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Ms. Mowlam : The Minister suggested that the responsibility lies with the schools, but she also said that she expected a certain degree of sensitivity from teachers. Can she expand on what she means by that and try to explain to the House the necessity, which I am sure that all hon. Members feel, to have sensible and rational discussion on such issues.
Mrs. Rumbold : The hon. Lady will know that a number of different syllabuses are available in science teaching in schools and that the responsibility rests with the teachers. One hopes that the teachers will choose sensibly from the available syllabuses and ensure that all the circumstances that relate to matters of biology are taught sensibly and sensitively in schools.
Mr. Harry Greenway : Does my hon. Friend agree that abortion should be dealt with in religious education and that the Christian position on abortion should be explained? Does she also agree that it is shocking and bad that some head teachers have said that they may not observe the law on Christian-based assemblies and religious education?
Mrs. Rumbold : I think that my hon. Friend will know that the whole matter of religious education has been dealt with in the Education Reform Act 1988. We hope, therefore, that schools will obey the law, as it has been strengthened, on religious education. Of course, my right hon. Friend and the standing advisory councils on religious education that are to be set up for each local education authority will monitor the position and will expect children to have a sound Christian-based religious education where that is applicable and right.
12. Mr. Allen : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will meet parents and pupils in Nottingham, North to explain the consequences for education of his recent decision on limiting capital spending by the Nottinghamshire county council local education authority.
Mr. Butcher : My right hon. Friend has received a letter from the chairman of the education committee of Nottinghamshire county council setting out the committee's views on the capital allocation for 1989-90 and seeking to bring a deputation. I have agreed to meet a deputation of interested parties from Nottinghamshire.
Mr. Allen : I am glad that the Minister is to meet a deputation, but the question asks whether he will meet parents and children in Nottingham, North. The Minister will find it difficult to explain to them why his Government are spending twice as much on one school--the city technology college--as they are spending on all the other schools in Nottingham put together. Will he come and try to explain that to the parents and teachers who are suffering?
Mr. Butcher : I was in Nottingham last week. Had I had the chance, I would have explained to the people. The capital allocation this year is £3,215,000. That is 43 per cent of the bid, compared to the national average of 34 per cent. I shall look forward to receiving further observations when the deputation arrives.
Mr. Evans : I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, using the Warnock definition of children with special needs, there are some 5,000 children in schools in St. Helens who have special educational needs but who are not statemented? How does the Minister intend to ensure that the interests of those children are protected when individual schools shortly receive their budgets under the terms of the Educational Reform Act 1988?
Mr. Butcher : I think that the hon. Gentleman may not have understoood that circular 7/88 on local management of schools makes it clear that variations in special needs between schools should be taken into account in the local education authority's resource allocation formula. Local education authorities will have discretion to except from delegation specialised support services such as education
Column 153psychologists, peripatetic teachers and educational welfare officers. On the broader question, I shall be happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman and to his friends from the LEA if he wishes me to do so, but for the time being the LEA says that there are 479 pupils in this category. That did not come up as a subject when our officials visited the authority recently. [Interruption.]
Mr. Butcher : The Government welcome all types of activities which link schools and industry. We recognise that they can represent a valuable way of both enriching the school curriculum and developing the understanding of pupils and teachers. We use every opportunity to encourage industry to develop and strengthen its involvement with schools.
Mr. Coombs : At a time when, as the Minister has said, industry's links with schools are seen as ever more crucial for effective education, does my hon. Friend agree that industrial sponsorship deepens and widens links between schools and industry? Does he also agree that even Labour- controlled authorities, such as Birmingham, have belatedly come to this view? Finally, does he agree that there is a case for further fiscal incentives, especially for small firms, to encourage further industrial sponsorship?
Mr. Butcher : I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will take careful note of my hon. Friend's last point. I am delighted to say that this whole question of school--industry links is now no longer one of "Why should we do it?" but "How do we go about it?" The growing national consensus is that that can do nothing but good for the betterment of education in our country.
Mr. Cryer : Does the Minister accept that it is one thing to provide schoolchildren with an understanding of industry, but it is quite another to sell schools to industrialists as the Government are doing under the CTC programme? Does he agree that it is an outrageous way to dispose of ratepayers' and taxpayers' money by providing a billboard for such companies as Dixons in Bradford on the side of a CTC for £1 million, when the ratepayers and taxpayers of Bradford have paid the bulk of the capital costs and the entire running costs?
