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House of Commons

Tuesday 31 January 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]


London Regional Transport Bill

Lords amendments agreed to.

Associated British Ports (Hull) Bill

Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill--

British Railways Bill--

Hythe, Kent, Marina Bill--

Hythe Marina Village (Southampton) Wavescreen Bill--

International Westminster Bank Bill--

Isle of Wight Bill--

London Underground (Victoria) Bill--

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday.

New Southgate Cemetery and

Crematorium Limited Bill--

Read a Second time, and referred to the Examiners of Petitions for Private Bills.

Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Bill

Read a Second time, and committed.

Wentworth Estate Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Global Environment

1. Mr. Doran : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what responsibility he has for United Kingdom participation in the United Nations environment programme-WBO intergovernmental panel on climate change, as the Minister responsible for basic and long-term strategic research into the global environment.

3. Mr. Nigel Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to improve the co-ordination of United Kingdom research into the global environment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : Extensive co-ordination of research ithe broad area of the global environment already takes place, both domestically and internationally. The research councils are actively engaged and I understand that the Natural Environment Research Council is likely soon to join expert groups of the climate change panel under the United Nations environment programme, for which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment takes lead responsibility.

Mr. Doran : International co-operation is obviously important, but will the Minister tell us what steps his Department takes to encourage co- operation between the various Departments that are responsible for the pollution that is so damaging to the atmosphere and what steps it is taking especially with the Department of Energy in encouraging the various projects necessary to reduce the levels of hydrocarbons that are burning in the power stations?

Mr. Jackson : The implications of the different policies for the environment being pursued in different branches of Government are taken seriously by the Government as a whole and by those Departments. It is not, of course, a matter for the Department of Education and Science in the first instance.

Mr. Griffiths : Does the Minister realise that the co-ordination between various branches of Government on the environment is seen by many as absolutely chaotic? Will the Minister agree to look seriously at the approach taken in the United States, which brings together the relevant agencies to ensure that there is a productive channelling of effort to tackle these problems?

Mr. Jackson : There are many ways in which one can organise research activities in an area as large and complex as that of the environment and environmental policy. One method will have advantages and disadvantages and another will have other strengths and weaknesses. We are dealing with large and complicated questions and one of the problems about having a single co- ordinating body, which might achieve the advantage of more focus, is that there is a disengagement of environmental research from other areas of research. All those matters are being

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considered by the advisory committee on science and technology, and the Government look forward to receiving advice from that body in due course.

Dr. Bray : But within the Secretary of State's own responsibilities, is there not a case for a joint directorate involving the research councils directly concerned--the Natural Environment Research Council, the Science and Engineering Research Council, the Agricultural and Food Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council? Is the Minister aware that there seems to be strong support for such a move among all the research councils? Is he aware that the very importance of these activities and many unfortunate precedents enormously increase the scope for errors in the physical science, the politics and the policies that are actually implemented? Will he buck up his ideas?

Mr. Jackson : I am always happy to try to buck up my ideas in line with the hon. Gentleman's urgings. There is a case for almost any combination of organisational structure in these matters. The case is being examined by the research councils and by ACOST. We look forward to their advice, which we shall consider very seriously.

Teachers (London)

2. Mr. Boateng : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he proposes to help the new borough education authorities in London to overcome the problems of shortages of qualified teachers in London.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold) : My right hon. Friend and I are aware of the need tensure a sufficient supply of teachers in all local education authorities.

Mr. Boateng : Is the Minister aware that one of the main problems in recruiting teachers in inner and outer London--particularly in my own borough of Brent--is the high cost of housing in Greater London? What steps do she and her colleagues intend to take to encourage schemes such as the scheme in my constituency which involves hostels and to encourage equity- sharing to ensure that London gets the teachers it deserves?

Mrs. Rumbold : On the general point about teacher recruitment in London, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has invited the interim advisory committee on teachers' pay and conditions to advise him on measures to tackle the high-cost housing areas, such as inner and outer London, and to consider the London weighting issue when it reports to him. A number of interesting ideas are coming forward from local authorities that have put together packages to retain and recruit teachers in areas where there are problems with housing.

Mr. Harry Greenway : What steps does my hon. Friend's Department propose to take to overcome teacher shortages in the 1990s in key subjects, such as mathematics, physics and the others outlined in the Select Committee last week? Will she note that some local authorities in London are failing to recruit teachers through sheer ineptitude? In Ealing, 44 steps have to be gone through before a teacher can be recruited into a classroom, because the local authority is so obsessed with equal opportunities and similar procedures.

