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Volume 927: debated on Friday 11 March 1977

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Child Benefit Scheme

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I beg to present a humble petition signed by some 11,500 most loyal subjects of the Crown and supported by the Child Poverty Action Group, Gingerbread, the National Children's Bureau, the Low Pay Unit and some 20 organisations with particular concern for hard-pressed and single-parent families, campaigning as the Child Benefits Now Campaign. The prayer says that the petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Commons implements in full the Child Benefit Scheme to improve the position of families and to adjust the benefits annually to keep up with inflation.

I invoke my right, Mr. Speaker, to ask the Clerk of the House to read the petition in full.

The CLERK OF THE HOUSE read the petition, which was as follows:
To the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. The Humble Petition of the undersigned showeth that the child benefit scheme which would have replaced family allowances and child tax allowances with an adequate tax-free child benefit payable to the mother, as approved by your Honourable House, would have brought substantial help to hard pressed families and especially to mothers. Wherefore your Petitioners pray that the House of Commons will do all within its power to ensure (i) the immediate implementation of the full child benefit scheme so that families are better off, and (ii) that child benefits are adjusted annually to keep in pace with inflation.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray &c.

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I beg leave to present a petition signed by 11,500 people representative of both others in the country and 14 million children and their 13 million parents.

The petitioners pray that
"the House will have brought forward the Child Benefit Scheme amalgamating family allowances and child tax allowances."
For reasons that I shall not go into the scheme has been delayed, and the petition asks that there should be immediate implementation of the Child Benefit Scheme, and for child benefits to be adjusted annually to keep up with inflation as are the benefits that are paid to pensioners in this country. I agree with the petitioners that children and families are just as important as other groups, such as those in work and the retired.

As my petition is uncommonly similar to the last one, I shall not invoke my right to ask the Clerk to read it.

I beg leave to present the petition.

To lie upon the Table.

Torts (Interference With Goods) Bill Lords


That the Torts (Interference with Goods) Bill [Lords] be referred to a Second Reading Committee.—Mr. Thomas Cox. ]

Education (Inner City Areas)

11.9 a.m.

I beg to move,

That this House recognises the need to maintain and strengthen measures to mitigate the effects of educational deprivation in inner city areas.
I am, of course, mindful that there are other areas of educational under-privilege or deprivation but I selected inner city area because I was born and bred in such an area and I now represent a constituency where their problems manifest themselves in a large section of it. I thought that it was my duty to bring such a subject before the House. I bear in mind also that recently in the general debate on deprivation in the inner city areas the Prime Minister has indicated the concern of the Government and of himself and their intention to give the matter the utmost priority to try to deal with the problem.

Some of my hon. Friends may be a little surprised that I have chosen education and not housing for my debate today, because most of my work in local government was in local housing and not in education, but I take the view, and always have done, that there is a close relationship between good housing and good education. I thought it was time that the House had an opportunity to debate educational deprivation mostly at the lower end of the scale, so that hon. Members who share my concern and who represent areas similar to my own would have a chance to make their contributions to the wider education debate that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has under way.

I take the view that in the type of area that I have in mind children from underprivileged homes attend schools that are not of the best. They are generally old schools. The teachers do their best to do a valiant job without adequate resources, but these children start with a double under privilege, if I may so put it. No matter what efforts are made later, their early schooling has a retarding effect almost throughout their educational life. It is difficult for children who are educated and live in these conditions to make up the leeway.

During my period in the House as the Member for Leeds, West I have made it part of my responsibility to make regular visits to the schools in my constituency. Educationally one never solves every problem, and I am aware that most hon. Members will have problems similar to my own, but there are some problems which I wish to highlight and which need to be considered.

I do not want to look too far back into the past, because we are talking about the future and about putting right the mistakes of the past, but one mistake that was made some years ago was to give top priority to higher education, to the universities and to the polytechnics. I think that we started at the wrong end. That decision was beneficial to those who were already moving upwards in the educational stream, but the result was that some of the children in these depressed areas were condemned to second class facilities and opportunities for the foreseeable future. I think it is true to say that we could almost be deemed to be damaging our seed corn.

There is one matter that caused me concern during my visits to schools in Leeds, West, and it prompted me to put a Question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in December. I am referring to the published pupil-teacher ratios in the city of Leeds and in England and Wales generally. The figures showed that Leeds was rather worse in terms of pupil-teacher ratios than any comparable authority but having analysed the figures and related them to what I saw during my visits to the schools I found the comparison alarmingly different.

A mistake is made by both the Department and the local authority, because the wrong criteria are used. I went to some schools and could not find in any of them the pupil-teacher ratios referred to in the figures that I have just mentioned. Parents are not interested in statistics, and nor am I. The figures showed that the pupil-teacher ratio in schools was 25 to 1, but in fact one often finds upwards of 30 children being taught by one teacher. In one case in my constituency what I saw prompted me to put my Question to my right hon. Friend, and my hon. Friend the Under Secretary of State asked me to write to her with the details. I found no class with fewer than 37 pupils for each teacher, and one class had as many as 41 pupils.

It is no good the Department or the local authority—mainly the local authority—hiding behind statistics, because to people faced with that kind of situation figures are meaningless. The figures convey to me that if a number of schools in my area are well over the norm, there must be schools in the most affluent areas of Leeds where the pupil-teacher ratio is much lower, because there must be fewer pupils per teacher in some areas to bring down the average. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that in any statistics that are issued in future, because this is a matter that I found to be of great concern amongst parents as a whole.

I should like for part of my speech to highlight the three different types of problems that I have found in schools. and have no doubt that right hon. and hon. Members could quote similar instances in their constituencies. I have visited the Castleton Primary School on three occasions. It is a one form entry school, having been built in 1888. As is usual with that type of building, the toilet facilities arc woefully inadequate. The ceiling of the upper hall, which has sometimes to be used as a classroom, has been propped up with a builder's jack for two years. The whole concept of the school and its environment is appalling. Alongside the school there is being constructed what is known as the Armley link road. As hon. Members are no doubt aware, when schools were built 100 years ago little regard was had for play space, and the construction of this link road has meant that the school has lost a large section of its already inadequate play space.

I went to the school on Monday and had another look round. The toilets are outside the main building. The caretaker does his best with them, but I should not like to ask my children to use those toilets because the smell is appalling. There is no running water in some of them. That is the type of situation to which we should be directing our attention and trying to improve. The Leeds authority has submitted this school as a top priority for action, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will give it sympathetic consideration when the next building programme starts to unfold.

I propose now to deal with a school of a rather more complex nature. This is the Armley Park Middle School, which means that there is a three-tier system. The middle school caters for the middle age group of youngsters. The school was built at the turn of the century, and it is now being used for purposes for which it was never constructed. There is very little play space. There are no inside toilets for the pupils. There are 510 pupils at the school, and for part of the week four of the groups have to leave the premises and go to buildings half a mile away for their studies. The canteen facilities are woefully inadequate. The teachers and the staff do a tremendous job in catering for the youngsters, but when tell the House that about 350 children stay for dinner, and that there are seats for only 90, hon. Members will be able to imagine the situation at that school. Even Oliver Twist did not have to wait for a fourth sitting for lunch.

There is a complication in replacing this school. It was due to be replaced because of the second phase of the Armley link road. Almost no money was spent on general improvements because it was thought to have a limited life. The children and the staff have been living in limbo. It was not given priority for building. If the second phase of the link road does not go ahead, the opportunity may be lost of replacing the school. That will be badly received in the area after such a long wait. People deserve better consideration and I hope that my Right hon. Friend would give the replacement of this school her support.

The Park Spring Primary School is another problem. It is a comparatively modern school, but, as I said earlier, it has a pupil-teacher ratio of 37. It already has a waiting list this year of 51 children and 130 new houses designed for working class people which are being built in the area will obviously provide further children who will want schooling.

Teaching space is lacking. The school has its share of disruptive children who have had to be referred to psychiatric have had to be referred to psychiatric care for special help. They include four very destructive children. Other cases are one handicapped child who has to use crutches and who is in a class of 37.

Another, subject to epileptic fits, is in a class of 41. Another child liable to fits is in a class of 40. I would not want children with any form of disadvantage to be segregated, but they should be educated with pupil-teacher ratios which assure them of the attention they need to develop their potential to the full.

On these figures, no matter how valiantly teachers perform, they cannot fulfil that requirement.

The school has inadequate facilities. An outside temporary hut is used as a classroom. It has a cramped cloakroom with no water laid on and children have to walk from one block to another in inclement weather, often stumbling over rubble. The local authority has provided in its programme for additional temporary classrooms and it is intended to increase the entry to a three-form entry.

My right hon. Friend should examine the question of temporary classrooms. There is a surfeit of them in my constituency, most of them now almost permanent. Although they may relieve the immediate pressure, they are only a palliative and not a cure. They should be discouraged when a school has a pupil population which will require extension in the foreseeable future. In the interests of both pupils and teachers, permanent provision should be made.

I should be remiss if I painted the picture wholly black. Despite the severe economic difficulties of the last three years, there have been some success stories in my constituency. One primary school has been completed on the other side of the constituency and there is another primary school at present under construction. A new middle school has been completed.

It would be churlish not to express my gratitude for those facilities, but as the economic situation starts to improve, unless my right hon. Friend can persuade the Cabinet that education, along with housing, is the top priority for the deprived areas, we shall still be condemning children of the tenderest age to deprivation for the foreseeable future. It is our duty to eradicate that as quickly as we can.

The six largest cities have made a submission to the Government asking for special area treatment to deal with their problems. I believe that four or five of the largest education authorities have also contributed to a statement in an educational journal highlighting their difficulties. Those of us who have served on the authorities of big cities know what has led to this situation. People have moved out, some of their own volition and some as part of clearance schemes, looking for a more wholesome life. On the old formula of "roofs over heads" the new primary schools have been built on the new estates. No one can cavil at that. But those who are left are not the highest wage earners and are more or less condemned to substandard housing and consequently to inadequate, even slum, schools. I hope that the Government will take note of the submission by the large cities.

However, I do not say that the problems in those cities are the only ones. Other hon. Members here today who do not come from cities of that size can no doubt quote the same type of problems. If my right hon. Friend can win the fight to make more resources available—that is what the argument is about—I hope that she will consider firmly specifying the uses to which the money is put. I am not convinced that all local authorities distribute their grants as fairly as they should. There are areas in all big cities where there is no educational or other deprivation at all. Compared with more affluent areas in which more articulate people live who organise themselves into pressure groups, it can be said that the cake has not been divided fairly.

Finally, I want to pay a tribute to the teaching staffs whom I have met in these schools. They are extremely dedicated and they work valiantly and conscientiously in an attempt to give the children in their care the best start possible. I express my thanks to them publicly.

I indicated earlier why I had chosen this subject for debate. I said that I had found conditions that we as a progressive society should eliminate as quickly as possible. If my selection of this subject for debate today can push us a little faster along the road towards eliminating those problems I shall think that it has been a worthwhile exercise.

whole House will want to congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr.

11.31 a.m.

The Dean), first on being fortunate in the Ballot and, secondly, on the very constructive and creative way in which he dealt with a major and serious problem. I rejoice that the House is for once discussing some of the very real problems of the inner city areas. It is a tragedy that for a range of reasons the detail and the plight of these areas does not come to the forefront.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the lack of articulation of those living in inner city areas. That is a very real problem. It is true that if a more prosperous area —a middle class area—suffered, even for only a very short time, some of the conditions which prevail in scores of inner city areas all the people in the locality would be up in arms against their Member of Parliament, their councillors, and so on, and would present a formidable and united front. But the people of whom the hon. Gentleman spoke have become so accustomed to deprivation and bad conditions that they are no longer so vigorous and articulate. It is therefore the task of the House to speak for them, as the hon. Gentleman did.

I stress that there is no difference between the two sides of the House about the need to assist such areas. Where I believe that all Governments have failed in respect of these areas is that we have failed to direct the moneys that Governments have been willing to make available so that they actually reach the people on the ground.

One of the clearest indications of this appears in the results recently published by the Government of the inner city studies which I set up in 1971 when I was Secretary of State for the Environment. The inner city areas of Liverpool, of London and of Birmingham were studied in depth by consultants, by the local authorities, and by Government Departments. The most significant factor to emerge from the great volumes of reports of these studies is the failure of the money to reach the people concerned.

I can best illustrate that by quoting the example of Liverpool. Liverpool 8 district—the most deprived in Liverpool, with a population of 9·6 per cent. of the total population of Liverpool, with twice the unemployment rate of Liverpool as a whole, with three times the crime rate, with twice the number of children of subnormal educational standards, with double and treble the number of overcrowded housing conditions—was receiving 6·1 per cent. of the total public expenditure of Liverpool.

That is a classic illustration that Governments, through the rate support grant, provide money to the great cities and quite rightly give a bias towards them because of their problems, but the nature of local government in those cities is frequently such that they do not concentrate their resources upon the worst districts involved.

I hope that the Government will consider carefully—I hope that soon we shall have a debate upon the inner city reports —the best method of ensuring that over a period of years the help that Governments are willing to give reaches the people most in need.

Education and housing are obviously the two basic ingredients. Unless housing is tackled with education, all of the resources devoted to education are to a large extent wasted. If a child goes home to desperately overcrowded conditions, all of the good done during the day at school is quickly undone and he is unlikely to succeed at school. Education and housing must go in harmony.

The one way in which people from deprived families will have a better opportunity for themselves and their children is if educational opportunities are improved. Yet inner city areas still contain a much greater number of older schools.

I am the first to agree with the view that school building is not the ingredient that makes a good school, but it helps to attract teaching staff of a higher quality. Over a period it has an overall good effect, particularly if the facilities are there.

In terms of public expenditure I wonder whether Government Departments, in respect of education—teaching staffs and school buildings—have looked seriously at the public expenditure consequences of doing something instead of doing nothing. The types of improvement to schools that the hon. Gentleman mentioned are, by their very nature, very labour-intensive building activities.

I personally still consider—I know that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends disagree with me—it to be an absolute nonsense to have 250,000 unemployed construction workers at a cost to public expenditure in unemployment benefits, social security benefits, loss of tax receipts and loss of national insurance contributions of about £700 million a year. For a much smaller cost, many of those men could be employed improving the schools and the housing in inner city areas.

This is not necessarily a bad time in public expenditure terms for some concentrated campaigns to be conducted on the inner city areas in those two spheres. Further, this is surely a unique opportunity for us to get the teacher-pupil ratios correct in inner city areas. In a number of inner city areas there has for some time been a very bad teacher-pupil ratio. Obviously it varies from one district to another.

A substantial number of trained teachers who have left teacher training colleges recently have been unable to find a job. Surely there has never been a better opportunity to persuade some of these people to go to the worst of our inner city areas, thus helping to improve the teacher-pupil ratio. This would make much more sense than having these people go to other jobs. It would also concentrate on a very real problem in these areas.

I refer to teaching the English language to the immigrant child. This discipline needs a substantial ratio of teachers to children if it is really to succeed. Here again, at a time of unemployment in the teaching profession, when we are incurring public expenditure for teachers to be unemployed, surely there is scope for a specific campaign for some of the worst inner city areas which happen also to be some of the worst areas for potential immigrant friction.

When I was Secretary of State for the Environment, I tried to shift resources to the inner city areas. I did not succeed in getting help to those areas to the degree I required, partly due to the system. If we are to succeed in this drive, there will come a time within the next five or 10 years when a Government of either persuasion—perhaps, alas, after a breakdown in a number of our inner city areas on a serious social scale—will come to the conclusion that a very specific and detailed programme must be devoted to a whole range of the worst of these areas. Eventually the only way in which this will be done will be to take a certain district and say, "We know that your district is one of the deprived districts, we know from analysis that the educational needs of the district are this, the housing needs are that, and the job creation programme needed to obtain a tolerable level of full employment is this" —and the Government will then agree a five to ten-year programme with the local authority in which they will see that the programme is monitored year by year.

In this way we would start from an examination of the realities of the inner cities—which the Government have already done in some areas—and from the factual information that exists a programme possibly lasting five or ten years could be agreed to meet these objectives. Grant facilities and resources would then be made available providing for specific programmes for specific districts to be carried out over that five or ten-year period.

I am very interested in what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. Can he tell the House whether the expenditure that he is advocating is to be transferred either from other educational purposes or from other Government expenditure, or will it be by increased public expenditure? If it is the latter, does he disagree with his hon. Friends who advocate cutting public expenditure?

If we were not in the present economic situation I agree that one would in total increase public expenditure, but I want to shift resources. What worries me in my own constituency of Worcester is that my county has been treated worse than almost any other in the United Kingdom in the amount of rate support grant given, because it has been decided to shift resources from Hereford and Worcester county to places like Birmingham. That is perfectly acceptable, provided that the money is spent on the worst deprivation in Birmingham, but it is totally unacceptable if the money is used to bring down rates in Birmingham as a whole.

When approaching elections, local authorities of all political complexions take the view that the most popular thing that they can do to win the elections would be to bring down the rates. If they receive a big rate support grant they use it not to help the districts that most need it but to provide rate reductions in the marginal wards and the marginal districts in each council's area. I regret this, and it is another area where the Government would certainly have to agree with the councils concerned.

If we are to turn round the very fast rate of decline in the worst of these inner city areas, we have to say that these Government resources are to come out of expansion of the economy. We should inject money into the 20 or 30 most deprived districts and bring them up to a tolerable standard. If local authorities say that they do not want to co-operate or collaborate we would say to them that we had made an offer for that specific district, and if they rejected it, that would be all the money that that city received. But if the local authorities agreed to this programme, and agreed to its being monitored year by year, we would say that we as a Government would achieve these results over five or 10 years.

Until we get down to something specific and concrete there will be no will either from Government or from the local authorities to take anything like the action that is needed.

11.43 a.m.

I very much welcome the opportunity provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) to discuss education. I hope that I may be allowed to stretch very slightly the phrase "inner cities" to include part of the outer cities, or the Greater London area. We have to consider the whole scenario of difficulties facing big conurbations like London and others.

I was most interested in the very thoughtful speech of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker), a great deal of which I agreed with, particularly his remarks about the construction industry and also—because this applies very much to working class areas—the need to see the question of housing in relation to education. I, and I am sure all of us, have noticed the difficulties facing a large number of children who come from badly housed families, such as the difficulty of finding room for them to do homework and the difficulties of large families in which students have to compete with the television.

Those families who are a bit better off and who have slightly better housing can provide adequate bedroom and study facilities for their children and are undoubtedly able to give their children a much better chance in education than those who are less well off.

