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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 18 December 1979

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Education And Science

Adult Literary

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what advice he has received on adult literacy from the Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education.

Recommendations for the development of adult literacy in the wider context of adult basic education were made in the council's report "A Strategy for the Basic Education of Adults". I announced my decisions on those recommendations in a written reply yesterday, in which I intended to make it clear that I do not feel it necessary to establish a separate development board to co-ordinate the support made available by central Departments.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware of the remarkable success of, and public interest in, the adult literacy classes set up by the St. Helens LEA? Is he prepared to extend those classes and provide the resources for them?

I shall widen the question slightly from St. Helens. I am fully aware of the importance of the adult literacy unit. For that reason we have decided to extend it for a further three years and provide it with £500,000 for the year 1980–81 We are widening its remit somewhat to cover other basic skills as well as literacy.

British Students (Overseas Studies)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what his estimate is of the number of British students currently studying at foreign universities.

The most recent estimate of the number of students of United Kingdom origin following courses in universities and institutions of higher education abroad is 16,866. This figure is based on returns made to UNESCO in 1977 by 50 countries.

Is it not a fact that many of those students are subsidised by the Governments of the countries in which they are studying? Is not scholarship international? Should not the Government direct their policy to encouraging all students to come to this country, not just rich students? What does the Minister think of the threat from this policy to institutions like the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine?

The number of foreign students in this country is three or four times higher than the number of our own students abroad. Since the figure of 16,866 includes over 9,000 students in Canada—and that figure is open to doubt—the probable figure for our students abroad is even smaller. The policy of the previous Government was to bring the total of 87,000 overseas students in this country down to about 66,000 by 1981 by a quota method which we did not like. We shall see what happens in relation to applications this year. At the moment they are down by 11per cent. Only one in four of foreign students who applied obtained admission to universities last year. We shall monitor the situation as it proceeds and see how it works out.

Has my hon. Friend any figures on the numbers of foreign students attending universities in this country over the past few years? Has the number dropped?

The number of foreign students in our universities has gone up. In the last full year there were about 49,000 students in universities; 19,000 were post-graduates and 30,000 under-graduates. The figure has consistently increased over the past 10 years.

Has the Minister seen my correspondence with the Secretary of State pointing out the position of refugee students in this country who have neither a Government, nor in some cases families, to support them? Will the Government give special consideration to refugee students who are different from the general run of overseas students?

I take the point made by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes). Refugee students are different. This has been a problem for a number of years. There was a problem with Kenyan Asians and Ugandan Asians. There is now a problem with the Vietnamese boat people. I have discussed this problem twice with refugee organisations and we hope to be able to do something about refugees. It is a separate, and I believe more important, problem than that of foreign students generally.

Will my hon. Friend make it quite clear that the problem is two-fold? Does he agree that it is not just a matter of saving £100 million on subsidies to foreign students, a quarter of whom come from countries with a national income higher than our own? Is it not a fact that the foreign student population has trebled in the past 10 years and that successive Governments have tried to control the numbers of foreign students? This is quite apart from the expense of having them here.

I accept what my hon. Friend says. It is interesting to note that other Governments are taking similar measures. Australia has increased its fees for foreign students. It has made it clear that foreign students are acceptable only if similar courses are not available in their own countries. New Zealand has also increased its fees and is limiting the number of foreign students. I heard last week that even the Philippines Government are taking similar action.

Is the hon. Member yet aware of the implication of his policy of full cost fees for British students, what- ever the effect is on overseas students? Has the Minister read the comments by Professor Sims, the vice-chancellor of Sheffield university, in which he describes the Minister as being pitifully ignorant on these matters? Does the Minister understand that the unanimous opinion of vice-chancellors, as well as of Lord Boyle, is that it is essential for the sake of the survival of many courses, and perhaps even of some universities and colleges, that the policy be reversed?

Certain courses are being maintained almost solely for foreign students. The majority of the cost is borne by the British students who take those courses. I have had much correspondence from university vice-chancellors. As a result of a meeting with those vice-chancellors, a postgraduate scheme for research students was suggested. Some years ago the university vice-chancellors suggested that there should be a limitation on the numbers of foreign students.

School Transport

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about the transport of children to Roman Catholic schools, as affected by his Education (No. 2) Bill and public spending reductions.

I have met the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster as well as representatives of the Catholic Education Council. I have also received about 4,000 letters from individual members of the Roman Catholic Church and about 400 letters from right hon. and hon. Members about constituents' correspondence.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that the way in which this will be interpreted by many local authorities will totally undermine the freedom of choice of Roman Catholic parents, as described in the Education Act 1944?Does he accept that he cannot blame the local education authorities because they are blaming him? In view of the large number of representations which he will continue to receive, does he agree that it is best to withdraw the whole of clause 23 and to accept the amendment tabled by the Opposition in Committee?

