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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 984: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1980

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Education And Science

School Teachers (Employment)

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the present number of qualified schoolteachers not in full-time employment.

Unemployment, whether among teachers or anyone else, is no cause for satisfaction. However, the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that the March figure for schoolteacher unemployment in England—namely 7,818—was lower than the figure for that month in the previous two years.

Will the Minister agree that that figure is still far too high? What is he able to say to the unemployed school teachers in Derbyshire who are having to exist on a little supply teaching or on the dole, when the policy of cutting back on specialist teaching is forcing some schools to offer fewer subjects? How is that helping to raise standards in education?

My answer to the hon. Gentleman is that the figure that I gave represents less than 2 per cent. of the whole of the teaching force. I say to the teachers in Derbyshire, or anywhere else, that I believe our proposals for education over the next few years, allowing for the numbers likely to leave the teacher training colleges, will mean that there will be opportunities in education for those people.

Overseas Students (Fees)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about overseas students' fees.

From 1 September 1980 overseas students beginning courses will, in general, be expected to pay full cost fees, and those in mid-course, fees at the subsidised overseas rates. It is intended that students from European Community countries should pay the home rates of fee.

In arriving at those decisions, will the Minister give the estimates of the Department on income resulting from people being trained in this country, and, on returning to their own country, specifying equipment that has to be bought from British manufacturers?

Attempts have been made to quantify that, but none has been satisfactory, either from people who are for or against the increased fees for overseas students. The 10 to 15 years during which there have been increases in foreign students have been years of relative economic decline, so there is no automatic link between the number of foreign students coming to this country—which has tripled in the last 10 years—and the British economic system.

Has there not already been a 12 per cent. reduction in the number of overseas students coming to this country? Is not that reduction likely to be disproportionately from poor students from poor countries? Why is it the Government's policy to allow students from rich countries—including EEC—to continue readily to come to Britain, while the poorest are not able to do so?

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's attitude to the EEC, because I had always thought that Liberal Members were pro-EEC. Since the EEC is the one area in the world to which we send more students than we receive, I am astonished at the hon. Gentleman's attitude on that point. There is a decrease in the number of applications of 12 per cent. up to the end of March this year compared with last year, and 6 per cent. compared with two years ago. However, it should be remembered that only one in four of those who applied last year was accepted at that time and many must have had the necessary qualifications for acceptance. A fall of between 17 and 20 per cent. in the number of foreign students accepted would not reduce the figures to the numbers planned by the previous Labour Government.

Does my hon. Friend agree that no one asked for the number of foreign students to rise as much as it did over the past 10 years? Does he further agree that it is better to ration by price rather than by quota?

I find myself in total agreement with my hon. Friend. Under the previous system all students were subsidised, and one student in four came from a country where the average income was higher than that in Britain. I remind the House that the ODA will continue to help students from under-developed territories.

Assisted Places Scheme

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the present local education authority recoupment charge for secondary school education; whether this figure includes any allowance for capital element; and what is the comparable full cost of a school place in a typical independent day school likely to participate in the assisted places scheme.

The recoupment charge for the financial year 1979–80 is £715 for pupils aged 11–16 years and £1,155 for sixth form pupils, both figures including an allowance for capital costs. I understand that in January 1980 the average day fee at direct grant grammar schools—which we expect to provide the core of the assisted places scheme and which have all indicated their interest in joining it—was about £900, at Head Masters' Conference schools the day fee was £1,200 and at Girls' Schools Association schools about £1,000.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures indicate that the scheme is remarkable value for money, especially as it does not take into account the contribution that some parents will be making?

Rossendale is the valley in which I was privileged to be born. It seems that the sense of those in that valley is as strong now as it always was.

I recognise that the Government have a strong interest in various transfer fees. Is the hon. Gentleman aware that recoupment costs are only one of the ways of measuring unit costs in education? Does he accept that whatever is spent on the assisted places scheme is extra money spent in the most favoured part of the education system? As all the teachers' unions and other experts have forecast, it will result in the creaming-off of the most able pupils from the maintained sector and the threatening of the viability of sixth form courses. In view of the continued disputation over these matters, will he prevail upon his right hon. and learned Friend to publish the results of the study of the National Children's Bureau, which demonstrates conclusively that more able children are not penalised by being in the maintained sector?

