Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1972 Feb 10 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 [830/1529-49]
Journalist: -
Editorial comments: 1430-1515.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 7439
Themes: Education, Primary education, Secondary education, Public spending & borrowing, Family, Health policy, Society, Social security & welfare, Transport, Voluntary sector & charity, Women
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EDUCATION AND SCIENCE

Student Unions

2. Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals she has for ensuring that no students are obliged to contribute to student union funds out of their own or their families' resources, or to belong to the National Union of Students, against their wishes, during the next academic year.

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

The proposals in the [column 1530]consultative document would enable students to opt out of local union membership on conscience grounds, or, under an alternative possibility, would make membership wholly voluntary. Any changes in present arrangements for financing the unions will not come into effect until the academic year 1973–74.

Mr. Bruce-Gardyne

That is rather what I thought. Is not it a worrying situation? Does my hon. Friend agree that, particularly in the light of the Industrial Relations Act, it is indefensible that any student should be obliged, as a condition of obtaining a degree, to belong to the National Union of Students against his wishes, or that any student should be obliged to contribute to the financing of a student union out of his own resources although he may not wish to do so?

Mr. van Straubenzee

These matters are all part of the general consultations. It would hardly seem wise to extract this item, upon which I well understand there are strong feelings, from the much wider matters under discussion and in respect of which my right hon. Friend, I think with general approval, acceded to the representations made widely to her that she should delay the changes coming into effect until the academic year I have mentioned.

Outward Bound Courses

3. Mr. Hunt

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, prior to the raising of the school leaving age, she will consult the Service Departments with a view to providing short courses of the Outward Bound type, particularly for children of less academic inclination, as an optional part of the school curriculum in the final year.

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

Curricular matters are the responsibility of local education authorities, governors and managers of schools and teachers, all of whom can initiate such requests for assistance as they may feel are necessary. There are five Outward Bound schools run by the Outward Bound Trust and over 200 centres in England and Wales offering facilities for this kind of pursuit.

[column 1531]

Mr. Hunt

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this suggestion came originally from a teacher in my constituency, who, like many other members of his profession, is worried about the possibility of disciplinary problems arising in the extra school year? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if implemented on a national scale, the proposal would do something to siphon off the more high-spirited youngsters, and perhaps at the same time provide them with useful vocational guidance?

Mrs. Thatcher

I had hoped that I had indicated to my hon. Friend that there are facilities for such a course. He and his inquirers may be helped by a survey by the Department of local education authority centres, to be published in a few weeks.

Minor Works School Programme

(London)

4. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the percentage cut in the minor works school programme for primary and junior schools in the Inner London Education Authority area, which will take effect in the next financial year.

Mr. van Straubenzee

The minor works programme is for projects costing less than £40,000 at primary and secondary schools and other educational establishments. It is for the Inner London Education Authority to decide within its overall allocation on the resources to be devoted to primary schools.

Mr. Cox

Will the hon. Gentleman deny that there is to be a cut of at least 25 per cent. in the minor works programmes in inner London from the beginning of the new financial year? Is not that a scandalous decision in view of the repeated talk we hear of the Government's supposed concern about primary and junior education? Does not the hon. Gentleman realise the effect the cut will have on worthwhile projects that would benefit both teachers and children? May I finally say—[Hon. Members: “Too long.” ] This is of interest to my constituents and to other people in inner London. If the hon. Gentleman is in any doubt as to the reaction of head teachers, teachers and parents, may I invite him to come into my constituency and meet them?

[column 1532]

Mr. van Straubenzee

If I had been asked about the overall minor works programme I should have given the answer, of course. I substantially confirm the figure given by the hon. Gentleman, though the allocations to the various schools or types of school is a matter for I.L.E.A. It will also be of general interest not only to the hon. Gentleman's constituents but to many others that primary school numbers are falling in inner London. For example, only 20 per cent. of London's primary classes now have more than 35 pupils. My right hon. Friend has to consider the situation in the whole country.

Primary Schools (Temporary Structures)

6. Mr. Tilney

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will approve the replacement of primary schools in development areas, which were put up after World War I as temporary structures, while there is a surplus of building labour in such areas.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have already authorised additional capital expenditure in development areas and the Government are continuing to examine the possibility of further additions to mitigate unemployment, and to improve outdated schools.

