. Why, then, should not he, rather than the local authorities, be responsible for paying the bill? Therefore, I am glad that this overdue reform is at last to take place.

The Secretary of State also called for proper terms of service. That applies throughout the whole of industry and the Civil Service, so it should also apply to teachers. I was especially pleased that he referred to the problem of the curriculum as I wish to refer in particular to the standards in our schools which are related to it.

As my right hon. Friend was kind enough to state, in Cambridgeshire we take that matter extremely seriously. I am particularly interested in his commendable desire to improve the standard of English teaching in response to what I understand are complaints from industry, and I know that he is extremely bothered, as we all are, by the problem of youth violence in society. Therefore, I wish to bring to the attention of the House a disturbing example of how education is going wrong.

Parents of an 11-year-old girl in my constituency brought to my notice a weird instance of what I can only describe as miseducation in a local school. I shall not mention the school by name because I believe that this also occurs in other schools. The problem is not unique to Cambridgeshire. In the English class pupils were given so-called poems and asked to act them out. I shall not read all this nonsense, but I shall give the House one or two examples. One poem reads: Chaos ruled OK in the classroom as bravely the teacher walked in the havocwreakers ignored him his voice was lost in the din. The great McGonagall must be turning in his grave.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Is the hon. Gentleman reading Beano?

Sir Anthony Grant

For the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, who is an education specialist, I am reading what is taught in an English class to I I-year-olds in a state school. The poem continues: He picked on a boy who was shouting and throttled him then and there then garrotted the girl behind him (the one with grotty hair). The poem continues with references to bloodshed, swords, grenades and things of that nature.

Even more disturbing is a poem entitled "Nooligan". It reads: I'm a nooligan I spray me name all over town footballs me game (well, watehin') I'm a nooligan violence is fun gonna be a nassassin or a nired gun (well, a soldier) What sort of drivel is that? What has it to do with the education of 11-year-olds? What rights do parents have to stop this sort of muck from being purveyed to their children? What powers have my right hon. Friend and his Department to correct this nonsense?

It might seem rather amusing, but we must consider also what is happening in schools in other areas. I cite in particular Camden council. It has come to my attention that, as a result of the pressure on teachers, the accident prevention scheme could not use the police to deliver lectures on road safety because the teachers were hostile to the police and were injecting that hostility into the children. If we had a combination of two such attitudes, it would he deeply disturbing and something that all of us throughout society, whether parents or not, and certainly my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, should take seriously. 1 have written to him and sent him this extraordinary load of drivel, at which I hope he will have a look.

By and large, the majority of teachers are fine, dedicated people who recognise the great responsibilities of their task, but are often, unfairly blamed for the failings of parents. Their good name is besmirched by a minority of political fanatics and bigots who have bored into the profession like death-watch beetles, as they have all too often in many decaying Labour party parliamentary seats, such as Knowsley.

At the end of the day, the standards of education depend primarily on the standards of the teaching profession, and my right hon. Friend's policy will raise the standard and status of the profession. It is good for teachers, for children's education and for the future of the country, and may it come into effect as early as possible.

4 pm

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

I apologise for the quality of my voice, but I caught a cold in the streets of Knowsley last Monday. The House will be glad to know that mine is a temporary malady, unlike that of the Labour party, whose malady will be more permanent when the results of the by-election are announced later tonight.

The timing of the debate is not particularly opportune, bearing in mind that the ACAS talks are still going on. The House will no doubt share my feelings that it is unhelpful for us to discuss education while it can jeopardise an agreement, we hope from a majority, if not all, of the unions. What has been so wrong about these talks—in Coventry, Nottingham and now London — which purport to settle the teachers' pay dispute is that none of the parties involved shows any interest in the nation's children. The Secretary of State, the Labour-led local authority employer, the NUT and the NAS/UWT all have in common that they would prefer no deal to one for which someone else might take the credit.

Mr. Radice


Mr. Freud

Hon. Members are protesting so much because clearly that is true.

The Government have known about teacher disenchantment for many years, just as they have known that the Burnham procedure no longer works. It has taken until now, with an election in the offing, to put on the table such money as is remotely likely to placate the teaching profession and make a career in education vaguely attractive. As the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) so rightly said, that money offered two years ago would have saved all the anguish that teachers and children have suffered; the electorate will not forget this.

It is interesting to compare the Keith and Ken approaches to the problem. They use different footwork to achieve the same goal of taking over responsibility for pay and conditions, thanks to the teaching unions being as concerned with recruitment of their opponents' members as they are with the well-being of the nation's children. Both Secretaries of State realised that if they could engineer non-acceptance of what sounds like a reasonable deal they would be on the high ground, because the public are fed up with strikes and will grasp at any solution that promises to end disruption.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) wanted to scrap the 1965 Act, but he did not know what to put in its place. Sadly, he missed the comparative peace and quiet of the early 1980s, when discussions could have taken place. Instead, the Government have waited until all was chaotic and have come up, as of course they had to, with more money, which is right, and more centralism, which is wrong.

Therefore, we have to choose between Pearman, who is probably too expensive in the long term and too insensitive in the short term, and the Secretary of State, who seems to have taken upon himself a divine right — "On the eighth day, Baker created teachers". Of the alternatives, the Secretary of State's solution is more realistic because he has the money to pay for it. However, his approach must become more flexible. His final solution must involve local authorities. He must not rule out direct LEA negotiations with the teachers, if that is the way they want to do it.

I favour incentives to persuade able and conscientious teachers to remain in the classroom, but I also know that schools work best when teachers pull together and share responsibility for their smooth running. It is far from clear how the competition for allowances will work, and whether those too incompetent to win the allowances will still be in charge of teaching our children. What will he done to improve their performance?

The teachers should shelve their demands on class sizes, although I think that they are right to want to retain a significant difference between scale 1 and scale 2. Teachers have worked hard and long to achieve that first step on the ladder. There must be a reasonable gap for difference in their pay.

In an ideal world we would have partnership and the Secretaries of State would have their parts to play, not by agonising or wizard public relations, but by understanding, support and honesty. When I talk of honesty, I am thinking particularly of the previous Secretary of State's "offer" of £ 1.25 billion, which shrank and shrank the more one looked into it, and seemed to be given over ever longer periods until it ended up worth half-a-sixpence. I criticise support first in respect of the assisted places scheme, which was a kick in the teeth to the maintained sector of education.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)


Mr. Freud

It certainly was a kick in the teeth, in that the concept behind it was that good education is available only in the private sector. We would not have minded the concept that if someone is academically able he should move from one school to another more suited to his ability. However, we deny that those schools are available only in the private sector.

The CTCs, unlike the American magnet schools, will undermine the comprehensives by unfair competition. We greatly resent the fact that the Secretary of State is inviting local industry to fund a divided community. There is no question but that with a CTC running alongside a comprehensive, with better conditions and better pay for teachers, and better facilities for children, one will end up with a divided community. If that is what the Secretary of State wants to do—in one place as an experiment—we should have watched it with interest. However, to commit £160 million, £35 million from his Department, to get private funding to divide society is wrong.

Mr. Pawsey

With the utmost respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not follow his argument. For years industry has been saying that a gulf exists between what is taught in the schools and what is needed in industry. Here is a genuine and honest attempt, made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, to bridge that gap, and we are talking about 20 schools only. We will see how the experiment works, and if it works as well as we believe it will, let it be extended. The hon. Gentleman is being less than generous — which is a criticism seldom levelled at him—in being so critical in advance of the inception of the school.

Mr. Freud

Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House what is wrong with helping an existing school, by the injection of extra money, extra teaching and extra expertise, to become a centre of excellence, which he is now trying to create in a CTC? My objection is not that there should be the odd centre of excellence, but that existing schools are unable to become such places.

Mr. Spearing

The hon. Gentleman has spoken about CTCs. Is it not correct to say that there is a considerable shortage of mathematics and technical teachers, and that the Secretary of State has not made it plain whether the new CTCs will he authorised to offer greatly enhanced salaries to their prospective teachers? If that is so, is it not divisive not only of the system but of the profession? When he is winding up the debate, it would be a good idea for the Minister to tell us about that matter.

Mr. Freud

I shall leave the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) to make his own speech. I agree with what he says. Partnership requires a general atmosphere, not of divisiveness, but of encouragement and an atmosphere which upholds morale. That has been singularly lacking from Elizabeth House. Does the Secretary of State know how much the honest classroom teacher resents the commitment of that extra finance out of the maintained sector of education? Does he know how much resentment there is concerning AS-levels, about which he talked so recently? The concept of AS-levels is right but for the fact that small schools, and especially small sixth forms, would be insufficiently funded to teach to AS-level standards. As a result, once again it would be the private sector and the large sixth form colleges which would benefit, and people in small rural areas who have a sixth form and no alternative would miss out.

I should like to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State the Boston compact, in which employers joined forces with local schools to guarantee jobs in return for an improvement in examination results. I am delighted that a similar scheme is expected to go ahead in London, and not only because that allows me to mention David Steel. As the House will know, Sir David Steel is chairman of the Wellcome Trust and will chair the London Enterprise Agency Educational Trust which was launched on Tuesday by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn). I wish that well because it seems to be a far better way of creating understanding and partnership in education than by diverting public money into private institutions.

If Burnham is to go, Burnham Mark II must be better and not just different. We favour a permanent independent pay review board, possibly consisting of three wise men or three wise people. I beg the Secretary of State to remember the priorities. They are not to gain party political advantage or score points over the Opposition, but to ensure the well-being of the local community and of the children, who are only 15 once. While we sit and jockey for position, the children lose what cannot be made up.

4.13 pm
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

It is always rewarding to follow the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) but not as rewarding as it would be if one had the opportunity to follow him when he performs in other media.

The part of the Gracious Speech that I should like to take as my text is the sentence which says that the Government will continue to promote enterprise, the growth of employment and the education and training of young people. As well as anything, that sentence illustrates how difficult it is to allocate subjects to different days on which we debate the Gracious Speech. That is because many things encompassed within it do not fall strictly within the boundaries of the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Health and Social Security.

I should like to start by looking at the enterprise and jobs element contained in the Gracious Speech and make a plea for a special type of enterprise. Wearing my aviation hat, I commend to the Government and to the House the need for support for British Aerospace in its approach to the Government for launch aid for the A330 and the A340 airbus projects. Those projects are an important test of our ability to continue with a meaningful presence in the civil aviation industry. I realise that some people are suspicious about subsidies to industry, but it needs to be stressed that the aid being sought by British Aerospace is not a subsidy but rather in the nature of a loan.

The A320 project is a remarkable success. That aeroplane has not yet flown, but it has obtained more orders than any other aeroplane at that stage of development. That is proof that airbus is a worthwhile project in which Britain should invest. It would be a tragedy for Britain and for Europe if we were not fully committed. I grieve that we see the Governments and Parliaments of France and West Germany already committed to the A330 and the A340 projects while once again Britain appears to be the Johnny-come-lately and we seem to have the most doubts about whether or not we should commit ourselves to this enterprise.

There is sufficient evidence that this is a worthwhile project in itself, but in any case we have to retain a commitment to the civil aviation industry. Money spent in that way, even if only as a loan, is a safer insurance for the future than some of the money deployed by the Government to industry. If we are to find challenging jobs for the people emerging from our education system, we have to be involved in projects of the airbus kind. For that reason, I hope that the Government will decide at an early date to commit themselves to this project.

We need to establish an enterprise culture. That has been said many times by my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench, but I am worried that in some cases there is still far too much hostility towards industry while in other cases the attitude is one of apathy. There has even been deprecating talk about the real continuing importance of manufacturing industry, but it is vital that we have a healthy core of manufacturing industry. Coupled with the general hostility to industry, there appears to be a lack of interest in engineering. We do not seem to see our engineers in the same way as engineers are seen in some of our partner countries.

I heard the other day that we are producing about 8,000 or 9,000 engineering graduates per year, but in Japan the figure is around 90,000. That is a daunting fact. A chemical company that I visited recently believed that it was right to increase the number of engineering apprenticeships that it offered. The firm had a number of inquiries but was not able to fill the places that it was prepared to make available. One wonders why this should be the case. Is it because fathers who have been made redundant in their fifties and sixties are saying to their sons, Avoid engineering-type jobs, or you may face my fate and become redundant"? That betrays a lack of understanding of the complex nature and span of the engineering industry, whose image is connected with dirty overalls and the carrying of spanners. There is no perception of the vast range of activities that are covered by the various industries that are connected with engineering. The industry needs to be esteemed, and esteem is vitally connected with rewards.

Recently I visited the assembly lines of Airbus Industrie where I met a young man who was on secondment from British Aerospace. I guess that he is in his late twenties. He said that there is a different attitude towards engineers in France. He told me that in his class at school he had been lucky in having a teacher who was particularly enthusiastic not only about the opportunities that are available in the engineering industry but also about the importance of that industry. He also told me that several of his classmates had gone on to take engineering degrees and that they are now in good jobs where they are using their engineering expertise.

This young man said that the different attitude towards engineers in France was brought home to him when his wife was talking to one of their newly acquired French friends. He said that when his wife told this friend that she was anxious to find a job in France, the French lady turned to her and said, "Why on earth do you want a job? After all, your husband is an engineer, isn't he?" That illustrates very clearly why—

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

What sexist nonsense.

Mr. Haselhurst

The hon. Lady is prepared from a sedentary position to trot out a slogan which obsesses her.

Dr. McDonald


Mr. Haselhurst

I am merely repeating—

Dr. McDonald

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Haselhurst

Very well.

Dr. McDonald

The hon. Gentleman has made an extraordinary statement. Apparently he approves of the suggestion that because a person's husband is well off there is no reason for the wife to seek employment. What an extraordinary view to appear to endorse.

Mr. Haselhurst

The hon. Lady betrays an absurd obsession. All that I was trying to do was to point out what had been said to me by somebody else. I have not tried to make a qualitative judgment about what was said.

Dr. McDonald

The hon. Gentleman is backing off.

Mr. Haselhurst

No, I am not backing off in the slightest degree — [Interruption.] If the hon. Lady will keep her mouth closed, I shall try to explain to her the point that I am trying to make. I do not think that she impresses the House by that kind of reaction. I have recounted a straightforward anecdote that was related to me by an Englishman whom I met in France. My purpose was to illustrate the different treatment accorded to engineers in France compared with the treatment accorded to British engineers. If the hon. Lady wants to get on her bike and go on a great trip covering sexism, that is for her. But that is not my point. What the wife of this Englishman does is her business. The hon. Lady betrays an inherent personal obsession by getting so excited about what I said.

What can be done about the little interest that is paid to engineering in Britain? The Government have taken a number of helpful initiatives. In a recent speech, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science referred to the "quiet revolution" in education. He instanced the introduction of the General Certificate of Secondary Education, the technical and vocational education initiative, the establishment of the National Council for Vocational Qualifications and the establishment of city technology colleges. These important steps have been taken by the Government to try to create more interest in the practical and vocational aspects of preparation for the world of work. However, we have to ask ourselves whether that is enough.

If there is to be closer co-operation between education and industry, which has been one of the themes and one of the successes of Industry Year, we have to go a great deal further than we have gone so far. I commend the steps that have already been taken by the Government. Also, I commend what many companies have been doing during Industry Year. However, it does not add up to a universal pattern that is strong enough to cope with the problem.

I continue to find instances of companies that have been unable to attract the right kind of recruits, or a sufficient number of recruits. Apparently, they have made no real effort to talk regularly to schoolchildren about the kind of careers that their companies can offer them. We must be much more emphatic about the need for cooperation between industry and education, which means that prejudices on both sides will have to be broken down.

Another alarming factor in our attempt to create a greater commitment to vocational studies and training is the hostility in some parts of the country towards the youth training scheme. There is worrying evidence that young people are rejecting that scheme and that their rejection varies according to the type of course. I understand that, whereas clerical courses are fully taken up, electronic engineering and similar courses are under-subscribed. Apparently, youngsters feel that they are being used by the youth training scheme. That is tragic, because I have always been a strong supporter of a properly devised two-year training scheme for young people.

That attitude is not found in West Germany. Young people accept that they must undergo a period of training during which their wages are fixed as a relatively small proportion of the adult wage. That is not regarded as a difficulty. As we have reached that stage more recently in this country, some young people apparently believe that they are being sold short. That is a great shame.

I recently visited two workshops in the west midlands whose training schemes are being supported by the Manpower Services Commission. Both schemes came into existence through the initiative of the Community Projects Foundation. I have the honour of being the chairman of the trustees of that foundation, and it was in that capacity that I visited those training schemes. They are two good schemes, but there are worrying anecdotes about the resistance of young people to join the youth training scheme when they leave school. In one class of 30 pupils, only two are said to show, at least at the beginning, any interest in training of this kind. However, the reaction of young people who have chosen to join such courses shows that the quality of the training on offer is very good indeed. How we bridge the gap I do not know, but we have to address that problem.

Mr. Pawsey

Will my hon. Friend say a word about the percentage of young people who gain full-time employment after being on the youth training scheme? I hope that he will also find time during his particularly interesting speech to refer to apprenticeships and to the fact that in West Germany apprentices are paid only one third of the skilled man's wage, whereas in the United Kingdom they are paid two thirds of the skilled man's wage.

Mr. Haselhurst

I have already alluded to West Germany and I do not want to take that comparison any further. However, my hon. Friend is right to refer to the success rate of young trainees in gaining full-time employment. The take-up varies, but overall it has been high and that is encouraging.

I believe that a young person is foolish if he does not take up the opportunities that are available. At least one of the two schemes that I visited recently was specially designed to cater for the needs of those with low attainment — the especially difficult cases. That scheme has a 70 per cent. success rate in permanent job placements. There is much evidence of what can be done with well-thought-out, well-prepared training schemes, and we must ensure that more people take up the opportunities presented by them.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I was recently in Germany, together with the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), looking at its equivalent to the youth training scheme. One of the deficiencies in the German system was that, although the period of training was longer—from two to five years, depending on the potential of the youth—there was no provision for general education, only industrial training. That scheme is less advanced than ours. On a day which is devoted, to some extent, to education, I believe that we should emphasise that our youth training scheme should embrace the idea that education, not just training for industry, should play an ever larger part in the scheme.

Mr. Haselhurst

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and I accept what he says.

One of the important features of the technical and vocational education initiative is that it enables that blend to take place from the ages of 14 to 18. The YTS operates from the age of 16 for those who have made their decision to leave school. One hopes that the YTS rekindles—or even sparks off for the first time—the imagination and enthusiasm of the trainees, and perhaps leads towards further education. For that to happen, we must make sure that there is sufficient flexibility and movement between one scheme and another. In the past, the channels have been too rigid and we must break that down.

I broach my next point with some trepidation, in view of the over-excited reaction from Opposition Benches to one of the other matters that I have raised. I have always questioned how far it is right to continue with the YTS as an entirely voluntary scheme. Of course I realise that one volunteer is better than a pressed man—or, I hasten to add, woman. However, can we for ever tolerate young people wilfully failing to take the opportunity of well-prepared and worked-out schemes and preferring to take such money as is available from social security? If we were providing nothing for young people, there would have to be a state safety net. However, as the state, at great expense, together with employers, also at great expense, are providing opportunities for the betterment of those young people as well as the ultimate betterment of the country, can we for ever say that the voluntary principle must be so sacrosanct that nothing can be done about it? The Government will have to think about that.

I have been taken a little further down some lanes than I intended. I would like to refer to the educational aspects of the Gracious Speech. I commend what the Government have done to change the government of schools. I hope and believe that that is right, but I have some reservations. I am not sure that there is universal evidence that the governors of schools are hungry enough for the higher standards to ensure that they come about. I have had direct experience of people who believe that everything is rather jolly and rather nice—people who, with the best will in the world, believe that they have the finest school that they could possibly imagine. They do not judge the school critically, and perhaps do not know how to look at it more critically. That means that the gulf will remain wide between what state schools provide and what may be found in the private sector. If more parent governors are the key to an improvement in educational standards, they must be somewhat sharper in the way that they address themselves to their task.

It is almost sub judice to say anything today about the teachers. It is self-evident that we will not achieve a good standard of education or the quality that we need unless we have an improved and committed teaching force. During the past 18 months, I have spoken to many teachers about this, but what worries me is that, as they have pursued what I understand they believe to be a legitimate claim, they have become carried away with the importance of what they are doing and the environment in which they are working—to a point where they are making demands that bear less relationship to reality than they must bear if, within our democratic society, we are to accommodate them. There are other public servants of importance, whom we acknowledge in this House, who must also be requited to a satisfactory level. There is a danger that teachers are trying to gain in a settlement a quantity of resources which does not acknowledge that government must always be about priorities, and we cannot relegate entirely such matters as housing and social security simply so that everything can be done at once to bring education to a state of almost perfection.

The teachers underestimate the danger that, if they go too far in their salary demands, they will attract emulation from other groups of public servants, and so may well not be treated as the special case which they regard themselves to be. That special case will be cited to boost further claims and there will be a rerun of what happened after the Houghton settlement, and the position that teachers believe they have won will be eroded in short time, to their loss and the nation's loss.

Teachers must remember that parents' perception of this is very mixed. Of course the majority are excellent and dedicated teachers, and we must acknowledge and accept that, and they must be rewarded. But they are not all of universal standard. Parents see, on a day-to-day basis, some of the weaknesses. Sometimes parents may not be altogether fair in their judgments, but parents are the indirect customers of the state schools. They can make a comparison between a teacher who is struggling with a class of 36 and a teacher who still seems to struggle with a class of 20. Parents may also look over their shoulders and compare what is happening in the private sector. They may wonder why the arithmetic tables—if they are still important in our society — are learned in the private sector by the age of seven, whereas in the state school children may still be learning the three-times table. Parents worry about the standard of the teaching profession.

My right hon. Friend is right to bring forward legislation to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965. There is a patent need for a new mechanism. I hope that such mechanism as will ultimately emerge will give an assurance to teachers about their future prospects. I ask them not to expect to get everything they need and want at the present time, but if we can demonstrate that they will not slip behind as they have done in the past and provide a mechanism to give that reassurance, we may enter a period of greater tranquillity.

There must be a better understanding of industry's needs and a better relationship between education and industry. We must make sure that the country is well represented in the new industries, hence my reference to airbus. So let the Government, in the words of the Gracious Speech, continue to promote enterprise, the growth of employment and the education and training of young people. Let there be an added urgency in strengthening the links between all elements. Employers, teachers and parents need to be far better informed about this essential interrelationship. I believe that the country will be strengthened in the end only when all are committed to it.

4.40 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I hope that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) will forgive me if I do not take up many of the arguments that he advanced. He had some interesting comments to make about training, and it may be worthwhile to consider them when we have a greater opportunity to discuss them.

It has been said during the debate, and on a number of occasions recently, that education has become one of the key political issues and a source of conflict between the main parties. That it is a conflict is already evident in this debate, and for that reason I wish slightly to lessen the element of conflict by injecting initially an element of consensus. During the previous Session we saw the passage of what is now the Education Act 1986, and I took the opportunity on the Second Reading of that measure to draw the attention of the House to the activities of the Federation of Conservative Students and the way in which, in various circumstances, it has challenged the freedom of speech by its rather stupid and insensitive behaviour.

On the Second Reading of the Education Bill, as it then was, I suggested that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is also the chairman of the Conservative party, would be well advised to spend some of his time considering the federation's activities. It was with some pride and satisfaction that I read this morning a news report in the Daily Telegraph which suggested that the right hon. Gentleman has taken my advice, has acted upon the federation's behaviour, has closed it down and has kicked it out of Conservative Central Office.

It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to inject a note of consensus into the debate. I hope that on many other occasions the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will act upon my advice. On the same note of consensus, I offer a word in favour of the federation. It must feel a little unhappy this morning at having been disowned by its parent body, but it may feel reassured to know that it is clear that the commitment of the chairman of the Conservative party to freedom of speech is equally divided between the federation and the BBC.

