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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 22: debated on Tuesday 20 April 1982

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Education And Science

Village Schools

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many small village schools have been permitted to close in the last 12 months.

Seventy-nine, in the period 1 March 1981 to 28 February 1982.

Is that not a disturbingly large number? Will the Secretary of State make it clear that he does not want his programme of dealing with falling rolls to involve the wholesale closure of village schools? Remembering the position of Northumberland, where viable schools such as Beadnell, Embleton and Craster are threatened, will he make it clear that the Government recognise the community and educational importance of village schools?

Yes, Sir, emphatically. My colleagues and I take the most intense care to take all social, as well as educational and financial, factors into account when making decisions. But the House must recognise that the pace of the fall in school populations, particularly at the primary phase, has accelerated sharply in recent years.

Will my right hon. Friend pay particular attention to the proposals affecting truly rural village schools? In view of the vast number of village schools that have been closed in Staffordshire, will he look with special care at the proposals that come from that county?

The answer to the first part of my hon. Friend's question is "Yes". Certainly in Staffordshire, but no more in connection with Staffordshire than with anywhere else, my colleagues and I thoroughly recognise the social and community factors involved in these decisions.

Does the Secretary of State recall that at the time of the general election he made great play of the fact that small schools should remain open? Is he aware that because of Government cutbacks authorities such as Derbyshire county council are now experiencing difficulties in providing the necessary finance to keep such schools open? Will the Secretary of State ensure that the village school at Wessington in my constituency is kept open and that Derbyshire county council is provided with sufficient funds to keep it open?

I cannot comment on individual proposals, but areas, particularly counties, where there is sparsity of population receive extra money from the taxpayer just because of such factors as rural schools. Besides, the educational interests of children can suffer severely if the schools become too small.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is a hero in Bolton by Bowland, a village in my constituency, whose primary school he has just saved from closure? Is he further aware that there must be at least 100 other villages in the country prepared to bestow on him a similar honour if only he would make his Bolton by Bowland decision the rule rather than the exception?

Hereford And Worcester (Selective State High School)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to decide on the section 12 application submitted by the Hereford and Worcester local education authority for the establishment of a selective State high school.

The authority has yet to submit to my right hon. Friend its observations on the statutory objections. The proposals were only published by the authority on 29 January 1982.

In view of the widespread doubts about the wisdom of spending money on this experiment at a time when educational expenditure is being severely curtailed in the counties, and in view of the anxieties about the effects on other schools, will my hon. Friend, when replying to the representations, take the trouble to point out that the reorganisation in Worcester was made necessary by the decision of the grammar school to go independent, that, therefore, the attempt is to cater for those children, and that it is unlikely to have effects on efficiently run schools in other parts of the county?

It is difficult to comment on a section 12 notice when all the information has not arrived at the Department. At the moment the authority is preparing its reply to objections in the area. Once those objections come to us, and once we receive the authority's reply, we shall have to make the decision. I am sure that if my hon. Friend wishes to bring a delegation to see me—not that there are so many vacancies in my diary these days on section 12 notices—I shall be delighted to see him and the other objectors.

Does the Minister realise that the extraordinary proposal from the Conservative leadership in the county is opposed by every teacher organisation, by councillors in two parties and independents and by the majority of organisations consulted?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is a libertarian. He must know that individuals who decide to do certain things contrary to current enlightened opinion may at times be right.

As the proposed superschool, which, as has been said, has been condemned by all the main teaching associations, will cream off pupils from schools in and around Worcester and also discriminate in favour of those who can afford to travel to school, how can the Minister say that it will not harm State schools in the vicinity?

I did not think that I had said that. I must listen to myself more carefully in future. We shall comment further on the proposal when it comes before us, but it is merely for the replacement of a girls' grammar school and a boys' grammar school in Worcester by a mixed grammar school.

When my hon. Friend considers the application from the county education authority, will he satisfy himself that there is full equivalence of opportunity for gifted pupils from all areas of the county?

I shall carefully note the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd). I am concerned, as I am sure all hon. Members are, that able, average and least able children are all taught to the maximum of their ability.

Local Education Authorities

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to improve the efficiency of local education authorities.

