House Of Lords
Monday, 2nd June, 1986.
Reassembling after the Spring Bank Holiday Recess the House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.
Geneva Convention: 1977 Protocols
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that, although they have stated that they have no record of any reservation to the 1977 Geneva Protocols which relates to nuclear weapons (Lord Trefgarne, 10th April, col. 407) the list of Reservations etc. appended to Protocol I includes a statement by the United Kingdom that the United Kingdom's signature is subject to a number of understandings one of which is that the protocol does not "regulate or prohibit the use of nuclear weapons."
My Lords, as I made clear to the noble Lord on 2nd May, I am aware of the United Kingdom's statement of understanding on signature of the 1977 protocols additional to the Geneva Conventions. That did not constitute a reservation.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that under the pretext that the understanding which was reached was not a reservation it was denied from her Front Bench that the Government had any concern with the question of laying down a reservation that the protocol did not apply to nuclear weapons? In these circumstances will she look into the matter again, especially having regard to the fact that as far as I and the Libraries can discover, the list of understandings to which she has referred was not in fact placed in the Library of either House, although at the time an undertaking was given in Written Answers in both Houses that that would be done? Will she be good enough to look into that, and if she discovers that the understandings referred to have not been placed in either Library, will she see that that is now done so that noble Lords can look into the matter and make up their own minds?
My Lords, on the first supplementary question that the noble Lord has asked, he is not in fact correct. The correct Answer was given earlier by my noble friend Lord Trefgarne to the Question that the noble Lord put down on the Order Paper. I gave a correct Answer to the Question that he asked on 2nd May. The function of a reservation is to modify for the reserving state the provisions of a treaty or protocol. In this case the United Kingdom would not need to enter any reservation on nuclear weapons, since the protocol does not contain any provisions relating to them.With regard to the second supplementary question of the noble Lord, many states made declarations on signature, and a list of those has been placed in the Library of the House. But other states have made both declarations and reservations on accession or ratification and a list of those will be placed in the Library of the House.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness the Minister agree that despite the regulation and prohibition of the use of nuclear weapons, whatever protocol may or may not be signed or whatever understanding there is of the matter, it all comes down to verification? Will she tell us how far the Government have gone along that path, because I happen to know that the British Government themselves made proposals which have not yet been accepted even by Russia? Will she be good enough to tell us whether there is any hope of verification coming about?
My Lords, the point that the noble Lord, Lord Mellish, has raised is somewhat wide of the subject of this Question. It is a very important matter. As he will be aware, the function of these protocols is, of course, rather separate from arms control negotiations.
My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that if she will be so good as to arrange for the understandings to be placed in the House, as was supposed to have been done in 1977 and, as far as I can gather, never has been done, I shall be happy not to ask her any further questions on the subject until I have had the opportunity to study the actual documents?
My Lords, I have already indicated to the noble Lord that they will be placed in the Library of the House.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the recent development of American policy makes the use of nuclear weapons more likely? Will the Government come to the decision that nuclear weapons now threaten the whole of mankind and will they cease to tolerate them or to use them?
My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord's first supplementary question about the American Government's attitude. In answer to his second supplementary question, it is the British Government's view that nuclear weapons have made a contribution to peacekeeping since the end of the Second World War.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness tell the House what is the practical difference between a reservation and an understanding? Will she direct herself to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Putney? Does the protocol regulate or prohibit the use of nuclear weapons, or does it not?
My Lords, as I indicated in an earlier answer, a reservation modifies for the reserving state the provisions of the treaty or protocol. In this case, a reservation was not necessary because the protocols do not contain provisions relating to nuclear weapons. We made a statement to make clear our understanding about the additional protocols, and that is the statement to which the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins, referred.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that if the great powers of this world go on amassing these mighty nuclear weapons, they will present a grave risk, regardless of the fact that they may be credited with having kept the peace for 40 years, because they could wipe out the whole of mankind in 40 minutes? It is the responsibility of everybody in public life in all nations to seek a way to banish these horrendous weapons from the face of the earth.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Molloy, will be well aware, the Government are doing all that they can to help with the arms control negotiations to bring about some resolution of these difficult problems.
British Rail Investment
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what have been the quantifiable results of investment in British Rail, with particular regard to the opening of new railway stations.
My Lords, much of British Rail's investment is for the renewal of facilities, but improvements are included wherever there is a sound case for them. Recent improvements include the opening of a total of nine new railway stations since the beginning of the year.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Has the Minister information as to the possibility of developments in the North-East of England and the likelihood of electric trains taking over from out-of-date diesels?
My Lords, the biggest example of investment in the North-East is the electrification of the east coast, London to Edinburgh main line at a total cost of about £306 million. It is the biggest single investment of British Rail for 25 years.
My Lords, with regard to the statement about the opening of nine new railway stations, may I ask the Minister how many of these have been paid for by British money and how many by European money?
My Lords, I am afraid I do not have the figures available to answer the noble Lord at this stage.
My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister agree that more important than new stations is the point that trains should run between certain existing stations—for instance, between Brighton and Oxford—as they used to run?
My Lords, I agree that it would be helpful to have trains running between certain existing stations as well as new stations, and this is exactly the policy that British Rail are pursuing.
My Lord, may I ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that three stations have been opened on the Western Region, and that they are very much appreciated, with plenty of passengers taking trains rather than going by car?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that question. I am aware of the significant improvements; they underline that this Government have approved 98 per cent. by value of investments submitted by British Rail since taking office in 1979.
My Lords, we are all very pleased to see new stations opened—and many have been opened with the co-operation and finance of local authorities. However, is the Minister aware that if the service is unreliable (and we are finding that even with Inter-City lack of punctuality as well as breakdowns are becoming more and more frequent) the stations will hardly be able to cope and people will not use them?On the question of investment, will the Minister not agree that while it is true that a high proportion of what was asked for by the Railways Board has been provided, first, it is all borrowed money—it is merely power to borrow money—but, more importantly, it is about a third of what the previous chairman said was necessary for the railways? The present chairman decided to ask for what he thought he could get rather than what the railways need.
My Lords, if the present chairman has put in figures for what he thought he could get, he has been satisfied.
My Lords, in view of the fact that the Government have frequently acknowledged the desirability of getting more traffic off the roads, can the noble Earl say whether they are considering the reopening of some of those branch lines which have been closed?
My Lords, that is a decision for British Rail themselves rather than the Government. However, if British Rail come to the Government and justify it on economic grounds, I am sure that they will be given a receptive reply.
Noraid Fund Raising
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what representations they have made to the Government of the United States of America concerning the raising of funds by NORAID for transmission to IRA terrorists.
My Lords, NORAID's fundraising activities are the subject of frequent discussions between Her Majesty's Government and the United States Administration. We are grateful to President Reagan for his determined opposition to those in the United States who give support of any kind to organisations involved directly or indirectly in terrorism in Northern Ireland. Eight NORAID members and office holders have been convicted in the United States of gun running to the IRA since 1973.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Will she not add that the activities of the IRA, supported financially by Irish Americans, have also caused a great deal of terrorism in the United Kingdom as a whole as well as in Northern Ireland? One thinks of the Harrods bombing and a few other incidents. Is it not almost incredible that this situation has been in existence since 1970 and that discussions are still continuing as to whether or not the United States will outlaw the raising of funds by NORAID to wreak terrorism in our country?
My Lords, we are all aware of the terrorist activities of the IRA both in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom as a whole. As for outlawing NORAID, this is a matter for the United States, but there can be no doubt at all of the United States Administration's determination to arrest and prosecute the gun runners.
Nationalised Industries: Customers' Bills
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government how widespread in the nationalised industries is the practice of issuing a routine threat in respect of an unpaid bill irrespective of the customer's record of prompt payment hitherto.
My Lords, practice in respect of unpaid bills is a matter for the commercial judgment of the industries themselves.
My Lords, I am obliged for that Answer. Has the Minister not detected instances where the public monopolies seem to think that they can treat a customer any way they like without fear of losing his custom, unlike private retailers in competition with others?
My Lords, I think that in general the public monopolies treat their customers with fairness. I understand that there is normally a period of 21 days between the receipt of the first bill and the red bill; and then there is a further seven days to two weeks before an inquiry is made as to why the bill has not been paid. A number of customers are unable to pay their bills and help for that comes through social security arrangements. But a vast number simply do not pay the bills on time.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that when these accounts are first sent out, the great bulk of them are normally paid quite punctually? In the interests of economy and bearing in mind that all these concerns have computerised records, would it not be possible for the computer to throw out the exceptions and then send out reminders to them rather than broadcasting the reminders in the way they do at present? Surely such a course would be the best way to proceed. If the noble Lord wants the names of any computer programmers who will effect that for those organisatons, I point out that many of us on this side of the House will be happy to supply a variety of names from whom they can choose. Surely that is the best way of going about it.
My Lords, it is a matter for the industries themselves. I am sure that they will take note of what the noble Lord has said. However, it must be for the industries themselves to decide how best to deal with the matter.
Parliamentary Constituencies Bill Hl
My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to consolidate the House of Commons (Redistribution of Seats) Acts 1949 to 1979 and certain related enactments. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a first time.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a first time.—( The Lord Chancellor.)
On Question, Bill read a first time, and to be printed.
Alcoholics Anonymous (Dispositions) Bill Hl
Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.
Ipswich Port Authority Bill
Read a second time, and committed to an Unopposed Bill Committee.
Education Bill Hl
My Lords, I beg leave to move that this Bill be now read a third time.
Moved, That the Bill be now be read a third time. ( Baroness Hooper.)
My Lords, I rise with great reluctance to move that the Motion for Third Reading be not agreed to. I do so not in terms of the merits of the Bill but in regard to Amendment No. 5 on the Marshalled List. I oppose the Third Reading of the Bill because there is no other course open to me. I speak on behalf of ordinary Back-Benchers and not those who may be in the privileged position of sitting on the Front Benches and who have, of course, close contact with and are well served by the Government in terms of their proposals.There is a convention—and it is no more than that—that matters of major substance are not raised on Third Reading. Amendment No. 5 certainly falls into that category. It is an amendment of very considerable substance. On the other hand, it concerns a matter which was debated—very briefly, it is true—at the Report stage, and it was then that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, on behalf of the Government intimated his intention to bring forward an amendment to meet the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. The amendment in question is of considerable substance and for it to be introduced on Third Reading places your Lordships' House in very considerable difficulties. I do not wish to go into the question of the merits or the various problems that will arise from it. Certainly my first knowledge of the contents of the amendment was from reading my copy of The Times this morning. It was only when I came to your Lordships' House that I discovered the amendment on the Marshalled List. The amendment introduces a new clause to a Bill which deals with education. I think that the Government would at least agree with me that if the Government had intended moving a clause of that character, the title of the Bill would be very different from the present title of the Bill. My anxiety is not about the problems and whether the Government have got it right; my anxiety is about the ordinary Members of your Lordships' House acting as a revising Chamber. I do not know how many noble Lords had sight of the amendment prior to today. Some noble Lords on the Front Benches have had it earlier. I gather that the Minister made great efforts to contact those who took part in the discussions during the earlier stages of the Bill. However, as I have said, the new clause sits very uneasily within the general context of the Bill itself. Therefore, I need to ask this question. Were those noble Lords who were concerned about the universities notified of the Government's intention? My understanding—and I am open to correction—is that the vice-chancellors and the authorities in the universities were only informed of the contents of this new clause on Thursday of last week. At that time we were in parliamentary recession or rather Parliament was in Recess. We were not in parliamentary recession, although some of your Lordships may think that that is rather topical! However, Parliament was in Recess. It would have been very difficult for vice-chancellors to contact ordinary Members of your Lordships' House about their concern regarding the Bill. It would have been very difficult for ordinary Members of your Lordships' House to contact even their closest friends within the universities about the merits, the difficulties and the problems of what the Government have in mind. However, I do not wish to discuss the merits of the amendment, and nor do I wish to accuse the Government of trying to treat this House in any roughshod fashion, although it could well be said outside that your Lordships' House is being treated in a very roughshod way. Let us consider the position of your Lordships' House this afternoon. I said that I objected to the Third Reading with reluctance. I have no other course open to me. I could not move a Motion; I could not put down an amendment because I had no prior knowledge of the contents of this particular amendment. Therefore, I should like to suggest to your Lordships how this particular clause should be handled. I personally believe that the new clause should be recommitted to your Lordships' House. I believe that it should be recommitted in order that your Lordships' House could deal with the substance of the clause and could have the ability to move constructive amendments to it. However, as the amendment has been put down on Third Reading, and put down so late, there is no way in which any of your Lordships can amend the clause. All we can do is take the clause as it is. It is perfectly true that my noble friend Lord McIntosh has tabled an amendment, but he may have been in a privileged position. I should say that his amendment is not one that will give him great comfort. He may well have wished to deal with the matter in greater detail. Certainly those noble Lords who may be interested in the universities may have wished to move amendments of greater detail. Therefore, I point out to your Lordships that the only way in which that could be done is if the clause were recommitted to your Lordships' whole House. However, we have now reached Third Reading. Each of your Lordships is only permitted to make one speech and then has to sit down and be quiet. If the Government wish to take up a point, there is no way they can do so other than for the Minister to say, "I rather agree with the noble Lord. This is an amendment that we should like to consider, and we shall deal with it in another place". Is that in itself satisfactory? I do not think that it is. I oppose the Third Reading because it is the only course open to me. This is a clause of substance and importance and it sits uneasily with the rest of the Bill, but that is neither here nor there. It is a clause that ought to be looked at in the same way as any other clause in a government Bill and it should be subject to amendment. Therefore it is my earnest appeal to the Government that this new clause be recommitted to your Lordships' House in Committee. If the Government are so willing—and I can only say this speaking personally, but I think it would be the understanding of your Lordships' House—we would deal with all the amendments now on the Marshalled List for Third Reading but we would not conclude the Third Reading procedures, and the Government would recommit this particular clause to a Committee of your Lordships' House. We could then deal with it, and then perhaps next week bring it back and include it in the Third Reading. I am sure that if the Government were to make that gesture nobody would seek to make capital out of it, or seek to add to the problems of the Government with their timetable. I beg the Government, in the interests of your Lordships' House as a revising Chamber, to acknowledge that this is a clause of such substance that it ought to be considered in detail and be capable of being amended if we so wish. The present position is quite unsatisfactory. All we are faced with is an amendment that we have either to accept or to reject. In view of the importance of the subject, I do not think it is right that the House should be placed in that position. I propose that the Third Reading be not taken this day. I would happily withdraw that Motion if the Government would make the one concession that this particular clause be recommitted to your Lordships' House in Committee. I am certain that through the usual channels business could be expedited so that no great amount of time would be lost.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend Lord Shepherd in his submission. The entire nation seems to be gravely concerned about the situation with regard to education, and would it not be right and proper to listen to what my noble friend Lord Shepherd has said? If the people could have a voice they would say that what is happening today in this House is neither right nor proper.It may be that the Government did not intend to submit this particular amendment on the Marshalled List today. If they did not, one could understand that the intention was a not dishonourable one. If, to use an old soldier's phrase, this Government, as they sometimes do, are trying to "work a flanker", then the only way that they can save their good name and not irritate the people of this country is by allowing us to examine the submission that has been made and to take cognisance of and agree with the submissions made by my noble friend Lord Shepherd.
My Lords, there has been a long discussion on this subject at Committee and Report stages. It is true that the amendment can only now be looked at in detail, but I think I am right in reminding the House that the Bill goes from here after Third Reading to the other place, and should there be amendments to this clause they can be discussed when they return to us. I should have thought that we have had enough discussion of this important matter. The view of the House has been made fairly clear, and the Motion moved by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, should not be agreed to.
My Lords, we on these Benches understand the problems of the Government. At the same time it remains true, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said, that this amendment came out during the Recess and we have had no proper opportunity to consider it. It is not a minor amendment. It is a very important issue. Many of us have received letters from the vice-chancellors, who are not a frivolous committee and who are deeply worried about it.I see the procedural difficulty, but unless the House can give this full consideration (because it is a new idea and it is not really just a modification of what we have already discussed) we should not be doing our duty as a House, and we should be deeply unhappy to proceed on that basis.
My Lords, this new clause is introduced as a result of an undertaking given by the Government at Report stage and after a discussion—and not the first discussion in this House—on this subject. I should have thought, therefore, that it was perfectly well within the rules of order for the tabling of amendments at Third Reading.
My Lords, I hate to disagree with my noble friends Lord Renton and Lord Trenchard, but I feel, as a Back Bencher on this side of the House who also saw the text only when I arrived in the House this morning, that it is not the way such an important matter should be dealt with. I agree that there is a mischief to be corrected, but there is a variety of ways in which that mischief could be corrected.If some of us who have experience of the university world had been consulted, we might have persuaded the Government to introduce something which would not have received the rather unfavourable reception that the amendment has received. It would be a pity to have to rely upon another place to improve it, since one of the things that this House can claim is a representation of the university world much greater than exists in the other place. Therefore, with deep regret I must find myself on the same side as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd.
My Lords, may I say one word? I was present at the discussion at Report stage. It was a full discussion which went into the principles on both sides, and the Government gave their undertaking to bring in a clause at this stage. They have done it rather late; but on the other hand I should have thought that it is possible for all of us to discuss it quite profitably even now, because the principle has been discussed, and let it go forward.
We cannot amend it.
My Lords, I wish to support my noble friend Lord Beloff. The difficulty about this clause is that it divides freedom of speech into two. There will be one definition of freedom of speech which will operate on the campuses of this country, and another freedom of speech which will operate elsewhere. I can elaborate the consequences of this, which in my view would be disastrous. I would therefore wish to see this matter of freedom of speech not immured in a Bill which is concerned with education, governing bodies, curricula, and the like. Later this month we shall have a public order Bill, and that is where clauses about the freedom of speech should be placed.
My Lords, for many the first knowledge of this matter was found on the centre page of The Times today. Are we to hear something from the Opposition Front Bench on the matter so that we may have some guidance?
My Lords, I had assumed that it was a matter of courtesy to let the Government respond to my noble friend's Motion before intervening myself. I certainly take it as the responsibility of the Opposition to speak from the Dispatch Box on this matter, but I did not want to anticipate the debate on the substantive content of the amendment or to speak on the procedural matter without hearing the words of the noble Baroness for the Government. If it is possible within the rules of order, I may wish to comment on what she says.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has said in raising this Motion that we should not give the Bill a Third Reading this afternoon. As a former Leader of the House, he will appreciate more than most that that is a very serious step for the Government to undertake about something on which we have agreed with the usual channels. The Bill has gone through all the procedures since early March, and those who have taken part in the detailed debates that have taken place are aware of the timetable.The noble Lord said that he moved this Motion because the Government amendment raises a matter of substance. It is true it is an important amendment that the Government are bringing forward at Third Reading, and I understand the sincerity of all those who have spoken this afternoon. However, I would remind your Lordships that this matter of the universities was raised at Second Reading, it was raised again and debated at the Committee stage of the Bill—after all we had four days in Committee,—and it was raised and debated again on Report. Perhaps I may quote what my noble friend Lord Swinton said on Report:
If I may say so, I think that it is a little disingenuous to say that the first anyone has heard about this is reading the very important article by Sir Patrick Neill in today's issue of The Times. For those of us who have been following this Bill in some detail the Government made an absolute commitment on Report and have honoured that commitment. We would have been quite properly criticised if we had not honoured our commitment. The noble Lord made another point. He said that this was wide of an Education Bill. Again—as I am sure he will know as well as I do—the question of whether any amendment is relevant to the matter of a Bill is something for decision by the Public Bill Office. As he will know, it is relevance that applies in your Lordships' House; it is scope that applies in another place. The amendment and those which preceded it at other stages have been allowed. I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to go into all the detail of what I propose to say later on moving the amendment. But I should like to make two points, because I must say to the House that I do not believe we could recommit this Bill at this stage."We have carefully considered the arguments put forward at Committee stage by my noble friend and have decided in the circumstances that it would be appropriate to make provision in this legislation to meet the concerns she expressed. We therefore undertake to introduce our own amendment at Third Reading. This will be wider than freedom of speech for visiting speakers and will relate to every aspect of higher education."—[Official Report, 20/5/86; col. 281.]
My Lords, recommit the clause.
My Lords, recommit the clause. I understand the point about recommitting the clause but I do not feel nevertheless that we could recommit this clause. The clause has been brought forward to meet an obligation. The time has been short, although it was said on 20th May at Report stage that we would bring forward an amendment at Third Reading. I recognise that time has been short and we have not had the opportunity for the consultations which we should like to have had. I shall give an undertaking to your Lordships about this which I would have given and shall repeat when I come to the amendment. The Government will look further at this amendment in the light of what has been said and in the light of consultations which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is to have with those in the universities, the polytechnics and other higher educational authorities about this. I shall expand this remark later because I do not want to get into the substance of it now.I hope I have said enough to assure your Lordships that what we are doing is fulfilling an undertaking on a matter which has been raised at each stage of the Bill and why I believe it would not be appropriate for us to recommit this particular amendment.
My Lords, I have listened with great care and sympathy to what the noble Baroness has said because the Government are certainly in a difficult position. It is true that the Government made the undertaking which the noble Baroness read out. It is certainly true that they were under an obligation after Report stage to come back to this House at Third Reading. However, Report stage was on Tuesday, 20th May. By the following Wednesday the Bill, as amended at Report, was not available, and it was therefore not possible for anybody other than the Government to put down amendments to it. I did not see the amendment until this Friday morning last, 30th May.In those circumstances, I question whether the Government acted with sufficient speed to enable them to escape the charges which my noble friend Lord Shepherd has put against them. I suggest that it may not be improper for the Government to proceed as they intend to proceed; but it would be the path of wisdom for the Government to listen to the views expressed on all sides of the House this afternoon, accept my noble friend's amendment and suffer the very minor delay which might be caused by the recommittal of this new clause.
My Lords, I find myself in no disagreement with the noble Baroness in terms of the Government's intention of dealing with a difficult problem. As she said, this has been made clear particularly at Report stage. My anxiety was solely on the question of the drafting of the amendment, which is a substantial new clause. The noble Baroness has said that the Government themselves have anxiety about it and that they would wish to listen. They gave an undertaking that in another place they would deal with it.However, if we were to proceed as the noble Baroness has suggested, your Lordships' House will not in any way have an ability to contribute to the discussion of the detail of the clause. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I agree that there is a wealth of experience in the House, unlike in another place. I should not like to think that your Lordships' House should not have an opportunity of dealing with the detailed contents of this clause before it goes to another place. I think that would be quite wrong. The noble Baroness referred to my previous role in your Lordships' House. It may be because of that previous role that I have spoken today, because as the Leader of the House one has one guiding principle: you are not solely the servant of the Government; you are the servant of your Lordships' House and you have to take into account what are the anxieties and the concerns of the House. This is not a party political issue. It is not an issue that necessarily divides us in the field of education. This is purely a procedural argument. In the light of what the noble Baroness has said, I should like to move that your Lordships' House should decline to give this Bill a Third Reading today and ask the Government to re-introduce it some seven days hence. That will give the Government an opportunity to meet the understandings of the usual channels for this particular part to be re-committed to your Lordships' House. I therefore beg to move that the Third Reading be postponed these seven days. I beg to move.
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House, perhaps I ought to say just the briefest word. I suggest that the Motion before the House is, That the Bill be now read a third time. We can consider, and are considering with the very greatest care, the remarks which the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is making on that Motion, which is the one that will be put to your Lordships. But before that Motion is put I ought, on behalf of the Government, to express apologies to your Lordships for the shortness of the notice for this amendment being put down. It is a situation where the House has every right to expect the Government Front Bench to express apologies for the shortness of the notice. I know that my noble friend Lady Young did so in her usual felicitous way a few moments ago; but at the termination of this discussion I think that I ought to underline it and repeat it. That is one point that I wanted to make. I unreservedly apologise to your Lordships for the shortness of the notice.However, the second point that I ought to make is that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Edmund-Davies, in his intervention from the Cross-Benches, asked whether it was really to be that the House, after all that has gone on on this Bill, is not to hear from my noble friend and other noble Lords about this important matter. As I understood it, the noble and learned Lord said, "Is there really to be silence?"
My Lords, he did not say that at all.
My Lords, may I finish? That was my understanding If I may say so, I think that after all that has gone on over this Bill—and it is for the House to decide whether it agrees with me or not—for there to be total silence on this matter would be very questionable indeed. My noble friend Lady Young has made it clear that there really would be the very greatest difficulty from the Government's point of view about recommitting the clause until next week. Therefore, the second point that I wish to make is that for the reason that I have just given I think that we ought to proceed.The final thing I ought to say to your Lordships is that it is for the House to decide, if we do proceed, what then to do with the new clause. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, put a very important point to the House when he said that the clause could not be properly considered. If your Lordships reach that conclusion at the end of the debate on the new clause, it will be for your Lordships not to agree to it. But I hope that the House will agree that at least the clause should be considered on Third Reading.
My Lords, surely it is very odd for your Lordships' House and for Members opposite to say, in effect, that we cannot trust the House of the people, or the House of Commons, to—
My Lords, it was all sides of the House.
My Lords, it is just as odd for all sides of the House to do it as only one side of the House; but it is odder from that side than from this. It does seem rather odd. Surely we have had a commitment from my noble friend that this will be seriously looked at in another place and if amendments to it are necessary, they will be brought forward. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will support my noble friend if it does come to a Division. I think it is very odd for the Labour Party to promote Divisions because they do not trust the Commons to look at legislation.
My Lords, the Question before the House is, That this Bill now be read a third time.
My Lords, I had hoped that I could have moved a Motion to the effect that this Third Reading be postponed for seven days. If we are asked to vote against the Bill, I think we are then placed in an intolerable position. All that I am seeking, because of the circumstances that I have explained, is the adjournment of the Third Reading. If we were to vote against the Third Reading, the Bill would be lost. I think that that would be quite wrong and quite contrary to what we on this side of the House, or for that matter those on all sides of the House, are seeking. What we want is a postponement of the Third Reading.
My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, this cannot be so. Back-Benchers, or indeed Front-Benchers, of your Lordships' House cannot just stand up and move any Motion in a form which they consider is relevant—certainly not without notice. My understanding of the matter is that the Motion to be agreed at the moment is, That this Bill be read a third time. This Motion cannot be altered just because it suits the whim of any Member of this House; that would be a certain recipe for procedural chaos.
