Previous Section Home Page

Column 1215

1.4 pm

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : Mr. Deputy Speaker

Mrs. Wise : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber and the Bill has received whole- hearted support from all quarters. I feel that his speech will do a disservice to the Bill and prevent the Second Reading debate on the Nursery Education (Assessment of Need) Bill from starting.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : That is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Jessel : I greatly resent that point of order. This morning, I attended the funeral of someone who did a lot of good work for people in my constituency. I wrote to notify Madam Speaker that I intended to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I mentioned the funeral, and that I had a particular interest in this matter not only because I have been a patient of a chiropractor for many years but because the national headquarters of the National Back Pain Association is at Teddington in my constituency. I have raised the subject of back pain, which is linked with the question of chiropractic, in the House on many occasions.

In view of that constituency interest, it is entirely proper for me to seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and disregard the strictures of the hon. Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise), who perhaps was not aware of all that, but who should have found out before she jumped in as she did. To say that in some sense what I am about to say will detract from the Bill merely because I did not have the privilege, which I would have liked, of being present throughout the debate is to anticipate that I might attack the Bill, which I will not seek in any way to do.

The Bill has my warm support. I most strongly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on having introduced it. I am sure that it will do good and I hope that it will have a smooth passage through the House, as the Osteopaths Bill did last year. I only regret that I did not hear my hon. Friend's speech or that of my hon. Friend the Minister, to whom I apologise for not having arrived earlier.

The chiropractor to whom I go is in Sutton--my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) has just left the Chamber, but I know that she spoke earlier. My chiropractor is Dr. Brian Hammond. He is a fine chiropractor to whom I was introduced by the National Back Pain Association and its founder, Mr. Stanley Grundy CBE, who is well known to my hon. Friend the Minister. Mr. Grundy founded the National Back Pain Association over 20 years ago. That association has done a great deal to promote research and to focus attention on back pain and the work of chiropractic and related professions. My hon. Friend the Minister was kind enough to visit the headquarters of the association at Teddington. I know that, like me, he suffers from back pain.

The hon. Member for Bristol, South (Ms Primarolo) was absolutely right when she drew the attention of hon. Members to the fact that every working day 310,000 people are off work because of back pain and that the cost to the nation is about £3 billion a year. About 60 million working days are lost a year. That is an enormous loss of days. Indeed, it is greater than the number of days lost

Column 1216

through strikes--not merely nowadays when there are hardly any strikes, but at the peak of striking, such as in the winter of discontent in the late 1970s when people seemed to go on strike every time the bell struck. An immense number of days were lost through strikes but it was no greater than the number of days lost through back pain.

Back pain is a major social evil which afflicts large numbers of people, but unfortunately it is not a glamour cause from a charitable point of view. If one is running a charity dealing with a disease from which people might die, such as cancer or heart disease, a charity for the welfare of children, such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Save the Children fund, or a general charity to help old people, those tend to evoke more sympathy. It is easier to attract media attention to such a charity. Back pain, unfortunately, has a seaside postcard image and people think wrongly that there is something comical about it. There is nothing funny about it at all. It can hurt like hell, waste a huge amount of time and get comparatively little sympathy in relation to the amount of pain which it generates. Any Bill which, as this Bill does, tends to uplift the status of the profession of those who cure and prevent back pain and who care for those with it, and which upholds the professional status of those who cultivate their knowledge and their skill to deal with back pain, ought to be most warmly supported. I hope that, at every stage in the House and in the other place, the Bill will have a fair passage.

The Bill is about the profession of chiropractors, and their professional status, examinations, internal discipline and the upholding of their standards. That almost sounds as if those things are an end in themselves but, with respect, I say that they are not. They are only a means to an end, because the protection of standards is a means to the end of seeing that people are successfully treated for back trouble.

I should like to utter a warning at this point. I believe that professional status is double-edged, and we ought not to assume that professional status invariably promotes the upholding of standards. Sometimes a body that has professional status can tend to rest too much on its laurels. It is essential that professional status is used as a springboard for chiropractors to reach even higher standards, and not as some kind of cushion.

British professionalism in all of the main professions has basically high ideals, and is intended to uphold standards. It is intended to ensure that anyone who is not qualified in that profession is not allowed to practise. It is intended also to impose internal discipline on the members to uphold the profession, to confer a kind of brotherhood within that profession and to exclude anybody who is not up to it. That is the upside of British professionalism.