No, Sir. This is an important area, but not one where further legislation would be helpful.

Is my right hon. Friend aware—I believe that he is—that industrialists throughout the country have sweated blood to improve productivity, even at the expense of having to make painful decisions to cut labour and overheads, yet local education authorities, including my own in Northamptonshire, which is Labour-controlled with Liberal support, have recently increased massively the number of people that they employ in the education service, thus increasing industry's overheads? Is that not monstrous? Will my right hon. Friend get together with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to introduce, in a short measure, ways to overcome that terrible unfairness?

We are conscious of the difficulties caused by large rate increases. Our proposal to ban supplementary rates will be some protection for ratepayers. If Northamptonshire's spending increases beyond the level of its grant-related expenditure it will incur financial penalties.

Does the Minister accept that there are people, certainly on the Conservative Benches, who believe that efficiency means cutting education to the bone, so that all our people are hampered in their education, at whatever level? Will he also accept that we on the Labour Benches believe that it is necessary to provide more money for education and to ensure that it is used—especially by Tory authorities which are overenthusiastic to cut—if we are to benefit the children under our care?

My hon. Friends are just as keen as any other group in the House, if not more so, to achieve effective education, but effective education cannot be measured simply by money spent.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that in recent years schools have had devolved on them a great many administrative functions formerly undertaken centrally by local education authorities and have been given facilities to undertake the functions? Therefore, does he also agree that the swelling of central bureaucracy is not as justified as others have suggested?

If educational effectiveness cannot be measured in terms of money spent, is it not even more the case that it cannot be measured in terms of money cut? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), showed that less than 2 per cent. of all education expenditure was on administration and that the service is not overburdened with administrators? Indeed, in some respects it is administratively underserviced. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that if efficiency means anything in education it means adequacy of provision? How efficient does he think the 99 education authorities are which Her Majesty's Inspectorate in its most recent report describes as not making adequate provision in essential areas in their schools?

As the hon. Gentleman is willing to accept the general posture that-I advanced, I am willing to accept the corollary that he produced in the first part of his question. As for the administrative burdens of local education authorities, it is true that falling rolls and an increased attempt to take out surplus places and perhaps to remove ineffective teachers involves overheads.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the educational effectiveness of LEAs may improve if more time and resources were devoted to what used to be called the three Rs instead of to peripheral subjects?

I cannot but agree that more emphasis in some places on basic skills, provided that it resulted in effective teaching, would be welcome.

Microcomputers

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied with the progress being made with the microcomputer installation programme in secondary schools in the Greater London area.

Yes, Sir. One hundred secondary schools in the Greater London area have obtained a microcomputer under the Department of Industry's micros in schools scheme, supplementing the substantial provision made by the local education authorities.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is a remarkable figure in an imaginative and exciting programme? Is he still confident, as was said when the programme began, that the London boroughs that were ahead of the field in their installation programme before the scheme was launched are still not being penalised because they had a number of computers already installed in their schools?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he wants. All secondary schools are now eligible for assistance under the Department of Industry's scheme, whether or not they have already bought a microcomputer.

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that there should be an input into the microcomputers for handicapped children? Is he aware that the microcomputer is a great chance to help them to overcome their handicaps? Is he prepared to give extra resources to that end?

Without a commitment on resources, I shall certainly look into the hon. Gentleman's suggestion.

Youth Training Scheme

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied that education establishments in Birmingham will have the resources to meet the off-the-job training aspects of the youth training scheme.

My right hon. Friend is satisfied that the Manpower Services Commission has sufficient resources to fund off-the-job provision and that the education system nationally is able and willing to provide. It is for individual local education authorities, along with the Manpower Services Commission, to plan their response at local level.

Does the Minister accept that many grand-sounding schemes have been heralded in the House by his right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Employment, and that it is now essential that the schemes, which will go some way towards assisting people in areas of urban deprivation, such as Birmingham, are supported far more vigorously than the way in which the Minister has outlined?

I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Government's initiative on, for instance, the new youth training scheme will be of enormous advantage to youngsters. I remind him that there will be a considerable inflow of funds from the MSC into, for instance, further education to support the YTS. That should reassure him.