My Lords, perhaps I may help the House on this occasion. I feel that the noble Lord the Lord Chairman of Committees was quite right to say that the Motion before the House is, That this Bill be now read a third time. The operative word is "now". If the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, wishes to move an amendment to it, he may do so. He may leave out the word "now" and insert "this day"—
Yes, my Lords; "seven days' time", or "this day one week". I think that that would help the House, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, can move his Motion in accordance with the procedure.
My Lords, I take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, to delete the word "now" and insert "seven days hence". I beg to move.
My Lords, very briefly, I have taken the advice of the Table. The advice is that, under Standing Order 43, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is perfectly within his rights; and it comes very close to the advice given to him from the Bench behind him. Perhaps it would be for the convenience of the House if I referred to Standing Order 43:
That second part, of course, is irrelevant, but the first part is highly relevant. May I suggest, although I do not agree with the noble Lord, that he proceeds according to Standing Order 43?"A Motion for the adjournment of a debate may be moved at any time during the debate without notice and may be debated. But when it has been arranged in advance for a debate to be adjourned, it is usual for its adjournment to be moved formally by the Lord who will speak first when the debate is resumed".
My Lords, I shall soon be out of order if I speak too many times. In the light of the advice that the noble Lord the Deputy Leader of the House has given, I beg to move that consideration of the Third Reading be now adjourned for seven days—
My Lords, just "be adjourned".
My Lords, the Motion is that the word "now" be deleted and the words "seven days hence" be substituted for the word "now". Is that the correct Motion? That is the Motion before the House. The Question is, That this Motion be agreed to.
My Lords, I wonder if I may come in now. I am speaking to Lord Shepherd's Motion. As my noble friend the Deputy Leader of the House has said and as has been confirmed by the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is quite in order so to do. I am just wondering whether he is wise so to do or whether the House would be wise spontaneously to accept such a Motion. The business of this House has always been agreed through the usual channels. To have a government's timetable altered in this way just after a very short debate like this might make for very great difficulties in this and in future Parliaments.
My Lords I do not know whether noble Lords opposite realise how difficult it is. We have agreed through the usual channels what the business should be. To adjourn a whole stage of a Bill just because of one amendment seems to be—
But it is important.
All right, my Lords; it is an important one. But it seems to be a precedent over a Bill like this—and, as I say, the programme has been agreed through the usual channels—and a precedent that needs very careful thinking about, before Members of any party should decide to inflict their will on the Government of the day.
My Lords, I think that in an earlier speech the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, indicated that he would be quite happy to take this afternoon that part of the Third Reading of this Bill which did not refer to this particular amendment if the Government would agree to the recommitment of Amendment No. 5. If it is procedurally possible to agree that, I am sure we can make progress.
My Lords, if, with the leave of the House, I may speak again, I think it would be a good idea to consider this through the usual channels outside the Chamber. Therefore, with the leave of the House, I beg to move that this House do adjourn for five minutes.
My Lords, I beg to move that this House do adjourn during pleasure.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
[ The sitting was suspended from 3.29 until 3.34 p.m.].
Debate on the Motion for Third Reading resumed.
My Lords, I was not quite sure procedurally as to who should speak first. I think the best procedure I would recommend to the House is that my noble friend should undertake to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, not to move Amendment No. 5 during the Third Reading today but that the Government should also undertake to my noble friend Lady Cox and others that an amendment similar to this will be moved by the Government in another place. Your Lordships' House will therefore, if another place accepts the amendment, have full ability to consider it and amend it after listening to all the discussions that have taken place both here and in another place. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will agree to withdraw his Motion that the debate on Third Reading should be adjourned
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, replies, may I ask the noble Lord the Chief Whip whether in that case the Government will undertake to carry out full consultations before redrafting any clause to be presented in another place?
My Lords, I have already said to the House what it was the Government's intention to do. I have no reason for thinking that there will be any change in that because the clause which followed an undertaking given on Report and which was tabled for your Lordships this afternoon is now to be withdrawn.
My Lords, may I ask this question? If this procedure is followed and an amendment such as this goes through the Commons and comes back here, is it the opinion of the Chief Whip or of members of the Government generally that this House, constitutionally and properly, could disagree with that amendment if it wished?
My Lords, I hope that it will not, but it would be perfectly proper for this House so to do.
My Lords, as one of the proposers of the original amendment, perhaps I may say that I welcome the efforts that have been made by Her Majesty's Government to come forward with an amendment which tried to meet the spirit of our original amendment. I have listened very carefully to the representations of concern made from all parts of your Lordships' House this afternoon and I am very happy to support the current Motion which is before us.
My Lords, the House will be very grateful to the Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms for his statement today. Of course, the assurance given by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is given not to me, but to your Lordships' House. In the light of that assurance I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
On Question, Motion for Third Reading agreed to.
Clause 6 [ Appointment of representative governors in place of co-opted governors]:
moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 7, line 28, at beginning insert—
("Where the local education authority and the governing body consider it appropriate,")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, after the storms and excitement of the recent debate, the amendment which I now beg to move is comparatively tame. It returns once again to the whole question of trying to get right the composition of school governing bodies.
This amendment relates to the relatively small number of schools in the maintained special schools sector. As presently drafted, the Bill states that these special schools must have one governor imposed on them, representing one or more voluntary organisations. The local education authorities decide which voluntary organisations are appropriate to make the appointment. I have received representations from special schools who regard these provisions as "patronising and offensive". Governing bodies of special schools are just as capable as governing bodies of mainstream schools of co-opting governors with appropriate experience and expertise. It might be that special school governing bodies would indeed want some representation from an appropriate voluntary body; however, they should have the discretion to choose. Governors should not be imposed on them by an external agency. My amendment introduces a degree of flexibility. The provisions of this subsection would apply only where the local education authority and the governing body consider it appropriate. In effect, there would be discussions between the school and the local education authority. Where it was right for a voluntary group to have representation, then a governor could be appropriate. Where it is not appropriate, no such appointment need be made. As presently drafted, the Bill does not permit this flexibility.
Furthermore, it may not always be appropriate for the appointment to be made from a voluntary organisation. It may, for example, be more appropriate for a person from a district health authority to be appointed. If this was the case, then a governor could be co-opted in the normal way, and no appointment from a voluntary body would be made. Again as presently drafted the Bill would not permit this. My amendment, by introducing flexibility, would improve the functioning of governing bodies of special schools. I beg to move.
My Lords, I understand that there is a printing error in the amendment, which should refer to line 35. Amendment proposed,
Page 7, line 35, at beginning insert—
("Where the local education authority and the governing body consider it appropriate,")
My Lords, I appreciate the motives of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, but I have some doubt about it because it seems to me that it gives to the local education authority and the governing body, or to each of them, a veto as to whether or not the provisions of subsection 1 of Clause 6, which are good provisions, shall be carried out, and I am very doubtful whether each of those two bodies or either or both of them should have such a veto.
My Lords, I have listened very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, has said in moving this amendment, which is a new amendment which we have not seen at earlier stages of this Bill. The effect of it would be, as the noble Lord has explained, to make representation of the appropriate voluntary organisation on the governing body of a maintained special school discretionary, depending on whether the local education authority and the governing body consider such representation to be appropriate.The voluntary organisation to be represented on such a school does not have to be a national body. It could be a local group concerned with a particular specialism of the school. The criterion is that the local education authority considers it to be appropriate, whether it is national or local. If a governing body feels that it has had inappropriate organisations foisted upon it, it can always make representations to the local education authority and they must then consider such representations. If they consider such representations to be well founded, they can amend the instrument of government. If the parents at the school believe that the voluntary organisation represented is the wrong one, they can raise the matter at the annual parents' meeting, and if they pass a resolution on the matter they will have to have it considered by the local education authority, who will then have to report back on the question in the next annual governors' report. There are various alternative ways of dealing with this matter, and I hope that I having shown the various ways in which under the Bill an individual school can make its views known to the voluntary organisation or organisations to be represented on the governing body the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her words on this matter. It is unfortunate that the Government do not feel able to accommodate the feelings of those most closely involved in this matter, but, in view of what she says, I do not see that any more can be said at this stage, other than that one hopes it may be done in another place at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 14 [ Miscellaneous]:
moved Amendment No. 1A:
Page 18, line 17, at end insert ("and shall make provision for a postal ballot").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I rely on the words used by the noble Baroness at Report stage. I appreciate that she has had a lot of matters on her mind between Report stage and now, in particular towards the latter end of the period, but I would remind her and the House that when we discussed the whole question of postal ballots at Report stage she said: "It is an area that needs looking at, but I sense the feeling of the whole House about that, and I will look at the matter again between now and Third Reading".
That is by no means as firm a commitment as that which her noble friend Lord Swinton gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, about the issue of freedom of speech in universities, but it went some way towards indicating that the Government appreciated the validity of the point that in order for parents in particular to have a full opportunity to take part in the election of parent governors, a postal ballot was the only effective system. We discussed the possibility that there would be parent governors who would be working on night shift and could not attend parents' meetings and that there could be parent governors who would be disabled and could never attend any outside meetings, but who would still wish to have a say in the election of parent governors.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has written to me indicating that in her view the position in residential schools was certainly such that a postal ballot would be the appropriate way for a ballot to take place, but I do not think that really goes far enough. It is not just a matter of special or residential schools. In all schools there will be parents who, for the reasons I have suggested and possibly for other reasons, would not be able to take advantage of their right under Clause 14 to take part in the election of parent governors. A postal ballot in addition to a ballot taken at the annual parents' meeting would be a valuable extension of the democracy which the Government wishes to encourage in the running of our schools.
I said a moment ago that this was not as firm a commitment as that given on another amendment, but it was one where the Government appeared to be opening the door slightly. I want, in all humility, to try to push on the door in so far as it is open. I recognise that the Government may not feel able to accept this amendment, which does not deal with the question of whether there should be a postal ballot for teachers. If the Minister would be prepared to say in response to this amendment that the Government's consideration, which had not come to a point by today, will continue and that they will look sympathetically at the possibility of putting down an amendment in another place to achieve this effect, which was widely wished for on many sides of the House at Report stage, then I should be happy to withdraw my amendment. But in view of the offer made by the noble Baroness, I think that we ought not to let this matter drop. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is quite right in saying that I undertook at Report stage to look again at the question of postal ballots; and indeed I have subsequently written to noble Lords opposite who spoke on the matter. It is, I think, common ground between us that nothing in the clause as presently drafted excludes a postal ballot. It is also fairly clear that the provisions of subsection (5)(c) mean that for schools where the parents live a long way from the school—for example, many residential schools—there would have to be a postal ballot for parent governor elections.I said in my letter that in the post-Act guidance the Government would make clear their expectation that for parent governor elections local education authorities, or, as appropriate, governing bodies, would allow parents a postal vote if they were unable to attend to vote in person. However, we recognise that this may not always achieve the desired result and that there could be a few hard cases where the LEA (or the governing body) could not be said to have denied anyone the opportunity to vote but where some parents had for some reason or other not been able to do so. The Government will therefore undertake to introduce their own amendment in another place to make clear that a postal vote should be available in parent governor elections for those who, for whatever reason, cannot attend to vote in person. I hope the noble Lord will understand why we cannot accept his amendment as it stands. It would, among other matters, apply to teacher governor elections and I thought he indicated agreement when I suggested at Report stage that there is considerably less of a case for postal ballots here. I hope very much that with the undertaking I have given about the government amendment which we shall bring forward in another place, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, the noble Baroness could hardly say fairer than that. We have the undertaking that I was looking for, we have the understanding that it is in the mind of the Government, as it was in the mind of the House at earlier stages of this Bill, that there should be no unjustifiable obstruction of postal ballots and no obstruction by anybody in any position of authority of the democratic rights of parents to select their own parent governors. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for her assurances, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 17 [ County, controlled and maintained special schools]:
moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 21, line 3, leave out '("and").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a drafting amendment to remove a superfluous "and". I beg to move.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 2A:
Page 21, line 7, leave out ("modified") and insert ("interpreted").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is a very simple one, but it has very wide-ranging consequences for the control of the curriculum in our schools. This is a matter which it will be common ground has been debated at all stages of the Bill in your Lordships' House and to which the Government submitted very substantial amendments at Report stage. It is therefore appropriate to use Third Reading to examine those Report stage amendments again, and to consider whether they achieve the objectives for which I believe the House was looking at Report stage and the Committee was looking for at Committee stage.
Who has the final say in the control of the curriculum in our schools is a fundamental matter. There was a difficulty in the Bill as originally drafted that the head teacher was left in the invidious position that he had to decide which policy—the policy of the local education authority or the policy of the governing body—should be adopted in the school if there were a conflict between the two. The Government's amendments at Report stage go some way to dealing with that, and some way to removing the difficult position in which the head teacher was being placed. Indeed, an amendment on similar lines which was moved in Committee achieved some measure of support, and I believe it was that amendment and the support that was given to it that prompted the Government to move their own amendments.
Although the difficulty for the head teacher is to some extent removed by the Government's amendments, the fundamental difficulty of who shall have the last say in the curriculum—the local education authority or the governing body—is not really resolved or, if it is resolved, it is resolved, in our view, in the wrong way. It is still possible under the Bill as amended for the governing body to modify the general curriculum policy of a local education authority and for the head teacher to be obliged to follow that modified policy, rather than the general policy of the local education authority.
I am not, in general, a centralist on these matters. I do not feel as a matter of general principle that local education authorities are all-knowing and all-wise on matters of curriculum. I do not go so far as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, and two of my noble friends about the central control of the curriculum. I shall not repeat the argument which we had at Report stage when the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, made it clear that, in his view, the local education authority is the worst possible decider on the curriculum. But there are real difficulties if the governing body is encouraged or allowed to modify the curriculum policy of a local education authority.
For example, let us look at the possibility that a governing body may go for broke and say: "We have comprehensive schools in this area, but we are going to have a curriculum policy which concerns itself only with the interests of the academically able, and all our efforts are going to be devoted to securing that the academically able have the lion's share of resources and the best teaching. We hope, as a result of that, that parental choice as exercised in the authority's area will, in effect, result in de facto selection of that school by the academically bright pupils to the detriment of the range of ability in the other schools in that area." That could happen.
It is possible for a governing body which believes in that sort of segregation of the academically able from the less academically able to seek to achieve that through its own curriculum policy; a curriculum policy which would be counter to the general policy of the education authority. Under the Bill as drafted, there is nothing to stop a governing body from making those modifications to the curriculum policy of the local education authority.
Surely an education authority which is elected by the people in the area and is aware of the resources available to it in all the schools in the area, and which has a general statutory obligation under innumerable Education Acts to provide for the best educational interests of all the pupils in its care, has the right and the duty to be heard and to be the prime mover in the decisions about curriculum policy. This is not to say that there could not be changes to suit the needs of a particular school as determined by the governing body. That is why we have put in the word "interpreted", which allows for differential interpretation of curriculum policy and still gives a significant and valuable degree of freedom to the governing body, without affecting the statutory obligations on a local education authority to serve all the pupils.
I realise that this is a new word to be brought into the Bill at a late stage in your Lordships' House, but I believe that the two valuable contributions which are made—first, to removing the difficulty of head teachers of choosing between two conflicting policies, and, secondly, of settling once and for all how the education of the pupils in any one local education authority shall be determined—make it worthwhile making this amendment even at this stage in the consideration of the Bill. I commend the amendment to your Lordships. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall not take up the challenge to rehearse our arguments. I rise merely on a point of drafting. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, like other people has been in a hurry because if "modified" is changed to "interpreted" surely he should have wanted the words "(if at all)" removed.
would suggest an even more negative attitude on the part of the governors that they want to have nothing whatever to do with it. This seems to me to be a fault in drafting; but if the Government are not going to accept it, the mere fault in drafting will not matter all that much."How (if at all) the authority's policy should in their opinion be interpreted",
My Lords, I take a slightly different view of this; and I am so sorry to have to record any kind of disagreement with my noble friend Lord Beloff with whose views I nearly always agree, although perhaps he does not always agree with mine. Although I do not accept all of the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I think that from the purely drafting point of view he has made a point which we should even at this late stage consider. The word "modified" can be read as "amended" or "changed". If it is the Government's view that the governing body shall be allowed to change or amend the policy of the local education authority, so be it; but I did not think that that was the Government's view. If the policy of the education authority could be changed by the governors of every school we should get immense variation between one school and another within that authority's responsibility.It may be that the Government would prefer to have time to consider this point. They are, after all, rather fine points. But I suggest that as a matter of drafting it might be as well to have a look at the use of the word "modified" in both of the places to which the noble Lord has referred. There is a real difficulty, a slight dilemma, for us all as well as for the Government in that we do not want too much rigidity. At the same time we do not want too much variation. It is just a question of what the Government have in mind and what they want us to do.
My Lords, I cannot help feeling that there is a great danger in giving local education authorities too much control over the curriculum of the schools in their area. One has to remember first of all that the governing bodies are not education specialists. They are merely local government officials who are acting as a local education authority. The governing body is far more likely to know what are the necessary points for its curriculum. Recently the local authority for Surrey made a disastrous regulation which banned entirely the teaching of the arts within school hours. That is all very well. That is a hypothetical regulation but it does not make for what individual schools may want. I feel therefore that the governing bodies are far more likely to know what is wanted in their schools.
My Lords, the point that lies behind this amendment has been looked at, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, quite properly said, in considerable detail at earlier stages of the Bill. Indeed, I went over this ground at Report stage very carefully to set out the Government's thinking behind the curriculum provisions of the Bill, provisions which are central to the Bill's purpose of giving parents and governors a genuine voice in the running of their schools.Concern had been expressed that we had moved too far in allowing governors to overturn sensible, authority-wide policies in a way which might make it difficult for local authorities to carry out their statutory responsibilities. But a number of government amendments were introduced to clarify this point: that by restricting governors' powers to the "modification" of the authority's policy we had ensured that this policy could not be changed out of all recognition by the school governors. Modification is intended to allow for genuine, albeit limited, freedom for governors to diverge to some degree from local authorities' policies. This point was made very clear particularly at Report stage when we made significant changes to the Bill in order to stress the concept of modification. The amendment before the House would effectively place governors within the straitjacket of local authority policy, since only its "interpretation" would be left to the governors. Authorities would make very sure—or could make very sure—that their policy was open to only one interpretation—the anxiety expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Somers. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, gave as an illustration the possibility of the curriculum being only for the academically able within a local education authority. One might, as well, use "peace studies shall be taught in all schools". That does not leave much scope for debate. The curriculum provisions are designed to give all partners in the education process at local level—authorities, governors and head teachers—an appropriate voice in determining what children will be taught in school. Each has a part to play. I do not think anyone in any part of the House would wish to argue against that principle. Where we differ is over how far governors of county and controlled schools should be given a truly independent voice in setting the ethos for their individual schools. We believe we have found a formula which gives them that independent voice while ensuring that (through their overall curriculum policy and in their role as paymasters and employers for the education service) local education authorities continue to be in a strong position to ensure a sensible coherence of policies within each county or borough. This seems to us to be a significant improvement on the current position to which the noble Lord's amendment would have us revert. I hope on reflection that he will agree to withdraw his amendment and that my noble friend Lord Renton, who has expressed concern about this particular part of the Bill, will see what the Government have intended. The intention is to meet some of the many anxieties which he has himself expressed during the progress of the Bill through your Lordships' House. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, will withdraw this amendment.
My Lords, perhaps I may add one word. It seems to me that the word "modified" is quite correct here. "Modified" does not mean complete change, it means suitable variation; whereas the word "interpreted" means no variation at all. Therefore in a way it is much better to give that little bit of the governing body's voice to make suitable variations, not changes, in the policy.
My Lords, perhaps I may have your Lordships' leave to make one brief comment. I am impressed by the argument which my noble friend has put forward; but I am nevertheless left with the feeling that modifications could be very wide. I am wondering therefore whether it might not be a good thing to say, perhaps by amendment in another place, "modified in necessary detail" or some such wording while retaining the general principles of the local education authority's guidance.
My Lords, I am sensible that the whole question of the interpretation of single words such as "modified" or "interpreted" is an extremely difficult one. I am grateful as always to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, for his advice on the matter. However, even speaking as a non-lawyer, I do not feel that we have got to the bottom of the issues that we are considering. The matter goes far wider than the use of words. There is behind it all the rather fundamental issue of the control—and ultimately the democratic control—of our education system.I am not at all impressed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I do not mind at all having the words "if at all" put before any word that is inserted into the Bill. It is up to a governing body to interpret or not, as it thinks fit. It does not in any way restrict the governing body to have the words left in. I was surprised by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Somers. It is not my understanding that local education authorities' policies are normally devised only by local authority officials who have no understanding of the education process. Surely the essence of our local government is that it is a democratic local government where policies are decided by democratically elected members of the local authority itself, who submit themselves at regular intervals, prescribed by law, to the electors. If they are foolish enough not to have policies about the curriculum to be followed in our schools, or if they are foolish enough, having described those policies, to go against them in the cirriculum that they have set in the schools, then I suggest that they would be opening themselves up to rejection at the next elections. The whole basis of our local government system is that there are in it people who are responsible for all the children in the schools and who are responsible for ensuring the best policies and the best education for all of them. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for what she said about the meaning of the word "modified". I am grateful for the phrase that the policy could not be modified "out of all recognition". That is something which deserves to be recorded, and it is good that it has been recorded. Nevertheless, at the end of the day we still come to consideration of what are the relative responsibilities of the local education authority and of the governing body. As I said before, a local education authority has statutory responsibilities under education Acts to secure the best education possible within the resources that are available to the authority for all the pupils in its area. A governing body, despite all the changes that have been made as a result of this Bill, or are being made, is responsible to only a particular group of pupils in the area. It may therefore be tempted to put the interests of a particular school, or of a particular group of pupils at a school, higher in its consideration than the interests of all the pupils in the area. I believe it is the statutory responsibility of the local education authority that makes it essential that it should have the last say on the matter of the curriculum. I am aware of the difficulties of the issue, and I am conscious of the fact that the Government are seeking in many ways to protect the educational interests of all the pupils in a particular area. However, I do not believe that the Government have gone far enough, and I think it is necessary to seek the opinion of the House on this matter.
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2A) shall be agreed to?
Their Lordships divided: Contents, 56; Not-Contents, 127.
DIVISION NO. 1
|Ardwick, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Bacon, B.||John-Mackie, L.|
|Birk, B.||Kearton, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Briginshaw, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Brockway, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, L.|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Lovell-Davis, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Caradon, L.||Morton of Shuna, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Oram, L.|
|David, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Davies of Penrhys, L.||Plant, L.|
|Dean of Beswick, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Ewart-Biggs, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Silkin of Dulwich, L.|
|Fitt, L.||Stallard, L.|
|Gallacher, L.||Stewart of Fulham, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Heycock, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Irving of Dartford, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Jeger, B.||White, B.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Lawrence, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Layton, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Lloyd of Kilgerran, L.|
|Annan, L.||Long, V. [Teller.]|
|Attlee, E.||Lovat, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||McAlpine of Moffat, L.|
|Beloff, L.||McAlpine of West Green, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Bessborough, E.||Mancroft, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Manton, L.|
|Braye, B.||Margadale, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.|
|Bruce-Gardyne, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Buckmaster, V.||Merrivale, L.|
|Butterworth, L.||Mersey, V.|
|Caithness, E.||Molson, L.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Montgomery of Alamein, V.|
|Cathcart, E.||Moran, L.|
|Chelmer, L.||Morris, L.|
|Coleraine, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Penrhyn, L.|
|Cox, B.||Portland, D.|
|Crawshaw of Aintree, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Renton, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Richardson, L.|
|De Freyne, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||St. Davids, V.|
|Denning, L.||Sandford, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Savile, L.|
|Dowding, L.||Seear, B.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Seebohm, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Sempill, Ly.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Shannon, E.|
|Elton, L.||Shaughnessy, L.|
|Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Gainford, L.||Slim, V.|
|Gibson-Watt, L.||Soames, L.|
|Glanusk, L.||Somers, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Stedman, B.|
|Grey, E.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Gridley, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Terrington, L.|
|Haig, E.||Teviot, L.|
|Hailsham of Saint||Teynham, L.|
|Marylebone, L.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Hayter, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Tranmire, L.|
|Holderness, L.||Trenchard, V.|
|Hood, V.||Trumpington, B.|
|Hooper, B.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Hunter of Newington, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Jessel, L.||Ward of Witley, V.|
|Killearn, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Winchilsea and Nottingham,|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Wolfson, L.|
|Kinnaird, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Lane-Fox, B.||Young, B.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
[ Amendment No. 2B not moved.]
Clause 19 [ Information for parents]:
moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 23, line 13, leave out from ("prescribed") to end of line 18 and insert—
("(a) such information as to any syllabuses to be followed by those pupils; and
(b) such other information as to the educational provision made for them by the school;
as may be prescribed.").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment is tabled in response to a concern expressed by my noble friend Lord Renton when the Government's amendment on information for parents was debated on Report. The Government amendment said, among other things, that the regulations to be made "may" in particular prescribe information as to any syllabus to be followed by the pupils. My noble friend wished the clause to say that the regulations "shall" prescribe such information.
We have looked at this matter again and, as my noble friend Lord Swinton undertook at an earlier stage that we would, we have brought forward the amendments which are intended to accept this point and to tidy up the drafting of the clause. I beg to move.
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend Lady Young and her colleagues for moving this amendment. It is undoubtedly an improvement to the Bill. It would be churlish of me to say that I should have preferred our original, simple method but the Government want flexibility and are doing this by regulation. Therefore, if it is to be done by regulation this is a better way to do it. One must follow the drafting very carefully indeed to ensure that the whole of the clause is now governed by the word "shall" in the first line, but we accept that it is so and are therefore grateful.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
My Lords, it should be pointed out that Amendment No. 3 having been agreed to it is not possible to call Amendment No. 3A. Therefore we now come to Amendment No. 4.
moved Amendment No. 4:
After Clause 23, insert the following new clause:
( "Sex education.
. The local education authority by whom any county, voluntary or special school is maintained, and the governing body and head teacher of the school, shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where sex education is given to any registered pupils at the school it is given in such a manner as to encourage those pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life.")
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the noble Viscount, Lord Buckmaster, tabled an amendment at Committee stage concerned with this sensitive but important aspect of school work: namely, sex education. In responding to that amendment, I emphasised that the Government were firmly committed to the view that schools should approach sex education responsibly and sensitively and in a spirit which is supportive of family life. In short—as the White Paper Better Schools put it—sex education should take place "within a moral framework".