Mr. Butcher : The hon. Gentleman is 100 per cent. wrong, because private industry money is coming in to pay for free places for children in inner cities. It is a cause for great commendation of those industrialists that their money is supporting the state system. It is new money for free places.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
Mr. Ashton : Will the Prime Minister find time to tell her Ministers that unemployment is not falling in every region in this country? Is she aware that in my constituency, following the closure of Shireoaks colliery, male unemployment in the travel-to-work area will increase from 15 to 18.4 per cent.? Why do areas such as mine not receive assisted area status or even any rate support grant? Why do we have to go cap in hand to the Common Market begging for a handout when we get nothing from the Government? Is the Prime Minister not aware of what is happening in the coal mining areas of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire, which are facing rocketing unemployment because of her policies towards the coal mining industry?
The Prime Minister : As the most recent figures showed, unemployment is falling in every region of the country, with one exception--Northern Ireland. Of course, in regions where there has been a colliery closure there will be particular pockets of unemployment. We shall do all we can to retrain and I hope that very good redundancy payments will be given. The hon. Gentleman surely cannot wish to keep collieries open when there is no market for the coal or a market only at a price that will put up the cost of electricity to other industries enormously.
Mr. Aitken : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the warm welcome that has greeted the announcement that she is planning a new offensive to curb the excessive powers and abuse of power by the European Commission? In a week which has already seen attempts by the Commission to harmonise children's imitation toy food out of existence and to try to change Britain's drink-driving limits by edict from Brussels, does my right hon. Friend feel that it is time to tackle the unconstitutional use of article 100A by having a legal argument about the basis on which it is being used at present by the Commission?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend refers to a particular provision which was put in to enable us to get directives for the completion of the single market. We watch very carefully to ensure that that section is not abused. As my hon. Friend is very much aware, we do not want detailed regulation in the directives. We want the minimum regulation in the directives to enable goods to move more freely about the whole Community. That is our philosophy, and that will continue to be the aim of the action that we take.
Column 155standard of living than we have ever known. We have a great budget surplus. The steps that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is taking will deal with both inflation and the adverse trade balance.
Mr. Sayeed : As agriculture has now declined to 1.5 per cent. of gross domestic product and employment within it has fallen to 586,000, whereas the contribution from small businesses has increased to 21 per cent. of gross domestic product and the number of people employed therein has increased to 6.5 million, why do we have a Department and a Secretary of State for the former rather than for the latter?
Most farms are small businesses, so the figure that my hon. Friend uses includes small farms. Secondly, in addition to the 1.5 to 2 per cent. of people employed in agriculture something like another 8 per cent. are employed in industries ancillary to agriculture--the equipment industry and the food processing industry. So it is not fair to take the particular set of figures that my hon. Friend gives. Both are vitally important to the future of Britain's economy, agriculture and other small businesses as well.
Mr. Lord : Is the Prime Minister aware that many of the country's largest industries now take as a matter of routine 90 days to pay the accounts of smaller companies that supply them? Is she further aware that these smaller companies are absolutely vital to the nation's economy and jobs, and will she undertake to look into this matter with great urgency?
The Prime Minister : I agree with the reasoning behind my hon. Friend's question ; it is quite wrong to take the maximum amount of time to pay bills, particularly those of small businesses which need the money as soon as possible for their cash flow. I hope that the companies concerned will take note of my hon. Friend's question and of my reply.
Mr. Evans : The Secretary of State for Health announced a ban on the use of bovine offal in the production of baby food and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food announced another inquiry into the effect of BSE on human health. If, as appears likely to the Secretary of State for Health, BSE is a threat to humanity, why not ban the use of this offal for all human consumption? If, according to the Minister of Agriculture, it is not a danger, why was it banned for consumption by babies?
Column 156and we accepted the recommendations on both, precisely. There is no point whatsoever in setting up a committee of experts, in having a Chief Medical Officer of Health, in receiving their advice and then not accepting it. We would rather accept their advice than that of the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Morgan : We read in today's reports of the Prime Minister's meetings yesterday with President Mitterrand of the divergence of view between them on the urgency of the need for modernisation of NATO nuclear weapons. In view of the fact that short-range nuclear weapons have the unfortunate habit of dropping on Germany, would she not agree with President Mitterrand that this must remain a sovereign German decision?
