Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Complete list of 8,000+ Thatcher statements & texts of many of them

1969 Oct 31 Fr
Margaret Thatcher

HC I [Debate on the Address - Pensions and Education] (Shaw speech)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Intervention
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [790/562-67]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1338-55. MT spoke at c564.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 1829
Themes: -
[column 562]

1.38 p.m.

Mr. Arnold Shaw (Ilford, South)

The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Mr. Hall-Davis) will forgive me if I do not comment on what he has said. I should like to refer to the speech of the right hon. and learned Member for St.Marylebone (Mr. Hogg) the other day. He made a colourful speech giving his assessment of the contents of the Gracious Speech. He deplored the fact [column 563]that it lacked colour and he lumped it with all the others he had heard and likened it to a plate of cold porridge. To me it was a sober presentation of Measures which the Government propose to introduce in pursuance of their policy of social justice and reform. If it was presented in black and white, it was just as effective as though it had been presented in glorious Technicolour.

One of the items in the Gracious Speech which pleased me more than anything was the reference to education. Last year I deplored the fact that there had been very little reference to this. I join with some of my hon. Friends in deploring the absence of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) from the Opposition Front Bench. We have always listened to his remarks with the greatest respect, but it seems that the pressures of the purveyors of the Black Book have had their way and we have had a change of incumbent.

I should be the last to make any firm judgment at this stage on the future performance of the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), but together with some of my hon. Friends I am not particularly happy about the future when I read some of the pronouncements she makes on this subject, which must be fairly new to her. I see that she trots out the old Tory cliché that she intends to save everything that is best in the grammar school. That is something we hear over and over again, but I can assure her that everything that is best in the grammar school is to be found in the comprehensive school.

As she has just taken up this new job, perhaps when she goes around the schools she will discover this. In The Teacher of 24th October she is reported as having pledged herself to fight the Government's comprehensive education Bill. She said:

“I would fight to save a number of grammar schools that have played an important part in their communities.”

The report says that she added that in the newly developed areas a comprehensive school might be best. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short) referred to this. I do not accept her interpretation of what the hon. Lady had in mind. I rather fancy that what she had in mind [column 564]was that where there was new building, and there was no difficulty about pulling old buildings down, it would be simpler to put up a comprehensive school.

Mrs. Thatcher

Perhaps it would help if I said what I had specifically in mind. Most of us know the education in our own area best. We have a very large piece of land, which was Hendon Aerodrome, which will be developed, part council part private. It seems that it is extremely likely that the type of school that will be built to provide all kinds of education for the area will be a comprehensive school. There was nothing more sinister in it than that.

Mr. Shaw

I did not see anything sinister in it at all. I thought it was simply a question of the hon. Lady realising that comprehensives were a better form of secondary education and, having a new area in which to build, she would naturally build a comprehensive school there. The only question I would put is if the comprehensive school is suitable for the newly developed area, why is it not suitable for the existing area? It is said that the grammar schools have played an important part in their communities. I agree that they have, but so did the workhouses and these had their champions until the very last moment.

I turn now to the question of the rights of central and local government in education. The Opposition have stressed the point that the Government are attempting to override local authorities. They say that the Prime Minister and the Government are usurping the freedom of choice of the local authorities. The Prime Minister was absolutely right. He said:

“… this House, and the Government responsible to this House, have the right and the duty to provide equality of educational opportunity” .—[Official Report, 28th October, 1969; Vol. 790, c. 36.]

This is what we have been saying for a long time. The Labour Party manifesto in 1966— “Time For Decisions” declared:

“We shall press ahead with our plans to abolish the 11-plus—that barrier to educational opportunity—and reorganise secondary education on comprehensive lines” .

The Government were given a mandate and it is for them to redeem this pledge. The Opposition cannot have it both ways. They accuse us of not keeping our [column 565]promises, and when we keep them they say that we are doing the wrong thing.

Some progress has been made but in particular areas authorities have been holding back in presenting schemes. Unfortunately the Secretary of State has not had the statutory powers to force them to produce these schemes. The Bill mentioned in the Gracious Speech proposes that he will have these powers, and we welcome this. I want to mention one authority which has had its scheme passed, but which should be lumped together with those authorities which have already been named as backsliders.

