Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1970 Nov 3 Tu
Margaret Thatcher

HC I [Ministers of the Crown]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Intervention
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [805/987-94]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 2158-2220. MT intervened - indicating dissent - at c990.
Importance ranking: Trivial
Word count: 2544
Themes: -
[column 987]

MINISTERS OF THE CROWN

Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, West)

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Transfer of Functions (Wales) Order 1970 (S.I., 1970, No. 1536), dated 19th October 1970, a copy of which was laid before this House on 19th October, be annulled.

This Order raises major questions for us in Wales. It is of exceptional significance to our people. It proposes a complete dichotomy in our education service in Wales. It will make Wales the only part of the United Kingdom where the education service is not an entity—possibly the only country in the world where primary and secondary education are cut off, so far as Ministerial responsibility goes, from the rest of the education service.

The education of an individual is one process from nursery school through to adult education, and this Order offends against the fundamental unity of the education service. It gives every appearance of very scant consideration of the administrative and educational issues involved.

Let me give the House a brief illustration. Many of our secondary schools serve a dual purpose: they serve the purpose of further education and they serve the purpose of secondary full-time education. If this Order goes through, will education authorities in Wales have to negotiate with the right hon. Lady the Secretary of State for Education and Science on further education facilities and finance and with the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Wales on schooling? If so, an unnecessary duplication of work is involved—that is easy for anyone to see. The division between two Ministers of financial responsibility for the very same school building is an absolute nonsense.

We shall also have the absurdity, if this Order goes through, that youngsters taking their A level in secondary schools will fall to the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman: their brothers and sisters taking A level at the polytechnics will fall to the responsibility of the right hon. Lady. There is already a dichotomy [column 988]between the polytechnics and the universities that is causing considerable concern in the educational world. It produces a waste of resources and a waste of manpower. As the Minister will know, there is a demand for closing that gap. In this Order the Government appear to be creating a further dichotomy. At a time when we are expecting the raising of the school-leaving age to 16, to separate secondary school work from youth work seems to me to be an act of sheer madness.

Article 2(4) of the Order makes it clear that responsibility for the training and qualification—and the disqualification, which is very important—of teachers remains the responsibility of the right hon. Lady. Equally, responsibility for the appointment of Her Majesty's inspectors of schools in the primary and secondary sphere will remain with the right hon. Lady. The whole tone and character of the schools depends on the quality and the training of the teachers, but in this the right hon. Gentleman has no responsibility at all—it remains the responsibility of the right hon. Lady. The vision and wisdom of Her Majesty's inspectors of schools has considerable influence on the life of the schools in Wales, but under the Order the appointments are not the responsibility of the right hon. Gentleman but of the right hon. Lady.

What a hypocritical pretence of devolution this is. It is quite clear to me at least that the Department of Education and Science, like every other Government Department, resents giving up any of its power and, despite the boasting of the Secretary of State for Wales that because he is Chairman of the Conservative Party he somehow has greater influence in the Cabinet than he otherwise would have, the right hon. Lady has evidently run rings around him, because what she has given him in this Order is the scraps, not the main meal. She has not given Wales anything substantial in education. Real power the right hon. Lady has kept for herself, for responsibility for primary and secondary education means nothing without responsibility for teacher training and supply, and without responsibility for those who inspect the schools.

I must say that I am sorry for the Welsh Department of Education and [column 989]Science. They must be wondering what has hit them. How many civil servants in the Welsh Department of Education and Science will now be on the payroll of the Welsh Office? How many of them will be on the payroll of the right hon. Lady, and to whom will they be answerable? Will they now have to serve two masters instead of one? I understand the Government are putting great stress on the ability of the Permanent Secretary at the Welsh Office to show extra qualities that will enable him to solve the differences that will arise from time to time between the two Ministers. Is it the bureaucrat who is to solve the differences? Who is responsible, and to whom are those people responsible in the Welsh Office?

