HC Deb 06 March 1984 vol 55 cc721-2
6. Mr. Proctor

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will estimate the number of pupils in primary and secondary education whose mother tongue is not English.

Mr. Dunn

Figures available to the Department from the 1981 language census and reports from local education authorities in 1982 show in the region of 500,000 pupils.

Mr. Proctor

What response has my hon. Friend made in the light of the EEC directive and the pressure on the United Kingdom Government from the EEC Commission for the improvement in mother-tongue teaching in this country?

Mr. Dunn

Local education authorities have been made aware of the requirements of the directive through the issue of a circular and other means. Mother-tongue teaching has also been promoted through the Department of Education and Science sponsorship of research and projects.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

Does the Minister accept that there are as many speakers of mother-tongue languages other than English in England, as there are Welsh-speaking people in Wales? Is it not time that the Department spent as much resources in that direction as it does on the Welsh language?

Mr. Dunn

Far be it from me to become involved in any argument about the Welsh language. The House will simply note what the hon. Gentleman said.

Mr. John Fraser

Will the Minister recognise that it is a mark of a civilised and educated society to recognise that it has more than one root to its culture and that his Department ought to encourage the teaching of mother languages, whether they are Gujarati, Greek or Gaelic?

Mr. Dunn

There is a great deal of sense in what the hon. Gentleman says. At the end of the day, it is essential that young people leave our schools being able to read and write English fluently.

Mr. Alton

Is the Minister aware that many of the 17,000 Vietnamese boat people who came here five years ago still do not have a grasp of English? Does he not agree that there is a need to increase the provision particularly to teach those people the fundamentals of English, and, in that respect, will he have a word with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Home Secretary, to try to have section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966 extended so that extra provision can be made for non-Commowealth citizens?

Mr. Dunn

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman, and I undertake to inquire into the points that he has raised.

Mr. Eastham

Are not the numbers in the Minister's estimate concentrated mainly in the inner city areas? Are not the Government very much curtailing the funding and support for children in this category who need such assistance?

Mr. Dunn

If the hon. Gentleman cares to inquire, I think he will find that funding from the centre takes account of ethnic needs in inner cities, as well as those outside.