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Mrs. Rumbold : I understand my hon. Friend's frustration at the bureaucratic nonsense that some education authorities impose on schools trying to recruit teachers in shortage subjects. I sympathise with my hon. Friend, and I hope that my right hon. Friend's proposal for licensed teachers will go some way to alleviate the problems faced by the teaching profession in that regard. My hon. Friend will be aware of the measures that the Department already has up and running for recruitment in shortage subjects. We are offering bursaries to graduates who enter and remain in shortage subjects--physics, mathematics, CDT and, as announced by my right hon. Friend only last Friday, chemistry--in an attempt to address some of the difficulties.

Mr. Cohen : Is the Minister aware that in my borough of Waltham Forest primary school vacancies are running at 10 per cent. of the teacher establishment? Many worried school governors are asking what the Government propose to do about it. There is a crisis in London and the Government are held to blame for not training enough teachers, for the housing problem, which means that teachers cannot afford housing, and for demoralisation in the teaching force. When can parents in my borough expect their children to have teachers?

Mrs. Rumbold : The fault must lie more with Waltham Forest than in the recruitment of teachers. We have more student entries into primary teaching than we have had for a considerable number of years, so there cannot possibly be any shortage of primary school teachers, although Waltham Forest may well have difficulties in recruiting teachers because of its policies.

Mr. Nicholas Bennett : As a former education officer in an outer London borough who had responsibility for recruiting supply staff, may I suggest to my hon. Friend that the quickest way of recruiting more teachers in London and other areas where there are shortages is to allow the market to play a part, first, by introducing differential pay rates for London and other shortage areas as well as in shortage subjects?

Mrs. Rumbold : I am grateful to my hon. Friend who speaks from great experience. I notice the derision from Opposition Members whenever market forces are mentioned in this context. It is very much a matter of whether teachers fancy working in particular authorities because of the opprobium that attends those authorities or whether good teachers prefer to go to authorities which are more stable in their policies and their administration of education generally.

School Places

4. Mr. Harry Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has to encourage local education authorities to reduce the number of surplus places in schools ; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Ann Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has to encourage local education authorities to reduce the number of surplus places in schools ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John Butcher) : Local education authorities are aware othe high cost of

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underused capacity at schools with a substantial proportion of surplus places. It is, therefore, very much in their own financial interests to continue to come forward with proposals to rationalise their school provision where appropriate. The Government's public expenditure plans assume that authorities collectively will achieve the national targets for the removal of surplus places.

Mr. Barnes : What extra help will be made available to local education authorities to deal with surplus capacity when their plans have been frustrated by opting-out procedures exacerbating surplus capacity in local education? In Staveley in my constituency, Staveley Netherthorpe school has opted out, thereby creating problems for two other schools in the area.

Mr. Butcher : The hon. Gentleman may have misunderstood the raison d'e tre behind the Education Reform Act. The driving force behind decisions on which schools will remain open and which will close will increasingly be parental choice through open enrolment. As for the substantive part of his question, we shall consider each section 12 proposal on its merits. In parallel and together, we shall consider grant-maintained status applications on their merits.

Mrs. Taylor : Will the Minister confirm that it is still the Secretary of State's opinion that opting out should not be used as a lifeline by schools that face closure because of local authority proposals? Will he confirm that the majority of opting-out proposals so far have come from schools that face closure because of local authority reorganisation? How does that fit in with what he has just said about rationalisation and the proper use of resources?

Mr. Butcher : We have said that opting out which will not be used as a bolt hole for schools that are not viable. We have said that many times, and we shall consider each application on its merit. However, there is increasing evidence, and it has been confirmed yet again, that municipal Socialism is a creature which turns vicious whenever its hold on its captive subjects is threatened. We believe in democracy and parental choice. The hon. Lady should look at the behaviour of certain Labour councils when parents try to exercise that democratic process.

Mr. Pawsey : I note my hon. Friend's reply, but does he agree that surplus places take up scarce resources, spending money on empty desks rather than on children? Despite what he has heard from Opposition Members, does he agree that grant-maintained schools represent a cost-effective way of educating children? They are invariably oversubscribed and give parents a valuable yardstick against which they may judge schools in LEAs.

Mr. Butcher : This mini debate has shown yet again that the Labour party is about 15 years out of date. There are something like 620,000 primary places and some 800,000 secondary places surplus to capacity. That represents a cost in premises-related expenditure of something like £240 million a year. There is no incompatibility between grant- maintained schools and the need to tackle that problem.

