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Commons Chamber

Volume 866: debated on Tuesday 11 December 1973

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 11th December 1973

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Education And Science

Scottish Business School

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the recent relationships between her Department and the Scottish Business School.

There is no formal relationship between my Department and the Scottish Business School, but the three universities concerned in its programme of work are in touch with the University Grants Committee. The quinquennial settlement provides for 2,927 full-time and part-time students by 1976–77.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. Will she confirm that at long last the Scottish Business School has got its administration sorted out and that we have one clear line of authority, after two or three wasted years?

I am delighted that the Scottish Business School is now off to a good start, and I hope that it will continue.

In view of the lack of formal relationships between the Minister's Department and the Scottish Education Department, is it not high time for a Royal Commission to investigate education in the United Kingdom as a whole?

No. It was not a formal relationship between my Department and the Scottish Business School. It comes under the University Grants Committee, which has given what I hope will be thought to be a good quinquennial settlement.

Secondary Education (Newcastle-Under-Lyme)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to announce a decision on the reorganisation of secondary education in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

My right hon. Friend approved in July some of the proposals to reorganise secondary education in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Because the desired transfer of Newcastle Church of England Secondary School did not accord with Section 16 of the Education Act 1944 the local education authority was asked to reconsider the other related proposals. We are awaiting a reply.

Is the Minister aware that even the proposals that were approved in July—or parts of them—seem to be held up because of a shortage of steel? Is he also aware that parents and teachers are utterly fed up with the Staffordshire County Council and the Department not being able to find a solution to the Church of England school problem, thereby facilitating the reorganisation of secondary education in my constituency?

I am afraid that I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's first point about a shortage of steel, but I assure him that discussions are taking place between the local authority and my Department.

Arts Council

3.

asked the for Education and Science whether it remains the policy of the Government that the Arts Council should not be subject to ministerial influence.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science
(Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

The Arts Council will, of course, continue to take independent decisions within its field. Its charter requires it to advise and co-operate with the Government, and Ministers will continue to discuss with the council its needs for resources and other matters of common concern.

Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is a pleasure to be able to question the Minister responsible for the arts across the Floor of the Chamber? Will he further recognise that while he occupies his present position he should exercise a self-denying ordinance on the question of public criticism of the arts? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Arts Council would not be doing its job properly if it were not sometimes to risk a little money on what have been called "dotty experiments".

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. May I extend the same to him on his appointment? I also extend the gratitude of the House to his predecessor, who made such a notable contribution to the arts in the House.

The Arts Council must take its own decisions—but I might be considered an expert on "dotty experiments".

I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment and associate myself with the remarks made about the hon. Gentleman's predecessor. Will my hon. Friend continue to be in close touch with the Arts Council, reflecting the views of the elected representatives of the people in this House so that the council can make sure that it reflects the interests of the people at large, particularly in provincial emphasis in its activities?

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind congratulations. I assure him that I am most willing to receive Members from any part of the House to share ideas on the arts, as I regard the arts as a community of interest in which we all participate.

25.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will increase the grant to the Arts Council.

Under the present triennial arrangements the Arts Council has had an indication of the maximum size of its grant, subject to parliamentary approval and to revaluation, for the years 1974–75 and 1975–76. In the new year I hope to be able to give the council, subject to the same qualification, a further indication, extending, for planning purposes, to 1976–77.

That is a long answer which does not say very much. May I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to two areas where there is a need for increased financial help? First, theatres that are trying to carry out improvements and extensions need help because of the high costs of building materials and steel, which have doubled in price in the past year. Secondly, the declining film industry, which is one of the best in the world, needs a shot in the arm from the hon. Gentleman. Will he assure us that he will look urgently at these two matters?

Yes, I certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. The responsibility for giving grants to individual branches of the arts is with the Arts Council. If the hon. Lady will come to see me at Belgrave Square we can have a full discussion.

Will my hon. Friend remember that although the Government have given twice as much to the arts as did the Labour Government we still give only the same amount as does the city of Munich? Will he treat this matter as top priority?

Yes, I cerainly shall. We are making progress. We are, in those immortal words, "on our way".

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in making allocations to the Arts Council he must take into account the considerable inflation that has occurred under this Government? Does he agree that the needs of the Arts Council in the immediate future are likely to amount to about £20 million?

The grants to the Arts Council are made at constant prices and are therefore revised in accordance with the change in the value of money.

Careers Education

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the report on Careers Education in Schools.

The report was published on 16th October and initial reactions have been generally favourable. When all interested parties have had time to study its findings my Department intends to consider with them how further progress in this field can best be achieved.

Is not the Secretary of State aware that in some quarters the situation that the report revealed was described as deplorable? Will she bear that in mind in arriving at her recommendations?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that in many schools the situation is far from satisfactory. In some schools the subject is being dealt with excellently and I hope that the practice there will commend itself to others. We are anxious that careers education in schools should receive high priority.

Degrees And Qualifications

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further consideration she has given to the introduction of legislation to stop the granting of bogus education degrees.

Is the Minister aware that it really is time that she stopped giving these pathetic answers in this House about lack of action against these bogus degree colleges? Is she also aware that I have a copy of a letter dated 3rd November this year, from the Health Department of New York State, which questions the authenticity of a supposed doctorate of science of someone who has applied for a job in New York State? Is it not time that we saw some action taken against these crooks, who are making vast sums of money in this country, while, at the same time, bringing into total disrepute our education standards? How much longer are they going to get away with it?

There has indeed been some action. A complete list is available of genuine degrees and degree equivalents, which has been supplied to all the embassies. The hon. Gentleman's correspondent should have found it very easy to get an answer from the embassy as to the question whether the degree was genuine.

Maintenance Allowances

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will formulate proposals for providing adequate maintenance grants to enable schoolchildren over 15 years of age to continue their education in school without economic hardship; and if she will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend does not propose to change the system under which the award of education maintenance allowances has always been confined to children over compulsory school age.

Is the Minister aware that the refusal of his Department to extend maintenance grants to those who are now at school because of the raising of the school leaving age—with which I fully agree—is causing real hardship? Will he institute another working party, like the 1957 one, to ensure parity between area and area throughout the country and to bring the grants into line with present-day costs?

My Department believes that discretionary awards make sense, because local circumstances vary and local authorities are the people best placed to judge them. I remind the hon. Gentleman that a number of benefits are available to these children, including family allowances and child tax allowances.

Does the Minister note the different tone of the Opposition on this occasion, now that we have raised the school leaving age, compared with their attitude when they failed to do so?

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his answer this afternoon, refusing the request of my hon. Friend, will only add to the suspicion of people that the interest of the Department in State education is declining? Is he not really saying, "Do not be worried about maintenance grants. Do not be worried about State education. Make a few more sacrifices and send your children to private schools"? But if wives ask their husbands to put in wage claims so as to be able to send their children to private schools, the husbands run the risk of going to gaol.

Will the Minister seek to persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to extend free prescriptions up to the age of 16, without a means test?

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's observation will be noted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Student Grants

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will consider the introduction of an annual review of student grants, similar to the annual pension review.

Yes, Sir. This is being considered as part of the current review of student grants.

Does the Secretary of State disagree with the view of the vice-chancellors that there is real need among the students?

I assume that there will be an increase in student grants. That is why we now have a triennial review and why a number of working parties, with the students, have been investigating the facts for some time.

While she is examining this problem will my right hon. Friend also consider the whole question of parental contribution? Does she agree that the middle income groups now find it most difficult to send sons and daughters to universities, whereas the very poor and the very rich manage it quite easily?

That matter also is being considered. The last time we had an interim increase, which was in October, we made substantial improvements in the amount of parental income which was free from assessment for contribution, and that will be very much in our minds in making the new review.

Will the right hon. Lady solve the student grants problem on the basis of the principle that no student should be denied the opportunity of continuing his or her education because of financial need?

We shall continue the student grants negotiations on the basis on which they have been conducted since the Anderson Report. I do not think it is possible suddenly to change to another basis.

Museums And Galleries (Admission Charges)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the Government's policy towards allowing national museums and galleries which make admission charges to have a free day without having to increase charges on other days.

40.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if it is her policy to permit national museums and galleries, after the start of admission charges, to have a free day at their discretion without requiring them to increase charges on other days.

I am pleased to be able to inform the hon. Members of the following measures.

First, I have offered the trustees of the national museums and galleries the opportunity to propose, if they wish, new arrangements for free days. I have said that the Government are prepared to consider applications for a free day each week at any time during the low season or throughout the year, in which case weekends would be excluded. I have also explained that it would be up to the trustees to decide whether to cover the fall in receipts by an extension of the higher charging period or not to do this and to accept a slightly lower level of receipts from their museum charges money.

Secondly, without prejudice to subsequent arrangements for the next quinquennium for museum acquisitions, museums or galleries may opt in 1974–75 to use part or all of the additional resources from charges to supplement acquisition grants. Thirdly, if institutions earn more for charges than the sum estimated the balance will represent additional resources, which they can use without the procedure of a supplementary vote.

Finally, old-age pensioners will be admitted free to the national museums and galleries after charges are introduced.

May I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment, and wish him luck on the road which he has chosen to follow? May I also welcome his resolution of the free day problem and the old-age problem, which have caused unnecessary controversy over the last three years? In the same vein, will he make it crystal clear that there will be no budging from his right hon. Friend's pledge, made in the recent debate, that all the money raised by admission charges will go to museums and galleries as a genuine extra without having an adverse effect on the money which they will get from the Government?

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for his congratulations. I can give him the unqualified assurance that he requires.

May I be the first from the Government side to congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment and to say how we on these benches will be delighted by his announcement? Does he realise that we are particularly delighted, in view of some of the cynical cries when some of us chose to abstain rather than vote with the Opposition when we were told that this might happen? May we wish my hon. Friend further success in his appointment?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I am delighted to be high in his hopes, and I hope that I shall manage to remain there.

May I, Sir, warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his artistic courage and compassion? We have been waiting for some little while for a Minister for the Arts like him. Will he say why he intends that these charges will be involved in the Estimates at all, since they were apparently promised to the museums in our late debate, and this new departmental device—which is what it is—simply gives the Minister an opportunity to rig the estimates?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for the first part of his remarks. In the last resort, the Government must decide how much of the taxpayers' money can go on various items of expenditure, but I can assure the hon. Member that the Government will be fair with the institutions, and if the estimate of receipts made in advance of charges proves to be too high an adjustment will be made so that the institutions will not suffer from a guess made in the absence of evidence. The Government will play fair by the institutions on the principle that they can have extra resources in relation to charges.