I leave the federation behind, in the same way as the Conservative party has done, to make some comments on the teachers' dispute and the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965, which are central to the debate. I shall make two preliminary comments. First, I am in a position as a parent, which is not unique, of having a child who this year —he is a 16-year-old, so he will not take kindly to my describing him as a child — will be taking his O-levels. Therefore, I have a great and deep personal desire to see no disruption in our schools. Like every other parent of children in that age group and in others, I shall judge the behaviour of the Secretary of State over the next few weeks on whether he can deliver peace in our schools. This is extremely important for my child and for many others throughout the country, and this is the real judgment that parents will make, irrespective of whether the outcome helps the right hon. Gentleman's political ambitions. Continuity of education in our schools is all important.

Secondly, I wish to make a few preliminary remarks about the performance of the chairman of the employers' side in the negotiations that have been taking place over the past few days. The comments that the Secretary of State has made from the Dispatch box have been slightly disappointing, and the same can be said of the comments of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), who acts as the Liberal party's spokesman on education. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's comments can be attributed to the cold that he contracted at Knowsley. He is usually a much more balanced and able individual than the comments that he made this afternoon would suggest.

It is worth while putting on record the efforts that the chairman of the employers' side has made to reach a negotiated settlement. He has showed considerable patience and a great deal of skill in the negotiations, and I speak as someone who has watched his career develop over a few years. He is a former colleague of mine on the Wakefield metropolitan district council. We did not always agree at that stage, but I hope he will feel that my comments this afternoon are appropriate, given the background of our personal experiences.

In the light of the Government's intervention in the teachers' pay dispute or pay settlement and their general behaviour, we must ask why the Secretary of State has behaved as he has in the negotiations. There was a long period of studied indifference by the former Secretary of State for Education and Science, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), and it has been rightly said that if the money that is now on the table had been made available 18 months ago we would have had a settlement and no disruption.

The previous Secretary of State said, in effect, "This has nothing to do with me and I want to leave the issue to the employers and the unions. I shall not help in any way." There was a long period during which we asked the right hon. Gentleman to intervene, but he did not. We then had a change of Secretary of State, but there was still the same approach pre-Coventry. A long time elapsed between the Coventry and Nottingham negotiations, and all that we had from the Secretary of State was silence, with the exception of a speech at the Conservative party conference. It is fair to say that there were no effective comments about the Coventry agreement.

When we came near to the time of the Nottingham negotiations a statement was made in the House, and when the negotiations started we had the indirect but potent intervention of the Secretary of State, which means that we must come to a judgment on the right hon. Gentleman's behaviour. I can come only to the conclusion that the Secretary of State is determined to ensure that the negotiations do not reach an effective and successful conclusion. It seems that he feels that there is political mileage in that. The Minister of State shakes her head, but I shall give further evidence that I consider to be important.

Over the past seven years there has been threat after threat by Government Back Benchers and from the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science to intervene directly in pay negotiations. Throughout that period we have had evidence of Conservative Back Benchers and Ministers taking every available opportunity to run down the status of teachers. The Government are determined not to see an agreement between teachers and their employers, and that is why the Secretary of State has behaved as he has over the past fortnight.

I think that we can understand the Secretary of State's present behaviour, and that being so I wish to move forward to consider the implications of removing the Burnham machinery. The Government were elected on the basis that they would restore local democracy and move away from the nasty centralising tendencies that seemed, according to them, to be endemic to Socialists. Yet there is a suggestion in the Queen's Speech that one person, the Secretary of State, will basically determine teachers' pay. If that applies to teachers, why should it not apply to other local government employees? Why should it not apply to local government manual workers and clerical staff? If the power is taken to determine teachers' pay, it seems that we are seeing the thin end of the wedge. Why should not the Government exercise the same power over other groups of workers?

If there is a long period of negotiation between local government manual workers and local government employers, for example, will the Government say, "We want the power to impose a settlement upon this group of workers because they cannot reach a settlement"? Is that what they will say? If they take that course, they will claim that they have a precedent. They will say, "We have done this with the teachers and we shall proceed on the basis of what we have done previously."

I worry greatly about this attack on local democracy, especially from a Government who claim to be opposed to centralisation. All that we have seen since the Secretary of State took up his present position is the direction of more and more power to the Department of Education and Science, with less and less power remaining in the hands of local education authorities and local government. I worry about that aspect of the abolition of the Burnham system.

I am worried also about the way in which teachers will respond to the loss of their pay machinery and how they will respond to the Government imposing upon them a settlement on pay and conditions. That contains two crucial elements. How can the Government impose contracts when they are not the teachers' employers? The Secretary of State wriggled away from that question. He was asked it more than once and on each occasion he failed to respond, but it is crucial to the entire nature of the Government's proposal. If the Government say that they will change English contract law so fundamentally that they, as a third party, can impose a deal and a contract, it will be a fundamental change in contract law and the House and the House of Lords will wish to comment upon it fully.

How will the Government impose that contract? If local education authorities will not impose the contract and will not take teachers to court to impose it, what do the Government propose to do? If local education authorities say that they cannot take teachers to court, will the Government tell them that some of their rate support grant will be removed because they have failed to behave in a certain way?

The Secretary of State must say how he intends to use the powers which I suspect he will take to himself in the legislation that will be introduced. The contractual questions must be answered as quickly as possible so that teachers know the answers.

As a further aside, I must say that I was disturbed when the Secretary of State did not respond to my suggestion that he may wish to put his proposals to a ballot of the teachers. I am a sensible and often commonsensical man. Some time ago I came to a simple political conclusion. I have been told regularly—it has been reinforced by the newspapers — that the Government favour ballots in industrial disputes. I made a suggestion which I considered to be totally in line with everything in which the Conservatives believe—to have a ballot on the Secretary of State's proposals We heard all about ballots during the miners' dispute and other industrial disputes. Every time the Prime Minister and other Ministers said that we should have ballots, yet this afternoon the Secretary of State did not seem enthusiastic. Is that because of a change in principle? That worries me, because no one has announced that the Government have changed their position in principle. I know that Governments change their principled positions. Have the Government changed their position, or are they simply worried about the result of a ballot? Is that why they do not have the courage to put the Baker offer to teachers? I suspect that that is the real reason. They do not have the courage to put their offer to the teachers for the teachers to make a judgment on it.

Mr. Flannery

On the question of ballots, my hon. Friend probably noticed that, throughout the years, the Government have repeatedly condemned the National Union of Teachers. During that time the NUT had 17 ballots of its entire membership on whether it should engage in industrial action. On every one of those ballots between 79 and 83 per cent. of the union membership voted for industrial action. The Government never mentioned that when they were demanding ballots.

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend is correct. It is sad that the NUT can run 17 ballots while the Secretary of State is incapable of running one.

Further to my previous point about contracts, the Government seem to have made the false assumption that high morale can be imposed on teachers by imposing a contract. Classroom performance of teachers cannot be improved by imposing a contract. The very best that the Government will obtain will be an alienated teacher force characterised by low morale. The worst that they will obtain is that teachers will continue to take industrial action.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold)

The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting set of speculations and assertions. Will he give us some idea of his grounds for suggesting what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State may do? Will he tell us whether he or other Labour Members would like the Remuneration of Teachers Act to continue in its present form?

Mr. Fatchett

Those points will not delay me for long. My assumptions follow intrinsically and logically from what the Secretary of State has already said and done. On the question of the Remuneration of Teachers Act, Opposition Members have already made it clear that they would welcome a negotiated agreement between the employers and the teachers' unions on the machinery for negotiating pay and conditions in the teaching profession. That position is clear enough.

The worst possible position for the Government would be for their acton to cause further industrial disruption in schools. That cannot be avoided if the Secretary of State continues with his decision to act unilaterally. It is not too late for him to draw back and show good will towards the teachers' unions and the employers' associations. I hope that he will have the grace and common sense to do that. If he does, he will be remembered by teachers and parents for that good will. If he does not, he must take responsibility for what will happen subsequently.

It is sad that, yet again, the Secretary of State devoted so much of his speech to teachers' pay and conditions and to criticising the teaching profession. I had hoped that the debate would provide us with an opportunity to talk about standards, quality, access and opportunity in education. The Secretary of State —

Mr. John Whitfield (Dewsbury)

Waffle! Waffle!

Mr. Fatchett

The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) can intervene, but from that position he is hardly making an intellectual contribution to the debate.

Mr. Whitfield

Nor is the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Fatchett

The Secretary of State talks about standards in his own terms. He said that standards cannot be bought by investing more money in education. 1 f money is not invested in education, standards will deteriorate. My criticism of the Government is that they have allowed that deterioration to take place. I wish that the Secretary of State would address himself, not just to that deterioration, but to the opportunities for more people of all ages to have access to education. For instance, why did he not talk about the extension of nursery school provision or the opening up of higher education in society? None of those topics is on the Conservative party agenda. The Government will go to the country during the next 12 months with a record on education—

Mr. Dunn

With regard to nursery provision, does the hon. Gentleman know whether more rising fives receive some nursery provision in primary schools, voluntary day groups or in nursery schools than they did in 1979?

Mr. Fatchett

I, and I am sure all parents throughout the country, would like the provision of nursery education to be a right for children of that age. The Government cannot be satisfied with their record. The Government will go to the country with their education record in tatters but, even more important, they will go to the country with a limited agenda. That is an agenda of little education merit —an agenda of scare and attack upon teachers. Most parents will recognise the Government's record for what it is and will reject what they have to offer for the future of education.

4.58 pm
Mr. J. F. Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) failed to answer the question that was fairly put to him by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State. He did not answer it, not because he did not know the answer—I suspect that he knows it perfectly well—but because he did not wish to give it. The answer is that there are now more children in nursery schools than there were in 1979 when the Labour Government left office.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House who is in political control of the bulk of the local authorities that have increased the provision of nursery education? Will he also say how little the Government have done to encourage that trend through the rate support grant?

Mr. Pawsey

With respect to the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd), who has just entered the debate, I must tell him yet again that more children are educated in nursery schools today than in 1979. Those are the facts. With all respect to him, no matter how much he huffs and puffs he knows that that is true.

I want to comment on two points made by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). I admired what he said about his deep and personal desire to end the teachers' dispute. There is no disagreement in the House about that. I only wish that some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues would also say so a little longer and louder.

However, the hon. Gentleman was uncharacteristically unfair when he sought to suggest that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is seeking to take power from the edge and bring it to the centre. I was surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman say that because, like me, he served on the Bill which became the Education Act 1986. That Act gives more power to parents. How can the hon. Gentleman square that with his argument that my right hon. Friend is seeking to take power to the centre? With the utmost respect, I do not think that he can reconcile those two dissimilar points.

I intended to refer to only one issue, that of teachers' pay. However, before I do so, I am drawn to say a few words about city technology colleges. It is proposed to set up 20 schools catering for 20,000 pupils only. It is intended that these pupils will enjoy a technical, scientific and business bias, which is entirely good. How anyone can say that those 20 schools will be divisive frankly escapes me. I believe that the schools will be useful as a yardstick against which we can compare the results of other schools. As far as that goes, it must be applauded.

I speak as a product of a technical school and technical college. I am well aware of the good of such institutions and that is, above all, why I welcome the CTCs. I am aware that they will help to bridge the gap between industry and education. That point has been made repeatedly by employers. I also welcome the fact that they will be funded by industry through trusts set up for the schools. That will help to ensure that they produce young people who understand engineering and industry. It is significant that my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) devoted a substantial proportion of his excellent speech to the need to reinforce industry. I am sure that he would join me in applauding the creation of the CTCs.

I must return to my main theme this afternoon, which is teachers' pay. I shall briefly recap on some of the salient features of the dispute. Disruption first started in the spring and summer of 1984. Hon. Members will recall that a substantial pay award was then made at arbitration, amounting to 5.1 per cent. Last year, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), the former Secretary of State, made an offer worth £1.25 billion over four years. Attached to that offer were certain conditions, but the offer was rejected in 20 minutes. If I may paraphrase, "Never has so much been rejected so quickly by so many."

In January 1986 ACAS entered the negotiations and in March an increase of 8.5 per cent. was ratified under its auspices. In May this year an interim 5.7 per cent. increase was agreed for 1986—87. July saw the emergence of the Coventry heads of agreement. In October, the Main committee recommended for Scotland a 16 per cent. pay increase. The teacher unions in England, in their wisdom, then decided to make six extra pay demands which would have added 50 per cent. to the cost of the Coventry heads of agreement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State now enters the action with a truly massive offer of some 16.4 per cent. — the offer that is now on the table. Clearly, my right hon. Friend believed that he was making an offer that could not be refused, and that view was shared by most Conservative Members, by most parents—who are not getting increases of anything like that amount—and by many teachers.

My right hon. Friend's offer, added to the earlier increases, makes a total pay rise of about 25 per cent. over 18 months. That is the magnitude of the offer which currently lies on the table. It is conditional on the acceptance of certain defined teachers' duties—basically, the duties that teachers have accepted over a substantial period.

On the one hand, there is an offer of 25 per cent. over 18 months—an offer which goes back to Houghton in terms of RPI — and, on the other, a continuation of a dispute that damages children and schools and reduces the status of an honourable and honoured profession.

In parentheses I remind the Opposition and the teacher unions that Houghton was lost in the period betwen 1974 and 1979—the period of the Labour Government when inflation was allowed to rip and reached a figure of about 27.5 per cent. Under the Labour Government inflation became almost an item of policy.

I am rapidly reaching the conclusion that the teachers' dispute is now less about pay, less about conditions and less about children's education, and increasingly about politics—politics between unions, politics in unions and politics about the membership of unions. The dispute has become increasingly an exercise in macho-union politics.

Most classroom teachers think that the 25 per cent. offer over 18 months is a good, fair and reasonable increase. However, the problem is that some union leaders, for reasons that seem to range from a wish to embarrass the Government to showing their membership that they can be as militant as the next union, have decided that 25 per cent. is not enough and that duties that were freely undertaken for years are now unnecessary, unfair and unwanted.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is now criticised for saying that he will impose — almost for having the cheek to impose—a 16 per cent. increase. I ask Opposition Members one simple question: how many other groups in industry would like an imposed solution that includes a 16 per cent. increase in pay? That is the offer on the table, and I urge teachers to pick it up.

I wonder what parents will think when they see professionals turning down that sort of real and substantial increase in favour of more classroom disruption, with yet more damage to their children's education. Their reaction will be very simple. They are absolutely fed up. A letter that I received from a constituent today — not a Conservative supporter — states: Once again my 10 year-old son is having his schooling interrupted by industrial action by some of the teachers. I presume that I am expected to write to you and say how dreadfully misunderstood has been the teachers' case. Well, I do not so write. I consider the teachers' action to be very unprofessional and their estimate of their own value to society to be considerably greater than it is in reality. That letter came from an ordinary member of the electorate. That is the thought that I urge all the teachers' unions and Opposition Members to take fully into account. That is the reality and the view of the situation seen outside this Chamber by members of the public.

Mr. Fatchett

I do not deny the validity of the letter from which the hon. Gentleman has just quoted. However, I wonder whether it is statistically representative. I notice that the National Confederation of Parent-Teacher Associations is on record as criticising the Secretary of State's intervention and his activities of this week. Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the NCPTA is more representative of parent opinion than are his one simple letter and his prejudices?

Mr. Pawsey

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I wonder whether the association to which he referred has had an opportunity to poll its membership. I suspect it is a one-off assumption.

Mr. Fatchett

Is that the answer that the Under-Secretary has just given the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Pawsey

That is not the answer I was given, as a matter of interest. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has yet another answer for the hon. Gentleman. If the hon. Gentleman rises again, he ought to watch it. But I am not giving way further on that issue.

In the Gracious Speech there is reference to repealing the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965. It was interesting that both the Leader of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) referred to the reform of the Burnham arrangements, yet did not go further. It is significant that they did not detail the way in which their reforms would affect Burnham. What exactly are their proposals? I willingly give way to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who currently has the misfortune of facing the Dispatch Box, if he will enlighten the House on the Opposition's proposals for the reform of Burnham.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

The hon. Gentleman has obviously not been attending to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) made it clear that we would support the negotiated reform of Burnham—a machinery that was fairly negotiated between all interested parties to get a better, more progressive machinery for determining teachers' pay. That seems to be a sensible and reasonable way to approach the subject. The Government seem determined to impose something that will not have the support or the enthusiastic backing of people who are concerned with that machinery and those negotiations.

Mr. Pawsey

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his courage, but on nothing else. What has he said? What type of reform does he suggest for Burnham? Who would comprise Burnham? Who would pick up the tab at the end of the day? How will it be an improvement? We put those issues to the hon. Gentleman. We should like to hear specific details, not vague generalities that can be translated into anything at all.

Mr. Fisher

The hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand the difference between "negotiation" and "imposition".

Mr. Pawsey

That may be a clever phrase, but a clever phrase does not cut any ice in this House. We recognise that the hon. Gentleman is making the best of a bad job. But he has still not told us what he would put in place of Burnham. He has still failed to spell out the details of his Burnham package.

Mr. Flannery

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pawsey

No. I have given way. The hon. Gentleman will have an opportunity to make his speech in his own inimitable fashion. The House will listen, with its usual respect, to what he has to say. He will make his point if he has the good fortune to be called.

We shall see—this is heralded in the Queen's Speech — the demise of the Burnham committee negotiating machinery. Judging by what has taken place at Nottingham, that will not be before time. Burnham has become an unwieldy instrument, more used for argument than for agreement. But what I have genuinely found surprising is the way in which teachers and employers can sit around a table and produce agreements which have to be funded basically by a third party—the Government—whose representation at discussions is minimal, and whose involvement, apparently, is only the power to veto. This throws an interesting light on the old adage about power and responsibility. We have a Government with little power over Burnham but all the responsibility for finding the funds and picking up the tab. No wonder my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State views Burnham with apprehension and concern and is anxious to see it replaced. Burnham has had its day and should be decently and speedily buried.

I hope that the new machinery which emerges will recognise the importance of teachers in society and will ensure that they receive good and reasonable rernuneration. Job satisfaction is simply not enough. Equally, I trust that good and reasonable remuneration will be balanced by a desire to teach and train the nation's youth to the benefit of those young people and of society.

Over the past two years, I have argued in the House a not always popular case — basically, more pay for teachers. I have said that a teacher's job is a great deal more than long holidays and free periods. I have repeatedly asked my right hon. Friends to put more money up front for teachers so that their professional worth is recognised. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has done just that. He has screwed from a reluctant Treasury sums that few hon. Members thought possible. He has put together a good, fair package which should ensure peace in the classroom and good education for the nation's children. The offer made by my right hon. Friend clearly shows his commitment to the education service and to the teaching force. If we are to obtain the best education for our children, we need the goodwill and enthusiasm of teachers. Over the past few years, that goodwill has not always been forthcoming. The offer now on the table should prove, as nothing else, that the Government are anxious to improve the standards and quality of teachers and of teaching. The Government have put their money where their mouth is. The offer should be accepted.

5.16 pm
Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Brent, South)

This is a sad occasion for me. The House will know that this debate on the Loyal Address is possibly the last time that I shall have an opportunity to speak on the Queen's Speech on a subject which I have pursued with as much energy as I can during my time in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am not sad for myself. Had I entered Wormwood Scrubs, which serves my constituency, 27 years ago instead of Westminster, by now I might have been paroled for good behaviour. I am desperately and profoundly sad about the subject that I am about to raise. I have had the privilege, during 27 debates on Loyal Addresses, to share with the House my thoughts on the National Health Service. I shall refer to the grave omission this year, for the second time running, of any reference in the Gracious Speech to the Health Service, which takes up £2 billion of public expenditure. This is a further sign that health has been relegated to the second division.

In my earlier days, a debate such as this would have been answered by a Minister for Health, or a day would have been allocated to debate the matter with the Minister for Health. Today, health is looked upon as no longer a matter for parliamentary control. Over the last seven years there has been a change in managerial administration. Management rests outside the House. It is no wonder that health is omitted from the Queen's Speech. All that goes on in the National Health Service today is outwith the power of Parliament and of democratically elected local people, and rests, after the adoption of the Griffiths report, purely with managers, some of whom know a lot about the way in which industry might be run, but have very little idea about humanity and the needs of sick and disabled people.

Last year I tried to be constructive and critical. For the sake of accuracy I have availed myself of a copy of my speech. I regret to say that some of the major efforts that I made to persuade the Government to move a little towards patients, in spite of their original "patients first" claim, have been to no avail, and today I shall refer again to some of the basic points that I was trying to make then. I come back full of despair.

When I first became an hon. Member, I was brash enough to be the first of the batch of new boys to make a maiden speech. For the sake of accuracy, I have looked at my speech. Despite the fact that a Tory Government were in power, the speech was full of hope and enthusiasm. I said that we had established a foundation upon which could be built, in the next 20 years, a superior service for sick people, but instead there has been a deterioration in service. My enthusiasm has given way to despair.

The House has kindly heard me make speeches on this subject many times. I am pleased to see in his place the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), because we have pursued similar ends, often from different sides of the House, in debate after debate.

Mr. Crouch

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I hope, if I catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to follow the hon. Gentleman, as I have so often done in the past.

Mr. Pavitt

If I may say so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that is typical of the hon. Gentleman.

I have a high regard for the new Minister for Health. Last year, when I spoke in the debate on the Loyal Address, the hon. Gentleman, although he was the Minister with responsibility for the disabled, was kind enough to respond to one question and said that he would ensure that I received an answer from the Minister of State. I have never received that answer. I do not blame him for that; I just blame the circumstances at the time.

I am afraid that I do not have that same high regard for the Secretary of State for Social Services. He is one of the most able Ministers in the Government and would be an able Minister in any Department. If he has the good fortune to move up in the Cabinet table, I am sure that he will juggle the statistics with the same expertise as he has shown in dealing with the Health Service and social services. As for his commitment to health, he is a professional Minister, but he is not full of care and compassion for the subjects whom he administers.

The Government tell the House and the nation that there have never been so many nurses and doctors, or such huge increases in expenditure, yet every hon. Member knows that in his own patch he has to watch cuts which are made under the euphemism of "efficiency savings" taking away any possibility of improving services.

The Government boast about the increased amounts of money that they give, but, unfortunately, that expenditure cannot catch up with the increased technology which is now available and the increased demands and needs of a larger population. The Government like to talk about their long-term capital appreciation and to boast about the number of hospitals that there will be, some time. They say nothing about resources allocation. In 1982 the resources allocation to the NHS increased by 0.8 per cent. on the 1981 allocation. In 1983 there was no increase. In 1984 there was a decrease—minus 0.1 per cent. In 1985 there was an increase of 0.4 per cent. For most of that time inflation was about 3 per cent.

There should be an increase in resources, but the Government have chosen to put their money not into resources but into long-term capital investment. That is entirely wrong. I should have liked the Gracious Speech to say something about the Government's plans in this respect. They could have introduced legislation for a number of good causes, not least to end the closure of hospitals, which occurs under the present procedure. What consultation procedure is followed before the Minister makes a decision? The present procedure is too vague. I should have liked to see in the Gracious Speech legislation that tied that down so that more people would have a greater say in the consultations between themselves and the Minister.

The National Health Service is bedevilled by the Government's obsession with industry, factory production, statistics and rationalisation. My hospital is known as the Park Royal, Central Middlesex hospital, and for 25 years I have watched rationalisation at work, mainly by Lord Weinstock in GEC. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) talked about engineering. Twenty-seven years ago I represented high employment engineering, but that has all been rationalised out of existence. A company can make higher profits producing fewer goods and sacking more people. In terms of a capitalist enterprise, that makes business sense, but if the same criteria are applied to the Health Service, more and more people are made redundant and more and more services are cut. The Government then try to claim that, with the slimmed-down version, they are doing as much as if resources had been poured in.

I am especially worried about one rationalisation in the NHS which the Minister has on his desk and which affects my constituency. One result of the last reorganisation was that there were 91 district health authorities. The theory was that, as far as possible, for geriatrics, mental illness and mental disability, there should be coterminosity between social services caring for the patient in the community and those caring for the patient under the NHS. The Minister will soon decide whether to amalgamate Brent district health authority with the Paddington and North Kensington health authority, making one of the largest health authorities in the country. There has been no consultation. This amalgamation is another means of rationalisation. It enables cuts to he made much more quickly and effectively under a single authority.

