HC Deb 05 July 1983 vol 45 cc140-1
4. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when Her Majesty's Government will announce details of their policy to widen parental choice in education.

12. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether a voucher system covering the secondary stage of education will be introduced during the present Parliament.

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government have at present no plans to legislate for the introduction of a voucher system, but, as indicated in the Gracious Speech, we are looking at all possible ways of widening parental choice and influence over their children's schooling.

Mr. Atkinson

Does my right hon. Friend accept the concept of the education voucher, which offers parents the best opportunity to exercise the widest choice of secondary schools best suited to their children's academic abilities? It also determines which schools are least popular for parents and helps local education authorities that are facing the decision of which schools to close because of falling school rolls. Will my right hon. Friend therefore enter into discussions with the local education authorities as soon as possible and decide how and when education vouchers can be implemented?

Sir Keith Joseph

It was precisely for the reason that my hon. Friend spells out that I was and remain intellectually attracted to the idea, but I have never hidden the fact that there are great difficulties in putting the idea into practice. At the moment we seem to be defeated by the problems.

Mr. Hardy

Did the Secretary of State's decision not to proceed with the voucher system arise from the application of common sense, or would he prefer to attribute it to the overwhelming weight of informed educational opinion, which is extremely suspicious or critical of the proposal? Before the right hon. Gentleman develops the idea further, will he ensure that there is proper consultation, so that grave damage is not inflicted on the system?

Sir Keith Joseph

The purpose of any such idea is to benefit the children. That should make the purpose common ground. Certainly no steps in this direction will be taken without the most careful thought about practicability.

Mr. Madel

Will not the recent announcement of the expansion of the technical and vocational education initiative, which will enable more local authorities to develop pilot schemes for 14 to 18-year-olds, inevitably widen parental choice?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend is right. That is one of the several reasons why the Government are pleased to be able to spread that initiative.

Mr. Beith

What finally killed off the idea to which the Secretary of State was so attracted? Was it the impossibility of education authorities being able to provide education under such a scheme for the range of children that they have, or was it the grotesque disproportionate cost?

Sir Keith Joseph

Cost is a factor, but moving from what is in effect a nationalised service to what in effect would be a less nationalised service presents literally myriad problems.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that social unity and educational harmony are more likely to come through diversity of provision in schools, rather than through uniformity? To that end, what move would my right hon. Friend take if he were invited to approve a Moslem school?

Sir Keith Joseph

I did not see the sting in my hon. Friend's tail. In considering any proposal for a school limited in selection, it is the duty of the holder of my office to consider the arguments for and against and to give them serious consideration, in the children's interests.

Mr. Dobson

How has parental choice been extended in secondary schools in which technology and languages have disappeared from the curriculum, or their swimming and music classes have had to be abandoned, because the local education authority cannot afford them?

Sir Keith Joseph

The fact is that different local education authorities with the same resources and the same problems manage to deploy the money available differently to cover an ambitious curriculum. For every local education authority that misses, out one subject, others manage, with the same resources, to cover it.