It is up to the National Children's Bureau to publish its survey. As I understand it, the Government have provided the money for publication. I am sure that the report will be studied by hon. Members on both sides of the House when it is published and that they will join in battle in the Chamber. I remind the House that all the assistance that we are putting into the scheme will go to parents who could not otherwise afford to send their children to the schools within the scheme.

The hon. Gentleman says "Nonsense". That indicates that my statement is hurting. Let me remind him that 30 per cent. of British families will be able to let their children participate in the assisted places scheme without paying a penny, if their children pass the examination; 43 per cent. will be assisted and the 27 per cent. in receipt of higher incomes, including Members of Parliament, will have to pay the full fee. If the scheme is operating against the working class, I should like to know what is operating for the working class.

Did my hon. Friend note the remarks of the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) when he congratulated his hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) on getting his second child to Ampleforth?

The ex-direct grant schools and many of the independent schools are superb academic schools. I do not blame anyone for wishing their children to go to them. We want a system that will enable the children to go to these schools who can gain most from them, irrespective of their background.

Teaching Profession

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he proposes next to meet leaders of the teaching profession.

I expect to meet representatives of teachers in universities and in colleges of further and higher education on 13 May, and of the National Association of Head Teachers on 26 May.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the teachers' leaders does he agree that they will draw to his attention the crushing Tory election defeats of last week? Will he give an assurance that he will not frustrate any plans for comprehensive schools in any local education authority areas?

The hon. Gentleman's charming smile as he asked his supplementary question made me think that he did not really believe that there had been the crushing defeat that he pretended, compared with the occasion when the seats were last fought. I believe that education largely needs a period of stability. In the local education authorities, where the political leadership changes regularly, I hope that those concerned will come to agree a system of education that will not be changed, or made the subject of an attempt to change, every time the political leadership of the council changes.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the teachers' representatives will he discuss with them the £140 million which has been issued to them by some boneheaded and rather scatterbrained professor from somewhere in the Midlands, and say what he intends to do, together with the local authority associations, to get that money back on behalf of the ratepayers, who are likely to be hammered through the pocket by teachers' pay to far too great an effect?

The Department employs no teachers. The employment of teachers is a matter for the teachers' unions and the local education authorities. My hon. Friend commented on the £140 million. It appears that there was a factual error in Professor Clegg's report. It is by no means clear what effect, if any, that had on the recommendations that were eventually made.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the teachers' leaders, will he give further consideration to the issue of falling rolls and extend a good deal of sympathy to the problem that arises in inner cities, where there are special demographic and other features that will have to be met with help?

Over the next few years numbers in schools will fall dramatically. I have said repeatedly that the saving that we are looking for in education, both in the number of teachers and in expenditure generally, is less than the equivalent proportionate fall in the number of pupils. We realise that there are some diseconomies of scale.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the leaders of the teachers' unions on a future occasion, will he indicate to them that he believes in democracy and that, perhaps reluctantly, he has agreed the reorganisation proposals for Tameside, which indicates clearly that the Government honour local democracy when there is a change of Government? When he next meets the head teachers and teachers will he tell them that parents are also experts on their children and that we expect as much attention to be paid to parents' wishes for their children's future as we do to the wishes of teachers.

