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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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Education And Science

Direct Grant Schools

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether the grant payable to the direct grant schools will be paid in full in 1976.

As I told the House on 27th January, I shall make a statement in due course about phasing out the direct grant system. I have already told the House that the grant will remain payable in respect of upper form pupils already in the schools when the phasing out begins. The exact position in 1976 will be governed by the nature and timing of the phasing-out operation.

Will the Secretary of State reconsider this reactionary policy, which has neither educational nor social justification and which serves to drive many of the finest schools out of the State sector into the independent sector, ensuring that those schools are made available only to those who are most well-off?

I think that many educational and social reasons could be advanced. I suggest that the Opposition should consider whether independent schools should be truly independent, whether they want such schools to receive a State subsidy and what possible justification there is for paying—on behalf of a Government and Parliament which have declared their will to go comprehensive—a State subsidy indefinitely to schools which are by their very nature selective.

Where direct grant schools decide to go into the local authority system, will my right hon. Friend advise local authorities to ensure that their staffs receive the same protection as is afforded to local authority teachers in reorganisation schemes?

I shall take account of my hon. Friend's point. Many such matters are now under active consideration.

Is there not a further point to be added to the cogent point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Mr. Stanley): that parents of children at direct grant schools save the taxpayer approximately £18 million a year? In view of the small sum of £4 million for improvements of schools in the building programme announced by the Secretary of State, would it not show a much better sense of educational priorities to leave these schools alone and to devote that money to secondary school improvement in general?

No, Sir. The implications of this change for public expenditure are difficult to assess exactly. However, from the provisional assessments we are making it is clear that there will be both a saving to public funds and an increase in public expenditure, which I think will very nearly balance out. Certainly it will not make much difference one way or the other to total public expenditure in the next few years.

Teachers

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many newly qualified teachers he expects will seek to enter the profession in 1975–76; and if he is satisfied that they will be recruited, in view of the planned reductions in the year 1975–76.

About 36,000 are likely to seek first appointments in maintained primary and secondary schools. Many local education authorities have not yet settled their staffing plans for 1975–76, but preliminary indications are that authorities collectively will take up the teacher quota in full.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. Is he aware of the great public disquiet which has arisen in Leicestershire at the county council's decision or proposal to reduce its 1975–76 education budget by £4 million? This will mean that as a direct consequence the gross intake of teachers into the county schools will be reduced by 350 next year, with a consequential reduction of two teachers per school, together with a reduction in the nutritional content of school meals.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of those actions in Leicester? Is he prepared to introduce emergency legislation to appoint education commissioners to look at local authorities to ensure that their educational standards do not go below the acceptable level?

No, Sir. I have no immediate plans to appoint education commissioners. However, I have made it clear to all local education authorities that we believe that the additional teachers available should be found employment during the coming school year. The quota was designed to achieve that. The replies we have received so far suggest that whereas 11 local education authorities wish to employ fewer teachers than their quota, 28 want to employ more than the suggested quota. The rate support grant figure was arrived at with the education component designed to achieve the full employment of the available teachers.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the method by which the Leicestershire County Council holds down its rates is a matter for the elected members of the county council?

Yes, Sir. It is a matter for me, and indeed for the House, to take a view nationally of the standards of our education system. I have expressed the view very clearly, I thought with the support of both sides of the House, that the community should find employment for the additional teachers available, find the money to employ them and, therefore, achieve an improvement in the staffing ratio.

How can my right hon. Friend justify the cutting back in teacher training in an area like my own in Bedfordshire when there is every indication that over the next few years the school population will rise, irrespective of what happens in the rest of the country, and where a number of children this term have already suffered from short-time schooling?

My hon. Friend will be aware that the teacher training plans in one locality are not designed simply to provide teachers for that locality. Looking at the national situation, it is clear that we shall have a school population falling off in numbers in the years ahead. We are trying to achieve a sufficient supply of teachers to improve staffing ratios, at the same time trying to avoid the risk of teacher unemployment, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) has just referred.

Would not it assist the situation if the right hon. Gentleman took up the suggestion made by the Conservative Party that teachers' salaries should be carried by the Exchequer as a short-term measure?

There are strong arguments for and against that proposal. My own view is that I am against it. But these matters, along with other aspects of local government finance, are being studied by the Layfield Committee, and there will be no question of a change in Government policy until its report is received and considered, even if then.

Nursery Education (Avon)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many places in nursery classes are available in the county of Avon in the current year; and how many he expects to be available in 1976.

In October 1974 there were 1,995 full-time equivalent nursery education places in the county of Avon. The authority has informed my Department that it does not propose to take up any part of its nursery education building allocations for the years 1974–75 and 1975–76.

My hon. Friend will appreciate the very strong feeling that exists among Government supporters about the essential nursery education which is not being provided in the county of Avon, where the job is being left to playgroups, which themselves are feeling the pinch in the present economic situation. Can my hon. Friend say what pressure will be brought to bear on counties like Avon which refuse to provide nursery education with the building programme and the money available?

I am glad to say that there are only two other authorities alongside Avon which have turned down their allocation. The Government have indicated to authorities that where they are not taking up their allocations we shall reallocate the allocations to other areas, especially those of social need. I am pleased to say that 57 authorities have taken up additional allocations and are now providing places in areas where deprived children are in great need.

