Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

HC PQ [Education and Science]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [820/1492-1512]
Editorial comments: 1430-1515.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 7756
Themes: Education, Primary education, Secondary education, Higher & further education, Public spending & borrowing, European Union (general), Health policy, Science & technology, Social security & welfare, Trade unions
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University Development

1. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she will make a further announcement of Government policy towards university development in the 1970s.

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

I hope to announce the provisional recurrent grant for the academic year 1972–73 by the end of this year, and the recurrent grants for the whole of the 1972–77 quinquennium during the autumn of next year.

Mr. Lane

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for making that clear, but could she bear in mind, too, that it will be of great help to the universities, particularly over their capital development plans, if they can be given the earliest possible long-term indication not only of the pattern of expansion during the rest of the decade but of the Government's probable time scale as to decision-making and implementation over the next few years?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will certainly bear that in mind. My room for manoeuvre is limited because I cannot take decisions before I receive the advice of the U.G.C., and the U.G.C. is still collecting information on which to tender its advice.

Mr. Mark Hughes

Would the right hon. Lady inform us whether in these calculations medical education at university level in general and at all such schools as the medical school in Durham University will be included?

Mrs. Thatcher

Medical schools at universities come within the U.G.C. grants.

Mr. Alan Williams

Could the right hon. Lady take this opportunity to make it clear that the present alarming reports of graduate unemployment are not, as some of the educational flat-earthers would have us believe, evidence that too many graduates are being produced, [column 1493]because we produce fewer than our competitors, but that it is just one more cruel symptom of the Chancellor's economic ineptitude? Secondly, will she take this chance, in view of the insidious article in May's “Economic Trends” , to make it clear whether that article, written by two of her officials, is the start of a great Conservative retreat from the Robbins criteria?

Mrs. Thatcher

The decisions will be taken in accordance with my original reply.

School Meals

2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is now in a position to state the reduction in the numbers of school dinners being taken consequent on the recent introduction of increased prices.

3. Mr. Carter

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she now has available the numbers of children eating school meals since the increased charges.

7. Mr. Skinner

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she has now any information on the number of schoolchildren taking school meals in the county of Derbyshire, both immediately before and after the cost of the school meal was last increased.

20. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the percentage decline in the number of school meals consumed in the West Riding of Yorkshire and the Rother Valley Division Executive Area since the increase in the price of school meals.

21. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the number and proportion of schoolchildren in the Inner and Outer London areas, respectively, who have ceased to take school meals following the price increase therefor.

30. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her estimate of the reduction in the number of children taking school meals following recent price increases.

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32. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science, what are the latest figures for the take-up of school meals on a national, regional and local basis; and how these compare with corresponding figures for March this year.

54. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what was the total of school meals taken in all schools of the Derby Borough Education Authority in the week beginning Monday, 14th June, 1971, as compared to the week beginning 11th January, 1971.

56. Mr. Concannon

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the percentage drop in bought school meals for Nottinghamshire over the past year.

Mrs. Thatcher

I would refer hon. Members to my reply of 5th July to the Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude). This gave full details of the take-up of school dinners in September, 1970, and May, 1971, by reference both to the overall position in England and Wales and to the areas of the individual local education authorities. The Department has not collected information for other dates in 1970 or 1971, for parts of the areas of local education authorities, or for individual schools.—[Vol. 820. c. 299–310.]

Mr. Hamilton

Is the right hon. Lady aware that I consider that Question and Answer to have been inspired—those given last Monday, I think it was? Does she recognise that the White Paper on New Policies in Public Spending which was issued by the Government said that there would be a net saving on school dinners of £20 million this year and £38 million in 1974–75, and that that £38 million is the exact amount of the tax concession given to people with incomes of more than £4,005? Can she say how many primary schools she intends to build with the savings she is going to make because of this disgusting exercise? Or is she engaged in another intellectually dishonest exercise such as she admitted in Eastbourne last week?

Mrs. Thatcher

As to the first point, the school meals subsidy will in fact increase. As to the second point, most people were delighted with the new primary school building programme of £132 million over three years.

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Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that the catastrophic fall which has occurred in Derbyshire, with the resultant sacking of scores of people engaged in the preparation and supervision of school meals, exemplifies accurately the class bias of her Department? To ensure that she is not left with support only from within the narrow confines of her own party, will she affirm to the House that there will be no further increase in the price of school meals during the life of this Parliament?

