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Commons Chamber

Volume 885: debated on Monday 27 January 1975

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House Of Commons

Monday 27th January 1975

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions


Homeless Persons


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what is the present number of homeless people in Wales.

On 30th September 1974, the latest date for which figures are available, there were 1,146 persons in Wales who were in temporary accommodation. I have no reliable estimates of others who may be homeless.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that there are a number of married couples who have been on the council house waiting list for up to five years? Can he hold out any ray of hope that they will be housed within the next five years?

I can offer more than a ray of hope. Approvals for local authority house building in 1974 were the highest since 1967.

Does my hon. Friend accept that the figures he has given, encouraging though they are, reflect only a small part of the problem, since they deal only with those who have been on the council waiting list? There are others who are sharing with relatives and living in grossly overcrowded conditions.

Yes, that is the position. We have a great deal of concealed homelessness in Wales, with young couples living in their parents' front rooms, and so on. We must break this backlog of need which we inherited. The local authority building programme will, I hope, reflect that need.

Is the Minister satisfied with the liaison between local authority social service departments and the housing departments of district councils, in view of the transfer of responsibility to the housing departments in the recent circular on homelessness?

There is a general problem in the relationship between the social service departments at county council level and the local housing authorities which are increasing their responsibility for homelessness. We are conducting a wide-ranging review of the whole process and hope to issue a consultation document in the not-too-distant future.

What advice has my hon. Friend given to housing authorities to ensure that the housing list is fair, and is manifestly seen to be fair?

The allocation of local authority houses is the responsibility of the local authority. There has been a great deal of advice from central Government. I recall the Cullingworth Report, which some years ago looked into the allocation of local authority houses. This matter remains the responsibility of the local community and the local authority.

What is the total requirement for new houses in Wales and what steps is the Minister taking to meet the need indicated by that figure?

The hon. Member has a cheek to ask such a question at the Dispatch Box—suggesting that somehow the Government are letting the side down. We inherited a potential list of 50,000 people wanting local authority housing. That is the net figure and does not take account of concealed needs that we do not know about. I have urged every housing authority to prepare medium-term plans for housing over the next three-to-five years to set a programme that we shall certainly endorse.

National Water Development Authority


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what arrangements have been made to ensure that the decisions of the Welsh National Water Development Authority are co-ordinated with the actions of his own Department in preparing plans for housing and other developments.

The Welsh National Water Development Authority is made fully aware of our priorities in relation to housing and other developments, in the light of which it is for the authority to decide its capital investment programme.

Does the Minister recall telling the South Pembrokeshire District Authority that it should build houses and that he would make the resources available? How does he reconcile that statement with the delay to the South Pembrokeshire sewerage scheme by the Welsh water authority—a delay which the dis- trict authority believes will bring all the housing and industrial development in the area to a standstill, including preparation work for exploration of the Celtic Sea?

I have told the authority that it can have as much resources as it needs within the resources that are available for housing. As to the special problems of the sewerage scheme, officials of the Welsh Office have been endeavouring to resolve this dispute, and we are hoping to arrange a meeting in the near future between the water authority, the local authority and ourselves acting as honest brokers.

Redundancies (Gwynedd)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he has had relative to the recently announced redundancies in Gwynedd; what plans he has to develop new job opportunities in the area; and how many new jobs are currently in the pipeline.

My right hon. and learned Friend is kept informed of notified redundancies which occur in Gwynedd and elsewhere. The Government's whole economic strategy is designed to protect and create jobs throughout Wales. Although precise figures are not available for Gwynedd, there are about 1,000 new jobs in the pipline for North-West Wales.

Is the Minister aware that 50 of these redundancies have been caused in a factory in Llanberis which has closed, and that the men have been offered similar work at a factory in Manchester? During the election, Labour candidates said that this factory was the safest in the constituency, since its main customer was a nationalised industry—a subsidiary of the British Steel Corporation. Will the Minister draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Industry to the situation in the factory with the possibility of the Government's taking it over as a going concern and running it on a co-operative basis?

The present Government watch every job in Wales with the greatest interest. We take every job most seriously, particularly when it is in danger. To emphasise that, I remind the House that we have taken three effective steps to help North Wales. We have made North-West Wales a special development area, we have doubled the regional employment premium, and we have announced three new factories in Gwynedd.

What estimate has my hon. Friend's Department made of what the condition of Gwynedd would be—let alone the future economic condition of that part of the country—but for the opportunities afforded to the people of that area by nationalised industries and public enterprise and by centrally-directed and assisted and bribed and cajoled private enterprise?

My hon. Friend speaks with his usual expertise on these matters. He may have in mind, as I have, the hydroelectric scheme as one of the instances of a nationalised concern.

Advance Factories


asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many Government advance factories there are in Wales where no industrial production is currently taking place.

Two, plus two nursery units. Five other Government-owned factories, plus four nursery units, some of which were originally advance factories, are also available for letting.

My constituents will not be cheered by that reply, particularly those in the Blaenau Ffestiniog area, because we shall shortly be celebrating the second anniversary of the vacation of and subsequent non-production in premises in Blaenau Ffestiniog. I remind the Minister that I have had discussions with the Welsh Office about the matter over the past nine months. We are anxious that the factory should be tenanted, if not by private enterprise, by public enterprise in the area.

It would have been gracious of the hon. Gentleman if he had indicated the enormous amount of work put in by the Department of Industry, by my Department and by myself to try to get a tenant for the factory. It was regrettable that all our efforts did not bear fruit. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall continue to do what we can to get a tenant for the factory. The officials of both Departments are vitally concerned.

We have announced for Wales, in less than a year, three separate advance factory programmes, which will provide a total of about 300,000 square feet of factory space in Wales. There will always be some that are empty, but it is the whole object of the exercise that when industrialists show an interest the factories are there. I shall continue with my efforts.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that my constituents have been greatly encouraged and heartened by the initiatives taken by the Government since they came to office last March? Is he aware that an advance factory in Amlwch, which was vacant for four years under the previous Government, now has a tenant as a result of the present Government's efforts? We in Anglesey, and, I suspect, the people of Merioneth and other parts of Wales, are very grateful to the Government for the more compassionate and effective view they take of the employment needs in the Principality.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) knew the tremendous effort being put into bringing a tenant to Blaenau Ffestiniog. He sought to take credit for himself, and fell flat on his face. We are anticipating the need, and in addition to providing factories we are ensuring that land is bought in advance of need so that we can take speedy action when required.

I acknowledge the efforts of the Department of Employment and the right hon. Gentleman's Department, and appreciate the value of advance factories, but will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider to what degree the occupation of some of the advance factories at the periphery is held up or handicapped by the quality of the road communications to some of the remote parts of North Wales and other parts of Wales?

We are always doing out utmost to improve road communications. The hon. Gentleman is right to put his finger on that matter, although perhaps it has not been a particular problem for any one of the factories. We shall always do our utmost to improve the road programme which is so badly needed in Wales.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he will make a statement on the additional powers which he has now taken in order to ensure a higher level of employment in Wales.

From 1st July I shall be responsible for administering selective financial assistance. This is one of the most important means of helping to stabilise and develop industry in Wales.

That is very fine, but is the Secretary of State aware that all his praiseworthy efforts are being largely undone by those of his ministerial colleagues who, by their vindictiveness against the self-employed or by the penal rates of capital transfer tax which they propose to apply to family businesses, are liable to take away many more jobs than he can ever create? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman admit that the time has come to save jobs rather than to clobber those who do not vote Labour?

The hon. Gentleman must be living in a wholly different world. As regards saving jobs, I remind the hon. Gentleman that he voted for the British Steel Corporation's proposal to close down Shotton within a very short period. I wholly reject the hon. Gentleman's suggestions.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend get in touch with his colleagues in the Department of Industry to bring forward the legislation on the National Enterprise Board and hasten the day when we have a Welsh development agency, which will carry out the functions of the board in Wales? Will he make representations to the agency at an early date to use the derelict land in the valleys of South Wales for industrial development, rather than take good agricultural land elsewhere?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his positive remarks. We shall speed on with our proposals for the National Enterprise Board, and I hope that within a very short time we shall publish our consultative paper on the Welsh development agency. My office has made it a priority that the money available for derelict land should go to sites needed for industrial development and housing. The programme we have published, with limited resources, has been welcomed throughout Wales.

The Secretary of State says that we are living in different worlds. Is not the world in which we are living one in which Welsh unemployment is rising? Is the substantial recent increase in Welsh unemployment considered a satisfactory outcome of Government policies? To what level does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect Welsh unemployment to be forced by those policies?

I assure the hon. Gentleman—so that we come back to the same world—that I would never regard any figure of unemployment as satisfactory. I want to do my utmost to reduce the present unemployment figure in Wales. But I find the hon. Gentleman's protestations very odd, coming from a supporter of the previous Government, who saw unemployment rocketing.

Local Government Staffs


asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many people were employed in local government in Wales in the years 1970–71, 1971–72, 1972–73 and 1973–74, respectively; and what were the total salaries and wage bills for those personnel in the same years.

The information is detailed and, with permission, I shall circulate it in the Official Report.

I cannot thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for a helpful answer. Do not the figures indicate an escalation in the number of people employed, and in the cost? Are not all the indications that the so-called reform of local government undertaken by the previous Government has been extremely expensive for Wales, with very few compensatory advantages?

The hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. The numbers of staff and the cost have risen. There is public concern about increases in both. I want to make it abundantly clear that I share that concern. That is why the local authorities have been asked to limit any future increases in staff to those required to meet inescapable commitments. We are setting up a new system of monitoring.

Whilst I support the hon. and learned Gentleman's protest against the increase of bureaucracy in local government as a result of local government reorganisation, so hurriedly pushed through the House by the last Conservative Government, I find it difficult to reconcile it with his own party's support of British membership of the Common Market, which will further increase that bureaucracy. How can the hon. and learned Gentleman reconcile that contradiction in his argument?

I understand my hon. Friend's point. In due course we shall debate this issue, when we know what terms have emerged from the negotiations which, as my hon. Friend fully knows, are now taking place in Brussels.

Following is the information:

Information about the total numbers employed by local authorities in Wales is available for June each year.
The figures—excluding police forces—are:

Total local authority expenditure on wages and salaries—other than the police service—was:

Comparable figures for 1973–74 are not yet available.

Water Rates


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is yet in a position to make a statement about the level of water charges in Wales.

It would be inappropriate for my right hon. and learned Friend to do so until he has received and considered the report of the Daniel Committee.

In view of the expected enormous increases in the water rates in certain areas, and the advice given in favour of phased equalisation by various bodies, will the Minister give me an assurance that phased equalisation has been considered? If it has been turned down, will he say why?