There is also a downside. I regret to say that I have found in my dealings with members of British professions--whether they have been solicitors, barristers, doctors, dentists, accountants or teachers--that their professional qualifications do not guarantee that people will be good at their jobs. Professional qualifications are a necessary condition, but they are not sufficient to ensure that people will be good at their jobs. If people are to be good at their jobs, professional qualifications are not enough. They need application, dedication, flair, zest, insight and other qualities as well as having letters after their name and having passed examinations or other forms of test.

Column 1217

I have found that in any profession some people are very good indeed, others are not so good and others are hardly any good at all at their jobs, even though they are professionally qualified and can put letters after their name. I hope that chiropractors will bear that in mind after the Bill has been passed and will not harp excessively on technical qualifications. I hope that they will do their utmost to make absolutely certain that personal qualities as well as professional competence are cultivated to ensure that members of the newly established profession do a good job. It is not enough merely to rely on professional qualifications.

I shall now refer to the role of the chiropractic profession in connection with the National Back Pain Association. The association was founded by Mr. Stanley Grundy CBE in the 1960s. He has pledged and instilled support for the association. It has done a great deal of good, so much so that in the White Paper "The Health of the Nation", published in 1992, the Secretary of State singled out five key areas for priority action, namely, coronary heart disease and strokes, cancer, mental illness, AIDS and accidents, but also said that rehabilitation, the health of elderly people, asthma and drug misuse--and back pain--had a strong claim to key area status next time around.

The inclusion of back pain in that list in the White Paper followed a meeting between Mr. Grundy, Lord Joseph, myself and the Secretary of State for Health in the last Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave). The purpose of that meeting was to stress the great importance of back pain. We asked the Government to accept--as they had already done, but we wanted to re-emphasise it--the great importance of back pain. That was done by the subsequent inclusion of back pain in the list in "The Health of the Nation".

I wish that I had been here earlier to put the point to the Minister. I do not know whether, by leave of the House, he will be able to answer my question. If he is given leave and if he has time, will he tell me what action will be taken in respect of the next five areas of health need, including back pain, especially included as next steps in the White Paper? If he cannot tell me, perhaps he would be kind enough to follow up the matter in a letter to me. The National Back Pain Association promotes research into treatment of back pain, whether by chiropractors, doctors or osteopaths. It establishes branches throughout the country to promote interest in back pain, to provide facilities in which people can exercise and to spread information. It publishes educational material such as a useful manual for nurses on the correct way to lift patients. Most unfortunately, nurses are especially prone to back pain because they have to lift patients. Sometimes patients have suffered strokes and cannot move- -they and other patients have to be turned in bed. So the incidence of back pain among nurses is high. Many osteopaths and chiropractors have to treat nurses who unfortunately suffer from back pain because of an accident of that type as a result of their duties.

I am glad to hear that chiropractic is available within the national health service, whether through GP fundholders or through district health authorities. I hope that it will be available in hospitals.

What worries me is that there are not nearly enough chiropractors. Will my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury be kind enough to tell us how many qualified chiropractors there are in the United Kingdom?

Column 1218

Mr. Lidington : There are about 900 practising chiropractors.

Mr. Jessel : That is not nearly enough in view of the fact that the hon. Member for Bristol, South, who has left the Chamber, said that the 310,000 working days are lost every day through back pain, at a cost to the nation of £3 billion. We certainly need many more than 900.

I want the Government, by liaising with the chiropractic profession and colleges, to find out what can be done to increase the number. I realise that cannot be done too quickly because people must be fully trained so that standards can be upheld.

Mr. Sackville : I can reassure my hon. Friend that we believe that the enactment of the Bill--we hope that it will become an Act--will stimulate the profession considerably, not least because the medical profession and health authorities will have the confidence to refer more patients to chiropractors. They will know that they are referring them to a trained practitioner who is backed by an organisation which has validated that training and has disciplinary powers that enable it to hold the practitioner to account if he or she is not providing suitable treatment. The Bill will greatly stimulate chiropractic as a profession within the national health service.