Mrs. Thatcher

If the hon. Gentleman reads the White Paper, he will see that the latter part of his supplementary question is not correct.

Mr. Lane

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that on each of the two occasions when the last Labour Government increased the price of school meals the numbers taking school meals first tell away and then rose again, and is not this likely to repeat itself on this occasion?

Mrs. Thatcher

We expect the numbers taking school meals to rise again in the autumn, in common with the usual pattern after there has been an increase in price. There will also be a further increase in the numbers eligible for free school meals when the supplementary benefit scale rises again.

Mr. Barry Jones

Is the right hon. Lady not aware that because of the increase in the price of school meals many thousands of school children eat sandwich lunches in draughty corridors and damp cloakrooms? What will she do about this?

Mrs. Thatcher

We recently put out a circular to local education authorities about arrangements for those who took sandwiches to school, setting out the Department's views on the arrangements that should be made. As the hon. Gentleman knows, increases in the price of school meals have been made before and there was nothing unusual about their being made under his Government.

Sir G. Nabarro

Is it not the fact that the price of school meals after adjustment in relation to the average earnings of parents is now more favourable to parents than it was before the price was raised, [column 1496]and is it not desirable as a general principle that, as earnings rise, the price of school meals should rise?

Mrs. Thatcher

From my information, and taking a very modest estimate of this year's average earnings, the price of school meals in relation to average earnings this year is approximately the same as it was 16 years ago.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the right hon. Lady confirm or deny the revelation this week in her reply to Mr. Tudor David when he questioned her about the hypothecation of revenue and when she is alleged to have said, with a shimmering smile, that this is merely an intellectual exercise indulged in when one has nothing else to say.

Mrs. Thatcher

Indeed, my comment was about my questioner's comments.

26. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will increase the income limit for entitlement to free school meals, particularly in respect of larger families.

Mrs. Thatcher

I increased the net income limit in April, and I shall be doing so again in September. These increases have the effect of bringing more families of all sizes into initial entitlement for some or all of their children, and in the case of larger families with existing entitlement for some of their children, of extending that entitlement to cover others.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there has been some disappointment over the refusal of applications, in some degree, perhaps, stimulated by her Department's own very attractive advertisements? Will she, when both wages and prices are rising, take a generous view of these limits?

Mrs. Thatcher

The limits will be increased again when the supplementary limits go up in September, and we expect quite a lot more children to become eligible for free school meals when that occurs.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Would the right hon. Lady agree to disregard the cost of travel for school children in determining the income limits now that the transport charges are so terribly high?

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Mrs. Thatcher

The local education authority has discretion about paying fares for travelling to school within the statutory limits.

Mr. Heffer

Would the right hon. Lady consider the situation in Liverpool, where a report from the school meals organiser shows that one million fewer school meals this year will be issued to school children because of the higher price and also because of the growing unemployment in Liverpool, which has seriously affected the situation?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will, of course, look at any situation. My impression was that in Liverpool there was an especially good school meals service.

29. Mr. Simon Mahon

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what communication she has received from the Association of Municipal Corporations' Education Committee relating to the provision of free milk in schools for all children up to 12 years of age; and what reply she has sent.

Mr. van Straubenzee

The Association wrote to the Department early in June suggesting that authorities should be given discretionary powers in the Education (Milk) Bill to continue to provide free milk for primary school pupils up to 12. This matter has been thoroughly debated in Committee.

Mr. Mahon

That is a most unsatisfactory reply. Is the right hon. Lady aware that most of us are asking how the Government can possibly justify this arrogant policy in the face of universal condemnation from the A.M.C. and other social works organisations? Is it not a sign of greatness in a nation to cherish its children? Is this not a miserable policy, and are the Government not ashamed of themselves?

Mr. van Straubenzee

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is not aware that the Standing Committee which has been going into this in great detail has now reported. He will find it helpful to read the arguments both ways. I would only say, in all modesty, that I do not remember serving on a Committee on which the Government's arguments have so thoroughly prevailed.