The hon. Gentleman speaks at the Dispatch Box time and time again on the principles of the Water Act 1973. Time and time again I have to tell him that he and his hon. Friends are responsible for the Water Act and for the consequences that flow from it. To spill crocodile tears about them at almost every Question Time is reprehensible. Equalisation is the decision of the Welsh water authority. I gather that the authority discussed phased equalisation and unanimously came to the conclusion that it should go for equalisation straight away. That is the authority's decision, and it must be responsible for it.

Will the Minister inform the House of the progress that is being made towards the establishment of a truly national Welsh water authority, inclusive of the whole of Wales, which will have the power to sell Welsh water to English conurbations at, for example, 20p per 1,000 gallons, and which would reduce the Welsh water rates to a nominal level?

I know of a number of hon. Members, including the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson), who at this time would not wish to be part of any Welsh water authority. The Daniel Committee has been asked to report on these vital issues and we must await its report.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the equitable solution to the problem would be the equalisation of water rates throughout England and Wales? Will he say what progress is being made towards that objective?

Certainly. There are many feelings on the matter. On many occasions many people, including ourselves, have claimed that there should be a more equitable distribution of water charges not only in Wales but between Wales and corresponding English authorities. That may be one of the matters that the Daniel Committee will bring to our attention.

I agree with the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes), but does the Minister agree that whatever reforms are needed for the water authorities the rivers must be run as a whole? Does he agree that in the second half of the twentieth century it is nonsense to suggest that England, Wales and Scotland cannot sufficiently co-operate to ensure that one river is managed as a whole?

That certainly is the principle and philosophy which underline the drawing of the boundaries of the Welsh water authority and the neighbouring water authorities. That is why we have bits of England in Welsh authorities and bits of Wales in English authorities. It makes a lot of sense.


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he has had any recent discussions with the borough of Newport concerning water charges.

No. Nor has my right hon. and learned Friend received representations from the borough.

Are the proposed charges consistent with Circular 282/74, issued from the Welsh Office, which urges local authorities to keep down charges of new rates to a 20 per cent. increase? Is my hon. Friend aware that the new sewerage charges alone would mean an increase of between 150 per cent. and 200 per cent., while the increase in the water rate would be no less than 142 per cent.? Does he appreciate that this sewerage charge would be about equal to 70 per cent. of the rates required for borough purposes, and that the Dukes Committee, which studied the matter, urged that equalisation should not start until after April 1976? Will my hon. Friend see to it that this new super-bureaucracy is in line with Government policy?

We have no control over the rate charges in any particular area, other than in the sense of controlling the general criteria, and then only in a reserve sense. I am sorry to have to tell my hon. Friend that the charges are a direct and inevitable consequence of the Water Act 1973.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Further to that point of order. As Welsh Questions were taken only once in the last Session of Parliament, as today we have been unable to reach several important Questions, as there has not been an opportunity for many supplementary questions to be taken, and as this—

Order. The hon. Member is making it more unlikely that we shall get back to taking Welsh Questions today. May I take his point of order at the end of Questions?

Cardiff (City Centre Plan)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals he has to safeguard the jobs and economic security of firms and individuals displaced by the first phase of the Cardiff city centre plan project.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply given by my right hon. and learned Friend to my right hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Hughes) on 20th December 1974. Payment of compensation arising from the central development area proposals is the responsibility of the city council.—[Vol. 883, c. 749.]

Does the Minister's Department accept that it has a moral responsibility for ensuring that the city authorities have the loan sanction that they require? After all, it was an assumed moral responsibility when it agreed to the CPO in the first place. Does the Minister realise that unless his Department persuades the Treasury to make the money available to save the individuals and firms now threatened with going under, the good name of both local government and central Government will be dragged in the mud?

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concern. The decision was taken by our predecessors in the light of the circumstances then prevailing. We make no criticism of that, because it may well have been a perfectly sound decision. But that does not mean that the approval of the compulsory purchase order guarantees the availability of funds. That is a matter for the city council.

Housing Action Areas


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what advice he intends to give to Welsh local authorities about the implementation of those provisions of the Housing Act 1974 relating to housing action areas.

Two major circulars will be issued this week on housing action areas, following a comprehensive circular on renewal strategies issued last week.

I know that my hon. Friend, personally, has worked very hard on this issue. It is relevant to Wales, because of the large proportion of unfit houses in Wales. Will my hon. Friend now say what steps he has taken, apart from the circulars, to publicise what is available to local authorities? Will he give an assurance to local authorities that the cash will be available?

Yes, I can give an assurance that the maximum publicity will be used to ensure that not only local authorities but individuals appreciate the rate of grants that will be available under the new Act and the concept behind the housing action area circulars.

I am pleased to report to the House that the first housing action area ever to be declared in England and Wales was at Blaenau/Gwent, in Wales. Finance will be available to assist local authorities in their task of renewing and saving the maximum number of our older homes.

Will the Minister confirm that in the circular that we shall see later this week there will be evidence for the local authorities that they can apply housing action areas in rural areas where the needs are very great? Does he agree that the needs in such areas are often as great in degree, although not in number, as the needs in urban areas?

Yes, certainly. The housing action area circular—I refer to the main one which is coming out this week—is issued by the Welsh Office and has been written with the special needs of Wales in mind. The hon. Gentleman will find paragraphs in the circular which refer directly to the needs of rural communities and the application of the Housing Act 1974.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that people of Pillgwenlly, Newport have been fighting for over 10 years to keep their homes, along the lines of the policy now being advocated by the Welsh Office? Meanwhile, many hundreds of homes have been bricked up. That is having a detrimental effect on the quality of life in the neighbourhood. Will my hon. Friend ask the local authorities to consider the whole issue of bricking up houses and to consider how many can be refurbished and opened up?

I sympathise greatly with my hon. Friend. It is because of the experience of a number of local authorities in slum clearance, clearance areas and the application of comprehensive clearance area policies that the new advice which we now offer to local authorities has come into being. My hon. Friend will find that the new circular will answer many of the points he has raised.

Mid-Wales (Development)


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what proposals he has for setting up a rural development board to cater for the needs of Mid-Wales.

The Government's policy is to create effective arrangements to develop rural Wales.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that many people in Mid-Wales believe that the area has suffered considerably because of the problems raised by the proposal of the previous administration? We are anxious that such a proposal should not be brought forward again. We do not want Mid-Wales and rural Mid-Wales suffering under the umbrella of an all-Wales agency, so that its special needs are not catered for properly. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that many facets of life in Mid-Wales—not only industrial development—would be assisted by such a policy?

As a Mid-Walian I have felt deeply the rejection of Mid-Wales by the previous Government's proposal. A great deal of time has been lost and a great deal of responsibility lies with those in Mid-Wales who objected to our proposals. That is why I am now proposing to publish speedily my consultative papers dealing with arrangements for the whole of Wales. That is the priority for this Session. That in no way precludes the possibility of creating some further organisation dealing exclusively with Mid-Wales. Let us first set up the development agency and then determine where we should go from there. No one is more mindful than myself of the needs of Mid-Wales.

In view of the increasing cost of going to work, brought about by the petrol increases, what representations is the right hon. and learned Gentleman making to his right hon. Friend?

We are all deeply aware of the high cost of petrol. Every member of the public and every member of the Government is fully aware of that. It is not for me to catalogue the representations, if there are any, which go on between Departments.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that it would be folly on his part and on the part of the Government to impose a similar rural development board, with compulsory powers, on the people of Mid-Wales? He is a Mid-Walian, and I know that he is aware that I am a Mid-Walian. It would be much better if the Government were to prepare a comprehensive policy to safeguard the future of rural areas.

That is what we are doing. We are announcing shortly our proposals for the whole of Wales. I have said before that the proposals for Wales and for Mid-Wales must be both effective and acceptable, and try to get over some of the difficulties of the objectives. But the hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that many people in Mid-Wales bear grave responsibility for the time which has been lost there.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that what is needed is an extension of the activities of the Mid-Wales Development Corporation—for which I was responsible and which has done a remarkable job—to the other Mid-Wales towns?

My right hon. Friend's suggestion will certainly be taken into account in considering legislation, but there may well be differing views on the question whether that would be the right way to proceed. It will be looked at, but I cannot give any indication in advance of the publication of our proposals for the whole of Wales. They come first, and I have indicated what might be further possibilities.

Comprehensive Education


asked the Secretary of State for Wales if he is satisfied with progression towards universal comprehensive secondary education in Wales; and what proportion of Welsh secondary schools are organised in a manner which satisfies criteria laid down by Her Majesty's Government.

Yes. Seventy-six per cent. of maintained secondary schools, providing for 86 per cent. of secondary school pupils in Wales, are organised on comprehensive lines. Local education authorities and teachers are to be commended for this rapid progress towards establishing a fully comprehensive system of secondary education.

Is my hon. Friend aware that I consider that most of the unfortunate 14 per cent. of the secondary school population who are not receiving comprehensive education seem to be in my constituency? Will he ensure that sufficient finance is placed at the disposal of the Gwent County Council to ensure that the necessary expansion of Crosskeys College of Further Education takes place, so that when we embark upon full comprehensive education in that part of my constituency the start will not be blighted by homelessness among these senior schoolchildren?

I take the point. Next Wednesday I am going to Gwent to examine the situation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwelty (Mr. Kinnock) has been a long campaigner on this issue. I remind him and the House that the overriding need at present is to contain public expenditure. This means that only the most pressing school building projects can be programmed, but I hope that I can find some in Gwent on Wednesday.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great depth of feeling aroused in Bangor over the conflicting proposals for the reorganisation of secondary education there? Will he give an assurance that no irrevocable step will be taken without consultation with him?

I am fully aware of the strength of feeling in the Bangor area, so I shall say nothing to antagonise the community at this stage; I merely give an assurance that before a reorganisation scheme comes into being the local education authority of Gwynedd will have to present the scheme to the Welsh Office.

Whilst the hon. Gentleman is progressing with the organisation of comprehensive education at secondary school level, will he indicate what progress is being made towards a comprehensive structure of higher education, and ensure that the reorganisation of present colleges of education and technical colleges will not hinder further development towards full-comprehensive higher education?

That is a strong philosophical point. I take note of what the hon. Gentleman said. However, it includes matters to do with the Department of Education and Science as well as the Welsh Office. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is a very strong, continuing and sympathetic Welsh interest.

Is my hon. Friend aware that many areas are not satisfied with the criteria laid down, that these criteria refer to buildings, and that, very often, the quality of education and the opportunities afforded to youngsters have changed very little in places where the style of education continues as before?

My hon. Friend is making a case for equality of opportunity, which for decades has been a great ideal of the Labour movement. We take full note of that.

Bilingual Road Signs


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what representations he has now received protesting against his decision to give priority to English in bilingual directional signs in Wales.

