EDUCATION AND SCIENCE
Scottish Business School
1. Mr. Douglas
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the recent relationships between her Department and the Scottish Business School.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)
There is no formal relationship between my Department and the Scottish Business School, but the three universities concerned in its programme of work are in touch with the University Grants Committee. The quinquennial settlement provides for 2,927 full-time and part-time students by 1976–77.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that reply. Will she confirm that at long last the Scottish Business School has got its administration sorted out and that we have one clear line of authority, after two or three wasted years?
I am delighted that the Scottish Business School is now off to a good start, and I hope that it will continue.
Mr. Ronald King Murray
In view of the lack of formal relationships between the Minister's Department and the Scottish Education Department, is it not high time for a Royal Commission to investigate education in the United Kingdom as a whole?
No. It was not a formal relationship between my Department and the Scottish Business School. It comes under the University Grants [column 174]Committee, which has given what I hope will be thought to be a good quinquennial settlement.
Secondary Education (Newcastle-under-Lyme
2. Mr. Golding
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to announce a decision on the reorganisation of secondary education in Newcastle-under-Lyme.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Timothy Raison)
My right hon. Friend approved in July some of the proposals to reorganise secondary education in Newcastle-under-Lyme. Because the desired transfer of Newcastle Church of England Secondary School did not accord with Section 16 of the Education Act 1944 the local education authority was asked to reconsider the other related proposals. We are awaiting a reply.
Is the Minister aware that even the proposals that were approved in July—or parts of them—seem to be held up because of a shortage of steel? Is he also aware that parents and teachers are utterly fed up with the Staffordshire County Council and the Department not being able to find a solution to the Church of England school problem, thereby facilitating the reorganisation of secondary education in my constituency?
I am afraid that I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman's first point about a shortage of steel, but I assure him that discussions are taking place between the local authority and my Department.
3. Mr. Hugh Jenkins
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether it remains the policy of the Government that the Arts Council should not be subject to ministerial influence.
The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Norman St. John -Stevas)
The Arts Council will, of course, continue to take independent decisions within its field. Its charter requires it to advise and co-operate with the Government, and Ministers will continue to discuss with the council its needs for [column 175]resources and other matters of common concern.
Will the hon. Gentleman recognise that it is a pleasure to be able to question the Minister responsible for the arts across the Floor of the Chamber? Will he further recognise that while he occupies his present position he should exercise a self-denying ordinance on the question of public criticism of the arts? Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will agree that the Arts Council would not be doing its job properly if it were not sometimes to risk a little money on what have been called “dotty experiments” .
Mr. St. John -Stevas
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his congratulations. May I extend the same to him on his appointment? I also extend the gratitude of the House to his predecessor, who made such a notable contribution to the arts in the House.
The Arts Council must take its own decisions—but I might be considered an expert on “dotty experiments” .
Mr. Robert Cooke
I also congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment and associate myself with the remarks made about the hon. Gentleman's predecessor. Will my hon. Friend continue to be in close touch with the Arts Council, reflecting the views of the elected representatives of the people in this House so that the council can make sure that it reflects the interests of the people at large, particularly in provincial emphasis in its activities?
Mr. St. John -Stevas
I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind congratulations. I assure him that I am most willing to receive Members from any part of the House to share ideas on the arts, as I regard the arts as a community of interest in which we all participate.
25. Mr. Renée Short
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will increase the grant to the Arts Council.
Mr. St. John -Stevas
Under the present triennial arrangements the Arts Council has had an indication of the maximum size of its grant, subject to parliamentary approval and to revaluation, for the years 1974–75 and 1975–76. In the new year [column 176]I hope to be able to give the council, subject to the same qualification, a further indication, extending, for planning purposes, to 1976–77.
That is a long answer which does not say very much. May I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to two areas where there is a need for increased financial help? First, theatres that are trying to carry out improvements and extensions need help because of the high costs of building materials and steel, which have doubled in price in the past year. Secondly, the declining film industry, which is one of the best in the world, needs a shot in the arm from the hon. Gentleman. Will he assure us that he will look urgently at these two matters?