My hon. Friend asked me rather a lot of questions in one supplementary question. I agree with him about the importance of the wishes and the views of parents. That is inherent in the recent Education Act. As for my hon. Friend's remark about Tame-side, yes, I believe in democracy. I believe that, on issues of policy, the local education authority must at least have the opportunity of putting forward the plans that it believes are right for its area. I, among others, have to decide on education grounds whether the plans are acceptable to the Department.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the leaders of the teaching profession, will he make it clear that he approved the Tameside proposals not reluctantly, as his hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) suggested, but because they were right for the area and because several elections had proved that that was what the electorate wanted? In the areas that have not yet gone comprehensive, and where there have been clear mandates from the electorate at last week's elections, will he confirm that he will not stand in the way of authorities that wish to go comprehensive in future? Will he also explain—

I repeat that I approved the Tameside proposals to go comprehensive because they represented an issue of policy for the borough and were submitted by the duly elected local education authority. The proposals have been argued through two local election campaigns. I was advised that if the area was to go comprehensive the system was sound educationally. As I said to the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones), in reply to an earlier question, I still believe that it is in the interests of children generally that we retain, rather than continually change, our form of secondary education.

May I congratulate the Secretary of State on his decision—announced today—about Tameside? Is it not significant that a council that was Conservative-controlled two years ago now has 46 Labour councillors and 10 Conservative councillors? Is he aware that there is some concern about the long delay that occurred before the decision was announced? Although some of us accept that such decisions should not be announced during local elections, was not the announcement on the Birmingham local education authority during that time very strange? Does the Department use any criteria when making such announcements?

With great respect, the two cases are totally different. Only one school was involved in Sutton Coldfield. The local education authority put in a request to restore the school to grammar status, and that request was shown to have the support of parents living in Sutton Coldfield. That came up in the normal way, and I thought it right that the decision should be announced.

I am glad that I managed to make the announcement about Tameside after the elections. I know that education is a highly emotive issue in that area, but I hope that the decision will now be accepted with good grace by both sides.

Teachers

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what effect reductions in local authority manpower will have on teacher numbers.

This is for individual authorities to decide. The Government's expenditure plans assume a reduction of nearly 40,000 teachers in England and Wales between 1979–80 and 1982–83.

Has my hon. Friend some idea of the size of the drop in school rolls during the whole of that period? What effect will that have on the pupil-teacher ratio?

Pupil numbers in England and Wales are predicted to fall by approximately 800,000 during that period. We expect that the pupil-teacher ratio will fall from 18.9:1 in 1979, to 18.5:1 in 1983.

Does the Minister admit that the number of teaching staff assumed in the public expenditure White Paper will prove completely inadequate if curriculum and education standards are to be protected?

No line can be drawn from the hon. Gentleman's observation. As regards expenditure over the next four years, my right hon. and learned Friend has made clear that we are determined to preserve the curriculum and our educational standards. We shall certainly do that.

Is the Minister satisfied that everything possible is being done to encourage the early retirement of teachers, and thus avoid any necessity for redundancies?

That is a matter for local education authorities to decide, in consultation with teaching unions. My right hon. and learned Friend will not direct that policy.

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that, given falling rolls, this is the right time to make drastic improvements in pupil-teacher ratios? Does not he accept that if the Labour Party had remained in office it would have concentrated on moving in that direction, and would have provided more teachers in the areas of greatest educational need?

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would not engage in inaccuracies. In the hon. Gentleman's interest, and that of his constituents, I must tell him that the pupil-teacher ratio has never been better. Future redeployment has been discussed with local authorities, and will be discussed in the course of consultations during the next few months. We recognise that there is a need to transfer more teachers into certain educational areas. That issue is being discussed with some urgency.

Ancillary And Administrative Personnel

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if there will be any reduction in the ancillary staff in schools as a result of reductions in local authority manpower; and whether he expects any savings in administration personnel.

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is his policy on the reduction in employment of ancillary workers in schools.

The Government's expenditure plans imply some reduction in ancillary staff in schools as pupil numbers fall as new arrangements for providing school meals are introduced in the light of the Education Act 1980. The Government plans also imply savings in administration personnel. The pattern and extent of these reductions will be for individual local authorities to determine.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that, given expenditure targets, local authorities are sometimes faced with the alternative of preserving the ancillary worker arrangements inherited from former authorities or of getting rid of teachers? Does he not further agree that authorities should be given every encouragement to get rid of ancillary workers rather than teachers, to conform with those expenditure targets?