May I join in the general welcome to my hon. Friend, and say that those of us on this side who have been deeply interested and concerned in this subject will find his clear and extremely constructive answer—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) must ask a question concisely.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, in view of the barrage that is coming across the Chamber. As I said, I welcome my hon. Friend's extremely clear and constructive answer, and I hope that in looking at the question of admissions he will be able to take into account the position of the National Heritage as well as the position of the National Arts-Collection Fund.

I am in correspondence with the National Heritage but I cannot hold out hopes in that regard. I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I have tried to be as fair as I can on this matter, but I am unable to make any further concessions. The House is always generous when the sun shines.

If the Minister's reply means anything it means that if a museum or gallery wants to have a free day it will have to charge double on at least one other day or surrender to the Treasury the equivalent amount of money that would have been received in charges. Surely that breaches the principle of a free day and reveals that the concession made to the House before is not a concession at all, with these conditions attached.

I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that. The choice is for the trustees of the museums and galleries. If they wish to extend the period of double charging they may do so and thus incur no diminution in revenue. If, on the other hand, they prefer to have a free day they are entitled to do so and all they will lose is the hypothetical revenue.

How much will the Government get in cash from all this nonsense? Would it not be better for the Minister to forget the whole thing?

Government policy is to preserve the principle of charging and at the same time to be as reasonable and flexible as possible in the operation of the principle.

Research Councils

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science to what extent it is her intention that the research councils should have superannuation agreements for every employee comparable to those obtaining in the Civil Service following the introduction of the Principal Civil Service Superannuation Scheme on 1st June 1972; and if she will make a statement on the progress being made in the current negotiations.

Superannuation arrangements in the research councils are matters for the councils, but require my approval and that of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Civil Service. Some research council employees are superannuated on the same terms as civil servants and others in other ways. A proposal by the Agricultural Research Council to extend the Civil Service-type arrangements to additional groups of their employees is under consideration, but I cannot at this stage indicate when a conclusion will be reached.

Is the Secretary of State aware that that is a most disappointing reply? Agricultural Research Council employees are under the impression that notwithstanding the extreme delay in making progress with their negotiations there is at least an agreement in principle that they will have a scheme comparable to the Principal Civil Service Superannuation Scheme. Will the Secretary of State re-examine this question to see that the ARC employees get a scheme as good as that envisaged by the Civil Service in general?

The negotiations are continuing. The ARC is preparing a full statement of its case and negotiations are proceeding with the Government Actuary's department to provide costings. However, I shall see whether there is anything we can do to speed up the negotiations.

I welcome the Secretary of State's recent U-turn the matter of superannuation, but is it not about time for the question of comparability of the teachers with the Civil Service also to be considered? Members of Parliament pay about 20 per cent. less of their salary in contributions to get the same benefits as teachers. Is it not about time the apparent differences were looked into and cleared up?

The question does not concern teachers' superannuation; it concerns scientists and others who work in the research councils. On that totally different question, the working party will reconvene in January.

Women Medical Students

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations she has had with the hospital medical schools on their policy with regard to the admission of women medical students.

None, but at my request the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has agreed to examine university admissions policies, including those of medical schools, with a view to establishing whether there is any evidence of discrimination on grounds of sex.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but will she impress upon the committee the need that merit only should be taken into consideration? Will she also consider the position in respect of the entry of women into veterinary training, where I have clear evidence of discrimination?

I shall certainly impress upon the committee the need which my hon. Friend points out. If she has any evidence about veterinary training I shall gladly consider it.

In the Government's consultation document on equal opportunities did the Secretary of State not undertake to consult the UGC about this very matter? Will she say what consultations have taken place up to now, when they will be completed, and what steps she will take with universities which might defy her instructions to cease discrimination?

As a result of that undertaking a specific request went to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals to look into this matter, which it is now doing.

Will the right hon. Lady accept that the admission of women to medical schools on the basis of quotas or special examination results is totally wrong, and totally at variance with the principles that we are trying to enforce elsewhere on sex discrimination? Can she not at least say that now?

I have said that at this Dispatch Box before, and I repeat it. I agree with the principle enunciated by my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) that admission should be on the basis of ability.

London Teachers

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she next expects to meet representatives of London teachers.

Arrangements have been made for representatives of the London Head Teachers' Association to meet my noble Friend Lord Sandford on 16th January.

Ought not the Secretary of State to see all the teachers' associations in London to discuss with them the grievous problem of London weighting? Does she not agree that, although it may be argued that teachers' staff problems are no more serious in London than they are in the provinces, the potential difficulties in London ace infinitely greater? The recruitment campaign has proved to be almost useless. One of the things that the Secretary of State can do to encourage an increase in teacher supply in London is to take a realistic look at the London weighting situation.

The London weighting situation for teachers and others in the public sector has already been referred to the Pay Board, on very wide terms of reference. In Ealing—the part of London with which the hon. Member is most concerned—the quota for teachers this term was exceeded by 40.

Does the Secretary of State agree that on the present timetable anything the Pay Board might produce would not be reflected in London classrooms until Easter of the year after next? Does the right hon. Lady not consider that the problem is more urgent than that timetable implies?

It is essential to get not only an acceptable solution but a valid one. The Pay Board has been asked to consider a very big problem and it must be given time to do its job properly.

School Building

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her latest revised estimate of the school building programme for the years 1972–73, 1973–74 and 1974–75.

The figure for 1972–73 is £312·3 million, including £75 million as part of the special programme for raising the school leaving age. I hope soon to make an announcement about the resumption of approvals of educational building work. It would be premature to say anything more about the 1973–74 and 1974–75 programmes in advance of that announcement.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the provisional figure for 1973–74 is £70 million below the one she has just given for the previous year, and that that is again being cut by 25 per cent. in accordance with her moratorium on approvals? Does she not realise that this is causing great difficulties for local authorities? What increase will she allow in the cost limits when she resumes approvals in January?

The previous year—1972–73—included a figure of £75 million for the special programme for the raising of the school leaving age. That has been completed, so it is not surprising that a similar amount is not reflected in the next year's programme. The point about cost limits will be dealt with in the circular which will be going out shortly.

I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the urgent need for the provision of proper schooling for mentally handicapped children. Will she do all in her power to ensure that the school building programme for these children is neither cut back nor delayed and that this applies especially to the new school at Bobbing, near Sittingbourne, which is urgently needed and which, I understand, is now in jeopardy?

I shall certainly examine the point raised by my hon. Friend. We are particularly anxious that this programme, which is relatively small, should have reasonable priority.

Does the Minister not feel the time has now come to come clean and admit that the Government are effectively cutting the school building programme, and that that is their intention? Does she not agree that by delaying the announcement of the approval of schemes, thus ensuring that local authorities cannot proceed for anything from five to nine months, she is effectively cutting the budget for the school building programme? Is this not "kidology" at its best?

No. The maximum cut must be three months. That is the period of the moratorium. If local authorities had got on a little more quickly with their programmes more schools would have been started before the moratorium began. The local education authorities are free to start their programmes at the beginning of the financial year. The maximum period of the moratorium is three months.

Will my right hon. Friend be a little more forthcoming on the question of the time when she will allow contracts to be placed again? The date was 1st January. Cannot she tell the House that it will be 1st January?

The right hon. Lady is too ready to blame local authorities for her own shortcomings. When she talks about slowness in preparing building programmes, does she not recall a certain little difficulty over cost limits which was not met until an Opposition motion was tabled?

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman recalls that cost limits went up by 22 per cent. towards the beginning of the year.

19.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received about the school building programme for 1974–75.

I have not received any such representations apart from routine inquiries from local education authorities, and inquiries about Circular 12/73.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that I am holding in my hand representations made to her by the Derby and Derbyshire Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations? The letter makes a strong point about the delay which she has reiterated today. Is she aware that the cut-back for 1974–75 will severely hit education authorities such as Derbyshire? Is she further aware that in such areas there is a major problem not only in replacing outdated primary schools but in transferring secondary schools to comprehensive education? Does she accept that she has held up some of these schemes unreasonably in the past?

I have received representations about only two projects in Derbyshire. One is a major project, namely, the Pringle Secondary School, Swadlincote, and the other is a minor project at the Findern County Primary School. Those are the only two representations that I have received. I hope that they will soon apply for approval on 1st January.

Exercise Books (Paper Shortage)

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will ascertain through the inspectorate whether educational standards in England and Wales will be harmed by the shortage of paper for exercise books.

As far as I know, local education authorities are not yet encountering any serious difficulties, but I shall keep a close watch on the situation.

Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the fact that a northern supplier of paper is on record as saying that it is rationing local education authorities? Will he look into the problem? Does he not agree that a shortage of paper could harm educational standards?

I have not seen the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I understand that in the near future there may be difficulties over delays in delivery and increased costs. It may be necessary for authorities to run their stocks low and restrict consumption for a time. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep a close watch on the matter.

County And Voluntary Schools

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on her policy with regard to Section 13 of the Education Act 1944 (Establishment and discontinuance of county and voluntary schools).

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the disquiet over her interpretation of her powers in Section 13? Is her policy not designed to make it difficult for any local education authority to implement comprehensive schemes?

No. The people who dislike the decisions dislike them because they dislike the policy. I am not here to implement a Socialist education policy.

Is it not time that the Secretary of State accepted her full responsibility instead of hiding behind separate schemes? Should she not tell the country where she stands on selection and secondary reorganisation?

I accept full responsibility. It is open to anyone who claims that his interests are adversely affected by one of my decisions to test the validity of his claim in the courts.

Hms "Conway"

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what decision she has made in response to the request from the Cheshire County Council that it should cease to maintain the Nautical Training School, known as HMS "Conway", as an aided school, with effect from 31st August 1974.

My right hon. Friend approved in October the Cheshire Local Education Authority's proposal.

Is my hon. Friend aware that when Cheshire County Council gave notice in November 1972 to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that it wished to cease responsibility for HMS "Conway", the Conway Club considered taking over the school to save it, but was choked off by the Cheshire County Council's demand for a rent of £20,000 per annum, with a review every five years, including a full maintenance lease? Is he further aware that the Cheshire County Council and the British Shipping Federation are joint trustees and jointly appoint the board of management, and were at that time secretly negotiating for the Cheshire County Council to take over the premises for £75,000? Does he know that the premises cost over £500,000—the money being raised by private subscription—and are now worth over £1 million? As the Department of Education and Science is the authority which has jurisdiction over the Conway Trust, did the Department know of the negotiations, and did it approve of them?

First, I am advised that the figure mentioned was put forward by the Cheshire County Council during informal discussions with the parents and the Conway Club. It did not constitute a firm offer, nor has it been the subject of a valuation. It was meant to illustrate the amount which rental arrangements for the premises would involve. Second, my right hon. Friend is unaware that discussions of the nature referred to took place between the parties involved. She was not in a position to approve of them or to be a party to them.