Mr. St. John -Stevas
Yes, I certainly give the hon. Lady that assurance. The responsibility for giving grants to individual branches of the arts is with the Arts Council. If the hon. Lady will come to see me at Belgrave Square we can have a full discussion.
Mr. Jeffrey Archer
Will my hon. Friend remember that although the Government have given twice as much to the arts as did the Labour Government we still give only the same amount as does the city of Munich? Will he treat this matter as top priority?
Mr. St. John -Stevas
Yes, I certainly shall. We are making progress. We are, in those immortal words, “on our way” .
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in making allocations to the Arts Council he must take into account the considerable inflation that has occurred under this Government? Does he agree that the needs of the Arts Council in the immediate future are likely to amount to about £20 million?
Mr. St. John -Stevas
The grants to the Arts Council are made at constant prices and are therefore revised in accordance with the change in the value of money.
5. Mr. Duffy
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the report on Careers Education in Schools.[column 177]
The report was published on 16th October and initial reactions have been generally favourable. When all interested parties have had time to study its findings my Department intends to consider with them how further progress in this field can best be achieved.
Is not the Secretary of State aware that in some quarters the situation that the report revealed was described as deplorable? Will she bear that in mind in arriving at her recommendations?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that in many schools the situation is far from satisfactory. In some schools the subject is being dealt with excellently and I hope that the practice there will commend itself to others. We are anxious that careers education in schools should receive high priority.
Degrees and qualifications
6. Mr. Thomas Cox
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what further consideration she has given to the introduction of legislation to stop the granting of bogus education degrees.
At present I have no proposals to introduce legislation.
Is the Minister aware that it really is time that she stopped giving these pathetic answers in this House about lack of action against these bogus degree colleges? Is she also aware that I have a copy of a letter dated 3rd November this year, from the Health Department of New York State, which questions the authenticity of a supposed doctorate of science of someone who has applied for a job in New York State? Is it not time that we saw some action taken against these crooks, who are making vast sums of money in this country, while, at the same time, bringing into total disrepute our education standards? How much longer are they going to get away with it?
There has indeed been some action. A complete list is available of genuine degrees and degree equivalents, which has been supplied to all the embassies. The hon. Gentleman's correspondent should have found it very easy to get an answer from the embassy as to the question whether the degree was genuine.[column 178]
7. Mr. Armstrong
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will formulate proposals for providing adequate maintenance grants to enable schoolchildren over 15 years of age to continue their education in school without economic hardship; and if she will make a statement.
My right hon. Friend does not propose to change the system under which the award of education maintenance allowances has always been confined to children over compulsory school age.
Is the Minister aware that the refusal of his Department to extend maintenance grants to those who are now at school because of the raising of the school leaving age—with which I fully agree—is causing real hardship? Will he institute another working party, like the 1957 one, to ensure parity between area and area throughout the country and to bring the grants into line with present-day costs?
My Department believes that discretionary awards make sense, because local circumstances vary and local authorities are the people best placed to judge them. I remind the hon. Gentleman that a number of benefits are available to these children, including family allowances and child tax allowances.
Does the Minister note the different tone of the Opposition on this occasion, now that we have raised the school leaving age, compared with their attitude when they failed to do so?
My hon. Friend has made a fair point.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his answer this afternoon, refusing the request of my hon. Friend, will only add to the suspicion of people that the interest of the Department in State education is declining? Is he not really saying, “Do not be worried about maintenance grants. Do not be worried about State education. Make a few more sacrifices and send your children to private schools” ? But if wives ask their husbands to put in wage claims so as to be able to send their children to private schools, the husbands run the risk of going to gaol.[column 179]
There is no reason at all for the hon. Gentleman's assertions.
Will the Minister seek to persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to extend free prescriptions up to the age of 16, without a means test?
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's observation will be noted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.
8. Mr. Dalyell
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will consider the introduction of an annual review of student grants, similar to the annual pension review.
Yes, Sir. This is being considered as part of the current review of student grants.
Does the Secretary of State disagree with the view of the vice-chancellors that there is real need among the students?