The Prime Minister : No. [Hon. Members :-- "Oh!"] Most certainly not, and I did not gather that that was precisely President Mitterrand's view. He made it perfectly clear that, so long as the Soviet Union is modernising short-range nuclear weapons, so should we, and he said that very clearly indeed. He also accepted, as he was at the last NATO meeting--I was there on both occasions and heard everything ; and he knew that Chancellor Kohl and I were agreed--that political solidarity and military strength provide the basis for dialogue. We reaffirmed the declaration of the NATO summit of 3 March 1988 in Brussels, where we joined together in confirming that our strategy of deterrence depends on the appropriate mix of effective nuclear and conventional forces, kept up to date where necessary. We are all pledged to that view.
privatisation--including, it would appear, some Conservative voters--that if we are to enjoy an improvement in water quality, costs will have to rise, whether water remains in the public sector or is privatised? Will she also persuade them if their opposition to privatisation relates to the outdated nature of sewerage in this country, that it will be infinitely easier to raise finance to improve that if the industry is privatised and can raise money on the open market?
The Prime Minister : I think that my hon. Friend has largely done my task for me. Of course, we all require higher standards in the quality of water and that will mean increases in costs and, therefore, in prices, and the same would be true whether water remained in the public sector or was privatised. There is far more likely to be increased capital spend on the improvement of water quality if the industry goes into the private sector. I notice that France, a country which has nationalised many things, has specifically kept water in the private sector because it provides a better service than would a nationalised water service.
Dr. Owen : Will the Prime Minister make it crystal clear that, under the law, the right of publishers to publish, booksellers to sell and readers to read is an absolute, and will not be changed under threat or deadline, whether of a week or a year?
The Prime Minister : Freedom of speech and expression is subject only to the laws of the land, in particular libel and blasphemy, and will remain subject to the rule of law. It is absolutely fundamental to everything in which we believe and cannot be interfered with by any outside force.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the £1 million of extra funding that the Government give to London dial-a- rides will provide extra mobility for disabled people? Will she congratulate London dial-a-rides on their work, and say that we look forward to the extra work that they will be able to carry out with the extra money given by the Government?
The Prime Minister : I gladly respond to my hon. Friend's invitation. This Government have done more for disabled people and have increased expenditure on them by 90 per cent. in real terms. That is more than under any previous Government and we are very proud of it.
Mr. Tom Clarke : Does the Prime Minister recall that 10 years ago tomorrow, the Scots voted with a majority of 77,000 for a greater say in their own affairs? Does she accept that, since the feeling that there is a need for change is even stronger now, her stubborn refusal to accept the aspirations of the Scottish people is unacceptable? Does the treaty of Union matter?
The Prime Minister : My views have not changed. I thought that the views of the Labour party had not changed either, but perhaps I was wrong. I believe that first steps towards devolution would finish up in separatism and I do not believe that the majority of Scottish people want that. I am very glad indeed that the Scottish people have responded to Tory policies so well that they have achieved a unique level of prosperity.
Mr. Amos : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the £850 million boost that the north of England will receive from the introduction of the unified business rate represents one of the biggest ever investments in the north of England?
The Prime Minister : Yes, under the new business rate system, manufacturing business in the north will generally pay less in rates than it has been paying. I hope that that will be a great boost to industrialists to put more and more manufacturing services into these areas, where other costs will also be lower.
Mr. Buchan : Was today's report that the DSS is about to issue plastic cards to the elderly some kind of ironic joke? Would it not be much better if the Government restored to married couples the £18 that they have stolen from them?
The Prime Minister : I think that the DSS is considering a system that will be more helpful to pensioners and less conducive to the stealing of pension books. That is the only purpose of what the hon. Gentleman has read in the papers this morning.
With regard to our pensions record, may I point out that the pension has kept pace with inflation over the whole period, even though we have had to pay it to 1 million more pensioners? As for Labour's record, they fiddled the RPI figure when it no longer suited them, and although the Opposition said that they would keep the pension up with average earnings, they then put in an incomes policy to keep down average earnings, and did not even live up to that promise.
The following Member took and subscribed the Oath :
William Jefferson Hague Esq., for Richmond, Yorks.
Mr. Robin Corbett, supported by Mr. Andrew Bowden, Mr. Eric S. Heffer, Mr. Simon Hughes, Mr. Doug Hoyle, Dame Janet Fookes, Mr. Gerald Bermingham, Mrs. Rosie Barnes, Mr. Kevin McNamara, Mr. Harry Barnes, Mr. Jeremy Hanley and Mr. Robin Squire, presented a Bill to make hare coursing illegal : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 3 March and to be printed. [Bill 88.]
That the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Wales) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1988 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (England) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) (Miscellaneous Changes) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Representation of the People (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft European Parliamentary Elections (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the draft Local Elections (Variation of Limits of Candidates' Election Expenses) (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Fallon.]
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