The encouragement is certainly there. My right hon. and learned Friend made that point clear. Perhaps I can offer my hon. Friend some consolation if he is concerned about the policy of former local authorities. The Government's expenditure plans allow nationally for some increases per pupil in schools' non-teaching costs expenditure. I hope that will satisfy my hon. Friend.

Is the Minister aware that the policy of getting rid of ancillary workers is causing great hardship and a lowering of standards in education and care in schools in Leicestershire? Does not he accept that the poorer the area, the greater is the loss incurred by a reduction in the number of hours worked by ancillary workers? Does not he agree that these invaluable people, who are often poorly paid, are vital to our education system?

My right hon. and learned Friend has made clear, and I also acknowledge, that the ancillary worker plays a vital part in the daily life of any school, no matter for which age group it caters. I am aware of his anxiety, and that experienced by his constituency and county. However, to be parochial, some £600,000 was restored to the budget of Leicestershire for that aspect of expenditure. My right hon. and learned Friend and the hon. and learned Gentleman were engaged in correspondence in the middle of March. That should give him some reassurance that the restoration of that money will encourage the retention of a number of ancillary workers at primary school level. Indeed, ancillary workers are probably most needed in that area.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are educational advantages in having school meals supervised by teachers? If he agrees, will he work towards that as a long-term objective?

In an ideal world that might be the ideal situation. Unhappily, the trends and developments of recent years have led to a shift away from that policy. The school meals provision is effectively administered, and I hope that the Education Act 1980 will improve that provision.

What notification have the Merseyside authorities given to the Minister about the reduction in the establishment of ancillary and administrative staff, in the various educational undertakings? Will he give some assurance that he will carefully reappraise any recommendations that are made, in the light of local need?

I cannot promise to reappraise anything. It is predominantly a matter for local Merseyside authorities to decide. I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, but, as far as I know, my Department has received no notification from Merseyside. The best thing to do is to check that thoroughly. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Due to the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I give notice that I shall seek to raise the subject of ancillary staff on the Adjournment of this House, if I am fortunate enough to be able to do so.

University Grants Committee

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to meet the University Grants Committee.

I have no plans at present to meet the full committee. My Department is in close and regular contact with the chairman of the committee and his officers.

Since those close contacts might presumably include discussion about the total grant made to universities, is it accurate to say that that is looked at relatively as a cash limit? Is there any element of inflation built into the 1980–81 grant?

Yes. I announced recently that the grant provision for 1980–81 would be £987 million. That is a cash limit. It takes account of assumed inflation, and is based on the assumption of roughly level fundings within the universities, and an equivalent number of entries into universities this year as last.

Considering the favourable response of the vice-chancellors committee to the Finniston committee's suggestion that we need a more practical base for our engineering courses, will the Government discuss with the University Grants Committee proposals to extend sandwich course learning?

The Department will be running a conference later this year and it will look at all the educational effects of the Finniston report. No doubt such matters will come up at that conference.

Denominational Provision

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science to what extent, in deciding upon applications to him under section 13 of the Education Act 1944, he takes into consideration the need for denominational provision.

In considering proposals made under section 13 of the Education Act 1944, my right hon. and learned Friend takes into consideration all the relevant factors in each case. This includes demand for denominational provision where that is relevant.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the Department's decision this morning regarding Highbury Grove school, which is a good decision about a good school? In considering the recent application by the London borough of Ealing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—for the establishment of a new denominational school, will my hon. Friend bear in mind that there is no Church of England secondary school in Ealing?

I assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. and learned Friend will take into consideration the demand for denominational schools in that area and the question of balance. He will also take account of the fact that we have received 7,623 signatures opposed to the proposals and 11,575 in favour.

Will the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that those parents who seek denominational education for their children in Church of England schools in the borough are satisfied with the provision in adjacent local education authorities? Will the hon. Gentleman also take into account the fact that the teachers are overwhelmingly against the changes proposed, and that there is danger, for local reasons which have nothing to do with the attitudes of the Church of England, of the Twyford development becoming a sectarian matter?