No doubt my hon. Friend will give an additional windfall to Wolverhampton as a result of some authorities not taking up their allocations for nursery education—

It is a question, Mr. Speaker. Is my hon. Friend aware that if many authorities refuse to take up their allocations he might consider not allowing those authorities to have their full allocations for other school building, and that the Government ought therefore to make this a condition?

I take note of what my hon. Friend said about the claims of Wolverhampton. As for the national position, we are determined to proceed with this educational advance and we are using all the options open to us to persuade authorities to go ahead. We are keeping the matter under urgent review.

University Research

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will increase the funds available to the UGC in the light of the effect of inflation on research by the universities.

I announced in the House last December that universities would receive an additional £15 million for recurrent expenditure in the present academic year on account of increasing costs, which include research costs.

Is not the shortage of funds yet another reason why it would be ludicrous to hive off the Scottish universities and research in Scotland from the UGC at this time—and for no better reason than that it would give the Assembly something to do?

The Government still have to decide what proposals to make to the House about the exact powers of the Scottish Assembly. The views which I have received from the Vice-Chancellors' Committee, from the UGC and from many representatives of university opinion in Scotland support the view strongly that the Scottish universities' link with the UGC should be continued.

Would it not be better both for the universities and for parliamentary control of expenditure if the universities were funded on, say, a rolling three-year programme rather than the present quinquennial system?

That alternative has been discussed very often by successive Governments and the UGC. The balance of view has always been that the present system is a better one.

Public Lending Right

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he can now give a date when he will introduce the promised Bill to create a public lending right for authors.

A Bill is being prepared with a view to its early introduction.

Although I welcome that rather vague statement from the Under-Secretary, may I ask him to reiterate the pledge which was given in the Queen's Speech and which was made by him that a Bill would be introduced this Session? Will he also say whether he intends to keep his electoral pledge that £5 million would be made available from the Exchequer to right this longstanding injustice to authors?

In answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, yes, Sir. As for the second part, there was no electoral pledge and, there fore, I have nothing to reiterate.

My hon. Friend will remember that

"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick."
In these circumstances will he speed the elementary act of justice which was not only mentioned in the Queen's Speech but foreshadowed in the Labour Party manifesto?

I have had several consultations with the authors, their representatives and all the various interested organisations, and I am aware of the views which my hon. Friend mentioned. The proposal which I shall bring forward shortly will take account of all these and various other matters as well.

University Finance

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the financial difficulties now facing universities; and if he will make a statement.

I have received letters expressing appreciation of the additional grant of £15 million for the current academic year. This should relieve the immediate difficulties of the universities. I hope to announce shortly new levels of grant for the next two academic years which will take into account that the numbers of students in those years will not increase as rapidly as was expected at the beginning of the quinquennium.

In looking at the universities' problems for the remaining two years of the quinquennium, will the Government consider an improvement in the present system under which supplementation for certain of their increased current costs is very much in arrear?

The universities want me as quickly as possible to study the basic levels of grant for these two years. I cannot give any undertaking about what might be done in response to future rates of inflation?

Will my right hon. Friend say to what extent this grant falls short of the increased inflationary costs which the universities are now meeting? I get the impression that at all levels they are having to cut back in their work.

I cannot put a precise figure on this. But the universities are having to face economies as a result of the economic situation. They recognise as we all do that they cannot avoid taking their share of the burdens in the economic situation.

Did the right hon. Gentleman receive a letter of appreciation from the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, who reckoned that the £15 million was only about half what was required?

Without notice, I am not sure. Certainly I received a letter from the Chairman of the Vice-Chancellors' Committee on behalf of the vice-chancellors expressing their collective view that this was very welcome help in their situation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the vice-chancellors of the universities accepted the increase in grant with resignation rather than joy? Will he in future try to let inflation run side by side with rather than get so far ahead of the increase in grant?

I agree that the mood expressed fell short of joy, although it was better than resignation. I think that the vice-chancellors were hoping for some help and were glad that it came to as much as £15 million, but that still leaves them with severe difficulties. I think many of us feel that some universities—I say this with caution—could do more to improve their efficiency. For many years the ratio of lecturers to students in some universities has been and is overgenerous. In deciding priorities within the education system I have had regard to other parts of the system which have been existing more austerely and severely than universities. Nevertheless, the universities have problems and we have done something to try to alleviate the immediate critical situation.

Pupils (Maintenance)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he plans to introduce legislation requiring parents to maintain their children while undergoing full-time education.

Is the Secretary of State aware that student poverty can often result from parents refraining from assisting their children in full-time education in the way that the State assumes them to do in assessing grants under the means-test system? Is he also aware that in West Germany, for example, there is a requirement that parents accept responsibility for children in full-time education? Has he any thoughts about introducing similar legislation here?

This is a real problem. It would be difficult in practice to legislate on the financial arrangements between individual members of a family. I have recently asked local education authorities to notify parents directly of the amount they should contribute to make up the difference between the grant from public funds and the grant to which the student is entitled.

Would it be possible to arrange for parents who do not make up the grant in the proper way not to get their tax allowances?