Village Schools

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many village schools have been closed during the past five years.

Approval has been given to the closure of 595 village schools in England since January 1969.

Is that not a thoroughly depressing figure? Is the Minister aware that the Warwickshire County Council is closing numerous village schools in the face of the most determined opposition from parents? What is the educational justification for closing village schools? Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his Department's policy, in view of the increasing need for nursery education? Are we going to transport three- and four-year-olds miles around the countryside?

My right hon. Friend considers each proposal submitted to her on its merits. She takes account of educational considerations as well as local needs and wishes. She must be satisfied that the resources available will be used wisely. That applies nationally and in Warwickshire.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency several first-class village schools have been closed in recent years? Does he accept that the attention that can be given to children at such schools is far better and more valuable than the attention given in much larger schools to which the children now have to be sent? Will my right hon. Friend ask local education authorities to consider educational value rather than administrative convenience when taking action of this sort?

I am not aware of the specific cases to which my hon. Friend refers. I can assure him that close attention is given to these matters by my Department.

Is it not true, despite exhaustive studies made during the past few decades, that throughout Britain there is a complete absence of any hard evidence in support of the contention that the children in these schools suffer educationally in any way? Does he accept that, although there are problems in such schools, the problems are more than compensated for by the fact that the children receive substantial individual attention?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have considered his second point carefully. However, we must bear in mind that resources can be more usefully applied in some circumstances where schools are merged.

Will my hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend to set up an inquiry into the problem and to consider especially the problems of the closure of schools in remote rural areas and areas of outstanding environmental beauty? There are particular problems in such areas, and they are underestimated. Will my hon. Friend's Department consider setting up a committee of inquiry immediately to consider these problems?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is taking note of the comments which have been made today.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of these answers, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Adult Education (Russell Report)

22.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will detail in the OFFICIAL REPORT the main interests with which she will be discussing the implementation of the Russell Report.

The local authority associations and organisations representing the other main providers of adult education, teachers' and youth workers' associations, and representatives of voluntary and other organisations with a major interest in adult education.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that she will pay particular attention to what the TUC and the trade unions say on this subject? Is it her intention that in future adult education should assume a greater percentage of the total educational budget?

I am anxious to do more for adult education because I realise the great benefits that it can confer. I am sorry that the consultative document is not yet out, but I hope that it will be out within the next few weeks. In general, I am in sympathy with the hon Gentleman's wish to do more for adult education.

Can my right hon. Friend give an idea of the time scale of those consultations, and when she will be able to give a definite answer?

I should think that the consultations will take some time. As my hon. Friend knows, consultation is a way of life in the education service, and once we consult one body, many more usually wish to come to see us. There will have to be some compromise on this issue, and I think it will take some time

Is the Secretary of State aware that many adult education bodies have expressed concern about the ineffectual way in which the findings of the report have been handled? Will she assure the House that there will be no further delay and that the process will be speeded up?

I think there will be a few weeks' further delay, but I hope that it will not be longer than that.

Medical Research Council (Grant)

23.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the current size of the grant she makes to the Medical Research Council.

The Estimates for 1973–74 provide for a grant in aid of about £25½ million from my Department to the Medical Research Council.

Just what control has the Department over this large sum of money once it has been disbursed? For example, in view of the shambles left behind by the MRC subsequent to the sacking of the director of the multiple sclerosis research unit at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, does the Minister not feel that it is high time she intervened more directly and ascertained whether this £25 million is being spent efficiently? Just where does public accountability come into this matter?

I am advised on the allocation of research budget money by the advisory board for the Medical Research Council, which has on it distinguished scientists, representatives of the Departments and independent members. On the whole, I have accepted its advice and I have every confidence in the way in which the boards of the research councils conduct their affairs.

Part-Time Education

26.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many pupils are now experiencing part-time education in England and Wales and in Greater London, respectively.

As the hon. Member knows, my right hon. Friend does not collect precise information from day to day from local education authorities. The present scale of part-time working does not seem to differ substantially from what was reported earlier this term.

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that, although he should not collect information from day to day, he should do so occasionally? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to stop claiming that London is better off than anywhere else because of one particular statistic? Will the right hon. Lady investigate the shortage of teachers in particular subjects, which results in thousands of London schoolchildren being sent home every day?

My right hon. Friend naturally takes a very close interest in these matters and will no doubt have noted what has been said. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are in no way complacent if there is a single child avoidably having only part-time schooling.

Cbi And Tuc (Meetings)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if, at his next meeting with the TUC and CBI, he will discuss the consequences of the oil supply situation on economic growth.

I have no immediate plans to meet the TUC and CBI, but at the meeting last week of the National Economic Development Council, at which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer took the chair, there was a full discussion of the current economic situation and especially the impact of reduced oil supplies. The council has agreed to take stock of the situation on 21st December.

Has the Prime Minister seen the report of last night's speech, in Leeds, made by the President of the CBI, in which he said that in the event of the further threatened January cut-back of oil we shall not keep up full-time working? Does not the Prime Minister think that the issue is now no longer the rate of economic growth but whether we can avoid heavy loss of output and large-scale lay-offs this winter? What the people need—not to mention pounds sterling—is clear evidence from the Prime Minister that he has appropriate plans and the resolve to implement them.

The general agreement on NEDC was that we should aim to achieve the greatest growth commensurate with the fuel supplies that we can obtain. Obviously, the extent to which oil supplies are affected in the coming months may affect growth, but for the present the loss in coal supplies is a far greater threat to our energy resources than is any loss on the oil front.

Has my right hon. Friend read the speech made by Vice-President Ford at his inauguration, in which he said that as he faced Congress he saw not Republicans and Democrats but American faces? In the present oil crisis should not we all, on both sides of the House, look at the interests of the British people as a whole and not make speeches at weekends suggesting that the answer to the crisis is a General Election?

Yes, Sir, I think that we should face the energy problem as a nation. I repeat that with the cut-back of 10 per cent. there was general agreement in industry that by economies, both domestic and industrial, we could keep our production going and sustain the rate of growth. If cuts by the oil countries as a whole—and we are affected by Arab and non-Arab countries—become larger there is danger of unemployment and of cut-back in growth, but I repeat that what is affecting us much more than the oil situation is the shortfall in coal supplies.

I recognise that the oil problem has arisen through factors outside the control of this country, unlike certain other things for which we may feel that the Government have a responsibility. Will the right hon. Gentleman publish as a White Paper the report made to him by the "think tank" about two years ago warning of the dangers of an energy crisis?

I do not know to which paper the right hon. Gentleman is referring. In any case he knows, as a former Prime Minister, that the Government never publish minutes that pass between Departments, least of all those which come from the Cabinet Office. The Government have been well aware for a long time of the energy problems that could arise. That is one reason why we have pursued our policy to maintain the level of production of coal—unlike the right hon. Gentleman, who allowed it to fall by 50 million tons a year for six years. We were criticised at the time for maintaining the level of coal production at a price which required subsidy. We did that deliberately and gave the commitment of £1,100 million to the industry because we foresaw the problems that might arise.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the policy we followed was the same as, and as wrong, as that of the Conservative Government in the three years before? Does he recall that closure programme, and can he tell us the name of the then Leader of the Opposition—who, on our closure programme, said that we should be closing pits much faster?

I was perfectly prepared to take coal production as an economic form of energy because we were not then confronted with the same problems as we foresaw when we came into office. We have taken the necessary action on coal and nuclear energy, and it was Mr. Gormley himself who said at the beginning of the year that since a commitment had been made to the coal industry it was up to the industry to produce the goods.

National Union Of Mineworkers

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister how many times he has met officials of the National Union of Mineworkers.

Q13.

asked the Prime Minister whether he will make a statement about his talks with the National Union of Mineworkers.

Q14.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his recent talks with leaders of the NUM; and what further plans he has for talks with the leaders of other major unions.

Q15.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement following his recent meeting with the National Union of Mineworkers.

I have met representatives of the National Union of Mineworkers on two occasions recently—on 23rd October and on 28th November. I made a statement to the House on 29th November. I have no immediate plans for further meetings with union leaders.—[Vol. 865, c. 586–98.]

Does the Prime Minister agree that whatever happens in the next week or so it is already clear that recent developments on the international oil front will have an enormous effect on the development of the British economy, not to mention the world economy, in 1974? Does it not follow that the major economic problems we now face are different from the situation two months' ago, when the Government published their consultative document on stage 3? Would it not be prudent for the Prime Minister to consider revoking stage 3 and replacing it with a policy designed to meet the current major problems facing the nation?

The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should consider the energy problem from two points of view. There is, first, the question of the quantities required to keep our energy supplies going, and, second, the question of price, which will make its impact on internal costs and prices and also on our balance of payments. As to the cuts in oil supplies, I remind the House that industry believes that not only can it maintain itself through economies but it can also keep the rate of expansion going when the cut amounts to 10 per cent. But the increased price of oil coming in is bound to have an effect on balance of payments and costs in this country. Both these matters only reinforce the need for us to have a counter-inflationary policy. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that stage 3 is too generous in these circumstances and ought to be revised in terms of what it allows, this is something which the Government ought to consider.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the settlement yesterday by the National Union of Public Employees is a proper example of a trade union look- ing after the interests of low-paid workers, and is an example to the National Union of Mineworkers? Does he agree that there is clear evidence that if the Government give in to the militant demands of the NUM, as expressed by the present make-up of the executive, the moderate element in the executive and the British public will be sold out for a very long time?

I was glad to see the decision of which my hon. Friend speaks. So far, 350 settlements have been registered under stage 3, covering 1½ million employees, but that does not include the settlement to which my hon. Friend referred.

Does the Prime Minister appreciate the seriousness of the situation about which I recently wrote to him, namely, that 30 men a week—skilled men who cannot be replaced—are leaving the five Warwickshire pits? Can he not understand that even if they received the present wage increase they would still be earning between £10 and £15 less than workers in surrounding factories? If the energy situation is as serious as he says, how can we afford to go on losing men of that calibre?

The rate of recruitment to the industry has remained steady, and 57 per cent. of those who are being recruited are miners returning to the mines. I have already given the House the position comparing miners after stage 3 with workers in the manufacturing industry after stage 3. If both miners and manufacturing industry workers accept the offers made under stage 3, the miners in comparison will be in a better position than they were after Wilberforce. This means that, compared with the beginning of 1972, when the Wilberforce proposals appeared, there is now a greater attraction to mining than to manufacturing industry.

Will the Prime Minister confirm the fact that the package offered to the miners places them 8 per cent. above the level of wages in the manufacturing industry, and that it will not be to their benefit to abandon stage 3 and to return to leapfrogging?