I assume that there will be an increase in student grants. That is why we now have a triennial review and why a number of working parties, with the students, have been investigating the facts for some time.
While she is examining this problem will my right hon. Friend also consider the whole question of parental contribution? Does she agree that the middle income groups now find it most difficult to send sons and daughters to universities, whereas the very poor and the very rich manage it quite easily?
That matter also is being considered. The last time we had an interim increase, which was in October, we made substantial improvements in the amount of parental income which was free from assessment for contribution, and that will be very much in our minds in making the new review.
Will the right hon. Lady solve the student grants problem on the basis of the principle that no student should be denied the opportunity of continuing his or her education because of financial need?[column 180]
We shall continue the student grants negotiations on the basis on which they have been conducted since the Anderson Report. I do not think it is possible suddenly to change to another basis.
Museums and Galleries (Admission Charges)
10. Mr. John Smith
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on the Government's policy towards allowing national museums and galleries which make admission charges to have a free day without having to increase charges on other days.
40. Mr. Jeffrey Archer
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if it is her policy to permit national museums and galleries, after the start of admission charges, to have a free day at their discretion without requiring them to increase charges on other days.
Mr. St. John -Stevas
I am pleased to be able to inform the hon. Members of the following measures.
First, I have offered the trustees of the national museums and galleries the opportunity to propose, if they wish, new arrangements for free days. I have said that the Government are prepared to consider applications for a free day each week at any time during the low season or throughout the year, in which case weekends would be excluded. I have also explained that it would be up to the trustees to decide whether to cover the fall in receipts by an extension of the higher charging period or not to do this and to accept a slightly lower level of receipts from their museum charges money.
Secondly, without prejudice to subsequent arrangements for the next quinquennium for museum acquisitions, museums or galleries may opt in 1974–75 to use part or all of the additional resources from charges to supplement acquisition grants. Thirdly, if institutions earn more for charges than the sum estimated the balance will represent additional resources, which they can use without the procedure of a supplementary vote.
Finally, old-age pensioners will be admitted free to the national museums and galleries after charges are introduced.[column 181]
May I congratulate the Minister on his new appointment, and wish him luck on the road which he has chosen to follow? May I also welcome his resolution of the free day problem and the old-age problem, which have caused unnecessary controversy over the last three years? In the same vein, will he make it crystal clear that there will be no budging from his right hon. Friend's pledge, made in the recent debate, that all the money raised by admission charges will go to museums and galleries as a genuine extra without having an adverse effect on the money which they will get from the Government?
Mr. St. John -Stevas
I am most grateful to the hon. Member for his congratulations. I can give him the unqualified assurance that he requires.
May I be the first from the Government side to congratulate my hon. Friend on his appointment and to say how we on these benches will be delighted by his announcement? Does he realise that we are particularly delighted, in view of some of the cynical cries when some of us chose to abstain rather than vote with the Opposition when we were told that this might happen? May we wish my hon. Friend further success in his appointment?
Mr. St. John -Stevas
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his support. I am delighted to be high in his hopes, and I hope that I shall manage to remain there.
May I, Sir, warmly congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his artistic courage and compassion? We have been waiting for some little while for a Minister for the Arts like him. Will he say why he intends that these charges will be involved in the Estimates at all, since they were apparently promised to the museums in our late debate, and this new departmental device—which is what it is—simply gives the Minister an opportunity to rig the estimates?
Mr. St. John -Stevas
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the first part of his remarks. In the last resort, the Government must decide how much of the taxpayers' money can go on various items of expenditure, but I can assure the hon. [column 182]Member that the Government will be fair with the institutions, and if the estimate of receipts made in advance of charges proves to be too high an adjustment will be made so that the institutions will not suffer from a guess made in the absence of evidence. The Government will play fair by the institutions on the principle that they can have extra resources in relation to charges.
May I join in the general welcome to my hon. Friend, and say that those of us on this side who have been deeply interested and concerned in this subject will find his clear and extremely constructive answer—[Interruption.]
Mr. Donald Stewart
You voted for the charges.
Order. The hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) must ask a question concisely.