I have the privilege of representing the constituency adjoining Ealing, North. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is demand for Church of England secondary education in the area, including from my constituency. Schools exist not only for teachers, but so that parents may choose an education for their children. All these factors will be taken in account by my right hon. and learned Friend. Schools should reflect the desires of parents in the area.

Who in Brent has made an application under section 13 that would affect the Twyford application?

No one. The hon. Gentleman will know his constituency and I know mine. I know that there is that interest, which also comes from the nine Church of England churches. If the hon. Gentleman is interested in local factors, perhaps he will allow me to take him on a trip around my constituency one evening.

Will my hon. Friend modestly accept that having a successful headmaster as a Minister in the Department of Education and Science helps to reflect parental views on many matters, including denominational schools? Does my hon. Friend recognise that, with another successful headmaster, Peter Dawson, from Eltham Green, as General Secretary of the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, parental wishes on such matters as denominational schools will receive even more consideration?

My hon. Friend's comments are interesting. I had the privilege of visiting that school in the South of England soon after Peter Dawson took over. I know what a splendid school he made it. I am pleased that he has moved to a position of influence in the union, as I have moved into Parliament. Both moves demonstrate that factors influencing education are as important outside schools as in the head's study. Perhaps when we all have it right we can go back.

Sixth Forms

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what studies his Department has made as to whether the removal of the sixth form has adverse effects on the lower school.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the House would like his assurance that he will not embrace the fashion for sixth form colleges without a study of their effect lower down the school? Is he aware that if A-level pupils and teachers are removed from a school it can narrow its aims and objectives, to the detriment of pupils in earlier years?

Strong educational arguments are often advanced for retaining 11-to-18 schools rather than having sixth form colleges. However, I have to balance that against the fact that, with the falling number of pupils of secondary school age, it may be difficult for every secondary school to have a viable sixth form unless it becomes too large overall. Different solutions may be the answer in different parts of the country.

As no studies have taken place, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman still proposing to go ahead with his assisted places schemes for sixth form pupils, thus further depriving schools of those very pupils that his hon. Friend mentioned? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman intend to conduct a study to see whether the assisted places scheme will benefit individual sixth form pupils and what the effect will be on the schools that they leave?

The answer should be obvious from our legislation. We intend to go ahead, with our assisted places scheme. The proposal has always been that in the main pupils should go to such schools at the normal age of entry.

While a number of sixth form colleges, including that in Scunthorpe, are worthwhile and achieve excellent results, is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many comprehensive schools with sixth forms not only deliver the academic results but benefit from the part that sixth forms play?

I fully accept that, but the situation differs in different parts of the country. I have visited one or two extremely good sixth form colleges, where clearly, as a result, the take-up of education beyond the age of 16 has increased. However, in other areas the demand for sixth form education is sufficient for individual schools to have viable sixth forms. I attempt to take all these factors into account in my decisions on educational provision.

Will the Minister consider an investigation into sixth form education? Is he aware that many of us feel that open access secondary colleges, as opposed to sixth form colleges, have done a marvellous job in many parts of the country?

I shall consider the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. However, from his previous experience and connection with the Department of Education and Science he will know that I receive continuing advice from Her Majesty's Inspectors, which includes general advice on the educational merits or otherwise of sixth form colleges.

Higher Education (Spare Places)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the present estimate of spare places for suitably qualified candidates in higher education.

There is no evidence of any substantial excess of capacity across the country, but there is evidence of spare places on courses in certain subject areas. Since admissions are for individual institutions to determine, I could not specify an exact number of places.

I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Will he indicate the courses that have an especially large number of vacancies?

I can tell my hon. Friend' that 18-year-olds who apply for courses in medicine, law and English will need high grades. Over the past two or three years 18-year-olds who applied for courses in engineering, classics and Russian would have been accepted with reasonable grades.

Will my hon. Friend assure us that those places will not be taken up by foreign students from outside the Commonwealth at the expense of the British taxpayer?

I can say to my hon. Friend that, until last year, had those places been taken up by foreign students from outside the Commonwealth, they would have been subsidised by the British Government by 60 to 70 per cent. Now, those students will at least pay an economic price and not be a burden on our taxpayers and ratepayers.

