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Oral Answers To Questions

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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Education And Science

Head Teachers

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has given consideration to the possibility of introducing a contract system for head teachers.

The form of contract under which head teachers serve is a matter for local education authorities and the governors of voluntary schools. It is open to employers to offer posts on a fixed-term basis if they wish to do so.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that as matters now stand a head teacher, however inefficient or incompetent, has virtual security of tenure in that post? If we intend to improve the standards in our schools, should we not introduce a national system for head teachers to be appointed on five-year renewable contracts, thus ensuring that only the best are retained?

I agree with my hon. Friend that the post of head teacher is crucial to the effectiveness of education, but I am not sure that the conversion to a fixed-term contract would necessarily produce the beneficial results that he claims.

Do I understand the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) to be asking for mandatory reselection? Is it not a fact that anyone who becomes a head teacher has had a long apprenticeship? If we were to have contracts in every profession, would not the number of people who would be removed by such a device be astronomical? [Horn. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] A spirit of levity seems to have been brought about by my question, which is not fair. The reality is that the main question is aimed at teachers generally, as is the habit of Conservative Members.

I am sure that it is common ground on both sides of the House that we should have the most effective education system possible. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) was right to point to the quality, character and value of head teachers as being crucial. The issue is whether a fixed-term contract would make it less laborious and easier for local education authorities to do their duty towards children by getting rid of ineffective head teachers. There is room for argument on this issue.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many hon. Members on both sides of the House, including many members of the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, believe that this matter should be looked at again, not only with regard to head teachers but all in education posts? Mandatory reselection or not, all of us have to face electors at least once every five years, and that does not do us any harm.

I repeat that it is open to employers of teachers and head teachers to consider moving to fixed-term contracts if they decide they are advantageous.

Rather than introduce fixed-term contracts for head teachers, would it not be better to reduce their autocratic powers in schools by including in decision-making a much wider spectrum of the school population?

There is room for argument about this matter. However, we can all agree that an effective head teacher is of enormous benefit to the children.

16 To 19-Year-Olds (Education And Training)

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he has taken on education and training in the 16 to 19-year-old age group over the past three months.

My right hon. Friend has initiated or co-operated in a number of measures, including additional expenditure provision for 16 to 19-year-olds staying on in 1983–84; statements on examinations at 16-plus and 17-plus qualification; a circular on the educational implications of the youth training scheme; the development of the technical and vocational initiative; and approving the merger of the business and technician education councils.

Is it not a fact that over the past few years there has been a lamentable failure in co-ordination between the Department of Education and Science, on the one hand, and the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission, on the other, on this sector? What do the Government propose to do about relations between Ministers to improve on that in future?

That is not true. There has not been a lamentable failure. Co-ordination is excellent and is getting better all the time. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is good collaboration between the MSC, the youth training boards, the advisory group on content and standards, the new area manpower boards and the DES.

As the youth training scheme has such large implications for local education services, should not local authorities think long and hard before dreaming of closing upper schools, because much of the problem of surplus accommodation and falling rolls will probably be taken up by the Manpower Services Commission w hen the full scheme starts next September?

My hon. Friend is right. The Department of Education and Science recently issued a circular asking local education authorities to look at the provision in school buildings for possible YTS youngsters.

Is the Minister aware that if the Secretary of State was involved in influential consultation in the process of introducing the most recent experimental scheme under the youth training scheme, he should be disgusted with himself? If he is not, we certainly are disgusted with him. As that scheme for 14 to 18-year-olds threatens to introduce a new form of secondary modern education, is unrelated to local authority democratic accountability, and has been undertaken without any effective or important educational advice, may we look forward to an arrangement for the MSC to control the school and college curricula, which will mean the prohibition of essential social and life scales, like political education in this country?

I find it difficult to follow the hon. Gentleman's question. I think that he is referring to the new technical and vocational education initiative. If so, my right hon. Friend will deal with that matter in reply to question No. 6.

Rossendale

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if notice has yet been served on him by the Lancashire county council on education reorganisation in Rossendale.