That is the case. There can be no benefit to miners in trying to attract more people to the industry if they get an award outside stage 3 which breaks stage 3 and merely leads to every other union leader being forced to make a claim equal to that of the miners'. We went through all this in 1972. This is why, in discussions with the CBI and TUC, we have tried to find a more sensible way of handling these affairs.

Will the Prime Minister confirm or deny the fact that even if the stage 3 settlement is accepted by the miners, the highest-paid miner will have a basic take-home pay of less than £40 a week? In those circumstances, those miners need no lectures on patriotism from Lord Hailsham or anybody else. They could have held the country to ransom from 1945 onwards, but they did not do so. Whom does the Prime Minister believe to be the more patriotic section of the community—the miners or the property speculators?

The position in the manufacturing industry is as I have given it. The hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. William Hamilton) wishes only to refer to basic rates.

It is not a matter of saying "Of course". It is earnings, together with other benefits which miners receive, that in fairness have to be compared to the rest of manufacturing industry.

Has my right hon. Friend's attention been drawn to the meeting on 20th October of the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions, at which the mineworkers, the engineers, the train drivers and the power supply workers got together to plan a strike of 5 million people in the New Year, with a view to wrecking stage 3, bringing down the Government, and no doubt bringing about chaos? Will the Prime Minister go on television and tell the people of this country that they are being duped by these Communists, who have no interests in this country whatever?

In all my contacts with the TUC, the mineworkers and other unions leaders, I have emphasised that this policy is in the interests of the country and that the law and the pay code have been approved by Parliament. Therefore, I have asked that wage arrangements should be made within that code. I have already told the House and the country that certain remarks by miners' leaders to the effect that they wanted to bring down the Government have been withdrawn. Naturally, I accept that. I hope that no union or combination of unions would ever act with that motive. I do not think the British parliamentary system or the British nation would be prepared to tolerate that situation.

Is the Prime Minister aware that stage 3 was revised in the warm glow of a rather hot summer, which is a rare phenomenon in this country? Does he not think it time that the Government reviewed this policy, in view of the fact that we shall have a hard winter? Since the situation in the mining industry is that coal cannot be produced to keep power stations active, will this not mean that in many homes Christmas dinners will not be cooked?

If the overtime ban were to be removed at the meeting on Thursday the coal could immediately be produced to get our power stations going, to give the industry the electricity and power it requires, thus avoiding increasing unemployment, which otherwise will be inescapable. If the hon. Gentleman wants stage 3 to be reviewed, I ask the House to consider what its basis will be. The offer to the miners is 13 per cent., and the most we believe we can get as a growth rate for this country in the forthcoming period is between 3½ per cent. and 4 per cent. The House must consider how a figure of this kind can be justified in terms of increase in growth, and must accept the fact that the miners are being put in a special position. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that as a result of the cut-backs in industry it is not possible to get that growth, the logical conclusion is that there ought to be a cut-back in the facilities of stage 3.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the majority of people believe that trade union leaders have done quite enough talking and that if the country is to survive we need less talk and a little more concern for the national interest?

I believe that the great majority of trade union leaders want to do what is best in the national interest. At the meetings that I have with them I shall continue to give them the fullest information about the national economy and the international economic situation, and ask for their co-operation with the employers in this position.

Is the Prime Minister suggesting that in order to save this country the miners should work overtime? When considering package deals, will he bear in mind that mining is probably the most dangerous occupation in this or any country? In balancing the scales of his economics, will he put on them on behalf of the miners the thousands who die from pneumoconiosis and the thousands who are injured in the collieries? Will he put all those matters in the scales before coming to a decision not that 13 per cent. has been offered—because we on this side consider that wage offers are based on basic wages—but that other deals contained in the package have also been offered to other workers in British industry? Finally, does the Prime Minister agree that the miners are a special case and that stage 3 is in a hopeless position? Will he reconsider the position and give the miners their just rewards?

Because of the points listed by the hon. Gentleman, the scale of the offer made to the miners by the National Coal Board is very much greater than can be claimed by most other groups in the community. The plain fact is that the trade union movement—I fully accept its problems—has never yet been able to give any indication that it could establish priorities between the claims of different unions. Therefore, it cannot face a situation in which one group is allowed to have a special place and others cannot claim similar treatment, because it knows full well that as soon as one position is established everybody else claims the right to make exactly the same response.

Railways (Dispute)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the ASLEF dispute.

I have to inform the House that no agreement was reached at yesterday's meeting between British Rail, ASLEF, the National Union of Ralwaymen and the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association. ASLEF refused to lift its threat of action or to refer the issues in dispute to the next stage of the industry's agreed procedure. On learning that this remained ASLEF's position after its executive meeting this morning. I thought it right to invite it to see me immediately. I have also discussed the situation with the Chairman of British Rail and with the other unions.

At our meeting I impressed upon the ASLEF executive the extreme seriousness of the threatened action and its consequences for the community. The action proposed includes general non-co-operation, bans on overtime, rest day and Sunday working, and there seems little doubt that this could lead to a progressive and rapid breakdown of both passenger and freight services.

The travelling public will be immediately affected and have to face considerable hardship. This is happening in the fortnight before Christmas and at a time when, because of the petrol shortage, many people are switching to rail in order to travel.

The current shortage of energy supplies already poses a most serious threat to our prospects for economic growth, to our living standards and to employment. The ASLEF action will materially worsen the position.

Against this background, I urged the executive to reconsider its decision and to seek to resolve its remaining differences with British Rail and the other unions. I told it that I believed the proper course for it, in the national interest, was to refer any outstanding issues on restructuring to the Railway Staff National Tribunal, the industry's jointly established arbitration machinery which is the next stage of its procedure, particularly since ASLEF had recently reached agreement with British Rail and the other unions on the appointment of a new independent chairman to the Tribunal, who must clearly be acceptable to it.

The executive undertook to reconsider its decision in the light of what I had to say and promised to let me know the outcome. I sincerely hope that it will call off its industrial action.

Is the House to understand from the last sentence of the statement that the right hon. Gentleman expects to be in touch with the ASLEF executive later today? We would welcome more information on that point. We would also naturally ask him to make a further statement to the House either this evening or, at the latest, tomorrow on how the situation has developed.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that he will always have our good will as long as he pursues the rôle of peace maker, which is traditional to his office, and avoids the confrontation techniques that have characterised Government policy in these spheres so much in the last three years? Will he assure the House that he is not contemplating any use of the procedures under the Industrial Relations Act? If he were to do that, I hope that he would take our advice that this would be the most counter-productive action he could take.

I do not think that many hon. Members will want to pursue the merits of the argument at this critical moment. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will convey to all the parties involved that there is deep appreciation in this House of the natural anxieties of skilled and experienced railwaymen who have seen their relative position decline over the years and that they have a case that needs to be examined. On the other hand, we would expect them to take serious account of the appeal made by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition last week and to recognise that the industrial action that they have in mind, which would cause hardship to the travelling public and to their fellow workers, would be particularly damaging at this moment, first, because of the fuel situation, which means that a transport disclocation would have a disproportionate effect on other people's jobs, and, secondly, because of the Christmas period when a large number of families are hoping to be reunited. We hope that the ASLEF executive and membership will bear these points in mind.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks.

On the first point, the ASLEF executive said that it would consider what I have said and inform me of its decision. I understand that it was to meet at 3 o'clock. I do not know what the result of that meeting will be. As at present advised, it probably will not be helpful to the House for me to make another statement. I will bear in mind what the right hon. Gentleman said and will consult my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. If such an occasion seemed to be right and seemed to warrant my making a statement, I should do so, but I rather doubt that it will.

I have made it perfectly dear that I believe that the right course is to continue with the industry's negotiating procedures and to go to arbitration. That remains my position. I told the ASLEF executive that many people would find it very hard to understand why it did not feel able to follow that course. I was informed that it did not believe that it could keep control of its members and lead them into such a situation. I replied that I believed that there were times in all our lives when we have to lead and do our best in what we believe to be the national interest and I very much hoped that it would seek to lead its members. If it did, I believe that it would get their backing. I had to say that the executive obviously knew more about its members than I did, but I felt that this was a time for leadership.

I am not contemplating using the Industrial Relations Act, for the reason that I have made clear—namely, that the normal procedures in the industry have not yet been completed.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the skill and experience of train drivers. I know that they feel that they have in some way been rather harshly treated compared with others and, equally, that the present restructuring negotiations have been going on for a very long time. They feel frustrated about it. But the other unions seem to be in close agreement, and, in that situation, I very much hope that they will still reconsider their decision.

Is it not ironic that the present ASLEF action follows so soon after the Government's clear statement of confidence in the future of British Rail? Furthermore, is it surprising in the circumstances if those who are responsible for the movement of freight are thinking more closely about transferring important goods to rail if such actions continue in the future?

I took the opportunity to point out to the ASLEF executive members that as a result of our energy problems they were undoubtedly presented with considerable opportunities for the railways in the future. I also pointed out to them the trust which the Government had put into the railways by the investment that they were making. I said that I believed that it would be a tragedy in the circumstances if this were thrown away by action such as they contemplate. I made that clear to them.

Is the right hon. Gentleman confident that if the railwaymen went to arbitration the outcome of the negotiations would be over and above phase 3?

It would be very unwise for me to speculate on a hypothetical situation. I believe that the right course now is to continue with the procedures and to go to arbitration on the whole of the British Railways restructuring proposals.

Bills Presented

Northern Ireland Constitution (Amendment) Bill

Mr. Secretary Pym, supported by Mr. James Prior, Mr. David Howell, Mr. van Straubenzee, Mr. Attorney-General and Mr. Peter Mills presented a Bill to provide that the number of persons who may hold appointments under Section 8 of the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 shall be increased to fifteen of whom not more than eleven may be members of the Northern Ireland Executive appointed in accordance with this Act: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 45.]

Education And Vocational Training Equality Bill

Mr. Giles Radice, supported by Mr. James Johnson, Mr. A. E. P. Duffy, Mr. W. W. Hamilton, Mrs. Doris Fisher, Miss Betty Boothroyd, Mr. Ernest Armstrong, Mr. David Watkins, Mr. John Horam, Mr. John Golding, Mr. Phillip Whitehead and Mr. John Smith presented a Bill to ensure equal access for women and men to all forms of industrial training and day and block release facilities and to all educational institutions: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 8th February and to be printed. [Bill 46.]