I shall give some examples of the way in which the present operations of the NHS affect the patient. First, there is the elderly lady with renal failure who has been kept alive with home dialysis. In August she contracted peritonitis and had to go to hospital twice a week for dialysis because she could no longer be treated at home. Her 70-year-old husband had to drive her 15 miles to hospital, and back again after midnight, because she had to spend six hours on the machine. She is in an impossible position. She has been told by the health authority that the solution is to buy her own machine to use at home, and that is the solution. The local neighbours have been clubbing together to find the £6,000 to help her pay for the machine. Because of the shortage of nurses, there are no nurses on duty in the dialysis unit after 6 o'clock. As with all home dialysis treatment the relations do the necessary, so the lady's 70-year-old husband has to take the nurses' place. That district health authority has announced that it will support no more home dialysis, that it is up to the patient. Is that the care that the Government talk about when they refer to putting patients first? There is a shortage of funds, and so an elderly person with renal failure has to find £6,000 to save her life and to save her husband's health.

Another example is not far from this place. Hon. Members on both sides of the House, and in both Houses, have been fighting for five or six years to prevent the closure of Westminster hospital. Its closure has been on the stocks for some time and it is being run down. When I discussed this in the House last year, I had to say that, having fought hard with a number of colleagues from both sides of the House to save the department of cardiac surgery, that department was closed. The department of ophthalmics also closed. Now the radiography department is under threat of closure in spite of the fact that public subscription and donations have provided £1,200,000 worth of expensive machinery for cancer patients.

Last week the hospital was informed that unless £45,000 could be found within the next few weeks it is likely that the pacemaker unit that deals with heart cases will have to be closed. About 60 per cent. of heart cases in the unit come from outside the Riverside district. The children's hospital is to be closed also. The original arrangement was to shift it to the parent hospital Westminster. However, that is now in doubt. It might be closed altogether or shifted somewhere else.

Further evidence for what I call the salami-slicing of hospitals by taking off one piece at a time until they are no longer viable is the promised relocation of Westminster hospital to a site near the Brompton hospital. The pie in the sky that is being held out is that if Westminster hospital is closed by degrees over the next few years a brand new, shining, "Rolls-Royce" hospital will emerge. One could ask, "When?" Hopefully, by the end of the century. The House still needs its own hospital. Hundreds of hon. Members are grateful for the services that are provided by Westminster hospital. We still need to fight to keep it open.

Within the past 24 hours I have come across the saddest case of all. A 94-bed hospital for geriatrics in my constituency was closed three years ago. Yesterday the Minister decided to approve the closure of Neasden hospital, which was a hospital for 84 geriatric patients. They will be transferred to an ordinary hospital, on the plea that the site could be sold to provide £2.7 million. That money is needed for very good purposes and I am not complaining about that, but I feel a little upset because before the recess the previous Minister for Health, the right hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Hayhoe), agreed that no announcement would he made until I had had an opportunity of completing negotiations with the local social services and other interested services to try to preserve the hospital. By coincidence, yesterday morning I sent to the Minister a plan for the use of the site, including a map of the skeleton of the buildings, which I had hoped to discuss with Brent borough council and the local health authority.

I had received a letter, dated 21 October, from the general manager of the North West Thames regional health authority, Mr David Kennedy, which said: Thank you too for the kindness in sending me a further copy of the plan for the site—we are still looking at the possibilities. I had hoped to save that hospital. However, once there is confrontation— I hate confrontation — the desired result is rarely achieved. I sought patiently for a solution rather than confrontation—no pickets as 50 old ladies are taken by ambulance from one place to another.

The Neasden hospital is a little oasis, surrounded by high rise blocks and urban sprawl on the north circular road. It is 100 years old and its red brick buildings are beautiful. Although its facilities have been brought up to date, the bulldozers will come in. Perhaps eventually the money will be realised. The hospital has been at the heart of the constituency. More than 80 per cent. of the students in the school next to the hospital are black. Despite all the tensions in that locality, there has been no understanding that the Health Service should be put into perspective within the local community. Health provision in any area should match and marry the other services there.

I hope that the Minister's private office will show him the report of my speech and that he will then confirm that he has only authorised the closure, and not ordered it. Hospital closures involve redundancies and therefore procedures must be followed, and they need time for negotiation. This morning I received a telephone call saying that there was a plan to close the hospital within 14 days. That is not enough time for negotiation. I ask the Minister to intervene to prevent the district manager from moving with arrogant haste. There must he time for the proper redundancy arrangements to proceed.

I apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker, for detaining the House, and in conclusion I appeal to the powers that be to spare the National Health Service as many further cuts as possible. When I say the powers that be, I am not talking about the Minister. The relevant powers no longer rest with him or this House. The Act which established the Health Service made the Minister responsible for the lot, subject only to Parliament. However, when one looks back over the past 10 years, one finds that Parliament has had absolutely no say. I have served on Standing Committees for 27 years on every major Bill affecting the Health Service. Previously Governments had much say, but now the managers have all the say.

The omission of any reference to the Health Service in the Gracious Speech was not the only omission. Every newspaper today comments that the Gracious Speech omitted to tell us the date of the general election. The newspapers were, of course, more concerned over that omission, and election fever is now gathering pace. However, whenever the election comes, whether sooner or later, it is inevitable that the Labour party, which is committed to the National Health Service, will be returned to power.

After the second world war, when the country had been economically stripped to fight the war and when 3 million men had had to be brought back into civvy street, Nye Bevan established the greatest example of health care in the world. The next Labour Government will do another Nye Bevan, and whatever this Government do in the meantime to erode and to nibble away at the Health Service, we shall restore it.

5.38 pm
Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

It is happy for me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you should have called me to follow the hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt). As I said earlier in an intervention, I have often followed him in the past when we have been debating the National Health Service or health matters generally. He speaks with a long experience of the problems that face us and a dedicated service to the NHS which the House recognises. I too, as I think the House knows, have had a long experience in the Health Service and I am still doing something on the Medical Research Council, as the hon. Gentleman did at some time before.

I shall break with our tradition—that of myself and the hon. Member for Brent, South—and not follow him tonight on health matters because I want to speak on something that concerns the Gracious Speech but which, I regret, is not mentioned in it. I hope that I shall not be out of order in referring to something that is mentioned only obliquely. I am referring to the arts, which I embrace with education.

The Gracious Speech says that the Government will continue to promote enterprise, the growth of employment and the education"— that is my key word— and training of young people. The arts are part of education. They are part of the education of us all at any age and that is important. I regret that they are not mentioned in the Gracious Speech. They should always be mentioned. They may not rate as highly as defence or social security, but nevertheless they are an important part of our lives.

I refer in particular to the promotion of the arts. There has been criticism this week of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts, notably by three distinguished men — Sir Claus Moser, the chairman of the Royal Opera House; Sir Peter Hall, the director of the National Theatre; and Mr. Luke Rittner, the secretary general of the Arts Council.

Sir Claus Moser, desperate for the continuing success of the Royal Opera House, said that he feared, because he was only to get £13 million—quite a lot of taxpayers' money—from the Arts Council, that we were in danger of becoming a nation of philistines. Those are strong words from a man passionate about the arts, his particular love being the opera.

Sir Peter Hall, whose particular love is across the river, has said that the Government is intent on diminishing the arts … the arts is the area of our national life receiving the worst treatment at a time when public spending is rising. Both those gentlemen are honourable and honoured men and highly regarded for their contribution to the arts, to our society in general and to our progress as a nation in stimulating culture. But they are both wrong in the words that they have used to describe the Government's backing for the arts today.

Mr. Luke Rittner, the secretary general of the Arts Council, is also wrong when he speaks of a lower expenditure on the arts. There has just been announced in the autumn statement an increase in expenditure on the arts of 2.5 per cent. in real terms. That is admittedly just below the rate of inflation, but it is an increase from £134 million to £138.8 million. Mr. Rittner wanted about £30 million more, and who can blame him? That is his job, like a trade union leader. Like Oliver Twist, he is asking for more and we cannot blame him. But to say that we are spending less is wrong. To say that we are not spending enough would be fair, and I would agree.

From 1979–80 to 1987–88 there will have been an increase in Government expenditure on the arts in real terms of 9 per cent. That is not a diminution, but an advance, although not a great advance. In the autumn statement this year the arts have done a little better than the Department of Employment, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Ministry of Defence, which has actually suffered a cut.

I should like to have seen in the Gracious Speech a mention not only of the need for continuing interest in and promotion of the arts but of more money for the arts, along with Sir Claus Moser, Sir Peter Hall and Luke Rittner. But we must recognise that money for the arts today must come from more sources than just the Treasury. It should be coming, and does come, from local government as well as central Government. In fact, local government makes a far bigger contribution towards the arts and the promotion of the arts than do central Government, although admittedly some local authorities spend more than others. The Government and Members of Parliament in their constituencies should be doing what they can to encourage those which spend less to spend more and to catch up with those which are giving a lead in sustaining, promoting and supporting the arts.

Two other sources for the financial support of the arts should also be mentioned. There is commercial and industrial patronage and private patronage. We should do much more to encourage commercial and industrial patronage and support of the arts than we do. There is an organisation for directing industrial money behind the arts. Hon. Members, the Minister and the Government should give still more encouragement to industry in that respect.

That might need the assistance of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. A little tax incentive to give money for the promotion of the arts would go a long way and remove a great deal of our embarrassment as a nation of culture about whether we are giving enough taxpayers' money to the arts. More would be achieved if we could encourage private patronage of the arts by industry, commerce and private patrons too. Many well-known persons, even in the House, have been fortunate enough to make a name outside the House for their generous patronage of the arts.

One of the features of the progress of art in the United States is that it is due not so much to central Government or local or state government as to the great support which artists and all art institutions, from museums, opera houses, theatres and so on downwards, receive from individuals, whether they be people, companies or commercial organisations. What one can see is impressive. One has only to go to the New York city opera to see that it has grown out of its great support from individuals and from industry. As one enters the Metropolitan museum or the museum of modern art in New York one sees a list of the names of individuals who have given a great deal of money.

Last year in Dallas—a popular place to go to these days; I strongly recommend it—I visited the museum of modern art and I found that it had a Churchill room presented by a Mr. Emery Reeves, a distinguished publisher who published Sir Winston Churchill's war memoirs outside the United Kingdom. No doubt he made a great deal of money but his widow has presented to that gallery his collection of about 60 magnificant impressionist paintings and a large collection of paintings of Sir Winston Churchill. That is an example of how individuals can contribute to the art of a nation. Such a contribution is worth while, not just for the Government or a state such as Texas in the United States, but for an individual.

Lastly, the consumer, the person who pays to go to the theatre, cinema, opera, museum or wherever, can contribute to the arts. In some places, such as museums, they do not have to pay. But whether for a film, the theatre or the opera, the consumer is prepared to pay for good quality art in all its forms.

In some ways, we in Britain stand very high in the world, if not at the top, as a nation of culture. We are a nation of artists, actors, great theatre, opera, great modern opera, film producers, television producers, modern radio, literature and drama. We are a nation with a wealth of art and we have much old wealth. Great collections can be found in our museums which we should be proud of. We are also a nation with enormous potential in what I call new art. One has only to think of the names that have emerged in recent years. Recently dead is the greatest sculptor in the world, Henry Moore. There was Benjamin Britten and there are many others such as Graham Greene, who are great writers and poets. It should not be forgotten that we have that place in the world. It should not be forgotten that it needs sustaining because that is how a nation makes its mark on history.

We have a duty as a Parliament and Government to see that art is sustained. I would like to see more Government money coming into the arts and more local government money being encouraged to promote the arts in the regions, so that people will be proud to say, "In my town there is a great museum." In Newcastle, the opera house has risen from the ashes, as we read only this morning. It has been rebuilt within the past 11 months, having been almost burnt to the ground. A great theatre, built in 1867, has emerged again. Congratulations to Newcastle. It is not the richest part of England, but it has its priorities right. I believe that the theatre will have a great future because it is a great theatre and it is a great thing to see that a region is prepared to do that. It did not come to the Government cap in hand for the money. The money was found locally from the city council and a local industrial patron. That is how it can be done.

I am sorry that the arts did not get a mention in the Gracious Speech. At least they have had a mention in this debate. They should not be forgotten or go unrecorded.

5.52 pm
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) is typical of those Conservative Members who believe that there should be standards in public affairs and that in certain defined areas of our national life statutory provision and taxation should be an essential element. The House will be poorer for the hon. Gentleman's departure after the next general election because, alas, not every Conservative Member takes the view of national affairs that he does. It may well be that there are considerable differences between the hon. Gentleman and myself and between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) as to the extent of the area that should be within the public realm. We want it to be more comprehensive and much bigger. We want it extended into areas that the hon. Member for Canterbury would not sustain.

That used to be the old political divide. However, the new political divide that the Government are bringing into the nation is not how large that area shall be but whether it shall be there at all. It is clear that the provisions in the Gracious Speech, and especially the performance of successive Conservative Secretaries of State for Education and Science, show that the frontiers of the state, to use a term which they frequently use, must be rolled back until the areas which, historically, we have said are a matter for community concern, for Parliament or statute, are minimised or swept away —[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) confirms my supposition of that philosophical divide which is fundamental. That frontier is, I suspect, more important within the Conservative party than probably any other political frontier in democratic politics today.

I say that as a preface to my comments about education. The Secretary of State for Education and Science is now presiding over a move in a direction which destroys still further the structure of local government, half of whose activity is in education. He is substituting that with arbitrary centralisation which, in previous years, has been typified only by its association with political systems which are not democratic. He may not realise that he is now in the grip of that process by the statements he has made of late, and by the statement in the Gracious Speech about prospective legislation for education.

I believe that the Government are acting largely out of ignorance. I am glad that the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Dunn) is in the Chamber because early in the morning on 21 October he and I had an ill-tempered exchange. It is reported in column 1129 of Hansard. His speech on that occasion illustrated the Government's profound ignorance about education. He pretended that Mr. Butler had been in office for only a few months before the great Education Act 1944. In fact, he had been in office for more than three years. He mixed up the Spens and Norwood reports. They are important reports and he transposed the names, got their dates wrong and did not understand that the Education Act 1944 said nothing about secondary selection and still forms the basis, by statute, of our education system today. I will not go further, but I use those facts to illustrate the Government's ignorance of what they are about. They are about to embark, if the Secretary of State's Bill goes forward, on difficulties which will further undermine the coherence of the education system in this country to the distress of parents and the community.

The Secretary of State does not understand that education, or learning—that is more important—at any level will operate only in a climate of consent. One cannot force anybody to learn. One has to create a climate of consent that must exist beyond the classroom, in the staffroom, among the governors, in local education authorities and nationwide. Without that consensus at national level, the LEA, the school, or the staffroom, one cannot get it in the classroom. We are now moving into an era where there is a lack of consent at many of those levels. For example, take the technical colleges. In an intervention earlier I asked the Secretary of State whether the colleges will be able to pay above the scale to attract technical teachers, of whom there is a great shortage. We have not heard the answer. The mere fact that he has suggested the colleges is divisive.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

indicated dissent.

Mr. Spearing

The Secretary of State may shake his head. I shall be pleased to give way when I finish this point. Either the existing statutory system, for which he is responsible, is not delivering the goods, in which case he has a responsibility to do something about it within the maintained system—he has not apparently done that—or it is delivering the goods, and the colleges are unnecessary. Which is it? If it is not delivering the goods he should do something within the maintained system. He is now doing something in the semi-private sector because he is reintroducing direct grant status. Direct grant status, whatever its merits or demerits in the past, will not easily work today.

The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) talked about the need for technical education. All hon. Members who are experts on the private sector of education should ask themselves what happened to Oundle. Were the lessons of Sanderson ever learnt? I suggest that this country would be in a different industrial situation if the lessons of that great headmaster had been learnt. Unfortunately, the private sector in the so-called private-public schools did not learn the lessons that Sanderson discovered. I believe that even Oundle has departed from those principles today.

I see that the Secretary of State has not chosen to answer my questions about his city technical colleges, so we have to conclude that they are but a cosmetic. There is nothing that he has said and can say to prove the opposite. The right hon. Gentleman said that the code of professional obligation is important. We all believe that codes of professional conduct are important: the Government have introduced legislation in that area. Will there be self-regulating organisations in all sorts of professions? I think that we would agree with it in principle because as long as the profession is sufficiently transparent, which some are not, those people are placed in society and the obligation that they are undertaking in exchange for certain privileges is clear.

I had better tell the House that I spent 14 years as a classroom teacher. I am one of those who believe that there are professional standards, but I suggest to the Secretary of State that some of his conditions are not of that sort. They are not codes of conduct. They are not the criteria of excellence that he would suggest. He has gone into the minutiae of conditions. Were not-the figures that he used, even in his speech today, 1,300 hours and 195 days? Anybody who knows anything about teaching and successful education knows that one cannot count the hours spent by a teacher in his or her job. Teachers are not susceptible to such mathematics. They might be made susceptible to it by a lack of good pay, which was the case under my noble Friend Lord Glenamara, then Ted Short, when I had to go on strike against him three months before I came to the House. If one has to be driven into negotiating, it is because the structure is wrong. Now the Secretary of State is repeating errors made by people in industry by forcing people to adopt almost work study methods. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is doing in the conditions that he is laying down. I am not against conditions, but they must be realistic.

Let me show why the Secretary of State is being unrealistic. I refer to substitution. Anyone who has had any experience of teaching knows that if one is asked to substitute unexpectedly for an absent colleague it upsets the rhythm of one's day. Difficulties are created and it lowers the quality of the teaching that one can provide for one's contractual obligation to a class. One of the most difficult things in life is to teach a seven or eight-period day. I did that for many years on end. It is more exhausting than anything that a Member of Parliament can do.

Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)

May I ask my hon. Friend about substitution for someone who is absent? Does he accept that it is all very well substituting for an absentee for a short time, but if that person is absent for a longish time, more permanent arrangements should be made so that the disruption is minimised? That is one of the sticking points.

Mr. Spearing

My hon. Friend has put his finger on the point. It happens in the House — Ministers have to substitute for each other. Substitution for colleagues is a matter of good will and give and take. But suppose that the local education authority does not provide sufficient facilities, with supply teachers, or does not provide for an adequate teacher-pupil ratio, or a reasonable reservoir of staff? The attitude of the teacher in the classroom will be affected.

The Secretary of State is making substitution for absent colleagues a condition. That will work only provided there are proper surrounding conditions, which are also fair. Judging from the right hon. Gentleman's performance, those conditions will not be provided. Judging from some performances by some local education authorities, they will not provide them, either. Even in the best of local authorities, it is sometimes difficult.

Let me give the Secretary of State another example. I hope that he is listening and not just reading his papers, because he should listen to practising teachers. A forward education authority provides additional teachers for remedial reading in primary schools. Reference has been made to the standard of English teaching. Let us consider a practical example. Remedial reading in primary schools is fundamental. I know of an education authority that provides generously for additional teachers to go into primary schools, to take pupils out of class and help them with their reading, so that when they get to secondary school they are enthusiastic and not reluctant pupils. But supposing that the teacher, instead of being used for that purpose, is asked to substitute for absent teachers because the authority will not provide supply teachers. The remedial pupils will not be seen to. Even a good authority can be upset sometimes by the lack of teachers, and teaching standards decline for that reason.

If the Secretary of State has his way, the House, not the Burnham committee, will have to discuss such matters. I hope that my practical illustrations will show the Secretary of State that there are matters of which he knows not with which he is dangerously dabbling.

I now come to remuneration. The Remuneration of Teachers Act, which had its Second Reading on 25 April 1963, was known as Boyle's law. The then Minister of Education, Sir Edward Boyle, disagreed with an agreed Burnham arrangement. It is interesting to see the reasons that he gave to the House in the debate on 25 April 1963. He quoted a letter that he had sent to the chairman of the Burnham committee: I believe that the expansion of the profession, as well as the esteem in which it is held and thus its attraction for potential recruits of high quality, depends quite as much on the opportunities it offers of advancement for the most able, best qualified and most ambitious of its members as on the level at which the more junior are paid. Sir Edward Boyle went on to say that the agreement set the balance too much in favour of the teacher already in service and too little in favour of future recruits. It rewarded insufficiently those who have the prime responsibility for organising the life and work of the schools."— [Official Report, 25 April 1963; Vol. 676, c. 429, 431.] That is, people outside the classroom. That Act, dubbed Boyle's law, caused enormous resentment in the teaching profession, and is doing so at the moment. If the Secretary of State wants recruits to the teaching profession, the chaos in the past two years, brought about largely by himself and his predecessor, is not the best way to go about it.

Teachers are not necessarily motivated by money or they would not do the job. In my experience, most people are happy to have reasonable prospects of promotion, a square deal in pay and conditions and, above all, satisfactory conditions in their work so that they can do their job in a way that gives them satisfaction and produces what parents and the community want. That is my experience of most of my colleagues in the teaching profession, of which I am proud to be a member. I do not believe that, in some Pavlovian response, they will jump for high salaries, in a way that might he appropriate in other forms of life, although I doubt that. That is the line management which Sir Edward Boyle tried to impose and which the Secretary of State is taking further, because the differentials proposed by Sir Edward Boyle would be small compared to those that the Secretary of State may impose upon teachers in future. Moreover, the differentials will not only apply this time, because the Secretary of State and his friends clearly have plans for the future.

I am glad that you are in the Chair, Mr. Speaker, because you may be interested in what a former Speaker, Dr. Horace King, said about the Remuneration of Teachers Bill. As we all know, Dr. Horace King was not given to exaggeration. On 25 April 1963 he spoke about that Bill, and said: This has never happened before in the history of Parliament. The House is not the place to attempt to consider any complex wage structure in any profession or industry. That might be appropriate to a Fascist grand council. It might be the practice inside the Soviet Union. It is beyond the capacity of Members of Parliament to deal with such a detailed and complex issue. Moreover, we are not asked to discuss and amend the proposals which the Minister and his advisers have thought up at Curzon Street. We are asked to accept them lock, stock and barrel."—[Official Report, 25 April 1963; Vol. 676, c. 504.] The same position faces us today. The Secretary of State has said as much, and the Queen's Speech announces another Bill. I have the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1963 before me. A single order could be annulled by resolution of the House — it is, in other words, a negative order—and an order will probably be placed before the House as a result of the proposed Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) asked who the employer would be. Judging by the way in which history is repeating itself, the Secretary of State wants the local education authority to be the employer when it comes to policing his conditions —whether or not they are fair— while he decides the remuneration. That is clearly what the Secretary of State has in mind. It is no good the Under-Secretary of State questioning what the future will bring, because that is the Secretary of State's only option. He can only introduce a Bill that gives him the power, probably by statutory instrument, to determine unilaterally what the scales should be.

Thus, the die is cast. Alas, a Bill has been mentioned in the Queen's Speech and the Government have probably gone beyond the point of no return. The Secretary of State can do only one thing to remedy the situation. He must ensure that the advisory committee is seen to be politically disinterested. It should have sufficient professional advice available to it to enable it to make wise recommendations. By professional advice, I do not mean people from universities or institutions of education, but people who know what it means to be on the classroom floor.

The Secretary of State might yet save the situation if that professional advice is available Year and if the committee makes the sort of wise recommendations that the whole profession would find acceptable. That is the only way in which the profession's confidence could be rekindled and regained. In the Secretary of State's presence, I say that that is the only way in which the nation and Parliament can have confidence in him. His success in this venture is as important for him and his party as it is for the House and the country. If he acts wisely in respect of the proposed legislation — unwise though it is — he may regain the profession's confidence. The right hon. Gentleman used the word "investment" in a monetary way, but ingesting in regaining the profession's confidence is the only way of enabling our system of national education to work as the country wants it to.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. Twelve other hon. Members have expressed an interest in the debate. If hon. Members speak at great length, it will not be possible for them all to speak. Perhaps hon. Members will do their calculations.

6.14 pm
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley (Surrey, South-West)

Like the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), I shall concentrate on education, and, like him, I spent many years involved in education,—in my case in a poor inner-city area. But I think that what we have in common probably ends there.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should have announced his commitment to repealing the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 and the Burnham machinery. That machinery has now been thoroughly discredited. We shall have to have a new arrangement for settling schoolteachers' pay, duties and conditions of service. It must be beyond doubt that we need well-motivated, properly rewarded teachers. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, South would have liked to tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to make a generous settlement, but, as my right hon. Friend has already done that, the hon. Gentleman found himself a little short of advice for him.