Sir G. Nabarro

Will my hon. Friend apply himself to the question of milk [column 1498]supply? Is there any evidence available that a diminution of milk demand has actually occurred in the schools as a result of these measures? Is it not a fact that demand for milk is now the same as, if not larger than, it was before the changes?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I think that the changes so far have been quite minimal. In any case, as my hon. Friend knows so well, one of the provisions of the Bill allows milk to be provided at secondary school level on payment, a right which was not previously available and which might well result in increased take-up.

34. Mr. Frank Allaun

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she is aware that, although school meals are supplied at the reduced rate of 25p in special schools, mainly because the children cannot get home for dinner, there are three units in Salford for handicapped children in a similar difficulty, but who have to pay the full amount of 60p per week and that this anomaly also exists in other towns; and if she will take steps to reduce charges for these children.

Mrs. Thatcher

Local education authorities have discretion under the regulations to decide the level of the charge made for the school dinner for pupils in special schools. Special units, unlike special schools, receive no formal individual approval or recognition by the Department and the discretion does not, therefore, extend to them. Ordinary arrangements for remission of charges apply and authorities also have powers to provide benefits such as breakfast and mid-morning refreshments free or at a nominal charge for any pupil who has a long journey to school.

Mr. Allaun

Does the Minister admit that this is an anomaly which is quite meaningless to the parents of handicapped children? Why did she take four months to reply to my letter? Why did she fail to give me the answer then that she has given now? She did not then indicate that there was a local responsibility. Indeed, she accepted the State's responsibility in this matter.

Mrs. Thatcher

It is an anomaly. If the hon. Gentleman had to wait that length of time for an answer, I can only [column 1499]apologise to him. It seems that he now has the right answer.

35. Mr. Whitehead

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many letters she has received on the subject of increases in school meal charges and the proposed cessation of free school milk to primary schoolchildren of the age of seven years.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have to date received about 400 letters, including 13 petitions, concerning the changes in the school meals and milk arrangements.

Mr. Whitehead

Is the right hon. Lady aware that that is absolutely nothing compared with what she will get as the autumn and winter progress and when the full nutritional harm of these measures comes to be felt as a result of one million fewer children taking school meals? If she finds the present trend continuing by, say, the end of the winter term, will she revise the prices downwards?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no medical evidence of nutritional harm; nor, I believe, has anyone else.

Mr. Longden

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this blanket pauperisation of all parents is most extraordinary—this assumption on the part of hon. Gentleman opposite that there are no parents in England who can afford to give meals and milk to their children?

Mrs. Thatcher

I can only repeat what I said, that I have no medical evidence of nutritional harm, and none has been sent to me.

Mr. Spearing

Among the letters which the right hon. Lady has received, is there one from the Association of Education Committees asking her to review the Measure so as to give L.E.A.s optional power to provide free milk in primary schools for the seven to 11 age group? If so, will she say what reply she has sent?

Mrs. Thatcher

There is another Question on that precise point.

Sex Guidance and Education

5. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will call for reports from all local education authorities about the method, content and availability of sex guidance [column 1500]and education being given in their schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. Her Majesty's Inspectorate look at the provision of sex education in schools as part of their regular work and through their review of health education.

Mrs. Short

Does the right hon. Lady recall the sad case of the Bradford child whose difficulties were resolved thanks to the generosity of the Calthorpe clinic in Birmingham? Does she recall that one of the most distressing features of that case was that the child had received no information either from her parents or from school? Will she look again at the implications of this and satisfy herself that all local education authorities are carrying out their duties towards their teenage boys and girls?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not recollect that case. I do not have it in front of me, and it is not referred to in the Question. Curriculum matters are for local education authorities and, as the answer to the Question specifies, Her Majesty's Inspectorate keep these matters under review as part of their ordinary work.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Ignoring the crude and irrelevant propaganda of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mrs. Renée Short), may I return to the Question and ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that programmes of sex education, which I think are a good thing, are planned in co-operation with parents?

Sir G. Nabarro

Speak for yourself!

Mrs. Thatcher

It is both the wish of the Department and the practice of local education authorities that the co-operation of parents is secured before the programmes are shown to children.

Ardwick (Official Visit)

9. Mr. Kaufman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will pay an official visit to the Ardwick division of Manchester.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no plans to do so at present.