Mrs. Peacock : Does my hon. Friend agree that not all schools applying to opt out are, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) suggests, those due for closure? Heckmondwike grammar school in my constituency is certainly not due for closure ; it is due, if the Labour party

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gets its own way, to be changed considerably. However, the parents have decided that they do not wish to have those Labour party changes, so they will seek to opt out.

Mr. Butcher : I appreciate that my hon. Friend has had to live alongside some of the worst aspects of that municipal Socialism to which I referred earlier. It is our policy to enhance parental choice, whether through grant-maintained schools or otherwise. We shall safeguard the interests of parents who wish, in a fair and free manner to exercise that choice if they recognise that their school is excellent and worth retaining.

Mr. Straw : Is the Under-Secretary aware that he shows the same ignorance and ineptitude on this subject as he used to show at the Department of Trade and Industry? Is he aware that well over half the schools that have sought to opt out have been in

Conservative-controlled areas? If, as he says, opting out is not a bolt hole for schools under threat of closure, why is the Secretary of State's front organisation, the Grant Maintained Schools Trust, actively encouraging any school under the threat of closure to seek to opt out? Do not he and the Secretary of State understand that their opting-out policy is completely paralysing any sensible rationalisation of school provision by local authorities? How can local authorities propose schools for closure when the effect of such a proposal may be that the Secretary of State says that that school shall remain open for ever and outside local education authority control so that the LEA then has to propose for closure schools that it would otherwise have kept open?

Mr. Butcher : We shall be entirely fair and open-minded on grant- maintained status applications, whether they come from Conservative or Labour-controlled LEAs. The hon. Gentleman obviously does not believe in his own arguments and that is why he has had to play the man and not the ball.

Mr. Batiste : When my hon. Friend is rightly encouraging LEAs to reduce surplus places, will he also make it clear to LEAs such as that in Leeds, which rules over a large and diverse area, that there is no reason for political dogma in imposing blanket solutions on diverse local communities, and, in particular, that the Government regard village schools as an important part of village life and rural communities?

Mr. Butcher : My hon. Friend is saying what I have tried to confirm over the past few moments, which is that Conservative Members believe in pluralism while the Opposition believe in incorporatism.

Schools (Leicestershire)

5. Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make additional resources available to schools in Leicestershire to pay for defects and repairs that are deemed necessary ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Butcher : The Government's expenditure plans for 1989-90 provide for local authorities as a whole to spend £114 million, or approaching 30 per cent., more in cash on repairing and maintaining their school building stock than was actually spent in 1986-87. That is an increase of 9 per cent. in real terms. The Government distribute rate

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support grant to local authorities on the basis of those expenditure plans. However, it is for each authority to decide how to spend the resources available to it.

Mr. Vaz : Is the Minister aware that during the Christmas recess I conducted a survey of the 29 schools in my constituency and 24 of them were found to be in a state of serious disrepair? One was a fire hazard and three were in a dangerous condition. They have had to wait a total of 175 years for decoration and repair. Yesterday, the director of education informed me that it will cost £1 million to effect the repairs needed in my constituency alone. Does the Minister agree that it is a mark of a civilised society to give our children the best possible environment in which to learn and grow? In view of the information that I have kindly given him today, will he reconsider his answer and allocate more resources to the county council?

Mr. Butcher : Leicestershire spends just below the national average on repairs and maintenance per capita in the primary sector and just above the national average per capita in the secondary sector. Overall, we have increased in real terms the allocations for repairs and maintenance, and, indeed, capital expenditure, but it is for LEAs to exercise their choice and mix the money that they receive in grant from the centre with capital receipts to tackle just the problems that the hon. Gentleman describes.

Mr. Ashby : Is the Minister aware that St. Clare's Roman Catholic school in Coalville in my constituency is an excellent school but that it is bursting at the seams? It requires not maintenance but an extension to provide further excellent education for the Roman Catholics in my constituency. Will my hon. Friend see that that money is available for that school?

Mr. Butcher : I am sure that my hon. Friend will not expect me to make a decision on that school at this moment. If he wishes to make more detailed representations to me, I shall be glad to entertain him and, if need be, a delegation.

Inner London Education Authority

6. Mr. Corbyn : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to monitor the impact of the transfer of education responsibilities from the Inner London education authority to inner London boroughs.

Mrs. Rumbold : As a matter of course, the Government evaluate the effectiveness of the policies they introduce. The performance of the inner London councils as LEAs will be monitored through the collection of data on educational and financial performance, and through inspection by HMI.

