House Of Commons
Tuesday 28th June 1977
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
West Midlands County Council Bill Lords
As amended, considered.
Amendment made: In page 5, leave out lines 28 to 41.—[ The Chairman of Ways and Means.]
Bill to be read the Third time.
Fidelity Trust Bill Lords
Kensington And Chelsea Corporation Bill Lords
Read a Second time and committed.
University Of London Bill Lords (By Order)
Order for Second Reading read.
To be read a Second time upon Thursday.
Oral Answers To Questions
Education And Science
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action she proposes to take in relation to the proposals submitted by the Redbridge Council under Section 2 of the Education Act 1976.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what replies she has sent to those local authorities which had submitted incomplete or provisional proposals for comprehensive secondary reorganisation by 25th May.
First, Mr. Speaker, may I apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend, who is in Strasbourg today leading the United Kingdom delegation at the Council of Europe Conference of Education Ministers.My right hon. Friend is considering the interim reply she has received from Essex. Letters have been sent to the other seven authorities, including Red-bridge, that were due to submit schemes by 24th May. I shall publish copies of the letters in the Official Report.
While welcoming that reply, may I ask my hon. Friend whether she is satisfied that she has done enough? I understand that no date has been given to Redbridge for a reply. Is she aware that Redbridge has been procrastinating in the hope that there will be a change of Government? Does not my hon. Friend think that she is helping this authority in its delay by not putting a date to the reply?
No. The letter which has gone to the Redbridge authority in response to its proposals asks when it intends to discharge its statutory duty and to explain the present delay. If a protracted delay occurs in receiving a reply to that letter, we shall take further steps.
Following are the letters:—
The Local Education Authority Bexley
Our reference: S303/4/018
Date: 20th June 1977
EDUCATION ACT 1976, SECTION 2
I am writing to acknowledge receipt of the authority's formal proposals for the completion of the reorganisation of secondary schools in their area enclosed with Mr. Green's letter of 24th May.
It appears to the Secretary of State that the proposals for county schools are unsatisfactory in three respects:—
THE MIXTURE OF 11 TO 16 AND 11 TO 18 SCHOOLS
A scheme for secondary reorganisation which envisages the retention of a mixture of 11-16 and 11-18 schools would not in her opinion be a satisfactory long term solution unless the authority could demonstrate that no other scheme was feasible. The Secretary of State appreciates that, for a variety of reasons, it would not be possible or desirable to organise all the secondary schools in Bexley as 11-18 schools. But she believes that two other schemes deserve consideration:—
The authority propose to admit the first comprehensive intake to all its schools in 1988 when it expects to have completed all the changes necessary in all schools for them to cater for children of all abilities at all age levels. The Secretary of State does not consider it necessary to wait for all schools to be fully adapted for all age levels before they admit a comprehensive intake in the first year. Adaptation and extensions can take place, if properly planned, as the all ability intake progresses through the school without detracting from the education provided for the children. Such planning would allow the principle set out in Section 1 of the Education Act 1976 to be achieved much more quickly than the authority's present plan.
Further, the Secretary of State does not accept that it is necessary for all the schools in the whole of the authority's area to admit pupils of all abilities simultaneously. The Secretary of State can see no reason why the first all ability intake should not be admitted to most secondary schools in 1978 and to all schools within 2 or 3 years of that date.
It seems from the authority's figures that capital expenditure not essential to reorganisa- tion has been included. While some improvement in buildings is desirable as a long term objective, such expenditure should not be included as part of the cost of reorganisation; and it is unlikely that resources will be available in the next few years to enable the authority to carry out their proposals to eliminate split sites or to reduce the size of schools, such as those put forward by the authority for Erith at a cost of £500,000. It follows that proposals of this kind are not acceptable to the Secretary of State.
The Secretary of State requires the authority, under Section 2(4) of the Education Act 1976, to submit within 4 months of the date of this letter further proposals in substitution for those previously submitted which take account of the observations above and which:
A separate letter will be sent to the authority about their proposals for voluntary schools.
Officers of the Department are available to assist at any time.
I am Sir
Your obedient Servant,
The Local Education Authority Buckinghamshire
Our reference: S904/4/011
Date: 20th June 1977
EDUCATION ACT 1976, SECTION 2 PROPOSALS
I am directed by the Secretary of State to thank you for your letter of 16th May with which was enclosed the Buckinghamshire County Council's draft proposals for the reorganisation of all secondary schools in the County (excluding Milton Keynes) so as to give effect to the comprehensive principle.
I note that the authority have offered one set of proposals for each of the areas listed below:
and that for the following three areas the authority have prepared alternative proposals:
The Secretary of State understands that formal proposals will be submitted as soon as possible after the consultative processes have been completed. The Secretary of State is certain that the authority have no wish to disobey the law or to indulge in any deliberate procrastination and she is aware of the importance of adequate consultation. However, the duty laid upon the authority must be carried out with all reasonable speed even if this means accelerating processes of consultation that the Council may wish to conduct. I am to say that the Secretary of State would therefore expect the authority to complete its consultation processes including those required by Section 2(2) of the 1976 Education Act, in time to enable it to submit formal proposals in respect of all areas after the meeting of the Council which it is understood takes place on 28th July.
If for any reason the authority believe themselves to be unable to meet this date they should inform the Secretary of State at once giving reasons.
I am to remind the authority that officers of the Department are available to assist at any time.
I am Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
A. H. Prosser.
The Local Education Authority Kingston Upon Thames
Our reference: S314/4/05
Date: 20th June 1977
EDUCATION ACT 1976, SECTION 2 PROPOSALS
I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter of 17th May with which you submitted to the Secretary of State your Council's proposals for giving effect throughout the authority's area to the principle in Section 1 of the Education Act 1976 that education is to be provided only in schools where the arrangements for the admission of pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on selection by reference to ability or aptitude, as required by the Department's letter of 24th November 1976.
I am to remind the authority that under the provisions of Section 2(2) of the Education Act 1976 the authority are required, before submitting their proposals, to consult the managers or governors of every voluntary school which is in their opinion affected by the proposals and, if the managers or governors so request, to transmit to the Secretary of State with their proposals any proposals made by the managers or governors for the purpose of giving effect to the principle in Section 1 of the Act. I am to ask the authority to confirm that this has been done. Still outstanding are proposals for the two Roman Catholic Schools: I am to ask the authority to say when proposals for these schools are to be submitted.
The Secretary of State wishes to proceed with all speed to the examination of the proposals submitted with your letter. To ensure that no misunderstanding exists as to the nature and detail of the authority's proposals I am to invite the authority to send officers to attend a meeting with officers of the Department to discuss them. I shall be in contact with the authority within the next few days in order to arrange a suitable date. If any further examination of the proposals is then thought to be necessary the Secretary of State will consider whether or not to take advantage of your suggestion that a meeting with members of your authority should be arranged.
I am Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
R. W. J. Mitchell.
The Local Education Authority Redbridge
Our reference: S317/4/06
Date: 20th June 1977
EDUCATION ACT 1976, SECTION 2 PROPOSALS
Thank you for your letter dated 12 May.
The Secretary of State notes with satisfaction that your authority now intend to implement in September 1977 proposals which have already been approved under Section 13 of the Education Act 1944 in respect of the schools listed below and acknowledges receipt of such proposals to cease to maintain Gearies secondary modern school for boys as from August 1978.
- Ilford County High School for Girls
- Gearies Secondary Modern School for Girls
- Fairlop Secondary Modern School for Girls
- Fairlop Secondary Modern School for Boys
- Gilbert Miles Secondary Modern School
- Mayfield Secondary Modern School for Boys
- Mayfield Secondary Modern School for Girls
I am directed to draw your attention to the duty laid on your authority by paragraph 2 of the Department's letter of 24 November 1976 and to the direction in paragraph 3 of that letter regarding the submission of proposals in pursuance thereof. It appears from your letter of 12 May (which, it is recognised, does not purport to be more than a progress report) that your authority intend to continue to admit children to Woodford County High School for Girls and to Ilford County High School for Boys under arrangements based (wholly or partly) on selection by reference to ability or aptitude. I am to ask you when the authority intend to discharge their statutory duty, under Section 2 of the Education Act 1976, to submit the proposals required by the Department's letter and the reasons for the present delay.
I am to remind the authority that officers of the Department are available to assist at any time.
I am Sir
Your obedient Servant.
W. J. Stewart.
The Local Education Authority Sutton
Our reference: S319/4/09
Date: 20th June 1977
EDUCATION ACT 1976: SECTION 2 PROPOSALS
I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter of 24 May with which you submitted to the Secretary of State your Council's draft proposals, as cleared by the Education (Schools) Sub-Committee, for giving effect throughout the authority's area to the principle in Section 1 of the Education Act 1976 that education is to be provided only in schools where the admission arrangements for pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on selection by reference to ability or aptitude, as required by the Department's letter of 24 November 1976.
The Secretary of State is pleased to note that the authority intend to comply with the requirement in the Department's letter and to submit in July, after the draft proposals have been considered by your Council, formal proposals for ending selection in the authority's schools. She wishes to proceed with all speed with examination of the formal proposals as soon as they are received and, to that end to ensure that no misunderstanding exists as to the nature and date of implementation of the proposals, I am to invite the authority to send officials to attend a meeting at the Department with her officers within two weeks or so of the formal submission to discuss the proposals. I am to ask the authority to suggest some date and times for the meeting which would be suitable to their officers.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant.
R. W. J. Mitchell.
The Local Education Authority Tameside
Our reference: S351/4/06.
Date: 20th June 1977.