I wish to refer first to a matter which particularly concerns East London. I and a number of my hon. Friends have been concerned about the Secretary of State's proposals to reduce the number of teacher-education students nationally to 45,000 by 1981, particularly as these proposals affect east London. Greater London's teacher-education provision varies dramatically from area to area. Before I became the Member for Barking I had not realised the differences between East London, West London and South-West London. West London, where I happen to live, has five centres in which teacher education will continue. East London has only one, the North-East London Polytechnic. My right hon. Friend's proposals, on which she has invited consultations, are to reduce the initial teacher training provision at the North-East London Polytechnic to 100 places for post-graduates and post-Dip HE courses. This will mean that the Bachelor of Education initial training course would be eliminated. Its last intake of students will be in September this year.

This is a terrible blow to the educational needs of East London. Here we are trying to improve the quality of teacher education nationally. Nowhere in Britain is the need to improve standards of achievement in schools greater than in East London. What we need at the North-East London Polytechnic is not a reduction to 100 places but the provision of a minimum of 250 places—a very modest number—to maintain the full range of teacher training provision.

I want to tell the House a little about the contrast and the geographical spread between East London and West London. There will be more than 3,000 places in teacher training in South-West London, but only 100 in East London. Our polytechnic effectively covers five London boroughs. In fact, it is administered by three, Barking, Newham and Waltham Forest, but it also covers Redbridge and Havering. It is the sole centre in East London.

West London has five centres in which teacher-education will continue, South London has four and North London has two. We have one. The proposals are for the North, South and West areas to have between them more than 7,000 places. We shall have 100 places. The total population of Barking, Newham and Waltham Forest which administer the North-East London Polytechnic—I have excluded the boroughs of Redbridge and Havering although they should be included because they are regional partners —amounts to 620,000. The combined total for Hounslow, Kingston and Richmond in West London, by comparison is 511,000.

It is therefore very interesting to compare between East and West London by looking at these six boroughs, Barking, Newham and Waltham Forest in the east, and Hounslow, Kingston and Richmond in the west. We can also look at the Inner London Education Authority area. The ILEA area has a population almost exactly four times that of Barking, Newham and Waltham Forest, yet the number of teacher-education places in the ILEA area is not just four times that of the three boroughs but 400 times. A total of 4,200 places is proposed by my right hon. Friend. Let me say at once that I am not knocking that number. I am not anxious to reduce the number of places in the ILEA area or, for that matter, in North-East, South or West London. But I am anxious that the slow build-up which East London has begun and on which we have obtained some success should not be knocked any further.

If we look at the number of pupils as another means of comparison, we see that ILEA has more than 404,000, that East London has 109,000-odd, and that West London has 75,000. There again, we have in East London a very much larger number of pupils to deal with than has the other side of town.

When we look at the pupil-teacher ratio, we see that we are disadvantaged in comparison with West London and the ILEA area. Our ratio is 21·3, whereas Hounslow, Kingston and Richmond have a ratio of 19·6 and the ILEA 18·5. So that is another figure which pinpoints the disparity between the geographical areas of London.

It is small wonder that staff, parents and teachers in the borough and in the surrounding boroughs are desperately worried by these proposals. What worries them is not just a matter of statistics. It is not just a matter of comparing the numbers of places, the teacher-pupil ratios, the populations, and so on in East and West London. We are concerned about the quality of education and the long-term effect which any inequality will have upon it.

In its figures, the Department of Education and Science showed that, in 1974, there were 505 awards per 1,000 of the population to colleges of education and universities. In fact, three times the number of pupils in West London get awards to colleges of education and universities than in East London. The polytechnic and the colleges in East London do their best to make up for this by offering continuing education to school leavers. In an area like Barking and the surrounding boroughs, this is especially important because we tend to get pupils and students who want to leave school and to go to work at the age of 16. On the whole that occurs very much more than on the West side of London.

We are an industrial area. Children and their parents see the necessity and are often driven by economic necessity to ensure that children go out to work as quickly as possible. The education experts in our area recognise this, and they have been keen to offer this continuing education, with the result that the number of lesser further education awards is more than four times as high in East London as it is in the west. This should be encouraged and applauded.

If centres for teacher education are to be located away from this industrial area that we have and away from the deprived inner city urban areas, they will not help tomorrow's teachers. A lot of the work which the polytechnic has provided has been with serving teachers. It has been recognised as one of the foremost institutions in the country in the development of in-service work. We have a great many teachers in Barking and in the surrounding districts who live in the area, who have been brought up in Barking, who have been trained locally and who work in our schools. About 150 of them converge on the polytechnic on many nights in the week for in-service courses, and there are staff and students at local schools on practice and projects. This is a state of affairs of which the polytechnic is very proud. It is proud to have this local community feeling.

Since these teachers live in Barking, if the in-service training being provided is reduced or withdrawn, they will not be able to get in-service training very easily elsewhere. I ask hon. Members to imagine leaving school in the afternoon and having to go to the other side of London to get in-service training. It is a fact that it takes as long to get from Barking to Paddington, which might be described as the gateway to the west of London, as it takes to get from Paddington to South Wales. At the end of a hard day, I cannot imagine that teachers will be willing to travel during the rush hour right across London to take training at an evening school elsewhere.

The borough of Newham is in the same position and it is served by the North-East Polytechnic, which is partly in my constituency. But the picture is even worse than my hon. Friend paints. The time that she quotes is merely from Barking station. People's homes and many schools are some way from stations and bus routes, and the result is an even more difficult journey to West London than the one that she has outlined.

I accept that entirely. I was taking it at its best and quoting only the time taken between Barking station and Paddington. It takes an hour and a half. It is possible to get from Paddington to Newport in that time.

We have all been very pleased that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister have recognised in recent speeches the need for better education facilities in our inner city areas. By "inner city areas", I take it that my right hon. Friend has stretched her imagination to include areas such as my own. If we do not get a minimum of 150 places over and above what my right hon. Friend now proposes —and more would be welcome—our part of London will suffer even more and the disparity will show up in an even greater way. We are a traditionally work- ing class area, and we are proud of it. We are proud of our educational attainments so far, and we want to go on adding to them.

Another aspect of education which concerns not only inner city areas but the whole education spectrum and one which is worrying a great many people is that of student's fees and the proposed increases in them. These will make a tremendous difference to the future of our education institutions. I do not know how undergraduates will cope with increases which will bring the fees for their learning up to £500 a year and, for graduates, up to £750, let alone the enormous increases for overseas students. They will make it more difficult for all those who are not on mandatory awards to take up education courses. They will affect all self-supporting students. Those on lower-level courses will not get help from education authorities which already are being forced by the public expenditure cuts to reduce the number of discretionary awards which they make.

How can we encourage working class children into higher and further education, and how can we encourage parents who have missed out on earlier educational opportunities? They will not be able to cope with the fees which are now being canvassed. I hope that the Secretary of State will look carefully at the whole system and at the need to give a proper review to pinpoint the inadequacies of the grant system and that she will also examine whether the system of parental means testing is the right way to tackle the problem. Present expenditure on statutory awards is £270 million. The Department calculates that it would cost a further £3 million to make all awards mandatory. That is a drop in the ocean compared with the value to students and the community that it would provide. It would safeguard the future of vocational and technical courses and would release local authority income for use in truly discretionary areas.

I turn now to parental means testing. The Government survey of undergraduate income and spending shows that 73 per cent. of parents are assessed as able to contribute but fail to do so. I hasten to make clear that this is not, as is sometimes suggested, because these parents are feckless, rotten or uncaring. I despair when I hear better-off people, including some Opposition hon. Members, ask why parents do not contribute because they have a duty to do it. I beg the House to believe that there are many families who after they have paid rent, rates, gas, electricity and food bills have nothing over with which to contribute to their sons' and daughters' student fees. That is a fact of life and I know that the Secretary of State must be concerned about it. I hope that she will work towards a review of the present system and the phasing out of means testing.

I do not envy my right hon. Friend's job because education, whether one looks at it from the primary school middle school or college point of view, comes down to the question of money and public expenditure cuts. I can only echo what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West and appeal to my right hon. Friend to do her best in Cabinet to fight for as great a part as possible of the available resources to be devoted to education. Education is a vital part of the life of our country. If we allow areas to continue to be deprived we do nothing but harm to the whole community.

12.2 p.m.

I declare an interest because I have two children aged nine and seven years of age. I shall speak mai10000nly about primary school education and about what can be done in many primary schools to bring them up to the standards of the best. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) for choosing this subject and I hope that the debate will continue mainly along non-partisan lines.

I resist the temptation to refer to the Labour Party's debate on education at its last conference. However, it is worth mentioning the delegate at that conference who said that we had obviously not got things right in primary schools because so many children moving to secondary schools needed remedial help. That problem is greatest in the inner city areas.

I pay tribute to the work that has been done at the Avery Hill teacher training college in my constituency. Over the years it has operated flexibly by providing courses in shortage subjects and by opening an annexe in the East End of London. It has helped to contribute to the lives of many who live in that area. Because of the flexibility that it has shown in the past, the Secretary of State and the Inner London Education Authority should reward the college and the staff by ensuring that they have a full and proper future. In-service training should be provided so that a college with a great history can also have a great future.

Hon. Members have stressed the relation between education and housing. I shall expand that and talk of the relation between education, housing and economic support for families. The relative transfer of resources, especially during a time of rising expectations, away from families with young children, is one of the great under-explored areas of finance and national economy. Figures reveal that the average family with two children is £12 a week relatively worse off now than it was in 1970 at a time when most of us at work had a better standard of living. That is why the Government should pay attention to the petitions presented to the House today by the hon. Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and myself.

I turn now to primary schools. I shall tell the House some of the things that I have discovered from my visits to primary schools and private schools that cater for children up to the age of 11 or 13. One can learn lessons from the best schools in both the private and public sectors.

There are two questions in which parents are vitally interested—what is the school aiming to do with their children and what is being achieved? Some of us are more articulate and therefore more successful in getting the answers. It is easy to list the important questions. Apart from the curriculum and the structure of a school, we are basically talking about skills, knowledge, attitudes and habits. Those are the four issues that interest parents and teachers. How can they be monitored? An annual report from the head teacher to the managers and governors or an annual report on each child to his parents is far too little, too late.

As a means of getting parents involved there is no substitute for homework. I do not say that a six-year-old child should have an hour's work to do after school every night, but even five or 15 minutes' work will enable families to see what their children are doing at school and what their difficulties are. They will also learn how the family can help.

I have conducted a small survey among my friends in preparation for the debate. Few of them can specify what their child is doing at school. They live in inner London where few of the primary schools give homework. That is in contrast to a seven-year-old child whom I have met who attends an Irish Presbyterian national school who has to do the amount of homework that my son will not be asked to do until he reaches the top class of his primary school. I do not see why an Irish child should have more homework, and enjoy doing it, than a London child.

The hon. Member has sought to relate educational circumstances to the wider social circumstances of children. Is there not a danger that seeking to press homework upon children below the age of 11 will accentuate the differences in home background and school performance? Does that not therefore destroy his argument?

I do not believe that it does. It is too easy to argue about families with high incomes and others with low incomes, families with one parent and those with two, and families with televisions that are always swtiched on and those that have no television at all. We should not argue that any or all of these circumstances mean that a child cannot be encouraged to enjoy working and to do more work.

One of the early saints said that it was a sin to abuse or misuse people but that the greatest sin of all was not to ask them to use themselves. We see children enjoying work in primary schools and are told that this is one of the great advantages of some of the modem trends that have developed in primary education since the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) joined the House, and I see no reason why they should not be asked to do some work at home as well. If the children do not have that work, how can the parents become involved? I know that in some schools there is open access and that parents can go in and help with the education of their children, but this arrangement is not general and there is not total agreement on whether it is a good idea.

I hope that there will be total agreement about letting families see what children are doing and letting them help their children. It would bring far more unity about a child's education among parents and schools than exists at present.

The problems of television at home should be brought into the open. The head of the primary school that my children attend said a few months ago that he thought standards at the school had dropped by about 10 per cent. in the past 10 years. He said that it had nothing to do with the calibre of the children or the staff, but was probably because children spent an extra hour watching television at home, and this was having a harmful effect on the rest of their education.

Certainly when primary school children know more about Starsky and Hutch than about going to bed at 7 or 8 o'clock it must be conceded that the head has a point and that parents should be reminded of the problem. One of the greatest services that we could perform for education would be to put advertisements on television at, say, 7 o'clock, 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock asking "Is your child still up? Do you think that he or she should be? Her Majesty's Government think that watching too much television is seriously harmful to your child's education".

We could take it a stage further and ask in advertisements at 10 o'clock and 11 o'clock "Do you know where your children are?" When I come back to the House after evening meetings in my constituency I often see children who look to be between the ages of 7 and 11 and others in their early teens hanging around the streets with the chance of getting involved in the sort of activities that none of us would encourage—juvenile crime, vandalism and delinquency, for instance. The parents may need encouragement to take the control over these children which only they can take. The juvenile courts, the educators and the social workers cannot do the family's basic job of bringing up a child properly.

It is important for each child to have a homework register to take home from school so that children can show to their parents what they are being asked to do. They may be given too much or too little homework and, if so, parents ought to know. If the homework were there in black and white in a register, committing schools on what they were asking children to do, it would ensure that the wrong things were not being asked of children and it would also provide a link between the school, the child and the parents.

There is also a problem about some schools monitoring the achievements and attainments, as well as the effort and perseverance, of children. No one asks that a school should not do something when it discovers that a child is not attending regularly. Some may follow the example of Illych and say that if a child does not want to go to school, the school is unlikely to do him much good, but we have a well-developed system among all education authorities so that if children do not attend schools, the parents are contacted to discover the reason.

The education authorities have to remind parents of their duty and responsibility to get children to school. However, this system is rather like an employer saying that he was going to a lot of trouble at the time clock to catch people arriving five minutes late for work, but as long as they were at work, he did not care what they did.

In one school that I know for children between 5 and 11 the teachers have met this difficulty by introducing a report card that is marked up for each child every four weeks. It is a simple system that involves a coloured sticker against each main area of school activity, An orange sticker may mean that no effort has been made by the child while a gold sticker signifies tremendous effort. On top of the sticker is written the mark or grade that the child has attained in that activity.

The school takes it a stage further by recognising that no effort or enthusiasm in a subject is a sign of a problem that is as great as the child not turning up at all. The parents are then called in to discuss the difficulty. Curious as it may seem, not many orange stickers appear on the reports and one such sticker is seldom followed by another because the school and the parents get together to deal with the problem. This is much better than a parent suddenly being told at an open evening for fourth year children that his child does not seem to have been trying very hard in the previous three terms. This problem should have been sorted out much earlier.

Perhaps hon. Members opposite can tell me whether they regard this system as an infringement of a child's liberties and his right not to make an effort or not to have any enthusiasm for a subject. A lack of effort or enthusiasm shows that a school is failing in its job. We cannot always ask schools to be successful, but we can ask that they monitor their systems to discover whether they are going wrong or being unsuccessful.

I also wish to refer to the question of parents' right to know. From my conversations with many teachers in London secondary schools and from what was said in the education debate at the Labour Party conference it is clear that perhaps two-thirds of children who transfer to certain secondary schools at the age of 11 or over have reading ages of below 9.

Obviously, various difficulties can help to create this situation, but when did the primary schools start to realise that they were not being as successful as they might have been? When did the parents learn of their children's problems? Were they told by primary school teachers that their children were not quite as good at reading as some others or, even worse, that the children's reading was not as good as it could be?

Reading, writing and a certain amount of arithmetic—but most of all literacy—is so important to a child. Schools should give parents an annual progress report on their children's reading abilities. The child's apparent reading age should be given on the report—not so that he can be chastised if there is not 12 months' improvement every year, but so that, if there is only six months' improvement, parents can go to the school and discuss any problems that may have arisen.

I have mentioned this idea to teachers. Some thought that it was a good suggestion and would present no problem, but others asked whether it was not stigmatizing children. My answer to them is that the biggest stigma that any child can carry is an inability to read.

We accept this in the BBC "On the Move" programme, which tries to pick adult illiteracy, but we do not seem to be doing enough about it in primary schools. There is no reason why every education authority should not request schools to test children and to report their reading age to the parents every year.

It is not necessary to believe that a test like the Schonell Test is perfect, but it would give a general indication of progress. It is rather like hon. Members using the scales in the Lobby to get an indication of how their weight may be moving and to investigate if something seems to be going wrong.

If we concentrated a little more attention on reading, we should find that primary schools would take an interest in raising children's reading age and there would be improvements. Just as we improve road safety and safety at work by concentrating on those subjects, so we could do the same with regard to literacy, which is the most essential part of a child's education.

This brings me to the question of expectations. Most of us know from research work that the higher the expectations of a child, or a member of the teaching staff, or the school, the better the results that are achieved. We should not just look at the results as a quick flash in the pan, but as the best which can be achieved within the normal work of the school. In too many cases children can be written off because they come from a low income family, or one where the television blares all night long or where a baby next door is crying all night. I believe that a disadvantaged family background is the biggest argument in support of our raising expectations at school.

At least a child is at school for five hours a day and the school can do a great deal more to ensure that a child's expectations can be higher than an underprivileged background might cause the child to accept. We only have to look at hon. Members of this House who come from an under-privileged background. One can use the Prime Minister as an example to show that with freedom one can achieve great things.

We need to give as much attention to that as to trying to improve conditions of the families in which many people in our society live. How can we raise these expectations? I quote the example of the primary school, which looks at the child in three different ways at the beginning of the second term of the academic year. The form teacher is asked roughly to grade the child, perhaps on an A to D scale, but basically to show the child's normal aptitude and ability. The school then gives a reading age test to each child in each class. One teacher is used to go through the whole school so that there are no idiosyncratic differences. Thirdly, each child is given an IQ test or a verbal reasoning test. Each of those methods have their imperfections, but if there is any discrepancy between any two of the three, the school will then be able to rase the expectations of the child to the highest possible.

Some people argue that because each of these ways of assessing a child is imprecise, it should not be used. But however a teacher or a school assesses a child, he or it must use one of these ways, if not a combination of them. Why not do it on a structured basis to make sure that each child is looked at as an individual at least once a year? The school can then decide the targets or objectives to be set for the kind of child that he or she appears to be. Would it not be better to provide a staircase up which that child can be expected to move as a minimum, while still providing the opportunities for outstanding progress?

If what I have been talking about has not been subjects that have been covered in the conferences that are part of the so-called great debate, it should have been. If one stands outside a primary school gate at 3.30 p.m. and asks a parent "Does your school operate any of these things?", they sometimes say "Yes". They often say that they would help. If one asks "Do you think they would help to bring you more into the education of your child?", they reply "Yes, of course". It is up to the Department to encourage local authorities to think along these lines. It is up to the local authorities to require the best practice to be spread more among all the schools in their areas.

Another important subject concerns the answer that a school gives to the parent who asks "What syllabus and what major subjects will my child be taking this year?" Any school that does not have a bit of paper which specifies at least the major areas of study in each subject cannot be giving sufficient guidance, or having sufficient discussion, with the teacher in order to lay down the structure of the knowledge that they expect the child to achieve.