Container And Packaging Control Bill

Mr. Patrick Cormack, supported by Dr. Gerard Vaughan, Mr. Ernie Money, Mrs. Sally Oppenheim, Mr. Sydney Chapman, Mr. Edward M. Taylor, Mr. Norman Lamont, Mr. David Clark, Mr. Peter Hardy, Dr. J. Dickson Mabon, and Mr. Frank Judd presented a Bill to give the Secretary of State powers to regulate the types of material used in packaging and to specify that they should be capable of being re-used or re-cycled: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 8th February and to be printed. [Bill 47.]

Rights Of Women Bill

3.42 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make it unlawful to deny facilities of insurance, loan, mortgage, finance, hire purchase or other forms of credit to any person solely on grounds of sex; to provide for continuity of employment of women with rights of reinstatement after confinement; and for purposes connected therewith.
The first part of the Bill deals with a much-neglected area of our employment laws. The rights to re-employment of a woman worker who leaves her job to have a baby are not covered by legislation. Although some agreements have been made in both the public and private sectors, progress towards the achievement of a floor of rights to all women has been lamentably slow. It is for that reason that I seek to introduce legislation to cover the problem.

Women workers are not returning to their jobs after childbirth. Until it is made more attractive for them to do so, the country will continue to lose large numbers of productive workers.

In the typical case, a woman who stops work for several months to have a baby is subject to disadvantages in the following terms. First she has to re-apply to her former employer as though she were starting from scratch. Secondly, if her former employer decides to take her on again, which is problematical, it could be in a different department, on different hours and at different pay. Thirdly, since she is applying afresh she will have lost accrued seniority benefits of pay levels, sick and holiday pay, holiday entitlement and eligibility for a pension scheme. Fourthly, she will also have lost the continuity of employment which is essential before claims can be made under the Redundancy Payments Act and for unfair dismisal under the Industrial Relations Act.

It is therefore made very unattractive for women to seek re-employment after childbirth. It is not only grossly unfair for skilled and experienced women to have their training amount to nothing, but it is also an utter waste of expertise and productivity, and a serious loss to the economy as a whole.

The Bill is designed to correct these glaring injustices. It is proposed that working women should be given the statutory right to reinstatement after absence due to pregnancy. This right could be exercised at any time during a period of 12 months from the date on which the woman left her job.

The employer would be under a duty to reinstate the woman on the same pay, in the same grade and on terms no less favourable than she enjoyed prior to her absence. This would mean that she did not lose seniority for the purposes of sick and holiday pay, pensions and other benefits related to length of service. The time spent on leave would be added to the period already worked in computing the woman's eligibility for these benefits.

The Industrial Relations (Continuity of Employment) Regulations 1972 (1972 SI No. 55) provide that continuity of employment will not be broken if an employee is re-engaged after a complaint of unfair dismissal has been made to an industrial tribunal. By analogy to these existing provisions, this Bill will stipulate that continuity of employment will not be broken by reason only of an absence attributable to pregnancy for a period not exceeding 12 months.

It is proposed that the right to reinstatement will rest on the completion of six months' continuous employment with the same employer.

The second part of the Bill deals with discrimination against women in matters of personal finance. Nowhere are women more personally discriminated against than in the matter of personal finance. It is widespread practice among agencies that offer credit facilities to provide terms for women which are considerably less favourable than those available to men. It is therefore the purpose of the Bill to give men and women the right to equal treatment by persons and organisations engaged in the grant of credit and other financial facilities.

It will be an offence for any such person to discriminate between men and women in the granting of credit.

The need for legislation in this area is made more and more apparent every day. It is, for example, a practice of many finance houses operating hire-purchase schemes to require, in the case of women purchasers, the counter-signature of a husband, or father, or male landlord. What could be more degrading than to have to ask the landlord for his counter-signature? No such guarantee is required for male purchasers. I ask the House again, what could be more degrading?

The same prejudice is seen in the use of credit cards. At least one of the major credit card organisations in this country requires married women to obtain the signature of their husbands on their application forms. A woman who is a card holder in her own right is subject to even greater humiliation if she marries or re-marries. When she notifies her credit-card company of her change of name, she is automatically sent a new application form, which must state her husband's employment and income and, furthermore, be signed by him.

Women applying for mortgages are extremely unlikely, even when building society funds are not restricted—and it is some time since we knew that situation—to obtain one without a considerable search. Many building societies do not consider women applicants as a rule. And few of them will aggregate a married woman's income with her husband's. Even if this does occur it invariably counts for less than its face value when the building society uses the multiplier to determine the maximum accordable mortgage.

This Bill cuts out these highly discriminatory practices and will remove women from the odious position of second-class citizens which they currently occupy in employment and in personal finance. Nothing the Government have said in their Green Paper on women's rights covers the provisions offered in my Bill.

The first part of the Bill will give recognition to the special needs of women who want to continue working after childbirth. This Bill can and will reach the statute book in this Session. Only one thing can prevent it and that is the deliberate interference of the Government, directly by using the Whip, or indirectly by encouraging one of their back-bench Members below the Gangway. I am thinking particularly of an area in the region of Buckinghamshire. I say without fear of contradiction that this Bill can and will become law—with the provisos I have made. If the Government interfere directly or encourage one of their back-bench backwoodsmen to do so, then they do so at their peril because the women of this country are sick and tired of being discriminated against.

Question put and agreed to.

Mr. Frank Tomney, Mr. Ernest G. Perry, Mr. Neil Carmichael, Mr. Giles Radice, Dr. John A. Cunningham—whose wife was delivered of a son and heir during yesterday's sitting—Mr. Thomas Torney, Mr. William Hamilton, Mrs. Doris Fisher, Mrs. Barbara Castle, Miss Betty Boothroyd and myself.

Rights Of Women Bill

Mr. Robert C. Brown accordingly presented a Bill to make a unlawful to deny facilities of insurance, loan, mortgage, finance, hire purchase or other forms of credit to any person solely on grounds of sex; to provide for continuity of employment of women with rights of re-instatement after confinement; and for purposes connected therewith: and the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 25th January and to be printed. [Bill 48.]

Orders Of The Day

Supply

[5TH ALLOTTED DAY],— considered.

National Health Service

Before I call the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) to move the motion may I inform the House that I have not selected the amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger).

3.54 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House expresses its grave concern at the way in which the reorganisation of the National Health Service is currently taking place; regrets that the composition of the authorities is primarily appointed rather than elected; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to postpone the coming into operation of the new service pending a full-scale inquiry.
Before proceeding with the motion I have to say one thing. In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Dr. Summerskill) last Thursday, the Leader of the House said that he thought that a statement on the ambulance service would be in order in today's debate. It may be, but it seems to us to have not much relevance to the reorganisation of the health service. We do not propose to deal with it and we hope that the Secretary of State will deal with the question on another occasion.

In March of this year during a two-day period the House debated the Second Reading of the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill. It was not apparently as well known to the Press that this was the subject of the debate as some of us would have liked. It appeared to the Press that it was a debate on family planning.

Unfortunately, in making this error it missed what was a vital and legitimate point of difference between Government and Opposition and one which now concerns us deeply. I refer to the manner and constitution of a reorganised health service. No one who knew anything about it disputed that the health service should be reorganised. The question was whether there should be the managerial concept which the Government had in mind or whether instead we should move towards a democratic system.

The Government had already stated their mind in the White Paper issued the previous year. I remind the House of their reasons for preferring the managerial to the democratic system. They are to be found in paragraph 96 of the White Paper. I will not burden the House by reading the whole paragraph but will relate what I believe to be the relevant sentences. The White Paper said:
"A diversity and a proper balance of relevant ability and experience are also called for."
We do not disagree. It went on:
"These needs can best be met if, in the main, members are chosen for their personal qualities after appropriate consultations, not elected as representatives reflecting the views of particular interests."
This is what the Government stated as their main principle. The months have passed since March and we are now able to see how far these principles have been put into effect. It is right that we should examine first of all the appointments made by the Secretary of State. If we look at the regional health authorities—and this I am sure would distress my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Robert C. Brown) who has spoken so eloquently about women's rights—we find that only one member out of five is a woman. I will not labour that point too much. The Secretary of State may hear something from my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax should she catch your eye a little later, Mr. Speaker.

It is an extraordinary decision because the assumption must be that men have the relevant ability and experience in a ratio of 5: 1 against women. I would have thought that was quite untrue. In the administration of a health service women tend to know much more than men because they are concerned with the producing and rearing of children. It is the family aspect that is so vital in the health service.

If we look at the membership of regional health authorities generally we find that only 15 out of all the regional health authority members are trade unionists or manual workers. That is an average of one per authority. It is an extraordinary idea of where ability and experience are to be found in our community. I do not say that they should be in the majority, but 15! It seems to be a very small proportion. At least we can spare ourselves the terrible thought of what it would be like to be a woman and a trade unionist. Such a person's chances would be something like one in ninety.

Every member of the regional health authorities has been chosen on the basis of what went before. A total of 60 per cent. of the members of the regional health authorities are people who were employed administering the old hospital services. Of the area health authority chairmen, 59 out of 90 are business or professional people. I do not object to such people being chairmen of authorities. It seems they have as much right as anyone else. But that is a disproportionate amount.

I said that I should like to deal with the question of previous hospital service. Every chairman of the regional health authorities now appointed has been a member of a regional hospital board, hospital management committee or teaching hospital. Of the members of the regional health authorities, six out of ten have also had that experience. Of the chairmen of the area health authorities, also appointed by the Secretary of State, although after consultation with the chairmen of the regional health authorities, 82 out of 90 have previous experience in one of those three hospital sectors.

Hospital experience is a very good thing, because so much of the National Health Service is concerned with hospitals—but surely not in that proportion. If the Secretary of State has forgotten his own White Paper, perhaps I might remind him of it:
"In practice, however, the fragmented administration we now have throws barriers in the way of efforts to organise a proper balance of services—hospital and community—throughout the country."
It goes on:
"The administrative unification of these services will make a firmer reality of the concept of a single service."
But should all the chairmen of regional health authorities and 82 out of 90 area chairmen have this sort of hospital experience? Where is the community interest, the proper balance of which the White Paper spoke?

There are currently 170 local authorities dealing with community health services. There are the people who are experienced in community health services, who could give that proper balance. It is right to take those with hospital experience, but equally right to take those with community experience.

The area authorities were designed to cope on an administrative level with the social services, because, rightly, it was understood that health services and social services came together. It is often very difficult to define where one begins and the other ends. But what has happened is the most extraordinary development that has ever been seen in the organisation of the National Health Service.

In London, the areas which have been chosen cut right across the borough boundaries, so that, in social services, what started as a reasonable, and indeed a practicable, way of running the health service has become a nonsense. Thus, of the areas in London, six have two boroughs, two have three boroughs and one has as many as four—Newham, the City of London, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. One could imagine the enormous conflict that is bound to arise where there are four borough social service departments and only one area.

