Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1971 Mar 4 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Education and Science]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons PQs
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [812/1871-92]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1430-1515.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 7618
Themes: Education, Primary education, Secondary education, Higher & further education, Health policy, Law & order, Social security & welfare, Voluntary sector & charity
[column 1871]

EDUCATION AND SCIENCE

Liskeard V.C. Junior School

1. Mr. Hicks

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received from the Parent-Teacher Association and other organisations and individuals with regard to the replacement of the Liskeard V.C. Junior School.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)

My right hon. Friend has received about 50 letters from parents and others asking for the early replacement of this school.

Mr. Hicks

Is the Minister aware that this school is one of about 170 primary schools in Cornwall which my right hon. Friend hopes to be able either to improve or to replace by 1978? Is he also aware [column 1872]that the initial allocation for 1972–73 of £230,000 represents a totally inadequate and most depressing start to the Cornish replacement programme, hence the concern of the parents in the Liskeard area?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am aware of the difficulties facing Cornwall in this respect, and I confirm the first figure given by my hon. Friend. I remind him that the £230,000 for primary school improvement projects authorised for 1972–73 is an increase from £85,000 in the previous year. I do not think that this is to be shrugged off as insignificant.

Automobile and Vehicular Research

(Cranfield Institute)

2. Mr. Dykes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proportion of the £145,000 received in research grants and official contracts by the Cranfield Institute of Technology, Bedford, in 1969–70 was expended by the Institute on automobile and vehicular research; and what proportion will be so expended of the £210,000 estimated total in 1970–71.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Expenditure is expected to increase from £20,000 in 1969–70 to about £23,000 in 1970–71, representing nearly 14 per cent. and about 11 per cent. respectively of the sums quoted in the Question.

Mr. Dykes

I am grateful for the Minister's reply, but the drop in the proportion of funds expended on vehicular and motor research is of concern not merely to the Institute but to the public. The Institute is conducting valuable research for example into vehicle roll. Will the Minister agree that this is vitally important work and urge his colleagues in the Government to give further encouragement to it proportionately in the future budget?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I entirely share my hon. Friend's concern about and interest in the special work at Cranfield and particularly in what is until April a separate entity, the Advanced School of Automobile Engineering. I hope that he will have noted the substantial funds additionally which are available in partnership with industry. I absolutely share his interest and concern in any research which contributes towards road safety.

[column 1873]

Primary Schools (Replacement or Improvement)

3 and 4 Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science (1) by what date it is hoped to replace, or improve, all 19th century schools in Essex;

(2) whether she will make a further statement about the improvement of primary schools.

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

My policy is to secure that those 19th century primary schools for which there is a continuing need are replaced or improved as fast as resources allow. The 1972–73 programme already announced for this purpose represents a very good start.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Buckhurst Hill in my constituency is extremely well served in its primary school teachers and exceedingly ill served in its primary school buildings, and that the people of Buckhurst Hill were promised a new primary school before the Second World War? Will she bear these facts in mind as a stimulus to her efforts, which we all applaud, to improve primary schooling in this country?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will, of course, bear in mind the facts put by my hon. Friend. In the meantime, I point out that we approved the improvement or replacement of all six nineteenth century primary schools proposed by Essex for the 1972–73 programme. If he wishes that school to be replaced, he should ask Essex to give it high priority in its programme.

Mr. Raphael Tuck

Will the right hon. Lady also look at the situation in Hertfordshire where the need is very great?

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, and Cornwall and one or two other counties as well.

School Leavers

5. Mr. Armstrong

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what percentage of school leavers went direct to employment as against full-time, further and higher education at the latest count; and if she will give separate percentages for independent schools, direct-grant schools and maintained schools.

[column 1874]

Mr. van Straubenzee

The latest available information is given in Table A of “Statistics of Education, 1969, Volume 2” .

Mr. Armstrong

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the figures show a criminal waste of talent, in the sense that many children may be leaving school far to early and not going on to higher and further education? Does it not make nonsense of repeated assertions by the Secretary of State about creating equality of opportunity when privileges are accorded to the favoured sectors of education, namely, the direct-grant and independent schools, and when the Government are giving them further resources at the expense of children who are condemned to spend the whole of their school careers in neighbourhood secondary modern schools?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I have studied the figures closely and have them with me. I know the hon. Gentleman's proper concern in this matter. I do not want to give any impression of complacency, but I am sure he will realise that the definition in the statistics omits anything other than full-time education. I am sure that he would want to join me in recognising the great part played by part-time further education. I have no complacency in my approach to this matter.