The hon. Member for Newham, South also referred to a need for a climate of consent. But what sort of climate of consent is being allowed to parents and pupils after yet another year of threatened industrial action? Like my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), I should like to read to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a letter that I received today from one of my constituents. It says: Apparently the teachers want a 50 per cent. pay increase. In addition, they're prepared to disrupt pupils' education for a third time and set the most appalling example of greed and anarchy to impressionable young people. My own 14-year-old twins face the GCSE exams in the second year of the system's existence. They're already so fed up with the extent of the third year of teachers' strikes that I have great difficulty in persuading them to work or hold any respect for these unprofessional people, who bleat that society does not treat them as professionals. That is not surprising when they, unlike three million others, have a job and work. I have got no time for this kind of talk. Salaries from £8,000 to £20,000 are above the national average and are certainly higher than the amount we live on here. Teachers have on average to work 6.6 hours a day for 196 days. You, Mrs Bottomley, I am pleased to say, and I work over 12 hours a day 365 days of the I do not know how my constituent knows that, but she is correct. The letter continues: You will forgive me, I know, but I feel so angry, so boiling mad, that if I met a teacher tomorrow I'd have to be restrained. I am trained as a further education teacher myself but I prefer to be self-employed and less well-off. We are so exasperated that we dare not discuss this issue at home because we all become furious in our frustration. It eclipses almost every other concern about which I have ever written. Can you relay this utter desperation to Mr. Baker please, and urge him to do his utmost for peace in our schools. That was written by a mother in my constituency where, for the most part, the teachers have acted with great restraint. We talk about the professionalism of teachers, but it must be the height of irresponsibility to take action that jeopardises the future of young people at a time when they need their education and training perhaps more than at any other stage, especially when such a generous settlement has been offered.

Some of the union leaders refer to their work in the language of the National Union of Mineworkers or of the National Graphical Association, but they are speaking not about coal or newspapers but about children. Mary Warnock, in her Dimbleby lecture two years ago, referred to the growing lack of respect for teachers that led to positive suspicion. The action and threatened action that we have seen during the past two years has done little to restore that respect.

Furthermore, 40 per cent. of youngsters leave school with no formal qualifications and with very little to show for their time at school. My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) referred to many initiatives to broaden the curriculum and to make it more relevant to those youngsters. We do very well for our most able pupils. Our universities and polytechnics are among the best in the world. There are 80,000 more students in higher education that there were when the Conservative party came into office. A record percentage in that age group is now receiving higher education. But over the years we have fallen down over the needs of those youngsters who are not high fliers, and it takes time to put the machinery in place that can recognise and then meet those needs. Remarkably, more than I million youngsters have now participated in youth training schemes, which shows what can be done for youngsters who do not respond to a traditional, academic form of education. However we debate the origins of our present system, some would say that whenever we moved from grammar schools and secondary moderns to comprehensives, somehow all education became a watered down version of grammar school education and that we forgot about the vocational contribution.

That is why I welcome the many initiatives to recognise this group of people. There is the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, the technical and vocational education initiative, the certificate of pre-vocational education and, above all, the GCSE, a much broader exam that offers youngsters the opportunity to show what they know and understand rather than simply what they have managed to learn by heart.

It is entirely unsatisfactory to resent the proposed city technology colleges on the ground that they do not fit into the natural, overall state monopoly of educational provision. We can challenge the fact that there will be only 20 such colleges, but to challenge the proposal is a denial of the seriousness of the situation in many inner-city areas and others where resources are not the only key in education. In London, twice as much per head is spent on pupils as is spent, for example, in my own constituency, as a result of which my constituency is 92nd in the league of 96 education authorities. The parents who live in inner-city areas will respond to the new initiative, the enthusiasm, the commitment and the greater autonomy offered by CTCs.

In education, the endless myth is that resources are the key. I am delighted that in the autumn statement so much more money has been found for education, but we should remember that over the years much research has suggested that results are related to much more basic issues than the amount of money invested. We need only look to Japan, which achieves very much better results even with classes of twice our size, to wonder about our fundamental assumptions.

A recent article in The Economist suggested that a British Government that greatly boosted educational spending would be pouring champagne into the Thames unless and until British teachers demanded higher standards from their children and more from children of all abilities.

Class size is a further myth. There is no evidence or research to suggest that a reduction in class sizes improves educational output. In fact, we have a record low pupil-teacher ratio and record expenditure per head on pupils. I welcome those successes, but it is an absolute myth for teachers to think that education will be improved if they insist on a reduction in class sizes.

Various research into achieved results in schools looked at inner London comprehensives and compared delinquency rates. That found that, even allowing for expenditure, social background, income and ability, different schools had dramatically different delinquency rates.

Michael Rutter, in his book "Fifteen thousand hours" —the number of hours that children spend in compulsory education — compared 12 inner London comprehensives and again found dramatic differences, where the less able pupils in one comprehensive did very much better than the brightest in another. That was after allowing for all the socio-economic variants. Surprise, surprise, he found that what mattered was the ethos of the school, the calibre of the head and the quality of the teachers. We must grapple once and for all with those fundamental issues. That is why my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) was so right to get to grips with initial teacher training and to make further provision for in-service training. That is the secret of success in education.

Good management of schools cannot be underestimated. Much mention is made of the HMI report and shortages of books or equipment, but, as is well known, in the majority of cases this was due to lack of management. The deployment of resources and the deployment of teaching staff is absolutely fundamental. In looking at effective use of resources, one of the least effective uses is the teaching of empty desks. Until people are prepared to grasp the nettle on school closures, we shall continue to have a remarkably wasteful provision of education. I accept that it requires all of us as hon. Members to be prepared to face up to school closure issues in our own constituencies.

The other key variable in education and its output is the confidence of parents, and I have already said enough to suggest that the further threatened action by teachers can only further jeopardise the confidence of parents in schools. This year's Education Act greatly enhanced the role of parents within schools and gave them more power on governing bodies.

Last night I attended the election of parent governors at one of the largest and most successful sixth form colleges in my constituency, and I am pleased to take this opportunity officially to say that this sixth form college provides education that is as good as is found in any school that I have visited, he it in the private or public sector. For a college with more than 1,000 students, the parent governor was elected by 19 votes to 17. We shall have to consider how to encourage parents to face up to their responsibilities on school governing bodies now that they have the right to be heard and to make a contribution.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East did much to carry us forward in broadening the curriculum. His White Paper "Better Schools" said that the curriculum should be broad, balanced, relevant and differentiated—four key concepts that will take time to implement.

We are going through a time when parents and pupils increasingly feel betrayed and angry and are suffering from a sense of despair. If we get over this hurdle and implement the generous offer to teachers, I believe that once more we can move forward to an education system that provides the right education for all pupils, regardless of their ability, so that they can fulfil their potential and be prepared for the world of work and citizenship. Essentially there is, I believe, a fundamentally strong belief in all parts of the House that it is shocking that once again the teachers should be threatening industrial action in the light of such a generous offer from the Secretary of State.

There are youngsters who have faced more than two years of disruption, at a time when they have needed education in a way that they have never needed it before. Parents are angry, children betrayed and local employers and ratepayers mystified. There have been measures to improve initial teacher education and in-service training, and there have been measures to develop the curriculum, to broaden the examination system, to pay attention to those who traditionally have been failed by our school system and to enhance the role of parents. The autumn statement contained a further commitment of extra resources to education. Dismantling the Burnham machinery is a necessary first step, along with many other initiatives, to restoring to a profession the respect which traditionally it had been able to take for granted and upon which our children's futures depend.

6.28 pm
Mr. Ken Weetch (Ipswich)

I wish to make a short contribution on the Gracious Speech, and I begin by saying that, since the Secretary of State announced his proposal for salary levels—and they have been directly comparable with those that resulted from the Coventry negotiations—I have taken opinion in a number of large and primary schools as to who thinks what about the salaries. The consensus that has emerged is that people are for or against various proposals depending on whether or not they gain. The issue of principle is that, whereas a collegiate structure with long scales and few post differentials emerged from the Coventry negotiations, the Secretary of State has proposed a system with more differentials and more fragmentation for posts of responsibility. That has been the issue of principle in this salary dispute from the start.

The Secretary of State says that he will pay the money and provide the increase only if there is a set of contractual obligations. Previously, those obligations were listed under 19 headings, but in his speech he said that they were down to 13. Whatever the figure, the principle is the same.

I have rather a different opinion about contractual obligations. I was a schoolmaster for 10 years and I trained teachers for 10 years, but I have been a trade unionist all my life. If I am a trade unionist and I am negotiating, I prefer a contract and a rule book to none because that is how negotiations take place in the trade union world. Although I would prefer a hard and fast contract, I would bargain hard for an agreement.

Although there is a case in principle for combining discussions about money and conditions of work, the Secretary of State is combining them, not for that reason, but because of the recent disruption as a result of a complete collapse of morale in the profession which he seeks to prevent teachers from causing again. He wants a legalistic contract to batten down the hatches and stop them doing that again. I warn the Secretary of State that peace in our schools will be achieved by raising the morale in the profession and paying teachers reasonably well.

I am surprised that, although the Government have spent six years talking about financial rectitude, they have suddenly found all the money that they are now scattering here and there. The teachers' negotiations are no different from negotiations in other sections of the economy, yet the money has been found. It could have been found two years ago if a general election had been that bit nearer, and all this shot and shell could have been avoided.

All the trouble ensued because of the serious deterioration in the teachers' position. The Houghton award fixed a reasonable level of salaries, but that deteriorated. We have not had peace in our schools during the past two years because the negotiators were trying to find a settlement by pushing around an inadequate sum. No balance or consensus could have rectified that.

The Secretary of State is about to make serious strategic mistakes in his general line of policy. He is about to impose an agreement which suits his book, if no agreement emerges from the negotiations. That is ill advised, high handed and peremptory, and he should not do so. Before he takes more power for himself, he should come to the House and argue his proposals for the reconstruction of the Burnham committee, so that we can contest the likely future power structure. He is altering the rules of the game before anything has been settled by debate in this House about the long-term structure of power.

I have some sympathy with the Secretary of State's aim of reforming the Burnham machinery. It badly needs reform. It is a set of idiosyncratic procedures with a mystique all of its own. In the past a global sum has been fixed and if it has been exceeded in the negotiations, the hassle has come afterwards. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) that when we win the general election he will be faced with the weaknesses of the Burham machinery and we shall have to face the problems, so we may as well do so now.

Mr. Spearing

If the Bill is passed, there will be not a Burnham committee but a Baker advisory committee.

Mr. Weetch

I understand that there is to be an advisory committee at an interim stage, but that there is to be a new permanent structure. I was a professional negotiator for schoolmasters at one time and I would prefer the Government as paymaster to be present in the negotiations from the beginning so that we would know whom we were talking to and who provides the money. If I were in government and the one who paid the piper, I would not like to call all the tunes, but at least I should like to determine some of the notes. As a trade unionist I would prefer to come face to face with reality, so if the Government were the paymaster for the most part, I would rather negotiate with the paymaster from the beginning.

In my lifetime I have called the Burnham machinery various names. I shall not do so now, but merely say that when the Burnham committee has its funeral there will not be many mourners. I for one shall not be present.

The Secretary of State must answer for some basic mistakes in his approach. He is pursuing a policy of divide and rule and, although he may succeed in the short term, he will damage the teaching profession in the long term. If he imposes a scale of salaries, it will be a recipe for continued decline in morale. It is better to take the slower course of waiting for painstaking negotiations to succeed than to go for a quick fix. As a politician of long standing he will know that it is much better for a defective, democratic decision to emerge than to impose a solution, even if that solution is more idealistic and suitable.

The Secretary of State's actions show that he has no confidence in the profession. Unless morale in the profession improves quickly, we shall continue to have trouble in the nation's schools.

6.38 pm
Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

Not surprisingly I particularly welcome this debate on the Loyal Address and the courage and determination shown by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in all that he has done to try to resolve what has been a harrowing two years of union disruption.

There is no doubt that the cynical approach of the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) has greatly damaged my right hon. Friend's excellent proposals. John Pearman and other employers needed some guidance. We have seen them in Nottingham on television, showing off and saying that they care greatly about the problems that they face. I would have thought that the hon. Member for Durham, North could have given a lead or taken the initiative and told them that they had the best that they would ever get and that they should resolve their differences now. Unfortunately, it is very rare for any member of the Labour party to tell the unions what to do —it is always the unions telling the Labour party what to do, because they are the puppet's masters.

So far there has been no debate about the children. We have talked about parents, teachers and parties, but the children seem to have been forgotten, particularly by Labour Members. After two years, even if there is a speedy resolution now, no one will have won, and that is a tragedy for all the children who have had to go in for O and A-levels. That is a great disappointment, particularly when some of the unions have been so bloodyminded in refusing to cover at lunchtime, so that children have been sent home. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security is aware, many children have their only decent meal of the day at lunchtime, but they have been denied that by inter-union wrangling.

I have had a number of letters from constituents complaining about the GCSE, not because it is not a good examination — it is, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to be congratulated on that—but because teachers have not done enough preparation to teach the new syllabuses correctly. That was neglect on their part. They knew that the examination was coming up, but because of their inter-union wrangling they refused to accept that fact, and they have had to catch up, and they have not been particularly successful in doing so.

I am particularly pleased that we are to repeal the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 and thereby dismantle Burnham, because all teachers want to be treated as professionals, and should therefore expect to be paid by results. The results are the conditions and the way in which they show their professional approach and carry out their caring activities in the school. My brother-in-law is a teacher and I know the duties that he has to do. He enjoys his job, and there is no doubt that it is a calling to become a teacher in today's life, and even if one is paid badly, one does it because one loves one's job.

In the past two days there have been meetings at ACAS simply because too many unions represent the teaching profession. That may be a simplistic approach, but I would have liked to see far fewer unions. Because of the inter-union wrangling, one cannot get the two sides to agree on anything. I have a long-lasting hope that one day there will be a single professional union to represent all teachers throughout the teaching profession. There will then be proper professional negotiations instead of what has happened, with the No. 2s in both cases—the NUT and the NAS-UWT—perhaps trying to take over from Fred Jarvis and Fred Smithies to get as much coverage as they can in the media in order to fight a union battle. Because the NAS/UWT is running behind, Nigel de Gruchy has to claim that he is representing all the teachers. Many of them come from Leicester, and they were never consulted before he took this unlawful action. I only wish that pay was docked for that action. It was irresponsible, and the second in command does not always represent all the members. I should like to see all those members come under the rules of the trade unions, so that all members are balloted genuinely.

A couple of weeks ago I went to a school in my constituency and found ballot papers lying around the school common room. Anybody could have picked one up and used it, even if he was not a member of the union. I do not believe that the union had genuine, fair and private ballots. I want to see proof that any future industrial action will take place only after a proper ballot of the members, so that the union can speak with absolute authority and with the support of its members.

In 1985 the examination results were good. Many people would say that that was remarkable, in view of the union unrest. The point that the unions miss is that parents, above all, want to see their children improve. They all value the education that can be given in schools, and they acknowledge how professional the teachers are. The majority of teachers did not want to take action and were content to work the extra hours, and the 19 teachers' duties set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are correct, and were being carried out in the first place. I congratulate those teachers who defied the unions and were concerned to ensure that the children came first. I congratulate those children on doing so well in their exams.

The next problem is that the offer from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was never seen by many union members. There has been criticism of my right hon. Friend for putting advertisements in the national papers outlining the offer. It is only right that we should refer strongly to that offer. It is not just a case of teachers' pay being increased on average by 16.4 per cent. by 1 October 1987, with the first 8.2 per cent. increase payable from 1 January 1987 and the second by 1 October 1987. The new nine-point incremental scale, rising from £7,900 to £12,700, puts the Government's money where their mouth is. It should reassure all teachers that they can get a higher pay scale than they thought possible.

I have heard rumours that some of the teachers' unions never expected to get such an offer, and I know that they are particularly grateful to the Main committee in Scotland. The five additional above-scale allowances go from £900 to £1,800 to £2,800 to £3,800 and to £4,800. We are paying professionals a professional salary for doing a professional job and for looking after our children and ensuring that they get the best possible tuition.

The salaries for deputy heads are rising from £14,750 to £22,250, and those for head teachers from £15,500 to £30,500. That shows the Government's commitment to resolving a terrible dispute and to paying not just by results but for fulfilled obligations, while recognising the important role of teachers. I said at the time of the offer that it was generous and I hope that hon. Members will agree—certainly the Conservative party will. I cannot understand what all the fuss is about. I should have thought that the matter would be resolved as quickly as possible so that teachers could look forward to peace in our schools and so that our children could start to benefit.

Such good salaries require good contracts, which should be binding and clear and precise in defining the important duties of teachers. Many teachers have said that those duties have been taken for granted by the Government. The Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State are recognising those duties by listing them. What is wrong with saying that teachers have to be available to be called upon for extra duties and that they must accept that teachers' work cannot be carried out only within school time and on the school premises? Many important points are set out in my right hon. Friend's letter to teachers, but I shall not go through them all as I should like to think that we know them.

It seems only right that teachers should consult and liaise with parents, attending meetings arranged for that purpose. Parent-teacher associations are a natural part of the system. Participating in staff meetings and marking tip inside or outside schools has always happened, as has carrying out an appropriate share in such administrative and organisational tasks as flow naturally from those duties. A contribution is demanded to the appointment, induction, professional development and assessment of junior colleagues. One would want to help new entrants to the school teaching staff. Co-ordinating the work of all other teachers is required, as are supervising ancillary staff, handling pastoral arrangements, looking after the curriculum and evaluating in-service training, and advising and co-operating with colleagues on teaching programmes.

Another important matter is the setting, marking and recording of the work of pupils. I should have thought that teachers would he proud to do such duties. The new pay scale will reward the hard work of teachers and means that for 39 weeks they will work 33.5 hours per week. It is a new pay scale, and the Government are making a generous and substantial offer of 16.4 per cent. The new contract will give teachers a reward and encourage them to perform their duties in an even better way than most of them do. The most important duty is looking after the classes of their absent colleagues and meeting parents. I understand the reasons why many teachers take time off, but it seems right that other teachers should be prepared to join in and help. The problem is that, because some of the teachers belong to different unions, they do not dare touch the work.

Unions always address their members as brothers and sisters and send fraternal greetings to each other, and I should have thought they could help each other. This is not a matter of not understanding union life, because I worked for Robert Maxwell for two and a half years in the print business, and I fully understand the different rules in different unions. Surely we could get all the unions to work together.

We cannot let this never-ending round of negotiations flounder on and on. The children need to see our schools return to normal working, and we need an early and lasting conclusion. This is a generous offer, and it is not a question of strident NUT reactions. I have here the latest news release from the NUT. It is dated November and is No. 24, and is headlined: "No easy options". The option is very much "Accept now and shut up." It says: The responsibility borne by the negotiators at Nottingham is a heavy one indeed. They could have fooled me. They seem to have talked and talked and nothing has come out of the talks except hot air and a union battle about control.

The news release says that my right hon. Friend's offer is imposed. Yes, it will be. The NUT says that it will be disastrous, but I have talked to the teachers in Leicester and they do not seem to think that it will be disastrous. The news release says that it will alienate, not motivate, all teachers. It will reward and not upset teachers. It says it will undervalue not reward the classroom teacher. The figures that I have quoted prove that the teacher will be valued even more.

The news release says that the offer will divide, not unite, the profession, but we are recognising the profession as such and paying professional rates for the job. Surely that will unite teachers. It says that the offer will impair, not enhance teachers professionalism. If we are paying more, surely we are enhancing the role of the teacher. It says the offer will destroy, not encourage collective bargaining. The unions should have got together and had one person to represent them all. That is the kind of collective bargaining that I would look for in proper negtiations.

The news release says that the offer will prevent, not advance or permit advances in teachers' conditions of service". It is offering better promotion prospects for all teachers and giving them a guaranteed career structure with additional promotional posts for the additional pay. For those reasons there is a lot in the offer for teachers.

The Government have raided the Treasury for these extra funds. We have seen the autumn statement. It has been discussed and hon. Members will know that provision for the Department of Education and Science is up 15 per cent. in the 1986–87 round. Some £460 million is being made available in 1987–88 as part of a package to end the long running teachers' dispute.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) said, we are to get 20 city technology colleges in urban areas. We are to get one in Leicester, but I am a little bit worried about where it will be located. It does not look as if it will be in my constituency. I believe in these colleges, and they will help my constituents. In Leicester we all work together in education and training. My constituents will be able to go to the college, because I gather that the catchment area will be wider than originally planned.

Perhaps when my right hon. Friend reads this part of my speech he will look for a different location. There is a good school in the area, called Judge Meadow community college, and the head teacher of that school supports this plan. I should like the college to be located there. I look forward to local industry coming forward with additional funds to encourage the location of the college in my constituency rather than in any other Leicester constituency.

I look forward to the 18 and 19-year-olds entering higher education. More and more are already going in, but this is a great commitment by the Government, as indeed is spending per pupil, which is now at record levels. In 1985–86 it has risen by 17 per cent. in real terms from 1978–79, and capital spending on education remains broadly at present levels. We know what is happening to the science budget, and we know, because we have a university in Leicester, that money for the universities is to increase by £61 million in 1987–88 and by £72 million in 1988–89. Extra money is coming forward to show that our schools and colleges are being properly looked after by this caring Government. The provision is welcome, as indeed is my right hon. Friend's speech.

Pupil-teacher ratios were mentioned earlier in the debate. I have always had a special interest in Leicester and like to know whether it does better or worse than any other part of Britain. I look upon Leicester as the centre and the heart of England. Leicester does extremely well in terms of pupil-teacher ratios. In primary schools we have a pupil-teacher ratio of 21.6. In secondary schools the ratio is even better. We must remember, of course, that rolls are falling and that the numbers of teachers are also falling.

The commitment by the Government to ensure that we have the best people for the job is guaranteed by the new offer. I am fed up with hearing about this dispute going on and on. As soon as the dispute is mentioned many people turn off the television or turn down the radio. The dispute is not of the Government's making, but arises because of inter-union wrangling. The pay is there, the money has been found and we are committed to providing the best possible education for our children so that they can get the best qualifications to go out into the world. It is not always a happy world, but it is very competitive, and children need qualifications if they are to get real and lasting jobs.

For those reasons I support the Government and look forward to seeing a speedy resolution of this dispute. Such a resolution is in the interests of the children, and we must never forget them.

6.56 pm
Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

The last time that I followed the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) was probably when he made his maiden speech, and I preferred that speech to the tone of his speech today. I have some sympathy for the hon. Gentleman because he was dragged in by the Whips to make a contribution to this debate.

Before I come to the topic of education, I should like to speak about the reference in the Queen's Speech to the need for continued co-operation with the Government of the Republic of Ireland through the Anglo-Irish agreement. This may not be the time to dwell too long on this matter but inevitably, as long as the shadow of what became known as the Stalker affair dominates relations between Britain and Ireland, and as long as we have the deception that the chief constable of west Yorkshire, Mr. Sampson, was brought in to sabotage Mr. Stalker's inquiry into the RUC and specifically to prevent charges being laid against members of the RUC, enormous damage will be done to co-operation between Britain and Ireland. It is now necessary for the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to make sure that there is the fullest possible public inquiry into these affairs. Without that, there will be no acceptance of what has been said to have taken place.

Perhaps I could now come to education. Like the hon. Member for Leicester, East, I am interested in the announcement about city technology colleges. It is interesting that the Secretary of State should choose to make the announcement not to Parliament or to any formally constituted body of consultation but to the Conservative party conference, an audience which even the Government's most fervent admirers would not see as hypercritical in any sense of the word. The point has been made that, if the Secretary of State had decided to close a school in the manner that local authorities close them or to open a school in an inner-city area, he would have had to go through an exhaustive consultation process and the matter would have come to the Department of Education and Science for decision. But because the Secretary of State is far more concerned with the cosmetics and the politics of education than with the reality of the education of our children, he chose to announce the colleges at his party's conference—precisely because he had an eye on the ballot box and not on educational success.