The same thing applies to the attitudes and skills that a school wants a child to achieve. None of this will get a Ph.D student his thesis, but it is the kind of thing that can be used in primary school work and it can be used to advantage in secondary schools as well.

This is most important in inner city areas because there is far more stability of population in country areas and bright new ideas do not come in as fast because the schools there are not so near to a teachers' centre. Most of the staff in country areas have been there for a long time, and so have the families. They do not experience wild switches and changes of fashion. Nor is there a high turnover of staff or pupils.

One has to recognise that most of us will respond to a call for a mixture of idealism and self-interest. Most of us are willing to make sacrifices of ourselves and our families, but few of us are willing to make such great sacrifices that we feel we are seriously endangering the educational futures of our children or their job opportunities when they leave school.

In North Lambeth, where I live, we have virtually no resident school teachers or policemen or social workers. In fact, the only professional group that lives locally is the clergy, because it is tied to the vicarages next to the churches. If one talks to the local beat policeman, or the man from the robbery squad who comes up from Brixton to investigate a crime in the area, one discovers that these people were brought up in Battersea, for instance, and admit to having been fairly rough kids. But they say that what is going on now is so frightening that they have moved to Streatham, or Norwood, or Purley. They are people whom Labour Back Benchers would describe as working-class. They have done what they believe to be best. They have opted out just as surely as the family which lives in one of the inner city areas and which sends its children to a school in the outer suburbs or to a private school.

One has to be careful how much one can ask individual families to sacrifice to keep a community together. Perhaps one should be asking for more of a response from the educational system itself. We now have comprehensive schools, at least until the next General Election. What can we do within the comprehensive schools to encourage more families to let their children attend that particular school?

Here one must raise the subject of mixed ability teaching. I have a great fear that the efficacy of mixed ability teaching is not seriously being measured. It is difficult to measure the effect of it. The Department has recently made a study of this, as well as a study of certain subject teaching. If one brings in the Bennett study as well, one comes to the conclusion that the more there is a structure within the school, without necessarily being fully traditional, the better the education.

One must also accept that it is impossible for a child to learn effectively as a result of the tuition within a five-hour school day because the child is in a class of 20 and can only receive about 15 minutes individual attention. Too often in our schools I feel that children are basically doing supervised homework. It is something that they could be doing at home rather than at school. They could then be involved in a teaching relationship where the class, or most of it, can be educated by the teacher.

What would it be like if, instead of having debates here, we were all sitting down writing our speeches, which were subsequently printed, and Mr. Deputy Speaker were sitting there making sure that we were not straying from our books or talking too much? Obviously, it would encourage conservation, because it would help to build up the social group, but there is no substitute for having either streaming, or setting, or both in our comprehensive schools. If we accept that need for special schools for the 5 per cent. with special educational difficulties, why should we not have special schools or educational provision for the top 5 per cent. in terms of aptitude and achievement?

In between we have large schools covering not more than two or three years. In the comprehensive school which I attended in the United States at the age of 11, which was a junior high school, only three years of education were covered. It had both streaming and setting within it. Alternatively. we have to accept the 11 to 17 or 18 age group and take out a remedial and faster stream and have setting for subjects in between.

Too often we are now beginning to hear cries that moving on to comprehensive schools is not sufficient. We must still have a selective system until we can have mixed ability teaching throughout education. Most of those cries come from those who have not got children in primary schools and who are looking further ahead.

As a parent, I suggest that to force children to go to their local neighbourhood school is the fastest way of shaking up the social structure in the big cities. The social or economic stratification will become as steeply stepped as in most United States cities, and that would be a bad move. Therefore, we must allow the elective choice of parents. I should look for selective choice as well. We must not only allow parents to elect for which type of school they want their children to attend, but move a stage further and let parents indicate their choice earlier.

It is too late to say to parents, who may have been deeply involved in their children's education from birth and who may have joined the Labour Party when their children were born, which is almost akin to others putting down their children's names for Eton or one of the other more attractive primary schools, "Your child is 11. It is now May. We shall tell you which secondary school your child will attend next September." It is much too late then for parent power to have any effect on the effectiveness and efficiency of educational achievements in particular schools.

We would do better to allow parents to send their children to the schools of their choice. If we allow them to make that choice two or three years before their children are likely to go to a particular school, those parents can he active in helping to mould the school of their choice to what they want for their children.

For too long our educational politics have been based on yesterday's prejudices. Most of those who benefited from a selective system in the past have now voted to end it. They have voted not to allow the election which their families probably exercised for them in terms of education within the family and the community which most parents would like to exercise now.

I caution the Government against saying that civil servants and politicians know best. Without the active co-operation of parents, there will not be a best: we shall have second best. One can demonstrate how we are, in effect, second best by referring briefly to the visit of the Miss World contestants to this House. If one talked to those who attached ordinary schools in Holland, Germany and half the other countries of the world, one found that, although they were chosen not for intellect but for beauty, nearly all could speak two or three foreign languages. Most of our children cannot. That is because we do not raise our expectations high enough. The same applies to English and mathematics.

12.35 p.m.

I had a conversation with the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) about this subject. I gather that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) has some knowledge of social work because his wife is an expert in that area. The hon. Gentleman has given certain information to the House in a long speech. However, I did not find it tedious. Not being an education expert, I was very interested in what the hon. Gentleman said.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) for bringing this subject to the attention of the House today. I suppose that I am of the generation that was subject to deprivation. I think that we tend to get too enthusiastic about this issue. I am of the generation that left school on a Friday and went down the coalmine on a Monday morning.

When my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West and I served our engineering apprenticeships, we did not get day release. We had to do evening class studies three times a week. I was in my mid-twenties before I got through my university education.

When considering educational deprivation, I think that we must also consider the progress that has been made. For example, when I went to school there were no such things as school meals or school milk. There were no swimming sessions in the local baths. There were no playing field facilities. There was a large degree of disease. Tuberculosis, typhoid and other illnesses were prevalent. I believe that a number of hon. Members of my generation know quite a lot about deprivation. However, we should consider the achievements which have been made in my lifetime relative to removing some of the worst aspects and concentrate on trying to preserve a reasonable balance in our assessment of the situation.

In the North-East —Tyneside —the changes have been tremendous. When I went to school, the school football team did not have a strip. One had to play in what one had. Now they probably have two or three changes of strip and two or three football fields on which to play.

If I were to be critical in that respect, I should say that we do not make enough use of the resources which we have created. We do not make enough use of gymnasiums, school playing fields, or the opportunities for adventure into the countryside surrounding huge industrial areas. Many parents, either through parent-teacher association or of their own initiative, do not show sufficient interest in helping their children in these areas.

We have all seen examples of the industrial school built in the Victorian era with the fence around the school area. When I have had occasion to be in London at weekends, I have been appalled to find so many facilities closed to the children, thereby creating great crowds on Parliament Hill Fields and Hampstead Heath, for example.

Instead of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West trying to impress upon the Secretary of State the need to find more resources to ease the lot of those in areas of deprivation, I suggest that they should calm their appeal and press her to get her advisers to look more closely at assets which are not being used to the full. This is where the effort should be, and some of the parents' associations should make an effort to put pressure on local authorities to use these facilities. We have gone a long way, and of course it can be quite reasonably argued that we can go much further, but I think it tragic that we have wasted so much money on education with such little results.

When I was a young man I was always taught, as a Socialist, that if we gave people better housing and better schools we would improve their standards. The facts are that we have not_ We still have illiteracy, probably as high as it was when I went to school.

I stand to be corrected on this because I am not an education expert. I am speaking as I see the situation, and, not being an education expert, I think that we probably have—this is disputed by my hon. Friend—an amazing degree of illiteracy.

There is a lack of general knowledge among school children. When I left school at the age of 14, I could do algebra. Some children today cannot do algebra at the age of 16 or even 17. We must be realistic about these matters. I do not want to detain the House much longer, but I hold the view that a lot more can be done, and it must be done before we move to the next stage of easing deprivation, especially in our industrial cities.

Before we start allocating resources, we should have a close look at the existing ones. I also think that a lot of people in the trade union world could help with the problem of deprivation of children when they reach the age of 14, 15, 16 or into their late teens. Those of us who had to fight for an education such as we had, also had to rely, especially in the industrial areas and the mining villages, upon the enthusiasm of the local miners' leaders, for example, and the local engineering leaders. We received much of our education through the trade union movement. It is a source of regret to me that, at present, the trade union movement does to take the initiative of looking after those people at their formative years, to let them see the contribution that can be made to industry, commerce and engineering.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will look at this aspect of making use of resources as well to get people into a state of mind to realise that the world is open to them if they are prepared to take the initiative on their own. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) speaks, he will correct me on the point about illiteracy. I look forward to hearing his remarks.

1243 p.m.

I too shall be short, but I am bound to say that the criticism of the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) about my right hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) were not completely well founded. I did not understand my right hon. Friend to be saying that we needed to create more resources; I understood him to be saying precisely that which the hon. Member for Wall-send was saying, namely, that the resources are there available, but we must reallocate them.

This is important because at present it is widely thought that the reason why we have to tolerate so much urban inner area deprivation is the shortage of finance available to the Government. On the contrary, the position must surely be that we have never had such a unique opportunity for channeling some of the resources back into the inner city areas, particularly into the education sphere. The reason has been made clear in recent publications and works of economists, particularly in the work of Mr. Santosh Mukherjee, one of the originators of the Government's job creation scheme and in a recent letter in The Times by Mr. Rupert Nabarro and Mr. Graeme Shankland. They argue in effect that if one looks at the present miserable unemployment situation, one can see that it will be cheaper for the British taxpayer and will represent a substantial saving upon the borrowing requirement if we artificially create work for the unemployed.

There are 1,500,000 unemployed at present. If we say for the sake of argu- ment that in economic terms, half of those must necessarily be considered to be unemployed, there is an over-unemployment element of about 700,000 or 800,000 people. On the evidence available, the economists are now saying that it costs the State as much to pay a person for being unemployed as that person would earn as an average industrial wage earner. Since the average industrial earnings are about £80 a week, we are talking of at least £3,000 per head which the unemployed are costing the taxpayer.

That is an over-simplification.

Of course it is an oversimplification, and I am speaking in broad terms, but I am not speaking off the top of my head. All this has been said and argued by the economists as a basis for the very job creation scheme set up by this Government. They have said that since it costs as much for the State to keep a person who is unemployed as that person would be earning, the amount of savings, if the State created employment in areas where it would be productive, would be considerable. That is because the State now has to pay a substantial amount in social security benefits to the unemployed, and the State loses the income tax which that person if he were employed would be paying, and the national insurance contribution which that person would also be paying if he were employed. The State also loses the value added tax on that person's consumption of goods and services.

That is why that statistic, if it is anywhere near the truth, is important. It means that if there are about 800,000 people costing the State £3,000 each, we are talking about £2,500 million of the State's financial resources—I hesitate to say "financial resources" because we are having to borrow those and we are crucifying British industry and destroying the will of people to work in order to keep it.

A substantial proportion of that would be saved if only we could devise an appropriate and proper employment for many of the people who are now unemployed. If I may move slightly out of the specific terms of the debate, that would mean, for example, that if we reduced the top rate of taxation to 60p in the pound. which would cost £260 million, that would be only one-tenth of the total figure we are talking about saving if these people were to become employed. If we made VAT a single uniform rate of 10 per cent., it would cost a small proportion of the total £2,500 million which the unemployed in our society are now costing the nation.

The gains to the taxpayer, therefore, would be substantial and should convince the Government that, by devising appropriate employment schemes, especially in the inner city areas, it might be possible to make a vast saving on public expenditure—or, if not a vast saving on public expenditure, a vast reinvestment of resources into something which would eminently benefit society.

What then, should be done in education? We could employ more people to rebuild some of the slum schools. We could reallocate some of the finance into the capitalisation of those schools. Moreover—this is fundamental to the education problems in inner city areas—we could help by using some of that finance to reconstruct and so improve some of the hopeless housing conditions which produce the juvenile crime and juvenile instability which today cause concern.

We could put to work some of the 11,000 teachers now unemployed and bring down the high adverse pupil-teacher ratio. We could devise more vocational training schemes for older pupils who do not want to stay on at school until the age of 16 and who now gum up the educational works but who would like to have vocational training. Those schemes could be concentrated upon some of the inner city areas of educational deprivation.

As the House knows, I am particularly concerned about juvenile crime. I think here of what are commonly thought to be its causes—bad housing, unemployment, bad teaching, bad school buildings, the sheer demoralisation of the parents who therefore lose a sense of responsibility to their children and thus do not contribute to their education as they should. Many of those problems would be not swept away but at least mitigated or diminished if some of the resources cur- rently being wasted on the unemployed were channelled into the construction—

Order. I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument, but he is coming very near the point of being out of order in the context of this debate. He should address himself more closely to the subject matter rather than move into the subject of the redeployment of national finance.

I always abjectly accept rebukes from the Chair, Mr. Deputy Speaker—though, fortunately, I do not suffer them very often—but, with great respect, I think that you may have misunderstood the point that I was making. No doubt I did not put my argument clearly, and I am grateful for the opportunity to restate it so that everyone may understand.

My argument is that educational deprivation is very much a consequence of an unnecessary shortage of resources in our society today, unnecessary because we are spending such a vast sum on keeping people out of work when we might channel those resources into creating employment in the inner city areas. thus benefiting education by helping to remedy educational deprivation.

I understand the hon. Gentleman. No doubt his education is better than mine—I concede that—but I think that he understands the point which I was making.

I suspect that what you are really saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is that I am probably going on a little too long. I shall therefore say little more, save to express the hope that the Government should look seriously at the possibility of re-allocating resources. I suppose that it may seem a little odd and paradoxical to the Minister, who often sees me—if he bothers to—castigating the Government for their increases in public expenditure, that I should be arguing, as it were, for what appears on the face of it to be another increase. But I hope that he will understand that it would not in fact be an increase at all. It would be a reallocation of substantial existing resources to the benefit of inner city areas and, in particular, inner city educational deprivation, which was in truth the theme of my speech and the subject of this debate.

12.54 p.m.

If 1 have occasion to refer to the speeches from the Opposition Benches, I shall refer to what was said by the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley), not by the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who seemed to be in a different debate altogether from the one in which we are engaged.

The hon. Gentleman has a nice sense of humour, and perhaps we could discuss those other matters on another occasion.

I join other hon. Members in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean). I happen to know that he used to be leader of the Manchester City Council and was chairman of the housing committee, that being his first love. Therefore, by doing us the favour of raising this subject instead of the one in which he is profoundly interested, my hon. Friend reveals to me —I hope that I am correct here—that events in his constituency and his close contact with schools and education have made him seriously worried about what is happening today in educational deprivation. I take it that he has initiated the present debate for that reason, and we are all grateful to him for it.

It should be noted, however—my hon. Friend said this—that the debate is basically about resources. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West addressed himself to practically every aspect of the education spectrum save the one we are talking about. I am sure that there is room in many education debates — the hon. Gentleman has taken part in them in the past—to discuss those matters, but the present motion is about educational deprivation in the inner cities. Obviously, it impinges to an extent on methods, but the hon. Gentleman addressed himself to those other matters almost to the exclusion of the question of deprivation.

I addressed myself to the part of the motion which refers to the need to "strengthen measures", which seems to be just as important and just as apt to cover methods and structure as resources. If I missed out some of the resources problems, I shall be glad if the hon Gentleman repairs my omission.

The hon. Gentleman spoke at considerable length—at least twice the length at which I intend to speak—and he did not touch on the essence of the problem before us. I thought it a typical comment—he spoke principally about primary education, and I am happy to know that he is deeply interested in that—that the hon. Gentleman expressed the hope that children would be looked at as individuals at least once a year. I must tell him that, in spite of his contact with schools, he does not seem to have noticed that nowadays children are daily looked at individually. I remind him that it is easier to individualise in a class of 20, 25 or even 30 than it is in a class of 30, 35, 40 or 45.

Therefore the question of resources is linked with the size of classes and the opportunity for a teacher to treat a child as an individual, as somebody to talk to in a one-to-one relationship wherever possible. This is vital. If I may continue the practice, which we often fail to do, of taking up matters raised by previous speakers instead of making set speeches, I was reminded as I listened to the hon. Member for Burton of some words in Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" in which he referred to the village schoolmaster—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman remembers this—
"Well had the boding tremblers learn'd to trace
The day's disasters in his morning face."
I cannot precisely recall the other passage, but it spoke of the children gazing at him and expecting from him everything as though he were God.

Thank Heaven, all that has changed and nowadays teachers and children are far more intermixed in the classroom, with no idea of a god imparting knowledge to 40, 45 or 50 children.

Education has been under attack, with the "Black Papers" and so on. I wish to read now a short extract from the editorial in the Teacher last week about under-use, because teachers are not there to teach, of many of the things which we have acquired at great expense. This is what was said:
"Piles of expensive laboratory equipment neatly tidied away and gathering dust, the sink taken over as an umbrella stand—this is the picture in one Surrey school—and an increasing number of others throughout the country."
Later, it was said:
"While politicians and pundits spin out the discussions, spiders spin their webs in unused laboratories, laboratories unused not because children do not want to use them, not even because there is nobody who can be recruited to teach them, but because the head is not allowed to try and find a science teacher."
That came about because the head in question had a problem posed to him that was insoluble. He had to decide whether to have a science teacher or two remedial teachers to help with the reading. That was the dilemma due to lack of resources. That is a dilemma now confronting the whole education orbit.

Investment in education is possibly the most vital investment that any of us can think of making. All sorts of stories are being foisted upon the general public to justify not making that investment. I was sad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett) falling for the nonsense that is talked by the Black Paperites. The reality is that education is better, more profound and more resultful than it has ever been. Of course, there are pockets of resistance and difficulty. We have not taught everyone to read. It is a terrible problem. However, we have taught more to read than ever before. Standards are higher than they have ever been. That is something that can be checked. Only recently in the House my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said that standards are higher than ever before.

It seems that we regard the underestimation of the impact of the cuts as almost a justification of the cuts. Many regard attacks on education as though they merely seek to reorient the money that is available. The reality is that we need more money for education, otherwise capitation allowances per child are lowered, student fees have to be increased, new buildings are not built, nursery education is curtailed, staffing levels are lowered and pupil-teacher ratios suffer.

At the inner city school that 1 left only three years ago the teachers had to decide whether to continue to have their marking periods. They are not the free periods that have been described. A teacher who does not mark in these periods will have to do that work after school hours. These periods are used for study and the preparation of lessons. I gather that the teachers decided that they would not continue to have marking periods as they could then lower the numbers in the classes.

These are the problems that confront teachers. In the meantime swimming lessons for children in the inner city areas are being curtailed. The things that many of us in this House had are being curtailed. The number of people teaching in the swimming baths is being cut. The under-fives who were able to go to school last term are now not able to do so. The implication of the Black Paperite mentality—it is said that we have lavished money profligately on education and wrong new methods and that education would be far better with less money and a return to the old methods—is a nonsense. We must not allow ourselves to fall into accepting that argument.

