§ 1. Dr. Hampson
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, in view of the economic situation, he will make a statement on the priorities which he has established for educational expenditure.
§ 21. Mr. Les Huckfield
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a further statement on the effects of public expenditure cuts on his Department.
§ The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Fred Mulley)
I outlined my priorities for educational expenditure to the CLEA conference in July and since then advice has been given to local education authorities in the joint circular on local authority expenditure in 1976–77. At a time of severe public expenditure restraint, I attach greatest priority to the protection of the school system for those of statutory school age, and provision for those young people in the 16–19 age group who are making the transition from learning to earning. Priority must also be given to the completion of comprehensive reorganisation of the secondary school system and to ensuring that adequate special consideration is given to the needs of the educationally disadvantaged.
§ Dr. Hampson
There has never been such a squeeze on national and local resources as there is under this Government. Why is the Minister making a special allocation of these precious resources to the comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education when many 1108 of its products—the 16–19-year-olds—cannot find jobs? Does the right hon. Gentleman not envisage a special rôle for further education in this field? What machinery will he set up or co-ordinate between the Department of Employment and his own Department to deal with unemployed school leavers?
§ Mr. Mulley
The hon. Gentleman should take a little more care about his facts. There are few young people in the 16–19 age group who have completed the whole of their secondary education in comprehensive schools. It is a matter for argument that they might be better placed to obtain employment if they had.
In conjunction with the Department of Employment we are concerned about the problem of jobs for school leavers. The problem is not caused by the educational system; it is a result of the general economic situation of the country which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is not as good as we would wish it to be.
§ Mr. Jim Marshall
Will my right hon. Friend remind local education authorities that when they draw up their local priorities they have a duty to provide free school meals? Further, will he agree that the situation highlighted at a school in Leicester in a recent report by the Child Poverty Action Group cannot be tolerated now or in the future, irrespective of the national and local constraints placed upon educational expenditure?
§ Mr. Mulley
It is perfectly true that there is no justification for the deprivation of school meals. My hon. Friend the Minister visited Leicester last week, and a working party has also gone there to discuss the matter with the local authority. I am hopeful that a solution can be found to the problem in Leicestershire. I am in the difficulty that I have no powers whatever to ensure that the moneys for education voted by Parliament through the rate support grant system are actually spent by the local education authorities on education. Even if I suggested that I should have more powers of direction in respect of local education authorities, the whole of the Conservative Party would be up in arms.
§ Mr. Mulley
We do not regard the provision of funds as being on a snakes-and-ladders basis. The hon. Gentleman has tabled a later Question on that subject. It is obvious that if priority is given to one sector other services will suffer. It would be quite wrong to give priority to everything. This is a matter of language and administration. I do not place the youth service as high, for example, as I do the provision of school meals.