I will consider any suggestions that may be put forward, but it is difficult to assess, measure and monitor the precise financial arrangements between members of a family unit to arrive at a decision on my hon. Friend's or any other suggestion in this respect.

Exhall Primary School

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a statement about his refusal to see a deputation led by the hon. Member for Nuneaton about the replacement of Exhall Primary School.

My right hon. Friend received a deputation last July led by the hon. Members for Nuneaton (Mr. Huckfield) and Meriden (Mr. Tomlinson) at which the need to replace this and other primary schools was discussed. Correspondence since then has explained why the school has not yet been programmed for replacement. It is simply not possible for my right hon. Friend to find time to meet all the people who wish to talk to him about the needs of two particular schools.

Does my hon. Friend accept that this school has far more than its fair share of temporary buildings which have been standing since the last war? Does he also accept that this is probably the fastest growing part of my constituency? While appreciating that his right hon. Friend courteously received a deputation that I and my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mr. Tomlinson) brought from the National Union of Teachers, that his right hon. Friend has a very crowded diary and that the Warwickshire County Council has a rôle to play in this matter in the priorities that it allocates to school building, may I ask my hon. Friend to press his right hon. Friend to reconsider his decision? If my right hon. Friend cannot receive a deputation, will my hon. Friend receive one?

We are well aware that a great number of primary schools need urgent replacement. Therefore, we allocated £20 million in last year's school building programme for the replacement of primary schools. Within the last fortnight we have indicated to my hon. Friend's local authority that £1,787,000 has been allocated for next year's building programme. Of course, priorities will be decided by the local authority concerned. However, if my hon. Friend wants to make special representations I shall give them careful consideration.

Secondary Education (Kingston-Upon-Thames)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what, if any, changes he wishes to be introduced in the secondary educational system of the Royal borough of Kingston-upon-Thames and why; and by what methods he intends that they should be introduced.

My right hon. Friend wishes to see, in Kingston-upon-Thames as elsewhere, the abolition of selection and the development of a fully comprehensive system. This is because the Government believe that selection is unfair and deprives children of the wide-ranging opportunities that comprehensive secondary education can provide. It is for the local education authority, in response to Circular 4/74, to inform him of the successive measures to be taken to that end.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the council and people of Kingston and Surbiton are more concerned with the quality of education in their borough than with its organisational form? On that criterion, we have one of the 10 best records of any education authority in the country with almost double the average number of university places. Should not that be the real test of a secondary education system? If so, why seek to change it? If the hon. Gentleman is in any doubt, will he receive a local deputation to discuss this whole matter?

I shall be glad to receive a local deputation. It is precisely because we are concerned with the quality of education that we want to get rid of the selective system. [Interruption.] I do not think that shouting furthers the argument. Any system of secondary education which allocates without choice 80 per cent. of the children of a borough to schools which are not considered suitable for children who are academically able is denying the quality of education to the vast majority of children. We want to get rid of that system and give real equality of opportunity. That is why we are determined to get an early response from Kingston.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Conservative Party is, as usual, demanding special favours for itself, not only in education but in hospital beds and so on? Does he further agree that nothing better could happen to the education system, not only in Kingston-upon-Thames but throughout the whole country, than complete comprehensivisation?

Yes. We have expressed that view to the Kingston authority. We want to abolish selection because it is educationally unsound and unfair. We are not prepared to tolerate indefinite delay by any authority.

On what does the hon. Gentleman base his statement that the quality of education in comprehensive schools is better than in existing schools?

There are various yardsticks. I believe that every judgment about education is a value judgment. We cannot measure education and its success merely by examination results. The evidence is there for all to see. Since we started the move towards a comprehensive system, examination results have been better and better as the years have gone by.

Stress Area Schools

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will review the arrangements for listing schools eligible for stress grants.

The Burnham Committee has only just concluded an agreement on the payments to teachers in social priority schools. It intends to review the arrangements at a later date in the light of experience.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the experience of some teachers in the London borough of Newham is bitter? Over half the teaching force is eligible for an additional grant of over £200, but in some schools with equivalent catchment areas there are no such plans. Therefore, the system is being worked in an arbitrary fashion and the reaction of teachers in those areas is notably bitter. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that within a year there is a review and that, if necessary, the Newham Borough Council will be allowed to have an equivalent amount of money to share between all the teachers in the borough to avoid the bitterness that has been created?

The designation of the schools to benefit from this allowance was decided by the Burnham Committee. It is not a matter in which I have power to intervene, nor should I wish to do so.

The very fact that about 57 per cent. of teachers in Newham are in schools that will receive the allowance means that the problems of the borough—which my hon. Friend and myself, as Members for the borough, know are severe—will be alleviated to some extent. Considerable help will be provided to retain experienced teachers who are urgently needed because there will be a financial incentive for them to stay. At the margins of a scheme such as this there is bound to be resentment by those who do not come within its provisions, but I still think that the scheme will help Newham and many other parts of the country.

In some rural areas there are severe problems of social deprivation which do not fit into the categories outlined by the Burnham Committee. Will the right hon. Gentleman take all these criteria into consideration, particularly in my area where the local education authority believes that the bilingual requirement of teachers ought to be considered?