Mr. Jessel : I am delighted to hear that. I find it most encouraging and I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister intends to ensure that happens and that he will promote chiropractic in every possible way, while ensuring that the required standards are maintained. I hope that hon. Members will not cease to remind the Minister of what he has just said.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) has done much for the cause of chiropractic and we are all aware of the splendid job that he has done. I have had the pleasure of joining him once or twice on delegations. He has been unceasing in his determination to promote the chiropractor's cause. I have often heard him refer to that and to the chiropractic college in Bournemouth. I am sure that my hon. Friend will constantly remind the Government of the need to encourage the chiropractic profession to increase its numbers. To be candid--I do not want to be rude to anyone--900 chiropractors is a hopelessly inadequate figure compared to the need for the excellent services that they have to offer. As their professional status is about to be enhanced, provided that the Bill is enacted, their services will be greatly appreciated by the public as more and more doctors refer patients to them. The liaison between the medical and chiropractic professions will also increase and, as a result, back pain --that terrible scourge--will tend to diminish and the health and happiness of the nation will improve. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury will have every possible success with the Bill.

1.24 pm

Mrs. Angela Knight (Erewash) : This important debate has far- reaching implications for both chiropractors and patients. First, may I apologise to my hon. Friend the Minister for being absent during his speech? I hope that he will understand that it is half-term and I therefore had the complex task of organising my children for another couple of hours so that I could participate in the debate.

Column 1219

From what I have heard in the debate so far, I seem to be one of the few people who has not yet visited a chiropractor. Fortunately, I have not yet suffered from the back pain described by my hon. Friends the Members for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) and for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel). As I am tall and have small children I shall probably suffer from back pain in the near future, in which case I may have an opportunity to tell the House of my personal experience of the chiropractic profession.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) on his clear description of this important subject. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) on his speech, in which he showed his knowledge of other complementary therapies. Again, my knowledge of that subject is lamentable. Since the Bill was published, I, and I suspect many other hon. Members, have been inundated with letters from both the profession and constituents expressing interest in the subject. I received a letter from a doctor of chiropractic who practises near my constituency but also sees many people who live within the area that I represent. He told me :

"The purpose of this registration would be to ensure that no unqualified persons assume the role of a Chiropractor, which could lead to injury or harm being done. Chiropractic is the 3rd largest branch of medicine in the world, with over 60,000 practising doctors As a Chiropractor my practice is limited primarily to Orthopaedics, although I am trained in general medicine I have developed a good working relationship with ... local GPs and Orthopaedic Surgeons. This allows patients to be treated more effectively ensuring proper treatment and very often cutting down on the time factor." When we are dealing with people whose exposure to pain is long and debilitating, those final points are extremely valid.

The practitioner also makes a point that was referred to earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North (Mr. Elletson). He said :

"In America the rules regarding Chiropractors along with other professionals are very strict, unfortunately there is no corresponding legislation in England to protect the general public from unqualified persons calling themselves Chiropractors." The letter clearly defines the fact that the profession wants to be properly regulated as that will benefit both the profession and patients.

The King's Fund working party on the subject consulted widely with the medical professions, chiropractic organisations and individuals involved. All those involved, directly or indirectly, with chiropractic are overwhelmingly in favour of regulation. That is one of the fundamental reasons why the profession should be allowed the regulation that it seeks. My hon. Friends may find it strange that I should say that, as I am a member of the Committee currently scrutinising the deregulation Bill, but I support this Bill from the profession's and the patients' point of view.

An aspect that has been brought to my attention by constituents who have written and spoken to me on the subject is that they have often gone to a chiropractor after going to their doctor. They have tried other forms of medicine before going to a chiropractor. It seems extraordinary that people do not know whether chiropractors have gone through an appropriate training. A doctor usually has a brass plate on his gate or the side of his house saying that he has gone through a long and

Column 1220

complex training. The same brass plate on the chiropractor's gate or on the wall of his house may well say that he has gone through that long and involved training or it may just say that he has decided to set up in practice.

There is a need to protect the profession and the patient by regulating the profession in the way that it wishes. The present situation causes me great distress and concern, and I have no doubt that it is a source of considerable anger to the profession when it sees the unqualified chiropractor in the same queue as the one who is qualified.

I have gone into the subject with my constituents who have sought the help of chiropractors for the relief of pain and I should like to examine two or three matters in the Bill that will play an important part in future and may need detailed attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury clearly explained the various kinds of registration and the categories that will apply when the Bill becomes law and when those who are currently practising as chiropractors will be asked to register.