The noble Viscount returned to this subject at Report stage and the mood of your Lordships' House was, I think, that some specific reference to sex education might be justified in legislation. We agreed, therefore, to consider what might be appropriate. The amendment which I am moving today takes on board the core of the noble Viscount's own previous amendment and recognises the case he presented, with support from other noble Lords, that there is something special about this subject which sets it apart from other school activities.
We accept that sex education is an essential aspect of preparing young people for the realities and responsibilities of adult life. Schools would be failing in their responsibilities if they did not seek to inform and, where necessary, reassure pupils about the physical and emotional changes associated with growing up. Teaching about the physical aspects of sexuality cannot, however, in the Government's view, be seen in isolation and must be set within a wider moral context of an education system which encourages young people to understand the importance of self-restraint, self-respect and respect for others; and also lays the foundations for loving and caring relationships and a stable family life.
When so much which children see around them in their everyday lives—in the media, in advertising and, regrettably, sometimes even in the behaviour of their elders—appears to cheapen and devalue the concept of lasting and meaningful relationships and to disregard questions of moral values it is difficult but schools can play an important role. Pupils should acquire the necessary knowledge, skills and qualities of character needed to make responsible choices about their own lifestyles both now and as adults.
On this basis I commend the Government's amendment to your Lordships and ask for your support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am indeed grateful to the Government for this amendment and I think I can say—my noble and learned friend Lord Denning will correct me if I am wrong—that it breaks new ground, in that never before in this country has there been a statute on morals and family life. Therefore, I welcome this new clause, but with two important reservations. Millions of parents throughout the country will, I think, welcome it, too.However, first I want to thank all those noble Lords, who spoke in support of my amendment on Report. Without their backing I do not think that this government amendment would have been produced. I am particularly grateful to my noble and learned friend Lord Denning, who stressed that there is nothing more important in our society today than the promotion of stable family life. But what has happened to that key word "stable"? It was chosen with great care and it is crucial to my original amendment. I ask the noble Baroness: is it a drafting error or is it an attempt to emasculate the amendment? In my view, without that vital word the amendment loses much of its punch. For example, one can bring to mind many cases of family life which are anything but stable. One can think of families where there are unloving, unfaithful parents and rebellious teenagers and yet they live together as a family. Surely this can still be called family life. The image that we want to promote in our schools is one of family life based on stable, loving and adaptive relationships and of the family as a life-giving unit, and not some of the modern variants which are accepted on occasions. How sad it is that the amendment does not make this clear. Perhaps the noble Baroness will be good enough to give me her views on that. I should also like to thank very warmly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London for his most valuable contribution. I am sorry to see that the spiritual Bench is empty once again. Having raised this very difficult and delicate matter of sex education and guidance for teenagers on no less than three previous occasions in your Lordships' House, with a total absence of episcopal participation. I had become increasingly saddened by the silence of the spiritual Bench. It might be of interest to those right reverend Prelates who may appear later to know that a recent MORI poll which was commissioned by the newly-formed National Council for Chistian Standards in Society found that no less than 34 per cent. of the people questioned, which was the largest sector, considered that the Church had a very important role to play in setting and maintaining moral standards in this country. My noble friend Lady Masham made two very important points. First, she said that more parents were concerned about permissive sex education in schools than about political indoctrination. This confirms my own view, which is reinforced by the views of others who know more about this subject than I do. Indeed, it is the concern of such parents and their failure to get head teachers to accept their views which has led me to pursue this matter in the way that I have. And surely it is the widespread concern of parents which is the principal justification for this amendment. Secondly—and this is also a point that is well worth considering—the noble Baroness recommended the centralised production of acceptable literature on sex education with a moral balance. I hope very much that the noble Baroness the Minister will see fit to pursue this suggestion. The problem here is how one can produce material of this kind which is acceptable and based on sound principles. If the Government are considering it seriously, no doubt they will agree that organisations such as Family and Youth Concern should be represented. May I also express the hope that if this centralised production of such material is agreed to, then sex education in schools should not be considered a compulsory subject, since there are many educationists who feel that the home is the right place for such instruction, provided of course that the parents are able to give it intelligently. But somehow or other we must get the prescription right. Some parents are concerned that all too often one finds the coupling of sex education with the provision of contraception, in the mistaken belief that the wider provision of contraceptives reduces unwanted teenage pregnancies. I know that on occasions contraceptives have to be provided, but I think that it is relevant to say that during the decade from 1974 to 1984 the number of illegitimate births to girls under 20 rose from 20,900 to 33,100, which is an increase of 58.8 per cent., despite widespread peddling of the Pill. I said at the outset that I had two reservations about this clause. The first was my objection to the omission of the word "stable". The second is my objection to the words,
To be perfectly frank, this is the type of phrase which causes me to groan inwardly because it provides a convenient let-out. For example, let us imagine a situation in which there is a very able teacher at a big comprehensive school in an inner city area who has ultra-permissive views and believes in using sex education material that is based on the type of literature to which I have referred on earlier occasions. What happens? The local education authority, the governing body and the head teacher say, "Oh, we cannot possibly impose our standards on this teacher. Oh no; he is a marvellous teacher and he gets marvellous examination results. Therefore we consider that it is not reasonably practicable to curb him in this way." So I hope that the noble Baroness will give me her views on this matter too. I feel that these words seriously weaken an amendment which in any case will be none too easy to enforce. For example, "moral considerations" are particularly difficult to define and are liable to a wide range of interpretation. I hope therefore that Her Majesty's inspectors will do their best to ensure that this new clause is enforced. Finally, as we all know, we are at the Third Reading stage of this Bill, and since it cannot be amended further in your Lordships' House may I express the hope that when it reaches another place it may be amended in the ways that I have suggested. I have great pleasure in commending this new clause to your Lordships."such steps as are reasonably practicable".
My Lords, I should like to say just a few words. The institution of marriage is the foundation of a healthy family life and nothing is more important in our civilisation than that we should bring people up on the basis of a sound family life. But the institution of marriage is much under attack. Divorce by consent on paper is freely available; there is no stigma at all on divorce and there is now no stigma on illegitimacy. In a way, the pillars of marriage have almost been broken down.In our schools we must do everything we can to build up the children's respect for family life. Your Lordships will be told by probation officers and the like that many delinquents come from broken homes, and unfortunately many abuses and matters which go wrong in marriage are due to ignorance in sex education. As president of the National Marriage Guidance Council I soon learnt that education for marriage is most important for all of us. I therefore welcome the Government's acceptance of this new suggestion and their having made quite clear that the right principle is to encourage pupils to have due regard to moral considerations and the value of family life. It may be said that that is merely a pious aspiration, which is not good enough for a statute that is passed by Parliament. On the contrary, it is very proper that Parliament itself should endorse the right principles and that they can be enforced by law. Suppose that a teacher is teaching his pupils the wrong things—my noble friend Lord Buckmaster gave illustrations—and is using pornographic papers and such literature. The remedy is clear. Let the parents report it to the head teacher, who will and should discipline that teacher. If the head teacher does nothing then the courts can interfere because it is a duty laid down by this provision that they,
to secure those good aims. It is not merely a pious aspiration; it is a duty which can be enforced by law if need be. I hope that it will never have to be. But this is a valuable provision to have on our statute book."shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable"
My Lords, as I was not present during the original debate I, too, should like to welcome the new clause. I am a little curious as to why it is in this position, as it sits rather uncomfortably between "Discipline" and "Finance". I should have thought that the provision was more relevant to curriculum. This is how a curriculum would be composed, and sex education included. But I sincerely welcome the new clause. In a Bill about which I am not enthusiastic it seems to be one of the better clauses.
My Lords, I stayed cautiously clear of this debate at earlier stages. I am not much of an expert on high minded words or what the noble and learned Lord calls pious aspirations. I am inclined to think, however, that the only piece of sex education that will have a real effect on pupils is if they can be convinced that a happy sex life is possible only in a loving and stable relationship. If that could be secured by statute, we should be achieving something.
My Lords, let me say just a few words before the Minister replies. I, too, should like to welcome this variant of the noble Viscount's amendment which he moved and withdrew on a Front-Bench undertaking on Report. I would only say that on my reading the word "value" in the phrase "the value of family life" can have a neutral meaning. I know that these are difficult concepts to put into statutory words, but I should have thought that the mere use of the phrase "sound and healthy family life", which comes from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, and the phrase "stable family life", which comes from my noble friend, only indicates the weakness of the word "value" without support or qualification.I should like to see, for instance, the word "importance" substituted for that word. If nothing like that is done, I can see that many teachers may like to promote discussions as to whether family life has any importance; they could discuss the value of family life in those terms. A great many people do not consider that it is so self-evidently valuable as some of your Lordships think it is. I shall not quote the words, but Philip Larkin has a totally contrary view of the value of family life. Having said that, I welcome the new clause and hope only that its wording can be made more precise during the Bill's passage through another place.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I am happy that the noble Viscount was able to welcome this amendment, as were other noble Lords who have spoken. We must hope that it has the maximum beneficial effect. The Government and others concerned with the education process will no doubt take into account the remarks made by the noble Viscount and others both now and at other stages of the Bill in interpreting the effect of the new clause.With regard to the two specific points that he raised, any reference to the value of family life must intrinsically imply a good, stable, healthy and well balanced family; and I beg to differ slightly with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson. On the second point raised by the noble Viscount about the use of the words "reasonably practicable", it is impossible to legislate for any and every given situation, particularly where moral considerations are involved. At least by using the phrase, which is well known to lawyers and in courts of law, it leaves it open to teachers to take action and to recognise that they have a duty to make their action fit the need. I commend the amendment to your Lordships.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
[ Amendment No. 5 not moved.]
My Lords, therefore Amendment No. 5A cannot be moved.
[ Amendment No. 5A not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 6:
Before Clause 38: insert the following new clause:
( "Duty to secure balanced treatment of political issues.
. The local education authority by whom any county, voluntary or special school is maintained, and the governing body and head teacher of the school, shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable to secure that where political issues are brought to the attention of pupils while they are—
they should be offered a balanced presentation of opposing views.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is a combination of the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, and the one tabled by myself at the Report stage of the Bill. I have been advised that it is not inconsistent with the two amendments already accepted by your Lordships on the subject of politics in schools. If I may remind your Lordships, the first of those related to political activity in primary schools only. The second amendment on this subject related to the promotion of partisan political views. The vital words are "promotion" and "partisan".
If I may talk briefly about the second word first, I maintain that the word "partisan" must be taken to mean in particular extremist views, whether of the Right or the Left, both of which have in common that they are anti-democratic. In my submission it is the promotion of such views as those that your Lordships have sought to outlaw. However, we cannot and do not intend to prohibit the presentation and discussion of all political opinion—what one might call mainstream political opinion. Indeed, we should be failing in our democratic duty to the young if we did and we might even be exposing ourselves to the charge of totalitarian intentions. I maintain therefore that we need the present amendment to complement the amendments already accepted by your Lordships by establishing a guiding principle which can be borne in mind when questions arise over the treatment of what cannot help being very contentious issues. I believe it to be reasonable and necessary, and I beg to move.
My Lords, let me briefly say that I am pleased to support the amendment on educational grounds because I believe that it embodies the fundamental principle which differentiates education from indoctrination. Education in a free society is traditionally committed to encouraging pupils and students to consider all aspects of complex or controversial issues and to make up their own minds on the basis of all available relevant evidence. Indoctrination, by contrast, seeks to instil predefined attitudes and opinions, closing rather than opening minds. Therefore, the requirement, as in this amendment, to present a balanced range of views is consistent with sound educational practice.Some teachers claim that they find it impossible to present an impartial account of issues about which they feel passionately. I do not hold to that position because I believe that it is possible for a teacher to teach with integrity a variety of different viewpoints. However, if a teacher feels unable to do that, provision should be made for people who hold alternative views to present their opinions so that pupils can truly make up their minds freely on the basis of different viewpoints. Because the amendment enshrines that principle of balance, whether in the teaching of one teacher or by different people, I believe that it is educationally sound and important and that it is both principled and practicable. I am happy to support it.
My Lords, let me say a few brief words on the amendment. The House may recall that I was slightly unhappy on Report as to whether this amendment or a previous variant of it was compatible with the amendments which had been moved into the Bill by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Renton. The Leader of the House kindly undertook to inquire as to whether there was any conflict. He has done so, as one would expect, and on advice he has come to the conclusion that there is no conflict. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, for having introduced the amendment today, because, as I said on Report, I have great sympathy with its intentions and I do not wish in any way to oppose it. It was purely as a matter of form that I asked whether it conflicted with the previous amendments.I have to say that I am still unhappy as to the possibility of conflict between the words "promotion" and "partisan" used in, if I may so call them, the Cox and Renton amendments as opposed to the phrase in this amendment,
I took the dictionary sense of the word "partisan" from the Oxford English Dictionary. The first use is substantive:"a balanced presentation of opposing views".
It is only secondarily "a zealous supporter" of a party or cause. So it is when it is used attributively or in an adjectival sense. It is merely:"One who takes part or sides with another".
That is, one who takes part or sides. When there is to be a balanced presentation of opposing views, I want partisan—that is, "taking sides"—arguments put to the pupils by the teacher or, as the noble Baroness said, those whom the teacher thinks it right to call in to discuss political matters in schools. I do not object to the amendment—far from it. I still object, however, to the word "partisan" in the Cox and Renton amendments. I hope that in the House of Commons some other or some clearer word can be substituted in those amendments. I have no quarrel with any of the amendments that have been put down but only with the wording. I should be grateful if that could be looked at."of, pertaining to, or characteristic of a partisan".
My Lords, I should like to support the amendment. There is great difficulty with a word such as "balanced" when talking about politics, unless one has text-books. If one has text-books, presumably the teacher has to stick to them. I should have thought that the most important political issue in the country today is the state control of the economy as against private competition. I realise that today we need a mixed economy. Perhaps I am being a little absurd, but if I were writing a text-book on the economy, which is a simple subject of which people become very frightened, I should discuss the advantages to the state of complete state control of the economy and the advantages to the state of the private economy.If a private company makes about £1 million profit, where does that profit go? Some goes to the Government in corporation tax, perhaps about 20 per cent. is put to reserve, and the rest goes to the shareholders who have taken the risk. The shareholders are taxed on their dividends from the profit and so, hopping and trotting, one can almost guarantee that two-thirds if not three-quarters of the profit goes back to the Treasury in tax. If that company goes bust, the Treasury does not suffer; the shareholders suffer. Let us take the state economy. Nationalised industries cannot go bust because the Government and the taxpayer feed them all the time with subsidies. As we all know, many of our nationalised industries have spent millions and millions of pounds, if not billions, of the taxpayers' money because they have never made a profit. That should be explained to schools, but it will not be done unless it is done in text-books. We must have a mixed economy. But it is difficult to deal with this subject in text-books. If teachers are not bound by text-books some will teach the state economy only. If they do that, they should tell their pupils that under the nationalised economy they have only one employer and they cannot sell their services to the highest bidder. Therefore, to all intents and purposes—perhaps this is an exaggerated word to use—they are enslaved to the state. I support the amendment, but I do not know whether its purpose can be carried out as one would wish.
My Lords, I am a little unhappy about the amendment. I agree entirely with its motivation. Anyone who teaches anything about politics should give a balanced view. The teaching should not be too much in favour of the Conservatives, the Labour Party or anyone else. How are we to monitor the teaching? That is the trouble. If we have a person monitoring who has strong Labour views, he would say that the teacher has not given prominence to Labour views; the teaching was not balanced; it was all pro-Conservative; and vice versa.I think our earlier amendment about "partisan" was a good one but I fear that there will be some difficulty in monitoring the matter because one person's view of what is a balanced presentation would not be another person's view. I have some hesitation about the amendment. I should like to know what the Government think about it.
My Lords, it will be for the convenience of the House if I explain at the outset the Government's position on this amendment. Noble Lords will remember that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, tabled on Report an amendment which is virtually identical to the amendment that he proposes today. On that occasion the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, suggested that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, was inconsistent with amendments to the Bill which had already been made in the same subject area; namely, the treatment of political issues in schools. The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, took the view that to move the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie of Dundee, would be contrary to Standing Order No. 36, which provides:
For the avoidance of doubt, my noble friend the Leader of the House proposed that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, should not move his amendment, and he undertook to look into the matter and come back to the question on Third Reading. My noble friend the Leader of the House is returning from Russia today and regrets that he cannot be here. Before he went, he took advice from the Department of Education and Science, and from the Clerks at the Table. He came to the view that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, did not conflict with the amendments already made. The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, imposes a general duty, while the amendments to the Bill which had already been made relate to specific duties in connection with the prohibition of partisan political activities in primary schools and of the promotion of partisan political views in the teaching of any subject in schools. My noble friend the Leader of the House has asked me to say that he is entirely content that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, should move his amendment. Had the amendment been moved on Report, it would have been accepted by the Government, and the Government do not seek to oppose the amendment now proposed by the noble Lord. There are, however, two further points that I should like to make. I speak now only because the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, has moved today is different from that which he tabled on Report. He has chosen to insert a new clause rather than to change Clause 17, and to use the words of the amendment which the Government had tabled on Report, substituting only,"An amendment to a Bill must not be inconsistent with a previous decision given on the same stage of the Bill."
for its final words. Lest there be any misunderstanding, however, the fact that the amendment now uses most of the wording which the Government had proposed earlier does not change our earlier opposition towards legislating to secure a balanced presentation of opposing views whenever political issues arise in schools. The reasons for our opposition were explained fully by my noble friend Lord Swinton at that time. I was interested to hear the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, refer to that point. We accept only that this is a point which your Lordships wished to write into the Bill, and we judge it right that the Bill should proceed to another place for consideration in a form which fully reflects your Lordships' views."they should be offered a balanced presentation of opposing views"
My Lords, it is such an unusual experience to hear such words from the Front Bench that I do not know how I should receive them except to say that I am very grateful. I trust that the amendment as proposed will have a safe voyage in the other place.
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 38 [ Appraisal of performance of teachers]:
moved Amendment No. 7:
Page 43, line 18, at end insert ("including the provision of an independent appeals procedure").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment reverts to an earlier concern which I expressed on Clause 38 (which was then Clause 37) on the appraisal of the performance of teachers. At an earlier stage of the Bill I strove to obtain the consent of your Lordships to the requirement to have an independent assessor on each board of assessment brought in from outside the local education authority.
This proposal did not find favour with your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, asked who I was proposing should fulfil this role—HMIs or some other person from other education authorities—to which I replied, yes. However, I see that there would have been a considerable manpower problem in providing an outside assessor for every case.
I am now proposing simply to fill a lacuna in the clause in which there is no provision for an appeals procedure at all against an unfavourable assessment which may, for example, have been motivated by personal animosity or some other improper consideration. It would seem to me that elementary attention to natural justice would require this. We know that teachers are not happy with this clause, and if it is ever activated they are even less likely to accept it without proper protection against unfair treatment.
I have left it to the Government to choose what type of appeals procedure is appropriate. That is not specified. The Government will almost certainly say that the clause is a reserve power which they hope they will never have to use. We have argued that it was unwise to introduce it at all while the ACAS talks are still continuing. We must all hope that these will be successful. However, it has to be recognised that the Government may at some time want to activate this clause. It is my contention that it would be wrong—in fact quite improper—for them to do so without an appeals procedure. The clause is in their view a longstop clause; but the longstop clause must also have that longstop provision against unfair treatment.
I would remind the House that your Lordships rejected my earlier proposal that regulations under this clause should be subject to the affirmative procedure in both Houses. We are therefore most unlikely to have any further chance of influencing the appraisal process. In those circumstances, I think that we must have this very minor but significant safeguard written into the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have noted the remarks of the noble Lord and realised that his present amendment differs, as he explained, from his previous draft. Nevertheless, I must repeat that the Government have no blueprint to impose and want the framework and nature of an appraisal scheme to evolve discussion among the parties concerned and from field trials. The Government have been trying to get these trials going since the summer of 1984. The Government have their own thoughts on the outline of any scheme that may come about. These were set out by my right honourable friend the then Secretary of State for Education in his speech to the Industrial Society on 14th April. These views were being put forward in the ACAS-assisted talks which, following the 1985 pay settlement, began in March of this year under the guidance of a three-man independent panel.Four working parties have been set up, one of which is on appraisal and training. The National Union of Teachers joined the talks in mid-May. The three-man panel is to make its final report to both sides and to ACAS later this year. I hope that these talks will produce an agreed outline of a national appraisal scheme to be supported by early field trials. I do not intend to prejudge the outcome of either the ACAS talks or the field trials except to assure the noble Lord that safeguards to ensure fairness to the individual are high on the agenda. I have no doubt that his comments, and those of other noble Lords expressed during the course of this Bill's progress, will be taken into account. With these assurances that the Government too are wholly committed to ensuring fairness, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that. I do not think that one can describe it as a "blueprint" if one is simply trying to establish a very broad framework within which certain procedures ought to happen. As drafted, local authorities would be able to establish their own appeals procedures. There is no rigid system which is set down in the amendment.I would agree with the noble Baroness that we all have the highest hopes of the ACAS talks. I hope that those hopes will be fulfilled. I should not have thought it would do any harm to have this provision. As I said in my earlier remarks, if the ACAS talks fall through, this clause then becomes operable. I should have thought that it would be desirable to have this safeguard in the Bill. However, the noble Baroness has given me certain assurances. I am therefore not proposing to press the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 39 [ Grants for teacher training]:
moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 44, line 35, at end insert—
("( ) By regulation under this section the Secretary of State shall pay in grant to local education authorities all of the costs of training educational psychologists.
( ) By regulation under this section the Secretary of State shall pay in grant to local education authorities all of the costs of educational psychologists who are seconded full or part-time to teach on educational psychology training courses.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment concerns the training of educational psychologists. As drafted, Clause 39 enables the Secretary of State to make certain regulations for the provision of the training of teachers to become educational psychologists. Instead of leaving that in a permissive state, this amendment would oblige him to make this provision. The clause refers not only to educational psychologists but also to other groups. It refers to teachers, youth and community workers, local education authority inspectors and education advisers employed by local education authorities. Your Lordships may well ask why a special exception should be made for the educational psychologists. Why should they receive special treatment?
There are three main reasons. First, they are a very small body of approximately 1,200 people in all sustained by a flow of about 100 trainees at any one time. At present—until this Bill becomes law—local education authorities can claim the costs of their training on a 100 per cent. basis from the INSET pool. But the new proposal, as written into the Bill, would replace this with a bid/grant system which could produce an uneven and probably reduced flow, making it extremely difficult to sustain training courses at all.
Even more important than that, the educational psychologists have certain statutory duties under the 1981 Education Act. That Act made various provisions with respect to children with special educational needs. In particular, Section 4 imposes a general duty on LEAs to determine what special educational provisions should be made for children for whom they are responsible. As part of the assessment of the appropriate provisions the local education authorities are required under the Schedule 1 regulations of that Bill to seek medical, psychological and educational advice. Furthermore, in preparing reports and notifying parents under Sections 5, 6, 7 and 8 the local education authorities must give the name of an officer of the authority from whom further information and advice for parents and others is available.
Unfortunately, as we all know, there is a large number of children with special educational needs. That is perhaps the most important reason of all for the amendment. It would seem to me to be disastrous for those children if they were to be deprived of the expert assessment that they need to ensure that they receive the right education which is suitable for them. Therefore, although I confess that this is a piece of special pleading, it is special pleading for a very small but very crucial little area of the education system. We want to ensure that it is not in any way crippled by the provisions of the clause. I hope very much that the Government will see fit to accept the amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, the Government recognise the valuable contribution made to the education service by educational psychologists, and the importance of adequate training for them. The Government's policies for the education of children with special education needs in particular depend, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, has said, upon this key group of staff. It is for this reason that educational psychologists are included within the scope of the present pooling regulations and that we are now seeking powers to enable the Secretary of State to include them within the new grant scheme. The Government therefore fully share the concerns which underlie the amendment.However, the noble Lord's amendment would oblige the Secretary of State to pay 100 per cent. on all of the costs associated with the training of educational psychologists. I find it difficult to agree that the training of educational psychologists should be put in a preferential position in this way to that of the training of the other groups which it is proposed to cover by the powers which we are seeking through this clause. I must also say that I see difficulty if the proposal were that the terms of the noble Lord's amendment should be applied to all those groups. The general objectives of the new scheme are to facilitate and encourage local authorities' planning and provision of in-service training on a much more systematic basis than is possible under the present arrangements. It would therefore be an important feature of the new scheme that local authorities should contribute a proportion of the aided expenditure from their own resources. The precise rate of grant is one of the matters for consideration by Ministers later in the summer in the context of the overall settlement of expenditure by local authorities. If better planning by local authorities is to be promoted, as is the prime intention of this clause, it is also essential that there should be no automatic entitlement to grant and that local authorities should have to submit reasoned proposals, related to the particular needs, circumstances and priorities in their area, for the Secretary of State to assess before deciding his allocations of grant. Authorities would of course have complete discretion to devote as much of their own resources to the training of educational psychologists as they saw fit. We recognise the good intentions behind this amendment. However, I hope that your Lordships will agree that the proposal to make grant aid for certain training mandatory, to fix the grant at 100 per cent. and to require preferential treatment for one group of trainees is in conflict with our primary aim of promoting more systematic planning and provision of in-service training, and would pre-empt a significant amount of inevitably limited resources. However, I can assure the noble Lord that in considering whether the new scheme should cover educational psychologists next year the Government will also consider carefully whether alternative arrangements for this group might be more appropriate in the circumstances. Therefore, I hope that with those words the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. My understanding is that at present the costs of training educational psychologists are fully recoverable on a 100 per cent. basis under the 1981 Act, and that that arrangement is threatened by the current Bill. I fully understand the desire for local authorities to have a reasonable degree of decentralised decision making in this matter. However, I should like to remind the noble Baroness of a letter written by the British Psychological Society to Sir Keith Joseph when he was Secretary of State. The letter was written on 30th April and in it they urged on Sir Keith a number of considerations which I hope very much the new Secretary of State when he comes to review the matter will take very seriously into consideration. Among their submissions was the following point:
It seems to me that there is a danger of serious variation in the supply. I shall not press the amendment to a Division, but I hope that the Government will take those points seriously into consideration and that the new Secretary of State will look at the matter very carefully when he comes to review the position. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment."A national overview and central source of funds is required to prevent large random fluctuations from year to year in the supply of funds for Educational Psychology training. Courses could not survive if, as a result of many decentralised decisions, one year LEAs wished to fund say 50 students and 150 the next. Fluctuations of this order are likely when such small numbers are involved and there are 100 plus LEAs taking independent decisions".
