School Building Programme
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to be able to announce the allocations for the school building programme for 1975–76 for the Yorkshire and Humberside Region.
My Department wrote to local education authorities on 27th January informing them of their lump sum authorisations for school building in 1975–76.
Is my hon. Friend aware that no region has more pupils per teacher in secondary schools than Yorkshire and Humberside? Although there are doubtless many factors involved, and therefore many explanations, is he quite sure that one explanation is not the amount and quality of accommodation at secondary school level in Yorkshire and Humberside?
Yes, I am aware of the problems. The building allocations are very largely related to basic need—that is, for children who would otherwise have no school to attend. Of this year's allocations Yorkshire and Humberside, although it has only 8·9 per cent. of the population, has 9·5 per cent. of the overall building allocation.
Is my hon. Friend aware that whereas in South Yorkshire and Humberside the problem may be one of pupil-teacher ratio, in North Derbyshire and in my constituency in particular it is a question of having a large number of pre-1903 slum infant and junior schools? Is he aware that in Whitwell in particular, which was subject to cuts as a result of the intervention by the present Leader of the Opposition in her former guise as Secretary of State for Education and Science in November 1973, pupils are still having to walk many miles every week in order to get their meals and to go to the sports hall? We have a name on the school building but we have no school. Will my hon. Friend get the matter restored as quickly as possible?
Yes, I am aware of the acute difficulties to which my hon. Friend has drawn my attention previously. He has highlighted the problem that no two authorities are the same. They all have their different problems. That is why the building allocation is now a lump sum allocation so that priorities can be decided at local level instead of in Whitehall.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will publish an analysis of the views of the local authorities which have now made their representations to him on the matter of school transport; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he hopes to announce his decision in respect of the recommendations of the interdepartmental inquiry on school transport; and if he will make a statement.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the non-implementation of the working party's report on school transport.
My right hon. Friend will take full account of the views expressed by local authorities about school transport, which I know is a subject of concern in many quarters. The problems are complex and I am not yet able to say when it will be possible to make a statement. I do not think that publication of an analysis of the views submitted by the various bodies would be helpful.
Is my hon. Friend aware that we have now been waiting since the previous Conservative administration were in office for a decision on this matter? Is he further aware that particularly in rural areas with low family incomes the ever-increasing impact of school bus fares is having a very deleterious effect? We have been patient, but will my hon. Friend now assure us that we are soon to have a decision on this subject?
Yes, I recognise the concern of the House and I regret that we have not yet come to a final decision. That is because we are trying to find the right answer. Only last week I visited a local authority where there are small rural schools. I found that the authority was spending £1½ million a year on transport. That is an indication of the serious concern that is felt in the country and of our desire to get things done properly.
Will not the Minister show more urgency about the situation? Does he not agree that the circumstances and conditions that were relevant at the time the existing regulations involving the present statutory limits came into being are now totally out of date? Further, in the case of rural areas in particular does he not agree that a more flexible and wider system involving meaningful parental contribution should be introduced urgently?
Yes, I am well aware of the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman. Over the past five years the expenditure by local authorities on school transport has increased from £20 million to no less than £45 million. If the hon. Gentleman adds to that the substantial amount now being paid by parents, he will get an understanding of the serious problem that we face. We are treating the matter urgently, but there is no easy answer. The money has to be found. We want to protect parents and to ensure that parental contributions are not a deterrent in getting their children to school.
While I understand the pressure on public expenditure, may I ask whether my hon. Friend accepts that the present arrangements are setting neighbour against neighbour and community against community and that something serious has to be done? I believe that there should be urgent consideration of a systematic and uniform entitlement to transport for all schoolchildren.
I would not disagree with anything that my hon. Friend has said on this matter. The solution proposed by the working party—namely, that the same amount should be paid by all parents whether they live half a mile, five miles or seven miles from school—would also set neighbour against neighbour. There is no easy answer. We are trying to find the right answer. I hope to make a statement to the House in the near future.
Has the Minister accepted the principle of the working party's report that the existing two- or three-mile limit system should be replaced by a system of flat-rate charges? Will he bear in mind that a flat-rate charge would not set neighbour against neighbour and that, unlike the present means of financial support, it could be rebated in the case of less-well-off families?
