Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

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

1973 Nov 1 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC S [Social Problems]

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [863/452-462]
Editorial comments: 2132-c2200.
Importance ranking: Major
Word count: 3635
Themes: Education, Primary education, Industry, Pay, Family, Housing, Law & order, Race, immigration, nationality, Society, Transport
[column 452]

9.32 p.m.

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

May I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) upon his maiden speech. We on the Conservative side of the House particularly appreciated the generous tribute he paid to his predecessor. The hon. Gentleman has courteously told me that he cannot be here because of an important constituency meeting.

I thought he made an extremely important point when he said, in relation to the profession of which he was speaking, that it was not just pay that mattered but that prestige was just as important. He said during his speech that it was the one occasion upon which a Member can always expect to have generous tributes paid to him and praise heaped upon him. I hope he will cherish this one occasion and I do heap those generous tributes which he expected.

The hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) mentioned the recent police searches in parts of London and asked whether they had been specifically authorised by R. Carrmy right hon. Friend. They both know that a Minister is always in difficulty in answering for another Minister. I will, therefore, read out the message that I have been given and I hope that they will not attempt to cross-examine me upon it.

The Home Secretary's authority was not necessary. These searches were a follow-up to earlier inquiries by the police and to information from the immigration [column 453]service after the escape from Harmondsworth Detention Centre of a man refused admission to this country. My right hon. Friend is awaiting further reports and the hon. Lady has a Parliamentary Question to him down for answer next Thursday.

The House has listened to a wide-ranging debate. Indeed, for the greater part I admit that I have been wondering whether I am the right Minister to answer it. It has also occurred to me that on the whole the House must be very pleased with the way in which education is performing because I have never sat here for so long and heard so little criticism. I am sure that if there were criticism it would have been forthcoming. This is a great plus for the education service. I will, of course, refer mainly to educational issues. But I agree with almost everyone that the subject we are discussing is not particular to one Department but cuts across many, indeed most, of the Departments of Government. The problem is to co-ordinate them to secure that the resources available go to those who need them.

I should like to start with four points, to get the problem and the subject of the debate into perspective. First, nearly half the total population of England and Wales lives in cities—about 15 per cent. in Greater London, 25 per cent. in the new metropolitan districts, and 4 per cent. in other cities with more than 250,000 inhabitants. We are not concerned only with the situation of the Inner London Education Authority, which accounts for 5 per cent. of the total school population. In all, over 4 million children go to maintained schools in cities.

Secondly, not all those children or all those cities suffer from the social problems we have been discussing. It would be wrong to give the impression that most of them are deprived, or that our affairs are changing only for the worse. They are not. In many respects, under successive Governments, the situation of those children has been changing very much for the better. The material standards of the average urban dweller are better today than they have ever been, and the prospects for his children, in health, nutrition, education and economic opportunity, are better than they were for him when he was young. [column 454]

Thirdly, to the extent that our cities undeniably have social problems, those problems are not necessarily homogeneous; they are many and varied. London's problems are not identical with those of Leeds, Liverpool or Manchester. Even within London, not only are Brent's problems different from those of Westminster but so are Newham's from, say, Ealing's. There are many varieties of downtown areas, and no two subtopias are alike. Therefore, we must be on our guard against sweeping generalisations.

It was apparent as hon. Members on both sides spoke that they are speaking about different things that they knew from their experience in their own areas. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Raison), that we do not need new organisations to deal with the situation, that we must use the local authorities, because they know what is going on in their areas.

Fourthly, although we are dealing with a complex set of facts, about which none of us can be sure which is cause and which effect, we can all recognise the main characteristics of the problems we have been discussing, without setting up specific, rigid, statistical criteria. We know that there are urban areas whose acute problems are rooted in poverty, poor housing and environmental deprivation of many kinds. The inhabitants are a shifting population. The able and well-to-do move out, and the disadvantaged take their place. There is no certainty of employment, no sense of community, no place for the young to play, and no facilities for recreation for the old to enjoy. It does no service to exaggerate the scale or severity of those conditions, but it would be absurd to deny that such areas exist in Britain today, or that life in them is misery for a number of people.