Mr. Corbyn : Is the Minister aware that many people in inner London are concerned about what will happen when education is transferred to the boroughs? Is she further aware that the long-term predictions by her Department show that education spending in inner London will fall by 30 per cent. in real terms in the first five years of transfer to the boroughs? Will she reconsider those figures and enable proper expenditure on education to take place in inner London to take account of the problems of deprivation, the higher costs of providing education in the

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area and, for example, the fact that 50 per cent. of the children in my borough fall within the special needs category? Those needs must be met by central Government. They cannot be met out of local resources.

Mrs. Rumbold : The hon. Gentleman should remember that ILEA has overspent, and spent inefficiently, on London's education for years. The authority's abolition provides a new framework within which the boroughs can move to provide more efficient services. That certainly can be done and many outer London boroughs already manage it. The inner London boroughs will have the support of the safety net arrangements for four years from April 1990 and, following that, the new needs assessment will take into account the factors that the hon. Gentleman raised.

Mr. John Marshall : Is my hon. Friend aware that the commissars of the people's republic of Islington have said that when they are responsible for education in the area, it will be based on numeracy and literacy? Does she agree that if ILEA had adopted a similar approach, the case for abolition would have been much less strong? Will she also agree that the record of the London borough of Barnet--where a pupil is three times as likely to leave with two A-levels as in the ILEA--shows that the London boroughs are more than capable of looking after the children's education?

Mrs. Rumbold : The short answer to those questions is yes.

Mr. Fatchett : Does the Minister recall the words used by the Secretary of State when he praised the London boroughs for their efforts to deal with the administrative chaos that was likely to arise as a result of his proposals to abolish ILEA? Those words of praise having been given, will the Minister now guarantee that the London boroughs will be given the necessary resources to provide good-quality education? Or do the words she used in her main answer mean that she is determined to carry out a financial vendetta against the children of inner London and starve them and the boroughs of the resources that they desperately need to have good education and good opportunities?

Mrs. Rumbold : There is absolutely no question of a vendetta against the children in the new inner London education authorities. From the draft development plans that are coming to the Department now and the discussions that are being held with the inner London boroughs, it is clear that the interests of the children are being taken care of. There will be safety netting with the introduction of education as one of the responsibilities of those boroughs and as that is phased out, a key determinant in the boroughs' financial position will be the new needs assessment.

School Governors

7. Mr. Colin Shepherd : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to review the effectiveness of legislation concerning the appointment of school governors.

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Mrs. Rumbold : The reform of governing bodies is a key element in our strategy for raising standards in schools. Our legislation has ensured that governing bodies are now much better balanced and more effective.

Mr. Shepherd : Does my hon. Friend agree that the purpose of the legislation was, among other things, to achieve a broad spectrum of representation on boards of governors? Is she aware, however, that the outcome appears to be a substantial preponderance of teaching profession representatives, who are also parents of pupils at the schools? In the light of the activities of the National Union of Teachers in encouraging its members to become governors wherever possible, does she agree that this could lead to a conflict of interests? Will she therefore keep the matter under close review and take whatever immediate action may be appropriate if it becomes apparent that the interests of pupils are not paramount?

Mrs. Rumbold : Governors, especially parent governors, should be chosen for the values that they bring to the governing body as consumers, not because they have vested interests either politically or professionally in the management of schools. It remains for the parents at each school to decide which candidates to elect, having studied the curriculum vitae of those coming forward.

Perhaps it would help my hon. Friend to know that we are making arrangements for a sample survey of schools to collect information about the number of candidates who have offered themselves for election as teacher and parent governors, the turn-out for elections, the number of candidates from different sectors such as the ethnic minorities, and the balance between the sexes. The survey will also look at the background of parent governors, especially to assist us in ascertaining the business representation of the co-opted governors. That will give us information about the occupational background of all governors.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Is the Minister aware of the dire consequences of her Department's failure to legislate to prevent local authorities from appointing single party state slates of school governors? Has she seen the letter from two parent governors of Charlotte Sharman primary and nursery school, in my constituency, who have been unable to take in a governing body meeting with a quorum since its constitution in September because of the failure to attend of the three ILEA Labour members and the Southwark Labour member? Although opposition members have been willing to attend, and be nominated and co-opted, the two authorites in question have insisted that only their own people should be put forward to sit on school boards. Will there be legislation to deal with this, or shall we be able to amend the Housing and Local Government Bill to be introduced tomorrow?

Mrs. Rumbold : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I have at times made our views very plain about the placing of political one- party governors on school boards. We deplore this activity in local authorities of whatever political control where it is blatant as the hon. Gentleman suggests. We would much prefer the system that has always prevailed, whereby authorities allocate ward-by-ward representation on governing bodies. Where there is a balance on the local authority of, say, Labour and Conservative, or SLD representatives the ward

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schools will have some representatives from those elected for those wards. I hope that that kind of best practice will continue.