Since announcing my decision to the House on 10th June 1974, I have received 135 letters of protest.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment stated, on 17th December, in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley) that no attempt had been made to establish the effect of reading speeds on road safety? Is the Secretary of State further aware that this makes nonsense of his requirement that Welsh place names be placed underneath those in English? The English place names are often corrupt forms of the Welsh. Was not the right hon. and learned Gentleman's decision based not on road safety but on political grounds?

I do not know what political grounds the hon. Gentleman has in mind. I take notice that this is the first oral Question tabled by the hon. Gentleman that I am answering since his re-election to the House. It is an odd sense of priorities, when the concern of most of the Welsh people is with jobs and homes.

The letter of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment must be read in the context of Table 5 of the Second Report of the Road Research Laboratory. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has read the report. If so, perhaps he will tell us whether the difference of 137 ft or, perhaps, 100 ft, is a significant factor in safeguarding life over the distances that would be involved in adopting the course he suggests if a car were travelling at 70 mph. No Minister with the slightest sense of responsibility—I speak as a former Minister responsible for safety in the Ministry for Transport—would have taken any other course.

Area Health Authorities


asked the Secretary of State for Wales what plans there are for the allocation of financial resources to area health authorities in Wales.

My right hon. and learned Friend is considering the revenue allocations for 1975–76 and reviewing the capital allocations made last August. Before reaching a final view, he will be meeting area health authority chairmen on 21st February to discuss both their proposals and also the report of the Working Group on Resource Allocations, set up last May.

Will my hon. Friend assure us that what he has in mind would have the effect of making a fair distribution of resources throughout Wales, in terms of the area health authorities? As well as concentrating help on the large base hospitals, will he strengthen the help and give higher priority to the development of health centres, day hospitals, community hospitals, and the like?

I give that assurance. We are aware of the feeling in a number of quarters that the system of resources allocation used hitherto has not led to equitable distribution. That is why my right hon. and learned Friend set up the working group to look into the matter. My hon. Friend would no doubt like to know that the report recommends that in respect of the non-psychiatric hospitals Mid-Glamorgan should have a rate of growth above the average next year.



asked the Secretary of State for Wales what consultations he has had with a view to strengthening Welsh links with Europe.

There are already close links between Wales and Europe in a variety of fields, including the economic. My Department, in particular, maintains regular contact with Brussels, and I see no immediate need for further consultation in these matters.

In view of the comments being aired in some quarters that we should base our policy on strengthening our links mainly or only with the English-speaking world, does not my right hon. and learned Friend think that, in logic, we should set out to strengthen our links with Welsh Patagonia? Or, in common with the rest of us, does he agree that it is nothing more than idiot chauvinism?

If my hon. Friend will put down a Question about strengthening links with Patagonia, I shall answer it.

Civil Service

Career Structure


asked the Minister for the Civil Service what consultations he has had with civil servants' professional associations about the effect of devolution policies on career structure.

There have been preliminary discussions between the official and staff sides of the Civil Service National Whitley Council about the implications for the Civil Service of devolution. The national staff side has been assured that there will be full consultation on this.

What will be the contractual legal position of a civil servant who, having joined the United Kingdom Civil Service, then had pressure put upon him to be a civil servant in a service subject to a Scottish assembly?

As my hon. Friend will accept, there is some difficulty about replying to hypothetical questions, but I assure him that that point will be noted. Perhaps I may assure him, on the general issue, that no decisions in this matter have yet been taken.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there are fears in certain parts of Wales, particularly South Glamorgan, about the Government's determination to pursue a devolution policy, and that they arise from the failure of a nationalised industry to move its regional headquarters to Cardiff, as was announced only this week?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government will make their views known in the debate expected to take place next Monday.



asked the Minister for the Civil Service how many civil servants were redeployed from London to the provinces during the calendar year 1974.

I am afraid that records are not kept on a calendar year basis, but in the year ended 30th September 1974 nearly 1,500 Civil Service jobs were dispersed from London, although in many cases the staff concerned did not move with their jobs, which have been filled by local recruitment. The figure of 1,500 does not include posts set up in new organisations established outside London under Government office location policies.

I welcome that reply as far as it goes. However, is my hon. Friend aware that in Yorkshire and Humberside, and particularly in Sheffield, we are anxious that this process should be speeded up and that, in particular, we should like a decision on the location of the Health and Safety Commission and the prospect of recruiting Inland Revenue staff and locating them in Sheffield?

I assure my hon. Friend that the point he has made endorses the contribution made during Questions on 2nd December last year and that it has been noted by my Department. Consideration is still being given to the location of the Health and Safety Commission and what my hon. Friend has said will be taken into account.

Does the Minister include in his use of the term "provinces" the countries of Scotland and Wales?

Government policies for dispersal in Scotland and Wales have already been announced. Due regard is paid to all geographical areas of the country.

Does my hon. Friend accept that recent salary awards to top civil servants, most of them centred in London, have caused great anxiety and concern in the Labour movement and among ordinary people? Will he assure the House that before any such vast sums are awarded again, the awards will be discussed in the House, so that we may debate the matter rather than be faced with a fait accompli?

I think that my hon. Friend will accept that his supplementary question goes somewhat wide of the Question.

Government Advertising


asked the Minister for the Civil Service if he will ensure that Government advertising avoids matter likely to prejudice friendly relations with other countries.

The content of Government advertising is the responsibility of the Minister concerned.

Will my hon. Friend have a word with the Secretary of State for Defence about the kind of advertisement that appeared in the Daily Express on 14th January—incidentally, costing f6,750—aimed at recruiting Army officers, having a cold war character and clearly aimed at war preparations with Russia? Was it not very unfortunate that that advertisement should have appeared on the very day that the Prime Minister announced his intention of visiting Russia to improve trading and other peaceful relations with that country?

I shall certainly accept my hon. Friend's invitation to bring his comments on the advertisement to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. However, I cannot accept that the advertisement itself was in any way part of what has been interpreted as a cold war campaign. That was certainly not the intention of the advertisement itself. I am informed that this advertisement was designed to provoke thought in the minds of potential recruits, and my hon. Friend will be encouraged to learn that it has had precisely that effect. He will, perhaps, be encouraged to learn that the quality of recruits forthcoming now is considered to be infinitely better than previously.



asked the Lord President of the Council what progress he has made in working out the machinery by which a national referendum may be conducted.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

I would refer the hon. Gentleman to the statement made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Thursday 23rd January.

Does the Lord President accept that, having proposed such a constitutional innovation, there is a particular obligation upon him to ensure that the procedures and provisions of his referendum do the minimum possible damage to the House of Commons and the free exercise of judgment by its Members? To that end, will he give serious weight to the argument that, whereas the purpose of a General Election is to choose representatives here of particular constituencies, the purpose of a national referendum is to produce a national result? Will he arrange for the votes to be counted accordingly?

The Labour Party put this proposal in its manifesto and we won the General Election. The method of counting the votes is a very controversial matter. There are three points of view, and we shall certainly put in the White Paper the various courses and our proposals.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are many of us on the Government side of the House who, while not particularly hostile to the Common Market, have never particularly opposed a referendum? Will he bear in mind that those who support the Common Market do a great disservice to their cause if they get particularly anxious about having a referendum? Is he aware that many of us on the Government side of the House, on both sides of the issue, pay tribute to the Lord President for the way in which he has tried to organise a referendum which is fair to all?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend. We are working out our proposals. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, we intend to publish a White Paper—I hope towards the end of next month—and to have a debate in the House.

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether in the formulation of the question or questions to be answered there will be any reference to the treaty obligations incurred?

It is much too early to say. Certainly the question will be part of the legislation, and the White Paper itself will discuss the question.

Will my right hon. Friend say whether members of another place and the Royal Family will be allowed to vote in this national referendum?

I think it would be fair for members of another place to be given a vote on this occasion. After all, they are on the local government voters' list.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that not everyone in the House will agree that the Prime Minister made everything absolutely clear last week? Is he further aware that, in so far as anyone feels any sympathy for anybody on this subject, it is directed to the parliamentary draftsmen, who will have an almost intolerably difficult task?

I am sure that the general opinion of the House is that the Prime Minister shed a great deal of light on a unique and novel proposal. Certainly the parliamentary draftsmen are not going to have an easy task, but the legislation itself will not be all that complicated, or too long.

House Of Commons

Members' Interests


asked the Lord President of the Council whether he will introduce legislation to make it obligatory for Members of Parliament when elected to give up all other forms of paid employment.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we get legislation dealing with the publication of a register of Members' interests it will disclose, one assumes, a large number of Members of Parliament, mainly on the Tory side of the House, who have accrued a number of directorships of one kind or another? Does he not feel that the public at large would look more favourably upon the demands of Members of Parliament for increased pay if it were not for the fact that they see from time to time, as instanced in the Stonehouse case, that some Members of Parliament are able to pick up all these sundry directorships after they have been elected to Parliament?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to refer to a right hon. Member of this House as "Stone-house"? Should the hon. Member not say "the right hon. Member for Walsall, North"?

I think it would be better not to refer to the right hon. Member by name. The hon. Member did say "the Stonehouse case".

Will the Lord President answer the most intriguing question, namely, why it is that 100 Members of a Government, no matter which political party is in power, have to get rid of all these so-called other forms of paid employment—or they are supposed to—while for some unknown reason that ruling does not apply to back-bench Members?

The Select Committee considering the registration of Members' interests reported on 8th January. The Government are still considering the report. I very much hope to bring our proposals to the House before too long. On the second point, when a Member is elected and becomes a Minister there is a clear need to ensure that any decisions he takes will not conflict with any interests he may have outside.

Would not the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) carry more weight if hon. Members enjoyed security of tenure?

Ten Minutes Rule Bills


asked the Lord President of the Council if he will refer the working of the Ten Minutes Rule Bill procedure to the Select Committee on Procedure.

The Procedure Committee has a considerable remit to deal with at present, but I have noted my hon. Friend's suggestion for the future.

Does my right hon. Friend have any tinge of sympathy or good will towards those of us who queued from 4 o'clock in the morning of Thursday 11th December to get a Ten Minutes Rule Bill? Does he not think that, if this procedure is not simply to be posturing and propagandist, there ought to be some chance for hon. Members at least to have a serious discussion in Committee on the subjects that they raise? In particular, will he look with a kindly eye upon the interests of those 2,000-or-so families, one of whose members is waiting for a kidney, and give some help to my Transplant of Humans Organs Bill?

I have a great deal of sympathy for my hon. Friend and applaud his diligence in queuing from 4 o'clock in the morning. There are two categories of Private Member's Bill—Ballot Bills and Ten Minutes Rule Bills. Occasionally a Ten Minutes Rule Bill makes it, and become law, but that applies to only a very few. I would be prepared to consider this point and see whether we can refer the procedure to the Select Committee when it has finished its present remit.