New Training Initiative

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received from local education authorities as to their responsibilities under the new training initiative; whether he is considering sending them a circular; and if he will make a statement.

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the implications for the further education sector of the proposed new training scheme for 16-year-old school leavers.

My right hon. Friend has had only a very few representations from individual local education authorities on this subject. In the White Paper "A New Training Initiative" the responsibilities of colleges of further education and their maintaining authorities are set out, and my right hon. Friend will be glad to respond to any specific needs for further guidance.

Does my hon. Friend agree that if the new training initiative is to be successful in its early years, local education authorities must have a special responsibility for retraining and redeploying teachers to help in full-time vocational courses and for the use of surplus educational premises for training opportunities?

Yes, that is absolutely right. There is no objection to MSC courses being held in school premises and, indeed, using teachers from the school, but l believe that that would have to be done in conjunction with a further education institution.

How will the Minister ensure that genuinely appropriate courses will be provided in further education, rather than, as is quite likely, merely cosmetic changes to existing provision, to take advantage of the Government funds that are available?

This is an important matter. In the YOP there have been cases where there has been a breakdown in this respect. That must not happen again. The MSC is planning to introduce a group, on which education services will be well represented, to examine the content of the education courses that are funded through the MSC. I am sure that that will be satisfactory.

Is the Minister aware that if the new training initiative is to be more than just a cosmetic exercise, there will need to be a great deal of planning, involving local authorities and, in particular, technical colleges? What discussions have taken place with local authorities about the financial implications in this connection?

Discussions have been going on almost non-stop for a considerable time. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, for example, there has been an interesting experiment in 12 selected LEAs, where the education content has been planned, and we shall know the results next month. I understand that they will be of great help.

Is my hon. Friend satisfied with the use that his Department might encourage local authorities to make of the last year at school for training children who are not academically inclined?

There is another question on this matter. Nevertheless, it is a matter that is under consideration.

Is the Minister aware that the whole education service is appalled at the complacency of his Department about the youth training scheme? Is he aware that the whole 16 to 19 years age group has a chaotic range of courses, examinations, curricula and income support? Does he agree that there is urgent need for a comprehensive education and training scheme with full education maintenance allowances?

The Department is certainly not complacent. We recognise this as a major challenge, which is of major importance to our youngsters. I would add that tidiness is not necessarily an advantage.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there has been a traditional antithesis between so-called education and training, that both sides—industry and education—have viewed one another with mutual suspicion, and that therefore there might be a case for a circular which reaffirms the commitment of education to industry and also shows education how best it can devise courses that are appropriately geared to local industry?

I always listen to my hon. Friend's views with great respect. This Government, like previous Governments, have always accepted that training in general should be the responsibility of industry. However, I agree that in the long run the division between training and education, in education terms, is artificial and will gradually break down.

As the new training scheme has an element of compulsion, because of the financially punitive elements it contains, will the Minister tell us a little more about the group which is now to scrutinise the project? What remit will it have? Will the new training schemes be approved only if the Department of Education and Science is satisfied with their education elements, and if not, why not? Who are the members of the group?

The sort of compulsion that the hon. Gentleman is talking about is one that very few people would resist. It consists merely of paying people. So it is not compulsion in any terms. In answer to the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, I suggest that he tables a question specifically on that matter.

Secondary Education

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to announce his decision on future secondary education provision in the Exhall, Ash Green and Keresley areas.

My right hon. Friend has informed the LEA that he is minded to approve these proposals subject to a modification of the implementation date. The authority has been consulted on this modification in accordance with the provision of the Education Act 1980, and my right hon. Friend will announce his decision shortly.

I thank the Minister, but he will appreciate that, in the form that he gave it, his reply is not very meaningful? If I accept what he has said in the form that he said it, will he reassure himself that if the proposals are to go through, even in a slightly modified form, some of the building inadequacies will be examined? There were serious inadequacies. Will at least the best possible be done to remedy some of the building deficiencies, if for no other reason than that the scheme is not at all acceptable to the people living in the area?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is a difficult scheme. It was a long time in the Department, going backwards and forwards between the local authority and ourselves. The hon. Gentleman led a delegation, as I well know, to discuss, first, whether it should be implemented, and, secondly, on which date it should come into force. We are still in touch with the local authority, and hope that the final decision will be made very shortly.

