HC Deb 13 March 1973 vol 852 cc1098-100
6. Mr. Carter

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what percentage of the education budget is now devoted to adult education compared to the figure in 1963.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

This information is not available. Adult education is provided mainly in schools and colleges maintained by local education authorities primarily for other purposes, and the authorities do not apportion the cost of each such establishment between the different kinds of provision made within it.

Mr. Carter

That is a very disappointing reply, bearing in mind—[Interruption.] The Minister laughs, but this is a very important subject. I am aware that there is an inquiry—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask a question.

Mr. Carter

Is the Minister aware that an inquiry is at present being conducted? May I have an assurance from him that, if this inquiry finds that too small a percentage is being spent on adult education, he and his right hon. Friend will give that report most urgent consideration? Does he agree that higher education should not simply be lavished on the young but that all age groups have a justified entitlement and that, furthermore, adult students can at times put rather more back into the economy and society than younger people who might have benefited from higher education?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I was not laughing at the hon. Member's remark; I was agreeing with him and thinking what a disappointing reply it was. The difficulty is that it is simply not possible to give other than a disappointing reply, because it is the local authorities which make the main provision for adult education. In doing so they use administrative, teaching and other resources, as well as premises, which are provided primarily for school and further education purposes. The cost of adult education is inextricably bound up with the cost of the main provision because of this shared use of resources.

With regard to the second point, the Russell Committee has certainly made inquiries of local education authorities about the cost of providing adult education, but we must await the report to see what conclusions it has reached. The report has reached the Department, it is being printed and we hope to publish it as soon as possible. It is only after the report has been published and there has been full discussion of its recommendations that the hon. Gentleman would expect a firm decision to be taken.

Mr. Marten

Can my hon Friend enlighten me? It would appear from his answer that there is a difference between adult education and the education of adults. Is that so?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Adult education is the education of adults: I am sure that my hon. Friend, being essentially a simple person, will understand that.

Mr. Paget

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that his answer shows that this aspect of education is not being taken seriously'? Would he also agree that the best-educated people are mainly self-educated and that this is just the phase where education is at its most productive? Will the Minister take this subject a little more seriously?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think I have taken it very seriously. I merely made a light passing reference to a question which I took was being asked in a light vein by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). I could not agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman's thesis about self-education in its entirety. Some self-educated people may indeed be well educated, but I could not possibly agree that the best education is always provided through self-education.

As for the importance of adult education, I certainly agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. As a Government we have shown what importance we attach to this by appointing this important committee to make a special investigation into the future of adult education.