What the hon. Gentleman has said does not detract from the general benefits which the scheme will provide in both rural and urban areas, but it illustrates that the Burnham Committee had a difficult job in drawing up the criteria. When the committee reviews the matter in a year's time it will want to consider the practical experience of local education authorities throughout the country and all the various criticisms and the suggestions that are made.

Adult Education

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the anticipated rise in the rate of educational expenditure on adult education in the next financial year.

I have no means of knowing how much local education authorities will decide to spend on adult education in 1975–76. Subject to approval by Parliament, I hope to be able to afford a modest increase for the direct grant sector.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there are disturbing signs that adult education is facing its greatest crisis for many years and that unless something is done the situation will get worse, many classes will be cut and many part-time teachers will be sacked? Cannot something be done by the Department to ensure that at least a modicum of standards is maintained in the adult education sector?

As I said, we are going to propose extra help to bodies which get their financial help direct from my Department. As regards local education authorities, the component in the rate support grant on this matter provides for some increase in student numbers and for rises in teachers' pay, which are relevant, and it also makes for some modest improvement or allows for it in non-teaching costs.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Workers' Educational Association faces ruin from inflation because the grant it receives covers only teaching and not the organisation and administrative side? Will he look at that and try to improve the situation?

Will the right hon. Gentleman say whether in the Public Expenditure White Paper he has changed the definition of higher education, including further and adult education, because it is difficult to discover whether there is a shortfall on his estimates compared with those of the previous Government?

I should like to consider the latter point, and if there are ways in which the matter can be clarified to the House no doubt we can do that, perhaps through question and answer or in some other way. My officers have been in touch with the WEA in recent months, and we have agreed some additional grant to several districts which were facing particularly severe financial problems.

Chester (Direct Grant Schools)

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will pay an official visit to the direct grant schools in the city of Chester.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that my constituents will be disappointed that he has no such plans, because they are proud of their direct grant schools in Chester, not least because they afford the opportunity to children of every background to have extra education? Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that any decision he takes to abolish these schools will be contrary to the majority decision of my constituents?

My proposals are not to abolish schools. I hope that many direct grant schools will have a constructive future to play in local comprehensive secondary arrangements. If others opt to go independent, they must be truly independent and not expect to be subsidised from public funds.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in the education debate last week the former Conservative spokesman on education said there was a danger that the Conservative Party would appear to be interested only in direct grant and independent schools? Do not this Question and a host of others on the Order Paper today show that not only does the Conservative Party appear to be interested only in such schools but it is interested only in them and cannot care less about the others?

I agree with my hon. Friend. I should like sometimes to hear Conservative Members address themselves to the point that under the selective system about three-quarters of all children find their way to secondary modern schools. They should also address themselves to the question of what improved opportunities are due to the majority of children, and they should judge our comprehensive plans against that criterion.

In view of the sharply rising running costs of all schools, in whatever sector, may I ask what steps the Secretary of State is taking to enable direct grant schools to meet these rising costs either by raising the direct grant or by allowing fees to be raised at the right pace?

I have no proposals to raise the level of grant. I am prepared to approve increases in fees provided I am satisfied that the schools concerned are being as austere in their standards as maintained schools are having to be in the present economic climate.

Bolton (Comprehensive Education)

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he now expects a system of comprehensive education to be introduced in Bolton.

The Bolton local education authority has informed my right hon. Friend, in response to Circular 4/74, that a working party which is now considering the position in those areas of the authority in which schools are not yet reorganised on comprehensive lines expects to finish its work by 30th June 1975. The authority has been told of the importance we attach to an early and substantive response to the circular with a view to the development of a fully comprehensive system as speedily as possible.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is considerable feeling in Bolton that this extra working party is merely a delaying tactic on the part of members of the local authority who do not wish to see a comprehensive system introduced in Bolton? Will my hon. Friend assure us that his Department will put sufficient pressure on the local authority to ensure that Bolton goes comprehensive not later than September 1976?

We are in constant touch with Bolton, and we are determined to press ahead. The difficulty in Bolton, I am sorry to say, is that the Opposition spokesman on education rather misled the Bolton authority. Last July, in the midst of much election talk, he wrote to the chairman of the authority telling him not to worry because when a Tory Government got back to office they would rescind Labour's Circular 4/74. The working party, which is representative of elected members and teachers, did not get down to work until after the October election, and we are now looking to it for an urgent response.

Did not the hon. Gentleman wisely say a few moments ago that these judgments as between direct grant schools, comprehensive schools and so on are value judgments which cannot be proved one way or the other? We accept that. Is it not logical in a free society that the choice should be left to parents and that they should express their views through their elected representatives?

Our experience is that parental judgment throughout the country is in favour of abolishing selection. I do not go back on my comment about value judgments. How we organise education and the kind of school that we want to see abolished is an indication of what we believe about children and the society in which they live. I want to see a society in which every child has equality of opportunity.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, far from misleading the Bolton Council, I gave it a clear pledge that if a Conservative Government were returned we should make good any losses in the building programme which it might have suffered for standing up for its own independence? I repeat that pledge today.

By his intervention the hon. Gentleman postponed the decision of the Bolton authority to get on with the job of giving equality of opportunity to all its children.