I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, in view of the barrage that is coming across the Chamber. As I said, I welcome my hon. Friend's extremely clear and constructive answer, and I hope that in looking at the question of admissions he will be able to take into account the position of the National Heritage as well as the position of the National Arts-Collection Fund.
Mr. St. John -Stevas
I am in correspondence with the National Heritage but I cannot hold out hopes in that regard. I thank my hon. Friend for his kind words. I have tried to be as fair as I can on this matter, but I am unable to make any further concessions. The House is always generous when the sun shines.
If the Minister's reply means anything it means that if a museum or gallery wants to have a free day it will have to charge double on at least one other day or surrender to the Treasury the equivalent amount of money that would have been received in charges. Surely that breaches the principle of a free day and reveals that the concession made to the House before is not a concession at all, with these conditions attached.
Mr. St. John -Stevas
I do not believe the right hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that. The choice is for the trustees of the museums and galleries. If they [column 183]wish to extend the period of double charging they may do so and thus incur no diminution in revenue. If, on the other hand, they prefer to have a free day they are entitled to do so and all they will lose is the hypothetical revenue.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
How much will the Government get in cash from all this nonsense? Would it not be better for the Minister to forget the whole thing?
Mr. St. John -Stevas
Government policy is to preserve the principle of charging and at the same time to be as reasonable and flexible as possible in the operation of the principle.
11. Mr. Strang
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science to what extent it is her intention that the research councils should have superannuation agreements for every employee comparable to those obtaining in the Civil Service following the introduction of the Principal Civil Service Superannuation Scheme on 1st June 1972; and if she will make a statement on the progress being made in the current negotiations.
Superannuation arrangements in the research councils are matters for the councils, but require my approval and that of my right hon. Friend K. Bakerthe Minister for the Civil Service. Some research council employees are superannuated on the same terms as civil servants and others in other ways. A proposal by the Agricultural Research Council to extend the Civil Service-type arrangements to additional groups of their employees is under consideration, but I cannot at this stage indicate when a conclusion will be reached.
Is the Secretary of State aware that that is a most disappointing reply? Agricultural Research Council employees are under the impression that notwithstanding the extreme delay in making progress with their negotiations there is at least an agreement in principle that they will have a scheme comparable to the Principal Civil Service Superannuation Scheme. Will the Secretary of State re-examine this question to see that the ARC employees get a scheme as good as that envisaged by the Civil Service in general?[column 184]
The negotiations are continuing. The ARC is preparing a full statement of its case and negotiations are proceeding with the Government Actuary's department to provide costings. However, I shall see whether there is anything we can do to speed up the negotiations.
I welcome the Secretary of State's recent U-turn on the matter of superannuation, but is it not about time for the question of comparability of the teachers with the Civil Service also to be considered? Members of Parliament pay about 20 per cent. less of their salary in contributions to get the same benefits as teachers. Is it not about time the apparent differences were looked into and cleared up?
The question does not concern teachers' superannuation; it concerns scientists and others who work in the research councils. On that totally different question, the working party will reconvene in January.
Women Medical Students
13. Miss Fookes
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what consultations she has had with the hospital medical schools on their policy with regard to the admission of women medical students.
None, but at my request the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has agreed to examine university admissions policies, including those of medical schools, with a view to establishing whether there is any evidence of discrimination on grounds of sex.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but will she impress upon the committee the need that merit only should be taken into consideration? Will she also consider the position in respect of the entry of women into veterinary training, where I have clear evidence of discrimination?
I shall certainly impress upon the committee the need which my hon. Friend points out. If she has any evidence about veterinary training I shall gladly consider it.
Mr. William Hamilton
In the Government's consultation document on equal opportunities did the Secretary of State [column 185]not undertake to consult the UGC about this very matter? Will she say what consultations have taken place up to now, when they will be completed, and what steps she will take with universities which might defy her instructions to cease discrimination?
As a result of that undertaking a specific request went to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals to look into this matter, which it is now doing.
Will the right hon. Lady accept that the admission of women to medical schools on the basis of quotas or special examination results is totally wrong, and totally at variance with the principles that we are trying to enforce elsewhere on sex discrimination? Can she not at least say that now?