Not yet, although my right hon. Friend is expecting proposals to be published in the near future.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there are detailed proposals to scrap the Bacup and Rawtenstall grammar school and the sixth form of Haslingden high school in my constituency? When these proposals reach him, or his right hon. Friend, will he bear in mind that these two schools are of the highest possible standard, as he is in a strong position to know?

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern, but he will understand that if and when section 12 proposals about Rossendale come to the Department, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will have to judge them dispassionately and fairly. However, circular 4/82 shows that the record of proven sixth form academic success is one of the matters to which he will give careful consideration.

Primary School Closures

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many proposals for primary school closures submitted by local education authorities he has approved during the past three years.

From January 1980 to the end of October 1982, my predecessor and I approved proposals for the closure of 344 primary schools. In the absence of statutory objections, proposals in respect of a further 79 primary schools were determined by the local education authorities concerned.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the strong public opposition to the closure of many primary schools? In reaching decisions about proposed closures, will he ensure that the onus is placed firmly on the local education authorities to prove their case rather than on the objectors to prove the reverse?

I thoroughly understand the strong feelings involved, as my hon. Friend has pointed out. The proposals are made by the authorities and it is for them to demonstrate that they are soundly based. However, the issues are often not clear-cut and I have to decide where the balance of advantage lies. I take full account of the strength and nature of all objections to statutory proposals, and my priority will always be the best interests of the children concerned.

Is the Secretary of State aware that his decision not to permit the closure of the village school at Beadnell in my constituency is widely welcomed by those who are concerned with rural education? We hope that the Government now accept the viability of small well-run village schools. Would the right hon. Gentleman think it odd for local authorities immediately to resubmit applications in cases where he has refused to approve closures, as the Labour leadership on the Northumberland county council has said it wants to do?

Odd it may be, but I think the hon. Gentleman and I would agree that it is not for us to interfere with the legal rights of local education authorities. I am always grateful for appreciation of any decision that I make, but under the statute I have to take into account the merits on both sides.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that rural deprivation can be just as great a problem for individuals as the problems associated with inner cities? Does he further agree that the village primary school not only provides a good education but is one of the stable anchor points in the local community?

My hon. Friends and I have to cope with all the arguments from both sides in each section 12 proposal. We are well aware of the passions that are aroused when proposals are made to close rural schools. The issues are serious, of course, but sometimes it is against the educational interests of the children to keep very small rural schools open.

Will the Secretary of State give an assurance that in considering applications to close schools, not on the ground of absolute numbers, but where the apparent capacity of the school is greater than pupil numbers, he will look carefully at the way space is used and consider whether, in the best interests of the children, the notionally empty spaces should be used to benefit many of the auxiliary activities that are now common in primary schools?

Yes, but the issue also includes benefits to the children of the size of the age class with which they work. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have to take many such issues into account.

Technical Education

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations he has had with local education authorities about the Manpower Services Commission's scheme for introducing technical education for 14 to 18-year-olds.

21.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations he had with the local authorities, unions and others in the teaching profession, before the announcement of a new pilot scheme for technical and vocational education for 14 to 18-year-olds on 12 November.

The Prime Minister's announcement on 12 November was made after consultation with the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission and in the light of widespread calls for improved arrangements for technical and vocational education. Together with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales and the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission, I have discussed with the local authority representatives how local education authorities and the commission can work together in partnership to implement the new initiative. The Department has invited the teacher associations to early meetings and is in contact with other educational interests.

Is it not remarkable that while the Secretary of State fiddles with irrelevant and trivial matters, such as vouchers and student loans, he allows a major departure in education policy to be taken by the Manpower Services Commission? Has he lost all faith in himself or his Department to initiate changes in education?

The initiative on the curriculum in schools lies not with the holder of my office but with the local education authorities, to which such matters are decentralised under our procedures, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

It appears to many of us that the DES has been pushed aside. Are we now to have schools for the 14-plus pupils who will be going to them outside the orbit of the DES as separate institutions with perhaps the kind of curriculum censorship by the MSC that we have begun to see? Is the Secretary of State aware that, as far as we can see, the only form of research sponsorship now going on in the DES in genetic manipulation is the fungoid growth of the MSC?