Universities

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has given any consideration to the implications of a change in the length of the present university first degree course.

My right hon. Friend is always prepared to consider any initiatives that might increase the cost-effectiveness of higher education.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but does not he agree that, with the introduction of modern teaching practices, the trend should be towards shorter degree courses rather than longer? In this context, will he also resist any weakening of A-level academic standards?

My hon. Friend is probably aware that the right hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Williams) put this forward as one of her 13 points in 1969, when she called for an experiment with two-year courses. As long as we remember that there are some courses, such as enhanced engineering courses, that might be better if they are longer, I agree with my hon. Friend.

Will the Minister bear in mind in considering such alternatives that, if anything, degree courses need lengthening, not shortening? Those of us with experience in the university world realise that the intensity of many modern methods of teaching that have been introduced in higher education have meant that the real gap in student education is that they do not have enough time to think, although that is what universities are all about—thinking and learning.

I think that the hon. Gentleman will agree, from his experience, as I do from my experience, that great difference is possible in this area. There are some courses where it would be interesting to experiment with shorter, more intensive courses.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is obviously a case for people going beyond the level of schooling without necessarily having to go to the full extent of a four-year university honours degree? Does he further agree that there is a case now for reviving the initiative of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, when she was Secretary of State for Education and Science, of the diploma of higher education, because higher education has got into a trough, particularly in the context of finding a suitable role in the longer term for colleges of higher education?

I agree with my hon. Friend. In general, the Department and, I am sure, the UGC, would welcome proposals for experiments in this area.

Does the Minister agree that, whatever the length of the initial course, the system of student support is of considerable importance? Given the Secretary of State's continual flirtations with the question of loans, will he say whether it is true that the Secretary of State said on "World at One" today that students who cannot live on the grant will have to find more part-time work? If that is true, will he say what effect he thinks that will have on levels of scholarship and on the passing of degrees, and, secondly, what part-time work he has in mind?

When the hon. Gentleman studies the transcript, he will see that he has not got the point quite right.

Education Standards

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on how he intends to see that the educational needs of the bottom 40 per cent. of school pupils in achievement are adequately met.

There is a strong case for a greater practical slant in the curriculum for all pupils, especially in the last two years of compulsory education, and the less academically proficient pupils are not necessarily best served by a diluted form of the traditional curriculum. While I am not yet ready to declare what particular measures might be most helpful, I am treating this as a matter of high priority.

I welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend accords high priority to this important area of educational provision, but is he prepared to consider sympathetically the idea of having a sort of certificate of satisfactory educational performance for pupils who leave school, especially those who do not have the opportunity to take either CSE or GCE examinations?

Yes. I shall certainly consider such an idea sympathetically, although I cannot make a commitment without exploring all the implications.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the efficacy of any system of education is decided by the degree to which it meets the needs of all its pupils? Does he agree that the educational implications of post-war secondary education for all have never been worked out properly?

If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to agree that we do not have a perfect educational system in terms of providing what each individual needs, I do so. I am not sure of the implications of his question. Perhaps he will write to me about it.

School Meals

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the latest figures available for the numbers (a) taking school meals and (b) receiving free meals; and how these compare with those for 1979.

In October 1981 the daily meals take-up in maintained schools in England was approximately 3·5 million, including 0·9 million provided free. This total figure represented about 49 per cent of pupils present. The comparable figure for 1979 was 64 per cent. For both years, the free meal take-up was about 12 per cent.

Does the Minister accept that the running down of the school meals service has serious implications for the general health of the school population? Will he seriously consider doing something to reverse that trend?

I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that the free meal take-up by those who cannot afford to pay for their meals remains at 12 per cent. However, even before the 1980 Act, the school meals service was built on the assumption that the major part of a child's needs would be provided at home. There is still more than £300 million included in the rate support grant for the purpose, and whether the money is spent on food or education, it should go where the real priority is.

Textbooks (Parental Vetting)

12.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to give parents the right to vet textbooks used in schools for the teaching of sensitive matters, such as sex education.