I am referring to my own authority of Redbridge. Since Circular 10/65 was issued the Borough of Redbridge has been involved in preparing a number of schemes. The chief educational officer produced four schemes, and one after another these have been turned down by the education committee, chiefly because it is just opposed to the whole idea of comprehensive development.

Eventually it did send a scheme up to the Minister and it is interesting to note that on 28th November, 1968, the Department replied to this scheme and, referring to the proposal, said:

“He” — that is, the Secretary of State—

“accepts that, in principle, they provide a satisfactory long-term basis for the development of comprehensive education within the Borough …”

I always wonder just how the Secretary of State came to that conclusion. He then goes on and states that apart from the development of one comprehensive school:

“… elsewhere the proposals are susceptible of implementation only over a substantial number of years, and they make no provision for the abolition of selection and separatism in the interim period.”

The committee was asked to have another look at the scheme but in the meantime there has been a change in the chief education officer, which has given the education committee another reason for procrastination. Knowing a number of members of the local authority I can only suggest that they are sitting back hoping that after the next General Election they may be relieved of the whole boring exercise.

Will my hon. Friend look again at the possibility of adding the enlargement of [column 566]Wanstead County High School to the major building programme? Redbridge, in its own weak way, has made a start. We cannot have a mixed economy in education, we cannot have grammar schools and comprehensive schools cheek by jowl, it does not work, but if the authority has made a start perhaps we might encourage it. The proposal is to have another comprehensive school in another part of the borough. Unfortunately the scheme is not included in the major building programme. At the same time I appreciate that the Department is allocating its resources to those authorities which are seriously applying themselves to comprehensive education.

I turn to the Report of the Select Committee on Education and Science on students and their relations with universities and colleges. I had the privilege to be a member of the Select Committee. I think that it will be agreed that its members did a reasonable and competent job. I hope that its recommendation that it be reconstituted to look into teacher training will be accepted. I do not intend to deal with the recommendations in depth, but I should like to comment on some of the issues raised. Perhaps the most controversial is the proposal to set up a higher education commission.

The Committee felt—and I think that I speak for the great majority of its members when I say this—that the disparity between the higher institutions of education, namely, the university and nonuniversity bodies, should be removed. There are those who see in this an attack on the independence of the universities, but I quote the words of the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Longden), who was the Chairman of Sub-Committee B, in commenting on the vast sums of money being spent on higher education. He said:

“No one should therefore be surprised that Parliament, without in any way intending to infringe academic freedom, should wish to keep an eye on the value which the nation is getting for this large expenditure” .

Indeed, Parliament and the country have a right to know. The binary system is suspect. There can be no justification for treating students in polytechnics and colleges of education as second-class citizens in the academic world. The time has come for parity of esteem between colleges. [column 567]

The Report urges wide student participation at every level in all higher education institutions. I am confident, from my experience, that among the general body of students—and perhaps for the moment I can turn aside from one or two incidents in which the members of the Sub-Committee were involved—this participation will be used responsibly.

Among the many recommendations was one which had a particular appeal to me, as it must have to all those who have passed through one or other of the institutions of higher education. It concerns the quality of teaching. It is interesting that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in evidence, offered an opinion that indifferent teaching was one of the causes of student unrest. The suggestion is that all newly appointed staff be given organised instruction or guidance on how to teach. I would certainly subscribe to that.

The Report has been widely and variously received, but I would quote an extract from the editorial of a national daily newspaper which said:

“The major achievement of this Report is that it puts the student problem in perspective. It cannot be dealt with by policemen, nor by pompous threats from local councillors to stop grants. The basic need is for universities to modernise themselves. This is one report that must not be put on the shelf.”

I say “Amen” to that. I hope that the Government will have a very good look at this matter and will do something about it.

I have referred to student participation and to the need to look after the interests of students. I wish to say a few brief words about another matter which is agitating the education world, namely, teachers' pay. The teachers are agitating, and they are agitated by the smallness of their salaries. They have made a reasonable request. I know that this matter is being dealt with by the Burnham Committee and that it is not for the Minister to make a pronouncement on it. But I hope that, should a reasonable settlement be agreed, nothing will be done to hinder it.