British Industry (Careers And Opportunities)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he will take to make careers and opportunities in British industry better known in schools to children before they start A-level specialisation.

My right hon. and learned Friend will continue to encourage in various ways the improvement of careers education in school and the development of direct links between schools and industry. Both issues are being pursued with urgency in current consultations on a framework for the school curriculum, and in other discussions.

Will my hon. Friend accept that in many schools the best pupils, encouraged by their teachers, tend to specialise in the arts and social sciences rather than skills that could be useful in industry? Will my hon. Friend use all his Department's influence with successful British firms to encourage them to visit secondary schools to hawk their wares and make fully known the careers and job opportunities that they have to offer?

I think that my hon. Friend has identified the trend of the past 15 years or so. I assure him that the Department of Industry Education Unit and the Department of Education and Science, in conjunction with the local authorities, are doing all they can to improve this aspect which is so vital to our economic future. A large measure of responsibility, in my opinion, lies with industry itself. Over the past 10 or 15 years industry and commerce in this country have neglected to tell the teaching staff exactly what they want in the schools. In the urgent discussions that I have had with the CBI and the Association of British Chambers of Commerce we have been mindful of this point.

Will the Minister tell us when the Government will make their conclusions known on the consultation document on education and vocational training for 16 to 19-year-olds? Will he also take on board the need not just for general careers advice, but for the possibility of initiating specifically vocational education work in this country?

This is an aspect which has been acknowledged by the review that I am conducting at present In answer to the specific question, I hope that the 16 to 19-year-old review will be concluded by late autumn. This is an enormous subject which, to a certain extent, embraces the overall philosophy that the country wants for the education of this age group. Certainly we are mindful of the need for training in industry and commerce.

Is the Minister aware that it is not only the job of industry to tell young men and women about the future for them in industry and commerce, but particularly the job of the leaders of industry to show that they care and are concerned about the future intake to the wealth-producing sector of the British economy?

I accept that fully, but it is incumbent on all regions of the country to acknowledge their vital responsibility in this direction.

In advance of the working party report on education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds, will the Minister replace the rather garbled leak that he gave to the Secondary Heads Association conference on the matter of link courses? Will he say whether he favours link courses, and if so, will he provide funds for such courses and thereby criticise the action of local education authorities, such as Northamptonshire, which, because of the cuts in expenditure, have actually closed link courses for 16 to 19-year-olds?

The hon. Member refers to a speech that I made some months ago at Oxford on a most important subject. I was anxious to test the feelings of the head teachers at that conference. The hon. Member knows that when the country is faced with its present economic situation, I cannot make such a commitment. He knows very well that the economy of this country is the most important aspect at present.

O And A-Level Courses (School Sizes)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the minimum size of selective grammar school which is considered sufficient to support viable GCE O and A-level courses; and what is the comparable size for a comprehensive school.

Circumstances vary and it would be inappropriate to be prescriptive about the minimum size of schools. However, one would expect a grammar school of about three forms of entry and a comprehensive school of about eight forms of entry to be able to sustain a balanced range of courses leading to O and A-levels.

I am grateful for that excellent reply which shows, as always, the flexibility of the Conservative Government. Will my hon. Friend not agree that, where an area has been forced to go comprehensive against the wishes of a large majority of the parents in that area, and where there has been an assumption that sixth-form education would be provided in all the new comprehensive schools thus formed in the reorganisation, it is wrong for the local education authority to renege on the assurance that was given to parents?

Where new schemes have been put into operation at the request of local authorities, it is the responsibility of those authorities to fulfil the aspirations of parents in the area. If they had been promised viable sixth forms and those sixth forms are not available, the local education authorities must provide alternative arrangements.

Will the Minister bear in mind the educational needs of those children who are not taking A-level or O-level subjects? They are just as important, probably more so, than the minority who take A and O-levels. Instead of concentrating on specialist courses for these latter children will he bear in mind instead that neighbourhood community schools, offering security and reducing the need for bussing children all over the place are very often in the best interests of childern and provide a better service to the community?