One argument is inevitably a concomitant of the other. There is the cheap and vulgar rationalisation that is dictated out of the desire of the Conservative Party to have education on the cheap. In January three years ago I remember making out a list of the equipment and books that I could buy for the children. I was horrified to discover that I could buy only two-thirds of what I had bought a year before. Since then we have had three years of raging inflation. The ability of the schools to buy equipment and books has become less and less.

We now have the great debate on education. It is something that teachers have always wanted. It is a debate that they have maintained over the years, but the general public have now, quite rightly, been invited to take part. Teachers have always wanted their participation. However, we should not debate education against the background of money. If that is done a smokescreen is created that leads to resources being used improperly. The smokescreen is created that we must not allocate greater resources and higher expenditure to education.

On the one hand there is a clamour for higher standards, and on the other there is a demand for Draconian cuts. We cannot have it both ways. It is hypocrisy to argue that having reduced the amount of money available we can expand education. There is a vicious circle of deprivation in education and life generally due to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Cuts produce unemployment. Unemployment produces more cuts and more cuts produce more unemployment. Those are the realities.

If we cut the education budget we stop the building of schools and prevent the builders from building. The result is that builders are laid off. If we do not buy textbooks, those who produce the books are laid off. The circle is vicious and deadly and will continue to cause children to suffer if it is allowed to continue.

It is hypocrisy to argue that we can expand everything on less money. My hon. Friends and I have said over and over again to Conservative Members "You want to cut. Tell us where you would cut". Last weekend I took part in a Yorkshire television debate with one of the Conservative Party's representatives, who said that his party would not have cuts in education. I was glad to hear him say that he accepted, although not in toto, the Bill that had passed through Parliament to democratise and spread out education at a high level—in other words, the comprehensive schools. We all remember the major attack that was mounted during the passage of the Bill. But where would the Conservative Party cut? Would it put back the money into education? I think it would cut twice as heavily as we have done, and we have cut far too much.

One-fifth of all primary school classes have over 35 children in them. Over half our primary classes have over 30 children in them. That is the position at a time when it is the policy of the teachers and the Government to have classes of under 30. What does this mean for teachers and children? It means—this is what my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West pointed out when linking housing and education—that there is a large section of children who are doubly deprived. Pos- sibly there are a million such children. They are the children of unemployment. They have probably seen mother and father put out of work. In the inner city areas especially they go to a school that is deprived. Probably the school has been deprived for a long time but now it is even more deprived due to a lack of teachers, textbooks and writing materials.

These children go from one centre of deprivation to another. There is a large number of them and the deprivation in the schools is the result of cuts in education. Many teachers are asking cynically whether it is a great debate or a smokescreen. In the regional conferences my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State laid down four subjects for discussion. One of the subjects was the curriculum—splendid. That is something we want to discuss. Another subject was the assessment of standards. We already know that they have increased. They are massively higher than before no matter what is said. People should examine them closely and not accept everything they read in the papers.

Another subject was teacher training. We want teachers to be trained. We also want them to work when they come out of college. We do not want to have 20,000 not working at a time when children need them urgently, especially in the inner city schools. Another subject was schools and working life. Again, that is something that we want to discuss.

However, the most important matter of all was missed out—namely, resources. This is something that has been pointed out by teachers everywhere. It should be a subject for discussion and not something that they have to raise from the floor when taking part in regional conferences. The most important subject should have been expenditure on education and how it should be used in the direction of the other four subjects. In fact, nothing was said about expenditure unless it was raised from the floor. It is something that we are shoving under the carpet. We are pushing it away. We are avoiding discussing deprivation due to a lack of resources.

What about teacher unemployment? What about pinchpenny local authorities? I was pleasantly surprised to hear the progressive viewpoint of the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). The right hon. Gentleman will probably be rapped even more severely than in the past for saying such things. A previous Conservative Minister is now very much on the Back Benches as a result of being reasonably progressive. The pinchpenny local authorities regard education as a sitting duck. Every time a local authority wants to do something about the rates it turns its attention to education. Education is always a large item and, therefore, has money. The pinchpenny local authorities take away that money.

Only last night an interesting article appeared in my local paper, which is called The Star. I know that Sheffield journalists are in the gallery. One of them is writing hard at this moment. In fact, The Star is not a famous paper for human progress. It engages regularly and endlessly in student bashing, especially at a time when they are having difficulty. I cannot show this newspaper to everybody now but there is an editorial in it by a man called Vulcan. There is a Vulcan on top of our town hall, but the editorials in this paper are usually even more naked than that Vulcan. It says of Sheffield:
"Already shelved because of the clampdown on spending on schools are a unit for deaf children at Silverdale for at least 15 months and a replacement school at the Tapton Mount centre for blind pupils in Broomhill. The projects are worth a total of nearly £1¼ million."
It adds:
"At Rotherham, proposals include cutting education services by £750,000.
"This involved closing Maltby Church of England Junior and Infants School, increasing further education fees, reducing staff in the further education field, rationalising staff in central departments through retirements and re-organisation, more use of school facilities instead of visiting swimming baths and leisure centres and delaying the opening of Whiston Grange School by six months.
"Also it will mean increasing parental contributions to Outward Bound centres, cuts in car allowances, cleaning and caretaking, savings in fuel and lighting, printing and stationery."
I could go on about the way that every aspect of education is being cut. About Doncaster the feature says:
"Maintenance and cleaning of school buildings will also be cut and it has been revealed that there will be economies in school meals, the home-help services and savings in swimming instruction for youngsters."
That is only in South Yorkshire. Multiply that by every area in Britain and the impact of the cuts is dramatic, to say the least. It is having an adverse effect on the education of our children and something ought to be done about it. One of the pamphlets issued by the National Union of Teachers describes the cuts as "The great betrayal". It says:
"In three short years education has suffered five body-blows:
December 1973—the "Barber Cuts" in education budgets—£182 million cut.
November 1974—Mr. Healey's interim budget—£60 million cut.
April 1975—Mr. Healey's budget—£76 million cut.
February 1976—Public Expenditure White Paper—£1,030 million cut over three years 1976–79.
July 1976—Further, mid-year cuts of £70 million are put into effect by local authorities on the insistence of Central Government, and cuts of £45 million are made in the 1977–78 budget.
Does anybody think that education, particularly in the inner cities, can possibly be conducted and expanded in the face of this terrible onslaught of cash deprivation? I know that the Government are hard-pressed, but there are aspects of education where it should be realised that the Government's policy—and I am one of those who disagree fundamentally with the Government's economic policy —must be to put more money into education. There should be less carping about quality and more truth about what is happening. There should be less attacking of teachers who are honourably engaged in doing a job of work to the best of their abilities.

Last year my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Short) asked a parliamentary Question about nursery education. She was given an important answer. She asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many local education authorities had refused their nursery allocations in 1975–76. I ought to explain this because the general public do not understand the matter. A local council. when it applies for a Government grant, has to put up a certain amount of money of its own and if it does not have that money it cannot claim a central Government allocation. Most people who are not councillors do not know this. My hon. Friend was told that out of the 36 local authorities refusing all or part of their allocation, 19 had relinquished all the allocation and of the remaining 17 authorities, 11 relinquished over 50 per cent. of their allocation. Even where local authorities had taken up their capital allocation, many were finding that the reduction in their current expenditure budget has meant that finance is not available for staffing existing nursery buildings and classes.

This means that there are 1,500,000 children aged between two and five years who are receiving no nursery education at all. That is in spite of the programme that was introduced by the Tory Government that was called "Education: a framework for expansion". It inevitably became a framework for contraction, because this is what has happened. It was a splendid plan, even though it had many weaknesses.

I want to raise the matter of class size. A figment of the imagination has been propagated among the public. It is at variance with the truth that is understood by a teacher who has to face a class at school. Classes of up to 45 pupils are not uncommon. Classes of 35 are on the increase, while the 30 limit is steadily disappearing. Yet one can read in the newspapers that class sizes in secondary schools are about 18 pupils and in primary schools about 22. The reality is that because of the nature of modern education, its expansion, the need for administrative posts and for work to be carried out other than in front of classes, teachers are facing numbers that make them—when they see what is written in the newspapers—feel outraged. To come from teaching 37 or 40 children in a primary school or 30 children in a secondary school, and then to read in a newspaper that one has been teaching only 22 or 18 pupils, is utter nonsense. It is necessary to show that children are deprived because otherwise it will be thought that they are not. We must demonstrate that the classes are over-large. Millions of teachers face over-large classes, yet other teachers are unemployed.

This year teacher training in Sheffield will be 30 per cent. less than last year. The difficulties of teaching are becoming increasingly terrible and accentuated. It comes hard to people who are working under such great difficulties to find themselves and the results that they achieve being maligned, and the Government actually conniving at this. This has out- raged honourable people who are doing their best.

There has been, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend has said, a ha-ha about reading. Standards are not as good as we would like them to be, but this fuss was rooted up from nowhere. Standards now are better than ever. Teachers are constantly carrying out experiments to improve education. Therefore, to abuse teachers instead of helping them is the antithesis of good and sensible education.

In general terms, the democratisation of education has been welcomed throughout the educational world by administrators, teachers and parents. The more that the general public knows about education the more that it will want to help in obtaining resources, and want to understand what goes on in schools. Teachers want parents to visit schools and to talk about teaching methods. To a large extent, this is happening. I have absolute confidence that the more that parents are democratically involved in schools the more they will understand the real problems of teaching their children, and the more they will enter into the spirit of the thing and demand larger resources in order that their children will not be deprived and can be taught better than before.

1.18 p.m.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) on enabling us to make a contribution in the House to developing the great debate. First, I wish to declare an interest. I still do a certain amount of part-time lecturing—although the subject for debate today is not about higher education, on which I have spoken most often in the past. It concentrates on primary and pre-school education, but it does also refer to further education and I shall address some remarks to that subject in a few moments.

I rise with diffidence, although Irepresent a London borough—that of Enfield, which has a deplorable primary teacher-pupil ratio and which has one of the worst ratios in the whole of London. Measured in those terms, deprivation is not related solely to the inner cities. The important point identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West is that we should address our minds to the rôle of education in tackling inner city deprivation.

I thought that we had a most interesting and helpful contribution from the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker). Many of us sympathise with the basic tenor of the remarks which he put to the House today, and which he has represented over a considerable period of time with much force and consistency. He has done that with sufficient force to be persona non grata to the powers-that-be on the Opposition Front Bench, because what he is identifying is a range of social problems and human needs that can be tackled only by increased public resources.

Increased resources will not, of course, provide the total answer to the problem. Many of us have passed the stage where we believe that a range of our social problems is susceptible to total answers, but the major thrust of the strategy for tackling inner city deprivation will make demands upon public resources and upon a coherent public policy, and this at a time when the Conservative Party is seeking to advocate massive cuts in public expenditure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said. We know that on education the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) has his own personal policy for massive cuts.

I do not think that we can tackle the issue of educational deprivation in the inner cities unless we recognise the extent to which it is more than an educational problem. We need an inner city strategy, and it is particularly welcome that at an earlier stage of the debate there was present a Minister from the Department of the Environment, which indicates a recognition of the necessary social capital that is part of the problem.

I suggest that part of the problem is the lack of a contribution from the Department of Health and Social Services, One dimension of the problem is that inner city deprivation makes its mark at a very early stage upon the educational potentiality of young children. People are accustomed to the adage of the Jesuits, that, given a child up to the age of seven, they will substantially define his educational pattern. There is a great deal of wisdom in that phrase.

It is the attitude, perspective and values of children in the early days of their lives that are crucial to their subsequent development. That is why, in the midst of all the difficulties over public resources, we should recognise that there is one problem that is particularly acute, and that is the neglect of our hopes for the development of policies for the under-fives.

In that context we have the right to demand from the Department of Education and Science a more coherent strategy for a relationship with the Department of Health and Social Services so that we address ourselves to one of the crucial issues of educational deprivation, which is the extending of opportunities and possibilities to young children even before they reach the statutory school entry stage.

Another dimension of the problem that has been touched on is that of teacher training. The contributions so far have, rightly, identified some of the difficulties stemming from the closure of colleges of education and the fact that that represents the loss of a good deal of teacher potential.

A much more acute problem is our failure, during the time when we have rightly recognised that the demand for teachers has been reduced because of the falling birth rate, to look at the issue in any way other than a reduction of facilities. We recognise that a quotient is added to the cuts by the demand that education bear its share of the total cuts, but, as I have just said, we have failed to consider the issue in any way other than by reducing facilities.

No one can dispute that there are falling school rolls in inner cities, but, despite the much vaunted devolution of power, local authorities are engaged in taking action imposed upon them by the central Government, because there has been little room for manoeuvre in those decisions.

I think that this is an appropriate time to raise the issue of the content of the teacher training programme and the quality of the curricula. If we are developing a strategy for the educational imput to the inner city areas, we must consider the nature and training of the teachers who will play that rôle. It is noticeable that many of the colleges that have specialised in producing teachers with a sharper insight into the problems of the inner city areas have suffered cuts, and that the departments that have been most remote from that problem— and I refer particularly to university departments of education—have been left relatively unscathed.

I recognise the contribution made by university departments of education, and it is not my purpose or wish to criticise their rôle in the past, but we are moving into a period when certainly a Labour Government ought to recognise that we need more teachers with the specialist skills and understanding of the inner city problems rather than the concentration of so much of our resources upon the training of teachers in the rather more dated mould of the development of secondary school academic curricula and the rôle that leads to the high road to higher education.

I am not saying—and I should not want to be misrepresented as saying—that we do not need to train teachers for every dimension of our schools and the work within them, but if we are serious in recognising that a major social need is to take care of the problems of the inner cities, and if we have departmental working parties under the chairmanship of the Secretary of State for the Environment looking at this issue and coordinating strategy of the different Departments, it seems clear that the contribution that the Department of Education and Science ought to be making to teacher training is insisting on a more rigorous scrutiny of the kind of training obtained by many of our teachers in the colleges.

Some will argue—and I see the force of the argument—that the lack of colleges of education and the merging of many of them with polytechnics, often with a wider range of educational academic programmes, will help to produce a greater breadth to the training of teachers, but I beg leave to raise some worries in this connection. I am not sure that we have a strategy for cuts in the training of teachers that reflects the priorities that are being identified in this debate. I know that the Secretary of State is able to suggest that one or two colleges have been spared because of their contribution to solving the inner city problem, but I do not think anyone can suggest that what has happened in the reduction of college of education places represents anything like a coherent strategy for dealing with the inner city problem.

What has happened emphasises a dimension of concern that is reflected by many of my hon. Friends who feel that the educational priority area programmes of the late 1960s are running out of steam. In my view, we should recognise that we cannot tackle the inner city problem without developing more stringently and with greater effect the concept of positive discrimination, which was one of the more meritorious dimensions of the education policies pursued by a Labour Administration in the late 1960s.

The great debate raises issues of curriculum content. The inner city problem represents one of the most crucial challenges to modern society—that of the problem of ethnic minorities. Many of our major cities—above all, London—have large concentrations of such minority groups. This problem requires an emphasis in the college of education programme on the teachers going into the area and on the curriculum so that the schools can build on the children's understanding and relate to their home background, rather than seeming totally alien. That suggestion raises important problems for the balance of the curriculum, but it could play a much stronger part in developing an understanding of the multiracial society to which we all belong.

There is one other area in which I hope for a sympathetic response from the Secretary of State. I have emphasised the low motivation in children's early years because of the inner city problems. Our education system should pay much more regard to the concept of the "second chance" and of recurrent education. However successful any inner city strategy might be, however much we improve our performance with the children, the crucial dimension of recovery from deprived backgrounds and weak educational performance lies in the extent to which opportunities for re-entering education can be obtained after the statutory school age. So often, people who seek entry to further education and adult education later in their lives have a greatly increased motivation and much sharper response.

I do not imagine that my right hon. Friend is unaware of the situation, but I would emphasise my great anxiety because our educational priorities at present do not pay regard to this issue. In a period of retrenchment we are protecting a whole range of statutory, full-time education at the expense of people who might benefit from part-time education.

The most obvious illustration is that there is no central Government policy to mitigate the extent to which local authorities are viciously cutting their level of discretionary grants. If the problem is recognised, no action is being taken to sustain this policy. This Administration purports to be giving increased emphasis to the 16-to-19-year-old group, but it is denying that sector the essential resources.

If this priority is to be fulfilled and we are to emphasise the opportunity for part-time education, which can often give greater rewards than some aspects of full-time provision, we must develop an approach to cope with the low level of discretionary grants. Ever since the Henniker Heaton Report in 1964, which identified this problem, this developed industrial nation, all too well aware of the need for trained manpower, has operated the lowest level of day release of any advanced economy in the Western world. The price is being paid now with a widespread feeling in our society that the educational system is not sufficiently related to the world of work.

However, neither on the education side nor, more crucially, on the employer's side, has any progress been made over the last decade or more in day-release and part-time education for those from deprived backgrounds and with low motivation in the full-time system, who would otherwise be able to develop educational skills with a higher level of motivation.

The hon. Member for Brent, North has a difficult task today. It must be difficult to talk about the deprived city centres if one's major advocacy is that much of the responsibility for education and social welfare be thrust on to private resources. That is the tenor of the hon. Member's philosophy and he is far too honourable and honest a politician to deny it. But surely he must recognise that the model of the most acute failure to cope with inner city deprivation is the place where private enterprise is at its strongest—namely, the United States. The deprivation in our cities, which will certainly get worse without conscious and intelligent public policies, is as nothing to the wastelands of the home of private enterprise, where limited public policy and a reliance on the private market has created a desert in so many American cities.

The hon. Member will no doubt take us on his usual tour of falling standards and educational weaknesses. Many of us find the argument about falling standards difficult to accept while the full weight of evidence seems to suggest either that standards over a period are unmeasurable or, where any kind of common analysis is applied, that standards are getting better.

If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he can identify accurately how standards have fallen, his position is scarcely supported by the evidence from the Department of Education and Science, from the Department of Employment, from the CBI when it has monitored the manufacturing side, or from any group from the training side. I believe that the hon. Gentleman is raising a hare which no doubt has a certain amount of political mileage. When it comes down to the real issues of educational achievement, the picture is very different.

I look forward to hearing how the hon. Member for Brent, North reconciles his views about the difficulties of the inner city areas—views which he will no doubt express in his usual admirable, trenchant and clear manner—with those expressed by the right hon. Member for Worcester, who at least offered us a creative insight from the other side. We recognise that that creative insight is likely to want for employment in the counsels of the Shadow Cabinet.

We need to discuss the question of educational deprivation. It can be discussed only in the context of a wider range of policies for inner city areas. I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West for enabling us to discuss these issues.

141 p.m.

