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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 958: debated on Tuesday 14 November 1978

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Oral Answers To Questions

Before we start Question Time may I seek the co-operation of the House? Too many right hon. and hon. Members and Ministers are beginning to think that this is debating time. It is not. It is Question Time, and if hon. Members will be as succinct as possible I shall be grateful.

Education And Science

Comprehensive Education (Costs)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will publish the extracts of running costs submitted to her by county councils which oppose comprehensive education or which propose alternative unacceptable schemes to her.

Local education authorities have been required to give details of the estimated capital costs of work necessary at each school at each stage of compre- hensive reorganisation when they submit proposals under section 2 of the Education Act 1976. They have not been required to provide comparable information in respect of running costs and I regret, therefore, that it is not possible to meet my hon. Friend's request.

Will my hon. Friend demand information about the running costs? Is she aware that there is a feeling that many Conservative councils are against new schemes simply because they cost too much to run? Is she aware that in my area, for instance, we want a three-tier system, but the Nottingham county council wants a two-tier system and the feeling is that the council wants that system because it means bigger classes and fewer schools and is much cheaper to run?

The information that I have on the scheme submitted for my hon. Friend's area suggests that the county council feels that its proposed system is slightly cheaper to run. Whether my hon. Friend is right in his deduction of the reasons for that, I cannot be sure without studying the proposals with more care.

School Transport

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is yet in a position to announce changes in the system of qualification for free school transport.

Not yet. there are genuine problems of administration and finance to which solutions will have to be found before we are able to put forward alternative proposals. Since we cannot assume that additional resources will be made available for home to school transport, we also have to find an acceptable balance between a charge for travel that is at present free and the degree of assistance that can be given to parents who at present get none. We are pressing on as quickly as possible with the examination of these problems.

I am grateful for that reply. Is the hon. Lady aware that her Department has been sitting on this matter, although it has, I agree, been trying to find a solution, for three years? In May, she promised me a statement before the recess, but now says that we are to go on for another one, two or three years. Is she aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House want an answer to the problem, especially on behalf of those in rural areas, and a cure for a system which is a mass of abuses?

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said and much regret that it has not been possible to give him the answer he seeks, but he knows that any suggestion of change has brought opposition to anything different from the existing proposals and it is with this that we are trying to grapple.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is unjust that a child living just inside the three-mile limit has to pay for his journeys or travel on foot up to three miles while a child living just outside the area gets free travel? Will she consider the possibility of introducing a standing charge for everybody and at least make sure that something is done quickly?

We are pursuing the question of a standing charge. I agree that it is unjust that children living just outside the boundary should have to pay and that it is wrong that all parents should have to pay, irrespective of their income. My hon. Friend will be aware that it is already possible for local authorities to assist parents with the cost of travel on a discretionary basis and we regret that many are choosing not to do so.

Will the Minister ensure that in any review of the transport arrangements the special needs of those living in rural areas and those who send their children to denominational schools are catered for?

It is trying to cater for such special needs that is causing the hold-up.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the serious financial burden that the present system places upon parents who live just under three miles from the school? Can she not treat the matter with a little more urgency and stop trying to agree with the indifferent local authorities things that they will not agree? Why does she not come out with a scheme and impose it?

Unfortunately, it is not only the indifferent local authorities that disagree. It is precisely the groups to which my hon. Friend referred that are at present benefiting under the scheme and are reluctant to see any change in it.

Teaching And Research Work

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science, what further steps she is taking to make teaching and research work in colleges, polytechnics and universities more relevant to industrial and commercial needs.

:Progress is being made towards a greater responsiveness to industrial and commercial needs throughout further and higher education. Industry and commerce are well represented on the Council for National Academic Awards and the technician and business education councils. The research councils are promoting research of industrial relevance in the universities and polytechnics, many of which have strong links with particular firms.

:But does not my hon. Friend accept that, in view of the existing shortage of skill and the need to move into areas of high technology, the progress being made is lamentably slow? Will he discuss with the universities some of their research projects, as the bulk of those projects seem to be of little use to man or beast?

I agree that much more still needs to be done. By the creation of special engineering courses at seven universities, and the industrial scholarship scheme, the Government are trying to ensure that progress is faster in this direction.

With regard to the research at universities, at many universities there are strong links with individual firms whereby the university undertakes research for the firm. I should like to see much more of that as well.