Mr. Tilney

Could not the replacement of out-of-date primary schools rank as being of equal importance with the removal of dereliction in such areas? Would my right hon. Friend discuss the subject of grants for this work with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and in the meantime could not plans be finalised so that we may take advantage of the good building weather?

Mrs. Thatcher

As my hon. Friend knows, Liverpool has had a very good primary school replacement programme—16 primary schools are being replaced during the period 1972–74. I know that he has a particular case in mind and I will consider it for the next programme.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright

What does the right hon. Lady mean by “authorised” ? Is she aware that there are far too many dilapidated schools not just in development areas but in the intermediate areas, too? Is it not time that she considered doing something even if it is only to help reduce unemployment?

[column 1533]

Mrs. Thatcher

I have announced a special programme of help for development areas. The hon. Gentleman knows that the school replacement programme is the biggest we have ever had.

Schools Meals

7. Mr. William Price

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children were taking school meals on the last date for which figures are available; and what was the figure 12 months earlier.

9. Mr. Carter

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many children are now taking school meals and what this figure represents, as a percentage of the total prior to the last increase in charges.

Mrs. Thatcher

On a day in October, 1971, 4,658,000 pupils in maintained schools in England and Wales took the school meal: this represents 90.5 per cent. of the corresponding figure for October, 1970, which was 5,148,000.

Mr. Price

Is the right hon. Lady aware that that is a thoroughly shocking, miserable answer? Could she say whether the story is true that she has appointed a new public relations officer whose job it will be to convince the country that she is human after all? [Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] There is plenty more to come. Is she further aware that she is regarded as the meanest member of a thoroughly reactionary Government, and if she wants to know the reason why, she should start by asking the thousands of children who have lost their school meals and milk?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman does not perhaps appreciate that secondary school milk was withdrawn by his party when in Government, an action which was supported by most hon. Members opposite, who trooped through the Lobby in support of their Government.

Mr. Carter

Is the right hon. Lady now prepared to admit that the number of children taking school meals will never return to its former level? Is she aware that many children are going from breakfast time to evening meal without anything to eat or drink? Before any further increase is proposed in the charges, will [column 1534]she see that a thorough inquiry into the school meals service is carried out?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman should know that there is no need for any child to go from breakfast to evening meal without anything to eat. There are about 800,000 children receiving free school meals. If the hon. Gentleman knows of any case in the category he has described, he should draw attention to the free school meal service.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

Do not these figures show that the usual trends are repeating themselves and, as might be expected, after an increase in the price of food there is a sharp falling off and later there is a recovery, thereby demonstrating that, even at the new price, school meals are extremely good value? Is this not true under both Labour and Conservative Administrations?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The present school meal is extremely good value at 12p. More children have returned to taking the full school meal in primary schools than have done so in secondary schools. I believe that this has to do with the changing attitude towards a school meal and changing fashions in what school children at secondary schools want for the midday meal.

Mr. Edward Short

Does the right hon. Lady not view with some alarm a drop of 1 million in the number of children taking school meals at a time when there are 1 million unemployed? Does she not believe that this will have some dietary and social consequences? What does she intend to do?

Mrs. Thatcher

A fall from 5,148,000 to 4,658,000 is not a drop of 1 million but a drop of half a million, so the right hon. Gentleman is 100 per cent. wrong. The right hon. Gentleman knows full well that the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy is monitoring what has been happening consequent upon the changes in school meals and milk provision.

Sir G. Nabarro

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that this problem is not a matter of quantum alone and that nutrition is equally important? In the case of the densely populated industrial areas in the Midlands, why should the [column 1535]children not have a diet of fresh vegetables from the Vale of Evesham, which would do them much more good than all this propaganda about quantum?

Mrs. Thatcher

I hope that parents will take note of what my hon. Friend said and will purchase vegetables and fruit from the Vale of Evesham.

Mr. Armstrong

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind that this is a serious matter and that a number of children who are entitled to free meals do not receive them for various reasons? Is this not a national disgrace? Is she aware that there are a number of children whose parents incomes are just above the scale laid down and who are thereby denied a free meal? Does she not take a serious view of the fact that fewer children are taking advantage of the meals provided at schools?