The Order gives the appearance of being one step forward and three steps backward for education in Wales. Why the haste? What compelling educational reason drives the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Order must come into operation on 5th November, during a school year, and that the Government cannot even wait until the end of the school year for this transfer to take place and for proper consultation? Why are the Government rushing like the Gadarene swine in the New Testament to this unfortunate conclusion?

Criticism has come from the National Union of Teachers, along with the National Association of Schoolmasters and the secondary school teachers. It has come from all except the Undeb Cenedlaethol Athrowan Cymru. The right hon. Gentleman will understand that, I believe. For the right hon. Lady I will translate. They usually do this for me, so I am returning the kindness. I referred to the National Union of Welsh Teachers. With the sole exception of that small body, all education opinion in Wales is critical of the way in which the matter has been handled. The Teacher, which is the organ of the National Union of Teachers, said on 30th October that the National Executive of the N.U.T. condemned the unnecessary haste with which the Government were seeking to implement changes which could affect the education of every child in Wales. That is true. If it means anything at all, it means that the education of every child in Wales is affected by the Order. If that is so, why have the Government said that they could not wait to [column 990]consult the people whose whole life is given to education in Wales, who have unrivalled experience and knowledge at the disposal of the Government?

Not only has the Order been pushed with indecent haste, but I must complain about the high-handed manner in which Ministers have conducted their affairs. The right hon. Lady is the quintessence of courtesy in my personal dealings with her. I never have any personal complaint about the right hon. Lady. But the teachers have. When she offended them over Circular 10/70 she appeared before them in private in sackcloth and ashes and said, “It will not happen again.” .

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

indicated dissent.

Mr. George Thomas

It is no good the right hon. Lady shaking her head. I read closely the report of her meeting with the teachers. She promised full consultation in future. Then the Government behaved in this way, with the teachers struggling to get a hearing. The Welsh Joint Education Committee, a senior administrative body in Wales, tried to get a hearing. Eventually, it was invited to the right hon. Lady's Department, to be fobbed off with seeing not a Minister but a civil servant. Because we do not criticise civil servants in the House, I will not follow that up here. But I can say that it was a very unhappy meeting.

The Secretary of State for Wales was invited to address the All-Wales Conference of N.U.T. representatives. He was also asked to receive a deputation on this matter. He refused both invitations on the ground that he had not completed his thinking on the matter. I regard that as an evidently genuine reason. My complaint is that this thinking should have gone on a little longer. The N.U.T. wrote to him again and asked for a meeting. Again it was refused. He seems singularly unwilling to take advice from those whose whole life is education and whose concern is for the children in their care.

When the Education Act, 1944, was being prepared, I was a member of the National Executive of the N.U.T. There were two years of close consultation before that Measure came to the House. This is a major upheaval in Wales. This [column 991]is not a slight thing which the Government are working on. The Secretary of State for Education and Science and the Secretary of State for Wales ought to study the ways of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, who, when he had an important Measure of this kind, affecting the life of so many people, made sure that he carried the educational world with him by adequate and proper consultation. The Ministers have adopted a dangerous attitude and I must remind them that no Government are so strong that they can afford to brush off the representations of people whose experience and knowledge entitle them to be heard. The Government need the goodwill of teachers and their conduct in this matter has not only been arrogant but irresponsible. My advice to them is to mend their fences with the teachers in Wales, all the teachers' organisations in Wales, including the N.U.T., the N.A.S. and the secondary organisations, and the Welsh Joint Committee.

When a deputation of hon. Members from this side of the House met Ministers—I apologised to them because I was unable to be there—I understand they were told that this was not the first time that a Transfer of Functions Order had gone through without consultation. Ministers must have been referring there to some time before the Welsh Office was created because I know that the Transfer of Functions Order that went through in my time received the fullest consultation with all the interests concerned, and I did not refuse a single organisation that wanted to come to me to discuss that Order.