Ministerial Statements


asked the Lord President of the Council if, in the light of recent objections to the practice of arranged Parliamentary Questions, he will now reconsider his attitude to the proposal of the Procedure Committee in the Parliament before last that Ministers should be able to make written statements in the Official Report in cases when an oral statement is inappropriate.

I am not aware of any general dissatisfaction with the long-standing arrangements for Ministers to make written reports to the House in response to Questions. A system of written ministerial statements would have disadvantages for the House as well as advantages. I think that if it is to be pursued we should ask the Procedure Committee to look at it again.

Will the Lord President acknowledge that the Procedure Committee, in the 1970–74 Session of Parliament, looked at this very thoroughly, took evidence on the subject, and recommended that this proposal should be accepted? Does he recognise that there are more and more occasions when Ministers have to make statements but there is no time at 3.30 p.m. for an oral statement? It is unsatisfactory that hon. Members should have to sift through Written Answers trying to distinguish between that information which is being provided because someone has asked for it and that information which is being provided because the Minister feels an obligation to supply it. Since this is merely an extension of the practice we have of distinguishing between oral Questions and oral statements, may I ask how long it will be before the House does the sensible thing and allows Ministers to put these statements where we can readily find them?

I recognise that there is a problem. I recollect the difficulty which arose about this before Christmas. There is also a reluctance on the part of many Members to allow Ministers or hon. Members to write anything into Hansard which is unrelated to Questions. However, I feel that it would be worth while again referring this matter to the Select Committee on Procedure and allowing it to look at the issue.

While the right hon. Gentleman is thinking about this, will he bring his mind to bear on the allied question which will arise concerning Questions, Answers and statements? In the light of the Prime Minister's statement last Thursday and the ending of the doctrine of collective responsibility, how will hon. Members know, when they receive an answer—oral or written—whether it represents the collective view of the Government or the view of the Minister concerned? This is a serious point, in that in many cases decisions of all sorts are taken in the light of answers to parliamentary Questions. How shall we know? Will there be a special mark on the Order Paper, or a special statement with each Question and Answer?

Questions to the Prime Minister are another matter. The doctrine of collective responsibility is completely unimpaired.—[Interruption.] All we are doing is following a precedent of 43 years ago.

Has my right hon. Friend within his Department a medical practitioner who could give attention to the bile duct of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit), in view of the repeated difficulty he appears to have in this House with that organ? Will he accept that the difficulty associated with written statements is not that they are not distinguishable from Written Answers but is to do with the fact that they sometimes appear on the last day of the Session, before we go into recess, and concern important matters?

Fortunately, I am not responsible for the human organs of the hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit). As to the second part of my hon. Friend's question, there is always a problem immediately before a recess. The Government have many announcements to make. It is always a matter for question whether they are made in the House orally or by a written statement, or by a statement outside the House. All Governments have experienced this piling up of statements immediately before a recess. It is a difficult problem.

Knowing how willing the right hon. Member is to respond to any suggestions from the Tory side of the House, may I express the hope that he will look at this matter again? There ought to be some way whereby Ministers can distinguish from other information the answers that they are volunteering. For instance, this afternoon a very important statement on housing is being made in the guise of an answer to a Written Question. This is undesirable.

Turning now to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) about Cabinet solidarity, it is difficult to believe that all the answers given by the Secretary of State for Trade command the total agreement of every Member of the Cabinet. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to exercise his ingenuity and consider this.

I have already replied to the latter part of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I realise that there is a problem about statements. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to complain if we had too many oral statements at the beginning of each day's business. They take up a great deal of time. It is a matter of deciding as best we can. These matters come to me for decision. I must bear responsibility for them. I try to hold the balance between written and oral statements to prevent the business of the House being unduly delayed by oral statements.

Welsh Assembly


asked the Lord President of the Council what is the Government's timetable for the establishment of a Welsh assembly.

It is too soon to give a firm answer to this Question, but I can assure the House that we are proceeding as quickly as possible with this very complex issue. The House will, of course, have a full opportunity to debate devolution next week.

As the Lord President assures us that matters are proceeding quickly, and that he expects the establishment of assemblies for Scotland and Wales within a few years, will he tell the House whether any preparatory work is being done in Wales in the matters, for instance, of communications between the North and South, which are very poor; of a home for the assembly; and, especially, of developing a Civil Service which can take over the necessary work?

An enormous amount of preparatory work is being done in London and Wales. The question of a home for the assembly is one of the matters being dealt with at present, but it is much too early to give the whole timetable. The hon. Gentleman will be the first to agree that we must get this matter right, and that it is much better to get it right than to do it very quickly and perhaps not get it right. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will bear with us and will perhaps put his point of view more fully in next week's two-day debate.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that devolution is not a subject which is constantly on the lips of our people in the pubs, clubs and chapels of Wales, and that if it must come at all they would rather have it done correctly than speedily?

Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to his fellow members of the Cabinet the feeling adverted to by the Secretary of State earlier today about resentment in Wales at the growth of bureaucracy and centralised local government organs? An enormous increase in the expense of local government and the imposition of what is virtually, according to the Government's proposals, only a glorified county council will be very unwelcome in Wales.

The assembly will be a great deal more than a glorified county council. It will be a question not of taking powers from the existing council structure but of real devolution of power from Westminster.

Questions To Ministers

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. As it has been impossible to deal with all the Welsh Questions tabled today, and as several hon. Members did not have time to put supplementary questions, will it be possible to devote an hour to Welsh Questions between 2.30 and 3.30 so that they are not again interrupted at 3.10 and 3.20, as happened today?

That is not a matter for me, but no doubt it will be noted by those with responsibility for it.

Mv "Lovat" (Loss)

With the permission of the House, I should like to make a statement.

As the House will know, the British cargo ship "Lovat" foundered in heavy seas 30 miles south of Penzance early on Saturday morning. It is with distress that I have to report that only two of the crew of 13 survived. I am sure the House will wish to join me in sending heartfelt sympathy to the relatives and friends of those who lost their lives in this tragedy and in wishing the survivors a speedy recovery.

It has been customary for Ministers to await the outcome of a preliminary inquiry before deciding what further action to take. But I should like the House to know at once that in this case immediately after the event I decided to ask for a public formal investigation to be held before a wreck commissioner appointed by the Lord Chancellor. In order to gather facts for the formal investigation it is necessary for a preliminary inquiry to be held; that inquiry has already begun and will proceed with the greatest expedition.

The inquiries will fully investigate all aspects of the tragedy, including the shift of cargo, the adequacy and use of the life-saving equipment and the search and rescue operation.

I am sure that the House would wish me to pay tribute to the helicopter crews, the lifeboatmen and others engaged in the search and rescue operation, which took place in the most appalling weather conditions.

The whole House will wish to join in the hon. Gentleman's expression of sympathy for the bereaved and for all those who suffered as a result of this tragedy, and will endorse his tribute to the courage and devotion to duty shown by the rescue services. No one who has been in a small ship in winds above force 8 will underestimate the dangers and difficulties involved when things go wrong on board or the problems of attempting rescue. It would seem appropriate for a full public inquiry to be held and for the House to await its report before drawing final conclusions. None the less, I should like to put two questions to the hon. Gentleman which his inquiries so far should enable him to answer.

First, will the hon. Gentleman tell the House whether shifting boards were fitted to the vessel, and, if so, whether they had been fitted for this voyage or earlier? Had his Department recommended their use or inspected them before the "Lovat" sailed?

Secondly, since it appears from reports that the davits which were fitted were inadequate to launch the lifeboats, is the hon. Gentleman satisfied that the design was the best possible, and, if the boats could not be launched, was the alternative equipment, particularly the liferafts, adequate to bear all those who were on board?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his initial observations. His two questions raise matters which fall within the scope of the inquiry, and I am inhibited about making comments on the adequacy of the apparatus on the vessel. However, the vessel was surveyed relatively recently, in 1974, and it passed that survey. It therefore follows that the equipment which was fitted appeared to be satisfactory then.

The alternative life-saving equipment complied with the IMCO requirements. There was a sufficiency of lifeboats and a sufficiency of liferafts. Therefore, without wishing in any way to prejudice the inquiry, one can say that the equipment on board appeared to be satisfactory and adequate.

My hon. Friend has acted with commendable speed. Is he aware that there is considerable concern in the Swansea area, from which the ship in question sailed? Two Swansea men on it were drowned. It is said that the skipper of another vessel, the "Heemskirk", refused to take the load, recognising that a combination of fine anthracite dust and water leads to a very unstable load? Will my hon. Friend ensure that this matter is fully investigated?

I can assure my hon. Friend that that matter falls within the scope of the inquiry and that it will be formally investigated.

My colleagues and I on the Liberal bench would like to associate ourselves with the expressions of sympathy to the next-of-kin and express our admiration for those who tried to save the men's lives. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the great distress which must have been caused to next-of-kin by the televised interview with the helicopter crew, who described their failure in carrying out the attempted rescue? Does he think that it is very bad to let interviews of this sort take place before the next-of-kin have been informed?

I have a good deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said. It is impossible for me to determine how a television interview will be conducted. One hopes that a certain amount of sensitivity will enter into these matters. I hope that the point raised by the hon. Gentleman will be noted where it matters.

Is my hon. Friend in a position to say whether the recommendations for the loading of cargoes such as coal are governed by marine notice regulations or by statute law? Is he satisfied with the co-ordination of the air-sea rescue operation?

The question is covered by marine notices, but such notices are of an advisory nature. My hon. Friend will know of the concern which I have already expressed about the failure to adhere to M notice requirements from time to time, although I am making no comment about this specific issue. Therefore, several months ago I authorised work to be undertaken in my Department to determine which M notices should have the force of law. This work is proceeding satisfactorily. However, additional legislation will be required, and I cannot say that it will be achieved in this Session.

My hon. Friend's question about the co-ordination of the rescue services impinges on the nature of the inquiry that will have to be undertaken. We constantly keep in mind the changing requirements. We try to ensure that the rescue services co-ordinate properly, but it is a matter for the formal inquiry to determine whether they were co-ordinating satisfactorily in this instance.

Although the vessel apparently passed its marine survey as recently as 1974, is the Minister absolutely satisfied about the way in which marine surveys are carried out, or does he think that some expansion of the system or an increased number of personnel are necessary? Is he satisfied that the IMCO regulations and the United Kingdom regulations as to the safety of lifeboats are entirely satisfactory? If not, will he bring forward either legislation or regulations?

The hon. Gentleman should know that when dealing with matters of this nature it would be dangerous to say that one is entirely satisfied. These matters are kept constantly under scrutiny and will continue to be kept under scrutiny. It would not be proper for me to make any comment upon the survey undertaken in this case beyond that which I have already made to the House.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that there might be some need for increased personnel to carry out surveying requirements, but I understand that under the administration which he served and in the Department for which he was responsible there was some decrease in the number of personnel required for that purpose.