Mrs. Thatcher

Dealing with free school meals, 805,000 were served in October, 1971. The income limits for free school meals have been raised so that more parents can—and more do—take advantage of them.

School Milk

8. Mr. David Stoddart

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make regulations to require that children not receiving free school milk should be regularly examined to ensure that they do not suffer brain damage due to lead poisoning.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. The Chief Medical Officer has recently advised all medical officers of health, including principal school medical officers, about possible hazards from excessive amounts of lead in food, the atmosphere, water and soil, and has asked them to consider, particularly in the case of young children, what investigations should be undertaken.

Mr. Stoddart

Is the right hon. Lady aware that is not a very satisfactory answer? Is she further aware of the warning recently issued by Professor Bryce-Smith of Reading University that the withdrawal of school milk from young children has increased the danger from lead poisoning which can lead to irreversible brain damage in children? Is she further aware that Professor Bryce-Smith has pointed out that in urban areas [column 1536]in the United States 25 per cent. of children suffer brain damage due to lead poisoning? Will she now recognise the protective effects of free school milk, reverse her stupid, ridiculous and criminal policy and restore free school milk to children?

Mrs. Thatcher

Children who have a health requirement will get free school milk up to the age of 11. Over the age of 11 withdrawal was made complete and total by the last Government.

Miss Lestor

Would the right hon. Lady like me to send her a copy of the Press cutting dealing with this question of lead poisoning, because I think she has missed the point? The point is that milk is one of the few protections against lead poisoning and that we now live in a lead-contaminated society. If children are to be examined after they have lead poisoning, it is too late to do anything about it. Does she realise that this is why the question of restoring school milk, particularly for young children, is so vital?

Mrs. Thatcher

We are very much aware of the dangers of lead poisoning and that is why the Chief Medical Officer recently circularised all medical officers of health and school medical officers on this subject.

James Committee (Report)

10. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her programme of consultations on the James Report.

12. Mr. Willey

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the nature and manner of the consultations she is going to hold on the James Report on teacher education and training.

25 and 54. Mr. Moyle

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science (1) whether she will undertake to make a statement to the House when she has concluded her consultations on the James Report;

(2)how long she proposes to allow for the completion of consultations on the James Report.

56. Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science [column 1537]when she intends to announce her policy on the recommendations contained in the James Report on the training of teachers.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have made it clear that I intend to allow time for the issues raised by the report to be widely considered and debated. I hope to initiate consultations not later than Easter, but, while I am anxious to avoid delay, I cannot say at this stage how long they are likely to take or how soon thereafter I shall be able to reach conclusions or announce them to the House.

Mr. Lane

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the consultations will be thorough in every respect, so that changes in teacher education and training can be properly considered in the wider context of possible changes in the shape of higher education as a whole, and not only in the teacher training sector?

Mrs. Thatcher

The consultations will be very thorough indeed. I gladly give my hon. Friend that assurance. I have already identified more than 30 organisations whose views will have to be taken formally before we reach any conclusion.

Mr. Willey

While we have to accept the James Report as the basis of the consultations and the reorganisation of teacher training, does the right hon. Lady appreciate that in some fundamental aspects the report is wholly unacceptable? Will she concentrate the early consultations and discussions upon these points, so that positive and constructive proposals can be put forward for further discussion?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am reserving my views on the James Report. Those who come to me to consult are in no way limited in the views they wish to express.

Mr. Moyle

Does not the right hon. Lady agree that rapid implementation of the James Report will lead to an increase in the number of students at colleges of education who will not go in for teaching, to a reduction in the supply of teachers and to a consequent danger to teaching standards? Will she bear these points in mind during the consultations?

Mrs. Thatcher

I will take all advice into account and bear in mind what those who are consulted say about the [column 1538]report. Those who are not formally consulted are at liberty to send in their views now that they have the report.

Mr. Mitchell

Will the Minister ensure that whatever decision she comes to on the reform of teacher training based on the James Report will be backed by sufficient money to enable it to work properly?

Mrs. Thatcher

On the whole, the Conservative Government have been very successful in getting more money for educational purposes.