Foetus Experiments

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what experiments are taking, or have taken, place using a live human foetus in university or research council laboratories.

The Medical Research Council assures me that no such experiments would be conducted in its laboratories or supported by its grants. I do not control university research but I am advised that it is both unethical and illegal to carry out experiments on a viable foetus which are inconsistent with treatment necessary to promote life.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that such experiments are deeply repugnant to many people? Can he say whether experiments on live but not viable foetuses are legal?

My advice is that a foetus which is live and viable in legal terms is a baby and is fully protected by the law. On the question of a foetus which is not viable, I understand that the question is at present one of medical ethics for the doctor or surgeon in charge of the abortion or whatever operation has preceded these events. These are matters which are departmentally the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and can be debated on Friday when the Bill before the House will seek to secure the statutory implementation of parts of the Peel Report, which dealt with this very difficult question.

Secondary Reorganisation

18.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he now proposes to introduce legislation to compel local education authorities which have not already done so, to reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines.

I am at present studying the responses of local education authorities to Circular 4/74. As I told the House on 27th January—[Vol. 885, c. 55–6]—I would prefer not to have to introduce legislation, but if satisfactory progress cannot be made without it the Government will not hesitate to do so.

While one welcomes the fact that there is at least a momentary respite from the threat of legislation, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman meanwhile to stop seeking to impose his policy by means of a bullying circular, which does not have the force of law and which can be resisted with absolute impunity by councils which have the courage to stand up to him?

The circular does not have the force of law. Therefore, if there are local education authorities—I think there will be very few, but there are a few—which stand out against all the experience of recent years and all informed opinion in these matters, and against a policy which was approved by Parliament 10 years ago and has been approved several times since, including last week, by implication, in the vote taken last Monday, Parliament will clearly want to legislate. In that event I would look to hon. Members of good will on both sides of the House to support the view that Parliament should legislate in order to secure for thousands of children who are still denied them the opportunities of comprehensive secondary education at the earliest possible date.

Will my right hon. Friend take on board the message that his major task in education is to educate the Conservative Party that selection and comprehensive education are mutually exclusive concepts?

I am afraid that I do have to spend more time on that than I would wish, but I am glad to have noted reports that there are many in the country active in the Conservative Party—leading members of education committees—who have been engaged recently in trying to educate the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) in these matters and to remind him that it has been part of the policy of many Conservative authorities for many years to reorganise their areas on comprehensive lines.

As the right hon. Gentleman has an enviable reputation for intellectual courage and openness of mind, why is he not prepared to have an inquiry into the relative values of the various forms of secondary education as proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas)?

There does not seem to be any need to spend time and energy on an inquiry on a subject on which we have practical experience all the time and on which the growing evidence from all parts of the country and other parts of the world over many years has been that boys and girls develop their talents better within a comprehensive system and without being divided artificially into two groups at the age of 10½.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this should no longer be a party matter, since the absurdity of the selective system was described in a White Paper issued by the wartime Coalition Government in 1943?

Yes, but since then there has been a division within the Conserva- tive Party between the minority who understand educational issues and the majority who do not and who do not want to understand them.

May I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the last time his party introduced a Bill along these lines, it was lost owing to the defection of Labour supporters, including the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price)? Secondly, will he reflect that if he introduces a Bill of this character he will destroy the balance of duties, responsibilities and rights between local education authorities and the Department of Education and Science and will be taking a major step towards a State-centred and State-controlled system of education?

No, Sir. Education in this country has traditionally and rightly been a partnership between national and local government. It is a proper rôle for the national Government and for Parliament to define a policy in terms of saying that we should move away from selection and towards a comprehensive system. The method of doing it and, within reasonable limits, the timing of doing it are appropriate, I believe, for local decision. I believe, therefore, that what I am suggesting follows the traditional relationship between national and local government in these matters.

Eec (Minister's Speech)

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech made by the Secretary of State for Trade about the EEC to the southern regional council of the Labour Party on 19th January represented the policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech of the Secretary of State for Trade on the EEC at Brighton on 19th January represents Government policy.

Q9.

asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Secretary of State for Trade at Brighton on 19th January on British membership of the EEC represents Government policy.

Q10.

asked the Prime Minister if the speech made by the Secretary of State for Trade in Brighton on 19th January represents Government policy.

I refer my hon. Friend and the hon. Members to the replies I gave him and the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton) in answer to supplementary questions on 21st January.

Is it not crystal clear from that speech that the Secretary of State for Trade believes that Britain should be renegotiating its terms of entry into the EEC with a view to coming out, while it is the collective position of the Government that we are renegotiating with a view to staying in? Is it not therefore incumbent upon the Secretary of State to continue his campaign for getting Britain out of the Common Market from the back benches?

The hon. Gentleman has got this wrong. My right hon. Friend and all of us on this side fought two elections on the manifesto, which says that we shall negotiate on these terms. When we have seen what the terms are, it will be decided by the country through the ballot box, which, of course, is now to be through the referendum.

What interpretation does my right hon. Friend put on the balance of trade figures? Does he agree with the interpretation put on them by the Secretary of State or with that of the Foreign Secretary? Since my right hon. Friend and others have made it clear that they are about to make a recommendation to the people before they take part in the referendum that we should like to stay in, can my right hon. Friend tell us when that statement will be made?