Secondary School Children

(Maintenance Grants)

6. Mr. Armstrong

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will take steps to ensure that maintenance grants are available for secondary school children to encourage staying on at school beyond the statutory leaving age; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

These grants are already available at the discretion of local education authorities.

Mr. Armstrong

Is not the right hon. Lady aware that report after report indicates that far too many children are writing themselves off at an early age, and that some of this is due to the fact that parents cannot afford to keep their children at school? In view of the raising of the school-leaving age, would it not be sensible for her to bring the awards [column 1875]more into line with modern expenses and to make it mandatory upon local authorities so that children in every part of the country can have a semblance of equality of opportunity?

Mrs. Thatcher

Naturally, we wish children who want to stay on at school after compulsory school-leaving age to be enabled to do so. This is the reason for the existence of these grants. We have recently sent round asking for more details of allowances from local education authorities so that we shall have the latest information available from which to fashion future policy.

Mr. Kaufman

Will the right hon. Lady provide for mandatory grants not only for secondary school children but also for primary school children, to compensate for the vicious increases in school meal charges which, according to the Conservative Chairman of the Manchester Education Committee, will prevent 4,005 Manchester children from having school meals?

Mrs. Thatcher

The Question refers to education maintenance grants after compulsory school-leaving age.

Student Grants

7. Mr. David Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on student grants.

Mrs. Thatcher

Student grants are at present under review to determine the rates payable from 1st September, 1971. I do not expect to be ready to make a statement before April.

Mr. Clark

Does the right hon. Lady realise that this problem is urgent and that many young people are suffering severely from inflation, which is increasing all the time? Will she issue a statement as soon as possible and stop prevaricating on this issue?

Mrs. Thatcher

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, three stages have to be gone through, as those who have written to hon. Members on this subject have pointed out. At the moment we are at stage two in deciding the total sum to be available, in consultation with local education authorities, and we are ready to listen to anybody who may make [column 1876]representations. There is then a third stage, after which I shall be able to make a statement.

Mr. Maude

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind when recasting the grant system that, apart from the need to bring student grants up to the purchasing power which they have now lost, the system of means-testing for parental contributions is very much out of date and that all the figures involved in it have now been rendered nonsensical by inflation?

Mrs. Thatcher

We also have that point very much in mind and will be taking it into account with the students and other bodies in stage three. The way in which the students have conducted their case has been a model for all other groups.

Mr. Molloy

Could not the right hon. Lady consider making an immediate award to try to restore some of the purchasing power of the grant, rather than let this matter await all the steps which she says have to be gone through, because students are finding the situation extremely difficult? Secondly, would she consider increasing the student lodging allowance since the situation in that respect is becoming very serious?

Mrs. Thatcher

A proper procedure is laid down, which the students and everybody else are following. I believe that we must take it through to a conclusion.

Sir J. Langford-Holt

In considering further education, will my right hon. Friend look at the discretionary grants system with a view to producing some degree of uniformity in the standards of study which would justify a grant and in the situation as between local authorities?

Mrs. Thatcher

That matter does not come within these negotiations, but we have received representations on this point and are looking at it.

Corsbie Hall School, Fife

8. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is aware that several local education authorities send mentally disturbed children to Corsbie Hall School in Fife, where the fees are £820 per child per annum; and what steps have been taken to ensure that accommodation and [column 1877]teaching standards at that school are adequate.

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, Sir. Three local education authorities in England—Manchester, Bolton and Oldham—have received my approval to place children in this school. As the school is in Scotland, advice was sought from the inspectorate of the Scottish Education Department.

Mr. Hamilton

Is the Secretary of State aware that, according to information provided to me by the principal some weeks ago, a larger number of education authorities in England than those which she has mentioned send children to Corsbie Hall School? Is she satisfied that the Scottish Education Department is dealing with this problem with the expedition it seems to require, because I have not heard from them for weeks on this urgent matter? Does she recognise that it is an undesirable principle that this problem involving this kind of child should be dealt with by private enterprise?