I understand my hon. Friend to say that entitlement to registration will be determined primarily on whether a person holds a recognised qualification. There will be a considerable debate about the interpretation of the phrase "recognised qualification". My hon. Friend commented on that matter but there are a variety of recognised qualifications that are not arrived at via college-based qualifications. There is a need to look at that loose phrase "recognised qualification" to ensure that those who are practising justly and rightly as qualified chiropractors can continue to do so. We must determine in more precise detail exactly what is meant by the phrase.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury said that there will be transitional arrangements to enable practitioners who may not hold such recognised qualifications but who have practised chiropractic lawfully, safely and competently for some years to be registered. That may address some of the issues, but not all. Those three words "lawfully, safely and competently" could beneficially be extended to many other professions. The advertising profession uses the words "legal, decent, honest and truthful". Perhaps we all have something to learn from the definitions of such phrases.

Those who have not gone through some of the more formal training processes will need, during the registration transitional period, to have formal training, to a common standard, that will enable their skills to be honed and extended to those of the best chiropractors. That may provide the education committee that the Bill will set up with its greatest responsibility and involvement. No doubt it will review existing standards of education and training in the profession and will have particular responsibility for ensuring that the qualifications entitling a practitioner to be registered are recognised and are of the same standard.

Some of my constituents have told me that there is currently some difference between the three training schools and that results in a difference in the chiropractic treatments that they receive for back neck or other complaints. It would be beneficial to the profession and to patients to bring the training in those schools to a common standard. I trust that an agreement will be achieved between those schools and any future schools of chiropractic training that may be set up, so that we know that the chiropractic profession has the same common standard between the various schools and the training that

Column 1221

individuals receive, like that which exists in the medical profession and the various schools of medicine in this country. As with any profession, there must also be a way to maintain the standards of professional conduct and competence. It must be relatively simple and a method that protects both the practitioner and the patient. In so many instances, one reads of medical cases where grave concerns have been raised, yet the process and procedure whereby those concerns with the GP have been expressed and aired have meant that many years have passed before the problems have been fully investigated. I am aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury has recognised some of those problems and that the Bill attempts to deal with them, and I am grateful for that.

My hon. Friend said that unacceptable professional conduct and professional incompetence are two reasons why someone practising as a chiropractor may, in future, be deemed to be unfit. I ask him to look a little further at whether someone should be totally struck off a register in the same way that a doctor can be, and to the speed and time delays that so often take place in medical investigations. I hope that those problems will not continue in the medical profession and that they will not begin in the chiropractic profession. Having said that, I should not like to give the impression that I am critical in any way of the chiropractic profession. I am well aware of the immense good that it does, but there is obviously a need to ensure not only that confidence is maintained in the profession but that it is increased as it is more widely used.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East touched on the European dimension. I suspect that it will affect us more closely and perhaps more quickly than might otherwise have been the case because the single market and the movement of people from this country to practise their profession-- whatever it might be--in other European countries, and vice versa, make common standards necessary throughout the Community. Perhaps I should address my remarks to him. Many people are concerned that any qualification, whatever it might be, obtained in the United Kingdom might have within it a different set of information and standards from a similar qualification that has been studied for and achieved in another European country. It is evident that we must ensure that a common standard exists across all countries for all professions, but with the medical professions- -in my ignorance I consider chiropractic to be a medical profession, although perhaps complimentary--there is a need for a common standard to ensure that the same knowledge and techniques are the result of the same qualification, whether it be obtained in Britain, Germany, France, Italy or elsewhere in the European Community. That sureness is of particular importance with the chiropractic profession.

My hon. Friends and Opposition Members spoke of the need and desire for chiropractic treatment to be available within the NHS. That subject has caused great interest in my constituency, which has a number of GP fundholders. From that local experience, I am well aware that GP fundholders are able to use part of their budget to employ complementary therapists, such as chiropractors. That tendency will grow, not just because of the increase in the number of GP fundholders but because of GPs' increasing awareness of the efficacy of chiropratic and the professionalism of chiropractors.

