HC Deb 13 January 1981 vol 996 cc837-9
1. Mr. Dobson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has now completed his review of education in inner London.

7. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to complete the review of the arrangements for education in inner London.

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

The Government's review of the arrangements for education in inner London is not yet complete. I have undertaken to make a statement when it is.

Mr. Dobson

Will the Secretary of State accept that the continued delay in bringing to an end the squalid vendetta that the Government are pursuing against the Inner London Education Authority is seriously damaging the education prospects of children in London? Will he, in the meantime, congratulate the ILEA on its courageous and sensible decision to spend what it believes is necessary to maintain education standards in London and also to cut the price of school meals?

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman has asked about four supplementary questions, and I shall deal with them in turn. First, no, I do not consider that a sensible and careful review of the education provision in inner London is in any way a squalid exercise. Secondly, while I realise, of course, that it is important that we should bring the review to an end as soon as possible, I equally realise that it is important that we should get the right results. Therefore, it is necessary that the review should take its normal course.

With regard to the Inner London Education Authority's expenditure, all that I say to the hon. Gentleman is that I believe that the ILEA should spend what is necessary to provide proper education facilities within inner London. I am bound to point out that, on the basis of any objective review that one can make, one finds that the provision of education in inner London is considerably more expensive than it is anywhere else in the country, to the detriment of inner London ratepayers.

Mr. Dubs

Is it not a fact that the Cabinet has seen an early report of this review of education in inner London and has rejected it because it does not like its conclusions? Is it not about time that the Secretary of State came clean to the House about his real intentions regarding education I in inner London?

Mr. Carlisle

I certainly do not intend to be persuaded by the hon. Gentleman to say what has or has not been on any Cabinet agenda. All that I say is that the review is continuing. When it is completed, I shall make a statement to the House.

Mr. William Shelton

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the fact that the Inner London Education Authority can, without any check, precept on the ratepayers of London should be taken into account in the review?

Mr. Carlisle

The proper degree of financial control of the Inner London Education Authority is one of the matters of concern that led to the setting up of the review in the first place, and it is a concern that has been expressed much more widely than merely on the conservative Benches.

Mr. Christopher Price

If the Secretary of State believes that the ILEA should spend the amount of money that is necessary to educate properly the youngsters in inner London, will he consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and come to some reasonable agreement about the availability of that money? Is he aware that if the ILEA is to be limited to the amount of money currently made available by his right hon. Friend, his objective as stated in the House today cannot, by any standards, be achieved?

Mr. Carlisle

The figure for grant-related expenditure for inner London is arrived at on the same basis of assessment as the figures arrived at for similar expenditure in other parts of the country, taking account of the various factors in those different parts of the country, which in London includes London weighting. In practice the figure thus arrived at turns out to be one third lower than the amount that inner London has actually been spending, but I do not think that that in any way questions the basis of need arrived at by that grant-related figure.

Mr. Chapman

As the appointed manager of two primary schools in the ILEA area, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that there should be the most utter concern at the recent reports about the standards of education and academic qualifications in the inner London area and that his report will be awaited with keen interest? Does he agree that crucial to this is a more democratic financial control of the ILEA and how it works?

Mr. Carlisle

As I said, questions about the democratic and financial accountability of the ILEA were part of the reason for setting up the review. As to standards, I hope very much that the ILEA will take heart at what the inspectors said in their report on inner London, which showed, if I may put it at its lowest, that provision was certainly patchy.

Mr. Field

Does the Secretary of State accept that there is a link between the Government's review of education provision in London and the wish among large sections of the Conservative Party to break up ILEA, on the one hand and on the other the most recent rate support grant proposals? Is he aware that if the ILEA holds to its policy of maintaining education standards in its schools, which until recently was also Government policy, its grant will be reduced from £125 million to £7 million? Alternatively, if it accepts the prescribed level laid down by the Government in the rate support grant, the ILEA will have to break the law in many respects, including the laws on education that this House has passed during this Parliament.

Mr. Carlisle

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's participation in these debates and his appointment as a junior Opposition spokesman on education. Of course it is right to say that one of the matters looked at in the review was the suggestion that has been made at various times that the ILEA should in some way be broken up. Therefore, that was one of the background causes for the setting up of the review.

As to expenditure, it is a fact that the Government's decision to reduce the rate support grant from 61 to 60 per cent., combined with the decision to right the shift of resources from the shire counties to London, which occurred during the previous Government, and the fact that the ILEA was spending at a higher level than its grant-related expenditure comes out at, meant that the volume of grant available to inner London in the coming year was reduced. In the end, how much grant ILEA receives will depend upon the amount of money that it chooses to spend, because block grant works on the system that if it ignores the Government's guidelines and spends more, it will get less grant in the end.