I do not accept that. The specific request to allow opportunity for charging came from the Association of County Councils which represents the majority of local education authorities. In many areas transport provision is made beyond that which is statutorily necessary or required. Once that provision is made, it must be free. If I do not give local education authorities the opportunity to recoup some of that cost by charging they will stop providing the transport. That would do greater harm.

Can my right hon and learned Friend make it clear beyond doubt that this Government are strongly in favour of Church schools—including Roman Catholic schools—and that they have no bias against them whatsoever?

I have made it absolutely clear on many occasions that I am a strong supporter of denominational schools. Indeed, many provisions in the present Education Bill, which is being considered in Committee, are greatly to the advantage of denominational schools.

Has not the Minister a cock-eyed view of freedom when he suggests or implies that local authorities should withdraw this form of transport? Would it not be a good idea at this stage, in view of the 4,000 submissions and the opposition from all quarters, to issue a directive to all local authorities saying that not only will there be no attempt to withdraw free school transport for the over-8s and over-11s, but that we shall move towards free school transport for all schoolchildren up to the age of 16 years?

I do not accept that. The cost of providing free school transport is increasing rapidly. If we had taken no action it would have cost £125 million in the coming year alone. The majority of parents do not receive free transport for their children. It is not unreasonable that those who are provided with school transport should pay something towards the cost.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that denominational schools are not treated worse than State schools in the provision of transport? Will he also consider the removal of the statutory limits, thereby getting rid of the anomaly and allowing those living within the three-mile limit to take part in the flat-rate charge scheme?

That is the effect of the present Bill. Local authorities have the right to provide transport and the right to charge for it if they wish. The Government do not desire that the powers be used to penalise those attending denominational schools. I should be extremely concerned if that occurred.

Does the Secretary of State understand his own Bill? Is he aware that Opposition Members believe that he does not understand that the transport clause in his bill will particularly hurt children in rural areas who attend special schools and Church schools—be they Church of England or Roman Catholic? Is he aware that, if he denies that, he does not understand the undertakings that have been given to Church schools and the effect that his Bill will have on them? Will he think again, in the light of the representations from both Roman Catholic and Church of England schools?

Of course I shall continue to listen to representations. That is why I saw the Cardinal Archbishop last week and undertook to consider what he said. The hon. Lady is right to say that those in rural areas and attending denominational schools make up the majority of those who benefit from the present free transport system. However, one cannot seriously defend and justify a system under which those who live just under three miles may have to pay the full cost while those who live beyond three miles, irrespective of income, receive totally free transport. We must make some reduction in expenditure. It is more important to make it in these spheres than in the classroom.

Microelectronics

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what study he has made of the replies from local authority associations and 15 individual authorities to his consultative paper for a microelectronics development programme in schools and colleges.

These replies and others have been carefully studied and clearly show that there is a case for a programme to help schools and colleges make the best use of opportunities offered by microelectronics. However, the announcement of firm plans for a programme remains dependent on wider public expenditure considerations.

So far the programme has not been affected by any review of public expenditure. The initiative which the previous Administration took in March was not enshrined in the White Paper on expenditure for 1979–80. In the last six months my noble Friend the Minister of State and I have consulted the local authorities and visited secondary schools and microelectronic manufacturers throughout the country to try to ascertain the pace of change. The House will recognise that we have undertaken an important programme. We hope to make an announcement early in the new year. By then we should know precisely what the level of expenditure should be and how the taxpayers' money can be spent most beneficially.

Does the Minister accept that there is an urgent need to give teachers, and those being trained as teachers, a background knowledge of microelectronics so that in the next four or five years pupils will be able to face this revolution?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. This is one of the matters which we have been considering. Teacher training is an important element and this is under urgent discussion.

Does my hon. Friend accept that exceptions must be made to the general strategy of cuts in public expenditure—although they are few—and that none is more important than this?

The House will acknowledge that many issues are important. My right hon. and learned Friend and I certainly do not underestimate the vital importance of this programme in the next few years. One of our main anxieties is to ensure, in monitoring what has happened so far, that we are not already obsolete in our ideas of what should be done. The pace of change has been tremendous in recent years. We must ensure that the programme is thoroughly up to date.

Mixed Ability Classes

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the organisation of the first and second years of secondary school in England and Wales with special reference to mixed ability classes.

The internal organisation of schools is a matter for individual schools and local education authorities. The 1976 discussion paper on mixed ability work in comprehensive schools issued by Her Majesty's Inspectorate indicated that about 12 per cent. of comprehensive schools adopted mixed ability organisation in most subjects in both first and second years.

Does my hon. Friend realise that I welcome the fact that on that calculation 88 per cent. of schools have not fallen for this so-called educational reform of mixed ability classes? Does he realise that, especially for the less able, this form of organisation is very bad, because it means that the hard-won gains of the primary schools in literacy and numeracy are lost as the children have to cope with academic subjects that are beyond their ability?