Mr. Kaufman

Why does not the right hon. Lady have the courage to come to my constituency, where more than 1,000 children have stopped taking school meals [column 1501]since she put up the price, and explain to the parents of Ardwick why she has literally taken the food out of the mouths of their children.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have been to Manchester on many occasions, fortunately not in the company of the hon. Gentleman. As I explained in my answer to a previous Question, the price of the school meal now bears approximately the same relationship to average earnings as it did 16 years ago.

Western Primary School, Winchester

10. Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are her plans for the rebuilding of the Western Primary School, Winchester.

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

My right hon. Friend is considering the Hampshire Local Education Authority's proposal to replace this school in the programme of work to start in 1973–74. She hopes to announce details of the programme shortly.

Rear-Admiral Morgan-Giles

Does the Minister agree that Winchester has a not inconsiderable name in educational circles and that the conditions in this primary school call for urgent action?

Mr. van Straubenzee

Yes, Sir, I gladly accept that. The very fact that the project is under close consideration for 1973–74 gives the answer to my hon. and gallant Friend.

Secondary Education (Reorganisation)

11. Mr. Dormand

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many local education authorities in England and Wales have not submitted schemes for the reorganisation of secondary education.

Mrs. Thatcher

Eight authorities have never submitted a scheme of reorganisation and nine whose plans were rejected before June, 1970, have not submitted revised plans.

Mr. Dormand

As there are 163 local education authorities, do not those figures demonstrate beyond all doubt that the vast majority of people concerned with education agree that comprehensive edu[column 1502]cation is the most effective form of secondary education? Will the Secretary of State tell the House that the withdrawal of the Labour circular on comprehensive education a year ago, with such a fanfare of trumpets, has resulted in only two withdrawals in 12 months, and does not this demonstrate beyond all doubt that the Government's policy is an absolute sham and completely doctrinaire?

Mrs. Thatcher

As I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, the important factor is not the plan but the point at which the local education authority submits proposals for a change in the character of a school, when whoever is Secretary of State has to consider those proposals.

Mr. John Wells

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many parents are dissatisfied that reorganisation does not provide for single-sex education at secondary level?

Mrs. Thatcher

That is one of the factors I take into account when considering the proposals under Section 13. I am very much aware how strongly some parents feel on that point.

Mr. Edward Short

Will the right hon. Lady say what use it is for a local authority to submit a scheme under her Government when she messes them about in the disgraceful way she has followed with the Borough of Barnet in her own constituency, or by her almost certainly unlawful action under Section 68 in the case of the Rydens School in Surrey? What is the use of submitting a scheme now? Why does not the local authority simply submit a Section 13 notice straight away?

Mrs. Thatcher

I think the right hon. Gentleman must be mistaken. Barnet has submitted Section 13 notices. Decisions have been given on the Barnet Section 13 proposals, although I believe there is one outstanding. A number have been approved and a few have been disapproved, in the exercise of my statutory duty.

School Children (Clothing)

12. Mr. H. Boardman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, in view of disputes concerning suitability of apparel for school wear [column 1503]being subject to the opinions of individual school heads, she will request local education authorities to lay down guide lines to apply to all local authority schools within their jurisdiction.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. I believe this is best left to the discretion of local education authorities.

Mr. Boardman

Is the Minister aware that disputes of this nature are becoming more frequent, and that they cause embarrassment and annoyance to the head teachers concerned and very often humiliation to the parents? If the local education authorities have these powers why does not she insist that they use them?

Mrs. Thatcher

Local education authorities are as well able as the Government, if not more able, to judge the suitability of school uniforms or school wear.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Is this not a matter on which sensible heads will consult the pupils, and are there not instances in which that has been done with the most admirable results?

Mrs. Thatcher

In the vast majority of cases any difficulties are dealt with sensibly by headmasters and by school managers and governors.

Out-of-School Activities (Insurance)

17. Mr. David Clark

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what advice she gives to local education authorities concerning insurance cover for schoolchildren on official out-of-school activities.

Mrs. Thatcher

No general advice has been given. Authorities were advised in 1967 to consider the need for insurance cover in respect of the special risks incurred by pupils visiting industry. The Department's Education Pamphlet No. 53 draws attention to the insurance question in connection with activities afloat and in the air.

Mr. Clark

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. In the light of the continuing and welcome trend for school-children to participate in out-of-school activities, would she now consider once again circularising local authorities to try to ensure that adequate insurance cover is provided by all authorities?

