HC Deb 13 March 1979 vol 964 cc258-60
12. Mr. Goodhart

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further steps she is taking to implement the Bullock report on literacy.

Miss Margaret Jackson

As I have previously advised the hon. Member, the recommendations of the Bullock report were addressed to the education service as a whole. Replies from local education authorities to my Department's circular 14/77 on their curricular arrangements have indicated active programmes of work in this field, supported by the Inspectorate. The recently published survey of primary education in England also contained encouraging evidence of the priority given to language skills and of a continued improvement in reading standards. The possibility of further action will be considered in the light of consultations based on a report on authorities' replies to circular 14/77 which is now in preparation.

Mr. Goodhart

Has the Minister read recent articles in the education supplement of The Guardian which draw attention to the sharply declining provision of school books? Is she also aware that four and a half years ago the Bullock committee made a central recommendation in its report about the appointment of a committee to advise on capitation allowances and the provision of school books? As the Minister told me last June that she was actively considering implementing this recommendation, why has nothing happened?

Miss Jackson

I did tell the hon. Member that, and we have not closed our minds to the possibility of setting up such a working party. We are examining the demands that would be made on manpower by a number of inquiries, of which this is one. The National Book League has established a working party, which is expected to report early next year. We want to take that report into account as well in making our decision.

Mr. Hardy

Will my right hon. Friend emphasise that the Bullock report was far more reassuring on the question of literacy than Conservative Members, particularly those on the Front Bench, would have the country believe?

Miss Jackson

Not only do I say that, but I add that the reassuring statements made by the Bullock report have been more than borne out by the recent primary survey, which has revealed a similar picture.

Dr. Boyson

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that although she is quoting from the Bullock report, the House has not yet debated it? At some time in the dying hours of this Government may we have a debate on that report? In that debate, will the Government recommend what, within the rate support grant—not a separate grant—would be reasonable expenditure per primary school child and per secondary school child on books and tools of learning in any school?

Miss Jackson

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's observations, although I doubt whether his friends in the local authorities will thank him for them. The amount of money made available for capitation to local authorities has been substantially increased. With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first observation, it is not a matter for me when a debate should be held. I suggest that he approaches his right hon. Friend and asks for time from his own side.