The city technology college concept is fundamentally misguided in the constituency that I represent. Therefore, the Secretary of State must spend more time upon explaining the purpose of those colleges to Members of Parliament. If the Secretary of State insists that this recently announced gimmick is the solution. to the education problems of this nation, either he implicitly accepts the very real criticisms that have been made of education and of the way in which his predecessors have run education in Britain or he is saying that there is nothing wrong with the education that is provided in the inner cities and he has turned his attention to the poor performance of pupils in inner-city schools, not because of the teachers in those schools but because of the under-funding and poor morale. The city technology colleges will not improve poor morale in inner-city schools. Furthermore, they will not improve the education that is provided for those who continue to attend local education authority schools. Nor will they solve the problem of local authority under-funding because of the cuts in their budgets.

The city of Manchester is spending about £1,400 upon the education of each of its pupils. That has to be compared with the £2,000 that is spent on each pupil at Manchester grammar school. It is not surprising that Manchester grammar school claims a record of educational excellence. Although that is socially divisive, the results are there to be seen, given the narrow base upon which Manchester grammar school founds its educational policy. Other schools in Manchester cannot compete with Manchester grammar school because they are underfunded. Furthermore, the standards in those schools will not improve, because the better pupils will be creamed off into the city technology colleges, as will the better teachers. The Secretary of State for Education and Science has provided a solution that bears no relation to the educational needs of inner cities, or to the under-funding of education in the inner-city areas. That will not improve the morale of the teaching profession.

During the last seven years this Government have turned their back on the education of pupils in state schools. Instead, they have resorted to gimmicks, such as the assisted places scheme and the city technology colleges. Recently, the Secretary of State announced an increase in the amount of money that is to be provided for education. As my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice) has often illustrated graphically, most of that money is not new money. The Secretary of State is simply making up the money that would have been spent by the local authorities if their budgets had not been cut.

However, in so far as new money has been provided, the Secretary of State is not addressing the real issues that have to be faced by those who live in the inner cities. He has not addressed the fundamental problem of motivation there. The hon. Member for Surrey, South-West (Mrs. Bottomley) referred to the lack of motivation of pupils because of disruption to the general certificate of secondary education courses on account of the potential industrial action by teachers. That lack of motivation is as nothing compared with the lack of motivation suffered by pupils in my area. They know that most of them will be unemployed when they leave school at 16. With unemployment rates as high as 70 per cent. in the Moss Side and Hulme areas of Manchester, they know what to expect when they leave school. No city technology college, no fiddling about on the margins of education, will make a jot of difference to their future or their motivation. Until the Government provide work for those pupils when they leave school, they will have no motivation, nor will morale among the teachers be improved.

The debate has been dominated by education, apart from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) who referred to the National Health Service. I intend to spend a few minutes on the National Health Service, which I hope will please the present incumbent of the Treasury Bench, the Minister for Social Security. He must feel a little out of joint because of the direction that this debate has taken so far. In particular, I should like to refer to the hospital service, which is outside his own direct area of responsibility.

Manchester royal infirmary, St. Mary's hospital and the Manchester royal eye hospital—hospitals of more than regional significance— are threatened with a most severe financial crisis. The central Manchester health authority is talking about closing two wards. Doctors have described that proposal as a threat to the future of those hospitals as teaching hospitals. That is not the rhetoric of party politicians; it was said by doctors at Manchester royal infirmary.

Today I have seen a copy of a letter in which the unit manager at St. Mary's hospital, one of the major maternity hospitals in the region, has invited all those over the age of 50 to apply for early retirement, as that would stave off the possibility of enforced redundancy for other members of staff. Those redundancies would fundamentally threaten the health care that is provided for the people who live in the centre of Manchester, and who, because of the environment in which they live, already suffer the greatest health problems.

We have already invited the Secretary of State to come and see for himself, but we have received no reply to our invitation. We have also asked the Secretary of State to meet a delegation of Members of Parliament, and I am sure he will. However, will the Minister for Social Security ensure that the message reaches the Secretary of State that this is no mere scaremongering, or simply a party political exchange across the Floor of the House? The crisis that faces those hospitals must be resolved by the injection of new money. The Secretary of State must take this matter seriously. We expect serious answers to our questions.

7.6 pm

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch)

A year or so ago Andy Warhol said that we would all be famous for 15 minutes in the future. Having listened to the Secretary of State for Education and Science today, it seems that he had his 15 minutes some time ago. He blew his second chance. He will not be the leader of the Conservative party. The post will be readvertised tomorrow. However, I do not want to digress so early in my speech.

The country into which I was born was England. England is now a grotty place. To its everlasting shame, the majority of its people have decided that the nostrums which will govern their future lives will be callowness, vulgarity, indifference and selfishness. England can be divided, like Gaul, into three: the north, the south and the inner cities of the south and the north. People in the south have come to despise those who live in the north and in the inner cities—in places like Hackney and St. Paul's in Bristol. Partly through fear and partly through greed, people in the south have become contemptuous of the way in which people in the north and those in the inner cities dress, eat and live. They are also contemptuous because many of those people do not have jobs.

I feel only pity for the majority of the people who live in the country into which I was born. Over the past eight years they have turned their backs on Christian and humanist philosophies and instead have taken their lead from the Government. It is not that I begrudge those who live in the south their yachts, Porsches, yuppie houses and wicker baskets, or their muesli for breakfast or philistine culture. But when style, fashion and consumerism take over from substance and values, it is clear that England's culture has suffered an irreversible decline.

England has never been a nation of idealists. However, the fact that this country has moved during the past eight years from being a nation of pragmatists to a nation of chancers is both profound and tragic.

The most sinister development—this brings me to the subject of this debate — which shines through the philosophy behind the Queen's Speech is that education, culture and understanding, if allowed to spread too far and too deep, will pose problems for a Government who intend our society to be structured, hierarchical and ordered. Hence one mandarin from the Department of Education and Science has written to his fellow mandarins: There has to be selection because we are beginning to create aspirations which society cannot match … When young people drop off the educational production line and cannot find work which meets their abilities then we are only creating frustration with perhaps disturbing social consequences … People must be educated once more to know their place. That is the view of a senior mandarin at the Department of Education and Science.

Against that background it is no wonder that art and art education are being increasingly threatened by the Government. The death of monetarism, announced in the autumn statement, certainly has not been followed by the rebirth of art and art education in the Queen's Speech.

The lead comes, as it always does in society, from the very top. I believe that any fair-minded Member of the House would accept that we have one of the most uncultured and uncivilised Prime Ministers that the country has ever known. A couple of years ago I said in a debate in the House— there was no challenge from either side — that our Prime Minister could not distinguish between a drawing by Matisse and a Rupert Bear cartoon. Nothing has changed.

For my evidence I do not call upon the words of New Socialist or Marxism Today —I turn to the words of Harpers & Queen, a magazine which, in my view, every Member of the House should read regularly. I have my up- to-date copy and I wish to quote from page 198. Terence O'Neill is a distinguished British photographer. He knows a bit about the arts and he knows a bit about people. He has been photographing the Prime Minister and Mrs. Glenys Kinnock. He says of the Prime Minister: When you photograph Mrs. Thatcher there's nothing to photograph. She's just a hairstyle — she's just a political image … Mrs. Thatcher has made 10 Downing Street into nothing. She has turned it into a dreary place … She's made the whole place a backdrop for a dummy. And as for that dummy husband Denis … you just try and photograph him. Then Mr. Terence O'Neill talks about Mrs. Glenys Kinnock in glowing and happy terms.

When one reads the words of the photographer and the person who wrote the article in the magazine—which is far from Socialist, far from Left-wing, and far from radical, important though it is — one comes to the inevitable conclusions, first, that Margaret Thatcher is the worst Prime Minister that we have had and, secondly, that Glenys Kinnock is the best Prime Minister that we will never get.

Mr. Whitfield

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Under Standing Order No. 41, I believe, it is the rule of the House that speeches must be relevant and not boring. Some Opposition Members may find this speech amusing, but it is certainly irrelevant to the serious matter of the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

Order. I have heard some things which may be discourteous but, so far, I have heard nothing which is out of order.

Mr. Sedgemore

I am astonished that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) can sit here with his contempt for culture, decency and values—the kind of things which lead civilisation forward. The Prime Minister —

The Minister for Social Security (Mr. John Major)

Since the hon. Gentleman explains his sense of good taste and culture by referring to his avid readership of Harpers & Queen, I scarcely think he is in a position to lecture any other hon. Member about taste. He has made distasteful and objectionable remarks about my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and will no doubt make similar remarks about others, but his judgment is of little concern to me. It is the judgment of the country, twice delivered in 1979 and 1983 and to be delivered no doubt some time in the next 18 months, which will determine what the people of this country think on this matter.

Mr. Sedgemore

I think it is unhappy that I have drawn the Minister out — look how I have touched him. I dared to quote an eminent photographer about the lack of culture of the Prime Minister and he is in a tiz. He is pathetically looking for some further patronage than the pathetic little position that he holds at the moment.

The Prime Minister leads a Government who have utter contempt for the future of our children. The Government seek to play down our children's aspirations and wish to make them feel guilty, as I have no doubt the hon. Member for Dewsbury thinks they ought to be, about loving beautiful things, interpreting their own imagination and stretching their minds. The Conservatives have a contempt for that type of thing, but there is no contempt on these Benches for looking for some form of Utopia, some kind of imaginative and creative future for the children of our nation. That is the relevance of the contribution that I am making to the debate. It is that which has upset the Minister and the little Back Bencher over there.

I will give three examples of the kind of philistinism that worries me and worries many other people in our society. First, in eight years, the Government have destroyed freestanding art colleges in our country and wrecked a tradition of teaching art which had hitherto been admired throughout the world. Almost the last of our art colleges in Britain is the Wimbledon school of art—a place of enormous excellence. It is about to be merged with Kingston polytechnic. Distinguished people in high places have asked why. They have pleaded with the Government not to do it. Those people include Roger de Grey, president of the Royal Academy of Arts, Peter Blake, Patrick George, Slade professor of fine art, Sir Peter Hall, director of the National Theatre, Patrick Heron, the well-known painter, Philip King, professor of sculpture, Royal College of Art, David Puttnam, Jocelyn Stevens, director of the Royal College of Art, Roy Strong, director of Victoria and Albert museum, and John Tooley, general director of the Royal Opera House. All that the hon. Member for Dewsbury can say of those 10 distinguished people among the great and good of our country, who practically reflect civilisation itself, is that they are irrelevant to a debate in the House. What kind of crude philistines have we become?

Secondly, the National Advisory Body—I hope the hon. Member for Dewsbury has learnt something about the National Advisory Body—has slashed fine art places —20 per cent. across the country at large and 50 per cent. at the Kent institute which covers the colleges of Rochester, Canterbury and Maidstone. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch)—a distinguished artist—made a speech earlier on about the arts, before the hon. Member for Dewsbury was in the Chamber. The Canterbury and Maidstone schools of art got together today to make a statement on what they consider to be a ruthless campaign on the part of the NAB and the Government against fine art students in colleges.

At the Kent institute—it is not in some Socialist part of Britain but in the heartland of Tory Britain—only 1 per cent. of all the students will be reading fine art; if one includes higher courses, only 18 per cent. will be reading fine art. That is a ridiculous balance and the Government owe us an explanation. Only 1 per cent. of the graduates in Britain read fine art, yet the Government are slashing the numbers down and down. The hon. Member for Dewsbury uses that fact for a cheap cynical intervention.

Thirdly, the modern philistinism which governs the Conservative party relates to its painful ignorance and mendacious intent to split off those interested in design in the world of art from those who are interested in fine art. It is monstrous. We cannot have designers who do not have a basic training in fine art, especially when designers are crucial to industry.

The Government seem intent on wrecking an enormous and proud tradition in Britain, and we have not had many protests from Conservative Members about what is happening. The Government do not appear to listen to complaints about the new philistinism in Britain. No one listens very much to the Minister who has responsibility for the arts following the share-out in the autumn statement. If we exclude the sum that is being spent on the British Library building, the increase in expenditure on the arts is a miserable 2.68 per cent. Instead, we should be thinking of doubling total expenditure on the arts The Minister with responsibilities for the arts reminds me of a piece of sculpture that the artist wants to bolt into the floor so as to make it something which is fixed, powerless and mute. The Minister appears to have no strong voice in the Cabinet. Even the godfather of monetarism, the current chairman of the Arts Council, Sir William Rees-Mogg, can no longer stomach it. It appears that he has gone off to his Somerset retreat complaining that the Arts Council is not getting a fair deal and will not receive one next year. I even read articles about 20 per cent. cuts for national theatres and opera companies, and the possibility of one of our four major companies having to close. That may not happen, and I am sure that it will not, because the people in the areas concerned will fight back against such philistinism.

Whether it is for art students or working-class people, the victims of high-rise flats, those who live in badly designed housing which straddle lorry routes, those who see brick walls through their windows and those who have sitting rooms with no books in them and are the victims of every sort of ugliness and destructive act which defies hope for this country, the Government must take some of the blame. I shall not be supporting the Gracious Speech.

7.22 pm
Mr. John Whitfield (Dewsbury)

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for being called to contribute to the debate. The benefit of my intervention earlier obviously struck home with the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore). At least it brought him to the subject of the debate and away from perpetrating the rubbish which is set out in a little known magazine as representing the thoughts of some third-rate photographer. At least we had the benefit, if that is the right word, of his usual articulate invective, which was as usual misdirected and misinformed.

Part of the debate has concentrated, rightly, on the enforceability of teachers' contracts, should my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science be forced to intervene in the present negotiations if they do not arrive at an acceptable agreement. As the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Weetch) reluctantly admitted, the Government are paying the piper, which means that they must be able to call the tune. The Government have provided undreamed of extra resources for the teaching profession—such resources were certainly undreamed of 12 months ago—and surely they are entitled to insist that teachers' contracts contain certain conditions. It will be for local authorities to enforce conditions, but the Government are within their rights to insist that teachers' contracts contain certain basic conditions.

If certain local authorities decide not to enforce contractual conditions, this will be as much a breach of contract on their part as failure to observe conditions will be a breach on the part of teachers. It will be for individual ratepayers in individual employing authorities to require authorities to enforce contracts, and I look forward to the time when the contracts are established. Teachers' salaries are determined on a national scale and there seems to be no reason why the conditions of the contracts should not be determined on a national scale as well.

I have always been a little uncertain why we should persist with the myth of local government control of education. We know that the vast proportion of local government expenditure is directed to education and we know also that the majority of that expenditure is funded by central Government. Local authorities have increasingly to play a responsible role as employers and education authorities in their districts, or lose power to control education altogether.

That brings me to the local authority in my constituency, which is the Kirklees metropolitan district council. The Government can demonstrate that they have bent over backwards to allow the authority to run education in its area as it thinks fit, despite an enormous campaign to preserve the Wheelwright sixth-form college in Dewsbury. There was tremendous local opposition to the proposal by the education authority to close it. The former Secretary of State for Education and Science, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), refused to intervene, in spite of being asked by me to do so. I accepted his decision, of course. My right hon. Friend allowed the local authority to close the college. As a result, there is no sixth-form education in any of the secondary schools in Dewsbury, with the exception of the St. John Fisher school, which is the Roman Catholic high school.

Not content with that act of vandalism, as I would describe it, the Kirklees authority twice rejected moneys made available to it under the Government's TVEI scheme. This is an example that shows that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch does not know the meaning of caring for pupils. Some of the invective that he bandied about the House would be better employed if it were directed to some of those who are running education in Kirklees. It would be better directed also against some of the leaders of the teachers' unions. I choose my words carefully because I think that the majority of teachers in Kirklees are decent, caring and cultural people. It disappoints me greatly that they do not rise up more often to get rid of the leaders of their unions.

I have found myself in trouble in Kirklees in referring to the leaders of the teachers' unions as Luddites. I have done that on more than one occasion and I am tempted to do so again. The leaders of the teachers' unions in Kirklees are not concerned for the children. Indeed, the children come last in their consideration. The leaders of the unions are resentful that proper incentives are being offered to good teachers to keep them in the profession. They are resentful that good or new teachers should be attracted into the profession to teach subjects such as engineering, physics and chemistry. They are resentful also of good education. It is my contention that the longer that the teachers' dispute continues the more discredited will the teachers' unions become. The longer that the dispute continues, the better from an electoral point of view—I shall be frank and honest about this — and the more certain it is that there will be the return of a Conservative Government.

The teachers' dispute has continued for two years and there is not the shred of an argument to allow teachers to refuse that which is being offered to them. They are being offered a tremendous package and one that they could not have dreamed of receiving 12 months ago. We have heard Opposition Members repeatedly dragging in the red herring of the pupil-teacher ratio, and red herring it clearly is because the ratio has become acceptable. Where we have good teachers — we have many thousands of them —there is no request for the ratio of teachers to pupils to be increased. Only bad teachers cannot control classes of up to 30 pupils. There is an abandonment of responsibility in the profession.

I fully support the Gracious Speech and the speech of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which injected some sense into this senseless, uncaring dispute which will damage our children's education.

7.30 pm
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

I understand that the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) is a solicitor. God preserve us from that sort of thing. I wish to refer to the speech—it was a speech—of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels). I am sure that he believes all the things he said, but it is frightening to think that he does. He said: "I cannot understand what all the fuss is about." That is precisely why the fuss has arisen. The hon. Gentleman is not present now — the Government seem to be bringing in hon. Members from all over the place—and I am sorry to have to remark on his speech in his absence. The leaders of the Conservative party also believe the things he said and cannot understand what all the fuss is about.

During the industrial action, our children have been kept out of school. I speak as a former head teacher. The problems were caused entirely by the Government. Now the Government talk as though they had always offered the teachers the money which they must now offer because the position has become desperate. The Government had to offer the teachers the money because they are determined to go into a general election handing out the goodies, as they promised at the Tory party conference.

The Secretary of State is boxed in. He does not understand education. His speech today was flimsy and unknowledgeable. It is sad that we must put up with the disruption in schools and that our children must suffer it.

I have spoken in every education debate in the past twelve and a half years, as the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) knows, since he has spoken in most of them himself. But we are now engaged in probably the most important education debate in which I have taken part. It reflects the problems between a hard-line Government and the teaching force—a well-behaved, moderate, middle-class group of people whom they have driven to desperation.

The hon. Member for Dewsbury was not present when I intervened in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). The hon. Member for Dewsbury talked about good teachers as though they were separate from their union leadership. He was not present when I said that the biggest union, the National Union of Teachers, had held 17 ballots. It did not casually call its members out on strike. They came out after 17 ballots. The result of every ballot was about 80 per cent. in favour of industrial action. The union officials, at the behest of the rank and file, balloted the teachers, who decided to take that action because they were becoming increasingly desperate.

Mr. Whitfield

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Flannery

No. I do not wish to listen to more of the nonsense that I have just heard from the hon. Gentleman. I wish to tell him some facts.

In the present discussions, tremendously important decisions will be taken affecting our children. I am worried about those decisions and I wish to place on record my hope that a negotiated settlement acceptable to both sides can be reached between the employers and the teachers. The Secretary of State and the Government are not the teachers' employers. The teachers' employers are the local education authorities. The teachers embarked on a three-day discussion with their employers and each day the discussion went on into the night. They were still in discussion at seven o'clock this evening. I do not know whether it is continuing.

The two sides discussed matters which have hardly been mentioned by Conservative Members. This afternoon, the teachers and their employers discussed cover and how long it should last. Most people do not know what that means. It means that, especially in small schools with six, seven or eight teachers, if a teacher is ill the class must be shared out. Therefore, the children affected go into another class and the number of pupils in that class could be even doubled. The teacher tries to grapple with the class, but becomes only a child minder. According to the Government, that position should not just last for a day but may continue indefinitely. If there are insufficient teachers to take over teaching for absent colleagues, the children affected will be in grave difficulty. That does not happen in private schools, where classes are tiny. The children of Conservative Members usually attend private schools. Conservative Members do not understand the state education system. Most of them have gone to preparatory schools, public schools or crammers. As a member of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, I have visited those schools and seen the beautiful conditions in some of them. Yet Conservative Members try to lecture Opposition Members about the state schools which our children attend.

Hardly a word has been said about class sizes. The hon. Member for Dewsbury repeated like an incantation the words "pupil-teacher ratios." Of course teachers want to teach fewer children. That would enable them to spend more time with each child. That fundamental matter has been negotiated by the teachers and their employers this afternoon. Teachers also need non-contact time. They do not only teach from nine o'clock to four o'clock. They must take their work home with them. The Government would force them to take more and more work home. The hon. Member for Dewsbury says that those who pay the money should call the tune. The Labour Government provided the money for the Houghton committee's recommendation of a 30 per cent. pay increase without laying down harsh conditions. The trouble has arisen since the Conservative Government came into office and did not give sufficient money to the teachers. The Government cannot dodge that. They can blame the teachers, the Labour party and anyone they want, but we all know that they are to blame. The future of education in Britain depends on the current negotiations. Two years of disruption were caused not by the teachers but by the Government. Why in heaven's name did the Government not offer two years ago the money that they have now produced? Then there would have been no disruption. The teachers would have received a reasonable wage—not paid all at once, but gradually. The Government's first basic offer to the teachers was an increase of about 2 per cent. They gradually upped that offer because it was unacceptable. Now Scottish teachers are being balloted on strike action because the conditions imposed on them are unacceptable.

For seven years, the Conservative party has attacked state education. The Government could not get their way, so they have had to resort to diktat, threats and crude intervention in legitimate negotiations. The Queen's Speech states that the Remuneration of Teachers Act 1965 will be repealed. That means that, since the Burnham committee will not accept crude diktat from the Minister, it will be abolished. But that matter was settled this morning. The two sides no longer differ on whether the Burnham committee should be abolished; they differ on what will be put in its place. If a new committee is faced with something that smacks of the hard line of the Tory party, it will have to negotiate with the Government—and I suppose that the Government will then say that the new committee is useless as well. Those are some of the realities that we have to face. Negotiation will be a thing of the past if it is left to the Minister to make up his own mind without resorting to the teachers.

In the current negotiations, the employers are the local education authorities, and they are ably led. The unions are split on some points because it is difficult to get a group of disparate unions together on everything. However, they are trying as hard as they can. What about the present position? It appears that if something is negotiated, the Minister will intervene crudely and tell them that the negotiations are going the wrong way and that he will not accept it. What a position when the employers and the negotiating unions are told that they are wasting their time negotiating—that the Minister will decide what happens. The Minister is listening, so I hope that he realises that if that arrogant attitude to the teaching forces in our country continues, it is a recipe for the struggle to continue. The Government, as they have done for years, will disrupt the education of our children.

No one wishes to see an acceptable negotiated settlement between the Minister and the teachers more than the Opposition. However, we are fearful that there is a deliberate attempt to confuse because of the coming election. I am worried about that. The negotiations between the teachers' unions and the employers may end this evening. The Minister will not accept the results. There is no doubt about that because he regards himself as the employer, not the local education authorities. If that is his and the Government's attitude, there is no doubt that teachers will struggle against the Minister's dictatorial and pre-emptive assault on democratic negotiation.

People who do not believe that the Minister is behaving in that way need only read the editorial in The Guardian yesterday, which stated: Mr. Baker is wrong, too. On Monday night, he followed last week's dubious take-it-or-leave-it Commons statement on teachers' pay with a peremptory wrecking statement that the emerging Nottingham terms were simply 'not acceptable'. This kind of approach will not do. Even at the best of times, it would be wrong to dictate in such a way to some 400,000 teachers. At such a critical time as this, it is bad politics, too. The upshot could be further industrial action by the unions. If so, it will largely be Mr. Baker's fault. The Secretary of State smiles affably. He is new to the scene. He is so witty and urbane that he will plunge us into another round of struggle through his arrogant attitude to the teachers, if someone does not tell him clearly that that is exactly what will happen. I told him when he made his statement a fortnight ago that that was liable to happen. None the less, he went forward and crudely intruded in the negotiations. The Secretary of State looked mildly surprised when people did not take that blow in the eye and react to it as he expected. Although the parties want the negotiations to come to a conclusion, they know that the Minister is a hard-line boss, and that is frightening for everyone seeking peace in our schools.