I shall follow the hon. Member for Sparkbrook, in focussing my main remarks on education, and should like to deal with a number of points which have been raised by my hon. Friends. Education cannot compensate single-handed for all the sins and omissions of environmental blight, but I believe three things. First, the education service can make, and is making, a real contribution to dealing with those problems. The hon. Gentleman will agree that the new report, “Born to Fail” , recognised that [column 455]education was making a significant contribution. There was little criticism of what the education services are offering in those areas.

Secondly, we owe a debt of gratitude to the thousands of teachers who have committed themselves and their professional skills to the education of children under the handicap of social deprivation.

Thirdly, the educational policies and programmes of the Government already recognise the need to discriminate in favour of those places and people in greatest need.

A number of hon. Members have mentioned the need for co-ordination. My right hon. Friend the R. CarrHome Secretary gave some information about the urban programme and the new unit that he has set up in the Home Office. We in the Department of Education and Science, since we have started a separate nursery programme, have fortunately been able to allocate our share of the urban programme to other things to which we are glad to give some priority. We have in the last phase made a number of recommendations for the improvement of education in areas of social deprivation, and the allocations often tend to cater for projects which emphasise the need for pre-school provision and the need to create better links between home and the school which many of my hon. Friends have mentioned.

The single most important influence in a child's life is the parental influence. There are two things that one would try to pinpoint in trying to raise the standard of children in these areas. The first is probably housing and the second parental influence. In some ways they are linked, but in others they are not.

We shall of course be talking about housing on Monday. If a child does not have good housing, he suffers from a double deprivation—first, the actual material condition itself and, second, the effect of bad conditions on a parent who has great hopes for the future of his child. The effect of bad conditions there can be most frustrating. It means that the mother cannot provide a good home to which a child can return and bring other children or to which the young person can bring other teenagers. That is an added deprivation to the actual physical conditions. Also, of course, [column 456]it means that sometimes the mother suffers such serious physical problems in coping that she almost gives up, finds it very difficult to continue or gets worn out in trying.

All these things are by-products of bad housing and most of us would accept, I think, that to have good housing is probably the single most important thing we can do for these areas. Having said that, however—I am trespassing on another Minister's pastures—we should be wary of believing that merely providing good housing in place of bad will solve the problem. Many of us have been well aware in some of the slum clearance schemes of the difficulties attached to the new areas to which the people have gone and some of the defects in design not only of the individual home but of the layout of the areas as a whole.

There is a great deal to be learned from our faults of the past to ensure that, in the layout of the new housing estates, those faults are not repeated, that the layout is such that people can really communicate with one another and that they are in easy reach of leisure facilities and shops which are necessary for life as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Mr. Sydney Chapman) was very much aware of this. We have used our phases of the urban programme in helping to provide more parental-school links by having rooms for parents in schools and by appointing special officers to develop these links in the difficult areas.

We have also used them extensively to assist youth service projects. My hon. Friend the Member for Middleton and Prestwich (Mr. Haselhurst) made an interesting speech about the youth service much of which I endorse. In the Department we fully appreciate and agree with its very great significance. It is a very important part of the Department's service, particularly to those young people who are not perhaps going on to further education. We tend to think of it in terms of official buildings and structures, but I sometimes wish that local authorities could attach a little more importance in some of these difficult areas to the work of what is called the unattached youth worker. [column 457]

So many of these young people will not go near anything that smacks of authority or of the establishment, and the only way to get hold of them, to get their interest or to make them realise that there is someone who cares, is for people to go into these areas as unattached youth workers, to be there, to get the interest of the young people and to help them as much as they can.

Many hon. Members have mentioned the immigrant problem. Because a number of immigrants live in the older houses of our older city areas, some of their needs they share with the other inhabitants of the areas and some arise specifically from the need to adapt to a new culture and way of life and, it may be, to a new language. Education is an important way in which we can help these people to adapt to life in a new society.