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 9:
After Clause 44 insert the following new clause:
( "First aid skills in schools.
. Every local education authority shall secure that, where no qualified medical or nursing personnel are available in a school, sufficient members of teaching or non-teaching staff (at least one per school, the level of provision to be approved by the Health and Safety Executive) shall be trained in first aid skills to a standard to be approved by the Health and Safety Executive.").
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise again reluctantly to speak to this amendment because I did not find satisfaction in the answers given by my noble friend the Minister at earlier stages of the passage of the Bill. I shall not rehearse the arguments as regards the case for adequate first aid cover in schools. Suffice it to say that the present situation is not satisfactory either in regulations or in practice.
So far as regulations are concerned, the DES regulations cover only teachers and employees, while the care of pupils is relegated to a "moral duty". However, that moral duty is in practice being interpreted in widely differing ways with widely differing standards ranging from excellent in some places to frighteningly inadequate in others.
As I have previously pointed out, children in school are vulnerable in a wide variety of potentially dangerous situations. Inappropriate first aid response can lead to exacerbation of the injury, perhaps fatally, or with long-term tragic effects, such as brain death.
My noble friend the Minister justified the present situation in part on the grounds of lack of complaints to date. However, surely we do not want to wait until a catastrophe occurs before remedying dangerous anomalies and ensuring at least minimum standards everywhere. Remedies could be provided relatively easily through the help of voluntary organisations, such as the St. John Ambulance Association and the British Red Cross Society. If some expense were to be incurred, I believe that parents would put a high priority on adequate protection for their children. Indeed, they would probably put a higher priority on their children's physical safety than on many other issues, and rightly so. I, therefore, beg to move.
My Lords, I take the point which the noble Baroness is making and in view of her own professional interest I appreciate her reasons and I respect them. However, I am a little amazed that she does not seem to know—unless the situation has changed—that part of a teacher's training is, or certainly was, basic first aid skills. I am bound to say, that when I was teaching I always had the idea that if you did now know enough about a subject, you could do far more damage by doing something rather than by doing nothing. I do not think that any child ever suffered as a result of what I did not do, but certainly a child may have suffered if I had attempted to set a broken leg.If, as the noble Baroness proposes, we are to have certain trained personnel, whether they be teachers or non-teachers, surely she would agree that first aid skills to the standard imposed by the Health and Safety Executive would be rather too low for this type of situation because again, as the noble Baroness will know, each school must at present appoint a health and safety officer.
My Lords, I, too, should like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, as indeed I did on Second Reading, and for the same reasons. I shall not repeat those reasons, but in modern times children are exposed to a great many hazards, and of course those working in schools, or any institutions where there are a large number of people, are also open to hazards. I previously listed at least nine or 10 of them. It is necessary that the standard of first aid that they are taught is up to the standard required by the Health and Safety Executive, which is not basic first aid, but is serious first aid, so that in an emergency people can, if necessary, save life.I know that it cannot all be done at once, but I am sure that the one or two members of the staff necessary from the schools, according to the number in the schools, could be trained by the Red Cross or St. John's in the industrial first aid courses that they now run. These give the holders of the certificate a high standard.
My Lords, at this stage of the Third Reading debate I do not wish to repeat all the arguments that I have used on the two previous occasions on which we have debated this amendment. There is a general legal cover for the protection of the health and safety of school children in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and in the detailed requirements set out in the Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981 and the approved code of practice.There is an important reinforcement from the general common law requirement upon local education authorities to act in loco parentis, and in exercising their responsibilities local education authorities are of course subject to the general powers available to the Secretary of State from the education Act 1944 requiring them to act in a reasonable way. I listened with great interest to what the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said on this subject, speaking as someone who has been a professional teacher and knows the circumstances. I hope, too, that it will be a reassurance to your Lordships if I repeat what was said earlier—that the Department of Education and Science has no record of having received any complaint arising from the treatment of a pupil or student after an accident on school or college premises. The policing of the existing requirements is in fact even more thorough than in some areas of activity: two inspectorates are at work, both Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools and inspectors concerned with health and safety at work. It is the view of both Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Schools and the Health and Safety Executive that there is no serious cause for concern with the existing arrangements. We sympathise with the reasons behind the amendment, but we are reluctant to accept it both because we believe it to be unnecessary in offering no improvement on existing general good practice and because it attempts to specify in too much detail the matters which can best be decided at the local level. There would be serious difficulty in attempting to frame regulations which dealt adequately with the very considerable variations in size and character of schools. However, I appreciate the strength of feeling on the part of my noble friend Lady Cox and the noble Baroness, Lady Hylton-Foster, who has spoken in support of this amendment, and others of your Lordships. I can undertake to my noble friend that the Government will review the guidance issued with the aim of putting out better and more up-to-date advice on first aid provision. We shall do this as a matter of urgent priority in collaboration with the various professional interests involved. I hope, therefore, that my noble friend will withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, may I first thank those who have supported this amendment both at this stage and previous stages during the passage of this Bill. Whatever the form of provision may be in terms of the requirement for adequate coverage of first aid, the situation now pertaining shows a lack of systematic implementation because of the wide variation in the provision currently found in many schools.So far as teacher training is concerned—raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips—I have checked with the voluntary organisations. They tell me that few teachers now come forward for systematic training in first aid, and I do not think that systematic first aid is provided to any adequate level in basic teacher training. There is a problem. Some teachers, out of a sense of professional responsibility, go forward for first aid training, but the members are few, and certainly it is sporadic. I am grateful for the undertaking given by my noble friend the Minister that the guidelines will be examined again, and that this will be done as a matter of urgency and in consultation with those who are experts in this field. In the light of that firm reassurance, and the sense of urgency in which it was offered, I withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
moved Amendment No. 9A:
After Clause 48, insert the following new clause:
( "Duty of local education authority to disclose information.
. The local education authority shall give reasons for proposals made under sections 12 to 15 of the Education Act 1980 and shall make available to any statutory objector all papers, submissions, reports, minutes of meetings and other material relevant to the proposals.")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have had to table this amendment again because the situation still seems unsatisfactory to me. The amendment reads:
"The local education authority shall give reasons for proposals made under sections 12 to 15 of the Education Act 1980 and shall make available to any statutory objector all papers, submissions, reports, minutes of meetings and other material relevant to the proposals."
Those proposals in the sections of that Act concern the establishment, discontinuation, or alteration of a school, and the principal matter of concern is usually one of school closures.
The object of the amendment is to secure for parents the right to know on what grounds, and on what advice, local education authorities have forwarded to the Secretary of State proposals for the closure or the alteration of schools. Parents are at present caught between the upper millstone of the Secretary of State, who is not obliged to state his reasons, and the local authorities, which often will not.
It is difficult for parents to state their objections if the reasons given by the LEA to the Secretary of State are wrapped in secrecy. Misinformation, disinformation, and non-information by public bodies is quite out of keeping with the whole spirit and purpose of this Bill, which is directed at greater involvement by parents in matters affecting their children's education, and nothing affects a child's education more than the closure or change in some other way of a school.
At Report stage of the Bill the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, prayed in aid the new Local Government (Access to Information) Act, which I think became law on 1st April this year. The noble Baroness was correct when she said that the Act requires disclosure of the report and background papers to the general public when that report is discussed by a council, or by one of its committees or sub-committees. These provisions are welcome, and they go some way to meet our concerns.
However, I would submit that this amendment is still desirable for two principal reasons. It imposes a duty on a local education authority to disclose the reasons for any proposals it may make under the 1980 Act to establish, discontinue, or alter a school. It is true that there is recourse in common law should a LEA fail to disclose its reasons, and parents can go to the High Court. But as we all know, if you go for judicial review, it can be an expensive process. Most parent groups do not have that sort of money.
Of course good local education authorities will automatically disclose their reasons, but others may not. This amendment will have the effect of imposing on them a clear statutory duty thus reducing the chance of their failure to disclose.
The second point is that under the Local Government (Access to Information) Act disclosure of background papers is restricted to those which,
"in the opinion of the proper officer"
have been relied on to a material extent in preparing the report. Copies of such background information are to be made available only,
"as soon as is reasonably practicable".
So there is considerable scope for unhelpful local education authorities restricting or obstructing the availability of background papers. Again, the good local education authorities will do it automatically and the purpose of this amendment is to try to reduce the incidence of obstruction by the less helpful LEAs.
The Government previously rejected this amendment not on the grounds that it was harmful but that it is unnecessary. My submission is that in fact the amendment will strengthen the current obligation on local authorities to disclose this type of information which is of vital importance to parent groups seeking to influence the provision of education in their areas.
I do not think that the new Secretary of State should underestimate the strength of parental feeling on this issue, and I hope that the Government will now feel able to accept this amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hooper explained when your Lordships considered this matter at Report stage that recent High Court decisions have established that parents have a legitimate expectation that they will be consulted on proposals under Sections 12 to 15 of the 1980 Act, and this is enforceable to the same extent as a statutory requirement to consult. Where consultation has been inadequate, the Secretary of State will not approve the proposals. It would therefore we believe be entirely otiose to make a requirement in statute that local education authorities should provide reasons for their proposals: they are already under such an obligation. So far as the disclosure of information is concerned, that obligation to disclose extends to any report considered by a council or its education committee and even to background papers on which the report or an important part of it was based and which have to be relied on to any material extent by those who prepared the report. I regard this as a far-reaching provision which I hope will meet the noble Lord's concern. I take his point about parental interest in this matter.Perhaps I may add that the Secretary of State encourages local education authorities to make their submissions to him available to objectors as a matter of routine, as a number of already do. Where these comments have been the subject of a report to the education committee, the LEA are already of course obliged to make them available for inspection, as I have just explained. In any case not covered by this requirement where the LEA is unwilling to disclose its comments voluntarily, if its submission has raised issues previously unknown to the objectors which are likely to be crucial to the Secretary of State's decision, his policy is to ensure that the objectors are given a further opportunity to comment. I believe that, taking all of this into account, to impose a further duty of disclosure on LEAs would be superfluous. I hope therefore that in the light of what I have said to the noble Lord he will believe that the existing legal obligations on LEAs provide a sufficient safeguard which will enable him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I must confess that I am not entirely happy. Certainly the experience of parent groups has not been as happy as the answer of the noble Baroness would lead one to suppose. They have found a lot of obstruction on this matter. The noble Baroness said that the Secretary of State will not approve proposals when proper consultation has not taken place, but that is of little comfort to parents who are not privy to the mind of the Secretary of State or to the advice that he has received. I agree that we are possibly entering a slightly new ball game with the recent coming into operation of the Local Government (Access to Information) Act. But I hope very much that the Government will keep this matter in mind. It is all very well to say that the High Court decision has supported the parents' contention that they have a right to this information. Legal proceedings are extremely expensive, as I have said on a number of occasions, and in many cases are beyond the means of the interested parties concerned. I do not think that is a great deal of help to them.I hope that the noble Baroness may be able to tell us that the new Secretary of State will take to heart the expressions of concern which have come from various parts of the country on this issue and keep the matter under review. It might perhaps be reasonable to leave it for a year or so to see how the Local Government (Access to Information) Act works in this field. If there is further evidence of the unsatisfactory withholding of information by authorities we should then perhaps look for some kind of amending legislation. I wonder whether the noble Baroness will be able to give' me some assurance on that.
My Lords, I am sure that I can give the noble Lord an assurance that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education will read very carefully the debates which have taken place in your Lordships' House, including the debates on this particular amendment. I shall draw them to his attention.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. On those grounds, I shall not press the amendment this evening. I beg leave to withdraw it.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Schedule 5 [Repeals]:
moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 70, line 37, at end insert—
|("S.I. 1981/909.||The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1981.||In Schedule 4, paragraph 3(3).|
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel I should apologise for raising an important issue at a rather late stage in the Bill, but the matter of school closures has been debated by your Lordships during the course of our deliberations. I have been advised that it is admissible and I do so in response to urgent representations from concerned parents.
I quote first the paragraph to which this amendment refers. It is paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 4 of Regulation 8 of the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1981. This refers to a table from which I shall give your Lordships the only relevant figure. This is the provision:
"Where the relevant total number of pupils at a school is 80 or less, the aggregate of the areas for the age groups specified in the second and third columns of the following Table, determined in accordance therewith, shall be increased by 70m2.".
The area specified in the second and third columns of the table are 1.8 square metres per child aged between five and 11. If your Lordships have absorbed that information, your intellectual capacity is even greater than I thought it was. But if you will go along with me for a moment this means that for a small school of 80 or fewer (in other words many primary schools) this allowance has to be increased by 70 square metres overall. If there are 80 children, each child thus has 2.675 square metres to himself. This I believe is reasonable.
But let us suppose there are only 31 children in a school—as in one school of my acquaintance—each child would have 4.058 square metres, and this is excessive. The school I am talking about is threatened with closure partly on the grounds that the space allowance would not conform if the school were full, with paragraph 3(3) of Schedule 4 of Regulation 8 of the 1981 regulations.
It seems that the fact that many small schools do not have this amount of space per child is sometimes made a pretext by some authorities for closing them. There is considerable opposition to proposed closures on the part of parents, teachers and of the local community whose village schools are an essential part of their heritage.
The objects of closure are given as, first, saving expenditure; and, secondly, giving children better education. Does it achieve these objects? Closures are assumed to be economic moves, but it is worth noting certain points. Many rural schools are owned by the Church and are leased for a peppercorn rent. The main saving comes from teachers' salaries, but if teachers are made redundant they become a charge on the state and on unemployment benefit. If they are redeployed, they still have to be paid somewhere else, anyway. So that seems doubtful, According to an HMI report, Primary Education in England, a survey dating from 1978, vandalism is five times as common in urban
schools as in rural ones; and vandalism is expensive. One wonders whether these factors are taken into consideration when the economic advantages of closure are reckoned.
As regards the alleged educational disadvantages of small primary schools, I could cite numerous well-authenticated refutations of the notion but I shall confine myself to three. I quote from a survey, Small Schools, carried out by Edmunds and Bessai and published in the Head Teachers' Review for March 1978:
"The results of tests in basic skills show conclusively that there was no significant difference of attainment between the small schools and other elementary schools. The learning environment of the small rural school is perceived by the teachers in them to be a highly desirable one".
My second quotation is from an article published by the Centre for Information and Advice on Educational Disadvantage, dated 1980:
"In a survey of teachers' opinions, the larger school was considered to be superior in some degree in provision for team games, organised sport generally and extra curricula activity. The small school, however, was preferred across a broader range of items including the maintenance of discipline, personal knowledge of pupils, development of the co-operative spirit, the pupils' attention to learning tasks, provision for children with learning difficulties, development of social skills, opportunities for staff to try out innovative ways of teaching, and, surprisingly, also in providing for the needs of the occasional gifted child".
My third quotation is from Schools Under Threat by R. Rodgers, published by the Advisory Centre for Education in 1979:
"Given that there are so many alleged educational and economic disadvantages involved, it is surprising that so many parents, teachers, and local communities actually want to keep their small schools open. But parents are not stupid. They do not fight to ensure that their children have a poor education. The fact is that the closure of small schools is now being vehemently challenged because there are powerful arguments for their continuation and enhancement".
I must be satisfied with having touched on this very important issue in the course of urging that this anomalous paragraph should be removed so that local education authorities do not have this pretext for proposing closures most feelingly opposed by parents, teachers and local communities. I hope that in replying the noble Baroness will agree to draw the attention of her right honourable friend the Secretary of State to the issue, in the hope that he will give sympathetic consideration to any appeals which he may receive from concerned and distressed parents and local communities. I beg to move.
My Lords, I recognise the noble Lord's concern and I think that we are all concerned with the role and future of small schools in this country. The current school premises regulations with which this amendment is concerned were introduced in 1981 following extensive consultations with local authority and teachers' associations and other interested bodies. The regulations were based on extensive research into the requirements for school premises related to curricula needs and they therefore reflect the broad agreement that was reached on what those requirements should be. The proposed amendment would abolish the provision which is designed to ensure that all schools, however small, had a reasonably large space available for a variety of uses, including indoor physical education.Nevertheless, I fully agree with the noble Lord in the complexity of interpreting the detail of the regulation. However, I feel that his particular worry is concerned with the actual closure, or possible closure, of the smaller schools, and therefore I will not go into the dazzling figures that I had thought to produce at this stage. But I should like to offer complete reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, and to any noble Lords who fear that the provision in question jeopardises the future of some small primary schools; because in fact it does not. No local education authority can close a school, whatever its size, without publishing notices under the Education Act 1980 and, if there are objections, obtaining the approval of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. Before giving his approval, he considers all relevant factors including not only the suitability of the accommodation but also the quality of the education provided and the value of the school to the local community. So far as accommodation is concerned, since this is what the amendment specifically refers to, he has power under Section 10 of the 1944 Act in appropriate circumstances to dispense with the requirements of the school premises regulations when it would be unreasonable to require conformity with them in a particular case. With that, and the further assurance that the noble Lord requested of me—to draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the real anxiety which he has expressed—I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her words of encouragement, interest and concern. It was really my main object, I must confess, to air the matter, and to ask her to be kind enough (which she was) to say that she will draw the attention of her right honourable friend the Secretary of State to this issue, about which there are many very concerned parents. Your Lordships may be interested to know that the school which has 31 children (though I think it may be 32 children by now) and which is under threat of closure had within it, in the 1870s, 100 children happily installed. In view of those matters and the kindness of your Lordships in listening to me at this late stage on this major issue, and in the hope, as I say, that the Secretary of State, if appealed to, will take a sympathetic view of the concerns of parents, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
An amendment (privilege) made.
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.It seems a long time since we had the Second Reading of this Bill and I should like to express to all your Lordships the regret of my noble friend Lord Swinton, that he is not with us today. The Bill's main purpose is to put into effect proposals relating to school government and teacher quality. The provisions on school government contained in Parts I to III of the Bill provide for the re-establishment of the governing body as a force for good in the life of the school and of the community it serves. They remove the scope for local education authorities to appoint the majority of governors to allow for a more balanced composition; they guarantee these reconstituted governing bodies effective powers to work in the necessary partnership with local education authorities and head teachers and they strengthen the parental voice in the running of their children's schools. A vital component of a school's success is the quality of teaching. We accept that there is already much excellent teaching in our shools. But Clauses 38 and 39 provide powers for appraisal and in-service training which can be used to promote the greater professionalism of teachers to their own and to schools' advantage. We recognise that higher standards cannot be secured by prescribing them in legislation; but what the Bill does is to create better arrangements than now exist for all those responsible for standards to do their job for the maximum benefit of the pupils and the nation as a whole. The Bill's provisions have to be taken together with the interrelated and non-legislative action on the curriculum and on examinations. These measures combine to form the strategy for improving standards in schools, as described in the White Paper Better Schools. The Bill goes to another place amended both to clarify its provisions usefully and to extend it to cover in particular additional matters such as corporal punishment, political indoctrination in schools, and many other matters. However, I should also like to reaffirm the Government's intention, following the necessary consultation with the partners in the education service, to introduce in another place amendments to meet points raised in this House. These amendments will deal with the clarification of the position of non-teaching staff at aided schools and local education authorities consulting an education body in all cases where it has it in mind to order the immediate reinstatement of an excluded pupil and to express the right of parents to make representations against their children's exclusion from school on disciplinary grounds. At this late stage I should like to say only that I believe that this is an important piece of legislation which, with the new opportunities it provides for progress in partnership, will help to make a reality of the Government's declared aim of raising standards at all levels of ability and securing the best possible return for the substantial resources that are deployed in our schools. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.
Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—( Baroness Young.)
My Lords, in speaking to this Motion I should like first to say with complete sincerity that it has been a pleasure to face the team from the Government Benches. The noble Baronesses and the noble Earl have been unfailingly courteous and punctilious in responding, where they have undertaken to do so, to questions which could not be raised in debate. They have indeed made a number of significant concessions as a result of our debates and my sincerity in saying this can be gauged by the fact that I could not have said it on a number of Bills on which I have been engaged from this Bench.I think the Government would have been happier had they called this Bill the "School Government and Teacher Quality Bill", which is what the noble Baroness described it as just now. As an Education Bill, frankly, it is no great shakes. The Bill does not produce the dramatic changes in the government or quality of our schools which had been trumpeted when the Secretary of State orginally published its text. It has a number of quite useful additions and improvements, many of which we have supported in principle, and even in detail, as the Bill has proceeded; but it is not earth shattering and it is not dramatic. I believe there is still a great deal to be done, in terms of thinking more than in terms of legislation, in ensuring that we have in our country the quality of schools that the pupils and our society really deserve. If we look at Part I on school government, it has to be said that opposition to detailed provisions, which was not opposition in principle, has not resulted in any significant change. It remains to be seen whether the Bill as drafted will be the rigid provision which some of us on these Benches have feared, or whether there will be a sufficient degree of goodwill among those partners in the education service to ensure that greater democracy in school government, which is the wish of the Government and of those of us on these Benches, is actually achieved. So far as curriculum, disciplinary and appointments matters are concerned the really critical question will be whether we have achieved the right balance so that matters can be resolved without conflict or whether the great degree of precision which has been written into the Bill's provisions will result in conflict. I suspect there will be elements of both. In some cases precision will turn out to be valid, but in matters such as the appointment of head teachers, for example, or the provisions for parent meetings or indeed for the exclusion of pupils, there will still be considerable problems which will have to be resolved by further amendment in another place or else they will cause difficulties when the Bill is enacted. The noble Baroness referred to the Bill as being one concerned with appraisal and training, but of course these are still only reserve powers and I would submit that they have not fully grasped the nettle of how we are to achieve better teaching quality. These are matters which cannot be solved purely by legislation. They will have to be resolved by a constant exercise of goodwill on the part of Government, local authorities, the teaching profession and the parents. That is the crux of the matter because, unless one has an undue faith in legislative prescription, it has to be said that the Bill leaves on one side the fundamental problems facing our education system. These are problems not of the details of school government or even of the control of the curriculum; they are problems of the resources which our society chooses to make available to our education system. There are rumours around that the new Secretary of State is increasing the bids for resources for the education system. There are also rumours that he may be more persistent than his predecessor in supporting his bids and seeing that they result in a higher priority being given to education. If so, we can only give him our wholehearted support from this side of the House because it is those resources, as well as the proper government of our schools, which are essential to the improvement of our education system. If we are simply to pass legislation which deals with relatively peripheral matters of this sort and not give the education service the resources and the public support which it needs, not only will the Government suffer politically (as they have already suffered) but the nation as a whole will suffer, too.
My Lords, from these Benches I, too, should like to say just a few words and indeed to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, as to the unfailing courtesy shown by the Government Front-Bench spokesmen over this Bill. In doing so I should like to withdraw the expressions of amazement which I indicated when they showed signs of being conciliatory over the amendment that was proposed earlier today on the subject of political education in schools. In fact, this has happened on numerous occasions and the Government spokesmen have not only been courteous but have also done their best to address the concerns that we have shown.When the Bill was introduced it was a dark hour for education in this country. I think that the light has now dawned. I say "a dark hour" because it was before any proposal of the ACAS sittings came up, or, rather, it was before the arbitration service had begun to sit. Now they are doing so and we can have hopes that they may succeed in solving the appalling problem of the teachers' dispute. I should like also to express our hope that the rumours of increased funds from central government materialise. Therefore, a lighter hour has dawned at the time when we have fully considered, revised and. I hope, improved and packaged the Bill that we now send to another place with our best wishes.
My Lords, I rise from these Benches to say that I am not happy about this Bill. When it was first published and when the White Papers were published earlier, I welcomed them. In the beginning I welcomed the Bill to some extent and said that it needed improving. During the passage of the Bill I have sat in the Chamber right from the beginning to the end and have listened to everything that has been said from all sides. Therefore, I can speak from the position of having listened and of having spoken from time to time, but only when I thought it was wise to do so. I do so now because I feel that we on the Back-Benches have been let down to some extent. A lot of the things that we were proposing were not political but were there to try and improve the Bill. We have improved it a little, but by no means as much as I would like. Nevertheless, I know that the Bill is now going to another place and I hope that the Members there will take up where we have left off and improve it still more before it is enacted.Another point that I should like to make—and I cannot avoid saying this—is that I have been saddened by the lack of representatives of the Church in the Chamber during the course of the Third Reading of this Bill. Apart from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, who I believe has come in to take part in the next debate, there has been no other right reverend Prelate here this afternoon. I believe it is sad, after all the Church has done for education over the years, that they have not been here to listen to what has been going on. Nevertheless, I hope that this Bill will be straightened out in another place; and I hope it becomes good in the finality of it.
My Lords, the few words that I want to say are in no way critical of the four speeches which have been made on the passing of this Bill; but I feel a certain concern about the way the House as a whole has dealt with the Third Reading. I have been in your Lordships' House some 12 years only, but I have seen a deterioration even in that short time in what I think (and I hope it has been inadvertent) has been the misuse of our ability to produce amendments at Third Readings. It is very proper that this House, which is usually the last port of call before a Bill become an Act, should have that ultimate power that the other place does not have of moving amendments on Third Readings. However, I think it is up to us to use that power a little more circumspectly than we have been using it today.I am really referring to the amendments from the Back Benches that were moved from almost every Bench and which took up a considerable amount of time. These were all points that had been dealt with in Committee. They were Committee stage points, and I believe that to use Third Reading to re-hash and reappear in the form of an amendment arguments that are very proper Committee points which have been dealt with in Committee, will, if we are not careful, undermine the value of this House in playing its full part in getting matters on the statute book. I hope that the two Front Benches will give us guidance on these matters by considering this. There are two Second Reading debates now to come with 30 speeches indicated to be made and the hour is now 6 o'clock in the evening. We have spent so much time talking about matters which were discussed in Committee that I believe it is an abuse of Third Reading powers which we have, and I hope that in the future we will be more circumspect.