EDUCATION ACT 1976, SECTION 2
I am directed by the Secretary of State to thank you for your letter of 20th May and to say she welcomes the authority's repeated assurances of their intention to comply with the duty laid on them under Section 2 of the Education Act 1976. She is, however, perturbed by their failure to submit proposals for her consideration by the date specified in the letter of 24th November 1976. The duty laid on the authority must be carried out with all speed— even if this means accelerating the processes of consultation that the Council may wish to follow. The time limit of six months was fixed by the Secretary of State after she had carefully considered the circumstances of the authorities concerned and it should have been possible for your authority to comply with it.
Consequently, the Secretary of State now wishes to receive from the authority within seven days of the meeting of their Council on
5th July a report describing in detail the progress made by the authority towards complying with the duty laid on them by the letter of 24th November including the following:
The Secretary of State would also wish to receive by 12th July a detailed description of what remains to be done before formal proposals are submitted to her. Finally, the authority are asked to tell her at the same time the date by which they expect to be able to submit formal and complete proposals.
Officers of the Department are available to assist the authority at any time.
I am Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
P. J. Hunter.
The Local Education Authority Trafford
Date: 20th June 1977.
EDUCATION ACT 1976: SECTION 2 PROPOSALS
I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter of 26th May with which you submitted to the Secretary of State your Council's draft proposals, as cleared by the Education (Schools) Sub-Committee, for giving effect throughout the authority's area to the principle in Section 1 of the Education Act 1976 that education is to be provided only in schools where the admisssion arrangements for pupils are not based (wholly or partly) on selection by reference to ability or aptitude, as required by the Department's letter of 24th November 1976.
The Secretary of State is pleased to note that the authority intend to comply with the requirement in the Department's letter and to submit in July, after the draft proposals have been considered by your Council, formal proposals for ending selection in the authority's schools. She wishes to proceed with all speed with examination of the formal proposals as soon as they are received and, to that end and to ensure that there are no misunderstandings as to the nature and date of implementation of the proposals, I am to invite the authority to send officials to attend a meeting at the Department with her officers within two weeks or so of the formal submission to discuss the proposals. I am to ask the authority to suggest some dates and times for the meeting which would be suitable to their officers.
I am Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
P. J. Hunter.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate has been made of the number of overseas students likely to attend British universities in the session 1978–79; and how this compares with sessions 1976–77, and 1977–78.
The provisional number in 1976– 77 is 33,000. A modest reduction in numbers is likely in 1977–78 and 1978–79.
Is the Minister aware that overseas students are currently concerned about the implications of the Suthendran judgment of July 1976 for those currently at British universities? Does he not think that any reduction whatever in the number of students from overseas countries goes very much against the whole policy of aid to developing countries, particularly against the background of the North-South dialogue?
I am aware of the concern expressed particularly on behalf of the students who are already here. A hardship fund was set up for the purpose of helping students both at universities and in the public sector who are already here. With regard to the general policy, I think the House accepts that some limitation of numbers of overseas students is essential, otherwise they would be taking up places at the expense of home students.
Will my hon. Friend relate the question of the drop in the number of overseas students to the increase in fees? Does he not think that the increase in fees militates against the poorer students coming here and ensures that the students who are fairly wealthy come here as opposed to the poorer students? Is not that something of which we ought to take great note?
I am concerned with poor students from all over the world. However, the House should realise that many overseas students are by no means poor, nor are their countries necessarily poor.
Will the Minister admit that a year ago in the public expenditure White Paper the Government said that they would raise an extra £42 million out of overseas students' fees in the finan- cial year 1977–78? On the latest figures, they seem to have raised about £28 million. Are they still committed to raising fees to get another £14 million, or are they not?
We are looking at this at the moment. I hope that further increases, apart from an increase for ordinary inflationary purposes, will not be necessary.
Further Education And Training
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what special fund will be made available to further education colleges in 1977–78 to assist in the training of unemployed boys and girls in the 16 to 19 years age group.
The report of the Manpower Services Commission's Working Party on Young People and Work proposes that further education and training should be an integral part of an expanded programme of opportunities for the young unemployed and that local education authorities should be reimbursed for the additional provision required in colleges of further education. The Government's response to the Manpower Services Commission's proposals will be announced shortly.
Does my hon. Friend agree that further education colleges have unique facilities, such as buildings, equipment and trained manpower, to help with the problem of the younger unemployed? However, they must have cash if they are to give all the help that they can give. Will he give an undertaking that the cash will be forthcoming?
I am indeed aware of the considerable job that is done by colleges of further education. I must ask my hon. Friend and the House to be patient until an announcement is made on the Government's response to the Holland proposals. I assure my hon. Friend and the House that this will be made shortly.
Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that the 16 to 19-year-old unemployed students are still held by DHSS offices to the availability criterion? Will he commune with that Department so that there is a chance that someone may have attendance at a college of further education and still get unemployment benefit?
We have tried to make it clear—and, indeed, we have issued a circular to local authorities to this effect— that an unemployed youngster is still entitled to supplementary benefit although he is attending a course for three days a week. It has to be limited to three days. But we are trying to draw that to the attention of young people so that they do not waste their time when they can be attending a limited form of further education.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one way of keeping down the number of unemployed school leavers is to encourage young people to stay on into the sixth form? In view of the excellent sixth form at St. Marylebone Grammar School—
Order. I am afraid that that matter is sub judice. It is before the courts. We cannot refer to the St. Marylebone School today. I have looked at this matter this morning and gone into it very carefully.
I accept your ruling, of course, Mr. Speaker, but my understanding was somewhat different from your own. My understanding was that the matter had been disposed of in the lower court and that no decision had been taken yet to take it to the Court of Appeal.
The advice which I received this morning was that it was going to a higher court. My advice is that it is sub judice.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Does that mean that an hon. Member cannot raise the decision made in the lower court yesterday that the ILEA should not close the school?
We are taking up time for Questions. But I can answer the hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Mr. Baker) quite easily. The answer is no, not if the matter is sub judice. It is sub judice. Mr. Christopher Price.
I apologise. The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) was in the middle of a supplementary question.
I had in fact concluded the relevant first part of my supplementary question, and you, Mr. Speaker, seem to have disposed effectively of the second part of it.
With regard to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question, of course the Department encourages a further education provision at the age of 16 whether in schools or in further education colleges. With regard to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, Mr. Speaker, I bow to your ruling.
Since tomorrow's statement—or whenever it is to come—on the Holland Report will be made by the Secretary of State for Employment, it is important that we should question an Education Minister about this matter. Is my hon. Friend satisfied that the arrangements between the MSC and the further education colleges can do proper justice to both the training and the education elements in the needs of young people in this age group? Secondly, how long does my hon. Friend think it will be before we can offer to all school leavers at the age of 16 an opportunity guarantee which will make sure that they never need to go on the dole at all but can engage in some form of education and training straight away?
I cannot anticipate statements which will be made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, whether it be tomorrow or at any other time. I assure my hon. Friend that there has been close co-operation between my Department and the Department of Employment and that even closer co-operation is envisaged for the future. With regard to co-operation at college level, again my hon. Friend asks me whether I am satisfied. I am never satisfied that it is close enough, but I feel that co-operation does exist.
In formulating proposals in response to the Holland Report, will the Department look carefully at the position of students who have embarked on courses and who, perhaps because of the higher charges, may have to discontinue them, bearing in mind that many of them are not well placed financially? Will the Department also look at the availability of discretionary grants for students who wish to pursue reputable courses but who may find themselves unemployed because they are unable to do so?
My answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question is certainly "Yes". With regard to the first part, the Holland proposals really deal with the unemployed and not those already on courses.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the number of students in their final year of statutory education who passed O-level examinations or obtained grade 1 passes in the Certificate of Secondary Education in 1976; and what proportion of the age group this number represents.
This information is not available in precisely the form requested as the data collected by my Department relate to pupils at the time they leave school and not specifically to the final year of statutory education. The provisional figures for 1976 indicate that 707,000 left school of whom 341,000— about 48 per cent. of school leavers—had gained at least one O-level grade A to C or a CSE grade 1.
Does my hon. Friend agree that that regrettably partial answer suggests that extensive and substantial achievement is being secured by our schools? Does she agree, further, that the proportion of our young people who have secured success is now very much higher than many Opposition Members expected and certainly a great deal higher than those responsible for the Black Paper would care to admit?
My hon. Friend is correct. The figures which I have quoted compare favourably with those for 1966, when the comparable percentage of school leavers was only 38.
Is the Minister aware that The Times Education Supplement on, I think, 15th April published figures showing that, although in 1971 18·76 per cent. of school leavers received five O-levels or CSE grade 1 equivalents, by 1975 the figure had fallen to 17·14 per cent., which is a fall of 8 per cent. in four years? Does not that indicate some form of decline which has been clouded only by the huge bulge of numbers going through schools which must be brought out by some form of comprehensive introduction?
No, I do not agree. Furthermore, I shall be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on this matter. He has quoted these figures before—
I have not. They are new.
If not these, he has quoted very similar figures. I must tell him that according to my Department's statisticians he has got his figures wrong.
They are from The Times Educational Supplement.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what percentage of children who took the CSE examination in 1976 achieved a pass at some level.
The information is not available in precisely the form requested as the data collected by my Department for 1976 relate to school leavers and is not confined to pupils having taken CSE examinations that year. Of the 484,000 school leavers in 1976 who had taken the CSE examination at some time in their school career, 473,000 —nearly 98 per cent.—had gained at least one grade 5 or better.
I thank the hon. Lady for that reply. Does not the very high level of passes—98 per cent. obtain a pass at some level—indicate the futility of holding examinations if everybody passes and virtually nobody fails?
I am at a loss to follow that argument. If fewer people had passed, the hon. Gentleman would complain about the failure of the education system.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions she is conducting with local education authorities, teachers and parents concerning the curriculum in State schools; and if she will make a statement.