I, too, wish to pay due tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) for enabling us to discuss this very important matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) paid full credit to my hon. Friend when he said that he had been the leader of the council in Manchester and was keenly interested in housing matters.

I have known my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West since my boyhood. I know that he took on that task because it was at that time a most important challenge. If he were leader of the Manchester Council now he would probably take over this subject of urban deprivation, which is quite close to his heart.

I am glad that my hon. Friend has enabled the House to discuss this matter, because it coincides with the call from the Prime Minister at Ruskin College, Oxford, last October, when he spoke of the current problems facing education. The Prime Minister commented upon the enthusiasm and dedication of the teaching profession, but he suggested that the increasing complexity of modern life meant that standards in many areas, including education, needed to go on rising and—this is where the debate is important—shortcomings to be remedied.

The shortcomings I should like to highlight are those connected with urban and education deprivation. The starting point for any such discussion of current problems must be the achievements of the education system over the past three decades and the problems that have had to be overcome during that period. I believe that there is both a credit side and a debit side in education. I shall take the credit side first and then move on to the black spots in education.

I suggest that the Education Act 1944 brought about significant reforms in our education system and it remains the basis of the organisation in education today. The reforms which were brought about by the 1944 Act represented a considerable achievement. It is to the credit of successive Governments, the civil servants in the Department of Education and Science, and the teaching profession that I can now list some very remarkable achievements that are a credit to this country.

In 1945 there were about 5 million children at school in England and Wales. In 1975 that number had increased to 9 million. That was an enormous increase in the number of children for whom we have to make educational provision. In the intervening 30 years the school-leav- ing age was raised twice. That, again, was no mean achievement.

The school buildings and the teachers needed to accommodate this substantial increase have been provided and a genuinely universal free secondary education to the age of 16 has been achieved. In my day there was an elementary school type of education and working-class children in deprived areas usually had to leave at the age of 14.

A colleague of mine who taught in a school in a deprived area in Manchester —Collyhurst—before the war had a class of 41 children of whom 39 passed the 11-plus. However, not one of them could take up a place that was offered. This was because of the social deprivations in the area. The youngsters had to go out to work because their wages were necessary to keep the remainder of the family in food.

In 1966, 237,000 2- to 4-year-olds attended maintained nursery or primary schools. By 1976 this figure had more than doubled to 488,000. The number of primary teachers had increased by over one-third and the number of secondary teachers by more than one-half. Thus, not only has an increase of 80 per cent. in the school population been successfully accommodated, but over the same period, despite the considerable strains that rapid expansion has imposed on the education system, improvements have been made. This is to the credit of teaching staffs throughout the country.

The improvements have not been confined to increases in the number of teachers. The standards of education have been questioned today. I shall quote some figures obtained from the Department. The proportion of school leavers aged 18 with two or more A-levels has risen from 66·6 per cent. in 1960–61 to 64·8 per cent. in 1974–75.

So much for the credit side of our education system. No system is perfect. There is always a debit side when keeping accounts. We still have with us, mainly in the urban areas, a legacy from the Victorian era. School buildings that I can only classify as slum schools still exist to this day in our large industrial cities. Conditions surrounding them are as grim as those surrounding any Victorian workhouse.

In recent years—I am glad to say that this applies in Manchester in particular—a large proportion of slum schools have been demolished, together with the slums that surrounded them. Unfortunately, some still remain, catering for children who are both socially and educationally deprived.

I said that the conditions in some of these schools were grim. I say that from experience. I have here a cutting from the Manchester Evening News of about three years ago. The headline is:
"Children who have to play in a cellar."
The article says:
"Children at Christchurch primary school, Harpurhey, Manchester, spend their playtime in a cellar with crumbling brickwork and little natural light."
I know about that school at first hand. I was asked by the education authorities to go and help out there during a rather bad time. When I went looking for the school, I stood outside what I thought was an old disused factory. I asked a lady who was standing on a doorstep opposite if she could tell me where the school was. She said "You are standing in front of it". I went inside and found that conditions were deplorable. The playground space was so bad that it was mainly confined to a cellar, and every playtime I had to get the caretaker to stand beside one of the stanchions holding up the building while I stood by the other stanchion to prevent the children who were running around the playground from crashing into these metal stanchions and so being injured. Because of the incidents that occurred, I took a course in first aid.

If conditions there were bad, further along the same road was another school which had a playground so small that the children actually played in the street. When the teacher blew the whistle at the end of playtime, he walked into the street and tried to shepherd the children back to school, hoping that none of them had been injured. I am glad to say that both schools have gone.

I have another photograph here which may cause some embarrassment to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West. Again, it is a photograph of a school playground, but the playground is so small that the photographer had to climb up the fire escape and look down on this postage stamp of a playground in order to get the right focal length to include the whole of the playground in the photograph. This particular deprived school, which has been demolished and replaced, was the one from which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West came as a youngster.

This shows that not all children from deprived areas fail to make the grade. We have the example of my hon. Friend himself. Not only that, about 100 yards away we had the Every Street School, which also had a playground in a cellar, and which was attended by two hon. Members who are now Ministers, both of whom came from an educationally deprived area.

There is a fourth Member who came from an educationally deprived area, but I am too modest to mention who he is. I spent some time in another school quite close to the one with the playground in the cellar. Such idiotic, bureaucratic decisions were made that during the war this school was used as a hospital for wounded troops and a hot water system was put into the building, but at the end of the war the bureau-cats said that the school building must be left as it was before. The result was that they took out the hot water system and in the many years that I taught in that school we had no hot water.

Another unpleasant aspect of the school was that the only toilet for staff was a wooden, glass-framed partition that had been hived off in the corner of the staff room. Staff had to eat their meals in the staff room, and the siting of the toilet in the corner of the room caused considerable embarrassment for all members of the staff. The only way we got this put right was by inviting a lady inspector who was visiting the school to use the toilet, and she saw for herself how bad conditions were.

If it was bad for the staff, it was even worse for the children. I was at the school in 1947 when we had the great freeze-up. For months no teaching went on in the school. The staff turned out regularly every day to see that the children were given school meals, but we could not teach because the toilets were frozen, and no amount of hot water poured down them made any difference.

It was good for me because it meant that I had time every afternoon to go to other schools where there were staff shortages and to find out just how dreadful conditions were. My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Moss Side, (Mr. Hatton) was then chairman of the education committee in Manchester, when he served longer there than anyone else. It was thanks to his efforts that we finally got rid of the slum schools.

I remember seeing my hon. Friend in the area as that from which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West came. At St. Jude's School the children were taken out because they thought that the school was going to fall down. It did fall down, but I am glad to say that when it did no children were there. Fortunately, most such schools have been demolished, certainly in the Manchester area, but the problems of deprived children have not vanished with them. The problems have been transferred elsewhere.

But how do we define educational deprivation for the purpose of this debate? The term applies primarily to the experience of those who are or who might he users of the educational service as pupils or students, but who, as a result of conditions which hold them back, derive less benefit from education than their natural abilities would allow, or who do not have a chance to develop their proper potential.

I am glad that it was the Labour Party that suggested the Open University in the hope that it could remedy some of these difficulties of educational deprivation. The range of conditions which may constitute an impediment to educational progress is very wide indeed, but in this debate we wish to focus on those conditions that education can hope to remedy or mitigate as distinct from other features such as family circumstances, poverty, or poor housing. The right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker) gave some wonderful examples of ways in which we can mitigate the effects of these dreadful slums.

There are many possible forms of educational disadvantage. Some are obvious, such as slow linguistic development among some young children, newness and unfamiliarity with English among minority ethnic groups, and undue absence from school. We all need to know what has been done about educational deprivation by such developments as the educational priority area project. We need to know what has succeeded and what seem to be the most promising lines of development.

It may be said that an increase in the supply of teachers, more opportunities for in-service training, expanded school building programmes and more money for books and equipment could contribute to the mitigation of educational disadvantage. At the same time it is only realistic to recognise—as my hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough has said—that economic factors completely unconnected with educational disadvantage will constrain these elements of expenditure.

In the White Paper dealing with educational disadvantage and the educational needs of immigrants the Government announced new institutional developments, namely the Educational Disadvantage Unit, the Information Centre on Educational Disadvantage and the Assessment of Performance Unit. In the first six months of its existence the Educational Disadvantage Unit was concerned to explore how a selection of individual local authorities, teachers and others perceived educational disadvantage, what they are doing about it and what measures they thought would help the educationally disadvantaged.

There is now a movement away from the concept of educational disadvantage. The emphasis now is on what is currently being done to mitigate it. On 16th April 1975 the Department of Education and Science organised a national conference on educational disadvantage. It was attended by about 100 people drawn from all parts of the education service. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Prentice) was then Secretary of State for Education. He welcomed those taking part in the conference and said that the Government had committed themselves to the education of those in need of special help.

The conference was part of a continuing search for ways to support teachers and pupils working in circumstances of disadvantage so as to make their joint task more successful. The most important consideration in combating educational disadvantage was that the schools concerned needed better facilities. The Plowden Report pointed the way to positive discrimination in this country by advocating that disadvantaged children should be given priority to make up for the deficiencies in their home lives, because obviously this is where pupils spend most of their time. Disadvantaged children often have parents who, when they were at school, had themselves been disadvantaged or had carried the burden of overwhelming social problems. The cause of educational disadvantage is often rooted in the family.

If we turn to the results of the urban aid programme as another example of the way in which the Government attempt to combat deprivation, we find the publication in May 1974 of the Joint Home Office and Birmingham Institute of Local Government and Urban Deprivation revealing how varied, confused and compartmentalised are the perceptions among local authority officers of urban deprivation. Urban aid was meant to relieve specific local needs which local authorities for one reason or another were failing to meet themselves. Urban aid is first aid and not surgery or even diagnosis.

Urban aid has done nothing to tackle deprivation and has served only to stunt clear thinking. It has identified a hotchpotch of symptoms and stated aims and defined goals which are impossible to evaluate. In terms of the formulation and success of social policy, more would be achieved by reverting to the old-fashioned concept of separate departmental policies and budgets dealing with the separate issues of housing, education and income.

But let me revert to the schools themselves. Good premises do not necessarily make a good school. But, if they are to be adequate for their purposes, premises must reach minimum standards so that the pupils have a proper pride in them and so that they should be held in esteem locally. Head teachers and staff should know not only the children's names but significant factors in their home backgrounds. This is especially valuable in an area in which there is a high proportion of broken homes.

Such a school was on the Manchester overspill estate at Langley. The headmistress, a Miss Brown, as were her staff, was dedicated to the children in her charge. The school was Desmesne Infants' School—that is, until it was burned down on Sunday 22nd June 1975. The school catered for families who came largely from the urban deprived areas of Manchester. I should like the Minister to note that. Today we are talking about urban deprivation. But what we have done in Manchester, having cleared most of the urban deprived areas, is to transfer the problem to new estates, as I shall try to illustrate.

Unfortunately, because of Manchester's housing policy, the estate has become like many other overspill estates—it is a huge transit camp. Manchester housing committee retains control over the estate and allows houses which become empty on the estate only to families who need rehousing from the deprived slum clearance areas of the city. Consequently, when residents who grew up on the estate get married, the vicar is saying "Goodbye" to them, because they cannot be rehoused on the estate. This also means that there is no stability on the estate. There is a constant influx of deprived families coming to live on the estate.

What does it mean for the educational establishments, all of which, like the estate, are new? Let me take the Desmesne School as an example. I have here a report from the governors of the school and the education committee following the fire which destroyed the building. It reads:
"Resolved, that this managing body of schools is firmly of the opinion that the rebuilding of the Desmesne Infants' School is vital to the wellbeing of the Langley Estate and the social needs and the ages which exist in other parts of the borough. Accordingly, we call upon the Education Committee to act forthwith to ensure the rebuilding of the Desmesne Infants' School, and it should proceed as planned."
The report goes on to outline exactly what educational and social deprivation meant in that school:
"The school serves an an area of acute social deprivation."
This is on a new housing estate.
"Of the families living in the Desmesne neighbourhood, 32 per cent. are one-parent families with all the problems that ensue from that, 14 per cent. of the families are one-parent families with four or more children, and 30 per cent. of the families have five or more children. The financial circumstances of families are such that between 35 per cent. and 40 per cent. are in receipt of social security supplementary benefits, and about 40 per cent. of the children of school age are in receipt of free school meals."
So it goes on and on.

That is one school in the area, and it will not be rebuilt. I took a delegation of the parents to meet my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science about the school. The Department of Education said "Yes. Go ahead and rebuild". Unfortunately, at local level it has been decided that there is another school in the area which is similar and which has equal problems to those of the Desmesne Infants' School. So now I have had a deputation from the second school. and what we have heard before is repeated.

Among the conditions in the second school it is said that there is an inadequate head teacher's study, no staff room, no staff toilets, antique classrooms, a leaking roof causing loss of heat, rain running down the walls, bad ventilation and draughts, bad light, traffic noise, a poor playing area round the school, and dangerously worn main staircases. That is a school in the Middleton area in this day and age. It is not in an urban deprived area.

Just to show that it is not just the Middleton area, I have a third example. Again it is an old school. It is St. Margaret's Church of England Primary School in the Prestwich area. The conditions are identical. I shall not weary the House with them.

I have tried to identify the educational deprivation in my constituency in a rough and ready way. What we should now do is think of the farmer who, having 20 cows, puts 10 of them on rich pasture and 10 on a slag heap and blames the low milk yield of the latter on their heredity. That is what we are trying to do in our educationally deprived areas, and we are doing it with children.

I ask the Minister to look again at this problem of educational deprivation to see whether more money and more teachers cannot be put into such areas.

2.8 p.m.

The Opposition are grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) for introducing this topic today. A lot of what has been said is common ground between the two sides of the House, although there are one or two issues of difference, a specific one of which I shall delineate later in my remarks.

The concern about the inner city areas is not only inter-party. It is felt throughout the world. It is a state of affairs which practically every major country is meeting in its large cities. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Leeds, West for bringing it to our attention. He represents a great city and was born in another great city in my native Lancashire where he lived and was leader of the Labour Party.

I make only one minor controversial point. It concerns the speech of the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies). He made a courteous speech, in the course of which he referred to certain of my views. He said that I was an honourable and straight man, and I welcomed those statements. But then he seemed to blame the Conservative Party and free enterprise for the problems of our inner cities. Had he remained with us, I would have pointed out to him that I spent 13 or 14 years teaching in deprived areas of London. I began in the East End of London, which was Labour-controlled and would have been Labour-controlled back almost to the Norman Conquest if there had been an East End of London in those times. The situation is the same at Islington. To blame the Tories is to push one's luck too far.

Deprivation has varied throughout history and it is different now from what it was 50 years ago. In those days deprivation existed in the country areas where farmers' children were not sent to school but were expected to help with the harvest and on the farm. In those days the cities had a remarkably high standard of education and the LCC was famous throughout the world for its educational standards. There has been a switch in educational deprivation from the country areas to the inner city areas. In that respect deprivation is new.

According to the figures, educational deprivation exists most in the cities. In the ILEA area recent figures show that the reading age of pupils is six months behind the average for the rest of the country. About 25 per cent. of pupils leave inner London schools without any educational certificate, compared with about 19 per cent. in the rest of the country. Those figures prove that there is distinct educational deprivation in the large cities, particularly in the middle of large cities, compared with the situation in the rest of the country.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) said that the debate was about resources. It is not. The important issue is what is done with the resources.

I said not that the debate was about resources but that we could not avoid the question of resources. That was my fundamental point.

I welcome the hon. Member's intervention. I referred to him because he attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley)—who made an excellent speech —for not dealing with resources but confining his remarks to what happened inside the schools. We need resources but they must be used properly.

In inner London, for example, huge resources have been pumped in, but the problem remains. The rates in the area have doubled in the last three-and-a-half years. Statistics show that in 1966–67 there were only 18·8 pupils per teacher in the Inner London area compared with 24 pupils per teacher in the rural counties. Resources have been pumped in over the years. In the Inner London area, £545 is spent per pupil per year whereas in the rural counties the sum is only £410. The use of resources is vital. Resources have been poured into London but deprivation has become worse. I do not suggest that resources should be cut, but it appears that something more than resources is needed if we are to pull up an area by the boot straps once it has fallen on bad times.

I now turn to pupil-teacher ratios. I do not disagree with some of the statements that have been made, but why is it that if we have a national pupil-teacher ratio of about 23 to 1 in primary schools, there are still large classes of 35 to 40 pupils? That must be the result of maladministration.

We must pay attention to the way in which teachers are used. What are the teachers doing? I believe that the Secretary of State is considering an inquiry into this matter. It is an inter-party issue. All hon. Members are interested in how staff is used in schools. There has been a large growth in administrative structure in the large schools. I am not convinced that it is right to use highly paid and highly qualified teachers for clerical work within schools.

Large schools are going out of fashion, but if we are to keep them we should re-examine the way in which teachers are used. One might suggest that we should write into every teacher's contract a condition that he must spend a minimum number of periods actually teaching. Some teachers have to bear the brunt of practical teaching and others are withdrawn from contact with the children. We must ensure that the best teachers remain in contact with the children, not just after something has happened that perhaps would not have happened if the teachers had been in the classroom.

The hon. Member is making an important point. Does he not agree that the provision of a career structure has resulted in too great a differential between teachers and that that encourages the situation that he has described?

That is true. We must think about that at a future Burnham meeting. Some teachers should be paid extra to train young teachers and to spend time with them. We must also talk about that and ways of ensuring that teachers are used at the right time in the right way.

The significant turnover in the inner cities is one of the reasons for educational decline. At one time over half the teachers in the ILEA area were over 30 and one third had not done three years teaching. At that time inner London was the training ground for teachers. In 1969 the teacher turnover was 29·8 per cent., in 1974–75 it was 17·8 per cent. and in 1975–76 it was 11·9 per cent. This situation is becoming more stable although that will create another problem. In my first year at the Robert Montefiore School 120 teachers filled a total of 40 places. At one time ILEA was so desperate for staff that it took any teacher that it could get. Those teachers will have to remain where they are because they will not get jobs elsewhere. The staff is now more stable and some of the least able teachers with lower qualifications will remain in the inner city. We must face that and discuss it.

It is interesting to examine why certain schools in the inner city areas succeed while others do not. That is a more interesting comparison than that between the inner city schools and the rural area schools. Why is it that in some of the worst buildings in the inner cities certain schools will shine forth like bright lights in the night while others nearby fail? Such schools exist and an examination of them would be worthwhile. I am not commenting on whether the William Tyndale school was successful because that is a subject on which we all have opinions. Such problems are not caused by lack of resources or high pupil-teacher ratios. According to Mr. Rice, the pupil-teacher ratio was 1:16—the lowest for any primary school in the division. Nor was there an immigrant problem at the school. I think that some people use immigration as an excuse rather than as a challenge to get on with the job. Only 16 per cent. of pupils of William Tyndale were immigrants. Many schools including Highbury Grove, which had 26 per cent. immigrants, had a far more intense problem. We must centre our attention on the heads of schools that have succeeded under difficult conditions.