No, we have not yet accepted the recommendations made by the working party. We are still discussing the matter with the local authorities. There is a great deal of controversy about the particular recommendation to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
In view of the prolonged delay in these matters, will the Minister encourage local education authorities to follow the example of Humberside County Council? Is he aware that that council has used its present discretionary powers in respect of school transport to provide special transport for secondary school children from Old Goole in my constituency from 1st January this year?
Indeed, we are collecting evidence of good practice in various parts of the country. Local authorities have wide discretion. I remind the House that local authorities are also strained in their resources. There is no simple answer. In fact, every answer is a very expensive answer.
Is not the Minister weary of sitting on this report for a whole year? Does he not realise that this delay is causing hardship both for local authorities and for parents and that that will continue to be the position until he can lay down the principles on which the Government set out to improve bus services for schoolchildren? In particular, will he hasten to help the rural areas, where this problem is often the most serious?
There are plenty of urban areas that have serious complaints about the impact of transport costs. Of course I am weary. I would like to find the answer but there is no quick, slick solution. We are searching for the right answer.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the substantial reduction in expenditure promised in the current expenditure White Paper compared with the 1973 White Paper.
No, Sir. Pages 94–97 of the White Paper "Public Expenditure to 1978–79" provide ample comment on the Government's plans for education expenditure.
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree, particularly in the light of research that has appeared in The Times Higher Education Supplement, that of all spending Departments Education is to gain the least from the present Government? Further, does he not agree that there has been a collapse in growth in real terms, as forecast, which is related in no way to the cuts of December 1973 or to the fall in the birth rate but to a change of Government priorities? Does not that show up as a total cover-up the Prime Minister's speech in Newcastle on 21st February? What is the right hon. Gentleman's strategy for distributing the cuts?
The White Paper that we have recently published provides for a growth rate in real terms of about 2¾ per cent. a year over a five-year period. If the hon. Gentleman compares that White Paper with the White Paper issued by the previous Government in 1973, he should bear in mind that on the very day that the December 1973 White Paper appeared the then Chancellor of the Exchequer announced substantial cuts. The result was that that White Paper was strangled at birth. In the sense that our White Paper represents lower figures, this is partly due to those cuts and partly due to a new demographic trend which has become apparent since then.
May I ask my right hon. Friend to disregard the hypoc-p risy that comes from the Opposition? Is he aware that while continually emphasising the need for reduction in public expenditure they continually seek to identify programmes that involve such expenditure for the Government? Does my right hon. Friend recognise that many of his right hon. and hon. Friends are extremely concerned by the implications of the public expenditure programme? Is he aware that it appears as if the Government may be in danger not so much of pigeon-holing but of burying the Russell Report on adult education?
All of us share a common desire to see faster progress towards our education objectives. I repeat that the White Paper we have recently published represents a growth rate in real terms. That is not as fast a rate as any of us would wish, but it is not true to describe it as cutting education expenditure. It is a programme for slow but steady growth.
Speaking as one economic illiterate to another, would I be wrong in assuming that there would be much more cash available for education if less money had been wasted on the municipalising of housing and if there had been a more faithful observance of the social contract?
It is of vital importance that we should have a coherent housing programme as well as a coherent education programme. Therefore, I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman's first point. As for adherence to the social contract, I believe strongly in that and in recent days I have made my views on that matter very clear.
Has my right hon. Friend made any calculation of the effect on the social contract of the recently announced 25 per cent. increase in the cost of school meals?
The increase that will take place later in the price of school meals will add a very small part of 1 per cent. to the cost of living. Of course I regret doing that, but in a time of rapid inflation I do not think we can expect the price of school meals or anything else to remain at precisely the same level year after year.
Schools (Reorganisation And Closure)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what weight he attaches, when considering schemes for the reorganisation of secondary education and proposals for the closure of village primary schools, to any consequent additional costs for the transport of children.
My right hon. Friend takes into account all relevant factors, of which additional transport costs may be one, in his consideration of proposals under Section 13 of the Education Act 1944, as amended, and gives them due weight.
Does the Minister recognise that in areas such as Northumberland the reorganisation and closure of village schools tends to lead to bussing on a grand scale, with children travelling 15, 20 or 25 miles a day? Does he recognise that as well as the social disadvantages of such a system the cost should be weighed in the balance when the economics of village schools and small local schools are being considered?
