Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1971 Nov 18 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC S [Education (Opposition motion)]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Document kind: House of Commons Speech
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [826/654-73]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1639-1726.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 6580
Themes: Autobiographical comments, Education, Private education, Primary education, Secondary education, Higher & further education, Public spending & borrowing, Health policy, Labour Party & socialism, Media, Social security & welfare
[column 654]

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

I beg to move, to leave out from [column 655] “House” to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

‘warmly commends Her Majesty's Government for their educational policies at all levels, in that they are enlarging educational opportunity by providing additional resources to bring about increased building programmes for schools and colleges, by the expansion of further and higher education, by the raising of the school-leaving age and by increased support for deprived areas, with special reference to the needs of young children’.

Before starting on the speech which I had intended to give, we on this side of the House wish to express the deep sense of loss which not only the I.L.E.A. but the whole education world has sustained by the untimely death of Sir William Houghton. He was a distinguished and devoted member of a dedicated group of local government servants, the chief education officers, on whose experience and wisdom we depend so heavily for the faithful carrying out of our central and local policies.

I now turn to a speech so full of distortions that I wonder it was worth while delivering. If that is all that the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) has to say, I wonder that we have another Supply Day debate at all.

I was tempted at one stage to devote this speech to correcting the right hon. Gentleman's mistakes in the last debate. I will correct some of them, but I intend to make my own speech relating to the Motion and to the Amendment, which is more than the right hon. Gentleman did.

I shall attempt to correct some of the right hon. Gentleman's mistakes in this debate. He referred to a course at Leeds College. He indicated that it introduced the element of a reference to James in its title. [Hon. Members: “No.” ] I thought that his words were, “a post-James course.” That is correct. He did say, “a post-James course.” This course is being held in March, 1972, in conjunction with the A.T.C.D.E. It was organised before James was appointed. I think that the right hon. Gentleman has deduced wrongly that, because it related to a particular structure, it has been inspired by the James inquiry. It has no connection with it whatsoever.

The right hon. Gentleman made a number of comments about youth service headquarters grants. There is to be a [column 656]debate later this evening about this matter. However, the right hon. Gentleman should know that the review will take a long time.—[Hon. Members: “Why?” ] I will say why. Because the Standing Conference of National Voluntary Youth Organisations has asked that there should be an independent study of headquarters grants through P.E.P. financed by the Department. I queried it at the time, but that is the request and I have acceded to it. If they want an independent inquiry I am only too delighted that they should have it, and I have agreed that it should be financed by the Department.

In the meantime, I should like to say how much I value the work done by the youth organisations. I have kept in existence the headquarters grants, and there is full agreement that if those grants are insufficient, due to inflation, the particular services can apply for more.

On capital grants, the right hon. Gentleman did not say that any not taken up by the local authorities will be channelled directly to the deprived areas through the urban programme.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of points, particularly about the inquiry into the managerial structure of local authorities. That had nothing to do with my Department; it came under the Department of the Environment. Whatever that inquiry recommended, I believe that, when it come to take taking action, we got the right result by keeping statutory education committees.

The right hon. Gentleman raised a number of points about the school building programme and asked how much cost limits had gone up. Cost limits for primary and secondary schools were raised by 13 per cent. and for further education by 20 per cent. All these figures are taken into account in Report of Education, No. 71, which properly multiplies previous figures to constant 1971 prices, so that the figures are properly comparable. The right hon. Gentleman should give some credit for our attempting to give fully comparable figures, for seeing that in that table the major school building for England and Wales is expressed in millions of pounds at constant 1971 prices. We have always [column 657]attempted in this leaflet and in the capital buildings figures to give constant figures wherever there is a conversion factor.

I turn to the terms of the Motion and of the Amendment.—[Interruption.]—I will get rid of that once and for all. I addressed a lunch time meeting which happened to be held in that tennis club. My recollection of the meeting—I believe it was reported in the Daily Telegraph—is quite simple. I recall one question from an unknown lady in the audience who asked whether I would give a firm undertaking that grammar schools would be continued. I got into very hot water for saying that I was not sufficiently doctrinaire to give any undertaking about any particular type of school. That is my total recollection of that meeting. I believe, though I am not sure, that that question was reported in the Daily Telegraph. If the right hon. Gentleman had to use some of the drivel he used in his speech, I am amazed that he should call it a debate on education.