My right hon. Friend has recently completed a series of meetings with educational organisations and associations during which the outcome of the regional conferences on education was discussed. The school curriculum was one of the four main topics considered during these conferences and meetings, and a Green Paper outlining the Government's proposals will be issued shortly.
Is the hon. Lady aware that there is little evidence of even the most elementary law and commerce being taught in our schools, despite the fact that most children will be involved in commerce in one form or another and certainly all will be subject to the law? While preserving the rights of local authorities to decide, why will not the hon. Lady urge them to encourage these subjects?
I have some sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's remarks. These are the kinds of issues with which children may have to deal, and they should be familiar with them. However, there is considerable concern whether we have not already widened the curriculum a little too far with a certain increased emphasis on some of the basic subjects. I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but these are very difficult issues for both schools and local authorities to resolve.
Is my hon. Friend aware that it might be more helpful to give children a greater involvement in civic affairs? I know from my own school experience that all that my generation was taught was how to be a lady. It has never been particularly helpful to me in politics.
I had the same experience, and it has never been very useful to me either. I take my hon. Friend's point. Again, this is an area where we are very concerned to see that children have a reasonable education and are taught the facts of political life. But, again, it is an area involving great pressure on the school curriculum.
Although I agree entirely with the idea that basic subjects must have first priority, will the hon. Lady bear in mind that, by the overwhelming wish of the British people since the referendum, we are now members of the Common Market? Will she, therefore, seek to encourage courses such as those at St. Martin's College of Education in Lancaster to further the co-ordination of European educational teaching in our schools? Will she give that every possible encouragement so that we do not go off half-cock in this regard?
That is just one of the many pressures on the school curriculum that schools have to resolve for themselves.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the aims of education are to give a broad general education as a basis for life? Throughout the ages employers have wanted sheer utilitarianism in schools which is the enemy of real education. This trend should be fought against.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I was dismayed to learn that at a recent conference in my county one employer slightly facetiously but most unfortunately said that he wanted obedient robots.
Whatever the form of the common core curriculum and whatever its scope, does the Minister agree with the Opposition's view that it should include religious education?
I cannot anticipate the Green Paper.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she can now report on the consideration by the Joint Advisory Committee on Local Authority Purchasing of the increased use of recycled paper in schools; and what advice she is giving to local education authorities in this respect.
I understand that the Joint Advisory Committee on Local Authority Purchasing has yet to consider this matter. Meanwhile, my right hon. Friend sees no need to supplement the advice made available to local authorities in 1975 through their own consultative machinery.
Will the Minister encourage rather more urgent consideration of this matter? Is he aware that encouraging the use of lower-grade papers is an effective way of reducing resources demand and the effects of pollution? This would be increased if lower-grade papers included a greater proportion of recycled fibre. Will his Department look at the British Standards to ensure that these do not present obstacles to education authorities' use of recycled paper?
The hon. Member will know of my special interest in this matter as the first Chairman of the Waste Advisory Council. The LAMSAC Committee's 1975 report on waste recovery asked local authorities to consider the question of recycled paper, particularly sugar paper, which is used extensively in art work and which is 100 per cent. recycled.
Adult Education (Television Programmes)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what financial provision is to be made for the BBC adult education programme for English as a second language.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I recently agreed that late applications may be accepted under the current phase of the urban programme for expenditure incurred before 31st March 1978 from authorities wishing to expand their provision of English language classes for adult members of ethnic minorities. Some priority will be given to applications related to the forthcoming BBC television programme of English language teaching aimed at Asian women. A letter will issue shortly to the local education authorities with a substantial interest.
Is my hon. Friend aware that, if this excellent scheme is to be as successful as is hoped, it will have to be supported by financial and other resources on the same scale as the adult literacy programme? Will she allay the fears held in some quarters, particularly in Southampton Community Relations Board, that these programmes will stimulate a demand so great that it cannot be met?
We hope that that will not occur. It is our intention that funds should be made available which will help local education authorities to expand their programmes in order to meet the additional demand generated. So far, we have not had cause to suspect that the demand cannot be met. The House will recognise the valuable role of the BBC in putting forward this programme.
Will the Minister ensure that a little money is spent on teaching the BBC education staff English first?
While the Minister is looking into the BBC arrangements for teaching English as a second language, will she look, side by side, at future arrangements for helping the BBC to continue its arrangements for its excellent adult literacy programmes of the past few years? Will she ensure that, even if the adult literacy grant Is changed to a different arrangement, the BBC arrangement can nevertheless continue and will not be brought to a halt next year?
We shall consider the Adult Literacy Resource Agency's recommendations for the future which will be made to the Department shortly. I hope to look at these recommendations favourably.
Given that most local education authorities are working under severe financial strictures at present, does the Minister agree that it would alleviate a great deal of fear among Asians, particularly Asian women, if they could be told exactly what sum of money will be made available for the scheme?
I cannot tell the hon. Member that today. It is our hope that the programme will prove useful. It is not our understanding that they are likely to expire for lack of funds.
Student Grants And Benefits
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will review the operation of the Education Act 1944 in relation to the eligibility of mature students for various local authority grants and benefits.
Local education authorities make grants to students under the Education Act 1962, as amended. On 28th March my right hon. Friend announced a number of changes for the academic year 1977–78 which included some improvements for mature students. She also said that the structure of student support would be reviewed again as soon as circumstances permit.
Does not my hon. Friend agree that mature students, given the present level of grants, find it difficult, if not impossible, to take advantage of further education? Will he confirm that in Liverpool mature students are disallowed or debarred from taking advantage of rent rebate schemes, which adds to their problems?
On the level of grants and their availability, my right hon. Friend has asked for a survey to see which authorities are making discretionary grants at present. Normally the level of these would be the same as that of the mandatory grants. With regard to the Liverpool housing authority, I am not aware of the situation which my hon. Friend has mentioned. If he will write to me, I will look into the matter.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what considerations she has given to setting up a Teachers' Council.
My right hon. Friend remains ready to consider, in consultation with other interests, any agreed proposals which the teachers' associations may put forward.
May I press the Minister and ask her whether there is a strong case for a disciplinary body to control the standards of those entering the teaching profession and for the general disciplining of the profession?
It has always been our view that it is possible to make progress on the proposals which have been outstanding since the working party's report in 1970. Unfortunately, it has not been possible for the parties concerned to reach agreement among themselves about the form the council should take. Until that is done, there is little purpose of any further meetings on the subject.
Would the council be able to deal with the strike action of Oxfordshire teachers? This industrial action of the Oxfordshire teachers has caused great trouble in the education service and has affected the education of children. Will she use her influence to ask them to call off their action?
Since there are no proposals for a council, I cannot say whether it would be able to assist in such a case. Although the dispute is a matter between the local authorities and the teachers, we hope that it will be resolved, and we are willing to see people from Oxfordshire at any time if they want to come to the Department.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is satisfied with the recruitment and training of mathematics teachers.
The shortage of specialist teachers of mathematics goes back many years. Details were announced last month of a new scheme financed by the Exchequer for training additional mathematics teachers in the coming academic year, and recruitment under this scheme is now proceeding. There has been a good response to an earlier request by the Government for an increase in the number of one-year courses available for retraining teachers in the subject.
I am pleased to hear that, because parents in Birmingham are very concerned about the annual report of the management committee of the structured mathematics scheme which suggested that over 400 mathematics teachers in Birmingham were not, in fact, qualified. Is this correct? If so, what action do the Government intend to take in Birmingham to get qualified mathematics teachers?
I cannot offhand give the exact position in Birmingham, but the latest figures that we have show that there was a shortage in 1976 of 1,859 graduate mathematics teachers. This has been a long-standing problem for many years which has eluded both Conservative and Labour Governments. We are trying to resolve the situation by introducing the scheme which was announced last month.
Does the Minister agree that if any subject lends itself to simplification of syllabus, it is mathematics? Does he agree that diversification is absurd, and will he exert pressure to try to secure harmonisation?
That is not a matter for the Department. I would not entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that things are as simple as he makes out. That, however, is a matter for the Schools Council and for examination boards.
After the call in February for special scholarships to draw the brightest pupils in appropriate courses to industry, the Minister promised a decision on Jubilee scholarships, as he called them, at about Easter. What has happened to them? Will they be in the limited system of mechanical engineering courses or will they be incorporated in mathematics, which is fundamental to industry?
Certainly it will include mathematics because it is the foundation of most technological subjects. I am sorry about the delay. The matter is proceeding and we hope to make an announcement on it before the recess.
Unemployed Teachers (Retraining Grants)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will issue guidance to local education authorities to make grants available to qualified teachers who cannot find teaching posts and who are compelled to seek alternative means of livelihood by undertaking further training.
Discretionary awards of this kind are entirely a matter for local education authorities, but unemployed teachers may be eligible for grants from the Manpower Services Commission or the Training Services Agency in the same way as other unemployed persons.
Is the Minister aware of a case involving one of my constituents who is a teacher and who cannot find work but has been accepted for a course of training at a university, yet he cannot receive a grant and instead draws weekly in unemployment benefit more than the amount he could receive if he were a full-time student? Is the Minister content with that situation?
It is a difficult situation. I think that the hon. Gentleman is refer- ring to a matter on which he has recently written to me and to which I replied on 28th June. There is a discrepancy at present on the subject of grant. This is even more forcefully felt not at university level but at school and further education level. We expect a statement on the Holland proposals to be made shortly.
My hon. Friend will recognise that there is concern about the problem of teachers who face possible unemployment, but is it not true to say that the allocation of resources to the whole of the 16 to 19 age group represents a considerable priority?