With such limited statistical qualification as I am capable of, I have been through the figures quoted on this occasion and all the other relevant figures. While, of course, one can have different base dates for figures, any reading of the figures confirms what are the facts—namely, that the expectations put forward in 1971 about the balance of trade between this country and the Common Market have been utterly falsified by the events, and that they are in fact much worse.

Of course this is partly due to high world food prices and the fact that we have been able to get food from the Common Market at high but not comparably higher prices. But if one takes the whole range of trade, the figures are far worse than those suggested by the Leader of the Opposition in those earlier debates.

Even accepting that collective Cabinet responsibility seems to have gone out of the window on this issue, may I ask the Prime Minister to confirm that the question of sovereignty, of which the Secretary of State makes so much, forms no part of the matters which are being negotiated between the Government and fellow members of the EEC? Will the Prime Minister clearly state his own view that if he is successful in obtaining the terms which he seeks this will involve no damaging erosion of our national sovereignty?

With regard to collective responsibility, there is on the part of the Government, and in all the foreseeable future, far greater collective responsibility than I can see now or foresee for three years ahead in the Shadow Cabinet. Parliamentary sovereignty is a very important issue in the negotiations. Perhaps, having a safe seat, the hon. Gentleman felt that he did not have to read our manifesto. If he will read it, he will see clearly stated that parliamentary sovereignty is one of the vital issues in the renegotiations. If, on questions of parliamentary sovereignty, which we insist is a very important matter, I and my colleagues are satisfied, I shall certainly be prepared to accept that the manifesto has been fulfilled. If not, not.

Labour Party—Tuc Liaison Committee

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his meeting with the TUC Liaison Committee on 20th January 1975.

The Labour Party-TUC Liaison Committee meets at regular intervals to discuss matters of common concern. At the meeting on 20th January the Government representatives reaffirmed the central importance of the social contract in present circumstances. For its part the TUC underlined the need for firm adherence to the TUC guidelines.

Did the TUC also fully appreciate my right hon. Friend's anxiety about the dangers of the economic outlook and acknowledge that anything less than the strictest observance of the social contract guidelines would aggravate inflation, thus undermining the living standards of pensioners and those who cannot negotiate, and, inevitably make for other Government measures?

Yes, Sir. At no other such meeting have I been clearer. The TUC understands and very much agrees with my hon. Friend's analysis. It is very concerned, as we are in all parts of the House, about the dangers in this country and abroad of the spread of depression and unemployment. This was very much part of our discussions. I found the same awareness of—indeed, even great anxiety about—the problem of unemployment at a time of world inflation when my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I met the leaders of the American Government last week. It is a world problem which must be tackled by world action and by the utmost domestic action within our several countries.

Was it a matter of general agreement at the meeting that the social contract still meant that the Government would maintain living standards? Was that agreed by both the TUC and the Prime Minister? Now that the White Paper on Public Expenditure has shown that the Government no longer believe that that is possible, when will the right hon. Gentleman be meeting the TUC leaders to tell them?

I answered the first part of that question, in relation to living standards, the week before last. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that in planning the Public Expenditure White Paper we began from the expected increase in production in this country, but because of the need to deploy more resources to the foreign trade balance and to increasing investment we said that national expenditure must rise less than the expected increase in gross national production, and also that there would not be as much available for increased wage payments.

Has the Prime Minister had an opportunity since he returned from Washington to look at the latest CBI trends survey, which is obviously of great concern to the TUC as well as the CBI? What the trends now show is that the number of firms expecting to invest less in plant and machinery in the coming year has increased twelvefold since the present Government came to power almost a year ago and that the number expecting to shed labour during the coming year is the greatest since the survey was started in 1958, in the same way as the plant and machinery outlook is the worst since 1958. Is not the right hon. Gentleman appalled at this? Does it not show that in the past year the expectations for the future in investment and employment have become the worst ever?

I have studied these figures, which the whole House will agree are extremely serious. Investment has never got back to the now halcyon figures of 1970. They never did under the right hon. Gentleman's Government, despite his hubris at the Guildhall, where he said that our entry into Europe would lead to a great increase in investment. Investment fell after that speech. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that these are matters for great concern.

As for unemployment, we warned a year ago—we did it in the election—what the prognosis was. All of this Government's policies are designed to restrain the then inevitable increase in unemployment and to get investment up.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if he will place in the Library a copy of his public speech on the current economic situation on Monday 20th January in London at the meeting of the TUC—Labour Party Liaison Committee.

That accounts for the fact that it is not in the Library. Is the Prime Minister aware that he has deprived me of a marvellous opportunity of hoping that he would answer "Yes" to the Question? He did, however, make a speech on that date, reported in the national Press, in which he discussed at length the social contract. Is he aware that a former adviser to his Government, Mr. Wilfred Beckerman, has said that the social contract is now about as effective in combating inflation as appeasement is in containing dictators? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—that we should all like to see the social contract work—

Order. We have had two supplementary questions from the hon. Gentleman already.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his marvellous recovery, with that supplementary question on the speech which was not made and which, as he has now discovered, is not in the Library. I made a speech on that day. It is possible to go from one engagement to another, and at lunchtime I made a speech to the provincial Press, a copy of which I think is in the Library. But that did not refer to the questions the hon. Gentleman is now trying to raise. If he had been to the right library and had got the right speech, he would have seen that it referred to certain aspects of the test of public opinion in relation to the Common Market. It was in fact a trailer for the statement I made in the House three days later. That statement is on the record not only in the Library but in Hansard.