The discussion paper on mixed ability work from Her Majesty's Inspectorate indicated that concern about standards of work with mixed ability classes applied to pupils of all abilities. To quote from that document:

"more frequently it related to the extremes of the ability range and most frequently it related to the most able pupils".

Is the Minister aware that some education authorities, such as Kirklees, are still attempting to get mixed ability teaching within schools by introducing comprehensive schools? Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that before him at present for decision is an application to change the schools in my constituency to a comprehensive basis? Can he give an assurance that he will be prepared to meet myself and representatives of the local authority early in the new year to consider steps for an early implementation of that programme?

If Kirklees has submitted a request for a change of organisation of its schools, and if it has been received by the Department, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's request to meet the Department will be treated relatively favourably.

School Transport

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the total cost of school transport in the last financial year; and what is his estimate of the flat fare required if costs are transferred to parents.

In 1978–79, local education authorities' expenditure on home-to-school transport was about £130 million in England and Wales. It is not the Government's intention that the total cost should be transferred to parents. The national average flat fare needed to achieve the savings next year set out in Cmnd. 7746 is estimated to lie between 10p and 15p for a single journey.

Will the Minister confirm that the real purpose of the proposal on transport is to cut public expenditure? He must admit that someone must pay and that in the main it will be the parents. Is he aware that in the non-metropolitan counties such as Durham—where, because of secondary reorganisation, the catchment areas are much larger, particularly with regard to the reorganisation of denominational schools—he is presenting parents with no other option than to choose the nearest school to their homes? How does he square that with his constant reiteration about freedom of choice?

The House must remember that at present the majority of families receive no help at all from their LEA with the cost of getting their children to school. All the points that the right hon. Gentleman has raised have been communicated either by word or by letter, to my right hon. and learned Friend and other Ministers. We are certainly aware of the difficulties that exist in many areas, but by and large elected local representatives understand fully the problems of their own communities. If the passage of the Education (No. 2) Bill is unchecked, I hope that all local authorities will understand quite fully the problems that exist in each community.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government's present proposals would make the cost of school transport fall heavily upon children from rural areas? Will he consider that point to see whether some alleviation of the impact of that cost can be made during the passage of the present Bill?

The Committee, and the whole House, will at some future stage have the opportunity to consider what may be necessary. At the moment, the indications are that local authorities are beginning to adopt a policy of charging a flat rate. That is what is happening so far. The Department is monitoring the reports from the local authorities, which indicate that a flat rate charge will be applied. But as I indicated at Question Time on 20 November, all these points will be discussed and keptunder review.

Why does the Minister fail to understand the intensity of feeling throughout the country with regard to this reactionary aspect of a totally reactionary Education (No. 2) Bill? Does he not realise that those of us serving on the Committee have literally been bombarded with petitions and letters from all over the country, particularly from Church schools and so on, asking us to intervene and do something? Will he not react to that democratic pressure from throughout the country and kick out that clause, which we have not quite reached but hope to reach some time today, when we further consider this nefarious Bill?

The hon. Gentleman's last observation will, I believe, bring a pang of dyspepsia to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). If we make that progress this afternoon and this evening, we shall indeed be happy. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) has spent many hours in Committee and I am dismayed and disappointed that so far he has not fully read and understood the legislation. I do not believe that he understands the legislation that is before the Committee. I do not believe that he owes it to his constituents to exaggerate the situation, as he has again done this afternoon.

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will issue a circular advising local authorities on the level of charges they might make to school transport under the provisions of the Education (No. 2) Bill.

As I told the House on 20 November, in answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Hooson), my right hon. and learned Friend will consider what guidance to local education authorities may be necessary in the light of the discussion on the Government's legislative proposals.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that many local authorities are in the throes of introducing various plans of varying quality and that guidelines given now will save a lot of heartache and trouble in the future? Furthermore, does he not agree that the wide catchment area of denominational schools means that children will be travelling great distances and that there is an argument for specific guidelines being given?

As I said earlier, and as my right hon. and learned Friend also indicated, that is one of the matters that we are keeping under review. We have certainly discussed it. As my right hon. and learned Friend said, he has met the Cardinal Archbishop and Bishop Emery, and yesterday afternoon I met the Catholic Teachers Federation. We certainly undertake to the House that we shall keep the matter closely under review.

The Minister keeps referring to the fact that under present arrangements parents within the three and two-mile limits get no help at all with regard to transport. Can he say how, under the proposed Bill, they will get any benefit whatever, when those beyond the limits are being penalised?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not understand the inequality that has existed for many years. One of the attractive features of the clause is that it will be a far more equitable distribution, and that the flat rate charge, which many local authorities are now beginning to adopt, is by far the best way of approaching the matter.