My Lords, as I observe the Marshalled List I do not think there are any amendments from the Back Bench. They are all from the Front Bench. There may be one exception, but the reference was to Back-Bench amendments.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and my noble friend Lady Cox and the special amendment that had to be drawn from the Government, all of those—
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Kilmarnock is one of the Alliance Front Bench speakers on education.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the very generous remarks that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie, about the procedures of this Bill. Coming back, as I have, to the debate on education, it has been very valuable to discuss these matters with people who are so knowledgeable about education, and I hope that between us we have been able to improve the Bill. I am glad too that the Government have been able to respond to the amendments which my noble friends have established and about which they have felt so strongly.
On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.
Social Security Bill
My Lords, I beg to move, at this late hour that the Bill be now read a second time.When I moved the Second Reading of last year's Bill, I invited your Lordships to take a magical mystery tour with me. This year a rather different metaphor: I invite your Lordships instead to leave the antiquated world of the scenic railway, with the bits and bobs that have grown around the track over the years, in favour of a streamlined fast service that stays right on the track and—if I am allowed a mixed goods and passenger train—delivers what is needed when it is needed; for the substance of this Bill is to restore social security to the purposes for which it was intended, to redirect help where need is greatest and to remove the glaring faults which have grown up in the system over the years. The present social security system is both horrifically complex and inadequate in many ways. It was the recognition of that which led to my right honourable friend launching the social security review and, in turn, to our putting forward proposals in the Green and White Papers. The review itself brought the need for reform most graphically before the public, and it is significant that there has been little or no disagreement with our diagnosis of what is wrong with present arrangements. The Bill addresses the three major inadequacies in the present scheme by reforming pensions, income-related benefits and the legislative and administrative rules for claiming benefits. The first objective is to reform pensions, and the keystone of this reform is to give every employee the opportunity of having a pension of his own from his job. Successive governments have agreed on the importance of encouraging the spread of occupational pension schemes. But the plain fact is that encouragement has not up to now been very effective. For 20 years the position has been static, with half the workforce in schemes and half the workforce out. It is also a plain fact that people want to be in pension schemes or to have a pension of their own. The research which we commissioned for the social security review showed that members of schemes were on the whole very satisfied with them and that people outside would like to be in a scheme or to have a personal pension. I stress those findings because they help to refute the foolish charge that has been put about that somehow this Government are against salary-related schemes and are threatening their existence. I shall return to that charge later in this speech. In addition to our aims to give more people an occupational or personal pension, we want to put the future financing of the state scheme on a basis which we can reasonably and confidently expect future generations to sustain. Part I of the Bill deals with both these matters. Clauses 1 to 5 and 14 give everybody for the first time the right to a personal pension. That is an individual pensions saving scheme on money purchase principles, contributions to which will qualify for tax relief. Everybody will be able to choose such a pension instead of remaining in the state scheme or in an employer's scheme. Personal pensions will enable people to select the kind of pension savings scheme that suits them. They will be able to choose the type of body with whom they save—banks, building societies and unit trusts, as well as insurance companies—and to have some say in how those savings are invested. Their savings will be fully portable: if they change jobs, they take their savings with them and can go on building them up on the new job. When they reach retirement, they will use their accumulated savings—the contributions plus the return earned on their investment—to buy an annuity. I want to draw to your Lordships' attention our full recognition of the importance of proper investor protection in personal pensions. It is vital that people should have their savings for retirement properly safeguarded. We propose to make full use of the regulatory framework which the Financial Services Bill will provide and, to the extent that there may be any gaps in it for pensions, to fill those gaps through the provision in Schedule 1 to this Bill. We have also taken powers in Clauses 12 and 13 to control such matters as advertising and misleading projections and my right honourable friend has set up an advisory group to help him decide how best to achieve this investor protection. Overall, the requirement in Clause 2 for contracted-out personal pension schemes to be approved by the Occupational Pensions Board will provide a further safeguard. If I may turn now to the administrative proposals for personal pensions, I want to reassure your Lordships that they mean that no employer, unless he wishes to do so, need be involved at all in his employee's personal pension. All he need do is pay over contributions at the full rate and my department will be responsible for paying over the amount of the rebate to the personal pension scheme of the employee's choice. It will, of course, be open to both the employee and the employer to put more than the minimum amount into the personal pensions; and we hope that many will wish to do so. But the employer's contribution will be a matter between the employee and the employer; it is only if the employer agrees to put in more than the minimum that any action will be required of him. So much then for the new freedom for the individual to choose his own pension. I now come to the incentive which the Bill will provide for a limited period to people taking out personal pensions. The incentive, which your Lordships will find in Clause 3, is in the form of an extra 2 per cent. added by my department to the amount of the rebate for five years from 1988. Few aspects of our pension proposals have aroused as much interest as this one, but I believe that it is important to get it into perspective. Essentially, the 2 per cent. is a pump-priming exercise, a modest inducement aimed at those who do not at present have the option of a pension with their job, and it is available for a maximum of five years. I have explained that personal pensions are a new opportunity. In pensions, old attitudes die hard. I am convinced that once they start saving through a personal pension scheme people will want to go on doing so. It may be harder to get them started; we believe that the 2 per cent. incentive will help by drawing their attention more graphically to the option open to them and by making it more attractive to take that vital step. I recognise that some of your Lordships will echo the worry expressed in another place that the 2 per cent. incentive, if available to people who leave employers' schemes in favour of a personal pension, will threaten the viability of salary-related schemes. To the extent that this reflects a concern to protect such schemes, I am wholly in sympathy with it. This Government have already done much, notably in last year's Act, to strengthen salary-related schemes and we have at all times made clear our support for them. That is why the charge to which I referred earlier, that we are threatening schemes, is absurd. We do not, in fact, believe that the 2 per cent. is a threat, simply because the evidence to which I have already referred shows how satisfied most people are with their salary-related schemes. Interest in personal pensions is highest among those not in schemes, and we do not believe that many people would be tempted simply by a temporary 2 per cent. inducement to leave behind the advantages that such schemes offer. But our minds are not finally made up on this. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place that he was prepared to think again about the effect that the 2 per cent. incentive might have on existing members of occupational schemes and he did not rule out any change. I am sure that he will equally take into account the views expressed today by your Lordships on this matter. Clauses 4 and 5 carry through to personal pensions provisions for the reduction of state earnings-related pension and for the approval by the Occupational Pensions Board of arrangements when schemes cease to be appropriate. Clauses 6 to 10 of the Bill concern occupational pension schemes. They will make it far easier for employers who want to contract out of the state earnings-related pension scheme by allowing money purchase schemes, based on a defined level of contribution, to do so. As for personal pensions, the basic qualification will be the amount of the contracting out rebate and the extra 2 per cent. incentive will be available for the same limited period to newly contracted-out schemes. That should help achieve a substantial expansion among occupational pension coverage. Hand in hand with this new flexibility will go another: giving everybody in an occupational or personal pension scheme of any description the right to boost his pension savings by making additional voluntary contributions, up to the ceiling allowed by the Inland Revenue. Clauses 17 and 18 at the end of Part I provide for modifications to the state earnings-related scheme to reduce its cost to a manageable level next century. The alternative is stark and has been spelled out by the Government Actuary. Without change, the cost of the earnings-related scheme will rise from around £200 million a year now to £25½ billion by 2033. What this could mean in terms of higher national insurance contributions will not be lost on your Lordships. Quite apart from the cost that this could place on contributors—and there will be proportionately fewer of them than now—it represents by any standard a massive pre-emption of resources without regard to the possible priorities of the day, 50 years on. The Bill will reduce the emerging cost of the state earnings-related scheme by about £12½ billion by 2033. That will still leave a substantial state pension cost to be borne, but it is one that should in all conscience be bearable. And the cost will be reduced in the areas where savings can best be made, first, by basing state pension rights, like those in occupational pension schemes, on a lifetime's average earnings rather than on the best 20 years. But as your Lordships will be aware, there will be special protection for people who take time out of work to bring up children or to look after someone who is disabled, or because they are themselves disabled. Secondly, the earnings-related pensions will be based on 20 per cent., rather than 25 per cent. of earnings. Thirdly, contracted-out pension schemes will have to have inflation-proof guaranteed minimum pensions, which broadly correspond to the state additional pension, by up to 3 per cent. a year once they are in payment. They will be fully compensated for this through the level of the contracted-out rebate, and any inflation-proofing above 3 per cent. will be undertaken by the state. Finally, the Bill modifies the inheritance provisions in the state earnings-related scheme, so that widows and older widowers in the next century will inherit up to half their spouse's additional pension, as well as getting their own in full; but the ceiling on the total amount which they can have will be at the same generous level as now. These are sensible and responsible, and, I would say, courageous measures. They will bring the cost of the state earnings-related scheme to manageable proportions by making reductions where they can best be afforded. And they do so in such a way that the pensions of nobody retiring or widowed before the year 2000 will be affected. Our second major objective is to direct help towards the people who need it most. Need is not something static: just because a particular group stands in the greatest need at one time does not mean that it will do so for all time. The present social security arrangements take too little account of how the balance of need has shifted over the years. The Green Paper which we published a year ago showed graphically what changes there have been. Where 20 or 30 years ago pensioners were the group most disproportionately represented among those on the lowest incomes and with the greatest needs, today that is not so. Their place has been taken by low income families with children, who now make up more than half the people living on the lowest incomes. Clearly a modern system geared to modern needs must do more to help such families. This Bill tackles the problem head-on through the family credit proposals and the family provisions in income support. It will also enable us to direct more help towards disabled people on low incomes, whom the review showed to be another group standing in particular need. Clauses 19 to 21 in Part II are where we deal with the income-related benefits, and where the seeds of simplification and improving incentives are to be found. For the first time we shall have the three major income-related benefits—income support, replacing supplementary benefit; family credit, replacing family income supplement; and housing benefit—put on the same basis. It is significant that with our simplifications it is possible for these clauses to cover all three of those benefits. The common basis of assessment for them will be that of net income, instead of the mixture of net and gross that exists now. This, together with the structure of the benefit rates, will enable us to tackle the worst of the poverty and unemployment traps and make it genuinely more worthwhile for people to take work. The effects of this simplification are profound. Many of the problems inherent in present arrangements lie in the different rules for different benefits: for example, allowances for children now are provided at different levels and on different structures in each benefit. This must be a nonsense in any coherent scheme designed to help people who are less well off. Income support will, I believe, be a real improvement on supplementary benefit. Even a relatively short spell in your Lordships' House has convinced me of the rashness of describing anything in social security as easy, but I can confidently say that it will be a great deal easier than supplementary benefit for people to understand—and that applies both to claimants and to the staff of my department. We have managed to cut through a great deal of the complexity that is the plague of present arrangements, by designing income support as a basic allowance supplemented by standard additions according to the particular group to which people belong. There will be, for example, a family premium, a lone parent's premium and additions as now for each dependent child. It is why there will be a pensioner's premium with a higher premium for pensioners over 80. It is why there will be a premium for disabled people and an extra family premium for every disabled child in a family. This structure will make it simpler than now for people to add up the allowance plus the addition and work out what their regular weekly benefit should be. The second benefit dealt with in Clauses 19 to 21 is family credit. The structure of family credit represents a major improvement on that of family income supplement, which it will replace. It will be a much more effective way of directing help at low-income families, twice as many of whom are expected to benefit from the new scheme as do now from FIS. We shall be spending £200 million more on help for this particularly needy group. But the improvements do not stop there. Entitlement will be based on net income, the same basis of assessment as for the other income-related benefits. And the structure of the rates, with the help in kind at present provided through school meals and milk replaced by cash, will be such that people working and on family credit will not find themselves better off out of work. Nor will they be caught in the poverty trap. If I may run ahead of myself for a moment, I would point out that it is in Clause 73 that the discretion of local authorities to provide subsidised meals for school children is withdrawn. We estimate that family credit will support more children than the present scheme which largely rests on the discretion of local authorities; and I might remind your Lordships that only two-thirds of them have a discretionary scheme at all. Finally, perhaps I may say that the cash compensation will be paid for every week of the year instead of a school meal that may or may not actually be eaten by children and is not available for most children during the school holidays. Your Lordships will know that a great deal of attention and discussion has focused on our proposal in Clause 27 to pay family credit through the wage packet, for which the Bill provides. The House will also be aware that my right honourable friend has undertaken in another place to look again at the whole mechanism for paying family credit, and to do so in consultation with bodies representing both employers' and women's interests. With those discussions about to get under way, your Lordships will not expect me to say any more on that particular point at this stage.
Why not, my Lords?
My Lords, the third income-related benefit covered in Clauses 19 to 21 is housing benefit. As now, a person will be entitled to housing benefit if he is paying rent or rates for his home. If his net income whether earned or unearned does not exceed the income support level appropriate to him and his family he will be able to receive the maximum amount of housing benefit. This will be specified in regulations made under Clause 20. The Government propose that the maximum level of help for rent should be 100 per cent. but for rates it should be less in order to improve local authority accountability for the cost and provision of local services. This particular proposal will be developed in the light of the Government's wider proposals for reforming local government finance.Clause 20 also enables the so-called taper to be prescribed for the reduction of housing benefit for those whose net income is higher than the appropriate amount but not so high as to justify withdrawing help completely. Putting housing benefit on the same footing as income support will be a major simplification and we shall be able to get rid of housing benefit supplement. The result is that we will have a single scheme with two tapers instead of the present six. Clauses 28 to 31 set out the framework for the administration and funding of the housing benefit scheme. Your Lordships will notice that the scope for making regulations for housing benefit is much more clearly delineated than in the present legislation. When speaking about income support, I stressed that it would meet the general needs of particular groups. But we have recognised throughout that, however well designed a scheme may be to meet such general needs, there is no way of anticipating special or emergency needs. There will still be domestic crises, involving large unforeseen spending; some people will still face real problems in budgeting; others may face losses through flood or fire; and we must certainly not neglect the cost of helping people resettle in the community after long-term residential care. It is for precisely those reasons that we will have the social fund, with which Clauses 32 to 34 in Part III deal. This again is one of the aspects of our proposals which has perhaps generated more heat than light. That obscures the fact that there is a very large measure of agreement on the need to change present arrangements. The social fund will provide a quick and flexible way of providing help to meet real need, in contrast to the rigidly regulated system which we now have. The present system of single payments in supplementary benefit based on statutory entitlements has simply run amok. We are talking in terms of spending £300 million a year on those one-off payments, and they are not even well targeted. In 1983, more than 80 per cent. of the payments went to some 9 per cent. of claimants. And appeals against an adverse decision on even a minuscule amount can go through several tiers of formal adjudication lasting a matter of years before the final outcome is known. That is the kind of thing we want to get away from; that is why are proposing to move towards a much more flexible system of help. Because the social fund will be administered on a discretionary basis by specially-trained staff in my department's local offices, the help provided will not only be available more quickly but will be more effectively directed towards real need—a return to that key theme of our reforms. In case there is any doubt remaining in your Lordships' minds, let me stress yet again that payments from the fund for maternity and funeral expenses to people on low incomes in place of maternity and death grant abolished in Clauses 36 and 39 will always be paid when the qualifying conditions are satisfied. Some of your Lordships were, I know from our debate last summer, concerned about the need for an independent review of adverse decisions. Your Lordships would, I am sure, readily accept that it would be foolish to introduce the new discretionary approach which I have described and at the same time retain the rigid adjudicatory machinery more appropriate to a regulated scheme. What we are after is a quick but dispassionate review of decisions, so that claimants know exactly where they stand, instead of dragging through months and years of appeals. But we recognise the level of interest in reviews and, in particular, that they should be seen to be more than mere rubber-stamping. That is why we have added Clause 34. It provides for a statutory right of review of a decision of a social fund officer and for further reviews of a decision beyond the local office to be undertaken by a social fund inspector. The inspector will be appointed by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and—this is the crucial point—he will be outside the chain of local office managements. That means that we shall have responded to the concerns expressed without sacrificing the speed and flexibility that are the essentials of the social fund proposals. I have already mentioned that disabled people are a particular group whom we want to help. I believe your Lordships would wish me, in the context of the social fund, to say rather more about the disabled. A great deal of attention was given in another place to the needs of the very severely disabled, but it is important to get the scale of the problem into perspective. Most disabled people will be better off as a result of the changes. Many of those who do not get the disability premium in income support may get another premium. For example, younger disabled pensioners will immediately get the over-80s premium, which is set at the same rate as the disability premium. Having made the general point, let me stress that we are concerned about the very small number of disabled people who get immensely high additional requirements at present and who would do less well under the new scheme. The lobby of Parliament today by severely disabled people has reminded us once again that the needs of the disabled are a priority. But I must make two points here. First, as your Lordships will know, we have started a major new survey to secure more comprehensive and up-to-date information about the numbers, circumstances and needs of disabled people. We expect in the light of the findings of the disability survey to look again at the whole range of provision for disabled people. The fact that we are making much-needed changes now does not ring-fence them from re-examination when those in-depth findings are known. Secondly, the flexibility of the social fund will be available to help with the needs of individual disabled people. I now turn to Clauses 35 to 43, which amend provisions under the Social Security Act 1975. The main provision is to replace the existing widow's allowance with a tax-free lump sum widow's payment of £1,000. That will be paid immediately after the husband dies, and it will be completely disregarded in deciding whether or not a widow qualifies for help with funeral expenses from the social fund. Widow's pension and widowed mother's allowance will also be paid immediately after bereavement, rather than after six months as now; and the reduced rate of widow's pension will be paid between the ages of 45 and 55. rather than 40 and 50. Clause 37 and Schedule 3 contain important proposals for changes to the industrial injuries scheme, to concentrate help more on those with significant disabilities. Your Lordships will know that those provisions were added to the Bill following consultations with the bodies most concerned. Clause 41 extends the maximum period of disqualification of unemployment benefit for those who leave their employment voluntarily. The maximum period will be 13 weeks rather than six weeks as now. Part V covers maternity provision and represents a major rationalisation of existing arrangements. The Department of Employment's maternity pay scheme will be amalgamated with the DHSS maternity allowance, providing a more streamlined and better-directed benefit. In particular, it will concentrate help on women who have been in recent work—in other words, those who do actually give up work to have a baby. It is after all, for those women that the benefits are most obviously intended. It will surprise none of your Lordships if I re-emphasise that the third major aim of the review and of the Bill is to create a simpler system of social security. Part VI introduces common provisions across a wide range of social security benefits, so removing many of the anomalies to which I referred at the start of this speech, and thus achieving yet more simplification over the whole scheme of social security. I am conscious of having spoken for a long time, and I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, is glad that I did not accept her invitation to go on at an earlier stage. Your Lordships will be relieved to learn that I have now covered the major elements in the social security review and the reforms in this Bill. The proposals have been the subject of extensive consultation with interested bodies. I remind your Lordships that the whole discussion process, from the launching of the first review team to now, has taken two and a half years. I stress the continuity of that review process because we have made it clear all along that if we can make improvements to our proposals without sacrificing the principles behind them, then we are ready to do so. I have already referred to the Secretary of State's undertaking to look again at the mechanism for paying family credit and to our response to concern about independent reviews on the social fund. On housing benefit subsidy and administrative costs, we have demonstrated our willingness to be flexible without compromising the principles of our reforms. In the same way, we succeeded after consulting on the Green Paper in finding a way of giving more people a pension of their own while preserving the basic state pension and a modified earnings-related scheme. My Lords, I know that this Bill will be subjected to constructive and critical examination in Committee, drawing on the breadth of experience that exists in this House. We make no apology for the principles underlying this measure. If social security is to serve the ends for which it is intended, it must be better directed; it must be simpler; it must strengthen rather than weaken incentives; and in retirement provision, more people must have the chance of a pension from their job. The flaws in the present system prevent that. We have come up with solutions which will remedy those flaws and which will restore social security to its true purposes. Those solutions are in this Bill, and I commend it to your Lordships.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—( Baroness Trumpington.)
My Lords, I must begin by protesting about the Government's handling of the timetable. It is absolutely disgraceful that a measure which affects every person in this country—literally from the cradle to the grave—should have been given second billing to another important measure. But it is not surprising. This Bill has aroused such anxious and deep opposition to some or other of its provisions from the widest spectrum of informed and responsible non-political organisations that the Government must be deeply ashamed of it. They must hope to have the minimum of debate and publicity in your Lordships' House. However, I say to the Government that they will not be able quietly to hustle the Bill here. There are expert and experienced people in every part of the House who have criticisms to make.Representations about all or part of the Bill have come from independent bodies like the Family Policy Studies Centre—financed in part by the DHSS—the Economic and Social Research Council, the Family Welfare Association, Family Service Units, the Association of Municipal Authorities, the Disability Alliance, the National Consumer Council, Dr. Barnardo's homes and the Spastics Society. It would save the time of the House if the Minister, or whoever is to reply, could tell us how many organisations have agreed to the Bill rather than for me to go on reading out the number of organisations who are anxious about it, including the British Association of Social Workers. I have letters from organisations concerned with the blind, refugees, widows, homelessness and the unemployed. Therefore, I cannot understand why the Government should feel that there is any support for this measure among people who are working at the sharp end and who know what they are talking about. However, I refer back to the timetable, about which my noble friends and I must protest. Owing to the limitations on time imposed in the other place, out of 70 clauses and eight schedules only 33 clauses and two schedules were fully discussed and examined in Committee. So the Bill comes here incomplete in its examination—and much of it dismissed, I would say, in a cavalier fashion if that were not an insult to cavaliers for whom I have some affection. I was especially interested in the words of the Leader of the House in the other place on 15th April (reported in col. 750 of Commons Hansard). He said:
that is, this House—"It is perhaps appropriate also, in the context of a Bill which has aroused such strong feelings in this place and in the public at large, to mention the role of the other place"—
Indeed, we shall. In defending the guillotine in the other place, the Leader of the House said on the same day (at col. 749 of Hansard]:"in considering legislation. The other place has shown that it takes seriously its role as a revising Chamber, and no doubt it will continue to do so."
So we all expect time here for "reasonable attention"; but I must say that the Government have not made a good start in the way that they have arranged today's business. There are several fundamental difficulties about the Bill and I do not blame the noble Lord the Minister for not having gone into them all. In the first place, the Bill is chaotic. It should have been three Bills. Some experts say it should have been seven, but I shall settle for three. Certainly Part I, which deals with pensions, deserves its own primary legislation. Secondly, it is impossible to deal effectively with national insurance provisions for the whole nation in a vacuum, separate from taxation proposals. We have a Green Paper on personal taxation before us; but we do not know the Government's intentions except by leaks—and that seems to be the Government's favourite method of communication nowadays. I give one example, and it is not mine. I read this in a report from the respected Institute of Fiscal Studies. The report suggests that if the Chancellor's preferred plan of transferable tax allowances is implemented it would cost £4·5 billion to ensure that working couples are not to be worse off. I quote from the report:"This constraint is necessary for the Bill to receive reasonable attention in another place".
I give that example to emphasise the inseparability of personal taxation and personal benefits. The Prime Minister and other Ministers often refer to the desired preference of raising tax thresholds in order to help the unemployed and low-paid families. On 28th January the Secretary of State said (reported in col. 819 of Commons Hansard):"For the same money the Chancellor could double child benefit to 13 a week and cut the basic rate of income tax to 25 per cent."
The Government have emphasised that the Bill is supposed to target on the most needy. I can tell the Government that the most accurately targeted improvement for poor families happens to be called child benefit. The Government's response on the last up-rating was to keep the child benefit increase below the rate of inflation by 5 per cent. and thereby erode its value. Of course, all taxpayers would like the thresholds to be raised; but that is not targeting because by a process of osmosis the benefits spiral all the way up the income scale and therefore are not targeted among the poorest people in our country. Having set themselves an impossible task because of the dichotomy between the Treasury and the DHSS, the Government now produce a Bill of utmost confusion, complication and social divisiveness, leading to anxieties among those least able to sustain them; people whose lives are already disfigured by poverty. Here there is a fundamental division between us. I know that there are many noble Lords in other parts of this House who are concerned and who are generous in their voluntary work. But, basically, social security is not a matter of helping lame dogs over stiles. It should be concerned with knocking down stiles and with preventing or healing the lameness. There is nothing in the Bill dealing with poverty, the causes of poverty, the causes of unemployment and distress which are at the heart of the matter. The phrase "social security" is not a happy one. I prefer what a civilised nation should regard as "collective security", in which we all give and we all take, each preserving self-respect, and where payments to those who need them are not denigrated as feckless public expenditure but as a transfer of resources between civilised people. It is not merely the relief of poverty but the response to an aspiration for security in its widest sense which will give people confidence in their own value whether they give or whether they receive. Against that background this Government could not do other than produce a bad Bill. Since 1979 they have passed five major social security Bills and many regulations, all with the basic, crude objective of diminishing help in various spheres. I pay noble Lords the compliment of presuming that they have read all 158 pages of this Bill. The Minister's summary may have helped the House, but I must turn to the main criticisms of the Opposition, to many of which we shall return later. I hope that my noble friends will deal with some of them in more detail today. There is one part of the Bill that divulges some facts, though most of the Bill is very short on facts. I refer to the Financial Memorandum, which in turn refers to the report by the Government Actuary—Cmnd. 9711, in case all your Lordships have not yet read it. I quote a few sentences from page xv of the Bill:"Families with children now make up more than half of the people living on the lowest incomes—unemployed families, but also low-income families in work."
How are more mothers to be helped if the Government intend to save £140 million? From whom are they taking that £140 million if not from the mothers of this country? The statement continues:"in 1988 (the first full year) the replacement of the existing maternity allowance will reduce public expenditure by £140 million".