11. Mr. Spearing

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will place in the libraries of the House of Commons, the Department of Education and Science and at least a dozen educational institutions, copies of the oral and written evidence presented to the James Committee on teacher education; and if she will publish this evidence as a parliamentary paper as soon as possible.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. Much of the evidence was given orally and in confidence and was not recorded verbatim.

Mr. Spearing

Does not the right hon. Lady agree that if the written evidence is not published, the consultation cannot be as thorough-going as she says? Does she not agree that the report has wide implications and appears to be based on many assumptions which will not find universal acceptance?

Mrs. Thatcher

No, I do not think that failure to publish confidential evidence will limit the consultations. I cannot publish evidence which was given on the undertaking that it would not be published. The evidence given by the area training organisations is available on direct application to the organisations concerned.

Mr. Edward Short

The James Report shares with the Rothschild Report the characteristic of making a great many assertions which are, as far as we can see, completely unsupported by evidence. This is most unsatisfactory. Will not the right hon. Lady reconsider her decision and at least publish the written evidence?

Mrs. Thatcher

No. To publish part of the evidence would give a false impression. That would be the worst of all possible worlds. I cannot publish evidence which I undertook not to publish.

[column 1539]

Young Volunteers

15. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what support she will be giving to the young volunteers during the next financial year; and what advice she is giving to local authorities about continuing to give support to groups of young volunteers in their areas.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have offered a grant of approximately £75,000 to the Young Volunteer Force Foundation. A grant of £17,500 has been allocated to the Community Service Volunteers. Applications from other organisations in this field are under consideration. I am most anxious that local authorities should continue to give active support to the voluntary youth organisations in their areas.

Mrs. Short

I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply, but does she not agree that certain local authorities—for example, Wolverhampton, which has allowed only £2,000 this year for young volunteers working in the area—are being far too stingy? Does she not also agree that young people are doing valuable social work and thereby relieving local authorities of much expenditure? Will she not therefore encourage local authorities, or perhaps send out a directive to them asking them to be more generous?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am only too happy to encourage local authorities to spend more on this work. I hope that we have given a lead in putting up the grants to both these organisations.

Dame Irene Ward

Does my right hon. Friend receive reports from local authorities on how the money is spent? If she does not, will she seek them and have them placed in the Library of the House, to enable hon. Members to know how the money is spent?

Mrs. Thatcher

No, I do not have reports on how the money is spent. The P.E.P. is doing a review of the work of many of the voluntary organisations before any increases in grants can be considered. In the meantime, special applications for grants are being met. I fully appreciate the youth work that is being done and I have a great admiration for it.

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Mr. Moyle

I pay tribute to the work of the young volunteer service, but does the right hon. Lady recall that the last Government grant to this body was spread over three years to allow it to plan ahead? Will she make a similar arrangement this year and also substantially increase the grant? I think the right hon. Lady will admit that the young volunteers are in considerable demand all over the country and there is a danger that the service may have to cut back its work.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have offered to keep the grant in real terms at its present value for a period of three years. This is the single biggest grant to my youth organisation, and other youth organisations doing work which is just as excellent would like similar increases.

University Undergraduate Places

16. Mr. Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science for what total of university undergraduate places she is planning by the end of the 1972 to 1977 quinquennium.

Mr. van Straubenzee

My right hon. Friend will take decisions on university development in the 1972–77 quinquennium after considering the advice of the University Grants Committee, which she expects to receive shortly.

Dr. Marshall

In making those further deliberations will the Secretary of State bear in mind the need for an increase in the number of medical students which, among other things, would enable the establishment of a new medical school at Hull University?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I have, naturally, noticed the documented proposals in respect of Hull University, on which I make no comment. These are all relevant matters for discussion.

Truancy

17. Mr. O'Halloran

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations have been made to her from local education authorities regarding the problem of truancy in secondary schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

None.

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Mr. O'Halloran

Is the right hon. Lady aware of the growing problem of truancy in inner London? Will she arrange for closer liaison between child-parent-teacher organisations and local authorities to deal with truancy?

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe that the best educational results are obtained when there is maximum co-operation between parents and teachers and local education authorities. The Inner London Education Authority is very much aware of the problem of truancy, and that authority is in the best position to deal with truancy in its own area.

