§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
It is estimated that in the present financial year expenditure on education in England and Wales, but including universities for Great Britain as a whole, will be about £6,250 million, at 1976 survey prices. The figure for 1971–72, at the same price base, is £5,420 million.
§ Mr. Hardy
Is it not clear that, despite the declining birth-rate and the talk of savage cuts, education should receive this year and for the rest of the 1970s rather greater provision and support than it received five or six years ago, provided that the local authorities continue to act responsibly? Is my right hon. Friend confident that all of them will do so?
§ Mrs. Williams
As I have cited in answer to the Question, the growth between these two years was 15.3 per cent. in real terms, which is just under twice the increase in the total school population of 8 per cent. My hon. Friend's assumption is therefore correct. I have advised local authorities not to alter or reduce the staff-pupil ratio and to give priority to the staffing of schools. If they take notice of that advice, I am convinced that education policy will improve and not deteriorate in the coming year.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
Will the right hon. Lady take into account 1978–79, when she will find that one-quarter of the proposed cuts in Government expenditure will fall on education? Although we agree on both sides of the House that education should have its fair share of the cuts, surely that is excessive, above all from a Labour Government?
§ Mrs. Williams
I should point out to the hon. Gentleman that a substantial proportion of the proposed cuts will fall upon the capital building programme. The net fall has been much altered by the change in the birth-rate, though obviously, like the hon. Gentleman, I am determined that education shall not carry more than its fair share of reductions.