No. The legal position remains as now. There is a requirement that education shall be provided for pupils between the ages of 14 and 16.

In dealing with the 14 to 18-year-olds, will my right hon. Friend keep clear in his mind the difference between education and training—education being for life and training being vocational for a job or profession?

"Yes, certainly", is the answer to my hon. Friend, but perhaps he will entertain conjecture of the possibility that, to some extent, the two can be combined as they are in many other countries.

Will the Secretary of State comment on Mr. David Young's statement that the legal position is clear and that no change is necessary, as he said in the statement that he has just made? Will he confirm that if the MSC decides to set up separate institutions, as it has said it may well do, those institutions will be inspected by his inspectors and the local education authorities will be responsible for the curriculum and conduct of those institutions.

It is open to any local education authority to use a school attendance order if it has reason to believe that the education being provided in any place professing to offer education, which is within its reach, is not education.

Does the Secretary of State not perceive that in this initiative there is a real danger of going back to something much worse than the old technical stream, which was a well-intentioned, but entirely unsatisfactory feature of our system in the 1940s?

I do not accept that there is a danger of going back. On the contrary, there is a possibility of going forward, because many schools, although not enough, already have a strong technical element in their curriculum. The purpose is to encourage the spread of that element in the curriculum in schools where it is not strong enough now.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that all such initiatives will be welcomed if they lead to an improvement in the total provision of technical education? Is he further aware that that process can be undermined if mathematics teaching, in particular, is not adequate? Finally, is he aware that the Carshalton high school for girls has had four mathematics teachers in one O-level class in one term?

All hon. Members are aware of the need for more mathematics teachers, but surely it is common ground that children also need preparation for living and working. An element of technical education should be welcome in all schools. That is what the initiative seeks to encourage.

The Secretary of State is twice in danger of misleading the House. First, the scheme as it has been broadcast is not for improving technical education in all schools; it is an experiment, limited to 10,000 children, controlled by the MSC. Secondly, he is in danger of further misleading the House because he did not quote all that his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said. The right hon. Lady said that there would be

"new institutional arrangements for technical and vocational education for 14 to 18-year-olds, within existing financial resources, and, where possible, in association with local education authorities".—[Official Report. 12 November 1982; Vol. 31, c. 270.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government are probably the only Government in the world who think that there can be improvements in youth instruction with no additional necessary resources and no proper consultation with education authorities?

The hon. Gentleman is misleading himself. One of the purposes of the MSC's initiative is to make available a limited amount from its own resources from the taxpayer to supplement resources made available by local education authorities which wish to bargain with it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of that reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Order. That gives me an opportunity to say that hon. Members should try not to argue a case at Question Time, but to ask questions. That is what we are here for.

Mandatory Student Awards

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the percentage increase in real terms of mandatory student awards between October 1979 and October 1982; and if he will make a statement.

The main rate of mandatory award for students living away from home outside London fell by 7 per cent. in real terms between October 1979 and October 1982.

Does not the offer made by the Minister of a 4 per cent. increase to students, plus the changes in parental and travel allowances, mean that there will be yet another fall in students' standards of living? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that that hits hardest at students from the poorest families?

That depends on inflation next year. The poorest students are not in danger of being hit, but those whose parents do not fully meet the parental contributions are.

Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the greatest service that he can provide is to increase the level at which the parental means test bites, so that the 9 per cent. increase announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in that regard for the coming academic year is of material help and benefit to the most needy students?

Our highest priority is to try to improve the level of the parental contribution threshold. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said.

Assuming that the award that has been announced will be the last one for this Parliament, how much worse off in real terms will students be after the period of office of this Administration?

That depends entirely on the rate of inflation next year. A 4 per cent. increase has been made in the award. The best estimate is that there will be 5 per cent. inflation next year. If so, that will mean another 1 per cent., if that is a sum that the hon. Gentleman can do.