Column 1222

I do not think it unfair to say that, 15 years ago, chiropractic would have been considered a fringe element of medicine. Like many similar treatments, however, it has become a major item in the body of medical treatment. Many more GPs are now aware of it and, because they will be able to recognise the need to ensure that it is available to patients, patients' reliance on it will increase. Ultimately, however, the choice of treatment will be primarily a matter for clinicians. I do not feel that I can comment on that aspect but I believe that, as we proceed with our health service reforms, and as district health authorities become aware of chiropractic and other complementary treatments, such treatments will be far more readily available in all our constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) mentioned the need for more chiropractors. Once the profession is regulated, it will grow and become far more able to operate on a wider basis. I look forward to that very much.

My hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury has recognised a clear need for future health care, as did those promoting the Osteopaths Bill last year. I suspect that, in the years to come, other complementary health professions will be regulated, as our knowledge and appreciation of treatments other than the aspirin type become greater. I hope that my hon. Friend's Bill will speedily become law ; it has undoubtedly got off to an excellent start by receiving all-party support. I trust that will continue in Committee and I look forward to continuing to support the Bill's passage towards enactment.

1.42 pm

Mr. Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) : I sense that I am "tail-end Charlie" in this constructive debate, but I am sensitive to the wish of Opposition Members to move on to other business. I assure them, and the rest of the House, that I have no intention of detaining them for more than a couple of minutes.

I want to deal with a few points that have not been emphasised sufficiently today ; I feel that the Minister and the medical profession should consider them in more detail. The Bill will register chiropractors. Only last year, a Bill was introduced to register osteopaths. That is progress, but it is very slow progress. The legislatory framework for complementary medicine is lagging far behind the consumer's wish to take advantage of a treatment that has proved useful in dealing with conditions that GPs are often unable to remedy.

It was osteopathy last year ; it is chiropractic this year. Why not do the same with acupuncture? It seems that we are prepared to approach the question of setting a sensible regime for complementary medicine only in a piecemeal fashion. Homeopathy, too, should be governed by a suitable regime. I am convinced that, in the months ahead, the House will face problems in regard to the labelling of homeopathic medicines. We could debate that subject much more constructively its to those who practise complementary medicine, it seems that those who speak for them, especially the British Medical Association, are far too slow and far too unwilling to admit the benefits that complementary medicine can provide. I issue a plea, through the Chair, that the BMA and its ilk should

Column 1223

recognise the advantages of complementary medicine and should jolly well get on with it. They should continue to work more closely with those who are doing their best to heal patients with whom GPs have not succeeded.

I point out to Opposition Members that, in some cases, complementary medicine is available free through the NHS. I should like the provision of complementary medicine to be widened. The old adage that the doctor tells one to take two aspirins and then to come back in the morning is all too frequently true. Such treatment could better be replaced by the acupuncturist's pin or by the osteopath's manipulation. An emerging theme is that, in many cases, back-cracking is a lot better than pill-popping. If we can turn away from taking drugs, chemicals and pills, we shall all be the better for it. I commend the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

Column 1224

Nursery Education (Assessment of Need) Bill

Order for Second Reading read .

1.45 pm

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

As the long title says, the Bill would

"Require local authorities to have regard to the need for securing that provision is made for pupils who have not attained the age of five years by the provision of nursery education as in section 8(2)(b) of the Education Act 1944."

Some hon. Members may wonder what the Bill is for if that provision is included in the 1944 Act. The reason is that, possibly by accident, that section is no longer in the Act. The purpose of the Bill is simply to reinsert that provision into statute.

I hope that, as was the case with the Chiropractors Bill, this Bill will meet with universal approval. I have yet to hear of an hon. Member who disapproves of it ; indeed, I have yet to hear of anyone in the country who disapproves of it. I hope, therefore, that it will receive a passage through Parliament as agreeable as that given to the Chiropractors Bill.

The Bill, I point out to the Minister, is entirely compatible with everything that has been said by the Secretary of State for Education and with everything that has been said and written, almost weekly, by the Prime Minister. Without such a provision, how can one sensibly go forward to expand any form of under-five provision in any local authority? How can we go forward without considering the needs and without seeing how the available resources can best be distributed? I realise, of course, that the resources are by no means unlimited. I shall not go into the matter today, but I hope that we shall have further discussion about what the resources should be.

The number one point is the assessment of need. Nursery education is favoured by all parents, whether they wish to use the facilities or not. Nobody, as far as I am aware, opposes such provision. Nursery education is a basic need in the community and, if I may say so, "society". I am sure, therefore, that nobody here will do anything to prevent the Bill from being given a Second Reading this afternoon. If anyone does, I shall have to ask why.