Mr. Jeffrey Archer

Will my right hon. Friend be kind enough to consider producing statistics on this problem so that we may discover how serious it is?

Mrs. Thatcher

Truancy is a notoriously difficult subject upon which to get accurate statistics. Had it been an easier subject on which to obtain statistics we should already have done so. So far no national statistics have been available, and I doubt whether we could get accurate statistics.

Mr. Marks

Is it not time the right hon. Lady stopped washing her hands of this serious problem and initiated in her Department research into avoidable absence from school?

Mrs. Thatcher

Naturally, we are all concerned about avoidable absence from school. Some local authorities have figures—Manchester is one—but this is a problem for the local education authority and the individual school to deal with, often in conjunction with the social services.

Mr. Simon Mahon

Is the Secretary of State aware that many of us feel that the new attitude towards marriage, and especially the attitude towards divorce, is having an adverse effect on many of the children from broken homes? Would she look into this aspect, since it is the home that matters?

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree. If we could sort out some of the problems that occur in the home, we should be well on the way to solving many of the problems in our society. The hon. Gentleman will agree that the problem is easier to pose than it is to solve.

[column 1542]

Violence in Schools

18. Sir Gilbert Longden

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she has yet decided how she can best make a contribution towards preventing violence in schools and dealing with it when it occurs.

Mrs. Thatcher

Evidence gained through the normal activities of the inspectorate suggests that this problem is mainly confined to a few areas. I believe it is best dealt with by the teachers, governors and local education authorities.

Sir Gilbert Longden

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Has she received any representations from local education authorities about this problem?

Mrs. Thatcher

No. And when we sent out a circular to the local authorities in connection with the raising of the school leaving age, very few mentioned this as one of their problems. Obviously this problem occurs, but it is by no means confined to the schools. One of the reasons for the existence of some violence in our schools is that there is a lot of violence in society, and possibly the violence in society is the cause of some of the violence in schools.

Mr. David Stoddart

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in future her policy may lead to increased violence in schools? [Hon. Members: “No.” ] I draw her attention to the warning issued by Professor Bryce-Smith that lead poisoning in children can lead to emotional disturbances, cruelty and violence in children. Will she not reconsider her policy and re-introduce free school milk to prevent children suffering brain damage?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman struggled very hard with that supplementary. The policy of spending a great deal more money on primary schools—more money than has ever been spent before—will help to deal with some of the problems in the primary schools, and our policy of raising the school leaving age will give many children opportunities they have not had before.

Mr. Lane

In preparing for the raising of the school leaving age, would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, as the date draws near, the problem of discipline [column 1543]is one of the main anxieties of many teachers?

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, Sir. I also have that in mind. I believe the fact that we are getting an increasing number of teachers coming into the schools will help to alleviate that problem, since children will receive more individual attention from teachers.

Refreshments in Schools

19. Mr. Marks

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will give further guidance to local education authorities on the supply of refreshments other than school milk and meals, because of continuing uncertainty.

Mrs. Thatcher

No, Sir. Authorities which are in doubt about the interpretation of the regulations should seek guidance from their own legal advisers.

Mr. Marks

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Manchester Education Authority is now giving nutritional drinks to children receiving free dinners at a rate of 1p per week—they were getting them for nothing until the right hon. Lady circularised local authorities—and to other children at 5p a week? Will she not urge all local authorities to do the same and avoid the worst parts of her Educational (Milk) Act; or, alternatively, will she now get rid of that Act, which I am sure a great many people on both sides of the House, and certainly the local councils, want to get rid of?

Mrs. Thatcher

I noticed that when a poll was taken by a local paper in Merthyr Tydvil, a proportion of two to one was against free milk in schools.

Transport for Schoolchildren

20. Mr. Terry Davis

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many local education authorities use their powers to provide transport for schoolchildren, in circumstances where they are not obliged to do so.

Mrs. Thatcher

This information is not collected by my Department.

Mr. Davis

Is the right hon. Lady aware that some local authorities seem to have a policy of never providing school transport when they are not obliged to do so, however difficult or dangerous may be the journey to school?