My final criticism on this has constitutional overtones. Whatever other reason the Government advance tonight for the Order, the one claim they cannot make is that they have a mandate from the people of Wales to force this carve-up of our education service. It is true that they published these proposals in their General Election manifesto in Wales, and only in Wales. To that extent it was an issue. The Minister of State spoke on the subject—I read the report in the Western Mail—and I spoke on it myself. The Secretary of State did not say a word in the General Election campaign about it. We understand that he was occupied in Hounslow—[Hon. Members: “Hen[column 992]don.” ]—Hendon. I apologise to both constituencies. This was an issue with the Welsh electorate. No one else in the United Kingdom was asked to consider it. Only the Welsh electorate was asked to consider it but without the benefit of the advice of the right hon. Gentleman.

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Thomas)

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether during the election campaign he expressed his opposition to the transfer of primary and secondary school education to the Welsh Office?

Mr. George Thomas

The right hon. Gentleman must be patient. I am going to educate him in a few more of the facts of life. I shall come to that matter. I want to remind him now that the Welsh people, having seen the manifesto of the Conservative Party, gave an emphatic reply. The Tories were rejected completely in Wales, and this was a major issue before the Welsh electorate. We were dealing with a specifically Welsh matter with which no one else was concerned, or ought to be. The Conservatives won seven seats out of 36 in Wales. They lost 10 deposits in Wales compared with six in 1966. After they had submitted this proposal, the Welsh electorate gave the Tories a lower proportion of the votes in 1970 than they did in the General Election of 1966. The Labour Party won 27 seats out of 36. We did not lose a single deposit. The only opinion that ought to count in the House tonight on this matter is Welsh opinion, because this is a Welsh matter.

Wales prizes its education service more highly than almost anything else, and we object to seeing it dismembered and truncated. We want the Welsh Office. We have a vested interest in the matter. We created the Welsh Office; we strengthened it; we added to its responsibilities just 18 months ago. Taking over the Health Service was a major upheaval for the Welsh Office, and we were committed to the transfer of education to Wales in due time. We are not objecting to the transfer of education. We are objecting to the truncation of education, to the way in which Ministers are giving to Wales what they would not dare to try to give to Scotland. They do not tell the Scots that they may have primary and secondary education: they [column 993]have the education service; it is an entity. It is a crime against the younger generation to break up the education service as is proposed.

Anyone who has served in the Welsh Office has an affection for it. It is a political miracle that in so short a time it wields such a mighty influence in Wales, but this Order places the Welsh Office in a false position. It gives the appearance of a transfer of power, but that is utterly illusory and deceptive. This is gambling with the education of our boys and girls. It is not a transfer of real power. That is still with the right hon. Lady in Curzon Street. This is a pretence at devolution.

I know that the right hon. Gentleman can bulldoze through this Order. I know that he can call on his unseen friends who are around the various parts of the House and can summon them to support him. That is practising the philosophy that Whitehall knows best what is good for Wales. The right hon. Gentleman may do that, but he will be doing a grave disservice to democracy if he behaves in that way.

Mr. Peter Thomas

I see that the right hon. Gentleman is about to go on to something else. I wonder whether he is now in a position to answer the question which I put to him. Did he or did any of his colleagues at any time during the election express their opposition to the transfer of primary and secondary education to the Welsh Office?

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)

rose——

Mr. Speaker

We cannot have an intervention on an intervention.

Mr. George Thomas

If the right hon. Gentleman had had the pleasure and privilege of being in Cardiff, West, he would have heard me saying that I supported the transfer of a full education service, but not a truncated service. I speak in the knowledge that my constituents who heard the speech are able to support me in what I say to the right hon. Gentleman tonight and that my words will be reported.

The Secretary of State and the Minister of State seem unperturbed by the potential damage which the break-up of our education service will cause, and they are [column 994]indifferent to the resentment and criticism from informed Welsh educationists. We understand their aloofness. No Welsh constituency will ever again have a chance to reject either.

But we who have kept the confidence of the Welsh electorate—and I have the right to say this to the right hon. Gentleman as both Ministers have seats outside Wales—know that the philosophy which they are advancing was rejected by Wales. By all means let them strengthen the Welsh Office and give education control to the Welsh people, but do not let them gamble with our education service by separating primary and secondary education against the advice and against the will of all informed education opinion.