Two years after Highbury Grove School opened, we realised that we were facing a problem of considerable illiteracy. There is no secrecy about these figures. We wondered where it had come from. In 1969, we found that the average reading age of our intake was two years below the national average. In those circumstances, something special must be done. It is no good pretending that the problem will go away.

We did an analysis to try to find the basic causes of the problem. We discovered that it had nothing to do with the age of the school from which our pupils came or the socio-economic groups within that school. It had little to do with the number of immigrants in the school. One-parent families were a factor and so, too, was the size of families. Almost all the children with a reading age of well below 11 came from families with an average of more than 4·4 children. But the most significant factor was the schools they came from. Year after year, some schools in the most difficult areas sent us children who were well up in their reading, but others seemed to have given up before the start. Expectation was the critical factor.

One example of a particularly good primary school is Highbury Vale near the Arsenal at Finsbury Park. The school had a tough Welsh headmaster, Mr. Rees, who was a teacher who believed that he could do something about children. People queued up to send their children to his school and certainly all my staff at Highbury Grove, whatever their political views, wanted their children to attend that school. It was in a very difficult area, but he presumed that the children would read and then made sure that they could.

There were other schools nearby, whose names I shall not mention, that were more social centres than educational centres—a problem mentioned in "Educating our Children", the curriculum that was sent to the regional conferences.

It is important for hon. Members opposite to realise that if there are difficulties in the bipartite system of secondary education because it lowers the estimated possibilities of those who fail the 11-plus, they must also agree that schools with low expectations and a resignation that children will not read must also lower estimated possibilities. At Highbury Vale, it was presumed that a child would succeed and the school built its structure around that presumption. The low ability of some of the children coming to Highbury Grove was caused by the low estimate of certain schools of what they could achieve.

The same situation applies in secondary schools. Some have high hopes and wish to do their best for children and others have nothing like such high hopes. I have mentioned Neasden High School before and it deserves another tribute. The school really exists. It has not been thought up in Private Eye. It takes children from the most difficult part of my constituency and neighbouring constituencies and it has one of the most difficult intakes in London—and I know about the intakes in the East End and Islington. Yet when one goes to the school, the order, discipline, cheerfulness and relationship between staff and pupils is such that any school in the land would be proud to give a similar impression. We should be communicating with the sort of people who run such schools so that they can tell us what they are doing.

In-training is necessary, but I am dubious about some of the new fashions of taking teachers away from the classroom for three months or so and putting them in a college with someone who has no contact with the classroom. Fashions in education are rather like a progressive barn dance. You keep changing, but in the end you get back to the original partner. The fashion of empires of lecturers in colleges far away from the classroom will do no good and will be a waste of public money.

I should like to see more teachers visiting successful schools. When I was at Highbury, heads of departments and houses spent one day a month visiting other schools. No one wanted to go because every teacher thought that he was indispensable, but they used to write four lines on what they had seen and we would discuss it later in the week. We would also invite the person who had been visited in the other school to visit us, and talk about his school. In-training could be done effectively by identifying the schools which do not seem to be suffering the problems that they ought to be suffering and finding out how the staff have managed.

The fact that there has been little mention today of educational prority areas shows how these things come in and out of fashion. Teachers have always been divided about EPAs. Once an area has been identified publicly as an EPA, there is a feeling that this will be a permanent problem and nothing can be done about the difficulties there. Often, if problems did not exist before, they exist after an area has been so designated. It is also often not so much a question of there being more problem children in such an area as that they become identified with a problem area and expectations are changed.

No doubt hon. Members opposite would be disappointed if I did not make one distinctive point in my speech—a point of disagreement. I wish to question the secondary school organisation in inner cities and whether the introduction of comprehensive schools has improved them. In our last debate, the Secretary of State referred to the improvements that had occurred in Oxfordshire. I have made arrangements to visit Oxfordshire schools to see whether this is so and to learn how they have succeeded.

The right hon. Lady also gave the figures for Manchester, and I have had them checked, not to dispute the figures, but to check which figures we are using and how we are interpreting them. The right hon. Lady's figures related to percentage pass rates. I suggest that what really matters is not the percentage pass rates of those who sit—anyone can get 100 per cent. Pass rate if only the certainties are entered for examinations—but the number of GCE o and A levels per 100 pupils under both systems of education. I received the figures this morning. They are available for anyone to see. If we consider them, we may get an idea about why this is happening.

The figures that reached me this morning concerned Manchester and compared county schools, which are completely comprehensive, with voluntary schools, which operate a bipartite system. The rise in the number of O level passes in the county schools between 1964 and 1976 was 44 per cent., as a proportion of the children, whereas the rise in the RC voluntary schools, which remained bipartite, was 390 per cent. I have no reason to dispute those figures. But that is an astonishing difference, and it is worthy of investigation. If something has gone wrong, we should be looking into it.

The figures for A-level passes are similarly astonishing. In the county schools they rose during those 12 years by 12·5 per cent. while the passes in the RC voluntary schools rose by 300 per cent. I should like some explanation about that. If those figures are correct then they indicate that in the inner cities the comprehensive system has not increased opportunity but rather has increased deprivation.

It tends to show that in fact the comprehensives in the inner cities have only reversed discrimination between the home environment and academic selection. I raise this matter because it is something that we shall talk about again. Now that I have received the figures, I felt that I ought to bring them out. I could refer to St. Marylebone and Mary Datchelor in London. I think conditons in those two grammars chools are at present disastrous. I am glad that the party which ILEA held last night at County Hall took place before May because it is likely that there will be a different party after May. At present it is working class children who seem to suffer. If similar figures existed in London as in Manchester, that would certainly be the case.

I should like to refer in general to the question of the inner cities. Patterns of living have changed from time to time. I am reminded of an article in The Financial Times about six months ago which stated that man first lived in small groups of hamlets, then moved to villages and, following the Industrial Revolution and a change of economic system, came to live in the large cities. But there is no need to believe that many will continue living in the big cities. There are many problems in the inner cities, like one-parent families, the old, and the young. I am not disputing that. But perhaps that is a sign that it is basically no longer a way in which people want to live and that the pattern of life has changed again. Perham they want to live in suburbia and in villages on the outskirts of large cities. None of us in this House knows for sure. Yet so much of Government endeavour, by both parties, is often used to turn back the inevitable tide because living habits have changed. It is what St. Paul described as kicking "against the pricks". Perhaps people do not want to live in the inner cities and want to change their pattern of life.

Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that both major political parties now agree in their thinking that the inner city areas, because of the community spirit that exists, ought to be refurbished and encouraged to survive? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that most people have gone to countryside and overspill estates against their own wishes and that it has been something of a social disaster?

That is true. But we should find out what people do want. Far too many hon. Members presume what people want. That has been the trouble with politics in this country for a long time. Let us now give people a genuine choice. In many cases, people —I speak from my experience—have had no choice. We shall never know what people want unless we give them the choice and maybe the time is coming when we should give them that choice.

A lot of things that we have done in the inner cities have been disastrous. I refer not only to people moving away from the inner cities but to the building of huge tower blocks of flats which both parties now agree have been a major disaster. In my constituency, I have a vast number of problems associated with tower blocks. There is nothing wrong with the people who live in them; it is the actual living conditions that create the massive problems.

It is the same with regard to large schools in the inner cities. Where the Government have stepped in and tried to save the inner city, they have not been remarkably successful. Irrespective of what the two main parties may think, I hope that we are always looking to the future. We have to analyse where people want to live and only they can tell us.

I welcome the contributions that have been made by my hon. Friends. I realise that this is a resource problem. I do not disagree fundamentally with the hon. Member for Hillsborough but, having got the resources, the problem then is using them properly. Since we are basically talking about education and not housing, my hope is that there will be an improvement in standards. We have the problem of teachers who would not have been accepted years ago and would not be accepted today for teaching. A large number will be left in the inner city areas. We also have to identify the schools that have been highly successful, like those I have mentioned in Highbury Vale and Neasden. Heads and staff must communicate with other schools and genuine in-training must be given, not by staff who are a long way away from the classroom but by teachers who have reaped the rewards of what they are doing.

I hope the debate means that all of us are more aware of what the problems are and how we can overcome them in the future.

2.38 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General
(Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I would add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean) on bringing before the House this extremely important subject. I am glad to see that more attention is being paid to this issue.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right in saying that what one finds in many inner city areas is not a single disadvantage but a whole combination of disadvantages, not just in education but in housing, the future pattern of amenities and the environment. One piles upon another until it becomes difficult for children to break the pattern of deprivation, which sometimes goes on from one generation to the next.

There are many things that comprise educational disadvantage. One of the most common is a lack of skill in the English language. The child who suffers from this is the child who will find it much harder to get a job or to get into adult education and who is likely to make such a bad start that he will never recover.

It is not just a question of his skills at school. Often, because he does not have the sound family background that he might have in more fortunate circumstances, there will also be a pattern of truancy, poor concentration and sometimes a disciplinary problem as well.

We now know that local authorities are making serious efforts to tackle the problem of the difficult child in a more humane way than in the past. They are not waiting until such children appear before the courts. About two-thirds of local authorities are setting up special units within schools, sometimes known as sanctuary units, to give such children a further chance. Another example of the best practice in education is the remedial class to which the child is withdrawn from the normal stream rather than being shut up on his own, as might have happened years ago.

Many points have been made regarding what can be done. Before dealing with them it is worth pointing to some of the educational innovations that have been made over the years to deal with the problem of urban disadvantage. I shall then deal with the particular points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West regarding his constituency.

The Plowden Report was the first to put forward any proposal for positive discrimination. It stated that it was not sufficient to treat boys and girls equally, regardless of where they came from or what their problems were. It said that they had to be treated differently. There had to be positive discrimination in their favour.

Since that time–12 years ago—there has been a steady programme of positive discrimination. The first was the attempt to build into the schools programme for capital and improvement purposes the concept of the educational priority area. Although it was never closely defined, it goes on to this day.

My hon. Friends will know, if they have followed the rate support grant advice closely, that three out of four of the new nursery school places to be provided this year—regrettably, not as many as my hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) would wish, but I know that she will appreciate that the programme is still going on, and it is right that it should—will be in areas of social need, most of them of urban deprivation. We still have a system of salary additions for teachers serving in areas of social disability, though that matters much less than it did before the Houghton award, when teachers were poorly paid.

In 1974, my Department, following the White Paper of that year, set up the Educational Disadvantage Unit with a special remit to look into educational deprivation and what might be done about it and, to pick up the point made by the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson), to extend the best practice to all schools.

We now have the independent Centre for Information and Advice on Educational Disadvantage, which is doing some extremely useful work, particularly in language studies and curriculum development. In many ways, to pick up what several of my hon. Friends, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Callaghan), said, one of the most important underlying features has been the redistribution of rate support grant towards inner cities. Perhaps I may give an example of how far it has gone, not least in the light of the intervention by the right hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Walker).

In 1974–75, the last year of the Conservative Administration, 58·21 per cent. of the rate support grant went to the non-metropolitan counties, 25·35 per cent. went to the metropolitan districts outside London and 16·47 per cent. went to London, the biggest single area of deprivation. In 1977–78 the figures will be 53·42 per cent. for the non-metropolitan counties —very nearly 5 per cent. less–26·97 per cent. for the metropolitan districts—1½ per cent. more—and 19·63 per cent. for London—3 per cent. more. There is no doubt that there has been a substantial shift.

To be fair, the right hon. Member for Worcester said that he approved of that shift. I thought that was a brave thing to say, given the constituency that he represents. There has been a redistribution towards the urban areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. Garrett), who made that point as well, might now be able to appreciate that the cake is being divided more evenly than it was some years ago.

There is a lot of evidence to show that the most significant programmes—those which produce the best value for money —are in some ways the modest programmes which are directed to the grass roots. In that respect we should bear in mind what we do about deprivation, not least educational deprivation, in inner cities. For example, there are the extremely useful effects of Section 11 of the Local Government Act, with its special emphasis on the problems of children for whom English is not their first language, and the urban programme, on which £26 million will be spent in the current year. These have been among the most successful of any programmes with regard to value for money that this House has ever approved. I hope that we can think in terms of project help of this kind for which a good deal of support comes from the local community—in other words, the parents to whom the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) referred, who are then pulled in to support these programmes.

The hon. Member for Brent, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Mr. Davies) referred to in-service training. I assure the hon. Member for Brent, North that the 10,000 places are open to be based on schools or on colleges or on a combination of both. No decision has been made that they should be based only on college training

I think that it is a mistake to regard school-based training as the only effective form of in-service training. There is something to be said occasionally for taking a teacher out of the immediate circumstances and environment of his or her school and giving a rather wider view. I think that probably the best answer would be for a mixture of college-based and school-based training, provided that the college staff are closer to and more involved in the schools, the teachers themselves from time to time teaching in the schools.

I turn now to pupil-teacher ratios, a subject referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West and others. More progress has been made in that respect in the last two years than for a number of years before. I shall give the House the figures.

First, I shall give the figures for the combined primary and secondary ratio in the whole of England and Wales. In 1970, that ratio was 22·7 children to each teacher. In 1974, four years later, the ratio was 21·1 —about one and a half children better. In 1975 the ratio was 20·6, and in 1976 it was 20·3 children to each teacher. In other words, in only two years an improvement of nearly one child per class has been achieved. There has been a fairly rapid improvement.

Perhaps my hon. Friend will wait until I have completed this part of my speech. It might give him the answer to the point that he has in mind.

The pupil-teacher ratio reflects the ratio of all the teachers and children in a school. It does not reflect the sizes of 'classes.

The reason for using these statistics is that we have no other measure which cat show whether there has been an improvement. Pupil-teacher ratios have been the common pattern of statistics used by the Department of Education and Science since the war. Therefore, they give an indication over time whether there has been an improvement. It is worth registering that the improvement has continued, despite all our difficulties, until the most recent year for which we have figures—1975–76.

It is fair to ask about class sizes. As the hon. Member for Brent, North said, teachers are now used on administrative duties, physical education, games, clubs and societies in schools. There-fore, it is fair to ask about the sizes of classes.

The position is one of considerable improvement. I shall give the figures for England and Wales over the last year and then give the figures for Leeds. I think that they will help my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West to appreciate some of the problems that we are up against.

In England and Wales the number of primary classes with more than 31 pupils —that is, taking the 30-plus class, which admittedly is too large and I make no apologies— was 48·8 per cent. in 1975. Incidentally, that was the lowest figure for many years. In 1976 the figure was 452 per cent.—a 3½ per cent. improvement. That is not too bad for one year. In secondary classes the figure went down from 16·3 per cent. to 15·4 per cent. in 1976. Although I shall certainly not take any more credit for those figures than they deserve—indeed, credit belongs to my predecessor—it is not unreasonable to say that both class sizes and pupil-teacher ratios are still moving in the right direction.

It is true that the figures for Leeds are less good. The proportion of Leeds primary classes with more than 31 children was 61·9 per cent. in 1975 compared with 48·8 per cent. nationally, and in 1976 it was 56·4 per cent. compared with 45·2 per cent. for the country as a whole. So there is no doubt that the size of primary classes in Leeds is substantially greater than it is generally in England and Wales.

My right hon. Friend may recall that in April last year one of the Opposition spokesmen chose local government as a subject for a debate such as this and praised Leeds, which is Conservative-controlled, as being a very well run local authority and also praised the Leeds council for announcing that it would cut the rate by 6 per cent. Would I be right in assuming that that 6 per cent. could well be reflected in the fact that the pupil-teacher ratio is much higher in Leeds than it ought to be and that the council would be better employed spending some of that money on employing an adequate number of teachers?

Without commenting directly on the local situation, it is perfectly fair to say that in the advice given by the Government to local authorities in the last year on the rate support grant, we have indicated that in our view the maintenance of improvement, where it was outside the average, in the pupil-teacher ratio should be a high priority. If this means that rates have to go up, they ought to do so. But Leeds is not the only authority of which that is true.

I welcome the figures and I hope that the improvement will continue, because there are a large number of teachers out of work and we do not want the ratios to improve. The point I was making is that the general public are given these bald figures and percentages—it being stated that there are classes with 31 children, when we know that in some instances there are classes with 37, 38, and even more than 40—and no explanation is given. It is unjust and unfair that the public are left with a bald statement of statistics and not told the reality of the classes which teachers have to face.

Perhaps my hon. Friend and I could make a deal. I shall agree that some teachers face too large classes if he will agree that there has been some considerable improvement over the last two years.

I want to say a word about a subject which is of the greatest possible significance if we care about inner city areas. Much of it flows from the Houghton award, whch gave teachers something resembling a fair salary.

There has been a marked decline in wastage in the schools. Taking the overall figures for the last two years, a wastage rate of 10½ per cent. in 1974–75 has dropped to a rate of 6 per cent. to 7 per cent. in the current year—that is, by nearly half. To obtain a more recent figure, if one adds to that what has happened in the metropolitan districts, there is a fall of more than one-third in one year and, in the case of ILEA, to which the hon. Member for Brent, North referred, the turnover between the summer of 1975 and the summer of 1976 was half.

I believe that we can build a great deal on this. It is interesting that the rather important verbal ability results for inner London have shown, after a long period of decline, an improvement over the last year or so. The same feature is reflected in the figures from the National Foundation for Educational Research on reading ability. In the view of the inner London authority, both are attributable to this slow-down in the wastage of teachers.

ILEA points out—I know that the House will take heart from this—that for some disadvantaged children a teacher is not just a teacher but a parent. The stability of a teacher in front of a child with everything against him and the possibility of building a growing relationship may be the single most critical circumstance. The hon. Member for Brent, North referred to something similar for giving that child an opportunity to develop and to learn.

I turn to the details of the matters which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West raised, and I shall quickly deal with them. I am pleased to tell him that the Castleton Primary School is in the authority's programme for 1978–79—at least, it was: we had to inform the authority that it would have to redesign the schools programme for 1978–79. Nevertheless, the cut for Leeds has been relatively small.

For example, the allocation for 1977–78 was reduced from £980,000 to £916,000. To the best of our information there is no reason why Castleton should not remain the first priority, as it is at present, for the Leeds authority. We shall be making the allocations for the year—with Castleton entered in 1978–79 —in the summer. If Leeds gives that school the priority which my hon. Friend would wish, there is no reason why it should not be in the programme. Obviously, I cannot make an official statement now.

Regarding Armley Park Middle School, a start will be made at the end of the month. Finance will be available for the complete replacement of the school from compensation of the road—it is too late to go back on that now, because the bricks will be laid—and the rest of the money, £150,000, will come from the current building allocation.

The third school, Park Spring Primary School presents a more difficult problem. From the figures before me I cannot deny that the pupil-teacher ratio in this school is well out of line even with that of Leeds. I am told that the reason for this is not that the authority is not prepared to finance additional teachers—the present ratio is 28·5 to one, which those of my hon. Friends interested in education will see as a heavy ratio—but lack of accommodation.