Mrs. Thatcher

On the first point, I have given the hon. Gentleman the accurate information which I have. If he has any other information to give me, naturally I will look at it. In regard to the second point, I am answerable for many things but not for the Scottish Education Department. However, I will bring the hon. Gentleman's remarks to that Department's attention. On the third point, we try to make provision for extra schools for special education, but the demand is very great indeed.

Mr. Hamilton

In view of the unsatisfactory nature of the reply, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment at the earliest opportunity.

Smoking by Schoolchildren

9. Mr. Deakins

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate she has made of the rate of smoking tobacco by school children on school premises, since the publication of the recent report by the Royal College of Physcians, in preparation for her forth-coming booklet on the subject.

Mrs. Thatcher

None, Sir.

Mr. Deakins

Would the Minister not agree that smoking tobacco is at least as [column 1878]dangerous to health as some rather more notorious drugs we have been discussing recently, and should not the right hon. Lady be thinking seriously of tackling the problem of tobacco addiction by school children as a way of improving the health of the nation?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am a non-smoker, and in my present capacity I cannot set myself up as an authority on what the hon. Gentleman said. As he knows, a pamphlet will be put out later by my Department and the Department of Health and Social Security in connection with the anti-smoking campaign.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would she not concede that the most satisfactory impetus which she can give to a national campaign such as that launched by the new Association, A.S.H., would be by giving powerful support to the Private Member's Bill which has sponsors from all parties in the House and which, notwithstanding all vicissitudes, reaches its Committee stage on 17th March? Would she not agree that if she put behind that Bill her considerable weight and Ministerial stature that Measure would make good progress?

Mrs. Thatcher

My observations lead me to believe that my weight is not as great as that of my hon. Friend.

Dyslexia

10. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action she is now taking to encourage local authorities to provide specialised help for dyslexic children.

Mrs. Thatcher

Since replying to the hon. Member's Questions on 17th February, I have received his letter dated 3rd March and am considering the views expressed.—[Vol. 811, c. 505–8.]

Mr. Ashley

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the answers given by her Under-Secretary in response to Questions which I have tabled about these word-blind children are deplorable because they are evasive and inaccurate? What is more, they have distressed both parents and experts of the World Federation of Neurology. Does she accept that the lack of provision for these children is a cause for concern and that there is now a need for urgent action?

[column 1879]

Mrs. Thatcher

We try to be straightforward and accurate in the answers which we give. The answers to those 15 Questions were approved by me, naturally on the very best information and advice that we have available. Since then, the hon. Gentleman has let me have another lengthy letter in which he refers to a further letter written by a very distinguished medical person. If the hon. Gentleman will let me see the whole of that letter, I will consider the whole problem.

Primary School Building, Derbyshire

11. Mr. Scott-Hopkins

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will allocate increased funds for the primary school building programme of Derbyshire for 1972–73.

Mr. van Straubenzee

My right hon. Friend has been able to add a third school to Derbyshire's primary improvement programme for 1972–73, which now totals over £200,000 compared with £140,000 in 1971–72.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

While thanking my hon. Friend for that information, bearing in mind that every little helps in this problem, he will appreciate that there was a very severe cut in the allocation for the 1971–72 programme and that, although this increase is welcome, it is to be hoped that he will do his utmost to increase the allocation for 1972–73, in view of the enormous amount of primary school rebuilding necessary in Derbyshire, where there are more than 180 schools which were built in Victorian times.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am aware of the general problem that my hon. Friend has set out and of the very powerful personal representations that he has been making. The 1973–74 programme from the authority is now being considered. Of course I can give no undertaking, but I know that my right hon. Friend will bear closely in mind the arguments to which the House has just listened.

Mr. Skinner

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that even this increased allocation, which I believe is about £50,000, merely brings up the sum for the replacement [column 1880]of primary schools to about £200,000, which is less than half of the last allocation made by the outgoing Labour Government?

Mr. van Straubenzee

The hon. Gentleman is, helpfully, simply repeating the figures which I gave for the 1972–73 allocation. However, he is wrong. As I said earlier, it compares with £140,000 in 1971–72.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the hon. Gentleman bear in mind that Derbyshire and other high-growth counties have considerable problems? Bedfordshire is another similar county, where the greater part of the building programme for many years has gone in providing basic needs—roofs over heads. There are new areas with very good schools, but there are old areas with old, outworn, decrepit schools. Will the hon. Gentleman see whether he can give further allocations to counties such as Derbyshire?