The Motion alleges three things against the policies of the Government in education: first, that they accentuate disparities; secondly, that they are socially divisive; and, thirdly, that they are economically wasteful. It refers also to an alleged failure to announce new provisions for higher education. As a matter of fact. I announced a major new provision for higher education in the debate on the Address which was widely welcomed in higher education spheres, and particularly in the polytechnics and further education sectors. It is my belief that one of the reasons for the right hon. Gentleman taking this subject today is because we made so many announcements of extra education expenditure that he got a bad Press and we got a good Press. Therefore, hoping that we have no more announcements of further expenditure to make, he takes another purely personal attacking debate today.

First, I will deal with the general allegations. I propose to examine the record of the previous Administration and of the present Government under three headings so that the House may judge what substance there is in the strictures in the Motion. The three headings are: primary, including nursery, education; secondary; and further education. [column 658]

First, primary education. I do not wonder that the right hon. Gentleman does his best to try to take attention away from this matter because his record is bad. He left us with 6,000 very old primary schools and condemns us for trying to improve the conditions in which those children find themselves, or, at any rate, for giving top priority to them. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman condemns us for giving top priority to the replacement of very old primary schools where the children are being taught in squalid conditions. If we cannot replace them all, it is because we were left with so many by the previous Government.

Mr. Reginald Freeson (Willesden, East)

First, will the right hon. Lady understand that those 6,000 were not created in the last six years? Secondly, will she stop this nonsense of telling the public that she proposes to replace, under her programme, all the outdated primary schools? She is doing nothing of the kind. In far too many instances there is merely to be some ship-shape remodelling here and there in order that the Government can pretend that in their programmed list they are replacing them. I have such cases in my own borough.

Mrs. Thatcher

I entirely agree that some of the schools are being remodelled. Some are being remodelled extremely well. I have visited a number myself. It is far better that they be remodelled than left in the condition which the previous Administration left them.

The House will recall that the Plowden Council on the primary schools was set up by the previous Conservative Administration, but reported at the time of a Labour Government. It then stated that

“many primary school children will long continue to attend schools in really poor buildings unless there can be a speeding up of programmes.”

I do not wish to be hard on the party opposite. They did not disregard entirely the plain facts about disparities in the educational system which that report put before them. They did something. Over a period of six years the Labour Government devoted about £50 million to improving or replanning primary schools It was a beginning, but, in relation to the need, it was totally inadequate.

We on this side of the House also studied the Plowden Report. In the [column 659]Gracious Speech at the beginning of the present Parliament we revived our election pledge to give priority to the primary schools. We did this because we believed that only a concentrated single-minded all-out attack on the elimination of out-of-date primary schools could give all children a decent start in life. We believed that it would be economically wasteful not to have sound foundations for an educational system which is now costing ever more—£2,500 million a year. In the four years beginning in 1972–73 we are putting nearly £190 million of resources into the improvement and replacement of old primary schools in England and Wales. In four years we are putting in £190 million, compared with the £50 million provided for this purpose in six years by the previous Government.

The right hon. Gentleman has from time to time questioned the distribution of the primary improvement programme. The 1973–74 allocation is broadly in proportion to the number of pupils in Victorian primary schools. This is not socially divisive. Indeed, by offering, for the first time since the war, some improvement to primary schools in rural areas we shall narrow some of the disparities in the educational system which we inherited from the previous Administration.

In an assessment of rural schools just completed, the inspectors tell me that

“a considerable degree of educational backwardness and of restriction of efficient educational opportunity is attributable directly or indirectly to bad buildings. The rural case for improvement seems now quite as strong as the urban.”

The Plowden Report also recommended an expansion of nursery education. An article in a weekly periodical says that

“in power Mr. Short thought about nursery schools on demand.”