It does indeed, and as well as there being an undesirably high number of unemployed teachers my hon. Friend will agree that unemployment is high across the board generally.
Schools (Holiday Periods)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will seek powers to forbid county education authorities from requiring city schools to remain open during traditional industrial holiday weeks.
Is my hon. Friend aware of the disgraceful decision of the Tory-controlled Leicestershire County Education Authority to keep schools open for one of the two weeks when traditionally they close in the holiday, thus forcing parents to give up half their holiday with their children or to keep their children away from school? In the circumstances, will she reconsider her decision or will she give advice to that authority to the effect that it should take account of the ordinary needs of working people?
As my hon. and learned Friend knows, it has long been the case that local education authorities decide the dates and terms of school holidays on the assumption that they best understand local needs. Occasionally the system breaks down, but we do not believe that it would be right to seek to change the law on this matter. However, I understand that the full council is proposing to reconsider this decision, and it may be that it will be able to satisfy my hon. and learned Friend.
Cartrefle College, Wrexham
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, in her final proposals for teacher training, she will confirm that teacher training will continue at Cartrefle College, Wrexham.
The planning of teacher training in Wales gives rise to complex issues, to which my right hon. Friend and I have been giving very careful attention. We hope to announce our decisions shortly.
Is the Minister aware of the grave consternation caused to the staff of this college and the local education authority following persistent rumours that the Minister and his Department will revise their earlier proposal as a result of pressures elsewhere in Wales? Will he give the House an assurance that, whatever his final decision about the future of the college, it will not be the product of the pressures to which I have referred?
I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will not be the result of pressure. I must examine all the colleges of higher education in Wales, as in England, before announcing our decisions. I promise that we shall make an announcement before the recess.
Is my hon. Friend aware that I am deeply grateful to the hon. Member for Conway (Mr. Roberts) for the solicitude he is showing in the matter of Cartrefle College in my constituency, although it is regrettable that he did not see fit to tell me that he was tabling a Question on the subject? Is my hon. Friend also aware that I am grateful to him for the protracted negotiations which I have had with him, both orally and in correspondence, and will he further agree to meet a delegation from the college led by me if decisions are made which may possibly jeopardise the future of the college?
I am very much aware of the solicitous way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Mr. Ellis) has been concerned with this matter. I promise him that I shall meet him and representatives from the college should it be necessary to do so, but it may not be necessary.
Teacher Training (Yorkshire)
Wainwright asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will ensure that, in the Government's strategy in the review of the teacher training system, sufficient teacher training places are available in the Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham areas so as to make certain that these education districts receive their fair share in comparison with the rest of the country.
Under the arrangements announced by my right hon. Friend yesterday, there will be 5,340 teacher training places in the Yorkshire and Humberside region by 1981, of which 1,000 will be in South Yorkshire.
In considering the South Yorkshire area, did my hon. Friend include Sheffield? My original Question related to the Rotherham, Doncaster and Barnsley areas. Will he ask his right hon. Friend to look at the Doncaster School of Higher Education to see whether he can keep that college open?
I saw a delegation, of which I believe my hon. Friend was a part, from that area. It was with considerable regret that Doncaster had to remain in the proposals for closure. But when one looks at the region as a whole within South Yorkshire county, it is true to say that teacher training provision will be at Sheffield Polytechnic, although I would point out that there are many whole counties which have no maintained colleges in them at all.
Will the Minister bear in mind that in talking of overall figures in Yorkshire he is not meeting the point of the original Question? This is an area which has much responsibility for modern technology and science and is one of the most important industrial regions of the United Kingdom. Will the Government bear in mind the fact that the need for greater provision in higher education for South Yorkshire remains imperative, whatever happens in the whole area of Humberside and Yorkshire?
We tried in proposing closures to examine the matter from a regional and county point of view as well as from many other points of view. I am aware of the nature of this area, but, regrettably, the announcement was made only yesterday and there is no possibility of reopening the subject of teacher training in England.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I and his hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), the Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection, were grateful to him for listening to us so sympathetically about the Philippa Fawcett College and that we were surprised and dismayed yesterday—at least, I was surprised and dismayed—to find that it was being closed? Is he aware that he is missing the opportunity for a reorganisation of teacher training in London based on the excellent performance of the Philippa Fawcett College—
Order. It would not be fair if I allowed the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. If I did so, we could go round the United Kingdom today.
Although I am grateful for my hon. Friend's consideration of the position of the Lady Mabel College in my constituency in the Rotherham metropolitan area, may I ask him to reassure us that the 1,000 places that will remain in South Yorkshire will include continuingly a proportion at the Lady Mabel establishment?
As my hon. Friend knows, negotiations are now taking place between the polytechnic and the Rotherham and Sheffield authorities. I would hope that that would be the position.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that facilities for bright children and the development of their abilities are not all that great in the London area? Is he aware that there is a school in my constituency—
Order. When I was a schoolmaster I used to write "Trying— very" in reports.
Comprehensive Schools (Gifted Children)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is satisfied that the exceptionally bright student's abilities are being developed to the full in most all-through comprehensive schools.
I am satisfied that, in general, schools of this type succeed as well as other schools in meeting the special needs of exceptionally gifted children. I am encouraged by the interest shown in the national conference on the gifted to be held in November and by the evidence that schools at large are becoming more aware of what they can and should do for these children.
Is the hon. Lady aware that I am grateful to her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the concern that she has shown recently about the lack of adequate provision at sixth form level of options in many all-through comprehensive schools, especially in deprived urban areas such as in London? What is the hon. Lady or her Department going to do about it?
We hope that over the years as staff become more available, especially with pupil numbers falling, it will be possible fairly speedily to remedy this situation.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency the comprehensive school which took over from the grammar school has had an exceptionally fine record in what it has been able to do with bright students? Not only that, but is she aware that it has a multiracial background and an integration record that is second to none and that the successful students are not necessarily all of one ethnic group?
Yes, I am aware of both points that my hon. Friend makes. He has made the point clearly that these children can be helped in comprehensive schools. The common assumption that they can be helped only in grammar schools is erroneous. There are many case histories of gifted children not being helped in grammar schools and there are cases of gifted children who failed 11-plus selection tests.
I am glad that I have caught the headmaster's eye. When it comes to a question of the education of bright children in central London, does the hon. Lady realise that facilities are extremely limited? Is she aware that at a school in my constituency the 73 boys who took A-level science all passed? Is that not a remarkable record? Is it not therefore outrageous that that school— namely, St. Marylebone Grammar School —should be threatened with closure by ILEA?
Order. I ask the Under-secretary of State to ignore the part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question relating to the St. Marylebone Grammar School. I ruled earlier—maybe the hon. Gentleman was not present— [Interruption.] Order. I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt. It is sub judice.
I can repeat the answer that I gave earlier—namely, that in many parts of London more facilities are becoming widely available as school rolls fall.
Will my hon. Friend tell me how it is possible to judge in my constituency how well the exceptional child can do when he is already being creamed off by selection processes?
My hon. Friend is correct in deploring creaming, but, as he will be aware, it is only a small percentage of children—about 2 per cent—that we are discussing when we talk of the really gifted child. There is no question that the whole grammar school population consists of such children.
Is the hon. Lady aware that, although we welcome the Secretary of State's concern for the exceptionally gifted child in the comprehensive system, many of us are also concerned for the gifted child? Has the hon. Lady read yesterday's article by John Izbiki in the Daily Telegraph which shows that the Polish Communist Party is far less doctrinaire in education than are the so-called moderates in the Labour Party?
I must dispute the hon, Gentleman's argument. In many Communist countries it seems that they are more doctrinaire and less considerate than we are of the needs of the child, including the child's emotional needs and his need to be able to fit into society rather than merely developing his brain for public use.
Government Legislation (Cabinet Responsibility)
asked the Prime Minister if he will waive the constitutional practice of Cabinet responsibility in relation to the passage of Government legislation through the House.
In the absence of my right hon. Friend, who is attending the Silver Jubilee Review of the Fleet, I have been asked to reply.I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition on 16th June.
Is it reasonable to assume that the Lord President will be fighting for the same right for his colleagues to vote against his devolution Bill as he has extracted from the Prime Minister in relation to the direct elections Bill?
I do not think it would be reasonable either to make that assumption or to make assumptions that appear to be indicated in the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question. I refer him again to the reply that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister gave on this subject. I think it is right that Cabinet responsibility should be sustained as a general rule, but there have been some occasions in the past when that rule has been relaxed in the case of previous Governments. If the House looks back to those precedents, it will see that that is the situation.
Does the Lord President recollect the Cabinet rule as laid down by Lord Melbourne that it does not matter what we say provided that we all say the same thing? Now that the Government have apparently abandoned the second half of that rule, can we assume that they still adhere to the first part— namely, that it does not matter what they say?
Despite my eagerness to retain good relations with the Liberal Party, I hope it will not be thought offensive if I say that I am not sure that Lord Melbourne's rule was a very good one for all subsequent Governments to have followed. However, if hon. Members look a little more recently in history they will see that there was a relaxation of Cabinet collective responsibility at the time of the agreement to differ in 1932 proposed to the Cabinet at that time by another Lord Hailsham. At an earlier period before 1914 there was a relaxation of Cabinet collective responsibility on the important constitutional issue of women's suffrage. That was a relaxation that was approved at the time by the whole Liberal Party.
How comes it that sauce that is considered suitable for the direct election goose is not considered suitable for the devolutionary gander?
