HC Deb 19 January 1982 vol 16 cc141-2
7. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will convene a conference of the major organisations concerned with adult education.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William Shelton)

No, Sir. The Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education was established to provide a forum for discussion and advice in this important sector of education, and its membership broadly reflects the wide range of interests involved.

Mr. Dormand

Is the Minister aware that if he were to call such a conference he would quickly be told that those in adult education have completely lost confidence in the Government? Does he agree that an essential first step is to make a legal basis for adult education and that the Government's prevarication in that matter is a demonstration of their lack of concern? In a recent debate the hon. Gentleman admitted that adult education played a vital role in a changing technological world. What is he doing to restore the devastating cuts that have been made in adult education?

Mr. Shelton

I agree that the Government believe that adult education plays a vital role. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a review group on the legal basis of further education asked for comments, which were received. We are grateful to those who collaborated. The position is being reviewed and plans will be formulated during this year. The hon. Gentleman is wrong about the financial basis. In the revised expenditure plans for 1982–83 the total is £52.3 million, which is a considerable easement on the plans stated in Cmnd. 8175.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend agree that adult education can be a basis for a substantial move forward in training for those who become unemployed? With regard to the legal status, will he confirm, as he said in reply to a Christmas Adjournment debate that I initiated, that local authorities will support adult education as a statutory duty placed upon them? Will the Government do the same?

Mr. Shelton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who knows a great deal about those matters. I agree with both points that he made.

Mr. Haynes

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Education and Science, having ruined the Health Service and industry, is now ruining education? Why the hell does he not agree to a conference to explain to the people of this nation that we need to put back what has been taken away from adult education?

Mr. Shelton

I am glad to say that the hon. Gentleman is wrong in all his assertions. As I have already said, the expenditure plans announced recently have started to put back what had been taken away.

Mr. Haynes

By you.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We must use parliamentary language. That was not even Welsh language.

Mr. Spriggs

Will the Minister think again about the reply given to my hon. Friend's original question about the convening of a conference with organisations concerned with adult education? Is he aware that if he convenes such a conference he will discover that new students in adult education are finding it impossible to carry on with that education? Is he further aware that if he agrees to such meetings with those organisations he will come face Lo face with the true facts and will see what the economies are doing to adult education?

Mr. Shelton

I personally, and my colleagues, have had meetings with various bodies in adult education, and further meetings are planned. We attach great importance to them. However, the hon. Gentleman is profoundly mistaken. Enrolment in adult education in November 1977 was 1.7 million. In 1980 it was 1.6 million—a drop of only 100,000—and in 1981 the estimated drop is only 3 per cent. Adult education may have suffered a small drop, but it is in good shape. I remind local education authorities that, with the easement in the financial plans that we have announced, there is a strong basis for a viable and continuing adult education programme.

Mr. Squire

Does my hon. Friend none the less recognise that rather less than 0.5 per cent. of the total education budget is now spent on adult education and that one of the best services that he could do for adult education during his term of office would be to increase the percentage of the education budget, let alone other budgets, that is spent in this vital area?

Mr. Shelton

My hon. Friend has a point. One of the results of the cuts in the adult education budget has been an increase in the average hourly fee in adult education, which in 1978–79 was 25p and today is about 51p in cash terms. Nevertheless, the continuing high enrolment shows that adult education is still excellent value for money. I think that that is generally recognised.