What the right hon. Gentleman thought about when in power I do not know, but what he did about nursery places is known to the House and to the country. He made a start, and I acknowledge that he did so. About 10,000 nursery places were approved under the first two phases of the urban programme before the General Election. In the third phase of the urban programme, in January of this year, 5,000 places were approved, and a [column 660]further allocation of £1.2 million was announced last week and will provide at least a further 3,000 places. These are slightly more expensive than some of the places provided earlier, because it depends on whether we provide new places in nursery schools, or new places in nursery schools attached to primary schools.

I agree that there is a great deal more to be done at this end of the educational system. All the evidence that we have about schooling in earlier years, particularly for children from deprived backgrounds, is that it can be a decisive factor in reducing disparity and divisiveness. What we have done so far is to add to what the Labour Party had begun to provide. Unless hon. Gentlemen opposite were themselves being divisive and wasteful, they can hardly sustain the charge against us. Indeed, the truth is the very opposite of what they are now seeking to claim.

Mr. Edward Short

The right hon. Lady referred to a reply on 4th November. This says:

“Further places will be provided by projects in areas of high unemployment approved or shortly to be approved under the urban programme at a cost of £1.2 million.” —[Official Report, 4th November, 1971; Vol. 825, c. 8.]

That clearly says that some of the programme has been approved. Presumably some of the £1.2 million was included in the Home Office statement in February? Does not that follow?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am not responsible for the statement by the Home Office. I start from the viewpoint of the Department of Education and Science, and the position is that phase 3 of the urban education programme came on in January of this year. Under that phase, 5,000 new nursery school places were approved. The announcement which I made during the last debate was for £1.2 million over and above that, which will provide at least 3,000 places. It may provide more, depending on where those places are provided—either in classes, or in special nursery schools.

As well as doing so much for primary schools, we should like to get rid of old secondary schools also, but the House will wish to bear in mind, first, that the secondary schools have had the lion's share of improvements and replacements during the 1960s and, second, that they [column 661]are currently benefiting from the special building programme of £125 million for raising the school leaving age, a programme which the previous Administration proposed, but for which the present Government have had to find the resources.

Mr. Edward Short

That is untrue.

Mrs. Thatcher

It is not untrue. The programme for raising the school leaving age is being carried out by this Government.

Mr. Edward Short

The building programme started on 1st April, 1970, three months before the General Election.

Mrs. Thatcher

I give the right hon. Gentleman three months out of the programme which is to cost £125 million, but few will forget that this was the casualty which was first in the minds of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite when they cut education expenditure.

Mr. Edward Short

We were faced with a balance of payments deficit of £700 million a year.

Mrs. Thatcher

And it took one noble Lord to resign. None of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite would resign.

Mr. Raphael Tuck (Watford)

The right hon. Lady is a complete failure.

Mrs. Thatcher

I shall succeed in doing what the right hon. Gentleman failed to do to raise the school leaving age, and he cannot compare our records.

Sir G. Nabarro

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not a fact that my right hon. Friend sat in complete silence listening to the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) and did not interrupt him once? Could you restrain the right hon. Gentleman to reciprocate the courtesy shown by my right hon. Friend?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

I assure the hon. Member that I am paying great attention to the situation. I do not think that it has gone beyond the bounds of what it should do. It is natural that the Opposition are inclined to be more critical of the Government than Government supporters [column 662]are of the Opposition. I would rather let the matter rest for a moment, and see how it develops.

Mr. Bob Brown

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is true that my right hon. Friend made provocative statements based on facts. If the right hon. Lady wants to make provocative statements—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member knows that the Chair is not a judge of facts such as that. That is not a point of order.

Mrs. Thatcher

During the last debate Edward Shortthe right hon. Gentleman made two statements which could have been misleading, and I should like to correct them. He told the House on 5th November that

“for 1970–71 and for 1971–72 the secondary school replacement programme has been run down to £4.5 million”

and he repeated the figure again today. It is true that the value of the allocation in those two years is £4.5 million, and that it is less than in previous years, but who settled these programmes? It was the right hon. Gentleman when he was still in power.

Then the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that

“the actual amount of school building going on has dropped this year if the steep rise in building costs is taken into account.” —[Official Report, 5th November, 1971; Vol. 825, cc. 516–18.]

If that were true, the right hon. Gentleman would have only himself to blame, for the school building programme going on this year is the last programme which he authorised. But let me set the right hon. Gentleman's mind at rest. In this case it is his arithmetic rather than his policies which are at fault.