Mr. van Straubenzee

There can be no further allocation in the programme for 1972–73. It would not be right to mislead the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else on that point. It is precisely the kind of argument which the right hon. Gentleman has adduced which leads to a very careful consideration of the proposals for 1973–74.

University Students

12. Mr. Scott-Hopkins

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many university students in receipt of grant are not finishing their courses to degree standards; and how many other than medical students in receipt of grant are over the age of 24 years.

Mr. van Straubenzee

In the calendar year 1969, approximately 6,500 students studying for first degrees in the United Kingdom had not successfully completed their studies at university when their awards were terminated. The results of about another 1,000 award-holders were not known. Information on the second part of the Question is not available.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will my hon. Friend agree that, although this is a small proportion, it is still much too high a figure and one which needs close investigation? [column 1881]

On the second part of my Question, which my hon. Friend has not been able to answer, will he agree that it is wrong for this new trend towards a category of permanent student to be encouraged by grants? Will he institute with his right hon. Friend a close inquiry into the way in which student grants are being abused by people who appear to regard being at a university as some sort of career?

Mr. van Straubenzee

If my hon. Friend has specific examples, I shall be glad to have them. However, it is not my experience that it is as easy as my hon. Friend suggests to remain what he calls a permanent student on a grant. We must keep this in perspective.

On the first part of his Question, it is 13.5 per cent. of the total. It is one of the lowest in the world and is the envy of many other countries. Again, I do not want to breath complacency into my answer, but it is only fair to the large number of people working very hard in our universities to put the matter in perspective.

Mr. Merlyn Rees

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the drop-out rate in many of our polytechnics is as high as 30 per cent., according to some figures published this week? In view of the fact that they appeared in reputable newspapers, they should be denied if they are not accurate. Clearly there is a higher drop-out rate in our polytechnics. Will the hon. Gentleman look at this aspect of the problem and try to discover the reason?

Mr. van Straubenzee

We are dealing with figures, and I must be precise, The Question referred to universities. Without adopting the figure, which I also saw, I know that the hon. Gentleman will realise that a higher fall-out rate in an institution dealing with both degree and sub-degree work is to be expected—[Hon. Members: “Why?” ] This would be a natural expectation. But I will look at the figures, because we want no wastage of investment in people who, quite rightly, cost a great deal of money.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

On a point of order. In view of the seriousness of the situation, I beg to give notice that I shall seek an early opportunity to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

[column 1882]

Secondary School Reorganisation, Birmingham

13. Mr. Carter

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she has had any consultations with the Birmingham Education Authority on the subject of secondary school reorganisation.

Mr. van Straubenzee

No, Sir.

Mr. Carter

While thanking the hon. Gentleman for that reply, may I ask whether he is aware that the Birmingham education authority has recently been forced to withdraw what was probably the most regressive reorganisation scheme for secondary education issued anywhere in the country? It received a complete lack of support from students, teachers, educationists and many other people involved in education. Will the hon. Gentleman and the Secretary of State take steps to ensure that in the City of Birmingham there is full consultation with everyone concerned before another system of reorganisation is produced?

Mr. van Straubenzee

The Birmingham local education authority is well able to answer for itself. I am not directly, in that sense, responsible for it. I believe that one of the principal considerations in the mind of the authority has been the publication of proposals for local government reorganisation since it first tabled its proposals, and this is one of the primary reasons for its reconsideration. But I repeat that this is a matter for the authority.

Mathematics Teaching Books

14. Mr. John Page

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will advise local education authorities that they should ensure that supplies of mathematics teaching books in schools are available with traditional measurements as well as the metric system so that future generations will be able to evaluate non-metric speed limit signs.

Mrs. Thatcher

In 1969 the Department suggested to local education authorities that although pupils should become increasingly familiar with metric units they should retain an adequate knowledge of imperial measures for everyday needs. That advice still stands.

[column 1883]

Mr. Page

Is my right hon. Friend aware that in many primary schools metric mathematics is the only form of mathematics now being taught? Is she further aware that parents, especially those in Harrow, feel that, until further discussions have taken place, it is wrong for their children not to be taught in the traditional way as well?

