HC Deb 06 May 1975 vol 891 cc1196-7
5. Mr. Thorne

asked the Secretary, of State for Education and Science, following his recommendation to local education authorities, that fees should be increased to 20 per cent. above those for the academic year 1972–73, if he will indicate the local authorities whose fees for adult classes for 1974–75 were already in excess of this figure, and where the increase proposed for 1975–76 will subtantially exceed this percentage.

Mr. Prentice

This is a matter within the discretionary powers of local education authorities, and I do not collect detailed information on it. I understand that about 25 per cent. of authorities may have raised evening class fees by more than 20 per cent. between 1972 and 1974. 1 have no information about the decisions that authorities have been or will be taking in respect of increases from September 1975.

Mr. Thorne

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that we are likely to see the end of adult education in Britain within two or three years owing to the increases that will result not only from his letter to the local authorities but from their own needs, which will militate against many adults taking advantage of the service? Is it not particularly bad that the Government should adopt their present course in view of the Russell Report, and do not these matters again illustrate the need to reallocate resources away from defence expenditure, for example, to education?

Mr. Prentice

I do not think that further education fees can be totally exempted from the effects of inflation any more than can any other aspect of our national life. My hon. Friend should bear in mind that the fees currently charged for evening classes throughout the country almost universally represent a very small percentage of the true cost of the courses. I am advised that the current average is about £2 a term and that these classes arc extremely good value for money.

Sir John Hall

Does not the Secretary of State agree that the fees are, as he indicated, ridiculously low, and that if they were increased to the 20 per cent. recommended this would still amount to a reduction in real terms?

Mr. Prentice

As I explained in my original reply, this is a matter for the discretion of local authorities and there is variation. I felt it necessary to advise that there should be some upgrading by those authorities which had not done so. I propose for the future to look at this matter annually, because I think that the level of fees must take some account of the general movement of prices. I still very much favour the system which has existed for many years of highly subsidised evening classes, and I hope that no one on either side would ask local authorities materially to depart from that principle.

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