I know of my hon. Friend's special interest in this matter. I think that he should have declared it when he put his supplementary question. I am sure that no one is better aware than my hon. Friend that the proposals for devolution that we shall be resubmitting to the House in the next Session have been fully supported in our manifestos and at our conferences. I am sure that that will weigh with him strongly.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, although the fleet might be afloat with the Prime Minister, the devolution Bill has sunk? How does he plan to discharge his responsibility to the Scottish people rather than waste time wondering what the Cabinet will do?
The devolution Bill has not sunk. HMS "Phoenix" is going to rise again. I hope that we shall have the hon. Gentleman and his party enthusiastically on board at the time.
As the right hon. Gentleman seems to be so well briefed on various matters of history this afternoon, may I ask whether he has reminded himself of the occasion in 1971 when he preached to the Parliamentary Labour Party on the need for collective responsibility in leadership as the only basis upon which his party could follow a coherent strategy? Does He still believe that today?
I am certainly prepared to look at any of my speeches to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. I am glad that his only instruction has been to follow along those lines. If he looks up what I said on these matters, he will find that I also agreed that the Common Market legislation was put to the House in a manner which I thought at the time, and still think today, did not permit the fullest discussion of many of these matters, including proper discussion of the relationship between this Parliament and the European Assembly. I said that at the time and I repeat it now.
Just like devolution.
However much the right hon. Gentleman talks, he is really saying that when collective responsibility is abandoned the party immediately lacks a coherent strategy. He knows that the Government of which he is a member lack any coherent strategy today and that he bears a great deal of the responsibility for that situation.
I could not quite detect a particular question among those assertions. However, I repeat that I believe that it is strongly necessary, in the interests of proper constitutional government in this country, that collective Cabinet responsibility should be sustained. It is a most important principle. I also believe that there are occasions—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah!"]—when certain rights of this House are involved, when there has to be some relaxation. There are good precedents for that. I recommend to the right hon. Gentleman the history lessons that I am casually offering to the House at this moment.
asked the Prime Minister if he will pay an official visit to Wolverhampton, South-West.
I have been asked to reply.My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.
Will the Lord President ask the Prime Minister to visit Wolverhampton, South-West and to take the opportunity to make a speech about immigration, which for people in that area is one of the most important political subjects although it is seldom discussed in this House? Will he also asked the Prime Minister to explain to the people of Wolverhampton, South-West why the rate of immigration has risen from 32,000 in 1973 to 60,000 in 1976?
The chief factors accounting for the increase were the honouring of pledges to United Kingdom passport holders and their families and to the wives and children of people already settled here, the measures taken to speed up the issue of entry certificates to these women and children of people already settled here, the measures taken to speed up the issue of entry certificates to those women and children, the change in the immigration rules in 1974 to allow men already married or who marry women already settled in this country to remain, and the removal of the time limit on people immune from deportation through five years' residence in the United Kingdom. In other words, the reasons for this increase are matters of humanity and honour.
Prime Minister (Engagements)
asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 28th June.
I have been asked to reply.My right hon. Friend is today the guest of Her Majesty the Queen at the Silver Jubilee Review of the Fleet at Spithead.
Will my right hon. Friend tell the Prime Minister that this is the second time within a fortnight that he has escaped answering my questions? When the Prime Minister gets back from Spithead, will he make a clear statement about the 10-point proposal for a renewed deal with the Liberals, because in industrial relations, for example, the Liberal proposals would, in effect, mean taking more power from the trade union movement and handing it over to undemocratic Right-wing organisations, such as the National Association for Freedom, which are more concerned with protecting the freedom of people such as the tyrant employer Ward of Grunwick?
Whatever criticisms may be made of the Liberals and their policy on industrial matters, I am sure that they have no desire, wish or intention to hand over these matters to the so-called National Association for Freedom. I certainly acquit them of any desire there.I am interested in my hon. Friend's additional reason why my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister might have arranged to go to Spithead today, and I shall discuss it with him when he returns.
Unlike the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan), I am delighted that the Prime Minister is in my constituency, as I was this morning and will be again this evening I should like to put to the Lord Preside at a point which the Royal Navy will be too courteous to put to the Prime Minister— namely, that the last Services pay review was shabby and would not have been tolerated for one moment by the right hon. Gentleman's more militant allies.
I certainly do not accept that the last Services pay agreement was shabby. I do not believe that it would be accepted by the overwhelming majority of people in the Services, whatever complaints they may have, who are also willing to join the rest of the workers in this country in trying to sustain a decent policy.
I appreciate that the Prime Minister is very busy today, but will the Lord President ask him to spare time to reflect on the political situation in Scotland and particularly on the position of the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), who has languished on the Back Benches long enough? Will he use his power of patronage to give him a job where his talents can be used in some better way, so that in a by-election in Kilmarnock we can test the temperature of politics in Scotland?
I do not accept any reflections on my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) from any part of the House, least of all from the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. Watt). My right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock has given great service to this House and greater service to Scotland than the hon. Member for Banff and his party will ever know.
Government Legislation (Cabinet Responsibility)
asked the Prime Minister whether he intends to waive the doctrine of collective Cabinet responsibility in relation to the passage of Government legislation through the House.
I have been asked to reply.I refer the hon. Member to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave to the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition on 16th June.
Is the Leader of the House aware that the answers that he gave to supplementary questions on Question No. Ql were extremely shifty? Will he now give a clearer reply? Is he personally prepared to accept collective responsibility for the proposals which will be included in the Government's programme at the request of the Liberal Party?
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is referring to some reports in the newspapers of discussions between my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Liberal Party. Obviously those discussions will proceed before any comment needs to be made upon them either here or elsewhere.If the hon. Gentleman is referring again to the question of collective Cabinet responsibility, I repeat, so that he along with the rest of the House may understand what I said, that the maintenance of the principle of collective Cabinet responsibility is a matter of supreme importance for the good government of this country. However, I again repeat that there have been occasions in our recent history and over the past 20 or 30 years when it has been thought perfectly right by the House of Commons that those rules should be relaxed. I believe that this is pre-eminently such an occasion because of the relationship between the House and any Assembly in Europe.
Irrespective of what Lord Melbourne may have said, does my right hon. Friend agree that the allegedly dissenting members of the Cabinet are far more representative of British public opinion at this time than the Brussels psychopaths on the Opposition Benches?
I have much too bashful a nature to respond to the temptation offered by my hon. Friend.
With regard to the precedent of 1932, on which the right hon. Gentleman so confidently and consistently relies, does he recall that those members of the Cabinet who sought and were accorded the indulgence to differ at that time very speedily left the Cabinet altogether? Will he undertake that that precedent will be followed in that respect on this occasion?
If only the right hon. and learned Gentleman's history were as good as his law—and that is not a tremendous compliment—he would know that the reason that led to the departure of the Liberal Ministers and the Labour Minister on that occasion following the earlier agreement to differ was a further breach of faith by the then Conservative Government.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that during the period of the Heath Government—the last Conservative Government—there was a free vote on the question of entry to the Common Market? Are we to assume that that free vote applied to the Cabinet, since if it did not there was obviously discrimination against Cabinet members? Did not the majority of the Heath Government totally agree with entry? Could my right hon. Friend clear this up, because many of us are intrigued by the argument that is being put by the other side of the House in relation to free votes and collective responsibility?
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct. This was a most important issue and we were told during those important discussions that there was to be a completely free vote. It is true that it was only at the last moment before the debate that the announcement was made, but none the less, if members of the Cabinet had wished to exercise their right under that free vote, I assume that they were entitled to do so.
Is it not a fact that all the members of the Cabinet voted for entry to Europe, and does that not completely destroy the whole point that the Leader of the House was making?
That only confirms the charge of full-hearted sycophancy against that Cabinet.
What the Leader of the House has said proves the collective responsibility of that Cabinet compared with the total collective irresponsibility of this one.
The right hon. Gentleman is mistaken in the matter. There have been free votes in the House and they are not entirely a novelty in the House of Commons. They have applied throughout the whole range. To have a free vote which applies to some hon. Members of a governing party or of the House and not to others seems to be a denial of the principle of the free vote itself and is, indeed, an unfree vote. In these circumstances, we are following the principle—of which I have spoken before and which I now repeat—that it is possible to sustain the importance of collective Cabinet responsibility, as we have done, but it is also important to acknowledge that there have been occasions in British history when that has been legitimately relaxed in the interests of the House.