I have said that at this Dispatch Box before, and I repeat it. I agree with the principle enunciated by my hon. Friend the Member for Merton and Morden (Miss Fookes) that admission should be on the basis of ability.
14. Mr. Molloy
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she next expects to meet representatives of London teachers.
Arrangements have been made for representatives of the London Head Teachers' Association to meet my noble Friend Lord Sandford on 16th January.
Ought not the Secretary of State to see all the teachers' associations in London to discuss with them the grievous problem of London weighting? Does she not agree that, although it may be argued that teachers' staff problems are no more serious in London than they are in the provinces, the potential difficulties in London are infinitely greater? The recruitment campaign has proved to be almost useless. One of the things that the Secretary of State can do to encourage an increase in teacher supply in London is to take a realistic look at the London weighting situation.
The London weighting situation for teachers and others in the public sector has already been referred to [column 186]the Pay Board, on very wide terms of reference. In Ealing—the part of London with which the hon. Member is most concerned—the quota for teachers this term was exceeded by 40.
Does the Secretary of State agree that on the present timetable anything the Pay Board might produce would not be reflected in London class-rooms until Easter of the year after next? Does the right hon. Lady not consider that the problem is more urgent than that timetable implies?
It is essential to get not only an acceptable solution but a valid one. The Pay Board has been asked to consider a very big problem and it must be given time to do its job properly.
16. Mr. Marks
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is her latest revised estimate of the school building programme for the years 1972–73, 1973–74 and 1974–75.
The figure for 1972–73 is £312.3 million, including £75 million as part of the special programme for raising the school leaving age. I hope soon to make an announcement about the resumption of approvals of educational building work. It would be premature to say anything more about the 1973–74 and 1974–75 programmes in advance of that announcement.
Is the Secretary of State aware that the provisional figure for 1973–74 is £70 million below the one she has just given for the previous year, and that that is again being cut by 25 per cent. in accordance with her moratorium on approvals? Does she not realise that this is causing great difficulties for local authorities? What increase will she allow in the cost limits when she resumes approvals in January?
The previous year—1972–73—included a figure of £75 million for the special programme for the raising of the school leaving age. That has been completed, so it is not surprising that a similar amount is not reflected in the next year's programme. The point about cost limits will be dealt with in the circular which will be going out shortly.[column 187]
I know that my right hon. Friend is aware of the urgent need for the provision of proper schooling for mentally handicapped children. Will she do all in her power to ensure that the school building programme for these children is neither cut back nor delayed and that this applies especially to the new school at Bobbing, near Sittingbourne, which is urgently needed and which, I understand, is now in jeopardy?
I shall certainly examine the point raised by my hon. Friend. We are particularly anxious that this programme, which is relatively small, should have reasonable priority.
Mr. Cyril Smith
Does the Minister not feel the time has now come to come clean and admit that the Government are effectively cutting the school building programme, and that that is their intention? Does she not agree that by delaying the announcement of the approval of schemes, thus ensuring that local authorities cannot proceed for anything from five to nine months, she is effectively cutting the budget for the school building programme? Is this not “kidology” at its best?
No. The maximum cut must be three months. That is the period of the moratorium. If local authorities had got on a little more quickly with their programmes more schools would have been started before the moratorium began. The local education authorities are free to start their programmes at the beginning of the financial year. The maximum period of the moratorium is three months.
Will my right hon. Friend be a little more forthcoming on the question of the time when she will allow contracts to be placed again? The date was 1st January. Cannot she tell the House that it will be 1st January?
The date is 1st January.
The right hon. Lady is too ready to blame local authorities for her own shortcomings. When she talks about slowness in preparing building programmes, does she not recall a certain little difficulty over cost limits which was not met until an Opposition motion was tabled?[column 188]
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman recalls that cost limits went up by 22 per cent. towards the beginning of the year.
19. Mr. Whitehead
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received about the school building programme for 1974–75.