President Ford (Talks)

Q5.

asked the Prime Minister if, when he visited the United States of America he discussed with the President the question of military action being taken in connection with oil supplies from the Arab States.

My talks were confidential. I have nothing to add to the recent public statements by President Ford and Dr. Kissinger but it is clear that they were answering questions about hypothetical circumstances.

Whatever was said in those confidential discussions, will my right hon. Friend assure the country and Parliament that he is opposed to the use of military force against any nation because it refuses to sell its products, particularly as that could easily escalate into a third world war?

I take what my hon. Friend says very seriously. Although the discussions were confidential I can tell him what I said on the record in Canada before I went to the United States, and I will make it available if that is desired. [Interruption.] I must point out to the Leader of the Liberal Party that this is a serious matter which concerns peace and war. What I said on the record was that I had not discussed it with the President. I did not see any need to do so. I think Dr. Kissinger was perhaps making a warning to some wilder elements, and not the more responsible countries, that if they felt that they could use the oil weapon as itself a weapon of war, some kind of response would have to be shown. Dr. Kissinger has made it clear that he thinks it a distant and remote hypothetical contingency, and I agree with him.

Q6.

asked the Prime Minister if he will make a statement on his visit to the United States of America.

Yes, Sir. I welcome this opportunity to give the House an account of the visits which the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary and I made to Canada and the United States last week. In Ottawa we had useful discussions with the Canadian Prime Minister and his colleagues, mainly on economic questions, and I look forward to welcoming Mr. Trudeau to this country in March.

In Washington our talks with President Ford and Dr. Kissinger also centred mainly on world economic problems and on the Middle East, although a wide range of other international issues was covered. I particularly welcomed the American recognition of the growing economic interdependence of the world, and the lead which the Americans have given in efforts to promote solutions to world energy problems. I also confirmed British support for American efforts to bring about a just and lasting settlement in the Middle East. Relations between the United States and the United Kingdom are extremely close and the meeting was an opportunity to develop even closer agreement about our main objectives and the means of attaining them.

My right hon. Friend and I also welcomed the opportunity to call on the Secretary-General of the United Nations in New York.

The House will, of course, understand that apart from the information given publicly about the subjects covered, the details of all these discussions must remain confidential.

I thank the Prime Minister for making that statement. Was he able to reassure the Americans about the Government's taxation policy towards American companies operating in the North Sea on oil drilling? If so, how did he do it?

That matter did not come up between the President and myself although, as the House will be aware, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster accompanied me on the visit. On this matter he had a brief discussion of half an hour with the State Department experts. No anxiety on this subject was expressed to us during the visit but my right hon. Friend is having discussions with the interests concerned. He stayed on after I left.

Did my right hon. Friend have an opportunity of discussing with the President of the United States the continued presence of 25,000 American advisers in South Vietnam? Does he think that that enhances the prospect of peace in that area?

We had no discussion whatsoever on Vietnam. I was asked a question publicly on this subject on American television in the recorded interview which was published on Sunday. No doubt my hon. Friend will have seen in Press reports yesterday the answer I gave in that interview. Should he not have seen it, I shall be glad to let him have a copy of what I said.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of widespread concern in Scotland about the report which appeared in the Financial Times on 30th this matter and what pledges or assur-January suggesting that the American President was advising the Prime Minister against any control of our Scottish oil resources going to the Scottish Assembly? Will he advise the House on what repredent or by his advisers in connection with sentations were made to him by the Presiances were given about control?

No such discussion took place. I think that the hon. Gentleman is confusing the President of the United States with the President of Uganda.

Is there not one question on which there is a clear division of interest between this country and the United States—namely, the price of oil not over the next two or three years but over the long term? Will my right hon. Friend tell us whether he discussed that matter with the President of the United States? Has he noticed recent proposals by Dr. Kissinger which have the object of keeping down the rise in the price of oil over the long term? Will he tell us what consideration the Government have given to discussing these matters with our allies over the coming years?

My hon. Friend referred to a division. I should inform him that the President did not ask where he was when the Division took place last Wednesday night. On the long-term price of oil, we had full discussions with the President and the Secretary of State about arrangements for meeting all oil consumers and then all oil-consuming and oil-producing countries. One of the matters that we very much stressed was the importance of ensuring for the oil-supplying countries, despite our anxieties about present prices, some security for them in future as regards both their investments and their continuing market. In that context we suggested strongly—there was no disagreement—that we would like to see the oil-supplying countries investing much more of their money in technology both for their own countries and possibly in other forms of energy for those who fear the drying up of oil supplies. We had considerable discussions on how this long-term security could be achieved. With regard to the statement made yesterday by Dr. Kissinger which has been reported in our Press today, we did not discuss the text or the terms of that statement.