The Leeds authority is setting up another temporary classroom at Easter. I understand that it is possible that a further one will be added after that. We have not been asked by the authority for permanent replacement accommodation. It is not in any programme and it is not for us to take the initiative for the local authority. The authority says that the bringing forward of the temporary accommodation arises from the rapid development of a local housing estate that may not add to the permanent child population, I can tell my hon. Friend that the size of classes will fall quite considerably when the two new classrooms come into use, as they should in the near future.

If he wants to pursue with the authority the question of permanent accommodation, he is free to do so. It is not for the Department of Education and Science to decide what are the programmes and what should go.

I am sorry to inter vene again, but this is an important point about West Leeds. I do not know whether other hon. Members have experienced this, but there seems to be an interminable number of temporary classrooms being built for schools. They are not the answer and they have become a permanent feature of that particular school establishment. Most of them are sadly lacking in basic necessities, such as toilets, washrooms and cloakrooms. The result is that the children have to go to the main school to take meals, to go to the toilet, and so on, passing out into the open in such inclement weather as we have had recently and getting soaked. That is why I am totally opposed to this provision for temporary accommodation, because it gets the authority off the hook, and it is a quite unfair way of doing it.

I am pleased to say that there is progress on one matter for which my hon. Friend has pressed. There should be a new cloakroom block, which will take care of that problem in the near future, along with the temporary classroom. On the general question of temporary classrooms, I go some of the way, but not all the way, with my hon. Friend, and I say that for this reason. I represent a new town where we now find permanent classrooms only partly filled as the school population suddenly bulged and then reduced, and I regard this as a rather unfortunate use of educational resources.

Yes, it is unfortunate to have schools which will be only partly full for the foreseeable future, since in some cases it would have been better to provide temporary classrooms which could then be removed in a fairly short time if the need for them disappeared. In some cases that must be so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) showed a great knowledge of East London, and she also took matters rather wider than the specific matter of schools in East London. Since you permitted her to do so, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I hope that I shall be allowed to make a few comments on what she said.

First, I believe that we all face a serious problem of choice in respect of education unless we assume that resources are unlimited. In saying that, of course, I take the point made by several of my hon. Friends, that one should fight for resources for education. But the comment by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West at the beginning of the debate is perfectly fair. He feels that we have given rather too much priority over the years to higher education; and in this context it is worth mentioning the figures.

In the current year we shall be spending £3,204 million on all schools, that is, from the ages of 5 to 18. In the same current year we shall be spending £1,875 million—that is, well over half—on higher and advanced education, with about one-tenth of the numbers in that sector.

I am proud of our higher education system in this country, but I do not believe that one can argue that we should put more and more resources into higher education in this situation. I say that because I believe that we must get across to the perfectly genuine and idealistically motivated students that there are here real problems of priority and choice. That does not mean—with respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Barking—that we cannot have a good deal of discussion about priorities in higher education, but I have to tell my hon. Friend that we cannot give equal priority to both.

I am clear that we must now give more priority to the disadvantaged, including those disadvantaged in further education, even if that means having on occasion to face up to a certain amount of reaction in higher education circles. I believe that to be almost inescapable.

I turn now to what my hon. Friend the Member for Barking said about teacher training. We shall look at the point which she made about the figures at the North-East London Polytechnic. She asked for a minimum of 150 against the 100 places we have set.

Very well. My hon. Friend wants 250. Nevertheless, I can assure her that even on the present figures the North-East London Polytechnic will continue to be a centre of in-service training in the area. We shall, of course, look at the representations which my hon. Friend has made both in this debate and elsewhere regarding the position of the college.

Next, with regard to inner London—my hon. Friend the Member for Barking referred to the imbalance between East and West London—we have asked ILEA itself to put forward its own figures, and I hope that ILEA will note what my hon. Friend said about the imbalance between East and West and North and South London.

Next, on the question of student fees, my hon. Friend knows that I wish to discuss the matter, but it is worth saying that 95 per cent. of undergraduates are now maintained either fully or almost fully, and the same applies to two-thirds of post-graduates. Therefore, I do not believe that the bright working-class youngster will suffer, though I grant that the mature student may suffer to some extent from the increase in fees.

I turn next to the question of parental contributions. It would cost £120 million to abolish them completely, and that takes me back to what I was saying about priorities. But my hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, with the withdrawal of the child tax allowance on the introduction of the child benefit scheme, the whole of the withdrawn child tax allowance will be applied to the parental contribution scale, and parental contributions, which are now worth £120 million, will then have to meet only £55 million at the end of the next three years when child tax allowances have been withdrawn. In other words, the parental contribution will be considerably less significant than it is at present.

I wish to end now by referring to certain other steps which we believe can be taken to help the inner cities, and 1 shall list them briefly. First and fore-most—I have said this before in the House —I believe that there must be some element of specific grant in education expenditure. I say that because, unless there is, the problem to which many of my hon. Friends have referred—that is, money not going where it is intended to go—will continue. I am clear, therefore, that there must be some specific grants, particularly for innovations in respect of the disadvantaged.

We have, for example, mounted the adult literacy scheme—£1 million for three years—and this is already making some impact on some of the most disadvantaged of all. We have agreement to the payment of supplementary benefit to boys and girls attending up to three days a week full time in further education, and this should help some of the most disadvantaged and unqualified youngsters coming out of school.

We have 14 schemes of vocational training starting, the idea being to try to find out how to remotivate the youngster who has lost interest in education. Moreover—I refer here to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend —we have established closer links with the trade unions and between them and the schools.

Only today we have announced an increased grant for the WEA, which is of some significance for adult education in disadvantaged areas. We have also announced that we shall be meeting the deficits for district WEAs for the whole of this year. There will be further emphasis on industrial and shop steward training in the WEAs.

My hon. Friends will know that the Prime Minister recently set up a Cabinet committee to review the work of all Government Departments, including the Department of Education and Science, in the inner city areas. Only last month my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment said at Bristol that great attention would be given to the attempt to link the main programmes of central Government and local government. There will be a Government announcement within the next few weeks about programmes for the inner city areas. I emphasise that education will be very much a part of any such programmes.

3.6 p.m.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science for giving me the opportunity to comment on temporary classrooms. I shall make those comments before dealing with some of the points that have been made by various hon. Members before the debate is closed.

In certain circumstances temporary classrooms are necessary, but there are strong feelings about the standard that the Department of Education and Science has laid down for new buildings over the years. What the Department thinks is satisfactory is not found satisfactory by most practising teachers. Additional space for libraries or activity rooms in primary schools can be useful, but it is generally felt that the standards of the Department, especially standards of space in secondary schools, arc often inadequate and improper. I agree that the under-use of space is uneconomic but the present standards laid down officially as adequate are not adequate. That can be determined by fairly easy testing on my right hon. Friend's behalf.

The hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson) was, as usual, an educational Jekyll and Hyde. Most of what we saw in him today was more of Jekyll than of Hyde, but the Hyde characteristics emerged when he dealt with comprehensive schools. What the hon. Gentleman had to say was based mainly on his experience in London in active classroom conditions. That is why some of us were in agreement with some of his remarks.

The deprivation problem is rather more subtle than some might suppose. I believe that some pupils of public schools —the so-called public schools that are, in fact, private—are much deprived by a lack of instruction in manual skills. There is, for example, a lack of ability to understand what happens in engineering. This is not merely a matter of making the occasional coffee table and taking it home. I accept that Oundle is different. It may be that the whole of British industry would be different if other schools had followed Oundle's example.

The latest problem of deprivation in London is bizarre in its nature and is experienced in the better-heeled parts. As a result of au pair girls speaking ineffective English and making different requirements of young children in behavioural terms, certain problems are being experienced in some primary schools. This underlines what my right hon. Friend said about oratory. We are not taught to speak at school, we are taught at home. The school is complementary to what is done by the family and the community. Where the community is attacked, as it often is in the older areas of inner cities, the school has more than to make up for that deprivation. I shall not repeat all the other things that have been said about the difficulties that arise.

The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) mentioned television. It is true to say—and no doubt my hon. Friend will intervene if he disagrees—that the onset of television and the television generation, the way in which things are learned and possibly values are imbibed from it, and the degree of imitative activity that can derive from certain types of television are potent educational forces. This is something that schools often have to grapple with—particularly the commercial aspects of television. Assumptions are made that to achieve satisfaction one has only to buy something or to press a button and all is well, whereas—as everyone in the House knows—that is not so and all is not well.

Indeed, one of the difficulties in motivating pupils who are most in need of education is in persuading them to make a little effort in the short term to achieve a longer-term advantage. That is one of the most difficult things that any teacher has to deal with in the classroom. But at the same time television is putting out the message that one does not have to make that effort, and that one has only to press a button to buy happiness or to obtain a completely different area of human experience. This is something that teachers must take into account.

My main theme in speaking about educational deprivation is that the system, as at present structured and organised, is upside down. Priorities in education are, all too frequently, inversely proportional to need. Reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Dean), in opening the debate, to the Robbins Report. He talked about the great expansion of tertiary education in the past decade. Richard Crossman summed it up well when he said:
"We are going to get more of what we have got, but is more of what we have got what we need?"
Many people believe that that expansion, as outlined in the Robbins Report, was not necessarily what we needed. At last we are beginning to get to grips with the problem. But the system is still upside down because we have not dealt with the rationale of secondary education. It still has psychological hang-ups that date from the time when secondary education was not universal. Therefore, disparate comprehensive reorganisation does not necessarily mean that there is universal secondary education fitted to the needs of every individual. Indeed, I suggest that the opposite often takes place.

This is particularly so in the matter of assignation of teachers to particular classes. We appreciate all that the Secretary of State and her Department have done in quantitative terms. But often it is what happens inside school in qualitative terms that is even more significant. It is still true today that in many schools —and not even the Secretary of State could pass a regulation to prevent this, and that is the limitation of any administrative organisation — the most difficult classes with the most difficult children are often given to the newest and least experienced teachers. This is an unfortunate and tragic fact. This alone is perhaps one of the most potent problems that the educational world faces. It is no good passing laws or regulations about this. We must find out through registers or returns how much it happens.

I draw the Secretary of State's attention to an article that was recently published in a South Wales newspaper, although possibly the Secretary of State for Wales, who was here earlier today, is responsible for these matters. But I understand from the article that the organiser of remedial education in Glamorgan made a ruling that new or inexperienced teachers should not be given to the classes or individuals that are most in need. I understand that that was overruled by the local authority and an appeal was made either to the Department of Education and Science or to the Secretary of State for Wales. But the practice continues. This is a qualitative factor that the Secretary of State should look at.

I always want to refer to the matter of promotion out of the classroom. This was touched on earlier by the hon. Member for Brent, North, but I shall come back to that point in a moment because it is related to what we do about future teacher training.

I hope that it will be possible to make a proper assessment of internal school policies for those who are learning slowly and those who are disruptive. I have yet to see a comprehensive investigation of this on a national scale, particularly in respect of those schools that are dealing with it successfully. It may be that the inspectorate is embarking on this. It would be a useful exercise, because one is up against continuous psychological blockages.

As my hon. Friends will confirm, no teacher likes to confess to his colleagues, still less to his head of department, and even less than that to his headmaster, that he cannot cope, because there is an inherent reflection upon him. It requires a little humility to go to another col- league and say "I cannot deal with this situation. What do we do about it?". In other words, communication about disruptive and difficult pupils is an uphill task.

No headmaster will want to admit that to a divisional officer or to an inspector. He will try to put the best gloss that he can on a difficult situation, and that is understandable, because no person in that position wants to admit that things are difficult. The same consideration applies from the local education authority to the Department.

I suggest that where teachers—and there are many of them—are slogging away with difficult classes, in a self-giving way, they should be supported as far as possible. I assure my right hon. Friend that dealing with difficult pupils and difficult classes, particularly in a secondary school, is an emotionally exhausting affair. When I came to the House, despite all the complaints, I found life as a Member very much easier than the task on which I had been engaged before I came here.

I now turn to the question of the future of teacher training. My right hon. Friend said that she would like to see a mixture between college and in-school training for teachers. She is right, but, if there is to be a mixture, we have to be clear how it is done inside the schools. This is perhaps 10 years or 12 years later than it ought to have been done, because there has been an unfortunate divorce between colleges of education and practising teachers of long experience. During the past 15 years there has been some friction and lack of communication, to say the least.

If, as my right hon. Friend said, there is to be more work for students in schools, it must be organised in a way that is acceptable to the school, and if a person comes in from a college he must not just breeze in and breeze out and cause human problems in the school. It is not just a case of somebody from a college occasionally teaching in a school. One must look to the medical profession for an analogy. It would seem strange if a doctor were to go to a college at which there were no patients, but we have managed to do that in education for the past 50 to 60 years.

Those who have been involved on the classroom floor know that it is better for the master teacher to be nominated and to have his staff working with him continuously for a long time. There is a case for that, and I hope that the Department will consider it, because the transmission of successful educational techniques and the creation of a successful educational environment is not a mechanistic affair.

During the past 15 years we have talked about education as though the education machine is like a wireless set, where one plugs in a valve and wires things up. It is not like that. It is very much more like plant breeding or agriculture. People have to be part of any new techniques that are found to be successful and to be able to see the whole thing in the round. Unless that happens inside successful schools, with mature and successful teachers, I do not think that we shall get value from our teacher training situation.

I shall not say that the people who are most successful are traditional, progressive or regressive. I label the hon. Member for Brent, North as regressive in many of his ideas, which he did not touch on today. All this would fall into perspective and some of the arguments that we have had on these matters would become a little less heady and more practical because, in the wise school, in the variety of methods used, and in the variety of learning structures, the most important thing is the creation of motivation in pupils, the presentation of challenge, and the way in which pupils can learn self-discipline. Many of the arguments in the last few years—so-called progressive versus so-called traditional—have not been realistic in the deepest educational sense.

I should like to put one or two suggestions to my right hon. Friend, some of which she will have heard before. In respect of quality and qualitative matters, it is not easy to start trains of change which will seed themselves. To do that in education requires the following kind of approach. I hope that everyone in the Department of Education and Science who is concerned with policy-making for some part of his career will go to a local education authority. I do not know how long civil servants spend in the Department these days. They might not have enough time in their career structure to enable them to go out to an LEA, but if they had the quality of administrative decision making could only benefit. That should be seriously considered.

My second suggestion, based on the practical experience of people visiting schools, is that local authority inspectors and officials should have sabbatical terms in others authorities, teaching in the most difficult circumstances. After a few years in administration, they should go back into teaching, whence they came, and teach in difficult schools of other authorities, so that they may better appreciate the difficulties. I know that many of these people are very sympathetic already, but one must experience something before one can really understand what it is all about. The world of education lacks experience in this most important and fundamental area of education.

Finally, I hope that my right hon. Friend will have a look at increasing the age of recruits to teaching. It has been said many times that teachers with experience in other walks of life who can bring some experience into the school, even if it is only anecdotal, can provide much more educational input. As a long-term aid—it will take some time, but every principal of an education college to whom I have spoken agrees that it is a good idea—teachers should be recruited from the age of 23 upwards and paid accordingly during their period of training.

Educational priorities in practice are often upside down. The areas which need educational priority, therefore, do not get what they need, not because of the lack of intent by my right hon. Friend or those who assist her but because the real motivations and the practice are not sufficiently understood either by local education officials or by the Department.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West for making this debate possible. Our discussions have been based on broad agreement, despite some differences. I hope that the Secretary of State's efforts in this direction will be even more successful than they have been already.

3.24 p.m.

I have given my reasons for initiating the debate. If I thought that the end product would be a slightly faster move along the road of resolving the problem of educational deprivation in the inner cities, it would be well worth while. Various speakers have stated the case very well.

I had not intended to be a Devil's advocate against my right hon. Friend. I thank her sincerely for the sympathetic and thorough way in which she has dealt with my points. I am sure that her announcements in reply to my speech, that the Castleton School will be given the go-ahead provided that it is submitted by Leeds as its top priority—as it is at present—and that a start is imminent on Armley will be well received in that area.

The debate has been worth while. I think that it will have shown my right hon. Friend that in her fight for resources she will not be short of allies in this Chamber.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House recognises the need to maintain and strengthen measures to mitigate the effects of educational deprivation in inner-city areas.

Low-Paid Workers

3.25 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House draws the attention of the Government to the position of the 4,500,000 low-paid men and women in the country, and in particular to the three million employees in the Wages Council sector; urges the Government to consider the effects of taxation policy; and, whilst recognising the benefits of the social contract for this group, further urges the Government to do all in its power further to improve the strategy necessary to fulfil its commitment to improving the relative position of the low paid as part of the social contract and continue to heed the needs of the low-paid worker when considering the next stage of the wages negotiations.
This has indeed been a fortunate week for me. I succeeded in securing a debate on the Adjournment, albeit at 5·15 a.m. Secondly, I secured second place in the Ballot for Private Members' Motions, although it will be a truncated debate. Perhaps, in view of this indication of my luck, I should start doing the pools.

This debate is another strand of the first debate. We are still talking about deprivation—not educational deprivation, but income deprivation. One is related to the other, regrettably.

In the past few weeks, there has been a series of campaigns at different levels, and by different groups in industry, growing in intensity, to obtain a more favourable response from the Government in the next round of pay negotiations. We have heard from management. We have heard from skilled workers to this effect and seen direct action by some of them. These campaigns, if they can be called such, have been characterised more by emotion than by objectivity and fact.

I should state at the outset that in my view good management should be paid more than skilled workers, and skilled workers, should be paid more than unskilled workers. However, I believe that the bands from top to bottom should not necessarily be as wide as many people, including hon. Members on the other side of the House, would have us believe.

I do not believe that any large group of workers has destroyed what might be described as the natural order of things. I do not support the view that the income of a group of, let us say, the unskilled has displaced the skilled en masse or, as management might say, that the unskilled worker is almost displacing management en bloc in the movement of his income. I think that the subject requires more sophistication and less generalisation.

The rich are for ever bleating about the erosion of differentials for them. However, it is an inescapable fact, according to the Inland Revenue Association, that the top 1 per cent. own 30 per cent. of the total personal wealth in Britain. I shall not lose too much sleep about any narrowing or differentials for them. My main fear is that the differentials have not been narrowed at a sufficiently speedy pace to satisfy many of my colleagues and myself. Indeed, I joined the Labour Party to help to remove the differentials between this affluent group and the rest of us.