If we express the figures at constant prices—and that is how we take the rise in building costs into account—the total starts programme for this year, 1971–72, is £179 million, which is £20 million more than last year, 1970–71. It can hardly be the intention of the Opposition to suggest that by carrying out their programmes I am guilty of a wasteful use of resources. As for 1972–73, the first programme for which I am responsible, the total is also £179 million, the same as this year.

[column 663]

Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)

Why is the right hon. Lady going to cut primary school building in 1973?

Mrs. Thatcher

The primary school improvement programme is enormously increased in 1973. The hon. Gentleman knows that if the expected increase in the number of children does not occur, for reasons over which I have no control, the basic needs element falls.

To return to secondary schools, it has long been a basic argument for raising the school leaving age to 16 that it would be economically beneficial, both to individual pupils, whose life chances would be improved, and to the nation, whose need for soundly educated and adaptable young people is basic to our plans for economic advance.

I cannot believe that the Opposition, in the terms of the Motion, contend this policy to be wasteful, or that it is a wrong scale of priorities that, in the secondary field, we should now concentrate on the attainment of this long-promised reform, which they postponed with scant ceremony in January, 1968, but which the present Government are determined to carry to completion.

If there is one policy which ranks with primary school improvements in making a decisive contribution to greater social equality it is the raising of the school leaving age. It is not only between different regions of the country but within regions that marked differences may be found in the voluntary staying-on rate, and it cannot be right that we should allow nearly half of our children to leave school before their five-year course is completed.

When my predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Boyle said in 1964, in this House, that it was the Government's policy to make the change, he gave as one of the main reasons the need to

“make strenuous efforts to level up opportunities as between different areas of the country” .—[Official Report, 27th January, 1964; Vol. 688. c. 60.]

Despite the vacillation of the Labour Party, that is still our view.

The House is aware that it is my duty to reach decisions upon formal proposals submitted to me by local education authorities when they wish to establish new schools or to close, significantly [column 664]enlarge, or significantly change the character of, existing schools. I received, between July, 1970, and September, 1971, over a thousand such proposals relating to secondary schools. Of these I rejected only 24 because I concluded that they involved clear educational disadvantage. The great majority were approved, confirming the judgment of the locally elected authorities as to the arrangement most likely to meet the needs of all pupils in their areas.

I would, however, emphasise that, whatever system a local authority adopts for the organisation of its secondary schools, there can still be disparities within schools which are indeed socially divisive and economically wasteful. I refer, as did the right hon. Gentleman, to the provision for slow learners, or rather the lack of it, a subject which appears not to have engaged the attention of right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were in power, although H.M. Inspectors of Schools tell me that the situation in 1967–68 was very far from satisfactory.

Last Easter I drew the attention of a large teachers' conference to the findings of the H.M.I. survey and said I would be consulting the teachers and the authorities on how best we might proceed. I have consulted them, and the conclusion to which I have come as a result is that I should publish the survey in full, I hope by early December. I hope that all local education authorities will study it carefully and consider what action they should take in their own areas. In the meantime I am ready to allocate additional teachers on the quota to authorities who want them for this purpose.

There has been some reference to the step which I have taken to restore to the direct grant grammar schools the cut imposed by the previous Government and to compensate to some extent for rising costs since then, mostly in teachers' salaries. Its effect—I have had many letters about it, too—is to ease entry for children from homes towards the lower end of the income scale. To make it difficult for these schools to continue, as appears to have been the intention of hon. Gentlemen opposite, would indeed be economically wasteful, for they are, by any standard, educational resources of outstanding worth; and it would certainly be socially divisive to force them [column 665]to charge fees which put them beyond the reach of many parents of suitably qualified children.

Before leaving the subject of schools, I should like to give the results, so far as they are available, of the October census of school meals and milk of which I referred during the debate on 5th November. I gave some at Question Time, and fuller figures may help the House. Not all the returns from local education authorities have yet been received and checked. The proportion of complete results is, however, now sufficient for me to be able to indicate the trends revealed.