Why are people so keen on nursery education ? I have here a formulation, which is not well known but cannot be bettered. It states :

"It is now considered that the self-contained nursery school, which forms a transition from home to school, is the most suitable type of provision for children under 5. Such schools are needed in all districts, as even when children come from good homes they can derive much benefit, both educational and physical, from attendance at a nursery school. Moreover, they are of great value to mothers who go out to work, and also to those who need relief from the burden of household duties combined with the care of a young family There is no doubt of the importance of training children in good habits at the most impressionable age and of the indirect value of the nursery school in influencing the parents of the children. There is equally no doubt of the incalculable value of the schools in securing medical and nursing care, and the remedial treatment of defects which may be difficult to eradicate if they are left untreated until the child enters school in the ordinary way at the age of 5."

From what we know of all that has been written on the subject, we can all agree that is a pretty good summing up of the universal approval of nursery education. I was quoting from Command 6458 of July 1943, the great

Column 1225

Butler and Ede White Paper which preceded the Education Act 1944. In these modern times, it is worth noting that it consisted of 36 pages of A5 and cost 6d, which is rather less than 3p. It was good value for money.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston) : I have read many of the reports issued by the Office for Standards in Education and I have noticed that they comment specifically on what proportion of children have access to proper pre-school provision. Clearly, my hon. Friend's quotation from the past is matched by the present concern of a Government organisation.

Mr. Spearing : I am grateful to my hon Friend for underlining the universal agreement about the need for nursery education. My next quotation is taken from the Hansard report of the House of Commons, meeting in another place, on 19 January 1944, 50 years ago last month. In moving the Second Reading of the then Education Bill, none other than R. A. Butler said :

"the country seems to have a special bent for nursery schools. These are not only social centres of training and up-bringing for the children, but have a real educational value and are often centres of adult education for the parents themselves. Therefore, I hope that we shall see, arising from this Bill, a healthy development of nursery schools, and/or classes where they are more expedient, and that we shall find that they buttress and support home life and make no attempt at supplanting it."--[ Official Report, 19 January 1944 ; Vol. 130, c. 212.]

As my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said, almost every report since then has emphasised the need for nursery education, for example, the Plowden report and Lady Thatcher's White Paper, which was scuppered by the energy crisis--we had to do something about that crisis, I suppose.

More recently, an independent commission on education said in its report last year :

"High-quality publicly-funded education provision should be available for all 3-and-4 year-olds."

I shall not go into the details of general provision for the under-fives but everyone agrees that nursery school has an important part to play.

Lady Olga Maitland (Sutton and Cheam) : Does the hon. Gentleman accept that 90 per cent. of three and four-year-old children in England currently attend some form of pre-school education?

Mr. Spearing : The hon. Lady is right, but I do not want to go too far down that road because it is outside the scope of the Bill. There is discussion in all quarters--educational as well as Government quarters, for all I know--about the benefits of different forms of pre-school education. Nursery education as such is defined by qualifications of teachers, the number of available rooms, the facilities in a nursery school, the ratio of teachers qualified in the subject and the amount of nursery assistance. It was understood in the 1944 Bill and has been ever since. Although the hon. Lady's statistics are right, I do not want to get drawn into the overall proportions, because the Bill in 1944 and the Bill before us are about nursery education, which nobody denies is necessary and helpful.

Lady Olga Maitland rose--

Mr. Spearing : I hesitate to give way again to the hon. Lady, but I shall for the last time on that particular point if she wishes.

Column 1226

Lady Olga Maitland : I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene again. Further to the principle of nursery education, does he accept that the needs of tiny three or four-year-old children are diverse? Surely it must be appropriate that parents have the choice of appropriate pre-school education for their child. Formal nursery education is not always appropriate for every child.

Mr. Spearing : I am not sure that I claimed that it was. I do not think that anybody, even the most enthusiastic supporter of what the hon. Lady tends to deem as over-rigid education--although it is not in my experience--would make it compulsory through a local education authority. The decision is open to parents. As the hon. Lady knows full well because of the statistics, many more parents wish their children to go to such nursery schools, but for one reason or another they are not able to send them. That is a fact that she would not deny.