As to the IMCO regulations, IMCO—as we do—constantly keeps these matters under surveillance. If there are lessons to be drawn from this and other unfortunate mishaps at sea, both we and IMCO will take those lessons to heart.

I do not wish to ask the Minister to comment in advance of the inquiry, but will he answer a factual question? How many liferafts were aboard the ship?

There was one liferaft on the ship, which was wholly consistent with the IMCO requirements.

May I associate myself with the expressions of sympathy to the families of the crew members and of congratulations to those who took part in the rescue?

Where Sea King helicopters are available in any given area, will the Minister consider whether they should be placed on standby at any time when the forecast winds in the locality exceed gale force 8?

Secondly, is the Minister satisfied with the arrangements which were made yesterday for the search for the Grimsby trawler "Morena"? It appears to have taken 18 hours to get the search and rescue under way. Is he inquiring into that?

Finally, is the Minister aware that a large number of coastguard stations around our shores are incapable of getting a DF bearing on a distress signal? I am sure that that is not a related factor in this case, but will he consider that deficiency and remedy it as soon as possible?

I will certainly take into account what the hon. Gentleman said about Sea Kings. We co-ordinate very effectively, by and large, with the Ministry of Defence in this sort of situation, as I think the hon. Gentleman will agree. Nevertheless, the point made by the hon. Gentleman is worthy of consideration, and I undertake that it will be dealt with.

The "Morena" is an entirely different matter. But, subject to your permission, Mr. Speaker, I am able to make a short statement about it in response to the hon. Gentleman's inquiry. The first report of the concern which was felt for the Grimsby fishing vessel "Morena" was made to coastguards at 9.50 a.m. on Sunday 26th January, but the position given was inaccurate. During the morning a link call was made by the coast radio station to the vessel but without response. Another position of the vessel was passed to the coastguard, and confirmation of the most likely position was not given until 1300 hours.

The PAN broadcast was then begun, contact was made with the Services Northern Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Pitreavie and a request for an aircraft search was made at 14.37 hours, but by then there was too little daylight to allow a search by a Nimrod aircraft to be undertaken that day. The search was begun at first light today.

The factors taken into account in not asking for an aircraft search earlier were uncertainty regarding the vessel's position and the fact that about 20 vessels were already searching for it. There have been reports of this kind about once a month recently owing to radio equipment aboard fishing vessels not functioning. In the event of the vessel being lost, a preliminary inquiry into the casualty will be ordered. I shall, of course, keep the House informed of the situation.

The Minister will be aware that it has been reported in the Press that the helicopter winch line was severed. In all the tens of thousands of successful rescues carried out by helicopter units I do not recall a previous incident of that kind. Will that matter be included in the terms of the inquiry? If not, perhaps the Royal Air Force might be asked whether in such appalling conditions anything might be done to improve the situation?

Quite apart from the circumstances here, a great deal of information has become available—and further information will no doubt become available as a result of the inquiries—about what safety equipment is required in these appalling conditions. Even on safety equipment which complies fully with existing regulations a certain amount of research is required. The lifelines for crews in non-commercial vessels are an example. Is the Minister able to consult firms which manufacture this equipment and discuss with them how the quality can be improved, and, where small sums are required, will he look favourably upon the provision of those small sums?

I will certainly give the matter raised in the last part of the question most careful consideration. My Department considers carefully with the manufacturers of safety equipment its reliability under pressure. Nevertheless, the right hon. Gentleman has made a useful suggestion which I shall take fully into account.

The right hon. Gentleman's question on the winch line will fall within the ambit of the inquiry. In this instance it is a matter for the Royal Navy, and I will consider the matter with the Ministry of Defence because both the RAF and the Royal Navy could be involved in such a situation.

Farriers (Registration) Bill

Before calling the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) to raise a point of order, I should inform the House that I have carefully read the Official Report of Friday's proceedings, and I have also discussed the matter with the Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. The hon. Member must confine himself to the point: what has this to do with the Chair?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like to ask whether you are in a position to give a ruling, as was requested in a number of points of order raised after the Division on Friday on the Farriers (Registration) Bill.

I ask this not just because I feel aggrieved personally, but because this is a matter of principle which could affect any private Member in trying to introduce non-controversial and non-party legislation. When the Government of the day behave in the way they did, when a Minister stands up to speak and recommends that the House should vote against a Bill, when the Government put Tellers in the Lobby and the Minister then does not vote after having earlier recommended that a vote should be taken, when the Government Front Bench contains at least 10 Members who, by implication, are against the Bill, and when the Government Whips go so far as to restrain one of their own Ministers from trying to vote on the Bill—arc those not matters which represent a gross abuse of procedure of the House?

Whatever it may be, it is not a matter for the Chair. Nothing happened that was out of order. I can deal only with matters that were out of order.

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Edward Short)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was not here on Friday—I was with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Canterbury—but I have inquired carefully into what happened. May I at once say that I have a great deal of sympathy with the hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates). Nevertheless, the Government did not vote against the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman had done what many other hon. Members have done over the years in this House—namely, ensured that he had a quorum—he would have got his Bill through without difficulty. However, there are a number of other opportunities left in this Session, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have better luck next time.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We appreciate that your responsibility is limited, but I very much support what my hon. Friend the Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) said about what happened on Friday. [An HON. MEMBER: "You were not here."] I was not here, but I read what happened. The onus surely is on the Government to find a satisfactory solution to the situation. If they do not do something about it we shall want to look at this matter on another occasion.

We have a very important debate to come, and I do not want to delay it. There are very many speakers on my list.

The matter raised by the hon. Member for Petersfield is a procedural point and I would have no objection to the Procedure Committee looking into it. However, I should like to know how any of the matters referred to so far, are suggested to me to have been out of order.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was present on Friday and raised this matter then. May I refer to the occasion when the Hare Coursing Bill was subject to a bit of manipulation in the House which Mr. Speaker ruled out of order? What happened then was that Tellers were put in who did not put their votes and their voices together. We now have a roughly similar situation since the Government could have allowed the Bill to go through unopposed. After the Minister decided that the matter should be voted upon, the Government decided not to vote. I sug- gest that that constitutes a gross abuse of the procedure of the House.

There is no compulsion on hon. Members to vote even though they shout "No".

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you consider referring one matter to the Procedure Committee—a point which was raised on Friday when I was in the House? If objection is taken to the manner in which a Division is called, it has to be made before the result of the Division is declared. On Friday it was difficult for my hon. Friend the Member for Peters-field (Mr. Mates) and the other promoters in the "Aye" Lobby to know what had transpired and to take objection before the result of the Division was declared. I should be grateful if you would consider that matter and refer it to the Procedure Committee.

So far as concerns the point that arose on Friday, it was directed to whether a Member's vote should follow his voice. It is only that limited point, which has to be raised before the figures are given to the Chair to announce.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to prolong this matter, which is procedural, but there is one important point which should be referred to the Procedure Committee and on which we should have the benefit of your advice. On Friday, as the right hon. Gentleman the Lord President has fairly said, hon. Members often need to decide which of a number of official engagements they should attend. I am a principal sponsor of the Bill in question and I had to consider whether I should attend the House on Friday or an official engagement as representative of an organisation of the House. I elected to go elsewhere simply because I had ascertained, having read the Second Reading debate in another place, that the Government had put on record the fact that they were in favour of the Bill. If the Government change their mind between the passage of a Bill in another place and the House of Commons, should not hon. Members have some way of knowing from the Order Paper what the situation is likely to be to assist them in their difficult decision as to whether their presence in the House is more important than their presence elsewhere?

Again I have some sympathy with the lion. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Griffiths). No doubt it was precisely because of that kind of contingency that the figure was put as low as 40.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I assure the House that on my part there was no manoeuvring or deviousness about what happened on Friday. It was only the Monday before that that the Legislation Committee of the Government decided what to do about a private Member's Bill—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] The hon. Member for Petersfield (Mr. Mates) made no attempt to contact me concerning the Government's attitude. I did not attempt to contact him about any decision the Government might take. I can assure the House that on Friday nothing was done which went in any way against the procedure of the House.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of what the Minister said, is it not fair to the House that she should now explain what the Legislation Committee is in such matters? I have never heard it discussed before. Could she explain to the House the considerations which led the Legislation Committee last Monday to overthrow the considerations which the Government put forward in the Upper House when the matter was discussed there? Surely the Leader of the House will ensure that the minutes of the Legislation Committee are published. Since there has been reference to them, is it not incumbent upon the Government to lay them on the Table? Why wait for another three years until they are published by one of the hon. Lady's colleagues in the Cabinet?

I certainly cannot allow the hon. Lady to answer that question. The debate on education has not yet started.

Welsh Affairs


That the matter of the Environment in Wales, being a matter relating exclusively to Wales, be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for their consideration.—[Mr. John Ellis.]

Orders Of The Day


[8th ALLOTTED DAY]— considered.

Education (Standards)

3.58 p.m.

I beg to move,

That the salaries of the Secretary of State for Education and Science and of the Secretary of State for Scotland should each be reduced by the sum of £1,000.
I emphasise that that is £1,000 each.

The paradox we face as we open this debate today is that at a time when we have never spent so much on our education system—nearly £4,000 million a year and rising—never has dissatisfaction with the system been so widespread.

It is right that we should discount the sensationalism in which certain sections of the Press indulge, and we must also discount the fact that for some journalists the only news is bad news. But when that has been said, the body of evidence that violence and indiscipline in many of our schools is increasing, is undoubtedly weighty and growing. Parental fears about declining standards are both genuine and profound. That is why the Opposition have decided to devote a Supply Day to the question of standards of learning and discipline in education, so that we can show parents throughout the country that at least we in the Opposition are aware of what is going on, that we know what parents think, and that we have constructive ideas to put forward by which to improve the situation.

Our charge against the Government—this is why we shall divide the House tonight—is that, in face of this anxiety and concern, they have shown an indifference and a complacency which are both astonishing and inexcusable. It is typical of the lethargy which seems to have gripped the Department since the departure of my right hon. Friend the dynamic Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher).

Month follows month in the Department with decisions of major importance postponed. One example is the Hodges Report on school transport which was published in October 1973. We have still not received a decision as to the Government's policy, nor have we received any indication of the Government's views on that extremely important report.

The Russell Report on adult education has been waiting now for over two years. We still have no decisions save the incidental one on the implementation of its recommendations. Even a minor issue such as allowing children to leave school before they are 16 but after the date of their final examination remains unresolved after a year of discussion.

The Department of Education has never been noted for its power to exceed the speed limit, unlike some of its Ministers. However, since the arrival of the present Secretary of State a real paralysis seems to have set in. We complain not only of indifference and complacency but of false optimism as well. We are continually being told that, for example, the problems caused by the raising of the school leaving age will get better, but it is just as likely that if nothing is done they will, in all probability, get worse.