[column 1544]

Mrs. Thatcher

Local education authorities have a very wide discretion. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman exact figures. If I had had them, I would have given them to him. We know of a number of local education authorities who make exceptions and give transport costs for shorter walking distances than those laid down in the Act. In addition, a large number give discretionary allowances in individual cases. A circular was issued some time ago asking local education authorities to have regard to this matter, especially where there were problems of safety.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Would my right hon. Friend agree that the time has come to have a comprehensive review not only of the mileage question, involving the two or three miles distance limit but also of the catchment areas which are used in bringing children to primary schools. The situation is a nonsense, particularly in view of my right hon. Friend's reply to the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Terry Davis). I am sure the time has come for a review to take place.

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think we could initiate a comprehensive review of that kind without consulting local education authorities. These authorities have recently indicated that they, too, are worried about this problem.

Miss Lestor

I support the idea of a comprehensive review. If the right hon. Lady is prepared to consider this matter in consultation with local authorities, will she also bear in mind the fact that many bus companies—and this certainly applies in my constituency—are now not allowing half fares before 9.30 a.m.? This means that many children who do not qualify for free travel because they are within the limits laid down must pay full fare to get to school. This is a considerable hardship to many parents.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am very well aware of most of the problems connected with school transport, but I must point out that many of these problems are local and that local education authorities are there to know local problems. Most of them are every bit as aware of the safety problems as are we at headquarters.

24. Mr. Pardoe

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she [column 1545]will seek to amend the regulations governing the conveyance of school-children to and from school in the light of modern traffic conditions.

Mrs. Thatcher

Local education authorities already have discretionary powers which enable them to provide transport to school where they consider traffic conditions dangerous.

Mr. Pardoe

Is the right hon. Lady aware that the regulations under which local authorities operate were laid down at the time of her illustrious predecessor, Dame Florence Horsbrugh, and that, if for no other reason, a change is appropriate under the present régime? Is she aware, further, that the regulations are totally out of date in the light of modern traffic conditions, and that the withdrawal of many rural bus services and the closing of many rural primary schools are exacerbating the difficulties? In any review of the situation, will provision be made for parents to state their views, in addition to those of local authorities?

Mrs. Thatcher

The regulations allow complete discretion to local education authorities within the statutory distances. The total amount of money spent on the provision of school transport up and down the country is now £28 million a year. As for the hon. Gentleman's point about the closure of schools, he will know that permission to close some small primary schools in Cornwall has been withheld pending consideration of the transport problems.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that an increase in traffic, especially in rural areas, can suddenly import a new factor of danger into village surroundings? Will she have discussions with the Department of the Environment about the possibility of requiring very heavy lorries to keep to certain routes and not to take short cuts through villages? This has a great bearing on the safety of children.

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree that heavy lorries going through narrow winding lanes have a great bearing on the safety of children. Local authorities themselves should be aware of the problem, and I should expect them to take the necessary action, if need be.

Mr. Edward Short

While it is true that local authorities have discretion [column 1546]within the regulations, it is the right hon. Lady who makes the regulations. Is she aware that there are two new factors affecting transport for school children? One is the reorganising of schools into larger units, resulting in many more children having to travel further to school. The other is the steep rise in bus fares and, in places like London, the ending of cheap fares for children. Will not the right hon. Lady agree to the suggestion about an inquiry, with the help of local authorities, into the problem of school transport?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am prepared to look at the possibility of an inquiry. I know that this causes considerable problems. But this is one of those areas where local education authorities themselves have enormous discretion and can deal with the problems.

Secondary Education (Dudley)

21. Dr. Gilbert

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she will be replying to representations she has received with respect to the reorganisation of secondary education within the county borough of Dudley.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have received a complaint that the Dudley Local Education Authority has acted unreasonably in removing from office certain governors of Dudley Grammar School. I will announce my decision as soon as possible.

Dr. Gilbert

May I put it to the right hon. Lady that she has had the reply from the local education authority for more than a month now? The objections were in before Christmas. The only effect of her continued delay in passing any judgment on the scheme is to prolong the uncertainty of parents in the country borough, whichever view they may take of the ultimate proposals. May I urge the right hon. Lady to be a little more speedy?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am not sure the hon. Gentleman has in mind the same case as that to which I referred in my answer. It relates to the Dudley Grammar School, When the hon. Gentleman refers to “proposals” , we understand that to be in the sense of changing the character of a school. The Question to which I replied had nothing to do with changing the character of a school, but with changing the governors of a school.