Mrs. Thatcher

I was not aware of that fact. If my hon. Friend will let me have details, I will of course draw them to the attention of the local education authority, because this is directly contrary to the advice of the Department.

Mr. Ashton

Is the right hon. Lady aware that all modern cars have speedometers calibrated in miles and kilometres per hour and, therefore, that anyone should be able to convert without knowing the system or having to look at speed limit road signs?

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope that hon. Members in all parts of the House have listened to the hon. Gentleman's observations about the ease of conversion. I doubt whether every Member could do it. There will be a need to learn metric and Imperial units for some time to come.

Further Education (Charges to Students)

15. Mr. James Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals she has for increasing charges to students in further education establishments; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. van Straubenzee

A circular on tuition fees in further education establishments is shortly to be issued from the Department.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the hon. Gentleman now assure the House that there will be no increase in these fees, bearing in mind that in the main the students who take advantage of further education are a deprived section of the community? On that basis, will the hon. Gentleman also take into consideration that they are performing a very useful function in education? Will the Government now give us a straightforward answer and assure us that there is no possible chance of [column 1884]their interfering with this very useful provision?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I will give an absolutely straightforward answer: yes, there will be some increase according to the discretion of the local education authority concerned. That was clear from the moment of publication of the White Paper by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will keep the matter in perspective. Net expenditure—I am now talking about after fees have been paid—in 1972–73 will be running at £266 million. That is the background against which to set a request for savings amounting to £5 million.

Museums and Galleries

(Entrance Charges)

16. Mr. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when the entrance tax to the national museums and galleries will be imposed; and when she intends to introduce legislation to enable the trustees of the British Museum and Natural History Museum to make a charge.

Mr. van Straubenzee

The Government are not imposing a tax. They are asking the public who use them to pay a share of the cost of the services provided by the institutions. My noble Friend the Paymaster-General is not yet ready to make an announcement about the timing of any necessary legislation and of the introduction of charges.

Mr. Strauss

Does the hon. Gentleman recollect that in his speech on Second Reading of the Consolidated Fund Bill he said that enabling legislation to enable trustees of museums and galleries to impose these entrance charges

“does not mean compulsory powers to force them to make charges.” —[Official Report, 15th February, 1971; Vol. 811, c. 1434.]

Does that mean that the Government will bring no pressure, financial or otherwise, on trustees to force them to impose these charges if they do not want to do so?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for reminding me of those very wise words. They exactly state the position. The legislation will not force; it will enable.

[column 1885]

Miss Lestor

When I asked the hon. Gentleman about this matter on a previous occasion he said that there would be a statement on it. Will he now tell me what is the estimated administrative cost of imposing these charges and what the net yield will be?

Mr. van Straubenzee

Those matters will form part of the announcement which will be made by my noble Friend.

Mr. Dykes

Does my hon. Friend agree that, now that some of the more hysterical arguments put forward by the no-charges lobby have abated and have been succeeded by a period of more reflective calm, there is a great deal of public support for the idea of imposing moderate charges for museums and galleries to enable resources to be devoted to worth-while objects, if the arrangements can be worked out?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I think that the central argument has very largely got across. I am obliged to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that.

Arts Council

17. Mr. Strauss

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will make it a condition of the Government grant to the Arts Council that plays put on by the subsidised theatres should take account of the moral susceptibilities of the public.

Mr. van Straubenzee

As my noble Friend explained in another place, he is consulting the Arts Council on how the moral and religious feelings of the public can best be taken into account.

Mr. Strauss

Does not the Paymaster-General's proposal mean selective application of censorship in the least appropriate area—the theatrical enterprises of high artistic standard and with experimental purpose? I remind the hon. Gentleman that the criteria laid down by the Paymaster-General—possible affront to some members of the public—were the exact criteria which impelled Lord Chamberlains in the past to ban plays which afterwards proved to be of high dramatic quality.