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Mrs. Thatcher

I have already pointed out that this matter is dealt with in Education Pamphlet No. 53. We will see whether there is need to up-date the advice.

Polytechnics (Expenditure on Books)

18. Mr. Deakins

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much is spent on books annually for each student in polytechnics; and what is the comparable figure for universities.

Mr. van Straubenzee

In 1968–69 current expenditure by the universities averaged £10.65 per student on the purchase of books. I have no comparable figure for polytechnics or other Further Education colleges.

Mr. Deakins

Is it not disturbing that the Secretary of State has no figures for spending on books in one of the two main branches of higher education in this country? If such figures were available, would they not clearly show that the amount spent on books in polytechnics is very much less than the amount spent on books in universities? Would the right hon. Lady not agree that this is no way of providing the further number of students which is needed in higher education, and that we should provide appropriate facilities regardless of whether students are at polytechnics or at universities?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am not trying to evade the question, but my difficulty is that in the year of which I can speak there were only four polytechnics. This is such a new development that statistics are in an early stage.

Mr. Alan Williams

Would it not be an easy operation for the Department to approach the 30 polytechnics to establish the current position or the situation which applied last year? If the polytechnics are not to become the secondary moderns of the educational system, these matters should no be masked by the working of the binary system.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Since this is a local authority system, it has not been the practice of successive Governments to send for full statistics of this kind. I have no doubt that as the system proceeds we shall be able to compare like with like; increased emphasis is being given to the capital works programme in [column 1505]polytechnic libraries, which I accept is a very important matter.

Smoking in Schools and Colleges

19. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will introduce legislation to regulate smoking by pupils and students in educational establishments and prohibit the siting of vending machines for tobacco products therein.

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that legislation is the right way to regulate smoking in schools and colleges. The report of the Royal College of Physicians, which included a recommendation in favour of restrictions on the siting of vending machines, is being studied.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would my right hon. Friend pay some regard to the fact that, if it had not been for the cantankerous behaviour of her colleague the Secretary of State for Social Services, a very desirable Clause inserted during the Standing Committee proceedings into the Tobacco (Health Hazards) Bill prohibiting vending machines in the precincts of all educational institutions, colleges and schools would have been implemented? Would she have regard to that important provision in that Bill, or, if she cannot accept that legislation, will she introduce substitution legislation?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have never found my right hon. Friend cantankerous with me, but I confess that he has never been provoked. The Report of the Royal College of Physicians is still being studied, which I feel is the best way to go about the matter.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Patrick Wall—Question No. 22.

Mr. Clinton Davis

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have Question No. 21.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member's Question has already been answered.

Student Unions

22. Mr. Wall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will seek powers to institute a registrar for student unions.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am considering this possibility.

[column 1506]

Mr. Wall

Would my right hon. Friend agree that many hon. Members would like to see students have greater control of the administration of their universities, but that such action is impossible unless there is a registrar who can control such behaviour as the imposition of the closed shop, grants to revolutionary organisations, and so on, which is taking place today?

Mrs. Thatcher

The problem is quite complex. It is not only a question of setting up a registrar of student unions, but a question of deciding his precise responsibilities. I would point out that the university authorities have a general responsibility for supervising the constitution of the unions.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the provision of a registrar of student unions was a recommendation by the Select Committee on Education which reported in 1969? Is it not time that something was done, not only about that recommendation but about the other recommendations which were put forward by the Select Committee?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have been asked about this particular matter, and I have given the reply that the matter is being considered.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

I appreciate that this is a difficult matter, but would the Secretary of State take urgent action to look at the problem in many universities where students on political grounds are being stopped from fully participating in the activities of student unions? If we cannot have a registrar, can we not have something else?

Mrs. Thatcher

There are a number of Questions later which raise that matter.

Mr. Alan Williams

If the right hon. Lady is considering action, what consultation is she having in the process of that consideration?

Mrs. Thatcher

We have not yet reached the stage of consultation. I feel it better that we should get further along the road before deciding whether to recommend the introduction of a registrar. No decision has yet been taken.

25. Mr. Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science [column 1507]whether she has included in her consideration of the future of student unions the decision of the University of York Student Union to withhold funds from the University of York Monday Club while granting them not only to societies connected with the political parties but to the Anarchists, International Socialists, Spartacists, Socialist Society, Women's Liberation, etc.; and what action she will take.