Nursery Education

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children attend (a) nursery schools and (b) nursery classes in primary and infant schools; and what percentage of the 4 to 5 years age group does not receive any nursery education.

In January 1982, in England, pupils under 5 years of age were distributed as follows:

Number
Maintained nursery schools49,000
Nursery classes in primary schools185,000
Infant classes in primary schools203,000
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that the percentage of 4-year-olds attending some form of schooling was as high as 76 per cent.

Given the desirability of extending nursery education to all under-fives, will the Minister encourage local education authorities to take advantage of falling rolls in inner city areas to extend nursery education to all under-fives?

Falling rolls have been mentioned before at Question Time. On 1 January this year about 12,500 more pupils were receiving nursery education than in 1981. There has been an increase of about 47,000 in the past five years.

Will my hon. Friend reflect on the disappointment of many responsible local groups that want to start and run nursery or primary schools in redundant primary school buildings, particularly when the primary schools have recently been closed? Will he consider giving such groups the statutory right to purchase and run the schools, provided they meet all other requirements under the Education Act?

My hon. Friend has posed an interesting question. We have been in contact on that matter. In rural areas, where small village schools have been closed, consideration should be given by the local authorities to whether the buildings can be used for other educational purposes along the lines suggested by my hon. Friend.

The figure of 76 per cent. is higher than most of us have experienced. Are play groups included, or only nursery schools?

I can give the breakdown of the figure to the hon. Gentleman. Play groups are not included. Maintained nursery schools, nursery classes in primary schools and infant classes in primary schools are included. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) referred to using redundant classrooms. In times of falling rolls in primary schools consideration is often given to bringing children under five within the school framework.

Adult Education (Grants)

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is his policy towards the extension of provision of adult education with grants.

As I indicated to the hon. Member on 9 November, our expenditure plans for 1983–84 provide, if costs are contained, for the level of adult education provision to be maintained at about the same level as 1982–83. Any expansion of provision would have to be financed by savings or by generating additional fee income.

Is the Minister aware that a significant number of the unemployed in Lancashire would take up full-time education if full grants were available? What does he propose to do about that?

The hon. Gentleman will know that it is for local education authorities to decide what concession they should make. Surely he knows that 93 per cent. of all local authorities make a major concession of one sort or another to the unemployed if they wish to take up basic skills.

Is the Minister aware that the Mackintosh survey shows a large latent need for adult education and that the National Institute of Adult Education survey shows a falling off in enrolment, mainly for financial reasons? Does the hon. Gentleman recognise the importance of adult education and the investment that is needed for the future of this country?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of adult education. I am glad to be able to tell him that the most recent survey by the NIAE of October-November 1982–it is a sample survey, but it is usually correct—shows that there has been a 1 per cent. increase in enrolments compared with 1981–82.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the great value that the Open University and its students place upon the £1 million made available for the unemployed to enjoy its courses? Is there any possibility of that principle being extended to other adult education courses?

The extension of mandatory awards in any way would be extraordinarily expensive. On the whole, it is better to allow the more flexible and practical concessionary fees to be offered by local education authorities.

Primary Schools (Mixed-Age Teaching)

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will encourage local education authorities to reduce the extent of mixed-age teaching in primary schools.

Some primary schools have so few pupils and teachers that there is no choice but to arrange children in classes which cover more than one age group. The Department's circular 2/81, however, already urges local education authorities to reduce mixed-age teaching where possible.

Notwithstanding what the Minister has said, will he confirm that Her Majesty's Inspectorate says that in more than one-third of authorities there has been an increase in mixed-age teaching and that this is damaging to the children involved?

Mixed-age teaching is one of the penalties where local authorities delay the closure of schools by retaining small classes.

This has nothing to do with Pontius Pilate. It is to do with the birth rate. Pontius Pilate was not involved in that, whatever else he may have been involved in. The hon. Gentleman confuses him with Herod. The reason for falling rolls is the falling birth rate. If it is not dealt with by bringing children together in economic units, mixed-age teaching is part of the penalty.