Figures from 146 of the 163 authorities in England and Wales show that 59.4 per cent. of pupils present on the census day took the school dinner. This compares with 53.4 per cent. last May and 67.5 per cent. last autumn. Free meals were served to 10.6 per cent. of the pupils present, compared with 10.1 per cent. in May and 8.5 per cent. last autumn.

In terms of actual numbers of meals, 4,105,000 were taken on census day in the 146 authorities this autumn, compared with 3,667,000 in May and 4,553,000 last autumn for the same authorities. For free meals—I mentioned this figure at Question Time—the corresponding figures are 733,000 now, 696,000 last May and 575,000 last autumn. The latest census also shows that over 9,000 mid-day meals other than school dinners were being served, while 545,000 pupils brought their own sandwiches to eat at lunchtime.

Preliminary indications are, therefore, that about half the pupils who stopped taking the school dinner between last autumn and last May have now returned to it. This is a substantial recovery in a relatively short time, and I would hope to see this trend maintained so that, for example, more school dinners are taken in preference to sandwiches. I particularly welcome the fact that the number of children taking free meals is still rising. I believe that this is a sensible use of economic resources and helps significantly to reduce disparities. The results show that more parents are becoming aware of this important benefit, and are ready to claim it for their children.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Test)

Could not the possible solution [column 666]here be that, during the last year, due to massive increases in unemployment and poverty, more children have become entitled to free school meals?

Mrs. Thatcher

The principle always is that if children need free school meals they should get them. The figures show that the numbers are increasing—[Hon. Members: “Why?” ] I regret unemployment as much as does the hon. Member. May I make that entirely clear. In so far as it is my job to see that children who cannot afford the school meal get it free, that task is being fulfilled, as the figures show.

As regards school milk, returns from 138 authorities show that 26,300 children over seven in primary schools—just over 1 per cent. of those in the age group—are getting free milk on health grounds. In addition, over 16,000 primary pupils and 1,100 secondary pupils purchased milk in schools in the areas of the 30 authorities who have so far made arrangements for its sale. This I welcome.

I have said that the returns are still incomplete and it would be wise to await the full results before attempting any further analysis of the situation. I shall be laying these before the House as soon as I can.

Mr. Norman Buchan(Renfrew, West)

I was very interested in the figure which the right hon. Lady gave of 1 per cent. of these children getting milk free on health grounds. Is she aware of the huge discrepancy as a result of the differing opinions of medical officers of health? For example, of the first six schools in Glasgow in which there was a massive examination, three had virtually 100 per cent. receiving free milk and three had virtually none? In other words, the guidance given by the right hon. Lady is no direct guidance, and the medical officers can decide.

Finally, in view of the fact that the right hon. Lady now says that medical officers of health can decide for preventive reasons, and since to most people in the medical profession this means universally, is it not the case that all children should get free milk unless they are suffering from some complaint which means that they should not get it—obesity for example? Would the Minister now send out to all medical officers of health the [column 667]letter which she sent to me to give them the proper guidance?

Mrs. Thatcher

It is not part of my job to give doctors guidance on how to discharge their professional duties. The Department has never done so, it would be wrong to do so and I do not intend to start now.

Mr. Buchan

rose

Mrs. Thatcher

I must get on.

The right hon. Gentleman devoted a part of his speech to higher education, a subject with which I will now deal. Since the publication of the Robbins Report eight years ago, the development of our higher education system has followed a consistent course which has had the support of both sides of the House.

In 1963 Lord Boylethe present Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds, speaking as Minister of Education, announced that the Government accepted the Robbins Committee's estimate of the future number of higher education places that should be provided, confirmed their belief in the principle of the U.G.C., approved the recommendation that the colleges of advanced technology should be given university status, and announced that steps would be taken to create the Council for National Academic Awards.

In December, 1964 the right hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) rejected the Robbins Committee's proposal that the colleges of education should be taken out of the hands of their present sponsors and integrated administratively and financially with the universities, but encouraged them to develop degree opportunities for selected students from the colleges.

Two months later his successor, the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Crosland) accepted on behalf of his Government the Robbins target of 390,000 higher education places for Great Britain by 1973–74, which was to include 218,000 places in universities and 122,000 in colleges of education.