The Education (School Information) Regulations, which come into effect this year, will require schools to give parents information about the way in which sex education is provided in schools. We have made it clear that there should be the closest consultation and cooperation between parents and schools on this matter

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is a vital moral issue in the presentation of literature within schools, and will he assure the House that he will exercise vigilance in such matters, especially about sex education? Does he agree that his Department has a moral responsibility for curricula in schools?

I believe that the Department has a moral responsibility. Last year, through pressure, we ruled that some books that were available in libraries and in general should be used by teachers only. I can quote from one book, which stated:

"Incest is not particularly uncommon, especially between sisters and brothers, when it can be a loving sexual relationship."
It would seem that we should exercise that discretion, because the same book talks about bestiality, without any condemnation of it whatsoever.

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about the need for consultation. Will he assure the House that parents will have the right to withdraw their children from such lessons if they see fit?

Consideration was given during the passage of the 1980 Bill to whether parents should have the right to withdraw their children from sex education classes, as with religious education. It was decided, both by this House and another place, that such a decision should not be made, because sex education is not compulsory in schools.

I know that the Inner London Education Authority has ruled that parents may withdraw their children from schools that provide sex education with which they do not agree. This week a parent from another authority wrote to me enclosing a letter from a headmaster on the subject. Where parents disagree with the way in which sex education is taught in schools, the headmasters should certainly allow withdrawal from that class.

Universities

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the reductions envisaged in university places in future years.

My right hon. Friend has received representations from Members of both Houses and a wide range of other bodies and individuals.

I thank the Minister for that reply, because there must have been much correspondence on the subject. Is the Minister aware that he will be reducing the number of university entrants in 1982–83 to 72,000? In 1980–81 the figure was 76,900, which means that there has been a large reduction in one year. Is he aware that the 18-yearold population will be at a peak of 924,000? Is what the Minister is doing good or bad for Britain?

I am well aware of the figures that the hon. Gentleman gives. The overriding needs of the national economy impose them on us.

How many representations has the Under-Secretary of State received from universities where redundancy proposals have been rejected by the university senates or councils? What will the Government's action be in those circumstances?

There is no role for direct Government intervention in those circumstances or in any circumstances of management problems in universities.

Is the Minister aware that when the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts visited Stirling and Aston universities it appeared that circumstances could arise early in 1984 in which those universities, and no doubt others, might have to declare themselves bankrupt and go into liquidation? If that eventuality arose, is the Minister really saying that the Government would have no view about it?

If the UGC took the view that the university could do nothing to avoid bankruptcy, it would wish to take action. However, if the UGC's view was that the university could have taken practical action but did not, the problem would be more difficult.

Comprehensive Education

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had about the development of a comprehensive system of education and training for the 16 to 19-years-old age groups.

The Government are committed to extending education opportunities for the 16 to 19 age group and to the proposals for training in the White Paper, "A New Training Initiative". To this end, Ministers and officials have had numerous discussions with the local education authority associations, the MSC and others.

Does the Minister agree that it is very important that the Department of Education and Science, rather than the Department of Employment, should take a lead in these discussions? Is is not vital that the Minister recognises that, unless the problem of the 16 to 19-yearold is examined comprehensively, we shall be in danger of creating another form of education apartheid for 16 to 19-year-olds, just as we did after the Second World War for 11-year-olds?

The Labour Party publication "Learning for Life" has an authoritarian approach which the Conservative Party and the country would reject.

Can there really be an effective approach to education and training while two separate Departments of State are involved?

It has been the decision of this and previous Governments that the Department of Employment should be the main agent for training. I reassure my hon. Friend by saying that discussions between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment are constant.

Is the Minister aware that there are still many 16 to 19-year-old students who would benefit from a traditional sixth form education or from a sixth form college, but who cannot do so either because of there own or their parents' poverty? Is it not high time that we gave an adequate grant to encourage them to stay on?

I did not hear the hon. Gentleman's question very well, but I believe that he asked about provision for staying on. I can give him two reassurances. First, about 10 per cent. more of our youngsters are staying on in full-time education. There are 25 per cent. more staying on in further education, for which the Government have made financial provision. We welcome that development very much.

Burnham Report

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to receive the report of the Burnham committee on teachers' pay.