Is the Minister aware that in some parts of the country, particularly in my own constituency, the decision as to what these charges will be will not be taken by local representatives at all, but by representatives who come from a wider area—that is, the Conservative-controlling majority on the Cumbria county council? Inasmuch as those people are not aware of the problems of my constituents, does not the hon. Gentleman feel that some action should be taken during consideration of the Education (No. 2) Bill to protect the interests of my constituents and the constituents of other hon. Members?

To listen to the hon. Gentleman one would assume that all subsidy on rural transport was to be withdrawn. I must remind the House that well over £100 million will be left in for the next financial year, and that will surely assist his constituents.

Does my hon. Friend agree that where school reorganisation has taken place, and children are bussed compulsorily from one town to another, the parents should not be penalised financially?

I am glad to have the support of Labour Members, because that will be of inestimable value when we reach this clause in Committee. I certainly shall not forget it. The commitment and undertaking which we hope that local authorities will give when school closures take place was set out at the Dispatch Box on 20 November, and I hope that local authorities will bear that in mind.

We note that the hon. Gentleman is now taking refuge in the 15p gimmick that has been introduced—which is the estimation of the flat fare. Is he aware that whether parents now pay is related to the distance they live from schools, whereas, under this proposal, they will have to pay a minimum of £1·50 a week per child, and, of course, £3 and more if they have more than one child? Those who live nearer to schools will not benefit, except by the tiniest margins.

Once again the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) exaggerates the case. I should have hoped that he would use some of his influence—if he has any—in Mid-Glamorgan to urge are consideration of the vote that took place last week and of the prejudice and discrimination that resulted from that vote.

Educational Resources (Birmingham)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what reply he has given or intends to give to the Birmingham local education authority regarding its request that the polytechnic school of music scheme be included in the 1980–81 further education capital programme and its suggestion that the Hands worth technical college project might be deferred if necessary resources were not available, and if he will make a statement.

I wish to consider fully all aspects of the situation and I shall reach a decision shortly.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Hands worth technical college has not only the worst accommodation of all the further education colleges in Birmingham, but that it also serves the most heavily deprived immigrant area, where there is considerable demand for further education facilities? Is he also aware that the proper utilization of phases 1 and 2 of the college, which are now being built, is dependent on the rapid conclusion of decisions to go ahead with the building of phase 3? Will he take all those matters into account?

I assure the hon. Lady that all those matters will be taken into account. The Government place great importance on projects in the field of non-advanced further education, such as the one at Hands worth technical college, where demand greatly exceeds capacity. At the same time, it appears that the Birmingham education committee would prefer to complete its school of music scheme. I have arranged to meet the chairman of the education committee within a week so that an urgent decision can be made. I shall bear in mind the representations of the hon. Lady.

Secondary Schools (Survey)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the major conclusions drawn by Her Majesty's Government from the recently published survey of secondary schools.

The report gives an extensive picture of current provision and practice, the implications of which need to be carefully studied at national and local levels. It shows that most teachers and pupils in secondary schools work hard and have solid achievements to show, but that there is a need for some re-thinking of the structure of the curriculum.

Does my right hon and learned Friend accept the implication of the report that the so-called core subjects—especially the sciences and modern languages—should occupy on average more than half the available curriculum time, wherever that is possible? Is that not particularly important for those pupils who leave school at the statutory minimum age but with only modest academic achievements?

One of the lessons to be drawn from the report is the need to rethink the structure of the curriculum. The Government propose to do that by issuing their views in the form of a consultative document and we shall invite the views of local education authorities and teachers' bodies on that document.

Does the Minister agree that the report refers to the past? If we look ahead, does he agree that the cutbacks in expenditure that his Department will implement over this year and the coming year will pose an even bigger threat to the curriculum? Does he agree with the headmaster in my constituency who said that the present cutbacks pose a threat to the quality of the service and will result in a reduction of the service?

I do not accept that suggestion for the many reasons that I have given in the past about the size of the cutback compared with the drop in the pupil population. However, I agree that one of the worrying features highlighted in the report which should be considered with regard to the future is the shortage of teachers of certain specialist subjects. That shortage must be reviewed in the light of the width of the curriculum.

Skill Provision And Professional Training

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate he has made on the effects on skill provision and the training of professional engineers, mathematicians, and scientists of the Government's cuts in expenditure on education.

I apologise for the somewhat lengthy answer that I shall give. The Government recognise the vital importance of skill training in these areas. My Department, with support from industry, has encouraged a number of initiatives designed to make engineering training more attractive and more relevant to industrial needs. These initiatives include the national engineering scholarship scheme, funded jointly by Government and industry; the development of enhanced engineering courses in eight universities and two polytechnics and the various collaborative schemes operated by the Science Research Council such as the teaching company scheme and the collaborative awards in science and engineering.

Has the hon. Gentleman read Her Majesty's inspectors' secondary school survey, which indicated that there is already a shortage of books for many essential courses? Does he accept the widely held view in further and higher education that the cuts will devastate skilled provision and produce an enormous problem in industry in a few years' time because of the shortage of trained scientists and engineers?