:Is the Minister aware that in West Germany, for example, it is often not possible for an applicant to obtain a teaching post in engineering if he or she does not have industrial experience? What steps is he considering along the lines of setting up industrial units, for example, in individual universities or encouraging teaching companies, to increase this healthy trend?

We have set up industrial units and teaching companies in a number of universities.

The question of a lecturer's being appointed only if he has industrial experience is a matter for the universities.

:Does the Minister accept that there is great benefit in having lecturers and, for that matter, school teachers—particularly careers masters at schools—who have had industrial experience? Does he agree that there should be a facility to encourage that if not to make it compulsory?

I entirely agree that there is enormous benefit. In many of the schemes that the Government have introduced with regard to science and mathematics teachers, we look particularly to those who have been in industry and who might wish to have a career in teaching, because they prove to be of inestimable value as teachers.

:Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a question not only of making courses more relevant to the country's needs but of preventing ludicrous duplication and overlapping of courses between universities and polytechnics? What steps is he taking to bring the universites into a more publicly accountable system?

:The universities are responsible for their own research, but there is quite a degree of consultation between them and polytechnics on courses. As for links between polytechnics and duplication of courses, if the report of the committee of which I was chairman is implemented, much can be done in that direction as well

Secondary Education (North-East Lancashire)

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussion she has had with representatives of Lancashire county council concerning the reorganization of secondary education in the various districts of north-east Lancashire.

:My right hon. Friend and I have twice met representa- tives of Lancashire county council in recent months to discuss issues related to secondary reorganization in the county, and officials are in regular contact with the education authority on this matter.

:Is my hon. Friend aware that there is great concern in Rossendale about the attitude of the Lancashire county council, particularly in the light of what happened in the neighbouring authority of Burnley? Is she aware that many people think that the Lancashire county council is misrepresenting the position to her Department and misrepresenting the DES position to the people of Rossendale and Burnley? In view of that, will my hon. Friend meet a delegation in order that the matter may be put straight?

I share my hon. Friend's impatience to see reorganisation in Rossendale, and I am pleased that the authority has reconvened the working party with which it is having discussions. I saw a number of delegations, which put to me a case with regard to Burnley, and I am more than willing to see delegations from my hon. Friend's constituency to discuss problems in that area.

:May I express my appreciation to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for meeting a delegation from Bolton council and indicating to it that it was high time it went about implementing the scheme that it had submitted to her? Does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary agree that in future the Department should keep a weather eye open to see that authorities that submit plans also provide the means by which those plans can be carried out, including the appointment of staff in due time?

Student Grants (16- Ti 18-Year-Olds)

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action is being taken to assist more young people to stay at school after 16 years.

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether it is her intention to introduce a system of mandatory educational maintenance allowances.

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a further statement on her plan to introduce grants for 16- to 18-year-olds remaining in full-time education.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science and Paymaster General
(Mrs. Shirley Williams)

:As my hon. Friends know, the Government are committed in principle to introducing a statutory system of awards for students aged 16-18 in full-time education with the aim of encouraging more young people, particularly from less-well-off families, to stay on at school or college. As I told the House on 3rd November in the debate on the Address, it is not a question of whether to do this but of when; and this must be considered in the light of other proposals for major increases in public expenditure. The Government are giving the matter very careful attention.

:Will my right hon. Friend confirm that providing financial help for youngsters, especially working class youngsters, to stay on at school beyond the age of 16 remains one of the highest priorities of her Department? Will she redouble her efforts within the Cabinet to have the scheme introduced at the earliest opportunity, in the knowledge that it has the full support of hon. Members on the Labour Benches?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. I assure him that I regard the matter as a very high priority for education expenditure. Nearly four in five of the children of professional and managerial families stay on at school past the age of 16 and under one in five of the children of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled mothers and fathers.

I shall call first those hon. Members whose Questions are being answered.

:Is my right hon. Friend assured that her fellow members of the Cabinet are fully aware of just how deplorable the British position is in the provision of education beyond the age of 16? Will she assure us that she recognises that a discretionary scheme could not possibly meet the need at present?

I acknowledge what my hon. Friend says. It is shocking that the participation rate over the age of 16 in this country is lower than that in any other country in Western Europe, except Spain, Portgual and Italy. I do not regard that as a very attractive record.

I note what my hon. Friend said about discretionary schemes. The Government have that very much in mind.

What advice would my hon. Friend give to my constituents who read the headlines about her announcement back in June or July of a scheme to start from 1979 and decided to go back to school this year, knowing that it would be financially very difficult for them and their families but expecting to receive some grant for next September? Would she now advise them to leave school, draw supplementary benefit and continue their A-level studies on a part-time basis?