Finally, may I ask whether the Paymaster-General is seeking by his action to impose indirect Government censorship on some theatrical enterprises, [column 1886]thereby circumventing the unanimous decision of both Houses of Parliament to abolish all theatrical censorship?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should take that position. I should have thought that it was a broadly acceptable proposition that it is not reasonable for public money to be used to support those enterprises which are gravely offensive to the moral and religious susceptibilities of a large number of people. All the indications are that that has been widely welcomed.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

May I ask my hon. Friend to bear in mind that while most people in this country will undoubtedly support his attitude towards what the right hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Strauss) described as “censorship by the Paymaster-General” , they will take a very different attitude towards censorship by foreign Governments of exhibitions in this country financed by the Arts Council? Will my hon. Friend in future ensure that there is no subsidisation by the Arts Council of exhibitions which are subject to censorship by the Russian or other Governments?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I must make it clear that there was nothing in the general approach of my noble Friend which changed the relationship of the Arts Council to the Minister of the day. I must make it clear that decisions of the kind to which my hon. Friend refers, however strongly he feels about them, are essentially those of the Arts Council. There is no disposition whatever on the part of my noble Friend to set himself up in the position of personal censor.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that I believe that the Arts Council will refuse to implement the Paymaster-General's proposed censorship and that, as a member of that body, I shall encourage it to do so?

Mr. van Straubenzee

The hon. Gentleman ought to know that I, too, am very well informed about precisely where the discussions have got to. I do not take the hon. Gentleman's gloomy view. But if the hon. Gentleman takes that view, he is saying that in the expenditure of public money in this respect there are no barriers at all and that absolutely anything goes.

[column 1887]

18. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will make a statement on the principles governing the nature of theatrical and other artistic productions that will be financed by Arts Council grants.

Mr. van Straubenzee

My noble Friend considers that the nature of artistic productions is a matter of good taste rather than of principles.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Since my hon. Friend has made it clear that no regulation is to be carried out by the Minister but is to be carried out by the Arts Council, may I ask whether it is not essential now to know exactly what principles the Arts Council will apply and to have a clear statement of policy from the Minister about the views of the Arts Council, in view of the statement which has been made by the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins)?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I should think that this is not quite appropriate when there is the special relationship with which we are all familiar. My hon. Friend took a very distinguished part in the debate in question in which I recall that I used the analogy of the University Grants Committee. When we have a body of this kind, it is surely much more in accord with our general way of doing things that the Minister makes a general approach and sees what the response is. I should much prefer to leave it as a matter of good taste.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

May I ask the Minister to make a simple statement to the effect that the Government are against censorship of the arts——

Mr. Orme

Of all censorship.

Mr. Davidson

Censorship of freedom—and accept the proposition at least that it is the plays which challenge conventional ideas, which occasionally shock and sometimes outrage, which need subsidising, and that plays which are conventional—drawing-room comedies and “Who's for tennis” —are always put on by the commercial theatre anyway?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I gladly make the straightforward and simple statement that the Government are not in favour of censorship of the arts. But I must plainly differ from the hon. Gentleman, because I [column 1888]think that a very wide range of people have been gravely offended by the use of public money in some limited number of ways. I believe it to be part of the duty of Government to set standards in this kind of matter.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

For the better understanding of this rather difficult and delicate matter, may I ask my hon. Friend to consider asking the Arts Council whether, in its Annual Reports, which I read with great interest, it will include the titles of the productions and not merely the institutions in receipt of Arts Council money?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I will gladly see that my hon. Friend's suggestion is forwarded to the Arts Council.

Miss Lestor

The hon. Gentleman has referred to the fact that the Government were guided by what was offensive to the majority of people. May I ask whether, if the hon. Gentleman equates that with not being in good taste, he intends to recommend that we now have a Minister of Taste?

Mr. van Straubenzee

Until now this matter has been dealt with in a pretty high and serious way. It is a perfectly reasonable attitude for the Government, by an approach to the responsible statutory body, to seek to ensure that public money is not used in a way which the Government are entitled to judge is gravely offensive to the religious and moral susceptibilities of a large number of people.

19. Mr. St. John-Stevas

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will introduce legislation to abolish the Arts Council and make grants on her own authority.