Since my right hon. Friend has mentioned Newham, is he aware that Newham has its own social services department, is a local education authority and a housing authority and has hospitals? Is this not a classic case in which its existence and continuance as a single area would seem to be justified?

My right hon. and learned Friend speaks, as always, with sparkling clarity. It stands to reason—but clearly, not to the Secretary of State. Incidentally, the prize for absurdity goes not to that creation but to the joining of Southwark, Lambeth and Lewisham. I have a slight interest in Lewisham, since my constituency lies in the borough. Only a third of the members of that area health authority live anywhere near the new area. That is by the way: the main point is that these three boroughs, which are joined into one area, are cut into four districts, so that the individual social service departments are themselves divided. This is because the whole of this basis of reorganisation, whatever the White Paper says, has been hospital-oriented and not social service-oriented.

My right hon. Friend mentioned a difficult case in South-East London. Does he realise that, in North-West London, not only does one see the characteristics that he has described but part of my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) will be administered by another health authority altogether? When I wrote to the Secretary of State asking him to justify this, he was apparently unable to give a reason. When he takes power away from the area health authorities, should he not say why he is doing so?

The only consolation that I can offer my hon. Friend is that perhaps his borough and mine might share the joint prize for absurdity.

What I have spoken about in London occurs of course outside London, for example, in the non-metropolitan counties. I should like to give one illustration—I could give many more. In Kent, the social services are administered at county level but are, rightly, split into 15 social services divisions. I have never thought that this is as good a way as letting the districts run the social services themselves, but at least an attempt has been made to bring the social services to the community. But those divisions are divided among six health districts. The inevitable result must be total administrative chaos.

The hon. Gentleman will just have to wait and see.

Our motion asks that the reorganisation be postponed pending an inquiry. We regard this reorganisation, before it has begun, as a total failure. But to look at it from the Government's own point of view, the arguments in favour of postponement seem overwhelming. The reorganisation is supposed to be complete by 1st April 1974. Everybody knows that, in whatever section of the health service one cares to look—whether in the hospitals, to which Lord Reigate drew attention in another place the other day, or anywhere else—the time scale has been totally disrupted.

The Secretary of State had to define the very districts in the area health authorities. I understood that one of the principles that the managerial system laid down was delegation downwards. It is a new kind of concept, at any rate in relation to McKinsey, that we should now have delegation upwards, from the health authority to the Secretary of State. That is an illustration of the total lack of time and the muddled way in which this has been done.

Worse still, not one medical officer has yet been chosen for any of the 90 areas. How they are to be in operation by 1st April, I do not know. In each of 17 areas there is no administrator and no financial officer. These, too, have to be picked. Perhaps worst of all, because of the possible implications, in the health districts the post of district community physician has not yet even been advertised. The district community physician, as the House is well aware, has to be skilled in the control of infectious diseases, communicable diseases and food poisoning. He has to use local authority personnel. Under reorganisation, local authorities have a voice in his selection. Circular 34/73 states in paragraph 30 that local authorities, the police, the area health authorities and—it will relieve the mind of the House to know—the Department of Health and Social Security itself, must know the name, address and telephone number of the district community physician by 31st March 1974.

But the Secretary of State cannot deny that, in many cases throughout the country, out of 500 posts created, there will be those which have not yet been filled. Therefore, I ask the Secretary of State what happens if there is an outbreak of food poisoning. I know the answer is that we shall muddle through and that the matter will be dealt with, but that does not seem to suggest administrative efficiency.

I come to my final point regarding postponement of the reorganisation of the health service. Ten years ago, there was a Minister of Housing and Local Government who reorganised the London area. That Minister realised, because he was then young, virile and able, that a long time was needed from the moment all the chief officers were appointed to the time that the new service was running—the breaking-in period. Therefore, all the chief officers had been appointed by June or July 1963. As it was, when reorganisation took effect in April 1964 the then Minister of Housing and Local Government might have agreed with me that it was touch and go but that the changeover had just about worked.

But in the reorganisation of the health service, the vital 20 per cent. of officers have not yet been chosen. That is why we should postpone the operative date of the reorganisation. I suggest that the Secretary of State has a word with the former Minister of Housing and Local Government. Together they might come to a consensus on the matter.

This is an extraordinarily important point. I remember that during the period to which my right hon. Friend referred, one of the arguments which was advanced—and which seemed at the time to be particularly cogent—was that, with the growth of London and of the social services, the new forms of administration which the Minister was then proposing would fit in neatly with all the things which might have to happen. We are experiencing the same attitude again with the National Health Service reorganisation. Either the right hon. Gentleman was wrong then or he is wrong now, or, possibly, he is wrong in both cases. He does not seem to have been right at all.

I think the right hon. Gentleman was more right then than he is now.

If this is the situation, is it not right, out of common sense and from the Government's point of view—forgetting the difference in philosophy which we have with them—to postpone the coming into force of the reorganised health service? If that is right—and we believe it to be so—perhaps at the same time an independent inquiry should be set up to examine the whole structure and basis of the reorganisation of the health service. It is manifestly and totally wrong if, in order to fill the posts of chairmen of the regional and area health authorities, the Government have to go to the old hospital service. What is the point of trying to argue for integration if the Government are merely going back to the hospital services? There is no point in it.

I would not wish the Secretary of State to say that I was being destructive and not constructive. I have, therefore, three short suggestions on steps towards a transition to democratic control, which is manifestly the right way to reorganise the service. The first is that a substantial majority of members of the new authorities should be from local government and the trade unions, not from the old hospital service, and not from business and the professions, which is the present situation. Secondly, community health councils should be wholly composed of local authority members so that they could have executive control over the district management teams, which could then act as their advisers. Thirdly, I suggest that the Secretary of State has consultations with his right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Development, following which there should be delegated to the districts—or the districts should be given—advisory powers to deal with social services in their areas. In this way, we would be preparing for what would be a truly integrated National Health Service.

I do not for one moment believe that the system as envisaged and as peopled at the moment will last. Whether the Secretary of State likes it or not, he has introduced an interim measure. It will be up to a Labour Government when the time comes to give the people of this country a true National Health Service.

4.16 p.m.

In asking the House to reject the motion, I shall deal with the points made by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin) in what I regard as an unrealistic speech. It will be common ground that the reorganisation of the National Health Service must be one of the largest management enterprises ever undertaken, I would have thought, in the free world. In England and Wales alone the service employs more than 800,000 people, with a budget of about £3 billion a year.

The House will remember that reorganisation has been under discussion for a decade. A long series of papers have been produced, first under the Labour Government and then under this Government. Those who work in the service are entitled to have decisions made and carried through. There has legitimately been uncertainty for long enough. The vast majority of staff—except a very small proportion in the upper echelons of management—are likely, after 1st April next year, to be doing much the same work, in the same place, as they are doing now. Hon. Members on both sides of the House would like to have a faster growth in the money available to the health service but there is, and has been, a regular increase in the resources available and in the size and quality of the service. This has been such that the staff can count on a real improvement in their prospects of providing a good service to the public.

It is precisely to provide a better service to the public that the reorganisation has been mooted by both parties in turn. The better structure which we believe will emerge from this reorganisation, despite the anxieties of the right hon. Gentleman, will give a much closer link with the parallel reorganised local government service. It will also give a much better scope for identifying the needs of the patients, and detecting and putting right defects in the service. Therefore, there will be much greater opportunities for staff to provide a more effective service to the public

One of the essentials of reorganisation recognised by both Governments is that there should be a transfer of the local authority health component to the National Health Service. That has been agreed, and has been an ingredient of the proposals of both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party. Local government is being reorganised, and the reorganisation comes into force on 1st April.

The House must accept that the reorganisation of local government and the reorganisation of the National Health Service must coincide in time, since one large component of the present local authority services is going, by common consent, to be transferred to the National Health Service. If the times of reorganisation were not to coincide, there would be nowhere for that reorganised local authority health component, staff and functions to go.

It would be a valid criticism, if it were made, that, since the reorganisation of the two services coincides, the dates of legislation for the two services should have coincided also. In a perfect world, the Government would have wished to introduce the local authority reorganisation legislation and the NHS reorganisation legislation in the same Session. But the world is not perfect. With the best will in the world, it was not possible, because of the legislative timetable, to introduce both Bills simultaneously, and, therefore, we are faced with a position in which the dates of reorganisation of the two services must coincide but we have had less time to accomplish the National Health Service reorganisation than ideally we would have liked.

The reorganisation of the Scottish Health Service starts in April next year, but the reorganised Scottish local government structure does not start until May 1975.

I am not answerable for Scotland, and I very much envy the fact that the Scots got their legislation in substantially earlier. I am acknowledging to the House that I regret that we did not introduce our legislation earlier. It is no good the right hon. Member for Deptford wagging his head sagely from side to side. Even he would not have been able to find, under his very vacuous proposals, any authority to take over the functions and the staff of the local government health services which cease to exist, under legislation which he scarcely mentioned, on 1st April next.

It would be no kindness, even if it were practicable, to defer the reorganisation of the NHS. It would only prolong the uncertainties from which health service staff have been suffering for too long, and we are faced inevitably with the local government reorganisation, which is crucially linked with NHS reorganisation, on 1st April.

The right hon. Gentleman has totally failed to tell us where, under his proposals for postponement, the local authority health functions and staff would go. It would be completely impracticable, even if the Government wished to do so, to postpone the reorganisation. In the light of this fact, and of the compressed timetable—I accept that point—that we have had since Royal Assent, it is sensible to concentrate, as we are doing, on the immediate priorities. That is our approach.

We have established the new authorities. Our job now is to see that they are staffed, to ensure a smooth transfer of staff, to promote the interests of the staff on transfer, and, above all, to maintain the continuity of service to the patients.

Would it not be possible to obtain a smoother transfer of staff if the staff were to be consulted about that transfer? Has the right hon. Gentleman not considered the possibility of immediately setting up joint consultative machinery with the trade unions involved in the NHS in an attempt more effectively to arrange a smoother transfer of staff?

I shall be dealing at some length later in my speech with consultation.

The main difference between the Opposition and the Government is, and, I think, has been throughout the debates on the Act, with regard to the composition of the authorities. The Government's view is that the NHS is largely paid for by the taxpayers and, therefore, should be conducted by authorities responsible to a Minister who is himself accountable to this House. Those authorities look to the Minister for finance, and, therefore, should look to him for guidance on strategy and policy. The right hon. Gentleman's proposals would separate the control of finance from policy. They would presumably leave a Minister responsible to this House for the policy of the NHS and for its strategy, but would give to bodies quite separate from the Minister and out of his control responsibility for running the service.

