HC Deb 23 October 1979 vol 972 cc187-9
10. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the effect of public expenditure cuts on education.

13. Mr. Jim Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the effect of expenditure cuts on education standards.

Mr. Mark Carlisle

I have confined reductions in planned expenditure for 1980–81 as far as possible to those areas of my programme which do not form an essential part of the provision of education for young people. I do not anticipate any adverse effect on education standards.

Mr. Evans

Is the Secretary of State aware that that reply is not in keeping with the estimates made by local education authorities? Does he realise that the Mid-Glamorgan education authority estimates that a 5 per cent. reduction in resources will result in the closure of all adult education centres, three education centres, a reduction of 100 nursery school teachers and the closing of three library services? If the Secretary of State is not going to battle in the Cabinet to ensure that the education service receives more resources, will he do the right thing and resign?

Mr. Carlisle

How a local authority chooses to reach its target of what will be a 4 per cent. reduction in present expenditure in any year is a matter for that authority. We, as a Government, have a duty to see that we, as a country, live within our means. We cannot do that without making reductions in the plans that we have inherited. Unfortunately, education has had to take its share of those reductions. I am satisfied that we have made them in a way that will not affect the standard of education.

Mr. Marshall

Will the Secretary of State please come clean and admit to the House, and the country, that the cuts in education expenditure will have, and will increasingly have, adverse effects on the standard of education? Will he admit this publicly instead of hiding behind a facade of pretence that these cuts will have no such effect?

Mr. Carlisle

We must keep this in proportion. The situation is that the Government have asked this year for a 3 per cent. reduction in expenditure, and a 5 per cent. reduction in what was planned expenditure for next year. That means spending £96 for every £100 spent last year. I do not accept particularly because of the freedom that I propose to allow over meals, milk and transport, that authorities cannot achieve that figure without having the effects that the hon. Member implies.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I fully support and endorse the views expressed by my right hon. and learned Friend. Is he aware of the recent inquiry undertaken in the North-West by the CBI into the activities of Cheshire county council? That inquiry found that for every 100 teachers at least 70 administrative and ancillary staff were employed. Will he encourage the CBI to undertake further such surveys and inquiries into other local authorities and county councils? Does he agree that this kind of inquiry and the public expenditure cuts which the Government are requesting could well produce a reduction in expenditure and an increase in standards in education?

Mr. Carlisle

I should welcome the CBI undertaking an inquiry into any other county of the kind that it undertook in the county which my hon. Friend and I represent. On his wider question, the proposals for 1980–81 envisaged, overall, no reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio, which is as good as it has ever been.

Mrs. Ann Taylor

Does the Secretary of State agree that those local authorities that are trying to save money by cutting down, or even abolishing, nursery education are making very short-sighted decisions? Does he agree that nursery education is a particularly important investment, and that its absence will put an even greater strain on primary schools? Will he include nursery education in the category of essential education that he mentioned his first answer?

Mr. Carlisle

Having said that I believe that local education authorities should be free to decide how they spend their moneys, I am not prepared to comment on the individual ways in which they choose to do it. Our plans for this year provide for an additional 4,000 places in nursery education. Our plans for 1980–81 provide for a further 2,000 places.

Mr. Fletcher-Cooke

Does my right hon. and learned Friend nevertheless agree that although he is leaving this to the local education authorities, quite rightly, he must use all his power and influence to see that school textbooks, which are central to education, are the least affected by these cuts? I add my plea to that of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell), that textbooks, which are the centre of our education system, should not suffer. If necessary, peripheral matters should.

Mr. Carlisle

I fully accepted the point made by my hon and learned Friend in the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell). Of course textbooks are important. I remind the House again that, in the end, we can spend only as much money on education as the country can afford. What we can spend and afford in the future depends upon our ability to expand the economy of this country, by leaving more money for the potential wealth-creating sectors.