Leaving all that aside, does my hon. Friend agree that there is much to be said for flexibility in assigning children to classes rather than inflexibly enforcing only a 12-month age band in each class?

I have always been noted for my flexibility. I take my hon. Friend's point. The 1978 HMI report on primary schools, however, showed that if 25 or more children from two or more age groups are taught together their results in reading and mathematics are lower than when the children are taught in separate age groups.

Does the Minister agree that many teachers can teach mixed-age groups with enthusiasm and skill, especially in infant classes, and that this may be highly desirable? Does he also agree, however, that it is undesirable to force teachers to teach mixed-age groups when they have neither the enthusiasm nor the skill to do so.

I agree entirely. The decision how classes are organised must be for the individual school. The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) is a governor of the Argyle junior mixed and infants school in his constituency. As that school has mixed-age teaching, I shall be interested to hear what happens when he raises this matter there.

Students (Parental Contribution)

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the estimated proportion of students in higher education deemed to be in receipt of parental contributions; and what proportion of these is estimated as being in receipt of such contributions in full.

A parental contribution is assessed to be payable in respect of 70 per cent. dependent students who have a mandatory or full value discretionary award. My Department has no information on the proportion of those students who receive the assessed contribution in full.

Is there not something radically wrong with a system of parental contributions that is basically no more nor less than a tax in excess of 51 per cent. on the marginal income of hundreds of thousands of parents? Does my hon. Friend further agree that the system divides university students into those whose parents are rich, those whose parents are poor and who therefore receive the full grant, and those whose parents are in the middle and often receive nothing like the full grant? As students are basically independent adults, should not this be dealt with through the Exchequer and through taxation rather than through the education budget? What is my hon. Friend's attitude to that?

My hon. Friend constantly offers me the support of money from the Treasury rather than from my own departmental budget. I can do nothing but welcome that. Nevertheless, the programme that he recommends would be extremely expensive, whether the money came from tax relief or from the education budget.

As grants have been cut in real terms in the past two years and the Government propose to make a further cut for the coming year, which area of expenditure does the Minister suggest that students should cut—books or food?

The number of students receiving mandatory awards has increased by about 50,000 since the Government came to power. There have to be economies somewhere. It is clear that the demand from students is in no way diminishing.

Since many parents do not make their full financial contribution, would not a loans scheme assist students whose financial position is undermined as a result?

Yes, I think that it would be possible to devise a loans scheme that would help in that respect.

Is the Minister aware that many students whose parents are deemed to be able to pay a contribution towards their children's upkeep but refuse to do so are prevented from taking up places on courses and pursuing their education? Is he further aware that those whose parents are not deemed to be able to support them are able to take up places? Does not that wholly unfair state of affairs require radical change in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)?

I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). Demand from students shows no sign whatever of falling.

As the schedule defining the contributions is legally defective, due to sloppy workmanship on the part of the Minister's officials, when will the Minister introduce amending regulations to correct the errors?

Non-Maintained Schools (Closures)

13.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the total amount of money his Department claimed back from schools that closed in the non-maintained sector; and how much of this money is outstanding in respect of 1981.

In the past five years the Department has claimed £224,195 in repayment of capital grant from non-maintained special schools which have closed. Claims made up to the end of 1981 have been paid in full.

When such sums are saved because schools for the handicapped are closed, should not that money go directly to benefit handicapped people rather than into the Department's general kitty, as is about to happen in the case of Palace school in Ely?

I have read in the Official Report the Adjournment debate in which the hon. Gentleman raised this matter. I do not accept that what he implies is happening or might happen in this case, as the Government have kept up the real value of taxpayers' money per pupil going to special schools. The non-maintained special schools—in this case the unique school run by the Red Cross—can close by their own decision without any application to the Secretary of State for Education and Science being necessary.

Able Children

14.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will seek to make special provision for the educational development of the most able children a mandatory requirement for all education authorities.