[column 1547]

Dr. Gilbert

That is the necessary prerequisite.

Education Facilities (Sex Discrimination)

22. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will take steps to withdraw immediately all official circulars to local education authorities which have the effect of discriminating against the provision of educational facilities for girls as against boy pupils.

Mrs. Thatcher

I know of no such circulars.

Mr. Hamilton

Will the right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.]—I apologise to the right hon. Lady; she no doubt knows what she is—say whether she has replied to communications from the National Joint Committee of Working Men's Organisations in respect of discrimination against girls in the provision of science facilities in schools? Does that situation still apply? Has she issued a recent circular to local education authorities on this matter to say that they must not discriminate? Will she make similar representations to the universities in respect of access to medical faculties by female students?

Mrs. Thatcher

I must say that I take great exception to the hon. Gentleman's mistake at the beginning of his supplementary question. As for his request, I believe he is referring to a building bulletin which was published 18 years ago and which is now both out of date and out of print. There have been 12 secondary school building bulletins since that time. We do not impose regulations on local education authorities about how they arrange the space within the school building in relation to particular subjects. I shall shortly be replying to the letter to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Hamilton

In view of that unsatisfactory answer, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.

Nursery School Places

23. Mr. Meacher

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many additional nursery school places have been provided by local authorities since June, 1970.

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Mr. van Straubenzee

Since June, 1970, the provision of nearly 7,800 additional places in nursery schools and classes in socially-deprived areas of England has been approved under the urban programme.

Mr. Meacher

Despite that figure, is the hon. Gentleman aware that the total number of nursery school places is at present disgracefully inadequate and that such places are grossly maldistributed? Is he also aware that in some local authorities there are 165 times as many nursery school places per thousand children aged five as in other local authorities, many of which provide no places at all? Will he take steps to ensure that all local authorities provide at least a certain minimum number of places, in view of the importance attached to this provision by Plowden?

Mr. van Straubenzee

The essence of the proposals under the urban programme is that there is discrimination in respect of certain areas of special need.

Mr. Barry Jones

What representations has the Minister had from the teachers' unions on this subject? Is not it likely that the cost of implementing the James Report will push nursery schools right to the back of the queue?

Mr. van Straubenzee

That is not necessarily the case. Before long, local authorities—not local education authorities—will be asked to make further proposals under the programme of which I have spoken.

Miss Lestor

Bearing in mind the national campaign to pressurise the Government into an expansion in the provision of nursery schools, will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his Government have now abandoned the proposal being discussed among hon. Members opposite that any expansion in nursery schools should be accompanied by charges to parents?

Mr. van Straubenzee

I am limiting my answer to the urban programme. There is no suggestion of charges in respect of the programme of which I am talking.

Mr. Ridsdale

Does my hon. Friend agree that the provision of nursery schools has been helped considerably by the halving of selective employment tax?

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Mr. van Straubenzee

This is one of many examples of the way in which Government policy is interlocking.

Dyslexia

27. Mr. Ashley

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action she is now taking on the recommendations about dyslexia made by her advisory committee on handicapped children.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am seeking the views of the local authority and teachers' associations on the Committee's recommendations for identifying children with reading difficulties and providing special help for them.

Mr. Ashley

Will the right hon. Lady seek to consult parents as well and, in the light of this report, try to ensure that special remedial teaching is available to children who were formerly known as dyslexic children but who have been rechristened by the report children with special reading difficulties?

Mrs. Thatcher

I shall be pleased to hear from parents, especially from those who have children with reading problems. My aim is to ensure that provision is available for all children with reading difficulties. I think that that was the aim of the report, too.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the right hon. Lady look again at the problem raised during the Adjournment debate recently about the education of autistic children, and review the provisions now being made not only for dyslexic children but also for autistic children?

Mrs. Thatcher

A circular was sent out recently asking local education authorities to give details of the provision made for autistic children in their areas. Full answers to the circular are not yet available.