I recognise my hon. Friend's feelings, but I cannot be responsible for the interpretation put on my remarks by the newspapers. I have checked back on every remark I made, and have established that what I said was that the scheme could not possibly start before 1979, because legislation was necessary. In fact, I specifically answered —and have the answer on record—a member of the press who inquired about 1978. I made it quite clear that there was no possibility of a scheme starting then. My hon. Friend will discover that I said the same to him in my reply of 12th May, which he will find in Hansard.

:Will the Secretary of State resist the idea of a scheme that is discretionary to local authorities, in particular because such a scheme would tend not to be implemented by quite a number of Conservative-controlled authorities within whose areas some of the children of greatest need are?

:I recognise what the hon. Gentleman says about that. He will know that I very much regret that the local authority associations have altered their views on the whole question of discretionary awards for young people between the ages of 16 and 18. I am sorry that they have found it necessary to change their attitude.

Is not one of the problems that the scheme which the right hon. Lady has proposed is too broad and that the priority now is not to encourage young people to stay in sixth forms, which might not be best suited for the non-academic child, but to use whatever money is available to offer incentives for these young people to go into skill or craft courses in further education colleges?

I accept what the hon. Member said, but he will know that the scheme which I discussed with local authorities was one which would make awards both to young people going into full-time further education as well as to those who stayed in school. It is interesting that where awards are being offered—for example, by Sheffield, Inner London and Wakefield—there is evidence that some young people are staying in full-time further education who might otherwise have found it impossible to remain in college.

:Is my right hon. Friend aware that many local councils are buying places in independent schools and paying people to go there at an estimated cost of£35 million this year? Should not she take steps to divert this money into the provision of financial support for all pupils between the ages of 16 and 18?

Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that there has been a 40 per cent. decrease this year in the number of places taken up in independent schools financed by local authorities and that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State and I have made it clear that the only basis upon which new places can be taken up in independent schools is either where there are inadequate places in the existing maintained system—that is a very small number—or where there are denominational schools which are proposing to reorganise in the next couple of years.

:Although it would not have the effect on reducing unemployment which is clearly part of the aim of the Secretary of State, would it not be better to introduce scholarships for bright but needy children? Would not that not only be less expensive but much more easy to implement?

The scheme that we are discussing is not far removed from that. As the hon. Member will appreciate, first, for reasons of resources it would have to be a means-tested scheme and, secondly, it would be for teachers to advise pupils whether they would benefit from staying on in education, so that on both bases I think that this would be a scheme coming close to what the hon. Member has in mind.

:In view of the lack of job opportunities for 16-year olds, does my right hon. Friend agree that her scheme should be brought forward and linked with the youth opportunities programme? Surely it is better for youngsters to stay in further education than to join the dole queues.

I am sure that that is right and, of course, the purpose of the youth opportunities scheme is to offer young people an opportunity in education or in a work experience scheme or in a short industrial course. I am anxious, along with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, to make sure that every unemployed young person is offered one or other of those alternatives.

:Is the right hon. Lady aware that, although I would never accuse her of wickedness, I think that it is not totally unfair to suggest that she has led sixth-formers up the garden path of disappointment in this respect? But since the path has been barred by the Treasury Cerberus, will she use this pause to rationalise the whole provision for the 16- to 19-year olds about which Opposition Members are deeply concerned, as I know the right hon. Lady is herself?

Let me say to the hon. Member first that, as he knows, the Government have announced their intention to produce a White Paper next spring on the position of the 16- to 19-year olds. However, quite frankly, I have resisted the idea of a major inquiry. I regard this matter as so urgent that I do not believe that we can wait the two or three years which the inquiry would take.

Teachers

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is satisfied that the teaching force in England and Wales has increased by 1½ per cent. during the current year.

The number of teachers employed in England and Wales in January this year, 464,972, is the highest ever recorded, and is about 2,000 higher than the estimate made in the autumn of 1977. Information about the number of teachers employed at the beginning of the current school year should be available within a few weeks.

I am grateful for that information, and I am sure that Government supporters will welcome the improvement. Is is not the case that the improvement is very varied and that in some areas the position is quite unsatisfactory? Does my hon. Friend consider that it would be helpful and perhaps encouraging if the statistics were available rather more frequently than annually, based on the January position?

:I shall consider my hon. Friend's suggestion. However the difficulty is that there is a vast number of teachers involved, and the statistics take some time to compile.