In May, 1966 the right hon. Gentleman issued a White Paper entitled “A Plan for Polytechnics and Other Colleges” , which created a valuable foundation on which successive Administrations have been able to achieve the remarkable [column 668]development of the polytechnics. [Interruption.] Of course this has been the action of successive Administrations. I have just announced the biggest building programme for polytechnics, and hon. Gentlemen opposite who were not present at our previous debate should think before interrupting.

Edward ShortThe right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central during his term of office continually emphasised the great store he set by the distinctive contribution that the polytechnics and other further education institutions would make to higher education.

It is interesting to compare expansion in advanced work in the polytechnics and other further education colleges with that in colleges of education and also in the universities. The number of students in polytechnics and other further education colleges in England and Wales has increased by 15 per cent. a year on average over the last decade; in colleges of education in England and Wales the rate has been 13 per cent. a year; and in the universities, for Great Britain as a whole the comparable figure has been a 7 per cent. annual expansion.

These figures show that expansion of higher education in polytechnics, other further education colleges and colleges of education has been considerably faster than in the universities. But opportunities for young people to enter higher education broadly kept pace during the decade—[Interruption.] This is not a criticism. I am giving figures which, as far as I am aware, have not been published and will prove useful to those interested in higher education.

As I was saying, opportunities for young people to enter higher education broadly kept pace with the swiftly increasing numbers qualified for it. I have said enough to show that the development of higher education over recent years has been both consistent and bipartisan.

Mr. Geoffrey Rhodes(Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East)

Without disputing the total figures of expansion—I do not want to argue with the right hon. Lady about that—as she quoted some remarks made by a right hon. Gentleman who is now in another place and who is the Vice-Chancellor of my University, may I ask [column 669]her whether she is aware that he has recently said that the binary system on which both Conservative and Labour Governments have based their higher education policies is, to use his words, “inherently unstable” ?

The right hon. Lady also referred to a decision of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Michael Stewart) in connection with colleges of education. In view of all the spending that has gone on, does she have a policy for the future of the binary system, and does she personally support the rumoured recommendation that a detached monotechnic kind of system will be introduced for teacher training?

Mrs. Thatcher

I was just coming to the James Committee.

The charge in the Motion is that we have failed

“to announce adequate and timely provision for the expansion of higher education” .

I can quickly show that this charge does not stand, any more than the other charges of hon. Gentlemen opposite.

As for the colleges of education, I am expecting to receive from Lord James within a matter of weeks the Report of his Committee which has been inquiring into teacher training and the future rôle of the colleges. Despite what he has been reported to be thinking, I cannot in fact anticipate what he is going to recommend and it would be neither sensible nor courteous to propose changes in the colleges until I have had time to consider his Committee's recommendations in the light of the consultations on them that I have promised to undertake with the interested parties.

As soon as I get the Report of the James Committee it will go to be published, and I think the speed of publication will be very much faster than the one month that the right hon. Gentleman mentioned. I expect that it will be out a good deal before March. Indeed, I shall be disappointed if it is not out by the beginning of February.

Mr. Frederick Willey(Sunderland, North)

Reference has been made to a leak from this quite small Committee. Has the right hon. Lady made any inquiries about such a leak? If so, and if those inquiries have shown that a leak has occurred, what action is she taking?

[column 670]

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not make inquiries about leaks from the James Committee. I believe that it would be quite wrong for me to do so.

I cannot follow the logic of hon. Gentlemen opposite when they urge me to make an immediate announcement of the Government's future plans for higher education, which must of course include the colleges, and at the same time insist that I should take no action on the James Committee Report until there has been the fullest consultations on its recommendations.

Mr. Willey

I am sorry to have to press the right hon. Lady about this. An allegation has been made during this debate that a member of that Committee divulged information about the Committee. Is not the right hon. Lady under an obligation to pursue inquiries in this connection?

Mrs. Thatcher

The right hon. Gentleman will be the first to know that the Department is not responsible for what any member of this Committee chooses to say, if anything has been said by such a member. I should have thought that the right hon. Gentleman was aware of that.

Our building plans for the polytechnics and other further education colleges were announced in the last debate. While the right hon. Gentleman let his plans be known year by year, I have given the House a forthright indication of their building programmes for three years ahead.