Nobody should under-estimate the trend of the past 10 to 15 years in the United Kingdom. As a result of the report, a number of initiatives and inquiries have been set up to find out how the problem can best be resolved. I do not under-estimate the difficulties that face the country in this matter. My right hon. and learned Friend intends to try to resolve the problem and to restore a proper balance for the first time in the better part of two decades.

Will my hon. Friend consider increasing incentives still further to study science, technology and engineering by increasing the grants available to students of those subjects while at the same time making up the money by reducing grants for students who wish to study subjects such as sociology and other subjects that are favoured by Opposition Members?

The result of the initiatives that were launched in recent years is precisely to do that. The initiatives make money available for students studying those subjects. If it were pos- sible to expand that, it would have to be against the level of public expenditure for the next two years. The initiatives launched by industry, the CBI, the TUC and a number of organisations have been taken with a full understanding of the problems that face the country. Many initiatives were taken by the previous Administration, and we shall continue along those lines as fast as possible.

Is the Minister aware that at the University of Strathclyde the provision of scientists, mathematicians and engineers will be seriously affected by his decision on overseas students? Is he further aware that for every three overseas students who do not come into the country because of the increased fees, one lecturer will be declared redundant? That means that eight students from this country will not be able to receive the training that they require. Does he realise that the bulk of overseas students at Strathclyde are in the departments that have been referred to?

That is pure speculation and the House cannot place any credence on the hon. Gentleman's remarks.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what he estimates will be the effect on the pupil-teacher ratio of his request to local education authorities to reduce future planned expenditure.

1 in 1978–79—will improve to 18·7: 1 in the current school year and will remain at that level in 1980–81.

If, as many believe, the overall pupil-teacher ratio is a good indicator of the success or otherwise of Government policy, are not those figures encouraging and do they not indicate the wisdom of concentrating effort in the classroom—if necessary, at the expense of matters on the periphery?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. The pupil-teacher ratio in this country is at its best ever level. We intend that it will remain so in 1980–81.

Will the Secretary of State call upon those authorities which are worsening the pupil-teacher ratio to stop doing so and will he write guidelines to that end?

We do not propose to lay down guidelines. This is a matter for the local education authorities. I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that the ratio is at its best level ever. Our economic proposals for next year, including the reductions that we look for in education expenditure, will allow it to continue at that level.

While I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's reply, may I ask him whether he agrees that one problem, particularly in secondary schools, is the quality of teaching rather than the pupil-teacher ratio? What will he do about increasing the numbers and improving the quality of teachers, particularly those in secondary schools in the vital science, mathematics and engineering subjects?

I accept that there is concern in certain quarters about quality in the teaching profession, and there is nothing new in that. The standards for entry to teacher training colleges and the teaching profession generally have recently been improved, and I hope that as the new teachers come into the profession the overall standard will improve.

Nursery Schools

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will list by local education authority the percentage of children aged 3 or 4 years who are at present attending nursery schools.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will arrange for the latest information, which refers to January 1979, to be published in the Official Report.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that, whatever information he may publish in the Official Report, the action of some local authorities means that many children aged 3 and 4 years will not receive nursery education because of the cuts? Will he therefore consider issuing a circular to local authorities, placing on them a requirement for minimum provision in every area?

I do not consider that it is neccessary to issue a circular or guidance. The Education Acts cover the matter, and I am considering the whole situation. May I say to the hon. Lady that the only reason why I could not answer the question fully was that it would require reading out every individual local authority by name. For both nursery schools and nursery classes the answer would have been 18 per cent. overall.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the best way to expand nursery education is to bow to public pressure and allow local authorities to charge for that service?

The Government have received many requests that we should allow charging for nursery education, and we have not yet made a decision.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his ministerial colleague went a little further this morning in Committee when he said that the Government were actively considering the introduction of charges for nursery school places? Is he further aware that that statement will cause a great deal of fear and despondency to everyone involved in nursery education, and that, if such charges were introduced, they would hit hardest those children who would benefit most from nursery education?

The hon. Lady would be somewhat surprised if she were not told that the Government were considering their response to the many requests made on this subject. I believe that that is what my hon. Friend said. There have been many requests from local authorities that they should be given freedom to charge, in the belief that by doing so there would be a greater demand for nursery education, which they could then meet. As I said, we are considering our response to those requests.

Following is the information:

Full-time and part-time pupils aged 3 and 4 in maintained nursery schools and nursery classes in maintained primary schools as a percentage of the estimated population aged 3 and 4 years.

JANUARY 1979

Local Education Authority

Per cent

Barking22
Barnet25
Bexley9
Brent27

Local Education Authority—cont.

per cent.