There is a statutory duty on local education authorities under section 8 of the Education Act 1944 to secure provision

"to afford for all pupils opportunities for education offering such variety of instruction and training as may be desirable in view of their different ages, abilities, and aptitudes".

Does my hon. Friend accept that the more able children are not adequately provided for at present and that they are therefore inclined to become bored and fed up with the type of education that is provided for them, whereas those who are not up to the average standard have special provision made for them?

As my hon. Friend will know, a number of HMI reports have said that able children are not sufficiently stretched in schools. Both area and general reports have referred to this. Indeed, the Cockcroft report recently said that at least 5 to 10 per cent. of 16-year-olds could go further than the O-level syllabus at that stage and should be trained to do so.

Will the Minister confirm that the HMI general report states that very able children are among those who suffer most from the increase in mixed-age teaching, where it is due to reductions in the number of teachers and not, as at the primary school to which he referred earlier, where it is part of the deliberate policy of the Inner London Education Authority and the authority provides the necessary funds and teachers?

As the pupil-teacher ratio on 1 January this year was the lowest in English history, that cannot be blamed for the need for mixed-age group teaching.

Do not the bright children suffer most from the mixed-ability teaching so beloved by so many Labour-controlled local authorities?

I agree. I believe that in mixed ability teaching it is the able children who suffer most.

School Maintenance Grants

15.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the subject of school maintenance grants for 16 to 18-year-olds; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a number of representations favouring the introduction of a scheme of financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds in full-time education. Those have been considered, but the Government's position remains as indicated in my reply to a question from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 9 November.

Is the Minister aware that the Labour Party's policy, which presumably will be in the manifesto—

I have the support of my hon. Friend on this—will provide £20 a week for all those who want to stay on in education between the ages of 16 and 18? Is not that important when taken against a background of 1 million youngsters on the dole, when tax relief is handed out for those who go to public schools, when money is handed out from the taxpayer for those who receive direct grants—

Order. Will the Minister not answer any question that was asked after I stood in my place?

The hon. Gentleman may be referring to a document that was published yesterday called "Education after 18". As I was not sent a copy, I read of it in the press and I saw that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) had refused to make any estimate of the cost. In it was included what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is asking about. I only say that it is typical of the aspirations of a party without responsibility and with little chance of ever getting it.

Does the Minister accept that maintaining an 18-year-old is little different from maintaining a 16-year-old?

The anomalies between those in full-time education after the age of 16 and those who are not is a matter for concern. However, I reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying, first, that those over the age of 16 in full-time education are increasing, which must be good, and, secondly, that the costs are very high.

Is the Minister aware that, in his usual innumerate way, he even got wrong the number and name of the Labour Party's policy document? Is he aware that in the document "Learning for Life—16 to 19 Education", the Opposition are pledged to introduce educational maintenance allowances and that they will so do? Will he further tell the House, with 3½ million unemployed and with over 600,000 young people under 20 unemployed, if he cannot accept the case for EMAs now, at what level of unemployment he will do so?

The cost would be about £400 million. If we had an additional £400 million to put into education today, we should find other priorities on which to spend it.

Disabled Students (Allowance)

16.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce a mandatory disabled students' allowance of £275.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to change the basis of the additional allowance payable to disabled students under the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations.

Is the Minister aware that that is a mean reply? Surely he accepts that disabled students must have additional money to enable them to follow through a course in higher education to their full benefit? Will he give the matter further thought?

The hon. Gentleman must be unaware that we have doubled the sum available under discretionary awards for disabled students from £250 to £500, and that has been generally welcomed.

Church Schools

17.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he plans to issue the regulations relating to the changes in the composition of the governing bodies of Church schools which results from the Education Act 1980; and if he will make a statement.

20.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress is being made with the appointment of new governing bodies to denominational schools.

Following the recent agreement with the Church of England at national level on an appropriate model document and procedures, and in the light of the necessary informal preparatory work at local level, we are now able to press ahead with formal action on requests received for new-style instruments of government for their schools. The only regulations involved are those made last year under section 4 of the Education Act 1980 which remove the need for certain common-form provisions in individual instruments.