I know that from time to time immigrants cannot be immediately accommodated in the schools of the area in which they choose to settle. I have, however, been impressed with the speed with which local authorities have moved to make places available, particularly last autumn when there was a sudden influx of Ugandan Asians. My Department was able to help by making extra allocations of capital expenditure, and the urban programme has provided another means of assistance with buildings. In fact, 24 centres for giving immigrant children initial instruction in the English language have been approved under this programme.

Local authorities with large numbers of immigrants in their areas may apply for additions to their teacher supply quotas, and for the current year 3,100 teachers additional to quota have been approved to meet the extra demands on teaching time imposed by the presence of a large number of immigrants.

To help local authorities with the cost of extra staff employed to cater for a large number of Commonwealth immigrants, the Government make available a specific grant of 75 per cent. under Section 11 of the Local Government Act 1966. It covers a wide range of local authority employees, but the largest proportion, more than 80 per cent. last year, goes on educational staff, mostly teachers, and, with some need to employ additional ancillary helpers and education welfare [column 458]officers, represents a considerable source of extra help.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

Why has not the Department mounted any form of short crash course for those Ugandan Asians who came here as qualified teachers and who might have made a major contribution to the areas to which the Ugandan Asians went?

Mrs. Thatcher

There are a number of people who were trained in Uganda to teach. We have treated them in exactly the same way as we treat other applications for qualified teaching posts. A few possessed the requisite requirements for qualification. The majority had not, because the standard of the training they received was not the standard on which we now insist for qualified teachers. But each of them who has come to our notice has been told of conversion courses leading to qualification in this country. We have dealt with the problem in that way.

The schools inspectorate has been active in the areas of immigration—it is a fact which has escaped attention—and has published three education surveys dealing specifically with immigrant education between 1970 and 1972. That work has been excellent. It is not new, although we have not a specific unit in the inspectorate to deal with this work; the inspectorate has already been active on this front.

My hon. Friend the Member for Handsworth asked that specific extra help should be available. Let me tell him the figures for Birmingham for teacher supply and the extra quota. This term, the Birmingham authority is employing 8,992 qualified teachers, including 8,934 quota teachers. This compares with a figure of 8,718 qualified teachers at the same time last year, of whom 8,678 were quota teachers. I am sure my hon. Friend will see the significance of these figures when he reads them tomorrow.

This year the quota allocation is 8,892, which Birmingham has exceeded. It is a difficult area but it has been able to get more teachers than its quota. That quota included a special allowance of 150 teachers for schools of exceptional difficulty and a further 357 for immigrant pupils. We have allocated extra teachers to such areas, both for immigrants and for schools of exceptional difficulty. This [column 459]question goes wider than that of immigrants and is partly what the debate is about today.

A number of hon. Members raised the question of teacher supply in London and elsewhere. I refer to the problem in other cities first because this is an example of where the problems in the cities, although having something in common, seem to differ. One would expect that the problems in some of the down-town schools in Birmingham, Liverpool and London were the same. I do not know whether they are or not, but some of the other big cities—Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Sheffield and Teesside, for all of which I have the figures with me—have been able not only to recruit teachers up to the quota level but have exceeded it. Liverpool has exceeded its quota by 276, and one might have thought that Liverpool would probably be one of the areas with the most grievous problems in schools which teachers might be reluctant to tackle.

I turn now to London, which according to the latest figures is approximately 1 per cent. down on quota. That is all. This year the figure is 19,840 teachers, which is 543 more than at the same time last year. I stress this fact because hon. Members know that throughout the years the Inner London Education Authority has had one of the best pupil/teacher ratios and supplies of teachers in the country. I can tell the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. John Fraser) in particular that the problem is not one of shortage of numbers. London has one of the best teacher supply positions in the country.

Mr. Hattersley


Mrs. Thatcher

No, I cannot give way. The hon. Gentleman has left me a much shorter time than he had, and he was not interrupted once. I have a good deal to say.