Neither in this context nor in that of the universities is it for him to talk about timing. On 7th May, 1970 he told the House with some pride that he hoped to announce the provisional grant for the first year of the new university quinquennium towards the end of this year. I can do better than he hoped to do by announcing it today.

The House, however, will first like to know that I have decided to add £13.1 million to the universities' recurrent grants for the present academic year. This increase takes account of price rises over the previous 12 months. As a result, the grant will go up from £225 million to £238.1 million.

Since this is the last year in the 1967–72 quinquennium, I will give the total value of the grants from 1966 onwards. If [column 671]grants for local authority rates and other small items are included, we get a figure not very far short of £1,000 million. This is all the more remarkable when compared with the grants for the 1962–67 quinquennium, which amounted to well under £500 million.

Mr. Allan Williams(Swansea, West)

The right hon. Lady related the figure of £13.1 million to rising prices. Is that intended purely to meet rising prices? If so, will it meet the full extra burden imposed on universities by rising prices?

Mrs. Thatcher

The whole of it is intended to meet rising prices. I believe that academic salaries are dealt with differently, so that it does not include them. The hon. Gentleman will know that on a previous occasion for another year I have made other supplemental grants as well.

Mr. Buchan

By a rough and quick calculation, this means about 6 per cent. Prices have risen more than that. Inflation is more than 6 per cent. So it is under-restoring inflation rather than paying attention to prices.

Mrs. Thatcher

I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would be pleased, as I know that the universities will be, with an increase of £13.1 million. This was made very quickly. On the last occasion when I made a supplemental grant, when they had expected not to get a supplemental increase, I had many letters saying how glad they were to receive it.

I turn to the provisional grant for the academic year beginning in August, 1972. During the debate on the Address on 5th November, I explained why the University Grants Committee thinks it right, and in the universities' interests, to keep to a timetable which will not produce a decision on the full quinquennial settlement until next year. I should make it clear that this timetable is the one which the previous Government followed for the present quinquennium and which, before leaving office, they announced that they intended to follow again for the new quinquennium. However, the universities clearly cannot wait for the full settlement before they make their preparations for 1972–73.

I am, therefore, glad to announce now a provisional allocation of recurrent grant for 1972–73 of £248.5 million. This sum [column 672]includes £1.7 million for the running costs of computers for which the Computer Board for Universities and Research Councils will, under the normal arrangements, cease to be responsible in the next quinquennium. At the same time, I have decided to make a provisional allocation, on top of this, of equipment grant of £23.25 million. These sums are related to a total for Great Britain of 247,000 students in 1972–73, compared with the Robbins Committee recommendation of 211,000 students. The exact number of students in the current year is not known, but it is likely to be about 238,000.

When the University Grants Committee submits its advice for the whole quinquennium, these provisional allocations will be reviewed and firm figures for 1972–73 will be included in the full settlement for the whole quinquennium. Meanwhile, I understand that the U.G.C. will shortly tell the universities individually of their provisional allocation and they will thus have between eight and nine months in which to make their plans.

I have given the House a straightforward account because the facts here speak so well for themselves. One does not need to resort to a personal attack when one has the facts on one's own side.

The facts show, first, that in education we are continuing those policies of our predecessors which help to reduce disparities, though generally we are doing it at a faster rate. They show, second, that we are providing the resources to carry out their programmes and, in some key respects, are providing extra resources. They show, third, that we are taking fresh initiatives to remedy neglects which our predecessors apparently overlooked. Regarding the timing of plans for higher education, the only difference between what we are doing and what the Labour Party was in the habit of doing is that we are, if anything, slightly ahead.

For all these reasons, I ask the House to reject the Motion and to support the Amendment.

Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May we have some guidance from the Chair as to how the rest of the debate will proceed? There is an allegation that also, at the same time, a debate [column 673]on Scottish education is about to start. Will they run together, or will Scotland and England alternate? We seek guidance as to what will happen if there is a vote and we are faced with two separate votes at the end of the debate.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There is nothing abnormal about today's business. It is quite ordinarily orthodox. Scottish Members and Members from other countries in the United Kingdom will have an equal chance of being called.