Mr. van Straubenzee

No, Sir.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is my hon. Friend aware that the form of my Question is the only way that I can find to press him to get the Council to increase the grant of the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is completing a notable decade of achievement and which cannot, because it is playing to capacity audiences, increase its revenue?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am used to my hon. Friend's ingenuity in getting his point across. I must make it clear that this [column 1889]is essentially a matter of priority decision by the Arts Council and not by my noble Friend, as I suspect he knows. But he would be well advised to make these views well understood in the Arts Council area. He moves with far greater authority than I do in artistic circles.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the hon. Gentleman consult his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary with a view to protecting hon. Members from receiving line-by-line and blow-by-blow accounts of various plays which have been put on, sometimes under the auspices of the Arts Council, which many of us find very uncomfortable and—a noble Lady has been to one of them four times—rather disreputable?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am not entirely certain that I have grasped the full significance of the hon. Gentleman's question, but if he has some specific matter in mind which falls within the responsibility of the Department, I will gladly look at it.

Dame Irene Ward

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind and convey to the Arts Council the fact that I am much more in favour of the Royal Shakespeare Company having public money than I am of some of the performances which are put on at the Royal Court Theatre, which are certainly bad for children? I hope that that will be widely expressed in no uncertain terms to the Arts Council, because I am not at all satisfied about what it does.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am sure that my hon. Friend's words will reach the Arts Council.

Mr. Hugh Jenkins

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that complaints received by the Arts Council in respect of productions financed directly or indirectly by it have amounted to about six in the course of the year? Is he further aware that no one has named these unnamed plays, which exist apparently in people's own fevered imaginations? Is he further aware that the production to which my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) referred was not, in fact, supported by the Arts Council?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I gladly make it clear that we are dealing here only with a fringe matter. The hon. Member, who took part in the debate in question, will recall that I was at great pains to make [column 1890]that absolutely clear. I have total faith in the ability of the Arts Council and of my noble Friend to reach a very happy understanding in this matter.

Non-Medical Use of Drugs

20. Mr. Deedes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions she has had with women's voluntary services about guidance to parents of elementary schoolchildren on the non-medical use of drugs.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have had no direct discussions although I appreciate the initiative of the Women's Voluntary Service in making trained speakers available to talk to parents of young children.

Mr. Deedes

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the initiative taken in this highly controversial field by Lady Reading represents by far the most promising approach made so far? Will she by every means encourage it from her Department and try to get other people to act in the same way?

Mrs. Thatcher

I would certainly join my right hon. Friend in praising Lady Reading's initiative. I have not myself been able to attend one of the talks, but officers from the Department have been and have said that they thought that the talks made a very useful contribution to the spread of unsensational and accurate information on the subject of drug taking.

Youth Service

21. Mr. Judd

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will now publish a White Paper on the future of the Youth Service; and whether she will make a statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope to make a statement within the next few weeks.

Mr. Judd

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, but will she not understand that, among many of those carrying the main responsibility for the service, there is great anxiety to see a clear presentation of the Government's future strategy on this vital front?

Mrs. Thatcher

I share the hon. Member's anxiety, and I hope that we are within sight of having a statement.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would my right hon. Friend look very sympathetically at [column 1891]the Young Volunteer Force, the task force working in London and the provinces, to see what she can do to encourage local authorities to help them?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have just appointed a new chairman of the Young Volunteer Force. I am sure that it will have an important part to play in the coming year.

Higher Education (Rephasing)

22. Mr. Judd

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will call a round table conference of academic, student, professional business and other representatives to discuss the rephasing of higher education.

Mrs. Thatcher

Consultation would clearly be necessary before any major changes were made in the pattern of higher education, but I have no present plans for a conference of the kind described by the hon. Member.

Mr. Judd

Again I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. Will she not agree that the major social problem in Britain at the moment is that many of those who go on to higher education and thence to positions of responsibility in society find increasing difficulty in communicating with the majority of the population upon whom they are dependent, and that if they were, for example, to have the opportunity of exposure to work before going on to higher education, by means of a job of some kind, much better use might be made of higher education and they might become much more useful leaders of society later?

Mrs. Thatcher

A number of people who have a gap between school and university benefit even more from higher education than had that not been so. It would not be possible to legislate for this although I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is advisable to have as many opportunities for experience between school and university as possible.

Mr. Edward Short

When will the right hon. Lady be able to make a statement about the future development of higher education?

Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot give a specific date. The right hon. Gentleman will know, perhaps better than anyone else, what the timetable is with regard to the University Grants Committee. We are, [column 1892]of course, considering the problem of co-ordinating planning in relation to the polytechnics. He will also know that that is not an easy problem.