These bodies would not, as in the case of the education authorities, be providing any money towards the running of the NHS. They would, therefore, look to the Minister for money but not necessarily meet his priorities for policy and strategy.

Within the present structure the local health authorities as of right have £250 million. What is happening to that?

The hon. Gentleman is a student of this subject. He knows that on reorganisation the rates cease to bear that cost and it is transferred to the taxpayers, so that, as from 1st April, that part of the service now being paid for by the ratepayers goes on the taxpayers' shoulders. I am being logical in this. The Opposition are being illogical and inconsistent.

Under the cry of democracy, the right hon. Gentleman proposes a number of steps whose significance I do not think he appreciates. He suggests that a body of elected members should be responsible for running the service. That body would find not a penny towards running it. Yet it would be expected, I suppose, to obey the policy of the Government of the day. There would be no link between them, however. Finance and policy would be totally separated.

The right hon. Gentleman has further revealed his hand today. I am sure that the voluntary bodies will be interested that he proposes that the community health councils should be composed entirely of elected members. The Government propose that the voluntary bodies should have at least one-third of the seats on these new watchdogs for the public, but they would be excluded by the Opposition if they were in charge of the NHS.

The Opposition flinched, during the prolonged and, I thought, very valuable Committee stage debates when the Act was going through the House, from the logic of their own thinking. They flinched from proposing that the service should be put under local government. They yearn to put it under local government, but they realistically accepted that it is not practicable, at any rate now.

The Opposition also flinched from proposing that the health authorities should be wholly elected. They never proposed that in Committee nor voted in favour of it. What they argued about in Committee, perfectly legitimately, was the rather smaller issue whether there should be four, five or six local authority members on an area health authority of 15 or 16 members.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman will wish to be fair. The first way in which he can be fair is to recognise that, after occupying the position of Government Chief Whip for three years, I am strictly a non-flincher. Secondly, it is a pity that he did not read—and I quite understand that he was not able to attend all the sittings of the Committee—the Committee reports carefully. Had he done so, he would have seen clearly set out that we accepted that we had a Conservative Government bent on a particular system of reorganisation. We realised that, since we were not in Government, we could not immediately put the National Health Service under local government control, and therefore suggested a transition or compromise which would be mid-way between his managerial, monarchical system and a real democratic system. We said it over and over again. The right hon. Gentleman should read the Committee proceedings.

I scrupulously read the reports of those sittings which I did not attend, and I certainly did not get that impression from the views of the Opposition. Therefore, the difference between us in the debates has been the number of members on area health authorities. I think that the House will accept that whether there were five or six local authority members on the area health authorities instead of the four that we now have would not make a hap'orth of difference to the transitional problems that we face in bringing about the reorganisation.

I turn to the membership of the authorities. I am responsible, as the right hon. Gentleman properly said, for the choice of the chairmen of the regions, the chairmen of the areas and the members of the regions. I chose—I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give me credit for this—to the very best of my ability, taking into account the need for some experience of management. There are trade unionists who have been appointed because they have had experience of management. I chose after consulting with very large numbers of bodies—for instance, the universities, local authorities, the medical profession and the nursing profession—each part of the merging service. I had to take into account in appointing members of the regions the geographic factors. I consulted the TUC and the healing professions, such as the dentists and the pharmacists.

The right hon. Gentleman charged me with appointing as area health authority chairmen—a crucial post—a vast predominance of people with hospital experience. That is quite right. What the right hon. Gentleman had failed to perceive, however, was that a very large number of those who are now area health authority chairmen who have had hospital experience also have had local authority and executive council experience. There are 90 area health authority chairmen. Of those, 29 have had local authority experience. Sixteen of them have had executive council experience. Some of those are the same individuals as have had hospital experience. In other words, many chairmen have more than one kind of experience behind them.

The hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Cyril Smith) referred to consultation. Consultation has been our watchword from the outset. But the scale of this operation has been so vast and the range of subjects so detailed that the draft documents put out for consultation have represented a very heavy burden to those called upon to study them.

I pay tribute to the rôle of the trade unions and the staff associations. In all the countless discussions and consultations, these bodies have been nothing but helpful and constructive. Their practical commonsense approach to the problems involved has made their contribution to this massive exercise invaluable. Of course there have been disagreements. Disagreements are inevitable with such a large-scale and radical change of structure. But, while tenaciously protecting the interests of their members, and even when our differences seemed insoluble, the staff associations and the trade unions have never ceased to be allies in working towards a successful conclusion to our task. However, despite months of consultation and despite the constructive attitude of all concerned and the very hard work put into the matter, there are, I fear, still a number of complaints by staff of lack of knowledge. This is largely on matters—mostly conditions of service—which are still under consultation with the staff side at national level.

Proposals on compensation, early retirement and salary protection were first published as consultative documents, and the staff had to await the final arrangements. The early retirement scheme, in its final form, as published last month, and the aim is to publish compensation and salary protection arrangements in a few weeks' time. The early retirement terms contain specific improvements introduced as a result of consultation with the staff side. There have been detailed and fruitful discussions with the staff side on protection. Salaries are still being negotiated for a number of posts, particularly for second-line posts.

I must take this opportunity of saying that I am apologetic about the failure to be able to pay temporary allowances for a number of staff who put in extra work. The Governments' hopes and intentions were blocked by a Pay Board ruling which, in fairness, the Government had to accept for their staff, just as they required other interests to accept similar rules. I think that it is common ground with the staff side that the Government negotiated the temporary allowances with the best intentions and had every intention of honouring them, but they were blocked by the Pay Board ruling.

Did not the consultative document about early retirement to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred make special reference to the situation of chief administrative officers of health authorities in local government work, and do not the regulations as now issued specifically exclude them from the early retirement rules? Secondly, is the Minister aware of the fact that 27 trade unions were represented at a meeting in Manchester a week ago last Friday, a meeting which was attended by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) and myself, and complained bitterly of the utter lack of consultation on the reorganisation of the health service that had occurred in the county?

I was not aware of the first point. I shall read what the hon. Gentleman has said and write to him. On the second point, I am sure that there is legitimate disappointment with the outcome of the consultation because in some cases the final documents have not yet been issued. But no one can charge us with not having had an enormous amount of consultation with the staff side and the trade unions.

In view of the time available I shall not go into great detail about the top management position. Out of 2,500–3,000 top management posts, some 600 are already filled, or interviews are now in progress or dates for interviews fixed. Short-listing is in progress or completed, and the posts are being advertised or are very shortly to be advertised for a further 1,200. Within a matter of weeks, very nearly all the top three-quarters of the main management echelons will have been completed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) has tabled an amendment on the Order Paper, which is not being called, about hospital secretaries. I appreciate that they, like other administrators, are anxious to have details as soon as possible of the range of new administrative posts. Negotiations for the second in line administrative salaries began in September. I understand that the Whitley Council expects to hold another meeting to discuss the management side's offer later this month.

I turn to districting, where about 90 per cent. of the 205 districts presented no great problems. The local joint liaison committees were able to reach agreement on their proposals, and I promulgated an agreed solution. But there were a number of cases, of which about a half a dozen were extremely difficult, where I would defy even Solomon to arrive at a solution agreeable to all interests. There was really a choice of unsatisfactory solutions. After considerable agonising and much listening to and reading of views, I had to come to a solution. I do not pretend that in the parts of London where our predecessors scattered hospitals in a manner unrelated to the present population the solutions are entirely satisfactory, but I maintain that they are marginally less unsatisfactory than the alternative would have been.

The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Spearing) is doubtless about to ask why I have not been able to explain my decision in relation to his area. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary met a deputation from the hon. Gentleman's area. He will be writing about the reasons for the decision, which he explained after the hon. Gentleman had, for perfectly legitimate reasons, left the meeting. My hon. Friend is meeting the area authority tomorrow.

I remained for the entire meeting. We had some sympathy for the Under-Secretary, who informed us at the beginning of the meeting that the time taken up by the members of the deputation was being wasted, because his right hon. Friend had made the decision, from which the Under-Secretary could in no way depart.

These decisions have been made in what my colleagues and I regard as the public interest. They are made on a balance of the merits of the arguments. It will be open to the area health authorities, after some experience of the service—they will have to run the service for some time—to make proposals for the changing of districts. That is why these decisions can be altered later if they are shown to be less good than are the alternatives.

I must draw my speech to a close, but I shall ask my hon. Friend to take up the point if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I come now to my two final points. I have paid tribute to the trade unions and the staff association, and I should now like to pay tribute to my own staff. It has been an enormous job to translate the strategic decisions of Ministers into reality. I ask the House to accept that the critical path network for this reorganisation was of a huge size, with very large numbers of items, each infinitely complex and delicate, and I should like to say that my staff have spontaneously, enthusiastically and effectively carried out a really superhuman management task inside the Department. This reorganisation may be among the largest management enterprises ever undertaken, but this is a reorganisation which I believe the House should accept as necessary to go ahead, because it will strengthen the links between the professional skills, because it will bring better integrated and more effective care to the patient, and because it will increase public involvement in the National Health Service.

Most of the top jobs are now filled or are being filled. The whole massive remodelling of the National Health Service for the benefit of the patient is fast gathering momentum. There is no turning back, and we are moving in top gear towards the new service, which is only three and a half months away. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will reject the plausible but ultimately negative and sterile motion on the Order Paper and will vote in favour of carrying on with the reorganisation on the appointed day.

4.42 p.m.

I am astonished at the complacency shown by the Secretary of State for Social Services, for the picture he portrayed of the smoothness with which this reorganisation is taking place is a totally different one from that which has been given to me in the Nottingham area. I want to refer later to the views of the staff there, but, first, I go back a little in time, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin).

When the National Health Service Reorganisation Bill was first presented it was quite apparent that it was much more concerned with management and administration than with people and accountability to the public. It will be recalled that a management study, in the setting of the Government's decisions on the reorganisation of the National Health Service, was conducted in 1972, and, as I pointed out in the debate on Second Reading, a study group came to Nottingham. That study group seemed to be largely in the hands of management consultants, who came to Nottingham with instructions about the kind of organisation that the Government wanted. They had preconceived ideas, which meant that their minds were closed to much of what people in the service in Nottingham had to say. They were concerned mainly with management and administration, and only remotely with people, with suffering humanity.

Since the emphasis of the whole exercise was on managerial efficiency, and since the approach of the Government was much more like that of a factory manager with a target of productivity in mind than of a body of people concerned with a system whose purpose is, after all, to prevent and treat disease, one would have thought that the Government would at least have ensured that the administrative arrangements for the reorganisation of the National Health Service would go ahead like clockwork. That has not happened; the reverse is the case. The mess which now exists suggests that for a long time ahead the service will be struggling with management arrangements to such an extent that the patient, the reason for the existence of the service, will suffer. In this field, as in so many others, the Government are like a conjuror with too many balls in the air at the same time, and the confusion created by this situation is causing bewilderment and immense uncertainty in the minds of staff.