To the general charge of complacency and lack of urgency we add particular indictments. First, the Secretary of State has totally failed to initiate the research and the inquiries which are needed if the questions asked by parents and others in the education world are to be answered. The Department is well equipped to answer a number of questions, but if it does not answer the questions which are being asked, we are no better off.

The Secretary of State has also failed to put forward any positive proposals for improving education standards or preserving those that have been achieved. I sometimes think that the Labour Party has not had a new idea on schools for a quarter of a century.

Thirdly, by issuing within a few weeks of coming into office the doctrinaire circular 474, the right hon. Gentleman has succeeded in diverting the energies of his Department and the whole trend of education discussion back into the sterile conflict between comprehensive and grammar schools. We have taken up this challenge, and we shall continue to use every means at our disposal to encourage those threatened to stand by the rule of law and to resist the bluster and the bullying to which they have been subject. However, the responsibility for this conflict rests not with us but with the Secretary of State, who, never slow to counsel moderation to his colleagues, is remarkably reluctant to put moderate policies into force in his own Department, the one sphere in which he has full responsibility.

To sum up our criticism of the Secretary of State I cannot do better than use some of the words of the Prayer Book: he has done those things which he ought not to have done and he has left undone those things which he ought to have done, and the casualty has been the education system and the millions of children dependent on it.

I wish to analyse at this point some of the problems which are facing our schools. The first, which I pick because parents are so concerned about it, is the problem of violence and indiscipline in the schools. There is no room for doubt that both violence and indiscipline have increased in recent years. I do not say that it is wholly the fault of the system or of the Department. The ultimate cause clearly lies in society, which has grown more violent. However, the evidence for the deterioration in the schools is very strong, if not overwhelming.

I refer first to the authoritative report of the National Association of Schoolmasters, which was carried out by Dr. Lowenstein, the senior educational psychologist of Hampshire, in 1972. In that report he records nearly 6,000 recent acts of violence in secondary schools and 788 in primary schools. There is more violence in the deprived and underprivileged areas than in the more prosperous ones, and the incidence is greater in the secondary than in the primary schools. The highest incidence of cases seems to be in the 13–14 years age group.

On 23rd July 1974 the Under-Secretary of State gave us statistics of reported violent incidents for 1971 as numbering over 2,000, and threats of violence as nearly 1,000. No doubt many other incidents were not reported.

Truancy is also an increasingly grave problem. So great has been the concern amongst parents and others about this problem that the Minister carried out a survey of middle and secondary schools in January 1974. It showed that there was an absence rate of nearly 10 per cent., one quarter of those absences being without legitimate reason. The highest incidence, in the age group of 1516 years, rose to 4.8 per cent. It is widely agreed that, although that is a serious report, it grossly underestimates the actual rate of truancy. That point was made forcefully by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) in June. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend has direct experience of being a headmaster of a school. He therefore speaks with great authority on that matter—with more authority than Government Front Bench Members or most Government back-bench Members.

The police in Lambeth in the first quarter of 1974 estimated that one third of all secondary children in the division were playing truant. On one 12-day truancy sweep in May 1974 the police in Lambeth returned 734 children to 30 schools. Of those children, 538 complained that discipline was so bad at school that they could learn nothing there. Discipline, after all, not only has a value for teachers and parents. Its highest value is for the children, because children cannot learn unless there is a framework of order in which they can pursue their studies.

I turn to the question of illiteracy. Such figures as we have are greatly disturbing. In May 1974 the British Association of Settlements claimed that there were more than 2 million illiterate adults and that the numbers of young people unable to read or write on leaving school were increasing the total by 7 per cent. each year. Even more alarming was the estimate made by Dr. Joyce Morris at the North of England Educational Conference. She is one of the leading authorities on teaching reading in schools. She made the estimate that 30 per cent. of the new pupils coming to comprehensive schools required special reading instruction. She gave some clear warnings against some of the nostrums being peddled by educational psychologists which are intended to make matters better but, in fact, make matters worse.

In addition, there is a huge illiteracy problem among immigrants. A report early in December estimated that in Birmingham 60 per cent. of the Asian children could not read English at the age of 11. Even more recently, the report of the Associated Examining Board, published last week, showed that last year spelling and accuracy among candidates had got noticeably worse.

All this evidence is against the background of the report of the National Foundation for Educational Research in 1972 on trends of reading standards, which showed that for 20 years after the war educational standards had improved but that they had subsequently declined. Leaving aside the question whether standards have declined and to what degree, why, when so much money has been spent on education and so much effort has gone into the education service, have standards of literacy not dramatically improved?

There is a great deal of evidence to which one could refer, but I think I have quoted enough to show that, although it would be an exaggeration to say that the situation was desperate, it is no exaggeration to say that the situation is grave and fully justifies the anxieties felt by many in the education world.

As an Opposition, we have been putting forward for 12 months constructive proposals to deal with this crisis, and we shall continue to do so. Our first proposal is that national standards should once again be set for reading, writing and mathematics, which were abolished by the Labour Government in 1966. I am certainly not, and never have been, a supporter of the 11-plus, but one of the beneficial side-effects of that examination was that it provided a goal for primary schools to seek to achieve and it gave indications of what had been achieved at the end of the course.

We believe that Her Majesty's Inspectorate should be strengthened to carry out these tests. This would provide a basis for what is essential—the monitoring of the entire education system, so that we can have more facts and fewer opinions.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that when I first came to the House, after 12 years in the classroom, I asked his right hon. Friend to initiate inquiries into the standard of attendance of children leaving school who were not taking public examination? The right hon. Lady, three or four years ago, refused to do so. Why did she do that?

That question must be addressed to my right hon. Friend, not to me. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has had to wait so long, but I think that he should be satisfied that I have now come around to his point of view, rather than expressing regrets that my right hon. Friend in her day failed to do so.

Our second major proposal—

Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point—

There is a problem with regard to a national test in reading, writing or arithmetic. That is the danger of teaching to the test. It is possible for a teacher in a secondary school to find that primary school children know a series of words that they have learned by "barking at print". Is there not the same great danger in mechanical arithmetic tests—I notice that today the hon. Gentleman specified mathematics, but his manifesto specified arithmetic—that we may start to teach to tests?

I agree that there is always a balance to be struck between a system of tests which can be too rigid and a system of teaching which can be too flexible. I would merely suggest that at the moment the balance has swung too far in the direction of flexibility and that we need to push the pendulum back a little towards discipline and structure.

Our second main proposal is a moratorium on the comprehensive-grammar school battle. That is why we asked in our manifesto, and I ask again today, that the Secretary of State should appoint an impartial inquiry into the achievements and the shortcomings of comprehensive schools. There is nothing derogative or prejudicial in proposing such an inquiry. [AN HON. MEMBER: Yes, there is."] It cannot be so. If the inquiry is impartial and thorough it will surely produce facts about the comprehensive schools and provide the basis of information upon which we can make an evaluation. There is a whole range of authoritative questions to which everyone interested in education needs answers.

The essence of our position on the comprehensive schools is that, until we get that evidence, it is premature and irresponsible to insist that only one type of school should be provided for every type of child. May I put to the right hon. Gentleman some of the questions to which, if there were an inquiry, we should all be able to address ourselves in a more informed way than is possible without the evidence that it would incorporate?

First, there is the vital question of mixed ability classes, which are presumably made up of slow children, average children and bright children. We simply do not know what the effects of teaching in these classes are on those three groups. We are particularly concerned about the especially bright child. There was a letter in The Guardian this month from a school teacher in Canada criticising the Canadian system because, she said, the child at the upper or middle end of the ability scale was for the most part seriously neglected. That is evidence which we should take seriously.

I suspect that the value of mixed ability teaching depends very much on the teacher, whether that teacher has been qualified and trained to teach that kind of class. It is only that sort of teacher who can get the best out of a mixed ability grouping. But it is vital not only for the future of education but for the future of the country to know what special arrangements need to be made, especially for the specially gifted child, and how that child can be adequately taught in a mixed ability situation.

We need to investigate also the extent and the desirability of selection within the comprehensive school. It is another unfortunate side effect of the Secretary of State's policy that all the discussion of selection is centering on the grammar versus comprehensive controversy. Of equal and perhaps greater importance is: what is going on inside the comprehensive school in terms of selection—what is going on about streaming, what is the signify- cance of sets and how much banding is taking place? Last year I asked the leader of the opposition on the ILEA to put down a question on this point. The leader of the authority replied that, first of all, it had never been asked before and, second, that no information of any kind was available.

Third, we want to evaluate different types of comprehensive school—the 11–18 all-through schools, the middle schools, the 11–16 schools and the sixth form colleges—to know which is the best type and how they are faring. We want to go in depth into the question of size of schools so that we can find a way out of this real dilemma of the comprehensive school—how to steer a course between a school so large that it is impersonal and makes it impossible for pupils and teachers to identify with it and a school which is so small that it does not provide a wide range of courses. We have seen this problem in ILEA, which has made this extraordinary volte face of moving from the doctrine of the large school, which it has preached for a decade, to advocacy of smaller schools and what have been called "mini-comprehensives".

We need also a comparative study of merits of comprehensive and selective schools in terms of the results. We have some evidence, but we have not got anything authoritative and definitive. The Pedley-Sim-Caroline Benn research, I think it is agreed, is statistically worthless. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Hon. Members express surprise, but the Pedley statistics, which are really the only statistics on this matter, have been very heavily criticised by statistical experts. They covered only 67 out of 745 comprehensive schools in 1968. Of these, only 73 per cent. returned the questionnaires, and the ILEA schools were totally excluded. In the figures to compare O-levels between the maintained section other than the comprehensive schools and the comprehensive schools, Mr. Pedley omitted all Grade I CSE results from the material concerning maintained schools and making them comprehensive. Thus he produced results which showed that those obtaining one or more O-levels in the maintained schools amounted to 32·4 per cent., and in the comprehensive schools the figure was 39·4 per cent. But if the figures are corrected to the right basis, one finds that the figures for the maintained schools rise to 42 per cent. and the comprehensive school figure remained at 39·4 per cent.

I do not say that one can attach decisive importance to any one set of figures. The Sheffield figures, for example, are incomplete and we cannot place reliance on them. The Manchester figures are interesting. The county schools were reorganised in 1967 and the RC schools were not. The figures show that in the intervening seven years the unreorganised Roman Catholic schools, the grammar and modern schools combined, improved and overtook those schools which had been reorganised on a comprehensive basis.

The hon. Gentleman has mentioned Manchester. When he talks about overtaking, is he talking about Manchester children only, about the entries—the number of candidates sitting examinations—or the number of passes? Will he make clear what he is talking about in this context?