I respect the right hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong) as an ex-schoolmaster. Obviously it is important that all children should have the opportunities to fulfil their talents. Just as my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) wants proper sixth-form provision in the comprehensive and grammar schools in his area, similarly one would presume that children who need help to become literate or numerate should have proper provision. This Government believe that by means of the core curriculum, and developments from the fourth and fifth years onwards, this need can be fulfilled.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q1.

In addition to my duties in this House, I shall be having meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Later this afternoon I shall visit the Yugoslav embassy to sign the Book of Condolence for President Tito. This evening I hope to have an Audience of Her Majesty The Queen.

Has the Prime Minister found time to reflect on the hammering that the Tories deservedly got in last week's local elections, especially in Scotland where Labour now controls 25 district councils? In view of the Tories' stated belief in the freedom of local authorities, and the fact that Labour councillors were elected on manifestos opposed to the Tory cuts in essential spending and to the legislation on the compulsory selling of council houses, will the Prime Minister now abandon these proposals, otherwise she will face massive confrontation from the elected representatives of the people?

The most notable thing in Scotland was the collapse of the Scottish National Party vote.

On the question of the Labour Party's performance in the local elections in England—my goodness, the Labour Party must have been very disappointed with it.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the House that those who work in the public service and who indulge in the political strike on 14 May will not be paid for that day?

I do not imagine that anyone who goes on strike will be paid for the services which will not be rendered that day. However, I hope that people will not go on strike.

Will the Prime Minister consider some time today whether, when she attends Marshal Tito's funeral—and we all regret his death—she will take the opportunity to have talks with President Brezhnev about the world situation and the need to restrict armaments, particularly the nuclear armaments build-up?

I am going to the funeral primarily to pay tribute to President Tito. There will be time for a few bilateral conversations, but not many. These have not yet been fixed.

Has my right hon. Friend had a chance to read the first leader in The Times newspaper, pointing out how Communism has subverted democracy throughout the world? In this light, has she reflected on the payment of £5,000 to the Communist paper, the Morning Star? Will she, as leader of one great party that won many millions of votes from trade union members in the last election, comment on this? Does she think that there is any prospect of the leader of the other major party, which also won many millions of union votes, commenting on the same matter?

I believe that Communism and true democracy are totally incompatible. I believe that that subscription will cause great concern to many members of the Transport and General Workers Union, who would not dream of approving it themselves.

Does the Prime Minister support the comments of the Secretary of State for the Environment to the effect that local authorities should operate within the law? Since part of that law is the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which is now being flouted by some authorities will she join me in condemning those local authorities and asking the Law Officers of the Crown to take legal action against them?

I am sure that if the local authorities were in breach of the law, action would be taken against them, but that is a matter for the Attorney-General and not for me. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I fully support my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for the Environment, and that position is reciprocal.

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 6 May.

Will my right hon. Friend not agree that one of the major changes of the last few months is the new respect in which Britain is now held by the rest of the world, based on the increasing competence, sensitivity, and determination now abounding in Britain, which was shown especially by yesterday's events and by all those involved in them? Will she also agree that, after a long period of time, everyone in this country can now once again hold up his head and say how proud he is to be British?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I should like to say one word about events yesterday. It was, I believe, a brilliant operation, carried out by the Special Air Service with courage and confidence. I agree with my hon. Friend that the performance both of the police and the SAS made hon. Members on both sides of the House proud to be British.

May I also congratulate all those who had the skill to plan this operation and the courage of those who carried it out? I express our gratitude at the fact that they succeeded and our sympathy for those who lost their lives. In view of the exchange of correspondence with President Bani-Sadr, does the Prime Minister propose to send him a message to inform him that it is the responsibility of all Governments, including his Government, to resume control of the situation in Tehran and to secure the release of the American hostages and their return to the United States?