Undoubtedly, management has suffered along with the rest of the population in the last couple of years. In the report "A Survey of the Motivation of British Management", which was introduced a few weeks ago to a fanfare of great publicity by the Opinion Research Centre, we are told that management is now less motivated than it was in the past. If it is true that management earning, let us say, from £7,000 to £10,000 a year is now less motivated than it was, it can surely be argued that the many people who are earning £30 a week or less would be justified in expressing a smaller degree of motivation to their jobs. The lack of motivation on the part of people earning £30 a week or less can be of similar detrimental value to the economy as a whole as to the supposed lowering of morale on the part of management. The £100,000 spent on this survey could have been better spent, perhaps by investing it in industry. I hope that a similar amount of money can be found for a survey into the attitudes of low-paid workers to the events of the past couple of years.

Management must accept at least some of the blame for the ills affecting the country as a whole. Perhaps if we were better politicians or had better civil servants we would have a significantly improved rate of economic growth, but I do not think that management can opt out of its share of blame and say that the blame lies elsewhere. It is important that we should have good quality management, but management must accept a portion of the blame for their own plight and the plight of the country. The best managers must be well rewarded.

According to the ORC survey, it is regretted that some managers have found their incomes squeezed so much that they can no longer afford to send the kids to fee-paying schools, some cannot keep the domestic servants that they used to have, some have to do the gardens themselves, some find themselves unable to buy a bigger or better house or buy a second car or they cannot purchase a boat or holiday home.

To some people this may be regrettable, but I do not think the reality of the situation is quite as damaging as ORC say in their propaganda. As many as 40 per cent. of those interviewed said that they have had to make no economies in the past couple of years and 63 per cent. expected their standard of living in the next couple of years to be about the same or a great deal higher than at present.

I do not think that these statistics, produced amidst a blaze of publicity, necessarily support the case that they are attempting to put forward. We must accept that as a nation we shall never increase our standard of living, and we shall for ever claim to be underpaid—virtually everyone claims to be underpaid vis-à-vis our counterparts in America and Europe—until we produce goods as efficiently as those countries. Until then we shall always have this international differential.

Many managers are feeling the pinch, but I do not think that the ORC Report gets to the heart of the matter. The Inland Revenue Staff Association has said that
"Most directors might enjoy a higher standard of living than was revealed in the income tax statistics."
According to the Association of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Taxes,
"Income from self-employment has been evaded more than in the past, and because of tax avoidance on fringe benefits the number of employees earning over £10,000 a year looked smaller than might be expected."
So the crisis affecting management is not in every case as severe as we are led to believe, though I do not wish to obscure the fact that we are all suffering to some extent. The ORC Report says that management believes that other groups of workers were noticeably better off than they were. That is a subjective view, and this report is strong on subjectivity but not too strong on objective facts on how the position has really been affected in the past couple of years.

Of the managers interviewed, 19 per cent. said that they felt that unskilled manual workers were doing noticeably better than they were, 21 per cent, felt that skilled manual workers were doing better than they were, 15 per cent. thought that civil servants were doing better than they were and 10 per cent. felt that public employees were doing better than they were.

I hope to show that it is an absolutely fallacious view to see a group moving en bloc to replace other groups. The categories of civil servants and public employees referred to, ironically include many of the lowest-paid workers in the country. It is absolutely wrong to assume that the unskilled working man is doing noticeably better than management in this country today, not even in terms of percentage increases as an as yet unpublished Low Pay Unit Report clearly shows.

I want to talk about the forgotten army in our society, that large group of people who are low-paid. Few people realise the magnitude of this group. There are so many definitions of low-paid as to doubt how many fall into the category of low-paid. I shall take the base line used by the Low Pay Unit of £45 a week. The unit arrived at this figure by updating the TUC's poverty level of 1975 and took the £45 to be what a married man with two children living in a council house needs to earn to receive the equivalent of what he would get on supplementary benefit. Many people fall into this category—far more than most people realise.

These are people who earn their poverty. They work hard and take home very little at the end of the working week. We can look at examples on an industry-by-industry basis. The New Earnings Survey reveals some amazing statistics. The lowest paid includes one category of people in the professional and scientific service, and also one group in public administration. We are all aware of the appalling record of the hotel and catering industry when it comes to low pay, and I raised this in a previous Adjournment debate. But we have also to consider the textile and clothing industry, the service industries and agriculture. These are the industries persistently paying incredibly low wages to their work forces.

It is interesting to consult the New Earnings Survey to look at the occupations of large numbers of the low-paid. In April 1976, according to the New Earnings Survey, the percentages of full-time workers with weekly earnings less than £45 per week included 40 per cent. of males over 21 working in agriculture, 6 per cent. of those working in mechanical engineering, 11·5 per cent. of those in instrument engineering, 10 per cent. of those in metal goods, 30 per cent. of those in clothing and footwear, 11 per cent. of those in timber, 33 per cent. of those in the distributive trades and 39 per cent. of those coming under the ubiquitous heading of "miscellaneous services".

This is an appalling indictment of the way in which we organise our economy with such a large proportion of the population over 21 years of age earning these poverty wages.

Looking at the numbers involved, we see that, including overtime, 3·8 million people are earning less than £45 a week. If we exclude overtime, the figure is 4·5 million people. Adding the number of people on benefit in August 1976, we find that more than 3,126,000 individuals were in receipt of supplementary benefit in one form or another and, according to Social Security Statistics 1975, the estimated number of people in families who are eligible for one form or another of supplementary benefit is 8 million. The take-up rate is only 75 per cent. of this, so it may be that nearly 6 million people are in families dependent upon supplementary benefit. They will obviously include retirement pensioners, the unemployed and one-parent families. But the figure shows how many people are either earning their poverty or in poverty because they depend upon State benefits. Although we recognise that State benefits are going up, few people would claim that they permit a level of affluence or a high standard of living.

Looking at groups of people who are underpaid we see, as might be expected, that the majority are women. Despite the advances made by equal opportunities legislation, equal pay legislation and sex discrimination legislation, the problem of low pay amongst women is especially acute.

I refer again to the New Earnings Survey for April 1976. I look at occupations where 70 per cent. or more of the female work force are low paid. They include 93·4 per cent. of retail shop cashiers, 99·1 per cent. of retail shop check-out operators, 88·9 per cent. of receptionists, 72 per cent. of shorthand typists and 93 per cent. of ladies hairdressers, to name just a few. Despite all the advances made by women over the past couple of years, these are matters which we must look upon with considerable concern.

Then we have other groups, mainly immigrants, who have been shown traditionally to be enjoying, if that is the right word, the lowest pay and to be working in the less desirable circumstances.

There are some areas which we know from statistics are particularly badly off when it comes to wages. But, even within areas supposedly prosperous such as the West Midlands, there are considerable pockets of low pay, not the least being my own constituency. All the indices for low pay are there—a large number of women workers, wages council industries, immigrants, declining industries, small industries and industries lacking trade unions. One tends to find that industries lacking trade unions are amongst the lowest paid.

Industries covered by the 43 wages councils cause great concern and this embraces over 3 million people. In Hansard on 18th January 1977 we learned that, for example, taking the wages councils at random, in dressmaking the basic wage was £22·90 and that after stages 1 and 2 of the pay policy it was under £30. In most of the 43 wages council industries the basic rate appears to be about £30 a week. The licensed residential is £30 and retail drapery pays £31·60, to quote only a few. More must be done to prosecute employers who are found to be paying wages that are too low.

The low-paid have a strong moral claim on the rest of us to ensure that they are properly looked after in the next round of pay negotiations. They have not resorted to industrial action and they are not expressing their case as vociferously as other groups. We should pay more attention to their needs.

I hope that in the next few weeks the Minister will publish the statistics about how the relationship between the skilled, unskilled and management has been moving over the last few years. Those statistics could eliminate much of the prejudice in newspapers and other places. We must do what Jack Jones said and "put an axe at the root of the low pay problem".

The Government have done much to bear in mind the needs of the low paid in their incomes policies and in legislation. I shall be interested to see what Schedule 11 of the Employment Protection Act will do. I hope that in the next few weeks the interests of this large number of people will not be trampled into the ground by those who put their case in a more sophisticated and noisy manner. We are looking to the Government for further action.

3.42 p.m.

I welcome the motion because it gives us an opportunity to examine the argument of the hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) in favour of those employed in wages council industries. He said that the debate was linked to the previous debate on educational deprivation. It is also linked to the debate on personal savings.

If we are to move people out of low-paid jobs, we shall have to ensure that jobs will stand a higher rate of pay. That means that the rest of us will have to pay for it. Any expansion in industry will come from extra savings. If people were paid more and saved more, there would be a more equal spread of wealth in the country. If we could persuade more Labour-controlled councils to let council house tenants buy their own homes. that, too, would create a more equal society.

There are fewer low-paid workers today, largely because there are an extra 700,000 people out of work and because the unemployed tend to come from the bottom of the labour market.

When my wife was researching for the Child Poverty Action Group, she was paid poverty wages of £10 a week. She discovered that many of the workers who lost their jobs were those who were not represented by trade unions. However, that was not the only cause, because many of them were previously employed by small companies that would have gone out of business if wages had suddenly risen.

We can ask the Government to go further in simplifying many of the orders for wages council industries. I understand that the Government are doing something on those lines. There is no point in legislating to provide minimum pay in certain industries if the people in those industries cannot understand what the minimum pay is. We accept that there are many who do understand but who do not meet their obligations. We expect people to obey the law whether they are Clay Cross councillors or employers in wages council industries.

One of the difficulties is that 10 million workers, including the police, are not represented by TUC-affiliated unions and are not being consulted by the Government about the next round of the pay policy. The Government must sort out negotiating and consultation procedures so that as many employees as possible are represented in the settlement of the norm from June onwards.

One can go a stage further. A lavender-coloured report of the Labour Party conference at Blackpool dropped through my door this morning. On page 137, there is a motion that was carried by conference to increase the recognition of differentials, increase the relative position of the low-paid and a couple of other things which, together, add up to more than 100 per cent. of what is available. I hope that the Government take this opportunity to spell out their attitude on the position of the low-paid who are not represented by the big guns on the TUC Economic Committee.

In the past few years, the level of pay settlements, which have been associated with the rate of inflation, have often been set by a hard core of highly skilled workers, normally aged between 25 and 40, working in industries where the consumer has paid for the pay increases in price rises when there has been no increase in productivity. On other occa- sions, the lead in pay settlements has been given by workers in what have been, up to now, relatively secure jobs, such as those in nationalised industries, the Civil Service and associated professions. The people who lost out were those who could not get the going rate. We saw this for a time with nurses and, before the Houghton Report, teachers and also with people outside the major engineering and technological industries. They have had to settle for £2 instead of £4 or £4 instead of £12. We shall be interested to hear how the Government intend to reconcile protecting the interests of the low-paid with allowing respect for differentials to be re-established.

On international comparisons, we could do a great deal for the low-paid by increasing family allowances, child benefits or child tax credits. This would take pressure off people who are likely to remain in relatively low-paid jobs for the foreseeable future. There is no reason for their children to suffer because of that.

3.47 p.m.

I shall try to cover a lot of ground in the limited time available to me. I have a sense of having been here before and not so long ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) had an Adjournment debate in January about contract cleaners and low pay. This motion is wider ranging and is further evidence of his keen interest, which we share, in the problems of the low paid.

I listened with great interest to the points raised in the debate and I acknowledge the recognition paid in the motion to the benefits of the social contract for the low-paid. I use the term social contract in its widest sense and am not referring simply to the voluntary pay policy, important though that has been for the low-paid.

The significance of the social contract is that it is an understanding between the Government and the trade union movement covering a wide range of economic and social policies, many aspects of which have important implications for the low-paid.

One of the central aims of the social contract has been and continues to be to secure a reduction in the rate of price inflation to a level comparable with that of our major industrial competitors. As has been said before this is necessary in order to improve our overseas competitiveness. Allied with the Government's industrial strategy, it will provide the basis of increased employment, the regeneration of our industry and the growth of future prosperity. A reduction in the rate of inflation will in itself help low-paid workers. One of the salient features of rapid inflation is that it is capricious. It involves an unplanned redistribution of income—almost inevitably away from those who are themselves the least welloff—and unless steps are taken to counter this happening the least well-paid may experience the steepest fall in their relative standard of living.

My first point then, is that the attack on inflation will, of itself, have a direct benefit for low-paid men and women. But secondly we must not forget that the voluntary pay policies which have been pursued since this Government took office three years ago have each included special provisions to help counter the capricious effects of inflation. I want to refer to these special measures a little later.

I want to say something about the numbers of low paid men and women. The motion mentions a figure of 4·5 million. I do not want to become involved in statistics but I would call in support the New Earnings Survey for April 1976 which my Department published and to which my hon. Friend referred. That figure corresponds to the total number of full-time adult workers whose earnings were less than £45 a week, excluding overtime earnings. The survey defines these adults as men aged 21 and over and women aged 18 and over whose pay was not affected by absence. It is made up of 1·7 million men and 2·8 million women and was equal to 17 per cent. of all men and 59 per cent. of all women in employment at that time. If overall earnings are taken into account, I believe the figure falls to 11 per cent. of all men and 58 per cent. of all women It is clear that a large majority—almost two-thirds—of those earning less than £45 a week are women.

It is also noteworthy that of those earning less than £45 a week, half the men, and one quarter of the women, earned between £40 and £45. I welcome the recognition in the motion of the benefits of the social contract for low-paid workers. Special provision for the low-paid has been a central feature of the social contract from its beginning and the form of the TUC guidelines endorsed by the Government are well known. The current pay policy, and the preceding £6 policy, both afforded favourable treatment to the low-paid. As a result the low-paid have maintained their relative position. This has enabled an improvement, albeit a small one, to take place.

It is all too easily forgotten that the social contract extends well beyond the limited sphere of pay policy, important though that is. Those who claim that this has been a one-sided bargain in which the Government have not done their share have conveniently short memories and, in some cases, rather long resolutions. Other measures that the Government have pursued will have assisted the low-paid either by helping to improve collective bargaining arrangements and other institutional machinery for settling pay or by adding to their income by improved allowances.

The Employment Protection Act is a case in point. Our view is that one of the main ways of tackling low pay is by means of an extension of effective arrangements for collective bargaining. This is one of the objectives of the Act. Schedule 11 of the Act, which came into force on 1st January, extends to all workers protection against any undercutting of wage rates very similar to that given to workers on Government con tracts by the Fair Wages Resolution. It will give trade unions added scope to wipe out pockets of low pay.

As I have already indicated, women constitute a majority of the low-paid and the Government believe that continued progress towards the principle of equal pay has justified the exception of increases necessary to comply with Equal Pay legislation from the pay limits. There is evidence that the Equal Pay Act has done something to raise women's earnings relative to men's.

The motion seeks to draw our attention to the position of the 3 million men and women whose pay and conditions are regulated by wages councils. There can be no doubt that pay and conditions in these industries have traditionally lagged behind. Indeed, the continued existence of wages councils is an acknowledgement that collective bargaining does not operate effectively in such industries. The Government have, however, taken steps to improve the functioning of wages councils. For example, the Employment Protection Act will help to speed up their procedures while one of the new measures introduced is the saturation inspections—the so-called "low pay blitzes"—of selected towns.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Bottomley) referred to a witch hunt. If the hon. Gentleman consulted his right hon. Friend he will not find that view shared. The Government have followed a policy of trying to protect the low-paid through statutory rates in those industries.

I apologise to the Minister if I sounded critical. All I am trying to say is that one does not need to spend all one's time chasing after people.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman not only for making his position clear but for his support. We intend follow up visits—I cannot promise a specific visit to his constituency—arranged at random, of firms which have been discovered to be underpaying, and further blitzes will take place.

There is a need for more effective enforcement. Indeed, I have invited the TUC, the CBI, the retail consortium and the chairmen of wages councils to see me within the next month about the question of enforcement. That is an unprecedented initiative.

Minimum rates are a matter for wages councils, not the Government. The councils have made efforts in recent years to improve them. Increases in statutory minimum rates in some of the more extensive wages councils ranged from 50 per cent. to 70 per cent. for men and 60 per cent. to 100 per cent. for women over the period 1974 to 1976. It is notable that 34 out of the 39 wages councils have settled under the £6 pay policy at the full amount allowable. Of the remainder, most have settled near to the limit.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned simplification of orders. I am in sympathy with what he said. I am taking action to achieve something on this front. I par- ticularly want to get away from some of the legal jargon. I believe that laws are made for ordinary people, not lawyers, to interpret. We are doing our best to do something about it. There are a number of steps, but I do not have time to outline now what we are hoping to do.

My hon. Friend referred particularly to the effects of taxation policy on the low-paid. This subject was fully discussed in the debate on the motion for the Adjournment on 3rd March when the Government's view was comprehensively set out by my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to and my hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Treasury. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that they made it quite clear that the Government fully recognise the point which concerns him—high effective marginal rates of taxation on low earnings.

My hon. Friend's motion urges the Government to continue to heed the needs of the low-paid worker when considering the next stage of the wages negotiations. At last September's Trades Union Congress there was overwhelming support for a motion concerning the social contract and collective bargaining which emphasised the need to avoid a wages free-for-all at the end of the present pay round. Significantly, that motion pointed out that a pay explosion would injure the weaker members of the community, among whom must be included low-paid men and women.

That brings me back to the point that I made at the beginning—that one of the main ways of helping the low-paid is by conquering inflation, bringing down the rate of price inflation and avoiding another burst of wage inflation.

As the hon. Gentleman has been so critical of inflation, would he have supported the motion in my name had it not been talked out by the Government?

I shall look at that motion in a few minutes. I shall have to tell the hon. Gentleman afterwards.

As for the period after July, the Government have made clear their overriding aim of continuing the attack on inflation and the part that a further agreement on pay has to play in ensuring its success. I shall not speculate on the form of any future pay arrangements, except to say that there must be some flexibility. The Prime Minister has made that point unequivocally. I do not think that anybody in his right mind would query that.

However, the TUC has called for a planned return to free collective bargaining to begin to take place this year. The TUC's economic review sets out some of the major questions which must be considered—for example, whether emphasis should be laid more on adequate differentials to reward ability, effort, skill and responsibility or on improving the relative position of the low-paid. We have to take account of priorities. There is a good deal still to be worked out. My hon. Friend has made clear some of the priorities that he would set for the discussions about pay arrangements in the next round. I assure him that the position of the low-paid worker will be fully taken into account.

There are those who call for an orderly return to free collective bargaining and there are many on the Benches opposite, Front and Back, and some on our own Benches, who call for an unqualified return to free collective bargaining. So did the so-called Conservative trade union conference and so do some of our trade union friends. They are really asking us to choose between an orderly return and a rush to chaos. That is what it comes down to. What else can it mean? It means going back to the jungle where industrial muscle is all that counts. That is not the way forward for the low-paid. I am a Socialist, and I say loud and clear that that is not the way forward for Socialists or for a Labour Government and their traditional trade union allies with whom I think that we sink or swim. I believe that we must and that we shall carry on a constructive partnership. I believe that we shall swim together, and that is why I welcome my hon. Friend's motion. I think that he has done an exceedingly valuable job in calling attention to this real problem and in helping to ensure that in this delicate situation—

It being four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned