HC Deb 22 May 1979 vol 967 cc855-6
5. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is satisfied with the allocation of many schools for textbooks; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the current level of expenditure on books in schools.

Dr. Boyson

My right hon. and learned Friend recognises that it is very important for schools to have an adequate supply of books but it is for each authority to decide its own pattern of spending in the light of local needs and circumstances.

Mr. Skinner

May I first congratulate the hon. Gentleman on being pushed to the bottom of the list on the Tory Front Bench? I am sure he is pleased about that recommendation. Will he give a guarantee that if the country and the Department of Education can find £50 million for direct grant schools there will be no cutback in educational expenditure, whether on textbooks or in any other direction?

Dr. Boyson

I do not think that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) really understands local government finance. There is such a thing as the rate support grant. Labour Members talk about local option. Under the rate support grant, a sum of money is given each year to local authorities. It is up to local authorities to decide how they allocate that money within their own order of priorities. I would be surprised if the hon. Member were not the first to object if we put the allocation in 100 categories and said that everything, even expenditure on books, would be under a separate heading.

Mr. Marshall

Is the Minister aware that he has shown a complete misunderstanding of educational need over the past four years and that his reply to my hon. Friend indicates a complete misunderstanding of how local government operates? Does he accept that we need to maintain standards in this country and that the level of expenditure on books has direct relevance to that aim? Will he give a categoric assurance that if local authorities fall down on their duty he will see one of his main priorities as ensuring that expenditure is not only maintained but increased?

Dr. Boyson

I am sure that everyone on the Government side of the House feels as strongly about a good supply of books for schools as anyone on the Opposition side. All that the Government can do is to encourage expenditure on books, through the work of Her Majesty's inspectors and others. Since we have indicated as a Government that we think that there should be a good supply of books in schools, we hope that local authorities will listen to that advice.

Mr. Hardy

Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the House a little more about local government finance? Will he say how he can maintain standards, improve the provision of books, and meet the teachers' settlement and other settlements with which local authorities are faced unless there is an early announcement of an interim rate support grant? Otherwise, the ratepayers will have a very bewildering experience next year.

Dr. Boyson

This question is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It may be raised in debate later today.