I have not received any such representations apart from routine inquiries from local education authorities, and inquiries about Circular 12/73.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that I am holding in my hand representations made to her by the Derby and Derbyshire Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations? The letter makes a strong point about the delay which she has reiterated today. Is she aware that the cut-back for 1974–75 will severely hit education authorities such as Derbyshire? Is she further aware that in such areas there is a major problem not only in replacing outdated primary schools but in transferring secondary schools to comprehensive education? Does she accept that she has held up some of these schemes unreasonably in the past?
I have received representations about only two projects in Derbyshire. One is a major project, namely, the Pringle Secondary School, Swadlincote, and the other is a minor project at the Findern County Primary School. Those are the only two representations that I have received. I hope that they will soon apply for approval on 1st January.
Exercise Books (Paper Shortage)
17. Mr. David Clark
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will ascertain through the inspectorate whether educational standards in England and Wales will be harmed by the shortage of paper for exercise books.
As far as I know, local education authorities are not yet encountering any serious difficulties, but I shall keep a close watch on the situation.
Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the fact that a [column 189]northern supplier of paper is on record as saying that it is rationing local education authorities? Will he look into the problem? Does he not agree that a shortage of paper could harm educational standards?
I have not seen the report to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I understand that in the near future there may be difficulties over delays in delivery and increased costs. It may be necessary for authorities to run their stocks low and restrict consumption for a time. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall keep a close watch on the matter.
County and Voluntary Schools
18. Mr. Barry Jones
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on her policy with regard to Section 13 of the Education Act 1944 (Establishment and discontinuance of county and voluntary schools).
The policy remains as outlined in Circular 10/70.
Is the right hon. Lady aware of the disquiet over her interpretation of her powers in Section 13? Is her policy not designed to make it difficult for any local education authority to implement comprehensive schemes?
No. The people who dislike the decisions dislike them because they dislike the policy. I am not here to implement a Socialist education policy.
Is it not time that the Secretary of State accepted her full responsibility instead of hiding behind separate schemes? Should she not tell the country where she stands on selection and secondary reorganisation?
I accept full responsibility. It is open to anyone who claims that his interests are adversely affected by one of my decisions to test the validity of his claim in the courts.
20. Captain W. Elliot
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what decision she has made in response to the request from the Cheshire County [column 190]Council that it should cease to maintain the Nautical Training School, known as HMS “Conway” , as an aided school, with effect from 31st August 1974.
My right hon. Friend approved in October the Cheshire Local Education Authority's proposal.
Is my hon. Friend aware that when Cheshire County Council gave notice in November 1972 to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that it wished to cease responsibility for HMS “Conway” , the Conway Club considered taking over the school to save it, but was choked off by the Cheshire County Council's demand for a rent of £20,000 per annum, with a review every five years, including a full maintenance lease? Is he further aware that the Cheshire County Council and the British Shipping Federation are joint trustees and jointly appoint the board of management, and were at that time secretly negotiating for the Cheshire County Council to take over the premises for £75,000? Does he know that the premises cost over £500,000—the money being raised by private subscription—and are now worth over £1 million? As the Department of Education and Science is the authority which has jurisdiction over the Conway Trust, did the Department know of the negotiations, and did it approve of them?
First, I am advised that the figure mentioned was put forward by the Cheshire County Council during informal discussions with the parents and the Conway Club. It did not constitute a firm offer, nor has it been the subject of a valuation. It was meant to illustrate the amount which rental arrangements for the premises would involve. Second, my right hon. Friend is unaware that discussions of the nature referred to took place between the parties involved. She was not in a position to approve of them or to be a party to them.
21. Mr. William Price
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many village schools have been closed during the past five years.
Approval has been given to the closure of 595 village schools in England since January 1969.[column 191]
Is that not a thoroughly depressing figure? Is the Minister aware that the Warwickshire County Council is closing numerous village schools in the face of the most determined opposition from parents? What is the educational justification for closing village schools? Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider his Department's policy, in view of the increasing need for nursery education? Are we going to transport three- and four-year-olds miles around the countryside?
My right hon. Friend considers each proposal submitted to her on its merits. She takes account of educational considerations as well as local needs and wishes. She must be satisfied that the resources available will be used wisely. That applies nationally and in Warwickshire.
