HL Deb 24 July 1980 vol 412 cc506-9

3.4 p.m.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of their decision to support the development of adult literacy and basic education by making £500,000 available to the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit, they are monitoring the spending of that money in the regions.


My Lords, my department is represented on the unit's management committee, which is responsible both for the allocation of funds to projects and for ensuring that the unit's staff keep adequate check on how the money is spent.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness the Minister for that reply, may I ask whether she is aware that the East Midlands Advisory Council has decided it will not administer the funds allocated to it? Is the noble Baroness further aware that the LEAs supporting the regional advisory council are giving far fewer funds and literacy adult projects and adult education altogether are suffering very much in that region?

Baroness YOUNG

Yes, my Lords, the decision by the East Midlands Regional Council reflects the decision taken by the constituent local authorities to reduce greatly their support for the council, but this will affect only the training programme for tutors of the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit and not the other activities. While we do not welcome the decision by the local authorities in the East Midlands, we accept that it is a matter which they are entitled to determine in the light of their own priorities and of the resources available to them.


My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us how these sums are allocated? Secondly, what are the tests of literacy? Will the noble Baroness agree that illiteracy is not necessarily stupidity? There are many people in history who have been completely illiterate. Most of those who signed the Act of Union between Wales and England and between Scotland and England were illiterate but very wise people.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord's first question is that the spread of the funds of the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit will depend on the proposals that come forward or can be developed by the unit itself. A major part of the unit's funds are to be used for support of special development projects, and that includes the training of tutors for teaching literacy and basic skills. Although I would accept the general principle that not all illiterates are stupid, I think the noble Lord would agree that in a democracy it is a good thing to make sure that our population should be both literate and numerate.

Baroness STEDMAN

My Lords, the noble Baroness said in an earlier reply to my noble friend that cuts were being made in the training of instructors. Surely most of the people doing this work are volunteers, and therefore the cost of actual training must be very little on the instructors' part? Could the noble Baroness not put pressure on the East Midlands Advisory Council to use the money and use it for the purpose for which it was intended?

Baroness YOUNG

I must apologise to the noble Baroness because I could not fully hear all her question. The question of how the funds will be used and their spread will be a matter, of course, for the Adult Literacy Unit to determine itself. But we do believe that local authorities should be responsible for local provision in their areas and in other areas of adult education. We very much recognise that the work on literacy and numeracy is relatively expensive in terms of resources, but we hope very much that local authorities will bear in mind the priority which the Government attach to work with the disadvantaged. In the course of the normal discussions with the local authorities about expenditure on education, we will explore with them their ability to maintain and even increase in provision of this kind.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, coming back to an earlier answer by the Minister, do I understand that the department is going to sit back quite happily, having allocated half a million pounds to this project, and will do nothing about these regions? You will put no pressure on them at all to have the projects carried forward? It seems to me it is not much use giving the money unless it is to be spent.

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I hope that I have indicated in my earlier answers to the other questions which have been asked the importance the Government attach to this work. If indeed there is some viable alternative to a regional advisory council's participation in this work, I am quite certain that this is a matter which the Adult Literacy Unit service will be looking at themselves; and, even if they have not decided to do so already, I am quite certain their attention will be drawn to the questions and answers this afternoon, because quite obviously the point which the noble Baroness has raised is an important one.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, in view of the debate that we are going to have later this afternoon, could the noble Baroness tell me whether any time on the fourth channel is going to be used, either for this adult literacy programme or for any other educational programme?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I hope my noble friend will agree with me that his question is rather wide of the Question which is down on the Order Paper. But if he would like to put down a Question on that subject, I will do my best to answer it.