Although the Opposition welcome the increase in numbers, is the Minister aware that we are also concerned about quality? With the easing of teacher numbers, can we hope that the quality of the intake of teachers will be improved and that, with fewer pupil teachers inside the schools, there will be more student-based training in schools so that we can get away from just theoretical training in the colleges?

I want to see a considerable improvement in induction and in-service training. But it is evident from a recent survey carried out by the Department that authorities are not finding it easy to provide increased opportunities for release for induction and in-service training on the scale envisaged. Nevertheless, in each of the past two years between 60 per cent. and 70 per cent. of the teaching force have engaged in in-service activity of some kind.

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that, where local education authorities such as Liverpool are carrying out a policy of school closures, the teachers will not be affected by such decisions—in other words, that we shall not have further unemployment amongst teachers and that the temporary surplus will be absorbed in general education schemes?

That is a matter for the individual local education authority. In the rate support grant settlement for this year, the Government included provision for the employment of 11,300 teachers over and above those who would have been needed to maintain the previous pupil-teacher ratios.

16-Plus Examinations

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received in support of the indefinite retention of separate GCE O-level and CSE examinations.

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further representations she has received from the GCE examining boards about proposals to introduce anew system of examinations.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement about her proposals for a common examination system at 16-plus.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has so far received in connection with her proposals to merge the GCE O-level examination with the CSE examination.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what reaction she has had to the proposed reform of the General Certificate of Education examinations.

The White Paper of 23rd October announced the Government's decision that a single system of examinations leading to the award of a General Certificate of Secondary Education should replace the present GCE O-level and CSE examinations from the mid-1980s. The White Paper was preceded by and generally endorses the findings of the report of Sir James Waddell's steering committee—Cmnd. 7281. Interested parties were invited to comment on that report during the summer and reactions showed there to be widespread support in principle for the introduction of a single system of examining. No major organisation contended then or since that as a matter of principle two separate systems of examining at 16 should be retained indefinitely. Many bodies have expressed their concern about the need to maintain standards in the new system. The Government share this concern and are satisfied that standards can be fully maintained and indeed improved under the new system.

Does not the right hon. Lady regard the Conservative Front Bench as a major organisation, or is she taking account of the fact that after their very sharp initial reaction, they came to the conclusion that it really was not acceptable that these two exams should continue indefinitely to be separate, however much they prevaricated? Does the right hon. Lady accept that the way to proceed is to ensure that clearly recognisable O-level standards are maintained in the new system and that it is clearly accepted that mixed ability teaching does not have to be an accompaniment of this reform?

I have found it impossible to discover what the Conservative Party, which I accept is a major organisation, actually thinks. I know that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has supported a seven-graded system, which is implicit, has supported an eventual single examination system, which is implicit, has supported the idea of grades which reflect the standards in O-level and in CSE, which indeed is part of the Government's policy, has supported the idea of a national co-ordinating body, which is the Government's policy—[HON. MEMBERS: "Too long."] The Opposition may not like to hear this, but I intend that they shall hear it. Therefore, it is almost impossible to discover to what the hon. Member for Chelmsford objects.

In response to the second supplementary question asked by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I may say that we are satisfied that the level of achievement between different O-level boards, of which there are now 22 together with CSE boards, will be guaranteed by a national co-ordinating body in a way that has not been the case up until now.

I shall call first those whose Questions are being answered. I must remind the House that this is not debating time.

On the specifics of Question No. 14, since the White Paper states that the Department will be entering into discussions with the examining boards about the composition and functioning of the proposed central co-ordinating body, will the right hon. Lady confirm that when the GCE and CSE boards are reconstituted, there will be no attempt by the Department to reduce or interfere in their present autonomy?

The boards will, of course, retain their present autonomous setting of standards, but will be subject to a new national co-ordinating body which has the responsibility of monitoring standards throughout the examination system. Because of this body, we shall for the first time have a national system of monitoring standards which we do not now have.

Will the right hon. Lady admit that there are many in the teaching profession who strongly oppose her proposals because of concern about the maintenance of standards? Could not this step be a forward march to mediocrity? What representations has she received from the Association of British Correspondence Colleges, because there is no mention in the White Paper of the private student?