Yes, I recognise the factors that the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I remind him that the initiative for the reorganisation or the closure of any school comes from the local authority and that my right hon. Friend takes into consideration all matters. Of course, the overriding consideration is the educational well-being of the children in the area.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in many areas, and certainly in my constituency of Chorley, the bus companies have refused to harmonise their concessionary fares to scholars with the raising of the school leaving age? As there has recently been an increase of 30 per cent. in the cost of public transport, does not my hon. Friend think that remedies should be applied in this direction?
This is a matter we have in mind when discussing the wide issues of transport policy which were raised in a previous Question.
Reading Ability (Bullock Report)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he intends to take to secure the implementation of the recommendations of the Bullock Report on the reading ability of children.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has made a study of the Bullock Report on the reading ability of children; and whether he will make a statement.
I would refer to the reply I gave to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) on 18th February 1975.—[Vol. 886, c. 356–7.]
Does not the Secretary of State agree that among the 332 recommendations, 17 of which concern the primary sector, there is no emphasis on the return of the infant school in particular to the teaching of literacy as its primary purpose, which is a view that is held by many of us on this side and by hon. Members on the Government side too?
This very distinguished report, which deserves to be read widely and closely and to be discussed throughout the whole teaching profession, placed emphasis on the need for improved training in language ability at all levels of education, including the infant stage.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that very few of the 332 recommendations of the Bullock Report bear out the assertions of the Opposition that standards are substantially declining in primary schools? Does he accept, however, that what the Bullock Report identifies is the necessity for a greater concentration of resources in schools and areas where the children are most socially disadvantaged?
On the latter part of my hon. Friend's question, the Government have taken many steps to remedy matters. On the former part, I agree that the Bullock Report demolished many of the scare stories which had been current about the declining standards, but it went on to say—I agree with it strongly—that standards are not good enough and never have been, and therefore a concerted effort must be made to improve them.
What steps does the Minister intend to take to improve the training of teachers, since the Bullock Report states that the good teacher is the most important single factor?
This Government have done many things to improve the status and morale of the teaching profession, including the highest pay increase in the history of the profession. There are many recommendations of the Bullock Report which will apply to the curriculum and the content of training courses for new teachers and I am sure that they will be closely studied in colleges of education.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that this report will do an immense amount for the morale of the teaching profession and is the key to restoring confidence in our educational system amongst the public in general, particularly amongst parents? Is he aware also that the report, if it is to be implemented,—I believe it to be one of high priority—will involve the expenditure of money so that the monitoring and screening proposals can be implemented? What has he to say about that?
There are many aspects of the report and many of the 332 recommendations which can be implemented without extra expenditure. There are others which can be implemented with very modest expenditure. All the recommendations need to be studied carefully by the teaching profession, by local authorities and by my Department, and this process is going ahead rapidly.
I welcome the report, which confirms so much of what the Opposition have been saying about standards over the past 12 months, but may I join in the plea made by the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Barnett) that the Secretary of State should give priority to the monitoring system? May I ask him to go further and introduce national standards of reading, writing and mathematics so that we can know exactly what are the achievements in a school and what are the shortcomings?
I certainly would not accept the latter proposition without much more consultation with everyone concerned. On the question of monitoring, the assessment of performance unit which I have established within the Department is urgently studying the recommendations of the Bullock Report on this point. I hope to receive the unit's advice shortly.
School Leaving Date
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress he is making in his consultations about introducing greater flexibility into the school leaving age.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is now able to make a statement on his policy on the school leaving age.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is now in a position to make a statement about legislation on a common summer leaving date for school leavers.
I stand firmly by the raising of the school leaving age to 16 and have no plans to alter this. As I told my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, North (Mr. Bennett) on 4th February—[Vol. 885, c. 450.]—there is no prospect of legislation in the current Session affecting the summer leaving date this year. I am still studying the question in relation to future years and will make an announcement in due course.
Is the Secretary of State aware that there are thousands of teachers who have borne the difficulties arising from the raising of the leaving age—I think that the Secretary of State concedes this—and who are very anxious for an early announcement indicating that at the very least it will become possible in 1976 for 15-year-olds to leave school immediately after taking the examinations? Is there any prospect of the Secretary of State making an announcement to that effect in the near future?
I am considering all the advice I have on this from teachers' organisations and many other quarters. The advice does not all point the same way. It is a complex question. I shall make an announcement as soon as possible.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the position in regard to the raising of the leaving age will stabilise itself and be accepted as time passes? Does he agree also that it is characteristic of Tory Members that, although they would never dream of lowering the school leaving age for their own children, they are constantly trying to lower it for the mass of the people?