Will my hon. Friend accept that his announcement that progress is at last being made with the implementation of the Act will be welcome throughout Britain? Will he confirm that it is being carried out on a kind of ecclesiastical area-by-area basis? Will he say where Exeter stands in the list?

I am delighted to do so. Exeter is coming to the top of the list, and it will receive its offer early next year.

In view of the delay, will my hon. Friend consider allowing the new governing bodies an extended period of office?

I shall consider my hon. Friend's request. I can also tell him that Rochester's articles will be going out before Christmas.

Prime Minister

Engagements

Q1.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 7 December.

This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.

Has the Prime Minister seen today the unanimous report of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs which says that to close Ravenscraig would be to devastate the west of Scotland? If the Secretary of State for Scotland can openly oppose that closure, why cannot the Prime Minister stop making cryptic comments and openly oppose what would be a disastrous closure?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry will be making a statement about all five major steel plants before the House rises for the Christmas Recess.

Will my right hon. Friend take time today to express the absolute abhorrence of people throughout Britain at the appalling attitude of Mr. Ken Livingstone, who has invited front men from the IRA to Britain? Will she also comment on Mr. Livingstone's refusal to comment on the outrage that was perpetrated last night?

May I take the last point first? I believe that the whole House will join in sending its deepest sympathy to those who were bereaved and injured in Northern Ireland last evening. This is one of the most horrifying crimes in Ulster's tragic history. The slaughter of innocent people is the product of evil and depraved minds, and the act of callous and brutal men. No words can express our absolute revulsion and complete condemnation.

However, nothing will deflect the Government from their resolve to free Ulster of terrorism and to restore peace to Northern Ireland. We should pay tribute to the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the security services, whose selfless service we admire. We shall not rest until the merciless killers are brought to justice.

Even before yesterday, most right hon. and hon. Members were astounded that the invitation to which my hon. Friend referred was ever issued. I believe that the nation would now find it intolerable if it were not withdrawn.

First, may I say on behalf of all Labour Members how strongly we condemn this wanton act of mass murder? We have always condemned those methods and we shall continue to condemn them. We will do everything in our power to ensure that such methods will not succeed. Anybody who doubts our determination in that respect has not followed these events over many years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Concannon), our spokesman on Northern Ireland affairs, has reiterated that on many occasions. We will do everything in our power to stamp out and defeat those who conduct such campaigns of mass murder.

Now may I turn to the other questions, because we must proceed with them as well? Who is in charge of the steel industry?

Our views on the bombings have been known and they remain the same. If anybody—

Order. I know who, but not what. On a day like this, I suggest that the House should settle down and proceed.

I hope that nobody in the House will try to use the bombings for political purposes.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I cannot hear what the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are saying. It is this crowd here—not my hon. Friends on the Front Bench below the Gangway, but these Social Democrats in front of me. Will you please tell them to shut up until they are called, Mr. Speaker?

Order. I welcome such support. We do our name and reputation no good by trying to shout down hon. Members when the House wants to get on with serious business.

I return to the steel industry. Nothing will dissuade us from protecting the jobs and livelihoods of people in the steel industry. They are matters of major importance to the House and the country. Who in the Government is responsible for the steel industry? Is it the Secretary of State for Industry, the right hon. Lady or the Cabinet, because it is several weeks since the Secretary of State for Industry said that he was taking responsibility? Since then, every week, more steel workers have lost their jobs. How soon will the Government make a statement on the subject? Is it not a fact that the Government have taken responsibility for the steel industry and must answer to the House and the country?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry has already told the House, as I have on a number of occasions, that there will be a political decision on the future of the five major steel plants. The Secretary of State for Industry is considering the British Steel Corporation's corporate plan for next year. He will be able to make a statement to the House before the House rises for the Christmas Recess.

It is not just the five major plants, but the thousands of workers who are losing their jobs in other plants. When will the Government make a statement about their jobs?

Last week we had a major debate on the steel industry, when the facts and figures were given and comprehensively debated.