As the hon. Gentleman appeared rather unwilling to listen to my last answer, I am not sure how anxious he is to have information about the examination. There are now 64,000 boys and girls who are doubly entered for CSE and GCE, who take two syllabuses and undergo two different sets of studies instead of one, and who are harming their own opportunities to achieve high grades by this dual system. I profoundly believe that a single system equated at each point with the standards and grades currently offered—again the hon. Gentleman is indicating dissent without even listening to the reply—will go a long way to maintain standards in our system.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman's first point, I must tell him that my broad observation is that the teaching profession is strongly in favour of such a change and that every official representation made to me on its behalf has favoured this alteration.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that there is a great deal of support on the Labour Benches for this report, which will mean that children are no longer faced with unnecessarily rigid categories at such an early stage in their career? Therefore, will she ignore the nit-pickers on the Tory Benches and press ahead with reform as quickly as possible?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I propose to do what he asks. Conservative Members are always talking about parents. One of the greatest concerns to parents lies in their being unsure whether to enter their children for the CSE or GCE. We shall now remove that painful choice from them and let the child achieve what he is capable of achieving.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the argument between CSE and O-level should not be about examinations but about syllabuses? I believe that the CSE is a very much better syllabus in a number of subjects for intellects in the middle of the range than has been given credit for in talking the whole time about examinations.

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I wish to emphasise, because this is a matter of central concern in education, that at a time when we have more than 60 syllabuses in mathematics alone between O-level and CSE, we must, whatever are our views about the single system, do something to clarify and rationalise what is becoming a chaotic situation.

Irrespective of any merits or the form of the future proposed examination, will my right hon. Friend confirm that notionally it is designed for 60 per cent. of school leavers? What effects is it likely to have on the 40 per cent. who are likely not to take the examination, and can she say what studies she has initiated in this respect?

We have at present a system that is supposed to cover the spectrum of 60 per cent. of our school- children at 16, but 86 per cent. take an examination and 84 per cent. get one or more passes in it. Therefore, my concern is especially with the 20 per cent. who do not enter such examinations. We are studying the subject of school profiles and reports to give an assessment of every child in our education system whether or not he or she takes an examination.

Is there not the other side of the coin, which must be emphasised this afternoon? It may be a minority view, but there is a view among secondary modern school teachers that, although the right hon. Lady says that standards can be maintained and even improved, this may be to the disadvantage of those who value the CSE certificate now.

I understand that point. There are many aspects of the CSE syllabus, especially the devotion to practicalities and vocational slants, which we could usefully embrace in the joint common system, Indeed, my hope for the common system is that we can take the best of both worlds and make a better examination system than either of the current bifurcated systems.

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the local education authority associations and the CBI, in common with the Opposition, are in favour of the retention of O-levels or O-level-type examinations? Since that is the point of difference between herself and these organisations and ourselves, would it not be in the best interests of all the children concerned, since we are all agreed on the merits of a common examination system, for the right hon. Lady to call a round table conference of all the parties interested in this subject to see whether we can reach an agreed approach on this vital matter?

I am always happy to engage in consultations; indeed, there have been further consultations recently. However, the hon. Gentleman will see that we are talking essentially about semantics. It has already been made clear that the first three grades in the common system will be equivalent to A, B and C at O-level. Therefore, the question is not a question of whether one wants to retain the wording. The boards will have to be reorganised, because nobody wants to see 22 boards. The serious point to which the hon. Gentleman should address himself is that we should not force children into having to make a choice which, because the syllabuses are all so different, means that, however fast a youngster develops, he or she cannot easily move from CSE to GCE, or vice versa, at any age after the age of 14.

Nursery Education

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will give the latest figure which indicates what proportion of local education authorities has requested increased financial support currently available from central Government for the provision of nursery education facilities.

The final total of English local education authorities making bids on the 1978–79 nursery education building programme was 53 out of 97. Bids on the 1979–80 programme are still being received, but numbers bidding have already exceeded the previous year's total. My right hon. Friend is considering whether additional resources can be made available.

What further action does the Minister intend to take to make more local Tory councils take advantage of the Government money that is available? Will she respond to the point which has been made by the Avon authority and others that this is a matter not of capital provision, but of lack of revenue resources to appoint the necessary teachers in nursery education.

The only action that it is open to us to take is to remind local education authorities that this year, as last year, we have made available to them through rate support grant an increase in money which we hope will provide for an increased number of children in nursery schools. There is nothing we can do to make local authorities take up this provision. It covers revenue costs. It should be made plain that this money is available.

As an interim measure, have the Government considered making finance available for the rising 5s? If so, can the Minister say how much such a scheme will cost in a full year?