Housing (England And Wales)
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on housing policy.The Government are today publishing a Green Paper on housing policy in England and Wales, together with the first two parts of a supporting technical volume. Copies of these documents—the Green Paper, I regret, in typescript form—are available in the Vote Office. The third and last part of the technical volume will be published next month. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is today making a similar statement about housing policy in Scotland. Although the House has had in the past many White Papers on housing, this is the first time that any Government have sought to review their housing policy in a comprehensive and detailed way and to publish the results as a basis for further discussion. The Green Paper enables us to take stock of the whole national housing situation: to record what has been achieved in the past as well as to judge what needs to be done in the future. The main conclusions that the Government draw from the review are these: First, housing conditions have been immensely improved in the last 25 years. Since 1951 we have completed 7½ million new homes, and renovated nearly 2½ million more. In 1951 more than two out of three households were living in physically unsatisfactory conditions or were sharing. Last year the figure had fallen to one in seven. Secondly, substantial needs remain— not least in respect of those one in seven—2·7 million households—the bulk of whom live in unsatisfactory conditions, and new problems, particularly those of the elderly, the disabled, the single and the mobile, are emerging. Thirdly, it is no longer sensible to consider housing as a single national problem but as a series of local ones requiring attention area by area. Fourthly, now that the clearance of irredeemable slums is approaching its end, greater emphasis should be placed upon the renewal and modernisation of property wherever this is sensible. But a substantial level of new house building will still be needed, to deal not only with the backlog of bad housing but with the rising number of households over the next decade. Fifthly, there remains a demand and need for an adequate supply of rented accommodation, which will be met overwhelmingly by the public sector. But, equally, there is a strong and growing desire for home ownership which should be met. Against these general conclusions we have looked at arrangements for housing finance. The present general subsidies to tenants and owner-occupiers have been much criticised. Many proposals for change have been made, but the effect of most of the alternatives—when stripped to their essentials—would be significantly to increase the cost to the tenant and to the home owner of renting or buying his house. We reject this approach—first, because such increases would place an additional and unnecessary burden on millions of families, and, secondly, because they would act to check the increase in the supply of decent homes. We therefore intend to maintain mortgage tax relief and the general subsidy to the public sector. But we do believe that the present housing subsidy system— established on a temporary basis in 1975 —should be recast and made more sensitive to the needs of those authorities with the most pressing housing requirements. On rents, we have in mind that increases should over a run of years keep broadly in line with money incomes. In recent years there has been much comparison between assistance going to council tenants, on the one hand, and that going to homeowners, on the other. A great deal of analysis has been done on this aspect of housing finance in the course of the review, and this is published in the technical volume. This shows that to arrive at an incontrovertible balance sheet is impossible because the systems are so different and the assumptions so debatable. But the analysis does explode the myth that there is a clear imbalance of benefit one way or the other, and the new subsidy system gives us the opportunity to introduce more formal measures that would be regarded by most as broadly fair between the two sectors. To do this, we are suggesting that the minimum rate of general subsidy towards local authority housing interest payments should be related to the basic rate of tax relief on mortgage interest. At the heart of our approach to meeting the housing needs of the next decade lies a new role for local authorities in developing effective local housing strategies which must embrace both public and private sectors, in partnership with all concerned—the building societies, housing associations and the housebuilding industry. These strategies will take into account the whole range of authorities' housing activities, including policies for the sale and acquisition of houses. At the core of an authority's direct contribution to its local housing strategy will be a four-year rolling housing investment programme appraised annually with Government. To co-ordinate national and local policy, I propose to establish a Housing Consultative Council for England with the local authorities and to maintain existing national machinery with the building societies and the house builders. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales will be developing existing relationships with the Council of the Principality. To help the programme of renewal we propose that the emphasis should go on bringing more unsatisfactory houses up to a basic standard, rather than fewer houses to a higher standard. Repairs-only grants will be made more widely available, and we are considering increases in existing cost and rateable value limits for improvement grants. Grants will be made more readily available for houses in multiple occupation and to private tenants. On empty houses, we intend to speed up procedures for dealing with compulsory purchase orders. We shall also be urging local authorities to take more leases of empty privately owned homes and to reduce vacancies in their own stock. As a Government, we welcome the clear desire of many to own their own homes, and we wish to facilitate this wherever we can. We intend to clear the path for home ownership for more people more quickly by special Government assistance for first-time purchasers. We shall introduce legislation for a Government savings bonus and for a matching Government savings loan of £500 interest-free for the first five years. Building societies have a key rô1e to play. We make proposals for them to lend more down market to people with modest incomes and on older property. We also want to build on the steps we have already taken to secure a reasonably stable and adequate flow of mortgage funds. Partnerships between local authorities and building societies should be developed, with local authorities complementing the work of building societies, through topping-up loans and other measures. The local authorities will be enabled to bring their home loans rate into line with the building societies' rate. Although it is unrealistic to think in terms of reversal of the secular decline of the private rented sector, it will remain important in London and other cities for some years to come. We are studying the problems of the sector in a special review of the Rent Acts, but in advance of this we propose to take measures to encourage letting by resident private landlords and the letting of accommodation over shops and other businesses. We shall also enable private tenants to apply for improvement grants. So far I have spoken of proposals designed to improve the supply of, and access to, the right kind of housing. But we also propose a tenant's charter—a code of principles and practices designed to protect the rights of public sector tenants, with legislation to give them security of tenure. Tenants will be encouraged to carry out improvements and reimbursed for substantial improvements when their tenancy ends. We also want to see wider experimentation with new forms of tenure, lying between home ownership and renting—equity sharing, co-operatives, co-ownership—and we wish to encourage the housing association movement, to which the Government have given so much backing already. Last, but certainly not least, there are special groups of people who deserve separate attention—the elderly, the disabled and handicapped, the homeless, one-parent families. Proposals in respect of all of these are made in the Green Paper. Our policies will also help the single and the mobile. We intend to hold consultations on the Green Paper with all the major bodies concerned and to allow until 1st November for comment. The proposals put forward have been conceived as a whole. The Green Paper should enable us henceforth to conduct a far more informed debate on housing policy, and it should enable us to meet more sensitively and accurately the wishes and needs of our people, for whom few things are more important than their home.
Will the right hon. Gentleman recognise that there is much in his statement and the Green Paper that I can greet with a cautious welcome. Half of the Green Paper is a package that abandons the more doctrinal obsessions of the Left-wing of the Labour Party, such as the commitment to cut £160 million of mortgage interest relief, and the other half embodies the policy of the Conservative policy as set out in "The Right Approach".May I ask the right hon. Gentleman three questions? First, would he agree that, as rents are to rise in line with money incomes, this will represent a significantly higher rate of rent increases than those in recent years and certainly a faster rate than that laid down in the Housing Finance Act 1972? Secondly, will the first-time buyer deposit scheme be available to council tenants wishing to buy their homes? Thirdly, will he recognise that in removing security of tenure in specific cases of private letting he is recognising the adverse effect that this has had on the provision of accommodation in the private rented sector? We shall seek to use any legislation that the right hon. Gentleman produces to give a much more urgent and generous dimension to the policies to which he referred, such as the first-time deposits, flexibility in private letting and council house sales.
I note what the hon. Gentleman has said. I find far less doctrinal obsession in my party than I do among Back Benchers opposite. On this side of the House, we are addressing ourselves seriously to the problems of housing and all kinds of tenure. We are not seeking to single out one form of tenure for special adverse treatment while treating another even more generously than at present. That is the essential difference between us.I can give the hon. Gentleman one assurance that will delight most people in the country but may disappoint hon. Members opposite. I do not envisage that increases in rents will be higher under the future formula than they have been in the past two or three years. I hope that this assurance will give the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) some satisfaction. It would be invidious to restrict the opportunities for taking part in the loan scheme and to exclude particular categories who may wish to become home owners. Therefore council tenants will have the opportunity to take part in the scheme. The question whether, as we have acquired an extra sum that we hope will make home ownership available to more people, the scheme should lead on to the purchase of council houses is a different matter and will depend very much on the policies of individual councils. I believe that security of tenure in the private rented sector must be sustained and maintained. There is no question about that. However, I think that we need to look a good deal more carefully at those cases where there is a resident landlord and where there is vacant residential accommodation over a shop or business premises. We have to give special attention to these categories.
Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, may I make an appeal to the House? If questions and answers are brief, I shall be able to call more hon. Members than would otherwise prove possible.
I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's refusal to give in to the pressure from Conservative leaders to cut council house subsidies, which would mean higher rents, but is he aware that the Labour Party will continue to press for a restoration of the cuts in public expenditure, including the cuts in housing? Is it not now possible and desirable to restore those cuts in view of the remarkable improvement in the financial situation and the fact that 250,000 building workers are unemployed?
I thank my hon. Friend for his general welcome. With regard to the cuts in public expenditure, I hope that I have already given evidence that I shall be seeking to find ways, as the situation improves or, in the meantime, by using sources of finance other than those that directly contribute to public expenditure, not only to sustain but to increase the public expenditure programme in housing. The extra £35 million given to the housing corporations, of which the House took note only a week ago, is an earnest of that intention.
As there are 100,000 houses in Wales that are still unfit for human habitation—a higher proportion than in the rest of the United Kingdom—will the right hon. Gentleman consider using the job creation scheme to supplement and speed up some of his proposals?
I take note of the hon. Gentleman's suggestion and will consult my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment about it. I am aware of the higher proportion of unfit houses in Wales and I believe that the new approach of myself and other Ministers, including my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, of dealing with housing problems on a local basis and increasing the possibility of balancing public expenditure between new building and improvements will contribute to the end that the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
I do not wish to indulge in instant politics on a document that has only just been lodged in the Vote Office, but my right hon. and hon. Friends, the majority of whom seem to be at Spithead, will welcome the general approach in the statement, especially the acceleration of compulsory purchase orders and the devolution of power to local authorities.Will the Secretary of State now seek to end the discrimination against rural districts in rate support grant, such as occurs in Cambridgeshire, which has had the worst of all possible deals? While encouraging local authorities to make available short-term lettings, will the Secretary of State give similar directives to the Services, which are sitting on a large number of empty houses that could be used in the short term by local communities? Will the Secretary of State also look into the growing malaise of environmental health officers who are unable to deal speedily with unsuitable housing?
I welcome the hon. Member's general argument that perhaps we would be wise to study the document before committing ourselves to too many instant judgments. That is the general mood of the House. I have noted his questions, which were not directly focused on the statement but which I suppose have a relationship to it. The purpose of the statement was not to discriminate against rural areas. Our purpose is, above all, to try to identify needs and to meet them—in both town and country—in as generous way as possible.My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is well aware of the problem of the short-term letting of Service housing. There have already been disposals of surplus Army dwellings, and no doubt that will continue. The matter is one of judgment. We do not want to reach the absurd situation where we are disposing of houses that we might need later.
Does my right hon. Friend not agree that although the proposals in the statement are likely to be helpful, the rejection of any proposals for a fundamental financial change is likely to result in our housing problems being substantially worse in 10 years' time than they are today? Can my right hon. Friend dispute that through mortgage tax relief we are able to borrow 50 per cent. more than we could otherwise borrow? Does he not agree that that must have influenced the escalation of house prices in the last 15 years? Does he agree that we are spending too much public money on subsidising incomes and far too little on bricks and mortar? Does he agree that we are spending too much on those who have houses and too little on those who need them?