The pay claim for school teachers in England and Wales has now been referred to arbitration. The hearing is expected to take place in the week beginning 17 May, and the arbitral body's recommendations are expected to be sent direct to my right hon. Friend quite shortly thereafter.

If the arbitration award is 6 per cent. or more, will additional financial resources be made available to local education authorities? If there is a vote on the management side of the Burnham committee, will the two Department of Education and Science representatives be under the direction of the Secretary of State?

It has always been the convention that the attitude of the management panel is confidential, so I could not talk about that in the House. I would be wrong to do so. As we do not know what will be recommended by the arbitration tribunal, it would be hypothetical to talk about that.

Will the Minister accept that before the management offer was referred to arbitration there was widespread anger in the teaching profession at the paltry offer? Are the Government prepared to say now that they will accept the Burnham committee arbitration award and give finance to teachers who, after all, like all other working men and women, must keep pace with inflation?

In the Burnham committee the management panel offered what it thought it could afford within the limited amount of money that was available. More money would not be available if the arbitration tribunal said that more should be given. The authorities would have to make their decision against that background.

Will my hon. Friend make it clear to the teachers that, whatever the arbitration award, the Government can make available only the same amount of money and that either there must be fewer teachers or smaller increases in pay?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The amount of money being offered by the Government to the local authorities is a quantum that has been set. The more teachers who are employed, the less individual teachers can earn, or vice versa. If the authorities run down the number of teachers, they can pay more for those who are still employed.

Was not the Minister in danger—I am sure inadvertently—of misleading the House in his last but one answer when he said that the management panel had made an offer on the basis of what it could afford? Had not substantial numbers of local education authorities quickly communicated the fact that they were prepared to and could find ways of affording more than the 3·4 per cent. increase, and could not the threatened uproar in the education service have been avoided entirely had they been left to their own devices? I shall repeat this question, because this is a matter of great importance, with the examination term coming before us. In the event of the arbitrator making a recommendation, will the Government provide funds to enable the teachers to be paid what the arbitrator recommends?

As I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Lewis), the amount of money that has been put before the local education authorities has been set. No more will be provided. Any payment to the teachers must be made within that limit. The management committee has always considered that any offers that are made in the Burnham committee should be confidential. It would be wrong for me to disclose any of the happenings in that management committee.

Youth Training Scheme

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he is satisfied that colleges of further education and other educational institutions will have adequate resources to meet the needs of the youth training scheme.

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever).

Is the Minister aware of the concern felt by many colleges of further education at the apparent lack of co-ordination between his Department and the Department of Employment, with the result that courses that colleges are planning as part of the new scheme are having to be cut because not enough money is available?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is close co-operation between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment. There are at least four different committees with interlocking memberships sitting well-nigh full time. As I have said, a new committee will look at the education content of the Manpower Services Commission's programmes.

Is the Minister aware that another 400,000 boys and girls will be leaving school this year with no prospect of jobs, and that many of them will be looking to the further education system at least for an opportunity for training? Is he aware that we have an urgent crisis on our hands, which cannot wait for the Government's scheme in 1983?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that that crisis has been met by the Government, not only by the increase in provision for 16 to 19-year-olds, announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, but by additional funding for the further education system announced by my right hon. Friend last December.

Is the Minister aware that many of those involved in education, particularly in the colleges to which he referred, will have found all of his answers this afternoon complacent? Will he now give a positive commitment that the job that needs to be done to protect the interests of those young people will be met squarely by the Government and that they will provide the funds necessary to carry out that job?

As I said earlier, we are not complacent. This is a challenge that the Government are accepting. The hon. Gentleman will know that the funding not only on the educational side, but for the Manpower Services Commission, is greater than we have ever had before in the history of the country.

Prime Minister

Departmental Financial Advisers

Ql.

asked the Prime Minister if, further to her reply to the hon. Member for West Lothian on 3 March, she will, subsequent to any further review, establish new criteria upon which appointments of financial advisers are made by Departments, so as to ensure more effective public accountability and parliamentary control.

Departments are already accountable to Parliament for public funds spent on the appointment of professional financial advisers. It is always in the Government's interest to obtain the best advice available. We have no plans to change the present arrangements.

