HC Deb 05 February 1980 vol 978 cc211-4
1. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received to date on the effects of financial cuts on education provision.

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

I have met deputations from all the main teacher unions, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of Universities of the United Kingdom and from the TUC. I have also met the Archbishop of Westminster and other Church leaders; and I have received many letters from individuals and representatives of local interests, either direct or through hon. Members.

Mr. Roberts

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that the widely held view in education circles is that the cuts, in conjunction with the Education (No. 2) Bill, will seriously damage mandatory educational provision? It will devastate the non-mandatory sector and abolish virtually all educational welfare provisions such as school meals. Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the industrial action that is being taken today by teachers is a reflection of the real concern felt by them, if not by all Conservative Members.

Hon. Members

Too long.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must be patient. That is a short question in North Wales.

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear that I do not accept a word of what he says. The reductions in expenditure are necessary. I believe that they can be achieved without causing damage in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. With regard to his comment about teachers, I hope very much that before they consider taking action of any kind they will consider the effect of that action on the children they teach.

Mr. Montgomery

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that today in Trafford, because of cuts in education, the National Union of Teachers has decided to take limited strike action, despite the fact that the council was prepared last Friday to make concessions? The education of children in Trafford is suffering. Is there any move that can be made to restore full-time teaching in the schools of Trafford?

Mr. Carlisle

It is for the Trafford local education authority to decide the way in which it makes reductions in public expenditure. I repeat that I very much regret any action taken by the National Union of Teachers, or any other teaching body, that will harm the educational opportunities of children.

Mr. Kinnock

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman take advantage of this Question Time to announce what changes he proposes to make to clause 23 of the Education (No. 2) Bill to prevent new impositions on parents? Is he aware that if he does not make substantial changes in this respect he will render denominational choice ineffectual in many schools, impose new impoverishment upon parents who are already demonstrably poor and make it impossible for many parents to afford to send their children to school in rural areas?

Mr. Carlisle

No, Sir, I shall not do that at this stage. However, I have made it clear that I shall consider whether it is necessary to put down any amendments on Report. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Report stage is likely to be taken during the early part of next week. I can add only two other comments. First, it is not the intention of the Government in any way to damage the interests of denominational schools. Secondly, the answer to the hon. Gentleman's comment about poor children is that under our proposals local education authorities have power to remit any charges that they may make in any cases which they think are appropriate.

Mr. Beith

Since school transport and school meals represent the biggest cuts, what will the Secretary of State say to those authorities which decide not to impose these charges, at least in full measure, especially on country and Catholic children? Will they not have to face more cuts in the classroom as a result?

Mr. Carlisle

Yes, I fear that that is so. The Government have made it clear that, in the interests of the economy as a whole, these reductions in expenditure must be made. I hope that a large proportion can be made out of charging for meals and transport, rather than in the classroom. If local education authorities choose to do it in another way, that is a matter for them. But it follows, I accept, that if they are to make the reductions and choose not to do it in that way, inevitably it must have some greater effect on the standard of education.

Mr. Alan Clark

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take advantage of this opportunity to deny that there is any suggestion of cutting back—still less doing away with—the assisted places scheme? Does he agree that there is a distinction between measures designed to improve the economy and those designed to take advantage of that improvement?

Mr. Carlisle

I should like to make it absolutely clear to my hon. Friend that the provisions for the assisted places scheme are in the Education (No. 2) Bill that is going through the House. It is my intention that it should start as proposed, but I have always made it clear that the timing and the extent of its implementation must be left in my hands.

Mr. Golding

Is the Minister aware that the sale by the Staffordshire county council of the land in Llandudno on which the Blackfriars school for the disabled has its holiday caravan is an absolute disgrace? Will he issue directions to counties not to take the consequences of these cuts out on the disabled?

Mr. Carlisle

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that that is an extremely detailed question, of which I must ask him to give me notice. If he cares to write to me about that matter I shall look into it.