Yes, I am talking about O-level and A-level passes. The hon. Gentleman has got confused. It is the Sheffield results which deal with the entries. I hope that I have helped him on that point.

These statistics show how necessary it is to have an independent and full inquiry and an evaluation. What is happening is that, in the absence of any action by the Secretary of State, the amateurs are stepping in. We have had the example of Mr. Hunter Davies, in his article in the Sunday Times yesterday, doing his own inquiry into comprehensive schools. No doubt that is a worthy effort, but it is no substitute for what we are asking the Secretary of State to do. Mr. Guy Neave has penned his inquiry in his book published last week "How are they faring". That is an interesting contribution. But we want something much more thorough and on a different scale.

I appeal to the Secretary of State to reconsider his decision on this matter. The setting-up of these inquiries would be widely welcomed throughout the education world. If the Government fail to do it, the Opposition, within the limits of our resources, will do it.

Equally—this is our third point—we ask for an inquiry into the state of religious and moral education in our schools. After all, the Secretary of State is under a statutory duty to provide this, and it is quite clear that in many schools the statutory obligation is going by default. One has only to look at the Birmingham experience, where, as part of the agreed syllabus, Communism was being taught in the schools—[HON. MEMBERS: Oh."]—it is a most important point; that was in the agreed syllabus of religion—to see how wrong all this is going. Why does not the Secretary of State say something about this or encourage the Social Morality Council, which was given a grant by his predecessor, to investigate this most important subject, for which he has statutory responsibility? It is the only subject in the curriculum for which the Secretary of State has responsibility.

Fourth, we need a new approach to educational innovation. Too many children have been treated as educational guinea-pigs, and teaching methods have been introduced in the schools untested and with a lack of knowledge about them which would have been thought intolerable in launching any drug on to the market. We have had open-plan teaching, the inquiring mind approach, progress learning and look-and-say reading. What the Opposition believe is that in future it would be very much better if no methods were introduced generally into the schools until they had been throughly evaluated by controlled experiment—[Interruption.]—in University departments and elsewhere. We should set studies up in the sphere of discipline and of group size in teaching.

The question of evaluation of assessments needs to be pursued. For example, we need a test of reading ability which takes into account not only vocabulary but also sentence structure and levels of comprehension. Furthermore, whatever happened to the research project put in train by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley, into the assessment of arithmetical standards? We need comparative studies as to what is taking place in our schools here and in other schools in the European Community.

Yet another sphere in which we have taken the initiative, and will continue to do so, is that of parents' rights. In April my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Shelton) will be producing a Private Member's Bill to put into operation the principal provisions of our parents' charter. What these proposals are intended to do is to forge an effective authority between parents and teachers so that home and school work together instead of against each other. Until that is achieved, we shall never solve the problem of discipline in our schools.

Finally, I come to the question of the teaching profession. We want the teaching profession to be more professional, not less. Certainly we welcome the Houghton Report. We are glad that it is to be implemented. We have no quarrel with the Government over that. But we are just as concerned that there should be professional training for teachers, both in colleges of education and in in-service training, which is suitable to the needs of the time.

The Government would be much better employed in overhauling the curriculum in the colleges of education rather than in closing them down indiscriminately, as they are doing at present.

We want in particular new methods of teaching reading and of teaching discipline in the colleges of education, so that teachers will be adequately equipped to go into the schools. We believe that the in-service provisions in the James Report should be rapidly implemented and that teachers should be encouraged to set up their own teachers' council. After all, every other profession of comparable importance has its disciplinary body.

I am afraid that I am just finishing my speech.

What we in the Opposition intend to show in the debate is, first, the gravity of the situation; second, the feebleness of the Government's response; third, the range of constructive proposals which the Opposition are putting forward in this serious situation. There should be no reason for surprise that the Government are failing in the matter of educational standards and that the Opposition are forging ahead, because the aims of the two parties are so different. The aim of the Labour Party is still to promote egalitarianism through the education system, to attempt to create a mythical and spurious equality whatever the effects on the child may be. The Conservative approach is quite distinct. We are concerned not with social engineering out with educational values. We are not concerned with promoting equality; we are concerned with promoting equality of opportunity and improving the quality of education. We believe that every child in this country has the right to realise to the full his or her potential. We believe that all children have the right to exercise their gifts, gifts they have been given not only for their own advantage but for the benefit of the whole community.

4.30 p.m.

The exaggeration and gimmickry of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) become more and more extreme every time he addresses the House on this subject. It presents the House with a dilemma. We have the opportunity today to have a serious debate about standards of education and discipline and the other matters about which there is general concern, many aspects of which have baffled successive Governments and all local education authorities, irrespective of their political control. On the other hand, we can involve ourselves in the kind of dogfight which was introduced by the hon. Gentleman. For my part I shall devote a short time to the dog-fight and then get on to the serious subject matter of the debate, which the hon. Gentleman largely ignored.

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman and a small number of other Conservative activists are still trying to fight the General Election campaign in which they tried to make an election issue of the kind of nonsense we have heard this afternoon. They patently failed because of the basic contradiction in their approach.

The Conservatives have said several times—the hon. Gentleman said it this afternoon—that they are not supporting 11-plus examinations, but the whole tenor of their approach and all the consequences of their talk about having a moratorium on comprehensives and having an inquiry into comprehensives, which in the meantime would hold up progress towards comprehensivation, is an attack upon the comprehensive idea and is directed towards trying to get the support of those who have a vested interest in or an out-of-date attachment to 11-plus selection.

How can an inquiry into standards be an attack upon a system, unless the Secretary of State is fearful of the result of the inquiry? The inquiry would be set up by the right hon. Gentleman. That is what we are asking for. Surely that would serve only the interests of education.

No. If the proposal is—it was a proposal we heard from the hon. Gentleman just now and it was the proposal which was in the Conservative manifesto during the General Election—to have an inquiry into comprehensive secondary education, ignoring all the other problems of secondary schools, ignoring entirely the problems of those who are still taught in secondary modern schools with the small range of opportunities there open to them, it is an attack upon the comprehensive idea.

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks it is necessary to ensure impartiality that the inquiry should range wider than the comprehensive schools, of course we should be perfectly willing to accept such an extension. The fact of asking for the inquiry into comprehensive schools is precisely because it is there that the focus of controversy lies—about the effect of mixed ability classes in schools, size, etc. Those are the urgent questions to which we need answers.

I do not think we should take this argument seriously. There have been inquiries into many aspects of education. There are important inquiries going on now. There is at least one more important inquiry that I shall announce in the course of my speech, if I am allowed to proceed that far. I can put this proposal only in the context of the kind of campaign which the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues fought during the General Election and which they are still fighting. In the last week or two we have seen the spectacle of the hon. Gentleman going around the country trying to stir up local resistance groups in a fight against comprehensive reorganisation, playing the unlikely rôle of some kind of bourgeois Che Guevara trying to raise the flag of revolt all over the place.

I gather that there was a summit meeting of Tory education chiefs last weekend to co-ordinate this activity. In the course of announcing it, the hon. Gentleman is quoted as saying—I quote from the Daily Express of 22nd January:
"We can beat this Labour bullying of councils. No one is prepared to stand by as our best schools are destroyed."
I challenge Conservative Members who catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to tell the House which good schools have been destroyed by the process of going comprehensive. We are in a situation now where Scotland has been largely comprehensive for a long time, where Wales is over 85 per cent. comprehensive and where England is approximately 60 per cent. comprehensive—that is, judging the number of pupils in comprehensive schools as distinct from selective schools. We have had many years of experience.

I challenge hon. Members opposite to say what good schools have been destroyed in that process, because my thesis—this is supported by the great majority of informed educational opinion, irrespective of political party—is that this has been a process of constructive change and improvement in which good schools have become better schools because they have been able to offer their services to a wider range of boys and girls.

The other part of the quotation, which I take to be a valid quote as the hon. Gentleman has not denied it, is:
"We can beat this Labour bullying of councils."
The word "bullying" is a favourite word of the hon. Gentleman. He used it earlier today in between describing me as having totalitarian principles and alleging that I had departed from the Prayer Book.

We have sent out a circular to local education authorities—which, as the hon. Gentleman said, does not have the force of law—asking them to let us know what their plans are for completing the process of moving towards comprehensive secondary reorganisation. As of today we have had replies from about three-quarters of the local education authorities in England in a substantive form—that is, giving the answer to the question we asked. I confine my figures to England because, as I said earlier, the process in Wales and in Scotland is largely complete.

Not one of those local education authorities has said that it does not intend to comply with the Government's policy. We remain to receive the substantive replies of about one-quarter of the local education authorities. All of them have replied saying that the substantive reply is on the way. In some cases the education committee is about to consider a report from officials. In some cases the education committee has made recommendations and the full council meeting is to take place in the next week or two. We have been promised all those outstanding replies shortly, most of them before the end of February.

I believe that among those authorities there will be a handful that will stand out against the policy of the circular. My guess at the moment is that about five or six will do so. I shall not name them, because I hope that wiser counsels will prevail before they complete all their processes. I therefore hope that we will not be faced with the problem of five or six such authorities. However, this is not a situation in which the local authorities as a whole are standing out against the Government. Here and there, and in very few cases, local education authorities do not want to go along this road.

Let me add another proviso. We will look carefully at those who have sent us substantive replies which are in favour of our policy. There is the danger of what Mr. Peter Wilby described in his article in yesterday's Observer as "sidestepping". There will be cases, perhaps, in which a local education authority puts to us a set of proposals in which it declares its best intentions but then says that over part of its area it cannot do anything for an indefinite period.

We shall examine in depth all the replies. In the cases where they are unsatisfactory for one reason or another, either my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary or I will see personally the leading members of the majority group on the authorities. We shall discuss the matter and offer help and advice in the tasks of going comprehensive. If we could not then make satisfactory progress, sooner or later—probably, I would suggest, in the next Session of Parliament—we would have to legislate on the matter. I would rather not have to legislate. I would rather see the job completed by agreement. We are talking here however, about something which was defined as national policy and approved by the House of Commons 10 years ago. In those 10 years there has been considerable experience which has added up to a considerable success story. Thousands of our boys and girls are getting better opportunities because of that constructive change.

What worries me, and what should worry everyone who claims to care about education, is that some thousands of children are still not getting those opportunities and are being held back. Further delay is not tolerable in this issue.

In view of statements made elsewhere to the contrary, will the Secretary of State confirm that local authorities which, for whatever reason, have felt that they cannot accept the guidance offered by the Department to go over to a comprehensive system are in no way breaking the law but are acting strictly within the law?