Bromley2
Croydon6
Ealing22
Enfield19
Haringey30
Harrow15
Havering4
Hillingdon32
Hounslow30
Kingston-upon-Thames32
Merton34
Newham42
Redbridge9
Richmond-upon-Thames9
Sutton14
Waltham Forest31
Inner London35
Birmingham23
Coventry18
Dudley22
Sandwell27
Solihull19
Walsall42
Wolverhampton38
Knowsley16
Liverpool36
St. Helens17
Sefton24
Wirral16
Bolton27
Bury11
Manchester50
Oldham19
Rochdale25
Salford32
Stockport11
Tameside25
Trafford10
Wigan16
Barnsley42
Doncaster36
Rotherham37
Sheffield29
Bradford26
Calderdale23
Kirklees25
Leeds17
Wakefield38
Gateshead20
Newcastle-upon-Tyne30
North Tyneside37
South Tyneside37
Sunderland27
Isles of Scilly
Avon11
Bedfordshire26
Berkshire20
Buckinghamshire13
Cambridgeshire11
Cheshire17
Cleveland39
Cornwall11
Cumbria17
Derbyshire18
Devon6
Dorset5
Durham29
East Sussex7
Essex4
Gloucestershire
Hampshire4
Hereford and Worcester5

Local Education Authority—cont.

per cent.

Hertfordshire32
Humberside22
Isle of Wight5
Kent4
Lancashire13
Leicestershire22
Lincolnshire7
Norfolk4
North Yorkshire16
Northamptonshire8
Northumberland12
Nottinghamshire38
Oxfordshire12
Salop10
Somerset2
Staffordshire22
Suffolk10
Surrey12
Warwickshire14
West Sussex3
Wiltshire1
England18

A-Level Passes

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the rate of increase, or decrease, in the number of A-level passes per school-leaver between 1971 and 1979.

If all school leavers with four or more A-level passes are assumed to have four passes only, the average number of A-level passes per school-leaver in England and Wales would be 0·40 in 1970–71 and 0·39 in 1977–78. Information for 1978–79 is now being collected.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the statistics, for example in mathematics and English, in the six years from 1972, show a decline of 21 per cent., and that that decline has serious implications for the switch from selective to comprehensive schools and mixed ability teaching in the maintained sector?

The number of A-level mathematics passes during those seven years was constant at 4 per cent. for school leavers aged 17–18 years, but my hon. Friend's question highlights the fact that we have not seen the improvement in A-level passes that we expected over that period. That may be due to the shortage of specialist teachers in mathematics and science, the move to comprehensive schools, the fact that there is not the limitless pool of ability in the country that we once believed we had, or changing methods within schools.

Will the hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to reject the findings of his former "black paper" colleague, Mr. Baldwin, the self-appointed National Council of Educational Standards and the views of his hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), and acknowledge the fact that the statistics recently provided show the number of A-level passes as a proportion of all school leavers? Is it not widely known that at a time when there is a rise in the number of school leavers, those who left at 16 did not attempt, and had no intention of attempting to take, A-levels? Does the Minister agree that this whole exercise by Mr. Baldwin and his colleagues is an illustration of A. J. Cook's maxim that figures can lie and liars can figure?

I confess that I have not yet read Mr. Baldwin's figures. It was a treat that I was saving for the Christmas Recess, and I shall give my comments to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) when I have done so. However, those figures have no bearing on the fact that we have not seen the improvement in the number of A-level passes that we expected over the past seven years.

Arts Teaching

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the present teaching of arts subjects in secondary schools.

The recent survey by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of secondary education in England commented on the need for breadth and balance in the curriculum up to the age of 16 and on the implications of this for both arts and other subjects generally. These issues will be pursued in the forthcoming consultations on a framework for the curriculum.

While I accept the fact that there is an urgent need to familiarise young people with new technology, does not the Minister feel that the additional leisure that the Government are increasingly forcing on people requires them to pursue other activities. Does he agree that the downgrading of arts subjects in our education system is of great concern? Will he give the matter urgent attention?

The report of the inspectorate on secondary education indicates that there should be a balanced curriculum throughout, with which I am sure we all agree. That involves the teaching of art. The number of passes in O-level art increased by nearly 20,000 between 1967 to 1977, and the number of passes in CSE art increased five times in that period.

Nuclear Security

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will initiate discussions with the Governments of West Germany and Holland with aview to setting up an inquiry, with the purpose of improving security at Urenco, Almelo, Holland, in the light of the Khan incident.

I have been asked to reply.

We raised the Khan incident with our partners earlier this year. At the Joint Committee in June it was agreed that security procedures should be reviewed and, as the hon. Gentleman knows, appropriate follow-up action has since been taken. The issue is being kept under close review by the Joint Committee.

Has Downing Street authorised the Under-Secretary of State for Energy, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), who will be replying to one of the Consolidated Fund debates, to explain why for four long years the authorities in Britain and Germany were apparently not told of the major security leak that has had more devastating effects than Nunn May and Fuchs and which has probably resulted in an Islamic bomb?