I agree with my hon. Friend that already this year the raised leaving age is more acceptable to the age group concerned than it was 12 months ago, and in successive years the raised age will become accepted as a matter of course. I believe that the lesson of the first year that the majority of children benefited from the extra year at school, but in so far as mistakes are made in some areas experience will teach the schools how to recover from those mistakes and we shall see an improving result from this long overdue reform in the future.
Does not the Secretary of State agree that since economic conditions and Government policy together are calling for a massive reduction in the rate of increase of public expenditure—local authority expenditure particularly, and notably on education, from which my county of Leicestershire is suffering—economies have to be made? Would it not be sensible to look again at the question of the raising of the school leaving age, which I accept is a commitment but which is a mixed blessing? If the Secretary of State goes back on this commitment in the light of economic conditions, will he accept an assurance that this will not be regarded as welshing?
I believe that all the parties were right to enter into the commitment. It is a great pity that we had to wait so long before that commitment was implemented. It would be a very retrograde step ever to go back on it, and it is no part of my policy to consider doing so.
I entirely support my right hon. Friend's stand against any fiddling about with the school leaving age. Does he agree that there might be more flexibility between schools and further education colleges in teaching children of the age of 15 or 16?
Yes. There has been some welcome progress in this direction in recent years, and I hope that it will increase. I strongly agree that there is great scope in many areas for greater co-operation between the further education system and the schools.
Is the Secretary of State aware that at a recent consultation between the secretaries of schools and headmasters in my county of Buckinghamshire the growing truancy in schools was attributed largely to the increase in the leaving age? Although the headmasters concerned would not wish the leaving age to be reduced—here I agree with the right hon. Gentleman—they nevertheless thought that the times at which 16-year-olds can leave should be reduced from twice a year to once a year—namely, in May of each year—which would ease the problem.
I do not exactly regard Buckinghamshire as the major source of enlightenment on education matters. Nevertheless, I take the point that teachers all over the country are discussing the practical implications of possible flexibility in the school leaving date within the summer term. In reply to earlier supplementary questions I said that I was giving urgent consideration to this matter.
Rainow Church Of England Junior School
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will take exceptional steps to include the proposed Rainow County Junior School and Infants School in an early building programme on account of the overcrowding, fire hazards and highway dangers of the existing Rainbow Churh of England Junior School.
No, Sir. Under the terms of my Department's Circular 13/74, it is for the local education authority in the first instance to decide which projects should be started within its lump sum building authorisations.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he agree that a village which is expanding very fast and into which many new families with young children are moving should be considered as a priority? Does he consider that a totally inadequate school which opens on to a dangerous road with a very narrow pavement should justify a priority too? Does he consider that a school with no playing facilities puts children moving on to the secondary sector at a severe disadvantage?
Yes, this is a school I want to see replaced as quickly as possible. The Cheshire authority has been allocated £3,712,000 in the 1975–76 building year. That is mostly for basic needs, but it is for the authority to decide the relative merits of this school and others within its area.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take special steps, in view of the intention of local authorities to reduce their further education expenditure, to ensure that any progress made in extending day release for young workers can be met by the resources available in the colleges of further education which such young workers would attend.
I am not aware that local authorities generally have decided to reduce their expenditure on further education. The rate support grant settlement for 1975–76 allows provision for the expected increase in the number of students in maintained colleges of further education in the coming year. I am anxious that opportunities for the continued education of young people in employment should be improved, and I am discussing with interested bodies possible ways of making practical progress in difficult economic circumstances.
Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the local authorities can meet all the needs of the further education sector in view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's call for a reduction in revenue expenditure and the restrictions placed on capital projects? Does he consider that lower expenditure on education is part of the social contract?
As I explained earlier, there is rising expenditure on education, and the education element in the rate support grant for 1975–76 allowed both for an increased number of students in further education and for some modest improvement in non-teaching costs. It is therefore not true to say what my hon. Friend said. I think we can see some progress here. In some areas, though not all, there are empty seats in classrooms in further education colleges and I would like to see these filled with extra students since that could be done without extra cost.
Since the Government have asked local authorities to cut back on expenditure, and since education is now at the bottom of the Government's priority list of expenditure forecasts, how does the right hon. Gentleman justify asking local authorities to make reorganisation of secondary education their number one education priority? This lack of strategy and lack of guidelines will cause indiscriminate cuts and great damage to the system.
