HC Deb 18 December 1979 vol 976 cc262-3
4. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what study he has made of the replies from local authority associations and 15 individual authorities to his consultative paper for a microelectronics development programme in schools and colleges.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

These replies and others have been carefully studied and clearly show that there is a case for a programme to help schools and colleges make the best use of opportunities offered by microelectronics. However, the announcement of firm plans for a programme remains dependent on wider public expenditure considerations.

Mr. Dalyell

To what extent is the programme affected by cuts?

Mr. Macfarlane

So far the programme has not been affected by any review of public expenditure. The initiative which the previous Administration took in March was not enshrined in the White Paper on expenditure for 1979–80. In the last six months my noble Friend the Minister of State and I have consulted the local authorities and visited secondary schools and microelectronic manufacturers throughout the country to try to ascertain the pace of change. The House will recognise that we have undertaken an important programme. We hope to make an announcement early in the new year. By then we should know precisely what the level of expenditure should be and how the taxpayers' money can be spent most beneficially.

Mr. Wigley

Does the Minister accept that there is an urgent need to give teachers, and those being trained as teachers, a background knowledge of microelectronics so that in the next four or five years pupils will be able to face this revolution?

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is one of the matters which we have been considering. Teacher training is an important element and this is under urgent discussion.

Mr. Ian Lloyd

Does my hon. Friend accept that exceptions must be made to the general strategy of cuts in public expenditure—although they are few—and that none is more important than this?

Mr. Macfarlane

The House will acknowledge that many issues are important. My right hon. and learned Friend and I certainly do not underestimate the vital importance of this programme in the next few years. One of our main anxieties is to ensure, in monitoring what has happened so far, that we are not already obsolete in our ideas of what should be done. The pace of change has been tremendous in recent years. We must ensure that the programme is thoroughly up to date.