What the Secretary of State really wants is to hamstring and tie up the teaching profession by making voluntary duties compulsory and contractual. He knows that it was voluntary duties, not strike action, which caused the trouble last time. Teachers do so much work after school —they are involved in football matches, drama, parent evenings and all the rest. The Government and the Minister decided that they must hamstring teachers by making these voluntary duties, which they have done for more than 100 years, contractual.

The Secretary of State wants to destroy teachers' capacity to fight back when gross injustices such as poor pay in schools and bad conditions are inflicted upon them. Above all, he wishes to inflict a much wider division within the profession by denying teachers a proper and just basic salary scale. Hence, he has split the scale and will bribe the top levels — the head teachers — to make them pliant tools of the Government. The teachers who are really needed urgently, the ordinary teachers on scales 1 and 2 who do most of the hard work in the classroom—many without break in the primary schools—and who are as important as anyone in the profession will lose out, yet without them we cannot educate our children.

I appeal to the Minister, whose actions are a recipe for chaos in our classrooms. Let us see what happens after this. Teachers want to get on with their jobs with some dignity and fair pay. I ask the Minister and the Government to think again. It is up to them; the ball is in their court, and especially in the Minister's court. The negotiations may now have ended and I hope that he will show some acceptance of all the hard work that has gone into teaching our children properly and in peace.

7.46 pm
Mr. Geraint Howells (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North)

The Gracious Speech has this year been more notable for its omissions than for anything else. That is a sure sign that there is something in the air. The Prime Minister has now declared open season for an election and she is naturally anxious to avoid too much controversy. She wishes by all means to deflect attention from the deficiencies that have been caused and further aggravated by her Government's economic and social policies. We have therefore been given what has been described in one of our national newspapers as a "lightweight, disposable programme" that can easily be thrown aside if the time becomes suitable for an election campaign.

As a Welshman, I am disappointed that there has been no mention of a new Welsh language Bill—a fact that will disappoint many of my compatriots. However, tonight I wish to direct attention to the lack of care and concern shown by the total absence of any constructive plans to reduce poverty in this country.

Poverty may be regarded as a relative term. We do not see people in this country these days walking barefoot in the streets or starving to death as they do in many Third world countries, but there is a great deal of hidden poverty here — deprivation of a kind that saps the spirit and deprives its sufferers of hope.

The Government would no doubt wish to forget the statistics that tell this sorry tale of inner-city squalor, poor housing, inadequate medical facilities, dilapidated school buildings and the failure to provide enough school textbooks and equipment. The Government would prefer to dwell on the relatively booming economy of the southeast and the lucrative City deals that bring wealth to the already wealthy few, the soaring house prices in the leafy suburbs—which are well beyond the wildest dreams of people who live in Wales, Scotland and the north of England where the industrial base has been destroyed, where dole queues are still growing and where thousands of young people are leaving school without the remotest chance of a job. I would like to stress to the Ministers who bury their heads in the sand that it is not—I repeat not — easy to live on the dole, despite crass attempts to prove otherwise by those who should know better.

During their years in office, the Tory Government have presided over a 3 million increase in the number of people who are officially below the poverty line. In 1979, the number of people on supplementary benefit was 5.9 million. Today, it is about 8.8 million. The figure is likely to rise to over 10 million by the time an election is called. What a record for the Government to take to the country.

All hon. Members receive in their daily postbags letters from constituents who, through no fault of their own, are unable to make ends meet — one-parent families, unemployed school leavers, and middle-aged men and women who are suddenly faced with redundancy. But possibly the most distressing letters are from older people — pensioners on fixed incomes—who arc trying, with great difficulty, to live out their lives without getting into debt. In many cases, they go without the comforts and treats that the rest of us take for granted. Too many people live in damp houses. They cannot afford to eat, because of the high fuel bills that inevitably land on their doorsteps at the end of a severe winter. In country areas, those people have been deprived of a regular bus service. They cannot afford a car to take them to the nearest post office or chemist. They have to count every penny before they dare buy their weekly provisions but are often too proud to ask for help. If they are very unlucky, they end up in poorly run homes for the elderly with no one to look after their rights. It is shameful that, at the end of long and useful lives, they shoud have to live lives of such poor quality just because the Government have other priorities, such as tax cuts for the better-off.

The alliance believes that far more generous provision should be made for the elderly. Their pensions should be increased and supplemented by a pensioner credit scheme. Their housing costs should be taken care of. Determined efforts should be made to improve insulation. Another improvement would be the abolition of standing charges on fuel bills. Cuts in heating allowances should be restored. It is time that pensioners were given a fair deal and allowed to live out their lives in comfort and dignity. It is clear that the Government have washed their hands of any responsibility. It is time for them to go and for others to take over.

7.52 pm
Mr. Fred Silvester (Manchester, Withington)

I apologise to those hon. Members whose speeches I did not hear. I had to deal with a constituency matter, and I have not heard all the debate, as I should normally wish to do. I shall not follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells), although it was interesting that he took up the less well-covered subject of the two that have been allocated for debate. Although many of us share his concern about people living in poverty, it does not always help to exaggerate the case. For example, his suggestion that the heating allowances have been cut is not, strictly speaking, true.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery), who spoke at length about the teachers' strike, is about to leave, but perhaps he will stay for a moment to hear what I have to say. My criticism of him is similar to that of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North. There have, of course, been mistakes and difficulties throughout the struggle between the Government, local authorities and teachers. The most depressing aspect of his speech was the comment, for example, that it is difficult to get the disparate unions to work together. He said that it was the Government's intention to weaken the bargaining power of teachers and that the Government were setting the better paid teacher against the lower paid teacher.

The hon. Gentleman's speech was geared to the question whether the operation of the teachers' unions —the teachers' negotiating power—was being affected by this process. He should start at the other end and ask, "What would be the best structure for the profession to provide the best teaching for our children?" He should start with the children. He has to ask himself some serious questions, which he has not done. The most serious point of all is that, whatever he thinks about the Government, there has been an unsettled period in the teaching profession.

There have been two years of negotiation and counter-argument, much of which arises from the fundamental flaw in the structure of the way in which these things have been negotiated, a great deal of inter-union rivalry and other matters. We cannot go on like this. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been trying to bring some certainty and sanity into this matter and bring about a conclusion. That is what we need above all, not something that can be bought at any price. There is not an unlimited price to be paid. A sensible solution can come within what the hon. Member for Hillsborough would have to admit are very generous limits on the offer that has been put before the teachers.

I am sorry, too, that the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) is not here. We are used to the fact that he suffers from arrogance and self-deceit, but I did not realise that he is such a bully and, particularly, that he is such a snob. I wonder whether his constituents take kindly to the assumption that their preferences of the way in which they choose to live their lives are to be discounted and that his ethereal and superior attitude to the way in which we could conduct our lives is suitable. What is the hon. Lady muttering about?

Dr. McDonald

What I said to the hon. Gentleman was that my hon. Friend excluded inner city areas, on the ground of insufficient money—I know that many of his constituents are among the poorest in the country—from engaging in the kind of consumerism that he described.

Mr. Silvester

That statement underlines the fact that, in snobbery, the hon. Lady joins her hon. Friend.

Dr. McDonald

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Silvester

I will in a minute.

Dr. McDonald

Will the hon. Gentleman give way so that I can point out that people are extremely poor, that many in Hackney, as indeed in many city areas, are unemployed and dependent on supplementary benefit? Therefore, to say that they cannot engage in the purchase of large numbers of consumer goods is not to engage in snobbery. It is merely to describe, with the utmost sympathy, a situation in which the poor find themselves. Frankly, if the hon. Gentleman describes the inability to purchase consumer goods as snobbery, it just shows how out of touch he is.

Mr. Silvester

If the hon. Lady had taken the trouble to let me finish my sentence, she would not have led herself down a blind alley. The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady are making the false assumption that the tastes—now she does not wish to listen—that operate among poor people are not the tastes that they wish. The assumption that it is their fault that they do not enjoy the same activities as the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch is a false one and is thoroughly insulting to the people whom he is supposed to represent.

As the hon. Gentleman went on about the introduction of a greater technical element into schools, he might also like to turn his attention to this matter. We heard earlier that there is considerable evidence to suggest that where the school curriculum is intensified in the areas of technical achievement children from exactly the homes that the hon. Gentleman described find that their interest is greater and truancy rates are reduced. He might turn his attention to that matter as well.

I wish to turn my attention to a different subject concerning education. It is a sensitive one and will, no doubt, get the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) even more worked up. It is important for us to give calmer consideration to this matter. It concerns the way in which we treat the problem of racism in schools. I have become increasingly depressed in recent months because the way in which what I thought was steady progress in dealing with this subject has been put into reverse.

A large report—the Swann report—sought to tackle that issue. It contained some issues that are at the root of our present difficulty. Some local authorities, through their approach to this subject, have increasingly distanced themselves from the people they represent. Page 4 of the Swann report states: Whilst individuals may belong to different groups of various kinds they are in addition also part of the wider national society by virtue of a range of common shared characteristics, such as a common language and a common … legal system, which taken together give that society a degree of unity". I think that most of us would agree with that.

The report refers to a society which contains many ethnic groups and which, nevertheless, can provide the coherence which is recognisable as a nation. One important element of that is what we do in our schools. The schools do not exist to create something new. One of their main purposes is to transmit the traditions and cultures with which they began. That is why a crucial part of our education policy is to increase the power and influence of parents, who are the natural transmitters of the country's culture.

It is of great concern when some people, whose natural goodwill and desire to ensure that schools assist in enabling people of different ethnic origins to live and work together, ask for changes in the curriculum which are not acceptable to many others. There is growing concern that those changes require too great a change in the nature of society. We are all told that we suffer from either unintentional racism or institutional racism. This is regarded as such a fundamental part of the way we think and breathe that it must be expunged by special efforts. Those efforts are causing some of our present difficulties.

I shall give an example of the dispiriting way in which the trend is developing. A well-prepared book for children between 11 and 13 called "Black Settlers in Britain 1555 — 1958" was prepared not simply to look at the contribution of blacks in our history—that is as worthy of study as anything else—but to encourage schools to make it appear that that contribution was the equivalent of the other people who lived at that time who did not happen to be black. The authors dug around and unearthed some interesting facts. I learnt that Florence Nightingale had an assistant called Mary Seacole, who was black. That may be of some interest, but to go on to say that equivalent weight must be attached to that fact illustrates the difficulty we face. The same difficulties arise in language and other aspects of our inherited culture.

Not many people, except the very prejudiced, object to finding ways to maintain the culture of ethnic groups so long as they wish that to continue, but that does not mean that that has to be done by excluding the culture that most British parents of white stock expect to be taught in schools. I asked an ILEA teacher why English history was not included in the curriculum. He said that it was more than his job was worth—I think that the position has now changed—because it was said that to teach English history was to give undue weight to a part of life not shared by some of the black children in the school. Such distinctions are fundamentally at odds with what is acceptable to some people. We have to find a way to overcome that difficulty.

We should look at the famous Brent council, where the temperature is continuously rising. I shall not go into the rights and wrongs of the council's proposals, but one thing is certain. It is that progress will not be achieved by increasing the tension in which schools have to work. Many head teachers have done extremely good work in finding ways to break down the barriers to understanding. We shall be in great difficulty if local authorities lay down strict curricula or guidelines which prevent them from being flexible in maintaining what many children and their parents want.

The debate has been dominated by the position in schools during the present negotiations. At last, a clearer strategy for the school system as a whole is emerging from the Government, and I hope that it will continue. I do not accept the criticism of the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) of the city technology colleges. They are part of the same structure. We are trying to multiply the options available to parents throughout the country. That can be done through the CTCs, but the most promising approach arises from the Education Act 1986, which will enable schools to take much more control over their affairs.

If school governors and parents are given a greater say in the running of schools, different school attitudes and different school qualities will develop and there will be different choices of schools. I should be sad if anyone said, "Because school A was developing in one way and had greater parental involvement than school B. we should somehow stop it." I hope that a multiplicity of approaches to education will develop. That will be beneficial if it is at the grassroots level—school level. I think that the CTCs will make a small but useful contribution, and I wish them good luck.

8.8 pm

Mr. Robert Litherland (Manchester, Central)

I listened with interest and sadness to my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) refer to his last contribution to debates on the Loyal Address after a long and distinguished career in the House. I congratulate him on his attempt to pursue his aims of eradicating disease and bringing comfort and dignity to disabled communities. I was sad when he said that his enthusiasm had turned to despair.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South referred to illness, and one of its causes is the disease of poverty. I found nothing in the Queen's Speech about the eradication of poverty. Poverty is a word that is bandied about, but there is a failure to define it. Academics may come up with answers after an in-depth study. Sometimes publicity-seeking politicians spend a week on subsistence-level incomes and at the end of that experience come out purified, assuming that they have experienced poverty. However, they return to their high living and to comfort, hut, more than anything else, they return to security.

It is a sick joke and an insult to people who suffer real poverty for politicians to go through such exercises. Real poverty is the soul-destroying day-to-day effect of being insecure, of suffering the knowledge that one cannot support one's family, and of feeling completely inadequate. If one has only enough money for pure physical survival and cannot join in the normal activities of a community—it is no joke not being able to provide presents for children at Christmas or being unable to provide birthday presents and the little niceties of life—the cumulative effect can be a psychological one that erodes a person's dignity and makes that person feel unwanted.

Manchester city council has just issued a report which uses the Government's own guidelines on poverty. The report looks at the number of people living on means-tested benefits—for example, supplementary benefit, free schools meals and housing benefit. Its findings are a condemnation of the Government's economic policies.

In 1978 unemployment stood at 11 per cent. — just under one in 10 was out of work. Since then the number of jobs has declined dramatically, and across the city it had jumped to a staggering 24 per cent. in 1985. The rise in unemployment means that last year nearly one third of Manchester's population was claiming and depending on supplementary benefit. In the inner city, in my constituency, the percentages claiming benefit are even higher because even within the inner city there are pockets of deprivation, areas where 60 per cent. of school children receive free school meals. One area of my constituency has been badly hit by the closure of old, established firms. Manufacturing has been allowed to go to the wall and the community with it.

The report says of my constituency: East Manchester also has a high proportion of residents on low incomes. In the area covered by the Openshaw DHSS Office 38 per cent. of residents receive Supplementary Benefit, and in Beswick, Clayton, Newton Heath and Bradford over 50 per cent. of all school children receive free meals. All the areas mentioned in the report are in my constituency, in the inner city of Manchester. This area and its people are the victims of the closure of massive firms—engineering firms, wire manufacturing firms, and steel and heavy manufacturing firms. In the area over 60 per cent. of males arc unemployed, and many of them will never work again.

The report goes on to say that virtually all parts of Manchester have more poor people than the country as a whole. The position is deteriorating day by day as more and more Manchester residents are having to live on very low incomes.

My constituency has more than its share of elderly, disabled, low skilled and black people. Young people have already lost hope, and if they have not, they are fast doing so. That is the measure of the decay in the inner cities, not only in Manchester but throughout Britain. About 43 per cent. of young people under 20 years of age are now out of work. What hope does the Queen's Speech offer them? The answer is none.

Poverty is no respecter of age, and in Manchester, as in other inner city areas, pensioners are fearful of the onset of winter. They will be going to bed in the early afternoon, not only to shorten the winter and the fuel bills, but to ensure that the winter does not shorten their lives. Hypothermia took its toll of the elderly last winter, and, in the main, hypothermia is caused by poverty. Elderly people are unable to meet crippling fuel bills to warm condensation and damp-ridden system built houses.

Poverty also brings ill health in its wake. In Manchester's inner city 80 per cent. more deaths occurred among those under 65 years of age when compared with the national average. That is the effect of the Government's economic strategy. Unemployment produces poverty, poverty produces physical and mental ill health, and it is on the increase.

The report refers to increasing poverty, saying: There is considerable evidence then that the number of people likely to be living in poverty in the City has increased since 1978, and that as a consequence the number of people dependent on welfare benefits has grown substantially … Nevertheless not everyone who is entitled to Supplementary Benefit claims it, though the take up in Manchester is probably rather better than the national average … Bearing this in mind it is likely that around 40 per cent. of the City's population are either dependent upon or are living in households who are entitled to receive Supplementary Benefit, and can therefore be considered on the 'poverty line'. Added to these should be the many people living in households which do not receive Supplementary Benefit, but who are dependent upon incomes below Supplementary Benefit level. Using national rates to estimate the size of this group, the conclusion reached is that nearly half of the City's population is either dependent upon Supplementary Benefit, or upon incomes below Supplementary Benefit level. "Half of the City's population"—that is a scandal and a crime on our people, and it is an indictment of the Government.

The city council can try to do all in its power to fight poverty. It recognises that a major programme of action, both locally and nationally, is needed. The city council is committed to improving the quality of life for its residents, across all the services it provides. It is determined to do what it can to stimulate employment within the city and to help people get the benefits to which they are entitled. However, positive improvements are needed at national level in the Health Service, in the fuel boards, in transport policies and, most urgently, within the social security system. Only then can the rising tide of poverty be turned.

City councils can do all in their power to stimulate jobs, but unless there are changes in the Government's national and regional policies Manchester and the north-west will continue to bleed to death. There was nothing in the Queen's Speech that suggested that there would be any dramatic change in the plight of my constituents and, therefore, I shall vote against it.

8.19 pm
Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South)

I notice from the way in which the debates on the Loyal Address have been planned that, although a major Bill in the next Session will deal with the criminal justice system — I have to declare an interest as a practising barrister—we seem somehow to wish to ignore that during these debates. Tonight we are debating education and family poverty, and if I work in the odd comment on other matters, I apologise in advance. However, those matters are all linked.

We are told time and again that we have what is called a caring Government. We have a Government who are apparently in favour of law and order, but we have a Government who show little law, little order and little caring. We have a Government who seem to ignore the plight of many persons who fall foul of, or indeed fall out of, our present system.

Let me give a simple example. A young man, whom I will call Philip, aged 20 or 21 commits a crime, he has a mental age of between seven and 10 and he has committed crimes before. Inevitably, he finds himself without money or a home, and so he steals. What do we do? We send him to prison and he adds to the 47,000 already there, but of course prison is not the place for him. As a society, we do not seem to understand that there are misfits—people who do not fit into the normal pattern. There are people who, because they are handicapped, mentally or physically, have problems. Yet we have a Government who trumpet on about whether the defence can challenge members of a jury and whether this or that can be admitted in evidence.

We have a Government who do not seem to understand that there is a link between crime and poverty. They do not understand that there are people within our society who are damaged, mentally or physically, through no fault of their own, who have no way in which they can cope with a complex society such as we have. Nothing is said in the Gracious Speech about dealing with or seeking to care for them.

It was said many years ago by the late Winston Churchill that a society is judged by the way that it treats its most humble and disadvantaged members. If we apply that test to society today, what do we find? We find that, inevitably, those at the bottom of the pile who have nothing going for them and who may be handicapped in many ways are ignored by society and the state today. It could not care less.

The past eight years have seen an aggressive non-caring attitude, a selfish attitude, a what's-in-it-for-me attitude. We are led by a Government who are inevitably interested only in their own. They are interested, not in the country or in the mass of the people, but in what is in it for them and those who support them. We have seen that time and again.

Rainhill is a large mental hospital in my constituency, with nearly 1,000 patients. It has a regional secure unit attached to it. When I first became Member of Parliament for St. Helens, South a number of people had been in that hospital for between 10 and 30 years. Often, the reasons for their being sent there were wrong and they should never have been sent there, but that hospital was their home. It was the only place that they knew. Under the modern policies of this supposedly caring Government we have seen many of them bussed and shipped out, sent to Colwyn Bay or put into private — I use the word advisedly — accommodation or hostels. In effect, we have destroyed those human beings. If somebody who has been institutionalised over a long period is taken out of the only environment that he knows and understands, and where his friends are and is moved many miles away, he will be destroyed. The environment of such people is destroyed and they as human beings are destroyed. That is not caring.

The Government say that in some way we must reduce the number of people in long-stay hospitals. I am all in favour of the treatment of the mentally ill and handicapped within the community, but, for goodness sake, cannot somebody think of the real effects, on real human beings, of imposing a policy from above which is supposed to save money but which in reality causes hardship and pain.

I am all in favour of those who are now becoming sick and being diagnosed as handicapped being kept in the community, but we should at least allow those who have spent between 10 and 40 years in hospitals to serve out the rest of their lives in the company of those whom they have known for the past 20 or 30 years. Please do not destroy their world, because it is the only world that they know.

We are told that we have a caring Government, but I look at the Gracious Speech and see little about that in it. This afternoon I asked the Leader of the House about conditions in our prisons. The Gracious Speech says that we shall have a new Criminal Justice Bill which will deal with matters such as the right of challenge, the administration of justice, the conviction of men for fraud, but that does not go to the heart of the problem.

Britain today has a prison system which is the cesspit of Europe. I do not blame the prison officers. They have to deal with the conditions in which they are asked to serve. As a member of a Select Committee I recently visited America, and those of us who saw clean and modern prisons were almost envious. I return to the words of the late Winston Churchill on the test of a society, and I see nothing in the Gracious Speech which in any way goes to the heart of that problem.

I know that there are no votes in prisons, but there should be some human dignity and some human rights. There should be some educational input in the prison system. Education withers and dies at present simply because of the conditions and the lack of resources. If we do not educate the young who have committed offences, they will be tempted to commit more offences. The object of the exercise must surely be to rehabilitate those who are sent to prison. In an educated and caring society that is what we should do, but the Government do not care, and the Gracious Speech lacks that sense of caring.

There was a time when we looked upon our education system as the jewel in our crown. Over the past 10 years, and especially over the past five years, we have seen a denial of opportunity in the north-west, north-east, south and elsewhere. People have been denied the chance to improve their lot. We have lost any concept of reeducation and retraining in the fast advancing society. I see nothing in the Gracious Speech which would lead me to feel that there was any hope for the future.

The Gracious Speech, I say with great sadness, gives no hope to millions of people. It gives a prospect of further profit to a few in its comments about privatisation. It is like the Mansion House speech and the autumn statement. It is supposed to be yet another candle lit on the road to the election. The Government have put out so many lights that were the hopes of people in this land. The time has come for the Government's light to be put out.

8.31 pm
Mr. Robert B. Jones (Hertfordshire, West)

I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate. I apologise for having had to absent myself during the debate because of other parliamentary commitments. I shall endeavour to be brief, so as to be fair to other hon. Members.

It is not surprising that one could not recognise the real world from the speech of the hon. Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Bermingham). We all judge things by our constituency. All I can say is that immediately adjacent to my constituency is a brand new prison at Bovingdon. In Lawn lane in Hemel Hempstead, a Conservative-controlled county council has just planned and built a hostel for the mentally ill and a brand new hospital is being built. The Conservative-controlled borough council in Dacorum has the largest programme of sheltered housing of any local authority in Hertfordshire and caused the housing corporation in its recent report to draw attention to the strength of provision in Dacorum. Those are the hallmarks of a caring Conservative Government and a caring Conservative county council and borough council.

I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) on the Front Bench that nothing has been of greater pleasure to my area than for phase one of the Hemel Hempstead hospital to have been occupied gradually over the past few months. That is phase one of a hospital which the previous Labour Government cancelled. By next autumn, when phase two will have started, we shall have some of the most modern health facilities in the country. That too is a tribute to the caring Conservative Government.

While my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South is on the Front Bench perhaps I may advise her that one of the problems suffered by areas in the shire counties is the unfair distribution of health resources between the outer parts of the London regional health authorities and the inner London parts. I hope that she will take speedy action to ensure that that inequity is corrected.

I welcome the fact that over the past two years the spotlight has turned on education, because it is an important issue. The Bill proposed in the Gracious Speech is to deal with teachers' pay. I welcome the fact that the Secretary of State has decided to introduce that legislation because it is absurd that teachers' pay and conditions have been separated for so long. I know from talking to many teachers over the past few days that the grass roots share the Secretary of State's view that the Bill is welcome and believe that it will create a better climate for education than we have had recently.

What was not in the Gracious Speech, and what I believe should have been, was a better method of organising secondary and primary schools, especially secondary schools. The present system has been under great strain as a result of falling rolls. Inevitably, local authorities cannot close schools fast enough to keep up with the pace. Therefore, even as we have, certainly in my local authority, rising expenditure in real terms per pupil at primary and secondary level, there are problems, because the distribution is not equitable.

