HC Deb 20 January 1987 vol 108 cc719-21
1. Mr. Terry Davis

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on the provision of resources for the purchasing of books in primary and secondary schools.

4. Mr. Cunliffe

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement on the provision of resources for the purchasing of books in primary and secondary schools.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Dunn)

The Government's plans for local authority current expenditure on education in 1987–88, published in last week's public expenditure White Paper, provide for local education authorities to increase spending on school books, so long as they budget sensibly.

Mr. Davis

Is the Minister aware that the situation in Birmingham is so bad that fifth year students at Hodge Hill school have complained to the school governors about the lack of textbooks? Although the Secretary of State is widely quoted in Birmingham as having promised £100 for every fourth year GCSE student for books, equipment and staff training, in reality the city has received less than £60 per student and the school has so far received less than £30 per student, of which one third has come from the city's own resources. Is that yet another example of the Secretary of State's assurances being shown to be bogus when put to the test?

Mr. Dunn

The points that the hon. Gentleman has raised are matters for the local educattion authority. Within our plans for next year we are allowing for about £100 million to be spent on non-teaching costs, including books and equipment, associated with GCSE. That includes the £10 million expenditure on books and equipment already announced by the Government, and will be supported through the education support grant.

Mr. Cunliffe

Is the Minister aware that the amount of money spent on textbooks and library books in the Wigan education authority is 17.2 per cent. down for the current financial year on the 1979 figure? Is he further aware that at one time the cost was £5.19 per pupil, but that it is now £4.30 per pupil? Is the Minister proud of that? Is it not a standing disgrace that, in real terms, the opportunity for our pupils to advance in secondary education has been reduced because of a lack of textbooks?

Mr. Dunn

I am proud of the fact that my hon hon. Friend the Secretary of State was able to secure additional expenditure of £2 billion for 1987–88 compared with this financial year. That represents a cash increase of 18.8 per cent. and should increase expenditure by local education authorities in several areas, including books and equipment.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

I recognise that all local education authorities would welcome additional funds for purchasing books. Can my hon. Friend confirm that some guidance will be given in the purchase of any sex education books, to ensure that no "go gay" policies, such as those in evidence in the boroughs of Brent, Haringey and Ealing, are encouraged, because parents are worried that their children may be corrupted by that sort of book?

Mr. Dunn

My hon. Friend will know that we have equipped the parents and consumers of education with increased powers under our new legislation, some of which will take effect immediately, to enable them to put pressure on local education authorities and schools about the nature, type and choice of books for different syllabuses in schools.

Mr. Robert Atkins

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the quality of the funding that both he and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have been able to secure for the education service and on recognising that this is very much a matter for the local education authorities. Does he appreciate, however, that there is considerable concern in Lancashire as expressed by the leader of the Conservative group on the county council and other parliamentary colleagues who wish to take up the matter with him, about the number of old schools not having minor works carried out because of a lack of resources?

Mr. Dunn

My hon. Friend makes his point effectively and I look forward to receiving a deputation of Lancashire county councillors and Members of Parliament. These matters are for local education authorities and any statement must be judged against the background of the additional resources that we have secured for expenditure in the next financial year.

Mr. Foot

Does the Minister appreciate that publishers who produce the books and the Publishers Association, which is capable of working out the figures, conclude that there has been a savage real cut in the sums available for school books and that that is additional to the cuts in the number of books purchased for public libraries and universities? That adds up to a fearsome total. Does he think that the miserable measures that he has announced will put that barbarous policy into reverse?

Mr. Dunn

I have observed the trend on expenditure by individual local education authorities. Some have been successful in increasing expenditure on books, while others have not. Some authorities have been more successful in privatising non-educational services within the education system, which enables them to spend more on books and equipment.

Mr. Sackville

Is my hon. Friend aware of the wide discrepancy between local education authorities in their spending on GCSE new books? Is he further aware that Bolton has decided to invest a small amount of its funds, thereby attracting only a fraction of the central Government funding available, and that that is causing genuine anxiety among local head teachers?

Mr. Dunn

I am glad that my hon. Friend has chosen this opportunity to expose the actions of his local education authority. I dare say that that decision will be judged in any election that occurs in the near future.