Money is already available through the same process through the rate support grant for the admission of rising 5s. To a large extent it is in the discretion of individual authorities how much money is spent and how it is used.

Although my hon. Friend says that there is nothing she can do about Tory authorities which refuse to use the money that is available, except to remind them of that fact, does she not agree that if the money is available and authorities are not using it, the Government could change the law to compel local authorities throughout the country at least to make minimum provision? If that were the case, the maldistribution of nursery school facilities would not have occurred.

I take my hon. Friend's point. The difficulty, as she will know, is that if we make this provision statutory, even at a minimum level, it will be necessary to provide resources to cope with it and in many authorities, as many of my hon. Friends know—they have raised the matter often in the House—provision is so low at present that this would be very costly.

Schools (Parental Choice)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what new plans she has to strengthen the rights of parents to choose the school their children will attend.

I hope very soon to be able to introduce a Bill which will include provisions relating to the expression of parental wishes in the admission of children to schools and the duty of local education authorities to take them into account.

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, but will she bear in mind the fact that parental choice is a precious right of most parents at the moment? It is enshrined in the Education Act 1944. Will she bear in mind the fact that anything she produces must be seen to be manifestly better?

I have not the slightest doubt that what we are proposing will be a manifest improvement on the 1944 Act in at least two ways. First, it will for the first time require local authorities to provide detailed information about schools in the maintained system, which has never been the case before. Secondly, it will provide for a local system of appeals, which is also not required at present. In my view, both will be a substantial improvement on the present arrangements.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Conservative Opposition have for many years talked a lot of rubbish about parental choice? Is she aware, for example, that my father would dearly have loved me to go to Eton, Harrow, Haileybury College, Winchester or some other great public school but that he was unable to arrange for me to do so for one simple reason—that he did not have any money to send me there? is it not true, even in relation to local authorities, that 90 per cent. of ordinary working people under Conservative local authorities have never had parental choice in the past and that for the first time we are presenting them with that?

On the first part of my hon. Friend s question, I do not believe that he would have been either more articulate or more eloquent if he had gone to Eton, Winchester or any other public school. On the second part, I assure the House that it is our intention that all parents' wishes shall be taken into account, and not only those of the tiny minority whose children went to grammar schools in the past.

Will the Secretary of State stop advising education authorities to close schools in rural areas, since this deprives parents of choice and is also a shattering blow to community life in villages?

The hon. Member perhaps does not fully appreciate that the law says quite clearly that the initiative for a closure shall be taken by the local authority. It is not in my power to initiate any school closures. The suggestion must come from the local education authority. As the Conservative Party controls almost all rural education authorities, the matter seems to lie very much in its hands.

Is it not a fact that the Labour Government have been steadily working for a considerable time for the maximum parental choice for all parents and that a Bill is shortly to be published which will expand parental choice? Is it not also a fact that the Conservative Party has been using the terms "parental choice" and "parents' charter" as demagogic slogans? Is it not true that for countless years the Conservatives have had the chance to democratise education but that they have sent over 80 per cent. of ordinary children to the secondary modern schools and want parental choice for themselves and their children?

For whatever reason, this is the first Government to propose that there should be information, by law, that there should be parent representation on governing boards, by law, that there should be local appeals, by law, and that parents should be able to express their wishes in all situations, by law. Thus, people should look at the fruits and not at the promises.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, although we welcome the publishing of information and the local appeals system—indeed, we on this side pressed for it for years—we are concerned that the new education Bill will contain clauses which will allow local authorities rigidly to control the intake each September—the number going to each school—which means rigid zoning, which in turn means the end of parental choice, whatever appeals system she may set up?

The hon. Gentleman will know that if he has been pressing for it for years it is strange that it has not happened. Second—yes, we have to look at the planning of the future of our education system, but we intend to do that without sweeping away either section 13 or section 68, both of which enshrine the right of local consultation and local objections under the 1944 Act. We are not proposing to repeal either of those provisions.

Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister when he expects to reply to the letter from the hon. Member for Havant and Waterloo setting out reasons why Her Majesty The Queen should not attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Zambia.

I replied to the hon. Member on 3rd November.

Since the Prime Minister in that reply—for which I thank him—said that all relevant factors would be taken into consideration, will he give the House a categorical assurance that Her Majesty will not be advised to visit Zambia unless, first, her personal safety can be completely assured and, second, that if she should visit Zambia that will in no way be taken to imply approval by the British people for the terrorism that that country has so regrettably and hospitably fostered within its boundaries?

