HC Deb 13 November 1973 vol 864 cc224-6
4. Mr. Marks

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her estimate of the increase in educational spending on books and equipment in 1974–75.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no means of making such an estimate.

Mr. Marks

Is the right hon. Lady aware that when local authorities are asked to restrict expenditure, as they will be next year, the sphere in which they can do so is extremely narrow and that educational spending, particularly current spending on books, equipment and repairs to buildings, invariably suffers? In her White Paper she said that we needed a 3 per cent. increase in real terms every year in this area. Is it the Government's intention that we shall get it?

Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot reveal details of the rate support grant negotiations, which are always confidential, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, those negotiations usually include an improvement factor for non-teaching costs, of which books and equipment form part.

Mr. Goodhart

In view of the enormous discrepancy between local education authorities' expenditure on school books and the probability that textbook prices will increase by 15 per cent. in the coming year, may I ask my right hon. Friend to consider the possibility of minimum standards for book expenditure by local education authorities?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have not so far considered that possibility. It comes under this large block of expenditure on non-teaching costs. In fact, it is one of the fastest rising blocks of expenditure in education, indicating that authorities are giving a good deal more attention to it. There is a later Question on the Order Paper from the reply to which my hon. Friend will see that the amount spent on books in the past has been rising quite rapidly.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Will the right hon. Lady consider the situation of severely handicapped children who require quite expensive advanced technology equipment to enable them to communicate and to learn? Such costs can eat severely into the resources of a school and local authorities. Will the Secretary of State consider making this equipment available directly either through her Department or by persuading the Department of Health and Social Security to provide it to these children for assisting their learning process?

Mrs. Thatcher

We could not make it available directly through the Department unless it were part of a research project. However, as the hon. Gentleman knows, expenditure on equipment in special schools is very generous. Indeed, I think it is the most generous part of school expenditure today.

14. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the proposed expenditure on school textbooks for the next academic year; and if she will give any easily available figures for such expenditure over the past five years.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no information with which to answer the first part of the Question. For the financial years 1969–70 to 1972–73 expenditure by local education authorities in England and Wales on text and library books at out-turn prices was about £13½ million, £16 million, £19½ million and £23 million.

Mr. Dalyell

Are those figures in real terms? In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), the Secretary of State seemed to imply that, because expenditure has been rising, perhaps next year it will level off. Is it an injustice to the Government to say that that is their position?

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, indeed, I believe that it is. I made no such implication. Expenditure on books and equipment has been rising, and the hon. Gentleman will remember I replied that it is customary in a rate support grant negotiation to have an improvement factor for this kind of expenditure.

Mr. Freeson

To what extent has that expenditure been rising in real terms?

Mrs. Thatcher

These figures were at out-turn prices.