I know of the hon. Gentleman's extreme interest in the matter and how important it is. I trust that he will receive a satisfactory reply from my hon. Friend.

I said that I trust that the hon. Gentleman will receive a suitable reply from my hon. Friend. Of course Downing Street authorises everything that Ministers say.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in this truly lamentable affair Dr. Khan was never employed by Urenco and that no blame should be attached to what has been a highly successful trinational operation? The blame has to be placed at the door of the Dutch authorities.

These are matters that can properly be raised during the Consolidated Fund debate.

Windscale

Q2.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

If the Prime Minister visits Windscale, will she explain to the Atomic Energy Authority workers how nuclear inspection standards can be maintained when the Department is reportedly undermanned, and even further cuts are on their way? Is he aware that many people are gravely concerned at the dangers of nuclear generation, and that there is concern about the Government's repeated attacks on the trade union movement? Each year industrial injury causes twice as many lost days as strike action. Is not the message that we should spend more on safety and inspection?

As I think the hon. Gentleman will know, the Health and Safety Executive is undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of safety at Wind-scale. The review team does not expect to complete its task for some time, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that its findings will be published.

Before my right hon. Friend considers visiting Windscale, will she commission an inquiry into the degree of starvation that is likely to result in Third world countries if agricultural production goes over to producing alcohol fuels instead of food, because the developed countries refuse to produce energy from nuclear resources?

I would be wise to say that I shall call my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friend.

As one who has visited Windscale, may I ask the Home Secretary if he will recognise that we do not need to doubt the safety record or the thoroughness of our nuclear industry to be, none the less, concerned about the Government's priorities in putting so much dependence on the expansion of nuclear energy? Is the Minister aware that the Kielder Dam, which is being built near the right hon. Gentleman's constituency and my own, will not have included in it any electricity generating capacity?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will make a statement at the end of Prime Minister's Question Time and I ask him to await that statement.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise that it is conceivable that the enemies of this country would dearly like to see us, in the years ahead, totally devoid of any adequate power sources? Does he not agree that there is at least a case for looking into the attempts made by some to exploit the natural concern that is felt about nuclear energy for their own ends, which have little to do with the welfare of this country?

I agree that our future power resources are enormously important. It will be to that precise point that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy will direct his statement later today.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister whether she will list her official engagements for 18 December.

My right hon. Friend is visiting the United States of America.

Has my right hon. Friend seen the reports about the highly successful sale of a wide range of institutions that were part of the National Enterprise Board's stake in International Computers Limited? As this has diversified share ownership, relieved ICL of the burden of a dominant shareholding, and made the Government a handsome profit, could my right hon. Friend promise that this is only the first step in a series of acts of denationalisation that we can expect in the New Year?

I understand that this sale of holdings of the NEB has raised about £38 million. That is a substantial contribution towards the Government's overall strategy for industry, and as such it is to be greatly welcomed. I assure my hon. Friend that it will, indeed, be the first of further sales.

Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, while in the United States, the Prime Minister has given her support to the President of the United States in his efforts to obtain the release of the hostages, if necessary through imposing some form of embargo? If that is correct, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that such a step would, we hope, have the support of all who condemn the wickedness of taking and holding hostages? Does the right hon. Gentleman also expect support for such a step from other civilised countries?

The hon. and learned Gentleman, and the House, probably will have heard the remarks of my right hon. Friend in a radio programme this morning, when she mentioned the support that she was giving to the United States of America in this serious and distressful situation. I do not think that I should add further to what my right hon. Friend said.

When the Prime Minister returns from America, will my right hon. Friend show her the article in last Sunday's Sunday Express about the 14-strong Bird family who have lined their nest almost entirely on State benefits? Does my right hon. Friend realisethat many people are gravely disturbed that somebody who could go out to work prefers to stay at home making a cocktail cabinet into which he can put more wines and spirits than the average chap who goes out and does an honest day's work?

There are many who would find a great deal of truth in what my hon. Friend said. Of course my right hon. Friend will look at this article. Indeed, I am fairly sure that she has already done so.

Will the Home Secretary ask the Prime Minister to take some time to reflect that the increased mortgage repayments, together with the income tax and VAT changes contained in the budget, now mean that the only people who have gained in Tory Britain are those with incomes over £20,000 a year, or precisely 1 per cent. of the population? As Government Ministers are always fond of quoting their election manifesto, will the right hon. Gentleman indicate where, in that manifesto, the Government warned the electorate that 99 per cent. of the population would be worse off after only seven months of their regime?

The people of this country will realise only too well the appalling mess in which the previous Government left this country. We need to put it right and that is the reason for the measures that we have taken.

Pratts Bottom

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will make an official visit to Pratts Bottom.

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans to do so.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the villagers of Pratts Bottom will be disappointed because they wanted to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the Government's success so far? Is he further aware that they also wanted to ask her to contradict the Minister who recently told the press that the election commitment to introduce a register of dependants of immigrants had been dropped? That is not true—is it?

