HC Deb 02 November 1976 vol 918 cc1196-9
Q2. Mr. Wyn Roberts

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on education, delivered at Ruskin College. Oxford, on Monday 18th October.

Q3. Mr. Peter Morrison

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on education in Oxford on 18th October.

Q10. Mr. Tebbit

asked the Prime Minister whether he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on education on 18th October at Oxford.

The Prime Minister

I did so the same day.

Mr. Roberts

Has the Prime Minister considered that the general reluctance of young people to enter industry as opposed to the public service may be due to the comparative uncertainty of employment in industry and of the comparatively poor rewards that there appear to be for middle management?

The Prime Minister

I think that there is something in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. When there are high levels of unemployment, certainty and security in employment are a very great attraction, and that must have an impact. But I think that it goes deeper than that. I doubt whether most of the 550,000 youngsters who left school in June and July—all of whom, I am glad to say, are now off the register, except for 78,000—were really concerned at that stage about rewards to middle management. What we need is a closer relationship between schools and industry at all levels, and I hope that that will be encouraged.

Mr. Corbett

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his excellent speech on education. Has he considered the possibility of an inquiry into the supply, training, and qualifications of people in the professional engineering occupations, so that, in order to achieve the reinvigoration of British industry, we have this professional interest?

The Prime Minister

All these matters must come under review. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has indicated that we are going to focus attention on this whole range of issues, and I hope that she will be able to produce either a Green Paper or something in another form which will enable us to bring these matters into full discussion so that conclusions can be reached on them. I am in no doubt, as a result of the correspondence that has reached me since I directed attention to this matter—although I know that others have been doing it for some time—that there is genuine concern in industry and a strong desire on the part of the schools to try to meet the need. We must bring them both together.

Mr. Morrison

In the Prime Minister's welcome but belated concern about standards in education, will he now take the obvious step of dropping the Education Bill at once?

The Prime Minister

It is that approach to education which distinguishes the two sides, and shows that the hon. Gentleman is concerned only with making party points and with trying to attack a particular system of education. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are concerned about is the quality of the education in the schools today.

Mr. William Hamilton

Since my right hon. Friend wants a full public debate on education, will he take it upon himself to instruct the Department of Education and Science that when a Select Committee of this House seeks access to documents pertaining to the deciding of priorities within the Department those documents must be made available to the Committee, and not refused?

The Prime Minister

I will inquire into that. I am not aware of the circumstance to which my hon. Friend is drawing my attention. I am quite certain that what has been said and the attention which has been focused on this matter represent the views of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of parents, and that it is something to which the whole House must turn its attention.

Mr. Tebbit

Will the Prime Minister accept our congratulations on the fact that he is at last beginning to understand the concern that has been expressed from the Opposition side of the House about these matters for so long? Will he, as Prime Minister, consider intervening in what would appear to be an interdepartmental wrangle and taking away from the Department of Education and Science the responsibility for the Careers Advisory Service? Will he put it into the hands of people who have had genuine contact with industry, instead of leaving it in the hands of the somewhat remote people who run it at present?

The Prime Minister

I have been impressed by the fact that the quality of the careers officers in a number of schools does vary. In some schools it is much better than in others. Whether a change in structure would effect an improvement, however, I am not sure, but I shall be happy to discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and to write to the hon. Gentleman in due course.

Mr. Molloy

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, notwithstanding the economic difficulties afflicting most of Western society, his speech on education was warmly welcomed by ordinary people? Will he make another speech and make it clear that he will in no wav undertake to submit to the clamour of the Conservative Party to inflict savage cuts on education, which would be the equivalent of eating the seed corn?

The Prime Minister

I am glad to say that I have now been invited to make a speech at Woodberry Down School on 9th November, where I have no doubt that I shall have something further to say about this matter. This is an area in which I naturally want to see the high level of public expenditure that is devoted to education—about £6 billion a year—used in proper priority, if necessary reordering the existing priorities, so that we can get real value for money.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Whilst welcoming the Prime Minister's support of our ideas on standards in education, and understanding the difficulties that there may be in dropping the Education Bill, may I ask whether, as an earnest of his sincerity, he can now give an undertaking that no local education authority will be forced into going comprehensive without being given adequate financial resources to make a good job of it and avoid botched-up schemes?

The Prime Minister

The Opposition's pathological dislike of comprehensive schools is exceeded only by the reaction of Pavlov's dogs when the bell rings. If the hon. Gentleman would concern himself more with the content and less with the structure of education, we might do very much better.