I pay great attention to my hon. Friend, who has a great knowledge of housing matters. He has contributed to all the debates on housing policy since I have been Secretary of State for the Environment. But I do not of course agree with the propositions that he has put forward. Of course, I do not agree that there would be an advantage to our people if we were to allow, across the board, unnecessary increases in house prices; I do not believe in that. What purpose would that proposition serve? Is it supposed to bring about a better distribution of housing resources? Are we to treat housing simply as another commodity influenced by the market laws of supply and demand? Can my hon. Friend convince himself that by reducing public assistance to both main forms of housing —local authority and owner-occupied housing—we would make further and swifter progress in making up the backlog of need that still exists in our society?The great difficulties that we have had in the last three years have been tackled mainly by increases in housing subsidies. The increase in public sector housing investment has not only been maintained but has been increased substantially over the years.
Can the Secretary of State spell out exactly where are the incentives to further owner-occupation? Will he explain to the local authorities how they are to top up mortgages when they have so little money available? Does the 1st November date mean that there is no chance of a change in the improvement grant situation until November?
I shall examine the hon. Member's last question. On the generality of the proposals it is not unreasonable to allow a period to enable people to give us their views and to enable us to consult the many organisations and authorities concerned. I believe that there will be an incentive to owner-occupation of an additional character, which is aimed specifically at the first-time purchaser.I agree that local authorities' mortgage lending has been curtailed. That was one of the ways in which I sought to mitigate the cuts in public expenditure. We have been able to bring the building societies into a relationship with the local authorities, although it is not wholly satisfactory as yet. This is bound to assist. Nevertheless, the local authorities will be able to operate by topping up the mortgages, which will make home ownership available to more people.
Will my hon. Friend allow me the instant judgment of saying that the Green Paper seems to be a sensible compromise of many of the difficult issues that he has had to consider, particularly in relation to local housing strategy? If capital is to be allocated according to the housing strategy prepared by local authorities, is it not essential that they should propose that strategy on a common basis? Does he not agree that the housing lists should be on a common national basis so that they are similar in each area?
The sensible thing is to build upon the success, by and large, of our housing programme. The trend of success is to be seen in the figures. We have to work out in more detail with the local authorities how the strategy is to operate. We must have an assessment of needs on a common basis, otherwise we shall not be able to relate our assistance and programmes to them in the sensible way that we would wish.
Further to the question posed by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Lyon), is it true that in the new arrangements the amount of resources going to each local authority will be determined by the Government and will not, as hitherto, be open-ended until July?
That is so. But I believe that a change from a general and national shortage to a clear position where some local authorities have made progress and are in a better position than others means that we should concentrate on those areas where the needs are greatest. That means that we must assess with local authorities how great are their needs.
Will my right hon. Friend accept that his proposals for the public sector will bring great satisfaction to council house tenants? Does he accept that they will be particularly satisfied with his proposals for security of tenure and the introduction of a tenants' charter? Will that tenants' charter be of an advisory nature or do the Government intend to ask local authorities to adopt a specific charter?Does my right hon. Friend accept that if he wishes to bring older properties into private ownership he will have to liaise closely with building societies in order to secure mortgages on older properties because at present they refuse to lend against them?
I agree with my hon. Friend's last point. That is what I am trying hard to do not only on a national level but locally. I am trying to establish a continuing relationship with particular building societies and local authorities. Without that we shall not achieve what my hon. Friend would wish —a greater number of older properties being purchased for owner-occupation.In the first instance it would be sensible to make the tenants' charter something that is advisory and strongly recommended by us, without closing the possibility of legislation at a later stage. With regard to security of tenure, I believe that that requires legislation.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is no longer the Government's policy that council rents should cover 50 per cent. of housing costs, as set out in the public expenditure White Paper last year? Will he say how the saving of £180 million, which would have followed, is now to be found from his Department—or is it to be added to the borrowing requirement?Will he confirm that if rents had risen as fast as incomes during the last three years, they would have risen far more than they have in fact risen over that period?
Yes, they would have risen faster, but they would have risen at a very moderately increased rate and in a regular and orderly way and would have been related to people's actual incomes as they increased.I think that the House has got into something of a muddle about the 50 per cent. target. This figure appeared in the last but one public expenditure survey committee White Paper It was, as it were, an estimate of what was to happen, not a target, and because the interest rates and interest payments are so important in this set of figures, it is, frankly, a rather meaningless figure to put forward as an indication of what rents should be. For example, it may well be that if interest rates went up far faster than incomes, we should find an even lower percentage than 50 being covered by income. On the other hand, if interest rates, and therefore housing accounts, were to be relieved, with falling interest rates, of a substantial part of their burden, it is possible that the 50 per cent. figure could be exceeded.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that we very much welcome his willingness to experiment with new forms of tenure, particularly equity sharing and various forms of co-operative housing, with which we have made nothing like as much progress as we ought to have made?My right hon. Friend referred to the need to enable local authorities to lend for owner-occupation at the same interest rate as is charged by the building societies. In view of the importance of this issue to many thousands of less-well-off owner-occupiers, will he take urgent action on this and not wait for the fairly lengthy consultation procedure on the rest of his proposals?
I welcome what my hon. Friend said about the increased effort that should be put in, but a great effort has been made by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Construction in developing alternative forms of tenure or of ownership, half-and-half equity sharing, and co-operative housing in this country. We shall continue with these efforts.As quickly as I can, I shall try to make it possible for local authorities to end at the same interest rate as that charged by building societies. I am advised that this requires legislation. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I understand that it would be excluded from the housing revenue. The difficulty is that at present they are not able to do this, and therefore we must change the law accordingly.
Is the Green Paper a menu without prices or does it carry clear estimates of by how much public expenditure will be increased and in which places, and where it is to be saved and by how much?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the expenditure proposals are set out in considerable detail in the PESC forecasts, which appear at regular intervals. The implications for housing and the breakdown of the housing budget in the PESC forecasts will continue in the ordinary way. That will give the hon. Gentleman all the precision that he needs.
Taking into account that my right hon. Friend has said that the future rent increases will be geared to increased incomes, will he bear in mind that almost 50 per cent. of existing council tenants receive financial support in some way or other, either by rent rebate or by social security repayment? Will he give an assurance that the increasing amount of money that is needed to finance an increase in building programmes will not be loaded too heavily on the remaining 50 per cent. who already pay substantial rents?
What I am concerned to do, as I am sure my hon. Friend would readily detect, is to link rents in the future in a sensible way with the capacity to pay. But obviously those council tenants —and there are very many of them—who are today receiving rent rebates and other forms of social security assistance will continue to do so.
Will the Secretary of State recognise that there would be a general welcome for a statement which reflects the abandonment, albeit belatedly, of a belief that massive public sector programmes of construction and munici-palisation can solve all problems?Is he further aware that there will also be a welcome for his greater emphasis on renewal and modernisation? But in that context, after all this time, is it not rather unfortunate that he is considering increases only in eligible cost limits? Will he bring forward proposals before the House rises and include in improvements such matters as improvements in insulation as well?
We are looking at this, and in particular areas of the country we may move ahead of the general easement ci the present limit. But I think there is a danger of exaggerating too much the elfect of the eligible cost limits on the take-up of improved investment grants. I accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the emphasis on renewal and modernisation. It is not all that new. I have been saying it ever since I have been at this Dispatch Box, and my predecessors have also done so.I think that the mood in the country has changed significantly and is now against massive redevelopment and very much in favour of renewal and modernisation. I assure the hon. Gentleman that I have not abandoned my belief that the public sector and the public sector programmes have a very important, indeed crucial, part to play in the provision of housing for our people.
I intend to call two more speakers from each side, Mr. McCrindle.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the policy of maintaining tax relief on mortgage interest will extend to those houses at the upper level of the mortgage scale?Secondly, will the Secretary of State tell us whether the savers' bonus for first-time buyers is likely to include a cash grant from the Government? Is he able to say in which ratio this would be to the couples' savings?
I do not intend to change the present system of tax relief as it relates to owner-occupiers. In other words, the house limit still remains, as my predecessor announced it, at £25,000, and relief will not apply to second homes.I was asked about first-time buyers and the savings scheme. I think that it would be more sensible for the hon. Gentleman to have a chance to study the document, because it is fairly detailed.
Will my right hon. Friend not agree that one of the main inhibitions of local authorities in building is the high rates of interest which they have to pay when borrowing on the money market?Will he indicate whether there will be any fundamental change in this in order to assist local authorities in carrying out building programmes? Will my right hon. Friend not agree also that his plans for positive discrimination will certainly assist the areas of great housing stress, such as Merseyside, and, indeed, other areas in the United Kingdom?
It is certainly my intention to concentrate assistance and aid and housing resources on the areas where the needs are revealed clearly. Certainly Liverpool, in my judgment, is one such area, and there are many others.I certainly agree with my hon. Friend on the great importance of interest rates, and therefore I am sure that he, like myself, greatly welcomes the change in the general trend of interest rates. This is not only helping, and will continue to help, owner-occupiers but makes it easier for builders to raise finance for building, which is very important. The rate was very high indeed on the loans they had to negotiate six months ago, but it has been coming down very helpfully.
Does the Secretary of State appreciate that giving more security of tenure to council tenants makes it more difficult for local authority housing committees to overcome the under-occupa-tion of council houses? What is the sense of giving security of tenure to a couple whose family has grown older but who are continuing to live in a large council house, so denying a young family a house which they should be occupying?