On 6th September The Guardian reported the comment of the Chief Education Officer of the Inner London Education Authority to this effect:

“The Authority still has one of the best teacher/pupil ratios in the country.” Therefore, the problem is one not of numbers but of shortage in certain subjects, mathematics and handicrafts in particular. [column 460]

The problems in some of these schools are undoubtedly great. The schools suffer from the general permissive atmosphere of society which makes it much more difficult for some teachers to teach in the schools. The schools undoubtedly need more teachers. It is interesting that Liverpool has recruited up to and over quota but London has not. The hon. Member for Sparkbrook asked me to refer specifically to the London allowance.

There are two problems—the immediate one and that of the longer term. On the immediate one, under phase 3 we have been successful in getting the London allowance increased, if given according to the 1967 formula of the Labour Government under the National Board for Prices and Incomes, outside the pay limit for teachers and other public sector employees and for those who have also been tied to the 1967 Labour Government formula. That increase will be given immediately outside the pay limit, and I hope that this will be some consolation to those who complain that it was previously within the pay limits.

There is the longer-term problem of making a reference to the Pay Board. Very extensive terms of reference have been given to the board to consider whether the appropriate NBPI Report, which governs the London weighting, is still valid and, if not, what principle should replace it, and to review the present weightings and geographical boundaries used in applying the 1967 formula.

The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Guy Barnett) said that he thought there should be a number of different allowances and that we should examine the methods used to keep the weightings up to date and to consider whether it would be desirable and practicable to set common rates of weighting, boundaries and dates of implementation of increases for all those in public sector employment who benefit from London weighting. The Government want the board to consider these issues in relation to the use of London weighting generally. The terms of reference are extensive and give the Pay Board a pretty free hand, and the Government have specifically said that they would welcome a report from the [column 461]board by 30th June 1974. I hope that that report will be used as a basis for future negotiations.

The hon. Gentleman and a number of my hon. Friends mentioned the nursery education programme. It is a programme that the Labour Government would have liked to introduce but which we were successful in introducing, and I was most grateful for that. There is no doubt whatsoever that this will considerably improve the chances of children in these areas. It will not be the answer to everything. There is no one thing in education, or indeed in other spheres, which is the answer to everything. But in so far as we can get these children into nursery schools earlier it will help them tremendously.

It is no good supplying nursery schools, whether part time or full time, unless the children who really need them get to them, and for this we rely upon the local authorities. They have extensive discretion concerning transport. The report to which my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) referred has just arrived with me and I hope it will be published well before Christmas.

The local education authorities have extensive discretion about transport and are able to supply it to pick up children from home and take them to nursery school. In some cases that might be the only way of getting children to school, because a mother who is so weighed down with other things cannot get them there herself.

Two-thirds of the £34 million programme has been allocated to the deprived areas and one-third spread over the rest of the country as a whole. We have used income indicators and the take-up of free school meals and so on to pinpoint the deprived areas. Within those deprived areas I have more trust and confidence in the local education authorities to use their allocation for the deprived areas within the larger deprivation than perhaps the hon. Member for Sparkbrook has. I believe that they will wish to use it that way and will in fact use it that way.

The Government have steadily discriminated in favour of those areas in practically all their building policies. First, I have explained the way in which [column 462]there has been discrimination in favour of those areas for the nursery school programme. Secondly, the primary school building improvement programme, which has been running at the rate of £50 million a year, in the first year had a considerable slant specifically towards the deprived areas. In the other years I have given it in proportion to the pre-1903 schools in the local education authority area. But the reality is that a lot of those old schools are in the deprived areas and they are benefiting particularly from that programme. Much of the secondary school improvement programme which was announced recently has gone to the deprived areas, too.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the rephasing of the building programmes. The easiest way I can describe it is to say that it is a kind of pushing backwards by three months of the approvals, putting to the next quarter what would have been done this quarter. I am happy to tell the hon. Gentleman that we do not expect the programme to start on the existing cost limits. That is one of the matters about which we are consulting in the appropriate Departments, and we hope that a circular will be out shortly.

The contribution of the education service to urban needs has been growing and will continue to grow. We all recognise that this is an old problem which will need continuing and steady improvement on all fronts. I believe, however, that the education service has made and will continue to make a significant contribution.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Hall-Davis.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.