Will my right hon. Friend find time today to ask the Leader of the Opposition to join her in seeking the withdrawal of the invitation to the political apologists of murder and mutilation, who have been invited by Mr. Ken Livingstone? It is an affront to the people of London.

My hon. Friend has already heard that I think that it would be intolerable and insensitive if that invitation were not withdrawn. Those who have suffered and been bereaved would feel it deeply. What the Leader of the Opposition says is a matter for him.

"The Falklands War At Sea"

Q2.

asked the Prime Minister whether, pursuant to her answer to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) on 23 November, Her Majesty's Government will acquire a copy of "The Falklands War at Sea" by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins for the library of No. 10 Downing Street.

No, Sir. I understand that this book will not be published until next year.

Hastings and Jenkins have asserted in print that the Prime Minister and Lord Carrington despatched three submarines to the South Atlantic on Monday 29 March, two days before the Wednesday when the crisis came to the Prime Minister's knowledge out of the blue. Is that true or untrue?

All those matters are being considered by the Franks committee. The hon. Gentleman must await its report. There is nothing that I can usefully add until the report is published, when we shall debate it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that when the history books are written they will look upon her conduct in the Falklands conflict with pride, unlike the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell), whose contribution will be lucky to have even an unfavourable footnote?

Engagements

Q3.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 7 December.

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

I recognise that my right hon. Friend was one of only 13 Prime Minister, or the equivalent, who attended the United Nations second special session on disarmament recently. Will my right hon. Friend take time today to assure the House and emphasise to the country that the Government will take every possible practical initiative to encourage verifiable balanced multilateral disarmament? Does she agree further that if the Russians were interested in disarmament they would start dismantling hundreds of SS20 missiles targeted on Western Europe?

I agree with both my hon. Friend's points. Many disarmament initiatives are being taken. There is the NATO proposal to eliminate intermediate range nuclear weapons. If that were successful, a whole class of nuclear weapons would be eliminated on both sides. It requires agreement by the Soviet Union. There is also NATO's draft treaty for mutual and balanced force reductions, which has been negotiated for a long time. Work continues in Geneva to verify the comprehensive nuclear test ban. There is also in Geneva our proposal for verification and compliance with the chemical weapons ban. There is President Reagan's initative, which we support, for a substantial reduction in strategic ballistic missile warheads. I could continue, because the Government are taking many initiatives on multilateral disarmament. I notice that the Opposition are not interested in multilateral disarmament. They are interested only in unilateral disarmament, which jeopardises this country's security.

Is the Prime Miniser aware that her order of priorities for the day is unacceptable to the Opposition? We demand that she gives her attention to the steel industry. Does she recognise that both the public and private sectors of the steel industry are fast haemorrhaging to extinction? When will she give her attention to steel and unemployment, which are the real crises facing the country?

We had a debate on steel last week. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry is considering in calm and measured terms the British Steel Corporation's corporate plan for next year. We are also part of the European Community and we negotiated on prices and quotas as part of that Community. All those matters are being considered. It is right that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Industry should consider them thoroughly before making a full statement to the House covering the five major steel plants.

Q4.

asked the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for 7 December.

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

Has the Prime Minister any plans to solve the unemployment problem in Wales before the next general election?

The Government will continue to try to reduce inflation, to contain public expenditure and to keep down interest rates. We look to industry to make itself competitive and to produce goods that can be purchased and that will command an increased share of the market both at home and abroad. There is no other way of obtaining sustainable extra jobs.

Is it not a sad comment on the Labour Party that when it is in Opposition, membership of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament increases, but that membership falls when the Labour Party is in power? Does not my right hon. Friend think that CND at least has courage—a courage that does not seem to lie on the Opposition Benches—because it wants Britain to withdraw from NATO instead of relying on the American nuclear umbrella while at the same time claiming to be a unilateral nuclear disarmer?

If CND's proposals were followed in any way, peace, security, freedom and justice would be put at risk in our country and war would become more likely. I condemn it completely.