The Minister tells us that mothers are to be better off, and the Financial Memorandum to the Bill tells us how much the Government are saving. This is money that is taken away from families in this country by a government who profess their reverence for the family. No wonder that all the organisations which try to help our poorest families are disturbed and anxious. I quote again from the Financial Memorandum:"The effect on the Consolidated Fund of the replacement of maternity pay by statutory maternity pay will be to reduce public expenditure by £80 million".
save for the Government, not for the poor people. The Financial Memorandum states:"The extension from six to thirteen weeks in the maximum period of disqualification of unemployment benefit for those who are voluntarily unemployed is expected to save about £50 million in … the first full year"—
This comes after a reduction last year of £200 million, and goes hand in hand with reductions in spending or, as I prefer to say, investment in housing. It appears that this Government prefer to have an increasing number of homeless families expensively and inadequately housed in bed and breakfast or board and lodging accommodation rather than put money into housing the people. There is also the recent news that payments in respect of mortgage charges are to be reduced by 50 per cent.—that the Government intend to reduce by half the assistance that is given to people on supplementary benefit to keep up with their mortgage payments. This simply means that the Government are transferring costs from the Department of the Environment (which ought to be building) to the DHSS, and they then complain about the poverty which they themselves have created. The Financial Memorandum does not refer to blind people. I hope that whoever answers for the Government in this debate can tell me what is to happen to blind people. Since 1969 there has been an extra supplementary benefit allowance of £1.25 for blind people and this has not been increased in line with inflation. Is this small amount to be abolished so that blind people will be treated in the same way as sighted people, in spite of their special needs? Will the special income tax allowance for the blind continue, together with other concessions for radio licences and postal charges; or will these small ameliorations to their dark lives be taken away? I am sure that many members of your Lordships' House have also received representations from widows and those who try to help them. I have been informed that 25,000 widows will be worse off as a result of this Bill, largely because of the age qualification change and because they will lose benefits when their children go out to work. Perhaps the Minister will explain this point. I have to mention very quickly the problem of the disabled. I mention it quickly not because of lack of concern but because of lack of time. The representations that I have received show that there is anxiety among the disabled because they do not know whether, after the abolition of extra supplementary benefits, the revised payments will be equivalent to what they receive at present. There is more to come, and I do not apologise for quoting once more from the Financial Memorandum to the Bill:"spending on housing benefit would be reduced by around £450 million".
This means that from people who have been injured at work the Government intend to save £45 million a year. That is money which is taken away from people who have been injured at work. I find all these facts, which are in the Bill, totally inconsistent with what the Minister said earlier today."the proposed changes to the industrial injuries scheme will save about £45 million in the first full year".
My Lords, she must have been talking about another Bill.
My Lords, it must have been another Bill that the noble Baroness was talking about.There are many other fundamental problems. I find that this is a kind of ectoplasm of a Bill, because it has no definition or quantification for claimants. It is very difficult to have a constructive and informed debate about this Bill because there is so little information in it. The major changes are to appear in regulations and not in legislation. Your Lordships are being asked to vote blindfold on a minefield of unclear and unspecified regulations that are to be brought in at unknown dates and are of unknown content. This is not legislation; it is dictation; and it undermines the authority of Parliament. I am always willing to be corrected if I am wrong, but I think that there are 24 references to facilitating regulations, giving rise to some 85 separate provisions plus several orders and directions. I remind your Lordships that of course statutory instruments cannot be amended. I refer noble Lords to Clause 59, which provides that regulations may be made before they have been referred to, or before a response has been received from, the Social Security Advisory Committee, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council or the Occupational Pensions Board. It seems to me that by taking away this process of consultation the Government are taking unto themselves the most extraordinary dictatorial powers. I suggest that Clause 59 is a very arrogant clause that destroys the pattern of consultation which has created some consensus over the years and has helped the public to have some confidence in the fairness of decisions. We live in a complex society and the aim of any government should be to resolve those complexities and not aggravate them. I have said that the extension of government by regulation is unacceptable in a democracy and that the Bill does not provide Parliament, nor the public, with sufficient clarity, leaving alone what the lawyers will make of this miasma. There are many difficulties about the Bill that our legal friends will have to face. I wish to speak briefly to five especially controversial themes. I hope that in accordance with the promise of the Leader in the other place we shall have days and days for the Committee stage of this important Bill. The first anxiety is about the emasculation of the state earnings-related pension scheme. But I shall leave other noble Lords who are cleverer than I to deal in detail with that. Secondly, there are the new income support arrangements which will require the poorest people to pay 20 per cent. of their rates out of what will be for many an eroded income. That is another example of the Government's failure to integrate their policies. On 28th January (at col. 829 of the Official Report) the Secretary of State referred to an impending review of local government finance which would involve the proposition that all adult residents, not just householders, should contribute to the cost of local services. He said:
Why are we pre-empting this further new primary legislation and causing unnecessary anxiety? Does "all adult residents" include everybody over 18—students, young people on Manpower Services Commission courses, refugees and the sick? How will the Bill be divided among the family and lodgers? Will there be imprisonment for debt? It is impossible to accept that part of the Bill without linking it to the other considerations about local government finance. The third anxiety is about the proposal to switch the new family credit to the wage packet, usually that of the husband. I appreciate that the Minister has said that discussions are going on about this. I hoped that she would be able to tell us today what amendment the Government are prepared to make. What with a Green Paper, a White Paper and the Bill having gone through all its stages in another place, I should have thought that someone would have had time by now to decide whether a family credit payment to the husband was right. I hope that many Members of your Lordships' House will insist that there must be a change, however it is made, in that situation. There has been widespread opposition to the proposal not least, I find, from employers. On 19th May (at col. 149 of the Official Report) the Secretary of State promised to reconsider the mechanism of payment of the the family credit scheme,"The proposed social security structure will have to be developed in the light of discussions on the Green Paper. One option would be to extend the present rebate arrangements to the proposed new community charge. That could be done only after introducing new primary legislation".
When are we to have that amendment? "Another place" means us; so we must know about it fairly soon. At present the take-up of family income supplement is only about 50 per cent. The new family credit system may find even fewer applicants, especially if a man's employers are involved. He may not want his employer to know how many children he has, legitimate or illegitimate; whether he is married, single, separated, divorced or a fly-by-night, as some of the most attractive men are. Many employers will not want to know and will not want that accounting nuisance to be a burden on their small business—which this Government are supposed to be encouraging! We had a piece of glossy paper last week about reducing government interference. The noble Lord, Lord Young, is keen to reduce red tape for small businesses; yet the Government are bringing in a provision that will mean that every employer, small or large, has to find out who is married, who is sleeping around, who is wicked and whose children are deaf, dumb or stupid. It is a most appalling situation. We have to bear in mind that people change their jobs. Will this piece of paper—the kind of piece of paper that the noble Lord is trying to abolish—follow the man around from job to job? I think of itinerant building or agricultural workers who will have this ball of string or paper tied on to them in order that the Government and their employers may know the circumstances of their personal life. Moreover the Bill is unclear about what benefits are to be included in the credit payments. There could be complications with housing benefit. I understand also that instead of free school meals, to which the noble Baroness referred, a notional amount will be included in the family credit to cover the cost of school meals. That seems to me—and I am open to correction—that the children must take the money to school. In how many poor households will there by any money left at the end of the week or in times of urgent need? Clause 59 takes away the discretion of local authorities to provide free meals to children from poor families who may be just above the family credit line or who may have other problems, perhaps of uncaring or inadequate parents. Goodness knows, there has been enough publicity in recent times about the difficulties of children with uncaring parents. The fourth major cause for distress is the proposed cut of about £450 million in housing benefit. I mentioned this earlier, but it is relevant to remind your Lordships of the absurd suggestion of taking away half of the mortgage interest help for people on supplementary benefit. A struggling unemployed worker, trying his best to become an owner-occupier in Thatcherite Britain, will be in fear and danger of losing his home. In 1985, 16,600 homes were repossessed for mortgage default. Ten per cent. of homeless families are in that plight because of repossession. It seems that the Government are determined to increase the number of those in trouble. The fifth anxiety to which I wish briefly to refer arises from the social fund concept. That is supposed to amalgamate existing benefits and single payments to people now on supplementary benefit. The Bill empowers the social fund to make loans, not grants. People are on supplementary benefit because they are at or below the accepted poverty line, which, goodness knows, is low enough. According to the Bill, those loans are to be recoverable by deductions from weekly benefit, thus burying the poorest people deeper in the pit of their poverty. Under the Bill, they are to pay 20 per cent. of their rates out of their benefit; they are to lose 50 per cent. of their help with mortgage interest, and they are to pay whatever is decided as a repayment to the social fund. How much poorer do the Government want the poorest people of this country to become? It is not targeting on the worst off; it is crucifying the worst off. It is an escalation of deprivation. This measure should be called the social insecurity Bill. In my view, only the pawnbrokers will benefit from it. The proposals will turn disadvantaged men and women into mendicants: the Bill pauperises people who already feel rejected and desperate, or otherwise they would not be appealing to this reincarnation of the board of guardians. It is difficult to go into further details because we do not know how the fund will work, what money it will have, what will be the basis of the assessment of peoples' entitlement, whether there will be continuity in its payments or whether people are to be left in miserable uncertainty about what they will receive the next time they apply. The worst aspect of the proposed social fund machinery is that at present the Bill provides no right of appeal to an independent tribunal. I appreciate that the Government have promised to look at that matter again. Whatever may be the views of noble Lords on the Bill, I submit that that is an outrage against natural justice and civil rights. I refer noble Lords, not to my thoughts, but to the special report of the Council on Tribunals chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Gibson-Watt, whom I seem to remember as a loyal member of the Conservative Party. The report comes from people who are not exactly a militant commune. Paragraph two states:"so that time for amendment can be found in another place".
Whatever one's views are about the social security system in this country, I submit that that is completely wrong in principle. There are few processes in which the citizen is prevented, through executive decisions, from making an appeal, giving him an opportunity to assert his rights and to query decisions about himself made by other people. It is not clear—this is very important—that aggrieved people would be able, through their Member of Parliament or otherwise, to take the matter to the Minister who is answerable ultimately to Parliament. In paragraph six, the report states:"One of the proposals in the White Paper concerns appeals. It is that there should be no right of independent appeal against decisions made about payments and loans from the Social Fund … The Council on Tribunals believe this proposal to be misconceived. It would abolish a right of independent appeal which has existed for over 50 years … The further right of appeal to the Social Security Commissioners and the courts would also be eliminated".
The report adds that in the four years 1981–84 over 25,000 decisions on single payments were changed on appeal by tribunals. To abolish those tribunals means that there could be at least 25,000 people who do not obtain fairness and justice. The report goes on to say:"It is most unusual, if not unique, for neither of these methods of redress to be available. It would involve an important constitutional change in the field of social security, which is anyway difficult and sensitive. The findings of an official in a DHSS office would be final".
I respect the noble Baroness the Minister who has to repeat only what her friend in the other place has said about listening to the arguments, but I hope that it will not be long before we hear more of the arguments. I apologise for going on so long, but I do so only because the Bill is so long and so important. The Minister for Social Security has undertaken to appoint people called "social fund inspectors" to whom appeals can be made. However, he clearly stated:"It is generally accepted that more than a quarter of all decisions on supplementary benefit are incorrect."
I have read all that. It ruined my holiday. That does not meet our objections. Unless an amendment of substance is made in this House Clause 33(10) will remain, and, in case not every noble Lord has had time to look at it, I shall read it. It states:"They will be officials of the Department."—[Official Report, Commons, 19/5/86; col. 43.].
How is a poor disabled person to contemplate his rights under such a law? I should like the noble Baroness the Minister to tell me whether people who feel that something has gone wrong with their application to the social fund will be able to apply to the courts. I remind her of the case of the board and lodging payments—the famous Cotton case which cost the Government a great deal of money because the applicant was able to apply to the High Court against the considered injustice of payments being made under regulations. Disabled people will not know what they are or are not to receive. We do not know how much money will be available. We know only that the death grant is also to be abolished. I mention that briefly because I think that it is a serious breach of a contributory insurance benefit for which some of us have been paying for over 30 years. Of course, there have been discussions by all parties about the future of that payment. Strictly speaking, it is not a grant but an insurance payment. No commercial insurance company would be able to divest itself of such an obligation. Some of us who may now be in the funeral belt had thought that our lifetime contributions might have bought a few daisies for £30 or perhaps a bottle of bubbly for anyone who mourns our departure. That £30 is not much, but it is my £30. It is a contractural benefit to which I have contributed all my working life. I feel that this is a serious breach of what should be a government contract. It is in such a context that we must discuss this abominable Bill. I believe that the Government have misjudged the mood of the people. They seem to presume that we are a selfish, greedy people who enjoy telling a thin man to tighten his belt or a one-legged man to stand on his own two feet. They deliberately alienate the most disadvantaged and create the social tensions which they profess to deplore. I was reading the Bill the other Sunday. I should have had something better to do. I made myself read it while I had one eye on the television films of millions of people running the world for Africa. They were making a definitive statement of personal concern for other people. That I believe is the spirit of the future. This Government will destroy that spirit at its peril; and they will destroy themselves. I end on a note of hope. I think that the sun is rising somewhere. This Bill in its present form will be an albatross round the neck of every Conservative candidate in the next election. But the position is that the changes in maternity and funeral grants do not start until April 1987. Other parts of the Bill take effect from April 1988. There may, sadly, still be a Conservative Government in 1987, but, I am confident, not in 1988."An officer shall determine any question under this section in accordance with any general directions issued by the Secretary of State, and in determining any such question shall take account of any general guidance issued by him".
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for her comprehensive explanation of the contents of the Bill. However, I must support the protest made by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, about the fact that this Second Reading debate on a very important Bill comes on so late in the day.I must declare an interest. I am an insurance broker specialising in life assurance pensions. Our first criticism of this Bill from these Benches would be that as far as we can see no attempt has been made to arrive at a consensus with the Opposition parties particularly in the field of pensions. An attempt of that kind might not have succeeded but it would have been worth trying because of the disruption which continued disagreement between the parties over pensions in the years ahead is bound to cause. Our second criticism is that the proposals—although they are set out in a lengthy Bill—are nevertheless not comprehensive. They do not cover and tie together the whole of the benefit field. Tax and social security are not to be integrated. It is true that as a result of the Bill they will be better aligned. The use of net income in the calculation of the three income-related benefit and common rules will see to that. We welcome that; but it is still far short of the full integration of income tax and social security benefit which we on these Benches are pledged to achieve. In fact there will be no tax credit scheme. The Government have made it clear in their Green Paper on personal taxation that they oppose what they call Big Bang solutions. Among those they include tax credit or basic income guarantee schemes. This means that no effort is made in the proposals to take people in large numbers off means-tested benefits. That some 8 million people are dependent today on supplementary benefit is in our view a very unsatisfactory aspect of the current situation. Too much is left in the Bill—and here I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger—to regulations. It is difficult to see how the problems in the social security field can be solved on a nil cost basis. The consequence of trying to do that is that one inevitably has losers and gainers—and more losers than gainers it seems. Some 2.1 million people would be better off as a result of the Bill and 3.8 million people would be worse off. There is much shifting of resources from the poor to the poor, from the right-hand pocket of the poor to the left-hand pocket of the poor. In the pension field the emphasis is on future pensions rather than on today's pensioners. The basic pension is not to be raised. Nearly 2.5 million pensioners will lose out under the proposals that are set out in the Bill. Perhaps I may enumerate various particular concerns. We are concerned whether the client group premiums under income support will compensate for the loss of supplementary benefit payments for additional requirements. We are not satisfied that the family premium would be high enough. We are particularly concerned about the position of those in receipt of the disabled premium. What is the position going to be, for example, with regard to payment for domestic help? Will all disabled people who now receive payment for additional requirements be eligible for the disability pension? Should there not be a premium for carers? With regard to family credit, we are glad that the Government are thinking again about payment through the employer. It is sometimes said that this is what would happen under a tax credit scheme. But in the scheme of that kind which was drawn up by my party the benefits in respect of children are paid direct to the caring adult, which would normally be the mother. We are worried about the future of child benefit. We seek a guarantee from the Government that they will maintain the real value of child benefit in the future which they did not do last November. We continue to oppose the 20 per cent. contribution to rates by every householder. For the poorest this will simply have to come out of benefit, which seems to us to be absurd. We are very unhappy about the discretionary cash limited social fund. We do not view with favour—nor did the noble Baroness who preceded me—loans instead of grants to people on income support. We deplore the absence of a right of appeal, as again did the noble Baroness. We do not see any reason for a lower rate of income support for single people under 25. We shall want to look carefully and critically at the Government's proposals as they affect widows, and at the effect of the withdrawal of the free school meals from those receiving family credit. We are also concerned about the effect of the Bill on refugees—and my noble friend Lord NcNair will refer to that. Perhaps I may now say a word about pensions. There are three specific points. I must confess that I am not happy about the right being given to a member of an occupational pension scheme to opt out of it at any time. I fear that that will undermine good final salary schemes. I would have preferred it if the option not to join had been available only when first becoming eligible to join such a scheme. I do not oppose personal pensions, but I would point out that an employee not covered by an occupational scheme already has the option to take out a Section 226 personal policy in addition to SERPS. All the Bill will do is to allow the employee to forgo his SERPS and have the rebate added to his personal pension policy. That is I think of limited advantage. I am concerned about the 2 per cent. incentive to encourage employers and employees to contract out. It seems unfair that those who have already done this should not receive the 2 per cent. It seems positively wrong that 2 per cent. should be paid to induce employees to leave a contracted-out final salary scheme, for a contracted out personal pension policy. If I understood aright what the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, said, I am glad that the Government are prepared to think again about that. Perhaps I may make one or two general comments about pensions. Good pensions are as necessary today as they will be in the middle of the next century. People are very worried—and rightly—that in the middle of the next century employees may be retiring on an inadequate basic pension. But what about the fact that many people are already retired today on an inadequate basic pension? After all, it is for today's pensioners that we are asked to pay. Somebody else will have to pay for tomorrow's pensioners. If an adequate state pension of, say, 50 per cent. of average national earnings for a married couple and 33 per cent. for a single person were achieved then I believe earnings-related pensions could be left to the private sector. But in my view all employees should have the opportunity to secure an employers' contribution to a private pension if they themselves are prepared to save. It is not a sound principle to ask future generations to pay more for their pensioners than we are prepared to pay for ours. A piece of briefing material which I received in the course of the last few days contained the following information:
Of course that is quite untrue. There is no saving at all. The money which is paid today goes to pay for today's pensioners. A commitment is placed on future generations, but there is no saving for it. I made all those points on 24th June 1975 when we had the Second Reading in this House of the Social Security Bill which set up the present arrangements. I believe that those points are as valid today as I believed them to be at that time. I suggested when we discussed the Green Paper recently that the logic of those points might suggest that the best way to proceed would be to abolish SERPS, maintaining accrued rights; to end contracting out; and to have everyone pay contracted-in rates, which would provide the £4 billion necessary to increase the basic pension by 25 per cent. Over and above that I suggested that we should provide that any employee without an occupational scheme and who saved in a personal pension policy could receive a matching contribution up to 3 per cent. of his earnings from a central account administered by the Government but financed by a levy on all employers without an occupational scheme. That would be a less complicated version of employer-supported personal pensions. The consequences of those arrangements would be a substantial improvement for today's pensioners. In the year 2026 approximately the same amount would be being spent on state pensions as under the Government's proposals, but it would be spent differently because more would go to the less well off and less to the better off The cost of course would drop off as the accrued pensions ran out, allowing the opportunity to increase the basic pension further. There would be no more contracting-out complications. There would be a clear demarcation line between state and private sector, whether the private sector were an occupational pension or a personal pension plan. No employee would be without the opportunity to secure an employer's contribution to a private pension if he were prepared to save himself. A further increase in the basic pension could be made as and when this was possible. That is a possible alternative to the proposals which are set out in the Bill, and it is an alternative which I should have liked the Government to consider. However, my principal plea tonight is for a substantial increase in the basic pension so that today's pensioners can enjoy what is planned for tomorrow's. In conclusion, I repeat that while there are some improvements in the Bill, we regret that it is not comprehensive and that it does not integrate income tax and social security benefits. We do not think a satisfactory reform can be achieved on a nil cost basis, and we are very concerned about the effect in practice of a great many of the proposals which the Bill contains. In the pension field we think that the proposals give today's pensioners a raw deal."The state earnings-related scheme plays an important function providing a satisfactory means of saving for retirement for all employees".
My Lords, after listening to three such careful and substantial speeches, I am sure that your Lordships will agree that social security systems are about, or are meant to be about, the meeting of some very basic human needs and about the ways in which society attempts to do that.In responding last year to the Green Paper on the reform of social security the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility warmly welcomed the Government's readiness to consider how the present system is working and to think in fresh ways about its future. Our submission contained and reaffirmed two Christian convictions in particular—convictions which I know are shared by members of other faiths and many Members of this House. First, every person is made in the image of God, and so all should be respected and valued. In that sense we are all interdependent and have a shared responsibility for one another, which includes meeting the genuine spiritual, mental and physical needs of those who are poor or handicapped. Secondly, welfare policies should aim to help every person to grow and develop as individuals, so that each one can make his or her contribution to the wellbeing of the community. That goes a little further than simply saying that it is about the relief of need. From that point of view children and young people are often the most vulnerable, since the effects of damage done to them in the early years can be very hard to overcome later. Therefore, any change of policy which puts children or young people more at risk in our society is to be resisted the more strongly. Since last autumn we have had the White Paper, and now this Bill is before us today. The first part of the Bill has already been extensively discussed in another place and for that reason at least I do not want to comment on it now. The proposed simplifications in the structure of social security are welcomed for the sake of both those who seek help and those who have to administer the present complicated mass of regulations. The efforts made in this Bill to alleviate the worst effects of the poverty and the unemployment traps through the proposed family credit scheme will be good news for many low-paid families with children. We in the Churches certainly welcome those aspects of the Bill. Yet, in spite of those gains, there is still considerable disquiet—some of which has already been voiced—and not least among many of our Church-based organisations which are closely involved with the relief of distress, the support of the family and work among children and young people. I believe that there are at least two fundamental reasons for this disquiet as well as some specific criticisms of the Bill itself and about how parts of it may work in practice. The first general or fundamental point is the one that has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, and by the noble Lord, Lord Banks. Any substantial improvements to the social security system in this country will have to move away from the present emphasis on means testing to an emphasis on integrating basic benefits for all with personal taxation. There are a number of reasons for that, all I think emerging steadily more clearly as the present system becomes ever more expensive and difficult to administer. For example, means testing, especially where unemployment is concerned, acts as a disincentive to part-time work and initiative. Conversely, it feeds the so-called black economy. All the signs are that employment patterns in the future, the long-term future, will have to be more varied and more flexible. Our laws on taxation and social security should help that to happen, whereas at present they very seldom do. Again, as we know and as has already been said very clearly, Beveridge rested his policy on an assumption of near full employment in the country; a modern social security system cannot do so. That must mean that we now start in a very different place. Again, the provision of basic income for all (which would not be all that different in principle from the income support now proposed in the Bill for some) together with generous child benefit and housing benefit or credit appropriate to each part of the country would lead to a major reduction in the huge numbers of people now claiming some kind of benefit. It would reach those who fail to claim, and it would reduce also the large numbers of people required at present to means test their fellow citizens. That in turn should mean that a more thorough and humane service could be provided for those who would still require some extra care and support. Arguments centre on the cost of such a change, and I recognise that much work needs to be done still, but I am more and more sure that a final solution is far more likely to be along this path than any other. Although it is not fair in one sense to criticise this Bill for not dealing with that, one has to say that that is a fundamental weakness which makes it more difficult to judge the rest of it dispassionately. The second main question is this: what is the nature and extent of poverty in our society at the present time? It is a word we are using all the time, and a word we are going to use a great many more times this evening. Clearly standards change in certain respects. The Family Policy Studies Centre has been mentioned as one of the bodies which has done work on this, and so have many other groups including the Family Service Units, but usually only enough to show how much more remains, and needs, to be done. Until we define poverty more precisely in ways which are appropriate, for instance, to the actual family situations widely prevalent today, such as the distressingly large number of single families, it is difficult to say whether we are in fact spending too much, or too little, or have it about right. We know roughly what the present system costs. We know that unemployment has pushed these costs up massively in the last few years. We know much less about the long-term effects of this trend and about the hidden costs to other bits of government spending on health or education as a result of, say, bad housing, malnutrition, or hypothermia. Understandable anxieties about what is called "demand-led spending" can sometimes direct attention from what must logically be our paramount and primary task, which is the prevention, as well as the relief, of genuine, injurious poverty and hardship, and then to the identification of where that is to be found in our society today, and how it can best be met and overcome. This has a first claim on a nation whose standard of living continues to rise in real terms for a majority of its citizens. Will the level of benefits be sufficient when we seem to have done so little work recently on the extent of the needs they are designed to meet? More precisely, by what process will decisions be made, for instance, on the "applicable amount"? Will such decisions be open to public scrutiny or debate? I turn now to some more particular points, some of which have already been mentioned, and others of which, or the same ones, I am sure will be dealt with in much more detail by later speakers, but which I am aware, as your Lordships will realise, have aroused particular concerns in many Church and voluntary organisations. First, the proposed method of paying family credit runs contrary to a widespread conviction that it ought to be payable to the mother, unless of course she has left the home. The Secretary of State stated in another place that he now recognised the strength of feeling on this issue, and would think about it again. I am glad to know that the noble Baroness confirms this, and I hope it will not be long before we hear what that alternative method might be. Secondly, there is great unease about the proposal to make some payments out of the social fund as loans. History is littered with examples of how lending can actually increase poverty, whether for nations or for individuals. While it may be appropriate in some cases, and I suppose therefore helpful, to have the freedom to do this, can we be assured that grants will remain the norm, and will the Minister be issuing clear and specific guidelines in this controversial area? In the notes that I received only half an hour before this debate began, I tried to find an answer to this question but I am afraid I did not do so. Therefore, I hope the Minister will forgive me if I missed the answer there. Thirdly, any Bill which gives discretionary powers to civil servants will not only indicate the limits within which those powers can be exercised—or one hopes that it will—but should provide some kind of appeal mechanism—this has been stressed already—and especially, as with taxation, when discrepancies could arise between different offices. Will the proposed mechanism in Clause 34 be sufficient to cover, for instance, that kind of wider issue, and again will claimants making an appeal for review be entitled to legal representation? Fourthly, child benefit is hardly mentioned in the Bill since it appears to remain intact. Here is a benefit which is not means tested, although it can be clawed back in part through taxation, and which by and large is simple to understand, simple to administer, helps those it is intended to help and goes right to the heart of some of the greatest areas of need in our community at the present time. It is, in short, a most popular benefit, but is it as safe as it looks? In Chapter 9 of the report, Faith in the City, it was particularly recommended that this benefit should not only be retained but increased as "a crucial means of preventing poverty". Can the Minister assure us tonight that this benefit is still high on her priority list and that of her department?Faith in the City devoted quite a lot of space to the future of social security and related issues, and it would perhaps be appropriate for me to end with a quotation from paragraph 97 in Chapter 9 of this report.