On the first question, of course the personal safety of Her Majesty would be the prime consideration of those who advise her. As the hon. Member will understand, that advice would come not only from Her Majesty's Ministers here, who take a principal role in it; it could also come from other members of the Commonwealth where she is Queen. As regards the second part of the question, I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman said about the nature of the Zambian Government. President Kaunda has made his position quite clear on these matters. I do wish sometimes that the hon. Member would try to support his efforts in those directions and not attack them.

The Prime Minister will know that the Commonwealth Secretariat expressed some concern about the findings of the Bingham report. Since this matter may come up at the meeting, whether it is held in Zambia or not, when will the right hon. Gentleman be able to tell the House about the Government's decisions, following the debates in the two Houses last week?

I hope, in the near future. I read the report of the debate in another place, which I found very valuable too, and the Cabinet had a preliminary consideration last Thursday. I trust that we shall have further consideration this coming week, and perhaps we can announce a decision soon after that But if we cannot, it will be only because we still have problems to sort out.

As some members of the Opposition seem to suport the activities of Smith in attacking Zambia, is it not they who endanger the Queen's safety when she visits that country?

There is no prospect yet that Her Majesty is in any personal danger at all and any decision that has to be taken will be taken well before next August, if that is the date, as seems likely, when the Commonwealth conference is to be held. As regards those who are responsible for the present situation in Zambia, that will be a matter of continuing debate, but I have no doubt that if the six principles which have been laid down for bringing Rhodesia to majority rule were accepted by all concerned and elections held, there would be no difficulty about anybody visiting Zambia, whoever they may be.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his public engagements for 14th November.

This morning I accompanied Her Majesty The Queen when she greeted President Eanes of Portugal at the beginning of his State visit to this country.

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be holding meetings with ministerial colleagues and others, including one with the leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha. Mr. C. M. Stephen, and the former Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Gandhi.

This evening I hope to attend a dinner given by The Queen in honour of President Eanes.

I am glad that my right hon. Friend was able to meet the President of Portugal, because Portugal is one of the countries which has a current application to join the Common Market. Perhaps he would make to the President of Portugal the ponts that he made in his Guildhall speech last night about the shortcomings of the financial structure of the Common Market, and particularly its system of agricultural suppor.

Yes, Sir. I dare-say that the President will wish to discuss with me the prospects for his application, which I believe is now proceeding satisfactorily. As I said at the Guildhall last night, it is clear that what is needed is a broad balance between all the interests of the members of the Community if its long-term objectives are to be fulfilled, and not the unbalance that exists today.

Will the Prime Minister today take time to explain to the typical home buyer, who is faced with a bill of£16a month for mortgage rate increases, why the Prime Minister's own Government have a worse record for mortgage rates than any previous British Government?

I think that the increase is£16 before tax deductions, so the figure is lower than that suggested by the right hon. Lady. The Leader of the Opposition is taking the first opportunity that she has had to claim that the mortgage rate today is higher than it was when she left office in 1974. I am not surprised that she has taken that opportunity.

The plain truth is that the British people would prefer to see inflation conquered whatever short-term steps are necessary. This is one of the steps that we intend to take in order to achieve that.

Has the Prime Minister forgotten that under one of his own previous rulings the mortgage rate went up to 12½ per cent. in 1976? Therefore, he has held the worst record on two occasions. Will he explain how an increase of nearly£16 a month less tax helps the home buyer in his personal battle against inflation?

It does not help the personal home buyer at all. But, as the right hon. Lady might acknowledge at some time, all of us are part of the national interest. It is in the national interest that these rates are increased so that inflation is kept under control. Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will explain to the country how she would keep inflation under control if she did not adopt these methods.

Will my right hon. Friend agree to consider what he said in the City of London last night with a view to appointing a Minister for Europe, not only to co-ordinate the activities of Ministers and officials in Brussels but to explain to the British people some of the advantages and some of the disadvantages of our membership of the Common Market?

My hon. Friend has always taken an enlightened view of these matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) certainly knows about regretting things that are said.

As I said in my speech at the Guildhall last night, there is no doubt that there is a balance of advantage to be drawn from membership of the Common Market. This balance is certainly on the plus side in respect of political co-operation and certain of the decisions that have been taken on steel, textiles and other matters. I doubt whether we could have taken them on our own. However—and I do not wish to be used by the antimarketeers on this matter—that does not destroy the need for getting a proper balance in the financial contributions that we are making.