The great majority of local authority tenants enjoy security of tenure. We all know that. Nevertheless, there are certain cases in which in my view it would be right for them to enjoy and have the sense of security that can come only with a statutory enactment. I can only deduce from his question about under-occupation that the hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the real world of council tenants is not as great as his knowledge of the real world of the construction industry.
In replying to an earlier question, my right hon. Friend indicated that one of his objectives in making his statement was to improve the activity rates in the construction industry. Does he really believe that this statement goes far enough to produce that effect? If so, how soon does he expect that the intolerably high levels of unemployment in the construction industry will begin to fall?
The major purpose of the statement is to deal with the longer term, to deal with housing policy from now on. The statement addresses itself to the general questions of tenure and the general questions of financial support to the two sectors. But I believe that with the improvements that we have seen in interest rates, it is possible to envisage an improvement in the pick-up of private sector building, and we are ourselves sustaining a high level of new building and expenditure in the public sector.
With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the consultative document on Scottish housing which is being made available today. This Green Paper is complementary to that which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has just announced for England and Wales. It is the outcome of a comprehensive review of housing in Scotland. It draws together the several developments on which we have been engaged over the past two years and further proposals which add up to a strategy appropriate to Scotland's housing need.The paper describes the great progress made in overcoming housing shortages in Scotland, particularly by the local housing authorities. But it also stresses the continued housing needs, with new problems arising as the old ones are solved. Too many people are still living in inadequate houses and depressing environments. We must take more account of people with special needs—the elderly and the disabled, for example, and single people of all ages. We must also give people better opportunities to obtain the kind of house they want—whether they rent or buy. In consultation with the Scottish local authorities we have agreed arrangements for housing authorities to devise strategies based on local needs. Accordingly, all authorities will be submitting their first housing plans to me this summer to cover the five years beginning 1978–79. These plans take account of the whole range of housing needs, including the private sector. In parallel, we have been discussing a new single housing subsidy for local authorities. The Government will continue to give substantial financial support for authorities' housing expenditure. But I intend to distribute this support in a way that will reflect fairly the different burdens in different areas. The new arrangements should begin to operate in 1979. They will provide a better and fairer subsidy system. The level of assistance I have in mind will enable the local contribution to housing costs—rents and rate fund contributions—to keep broadly in line with changes in money incomes. As well as continuing support for the public sector, the Government want to ensure that the growing demand for home ownership can reasonably be met. To this end, the special measures to help first-time buyers announced by my right hon. Friend—the savings, bonus and loans schemes—will apply equally in Scotland. They will help many young peope to acquire their first homes. But for some people alternative forms of tenure are what they want—equity-sharing schemes, tenant co-operatives, and so on. We shall encourage more of these to meet the demand for a wider choice of tenures. For the vast number of people for whom renting a public sector house is the most appropriate tenure we shall be exploring with the local authorities the development of a model agreement for tenants so that the responsibilities of both tenant and the authority are clearly set out. Public sector tenants should be secure in their homes and they should not have to suffer outmoded and irritating restrictions. But they should also be able to take on more responsibility, if they wish, for the management and maintenance of their homes. I hope that hon. Members and all interested housing organisations in Scotland will now study the paper closely and let us have constructive reactions. On the policy foundations we. have already been laying the outcome should be a coherent and responsive strategy to meet the housing needs of the people of Scotland. Our aim remains
"a decent house for every family at a price it can afford ".
Is the Minister aware that while the very limited loan facility for first-time buyers is welcome, it is not enough to reverse the situation in Scotland, where the rate of owner-occupation of 31 per cent. is about the lowest in the free world and lower than in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia? Did not the Minister try to obtain a special deal for Scotland in view of our special problems and the very low rate of owner-occupation?Have the Government shifted their position on sales of council houses to sitting tenants? Can the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that the Conservative-controlled councils, which now cover more than half of Scotland's population, will not be frustrated in pursuing the policy on which they were elected? Does the proposed single housing subsidy mean that subsidies pledged to councils under past legislation of the present Government and the previous Government—for example, the rent rebate subsidy—will be cut off? Which authorities are likely to lose out? What steps do the Government propose to deal with local councils that ignore the Government's advice on rents? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that the number of unemployed building workers in Scotland now exceeds 30,000? Is there anything in his statement that will bring about an improvement? As the outcome of three years of the right hon. Gentleman's policies on housing is a declining housing programme, record unemployment in the building industry and savage cuts in council mortgages, does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that he does not have much to be proud about in this inadequate statement?
The hon. Gentleman's description of the present housing position in Scotland is absolutely grotesque and bears no relation to the actual situation. The level of owner-occupation is now about 33 per cent. and it is increasing. I think that the measures I have announced today will provide for a continued increase in the percentage of owner-occupation.Council house sales are strictly controlled at present and will continue to be, although proposals by local authorities with regard to council house sales will form part of their housing plans in the future and will be considered in that context. The first priority must of course be an adequate supply of houses to rent for those for whom that is the most appropriate form of tenure. But within that policy there will be a limited opportunity for a modest programme of council house sales. That is described in the Green Paper published today. The subsidies at the current level will not be affected by what I am proposing today for council housing. They would have been severely affected in a few years' time if the subsidy system had not been altered as I propose to alter it, because by 1982-83 there would have been a substantial and precipitate reduction in housing subsidies to local authorities in Scotland resulting from the provisions in the Tory Housing Act of 1972. The House will be glad to know that, far from our reducing the subsidies on rent rebate, the subsidy on rent rebate and rent allowances paid by the Government will be increased from 75 per cent. to 90 per cent. We expect the rent and rate contribution paid by local authorities to rise over the next few years largely in accordance with general rises in money incomes. That will be pretty well the same as our experience in recent years. I turn to the building industry. We recently announced proposals to help the construction industry in Scotland, and there is much in my statement, particularly the increasing emphasis on maintenance, renovation and the rest, that will give opportunities to the building industry.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his statement will be generally welcomed in Scotland today? In view of his reply to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) about rent and rate rebates, will they be made retrospective to the beginning of the present financial year? Secondly, what proposals does he expect to receive from Scottish housing authorities about meeting the uigent needs of battered wives?
One of the points made about housing need in the Green Paper is that local authorities should give more attention to the needs of special categories of people. We mention particularly the elderly, the handicapped and the single homeless. Certainly I have in mind also in that respect battered wives and other wives who have left horn;: and have to establish themselves in separate accommodation. I hope that local authorities will give every attention to that. I cannot make the change in subsidy retrospective, but I know that local authorities will welcome the increase in the rate from 75 per cent. to 90 per cent.
Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that there is still a continuing need in oil development areas, such as the North-East of Scotland and the Moray Firth area, for a continuing housing programme? Will he acknowledge also the need for the support of these programmes and the provision of basic facilities such as water, sewerage systems and so on? What priority is he giving to a continuing housing drive in those areas?
It is part of the emphasis in the Green Paper that we should be looking at housing needs locally in a comprehensive way on a district basis. It is no longer sensible to look at problems of national housing shortage in Scotland, because although some areas have an overall shortage, obviously, or have developing needs because of increasing population or economic development, other areas are not in that situation. Therefore, the new housing plans are intended to provide the framework within which local housing authorities can consider the needs of their areas as a whole—and not, incidentally, restricting their examination to public sector housing but considering also the contribution of the private sector and the contribution which renovation as distinct from demolition can make. We therefore have the framework in these new proposals to deal with local needs, whether in the oil areas or anywhere else in Scotland.As the new housing plans get into full operation and as we are able to introduce the new subsidy arrangements, the housing finance allocations to local authorities will no longer be made in the form of a number of separate slices of money. We want to have a comprehensive allocation within which the local authorities can determine their own priorities for new building, renovation, local authority lending and the rest. As soon as we can change the subsidy arrangements in a way that will provide a single subsidy, we can move to that more comprehensive assesment and give more power to district authorities to determine their priorities with less interference by Government.
I would remind the House that I shall be able to call far fewer hon. Members if we are to have very long questions, and very long answers.
Although today's Green Paper will be known as the owner-occupiers' charter, may I remind my right hon. Friend that the majority of Scottish people and the overwhelming majority of Labour voters in Scotland are council tenants, who will still face ever-increasing rents for older and older houses? When will a Socialist Government take the construction of housing out of the money market and give local authorities loans at nominal rates of interest, such as I and 2 per cent.? Then we shall solve the problem without all these aids to individuals and groups.
My hon. Friend has not read the Green Paper—
A lot of people have thrown it up.
When he has read it, I shall be surprised if he can still describe it as simply an owner-occupiers' charter. Yes, there are certain proposals in it intended to help owner-occupiers. There are also many proposals in it intended to help tenants in the local authority and the public sectors. Our point is that there is a variety of housing need in Scotland and a variety of tenures and that any attack on Scotland's housing problem has to take account of that fact and provide solutions for all the varying problems.
May I raise two brief points on housin;; for the elderly and the disabled? Will the Government do everything possible to encourage the development of sheltered housing complexes for the elderly, since they are much advocated by the old-age pensioners' associations in Scotland? Secondly, in the realm of adaptations of houses for the disabled, I note that the Government are looking at the subject of improvement grants. Could they also consider awarding charitable exemption from rating for houses adapted for the disabled?
The hon. Lady will find mention of that latter matter in the Green Paper. On at least one subject— rating relief—we have already made a separate statement, which I hope she will find satisfactory.As for disabled people generally and special needs, we have emphasised that area in the Green Paper. However, the hon. Lady will know that, although we can give and have given guidance, at the end of the day it is local authorities, in their own housing allocation schemes and building programmes, which must take care of that. But the new framework will, I think, provide increased opportunity for looking at the special needs.