I sent a message to President Bani-Sadr right at the beginning, defining what I understand and believe to be the legal responsibilities of each and every Government to look after the safety of diplomats on their territory. I believe that the way the operation was carried out in this country will have an effect on the future position of American hostages in Iran. I have replied to President Bani-Sadr. We should now consider how we can turn this superb operation in Britain to best advantage for the American hostages.

Will the Prime Minister say what advice the Government are now giving to British industry regarding trade with Iran?

The Foreign Ministers met yesterday and again today to give further detailed consideration to the communiqué that they issued previously regarding sanctions and Iran. The position will remain as it is at present until it is changed.

Did the Prime Minister hear the reports on the BBC this morning concerning the massacre of schoolchildren in Kabul by Soviet forces? If these reports are true, can they be circulated to every athlete who proposes to attend the Olympic Games?

I am not in a position either to confirm or deny that report. I hope that British athletes will not go to Moscow so long as Soviet troops are holding down an independent country by force, and atrocities are being committed.

Heaton Moor

Q3.

Will the Prime Minister explain to pensioners in Heaton Moor why they will have to wait an extra two weeks this year for their uprating and, further, that the amount that the Government save in those two weeks is about the same as pensioners will receive as their Christmas bonus?

By the time November comes, a married couple's pension will have gone up by over £12 a week. What is happening is totally in accordance with our undertaking to keep the pension in line with the increase in prices.

Prime Minister (Engagements)

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 6 May.

Will the right hon. Lady have an opportunity today to take some action on behalf of the beleaguered and depressed fishing industry? Is she aware how deeply is felt a situation in which the industry sees its markets destroyed by imported, dumped, fish and conservation regulations flouted by just about every other country that fishes in its territories?

As the hon. Gentleman, I believe, is aware, we made a grant of about £3 million to the fishing industry recently. Its distribution is a matter for the fishing industry. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware, from the communiqué issued after the EEC meeting in Luxembourg, that I was not prepared to accept anything for the fishing industry that I believed to be detrimental to our own fishermen. I shall persist with that view.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to advise the National Union of Teachers to follow the example set by other teachers' unions and put the welfare of the children and the wishes of parents before political considerations next Wednesday?

I am happy to do so. I believe that example is the most important thing in teaching.

Will the right hon. Lady take time to reflect on the fact that, contrary to what she keeps saying, a comparison between the growth of the money supply and the rate of inflation shows no relationship at all in Britain over the last five years? Equally, there is no association visible between the two in France, Germany, the United States or Japan over the same period. If she still stubbornly clings to this idea, will she provide the evidence to enable hon. Members to see whether the foundations of her economic policy are built on wishful thinking?

No. I cannot accept the hon. Gentleman's contention. The factor he has left out of account regarding money supply in those countries is that those countries have grown considerably year after year. When that is taken into account, with the money supply, the hon. Gentleman will find that the figures bear a relationship one to another.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that several holidaymakers last weekend had their weekends ruined by mobs of skinheads and so-called yobs in seaside resorts? Will she urge her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to increase the number of police and urge on magistrates the need to impose stronger sentences upon these people?

My right hon. Friend will take every possible step to increase the strength of the police and to see that the law is upheld in this country.

Will the right hon. Lady take action to remove the threat to residents in this country who hail from Libya? Will she give instructions for the closing down of the Libyan embassy which is harbouring, it seems, a gang of thugs, bent on shooting and killing people in this country?

There have been two cases of murder of Libyan citizens in this country. People are held and being charged with murder at the moment. No one, of course, is guilty of murder until proved guilty. As the matter is sub judice, I think it best to go no further.

While everyone in the House will welcome the fact that the Leader of the Opposition has joined my right hon. Friend in commenting upon recent events at the Iranian embassy, will not my right hon. Friend agree that it would be extremely helpful if the House knew precisely where the Leader of the Opposition and his party stand on the question of the 14 May strike? Will she agree that leadership is demanded not only from our Prime Minister but also, occasionally, from the Leader of the Opposition?

I trust that the Opposition Front Bench, as well as the Government, are against strikes for political purposes. Such strikes are wholly contrary to the law in this country.