The register and the quota both remain part of Government policy. They require primary legislation. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I have made clear, there is no time for such legislation during this Session of Parliament. In accordance with well-established practice I cannot anticipate the Government's future legislative plans.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q5.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert).

In view of the Prime Minister's remarks in America about freedom and democracy, will the Government try to introduce more open democracy into this place, instead of refusing to answer parliamentary questionson the sale of arms, for example? Are we not entitled to know what clearance certificates have been issued to British arms dealers to supply arms to Chile, where the extreme Right-wing military Government are one of the biggest enemies to freedom and democracy today?

I can only suggest that the hon. Gentleman tables that question and then we can see how he gets on with an answer.

Order. Will the hon. Gentleman wait for another three minutes, until the end of Prime Minister's Questions Time?

In view of the renewed and nasty outbreak of letter bombs, will my right hon. Friend, as he is substituting for the Prime Minister today, take an opportunity to condemn this practice of using the mail to kill people? Will he also recognise the courage of those who have to risk their lives to defuse such bombs?

Everyone in this country will utterly condemn the cowardly way in which people seek to cause loss of life through the use of letter bombs. I should add that although I believe that many will applaud the success of the police operation that was announced earlier this week, which was important, there is no room for complacency. I hope that everyone will take to heart the need for every care between now and the Christmas period.

Will the home Secretary find time today to look at the position in Liverpool where, last night, there was a devastating fire that resulted in the total demolition of the whole of the shopping precinct? Will the right hon. Gentleman make a statement on whether that was caused by a bomb explosion and also give assurances that aid will be given to the traders whose livelihoods have been ruined as a result?

It is always wise not to say too much until inquiries are completed. However, I understand that there is no evidence at present to suggest that terrorist activities were responsible. The hon. Gentleman's other remark goes rather wide, but I shall certainly consider what he said.

6.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 18 December.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply which I gave earlier today to my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert).

Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of the Prime Minister to the recent newspaper reports indicating Mr. Frank Chapple's grave concern about the state of the Labour Party and his proposed resignation from it if it continues to move to the Left? Will my right hon. Friend recognise that there is an increasing realism among trade union leaders such as Mr. Chapple?

My right hon. Friend and I certainly recognise that increased realism is spreading through many sections of the population. On the other question, it is certainly not for my right hon. Friend or for me to comment on the state of the Labour Party.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to come to the House and make a statement on the increasing danger arising from the receipt of letter bombs? Is he aware that a leading constituent of mine, who has not been involved in politics, Sir William Mather of Whirley Hall, received one of these devices this morning? Fortunately he discovered it because of some wires poking out from the letter and the police and bomb disposal team successfully defused it. Will my right hon. Friend give advice to the House and nation on how to deal with this dreadful terrorist activity?

I had hoped that that was exactly what I had already done. I recommend the utmost vigilance by everyone in handling of the mail that he or she receives. There is no further advice that I can give the general public.

Later

On a point of order Mr. Speaker. This arises from a reply that I received earlier from the Home Secretary. Last week I went to the Table Office to table a question to the Lord Privy Seal asking him how many clearance certificates he had issued for the supply of arms—

Order. It is a long-established custom that if a question is turned down by the Table Office it is not read out from the Floor of the House.

Then I simply ask the question which I asked the Home Secretary earlier, relating to the number of clearance certificates which had been given to arms dealers who export arms to Chile, and the names of those dealers. I was referred by the Table Office to a reply which was given earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) whereby questions on arms sales were specifically excluded from the questions allowed to be tabled. I tried again this morning to table a question relating to the sale of arms to the Republic of Honduras, and again I was refused.

I seek your guidance, Mr. Speaker, following the reply that I received from the Home Secretary, who refused to give me any information. In view of recent speculation about collaboration with arms dealers, how can we get the information we want about those who are dealing in arms? The Home Secretary implied that if I tabled the question, I would get an answer. Can I have an assurance from the Home Secretary on that matter?

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If I have made a mistake, I take full responsibility. But when the hon. Member reads Hansard tomorrow morning I think that he will find that what I have said was that if he sought to put down a question he would then have to see how he got on. In the circumstances that seems to be a very proper way to proceed, seeing that I do not control the Table Office in any way. Obviously if an hon. Member wishes to put down a detailed question, that is the right procedure.

There is nothing that I can usefully add to that point of order, because if a question is disallowed it is disallowed. Sometimes at the request of an hon. Member a question is referred directly to me. I do not think that in this case the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) made that request. As the House knows, there are some answers that mean that further questions cannot be asked.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. If I write to you with the details of this matter, will it be investigated from your point of view in relation to the accountability of the Executive to hon. Members of this House?

Of course I shall look into anything that the hon. Member brings to my notice. However, I do not want to raise false hopes that he will get an encouraging reply.