There is then a reference to a Gallup Poll in November 1984 which came out with similar findings. The report ends:"Politicians may well ask: do you really believe that those in work would be prepared to make real financial sacrifices to help those who are in poverty—particularly those out of work? We believe that they would—provided that the sacrifice was a shared one and equitably made. There is a collective concern about poverty and unemployment which has yet to find a means of being translated into action. A survey carried out in 1983, reported in the Government's Social Trends 1985, indicated that by a substantial margin (72 to 22 per cent.) the public's view was that the gap between those with high incomes and those with small incomes was too large. In the same survey, 32 per cent. of people said that more should be spent on health, education and social benefits out of increased taxation. Only 9 per cent. wanted cuts in taxation with less spent on health. education and social benefits."
My Lords, it is our hope that this Bill can be so amended in its passage through this House as to confirm that national concern."We are aware that social survey evidence of this kind cannot be conclusive. But it does indicate—and the Church should affirm—that there is a national tradition of collective altruism".
My Lords, the time is late. Some of us say that at five o'clock some afternoons, but as one of the "also rans", one of the first Back-Benchers speaking, I hope to set a good example by speaking very briefly.We have heard brilliant speeches on this very important Bill. I do not think that the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, for whom I have a great deal of respect, has spoken to the same Bill. I could not quite understand what she was talking about, but I know she has given a great deal of time to studying this Bill, as I have; but we have obviously come to different conclusions. I too have had many representations from organisations and private people, all of whom have been anxious about their own particular part of the Bill. They obviously do not seem to think that change is necessary. But they did not even know, for example, that at the moment there are 16,000 paragraphs on supplementary benefit. I do not know how on earth people, whether they are recipients or those who are administering supplementary benefit, are expected to understand the Bill as it is now. Your Lordships will not be surprised to know that I welcome this Bill. I should like to congratulate my noble friend the Minister on the clarity with which she put it before the House this afternoon. It is necessary that the arrangements which are made for those less well off and for the pensioners in this country should be overhauled as soon as possible. That is desperately needed in view of the changing circumstances. I am very interested and am helped in my knowledge of the Bill to realise that so much has been done to bring the Bill as it is drafted before your Lordships after it has been in another place. In the different circumstances, to which the right reverend Prelate so eloquently referred, it is designed primarily to help those who need it most, who need the finances of this country, especially the low-paid families with children. Those surely must be the top priority in our country today. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, covered the pensions adequately. As I do not know anything about them, I shall not even allude to them. However, I should like to mention widows first and briefly, because I have an interest, as well as one or two other Members of your Lordships' House. I am national chairman of the National Association of Widows. I should like to say how much we welcome the £1,000 tax free that will be given to widows on the death of their husbands. They will not have to wait or to queue up for it; it will be automatic. Obviously I have not been able to take a raincheck on all of them, because there are over 3 million today, but the widows will prefer the £1,000 tax free to the 26 taxable instalments that they have received up to now. I am pleased to read that the £1,000 will be disregarded when and if help is needed by widows for paying for funerals and other expenses, from the social fund. Other Members have mentioned the social fund. I take up something that other Members have mentioned. Obviously the social fund—although the people administering it will be properly and adequately trained—must be flexible. Therefore I submit that the guidelines set out cannot always be adhered to. I think that is right. The trained staff will, I am sure, do their best, but where the Bill allows wide discretionary powers, problems and queries are bound to arise. I find the same problem that other speakers have found about appealing on the amounts that those who administer the social fund award to the various people who appeal for help. That is why I am pleased that the Minister announced this afternoon, I think for the first time, that inspectors will be able to hear appeals from local offices. She also mentioned—this is another of my interests outside this House—that people who have probably been in psychiatric hospitals and are sent out from hospitals into the community for the first time in their lives will be able to appeal to the social fund for help in setting themselves up in their new surroundings in the community. I think I am right in saying that. This is often, to my certain knowledge, a great trouble to them, for they try to get help from voluntary services and organisations. If they can go to the social fund that will be of help to them. For the first time since 1974—that is, 17 years ago—when the National Association of Widows asked the government of the day whether pregnant widows could also have maternity pay, the Government have now agreed that they should have maternity pay. There are very few widows in this particular category. Unfortunately it seems that because the age of the widow receiving widow's benefit is to be raised by five years, bringing the new age for receiving widow's benefit up to 45 years, it is not really likely even in these days that a pregnant widow will be able to have widow's benefit. I may be wrong, but I do not believe that science has quite got that far. My noble friend Lady Lane-Fox will be talking about the disabled. I want to make two or three comments. First, I am glad to see that the earnings disregard is going up from £4 to £15 and that also there will be an extra premium for a family which has a blind child or a child who is receiving attendance or mobility allowance. I do not know how many families are involved, but there must be a considerable number. I think that is an imaginative part of the Bill. Also, an extra premium will be paid if necessary to the disabled. I think my noble friend will be covering that. I want to say a little about families on low income and the fact that so far as I am aware it stands out in the Bill that those are the people to whom the Government are giving top priority. Child benefit will continue to be paid to the mother through the Post Office. I believe there will be a certain amount of query about the payment of family credit instead of family income supplement. It is estimated that the family credit will go to twice as many families with children who work for 24 hours a week or more. At the moment—and I say "at the moment" because I think that there might be some query about this—it is to be paid by the employer to the wage earner. I think that it is assumed that the wage earner will be the father of the family, but I do not think that in the north of the country at this time—and I hope that it will improve—it is necessarily the father who is the wage earner. I think that it is very often the mother who is now the wage earner. Therefore, I have given this as much time and thought as I could. At first, I came up with the thought that it should be paid to the mother, but on reflection and also for the reason which the noble Baroness has put before us tonight (that is, that the employer would then have to know a considerable amount about the finances of his employee) I am not certain that this is quite the right way of approaching the payment of the family credit. Also, there will be a family premium to help the people with low incomes. This Social Security Bill, as I have said, is going to change a great deal of people's thinking in this country. I hope that those who, like me, are prepared to help this Bill along, will be ready for change, because change is not only our ally; it has to be made. The way that the system is administered at the moment is inadequate. It is very expensive to operate and I personally think that it is often very unfair. I hope that noble Lords will never again say that this Government are not a concerned government and not a caring government. Personally, I think that this Bill proves that this Government are both and I wish them well.
My Lords, I can certainly join with the noble Baroness who has just sat down in congratulating the noble Baroness who opened this Second Reading debate on her comprehensive outline of how she sees the provisions of the Bill. But I cannot really go any further; the noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that I cannot follow her any further down the road she takes.Since 1980 we have had a series of Social Security Acts all designed to deal with one or other aspect of the system, all with two things in common: first, a nil-cost basis or nil-cost approach, and then an extension of means-tested benefits. Like other noble Lords, I have been critical both here, and in the other place when I was a Member there, of this approach to the problems of our social security system. I have opposed this Government's piecemeal approach whenever they have brought their smaller Bills forward in this House because it seemed to me—and I see nothing different at the moment—that their attempts to solve all the problems of social security simply by cutting resources and cutting staff and redistributing what is left more thinly over the whole system were not the right way to go about the review or reform of the social security system. I have always believed, too, that the changes proposed in all the measures that have been enacted since 1980 have never been sufficiently funded. Based on the nil-cost approach, they were never adequately funded and, because they were never adequately funded, the system has gradually fallen into crisis—though, come to think of it, perhaps not gradually. The social security system is now in serious crisis, and I do not think that anybody should have any doubts about that. The Secretary of State himself realised that when he announced the complete review. He called it the most thorough review since Beveridge. He announced that in 1984. Like other Members of your Lordships' House, I queried at that time the terms of reference of the review and the period that was to be allowed for the consultative process. Nevertheless, I accepted that there was a need for review and, with others, I awaited the outcome. My first disappointment came when the structure of the review became clear. It was in fact a number of separate reviews, each covering only partial aspects of the social security system, but with no apparent overview of the whole system. I took the view that the separate elements of the social security system could not be put right unless the basic structure was right, unless the fundamental principles outlined by Beveridge were accepted and maintained, and unless there was a willingness to provide resources to fund the changes which we all felt were necessary. So I take a completely different stance from that of the previous speaker in that regard. I can give some examples of my disappointment. One of the changes in conditions as compared with when the scheme was first introduced in 1948–49 has been the massive increase in unemployment—an increase from 1 per cent. then to 13 per cent. now. What is the Government's long-term view about how unemployment should be funded? What do they think the future unemployment figure will be and when will it flatten out? That should have been a part of the public review, part of the consultative process. We should have had answers and discussions on that very vital point. There was none. There has also been—and this has been mentioned—an enormous increase in the number of single-parent families, for a number of reasons. There are now over 2 million single-parent families. But there was no real public discussion or public review in the consultative process on how the Government envisage dealing with this aspect in the longer term rather than by the piecemeal measures that they have included even in this Bill. My disappointment lay there as well. Then there has been a swing to community care from institutional care for the handicapped and disabled. That has created a need for change. It is not just my view but also the view of most of the organisations which deal with and represent disabled people that the Government, by some of the provisions in the Bill, might force people back into institutions by putting community care beyond their means, and so undoing what has been attempted by successive governments. Again I was disappointed and dissatisfied with the inadequacy of the consultative process. The Green Paper was published in June 1985 and we were given three months to complete the consultative process. Those three months included the two holiday months of July and August. It was not really in my view a very fair and long enough term in which to carry out this consulation. The White Paper appeared in late November and the Bill was given a Second Reading just a few weeks later in January 1986. Given the length and complexity of this Bill and the tight timetable that I have briefly outlined, I think that one could be forgiven for thinking that the Bill was already in draft while consultation was still in progress and that the Government had made up their mind well in advance of that consultative process about what they were going to propose. As well as that, I would argue that the Government have no mandate for the changes now being proposed in the Bill. On the contrary, in previous elections and since the Prime Minister herself has given specific pledges on both pensions and child benefit, and both of these will be radically altered if this Bill becomes an Act. There will undoubtedly be some long debates during the Committee stage on the proposals contained in this Bill and so I shall not now go into too much detail on many of the points that worry me. But I should like to touch in general terms on just one or two aspects of the Bill that cause me particular concern. In her opening remarks my noble friend Lady Jeger referred to a number of facilitating regulations, orders and directions and the enormous powers that are given to the Secretary of State under this Bill. I have calculated, and so have others, that at least 19 of the 70 clauses in the Bill create major new powers to determine matters by regulations. I hope this is something that will be vigorously pursued when we come to the Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Banks, as always, has helped most of us by dealing in his expert fashion—none of us would dare to contradict him on this subject—with the subject of pensions. He relieves us of a tremendous task in that respect. The SERPS and the pension provisions have been probably the only aspects of this Bill which have had much public discussion at all. This is one aspect of the Bill that has been widely discussed in public. I do not quarrel with that and I would have loved all the other aspects to have had the same treatment; but unfortunately that has been reserved for pensions. So again, when we come to the Committee stage, I am sure we shall be able to support what the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has already started. I should like to concentrate on one or two other aspects. First, it seems to me that the Bill is really an enabling Bill. I do not know whether the noble Baroness has found the same, but I find it is very difficult to study the Bill without cross-reference to the White Paper. Much of what might have been in the Bill and which is alluded to in the Bill is contained in the White Paper, and so it is difficult to study the Bill without reading the White Paper in conjunction with it; and that makes for complications. One of my main concerns has been mentioned already: that is the proposals for the increase in private provision and for means-tested benefits. I am concerned mainly with Part II and the income-related benefits. It was the Secretary of State himself, Mr. Fowler, who admitted in a letter to the Child Poverty Action Group in 1984 that by their nature means-tested benefits are complicated to legislate for, to administer and to understand, and they are generally the most expensive benefits in terms of the manpower needed to administer them. More recently, Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, MP, in a speech made in the other place in July, 1985, said that means-testing creates effects that are the precise opposite of the Government's much praised and often stated aims of hard work, thrift and self-reliance. Yet here in this Bill we have a deliberate attempt to diminish the role of contributory benefits in favour of private provision and means-testing. I am one of those who believes that the contributory benefit should be paid as of right to the sick, the disabled, the unemployed, the elderly and the handicapped; and to be forced to apply for a means-tested benefit takes many of us back to the 1930s and earlier. We all recall the stigma that still carries. That is the reason for the low take-up of means-tested benefits, certainly among older people, today. To force them back into that system is something that must be resisted. I say that it is against all the principles enunciated by Beveridge and operated in the main by successive governments ever since 1948–49. Part II also deals with income support, and I am very concerned about all three elements: income support, family credit and housing benefit. On income support, the consensus of informed opinion and all the professional evidence available that I have seen clearly demonstrates that severely disabled people who normally get help with heating, diet, laundry and domestic cleaning, could lose heavily. I am glad that the noble Baroness in her opening speech has committed the Government to taking a further look at this. We understand that they will perhaps be coming forward with further proposals, and we look forward to those. The heating needs of pensioners have been ignored in the Bill and I should have thought the Bill would have been an excellent opportunity to clear up a muddle and a fairly messy business; but that has been ignored. Also, the £400 million spent each year on heating additions is absorbed within the premium rates, but there is no detailed break-down of those rates. As a result, many thousands of pensioners will suffer an average loss of 80p per week. Some will lose more and some will lose less, but thousands will lose that amount. As regards the provision of an average sum for water rates in income support, this fails to recognise that some of those whose water rates are unavoidably above the average are people who live alone. Many of them are elderly, and they will suffer from the averaging-out of the water rate. Paragraph 3.42 of the White Paper dismisses the need for continuing help with housing costs. That again will adversely affect many elderly and disabled people. Perhaps I might read the paragraph very quickly. It says:
That is not a view which is shared by any of the voluntary organisations with which I have been involved for many years, and it is certainly not shared by the claimants and the pensioners who understand how that will work. I am glad to learn that the Government are thinking again about paying family credits into the wage packet. I could have read out from a list of 60 different organisations covering every aspect of society, including the CBI, the Institute of Directors and small employers, to mention just a few. Of those 60, I could find only one (the Monday Club) who were prepared to accept the Government's original proposals. I hope that even they will now be prepared to accept that the Government are bringing forward alternative proposals. On housing benefit, your Lordships will know that we have discussed this again and again, and I have participated in a number of discussions in your Lordships's House. I think it has become generally accepted that the scheme introduced by the present Government has become more unacceptable and more complicated than the two schemes it was supposed to simplify. I believe there is still scope for improvements in the Bill and I hope that we shall be able to amend it in Committee in line with the accepted opinion of people on the ground. We know that pensioners will again be losers in respect of this housing benefit. There are 170,000 working families with children who currently get help with rates and they will lose that help altogether. A further 290,000 families will lose all the help they get with rents. That is so that £450 million can be saved on the housing benefit cuts and, as I have said, they will be spread out more thinly over the rest of the system. Just a few words on the social fund: this has been mentioned by previous speakers but on the question of discretion—this fund is to be administered at officers' discretion—I was privileged to be a member of the Committee studying the 1980 Social Security Bill which ran for months and had all-night sessions. I can recall the fierce fight that the then Secretary of State, Patrick Jenkin, put up for the abolition of the discretionary system which had operated prior to 1980. In fact at that time he said:"The Government also proposed in the Green Paper that the income support scheme should no longer include separate assessment of water rates or other subsidiary housing costs such as insurance. Many of those commenting have expressed reservations about this, but the Government believe that they have exaggerated the effect on claimants and under-estimated the gains from this simplification for local office staff. These costs are among many elements of claimants' basic commitments where expenditure varies, and there seems no reason to make special provision for them to be met separately."
Then, having fought for it and destroyed the discretionary system that had existed, they now bring in the discretionary system as the answer to all the problems. I do not say that some changes were not necessary, but I certainly would not accept a discretionary system with no appeal. That is important, because in fact there is no appeal against that discretion at the moment. The death grant has been touched on. Again, I can recall a grouping of 49 volunteer organisations under the umbrella of Dignity in Death Alliance. I can remember 1 million signatures being taken down Whitehall in a hearse and delivered to the present Prime Minister at No. 10 Downing Street. I can remember the campaigns by the spina bifida committees, the soldiers' and sailors' and airmens' funds and the British ex-servicemen's organisations and the Churches and all the volunteer organisations. This death grant should be retained and brought up to its 1949 value. The estimate for doing that is 3p per week. That is the amount that would be necessary from the taxpayers to bring it up to its 1940 value. But in spite of these huge campaigns, often by their own people, the only reply from the Government is that it has to be abolished. They have allowed it to deteriorate to such an extent that it is now worthless; therefore, they wish to abolish it and introduce a means test. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, I think that that is an affront and an insult to all those people who have contributed through national insurance contributions to the death grant. I know that there will be repercussions and I firmly believe that if the people of this country were consulted in the kind of review that I should like to see (preferably through the ballot box) they would be prepared to accept and fund a comprehensive and sound social security system. That has been laid out in detail by a number of organisations. The trade unions involved and the DHSS themselves have put forward their proposals in two documents that they submitted to the Government. But the listening government did not listen. They produced this Bill instead. I hope that during the Committee stage of the Bill we can persuade the Government that they ought to listen to what is being said outside this House by people who understand these things and people who need the benefits to which in our view they are entitled."The present discretionary system has become unmanageable: unmanageable for claimants who do not understand it; unmanageable for staff at my department who cannot operate it; and unmanageable for the public who suspect it of abuse. Setting down the supplementary benefit frame in regulations will give a firmer and clearer framework."
My Lords, my problem in making a speech appropriate to a Second Reading is that we are now living in an entirely different world from that which existed when the present social security system was devised. The main weight of the problem is no longer principally in alleviating the special needs of the disabled, the handicapped, the old and very young, or even those who are in difficulties from unexpected or temporary unemployment. Although these people are as numerous as ever, they fall into insignificance compared with the mass of unemployed who, through no fault of their own and having no physical or mental disabilities, find themselves among the poorest in the land. A majority of these are first-class workmen. Many have considerable skills acquired over many years which, through structural or technical change, have become obsolete.These people, who may be called the structurally unemployed, probably at present (or soon will) exceed 5 per cent. of the total workforce. They receive benefits lower than those of many other claimants, finding themselves some of the poorest in the land and undergoing an experience of frustration and hopelessness which is completely undeserved. There are many who say that if the conditions of the unemployed are made too comfortable they lose the incentive to work, but however great the incentive, if there are no jobs to go to it serves no purpose. While I therefore welcome this Bill as a genuine attempt to make the system more efficient within the present resources and under the same basic policies, it remains a mass of detail which is hard to assimilate, and we must look forward to a long and contentious Committee stage. We must, I suppose, put aside to another time thoughts of a carefully co-ordinated system of benefits, national insurance, taxation and unemployment policy. Coming to the contents of the Bill, the Policy Studies Institute points out in its pamphlet Selective Social Security the four principal problems of the current weekly supplementary budget. These are, first, complexity for staff and confusion for claimants; secondly, failure of the arrangements for the sick and disabled; thirdly, discrimination against the unemployed in the setting of scales; and, finally, the hardship observed among families with children. Richard Titmuss said some years ago that the criteria for an efficient social service must be accessibility, acceptability and comprehensibility. In the case of accessibility, this refers not only to the physical problems but to access to information and to the appropriate personnel for advice and help. There is much improvement needed in this connection and I believe that this Bill makes a real effort to do that. In the case of acceptability, something is surely very wrong when only 50 per cent. take up their entitlements and the DHSS expects only 60 per cent. to do so under the new arrangements. When we come to comprehensability, there is no need to make any comment! The Policy Studies Institute report, when dealing with the adequacy of the benefits, shows that a DHSS-sponsored survey carried out in 1982 revealed that half of the couples with children on supplementary benefit ran out of money most weeks before the next payday. More than half experienced acute anxiety about money problems, and more than half (both parents and children) were missing items from a very meagre wardrobe. A similar number were in debt. The survey also showed that couples with children were considerably worse off than those without. All that points to a need for change, and in so far as it directs its attention to such problems as these, one must welcome the Bill. I want now to deal with the welfare of children. I am quite sure that the payment of child benefit, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Stallard, direct to the caring parent (usually the mother) was a great source of relief and comfort to those most in need. To replace that, even in part, by processing the proposed family credit through the wage earner's pay packet is a grave mistake. There seems to be objections from employers as well as from the various authorities and institutions who have studied the matter and I am glad this is going to be looked into again. I would go further and state that in my opinion child benefit should be substantially increased. The method of doing that, as recommended by many organisations, is to abolish the married man's allowance, which in fact would enable the present benefit to be doubled without costing the Exchequer a penny. I am not advocating going that far, but some compromise is surely justified. It is almost certainly true that the poorest group of people in this country are the unemployed couples with children, and there seems to be ample evidence that families should be brought up to the same level as other claimants. Social research from the days of Rowntree at the beginning of the century and up to the present shows that family incomes are at their lowest when they are most needed. It may be that the intention of the Bill is to rectify this through the new family credit and the family premium, but there are grave doubts as to whether this will solve the problem. Statistics vary on this point but many show that it will not solve the problem at all. It is not only the poorest who have grave financial problems. With married couples who have children, the problem goes way up the wage scale. Couples with children must from now on have greater assistance than they have at the present time. Of the many complexities and doubts that one has about this Bill, including the transfer of allowances, which is a great mistake, a small but very important one is the expense allowance of only £5 to unemployed people when they are on community service. Many voluntary bodies have told me that if it were limited to £5 their schemes would die overnight. I will speak about only one other matter and that is the social fund, about which practically everybody has talked. In the numerous letters and pamphlets that I have received in the last few weeks, comments have varied from outright condemnation to serious doubts. One of the most important elements of this Bill is to remove the powers of discretion from the local social security offices to a new body. The present system is chaotic and this change makes a lot of sense, provided that the new service is really efficiently run and that the guidelines, which I now understand are to be made public, are sufficiently comprehensive and comprehensible. But the great change from single grants to loans is distinctly daunting. I hope that the Minister in her reply to this debate will give the House further information about this. For instance, is it the intention to make single grants very much the exception? Will claimants be required to give very full details of both needs and means? Will there be no means of appeal other than some form of internal monitoring, described as an inspector? The Bill seems to me to be heavy on detail and somewhat light on policy. Perhaps I may end by calling the attention of the House once more to those three vital criteria spelt out many years ago by Richard Titmuss—accessibility, acceptability and comprehensibility.
My Lords, after such interesting speeches from distinguished Members of your Lordships' House, I promise that I shall be very quick. From my corner, I welcome the Bill, which faces facts realistically and is so very forward-looking. The seedbed that we now prepare will, among other things, grow a method to save those who follow us in the year 2000-plus from being overburdened with taxation to support elderly and disabled people. Do not mistake me, my Lords. Those groups of people will still be there all right. It is the means of their support that is to be shifted.I welcome the Bill, too, in that it simplifies and streamlines some benefits, especially those claimed by disabled people. It appears to some experts that the majority of disabled people will receive £4 to £5 extra in benefit per week, so a word of appreciation may not go amiss here. It will make a change at least, from the usual line taken by the media and by some pressure groups, and perhaps also by some Members of the Opposition, which suggests that disabled people are totally ignored and forgotten. Clearly there are some who did not live through the times when this really was the case—for instance, from 1945 to the 'fifties, when the needs of disabled people were entirely ignored. Today we should acknowledge improvements as they come, and sums of £4 to £5 per week extra are no small increase and deserve to be properly spoken about. After saying that, I have to say that I am anxious about two aspects of the Bill—those aspects which affect the most severely disabled people, who are least able to help themselves and who are most dependent on society. Here I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for her reference to the current survey and for her suggestion that its findings will be used to fit provision to existing cases. The fear was that policy would, over the years, reduce the cash paid to those disabled people who pay for their own care. Although I can see the advantage of turning this into a flat rate provision, that simply does not do the trick where there is even a tiny rate of inflation. Where there are rising costs, the cost of paying for a carer does not remain static. Those disabled people are worried, especially as they fear also that if they are away—and many have to go to hospital—they may be ineligible for the premium on their return. Disabled people are extremely worried that these things will be enough to break down the delicate structure on which they manage precariously to live in the community. This threat to their routine is increased by the fear that this signals other threats to their most precious independence for the future. They feel that their quality of life is jeopardised. Let me hurry to say that I believe their fears are unjustified, but I wonder whether the thinking behind the disablement premium does not take account of the situation of those unable to help themselves. It may not always be realised that any uncertainty over finance rocks the boat at home for extensively disabled people. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will make widely known her reassurances about this. It will help many anxious disabled people to overcome the threats and the rumours that are circulating and that can cause panic. On the question of insurance, it must never be forgotten that private insurance companies are necessarily harsh on severely disabled people. To many handicapped people this cover simply is not obtainable. We should be unworthy forerunners of the next century unless we pointed out these worries. Before ending, I have to ask the forgiveness of my noble friend the Minister and of your Lordships' House because, for reasons of care, I, alas, shall not be able to hear the end of the debate on the Second Reading of this Bill, which has my very best wishes.