I tried to explain earlier that education was not at the bottom of the Government's priorities. If the Conservatives had won the last election, however, it would have been at the bottom of theirs. It was a very important part of the Conservative election campaign to call for cuts in public expenditure with the exception of housing, pensions and agriculture. So education clearly was due for considerable cuts, and the country has been saved from that by the continuation in office of a Labour Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in spite of the welcome increase in education expenditure in polytechnics and technical colleges there is a distinct danger of valuable courses which cost very little being cut in order to maintain other more prestigious courses which appeal to the nominally better-qualified teachers? Will my right hon. Friend look at this as it affects the efficacy of the school leaving age programme and those not going for the more scholastic certificates and degrees?
Both in our capital allocations and in all our policies we are tending to favour the local authority sector of higher education rather than universities and, within that, to give all possible priority to non-advanced work such as that provided for those on day release and further education courses.
Is the Secretary of State aware that, if the local authorities are to meet the Government's request that rate increases in the coming year should be restricted to no more than 25 per cent., there will inevitably be a cut in education expenditure in real terms? The target cannot be achieved in any other way. How does the right hon. Gentleman answer that point?
No, Sir. The rate support grant settlement was negotiated between the Government and the local authority associations on the basis that rate increases should be confined within the limits laid down and that expenditure increases should be confined to inescapable commitments. The education component of that envisaged growth in real terms of 4 per cent. and the further education component, which is the subject of the Question, envisages increased student numbers and some modest improvement in standards.
I accept most of the things my right hon. Friend has said, but is he aware that there is very real concern among people who are involved in these matters that cuts are taking place in post-16 education in general? Does he accept that post-16 education is particularly vulnerable in times of economic stringency compared with the mandatory pre-16 sector?
I accept that it is a particularly vulnerable sector because it is not mandatory. I would like to put on record that I would greatly regret the policy of any local education authority which involved economies at the expense of those in the 16 to 19-year age group in employment who still have educational needs as important to them as the needs of those who go on to full-time higher education.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the needs of this age group were amongst the top four priorities in two successive Labour manifestos last year? So far the Government have not brought forward any specific proposals to fulfil either manifesto pledge. When are we going to do so?
I have made it clear that within the framework of the rate support grant we have made a better provision than many hon. Members realise. I am consulting a number of bodies about long-term changes. They include the TUC education committee, the ATTI, the City and Guilds of London Institute, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and others. I am exchanging views with them about the future pattern of provision for this important age group.
Secondary Education (Trafford)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had with representatives of Trafford in regard to the implementation of a comprehensive system of secondary education; what is the capital cost involved in achieving this changeover; and how soon its share of the necessary resources will be made available by central Government.
My right hon. Friend has had no such discussions with representatives of the authority. He expects to receive shortly the authority's response to Circular 4/74 which called for information about the measures to be taken for comprehensive reorganisation. That circular stressed the importance of making the maximum use of existing buildings and available resources. I cannot yet say what resources will be available for school building in 1976–77 and later years.
Is the Minister aware that the estimated cost of imposing a comprehensive scheme in the Trafford district of Manchester is no less than £4 million, which will fall squarely upon the ratepayers? Is he aware that this is more than eight times as much as the total available for all capital expenditure on education in the coming year? In the circumstances, is he satisfied that the Government have their priorities right in pursuing this element of doctrinaire Socialism when in the case of the Trafford district—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—one-fortieth of this expenditure would provide a replacement school for St. Bride's Primary School, which is 100 years old and which has already been condemned as structurally unsound?
I am not aware of the cost of the proposals from the Trafford authority because as yet we have not received the proposals from the authority. As for our priorities, for far too long most of our resources have gone to the gifted and privileged children at the expense of those who are disadvantaged and less gifted. Because we want to get rid of the unfair and wasteful system of selecting children, this is our highest priority—
What about St. Bride's?
—and we are expecting a quick response from the hon. Member's authority.
Some of the authorities which have submitted their plans hope to go comprehensive in September next year. Will my hon. Friend's investigations be complete in time for them to do so?
Yes, Sir. We have in mind the desire of most authorities to abolish selection as quickly as possible. We shall deal with all Section 13 proposals as expeditiously as possible.
May I repeat the Opposition's plea to the Minister for a moratorium on the policy of compulsory comprehensivisation of schools? Does he not realise that by insisting on reorganisation and providing no money to do it he is not only lowering standards but bringing the whole idea of the comprehensive school into disrepute?