They are acting against Government policy which has been approved by this and previous Parliaments. They are not acting against any legislation, and that is why a change in the state of the law may be necessary to complete the job. I repeat, therefore, that if and when its becomes necessary the Government will bring forward proposals for legislation on the subject. If we have to do so it will be because a small minority of die-hard councillors in the Conservative Party, whipped up by the hon. Member for Chelmsford and a few others, are forcing a confrontation which is unnecessary and when a constructive change could be completed within the next few years without the need for this kind of confrontation.

Perhaps I may put this matter in the context of progress so far. Of 97 local education authorities in England, 29 are completely reorganised or have plans for becoming completely reorganised which have been put to and approved by the Secretary of State. Only one—Kingston upon-Thames—has not made any move or progress along this road. The remaining 67 are in various degrees of partial re-organisation. The pattern varies very much between one local education authority and another. It is within that great area of about two-thirds of our LEAs that we have to judge the progress that is being made and the progress they propose in their responses to us.

Last February there were in England 2,075 comprehensive schools at which 58·5 per cent. of the secondary school population was being educated. There were others in the pipeline at the time which have since come fully into the comprehensive set-up. Since we came to office we have approved 89 sets of proposals providing for 185 more comprehensive schools. These have included some which were rejected by the previous administration, which were resubmitted to us and which have now been approved. Other proposals which are in the pipeline will be considered in due course.

I shall deal now with the situation of the direct grant schools. The Labour Party manifesto made it clear that we were committed to ending the direct grant school system. It has always been anomalous that independent schools should get this extraordinary form of grant from the central Government. It is all the more anomalous if that grant continues to be paid to schools which are selective by their very nature and if it is paid by a Government who are committed to comprehensive secondary education. I hope, therefore, to bring proposals before the House on the subject within a matter of a few weeks.

As I have made clearly already—I was questioned on this a few weeks ago—it will not be part of our proposal to withdraw the grant from children already in those schools in respect of whom a grant has already been paid. In other words, this is to be a phasing-out operation. We do not envisage the phasing out to begin this year because the 1975 intake has either been chosen or is in the process of being chosen, and it is reasonable that that should go ahead. It is probable that the phasing out of the grant will begin with the intake about to enter those schools in the autumn of 1976, but there are many details still to be worked out. I promise a statement to the House in due course.

When the Secretary of State says he will maintain the value of grants for pupils already in the schools, does he mean that he will maintain the real value or the cash value they now have?

My aim, although I would need to give the matter further study and would require further notice, is to maintain the grant in respect of each pupil. If the hon. Member wants to know anything further on the matter from either my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, or myself, I suggest that the subject is appropriate for a Question.

I wish now to turn to what was alleged to be the subject of the debate, and that is educational standards. It is vital that we try to disentangle this from the kind of Conservative folklore to which we listened earlier. We are all concerned with the improvement of educational standards. It is certainly my main job in life to work for that improvement. It is vital also to get the whole question into perspective.

It is often said that standards have declined or are declining. I believe that this has been a popular view for many generations. There has always been a tendency for middle-aged or older people to say that the schools are not what they were in their day and to build up a myth about some golden age in which everything was perfect. If our education system had been as good in the past as some people seem to imagine it was, we would not now have between 2 million and 3 million illiterate adults in Britain.

Standards have never been good enough and they are not good enough now. There is no room for complacency, and we need to see this in perspective. In so far as examination results provide a rough-and-ready clue about the differences of attainment, they provide over the years a story of improvement. I say that with caution because examination results are only one test, but taking the period for which figures are readily available—that is, 1966 to 1972 inclusive—the proportion of school leavers with one or more A-level pass went up from 13·7 per cent. to 16·2 per cent. The proportion of school leavers with one or more O-levels or CSE grade 1 rose from 24·1 per cent. to 27·6 per cent. The proportion of those with CSE grades 2 to 5 rose from 10·7 per cent. to 21·2 per cent. This is a story of increasing numbers passing various grades of examinations.

Incidentally, the point should not be lost that this was a period in which there was a simultaneous spreading of comprehensive education, which does not lead to the conclusion that the spread of comprehensive secondary schools has a detrimental effect on standards. The real point is not that standards are falling but that expectations are rising, and I am glad that they are. I believe that more and more people are impatient with unsatisfactory standards. More and more parents are showing a more active concern in the standard of their local schools, and that is a very good thing. All of us involved in education should be constantly under pressure to improve what we are doing.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford mentioned the Houghton Report. He said that he welcomed it, and I am glad he did. It is a pity that the Conservative Government did not do something about the matter in the four years during which the salaries of our teachers fell behind. When we talk about standards of education, we must remember that education is provided not by Members of Parliament, councillors or administrators, but by teachers. The numbers, quality and morale of the teaching profession form the most important element in achieving higher standards of education.

The country has for years undervalued its teachers. That is why, in spite of the need for overall income restraint, the Government identified the teachers as a special case, in the genuine sense of the phrase. The improvement in teachers' pay is on average 29 per cent., in addition to the ordinary annual increase. It is right that we should make that improvement. Over many years far too many able and experienced teachers have left the profession just when their ability and experience were of the greatest value to the children, particularly in the poorer areas of our large cities.

We have suffered from an overall teacher shortage and, more important, from a rapid turnover of teachers. We have lost experienced staff, with the result that some children have had three or four teachers on a subject in the course of a year. To do something about that was the most important single step any Government could take to improve the standard of our education, and we have taken it. We have been accused of lethargy, of not having new ideas. But we have put many new policies into effect during the past 11 months, designed particularly to improve standards in education.

I spoke earlier of those who take examinations. We should devote more of our discussion in these debates to the 40 per cent. or more who never take any examination, however modest. We have deliberately tried to give a new bias to the allocation of resources on a geographical basis in favour of poorer and more deprived areas. We have reallocated the building programme we inherited so that more help goes to deprived areas. In teacher quotas and the allocation of the nursery programme we do what we can for the less favoured areas.

We have set up in the Department a new education disadvantage unit, to be staffed partly by Her Majesty's inspectors and partly by officers of the Department, which will consult outside bodies. There will be established outside the Department, and independent of it, an advisory centre. Under this part of our programme we have already conducted seminars in Newcastle, Nottingham, Croydon and Port Talbot. There will be others. We intend them to culminate in a national conference on education disadvantage, at which I shall take the chair. It will probably be held in April.

This programme is to try to identify the reasons why some children fall behind and to identify the causes of education disadvantage. It is even more important to make the resulting policy conclusions, national and local, administrative and professional.

Side by side with that we have established an assessment of performance unit, with a wider brief, which is examining reasons why children of all ranges of ability too often fall below their potential and which will identify the policy consequences.

I should like to say something about the problem of the raising of the school leaving age. I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not be so pessimistic about it. He seemed to suggest that it had been a failure and that he expected it to become a worse failure.

The right hon. Gentleman is not correctly stating what I said. We have made it clear that we approve of and uphold the principle of raising the school leaving age to 16, but we say that in the light of present problems it would be intelligent to make it more flexible in application. One of our proposals is to allow children to leave before they are 16 after they have taken their final examinations.

I shall be coming to the latter point later. On the general question, I accept the hon. Gentleman's correction and withdraw what I said. Nevertheless it would be helpful if the Conservative Party and all other parties would firmly reiterate their belief in the policy, to which we were all committed for many years, that the school leaving age should be raised to 16.

I believe that the first year of the higher school leaving age has on balance been a success story. I say "on balance" because there have been areas of great difficulty. There has been a survey by Her Majesty's inspectors, and I am considering in what form I can make the conclusions public. I shall make them public very shortly. The general verdict is that, although the performance has varied between areas and schools, the raising of the school leaving age is a success story overall. It has been a great help to thousands of children who would otherwise have left school too early.

My impression from school visits is that in the second year many schools are already learning from the mistakes of the first year. The boys and girls now at school who would have left voluntarily if they had been allowed to do so are already showing an attitude different from that of children who were in that age group during the first year. Many children who stayed on in the first year resented it so strongly because they were the first and others who had gone ahead of them 12 months earlier were able to leave at 15. In the second year it is being accepted as normal to stay at school until 16.

We have been considering a flexible summer leaving date for a long time. I agree that there has been delay, but the matter requires a great deal of discussion. To alter the rules would involve legislation, and it is clear that there is no prospect of legislation in the current Session affecting the summer of this year. Therefore, there is time for us to go further into the matter and put proposals to the House in due course. I do not want to say which way my mind is moving, but I can say that we are continuing to have a good deal of consultation on the point.

I come to two related matters. First, the Government have decided that it is time for a fundamental examination of the government and management of our schools. I use the term "government and management" in the widest sense. I do not mean merely the composition of governing bodies or management committees. I mean the relationship of those bodies with the local education authority and the head teacher, the relationship of the head teacher with the staff, and the relationship of the school with the parents and with the wider community. An examination of the matter is overdue.

The present statutory responsibility is distributed between the LEA, the governing body and the head teacher. That was enshrined in the 1944 Act, based on a White Paper published earlier that year. In the 30 years since then there have been many changes, two of which we particularly welcome. One is that parents in particular, and in some senses the wider community, have wanted to be more involved in schools. The growth of parent-teacher associations and similar bodies is an example.

The other change is the demand from teachers to have a bigger collective voice in decision making within the school. Teacher organisations have told me "A sensible head will always consult his staff on matters of importance, but we think that this consultation should be codified. There should be a guarantee that it will happen." There are many related problems, so we have decided to establish for England and Wales an independent inquiry into them. I do not have the precise terms of reference or the name of the chairman, but I hope to announce them very shortly. It will be a most important inquiry, which I think will have major effects upon our schools. We are talking of more than 30,000 schools and more than 8½ million children. The results of the inquiry can have great importance for the future of our education system.

I should like to say a few words about the whole vexed area of truancy and indiscipline. Again, I urge the House to consider the matter with a sense of perspective. It is easy to generalise from the bad examples. The hon. Gentleman was correct to say that the media have seized on those examples. We know that there are many schools—I believe the majority—in which there is good discipline and hard work and a happy and constructive atmosphere. Similarly, we need to realise that we are not talking about something that is peculiar to our schools. We are talking about the state of our society and about some of the deep-seated problems of urban and industrialised societies the world over. Many of those problems we are trying to understand.

Clearly, it is our duty to identify the problem within the schools in greater depth than hitherto. Further, we must try to identify the remedial steps which should be taken. We propose to invite into the Department representatives of the local authority associations, the teacher organisations and other bodies to discuss various matters. We are drawing up a consultative document as a basis for discussion. The document is of an exploratory nature. We are not starting with any hard and fast ideas as to what precisely needs to be done. We are saying that we need to discuss in a national forum a situation that is worrying us, the community and parents. We need to know whether we should take certain policy initiatives. I promise that I shall keep the House informed as the study develops.

We welcome very much the two proposals that the right hon. Gentleman has outlined. They are both constructive steps in a difficult situation.