Higher Education

9. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about the likely balance between arts subjects and other subjects for study in higher education during the next 10 years.

Mr. Jackson : The balance of subjects will be determined largely by institutions and students. We believe that there should be a further shift towards science, engineering and vocational courses to provide the balance of skills that the economy needs. But this is entirely consistent with retaining high levels of scholarships in all the arts, humanities and social sciences.

Mr. Thurnham : Would my hon. Friend encourage students who are nervous about top-up loans to choose to study useful subjects that are in demand so they can be confident about getting good jobs and have no trouble repaying their debts to society?

Mr. Jackson : I would urge students to consider very carefully the courses that they undertake in the light of what they think is right for them and their future employment prospects. I certainly believe that the top-up loan proposals, which the Government have made and will introduce in due course, will help to encourage a greater sense of economic realism among students, which would be a desirable development.

Mr. Rowlands : In trying to achieve his objective, will the hon. Gentleman attempt not to reduce the choice of arts subjects in schools? In particular, will he take note of and clarify the role of the Training Commission, which is still trying to impose a school curriculum in advance of the national curriculum agreed by the Secretary of State?

Mr. Jackson : This is not a matter particularly for me, but I do not recognise the picture that the hon. Gentleman paints of an attempt to squeeze out arts subjects. That is not happening.

Mr. Rhodes James : I warmly welcome my hon. Friend's emphasis on the need for a balance of subjects in the national interest. Does that mean that he and our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will reject the extraordinary proposals of the University Grants Committee to close the outstanding veterinary schools in Glasgow and in Cambridge?

Mr. Jackson : As a result of the review committee, a proposal has been made to the University Grants Committee. The UGC, and the Universities Funding Council after 1 April, will have to consider it. It is a matter for them to consider in the first instance.

Mr. Andrew Smith : Further to his previous reply, what estimate has the Minister made of the effects of the top-up loan proposals on the balance of subjects? In particular, does he agree that medical students, by virtue of the length and nature of their courses, would be especially badly hit and could face outstanding debts of some £19, 000 at the end of their courses? What study has he made of that and why does not the loans White Paper refer to medical students?

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Mr. Jackson : On behalf of the Treasury Bench I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his august responsibilities. Of course, the Government have considered the impact of top-up loans on student choice of subjects. The conclusion that we have reached is that the consequences are unpredictable. Certainly the scare stories that the hon. Gentleman may be about to launch bear no relation to the position in other countries that have loans schemes for their students on a scale considerably more demanding than the proposals that we are making.

Mr. Charles Wardle : Will it not be essential in the next decade for management education to be extended so that as many young women and men as possible go out into the world without feeling ignorant about the way in which business works?

Mr. Jackson : I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government strongly support the development of management education and are very pleased at the progress being made. We hope that it will be faster.


10. Mr. Win Griffiths : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he has any proposals to increase the supply of teachers ; and if he will make a statement.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : I have outlined my proposals for future teacher supply in amemorandum provided to the Select Committee on which the hon. Member sits. I also announced last Friday radical changes in teacher training to make entry into the teaching profession more flexible.

Mr. Griffiths : The reason for the question is that the memorandum supplied to the Select Committee was pathetically inadequate. In a speech to the Society of Education Officers the Secretary of State said that he intended to keep in touch with teachers who leave the profession. As seven out of 10 do so within the first five years, how does the Secretary of State propose to keep in touch with them? Would not the best way of keeping them be to give them a salary and a status commensurate with the job that they do instead of rubbishing them as has been done for the past 10 years?

Mr. Baker : About half the teachers who take up appointments each year--roughly 16,000--are former teachers returning to the profession. I was urging local authorities to keep in touch with teachers who leave-- mainly women leaving to have families--so that they may attract them back. That is an important way of increasing the number of teachers. The hon. Gentleman will know that in the speech that I made on Friday I mentioned two other important initiatives. One is the concept of licensed teachers, to encourage mature people in their 30s and 40s to come into teaching. The other is a new method whereby a student, after graduating in another subject, would go straight into a school and be trained as a teacher on the job.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : In considering the supply of teachers will my right hon. Friend also pay attention to the movement of teachers from one authority to another? In particular, will he give thought to the significance of the fact that many teachers move from inner London and

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from Brent to work in areas such as Gravesham? Will he bear in mind that although property prices are similar we do not have the benefit of inner London or any form of London weighting?

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