I reject the hon. Gentleman's suggestion outright, I remind him of a distinguished predecessor of my right hon. Friend, Lord Boyle, who said that the greatest fact in British education was the waste of talent. Waste of talent occurs because we label and segregate our children.
Nursery Education (Hampshire)
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he is proposing to take in respect of Hampshire County Council's grant for nursery school building in the light of its intention to cut back its programme for 1975–76.
My Department authorises capital building for nursery education provision in local authority areas and the rate support grant takes account of the costs incurred. The Hampshire County Council has informed my Department that it does not intend to carry out any nursery education building in 1974–75 or 1975–76 although its allocation from the resources available over the two years totalled £1,105,000. As I have already made clear, these resources will be made available to other authorities able and willing to use them for nursery education building.
Is my hon. Friend aware that in Hampshire only one child out of 40 attends nursery school, compared with the national figure of one in nine? Does he agree that Hampshire County Council's refusal to accept its allocation for nursery school building will further prejudice Hampshire schoolchildren in this respect and that if that is to be avoided in the light of the priority the Government give to nursery education, further Government action is needed?
Yes, Sir. It is difficult for the Department to intervene. I agree with my hon. Friend that hundreds of thousands of children are born to fail. To compensate for that we must have more pre-school education. I very much deplore Hampshire's attitude. I am glad to say that 57 other authorities have willingly applied for the resources that Hampshire does not want to use.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, in the light of recent evidence, he will issue fresh guidance to local authorities about fire hazards associated with CLASP-built schools.
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, in view of further instances of serious fires in schools built on the CLASP system, he will now take specific action to ensure greater safety of existing schools built under this system and to ensure that future methods of school construction ensure maximum safety.
My Department's current requirements for fire precautions, framed in consultation with other Government Departments, set high standards for new schools of all kinds. Decisions to improve the fire resistance of existing schools require local knowledge and are for local determination. My Department wrote to all local education authorities on 9th January to remind them of basic fire precautions in schools.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer, which will go a long way towards allaying public anxiety. Is he aware, however, that some existing schools built on the CLASP system have a gap between the roof and the ceiling which can be a fire hazard? What advice is he giving to local authorities about the problem and about the prevention of arson?
In Building Bulletin No. 7 we have referred to the urgent need for fire-stopping in floor and roof cavities. The CLASP buildings are a major concern of ours. Local authorities are responding and are spending money to remedy pre-1971 schools. Of the 32 school fires that have occurred in the North-East recently, seven were in CLASP buildings.
Will my hon. Friend accept my assurance that I and many of my colleagues from the North-East are very satisfied with the work that has been done to ensure that satisfactory reply?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Secretary of State for Employment on 14th February at Ebbw Vale on the subject of the social contract represents Government policy.
asked the Prime Minister whether the Secretary of State for Employment's public speech at Ebbw Vale on the social contract on Friday 14th February represents Government policy.
asked the Prime Minister whether the public speech by the Secretary of State for Employment on the social contract at Ebbw Vale on 14th February represented Government policy.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the Secretary of State for Employment has since developed his theme. As the Prime Minister, by virtue of his own frequent appeals for restraint in pay claims within the social contract, must be classed as an economic illiterate in his right hon. Friend's eyes, will he take this opportunity to express his full support for those of his Cabinet colleagues, such as the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who seek in their speeches to underline the wage responsibilities of the social contract, or will the Prime Minister, too, welsh on those responsibilities?
While the matter does not technically arise on this Question, as the speech referred to was about the miners' settlement, I am happy to say, on the point raised by the hon. Gentleman so touchingly and movingly, that the House can leave it to me to ensure that the normal rules in these matters are observed. [An HON. MEMBER: "What rules?"] The rules of every Government in this country. But while my colleagues and I have been urging for months, before both trade union and other audiences, compliance with the social contract guidelines, I must tell the House—and I want this to be understood—that no Minister has at any time over those months proposed any alternative policy to the social contract. [Interruption.] Certainly no Minister has proposed a return to the disastrous policies of a year ago this week, based on statutory controls and the three-day week. I thought that what I said would be cheered by Opposition Members, because I am glad to feel that on this matter there is total bipartisanship in the House. I understand that the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition has now forsworn the statutory pay policy of her predecessor which she supported when in government.