27. Mr. Hastings

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will now make a statement on the use of public funds by students unions at universities.

Mrs. Thatcher

Some changes in the arrangements governing the payment of union fees are under consideration.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

Are not these odious tactics reminiscent of those of Nazi students under the Weimar Republic and a disgrace to institutions which pride themselves on academic freedom? By setting up a registrar or by making membership of students' unions voluntary, or in some other way, will she do her best as early as possible to see that natural justice is secured?

Mrs. Thatcher

Most of us would not like any restrictions on freedom of speech of the kind that we appear to have seen, or restrictions on academic freedom. We have made extensive inquiries with the vice-chancellors and with the polytechnics about the payment and the amount of union fees and about the expenditure and arrangements for scrutinising the accounts. We have had a good deal of information in and we are now seeing how best to decide what to do.

Mr. Hastings

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her answer will be very welcome to a number of hon. Members, probably on both sides of the House? If evidence is produced of gross discrimination in a particular university, will she be prepared to make representations to the vice-chancellor about it?

Mrs. Thatcher

One would be very reluctant to interfere with the freedom of the authorities of the universities. One has to be careful that one does not lose more than one gains. It is, of course, open to individual Members to make representations.

Mr. Dalyell

Who are the Spartacists?

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33. Mr. Evelyn King

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate she has made in the course of her inquiry of the number of students who seek to resign from the National Union of Students and find it legally impossible to do so; and whether, in the light of these breaches of civil rights, she will hasten to amend the laws and regulations which have created this situation.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have made no estimate, but I am aware of the anxiety of some students who are members of the N.U.S. through the corporate affiliation of their college or university union. I understand that the N.U.S. Executive is now looking into this. Meanwhile students who are individual members of the N.U.S. can resign at any time.

Mr. King

Can there have been a comparable situation, in which union subscriptions are paid on behalf of members, whether or not they desire them to be paid, and from which they cannot retract, particularly when the funds of that union are poured out in various curious ways of which those members do not approve? Is this not in anyone's political book a monstrous invasion of civil liberty and a degree of paternalism which is insupportable?

Mrs. Thatcher

We are, as I explained in answer to an earlier Question, looking at the method of payment of fees to student unions by local education authorities. A number of factors are involved and our conclusions will be announced when they are ready.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Is not the problem not that of individual membership of the National Union of Students but that of the automatic membership of those who are corporate members of local unions? It is they who not able to resign. Is my right hon. Friend aware that seven students at Bradford University have made three unsuccessful attempts to resign and that an Oxford graduate, Mr. Antony Russell, has also made an attempt but has failed?

Mrs. Thatcher

I know of four cases, not the seven to which my hon. Friend referred. The N.U.S. are looking into this matter.

Mr. Douglas

Would the right hon. Lady agree that there is no individual [column 1509]hardship incurred by students in these cases and that it is administratively convenient to collect fees in this manner?

Mrs. Thatcher

It is possibly more than a question of administrative convenience. This is one reason why we are inquiring into it.

Naval Architecture

23. Mr. Douglas

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will publish figures of the number of graduates in the past five years who have qualified in naval architecture.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Information about students obtaining first degrees in naval architecture is not separately identified in the Department statistics.

Mr. Douglas

The Minister has given a disappointing reply. However, will he concede that, no matter how few naval architects have qualified, there is a danger in view of the problems of the shipbuilding industry that a supply will be created which will exceed demand?

Mr. van Straubenzee

This essentially is a matter for individual universities, as the hon. Gentleman knows since I understand that he read a course of naval architecture. I am certain that they will take a long view of the situation rather than be influenced by the ups and downs of the shipbuilding industry.

Mr. John Wells

In view of the length of these courses, could my hon. Friend undertake to examine the supply of both naval architects and marine engineers in future? Since he has said that figures are not available, could he look at the situation and try to make inquiries, and then give some encouragement?

Mr. van Straubenzee

If my hon. Friend reads the reply, he will see that I said that this particular discipline is not separately identified in the statistics; but I will certainly examine any information my hon. Friend wishes to give me. However, this is essentially a matter for the universities.