The Government have arranged for the reorganisation of local government and health services to come into operation at the same time, for reasons which can be considered valid—and the right hon. Gentleman has argued that they are valid. But I have never known a time when there has existed so much worry, so much doubt and so much uncertainty in the minds of so many people in a variety of grades in both health services and local government. In both, large numbers of people are now being compelled to jostle with their colleagues in an endeavour to find posts in the reorganised systems. There is an unseemly scramble, forced upon these people by the manner in which the reorganisations have been dealt with by the Government, and this can only be to the detriment of local government and the health services.

The current position in regard to the reorganisation of the health services is that most senior officials have been appointed at regional and area levels, and similar appointments will be made by 31st March at district level. Thus, the new service will come into operation on 1st April 1974 with no other firm appointments made. The right hon. Gentleman's Department has virtually admitted that the state of reorganisation is hopelessly ill-prepared to commence the new services in April 1974, since it has issued National Health Service Reorganisation Circular, HRC (73)36, which states that the vast majority of existing departments, hospitals and other units will be "latched on" to those most senior officers who have been appointed by 1st April 1974. The term "latched on" is the Department's own expression.

Thus, there is an admission that there is no clear picture of the future for large numbers of staff. They are no more than unidentified numbers attached to senior officials, who are not likely in April 1974 suddenly and miraculously to produce a wonderfully cohesive structure in which everyone will have his appointed place and will know exactly how he can use his abilities in the interests of the health services. That is a terrible state of affairs after the Government have made their decision on the way in which the services will be reorganised, and after they have appointed "whizz-kid" managerial consultants to see that it is carried out.

I know of one fairly senior official who has given the whole of his working life to the hospital service but now, in his mid-fifties, finds himself cast on one side, having to punt around like so many others of his colleagues to find a new post. For him the future is very bleak because the reorganisation is taking place in such a way that he faces a very real possibility—I should have said almost a certainty—that he will have to spend the rest of his working life in a subordinate post, the great wealth of his experience lost to the service. This is just one example of what is happening. The same doubts about the future face large numbers of staff of all ages and in a variety of grades.

In spite of what the Secretary of State said, there is no effective consultation with these people, and to their doubts about their future is added the frustration caused by the unjustifiably narrow way in which the Pay Board views the proposed changes of the totally unrealistic salary scale, which cannot and does not attract staff in sufficient numbers. For some time Nottingham has been short of staff in many grades in the health services, and I fear that the present chaotic state reached in the run up to the reorganisation will cause many people to leave the service. I hope that that will not happen, but I fear the contrary.

In spite of all the frustrations inherent in all this, great efforts are being made by these dedicated people to keep up morale. But because of that no one should attempt to trade upon their loyalty. I believe they may well be reaching a breaking point in a number of cases, and the Government must not complacently brush aside their feelings and doubts in the hope that somehow on the appointed day all will be well. As we ask in the motion, the Government should postpone the date of the coming into operation of the reorganised service in the interests of the staff, in the interests of good management and not least in the interests of the community. They must give serious attention to the problems which their complacency and pig-headed-ness have created.

4.53 p.m.

I hope that the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Whitlock) will forgive me if I do not pursue the points he raised except over what he said about the necessity of the National Health Service being for the benefit of the patient. I hope that is something that every hon. Member will accept immediately.

I should like to direct my remarks to the speech by the right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. John Silkin). He seemed to have one or two quite good darts but he must have been aiming at the board through bi-focals because he was missing the target. It seemed to me that someone had fed him the information, that it was second hand. That was how it seemed when he was referring to the immediate organisation of the health service as opposed to the broad managerial concept, which he obviously does not like. He used the term "democratic control". That is the sort of expression that we are ail supposed to pay lip service to, but what did he mean? Did he mean that each of the hundreds and thousands of decisions taken daily in an organisation like the health service must be taken in a democratic manner covered by a vote, or did he mean that the ultimate control of the service must be democratic? These seem to me two quite different concepts and the right hon. Gentleman did not spell out precisely what he meant.

The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that there is a 5 to 1 chance against women getting on one of the boards. There are two very good reasons for this. It is often forgotten that a large part of the function of operating something like the health service is concerned with such matters as building, engineering, capital works, finance and so on. These people, whether they are men or women—and, incidentally, this applies to the manual workers to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred as much as to women— need to be found in the first place so that they may be advanced to the area or regional boards. I cannot believe that my right hon. Friend has any prejudice against either of those groups of people.

I declare to those who do not already know it that I have a vested interest in this subject in that I am a doctor. Yet I do not believe that doctors are particularly well qualified to run the service any more than I think women are particularly well qualified to run it because they have babies. That was precisely what the right hon. Gentleman was arguing. I knew a distinguished doctor who felt he should have a much greater say in the running of the health service. I thought that as a doctor he was first-class but I thought that as a manager he was a fool. I had no say in whether he should assume this extra authority. It so happened that he obtained a part-time position which led him to the realisation that his particular specialty was not the only one on earth, that his particular minor vested interest—and in totality it was a minor interest—was not the only thing that mattered. Slowly over the course of four years that man became a first-class managerial talent who happened at the same time to be a doctor. I believe that his qualification to occupy his present position is that he knows what he is doing with regard to many other people's specialties and not because he happens to be a clever doctor.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Dr. Trafford) always speaks clearly and lucidly, yet he made one Freudian slip on this occasion on which I shall correct him I was surprised that the Secretary of State did not do so. These are authorities, not boards. He used the word "board" three times and that is because he is thinking of it as a hospital-based service. That is precisely one of the bases of my attacks on the reorganisation. That is why women are important. We are concerned not just with building hospitals but with developing community and family-based services.

I am sorry that I gave way. If the right hon. Gentleman had only waited he would have seen that I had by no means overlooked the point. If I used the term "boards" and not "authorities", that is not a Freudian slip. A Freudian slip can be made only in connection with my mother or other women. It could not have been made in connection with a board. On a board, perhaps. With a board—well, the mind boggles.

The other point raised by the right hon. Gentleman was that too many "old lags" from the previous regional boards had been appointed to the new authorities. I will repeat the word twice—authorities, authorities. Now I have caught up with the number of times I misused the word "boards". One of the reasons why I am sure that my hon. Friend chose the old lags—I did not entirely agree with many of his choices—is connected with the very great problem of finding the right people. It is more important to find the right people than to find the right looking structure, because it is people who run the service and make it tick.

The right hon. Gentleman made a slightly unfair comment when he said that no area authority medical officers have been chosen. As I am sure he knows, to a large extent the functions of the people who will be applying for such jobs will be similar to many of the functions which they are now performing. If there is some weakness in definition the right hon. Gentleman should apply himself to how the job description should be defined. I dread to think how he might view such definition in view of his limited knowledge of psychiatric matters. Nevertheless, I feel that he should look carefully at the exact jobs which will be done by a district community physician. The position is still a little woolly. It will be found that many different areas will have different functions for their officers.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—and I am sure that my right hon. Friend would do so—that it is difficult to separate health and social services. I have always regretted that we were not able for various reasons to combine the reform of the social services and that of the National Health Service at the same time. This will be a far bigger weakness than delay, postponement and hasty appointments. Far more difficulties will arise because although there is a structural division between health and social services there is not always the same degree of actual or practical division between the two services.

One factor which the right hon. Gentleman overlooked is that inside the newly reorganised service there will be something known as the district medical team. It will have in it a community physician and various other people from the district. This will be the first time that the general practitioner services and the hospital services will be able to meet to take advice. I was going to say that there will be a statutory woman, but I would make an error. A nurse may be a man, and in that case my description would not be accurate. The people in the team should have their fingers right on the local pulse. I hope very much that the persons who serve on such a team will be able to keep closely in touch not only with the community councils and voluntary bodies but with the necessities of health in the area.

There are a number of unanswered questions. They are questions which I should like to see answered by the district team in any area. First, no one has ever answered the question: who runs a hospital, or how is a hospital run? Although it is said in theory that responsibility for the running of a hospital is with the hospital management committee, the regional board or finally with the Secretary of State, in fact, no one runs a hospital.

Hospitals tick over in a peculiarly disjointed fashion which often leads to gross inefficiency and gross misallocation of resources. Often it is the biggest, the strongest and the toughest of the doctors the consultants or the administrators who will be able to obtain his own way at the expense of others. A good district management team under the new reorganisation should be able to reallocate resources with greater efficiency. Of course, if they are useless people they will make useless decisions, but they now have an opportunity, when a hospital decision arises which involves the influence of those working in community medicine, in general practice or in district nursing, to bring their influence to bear on such a decision. That does not happen now.

I am probably the only hon. Member in the Chamber who has any experience of how, on the ground, the reorganisation of the National Health Service is going. Therefore, I claim a right to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that his views on the reorganisation are second hand. It is not going as badly as the right hon. Gentleman or the hon. Member for Nottingham, North suggest. It is going very much better. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the patient. No doctor on 2nd April will act differently with regard to his patients. Nor will any district nurse, health visitor or social worker. The hospital casualty doors will be open as always. The hospital operating theatres will continue. The ambulances will work and the patients will arrive. The hospitals will proceed. I accept that there might be some administrative difficulties, but there is opportunity to concentrate towards patients the proper allocation of resources.

My right hon. Friend mentioned nothing about priorities in defending the reorganisation. It would be appropriate for hon. Members to ask themselves how the priorities will be decided. For example, which is the more serious, the elderly patient who lives alone and is threatened with cold in the winter, or the patient dying of a kidney disease, a heart attack or cancer? Who takes decisions on priorities, and how will the resources be allocated? At present no one takes such decisions. No one makes up a list of priorities. I should find it difficult to make such a list even if I were given dictatorial powers to do so.

The result is that in differing areas, and as a result of pressure groups, totally disproportionate resources can be allocated to something glamorous, something fresh or something new. It is even possible that resources can be granted to something which is phoney. With a leavening of common sense, which I trust will come from the community councils and from the lowest echelons of the newly reorganised service, management teams will be able to stop the misallocation of resources.

Furthermore, we badly need the collection of data upon which to act even at the most local level. There must be in the area to which I am referring as many patients suffering from severe arthritis as there are in any other area. The allocation of beds for care, and the amount of money spent on such people, is not great. At the same time, the area runs an expensive coronary care unit. An ambulance screams around the countryside, rather like the old carts during the 1665 plague, with its bell ringing and someone shouting "Bring out your injured." [HON. MEMBERS: "Bring out your dead"] No,