Does my right hon. Friend appreciate that no useful advice is to be gained on policy of any kind from the economic sub-literates on the Opposition benches, and that far from unemployment, as offered by them, and statutory incomes policy, as undertaken by them, being the cure for our economic problem, that problem and the problems of our democracy can be overcome[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."]—only by means of persuasion and example, which are the basis of the social contract?
I must say with regret that I disagreed with what my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his question. It is wrong to say that we cannot learn from the Opposition. We can learn from their experience, as they have now done. But I join my hon. Friend in expressing great anxiety about what have clearly become the Conservatives' policies, although they have not yet been made articulate—monetarist policies which can lead only to unemployment.
Is the Prime Minister aware that the Secretary of State's speech was also about the social contract? Is he or is he not satisfied that the convention of collective Cabinet responsibility still exists in regard to the social contract?
Certainly. Many of my right hon. Friends and I have been urging compliance with the social contract over many months. But if I want to study collective responsibility I will not look at the Opposition benches—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—because for precisely three weeks the Opposition Front Bench has been dissociating itself from everything it did under the previous Prime Minister.
Will my right hon. Friend put a guillotine on his answers to the silly questions asked by the Opposition? I should like to know whether my right hon. Friend will be visiting Beckermet.
I know that my hon. Friend, with his long experience and wisdom in these matters, can put a correct evaluation on the quality and motives of the questions of hon. Members opposite. I shall get to Beckermet when the relevant Question is asked.
Is it not just possible that the Secretary of State for Education and Science is right? Why is it that after one year of the social contract as administered by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Employment we have in this country a rate of inflation which is far higher than that of any of our competitors—twice that of the United States and three times that of Germany?
In so far as my hon. Friend was following the speeches which I made, from the TUC onwards last September, urging compliance with the contract, he was expressing the view of all of us and, I should hope, of the whole House since the Opposition have rejected any alternative policy.The figures which were published last month were inflated by the Tory Government's thresholds—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—which throughout the election I said I supported; they are a very considerable proportion of this. Secondly, the figures include long overdue settlements, which I have not heard criticised by any right hon. or hon. Gentlemen, for people such as nurses and teachers who had been left behind and who received back pay for anything from eight to 10 months. The hon. Gentleman must study the figures before he asks questions about them.
Will my right hon. Friend cut down his replies to the Opposition's ridiculous supplementary questions? Does he realise that they do not want the social contract to succeed? Therefore, will he bear in mind that if any disagreement arises between my right hon. Friends he must advise them not to express it in public?
My hon. Friend is right in what he says about the Opposition's motives. But they have no alternative policy. As there have been suggestions this afternoon of a certain marginal crossing of ministerial lines, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to engage in some educational help for Opposition Members.
Bearing in mind that in answer to a Question in November the Prime Minister said that all his Ministers were responsible for the social contract, may I ask whether the Friday speech of the Secretary of State for Education and Science represented Government policy?
So far as it involves support for the social contract, yes. So far as it has been interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as proposing other alternative policies, I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend at no point, in public or elsewhere, has advocated an alternative policy.
As no one suggests that the Secretary of State for Education and Science was proposing an alternative policy but was merely suggesting that the present policy was not working, and as the Secretary of State for Employment said that the social contract was the best shield against worsening inflation and rising unemployment, and as many of his colleagues have said that it is not working, what measures does the right hon. Gentleman propose to back up his Ministers who are trying to make it work?
The social contract is the right policy. I have not heard an alternative policy from the official Opposition, and I am glad that they have repudiated the policy which they were following a year ago. I pay this tribute to the right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe). He at least has produced an alternative policy. He supports a statutory policy. The Opposition have thrown over what they supported in office. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman. I think he is wrong, but at least he is showing more honesty than the official Opposition.
National Economic Development Council
asked the Prime Minister when he next expects to take the chair at a meeting of the NEDC.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer is chairman of the council. I have said previously that I hope to take the chair about once a quarter, but I have no specific date in mind at present.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the worsening outlook for capital investment confirmed by yesterday's CBI Industrial Trends Survey can only prolong the recent fall in industrial production and thus add to unemployment? Will he therefore take an early opportunity, such as chairing the NEDC can provide, to put some backbone into business men, pointing out to them that theirs is the responsibility for the present lack of investment because theirs is the crucial rôle, impressing on them that no one, including themselves, can benefit from this state of affairs, and asking them whether they will start trying to believe once more in themselves?