This has something in common with the Health Service. It is not a question of all schools having lost pupils equally. The unpopular schools have lost a disproportionate number and there are some schools which, on a five-form planned entry, have been admitting under half that number of pupils per year. However, the curriculum still needs to be maintained, as do the grounds and buildings. Money to keep that going comes away from the successful and popular schools and, therefore, curiously, the financial squeeze is hardest where it is least appropriate and it is felt least in the unpopular schools. I believe that there should have been a Bill to reorganise school finance.

The other problem is that the decision to close schools is taken by politicians at county council level or by bureaucrats at officer level. They do not necessarily have the same priorities as parents, pupils and staff. That is why head teachers and staff often feel picked on when their school is due for closure. Everyone could understand if closures arose because a school which simply could not attract enough finance to carry on had to have a voluntary merger or to mend its ways. The decisions are slow because one has to have ministerial involvement before a school can be closed. That is right and proper under the present system. However, a per capita funding system would lead to a great deal more in the way of voluntary activity at local level.

Such a system would encourage responsibility because decisions would be made by the head teacher and governors who would know the local circumstances of the school best. They would know which teachers deserved to be paid more and which local firm to go to in order to get a leaking tap fixed. Therefore, they would manage the money more efficiently. Under the present system it is wholly absurd that one has to go to the bureaucrats at county hall to obtain permission to carry out a minor repair and that it has to be carried out by the county's direct labour force.

The scheme would be responsible but it would also be responsive because a per capita funding system means that schools that were successful in attracting pupils would automatically attract funds. Therefore, it would be encouraging excellence and deterring poorer quality schools. That, in turn, would promote striving for better standards on the part of poorer schools.

That alternative is long overdue. It is being heralded in Cambridgeshire, part of which is represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). Cambridgeshire has successfully experimented with per capita funding at a low level because it applies to only about 1.5 per cent. of the schools' budgets. In my constituency a local headmaster and the governors would have discretion over about £3,000 out of a school's total resources of about £450,000. That is absurd.

I commend what the Government have put in the Gracious Speech, but I wish that they had tackled that fundamental problem as well.

8.39 pm
Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

I am glad to be able to take part in this debate on education. Over the past few years, I have watched the Government's attempts to destroy the state education system and the morale of the teaching profession. For the past two years, the Government have dillied and dallied over providing sufficient money to pay teachers decent salaries. It is not so much that aspect that I wish to concentrate on as the Government's attempt in their proposal to impose some kind of contract on teachers.

For many years teachers have undertaken out-of-school activities of all sorts, such as voluntary activities; they have organised clubs, games and theatre visits; they have taken part in parent-teacher evenings and made endless attempts to meet the parents of the children whom they teach. They have held staff meetings, attended courses, and sought to train themselves. They also spend a great deal of time marking books, essays and examination papers outside the hours that they spend at school. They spend time reading, studying and preparing. Particularly over the past few years, many teachers have had to provide much of the material to be used in lessons. They used to have resource centres with such provision. Many of those centres have disappeared because of lack of funding.

All that was work that most teachers undertook voluntarily and gladly, yet the Government have such a legalistic approach. They cannot believe that professional people wish to inform themselves and go beyond their strict duties in the hours of school. Because they could not believe that, they sought to impose contracts on teachers and to list duties, and in so doing they utterly and completely destroyed the morale of the teaching profession. It will be many years before that morale is restored properly, and it will require a Labour Government to do it. The next Labour Government will make sure that teachers are properly provided with the resources that they need with which to educate the children under their care.

I cannot say how strongly I feel about the destruction of the teachers' morale. It is important that we have teachers who are committed to the work that they undertake, who care about the children whom they teach, and who are given the support that they require in that task, which is often difficult and emotionally draining and which absorbs a great deal of time. Yet the Government just sweep all that aside, and the loss is for the children and for their parents, who wish their children to have a decent education, perhaps a better education than they received at school.

The legalistic and dictatorial approach of the Secretary of State has done much to damage state education, with the right hon. Gentleman's lack of knowledge and lack of experience of the profession and the demands of state education. The Government are composed of Cabinet Ministers, probably not one of whom has ever sent his children to a state school, who neither know nor care and who simply back the Secretary of State in his dictatorial attitude.

That is a legacy that it will take a Labour Government to undo. Imposing contracts, no matter how detailed they are, will do nothing towards solving the problem. In their arrogant treatment of the teachers, the Government have pushed teachers—although I am sure that on reflection many will set that attitude aside—towards saying, "OK. I shall do what is in my contract—nothing more, and nothing less." That is how teachers feel at the moment, and it is entirely the Government's fault, yet I am sure that for most of them their commitment to their profession and to the education of the children in their care will mean that they will struggle to overcome that attitude.

The Secretary of State talked today about the involvement of parent governors and parents in schools and education. That is a good thing. I have seen several examples of that in my constituency this year. Sometimes large groups of parents have attended my advice surgeries or parent governors have come to me out of sheer frustration. The Government would like to think that that frustration is connected with industrial action in the schools. It has nothing to do with that whatsoever.

For example, in two primary schools, the parents, staff and governors alike have been driven to despair because of staffing difficulties. They have been unable to find primary school teachers, those on the bottom rung of the salary scale, to come and teach. Therefore, reception classes in the infant schools in my constituency, classes well above the average that the Secretary of State cited in his speech, with 30 and more pupils, have been without one teacher throughout the year. They have had no stable teaching, not because of industrial action but simply because it has not been possible to find suitable staff to take over those classes. They have had a succession of teachers and sometimes a succession of supply teachers. I do not know how such large classes can be taught how to read adequately anyway, but children aged five need the stability of one teacher. When they fail to have one teacher throughout the year, how they get a proper foundation of education is beyond me.

Groups of parents have also come to me because of the lack of repair and maintenance in the schools. The Prime Minister likes to say that throwing money at a problem will not solve it. It certainly solves the problem when it is a matter of providing the materials to repair schools, and of paying people to come and paint, to stop up leaks, to strip out an old kitchen and make sure that it is hygienic and can be used to provide decent meals for the children. Such repairs need money, and that money has not been made available. Parents and parent governors have had such involvement in my constituency, and the blank wall that they have met has been nothing to do with industrial action; it has been all to do with inadequate financial provision, either for the salaries of teachers or for building, maintenance and equipment.

The Government have a real hang-up about paying people at the top of the education profession. They want to pay senior teachers and head teachers more. Of course those people should be properly rewarded, but it is the classroom teacher who needs a decent level of pay, to attract suitable people into the profession and to give them a due reward for a hard grind. The Secretary of State himself and junior Ministers in his Department have never had experience of teaching anybody anyway, so they do not know the demands that it makes in terms of knowledge, training and the psychological drain of handling a class, in which sometimes children face many problems connected with their home background, and do not wish to learn. None of the Ministers has faced that problem so they do not understand what it is like. That is why they do not understand that a decent financial reward for the classroom teacher, the sort of reward that the Government are prepared to give to the police, is necessary if education is to reach a proper standard.

According to The Guardian, the Secretary of State intervened in the middle of the negotiations on Tuesday, but not over pay. I give his own Department's figures. I do not necessarily say that they are the true figures. The Department calculated a figure of £300 million and the employers negotiating calculated about £100 million. The Secretary of State intervened and tried to wreck the negotiations because the employers and teachers' unions wanted to spend more on lowering the maximum size of classes and on other measures that would improve the standard of education. That shows how much the Government care. They talk about increasing public expenditure, but when it comes to spending money on raising the standards of education in our state schools the answer is no, and the country had better understand that.

8.50 pm
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge)

It is appropriate that much should have been said today about education because this is an important aspect of life, but I shall concentrate on another important aspect. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) will shortly refer to the problems of family poverty, and nowhere does that manifest itself more than in housing.

I listened carefully to the Gracious Speech and, like many hon. Members, found its significance to lie more in what it left out than in what it contained. There is nothing whatever in the Gracious Speech to show that the Government have realised the nature and extent of the housing crisis in our country, and how that crisis could be resolved. Although the proposal to extend the rights of people living in privately owned flats in England and Wales receives a cautious welcome, the commitment to continue the Government's firm monetary and fiscal policies and the implication that the Government intend to continue their attacks on local authorities bode ill for the prospect of improved housing standards.

In his Budget speech in March the Chancellor of the Exchequer told us of the "success" of the Government's economic policy. On the same day the Prime Minister referred to the record standards of living that our country was said to be enjoying. I am afraid that those alleged truths have escaped the notice of the people of Tyne Bridge, and I suspect that the same is true of the rest of the northern region. Under this co-called successful economic strategy public investment in housing has been cut by more than 60 per cent., resulting in deteriorating housing conditions and a halving of the number of jobs in the region's construction industry since 1979. It is that combination of poor housing and high unemployment that has led to a deterioration in social conditions, and to an increase in crime and vandalism in our inner cities—all that under a Government whose Prime Minister back in 1979 offered our country hope and harmony.

If we want a secure future and a harmonious society we shall have to build it, and that means a lot more assistance and a lot less hindrance than we have had from this Government, or are likely to get. We are constantly told by Ministers that investment through inner city partnerships is contributing to that future, yet in my constituency the two local authorities, Newcastle and Gateshead, have between them lost more than £300 million in rate support grant over the past six years—a figure which reduces to a mere pittance the amount provided through inner area partnership grant in the same period.

When the Government's policy of council house sales was introduced they promised that the capital raised from sales would be available for building new homes, but the truth is that councils are unable to make any impact on housing problems even by that means because of the restrictions on the spending of sales receipts that the Government have introduced. I say, and the Labour party says, that people have a right to a decent home. The provision of such rights was never easy, and no one would ever suggest that the problems can be resolved overnight, but this Government's abandonment of the progress that was being made has multiplied the problems and made the task immensely more difficult. The Department of the Environment has reported that nearly £20 billion needs to be spent on Britain's decaying housing stock. At the Government's current spending rate it will take 67 years to deal with our defective housing, leaving aside further deterioration in the meantime.

The Government also support more private sector control of council housing. However, that would force council tenants out of their homes into worse accommodation, so that their houses could be sold off. Any Government who deliberately create conditions where suffering is inflicted on families by forcing them to live in damp, draughty, depressing housing have no right to claim to have the interests of the people at heart. To deny, as many Conservative Members do, that there is any link between housing deprivation, deteriorating health and rising levels of crime and vandalism is the same as seeing fewer ships than Nelson did, and, as we know, he chose to see none at all.

I offer no panacea for the crime and disorder problem, but investment in our communities will go a long way towards resolving it. Investment in new and modernised housing must be at the top of the list of priorities in building a future for our people.

When we raise such matters, Ministers ask what it will all cost, thus implying that the Government defer action on housing because of the cost alone. There was no difficulty in finding the vast millions of pounds that it cost for the Falklands war, and still costs. Nor was there any difficulty in finding the substantial sums that the extra security measures cost as a direct result of the Government's decision to support America's bombing of Libya. No doubt Ministers will say that they were national emergencies. So they were, but they were emergencies which the Government could have avoided, but did not.

Labour Members say that the housing crisis is also a national emergency that results directly from the action, or lack of action, taken by this Government. Therefore, as a national emergency, the money must be found, and will be by a Labour Government. Young families need a decent home in which to bring up their children. The elderly need warmth, comfort and security in their homes, and the handicapped need adaptations to make life more tolerable in their homes. These are not outlandish ambitions, or greedy or extravagant demands. They are absolute necessities for the people of Britain and for any modern civilisation.

My constituency of Tyne Bridge has the entire range of housing and house types, from the castle keep to hack-to-back Tyneside flats, but we also have more than our fair share of housing problems. The cause of many of those problems lies in the inadequacies of the developments in the early 1960s, and in the dreadful communal living accommodation with which we are left, following the drastic error of trying to provide homes on the cheap—a policy which, even after the lessons, appears to endear itself still to this Government. Ordinary, decent people in my constituency, and others throughout the land, are reaping the consequences of such policies and are having to live in conditions which may have won accolades for being remarkable examples of modern architecture, but which are totally unsuited to modern living.

The housing situation in Tyne Bridge is bad, but the councils of Newcastle and Gateshead are doing their best to alleviate it. Over the years, before this Government came to office, slum dwellings were almost completely eradicated, and so very few houses now lack basic amenities. The councils have plans for the modernisation and repair of the housing stock and, where appropriate, the clearance of some of the worst examples of 1960s architecture. However, it is a mammoth task.

It is estimated that Newcastle's housing stock needs £152 million over the next five years, and Gateshead's £145 million over the next 10 years, to bring them up to a decent standard. The need for new build is evidenced by the fact that in Tyne Bridge alone more than 12,000 people are still forced to live in overcrowded conditions. Most of them cannot afford to purchase their own homes and their only dream is to be allocated a decent council house — a dream that is an illusion under a Government who so obviously and bitterly abhor the public sector and worship the free market private sector.

What of the private sector? More than 60 per cent. of the pre-1919 housing stock in my constituency is in a state of substantial disrepair, and one in four private sector homes is in an unsatisfactory condition. The councils are trying to tackle these problems but are obstructed and frustrated at every step by central Government.

While the nature and extent of the problems urgently require more resources, the Government have slowly been strangling the housing sector. Gateshead's housing investment programme has been cut by 75 per cent during the period 1979 to 1985, and Newcastle received only 55 per cent. of what was needed to carry out a modest programme in 1986–87. As if to rub salt into their wounds, both councils have been rate capped by this Government.

The minimal support given to the local authorities through the inner area partnership has been cut in real terms, and the flexibility to use the moneys as the councils perceive the need has been severely curtailed. Despite the fact that housing is the major inner area problem, no part of inner area partnership grants can be used to help improve the housing stock itself. This problem is not peculiar to Tyneside, because one has only to travel a short distance from the House of Commons to see similar housing deprivation.

We need a strategy which will improve conditions for all sections of the community, and which will give people a choice over where they live and more control over their environment. The basis of that strategy must be a substantial boost to investment in house building and repair, including measures to help elderly owners who find it difficult to maintain their own homes, assistance for first-time buyers and those on low incomes, and adequate provision for single people to meet the growing demand in that area.

The way forward in housing is to recognise the moral duty that we have as a society to provide decent homes for our people. The way forward for our society is the recognition of the major impact that such provision would have on our environment, health, peace of mind and civilisation.

9.1 pm

Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)

It is fair to say that we have had a robust and argumentative debate on education. It was rather more argumentative on the Opposition Benches judging by the emptiness of the Government Benches, and rather more rigorous than the distinctly flimsy and threadbare Government programme for the coming year as spelt out in the Queen's Speech.

Although I am sorry that he is not here to hear me say it, the Opposition's arguments were rather more persuasive than the Secretary of State's lame and unconvincing opening speech, which must have left many people wondering—given his attitude to the teachers and the local authorities—whether he really wants the current negotiations to succeed, or how and by what means he would impose a settlement if a voluntary agreement were not reached.

There were many important, witty and incisive contributions on education by Opposition Members. That is a subject on which it is not my special prerogative to comment, but as to the area that I cover, I commend the speech that has just been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland).

I should perhaps pay a special tribute to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt), whose contributions on the NHS over the years are perhaps unequalled in the House. His speech tonight showed all the concern and commitment for a genuinely free and comprehensive Health Service for which he is so justly known. If my hon. Friend is right in saying that this is his last Queen's Speech contribution, we shall certainly miss him.

At present, all the opinion surveys show that what matter most to people are unemployment, health and education, yet on all those subjects the Queen's Speech is thin to the point of invisibility. There is nothing in it that will reduce unemployment. Health is not even mentioned, despite the fact — or perhaps because of it — that the NHS continues to crumble apart almost daily. As for education, as my hon. Friends have unerringly demonstrated, the specifics of the Queen's Speech are scarcely geared to producing harmony or better standards in the schools.

There is another matter which at present is a huge national issue, yet the Government's response in the Queen's Speech is a deafening silence. That is the reemergence of mass poverty in our society on a magnitude and with an intensity to which most people believed no civilised society would ever again decline. The Government would prefer to forget and ignore that matter.

One of the first acts of the Government in 1979 was deliberately to abandon the annual official calculation of the poverty figures. When the figures for 1983 were finally worked out at the end of last year, the Government were so ashamed that they sat on them for six months and then embarrassingly put them in the Library, hoping that no one would notice, a few hours after Parliament had disbanded for the summer. The figures are, indeed, shameful. They show that in 1983 just under 9 million people were living on or below the supplementary benefit line. That included 2.75 million people who were existing on less than supplementary benefit. That was three years ago. Given the continuing remorseless rise of unemployment, there can be no doubt that the number of people living on or below supplementary benefits in Britain today is between 10 million and 11 million. That is one in every five.

I recognise that it is somewhat fashionable in certain Right-wing circles to try to disparage those figures by changing the definition of poverty and suggesting that being on supplementary benefit today no longer amounts to being in poverty. As the Prime Minister recently put it with the breathtaking complacency of which only she is capable, People who are living in need are fully and properly provided for. I wonder whether she or any other Cabinet Minister on more than £800 a week has any idea what it is like to live as a single person on supplementary benefit on £29.80 a week or as married couples on £48.40 a week with everything to be paid for from those sums, except housing costs.

Eighteen months ago London Weekend Television commissioned a national survey entitled "Breadline Britain". It found that 7 million people regularly go without food simply because they cannot afford to eat; that 3 million households cannot afford to heat the living areas in their homes; that nearly 3.5 million households do not have enough money for carpets, a washing machine or a fridge; that about 6 million people go without necessary clothes; and that 3 million people cannot afford to celebrate Christmas or give presents once a year to their family and friends.

Perhaps most important the survey found clear evidence of a threshold of deprivation where people become so poor that they are largely prevented from sharing in or contributing to the communal life of the society around them. That independent LWT survey found that that figure was at a net income of about £70 a week for a couple which is about one third above the level of the higher long-term supplementary benefit rate. It illustrates clearly the helplessness and alienation to which Government policies now condemn more than 10 million of our fellow citizens.

That revelation came as a bit of a shock to Mr. Matthew Parris, the former Tory Member of Parliament for West Derbyshire, who scoffed that living on supplementary benefit was all a matter of better management of resources until, before the television cameras, he could not even get to the end of one week on supplementary benefit without running out of cash. He is not alone in that.

A DHSS sponsored survey, published last year under the title "Selective Social Security", found that more than half the couples with children on supplementary benefit ran out of money most weeks and, indeed, were in debt when they were interviewed. That is perhaps scarcely surprising when supplementary benefit today for a couple with two children under 11 amounts to precisely £2.46 per person per day. I wonder how many Members of Parliament and their families could survive on that subsistence level. If they could not, I wonder how they could justify forcing 10 million people to do just that.

Today, we are seeing the re-emergence on a horrifying scale of an under-class of the dispossessed. Behind the growing statistics are hidden the crippling signs of social degeneration. As unemployment rises, so do the rates of suicides and para-suicide—that is, where people injure themselves, although not fatally. There is abundant evidence that long-term unemployment causes deterioration in mental health. There is a clear link between the growth of unemployment and the rising curve of marital breakdown. Studies have found that children born to unemployed fathers have a lower birth weight and a deficit in growth in the early years compared with families where the father is in work. Other studies have found that after the father's job is lost the children suffer increased disturbance in feeding habits, gastro-intestinal complaints, sleeping difficulties, proneness to accidents and behavioural disorders.

What is so sickening about this catalogue of malaise is that there is nothing predestined or inevitable about it. On the contrary, it is man-made, or perhaps one should say woman-made, it is remediable and it is preventable. It is simply, however, that the Government have no intention whatever of preventing it.

The Government's attitude to the poor can be summarised as one of benign neglect. It is a brutal philosophy. Force down the wages of the lowest paid, like the domestics on £50 to £60 a week, through attacks on wages councils, and privatisation. Fob off the pensioners with the absolute legal minimum with which one can get away. Drive the army of the unemployed into impotence and despair by cutting and taxing benefits, by abolishing the earnings-related supplement and now by bringing in the infamous work test.

What is so despicable about the Government's policy towards poverty is not so much that they have allowed the numbers in hardship to grow so massively, but that they just do not care. They are simply not interested in the problem of poverty.

Sir Ian Percival (Southport)


Mr. Meacher

It is indeed utterly disgraceful, and I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognises that it is disgraceful that one person in five now lives in poverty and that the Government do not care.

Sir Ian Percival

The hon. Gentleman knows that I was saying that his is a disgraceful accusation. There is no monopoly of caring on the Labour side.

Mr. Meacher

I am glad that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is at least touched by the accusation, which is utterly true. I do not know whether he was in the Chamber at the beginning of my speech—he was not here until then—to hear me make the point that the figures that I am quoting are all Government figures. There is no question but that the numbers in poverty in 1983 were nearly 9 million, and the Minister will not deny that the figure today is almost certainly over 10 million. That is one in five of the population living at a level at which most hon. Members could not survive, even for one week.

Sir Ian Percival


Mr. Meacher

No, I shall not give way again.

Under the Government, the poor have simply been written off. The Government have their electoral sights fixed firmly on those in work, and those out of work and those dependent on benefit amount to no more than ballast, and can be thrown out in the electoral dash for growth. Thatcherite individualism, unlike traditional Conservatism, is a philosophy of unabashed selfishness. Applying their own philosophy, the Government's selfish interest has no need of those who are poor and do not like the poor. They blame the poor for their own poverty.

The Government do not care electorally. Unfortunately, they know all too well that poverty does not mobilise its victims; it paralyses them. It is a cruel and punitive philosophy reminiscent of the antagonisms of the Victorian poor law towards those who fell into its grasp.

It is not so much the economics of poverty that we repudiate so strongly as the values and morality behind the Government's policies. We repudiate the morality of a Government who have doubled poverty so that it extends to more than 10 million people while at the same time giving every member of the Cabinet and everyone else on more than £50,000 a year tax handouts since 1979 worth an extra £245 a week. We repudiate the morality of a Government who give pensioners an 80p a week rise, just enough for about a couple of loaves of bread, while at the same time this year giving a pay rise 50 times greater to generals, judges and civil servants.

We repudiate the morality of a Government who offer the Prime Minister £30 a week in mortgage tax relief to help her buy a £500,000 mansion in Dulwich while at the same time cutting by half the mortgage interest payment benefit for those on the dole. That must cause thousands of evictions. We repudiate the morality of a Government who insist on introducing a work test to check the availability for work of the unemployed when the country knows that the problem is the opposite of that — the availability of work for the unemployed.

The Government have a degrading philosophy. At best, it shows a callous indifference towards the poor, and at worst I suspect that it shows real contempt directed not only at those whom Tories find most undeserving, like the unemployed and single parent families, but at the sick and disabled, the widows and the elderly and low paid. They have all been forced to take cuts in their living standards. The latest cut was announced only last week, the chipping away of statutory sick pay. According to the Commons Library, it was the 35th cut in social security since 1979. According to the same independent source, the cumulative value of those cuts in benefit since the Government came to office is £11 billion plus another £3 billion clawed back from the unemployed by the taxation of unemployment benefit, a measure which the Government introduced for the first time four years ago.

Those sums would be enough to give every pensioner and every unemployed family in the country a Christmas bonus next month of £1,000. Such a bonus is about as likely under this Government as a snowstorm in hell. In reality the divide between rich and poor has never been starker. In the same month that the big bang deregulation in the City of London spawned six-figure salaries —£2,000 a week for young men in their twenties and thirties—the Government awarded elderly people a pension of precisely £39.50.

In the year in which Christies recently sold a bottle of vintage Château Lafitte for £105,000 the Fowler Social Security Bill was whittling away the incomes of millions for whom Château Sainsburys would, I suspect, be an improbable luxury. Unmentioned as it is in the Queen's Speech, that Fowler Bill which is now the Social Security Act 1986 will feed through a series of regulations which will have an impact next year on the lives of 15 million people. Like the Queen's Speech, it will do nothing to alleviate poverty because it merely redistributes existing resources among the poor. Several specific measures in that Act will increase poverty. Those measures are the 20 per cent. rate contribution, the halving of mortgage interest payments, discretionary loans from the social fund in place of single payments, the lower rate of income support for the under-25s and the absence of any client group premium for the long-term unemployed and for carers. Some will suffer quite substantial cuts in living standards.

