HC Deb 23 October 1979 vol 972 cc175-8
2. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the £4.3 million cuts in education expenditure by Derbyshire county council; and if he will make a statement.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

My right hon. and learned Friend has received no such representations. As the Government have made clear, it is for individual local authorities to decide, in the light of local circumstances, on priorities within and between services.

Mr. Skinner

I have no doubt that the Department will be receiving representations shortly. Is the Minister aware that on top of the massive cuts proposed by the county council there is a threat by the Government, together with the Tory-controlled county council, to do away with free transport for hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren outside the two or three-mile limits? Will the Minister guarantee that such a proposal will not be carried through by the Government? If it is good enough for Tory Ministers to travel free, it is good enough for the schoolchildren of Derbyshire and elsewhere to do so.

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Gentleman will know what is in the Education Bill within two or three days, when it is published. As to cuts in education expenditure in Derbyshire, the figure is not £4.3 million mentioned in the Question but £3 million, which is 2.5 per cent. or 1 per cent. less than the cuts announced in 1976 by the Labour Government for 1977–78.

Mr. Stoddart

If the Minister has not received any representations from Derbyshire, he must surely have heard that the Tory chairman of the Wiltshire county council—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must put down a question on that subject.

3. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement about the effect of the educational expenditure cuts on the universities.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

I expect to set grant for the new academic year at a level in real terms about 1 per cent. above that for 1978–79. I hope to be able to make an announcement about grant for the following year shortly.

Mr. Canavan

As the recently proposed cut of £100 million will inevitably mean cuts in the number of students, courses and staff in practically every university, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman give a guarantee that no university will be forced to close? Does he not realise that those who will suffer most from such a mean policy will be overseas students from the poorest countries, who will have to pay fees of £3,500 a year, thus making them the highest fees in the world?

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman asked two questions. As to his first, we have still not announced our figures for 1980–81, although we shall shortly do so, but I do not believe that they will lead to the closure of any university. As to his second question, the fact is that in higher education today we have about 58,000 overseas students, whereas as recently as 1971 we had only 39,000.

Mr. Bowden

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is growing public anger at the misuse of public funds by those student union bodies which disrupt activities and behave like hooligans? Will he now take steps to remove that money and ensure that it is used more effectively?

Mr. Carlisle

I obviously regret any action that causes disruption of any kind, and from time to time I appear to be the butt of some of that action. I do not know whether that has any direct involvement in the spending of public money. As I said, our proposal for the universities is a 1 per cent. increase in real terms from what it was last year, and I hope that when the figures for 1980–81 are announced it will be found that we are keeping that at constant levels.

Mr. Gwilym Roberts

Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the proportion of students who go to British universities is still lamentably low compared with many of our industrial competitors? Does he not also agree that the views that he expressed earlier about the cuts are not shared by many vice-chancellors?

Mr. Carlisle

It is, of course, true that the percentage of those going on to our universities, although not necessarily to all forms of further education, is lower than in certain other countries. That I accept. As to the second part of the question, I repeat what I said earlier. I do not accept the wilder statements made about the effect of our reductions in expenditure in that area.

Mr. Stokes

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that too many universities were created in this country after the war, and that we are now paying the penalty for that?

Mr. Carlisle

I think I am right in saying that the entry into universities this year is at its highest ever.

4. Mr. Winnick

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received from teachers' unions regarding public expenditure cuts in the education service.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

I have met delegations from all the main teacher unions to discuss a range of issues, including public expenditure. I have also received many letters from individual branches of those unions.

Mr. Winnick

Does the Secretary of State appreciate that, with the widespread cuts and the jobs that will be lost in the education service, there has been much disappointment that, with all his liberal reputation and image, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has simply caved in to the Cabinet attack on the State schools and the standard of education in our country?

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful for what I suppose was meant to be a compliment in the hon. Gentleman's question, but I do not accept his conclusion. We are planning for a 3 per cent. reduction in expenditure this year and a further 1 per cent. reduction in expenditure next year. I believe that that can be achieved without having the effect on standards of education which the hon. Gentleman implied.

Mr. Chapman

So that the whole question of the so-called cuts can be put into a proper perspective, can my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House how much money his Department will be devoting this year to our education services, compared with last year?

Mr. Carlisle

I cannot do so without notice of the details. But I can tell my hon. Friend that in terms of overall expenditure we spend £8 billion on education, of which £6 billion goes through local education authorities, mainly on schools.

Mr. Kinnock

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman check on his sums? Is he not aware that we are not talking about minuscule percentage cuts? When one considers the Government's refusal to take account of their responsibility to meet Clegg pay awards, the level of inflation, to which they have substantially subscribed, the cuts in rate support grant and the cash limits, one realises that the figure for education cuts, on 1978–79 estimates, is nearer 17 per cent., rather than the figure that the Secretary of State has given hitherto?

Mr. Carlisle

I am grateful that, according to the hon. Gentleman, our proposed cuts are, in his own word, "minuscule". I shall remember that, and I am grateful to him for saying it. As to his other comments, he is, with great respect, wrong. We have not reneged on any Clegg commission report. Indeed, the Clegg commission has not yet reported. As to inflation, the hon. Gentleman must surely realise that when we talk of expenditure cuts, or otherwise, in real terms, we take account of inflation in arriving at those figures.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. This question will arise later in another form.