Is this really the right time to go ahead with plans for the dismantling of the British National Oil Corporation?

We shall make the judgment at the precise moment we wish to do so. I am sure that it will be an excellent judgment.

Will my right hon. Friend look again at the proposal to appoint as an experiment half a dozen outside accountants to the new district health authorities and recognise that the problems that they face are urgent and that if there is to be outside financial help it should be on an extensive scale and not just on an experimental scale?

I shall pass on that suggestion to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend has made proposals to ensure that those authorities are properly accountable to Parliament, which they have not been in the past.

Will the Prime Minister tell us who is the financial adviser to the Government on the Falkland Islands operation, and when and how Parliament will be told of the cost of that operation?

I hardly think that that question is relevant to the one that I am discussing. I think that most people in this country will take the view that the Government take on that issue.

Engagements

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall preside at a meeting of the Cabinet later today. This evening I am giving a reception for those engaged in business, representing both management and the shop floor.

In view of the seriousness of the position in and around the Falkland Islands, has the Prime Minister any plans to invite the leaders of all the political parties in the House to Downing Street for discussions?

I have no such plans at present. Had the hon. Gentleman been in the House at the time he would have heard what the Leader of the Opposition said. We take it as our duty to keep the House as a whole as fully informed as possible.

Will my right hon. Friend today undertake to consider with great caution any proposals from the Argentine, bearing in mind that if an aggressor is even half compensated for his aggression, that will be an encouragement to others to behave likewise?

I take my hon. Friend's point. It has been made strongly. That is the feeling on both sides of the House. Of course we shall try to seek a diplomatic solution, but we have to be true to our objectives. I cannot disguise from the House that the Argentine proposals at present before us fall short in some important respects of those objectives and of the requirements expressed in the House.

Will the right hon. Lady tell us when she will report to the House—in accordance with what she has said about such reports—on those proposals, on what they are officially and what the Government's views are about all of them? Will she tell us whether they are supported by the United States Administration or whether General Haig was merely acting as an intermediary in the matter?

The proposals are Argentine proposals. We are grateful to Mr. Haig for the patience and stamina that he has shown over the proposals, both in Buenos Aires and in his visits to this country, but they are Argentine proposals. He has kept us fully informed, when he has been able to do so, about precisely what they are. We now have full details. The right hon. Gentleman heard what I indicated a moment ago. We regard this as a stage in the negotiating process that must now be continued. We are examining the proposals very closely and will seek to put forward our own proposals to Mr. Haig. With that in mind, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary plans to visit Washington on Thursday.

When will the right hon. Lady be reporting to the House again? I hope that in these discussions she will also be taking into full account the proposals made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) about the implication of the United Nations. Does the right hon. Lady agree that, apart from the inherent justice of our cause, a major source of strength is that this country is acting in conformity with the United Nations charter and in pursuance of resolution No. 502? If the right hon. Lady and the Government follow up the proposals made by my right hon. Friend they could provide some alternatives to the specific proposals from the Argentine and also make sure that we continue to act in full conformity with the United Nations charter and our obligations under the charter.

I do not believe that there is much point in reporting to the House before my right hon. Friend has seen Mr. Haig in Washington. Among the many problems presented by the Argentine proposals is that they fail to provide that the Falkland Islanders should be able to determine their own destiny. The House has always said that the wishes of the islanders are paramount.

As regards the proposals put forward by the right hon. Member for Leeds, East that referred to United Nations administrators, we are in the process of one negotiation through Mr. Haig, and it would be better not to get our wires crossed but to go steadily forward on that proposal. I accept what the right hon. Gentleman said. We are trying to secure implementation of United Nations resolution No. 502, which is clear, but not so easy to implement. We also have rights on self-defence under article 51 of the charter.

I wish the right hon. Gentleman well on his visit to the United States. However, I am not at all certain that it will not be necessary for further reports to be made to the House in the meantime. Does the right hon. Lady agree that as these matters are fully discussued in other places there should be constant and persistent reports to the House of Commons?