Of the 3.75 million households in total that the Government admit will lose under the Fowler Act, the Government's own technical annex shows particularly large losses for low-paid families without children, for the unemployed without children and for pensioners in the 60–80 age group. Moreover, the cuts in housing benefit will have an especially severe impact on pensioners and the low-paid who are in full-time work. Nor are the Government, in their anxiety to maximise their tax cutting electoral bribes, even prepared to put enough money into preventing a repetition this winter of last winter's horrific catalogue of deaths from hypothermia.

Government figures that were released just over a month ago show that in last year's cold winter 22,000 more of the over-75s died, compared with the previous winter. After the farce or tragedy of last year's exceptionally severe weather payments, all that the Government are proposing this year is a system of payments when the temperature drops for a full week below minus 1½ deg C. On last year's experience, that will exclude two-thirds of the whole area of England. Even then the Government propose to restrict payments to those elderly people with less than £500 in the bank, which means that the great majority of the poorest pensioners will be excluded.

What makes the Government's whole policy of squeezing the poor so obnoxious, in my view, is that it is strongly opposed by public opinion throughout the country. The "Breadline Britain" survey found that the overwhelming majority of the population believe that Government spending should be increased to get rid of poverty. Three quarters of the population believe that the gap between the rich and the poor is too wide, that differences in pay between the high paid and the low paid are too great and that the Government should increase taxation on the rich.

But it is not only that the Government have done the reverse of that and hugely benefited the richest in our society through tax relief, paid for by benefit cuts imposed on the poorest. What is even worse is that the Government have humiliated and degraded poor people by laying waste the whole physical environment of the social security system. In some areas, that system is now sliding remorselessly towards a state that can only be described as disintegration. Everywhere it is showing unmistakable signs of breaking down.

Staff numbers have been cut, despite a huge increase in demand resulting from the tripling of unemployment in the last seven years, leading to a gross overload of pressures throughout the system. In many offices the post is not being processed, or it is not linked to case papers. Last month there were 170,000 unlinked items of post. Where post is processed, claims are not dealt with properly. Nearly 140,000 claims for supplementary benefit were outstanding last month, even though supplementary benefit is limited to cases where the need is urgent and immediate. In addition, also outstanding were 160,000 single payments — these are official figures — 23,000 appeals and 217,000 other claims.

Claimants who telephone for information are often unable to obtain an answer, as the telephones are not being manned, due to staff shortages. This year, one in five offices have closed the switchboard during normal business hours, and a further one in five reduced the number of lines that are available for incoming calls. I understand that some of the offices with the biggest backlogs are open only for a few hours a day to callers, because there are insufficient staff in those offices to deal with them.

Not surprisingly, the frustration and resentment caused to claimants by delays in obtaining payments, without which they have to go without food, are increasingly spilling over into violence, with counters and security screens being smashed and staff assaulted.

There was an incident at the Camberwell area office in London last August when the counter service was shut—it is still not open, three months later. Three weeks ago, on 22 October, the Oval area office was attacked and it has been shut since then. I want to tell the House the reason for that because it is highly significant. The Oval office was open, after hours of queuing, for between 10 minutes and two hours a day, during which time claimants were obliged to struggle with each other, held back by two security guards, to get their hands on one of the limited number of tickets enabling them to be seen.

The staffing and funding shortages have forced the local management of the Department of Health and Social Security offices to institute what is, in effect, a state of siege—a kind of cattle market—in our social security system. Yet at last week's meeting with the unions, the Government refused any increases in staffing. They have allocated an extra £1.75 billion to meet the expected increase in entitlement for benefit this year because of rising unemployment, yet there will be no extra staff to deal with the work. That is in addition to the fact that 35 offices have still not completed even the last uprating exercise.

The effect can only be longer waiting lists, even bigger delays in the processing of forms — which already extends up to three or four months — and an even greater number of errors in payments—already found in many cases to exceed 60 per cent. It will result in a further plummeting of morale among staff and a further winding up of the frustration, anger and bitterness felt by claimants.

It is not simply that the quality of service to claimants is deteriorating, though it is, and massively. The delays stretching into months, the collapse of home visiting, the atmosphere of latent violence in more and more offices, the threats against staff, and the inaccessibility of help, whether it is by letter, telephone or queuing at the offices, adds up to a system that is in the throes of breakdown.

At this time, DHSS offices have been described—not by me, but by others—as the salt mines of the Civil Service". That is a description that anybody would recognise who has sat, as I have, for hours in grossly overcrowded rooms in substandard accommodation with under-trained, under-paid and grossly over-worked staff livng under appalling pressures. DHSS offices — I say this with no pride—must now rank as the worst buildings in some of the worst conditions and with the poorest paid and hardest pressed members of staff in the whole of the public service. It is a poor service because it is intended for poor people who rank very low—or, indeed, nowhere—in the Government's priorities.

One certain thing in politics today is that as long as Thatcherite capitalism persists, poverty will deepen and intensify. It is not simply that the Government are indifferent to or, even contemptuous of the plight of those condemned to poverty, but rather that the Government, year after year, have been squeezing the social security system and the staff which unhappily works in it, to a point where they are deliberately generating a breakdown. I submit that that is an ugly and vindictive philosophy that commands almost no support in the country.

In conclusion, for the pensioners, the widows, the sick, the disabled, the low paid, the carers, the unemployed and all the staff in the DHSS offices whose commitment and loyalty is unquestioned and unquestionable, but whose patience is now at breaking point, the next election cannot come too soon.

9.30 pm
The Minister for Social Security (Mr. John Major)

In the last few minutes of his speech the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) referred to some of the difficulties in some of the local offices of the Department of Health and Social Security. His remarks led to the inexorable conclusion that there must be a substantial and detailed reform of the complexity of the present social security system to alleviate these difficulties. That is precisely what we have done with the Social Security Act 1986, against the absolute and total opposition of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.

In the catalogue of woe of the hon. Member for Oldham, West — there is no one better than the hon. Gentleman at taking the truth and stretching it beyond all credibility—there was no mention of the 5,000 extra staff that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services put into the system very recently. There was no mention by the hon. Gentleman of the complement review that is designed to match staff and work load, which has been going on for some time and is nearly completed. There was no mention of the fact that during all the period of the previous Labour Government, including the hon. Gentleman's time as a Minister in the DHSS, there was not one move towards making a modern, efficient social security system to provide claimants with a decent service. Before the hon. Gentleman lectures us about the service, he had better consider what he provided when he was a Minister.

I am conscious of the fact that in this debate on education and family policy I face across the Dispatch Box an Etonian, a Wykehamist and a Berkhamsteadian. As a mere product of the state system, I feel suitably daunted by the prospect of facing those who have had such a splendid and, no doubt, expensive education.

On behalf of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State I should like to explain why he—he who would have wished to be present for the debate—has been unable to be with us. I express my gratitude to the hon. Member for Oldham, West for being gracious enough to accept the reasons for my right hon. Friend's absence. The House will be interested to know that my right hon. Friend has today been involved in discussions on AIDS, and has this afternoon met the chairman and director general of the Independent Broadcasting Authority to discuss the crucial role of public education in fighting the spread of AIDS. He has asked, in particular, whether the independent broadcasting organisations would be prepared to cooperate with the Government in carrying forward a public education campaign. I am pleased to tell the House that the chairman of the IBA has agreed that it is clearly a public service role for both television and radio and that further work to identify and develop this role should be set in hand immediately. I am sure, too, that the House will be intrigued to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be having discussions with the BBC shortly.

When I became the Minister for Social Security some weeks ago, I was warned that it was likely to be a rather wide brief. I am bound to say that I did not anticipate until this afternoon quite how wide the brief might be. There was a moment during the evening when I feared that I might have walked into the Chamber on the wrong day and that even the hon. Member for Oldham, West might restrict his remarks solely to education. That was clearly a horrifying moment for me and, I rather suspect, for the hon. Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice).

We have had a series of wide-ranging speeches from hon. Members, on both sides of the House, on both education and family matters. The debate began with a strong emphasis on education, and this can be said of the speeches of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Durham, North as well as of those from many hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The hon. Member for Durham, North, who appears not to be in his place for the moment, spoke with his usual honest and straightforward concern for education. I fancy that when he reads his speech tomorrow in Hansard he may feel that that was unnecessarily negative. There was, alas, no reference to the introduction of the GCSE examination or any of the vocational qualifications which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is working so hard to introduce. I fancy, however, that there is a great deal of common ground in education, and it is important to build on that wherever possible. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman may regret what he neglected to say this afternoon.

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud), who is also apparently unavoidably absent, confessed to the House that he had caught a cold in Knowsley. I am not sure whether that was a statement of medical fact or an early prediction of the result of today's by-election, but no doubt we shall discover that before too long.

I share with the hon. Gentleman the wish to see the highest possible standards in the maintained sector of education. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also shares that view. In the absence of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East, I must say to the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) that I regret his hon. Friend's opposition to the assisted places scheme and to the Secretary of State's proposals for city technology colleges. I suspect that Mr. Gladstone would frown at the preferences of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East, who approves not of the policies of Mr. Gladstone, but of the policies that would delight Mrs. Frances Morell. That tells us much about the modern-day Liberal party.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), my parliamentary neighbour, spoke with his usual forthright and robust good sense. I share his support for the devolution of financial responsibilities to the heads of some of the larger comprehensive schools. Hinchingbrooke school, an excellent school in my constituency, is delighted to have such devolution. My hon. Friend will join me in saying that heads of Cambridgeshire welcome that responsibility. Governors and parents also welcome it. It is thoroughly in the interests of the schools and the sooner the principle can be extended, the better it will be for everyone.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) was courteous enough to send me a note explaining why he had to leave the debate. He raised the important matter of access to further and higher education. I must tell him that since this Government come to power student numbers in higher education have increased by almost 80,000 and that the proportion of 18 to 19-year-olds entering higher education has grown by 15 per cent. Within that total, science and engineering courses have increased by 30 per cent. That trend is wholly welcome and desirable.

The hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Pavitt) expressed his regret that he might be making his last contribution to a debate on the Loyal Address. If that proves to be the case, on the basis of my knowledge of the hon. Gentleman since 1979, I must say that his contributions on this and other occasions will be missed. He has undoubtedly made a lengthy contribution to the National Health Service. Although we do not universally agree with his propositions and comments, we respect without qualification his concern for the National Health Service and his deep knowledge of it.

The hon. Gentleman was, however, mistaken on this occasion. He said that the Government wished to diminish the importance of the National Health Service. I must tell him that the National Health Service is of prime importance to Ministers. The hon. Gentleman may not have noticed the recent announcement that my hon. Friend the Minister for Health will become the chairman of the National Health Service management board.

The hon. Gentleman may also have forgotten that each year Ministers meet individually the regional chairmen of the National Health Service to discuss progress and future plans. The action plans arising from these meetings are lodged in the Library of the House for hon. Members to see. I wish to study carefully the comments of the hon. Gentleman on one issue. He said that resource growth was less than inflation. Spending has risen by about 25 per cent. ahead of the general inflation rate since 1978–79, and is planned in the forthcoming year to increase by a further 2.5 per cent.

I understand that in a few days' time the hon. Member for Brent, South will meet my hon. Friend the Minister to discuss the closure of Neasden hospital. Therefore, I shall reserve any further comment upon that.

The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Lloyd) referred to Manchester hospitals and cuts in services. My right hon. Friend and I will study the hon. Gentleman's remarks very carefully, but I should like to explain the real situation in Manchester. In the middle of next month my hon. Friend the Minister for Health will perform what is loosely and rather vulgarly called a sod-cutting ceremony for the £26 million phase 2 development at the Manchester royal infirmary, which is the largest capital scheme currently under way in the region. When that is completed it will provide X-ray facilities, intensive therapy facilities, 10 theatres, 280 acute beds, a school of radiography and much more besides. The situation may not be entirely as the hon. Member for Stretford suggested.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) spoke with his usual passion about education, in which he has a well-known interest. Despite that passion, I cannot accept his strictures about the Houghton pay levels. By 1979 teachers' pay levels had fallen to 13 per cent. in real terms below the levels established by Houghton. In contrast, by October 1987 they will be 10 per cent. above those same Houghton levels. The hon. Gentleman should not use alternative statistics.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), who I am delighted to see back in his place in view of the robust remarks that he made earlier, spoke about good taste and finer instincts, while revealing in what he said that he has very few himself. He is not a very convincing guardian of artistic values and refined sensibilities. I find it pretty hard to be lectured on good taste by a man in a dark brown suit, a striped shirt, a spotted tie, blue socks and suede shoes. That may be the hon. Gentleman's version of good taste, but I fancy that it is not necessarily the view of his constituents.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, West (Mr. Jones) referred to phase I of Hemel Hempstead hospital. This was cancelled by the previous Labour Government, and we reinstated it. My hon. Friend has campaigned vigorously for phases 1 and 2 of that hospital. I am delighted to remind him—if he had forgotten that phase 1 is due to start next autumn, despite its cancellation by the hon. Member for Oldham, West when he was a member of the Labour Administration.

There has been a persistent thread running through the debate, whether hon. Members were referring to education or to family policy. I should like to take this opportunity to welcome the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) back to the Chamber after his temporary attendance earlier this evening. If the hon. Gentleman had been here longer we would undoubtedly have heard from him, because we always hear him when he is here. However, he has been notably silent, and upon that I rest the case that he must have been absent.

The thread of the debate is what the late Mr. Iain Macleod once referred to as the root of all progress. I refer, of course, to money, to the provision of resources for services and benefits. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science referred comprehensively to the scale of education resources, so I should like to consider primarily, though perhaps not exclusively, resources for family welfare.

Mr. Spearing

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Major

If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall not give way as I have many points to make on the observations about family poverty and I wish to make progress.

Opposition rhetoric, not least from the hon. Member for Oldham, West, has continually referred to cuts in provision, despite the unassailable evidence of increasing resources for health and social security programmes. There is no one less willing to see growth in resources than an Opposition spokesman seeking to damn the Government's record. The reality is that the Government are currently spending at record levels on social security benefits and, in real terms, on the National Health Service. That intriguing little fact was not immediately evident from the hon. Gentleman's remarks this evening. It also seemed to have slipped temporarily from the Leader of the Opposition's notice in his ill-informed remarks yesterday. I remind them that this year we expect to spend about £44 billion on social security, an increase—[Interruption.] If I trail my coat, the hon. Member for Oldham, West will undoubtedly trip over it. He has done so again this evening. About £44 billion will be spent on social security, an increase of 37 per cent. in real terms, and an increase on Health Service expenditure of £18.75 billion, or 25 per cent., in real terms. However Opposition Members may wriggle, independent research and statisticians will confirm that those are accurate figures.

As for the remarks of the hon. Member for Oldham, West about unemployment, I shall turn to the reality. The social security increase is not simply a reflection of unemployment levels. Most of that increase—around £7 billion or more—is due entirely to other factors. About £1.75 billion is a result of the increasing number of retirement pensioners. Our latest figures reveal that the number of retirement pensioners has risen by nearly I million since 1978. A further £1.5 billion is being spent because of increasing numbers of the disabled and long-term sick receiving benefits. Despite what the hon. Gentleman had to say, they will be noticeably better off as a result of the social security reforms in due course.

Mr. Meacher

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

In a moment.

Already, as a result, 280,000 more people are receiving attendance allowance, 300,000 more are receiving mobility allowance, and 270,000 more are receiving invalidity benefit. That is a substantial improvement. Those numerical increases have been absorbed. In addition to those numerical increases, we are spending around £4.5 billion extra because of genuine increases in the average amount of benefits paid. Of that, about £1.6 billion will go to people with family responsibilties. That is the context of rapidly rising expenditure in which the hon. Member for Oldham, West accuses the Government of increasing family poverty. It is a rum proposition.

Global expenditure is up, individual benefit expenditure is tip, family income supplement prescribed levels are up as much as 20 per cent. for large families, supplementary benefit levels are up 6 per cent. and scale rates for families with young children are up by as much as 29 per cent. On the back of those substantial increases, the hon. Gentleman has the brass neck to accuse us of increasing family poverty.

Mr. Radice

Before the Minister gets carried away by this fantasy of Government generosity, perhaps he would like to take account of the fact that pensioners, who he thinks are better off and who are the largest group, suffered a cut of £450 million in housing benefit — largely to do with measures in the Fowler Social Security Act—and a further £86 million in the uprating only a fortnight ago. Is the Minister ready to acknowledge that pensioners have lost since 1979 because the link with earnings in the uprating means that a single pensioner today is £8 a week worse off and married couples are £12 a week worse off than he and they would be if Labour's formula had continued to operate? Does the hon. Gentleman deny that some of the most vulnerable people over 80, who were getting heating allowances, have also had cuts in supplementary benefit because the Government considered they were too well off?

Mr. Major

The hon. Gentleman might do well to recall that the largest single cut in pensions occurred when the Labour Government introduced the pensions fiddle of 1976, when he was in the Department and Barbara Castle was the Secretary of State. There is no dispute that the increase in retirement pension is exceeding the increase in the retail prices index, as we promised it would when we came to Government. That is the reality of what we promised, that is what we have achieved and that is what we shall continue to achieve.

The fact about family poverty, on which the hon. Gentleman's remarks centred, is that supplementary benefit and family income supplements are specifically targeted at the families most in need. The record that I have quoted in part—in his heart, the hon. Gentleman knows this—shows beyond doubt that we have not only protected their position, but are providing substantial and positive help and encouragement.

Dr. McDonald


Mr. Major

It is no good the hon. Lady muttering about things that she does not understand. She might be wise to listen. She may learn something that will be of considerable assistance to her.

Above all, what the Opposition consistently overlook, but what pensioners do not forget, is the practical advantage to those on modest incomes of near stable prices, including fuel prices, compared to the banana republic inflation of the mid to late 1970s. The hon. Member for Oldham, West, in talking to me about heating allowances, might bear in mind the substantial amount in the supplementary benefit scale for heating and the fact that additions are running at a substantially higher level than anything the Labour Government produced. That is against the background of the fact that the price of fuel has increased in the past year by as much as it went up every six weeks or so during the whole period when the Labour party was last in government. The Labour party might contemplate that before lecturing us across the Floor of the House.

I am not at all complacent about the problems which were touched upon by the hon. Members for Manchester, Central (Mr. Litherland) and for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) and others. Because we understand that those problems exist for families, one of the central objectives of the social security reforms was to do more to help low-income families with children. Our decision to focus more help on those people was based specifically on an analysis of need, which we set out in detail in the Green Paper last year.

We concluded that it was necessary to concentrate more resources on low-income families with children. That is why we proposed, as part of the reforms, a number of specific measures with that aim in mind. We proposed to continue child benefit as a benefit paid to all mothers with children, tax free, direct and without a test of income. We proposed a new family premium, which was not mentioned by the hon. Member for Oldham, West, in the new income support scheme, so that non-working families would receive better protection than hitherto.

Mr. Meacher


Mr. Major

Piffling perhaps to the hon. Gentleman, but very helpful to the people in need. It is interesting to note that the hon. Gentleman thinks that extra help is piffling. No wonder his private school education did not allow him to realise what reality was for many people on low incomes.

Mr. Meacher

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Major

I shall not give way.

We proposed a radical improvement in the help available to low-income families with children through the creation of a new and expanding family credit scheme. None of those improvements has found its way into any speech by an Opposition Member during the whole debate since 3 o'clock.

The hon. Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North, for Manchester, Central and for Oldham, West spoke of what they called "poverty". Of course there are, and always have been, elements of poverty, but hon. Members did as others have done and drew wholly false conclusions from the 1983 low-income tables. Clearly, they have read them. Equally clearly, they have not understood them. I wish to challenge the view that the supplementary benefit scale rates can be used as a definition of "poverty", for I do not believe that they can. The hon. Member for Oldham, West should beware before he says that that is the case. Such a view is misleading. The fact is that supplementary benefit exists to ensure that people do not live in poverty. To measure poverty by the supplementary benefit rates is ludicrous. [Interruption.] The Opposition should wait a moment.

Supplementary benefit is, of course, an income of last resort—a safety net of which we can be justly proud—which has increased in value since 1979, but it is by no means the only assistance to those without other income. Supplementary benefit recipients have certificated housing benefits and all their housing rates paid. They are provided with an income to cover day-to-day living costs. They may also be entitled to a large number of passported benefits —free NHS prescriptions and dental treatment spring immediately to mind, although there are many others. In that sense, the purpose of supplementary benefit — especially with its passporting provisions—is clearly to prevent hardship and poverty. It is absurd to argue that those who have been specifically helped in this fashion

Nor have any previous Government, including the one in which the hon. Member for Oldham, West served, ever regarded the supplementary benefit scale rate as an official poverty line. The hon. Gentleman may shake his head, but I remind him that when the right hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) was a Minister—no hawkish Right-winger, he — he made it plain that the Labour Government did not accept that a single poverty line could be drawn. Nor can it, and it is a crude abuse of statistics to suggest that it can in the way that the hon. Gentleman did today.

I also remind the hon. Gentleman that there is something paradoxical about the low-income tables. Because they depend for their definition on the supplementary benefit scale rates, real increases in those same supplementary benefit scale rates raise the number of people on low incomes who appear in the tables. The higher one puts up the supplementary benefit scale rates, the more people are put in the tables and the more people the hon. Gentleman suggests are living in poverty.

That produces some interesting effects which have been utterly ignored in some of the assertions that we have heard tonight and from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday, who was, as usual, ill briefed. Between 1979 and 1983, the whole of the increase in the number of families with resources below supplementary benefit level is directly attributable to the real increases in the supplementary benefit rates. Therefore, those tables contain unequivocal nonsense. When benefits go up, the number of people in poverty, according to that definition, appears to go up as well. If we wanted to reduce poverty on that definition, we would reduce the level of benefit to where it was when the hon. Gentleman was in office, and that would clearly be absurd and grossly unfair. [Interruption.] I understand the statistics, but the hon. Gentleman does not, and, not understanding them, he misinterprets them, and misinterprets them quite deliberately.

There are further misleading concepts in the tables that have utterly escaped the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher), who is muttering beside him. Consider, for example, the use of the term "family", to which the hon. Member for Oldham, West returned repeatedly. Clearly, he has not read the notes on the tables. Families in those circumstances are defined as "the assessment unit" for supplementary benefit. In essence, although the hon. Gentleman referred to them as families, they may well be single people rather than families with children. There are a series of other elements in those particular tables that are capable of quite different interpretations from the ones that the hon. Gentleman sought to put upon them today.

The hon. Gentleman may recall that I announced in July that before the next editions of the low-income tables are published there will be a technical review of the methods and assumptions used—

Mr. Meacher


Mr. Major

Again, the hon. Gentleman is not listening. To avoid any misunderstanding I should stress to him and the House that that review is at the request of my statistical advisers who feel that the tables should be calculated on a better and separate basis. They, too, share the doubts that have been expressed this evening about those tables.

In recent months the hon. Gentleman has had a great deal to say about the policies and priorities of any future Labour Government. In the midst of a galaxy of commitments, many vague and contradictory, and most of them utterly uncosted, he has failed to make his true policy intentions clear. What is the policy of the Labour party? When will the hon. Gentleman cost his promises and tell us how he will pay for them? He repeatedly reaffirms that in the first year of a Labour Government his party will increase retirement pensions and child benefits and extend the long-term scale rate of supplementary benefit for the unemployed. He costs that at £3.6 billion. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch is rattling his cage. Let him do so.

The hon. Member for Oldham, West has utterly refused to say whether he would give corresponding increases to the supplementary benefit scale rates and housing benefit needs allowance. Will he? He must know that unless he gives those increases the poorest members of society would simply not get the benefit and, in some cases, no benefit whatever from the increases that he is talking about. That is the practice of what the hon. Gentleman says, and if he carries his policies through to a logical conclusion, although accept that that is asking a lot, I warn him that the cost of his proposals could rise to £4.6 billion, and that if he were to do the logical thing and give the same increases to the long-term sick and widows, to as much as £5.6 billion. I accuse the hon. Member for Oldham, West of utterly failing to make his policies clear and of failing to show how those policies would be paid for by the people of this country. His proposals are simply the tip of the iceberg of the expenditure which the taxpayer would have to bear.

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.