Sir John Hall
Is my hon. Friend aware that in my constituency several first-class village schools have been closed in recent years? Does he accept that the attention that can be given to children at such schools is far better and more valuable than the attention given in much larger schools to which the children now have to be sent? Will my right hon. Friend ask local education authorities to consider educational value rather than administrative convenience when taking action of this sort?
I am not aware of the specific cases to which my hon. Friend refers. I can assure him that close attention is given to these matters by my Department.
Mr. Elystan Morgan
Is it not true, despite exhaustive studies made during the past few decades, that throughout Britain there is a complete absence of any hard evidence in support of the contention that the children in these schools suffer educationally in any way? Does he accept that, although there are problems in such schools, the problems are more than compensated for by the fact that the children receive substantial individual attention?
I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have considered his second point carefully. However, we must bear in mind that resources can be more usefully applied in some circumstances where schools are merged.[column 192]
Will my hon. Friend ask his right hon. Friend to set up an inquiry into the problem and to consider especially the problems of the closure of schools in remote rural areas and areas of outstanding environmental beauty? There are particular problems in such areas, and they are underestimated. Will my hon. Friend's Department consider setting up a committee of inquiry immediately to consider these problems?
I am sure that my right hon. Friend is taking note of the comments which have been made today.
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the totally unsatisfactory nature of these answers, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.
22. Mr. Carter
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will detail in the Official Report the main interests with which she will be discussing the implementation of the Russell Report.
The local authority associations and organisations representing the other main providers of adult education, teachers' and youth workers' associations, and representatives of voluntary and other organisations with a major interest in adult education.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that she will pay particular attention to what the TUC and the trade unions say on this subject? Is it her intention that in future adult education should assume a greater percentage of the total educational budget?
I am anxious to do more for adult education because I realise the great benefits that it can confer. I am sorry that the consultative document is not yet out, but I hope that it will be out within the next few weeks. In general, I am in sympathy with the hon Gentleman's wish to do more for adult education.
Can my right hon. Friend give an idea of the time scale of those consultations, and when she will be able to give a definite answer?
I should think that the consultations will take some time. As my [column 193]hon. Friend knows, consultation is a way of life in the education service, and once we consult one body, many more usually wish to come to see us. There will have to be some compromise on this issue, and I think it will take some time.
Mr. Roy Hughes
Is the Secretary of State aware that many adult education bodies have expressed concern about the ineffectual way in which the findings of the report have been handled? Will she assure the House that there will be no further delay and that the process will be speeded up?
I think there will be a few weeks' further delay, but I hope that it will not be longer than that.
Medical Research Council
23. Mr. Rhodes
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the current size of the grant she makes to the Medical Research Council.
The Estimates for 1973–74 provide for a grant in aid of about £25½ million from my Department to the Medical Research Council.
Just what control has the Department over this large sum of money once it has been disbursed? For example, in view of the shambles left behind by the MRC subsequent to the sacking of the director of the multiple sclerosis research unit at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, does the Minister not feel that it is high time she intervened more directly and ascertained whether this £25 million is being spent efficiently? Just where does public accountability come into this matter?
I am advised on the allocation of research budget money by the advisory board for the Medical Research Council, which has on it distinguished scientists, representatives of the Departments and independent members. On the whole, I have accepted its advice and I have every confidence in the way in which the boards of the research councils conduct their affairs.
26. Mr. Spearing
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many pupils are now experiencing part-time education in England and Wales and in Greater London, respectively.[column 194]
As the hon. Member knows, my right hon. Friend does not collect precise information from day to day from local education authorities. The present scale of part-time working does not seem to differ substantially from what was reported earlier this term.
Does not the hon. Gentleman think that, although he should not collect information from day to day, he should do so occasionally? Will he ask his right hon. Friend to stop claiming that London is better off than anywhere else because of one particular statistic? Will the right hon. Lady investigate the shortage of teachers in particular subjects, which results in thousands of London schoolchildren being sent home every day?
My right hon. Friend naturally takes a very close interest in these matters and will no doubt have noted what has been said. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are in no way complacent if there is a single child avoidably having only part-time schooling.