Is it not clear from the answer that the Prime Minister gave to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition that the increase in the mortgage rate is due exclusively to the excessive borrowing by this Government? Should not the Prime Minister admit frankly that his Government's borrowing policies have led to the increase in the mortgage rate?

No. That is certainly untrue. The borrowing requirement of this Government is not out of line with the borrowing requirement of other similar Governments and is, indeed, far lower than that of a number of comparable countries. The borrowing requirement is not doing this. There are a number of factors which the Chancellor of the Exchequer enunciated at great length last week. This was to the satisfaction of the House because we had a majority at the end of the day on the Queen's Speech.

Cbi

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister when he last met representatives of the CBI.

I meet representatives of the CBI from time to time, at NEDC and on other occasions. Further meetings will be arranged as necessary.

As it is now clear that the Opposition's statements are designed to encourage employers and industry generally to sabotage the Government's economic policy, can the Prime Minister make it clear what he expects from the CBI, industrialists and employers in order to support the incomes policy?

I certainly agree that the CBI in its public statements on this matter have been much more responsible than some sections of the Opposition. I hope that the CBI will take the White Paper on incomes policy "Winning the Battle Against Inflation" fully into account when advising its members.

When the Prime Minister meets the CBI will he ask exactly how it proposes to increase production with the 12½ per cent. minimum lending rate? Will he say exactly what is the difference between his addiction to the nonsense of monetarism and that of the Leader of the Opposition? Is not the 12½ per cent. the price that we are all having to pay for the failure of successive Conservative and Labour Governments to arrive at a sensible wage bargaining system?

The present Government at least can be exonerated from that charge. We are doing our best to arrive at a sensible wage bargaining system. I trust that the statement that the TUC, in conjunction with the Government, will be issuing later today will demonstrate that.

I accept that the Prime Minister's comments last night on the Common Market enjoyed widespread support, but will he take this opportunity to tell the CBI and others that Britain's involvement with the European monetary system is now a dead duck? Will he also say that, unless there is radical and substantial reform of the Common Market, Britain's departure from the Common Market must be a real possibility?

It is far better that we should try to make the necessary reforms in the European Community than that we should talk about leaving it at this stage. There are substantial disadvantages in leaving.

As the House knows, I raised the matter at Bremen on 6th July. As a result of that the paper has been prepared and certain deductions are now being made. It will be considered by the Finance Ministers of the Community on 20th November. I shall, of course, carry the matter forward as far as I can at the next meeting of Heads of Government early in December.

Does the Prime Minister recall that the CBI, among other things, called for the Government to consider legislating on the creation of a system of balloting before strikes? In view of the recent situation at Vauxhall, and as the bread workers' strike is taking place at a time when between 65 per cent. and 70 per cent. of supplies are at a normal level, does he agree that there is a widespread consensus for the view? Is he aware that if he gave serious consideration to that suggestion he would almost certainly have the approval of the House and the grateful thanks of the nation?

I answered questions on this matter last week. I have nothing further to add today.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the only way to achieve genuine reforms in the Common Market is to say that we shall leave it unless we achieve them?

I would not regard my right hon. Friend as the best adviser on that matter. I do not think that he has ever wanted to be a member of the Common Market, at any price.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for 14th November.

Irefer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Walker).

Is the Prime Minister aware that during this year mortgage repayments have risen by a record 37 per cent.? Will he confirm to hard-pressed housebuyers and owners that this is almost entirely due to his Government's incompetent handling of the economy?

I do not think that the country takes that view because, as the hon. Gentleman may know from his own personal experience, more building society loans are being made today than ever before. They are at a record level. That seems to show that many people are still in the field for buying houses.

When my right hon. Friend meets the President of Portugal today, will he inform him that those of us who warned about the Common Market have been proved right, both by the general experience of our people and now by the figures—and I am including among us my right hon. Friend the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay)? On the analogy of a previous Government, who appointed a Minister for disarmament who later ended up selling armaments, may I recommend to my right hon. Friend that he appoint a Minister for Europe who might end up by getting us out of Europe?

I do not accept what my hon. Friend has said on this matter. The necessity for Europe is a closer combination and not to split up. It would undoubtedly create a tremendous furore among the European nations if a major member were possibly to consider leaving. I do not believe that we should do that. We have had a referendum on the subject with a positive result, and some of my right hon. and hon. Friends would be helping more if they would apply some constructive criticism towards getting a proper balance between payments that are made and the receipts that are given to each individual member country.