European Economic Community

24. Mr. Fred Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what studies her Department has made of the effect on the British educational system of [column 1510]entry into the Common Market; and whether she will make a statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

No changes in the British educational system will be required as a condition of entry into the Common Market. The Treaty of Rome refers only to

“mutual recognition of diplomas, certificates and other qualifications”

in the context of freedom to practice a profession or calling in another country. The implications of the proposals to implement this part of the Treaty are being studied.

Mr. Evans

Will the right hon. Lady not agree that, apart from these specific references in the Treaty of Rome, British educational institutions are bound to be influenced in all kinds of ways? Would it not be wise for her Department to set up a general study group to assess the possible impact over the next five years?

Mrs. Thatcher

Needless to say, we are looking very carefully at the possible impact of entry, but I do not think the Treaty of Rome, or even entry itself, will require any major changes in some of our traditional rôles of education in this country, particularly with regard to the control of curricula.

Mr. Ronald King Murray

Is the right hon. Lady aware, when she talks of mutual recognition of qualifications, that there is still not mutual recognition of school certificates between Scotland and England? Should not this matter be put in order before we look at Europe?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that we could wait quite so long as that to look at Europe.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Will my right hon. Friend clarify the position over the E.E.C., and assure us that there will be absolutely no change in the control of education in this country should we go in, and that things will remain exactly as they are, under her control—as she will be the Secretary of State in the years to come?

Mrs. Thatcher

The Treaty of Rome itself requires no changes. There probably would be changes brought about by greater contact between nations and possibly by the wish to bring them about in this country.

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Mr. Alan Williams

But the right hon. Lady must realise that mutual recognition implies that there will be some agreement on course contents in certain professions, perhaps in the legal profession? Could she therefore put in the Official Report for the benefit of hon. Members a list of those changes which have already taken place in the Six and any indications which she may have of the changes which would be required in this country, even if she considers them to be minor?

Mrs. Thatcher

If the hon. Gentleman puts down a specific Question, I will of course give him as much information as we have.

Primary Schools (Expenditure)

28. Dr. Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how she proposes to implement her policy of spending the money saved on school milk on other projects for primary schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

Last October the Government announced that the starts programme of primary school building improvements for 1972–73 would be increased from £11 million to £35.5 million in England. I notified individual local education authorities of their shares of that programme at the end of last year.

Dr. Marshall

In view of that reply, can the right hon. Lady tell us exactly how the money spent on school milk is to be used?

Mrs. Thatcher

It is inevitable that, if one is switching priorities, one reduces expenditure on one matter in order to spend more on another. Perhaps I might remind the hon. Gentleman of Aneurin Bevan's quotation:

‘The language of Socialism is the language of priorities.”

Mr. Orme

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the growing indignation on this issue, the growing opposition to the imposition of these charges, and the pressure which she is coming under in the Cabinet? What will the Government do about removing these charges?

Mrs. Thatcher

I did not know that it was even the hon. Member's policy to remove all charges for school meals and milk, which would cost £275 million a [column 1512]year. I am well aware that on this side of the House and in many primary schools, parents, teachers and pupils are delighted that they have some prospect of having their education in buildings far better than hon. Members opposite could provide.

Live Animal Experiments

31. Mr. Booth

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will appoint a commission to study and publicise methods of research which obviate the need for the use of living animals in experiments, with a view to bringing about a substantial early reduction in the number of live animal experiments.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir.

Mr. Booth

Is the right hon. Lady aware that there is considerable evidence to show that cell and culture tissue tests can be more effective, more reliable and cheaper than tests done on live animals? Will she appoint a commission to study this, instead of continuing the present practice of testing on live animals when this is believed to be unnecessary?

Mrs. Thatcher

Where there is a suitable alternative available, most scientists are very anxious to use it. However, there are a number of cases in which, I believe rightly, new drugs are properly screened on animals before being tested on human beings. We debated this matter quite fully in an Adjournment debate on 31st March.

Mr. John Wells

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the use of the phrase “live animals” in connection with experiments conjures up so many emotive views that it might be better for her to appoint the sort of commission the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) suggested? It would, among other things, be able to point out that many so-called experiments on live animals are concerned with nutritional and other matters which cause the animals no discomfort whatever, and that might clear a great deal of air.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Littlewood Report had certain things to say about experiments on live animals and I quoted some of them in the Adjournment debate to which I referred.