I shall return to the Bill. The Education Act 1944 did not require local education authorities to make nursery education compulsory. It is important that the terms of nursery provision, as contained in section 8(2) of the 1944 Act, are on the record. As enacted, it read :

"In fulfilling their duties under this section, a local education authority shall, in particular, have regard--

(a) to the need for securing that primary and secondary education are provided in separate schools ;"--

there were some all-age schools at that time--


(to the need for securing that provision is made for pupils who have not attained the age of five years by the provision of nursery schools or, where the authority considers the provision of such schools to be inexpedient, by the provision of nursery classes in other schools".) Perhaps by accident or an oversight, due to some disagreements about funding in 1980--I happened to be in the Chamber when the discussion took place--the former Secretary of State for Education and Science, Mark Carlisle, now Lord Carlisle, introduced a new clause which allowed local education authorities to spend money on nursery education. There had been an argument over whether sections 8(2) (a) and (2) (b) allowed them to spend money. Many hon. Members said they did not.

In giving the local authorities that power to spend money on nursery education, I think that, by an oversight, section 8(2)(b) was repealed, and the need for securing that provision does not exist any more. I do not think that we need to go too deeply into the reasons for that ; it would take a long time to detect what went on. I was in the Chamber at the time and have read the debate in Hansard and I do not think that any indication was given that, by accepting the new power to spend money and making it specific, the House repealed the section which I want to reinstate.

So what should be done? As I have said, I do not want to delay the House much longer, but I see no reason why anybody should wish to oppose what was in the 1944 Act. If we are to have nursery education as part of the under- fives provision and as part of a mix, whatever that mix may be, however the resources are used and however it is funded--there are disagreements about that, so I hope that I carry the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) with me in all that I am saying--it is right and proper that there should be a duty on a local education authority to provide such comprehensive provision and choice for parents. Such a provision should be on the statute book and at the moment it is not.

Column 1227

The section was in force from 1944 until 1980. It was important because it focused on the local community, local society and local need. The White Paper which I quoted and the Bill that followed it were the result of the enormous nationwide consensus that existed, not only among political parties but among the Churches, educationists and teacher organisations. In those formative years, everyone made their suggestions and they were broadly incorporated in the epoch- making 1944 Act by R. A. Butler.

The Education Act 1944 was passed 50 years ago last month. It was unopposed on Second Reading and on Third Reading. The provision on nursery education was never questioned. It was passed by a House that contained a majority of 250 notional Conservative Members--there was a national Government. That makes the subject even more important because the consensus existed 50 years ago, as I hope it does today, among hon. Members who were elected in 1935. Those people thought that the legislation was right then, and there was no discussion about it, except for legal reasons, for about 30 years, so who can oppose it today?

2 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr. Robin Squire) : It may be for the convenience of the House if I speak now rather than later in the debate. I apologise to the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) for missing his first few sentences. He is a near neighbour of mine and we have had occasion to do battle together in the past. I pay tribute to his persistence on this issue and others and I congratulate him on his fortune in drawing this slot in the annual ballot.

There is no difference between much of what the hon. Member for Newham, South said and what the Government say about the importance of nursery education. If time allows, I shall go into greater detail about the provision of nursery education by local authorities of different persuasions. Let there be no disagreement between us that for many children nursery education represents an important start to their full education, which they enter from the age of five. It might, however, be of use to the House if I concentrate immediately on the legal impact of the Bill. It would restore a provision, section 8(2)(b), which, as the hon. Gentleman made clear, was originally part of the Education Act 1944 and was amended in 1980. The section should be understood in the context of the statutory duties that the legislation imposed on local education authorities.

I shall paraphrase a little to save some time. Section 8(1) of the 1944 Act states :

"It shall be the duty of every local education authority to secure that there shall be available for their area sufficient schools (a) for providing primary education, that is to say, full-time education suitable to the requirements of junior pupils ; and (b) for providing secondary education".

Section 8(2)(b), to which the Bill refers, mentions :

"the need for securing that provision is made for pupils who have not attained the age of five years by the provision of nursery schools or, where the authority consider the provision of such schools to be inexpedient, by the provision of nursery classes in other schools".

According to the original form of words used in the 1944 Act, the local education authority was required to

"have regard to the need for securing that provision is made for pupils who have not attained the age of five years".

Next Section

  Home Page