There is no intention to hold up information in any way. The right hon. Gentleman, his right hon. Friends and Members have been extremely understanding of the fact that while negotiations are in progress it is difficult to give full details of them. I have indicated one important respect in which the Argentine proposals fall short of the objective of almost every hon. Member. I am here every Tuesday and Thursday, but we will make much fuller statements as often as we can.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her handling of the Falklands crisis with a combination of firmness and diplomacy has commanded the support of the vast majority of hon. Members? Is she further aware that her declaration this afternoon that despite the difficulties or shortcomings of the present proposals she will pursue resolutely a diplomatic solution to the crisis will also have the full support of most hon. Members?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. We remain committed to seeking a diplomatic solution if an acceptable one can possibly be found.

The Prime Minister knows that she has all-party support for her determination to secure the removal of the Argentine from the islands, to secure implementation of the Security Council resolution and reestablish conditions in which the future of the islanders can be determined in the long-term. However, will the right hon. Lady refrain from ascribing to the House as a whole her phrase about the paramountcy of the wishes of the islanders? Does she agree that while their wishes and interests are uppermost in our minds, the long-term issue is a paramount one for the House to resolve?

But the House, in exercising its duty, has always said, not only in these negotiations, but on many previous negotiations, that the wishes of the islanders are paramount. Many previous negotiations have been on the basis that the Argentines wanted what is called decolonisation—that has a particular meaning in United Nations terms—but they have not been able or willing to grant self-determination to the islanders.

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 20 April.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Does the right hon. Lady agree that it would be a great advantage to involve the United Nations more deeply? That would relieve the United States of the necessity to act in what is called an evenhanded fashion. If the United States adopted the same economic sanctions and brings the same pressure to bear on the Argentine as Western European countries and the Commonwealth have done, is it not a fact that that would have a moral and economic impact and would make a peaceful and diplomatic solution much more likely?

There is a clear mandatory resolution on record by the Security Council, which should have the force and effect of international law. At present it is not being implemented. Mr. Haig is trying to see that it is implemented. I believe that he is a very good and appropriate negotiator, but a negotiator must have credibility with both parties to the negotiations. It is in our interests that he should continue to have that credibility. However, we all know that the United States and this country are democracies.

Are the Government still determined to use whatever means are at their disposal to secure the withdrawal of the Argentine forces from the islands and to re-establish British administration before any question of a longer-term solution is entered into?

I confirm that that is our aim. Our strategy is to try to use diplomatic means, backed up by a task force, which continues steadily on its way.

In view of the strong all-party support that the Government have rightly received during the past two and a half weeks, will the Prime Minister bear in mind that she will be expected to take future, I hope and believe, un-rushed decisions in an equally non-party way? Does she agree that that demands more than merely asking the right hon. Gentleman the Paymaster General, as chairman of the Conservative Party, to a meeting of senior Ministers last night? Will the right hon. Lady seriously consider the proposition made by the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells)?

I must confess that I had expected a more fundamental point from the right hon. Gentleman. On the last occasion that this point was raised the Leader of the Opposition said, rightly, that he would not find that the appropriate way to proceed. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes to see me—I am sure the same applies to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary—about this matter I am always available to see hon. Members on these important issues.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 20 April.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, despite the recent proposals, she has widespread support in the country for the stance she is taking to ensure that dictators cannot get by aggression what they fail to get by negotiation? In particular, in view of the Argentine record on human rights, does she agree that the suggestion to bring Argentine police in to the islands is not acceptable, because it could lead to the intimidation of the islanders?

My hon. Friend has enunciated a very important principle, not only for the people of the Falkland Islands, but for the people of many other territories which may be invaded if unprovoked aggression in this case succeeded. As to the police, my hon. Friend knows that there were only two police officers on the islands—it was a very law abiding place—and we are very much aware of the record of the present junta in Argentina.

Bill Presented

Northern Ireland

Mr. Secretary Prior, supported by the Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary Whitelaw, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Secretary Sir Keith Joseph, Mr. Secretary Pym, Mr. Secretary Nott, Mr. Adam Butler, Mr. David Mitchell, Mr. John Patten, and Mr. Nicholas Scott presented a Bill to make new provision for the resumption of legislative and executive functions by the Northern Ireland Assembly and by persons responsible to it; to amend the Northern Ireland Constitution Act 1973 and the Northern Ireland Assembly Act 1973; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 106].