My Lords, since the Government issued the Green Paper last year, there has been a substantial amount of discussion and a great deal of criticism. Some of it has been heeded but, nevertheless, the main thrust of Government thinking, as exemplified in the Bill, appears to remain the same.It is useful to recall the Government's stated aims, which were referred to by the Secretary of State when speaking on the White Paper in December last year, and were referred to this evening by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. The first was a simpler system of social security which provides a better service to the public. Social security is too complex with some 50 benefits each with separate, and sometimes conflicting, rules of entitlement. Secondly, the Government wanted to see people looking forward to greater independence in retirement. The aim was to have a financially more secure system, with more people covered by occupational and private schemes. Thirdly, the intention was to have more effective help going to those most in need. Families with children, low income families and the unemployed were identified as those most in need. Very few would disagree with these worthy objectives. The trouble is that the Bill before your Lordships' House this evening does not achieve those objectives. First, I should like to give some attention to the matter of pensions. It is really surprising that we should have had a new look at pensions when it is not so very long ago that legislation established—with what was then all-party consensus (and consensus was referred to earlier this evening by the noble Lord, Lord Banks)—an acceptable basis. Unions and employers accepted it and, in the time that has passed since the present legislation was enacted, have learned to live effectively with the system. The notion that pensions in retirement should bear some relationship to earnings while in work has attracted wide support. The state earnings-related pension scheme, SERPS, which was to have taken 20 years to mature, was seen as a tremendous step forward in pension provision. Of course, there were and are flaws. These were, and are, the failure to stipulate that there should be equality of benefits as between men and women, and in regard to pension provision for the early-leaver. However, steps have been taken already towards rectifying some of these flaws and the basic structure was and is a sound one. The concept of a partnership between good occupational pension provision and the state has been instrumental in encouraging the growth of occupational pension schemes with good minimum conditions, so that they could be contracted out of SERPS. Indeed, I believe that about 11 million people are currently covered by occupational pension schemes. The Government intended originally to get rid of SERPS altogether, but there was a great deal of opposition to this. What we now have, as my noble friend Lady Jeger said, is an emasculated SERPS. In the Bill SERPS pensions are to be based on a lifetime's earnings, not on the best 20 years. Special protection is, it is true, to be built in for women who have breaks in work to bring up families, and for those who become disabled and the people looking after them. Although this modification is to be welcomed because it shows that the Government are alive to the problem of breaks in work, it does not deal satisfactorily with the problem. Unemployed people lose out altogether, since they are not covered. Moreover, there are anomalies so far as women are concerned, particularly those who follow the quite common pattern of part full-time and part part-time work. The part-timers will lose out under that provision. The "best 20 years" provision was meant to assist all those with a chequered work pattern including low paid manual workers, those who suffer unemployment, and women with breaks in employment for domestic reasons. It is grossly unfair that these groups, already disadvantaged, should be further disadvantaged by the proposals in the Bill in relation to the future of SERPS. Incidentally, there is a disadvantage to the disabled as well because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, pointed out, disabled people will have great difficulty in getting private personal pension provision. The disappearance of the "best 20 years" provision in SERPS will disadvantage disabled people in particular because they also are inclined to have a chequered work pattern. SERPS is to be calculated on 20 per cent. of earnings rather than on 25 per cent. Widows and widowers over 65 will be allowed to inherit half of their SERPS rights rather than the full amount as now—a particularly mean economy measure it seems to me. The main thrust of the Government's proposals on pensions, however, appears to be designed to give encouragement to the growth of personal private pension schemes. A very substantial inducement—the noble Lord, Lord Banks, has already referred to this—is to be given to those who choose a private personal pension and in so doing opt against their own occupational pension scheme. A 2 per cent. rebate on national insurance contributions will be given to encourage not only new occupational schemes but also personal private pension scheme holders. The 2 per cent. bribe—and it is a bribe—has already occasioned a great deal of criticism not only from unions but also from employers, particularly those who have made good pension provision for their employees. It is a highly dubious proposition. It will give encouragement to inferior contracted-out schemes. It will be paid for by the national insurance contributions of all workers. It is quite unfair that contributions of everyone should be used to subsidise private personal pension schemes, some of which may be of doubtful value. It is the belief of both the CBI and the TUC that the arrangements proposed here will make personal pensions appear, in the short term at least, a low -cost and financially attractive option for younger people. They could thus be encouraged to opt out of occupational schemes and SERPS. Personal pensions are not likely to hold much attraction for older employees in good occupational pension schemes. But if the younger people opt out, this is likely over a period to undermine good schemes. Moreover, the protection for the good schemes—the requirement that membership of a scheme is a part of normal conditions of employment—is to be removed. Such a contractual provision will not be possible if the Bill passes unamended. This will inevitably lead to poorer pension provision when people are older. It will weaken the occupational pension structure so painstakingly assembled over the years; it will mean a decrease ultimately in private funding as good schemes become destabilised by younger people opting for private pensions sold by entrepreneurs—whose efforts, it is true, are to be monitored, which I think will be a difficult and horrendous task. In the end we shall all be paying more as taxpayers to maintain those who have lost out earlier in life and have not taken steps adequately to provide for themselves in old age. Good occupational pension provision should not be undermined. Money-purchase schemes should not be encouraged over and against provision based on final salaries or earnings. The concept of the guaranteed minimum pension—which was such an advance on anything we had before—should not be undermined. In the pensions field the Government should have left well alone. The Bill as it stands is committed to much poorer pension provision in the next century, and we should not agree to it. I should like to turn briefly to those aspects of the Bill concerned directly with social provision. A striking feature of it—other noble Lords have already referred to this—is that so much is left to regulations. This is particularly true of Part II where hardly anything is actually prescribed in the Bill. All is left to the regulations to be laid by the Minister. In regard to family credit, regulations will make provision as to the circumstances and the time at which the award is to cease, when family credit is to terminate, the circumstances in which a person is to be treated as being in or not being in Great Britain, what is relevant education, the circumstances in which a person is or is not to be treated as dwelling at his home, and so on. Further on the regulations will prescribe the manner in which appropriate maximum family credit and maximum housing benefit are to be determined. This seems highly unsatisfactory. It means that Parliament is expected to vote without knowing what the final shape of some of these important social provisions is likely to be. If so much is to be left to regulations, these should surely be published before the Bill passes into law. Parliament should have the opportunity to debate them before they become operative. On family credit, however, the important principle is the intention of the Bill that the payment is to be made through the wage packet, by the employer. I welcome the statement this evening by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, that this is to receive some further consideration. It must be said that neither side of industry relishes this proposition. The CBI does not like it; and the trade unions do not like it for the reason that it redistributes from women to men and because they regard it as an inducement to unscrupulous employers to pay lower wages. The CBI does not want it because of the added administrative burden the provision would put on its member firms. Quite rightly and sensibly, the CBI does not want to get its member firms involved in the private and family affairs of its employees. I hope that the Government will think again about this because unless they do so, we shall certainly put down an amendment. We are very much opposed to this provision and will press such an amendment in Committee. On the matter of the social fund (and I do not want to go over ground that has already been covered by other noble Lords) it seems essential that we should look at the proposal to have repayable loans rather than grants. It is quite unrealistic to expect people to budget out of already low benefits, out of a very low weekly income for basic essentials, and then to repay out of that the amounts of money necessary to purchase these items. Secondly, it is proposed that the fund should be cash limited. This will produce unfairness, with people with identical needs being treated differently, depending on the time in the financial year when they make their application. Thirdly, there is the whole matter of the right of appeal. The Government have said—and I am glad to see that there is some shift in thinking on this matter—that there is to be a review. But a review mechanism is not a right of appeal. The right of appeal which exists in the present social security system is a right to go usually before a tripartite body and to make an appeal submission. It is not the same to say that it will be subject to review. I hope that further attention will be given to that. There are other aspects with which I am sure other noble Lords will wish to deal. I refer to the removal of the right to free school meals for families on FIS. No doubt we shall return to this in Committee. However, there is one matter to which I must refer in some detail before I sit down. It is the provision about industrial injuries which I understand was added to the Bill at a very late stage in Committee in another place. As a result of that, if this provision leaves your Lordships' House unamended, employees with less than 14 per cent. disability will in future qualify for no disablement payment at all. Most work injury or disease victims would thus receive no payment unless they could establish negligence through the courts. The large majority of disablement awards are below the 14 per cent. figure and include those suffering from common prescribed industrial diseases such as dermatitis, occupational asthma and vibration white finger. There has been a steady decline in the number of new claims. That may be due—and I hope it is—to improved health and safety provision. On the other hand, it may reflect a decline in manufacturing industry that has resulted in fewer people working in high-risk environments. However, the amounts of money are quite significant for the individuals concerned. A life gratuity for a 13 per cent. disablement is currently worth £2,905; for 10 per cent. disablement, £2,300; and for 5 per cent. disablement, £1,245. I know it will be argued—indeed, it already has been—that it is the intention to put the money where there is most need. But those who have been injured have a need. They have been injured while working to provide us with goods and services. Our industrial injury scheme is the nearest thing that we have in this country to a no-fault system of compensation; such systems exist in some other countries. Remove that scheme and all that injured workers would be left with is the possibility of common law action in the courts. They would then be faced with the often formidable task of proving negligence—and the financial risks involved if the case is a difficult one are quite substantial. The proposals are clearly intended to save money overall. Indeed, a figure of £45 million has been mentioned. However, they will be bitterly resented by those who run the risk of such injury at work. Some work-places are inherently more unsafe than others and carry a higher risk of injury to those who work in them. It was a part of the thinking behind the original industrial injuries scheme that workers should be compensated for injuries sustained at work. It is not appropriate that those provisions should be introduced at a late stage in a Bill that has to do with social security provision. Since 1934 it has been a part of the social thinking in this country that there is a duty to promote the welfare of claimants. In a number of major and important respects the Bill appears to depart from that philosophy. I hope that we shall have the opportunity while the Bill is before us to return to that concept in suitable amendments.
My Lords, the Government have introduced this Bill under the pretext of trying to simplify the social security system and to ensure that help is given to those in greatest need. That is something we would all welcome, but hidden beneath the facade is a Bill that cuts £450 million from housing benefits; makes everyone, even the poorest, pay at least 20 per cent. of their rates; makes some 360,000 young unemployed worse off; revises upwards the age at which widows can receive a pension; abolishes the death grant: revises the maternity provisions; and halves the pension expectations of those in the next century. In all, it is a package that will make nearly 4 million people worse off.When the Government cannot provide special funds for those social benefits, for education, and for the National Health Service, it seems the height of folly to reduce income tax. Most of the extra money will be spent on imported goods, and it will provide only a very small boost to our industries—and then in those areas where it is not very important for our exports to do so. The Government's main objectives throughout the debate on pensions has been to modify the state earnings-related pensions scheme by drastically cutting the value of pensions that would otherwise be paid to people retiring 20 years from now or later; to create a system of individually-owned pensions to be known as a personal pension; to change the thrust of occupational pensions from an earnings-related basis to one based on money purchase; and to encourage the break-up of large occupational schemes through the introduction of personal pensions. The effect of the modification of SERPS will be virtually to halve the benefits that could be expected under the present scheme. The Government's argument for that is that SERPS is too expensive and that by the year 2035 it will cost £25.5 billion. However, the Government are not being entirely honest about the problem. The year 2035 is a central year following the pensioners peak caused by the baby boom in the 1960s. The years following will show a gradual improvement in the ratio of persons of working age to those over retirement age, resulting in a reduction in costs. SERPS was introduced not so long ago—in fact, in 1975—with the agreement of all the parties. It was done to ensure that future pensioners would have a better standard of living in their retirement in their own right, and not have to rely on state benefits for their survival. That surely has been the policy of both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party in the past. The continuation of SERPS in its present form should, therefore, not depend on what we can afford but on the overall standard of living and what we choose to spend our money on. The figures are based on a low-level growth of 1.5 per cent. a year on average over the next 40 years, but the estimates for growth of personal pensions are based on investments giving a rate of return of 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. above the rate of inflation. Although in the short term investment returns and interest rates fluctuate, in the long term they generally reflect the rate of economic growth. It would be more reasonable and therefore fairer for the Government's estimates of personal pensions also to reflect that fact. With a reasonable level of growth, everyone's standard of living can go up. To give more to one group in the population—the pensioners—only means that the living standards of other groups rise a little less fast, but they keep rising. To keep the existing benefits of SERPS, the extra cost in national insurance contributions would be just under 1 per cent. in the peak year of 2033–34. The Government have also failed to make any assumption on the amount that would be saved in social security benefit if offset against the current estimates of the cost of SERPS. That is because they will not admit that by ending the best 20 years' earnings rule and basing the pension on 20 per cent. of earnings instead of 25 per cent., poverty in retirement will continue. The hardest hit will be the long-term unemployed; women, the sick, and the disabled who are unable to earn a full pension from a normal 40 years' working life. The effect of the modification of SERPS will mean that many people could get caught in a pensions trap; that is, having insufficient income to enable them to live comfortably and to enjoy a fulfilling retirement, and having too much income to be able to claim state benefits. The question of what the Government can afford is a matter on which there can be differing points of view. However, the question of what individuals can afford in providing pensions for themselves is separate and, for many people, of greater significance than the modification of SERPS. The Government propose a system by which personal pensions will substantially take the place of occupational pension schemes on the grounds of giving all employees a new dimension of choice. Personal pensions have their place in the pensions market for some people, but they should not be encouraged at the expense of the established occupational schemes. Few people will have the expertise or the advice to avoid being taken for a ride by insurance companies and certainly not to select the best scheme available. It has been estimated that the proposed minimum contribution to a personal pension scheme would probably buy a pension worth only about 20 per cent. of the value of benefits in a good occupational pension scheme. The Bill provides for an additional incentive for those taking out a personal pension, and for new occupational schemes becoming contracted out after 1st January 1986, of an extra 2 per cent. of earnings to be paid by the Government for a period of five years. This has commonly become known as the 2 per cent. bribe and is obviously designed to encourage individuals to leave SERPS and take out personal pensions instead, and so reduce the long term liabilities of SERPS. But the Government have gone further and the 2 per cent. will also be paid to anyone who has contracted out of SERPS and is a member of an occupational pension scheme, provided he opts for a personal pension and leaves his occupational pension scheme. The Government do not envisage many people leaving the long-term security of occupational pension schemes, but, faced with the prospect of paying lower contributions, many people—in particular the young married women and the lower paid—may be tempted to have the money today and let the future take care of itself. I used to think that what happened after I reached the age of 45 was too far ahead to matter. This 2 per cent. bribe is unjust to existing occupational schemes. The effect would be to reduce the membership of occupational pension schemes and seriously undermine the viability of such schemes. In the long term it would be likely to increase the number of those dependent on state benefits because of the inadequacy of their personal pensions. But, further than that, it cannot be right to use money from the National Insurance Fund, which has been paid in by all working people, to encourage personal pensions at the expense of the existing high quality occupational schemes which are already contracted out and will not benefit. If only one-tenth of the existing occupational pension scheme members were tempted by the bribe, the cost to the nation would be £1 billion over the five years. The proposal that employers can no longer make their occupational pension schemes compulsory overlooks the historic fact which created the necessity for membership of such schemes to be made compulsory; that is, substantial numbers of individuals will not, for a variety of reasons, plan adequately over the years for their old age. The compulsory nature of some occupational schemes is a compassionate and intelligent policy by which an enlightened employer can recognise and provide for his or her employees to live in dignity when their working life has ended, or to provide for their dependants should they die before retirement. Personal pensions would be a bad option for most people. They would be based on the money purchase system and the benefits cannot be predicted as they can with final salary occupational schemes. The return at retirement will depend on money invested, interest rates and dividends earned. Those may vary very much at the time retirement occurs. There are two other factors which will reduce the benefits of personal pensions. First, the DHSS is to be the clearing house for payment of the minimum contributions to the pension provider. Recent inquiries to the DHSS reveal that these contributions will be paid annually in arrears in September of each year. The effect of this initially is that if a personal pension is started in April 1988 the pension provider will receive no money until September 1989, thus losing 17 months' investment income. The second factor is one of administration charges. A recent study by the Institute of Actuaries showed that about 20 per cent. of the amounts invested in personal pensions are divested to meet insurance company charges. This compares with about 5 per cent. for occupational schemes and about 1.5 per cent. for SERPS. The implications of these measures are far-reaching both for those who contribute to SERPS and for those who contribute to occupational pension schemes. However, the Government have been astute in their proposals for modifying SERPS because they will not materially affect anyone who is in work until the year 2002. Anyone retiring in the 15 years following implemention of the proposals will still receive his expected pension. So it is the younger element in our society, who at the moment probably do not appreciate the value of a pension scheme, who will suffer. The introduction of personal pensions will make people vulnerable to the high pressure salesmanship of insurance and finance companies, banks and building societies. These are the people who will gain most from the measures; not, of course, the people who are trying to get the best possible pension scheme for themselves. The introduction of the present system of pensions for every employee was the product of an all-party agreement. To make these changes now without a consensus of the parties can only cause uncertainty for the future of pensions and once again make pensions a political football with each change of government. The Government envisage that consultation and legislative processes will be completed in time for the changes to be implemented from April 1987. The possibility of the proposals being overtaken by a change of government is by no means out of the question. It happened in the early 1970s and it is one of the reasons why the political consensus represented by the 1975 Act was so widely welcomed. It would therefore be wise if the Government were asked to think again, with a view to returning to that happy situation.
My Lords, whatever the merits of this Bill, on the basis of the speeches that we have heard so far, I think that your Lordships will agree that it will cause hardship to many. I should like to give your Lordships a few examples which are drawn from my own borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and which cover as far as possible areas that have not yet been dealt with in detail.Let me take first the case of a lady who lives in a typical flat in a sheltered housing block in Earls Court. She is nearly 80, totally deaf and nearly blind. If one adds up the combined effect of 20 per cent. rate payments, which have to be met out of normal income, plus the payment of the full cost of water rates, for which there is no provision in the new Bill, plus the cost of the centralised heating provision, then the total additional sum which this unhappy lady will have to pay will be £5.98 per week. But this is not the end of the story. The knock-on effect of a reduction in housing benefit and the loss of housing benefit supplement may well result in tenants such as this lady having to leave sheltered housing and move to other rented accommodation. I wish to devote the major part of my speech this evening to the likely impact of this Bill on a section of the population with which I am particularly concerned, and that is the immigrants, including refugees. It seems to me that the provisions in Part III of this Bill which cover the social fund will severely affect such people. Perhaps I may give your Lordships one example of this. In the proposal for income support, the abolition of single payments and the replacement by the discretionary social fund will put people who are not fluent in English at a grave disadvantage. For instance, to obtain a loan from the social fund it will be necessary to put forward a convincing case. Claimants may not be told the basis of refusal of a loan and there will be no right of appeal to an independent tribunal. Consequently, it will only be the articulate and the forceful who will be likely to obtain loans while the people who have a relatively poor command of English will probably suffer. Yet for immigrants and others there are more serious implications in the replacement of the urgent cases and single payments regulations by this cash-limited, discretionary social fund. Although Ministers have emphasised the flexibility of this fund, to judge from past practice it may well be that such flexibility will result in benefits being denied to people who are applying to vary their leave to remain in the United Kingdom or who are challenging a Home Office decision. If immigrants are to be excluded from income support then it seems essential that their right to benefit from this social fund must be protected, particularly in emergencies. Therefore it seems desirable that specific regulations should be made under the fund to ensure that victims of disaster, whatever their immigration status, immigrants whose funds from abroad have been temporarily cut off and those who have applied to the Home Office for variation of leave to remain or who are challenging a Home Office decision, should have access to payments as appropriate from this social fund. The proposal to replace the single benefits regulations by the social fund also raises concern for refugees; but I do not wish to speak at length about such people because the noble Lord, Lord McNair, will cover that matter rather more fully than I. However, let me say that those refugees newly arrived often have an immediate need for items such as clothing and footwear, especially where someone has had to flee his country with no luggage or warm clothing. Some of those refugees may also need help in paying for accommodation deposits and buying furniture. If entitlement where genuine need exists is swept away, the consequences may well be disastrous for refugees as well as for claimants generally. There are many other classes of people who will suffer as a result of this Bill, as has been shown already. The noble Baroness, Lady Jeger, gave us an impressive list of organisations that have appealed to her. Perhaps I could add to it a little by showing the range of organisations that are concerned. I have received representations from MENCAP, Age Concern, the Child Poverty Action Group, the National Council for One Parent Families, London Advice Service Alliance, Community Information Project, the British Refugee Council, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the Committee for Non-Racist Benefits, North Kensington Action for Benefits and Hammersmith and Fulham Volunteer Bureau. That list is not comprehensive, but I think that it shows the wide range of concern. Clearly I cannot hope to deal with those submissions in my brief speech, and other Members of your Lordships' House will be more familiar with most of the areas that they cover than I am. I must make one brief point and it has probably been covered before. The National Council for One Parent Families is greatly concerned at the proposed abolition of free school meals for families in receipt of family credit. I conclude by expressing the hope that we may expect a wide range of amendments at the Committee stage. I shall try so far as possible to confine myself to those covering the needs of immigrants and refugees on the lines that I have already indicated.
My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend on the excellent way in which she introduced the Bill. She gave us full details and she must have made a tremendous study of it to touch on so many points. I should also like to thank the voluntary organisations and others who have done a tremendous amount, as the last speaker said, on ideas to help us with the Bill. Thorough research has been done by many of them. That must have taken a long time and we are grateful to them. I should also like to tell the noble Lord, Lord Banks, how much I appreciated his speech. He is an expert on the pension side. I had the pleasure of working with him some time ago. I hope that he may be able to shed a little more light on this matter in the future.In 1979, Mrs. Lynda Chalker, who was then the junior social security Minister, said:
I hope that the Bill will do a great deal to help with that. We want all those people to be able to partake in the life of the community. I remember when I was on the poor law committees of the London County Council that we had most tragic cases. I shall always remember one woman who had a wooden leg. She came along just because she could not get a sock for her wooden leg. Thank God, such things never happen now! The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, mentioned the question of widows' payments. I should like to ask my noble friend whether that includes war widows whose husbands may have been killed, for example, in Northern Ireland or in various places overseas. Will they be considered to be war widows and receive the same £1,000? I should now like to ask my noble friend whether she can tell us something about the social fund itself. How much money will be in it? Will it be funded on a yearly basis or on the basis that if it runs out of money it can apply for more? How is the money to be allocated and who will watch the allocation? Where will the money be paid into and where will it be pulled out of? Also, what about the training of the social fund officers? Surely they will need a considerable amount of training. They will probably be doing a completely different job from their present one. I should like to know what preparations have been made for them to have the necessary training. Will the inspectors be civil servants of the same calibre as these men or women—and I hope that there will be some women? The question of loans worries me. Loans will encourage debts. A great many people do not have bank accounts or any spare cash. I only hope that if they take a loan, they will be able to repay it. It is rather like going to a pawnbroker and putting in one's garment; one is not certain of being able to get it out again. I should like to know what will happen if they cannot afford to pay back loans. In rural areas a great many families earn only £100 a week, if that. They are poorly paid. They are also proud. They do not borrow if they can help it. They have to put away each week so much money for electricity, other fuel, the telephone bill and so on. That takes a great deal of the money that they should be spending on the family. Every organisation, as I understand it, including the CBI, excepting the Conservative Monday Club, which the noble Lord mentioned, has expressed views about the family credit system. They feel that it should be paid by the state. I hope that it will be paid by the state because I well remember when it was paid to husbands. They seldom paid it to their wives. In one of my constituencies the women queued up outside the factories and in the dockyard to get money from their husbands because they did not think they would get it otherwise. We know all about that. It does not happen so much now, but there are still queues for pay packets. One woman said to me the other day that she does not like to ask her husband for money because he is so nasty when she does. She felt that it should be paid to her or to the divorced wife if she takes the children, instead of to the husband. I have one question about pensions. I have a letter from someone who calls herself a pensions specialist. I am sure that is what she is. She says:"It is not sufficient to assess poverty by absolute standards. Nowadays it must be judged by comparison with standards of other groups. Beneficiaries must have an income which enables them to participate in the life of the community".
I hope that young people will be given the chance to learn from people such as that, because it is a great pity if they spoil their future pensions by taking that action. The other point that I should like to make relates to free school meals. I have been in favour of them all my life, especially when I saw what happened during the last war. Children who have them benefit enormously. It is necessary to have school meals in rural areas. I gather than under the Bill—I hope that I am wrong—education authorities will no longer have the discretionary power to provide free school meals for those no longer entitled to them under the law. It is extremely difficult for parents to provide school meals in country districts. In small villages if there is a school, there is probably no shop. The parents have to go into the major towns to obtain any food. In my case the town is 10 miles away. There is then the question of storing it. It is difficult to make nice fresh sandwiches for a whole week. I hope that it will be possible to reconsider the question of school meals. I gather that about 500,000 children will lose their entitlement to free meals. In many cases I do not think that mothers would mind paying towards school meals, but the difficulty is in providing them. The children mostly have to go to the schools in buses and they have to pay the bus fares. It all adds up to a great deal. I hope that my noble friend will be able to consider that point. The £2.20 a week compensation through family credit will be worth only 44p a week to those families which also receive housing benefit. This is because the family credit counts as income for housing benefit purposes. The increase in family credit to compensate for the loss of free meals will lead to reduction of housing benefit. I do not know whether the Minister dismissed this point in Committee in the other place, but I hope that in this House we may reconsider it. There are only two other points I wish to make arising from what the noble Lord said about refugees and so on. I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether it is possible for her department to employ some interpreters. Some of the other departments have interpreters. I have been trying to get some interpreters into prisons, too, but so far I have not been very successful. However, we now have some literature written in different languages. It would be an enormous help—I think that the noble Baroness would agree—if we could have interpreters, especially now when new action is being taken. Perhaps we could have some leaflets written in different languages. That would be of enormous help to those giving advice. Perhaps they could be attached to the department of my noble friend. My final point is on the question of special diets for small children. A lot of doctors are giving special diets to children who have difficulties. They may be overenthusiastic. There are many areas where the health of these children can be improved by special diets. I understand that these diets cost on average about £17 a week. A great many people have told me that they cannot afford that amount. Diets can alter the whole trend of the child's life in the future. I hope that my noble friend believes that I appreciate what she is doing and that I support her in many ways. But if she if takes notice of some of the points I have raised I shall be delighted."the saddest cases I have had to deal with are those in which people have made foolish decisions about their pension provision early in their working lives, e.g. by surrendering a few years' reckonable service for a return of contributions. It is very tempting to the young to minimise the cost of provision for retirement. A money-purchase personal pension will be a sufficient temptation for a young worker to leave a contracted-out Occupational Pension Scheme without the additional incentive of a 2 per cent. contribution from the National Insurance fund".
My Lords, despite the gentle gloom that is now descending upon us I am not a candidate for the chorus of discontent on this Bill. There is a great deal in this Bill that should be welcomed and it would be a mistake to undervalue its purpose and its achievement. I should like to congratulate the noble Baroness on the lucidity and the flow of her presentation of a very difficult explanation of this Bill.I should first like to take up the question of administration. This Bill is an attempt to improve administration, to make it more tidy, more comprehensible and fairer. There are 120,000 tax and social security officials loose in this country. They are meeting members of the public by the thousands every day of the year. They have some very pleasant and some unpleasant duties to perform. But the public regards them as "they"—they who can muck you about; they who can be decent to you; they who get it right or wrong; but it is "they" all the time. That is why is it important to put in the hands of "they" the equipment and the tools for the job they have to do. Otherwise they will be in difficulties with their clientele. What is more efficient in the Bill is therefore to be welcomed. The Bill tries to clarify the classification and the status of benefits. That is also important; otherwise we tend to lose our way. First, one has to define the benefits which are so universal and fundamental that they should be granted as of right. The necessary financial support will be provided for them either through taxation or by special contributions, or both. Secondly, there is the area where needs exist and where help should be given but it is not easy to describe those needs as universal, although they are widespread. Many of the needs ha