Did the right hon. Gentleman discuss with the President of the United States the fact that our trade deficit with the United States has increased many times faster than our trade deficit with the EEC? Will he explain how it is that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade is apparently opposed to cutting tariffs with the EEC, presumably on the ground that to do so might increase our trade deficit, whereas he is in favour of cutting tariffs with the United States?

This convoluted argument did not form any part of my discussions with the President of the United States.

Did my right hon. Friend have an opportunity to impress upon the President of the United States the urgency of convening the Geneva Conference if a new war is to be avoided in the Middle East?

We had a full discussion on the Middle East. In fact, it took pretty well the whole of our Friday morning session. I was asked about the matter afterwards and we publicly supported in the United States the step-by-step approach of the American Secretary of State. I believe that that is the right approach. We shall give it our full backing. We believe that it will need a great deal of understanding and give and take by the Middle East countries concerned.

If my hon. Friend is suggesting—I do not think he is—that the right thing now would be a return to the Geneva Conference, I think I would disagree with him. Indeed, I said so publicly in the United States. All that is going on is under the ambit or the umbrella of the Geneva Conference. At the right moment anything that is settled will have to go back there for agreement and ratification. But to say that because disappointing progress has been made so far we should now go back to Geneva would be a counsel of despair. It would be to suggest that no progress has been made. I do not think we should recommend a return to Geneva at this stage. We should try to make some progress and then take something back to Geneva to ratify.

I revert to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). Is it the case that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is now assuring the Americans that the Government do not intend to take any additional revenue from North Sea oil from participation but will rely entirely on corporation tax and petroleum revenue tax? If that is the case, will the Prime Minister arrange for his right hon. Friend to come to the House to explain how we will achieve this miracle?

The right hon. Gentleman should not assume too much about these matters. He has been wrong so often in the past. My right hon. Friend has spoken in America exactly as the Government have spoken in this House—indeed, in the way my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy spoke when these matters were the subject of Questions on, I think, 23rd January. The right hon. Gentleman was present and he will know the date. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy returns, if he has any statement to make about his talks in the United States I am sure he will be willing to consider making it.

On the Middle East, did my right hon. Friend stress to the President that Britain believes in the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure boundaries? Did he deplore the recent ostracising of Israel in UNESCO? What did he say about the rôle of this country in achieving a lasting peace in the Middle East?

On my hon. Friend's first point, he is stating the position, which, as is well known, I have always taken and which is the position of the British Government, about the right of Israel to exist within secure frontiers. We did not discuss UNESCO, but our position was made absolutely clear in our vote at UNESCO. As for the part that Britain should play in achieving a lasting peace, our rôle is to co-operate in the step-by-step approach. My right hon. Friend and I will be visiting Moscow next week and we naturally anticipate that this matter will come up. We shall express there the same view as the Government have expressed in Washington and as my right hon. Friend and I expressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. We shall pursue the matter further with the Soviet Government in any such discussions.

Did the Prime Minister receive any assurances or information from the President concerning the admittedly very difficult problem of stopping money going from sources in the United States to the IRA?

No, that matter was not discussed with him. The House will have seen the report, which is accurate, that my right hon. Friend and I met a very weighty and representative group of senators and congressmen and I was asked about the Irish situation. I described it to them in terms which I think will have the general support of the House, and I referred to my right hon. Friend's part in all these matters. My right hon. Friend made a very strong appeal to the senators and congressmen to use their influence in their constituencies to stop the flow of funds and arms to the IRA. While I did not discuss this matter with President Ford, I did have discussions with senior members of the administration subsequently.

President Amin apart, will my right hon. Friend satisfy our curiosity about what on earth President Ford said about the Scottish nationalists? Is it repeatable?

Although we discussed most other aspects of world import, the President of the United States did not at any point refer to the Scottish nationalists.

The Prime Minister is obviously aware of the deep anxieties both within and outside the House about the possibility of future conflict in the Middle East, particularly as spring approaches. Many of us will agree that the time has not come to reconvene the Geneva Conference, and we would not believe that there was any future in trying to take military action over oil supplies. However, as a result of the talks can the Prime Minister give any more of an indication as to how he thinks further progress can be made in the next two or three months in order to prevent an outbreak of strife in the Middle East?

From what the right hon. Gentleman said, and from what I know to be his position, I know that there is no difference between the two Front Benches on this matter about war, oil or the use of force to settle the Middle East question, whether there or from outside. We must look to the forthcoming visit of the Secretary of State, Dr. Kissinger, to the Middle East. He is going to try to advance the step-by-step position there, and we will naturally give him our full backing, as I know the Leader of the Opposition will. In our discussions with the Secretary-General of the United Nations we made it clear that this would be our position. I do not think that there is any alternative proposal at the moment, certainly no cataclysmic solution that anyone can propose.

I think that the right hon. Gentleman expressed the view on Geneva exactly as I would: that while the parties operate under the general ambit of Geneva, simply to go back to Geneva would be meaningless unless there was a policy to put forward there. We believe that the most promising prospect for agreement lies in patient negotiation.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in what he was implying, if not exactly saying, that time is on no one's side here. This cannot be left as a stalemate for a long period. There are problems of the extension of the United Nations troop mandates in different parts of the Middle East, and therefore we want to see progress made, but it would be wrong to try to force it by any contrived solution.