As I have told the House, the NEDC—both sides of industry and the Government—at its last two meetings, and it will happen again tomorrow, has been working on the problem of investment and increased industrial capacity to meet the requirements of world markets in the oil States, in the Soviet Union and elsewhere.My hon. Friend, and I hope right hon. and hon. Members opposite, will have been encouraged to see the figures published this morning showing that, despite earlier forecasts, industrial investment in manufacturing rose in the fourth quarter of last year. It was 5·4 per cent. up on the fourth quarter of 1973, when the Opposition were responsible for these matters, and 19·9 per cent. up on the fourth quarter of 1972. [Interruption.] In reply to the illiterate muttered supplementary question about prices, may I say that the hon. Member knows that these figures are at constant prices.
If the Prime Minister takes the chair at the NEDC, will he be repeating his speech outlining the Government's achievements, and does he consider the present rate of inflation to be an achievement or a failure?
All my speeches from the moment we came to office have dealt with the problem of inflation. Nothing happening today is different from what we were told a year ago—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—since we were told a year ago today about the likelihood for inflation and for unemployment, except that all of us—I should like the Opposition's support—are struggling to stop the increase in unemployment then forecast which is occurring in most other industrial countries. We have also made more impact on the balance of payments problem.
When the Prime Minister meets trade union leaders at NEDC or elsewhere, will he listen carefully to what they have to say about import controls? Will he note that these are a means of improving the balance of payments and preventing unemployment from increasing, particularly in such industries as textiles and footwear?
There is a special textile and footwear problem. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are concerned about it, and I have suggested that they should meet my right hon. Friend. I have been in touch with the industry and certain action has been taken, but I know of the anxiety.I take the view that import controls as a general policy would be bad for Britain from the point of view of dealing with the balance of payments, because they would help to get world trade spiralling further downwards. I point out to my hon. Friend and to those who support him that if we impose physical controls to restrict imports it will not be an alternative to deflation. We reject both policies. We should have to have deflation in order to prevent a big increase in consumption which would frustrate our exports.
Does not the Prime Minister agree that investment intentions are declining to the worst level ever and that, until we see a new confidence in industry, forward investment will not increase? Does he agree that the terms of the letter which I wrote to him on Friday setting out the instructions that would have to be given to bring the Industry Bill into the terms of the White Paper—as he has promised to do—are the basis of the instructions which he will be giving to parliamentary draftsmen for preparing Government amendments to the Industry Bill?
I do not accept any of the points made by the hon. Gentleman. As to the effect of business confidence on investment, the figures have been showing a decline for a very long period. The figure for the fourth quarter is actually up, and I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would say how delighted he was, but that is not in his nature. The intentions for the fourth quarter were worse, but they have improved in reality and I hoped that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased.The hon. Gentleman will be receiving a reply to the letter he so kindly sent to me, and he will know that I am currently discussing these matters with the CBI and the TUC. I thought I might perhaps send him a detailed reply because it is plain from his letter that he has totally falsified the position in relation to the Bill. The hon. Gentleman in his speeches and letters should stop thinking in slogans and apply himself to the problems. He will get the reply to his letter, and I hope that he will be a much humbler man when he has read it.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, worrying as inflation is, the villain of the piece has been the failure of those with the ability to invest to do so or their preference to invest overseas? Does he agree that, in spite of what he said, this is a continuing worry? Does he think that the policies are sufficient to arrest the tendency and drastically to improve investment?
Yes, Sir. I answered that question a week ago, and I dealt with it at some length when discussing these matters with the Scottish TUC last week and on television in Scotland. I said then, and I must repeat, that, as we have said for 12 months and more, the immediate problem of inflation can arise from self-generated income demands—wages, salaries and other incomes outside the employment field. The long-term problem we face is the totally inadequate investment—under successive Governments; I concede that—for about 20 years. That is the basic problem. Had business invested when it should and could have done and had every chance of doing, we should not be as vulnerable as we are to short-term factors.
When the Prime Minister takes the chair will be explain to the council why his Government are steamrollering through the House an iniquitous tax which is ill-understood and which has far-reaching economic consequences, without adequate debate because of the timetable motion?
I do not agree with the hon. Member's premise. There have already been about 170 hours of debate. I understand that the House is being asked today to approve other arrangements which will provide adequate time for considering all the nonsense of hon. Gentlemen opposite for another four days.